Lisa Bu's J676 Blog

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.

Monday, October 16, 2006

Response to the Second Half of "Geography of the Internet Industry"

The second half of the book goes to details how venture capital contribute to the clustering of the Internet industry and why.

Besides providing money, venture capitalists also bring nonmonetary inputs to entrepreneurs: (1) providing advice and mentoring on how to grow the company; (2) setting specific goals and metrics for companies to meet and holding managers accountable; and (3) introducing enterpreneurs and helping them establish relationships with sources for later financing, customers and suppliers, as well as a host of service providers such as executive recruiters and lawyers. (p88-91)

For venture capitalist to be effective in the activities above, geographic proximity is important. "The abilityof venture capitalists to assist successful Internet firms was dependent upon largely regional systems of personal contacts and networks (know-who) through which difficult-to-acquire knowledge about technology, companies, strategies, and markets (know-how) was created and quickly exchanged. Although in principle this process need not take place in spatial proximity, in practice proximity is often a central factor because of the largely tacit nature of the knowledge used." (p94)

The book has illustrated the important role venture capitalists play in the fate of Internet companies. Bad advice or lack of guidance from venture capitalist can jeoperdize the future of Internet start-ups. Consider the example of Friendster who started the craze about social network sites but failed to remain in the lead. Their story appeared in yesterday's New York Times.

Response to the First Half of "Geography of the Internet Industry"

This is an interesting book for me who has never imagined that theories in geography can be used to analyze the Internet industry. The consumption of the Internet content may be "placeless" as long as the access is available. The supply side, as demonstrated by the author, is definitely not, but clusters around regions where a network of resources (capital, skilled labor, infrastructure, etc) is well in place to facilitate innovations and knowledge transfer.

The distinction between codified (know-what, know-why) and tacit (know-how, know-who) knowledge is very important. "While capital ... provided the fuel for many Internet companies, in many ways it was the transmission of the tacit knowledge of the venture capitalist that was perceived as the more valuable element. In the end, it is precisely this variation in regions' venture capital systems to create and transmit tacit knowledge that is central to understanding the geography of the Internet industry." (p58) I think that the distinct nature of tacit knowledge can also help answer question in other areas of research such as political communication where "political knowledge" is an often used variable.

Sunday, October 08, 2006

Response to Part 4 of the Reader Book

In his article, John Urry suggests to develop a new discipline in sociology that's "organized around newtworks, mobility and horizontal fluidities." (p201) It's quite natural that an academic discipline changes and extends when its ofbject of study changes and transforms. I don't see the study of mobility as a new discipline. It'll be a new focus more probably. Urry mentioned Bauman's metaphor of "gardening" vs. "gamekeeper" state to characterize societies. "The new lobal order appears to involve a return to the gamekeeper state and away from that of the gardener." (p191). So there must be study of mobility (gamekeeper state) before. I wonder if and how this time the study will be different.

Robert Reich categorizes work into 3 groups: routine production services, in-person-services, and symbolic-analytic services. It's interesting to note that all of them are "service" jobs, different from traditional "manufacturing" vs. "service" job categories. Is this just a regrouping of jobs or have jobs really changed in nature?

Nico Stehr states that "contrary to many assumptions, the manufacturing sector and industrial production are not declining in importance in contemporary society." (p216) I'm not totally convinced by his argument. He used percentage of GDP generated by manufacturing activity as chief evidence. What's his definition of "manufacturing activity"?

Anne Balsamo's article is no doubt the most unique one in the group. She identified 4 forms of technological embodiment: laboring body, disappearing body, repressed body, and marked body (p243). It's thought provoking, but at the same time a little difficult for me to grasp: how important is gender here in understanding technology?

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Response to the "Digitizing the News" book

Studying how established print newspapers in the United States respond to technological development from videotext to the Internet, the author argues that "new media emerge by merging existing sociomaterial infrastructures with novel technical capabilities and ... this evolution [instead of revolution] is influenced by a combination of historical conditions, local contingencies, and process dynamics." (p12)

According to the author, the culture of innovation at American dailies, in general, is "marked by reactive, defensive, and pragmatic traits." (p173) The path they take to take advantage of the new capabilities of the web is shaped by three factors (p174): (1) relationship between print and online newsrooms (close vs. distant alignment), (2) inscriptions of news consumer/user (technically savvy or unsavvy), and (3) character of newsroom practices (gatekeeping vs. gateopenning, print media vs. multimedia).

Incorporating both historical approach and case studies, the author has presented a convincing argument in the book. One of the most rememberable parts for me is the mention of America's earliest newspaper, Publick Occurrences, Both Foreign and Domestick. It had four pages but the fourth was left blank so that readers could add their own news stories on it before passing the paper to other people. It's fascinating that the idea of letting reader participate in news reporting was even in the mind of earliest news practitioners. It seems that we have come to a full circle: with flourishing of blogs, forums, podcasts and other interactive tools, citizen/amateur journalism has finally arrived and started to play a significant role in mass communication.