Lisa Bu's J676 Blog

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Response to Group 6's reading

Well, I'm part of group 6. One revelation I had after the research is that we need both the top-down and bottom-up models to do a good job in preserving and sharing human knowledge. The top-down model provides more quality control, the bottom-up more diversity insurance. They complement more than compete against each other.

Response to Group 5's Reading

In my previous life as a computer programmer, I had used lots of open source software (Apache, Tomcat, ect.) and supported the movement. But there's one big barrier that makes it hard for people including myself to use more open source software: the pain of switching from a good old commercial software to a new open source one. At the beginning of this semester, I was determined to use open source as much as possible, so installed OpenOffice, a free open source office package, instead of Microsoft Office in my new computer. Initially OpenOffice seemed very easy to use and similar to Word, even allowing exporting/importing document in Word format. But inconvenience started to emerge: I can't incorporate EndNote into it as easily; I can't use some of the shortcuts I've mastered in Word; It's a pain to write a paper in group when we had to email draft back and forth. When most other people you work with use Word, when other essential software integrates well only with Word, I find it hard to stick with OpenOffice. Under the deadline pressure, I gave in and installed Microsoft Office again.

In principle, I support open source whole-heartedly. But in reality, it's harder to do than I thought. So how can open source overcome the barrier? What can make it more adoptable?

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Response to group 4's reading

I can't open the first link. The second article tells the story of a young blogger who has achieved some fame in the TV industry by being a quick and reliable broker of inside information, i.e. gossips, rumors, tips, etc. That blog reminds me of Drudge Report where I check daily for gossips of news. Oftentimes stories show up there before appearing on their official web site. These kind of web sites and blogs earn users' trust through word of mouth and testing of time, a little like in the old days how a coffee house became an unofficial information center in a village.

Friday, December 01, 2006

Response to group 3's reading

The most memorable part of the reading is what Henry Jenkins said in his blog, Digital Land Grab: "Copyright law was originally understood as a balance between the need to provide incentives to authors and the need to ensure the speedy circulation and absorption of new ideas."

If we interpret and update the copyright law in that spirit, what would the law say about content that used to be in our journals but now on the web for non-profit sharing purpose? What does "fair use" mean?

Response to group 2's reading

For me, the fight about net neutrality is really a fight about the control of net access. It's an internal conflict within big corporations. Each side frames the fight in a way to portray themselves as the good gatekeeper looking after the interest of the public. The scene is really murky for me.

Factually, how big a problem is the net neutrality? I'm relieved that the fight is not about content creation. About net access, I think there should be broad competition thus plenty of choice for internet users.

Response to group 1's reading

I always admire Feingold's courage and wisdom in casting the only "no" vote against the Patriot Act. The strength of the United States in large part is dependent on its adherence to rule of law and democracy. At time of fear and war, it's very tempting for people to consider abandoning those principle in exchange for immediate gain of security. But that may put the country on a slippery slope toward authoritarian rule and loss of freedom, the very reason why we fight the war. Feingold's speech gives us an insightful historical perspective: we should not act recklessly and hastily; we should consider the Act's long term implication very carefully.

The debate of the Act also reminds me of the Star War movie. A great hero, Anakin Skywalker defeated many enemies from the dark side. But when facing his mother's death, he was seized by the urge of revenge and abandoned the code of Jedi. That's the start of his downfall. He lost his soul gradually and finally became Darth Vader, the much feared one on the dark side. I hope this country has a strong backbone to resist the temptation of fear, and wisdom to always look far and long term.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Response to the Feed Challenge

I pick TV as the feed for this challenge. Other feeds such as cell phone, web and radio are simply indispensable if I want to get up on time, work, study or travel (a conference in Chicago on Friday). The first 48 hours was easy. I don't watch much TV nowadays anyway. And I was at the conference Friday listening and talking to people. Then came Saturday, the Badger football game day. That broke my TV fast. I was tired after a busy week of study and work, and an exhausting day in Chicago. My brain became lazy and needed some cozy, easy entertainment: time for TV.

Monday, November 06, 2006

Response to "Feed"

This science fiction novel paints a chilling picture what life would be like if our brain is online, i.e. if a transmitter is implanted directly into our brain, constantly sending "feed" from the network and transferring our thoughts and behaviors back to the network. It's very similar to the movie, Matrix.

What is feed? What is the network? The characters in the novel voluntarily allowed, even paid, to have feed go into their brain to make study easier and life more convenient. It may sound that they have made a dumb choice. But in real life, don't we also allow some form of media manipulation to happen? The biggest difference is that most people in the novel no longer realize that they have been manipulated.

Response to Part 8 of the Reader Book

In his article, Mark Poster gives the term, "the mode of information," to describe electronically mediated communication. I think it's a confusing term: which mode? electronic, print, or other? He argues that "the mode of information enacts a radical reconfiguration of language, one which constitutes subjects outside the pattern of the rational, autonomous individual. ... Electronic culture promotes the individual as an unstable identity, as a continuous process of multiple identity formation, and raises the question of a social form beyond the modern, the possibility of a post-modern society." (p398) He gave three examples: (1) TV ad creates a virtual connection between the viewer and the product, making the viewer feel as "the absent hero or heroine of the ad;" (2) Computerized database operates as a super panopticon, making us inescapable from its survey; and (3) electronic writing removes the distinction between author and reader but at same time allows individuals to have multiple identities. I kind of get his point, but his terribly scholarly writing style is intolerable. Why can't he write in ordinary English?

Realizing both positive and negative impact of mass broadcasting may bring to indigenous culture, Eric Michaels tried to answer this question in his article: "how to respond to the insistent pressure towards standardization, the homogenizing tendencies of contemporary world culture?" His analysis confirms local videomakers' claims that "TV is a two-edged sword, both a blessing and a curse, a 'fire' that has to be fought with fire." (p421). I like the criteria for aboriginal media that the local people use: "Can video make our culture strong? Or will it make us lose our law?"

Sadie Plant's article is very unique. I never imagined that computer and weaving are so much related, and women are so instrumental for both. Computer, in his analysis, does look very feminine from appearance to how it's used by man. But how much does it matter if computer is feminine?

Response to the Second Half of "Information and American Democracy"

For me, the most interesting part of the second half of the book is the analysis whether the latest information revolution will affect the level of political engagement by individuals. The answer is largely no. One feature of "information abundance is the reinforcement of patterns of political engagement and disengagement at the level of political individuals. Americans in the aggregate are not growing any more engaged in their political system as a result of new technology. On the whole, those who pay the most attention to the media of previous information revolutions are also paying the most attention to new media." (p229-230)

But information revolution does change how institutions and organizations operate on the political landscape. That will cause power shift and structure change, and then may impact citizen participation.

I'm also concerned about one threat that the 4th information revolution brings to the public sphere: "fragmentation and the loss of the common." (p245) Technology can unite but also divide people. With so many things and people competing for our attention, we find it hard to give full attention and quality time to people and issues around us immediately in the real world. What can be done about it?

It reminds me of Thomas Friedman's recent column on the New York Times talking about one of his taxi ride in Paris: "The driver and I had been together for an hour, and between the two of us we had been doing six different things. He was driving, talking on his phone and watching a video. I was riding, working on my laptop and listening to my iPod. There was only one thing we never did: Talk to each other."

Response to First Half of "Infomation and American Democracy"

Exploring the relationship between information technology and evolution of American politics in his book, Bruce Mimber identified four information revolutions in the American history that had deep impact on the characteristics of American politics (p23):
  • First information revolution (1820s-1830s): creation of U.S. postal service and mass oriented newspaper industry --> first system for national-scale information flow --> rise of majoritarian politics
  • Second information revolution (1880s-1910s): industralization --> interest-group politics
  • Third information revolution (1950s-1970s): broadcasting/TV --> mass audience then fragmentation --> A centralized system of market-driven organizations along with specialized organizations
  • Fourth information revolution (1990s-present): Internet --> post-bureaucratic political organizations
I find the author's angel new and interesting to me. He chose not to "invoke standard theories used by social scientists to explain the influence of technology on society, especially technological determinism and its theoretical opposite, social construction." I'm eager to find out how he deals with the topic and what conclusions he will draw in the second half of the book.

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Response to part 7 of the Reader book

Jurgen Habermas introduced the concept of "public sphere" in his article which means a realm of social life that all citizens are guaranteed of access, and public opinion can form out of people's rational discussions. The physical place of public sphere could be coffeehouses or newspapers and other mass media. But what Habermas described as public sphere is an ideal which the real-world version of it has difficult to match. He acknowledged that as well: "the liberal model of the public sphere ... cannot be applied to the actual conditions of an industrially advanced mass democracy organizaed in the form of the social welfare state."(p354)

Concerned about the erosion of cultural sector by commercial interest, Nicholas Garnham applied the idea of "public sphere" to broadcasting and suggested that the public service model is an embodiment of it (p362). "The imcompatibility between the commercial and political functions of the media is not just a question of ownership and control, ... it is even more a question of the value system and set of social relations." (p363)

In his article, John Keane saw public sphere not as a single sphere but a "complex mosaic of differently sized, overlapping, and interconnected public spheres." (p366) For example, he distinguish public spheres at micro-public (sub-nation-state), meso public (nation-state), and macro public (global) levels. I think this may help analysis and understanding of the public sphere because different level may have different characteristics.

In his article, Zizi Papacharissi examined the impact of the Internet on the public sphere by studying three aspects of the Internet: ability to transfer information, potential to bring diverse people together, and its future in a capitalist era. His conclusion is that the Internet "have managed to create new public space [in the form of virtual sphere] for political discussion ... but does not ensure the rejuvenation of a culturally drained public sphere." (p389) I agree with his view.

Monday, October 23, 2006

Response to Part 6 of the Reader Book

Foucault's article is classic about Panopticon, an important social control mechanism that "automatizes and disindividualizes power." Power is visible yet unverifiable, resulting in more self-monitoring on the individual part and more efficient control on the government part. The Internet is a convenient place to set up a panopticon. Knowing that some system can be collecting data behind the scenes about our' activities while we surf online, should we feel more or less secure in the cyberspace? That may depend on who's collecting the data. Unfortunately we don't always know.

In her article, Zuboff described a new kind of organization, the "informated organization," where intellective skill base is the organization's most precious resource, and the distinctions between white and blue collars disappear. I agree with her that human-to-human interaction is important for such learning centered orgazations. "In the information panopticon, managers frequently tried to simplify their managerial tasks by displacing face-to-face engagement with techniques of surveillance and control. As a consequence, they became isolated from the realities of their organizations." (p323)

In his article, Lyon laid out four strands of sruveillance theory: surveillance in relation (1) to the nation state, (2) to bureaucracy, (3) to technological logic (or "technologic"), and (4) to political economy. I share his concern of a dragnet society now that technology has made it possible to happen. Is there a limit how much surveillance a society should allow? If yes, where is the limit?

Response to Part 5 of the Reader Book

Schiller's article concerns the increasing power of private corporations in the information world. "The expansion of this power has relied heavily on three far-reaching structural changes in the institutional infrstructure: deregulation of economic activity, privatization of functions once public, and commercialization of activities once socials." (p270) And the Internet is not immune from the control of the corporate world despite its open technical infrastructure. There's still huge amount of free data available partially because corporations haven't figured out an effective business model to force people to pay for data in the cyberspace. But Wall Stree Journal is charging for online reading, New York Times launched fee based "Times Select" for some online content. Corporations are trying hard. I wonder for how long the free lunch can continue on the web...

In his article, Norris analyzed the concept of the digital divide from three dimensions: "The global divide refers to the divergence of Internet access between industrialized and developing societies. The social divide concerns the gap between information rich and poor in each nations. And ... the democratic divide signifies the difference between those who do, and do not, use the panoply of digital resources to engage, mobilize and participate in public life." (p273) He also summarized the debate about the role of technology for development among cyber-optimists, cyber-skeptics, and cyber-pessimists. I'm with the skeptics: technology alone will make little difference. To make a change, it always requires active involvement of people via individual effort and society via public policies.

Lasch's article criticized the view that technology is ethically neutral and argues that it is "a mirror of society, not a 'neutral' force that can 'be used for good or evil'." (p295) What does he mean by technology? Does it mean the technological knowledge or the use of technology? If it means the former, then I found many of his arguments and examples unconvincing or even conflicting with his point. For instance, the "job enrichment" and "self-management" experiments he cited lead to realization by both management and workers that automation technology can make manager's function obsolete. Technology is not always on the management's side. Lasch treats the case as an exception. I don't agree. Technology can empower both manager and workers. Why the choice of technology often benefits managers more? Because they have more power, access, etc. It's the choice or use of technology, not the technology itself, that's biased toward managers.