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Digital Interaction and Identity

Digital Interaction and Identity

by Aristee Georgiadou, February 19, 2018

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Before electronic media the body in long distance communication was substituted by signatures, seals, handwriting. With the telephone it was sound, voice intonation. Deciphering the message in the “internet speak” becomes more important today, use of emoticons or not, in order to identify the sender. In the pre-internet era the body validated the action. Today we recognize people by the content style.

In the 90s through anonymous interaction people played roles, close or far away from the real self, constructing “online identities”, partial and contradicting, floating free of social determinants. They participated in chat rooms and forums without knowing who was who, based on a shared interest. Today our profiles give away our identity as we interact with people we already know, connect with friends, forming foundations of building trust and relationships in the real world.

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Today communications are “asynchronous”. They don’t take place in real time. It may take hours before we answer a message. This enables us to strategize and refine our replies. Still it is faster than waiting 15 days for the mail to arrive. However liberating this is, the receiver may demand that we do not respond when it suits us. Not being required to reply instantly, we prepare, return when we feel safer and thus we are “disinhibited”. Status and authority are also reduced in online interaction, rendering it more democratic than face to face communication. People express themselves more openly online. Yet this is a double-edged sword since it may vary from intimacy to hate speech.

Invisibility, a form of visual anonymity, allows us to evade identifying ourselves. This anonymity makes us riskier. And with the worry of physical or voice absent, attraction rests more on the similarity of values, interests and conversational style. There is liberation in anonymity; people end up revealing themselves more intimately. In groups anonymity may lead to impulsiveness and aggression as we tend to overestimate the sharing of common points of views, based on the number of retweets. At the same time, when anonymity removes individuality it leads to help. Again it is a double-edged sword where it can be the cause of racism or grassroots political action. It depends on how good or bad the cues are.

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However, today our online identities do not differ from our real ones. To build trust there must be some kind of stability. Anonymity is rare and it is with pseudonyms or real selves that reputation is built. And even though it takes longer time, it is possible to build relationships online just as well as offline. When communicating online, relying on the information we have, we tend to think people are more similar with us than they actually are, which in turn generates feelings of closeness and leads to idealization. Because we tend to optimize our online image as well, when we idealize an interaction partner he responds by further optimizing himself. This eventually makes two relative strangers to become surprisingly intimate.

Computer-mediated-communication makes interaction either impersonal or increasingly “hyperpersonal”. Senders express desirable behaviors and receivers construct idealized images. Asynchronicity and the lack of pressure to meet, further enhances the model (Joseph Walther, 1996). Digital society allows large room to people to construct themselves. “Interacting with others on the Internet may provide individuals with the opportunity to successfully implement wished changes in their self-concept”. We construct who we want to be seen as.

Sources:
Lindgren, S., “Digital & Media Society”, 2017, SAGE, pp 67-84.
Walther, J. B. (1996). Computer-Mediated Communication: Impersonal, Interpersonal and Hyperpersonal Interaction. Communication Research, 23 (1), 3-43.

 

Web 2.0: What’s the Big Idea (s)?

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WEB 2.0: What’s the Big Idea (s)?

by Aristee Georgiadou, revised April 20, 2018

 

The internet –cyberspace- in its public conception embodied the techno-utopianism of counter-culture movements of the ‘60s following the libertarian ideals of US politics of the time. It was meant to be above and beyond governments. The prevailing notion was derived from novels where the individual is in control of the cyberspace. The computers, on the other hand, were created in the ‘80s in response to the need of centralized management and increased control by companies. Fairly static and informational, the internet was popularized by the arrival of the web in 1993. Attempts to commercialize Web 1.0 famously failed on March 10, 2000 with the dot-com bust when NASDAQ lost 78% of its value.

 

Users had been deemed important since ’97. Application protocols enabled the e-mail first and when blogging begun, social networking was open. It went from physicists sharing research papers to people sharing cute cats providing User Generated Content (UGC) themselves, gradually colonizing everything in the network. What was once anarchic was now through the Architecture of Participation emancipatory; a dynamic and inexpensive production and reproduction of shared content by the many which bypasses the few and leads to a democratic revolution. Or does it? No doubt the web is powerful in environments of limited speech. It is how people were mobilized in unofficial uprisings. It is how governments engage more directly with citizens and the latter draw attention to local issues. Paradoxically though, information is commodified by the social networking sites (SNS) companies today thus becoming exploitative in nature.

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Access to information is expanded. The Wisdom of the Crowds has opened the way to collaborative knowledge communities. In contrast to the powerless audiences of the mass media, the new media decentralized the monopoly of information. Collective knowledge is shared. Yet its veracity is problematic. And inasmuch as we are becoming dependent on the digital we feel lost without it. By being connected we have instantly compromised our privacy, logged and available at all times. Isolation, self-reference and waste of time are other associated risks.

 

The volume, velocity and variety of data is epic in scale. Suffice it to note that 90% of today’s data was created in two years and more interaction is on the way. This information overload is difficult, impossible even, to assimilate and the feeling of missing out (FOMO) on not interacting socially is stressful enough without counting data theft or abuse of profiles from those digital traces devices and objects leave behind. Fake and hateful content owing to poor information ethics is yet another parameter. Two additional ideas upon which Web 2.0 is built on is Long Tail theory (benefits small segments of population which otherwise would have been left not catered for due to low demand) and open content where free software is available for everyone to use.

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Following the adage “markets are conversations” Web 2.0 constitutes the transition to user-focused businesses, the realization that online users, unlike TV audiences, are participatory. Both controlling and controlled however. Under the allusion of providing control by enabling users the creation of profiles and interacting, companies enhance their own businesses drawing income from advertising. Through the process of horizontal integration the internet companies gain permanent control by increasingly knowing more about the users and their habits. In essence, social media can be both controlling and empowering in a fluctuating negotiated price, because of the importance of the users and their authenticity in communication.

Sources:
Anderson, P., (2007), “What is Web 2.0? Ideas, Technologies and Implications for Education”, JISC Technology & Standards Watch, pp 2-26.
Hepp, A., et al., (2018) “Transforming Communications: Studies in Cross-Media research”, Communicative Figurations, pp 3-6.
Hinton, S. & Hjorth, L., (2015), “Understanding Social Media”, SAGE, pp 7-31.

 

 

 

From Broadcasting to Narrowcasting: Communication Parlance

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From Broadcasting to Narrowcasting: Communication Parlance

 by Aristee Georgiadou, February 4, 2018

 

As computers were invented to solve mathematical problems changing our habits with our families or our businesses, the convergence of telecommunications and computer technologies introduced information societies. The digital intensification of industrialism marked a huge shift to service production, the most prominent work force, dealing with information: a digital labor. Similarly, the de-massification of information through millions of small content would mark a gradual difference in communication yet a huge social change.

In media ecology a medium is an environment that defines human interaction; a social structure with rules and resources where people enter roles, adding a “dramaturgical” perspective. We employ our senses –radio is auditory, video is visual- and media become our extensions. The medium becomes the message, to quote Marshall McLuhan, as it changes the way we understand our world. In a symbolic level, using each medium requires knowledge of some codes, as to when we post or where, for example; like a language that makes sense.

 

Each cultural shift transforms society profoundly: writing lessened the role of talking elders, printing democratized information, electronic media further expanded the confines of who, where, when and to whom one could speak to, rendering the message equal to the social change a technology generates. The users of tools and platforms of the media today are active and create good, clever and unanticipated content. Thus we call them “prosumers” or “produsers” as they produce, share or participate in tweets, posts, videos etc. People-to-people, as Tim Berners Lee, put it in 2006, is what the web was conceived for.

 

If Web 2.0 for you is blogs and wikis, then that is people to people. But that was what the Web was supposed to be all along.

Media constantly assimilate and remodel other forms of media in “remediation” (a movie based on a novel or transmedia storytelling across platforms such as toys based on movies). In the same sense, new media refashion old media: “immediacy” occurs when the website of a TV station borrows video from the newsroom and “hypermediacy” when the medium is very obvious and acknowledged (a mirror in a painting reflecting the central image or an immersive game). All this content is now accessible in multiple devices to us.

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The ever growing importance of media in our lives is manifest in the concept of “mediatization”: our lives cannot be experienced outside the media anymore. We are the media. We are increasingly recasting our social lives in order to fit to the media. It started from politics to spread down to everyday life communication, from family to business to learning, constructing a new social reality by stabilizing or speeding up a complex dialectic.

With this qualitative change and the mechanization of communication, “media logic” is created, a framework within which social action occurs. The way media work they influence other institutions as well, affecting the communication and relationships between sender and receiver. It’s not about the content per se. It’s about how the medium is perceived from environments that use other “logics”.  News is broadcast differently on mass media compared to interpersonal digital platforms where the audience talks back. Journalism, commerce, politics and education are transformed by media logic.

Sources:
Lindgren, S., 2017, Digital Media & Society, SAGE, pp 3-25.
Gomes, P.D., 2016, “Mediatization: A Concept, Multiple Voices”, Journal for Commuication Studies, vol. 9, no. 2, pp 197-212.

 

Filter Bubbles: Retrain Yourself

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by Aristee Georgiadou March 2, 2018

Filter Bubbles: Retrain Yourself

 

Facebook recently announced changes in its algorithm which will impact its newsfeed,  a feature since September 2006. How true is the better experience it promises? And how much of our privacy is being ceded over for a more sophisticated involvement? AI processes billions of data, publishing a mere 0,2% of the stories it considers; 60 out of 30.000 possible candidates. Who you friend, what publishers you follow, how often you interact, what kind of content you prefer, how many interactions these contents have, their recency, they all are parameters of a relevancy score which ranks what appears in your newsfeed. The score is derived by a feed quality program comprised of a panel which organizes the stories based on a survey in 30 languages. Your control over it is friending/unfriending, following/unfollowing, hide, if content lacks interest.

 

Beyond the obvious concern of internet platforms keeping detailed tabs on us, our online behavior comes with more serious consequences, in the name of personalization. Edgerank is the Facebook algorithm which ranks the summary of our friends’ actions (called edges). Personalization sends users to “filter bubbles” by way of making note of which sites you visit and which links you click on. While following your web history, this structure gradually limits your exposure to opposing viewpoints, much like how we choose to friend like-minded people so as to avoid upsetting our nervous system with heated political debates, for example. And while with mass media, television or newspaper you can actively select what to see and read or not, “with personalization algorithms…many consumers don’t understand, or may not even be aware of, the filtering methodology”. As Google’s Jake Hubert put it, a foodie ends up seeing more apples instead of Apple computers.

 

In his book “The Filter Bubble: What the Internet Is Hiding From You”, in May 2011, Eli Pariser was the first to highlight that the algorithm of internet companies such as Google, since 2009, tend to spread falsehood and bias by either leaving groups who manipulate the social media trends unchecked, thus shifting the opinions of undecided voters, or leaving the rest of us unprotected at the mercy of partisan extremists who manipulate SEO by traffic. As a rule, every user sees different results in his search, the outcome of Google’s personalization. They were forced to tweak their system after rampant misinformation about the Holocaust. Framing content with facts is a way to enhance credibility and move to the top of search results.

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Building our digital democracy in the era of the Internet of Things is a difficult task dictated by the wisdom of pluralism. Reduced pluralism increases conflict historically and undermines stability by influencing people’s decisions. However, the concern about virtual echo chambers is considered overstated for some, as a study of 14.000 users in seven countries in 2017 showed. Users check sources, burst filter bubbles and open echo chambers, it maintains. Although people search online for news, they check it on traditional media as well, leaving the least skilled open to fake news. Relying on convincing peers and referrals we are victimized by the comfort zone of our newsfeed. One way to insulate ourselves is by signing up to unfiltered platforms, like Twitter.

 

Recent US elections (November 2016) with 62% of Americans getting their news from social media led Facebook and Google to restrict advertising on fake news sites, in an attempt to offset interference. Still, over-believing is a problem for a society which celebrated Obama’s clever use of Facebook to win elections. Educating an entire generation with the ability to discern between reliable information and misinformation is one way to burst the bubble as is subscribing to reputable news sources with traditional gatekeeping. The Facebook newsfeed trained us to scroll down at first and then it retrained us to wait for the news to come to us instead of us trying to find them; on top of that we read nothing but the headlines.

“Facebook has centralized attention typically spread across the web”

thus taking up the role of a news medium as well. High-jacking advertisement from the news sites themselves is an added bonus. By removing 20% of news from its newsfeed in favor of meaningful and interactive content between users, Facebook gains more engagement, as users are again retrained to skip less of what they see, whereas retraining number four is local news, which will eventually highjack local publishers unless they prepare against the native marketplace. Training your own readers to blog and towards newspapers is the answer.