Cognative Surplus

In our final week’s video we were to watch a TED talk given by Clay Shirky on Cognitive Surplus and how such time can be utilized to make profound changes in our world. Shirky discusses cognitive surplus as the free time that people have when not working or performing the necessary duties in one’s life. Many people use this time to watch television and basically “veg-out” which, in my opinion and Shirky’s, is a waste of time that could be spent doing more constructive and meaningful things.

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In his talk he discusses how when violence broke out in Kenya, an internet blogger named Ory Okolloh started writing about the events transpiring in order to deliver a more clear picture of what was happening, as well as a more immediate, localized description of where incidents were taking place in the country. The site Ushahidi came about as a collective work because there was simply too much information and occurrences for Okolloh to write about alone. This type of collective effort has been labelled civic value, one that is created by a few, but enjoyed by society as a whole.

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There are many other examples of collective effort that have civic value in the lives of internet users. Some such efforts that have really been developing in our country have been the ones dealing with the immigration problems that have been headlining our news as of late. There are organizations on both sides of the issue trying to get their message across to the masses, however, only one side seems to want to inform. Everyone can agree that some sort of reform is necessary in order to restore the chaos that has been happening, they just can’t agree on what that is. The right side wants to ship everyone home and put up an electric fence on the border, while those on the left take a more humanitarian approach and try to resolve the situation by accepting people into the country with certain terms and legalization. I am obviously on the more sensible side, the latter.

I think that this is an issue that affects everyone, so I would benefit by being more informed of the situation as well as learning how I could help out. This isn’t some sort of interactive map being created, but the collective effort of those who wish to do better in this world by allowing immigrants to come to this country. I mean most of the people in this country came from immigrants at one point or another.

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As far as if I would contribute my talents towards this effort, absolutely, but not anytime soon. As we have been writing our final blogs of this semester, my wife gave birth to our first child, a baby boy! So now, all of the cognitive surplus I might have had available is now used to change diapers and assist in nursing. It has been a pleasure participating in this course and reading all of your wonderful blogs! I wish everyone the best in life and to keep posting pictures of your lolcats… and I’ll keep deleting them!


Free Information

As more and more people make the move towards social media it goes without saying that someone would find a way to make money off of it. A lot of money! In this week’s readings and viewings we learned quite a bit about how marketing companies today are utilizing social media in order to make money for their customers without having to target a specific audience. Not only do they not have to do the marketing themselves, but it seems that they are exploiting the information and usage of every person without having to pay them.

In the past marketing firms as well as television networks relied on information that was presented to them by companies such as Nielson. We used to be a Nielson family with television, companies such as Nielson would sell information about what we were Image taken from www.nielson.comwatching and when to television companies in order for them to establish ratings. This information would, in turn, be used to establish how much to charge advertisers during commercials as well as the demographics of the viewers. We would get compensated a little bit. It was $200 initially when we were presented with the opportunity, then $50 every six months after that. This isn’t a lot of money, but at least it’s something. How much money does one get from Facebook for clicking like? Nada.

The Frontline video showed us how much new firms are using social media like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram in order to market products and people. How is this being done cheaper and easier than other forms of communication? As Shirky puts it, one can’t really compare Facebook to other mediums because it is far more social than anything that has been available to us in the past. He further discusses how with the amount of people using this type of social media, there will be a large amount of freeloaders. Now, he was making a comparison to groups of individuals brought together to study, but I started thinking, isn’t this what these marketing firms are doing? They are taking information, which has monetary value, for next to nothing. I guess if you don’t agree to Facebook’s terms and conditions, you won’t ever be on in the first place.

Facebook Reece Elliott
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Marshall McLuhan would have not been too surprised at how society was progressing towards this state. He clearly stated that as technology advances, we as a society would have less and less privacy. McLuhan constantly spoke of the need to evaluate any new technology in order to compare what we would gain from it and also what we would lose, culturally. I don’t think that any younger person today would take his advice and sit down and say, “Now if I open an account on Facebook what would be the advantage for me and what would I lose?” They just open an account because everyone else has an account. McLuhan probably would have been a little disgusted, but again this would be no surprise to him.

Today there are large groups of just about every generation online. Over the years I have also noticed more and more older people using different types of social media in order to express ideas or find peoples of similar interests. Most of what I see from them, as far as posts are concerned, are mainly political statements and sharing of the latest home they bought or something of that nature. Now, even though I haven’t heard of it, I’m sure that political parties can gain information from Facebook about what their target voters like and dislike. This would directly affect those older generations about whom I am speaking. Already some government agencies use social media in order to weed out sham marriages, locate tax evaders and establish people’s incomes.

Social media isn’t the only medium on the internet that gathers peoples information in order to best serve advertisers, basic search engines do it as well. If you ever wonder why those sunglasses you looked at six months ago keep appearing on an advertisement on a web page, that is the reason. Are we going to stop using them because we aren’t being compensated though? The answer is no.

From Tribes and Back Again

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“We shape our tools and, they, in turn, shape us.” This phrase is widely attributed to Marshall McLuhan even though it was originally stated by a friend of McLuhan, Father John Culkin. The phrase, however, does illustrate many valid points that McLuhan brought up in his career as a communication theorist. His ideas on how we have propelled ourselves from a culture that communicated first orally, then by reading, print and finally electronic means have been institutional in how we view our interaction and means of gathering with one another to share common goals or ideas.

When protestors in Leipzig were gathering to protest the German Democratic Republic, their methods of communication most likely only went so far as oral communication or maybe flyers in order to organize the masses. The television, although it was readily available, would not have broadcasted where and when to protest the government. One could imagine how the events could have been organized if there were some sort of social media present at the time, even though they didn’t need it to obtain their ultimate goal. That’s what makes the internet and mobile technology so great, people can gather easier and with less fear of repercussions from outside forces.

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McLuhan died before he could see the rise in internet and mobile technologies, but if he hadn’t he might have added another historical era in terms of communication. If one were to view McLuhan’s map of media history it states that we are now in a stage between print and electronics, however, I believe we are now in a stage that is comprised of print, electronics and internet media. We still make phone calls to communicate, watch the news on television, and read magazines and books, but we also as a society read a lot of blogs and peer reviews on things that didn’t used to be available to us. This sort in interactivity can’t really be placed in the overlapping of any of the prior categories. Neil Postman believes that this new era should be called the digital age, and has a grimmer outlook on it than myself. He believes that these new technologies have started to enslave us and direct our lives, instead of us using them as useful tools. I suppose, like most things in life, it really depends on the user

McLuhan also states that we are on the way to being a global village where there is no more privacy and specialists worldwide are being replaced with a sense of “over-all-awareness.” Well, if you have ever worked in the hospitality industry in the last ten years you could see some of this. It seems nowadays that everyone is a chef and they let you know it. This “Global Village” is not necessarily a bad thing and anyone can opt out of social media if they should choose, or just turn it off every once in a while… The fact is as technology grows, the world becomes smaller. There will still be many wars and cultural differences to overcome, but ultimately isn’t it leading to a more collective, communal human race?

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What would mobile technology and the internet be considered in McLuhan’s philosophy of hot and cool media? Well, most definitely it would be cool! If hot media targets a single sense and cool media targets many, try thinking about the internet and targeting only one sense. I’m not talking about looking up a picture and saying “Hmmm, that’s purely visual…”   I’m talking about the internet as a whole and the myriad of feelings and sounds and visuals that arise from say Youtube. Not only that, but when you are on your computer “surfing the web” is something else going on, maybe the television, or receiving texts. And how many people talk on their phone while driving? Although it is illiegal in Oregon, I’m sure that many people whom reside in states where it is not still continue to do so. We call it multitasking now, but McLuhan would call it cool media.

Net Neutrality

Could you live without the internet? Would you be willing to pay more just to keep up with your current speed and to visit the sites that you want? If you said that you wouldn’t, then you wouldn’t be able to take this class. In this week’s readings and videos we took a good look at a situation that has grabbed the nation’s attention for the past couple years, net neutrality and the forces that are trying to preserve it and to end it.

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I live in a small mountain town where the internet providers are limited to a select few. There is the major one, BendBroadband, our cable provider, as well as a host of smaller DSL companies that offer cheaper internet, but at significantly lower speeds. About a year ago they broke up their service into tiers offering at bronze, silver, gold and platinum levels. I was taken aback because, sure, they own the coax buried in the ground, but seriously how much does that cost them to maintain when they already have a virtual monopoly in the town. Did they really need more money? As the ISP giants come up with new ways to make money I suppose it’s inevitable that others would follow. I continued to pay for the tier that was the same price as my old service and it works fine for me to stream HD video and download/upload data in a reasonable amount of time, but what about those who chose the lowest tier? That’s almost ending net neutrality in a way. Those who can’t afford to pay for the higher speeds can’t access any streaming webcasts, unless they want to wait an hour for it to buffer.

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As technology advances, prices are supposed to drop, right? Why are companies who already have virtual monopolies like Comcast and Time-Warner trying to get even more money? The answer is because they already have the money to put these ideas into place. One of the biggest problems in this country is that the government is dictated by lobbyists whom work for these companies and others like them. If a corporation needs a law to be implemented by Congress, they hire lobbyists whom in turn persuade, all by legal means of course, those members to vote a certain way. Now we have one of these “dingos” as John Oliver put it in charge of the FCC, wow. This has been happening for decades. Everyone knows that this happens and most feel that there is no way to end it. I mean for a law to be past against lobbying one would need to get Congress to approve it… catch-22. One thing that I would like to point out is that in the HBO special with Oliver he put the address to a commenting session on the FCC’s website in order to get people to express their abhorrence in what is happening with the industry. What followed was that the FCC’s website was so overrun by users visiting their site, that they had to shut it down for the day. Obviously, they didn’t pay for the higher tier.

Stock Photo of the Consitution of the United States and Feather Quill
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The idea of charging more for different speeds has already been implemented in my neck of the woods, but the filtering of content has so far not been. Making someone pay for access to certain sites on the internet is, in my opinion, against the first amendment. Google used to be the anti-corporation, in that they stuck up for the little guy, stimulating innovation instead of squashing it, but even they are starting to emulate some of the neutrality ending corporations. They have ended Google fiber contracts with many of its customers because they were setting up independent legal servers attached to fiber. We view the internet as a collection of information, bad or good, and if we aren’t allowed access to information someone else is putting out there, then isn’t that a constitutional violation?

When does enough become enough? Probably never.  If I had to pay more to visit certain sites, I probably wouldn’t, but I also wouldn’t abandon the internet all together. Too much of our lives now involve this vital piece of technology.

Cognitive Surplus and User-Generated Content

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As civilizations progress there will be more forms of entertainment and new ways for us to spend our free time. In the readings we found out how much time the average person was spending watching television and the build-up of cognitive surplus that seems to go to waste due to T.V. time. This is a subject that I feel very strongly about in a very off-putting manner.

I use the internet as much as most Americans, if not more. I find that it is an endless supply of information and resources, but with it we are losing something. I have a friend who is a mother of two and spends all of her time with the children while her husband is away at work. Every time that I glance at Facebook there is a new post from her on there. They’re usually about how she loves her children and they learned a new trick today or something to that effect. What I gather though, and verified from her husband, is that she never leaves the house. There are kid shows constantly running on the television and the kids outings consist of her daily fast-food trips. I at first thought, well, this is only one person’s way of raising her children and I shouldn’t think anything of it. Then I got to wondering, and as I was cruising on Facebook, I found that more and more women that I know who have now become mothers are doing the same thing. They find out something that someone else has done and post it as if they just made a huge discovery. Quite frequently they find it on a biased site that leaves out much of the fact. This doesn’t make you a visionary or an expert, just a parrot. It just makes me sick to my stomach, not just because they aren’t taking their kids outside to play and expend energy, but the cognitive surplus that is wasted on it. They could be spending their time instead by educating their children and making them more active instead of instilling a personality of domestic sloth. Oh well. Just reading how much time is wasted on the television made me want to vent.

Sloth Watching TV
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Now, as for my feelings on user-generated content, I kind of take them with a grain of salt. I frequently use Wikipedia as a source of quick information, but I am very wary as to quote information from there. They have gotten better in recent years as they have acquired more money through advertising and sponsors, thus ramping up their filtering. However, as any professor will tell you, they are not a scholarly source. My homepage is CNN and that’s where I watch my news, only using the T.V. for sports and movies, and I take all the articles as fact and knowledge, well, basically because they are happening right now. I don’t play into media or social opinions because that’s simply what they are.

I have made my statement about how much faith that I put in user-generated content, but I would like to add that it does bring people together. They may not be in the same room together, but it is a great way to express common feelings and beliefs without necessarily receiving any backlash. The readings illustrated a good point, that even though the content is out there for all to view, it doesn’t mean that it is directed at us individually. There are people who leave negative comments, but as a whole most people who disagree with something they read on a social networking site or blog simply choose to ignore it. Another benefit of people utilizing user-generated content is that at least they are doing something socially, albeit from some remote device. Back when it was only televisions there was no way to interact with the person sending the message. This way at least some of the cognitive surplus is being utilized…

Week 2 Discussion

In the week two readings and lectures we learned a lot about how the internet and telegraph service were formed, both with the common goal of connecting people, whom, in the case of telegraphy otherwise would have had to go through more primitive methods (such as the Pony Express.) Although these technologies were over a century apart in their inception, there are many similarities that the inventors shared in bringing these new technologies to light. Firstly, the adoption of a universal language was key in creating a new communication device. Samuel Morse, the inventor of the Morse Code found devised a simple, but elegant way for conveying numbers through a combination of dots and dashes. On the other side of the Atlantic, English inventors Wheatstone and Cooke utilized a system where needles, connected to a pivot point, electromagnetically pointed to letters, thus conveying the message. Even though the two differed slightly in their methods, throughout each country there was a universal system for getting messages across. The invention of the internet was not un-similar in its formation of a language. Tim Berners-Lee is credited with creating HTTP and HTML, utilized still today in the creation of web pages. Prior to this devices of only the same make could communicate together on a network.

The formation of both technologies also had government complications in which they had to overcome to get their benefits recognized. Congress was very slow to adapt telegraphs in the beginning, seeing them as more of a novelty than anything else. Only after witnessing the benefits first hand did they eventually come around to the idea. Whit Diffie, who is recognized as developing public key encryption had his own challenges in dealing with the NSA, who saw his encryption as a way of stifling their supervision of the internet. This is always the case when a new technology reveals itself. There are many to embrace, and many to criticize and usually those who criticize have yet to try it…

In both cases of the internet and telegraph coming about, there were prior technologies that paved the way for them to develop. Alessandro Volta’s invention of the battery made it possible to send electric current through a wire making the telegraph possible. It was only the later invention of alternating current by Nikola Tesla that allowed for electricity to be carried over long distances without burning up wires or requiring an absurd amount of initial power. In the case of the internet, packet switching started as far back as the 60’s and led to further development of the transmission of texts. From there the invention of the world wide web came to be due to Tim Berners-Lee’s contributions in internet protocol and markup language.

As I stated earlier there were a number of people in both time periods who brushed off the new technologies as a fad. There were also a number who contributed to making these inventions come to light. When Tim Berners-Lee first came up with the ideas of a device neutral World Wide Web, he published all of his information for free. In this way, he was able to get the entire world community involved and promote his findings as well as get valuable feedback from those in the same field as himself. Similarly Linus Torvalds developed Linux by publicly posting his ideas and work, opening it up for interpretation and contribution. (Sounds kind of like the first Wiki!)

This is the part in which I give my personal opinion. Throughout history it seems to me that the truly great innovators are those who find a problem and then create a solution for the good of all the people. They aren’t necessarily after riches or fame, just doing a common good for society. It is too often that these inventions are met with skepticism and rebuke. Maybe this is why I consider myself an innovator, because I am more willing to accept change and use it to my advantage.

Communication Technologies and the Internet

My name is Court Hyer and I currently reside in beautiful Bend, OR. I am currently a senior at University of Illinois, Springfield, majoring in mathematics. I travelled for many years around the country working in various hospitality venues and after I met my wife, I decided it was time to get my degree. I chose mathematics because it was a subject that I had always excelled in during high school and felt that it would be challenging as well. I am concurrently studying for my actuarial exams this summer in order to secure a position as an actuary as soon as I graduate.

I consider myself to be proficient in internet usage and have demonstrated that fact during two internships. The only shortcoming to my familiarity with the internet is that I have yet to “blog” on any subject. I have read blogs in the past usually to remedy some situation that I otherwise couldn’t find an answer to, but have always had a desire to establish one on my own. Like many internet users, I found myself following happenings on social media sites, which I suppose is most common today.

There are a number of perspectives on communication technologies and how they have been evolving since their inception. I would consider myself to be more of an innovator, whether for good or bad is for someone else to decide. I am usually the first to try out a new cell phone when they come on the market and that has in the past come back to haunt me.   I have had OS problems, battery cell problems and camera issues, but always thought that if I didn’t try out any of these products, I would never know. On the upside, I have learned from these trials and now know which products have such glitches and can choose a manufacturer that is least likely to cause me anymore headache. Where as now I am more closely following Rogers’ five-step process, I used to skip step two, “the persuasion when you form a positive attitude,” and went straight to buying.

I have always been an acceptor of change, whether it be personal, technological or otherwise. Maybe that is why I am keen to just try out a new product without much research.  However, the internet, combined with social media, is still a frightening tool for many individuals. My mother for example doesn’t use her credit card for anything on the internet. She is too terrified of getting her identity stolen. This has caused her to miss out on many of the ways that my brother and I communicate and share things. I can have his birthday/Christmas presents delivered to his house for a fraction of the price that it would take to go out and purchase them, package them and mail them. With every type of innovation there are drawbacks as well as advantages, but for society to progress, we need to accept the advantages and work on fixing the drawbacks.

It is incredible to see how much the developing world is assimilating into the e-life. Many of these countries are so poor that they are constantly struggling for simple clean water, but despite this internet usage is on the rise. I was coincidently reading a study on the subject and mobile usage for developing countries has surpassed that of developed nations in the last ten years. Granted it may be limited to their devices since most don’t have a PC at home, but it is still a surprising occurrence. One can only hope that the increased usage of mobile internet technology will be utilized for more positive measures and not the exploitation and dangerous measures associated with third world countries.


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