What I learned in the #UOKM Class

UOKM

The following blog is a reflection on what I learned through my graduate course, Knowledge Management, taught by Professor Pierre Lévy, and serves to highlight the lessons I will take with me on my own journey of accumulating, understanding, and disseminating knowledge.

The Evolution of Knowledge Society

Humans, unlike other species, have the ability to manipulate symbols through transmission, translation, and memory. Before the invention of writing, the symbols humans were manipulating were transient, as they were transmitted orally. The invention of writing, which first originated in Mesopotamia, brought about  a tremendous augmentation of our symbolic manipulation powers. Symbols were now lasting, and could be accumulated. The invention of writing is the first of four major revolutions in Communication, as identified by Professor Pierre Lévy. It is important to note that these improvements to symbol manipulation do no override previous technologies, but build upon each other.

Writing, Knowledge and Cultural Evolution - Pierre Levy

Source: Writing, Knowledge and Cultural Evolution – Pierre Levy

The second revolution, although harder to define, arose with the invention of the alphabet. The alphabet provided 20-24 symbols instead of the thousands in the original writing systems, and literacy was  no longer limited to the scribes and certain castes who previously held the monopoly over reading and writing. The third revolution, or improvement to symbol manipulation, was due to the mechanical reproduction and transmission of symbols. The printing press was the first technology to augment and mechanize the reproduction of symbols, and as a result, symbol manipulation and knowledge management was enhanced.

The fourth revolution, brought on by digital technology and algorithmic writing,  is what we are currently beginning to experience. Software, such as Word processing and Adobe Photoshop, have further revolutionized our ability to manipulate symbols. So what does this new layer of complexity, brought on by digital technologies, mean for knowledge management today?

Open Systems and Information Overload

Traditionally, as Clay Shirky, author of Here Comes Everybody (2008) points out, professionals, such as journalists, become gatekeepers “by providing a necessary or desirable social function but also by controlling that function” (p. 69). This gatekeeping function is sometimes embedded in the technology, as it was with scribes, “who had mastered the technology of writing” (Shirky, 2008, p. 69).Conversely, the Internet’s open ecology enables the framework the to publish everything, and filter afterwards. An example of this can be seen through the open system of Wikipedia, where millions of users are free to access, edit, and create articles. Moreover, Wikipedia’s infrastructure enables a ‘spontaneous division of labor’, where any individual is able to offer a contribution, on any scale, enabling the mass collaboration of knowledge.

Frameworks that filter content before publication force us to trust that the gatekeepers have a strong understanding of what matters to readers. David Weinberger, author of Too Big To Know (2012), argues that no matter what their level of expertise is, gatekeepers “cannot possibly anticipate every human interest or every turn of history” (p. 184). Therefore, by bringing more knowledge onto the Net, Weinberger asserts that the Net will “become systemically smarter” because the new knowledge we are encountering no longer has to pass through a series of gatekeepers; knowledge is no longer a collection of carefully selected works, but is an “infrastructure of connection” (p. 186).

Digital technologies have brought together both broadcasting and conversation capabilities, and as a result, users are able to become media outlets (Shirky, 2008). Consequently, the line between amateur and professional producers has been blurred. Whether through the use of platforms such as social media sites, blogs, or forums, users are constantly curating, commenting, and disseminating information. Has this digital revolution facilitated an information overload?  One may argue that “signs of this are all around us” , as many of us know someone  who has tried separate themselves from online communication by “removing their profiles from social networks and complaining of social media fatigue” (Basulto, 2012, para 1). So how do we manage this constant flow of information online without ‘going off the grid’?

Personal Knowledge Management

Harold Jarche defines Personal Knowledge Management (PKM) as “a set of processes, individually constructed, to help each of us make sense of our world & work more effectively” (Dale, 2013, para. 7). Similarly, Wikipedia, defines PKM as “a collection of processes that a person uses to gather, classify, store, search, retrieve, and share knowledge in his or her daily activities” (Dale, 2013, para. 8). Moreover, individuals are responsible for taking charge of their own personal and professional development through managing their networks of knowledge.

Nick Bilton, a technology write for the New York Times, recognizes in his novel, I live in the future and here’s how it works, that the sea of information on the Internet is leaving many individuals overwhelmed, and “pushing back against a flood of online information” (p. 91).  He addresses this concern with through his description of anchoring communities, which he defines as our “personal public spheres of friends, family, news outlets, blogs, and random strangers” which we use to filter and disseminate information (p. 130). The communities we build with others on social networking sites such as Twitter are imperative for our online navigation of content. For example, by being selective of who we follow on Twitter and by creating lists to organize these followers into categories, we are better able to efficiently and effectively organize incoming information. Personally, separating the users I follow into their respective research areas allows me to better manage and filter the information I encounter on Twitter. Moreover, by creating and effectively managing anchoring communities, we can help dissipate “our fears of information overload or the converse, that we might be missing something” (p. 130).

Communities of Practice are another way in which individuals can leverage online networks in order to acquire and share knowledge. Digital technologies have significantly lowered transaction costs, providing a robust platform for communities of practice. The simple question of “How did you do that” initiates the transfer of information, and “when it takes place out in public, it is also a spur to such communities of practice, bridging the former gap between publishing and conversation” (Shirky, 2008, p. 103). But what motivates users to share their expertise online? Shirky argues that their love and passion for the subject in question does, and points to the success of Wikipedia, which has grown to host over  3,719,838 articles, to demonstrate this love for sharing knowledge. Additionally, sharing information online provides users with “an opportunity for the visible display of expertise or talent” (Shirky, 2008 p.101). Once this knowledge is shared, other users have the opportunity to further its credibility through ‘ranking’ or ‘liking’ features, to comment on it, or to add to it. The beauty of online Communities of Practice is that even after the collaboration takes place and the original asker and answerers move on, the knowledge remains accessible.

What does this all mean?

We are currently experiencing the beginning of a fourth revolution in communication, as digital technologies have significantly altered the ways in which we access, disseminate, and share knowledge. In some ways, individuals must now be more aware and critical than ever, since “our new freedoms are not without their problems; it’s not a revolution if nobody loses” (Shirky, 2008, p. 209). Moreover, we must now become knowledgeable about the platforms we use to gain knowledge.

Source: http://austhink.com/critical/pages/teaching.html

According to Lessig (2006), “many of us haven’t a clue about how networks work” and therefore we “have no clue about how they could be different” (p. 32). Code makes up the architecture of the Internet and regulates our behavior online, as it strategically enables certain functions while disabling others. What is particularly concerning is that the individuals who determine these codes “can achieve regulatory ends, often without suffering the political consequences” (Lessig, 2006, p. 136). Therefore, while we tend to view the advent of the digital revolution as an exhilarating time, it is also important to be aware of the invisible hand that guides its construction. For example, despite the enormity of information present online, many search and recommendation algorithms “direct attention to popular products or outlets” which causes a small amount of media content to replicated across platforms (Webster et al., 2012, p. 52).

We may feel overwhelmed by the amount of information we are now able to access; however, the world’s knowledge has always been difficult to sift through. If we thought knowledge was scarce before digital technologies, “it was just that our shelves were small”, whereas today, new knowledge is not limited to a set of published works (Weinberger, 2012, p. 96). The infrastructure of Internet has simply increased our access to the world’s knowledge and has provided us with the ability to be our own content producers. Therefore, while our search tools are imperfect and our access to false information has increased, knowledge seekers have more sources of information at their fingertips than ever before, which symbolizes a promising start to the digital revolution.

References

Basulto, D. (January 6, 2012). Information Overload.? Has There Always Been Too Much to Know? Retrieved from http://bigthink.com/endless-innovation/information-overload-there-has-always-been-too-much-to-know

Bilton, Nick. (2010). I live in the future and here’s how it works: why your world, work, & brain are being creatively disrupted. Crown Business: New York.

Dale, S. (March 25, 2013). Personal Knowledge Management. Retrieved from http://steve-dale.net/2013/03/25/personal-knowledge-management/

Lessig, L. (2006). Code 2.0. Basic Books: New York, NY.

Shirky, C. (2008). Here Comes Everybody: The Power of Organizing Without Organizations. New York: Penguin.

Webster, J., & Ksiazek, T.B. (2012). The Dynamics of Audience Fragmentation: Public Attention in an age of Digital Media. Journal of Communication, (62), pp. 39-56.

Weinberger, D. (2012). Too Big to Know: Rethinking Knowledge Now That Facts Aren’t Fact, Experts Are Everywhere, and the Smartest Person in the Room is the Room. Basic Books: New York.

Why Mainstream Media matters in the New Media Environment

A man holds up a copy of the "Occupied W

The birth of Occupy Wall Street is often attributed to “social media magic” and the use of Twitter hash tags; however, these claims overemphasize the role social media played in both the mobilization and successes of the movement (Gerbaudo, 2012, p. 102).  It could be argued that due to the rise of social media, mainstream media no longer have a large impact on the actions and successes of counter powers. Castells (2007) defines counter-power as “the capacity by social actors to challenge and eventually change the power relations institutionalized in society” (Castells, 2007, p. 248). The emergence of alternative channels of communication, as seen through the proliferation of various online platforms and social media sites, has become a medium “for social movements and rebellious individuals to build their autonomy and confront the institutions of society” (Castells, 2007, p. 249). Moreover, today’s media environment has drastically evolved since Gitlin’s (1980) assertion that “political movements feel called upon to rely on large-scale communication in order to matter […] to become ‘the movement’ for wider publics and institutions who have few alternative course of information, or none at all” (p. 3). However, while the advent of social media and online communication has left new social movements with an abundant source of communication channels at their disposal, it does not render traditional forms of mass media irrelevant.

Social networking sites (SNS) were heavily utilized by the Occupy Wall Street movement, as seen through its initial mobilization and call to action. Adbusters, a Vancouver-based anti-consumerist magazine, took to Twitter, Facebook, and their magazine, requesting individuals to gather on September 17th. However, the movement’s initial mobilization lacked shared, organic emotion, and only 300 people showed up on the first day of organization. This need for connection amongst supporters was met by a different social media platform, Tumblr, through the creation of the ‘We are the 99%’ page, where individuals could submit photos of themselves holding signs that spoke of their financial hardships. The Tumblr page became a shared space for the expression of common emotions, and as more and more tents started to fill Zuccotti Park, Twitter continued to “weave together an emotional conversation” and more importantly, helped to “sustain a sense of solidarity between the physical occupiers and their distant to supporters” (Gerbaudo, 2012, p.104).

Media

While the use of social media proved invaluable for the initial mobilization of the movement, it was still imperative for Occupy Wall Street to infiltrate traditional media. The planning leading up to the protests indicated an “elitist attitude in the movement’s communications”, as seen through its “over-reliance on Twitter”, and this became a “major obstacle to raising the awareness of the majority of the population” (Gerbaudo, 2012, p.114). Moreover, limiting communications to social media caused the movement’s message to miss a large portion of the public. As asserted by Castells (2007), “what does not exist in the media does not exist in the public mind” (p. 241); therefore, relying solely on social media channels prevented the movement’s objectives from receiving optimal visibility. The importance of mainstream media in gaining public support is illustrated by the events that took place on October 1st, when “more than seven hundred marchers were arrested” on Brooklyn Bridge (Gitlin, 2012, p. 49).  This incident became a “photogenic event”, as it was picked up by many major news outlets and resulted in the “turnout of ten thousand or more” protestors, thus demonstrating the ability of the mass media to mobilize public sympathy and support (Gitlin, 2012, p. 49). Images of police violence despite the passivity of protestors proliferated traditional media outlets, and the media’s attention on cutting government budgets diminished as “focus lurched over to income inequalities and disparity of wealth” (Giltin, 2012, p. 50).

In today’s network society, mainstream media coverage continues to impact social movements through its ability to mobilize supporters, to validate the existence of the movement, and to perform scope enlargement by opening up the issue for debate  (McCurdy, 2012, p. 248). What is significant about the network age, is the ability of social movements to use the Internet as a “potent political weapon”  (Castells, 2007, p. 250) to exert pressure on institutionalized or mainstream media. Moreover, online communication platforms enable movements “to relate to society at large beyond the control of the power holders over communication power” (Castells, 2012, p. 11). Through the strategic use of social media, movements can “improve their visibility through monitoring news coverage and responding to inaccurate stories” (McCurdy, 2012, p. 250), as online technologies enable protestors to efficiently monitor countless news outlets and to disseminate counter narratives in response to inaccurate or disparaging information.

Alternative channels of communication, enabled by the architecture of the Internet, have shifted a degree of influence into the hands of autonomous individuals; however, rather than rendering mainstream media obsolete, new media has enhanced the two-way communication present between protestors and the mass media. The Occupy movement illustrates that while new technologies increased opportunities to mobilize and organize supporters, and to influence the discourses surrounding their activities and objectives, the mainstream media remained prevalent in its ability to bring issues to the attention of the general public, and consequently, to the forefront of the public agenda.

Book Review: Nick Bilton’s ‘I live in the future and here’s how it works’

Nick Bilton’s book is both conversational and clever, making it accessible for readers who are not knowledgeable or well versed with new technologies. However, the title of Bilton’s novel, ‘I live in the future and here’s how it works’, is misleading, as much of what he describes has either already occurred or is applicable to the current media landscape. It is important to note that his novel was written three years ago, which is a lengthy amount of time in the fast paced world of technology; however, a majority of Bilton’s focus is on the presentation of past scientific studies which demonstrate our ability to adapt to technology, instead of speculating on future developments. Therefore, while Bilton’s writing is richly descriptive, it lacks both practical application and technical expertise. While Bilton uses the porn industry to demonstrate the importance of customizing content for consumers, he does not specifically mention what many identify as the key to lost revenues: big data. Although recording user’s actions online (often referred to as clickstream data) has “become a necessity for the success of websites and other online businesses” (Bucklin et al., 2009, p. 35), Bilton fails to go into detail about data mining strategies. A discussion on the ability of the Internet to allow for “fast, easy, and unobtrusive collection of detailed information on individual activities” would have fit seamlessly into Bilton’s emphasis on the customization and personalization of consumer experiences (Bucklin et al., 2009, p. 35).

Moreover, Bilton offers a thorough description of technology’s ability to offer us personalized options and to improve our cognition, but he does not entertain any arguments surrounding privacy concerns and industry challenges. Bilton is justified in claiming that the customization of content and personalized experiences must be explored by industries, but he does not discuss that the immense amount of clickstream data confronts “researchers with the need to store and process very large amounts of information” (Bucklin et al., 2009, p. 45). Moreover, many individuals feel that current EU and U.S. regulatory frameworks “leave consumers privacy and personal data unprotected in the context of profiling and behavioural advertising” (King et al., 2010, p. 604). Due to these skepticisms surrounding online privacy, firms are challenged to “seek ways to overcome these concerns and persuade consumers to share their information”, such as engaging in trust building (Kim et al., 2009, 188). This question of “whether profiling unduly interferes with consumers’ personal autonomy and liberty” highlights the importance of viewing the architecture of the Internet with a critical eye, and would made Bilton’s analysis of the digital revolution more exhaustive (King et al., 2010, p. 595).

Image

Bilton rightly emphasizes the importance of anchoring communities, and their ability to help users navigate mass information flows online. However, he does not consider the assertion that these communities may also limit the perspectives and information sources users encounter. Since media users look to individuals in their network to help filter content, the reliance on these search and recommendation systems exercises a “powerful influence on what users ultimately consume” (Webster et al., 2012, p. 42). Due to this degree of influence, it is important to consider how certain information regimes can “promote or mitigate processes of audience fragmentation.” (Webster et al., 2012, p. 42) Bilton fails to address “growing evidence that despite an abundance of choice, media content tends to be replicated across platforms” (Webster et al., 2012, p. 51). Moreover, despite the enormity of information presented online, many search and recommendation algorithms “direct attention to popular products or outlets” (Webster et al., 2012, p. 52). Therefore, while Bilton’s stance on anchoring communities provides a strong argument for how we are able to manage the overwhelming amount of information online, it fails to speculate whether the architecture of the Internet may at times render the wisdom of our networks unreliable.

Bilton’s praise of new technologies is often unfaltering, leaving the reader with without the knowledge necessary to view digital architectures with a critical eye. According to Lessig (2006), “many of us haven’t a clue about how networks work” and therefore we “have no clue about how they could be different…we assume the way we find things is the way things have to be” (p. 32). Code makes up the architecture of the Internet and regulates our behavior online, as it strategically enables certain functions while disabling others. What is particularly concerning is that the individuals who determine these codes “can achieve regulatory ends, often without suffering the political consequences that the same ends, pursued directly, would yield” (Lessig, 2006, p. 136). In other words, the architecture of the Internet makes “invisible regulation easier” (Lessig, 2006, p. 137). Therefore, while Bilton sees the advent of the digital revolution as an exhilarating time, it is also important consider the invisible hand that guides its construction, with sober eyes.

In many ways, Bilton is a techno-optimist, and as a result, is both thorough and persuasive in convincing the technochondriacs of the world that they have nothing to fear. Bilton richly articulates the advantages of new technology and our ability to adapt to more stimulating forms of digital storytelling; however, he seems to greatly overlook both the challenges and consequences of this new digital landscape, which weakens these arguments. Therefore, while Bilton’s I live in the future and here’s how it works provides a coherent media roadmap for individuals just starting to get their feet wet in the sea of digital innovation, it may leave those who are more immersed with new media wanting more. 

Opinions on Occupy: Analysing a Movement that Occupies a Space Outside Past Theorisations

In Gamson et al.’s  Movements and Media as Interacting Systems (1993), the authors assert that although public discourse is carried out through multiple channels, such as “the movement’s own publications and meetings”, mass media’s discourse remains “indispensable for most movements because most of the people they wish to reach are part of the mass media gallery, while many are missed by movement-oriented outlets” (p. 116). Similarly, in Giltin’s The Whole World is Watching (1980), the significance of alternative outlets is overlooked, as seen through his assertion that “political movements feel called upon to rely on large-scale communication in order to matter […] to become ‘the movement’ for wider publics and institutions who have few alternative course of information, or none at all” (Gitlin, 1980, p. 3). Moreover, both Gamson and Gitlin argue that the mass media is imperative for mobilization due to the limitations or lack thereof of alternate channels; however, these arguments were made before the mass adoption of social networking sites (SNS), which played a large role in the Occupy movement’s initial mobilization, as well as its organization and strategies.

The role of SNS can be seen from the Occupy movement’s initial origin, which can be traced back to Adbuster’s call to action. The magazine took to Twitter asking individuals to gather on September 17th. While only 300 people showed up on the first day, social media continued to be a channel where the movement could communicate its motivations and gain supporters. The ‘We are the 99%” Tumblr page became a shared space for the expression of frustrations; an emotional diary that united people with common concerns and broadened the movement’s ability to gain attention and support. Additionally, it is important to note that a lot of recruitment took place in the streets, as many people were inspired by what they saw, and through their face-to-face contact with protesters, found they shared in the common frustrations and hopes of the movement.

It remains undeniable that the mass media played a strong role in spotlighting the movement and mobilizing supporters, as exemplified by the outpouring of pubic sympathy and protesters after news broke of the 700 arrests on Brooklyn Bridge; however, both the role of new media channels and the community-feel of Occupy campsites were irreplaceable in their ability to attract and organize supporters. The hegemonic power of mass media as articulated by Gitlin and Gamson is bound to the existing media environments at the time of their publication, thus limiting their application to movements originating in today’s network society. Online spaces allow protesters and supporters of a movement to have a voice, and to contest mass media framing. This counter power does not trump the public’s trust and reliability in traditional media, but it does provide mass audiences with alternative sources of information, and can serve as a tool to pressure media institutions into being more conscious of their framing.

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In more recent scholarship, Cottle’s (2008) Reporting demonstrations: the changing media politics of dissent, Cottle (2008) emphasizes the importance of acknowledging that protests “are invariably a means to an end, not the end themselves, and we therefore need to understand how their communicative aims have been realized or derailed in their encounter with media” (Cottle, 2008, p. 866). Applying this assertion to Occupy is problematic, as the movement never made any ‘tangible demands’, making it difficult to determine, by Cottle’s definition, whether the movement achieved its goals. Cottle goes on to say that “the politics of spectacle does not subsist in spectacle alone” (866). In other words, occupying a physical space is simply tactic to draw public attention; it is part of a larger strategy to achieve specific aims. However, the various campgrounds of Occupy often became much more than a spectacle for the media to consume, they became fully functioning communities and homes to the protestors.

The lack of specific demands made by the movement frustrated many and lead to the criticism that the movement was unorganized, and unfocused; however, much of Occupy’s success can be seen in the successful day-to-day upkeep of its encampments, and the hope this inspired in others. The camps or ‘occupied areas’ were equipped with everything from libraries to medical tents, and the General Assemblies (GAs) and people’s mic were aimed at fostering consensus and cohesiveness amongst members. The success of the Occupy movement cannot then be measured or quantified strictly by Cottle’s definition, or as a ‘means to an ends’, as it did not aim to immediately impact specific policies. Instead, Occupy focused on shifting attitudes, and by bringing people together through the creation of communities that could thrive (even if only for several months) outside of the institutions they distrusted. We should look to better understand the successes of the movement by polling both the changing attitudes of citizens and issues at the forefront of political debate, as well as talking to those who were both involved with and impacted by the movement. The construction and maintenance of Occupy camps served to show the public that alternative systems were possible; Occupy gave the world a glimpse of a society that at the very least caused many to reflect and even question the one we live in today.

 

Media Monsters: Portrayals and Perceptions

Sharks in the Media

In 2006, Sharkwater, a documentary by Rob Stewart, opened up my world. Ever since I was little, I have been fascinated by the ocean, and all of its wonders. Looking back I think a lot of my fascination stemmed from my curiosity  – under the ocean lies a whole other world, and I wanted to know more. I have come to realize is that there is still a lot we don’t know about this underwater world. For example, although sharks date back to the dinosaurs, we still don’t fully understand a lot of their behaviours, and unfortunately, we often fear what we do not understand.

Great-White-shark

A recent study by Michigan State University investigated the ways in which sharks were represented in both Australian and American news. Their study confirmed that over 60% of coverage portrayed sharks in a negative light (cue the theme music from Jaws). It is these portrayals which influence public opinion, and it is these portrayals which make it so difficult for people like Rob Stewart to raise awareness on the need for conservation and protection of the species. Unlike pandas, the image of the shark has not be constructed in such a way that evokes warm and fuzzy feelings or the desire to donate to World Wild Life Fund.

Shark populations also face numerous other challenges, including the mass consumption of the traditional Asian dish, shark-fin soup. This billion-dollar shark-fin industry has not only had a plundering impact on the populations of the species, but the practice of ‘finning’ in itself is both barbaric  and inhumane (watch Sharkwater or simply log onto YouTube to see footage for yourself).

But, before I end up launching into a thesis on framing theory, public perceptions, and their impact on conservation efforts, I will just leave you with a few questions I am interested in…What  knowledge and/or attitudes do you possess towards sharks? Where does this knowledge come from? Have you ever stopped to question it?

Big Data, Bigger Considerations

The value is in the User’s Big Data
– Felix Filloux (2012)

Without monthly subscription fees for content, many online companies are relying on advertising; but maybe it’s time to look elsewhere. Thus far, advertising has yet to be the solution to online profit woes, and if new sources of income are not explored, the network population of quality information may dwindle.

So what about users’ information; their own profiles and contents? Could Big Data be a big money making solution?

Filloux defines Big Data as “data sets too large to be ingested and analyzed by conventional data base management tools”. The architecture of the internet enables us to see which users are visiting which sites, so is there a way to analyze this data to anticipate a user’s needs? Can we analyze online activity and target advertisements accordingly? Yes we can, and some sites, like Facebook, are already getting the ball rolling. With further innovation, software will be capable of sorting through big data sets and identifying patterns.

The real question is, how will online sites justify the trading of a user’s privacy for what they feel is a ‘great’ customized service? Filloux also makes a point of mentioning that balance is needed – if I log onto the New York Times to see a completely customized version of the newspaper, which presents me stories on shark conservation, technology, Canadian politics, it may give me an eery feeling. It may become too personal, and I may navigate elsewhere.

big data

Changing Perceptions of Big Data
– Myers (2012)

While technology plays an undeniable role in the process data collection and analysis, it is important to remember that the successful use of Big Data relies just as heavily on business requirements. In other words, where should we collect information and how should we use it? These questions of use must be asked outside of technology, and its limitations, in order to ensue that the potential benefits of Big Data are fully recognized. Once business requirements are identified, then one can survey existing platforms as well as new ones, in order to determine which technology option (which could very well be comprised of multiple platforms) is best suited for their aims.