Individual v. Machine...From a CyberOne Perspective

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A Quest for Truth?? A Quest for Deeper Meaning

As a starting point, reflect upon two comments that I found particularly poignant and relevant to my topic and my immersion in the class. From the Cyberone Class Weblog. Both were contributed by Stian Rodven Eide:


There has long been a paradigm, reinforced by advertisements and corporate media, that identity is a role, or a set of features that we either find ourselves comfortable with (we often identify ourselves by occupation) or tend to strive towards (looking like this and that, fitting into a broadcasted culture and dreaming of fame - if all culture is broadcast then one is no one until broadcast). The Internet is changing this. We see a paradigm change to participatory culture, and with it, a shift towards participatory identity - a sense of continuously (re-)creating oneself. The feeling of being part of a culture is an essential theme of human life, and only a participatory culture can be a truly inclusive culture. (Oct. 3, 2006).


It is difficult to explain what the CyberOne course is about, which, of course, is a good thing. There are a lot of diffuse meta-like qualities to the course, making it to an extent about itself - to engage in participatory culture. To learn and teach at the same time. Professor Nesson called the course “an argument”, which I think is a very interesting choice. In essence, all things are an argument, because that’s the way we tend to experience the world - impressions and memories are arguments for our actions, and it is important to be reminded of this - that what we do, create, buy, wear.. are all arguments, since they will be experienced as such. A participatory culture greatly benefits media literacy, as arguments are shared more as such and we become more conscious of our communication. Relating to the discussion on Wikipedia and Encyclopedica Britannica, I believe one other paradigm change participartory culture will bring is that towards truth as a subjective thing, no matter how objective a story is made. By being empowered to create truth (through Wikipedia, news-sites, blogs, etc) we learn to see it as a working model - what we, the humans that we think we are, believe the world is like - that gets more complex for every scientific breakthrough, public debate or new Wiki. (Oct. 5, 2006).




Reflecting upon the ideas presented in CyberOne enables one to realize that many human constraints are self-imposed, with some perceived as societal limitations. Technology is one way to overcome perceived barriers. Collaboration is another. So I ask you, as you think about the perspectives of pedestrians, drivers, and bikers and about the deeper meaning of my project:

1) Do you feel empathy for all three groups, regardless of what your position? Don't forget about the Necker cube! Depending on how you look at it depends on what you see. In the pedestrian-driver-biker debate, how many sides of the argument do you see? Do you have a multi-dimensional view, a la the different perspectives of Necker's cube? Remember, what position is "right" depends on how one looks at things, whether it is Necker's cube, the pedestrian-car-driver debate, or other life issues!

2) What, if anything, are you doing to increase your empathy toward others who are not like you—not only in terms of this pedestrian/driver/biker discussion, but in the world at large? On a daily basis, do you strive to be empathic, or are you simply apathetic?

3) Are you applying technology to produce something great – are you using it to aggregate the work of many people to further a societal goal? Are you using it to expand your horizons and become more aware of and develop a deeper appreciation for individuals and events around the world? (Or, are you merely taking advantage of technology to make your life easier, or using it to replace social bonds and face-to-face interaction?)

This page is designed for all of us to think about these tough questions, and to challenge ourselves, our limitations, our potential, and our potential complacency. This wiki is also intended to inspire change, starting with a single person doing a single thing…and spreading, continuing, expanding indefinitely… Read the following excerpts from CyberOne content; then contemplate the meaning of empathic argument in your life and critically analyze how technology does-and could-impact your life. Finally, reflect upon your identity in relation to these topics - what role do they play in who you are and in who you want to become??

WEEK 1: Cyberstrategy and Wiki

During Week One of CyberOne, we learned about the wiki as a stunningly simple yet powerful example of collaborative architecture. It has functioned both as an object of our study and a tool for us to express our activism and collective identity. It presents the idea of aggregation of willing energy (like ours) for the creation of arguments and resources without centralized power or lots of capital. One goal of CyberOne has been to collaboratively build the course in the Internet space. The key feature of the networked information economy is that "decentralized individual action--specifically, new and important cooperative and coordinate action carried out through radically distributed, nonmarket mechanisms that do not depend on proprietary strategies-plays a much greater role than it did, or could have, in the industrial information economy." The reason for the change is that it no longer requires a lot of capital to produce information goods. That is, up until recently, one needed a lot more than just the desire to communicate in order to make it happen.

Once the economic barriers to producing and distributing information goods are removed, big changes can occur. A lot of people aren’t looking for them or simply don’t see them because they fall outside of what we're taught to look at in Economics classes. We are taught to look at profit as the motive for producing goods. But there are lots of reasons why people act, many of them unconnected to making a buck. A quick look at your own motivations will give you lots of examples of things you do for reasons other than making money. Now, lots of the things that people might have wanted to do, like make a movie, are within reach of people without any great capital requirements. Basically, people are now free to make what ever they want that can be made with a personal computer and an Internet connection. In addition, it is easy to coordinate effort with others with similar interests, which can lead to better and more efficient production. Appiah's New York Times article, The Case for Contamination, looks at the tension between traditional values and globalization, with a keen eye for getting to the core of what it is that people argue about when they ask for cultural diversity or when they fight against homogeneity. His stand is that we should all subscribe to cosmopolitanism -- the idea of being global citizens who take cultural differences seriously, but who take individual choices just as seriously. As Appiah explains it “cosmopolitans don't insist that everyone become cosmopolitan. They know they don't have all the answers. They're humble enough to think that they might learn from strangers; not too humble to think that strangers can't learn from them.”

In "A Declaration of the Independence of Cyberspace," John Perry Barlow asserts that Cyberspace is inherently different from physical space. ("Our world is different.") He argues that Cyberspace is ungovernable, or at least that traditional governance is undesirable and "unwelcome" there, for many reasons.

Barlow identifies certain core values of Cyberspace:

  • Lack of prejudice regarding race, economic status, military might, or "station of birth"
  • Ability to express oneself without fear of coercion into "silence or conformity"
  • The "Golden Rule" (do unto others as you would have done unto yourself)

WEEK 2: Law in Cyberspace

Daniel Gilbert, He Who Cast the First Stone Probably Didn’t. New York Times, July 24, 2006

WEEK 3: Virtual Worlds

A virtual world is an interactive simulated environment accessed by multiple users through an online interface. Virtual worlds are also called "digital worlds," "simulated worlds" and "MMOG's."

Key Questions

1. To what extent will or should real-world governments regulate or otherwise interact with virtual worlds?

2. What points of control are available for regulation of virtual worlds?

3. How "real" are virtual worlds? What is at stake in such a question? What prompts us to ask it, and what would the answer turn on? Why do we become emotional when we discuss it? Do you agree or disagree with the view espoused in this essay (which argues that Virtual Worlds Are Real)?

WEEK 4: Networks and Social Networking

In Week Four, we discussed social networks and online communities as a powerful and growing phenomenon. From the Internet to networks of friendship, disease transmission, and even terrorism, the concept--and the reality--of networks has come to pervade modern society.

In networks, there are three types of spatial relationships:

(1) Physical Space: Actual physical distance

(2) Social Space: The gap between individuals’ wealth, education, ethnicity, or religion

(3) Network Space: Relationships between people (e.g., friend, friend-of-a-friend)

  • Stanley Milgram’s Experiment: “Milgram gave letters to about 300 people in Boston and Omaha with instructions that the envelopes ultimately reach a single "target," a Boston stockbroker. The letters could be sent only to a personal friend of the current holder…”
  • This experiment is the origin of the idea that we are all connected by “six degrees of separation” – also known as “the small-world phenomenon.”

We also discussed the Importance of Network Space:

A. “We need to start thinking of individuals as nodes embedded in a complex web of social, economic, and institutional ties.”

B. “In network space, two nodes can be closely connected regardless of their physical or social proximity.”

C. Network proximity can be significant in various positive and negative real-world contexts.

WEEK 5: Political Blogs

Do Blogs Polarize Us?

• It seems that America has become very deeply divided along partisan lines in the last 5 years. How has the existence of political blogs contributed to this phenomenon?

• If you think the partisan divide is a bad thing, how might blogs be used to ameliorate the problem?

• Maybe instead of polarizing, blogs simply change the way we define citizenship -- so that it's less important that I'm a member of the US community, which is sharply divided between RED and BLUE, and more important that I'm part of a community that believes in X thing. Isn't THAT Appiah's cosmopolitanism -- many citizenships, a world view that can both entertain local/physical bonds but also cultural, ideological, and cyber bonds, too?

WEEK 6: Blogs & Journalism:

Mark Glasser, a longtime freelance journalist who frequently writes on new media issues, gets to the heart of what we are talking about:

The idea behind citizen journalism is that people without professional journalism training can use the tools of modern technology and the global distribution of the Internet to create, augment or fact-check media on their own or in collaboration with others. For example, you might write about a city council meeting on your blog or in an online forum. Or you could fact-check a newspaper article from the mainstream media and point out factual errors or bias on your blog. Or you might snap a digital photo of a newsworthy event happening in your town and post it online. Or you might videotape a similar event and post it on a site such as YouTube.

With today’s technology, the average person can capture news and distribute it globally. Kovach and Rosentiel in The Elements of Journalism: What Newspeople Should Know and the Public Should Expect stated that: [T]he purpose of journalism is to provide people with the information they need to be free and self governing. To fulfill this task:

1. Journalism's first obligation is to the truth.

2. Its first loyalty is to citizens.

3. Its essence is a discipline of verification.

4. Its practitioners must maintain an independence from those they cover.

5. It must serve as an. independent monitor of power.

6. It must provide a forum for public criticism and compromise.

7. It must strive to make the significant interesting and relevant.

8. It must keep the news comprehensive and proportional.

9. Its practitioners must be allowed to exercise their personal conscience.

Id. at 12-13.

While not all of these elements will apply all of the time, the heart of journalism--the persistent attempt to show what is "true" in the world--is practiced widely by citizens on the Internet.

WEEK 9: Community Goes Beyond Broadcast:

Theme of the Week: It is critically important to put tools in the hands of a community and then aggregate the creation of that effort in such a way that benefits them—and thereby enhances society—and produces something amazing.

As Yochai Benkler notes in his introduction to The Wealth of Networks, “Information, knowledge, and culture are central to human freedom and human development. How they are produced and exchanged in our society critically affects the way we see the state of the world as it is and might be; who decides these questions; and how we, as societies and polities, come to understand what can and ought to be done.”

Some questions to ponder:

1. What are we willing to do to develop and disseminate information?

2. What type of information are we content to receive? From what sources?

Excerpts from Yochai Benkler's The Wealth of Networks.

Chapter 5: Individual Freedom: Autonomy, Information, and Law. Intro/Summary: The emergence of the networked information economy has the potential to increase individual autonomy in three ways. First, it increases the range of things that individuals can do for and by themselves. Information networks can lift many of the material constraints and costs of the industrial information economy. Most of the tools necessary for effective action and communication are now widely available to people in networked environments. Second, the networked information economy provides alternatives to the proprietary sources of information/communication typical in the industrial economy. The presence of these nonproprietary alternatives decreases the extent to which individuals are being acted upon by the owners of the communications facilities. This decreases the extent to which individuals are subject to and manipulated by communications and broadcasting companies. Although this culture lives on, it is losing its dominance in today's information environment. Third, the networked information environment qualitatively increases the range and diversity of information available to individuals. It does so by enabling all sources-- both mainstream and fringe-- to produce information and communicate broadly. This diversity and accessibility of information radically changes the universe of options that individuals recognize as open for them to pursue. An increase in available options creates a richer basis to form critical judgments about how one can live life, and why one should value the life one chooses (pp.133-34).

Chapter 6: Political Freedom Part 1: The Trouble with Mass Media. Intro/Summary: The concept of public sphere can be narrowed down to the “set of practices members of a society use to communicate about matters they understand to be of public concern and that potentially require collective action or recognition” (177). This chapter argues that as a way to structure these practices, mass media has weaknesses: it offers no return loop from the edges to the core (feedback is local or one-to-one) and relies on a passive consumer culture. The Internet and the emerging networked information economy provide a better public platform.

Is Richard DawkinsThe Selfish Gene applicable? Video introduction by Richard Dawkins. Thirty years ago, Dawkins, along with David Dennett proposed that Darwin's theory of evolution could be applied to culture, to explain how and why certain robust ideas appear seemingly simultaneously throughout a culture, and then begin to influence the culture and evolve with it, ultimately affecting its survival. Dawkins discussed the idea of "memes," which are remarkably robust ideas with sufficient complexity to be able to adapt itself to many cultural settings and situations. (The concept is well-illustrated by the movie, The Matrix). Internet memes can include RSS, Blogs, podcasts, & social networking.

WEEK 10: Music and IP Rights

With the development of the Internet and closed communications networks, the interaction of music and copyright law has puzzled many trying to find an adequate balance between freedom and restriction. At least since the 1980s, musicians and consumers alike have wondered whether the industry would benefit from a new rhetorical space where openness in networks would allow for a more permissive copyright system.

WEEK 11: Open Access and the Role of Universities

The term open access encompasses both the practice of making course materials available to the general public at no charge as well as an academics' choice to publish his/her research in a journal or repository that makes the work accessible for free, both financially and copyright-wise. In many cases, the argument for Open Access is normative: In an era of cheap information transfer, educators have new opportunities to democratize access to advanced learning. In academic publishing, new technologies mean that distribution costs are down, and it is possible to publish a journal for far much money than traditional journals are charging. Scholars are turning to open access to avoid such issues as being unable, due to copyright restrictions, to share their own articles with colleagues who do not have access to the journal where it was published, or event just to pass out copies of their own articles to students in their classes.


The title change of my project from a simple “Car and Pedestrian” Project to the more profound “Individual v. Machine” is significant. An individual can be a person in society; collectively, we form human kind. A machine could be a motor vehicle, but it can also refer to any technological device, such as a computer. So, one question that has come to my mind: Do human beings work WITH, FOR, or AGAINST machines? Do machines always work FOR human beings? How much control do we exert over machines in various situations? How dependent are we upon machines? What is the precise nature of our relationship?

As noted in Week One, there are lots of reasons why people act, and these motivations may be pecuniary or non-pecuniary. Similarly, there are reasons why drivers will or will not stop for pedestrians, and reasons why pedestrians or bikers ignore oncoming cars.

Also, consider the pedestrian issue in relation to Appiah’s article, The Case for Contamination. Appiah identifies two concepts that enter the meaning of what he calls "cosmopolitanism" -- one is that we have obligations to others, beyond kinship or citizenship, and the other is that we take seriously the value of individual human lives, not of some generic “human life”. Isn’t that applicable to the Rules of the Road?? Moreover, think about the pedestian-driver-biker debate from the lens of John Perry Barlow. Barlow suggests that cyberspace is ungovernable. Are the roads really governable?? True, the roadways are in the physical environment, but how do we know if they are governed? We have laws, but they are only occasionally –and perhaps randomly—enforced. People are rarely cited for violations such as jaywalking or failing to yield to a pedestrian…unless a serious accident occurs. Is that the way things should operate? Are we being too reactive rather than proactive? Shouldn’t we be able ot prevent some—many—of these needless traffice accident tragedies from occuring? Shouldn’t we take a more active stance in “policing” ourselves? Shouldn’t citizens, rather than the government, be more responsible for protecting human kind? Barlow suggests that the “Golden Rule” should apply in cyberspace; should we first work on applying that to the real world –in places such as traffic crossings?

Per Daniel Gilbert’s article, does it really matter in all instances of drivers vs. pedestrians vs. bikers who is “RIGHT” – i.e., who technically has the right-of-way? Perhaps people can be more benevolent and magnanomous than they are in fact obligated to be!

What about Stanley Milgram’s concept (later illustrated in The Matrix), that we are all connected through a small-world phenomenon? Doesn’t that suggest that we should work to resolve the pedestrian-driver-biker problems, as there is a significant, if not overwhelming, probability that our actions will will wind up impacting someone who we know? Further, the three types of space noted for networks –physical, social, and network-are all translatable in some form to the pedestrian issue.

The excerpt from Blogs and Journalism content serves as a reminder to strive for empathic understanding. Don’t let our differences polarize us and divide our society, in this case into three distinct camps of drivers, pedestrians, and bikers. Also, remember the power of the Internet: it gives us an incredible chance to make a difference globally while simultaneously acting locally. Technological tools make it virtually seamless to make a positive change in the world!

As Yochai Benkler notes in his introduction to The Wealth of Networks, “Information, knowledge, and culture are central to human freedom and human development. How they are produced and exchanged in our society critically affects the way we see the state of the world as it is and might be; who decides these questions; and how we, as societies and polities, come to understand what can and ought to be done.” Kovach and Rosentiel also promote self-governance. Mark Glasser’s ideas about “citizen journalism” relate to the Pedestrian Project as well: Shouldn’t we take responsibility for our society? Isn’t it a society by and for the people?

So, what are we willing to do to make a more peaceful, harmonious society? Are we content to let individuals act as they want, with or without regard for human life on the road? Don’t we have a duty—an obligation to society, to each other, and to humankind as a whole—to ensure that individuals look out for each other and are fully informed of the potentially serious consequences of their actions? Simply put, shouldn’t we, as citizens, try to promote safe streets and travel? Are we content to let the legislatures and local agencies enact rules, and then have police officers haphazardly enforce them, with little governmental interference until something serious occurs? I mean, in the grand scheme of things, officers are rarely going to give jaywalking or speeding through a crosswalk a second glance, much less pursue an offender and issue a citation. At most, perhaps 1 in a million times, someone will get fined as a result of walking or driving when he or she not have done so. Are we content to let our actions (either in a virtual world or cyber medium, or on real-life streets) be governed by governmental actions-legislative & executive (police), through rarely-enforced laws?

Is Richard Dawkins The Selfish Gene applicable? Can our wiki project catch on, and become a robust meme that will help shape the world?

Let’s think about the Pedestrian Project through Music and IP Rights and Open Access initiative lenses: perhaps by collaborating and working together with safety organizations, government-sponsored initiatives, and our fellow human beings, we can increase awareness and knowledge of the issue, and resolve the problem in an efficient, effective manner while increasing social welfare and the concepts of autonomy, self-governance, and freedom.

In some virtual worlds, like Second Life, people do not speak, but communicate by typing. This is comparable to the inability to communicate on the road. As Rebecca Nesson noted in class on 11/28, drivers, pedestrians, and bikers interact from a distance; true, meaningful communication is virtually impossible. (No, hornblowing, cursing, finger- raising, etc. do no count as “meaningful”). On the roads, an environment encouraging empathy and fostering understanding is nonexistent. How do we remedy this significant cause of conflict? Let's use this wiki and project as a way to break down barriers such as communication--or non-communication!

After reading through the discussion pieces that I have selected from our course content, take a step back. Think for a few minutes. Although none of these musings mention drivers, pedestrians, or bikers, note that they do not necessarily mention empathic argument either. Yet the concepts and ideas are easily transferable, if one is willing to think outside the box. And, living in the twenty-first century, why on earth would we refuse to break out of our small containers and instead, use a kaleidoscope for looking at the world?!?! Good luck with your reflections and your journey.