Archive for the ‘sociology’ Category

social activism and weak ties

Tuesday, October 19th, 2010

In The New Yorker, Malcom Gladwell argued that online social networks such as Twitter aren’t good for “real” social activism, not least because they support only weak ties. The assumption here is that social activism needs strong ties. In reality, the opposite is true. Mark Granovetter’s classic 1973 paper titled “The Strength of Weak Ties” discussed the relationship between tie strength and social activism. Granovetter considered the redevelopment project of the Italian neighbourhood in Boston in the 60s. The project was widely opposed by the community but went forward. Why? The problem was the absence of weak ties within the Italian neighbourhood. Social life revolved around members and unchanging groups of friends, and the density of strong ties (but relative lack of weak ones)  inhibited any political change. Gladwell cited Granovetter’s article but didn’t read it. Gladwell titled his article “Why the revolution will not be tweeted”. Perhaps revolution is not what we need. We might just need people who read what they cite and don’t fall into the trap of “the old dismissing the new” (substitute “telephone” for “twitter”/”facebook” and see how the article reads).#fail

ambient awareness

Friday, February 19th, 2010

Brave New World of Digital Intimacy” by Clive Thompson on the NYT

“In essence, Facebook users didn’t think they wanted constant, up-to-the-minute updates on what other people are doing. Yet when they experienced this sort of omnipresent knowledge, they found it intriguing and addictive. Why? Social scientists have a name for this sort of incessant online contact. They call it “ambient awareness.” It is, they say, very much like being physically near someone and picking up on his mood through the little things he does — body language, sighs, stray comments — out of the corner of your eye.”


Social net infantalising the human kind? Greenfield and Sigman are infantilising social research

Monday, March 16th, 2009

Dear Greenfield and Sigman:

Please join mm-sing, star blog, or rage! You may have fun and, in the process, your research agenda will start to reflect reality and British taxpayers will finally get value for money.

(*) “And then there’s the discussion of Lady Greenfield’s claims that social network sites are “infantilising” the human mind. She made a speech to the House of Lords to encourage people to research her hypothesis. There is NO EVIDENCE to prove her claims. Listening to her talk, it is very clear to me that she has no idea how social network sites work.” (danah)

Why Small Payments Won’t Save Publishers

Tuesday, February 10th, 2009

Relatively interesting opinion article, about the absence of market justification for micropayment systems.

The threat from micropayments isn’t that they will come to pass. The threat is that talking about them will waste our time…

However, it focuses more on micropayments for end users rather than as an enforcer of a system’s behaviour.

Efficient Search Not Good for Research?

Friday, July 18th, 2008

I read a a curious article posted on wired: based on a recent study of journal citation patterns between ’98 and ’05 (that is to appear in Science), the authors claim that as the Internet provides researchers with efficient search of journal papers, “the breadth of scholarship” is being lost. Here is a quote:

“As more journal issues came online, the articles referenced tended to be more recent, fewer journals and articles were cited, and more of the citations were to fewer journals and articles.”

So, is this google scholar’s fault? Is this a new trend in research? Or maybe this means that as the wealth of published research explodes, the truly cite-able papers are still few (i.e., is citation breadth a measure of quality (or not)?)

What do you think?

Cultural Mobilities – what urban computing can do and can be

Wednesday, June 25th, 2008

I’ve recently read an interesting article about urban computing. The authors illustrate how narrow and exclusive current pervasive computing technologies for urban scenarios are. Narrow: most applications are solving the problem of disconnection (thus “mobilizing” traditionally desktop-based ones), or addressing the problem of dislocation (thus helping users to find their way), or addressing the problem of disruption (thus adapting to context to provide a customised service). Exclusive: target users as mostly “young, affluent city residents, with both disposable income and discretionary mobility.” In so doing, attention is placed on fixing problems created by mobility, rather than exploiting new interactional opportunities it opens. Moreover, many people are left outside the picture: “unrestricted discretionary mobility is far from a universal experience for a city’s occupants. […] we share urban spaces with people who, due to disability, economic status, immigration status, employment, race, caste, and other reasons, find themselves unable to move about easily or, conversely, have mobility forced upon them.”

How can we put pervasive computing to use then, and make it more inclusive and progressive? The authors point their fingers towards three directions: (1) take an heterogeneous view of mobility, which acknowledges and caters for different kinds of journeys (commuting, vacation, moving house) and different kinds of purposes for the same journey (going to work, seeing a doctor, driving a train); (2) look at the symbolic meaning of a journey, which varies across social groups (wayfinding is a purely instrumental reading of space, but this completely neglects other aspects of social, cultural, moral, political and historical aspects of mobility); (3) look at urban mobility as a social phenomenon (we move individually, but collectively we create flows).

SeeShell – an “augmented” Oyster card holder

Monday, June 23rd, 2008

I’ve just found out an interesting new project called SeeShell , to be run by one the people behind Undersound. Here is the short description they give: “SeeShell is an augmented Oyster Card (the RFID-enabled Underground ticket) holder which displays, over time, the journeys a rider has taken. When a user passes their Oyster card (which is inside the SeeShell) over the touch-in point at the gate to the station while they are entering or exiting, the SeeShell, using RFID, senses which station the user just passed through and over time a permanent, ink-based map of the stations they have visited begins to emerge on their Oyster Card holder. The Oyster system already tracks users’ journeys but there is no convenient way for the users to access or make use of that data. By building SeeShell on top of an already existing system, I hope to show how lived patterns of mobility might be leveraged in new ways and placed back into the hands of their creators.”

The project has not started yet, but looks interesting: what uses could we make of these patterns of mobility, if they were given back to their users, rather than centrally kept?

Homophily of social ties

Tuesday, June 3rd, 2008

“I always learn something when I teach my networks class. One of the early exercises that I have students do is a personal network self evaluation (adapted from Baker’s book on social capital). The students’ networks tend to be highly educated, very international, ages 25-30. Essentially, the networks of students tend to look a lot like themselves. What is notable (I base this on the last 3 years of doing this exercise) is where the networks look most different from the students, which is, more often than not, in ties to family members. Family ties are somewhat less likely to be highly educated, and when they are, it is often in a different domain than that of the other people in the students’ network, and, unsurprisingly, they are often (literally) of a different generation.” More.

‘Ruthlessness gene’ discovered

Monday, April 7th, 2008

Researchers at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem found a link between a gene called AVPR1a and ruthless behaviour in an economic exercise called the ‘Dictator Game’.

Workshop on Trust in Mobile Environments

Friday, February 15th, 2008

Following Daniele’s previous post on workshops at iTrust, another workshop is doing its own round of advertisement: the iTrust Workshop on Trust in Mobile Environments. Abstracts are due the 28th of March. Here is a short description:

Trust is a vital issue in mobile computing if applications are to support interactions which will carry data of any significance. Consider, for instance, exploring a market place: which vendors should one prefer, and why; how can a user establish the provenance of an item, etc. Various trust models have been developed in recent years to enable the construction of trust-aware applications. However, it is still not clear how robust these models are, and against what types of attacks; how accurate they are in capturing human characteristics and dynamics of trust; how suitable they are to the mobile setting. Mobility brings in orthogonal complexities to the problem of trust management: for example, the transient relationships with the environment and other users calls for an investigation of the dependency between trust and context; the lack of a clear shared control authority makes it difficult to verify identities, and to follow-up problems later; the limited network capability and ad-hoc connectivity require the investigation of novel protocols for content sharing and dissemination, and so on.

A Hunger for Books (Not Blogs)

Monday, December 10th, 2007

I was recently reading Dorris Lessing’s Nobel Prize for Literature acceptance speech (full text here). It’s an excellent read, a story of storytelling, that recalls her experiences in Africa and the influence of books on a writer. I strongly recommend all to read it. However, as inspirational as it is, there is also a strong feeling of cynicism towards the culture heralded on by the technology revolution, and some points worth thinking about. Here is a short quote:

“We are in a fragmenting culture, where our certainties of even a few decades ago are questioned and where it is common for young men and women, who have had years of education, to know nothing of the world, to have read nothing, knowing only some speciality or other, for instance, computers.

What has happened to us is an amazing invention – computers and the internet and TV. It is a revolution. This is not the first revolution the human race has dealt with. The printing revolution, which did not take place in a matter of a few decades, but took much longer, transformed our minds and ways of thinking. A foolhardy lot, we accepted it all, as we always do, never asked: “What is going to happen to us now, with this invention of print?” In the same way, we never thought to ask, “How will our lives, our way of thinking, be changed by the internet, which has seduced a whole generation with its inanities so that even quite reasonable people will confess that, once they are hooked, it is hard to cut free, and they may find a whole day has passed in blogging etc?”

I found it strange how she describes the printing revolution as something good, by allowing “voices unheard” to wield their talent, but the internet revolution as something meaningless, fragmenting, and wasteful. It seems to either imply that publishers have been given the divine gift of knowing what is good to publish, or that people (are dumb, and) lack the collective knowledge to find what is worth reading. Is there no such thing as collective wisdom? Does a change of medium naturally imply a change in content and quality? Perhaps her words reflect Toffler’s predictions, or it is impossible for her to find any quality in the chaotic community that we call the web?

After all, her message came to me by means of blogs and online news. Any thoughts?

Battle of Ideas

Monday, October 1st, 2007

Battle of Ideas is a two-day festival of social, political and cultural discussion taking place in London, 27-28th October 2007Get tickets as soon as possible (the festival has sold out for two years running). The event is held at the Royal College of Art, Kensington Gore, London SW7 2EU. There are ADOBE PHOTOSHOP CS6 ACADEMIC 70 debates and some of us might be interested in the following ones: (more…)

Sociometric Badge

Friday, May 4th, 2007

From this post. Sociometric Badge, a sensing platform that logs voice features, proximity to other individuals, face-to-face interactions, and movement. Results of an analysis of data obtained in a preliminary study at a German bank’s marketing division:

. Proximity is highly negatively correlated with e-mail use
(-> if you are in close proximity to another individual, it makes more sense to interact with them in the real world rather than send them an e-mail)

. Communication between managers and employees was very highly negatively correlated with perceived interaction quality ( -> having more interactions with either your subordinates or your boss is draining).

. Email and proximity ties were highly correlated when communication was present and both individuals were of the same hierarchical level
(-> e-mail communication between individuals with the same role increases as their proximate time increases)

(paper to appear in NetSci ’07)