Monthly Archive for September, 2004

Rising Costs of Journal Subscriptions: NMS vs. JCMC

Introduction
The two main peer-reviewed journals that are within my information theory interests include the ‘New Media & Society‘ (NMS) and the ‘Journal of Computer Mediated Communication‘ (JCMC). Both these journals are popularly cited and are both represented online. A worthy point to note is that the New Media & Society is available online as Adobe PDF documents and offline as hardcopy journals, while the Journal of Computer Mediated Communication is freely available online. This distinction makes for an interesting comparison between the two information and communication technology-related journals.

About New Media & Society
On April 1999, Professors Nicholas Jankowski, Steve Jones, Rohan Samarajiva, and Roger Silverstone saw the rising need for a new international journal that would address the social implications of emerging communication and information technologies. They aimed to encourage critical discussion of the key issues arising from new media developments, drawing on a wide range of disciplinary perspectives and on both theoretical and empirical research. The New Media & Society considers contributions from the entire spectrum of new media developments, but does so with a primary focus on the processes of communication. So far, the journal has published contributions on topics such as: digitalization and convergence; interactivity and virtuality; consumption and citizenship; innovation, regulation and control; the cultures of the Internet; patterns and inequalities of use; community and identity in electronic space; time and space in global culture and everyday life; the politics of cyberspace. As with the diverse range of topics, the journal offers a multidisciplinary perspective as it publishes material grounded in both the social sciences and the humanities, and includes contributions from communication, media and cultural studies, as well as from sociology, geography, anthropology, economics, political science, and the information sciences.

As an international journal, this publication has global affiliations as seen in the editorial panel which consists of major theorists around the world. The founder and editor is Prof. Nicholas Jankowski from the University of Nijmegen, located in the Netherlands. Co-editors include Steve Jones from the University of Illinois at Chicago, Leah A Lievrouw University of California, in Los Angeles, Roger Silverstone London School of Economics and Political Science, in UK and Keith Hampton, from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, in Boston. The journal also features a decent list of contributing editors and an international advisory board from universities in countries such as United Kingdom, United States of America, India, Australia, Canada, Singapore, Malaysia, Netherlands, Hungary, Japan, and Italy. SAGE Publications is a huge publishing company which handles the distribution of the New Media & Society. SAGE publishes more than 325 journals, including those of more than 70 learned societies and institutions. They have an extensive list of journals spanning more than 30 disciplines which includes some of the premier journals in the social sciences and medicine and technology domain.

Although they print and distribute the hardcopy journals, they also have subscriptions available for the online version of most journals. Since the University at Buffalo Library does not have the hardcopy available to students, they do have an online subscription with SAGE, which is much more convenient for scholars looking for articles within the New Media & Society. It is important to note that while SAGE handles the distribution of the journal, the New Media & Society homepage at http://www.new-media-and-society.com offers details on the nature and goal of their organization, but only offers abstracts of articles from their journal. The full-text articles of their recent and archived articles require the paid subscription with SAGE. As such, the New Media & Society is available offline and online, but both are not freely available. The journal is in its 6th volume, 4th issue, and is published bi-monthly on February, April, June, August, October, and December. The ISSN for the journal is 1461-4448. SAGE offers the New Media & Society at http://www.sagepub.com/journalManuscript.aspx?pid=90&sc=1 .

Nature of Articles
The New Media & Society is entirely focused on Information and Communication Technology (ICT) and its social implications. Among the articles presented were papers on e-government, blogging and journalism, the use of communication technology during the 9/11 event, and the differences in readership of online versus print newspapers. A notable article from the New Media & Society includes a recent paper submitted by George Barnett and his Korean communication students Han Woo Park and Chun-Sik Kim entitled the ‘Socio-Communicational Structure among Political Actors on the Web in South Korea: The Dynamics of Digital Presence in Cyberspace’ (2004). This article finds an increased use of the World Wide Web for political discourse in Korea. The authors examine the current structure of the socio-communication network among Korean political parties and politicians on the World Wide Web and how the structure has changed over the last two years. The communication network is defined by the existence of hyperlinks among websites. The data were obtained from the homepages of Korea’s parties and national assemblymen for 2000 and 2001. The results indicated that the network has become denser, more highly integrated, centralized and interactive over time. Another article submitted from our University’s School of Informatics this year includes Arun Vishwanath’s ‘Manifestations of interpersonal trust in online interaction: A cross-cultural study comparing the differential utilization of seller ratings by eBay participants in Canada, France, and Germany’ (2004). This article explores how interpersonal trust for online interactions differs from country to country. Cultures that exhibit high levels of interpersonal trust tend to participate in online auctions irrespective of the sellers’ feedback ratings. The study is done using data from the World Values Survey and Inglehart’s (1997) scores on interpersonal trust. Even Alexander Halavais has his paper entitled ‘National borders on the world wide web’ (2000) published in this journal as well. While the journal does offer book reviews aside from the research articles, most of the articles do feature quantitative as well as qualitative research.

The SAGE web interface offers no visible indication of such themed issues unless one ventures into each issue’s editorial. The journal’s official homepage does offer a better listing as to which were the themed issues. The editors regularly call for proposals for themed sections, defined as three to four papers on a single topic meriting special focus or exploration. As such, April 1999 saw an issue about ‘What’s new about new media’?, September 2000 had an issue entitle ‘Content is king? Culture, community and commerce’, while September 2001 had one entitled ‘On the edge: cultural barriers and catalysts to IT diffusion among remote and marginalized communities’. A themed section appeared in the June 2002 issue on the Internet in China. In 2003, a themed issue featured papers on cybercafes, guest-edited by Sonia Liff. Finally, the recent October 2004 issue was an issue dedicated to 9/11 and new media. The interesting point about the 9/11 themed issue was that one could see how both old and new media were mobilized to meet the challenges and threat of chaos that came from this attack, and to see how the media was applied in the private as well as public settings. The editors do realize the significance of themed sections as one of the most valuable features of New Media & Society. They plan to publish themed sections on digital memory and hacking in 2004.

About Journal of Computer Mediated Communication
The Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication (JCMC) started in June 1995 and comes in the form of an electronic journal distributed over the World Wide Web. The homepage is at http://jcmc.indiana.edu/. This scholarly publication is a joint project of the Annenberg School for Communication, University of Southern California, and the Information Systems Division of the School of Business Administration, Hebrew University of Jerusalem. Representing their respective universities are the editors of the journal, Margaret McLaughlin and Sheizaf Rafaeli. The editors are joined by a large editorial board consisting of professors mostly from the western nations.

The editors started this journal because they believed that computer-mediated communication (CMC) was an exponentially growing and constantly evolving phenomenon. They felt that as a subject of inquiry, CMC was wide-ranging and encompassed the individual, group, organizational, social, and cultural levels of analysis. According to them, the computer as a medium fosters new forms and supports established modes of social interaction. The computer-mediated communication network literally constitutes a new world, and as well a global oasis where many scholars are coming to tarry. Their intention was to form a scientific, refereed journal to serve these scholars.
The announcement of the JCMC came at the ‘Second International WWW Conference ’94: Mosiac and the Web’, organized by the National Center for Supercomputing Applications (NCSA) on September 16, 1994. According to the announcement (1994), the journal sought to publish original essays and research reports on such topics as interpersonal and group processes in communication networks, issues of privacy, economics and access raised by the developing information infrastructure, instructional communication in distance learning, computer-supported cooperative work, and organizational and social policy issues occasioned by the new medium. The unique aspect of this journal is that the JCMC has been and is still an electronic-only journal. As seen in how this journal is widely referenced, it has managed to remain exclusively online without compromising its scholarly nature. The editors claim that the electronic form is intended to make the journal more accessible and affordable, emphasizing its global appeal, and broadening the bandwidth in which its content is offered. They also noted that this electronic form accelerates the editorial and production process, by encouraging reader-editor-reviewer-author interaction. The very nature of going electronic is a statement in itself, as illustrated by Marshall McLuhan’s seminal work entitled ‘The medium is the message’. The editors said that although electronic information services that focus on journalistic or cartographic approaches to CMC currently exist, the fact that JCMC operates on an entirely electronic level makes the journal very different. It seems refreshing yet natural to see a communication journal practice the use of CMC in the editorial process and as a medium for the outlet of this work. In a way, the JCMC can be said to be practicing what they preach. Special attention should finally be brought to how the journal also holds online mini-conferences surrounding special issues. Instead of passively calling for papers, this journal is very active in terms of getting scholarly work published.

Nature of Articles
Technically, since the JCMC is distributed as a hypermedia document on the World Wide Web, contributors could also include illustrative materials such as photographs, color graphics, sound clips, and short video clips, and as well to provide hyperlinks to related documents such as annotated bibliographies, archived data, and journals in related fields. This seems like an evolutionary step toward better scholarly work as it would help in better understanding of the research.

Similar to the New Media & Society (NMS) journal, the JCMC features themed issues as well, if not more. Already into Volume 9, Issue 4 of their journal, the JCMC already has numerous theme issues on topics such as the multilingual Internet (9,1), electronic networks and democracy (8,3), Internet adoption in the Asia-Pacific (7,2), Health and New Media (6,4), Persistent Questions in Internet Research (6,1), Computer-Mediated Markets (5,3), Electronic Commerce and the Web (5,2), Online Journalism (4,1), and Virtual Organizations (3,4). Also, there seems to be a lot of ‘methods of enquiry’ type papers where researchers try to discuss ways in which they can analyze things that may be hard to quantify. For example, Woelfel, J. (July 2003) co-authored a paper on ‘Procedures for Analyses of Online Communities’. He wrote about a set of procedures for the analysis and interpretation of the content and structure of online networks and communities. He showed unique methods for the analysis of online chat, including parsing the data into separate and interrelated files to determine individual, group and organizational patterns. With the findings from his semantic network analysis methods, one can determine elements of online interaction which would be near impossible from the sheer amount of text-based data generated from these online communities. As with most other papers in this journal, this case study allows for qualitative and quantitative analyses.

Comparison of Journals
From the obvious, the New Media & Society journal features an international approach to the research as compared to the Journal of Computer Mediated Communication. Based on the editorial boards of each journal, the NMS has affiliates worldwide, while the JCMC is more US-centric with affiliates mostly from the western nations. If having a global perspective is important to a budding scholar, he or she should publish to the NMS as its international relevance would mean that it would be cited often more than the JCMC.

However, there is more to consider when publishing to a journal. The JCMC is about four year older than NMS, and is into its 9th volume as compare to NMS being at its 6th volume. This means that the JCMC is not only freely available online, but contains more articles, making it more accessible and attractive. Furthermore, the feature where JCMC is entire web-based makes it very attractive in terms of how it could accommodate more forms of media besides text and diagrams. If a scholar is interested in moving towards a progressive journal that is allows for the use of multimedia and is also free to the public, then the Journal of Computer Mediated Communication is for them.

Journal Selection
While I personally like the idea of publishing to the JCMC due to its free and open access, I recognized the traditional problem which plagues all young researchers. To illustrate the beginnings of this problem, compare the number of articles published in each journal by scholars by our faculty. The University at Buffalo (SUNY) has about five papers published in the NMS journal, while only two in the JCMC, even though JCMC has been around longer. More professors and graduate students publish to the NMS than the JCMC. In fact, the JCMC only saw only four authors from our department, namely Joseph Woelfel, George Barnett and graduate students Han Woo Park and Junho Choi. This phenomenon seems to be due to the perceived reputation of each journal. The phenomenon is a traditional scholarship problem was recently a theme for a conference organized at the University at Buffalo last year. Entitled ‘ScholCom: Scholarly Communication in an Information Age’, the conference was held on November 11, 2003 and archives of the event is still available at http://libweb.lib.buffalo.edu/ScholCom/

(Rising) Monographs and Serial Costs in ARL Canadian Institutions, 1986-2003
Figure 1: [Rising] Monographs and Serial Costs in ARL Canadian Institutions, 1986-2003

Referring to Figure 1, we can observe the issue of how journal publishers have been increasingly raising the cost of subscription to scholarly work, making it hard for libraries to afford copies and essentially cutting off access to research which was meant for students in the first place. While cheaper or free alternative journals have surfaced (e.g. JCMC), the problem is that most scholars perceive the established published journals as ‘must publish in’ should they seek tenure-ship. Until an agreed standard can be achieved at the university level, journals such as JCMC will always be seen as less important as compared to NMS. Given this paradigm, I would have to publish to New Media & Society in order to get myself recognized as a scholar, and once I am established as communication thinker, I would promote alternative journals by publish more articles to the Journal of Computer Mediated Communication.

References
Announcement of the JCMC at the Second International WWW Conference ’94: Mosiac and the Web retrieved on 26th September 2004 from
http://archive.ncsa.uiuc.edu/SDG/IT94/Proceedings/CSCW/mclaughlin.journal/mclaughlin_Jour.html

Halavais, A. (2000). National Borders on the World Wide Web. New Media Society, 2: 7-28.

Park, H.W., Kim, C.S. and Barnett, G. (2004). Socio-Communicational Structure among Political Actors on the Web in South Korea: The Dynamics of Digital Presence in Cyberspace. New Media & Society, 6, 403-423.

Rosen, D., Woelfel, J., Krikorian, D. and Barnett, G. (2003) Procedures for Analyses of Online Communities. Journal of Computer Mediated Communication. 8 (4)

Vishwanath, A. (2004). Manifestations of interpersonal trust in online interaction: A cross-cultural study comparing the differential utilization of seller ratings by eBay participants in Canada, France, and Germany. New Media & Society. 6: 219-234.

Media Effects & Propaganda

War of the Worlds newsprint

October 30th 1938 was one of the most important dates in the history of mass media and its impact on society. Produced by Orson Welles, the radio broadcast of ???War of the Worlds??? created nationwide panic and thus allowed anyone to see the social effects that were made possible by the media. Interestingly, while panic was observed during the broadcast, some people were still able to remain calm and collected. Two years later, this led physiologists Hadley Cantril, Hazel Gaudet, and Herta Herzog to study the phenomenon where some people seemed more susceptible to the effects of the radio broadcast as compared to others. What they found out was that those who were not frightened were not suggestible because they displayed what psychologists called a ???critical faculty??? (pg. 589). The lack of critical faculty was the lack of the ability to create a framework in which to check if the information were true. People who lacked critical faculty included those in the lower income bracket or educational level, as they would have considerably limited sources of information to refer to (pg. 582). Radio was the most accessible media for them and would be a reason why they seemed to exhibit the most panic. The psychologists behind this paper could be likened to early communication researchers who delved into the mind in order to better understand ones behaviors. They performed standard research methodology including interviewing 135 persons as their sample size, and created a working framework of four psychological conditions in which to classify people???s behaviors. This was in a sense an early study of media effects on society.

There seems to be a natural call to study the effects of media that was considered new to the time. Be it radio, motion picture, television, people do realize that the introduction of ???new??? media creates some kind of change. It would be normal for one to desire better understanding of the media effect, and eventually control it if possible. The Payne Fund Studies on the effects of movies on children was a classic example of how important it is to study media effects. Parents of children who frequented movies were concerned over the effects of the content of motion pictures towards their children. While the pressure mounted whether movies were having a negative effect on their children, it became increasingly clear that research was needed (pg. 23). This need gave birth to the scientific study of mass communication and scholars saw this as the perfect opportunity to go deeper into their research. Instead of merely discovering the influential source of propaganda, communication scientists took the first major steps in defining the cause-effect relationships within the framework of science (pg. 24). Of all the scientific work conducted, Herbert Blumer produced the most interesting research consisting of autobiographical accounts from more then 1,800 young men and women, adolescents and children. His work revealed two processes, namely the meaning theory and modeling theory, which accounted for how movies influenced children. With the idea that his research was mostly qualitative, not quantitative, Blumer shows us scholars that there is room for detailed and analytical research in exploratory studies in place of scientific studies alone.

Although these two studies focus on the effects of media on our everyday life, the same research could be applied to the study of propaganda. According to Wikipedia.com, ???Propaganda is a specific type of message presentation, aimed at serving an agenda. Even if the message conveys true information, it may be partisan and fail to paint a complete and balanced picture. The primary use of the term is in political contexts and generally refers to efforts sponsored by governments and political parties.??? With the study of media effects in mind, governments worldwide employ widespread tactics in order to influence the people of their enemy. On the left, we see the US Marines 350th PSYOPS Company passing out leaflets and broadcasting messages in Al Kut, Iraq on May 2nd, 2003. Note that in place of the heavy weaponry on the top of the vehicle, there is a series of loudhailers instead. The study of media effects has spawned many functional theories today, including Agenda-Setting theory, Cultivation theory, Cultural Imperialism theory, Diffusion theory, Functional Approach to Mass Communication, Human Action Approach theory, Media Dependency, Media Equation, Rules-Based theory, Spiral of Silence theory, Technological Determinism theory, and the Uses and Gratifications theory. The compatibility of such theories to more recent media such as the Internet showcases the utility of these theories. Similar to the two studies mentioned in our readings, media effects research has been conducted on the Internet covering ranges of topics such as Internet censorship and online interest groups. In conclusion, I believe that the study of media effects is an interesting and evolving field with high utilitarian value.

References
Cantril, H. with Gaudet, H., & Herzog, H. (1940). The invasion from mars: A study in the psychology of panic. Princeton: Princeton University Press. Selection.

Lowery, S. A. & DeFleur, M.L. (1995). The Payne Fund studies. Milestones in mass communication research: Media effects (pp. 21-42). White Plains, N.Y.: Longman.

Theories on the Press & Social Structures

In our COM515 Communication Theory class today, things took off on a natural note even though we were without Prof. Alex Halavais. Mary Ann started the ball rolling by asking us for a simple explanation of why the press was the way it is today. Citing ???Four Theories of the Press???, members took turns to answer this question. Here were the salient points:

  • The Press always takes the form and coloration of the present society (pg 1.)
  • The readers today take in news more critically than in the early days, more rational.
  • Media conglomerates buying over presses, less room for open comments/opinions
  • Same situation for smaller radio stations
  • Fox tends to be conservative; other news agencies have different leanings, which is good because we have different points of view
  • Apparently network news agencies have no clear liberal slant, since they tend to report whatever they see

The next question was on the Theories on the Press and how it was related to the Durkheim???s theory:

  • Which comes first, Liberalism in the press as the cause or the consequence?
  • Durkheim???s idea of ???power??? seems to start with a main idea/belief which then influences the social structure. He believes that structure forms through collective consciousness.
  • Durkheim produced a ???scientific theory of religion??? as a powerful force underlying the rest of society. (pg. 149)
  • Last week, Blumer & Mead = Individual focused
    This week, Durkheim = Groups & Masses
  • Social density vs Connectivity; which leads to more suicides?
  • Perhaps the quality of connectivity? City vs. Countryside?
  • Division of Labor leads to interdependence on people, which might help prevent suicides
  • Dependence on an individual maybe less if he/she can be easily replaced (i.e. dense city)

Another question arose from the ???Four Theories of the Press??? reading about the ???Search for the Truth???:

  • Milton was confident that Truth was definite and demonstrable and that it had unique power of survival when permitted to assert itself in a ???free and open encounter??? (Pg 44). While some members questioned how this was unlikely the case, I explained that this was not testable in the first place as we have not encountered the phenomenon of the Truth, nor would know what the Truth looks like in order to look for it. Simply said, it is something which we cannot work on and thus is but a mere comment.
  • Reinforce that Belief shapes people, societies
  • Being libertarian is more like a religion (Pg 50). It is not perfect as out of the multiplicity of voices of the press, some information reaching the public would be false and some opinions unsound. It is up to the public to digest the information and discard what they deem as unsound. This is known as the ???self-righting??? process.

Summarizing Lasswell???s Structure & Function of Communication, I shared my idea on how Lasswell was an important figuring in how he was offered an early functional models of the communication process. He made it mechanical which was something we could work from and improve upon (pg.90). The Lasswell reading stood out from the other readings, which offered ideological perspectives on societies.

With regards to Laswell???s Sentiment Groups and Publics (pg. 96), I cited how Lasswell spoke of how ???the strongest power tend to be included in the same attention area, since their ruling elites focus on one another as the source of great potential threat.??? Given this notion, I argued that the power element of today no longer stood from politics but from the corporate nation of media conglomerates.

A question from the members was on whether the public was aware of this power shift to which I responded on how activism was a way in which we could see the public being aware. Movies such as Farenheit 9/11 and OutFoxed demonstrate this, and so do the numerous blogs from private individuals as well as media personalities in order to share their version of the inside news. I spoke of how there exists this constant exchange between ???personal media??? (Blogs, Street demonstrations against Paris Hilton???s book signing) and mass media.

Mass media = Voices of big boys versus Blogs = Voices of small boys

An example of the power of blogs was seen when bloggers first announced that CBS had made a major mistake in airing a news feature on President Bush, which was based on unconfirmed documents CBS had received. (See my post on Blog on Blogs for full details)

Lastly, we touched on the meaning of Equivalent Enlightenment (pg. 98), in which Sarah spoke of how it is the emergent information which one gets from someone else which is enough for one to make a decision. This is because there would be no such thing as perfect knowledge. By simply knowing enough, it would be sufficient for one to get on with their life (e.g. knowing the likelihood of war).

Determination and Contingency in New Media Development

Handbook of New Media (2002) Lievrouw, co-editor of the Handbook of New Media (2002), provides an excellent qualitative overview of the seminal ideas behind the sociotechnical phenomenon encapsulated in the Diffusion of Innovations theory as well as the Social Shaping Technology perspective. Starting off with why there had always been interest in this field, she then explained the origins of both competing theories and later produced a framework in which we could compare the two perspectives, by using case studies on E-mail and Videotex. In this framework, she likened Diffusion of Innovations theory as being Deterministic while the perspective of Social Shaping of Technology as leaning more towards Contingency. By using a comparative table (p. 193), she clearly illustrates her comparison of the two concepts based on ???moments???, which were what she called the ???critical points??? in technological development (e.g. origin, actors, choices).

While the origins of both theories stem from the same concepts and methods from the Chicago School of Sociology, they provide different, even opposing, windows in which to view the sociotechnical phenomena. However, other than viewing the differences between the two theories, I found the idea of how unintended adoption and uses of technology most true yet intriguing. As mentioned earlier, information and communication technology may have been designed and intended for specific purposes, but there has been open and unanticipated uses or consequences of it as well. While some are prematurely entrenched (e.g. typewriter QWERTY layout), some good inventions never succeed (e.g. VHS vs. Sony Betamax format).

Lievrouw quoted relevant cases where E-mail was unexpectedly born out of the creation of ARPANET which was originally intended for computer resource sharing (i.e. load balancing of data computing). She also mentioned Videotex being popular in other countries, but when introduced to the United States, it bombed. Why it worked elsewhere except the U.S. was a mystery. Several researchers believed it could be due to many factors including how Videotex came during a time of the new vision and rhetoric heralding the emerging ???information society???. This could have unrealistic or premature expectations among key players behind Videotex in America, which may account for the downfall (i.e. think dot com boom). Other factors might include how other countries had government interventions to promote its use as well as how Personal Computers were becoming popular during the Videotex introduction phase in America.

I feel that not only is this article relevant to our times, it is also well planned and comprehensive. The methodology and concepts were clear and this would be a great read for anyone interested in the field of technology and its impact on society. You can download my full integrative report on this chapter of the Handbook of New Media (2002) as hndbk183-200_review.pdf

Microinteractionist: Meanings through Interactions

Four Sociological Traditions When Collins wrote his seminal piece entitled ???The Four Sociological Traditions??? (1994), his purpose was to show how philosophy from the 19th century could provide the basis for present and future social research. He did this by surveying ideas of prominent 19th century philosophers and creating a historical framework in which he could classify such ideas into ???traditions???. As we are interested in the ???Microinteractionist Tradition???, one way to define this tradition is by differentiating it from the other three, namely the Conflict Tradition, the Rational/Utilitarian Tradition, and the Durkheimian Tradition. The key difference lies of this tradition lies in how microinteractionists do not see social life as being defined in a fixed way. Explaining this, Collins states that people never have fixed social interests or that they should never be placed in fixed social structures. Instead, individuals are continually constructing social life by the interactions with people within different contexts. It is these interactions which shape how individuals give meaning to themselves and their environment.

Looking at the characteristics of microinteractionism, research in this tradition requires being close to the observation of interactions, in fact, mostly at the participant level. Furthermore, such research tends to be qualitative rather than quantitative, especially since these research methods are ethnographic in nature. Lastly, as research that requires being on-the-spot where interaction happens, the work tends to be original, primary research rather than comparative, secondary research such as those in the Durkheimian tradition. Since social life is dynamically co-produced, repetitive patterns do not happen all the time, in fact even mundane activities can have new significance. Simply put, microinteractionists tend to be more open-minded about the possibilities in a given social setting. Schools of thought within this realm would include symbolic interactionism, phenomenology, and ethnomethodology.

Originating from German objectivists, it is the American pragmatists who received ???microinteractionism??? and transformed it from mere ideas into workable sociological theories around the 20th century (p.182). By pragmatism, William James argued that ???ideas are not copies of external objects but rather that truth is simply a form of action, consisting of idea that work, that bring about the consequences we desire??? (p. 186). This pragmatist philosophy can be seen as being about individualism with an absence of the sense of social structure. Interestingly, we can see a parallel in these pragmatist theories and U.S. democratic libertarianism movement.

Some noteworthy theories that emerged from the American pragmatists include Cooley???s ???looking glass self??? (1902), which stems from the idea of children having imaginary conversations with playmates. Although superficial, I find Cooley???s idea genuine and exciting as he explains how ???my association with you evidently consists in the relation between my idea of you and the rest of my mind??? (p. 192). In this phenomenological perspective, Cooley states that an individual only encounters one???s idea of other people, never the people themselves. Their physical bodies are only there to provide a center to crystallize our sentiments of them.

Mead was more sophisticated than Cooley as shown through his Theory of the Social Mind. He assimilated Peirce???s theory of meaning and explained that ???the ???self??? is something that is reflexive, that can be both a subject and an object, and that can make an object for itself??? (p. 194). There are times when we can refer to our physical body parts as ???self??? and times when we get absorbed with work or a dream that we forget our ???self???. Also unlike Cooley, Mead suggests that each individual has ???multiple selves???, according to the different relationship with different people. He also see people around oneself as ???the generalized other???, which refers to what one believes is the attitude of the whole community.

Another key pragmatist concept came in the form of Symbolic Interactionism, which was founded by Herbert Blumer (1979). The first premise was that people act towards things on the basis of the meanings that the things have for them. Second, such meanings emerge from social interactions that one has with his mates. Third, meanings and managed through an interpretive process which first identifies the things around him that has meanings, then the individual would select, check, suspend, regroup, and transform these meanings in light of the situation in which he is placed and the direction of his action (p. 105). Blumer emphasized spontaneity and indeterminateness in his ideas and illustrated this by denouncing functionism and stating that it was unrealistic to play with abstract categories. Blumer added that questionnaires and interviews are unrealistic because they abstract out the real situations in which people act. People would behave in response to the act of answering a question rather than to the real situation.

To conclude, let us refer to Vygotsky???s ???Mind in society: The development of higher psychological processes??? (1978) to see how another philosopher would run parallel to this the concept of microinteractionism. Vygotsky???s goal was to determine how traits are formed and developed through the course of an individual???s lifetime. He spoke of the transformation of practical activity by illustrating how a child would use a tool similar to apes before he or she is able to speak (preverbal period). However, once he or she is capable of speech or use of signs, the action becomes transformed and organized along entirely new lines (p. 24). It is this ability to speak that the child starts to master his own behavior, specifically, producing the intellect to possess the uniquely human form of the use of tools which is intended for productive work. As one can clearly see from Vygotsky???s work, it is the spontaneous interaction with others which is significant in deciding how we define ourselves and our environment. Such meanings are never fixed and will always be dynamic according to our interactions.

References
03-1 Collins, R. (1994). The microinteractionist tradition. Four sociological traditions (pp. 242-290). New York: Oxford University Press.

03-2 Mead, G.H. (1934). Mind, self, and society. Chicago: University of Chicago. Selection.

03-3 Blumer, H. (1979). The nature of symbolic interactionism. In C.D. Mortensen (Ed.), Basic readings in communication theory (pp. 102-120). New York: Harper & Row. (Orig. 1969.)

03-4 Vygotsky, L. S. (1978). Mind in society: The development of higher psychological processes. Cambridge: Harvard University Press. Selection.

Spammers = Biggest Users of Anti-Spam Technology

spam

There will be no end to this…
“Scotty, transfer all energy to shields!”

As reported by BBC News, spammers have been using anti-spam technology for their own evil deeds. Apparently the same technology that is used to authenticate emails is being exploited in the sense that spammer now use real working email addresses that simply do not belong to them. The technology is called Sender Policy Framework (SPF) and it currently has no way of checking if the sender actually owns the address he is sending from. A simple obvious exploit if you asked me. One way to to fix it though would be to tie email addresses to a range of IP addresses, but that would make the Internet more clandestine and prevent mobility. Perhaps there are other ways…

HappyHappyBoingBoing

The very definition of “web surfer” leads one to think of a lifeless soul basking in the phosphor light of his CRT as he traverses the information superhighway trying to get inspiration for his next “Dr. Alex Halavais” assignment… oh wait, nuff said.

With Jem blasting on my headphones, the Blog of the Day for me has to be the delicious BoingBoing.net. Featuring “A Directory of Wonderful Things”, it’s a colorful blog bursting with all things good since 2000. Made up of an interest group of fellow bloggers, BoingBoing.net was started by four interesting fellows namely Mark Frauenfelder, Cory Doctorow, David Pescovitz, and Xeni Jardin. It may be due to the simple, yet fun and bizarre pleasure of the site that won it allocades among bloggers. BoingBoing.net has consistently won Top 10 rankings in terms of best blog and even got first place in the numerous categories including Best American WebLog and Best Overall WebLog in the Fourth Annual WebLog Awards.

BoingBoing.net has interesting titbits on media, culture, technology and more. There’s definitely something for everyone here: Geek or Newbie, Straight-laced Communication Scholars to the Sexually Deviant (who isn’t?). The latest features include survivability ratings of so-called “Indestructable Mailboxes”, to solar & USB powered vibrators. Yes, USB vibrators make sense and I can imagine all the happy college students finding a new use of their hard-earned mobile laptops other than just the surfing the internet (I use mine to keep my English tea warm). If anyone needed a reason to use the Internet, let it be BoingBoing.

Ghost in the Shell 2 : Innocence

UPDATE: A scene by scene comparison between the original Ghost in the Shell and the Matrix!

Ghost in the Shell 2 is an amazing anime about “what makes us human”. In this world we now live in, where artificial machines are beginning to learn and adapt themselves, what is there to say that they will be less “human” than us? What would differentiate man from machine?

The artwork in this piece is breath-taking, and being a big fan of Mamoru Oshii’s work, I have to say this is going to be a monumental movie. It’s finally opening in the US theaters on Sept 17th, but will only be screening in Buffalo, NY on Oct 8, at the “Buffalo, NY Frontier Amherst 3 Buffalo”. I do not know where the hell that is, but I’m definite catching the movie. Any takers?

Some screenshots and thoughts about the movie

Click on the picture below to head to the US GITS2 web site:
GITS2

The Nature of Things

1. What is the Nature of Human Nature?

By the ???nature of??? something, we are looking at the essential qualities or characteristics by which something is recognized. For example, the nature of fire is to burn. By simplification, ???nature??? refers to the ???purpose??? of something.

Before we figure out the purpose of why human nature exists, let us first determine what human nature is. According to the Wikipedia, ???human nature is the range of human behavior that is believed to be innate rather than learned. There is much debate over which behaviors are innate and which are learned, and whether or not this division applies equally to all individuals. This debate is also known as ‘nature versus nurture’.??? Sociologist believe that human behavior is neither entirely voluntary nor innate, and believe that it is the combination of the two.

This problem of distinction can be observed by the fact that most humans do not simply live by their self-centered instinct nor learned behavior alone, but make intelligent decisions which sometimes contradicts human nature itself. For example, a stranger might jump into the raging river to save a drowning person, risking his own life for someone he doesn???t know or even need to care about. This runs against the grain of self-preservation, a survival instinct built into most living organisms. As such, I believe that we cannot learn of one universal human nature, but of a human nature that is only relevant to each individual.

I see human nature as the intertwining of biological, social and environmental factors. It is this functional yet organic relationship which ultimately determines human behavior. The purpose of it seems to be to simply give individuals a sense of direction, without which, there would be little interest in the pursuit for life.

2. What is the Nature of Society?

According to the Wikipedia, a society ???is a group of people that form a semi-closed system, in which most interactions are with other individuals belonging to the group. A society is a network of relationships between people. A society is an interdependent community. The casual meaning of society simply refers to a group of people living together in an ordered community.??? The organizing function of a society is important for without it, there would only be complete and utter chaos where I would imagine individuals combating for their own independent needs. It would seem that the more efficient way to survive would be to organize and cooperate for the betterment of everyone in a society.

On an humanistic level, the society also represents a belief system which individuals subscribe to when they participate in it. From the agriculture-based, to the industrial-based, to now the informational-based society, societies evolve with the central idea of having efficient strategies for survival. For the modern day society, individuals subscribe to the ideas such as the government, economics and democracy. While it should be the interest of the people to believe in the social system, it should also be the society which listens to the people to tend to their interests. This interweaving between the individual and his or her society is something that is built in the very meaning of society.

Taking one further step back on an abstract level, societies likened to pockets of order in a galaxy of chaos. Within each society lies a subset of chaos as well as order. Now that we have seen how societies work, we can observe that the nature of society seems to be that of a balancing force. This institution of equilibrium makes life more livable by bringing order and reducing chaos to a more manageable level.

3. What is the Nature of Technology?

It is perhaps technology that helped defined us as a people of the human race. Since the very beginning of human culture, we had the idea of creating tools to help us better manage the world we live in. Technology could even be part of human nature, for it is embedded in the entire development of human civilization. It should be seen as an intrinsic part of a cultural system and it both shapes and reflects the system’s values. Like the individual???s relationship with society, technology would be the third relationship interweaved with both entities.

Technology can come in the form of physical as well as metaphysical tools, including language, rituals, and skills such as design, management and production. To define technology, it is likened to a tool which extends our abilities to change the world in many ways. It allows us to create things out of materials; to transport objects over distances; and to communicate beyond our human ability. While we typically see technology as helping us adapt to the world better, technology also shapes the world to suit us better. Since we do not possess the absolute truth about the world around us, it is we who can try to give meaning to our environment. However, as we try to develop newer technology to appreciate our world better, the results of changing the world are often complicated and unpredictable, which would lead to unexpected human gains or loss (e.g. natural fuel engines polluting the environment).

Ultimately, I believe that the nature of technology is very much like the nature of theory, which is to better understand and fully appreciate our subjective world in order to reach a higher possible level of equilibrium with our environment.

The Public & Social Inquiry

Renowned thinkers such as Jurgen Habermas, John Dewey, Wright Mills, and Talcott Parsons, share several commonalities in their work. Once familiar with them, we discover how these men had similar strains of thought as they were all interested the subject of the public, as well as the concept of social inquiry. It seems that they all agree that by first defining or demarcating what the public is, we can be in a better position to inquire and manage social issues. By having ???the public??? and ???social inquiry??? as points of reference, we can compare the central idea from each author, and hopefully build a strong case for the functionality of social science.

Wright Mills opens the doors on the significance of the public by sharing the following scenario: ???When wars happen, an insurance sales man becomes a rocket launcher; a store clerk, a radar man; a wife lives alone; a child grows up without a father. Neither the life of an individual nor the history of a society can be understood without understanding both??? (Mills, 1959, p. 3). From his book entitled ???The Sociological Imagination??? (1959), we understand that he was stating how individuals perceive their own biographies as private and fail to see their lives as being interwoven with the bigger public or even as part of social history.

On social inquiry, Mills goes on to explain that individuals need not feel suppressed by the everyday realities of life. The central idea of Mill???s ???Sociological Imagination??? is that if one can consider both the ???personal troubles of milieu??? and the ???public issues of social structure??? as a whole, one can better orientate oneself to what is happening and possibly invoke change to improve the situation. After all, Mills believes that the promise of sociology is to ???indicate some tasks at hand and the means available for doing the work that must now be done??? (1959, p. 20). To do so, Mills sets up a framework in which the sociological imagination can be enacted. This framework for social inquiry consists of three sorts of questions about society (1959, p. 6-7).

Like Mills, Talcott Parsons runs in the same systematic vein with his book called ???Essays in Sociological Theory, Pure and Applied??? (1951). Heavily influenced by Durkheim, Parsons is a functionalist, thus tries to view social science as an analytical process. He saw social systems as open systems, engaged in complex exchanges with its environment. His framework has major conceptual components in four categories, namely the structure of the situation, the cultural tradition, the institutional structure and the motivational forces and mechanisms.

An alternative spatial take on what constitutes the public can be seen in Habermas??? seminal work, entitled ???Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere??? (1962). Similar to Mills, Habermas??? book focused on the historical concept of the organic relationship between the public and private. However, unlike Mills, Habermas refers to the public and private as two related but clearly distinct spaces. Back during ancient Greece and through the Middle Ages, the public and the private were considered as one instead of two separate entities. In such a time there was representative publicity, whereby only the King or the Nobles would be considered public while everyone else would be the spectator. However, with the introduction of the modern economy, the two eventually recognized their current form. The public would refer to the government, while the private would refer to property owners and the family. This demarcation of the public and private realms allowed space for the public sphere to develop out of private institutions where the public use of reason could emerge in the form of rational-critical debate.

In clarifying the concept of the public sphere, Habermas stated that “The bourgeois public sphere may be conceived above all as the sphere of private people come together as a public; they soon claimed the public sphere regulated from above against the public authorities themselves, to engage them in a debate over the general rules governing relations in the basically privatized but publicly relevant sphere of commodity exchange and social labor. The medium of this political confrontation was peculiar and without historical precedent: people’s public use of their reason.” (1991, p. 27). Essentially, this refers to private people who come together to enter the public realm in order to debate rationally and engage with public authority. Habermas??? idea of social inquiry comes in this form of literary debate, which checks the governance of the state and prevents any illegitimate use of power.

Dewey???s book, ???The Public and its Problems??? (1927), came in response to Habermas??? ideas and delved deeper into the empirical aspect of social inquiry. Dewey believed in the experimental social method in order to generate better results from which we can make good decisions. He argued that ???political facts [were] not outside human desire and judgement??? (1927, p. 6), and since social policies were bound to be in flux, some form of testing was required as he further argues that ???the choice is between blind, unreasoned attack and defense on one hand, and discriminating criticism employing intelligent method and a conscious criterion on the other??? (1927, p. 7). Even though the choice of methodology would reflect the biased interests of the researcher, he believed we could still be measurably precise if we tried. He stated that ???the more sincerely we appeal to the facts, the greater the importance of the distinction between facts which condition human activity and the facts which are conditioned by human activity??? (1927, p. 7).

Both Habermas and Dewey saw the modern day mass media as a problem since these media entities would be wholly owned by corporate conglomerates who???s interest would lie more on profits than in being value-free information sources. They both see the hidden vested interest in cheap mass media as having a major effect on the public???s ability to make wise decisions. For Habermas, ???public opinion??? was powerful and manipulative. It eroded the bourgeois public sphere, blurring the lines between public and private, thus leading to the refeudalization of society where modern states return with elements of representative publicity. For example, presidential campaigns can be seen as being fought more with money than with truth since whoever had more money would get more television airtime. Habermas??? solution to this is in the form of a strong public sphere which he believes will keep the powers in check. Dewey believes that so long as the public has access to unbiased non-corporate sources (e.g. blogs), they would be able to make wise decisions on their own. Thinking about this, we can begin to see that Habermas views the public sphere as having a legitimizing function for social policy, while Dewey see the public sphere as a means to facilitate inquiry. Habermas??? legitimizing function of the public in this case seems more important, as it calls the public to action when a social issue requires due attention.

References
Dewey, J. (1927). Search for the public. The public and its problems (pp. 3-36). New York, Henry Holt.

Parsons, T. (1951). The social system. Glencoe, IL: The Free Press. Selections.

Mills, C.W. (1959). The sociological imagination. New York: Oxford University Press. Selection.

Habermas, J. (1991). Social structures of the public sphere. The structural transformation of the public sphere: An inquiry into a category of bourgeois society (pp. 27-56). Cambridge: MIT Press.