Entries filed under "the best entries"
Květen 23, 2004
SIMSLink and Better Sociotechnical Design

As part of the final exam for this class, I joined two other students in piecing together some strategies for the design of better digital social networking tools.

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Duben 05, 2004
Awaiting a World Without Monitors

lobotomyAs we consider potential social and cultural explanations for the brusque, short-tempered, and overly sensitive behavior that we observe in use of e-mail, it's worth considering possible deeper causes too.

What if computer media activates radically different parts of the brain from those parts engaged by more traditional media? In Mozart's Brain and the Fighter Pilot, neurology professor and neuropsychiatrist Richard Restak, M.D. points out research suggesting that "expressing one's opinion on a computer screen engages a different part of the brain than when writing or typing the same sentiment on a piece of paper." He theorizes that certain critical faculties arising from the left prefrontal lobe might grow weaker when we use a word processor than they become when we write with pen and paper. He says a computer's bright backlit screen, and its mosaics of images changing at high speeds, measurably excite the visual and emotional portions of the brain, while printed media engage different bits of your mind. This, Restak says, can explain the lapses in discretion and excesses of emotion that often emerge in workplace e-mails.

I get all jazzed up imagining the upcoming bounty of high-resolution, deep-color reflective computer displays. I admit the main reason for my excitement is that once we have screens that look like paper, I can sit out in the sunshine and get my work done; such displays can be just as visible in sunlight as books. No more peering at these monstrous glowing CRTs please; we evolved to spend all day looking at reflected sunlight, not at the glare of cold screens.

But if Restak's right, such advances in displays might have farther-reaching effects; they might dramatically change people's behavior online.

(Disclaimer: some critics say Restak is something short of a fruit loop and that his pronouncements veer too far from experimental foundations. He believes that our new technologies profoundly rewire our brains, deeply changing the way we think and operate in the world. I'm a sucker for this stuff, but I avoided repeating his more outlandish claims here. If anyone reading this has a neurology or cognitive science background, please dive in and let me know what you think of Restak's theories in the comments below.)

More fun of this flavor here.

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Březen 15, 2004
Weblog Assignment 1
Weblog Assignment 1: Propose a typology of the functions, origin and duration, size and density of social networks, based upon your own experience.

(According to Webster's dictionary, "typology" means "study of or analysis or classification based on types or categories.")

Context is everything. The structure of any classification of social groups depends on the motivation behind the classification. This depends on what, in the classifier's opinion, are the primary purposes that social networks serve. Let's break from our assumptions and look this over through other eyes.

Typologies; three different ones:


1. Machine's-Eye View: Human social networks cultivate a rich meat, metal and asphalt topsoil along the Earth's surface that promotes the gestation of digital life.

     Functions- Coat the planet with a terraced outer crust of machine-friendly asphalt that connects millions of garages, fuel tanks, landing strips and seaports, thereby creating an environment that will support the race of living machines through its infancy. Transport machine bits and fuel from deep within the Earth to more desirable locations along the asphalt crust. Assemble machine bits to form proto-machines and connect millions of these primordial building blocks together, engendering the evolution of digital life. Shelter proto-machines from power surges, from the elements and from the Kaczynskis of the world during the gestation period.

     Origin and Duration- Bloodline-centered networks: up to 10,000 years but usually much shorter; nation-centered networks: up to 2,000 years; networks centered on an individual industry or institution: ephemeral duration (up to 1,000 years); networks centered around individual humans: negligible duration.

     Size and Density- Bloodline-centered networks: varies widely at any given time from hundreds to billions of humans; nation-centered networks: up to 1.5 billion humans; networks centered on an individual industry or institution: usually 1,000 - 3 million, traditionally clumped in specific regions but becoming more widely distributed.; networks centered around individual humans: up to 1,500.

- - -


2. Corporation's-Eye View: Human social networks provide a food supply, a bloodstream, a nervous system and muscles needed by Earth's giant multinational corporations.

     Functions- Feed host corporations billions of dollars each year. Consume or carry off all the corporations' waste products. Carry out all of the work needed to ensure corporations' luxurious quality of life, including physical labor, financial services, computer operations, human resource management. Attract new servants via sales and marketing efforts. Produce and train new servants via childbirth, parenting and mass media. Construct and maintain communication networks necessary to connect each corporation's vast array of resources and branch offices, fusing all these pieces into a single entity. Minimize government-imposed inconveniences via legal and legislative intervention.

     Origin and Duration- Executive staff networks and legal/legislative support networks: most culled from the higher education system; usually last through the lifetime of each corporation. Supporting staff networks: culled from local human communities wherever a corporation operates; duration ranges from several weeks through the lifetime of the corporation. Consumer networks: origin and duration varies tremendously depending on mission statements, marketing plans and other strategies pursued by the given corporation; traditionally this has also been affected in some regions by government-imposed inconveniences, although these matters have become less consequential.

     Size and Density- Executive staff networks and legal/legislative support networks: usually less than 100 humans, often clustered in the largest cities where the given corporation operates. Consumer networks, supporting staff networks: varies widely from a few thousand to several million; density also varies considerably depending on the nature of the corporation.



3. Meme's-Eye View: Human social networks constitute a habitable environment and a giant playground for memes.

     Functions- Manufacture billions of brains capable of receiving and transmitting language; distribute them across the planet. Develop technologies of clothing, shelter, medicine, and food processing that can allow memes to dwell comfortably in their biological hosts across all regions of the planet. Build hatchery-brains wherein new memes can manifest themselves. Amplify the range of freakish mutations in these brains by propagating ideals of "individuality" and "creativity" and "fun," thereby allowing a wide range of memes to manifest themselves. Invent social traditions and institutions that encourage consumption of intoxicants to fertilize brains and to encourage richer and more productive meme manifestations. Create space probes and communications transmission systems so that memes can explore other planets and solar systems. Develop communication reception systems capable of allowing memes to visit Earth from other planets and solar systems. Invent Jacuzzis so that memes can relax at the end of a long day.

     Origin and Duration- Language-centered networks: these morph from one language to another over time. The average language-supporting network survives from 500 to 1,500 years until the form of language spoken at the beginning of that period would be completely unintelligible to most members of the network at the end of the period. Individual industry-centered networks: up to 1,000 years. Fashion, arts and music networks: as long as 500 years. Networks supporting organized religion, nationalism, war and other masochistic, drama-producing metamemes: up to 1,000 years. Computer-mediated networks designed to cultivate Nigerian e-mail scams: ongoing duration, approximately forty years as of this writing.

     Size and Density- Language-centered networks: most smaller than 100 million and clumped locally, some larger than 3 billion and spread widely. Fashion, arts and music networks: many smaller than 1 million; a few of these networks have mutated into malignancies that infect more than 5 billion human minds, but these corporate behemoths support only a few narrow memes, they block the propagation of all other memes and they are being dismantled by antigen memes. Individual industry-centered networks: usually 1,000 - 3 million, traditionally clumped in specific regions but becoming more widely distributed. Networks supporting organized religion, nationalism, war and other masochistic, drama-producing metamemes: approximately 6 billion, extremely widespread. Computer-mediated networks designed to cultivate Nigerian e-mail scams: approximately 200 human brains, clumped mostly in Florida and on certain Caribbean islands.

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