Final Thoughts

While I was a bit skeptical the first time I laid eyes on this book, I do have to say I’m quite impressed by both its contents and its wealth of both information and thoughtful speculation. Shirky certainly lays out a clear, logical, and concise argument about how technology truly is revolutionizing the everyday Joe, transforming him from a consumer of media entertainment to a creator or collaborator.

There are instances within the text where I find myself disagreeing with what Shirky says, but I feel that it only makes the read that much more interesting; what good would it be if I passively accepted everything he said? It certainly wouldn’t be compelling or interesting to read. Nevertheless, Shirky does a brilliant job of engaging the reader and making them think.

If you are interested in technology and how it affects our society, I would certainly recommend diving nose-first into this book. Even if you completely disagree with how Shirky has presented the culture of the internet and the trends we seem to be producing, it’s a foundation to understand the opposing arguments you would meet when discussing such a profound subject.

Four out of five stars – I recommend everyone read this book.

Looking for the Mouse

Why does Shirky title this chapter “looking for the mouse?” And how does the title relate to the theme of the chapter? What recent or new technologies do you see and wonder “why?” Do you think you are guilty of “looking for the mouse?” What technologies do you see around you that you suspect will come to be important in ways that we have yet to predict?

At first, I had to stop and ponder what in the world ‘looking for the mouse’ meant. Looking for a rodent? Why would one do that? But then it hit me as I used my computer’s trackpad to navigate to the internet for some explanation: He meant a computer mouse. Funny how outdated the term is, only three years after the publication of the book. I’m not certain how prevalent mice are with computers nowadays (especially with touch screens and trackpads sweeping through to take their places; we use iPads and laptops sans mouse at work), but it was somewhat funny to me that I had practically forgotten what a mouse was.

Regardless, I think the title is fitting for the chapter as a whole. As Shirky states: “We’re looking for the mouse. We look everywhere a reader or a viewer or a patient or a citizen has been locked out of creating and sharing, or has been served up a passive or canned experience, and we’re asking. If we carve out a little bit of the cognitive surplus and deploy it here, could we make a good thing happen?” Shirky seems to be saying that we’re constantly looking for ways to create interactive and participatory tools for our world in the hopes to create a better experience in life for everyone around.

There are plenty of technologies that I wonder “why” or “what in the world were they thinking? Do we need that?” Yet it’s still fun to see what solutions to previously-unknown problems people will come up with.

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Case in point

Banana cutters aside, I think that the most impressive advances are currently taking place on the fronts of neurosciences and robotics; the development of different types of devices which are capable of traversing any type of terrain seem to be the ones at the front of my mind at this point. These will certainly be the technologies which will change the world, though I’m sure there are hundreds upon hundreds of examples worth looking into.

Internet Culture

How does the Haifa day-care experiment relate to the actions of– and on– the web? 

The Haifa daycare experiment is one which is often referred to as a means of describing the motivation incentives have upon individuals. In this case, a negative incentive of a fine was set upon those parents who couldn’t pick up their children on time; however, instead of deterring individuals from being tardy, it motivated many to begin seeing the fine as simply another little price to pay for additional daycare. (I mean, come on; who wouldn’t want to get an extra hour of babysitting for three dollars per hour? Sounds like cheap daycare to me. It’s definitely not a deterrent in my eyes).

In the same way, we can see similar behaviour arising on the web. In many social media sites, users can receive ‘penalties’ for violating the site’s ToS. For example, Gaiaonline – an interactive social site centered around art and interests of teenagers – charges users a specific amount of ‘gold’ (the website’s virtual currency) depending on specific violations. If one’s signature picture is too big of a file, a 1000G penalty is incurred, and the user’s account is charged. However, it doesn’t seem to deter many people from using large pictures in their signatures anyways. It doesn’t truly deter anyone when everyone can afford to pay the ‘fine’ – it’s simply a payment to make to keep the picture in question.

Are you part of any “sharing cultures” that are facilitated by– or even exist completely on– the web?

I am not currently a player in any sharing cultures, nor had I even heard of the term before I read this book. I’m not quite certain of what to think of them, though they do seem good. I suppose – in all technicality – the internet itself is a sharing culture. But perhaps that’s too generalized.

What are the problems Shirky proposes, whether you agree with him or not, with the “brain surgery” argument?

Shirky explains that the brain surgery argument is stupid at best for two reasons:

  1. “Slicing up parts of real brains is a job that must be limited to professionals, but it’s not clear that knowing the names of the parts of the brain must be similarly limited.” In a nutshell, he’s simply stating that the title doesn’t generally mean that they are an expert in the field, and that the nom de plume of “professional brain surgeon” may not be accurate in depicting the limits of the person’s expertise.
  2. “The brain surgeon analogy invites the hearer to assume that we should always go with a professional over an amateur.” Again, the same thing regarding titles vs. actual knowledge.

I do, to an extent, agree with Shirky’s claims; I only believe he could have condensed the two into one basic one: Titles don’t mean anything unless there’s experience to back them up.

Opportunity

Has it ever occurred to you to wonder why people spend so much time contributing to sites and memes on the net such as Wikipedia, YouTube, Twitter, LOLCats, or any of the myriad communities discussed in the “Motive” section of the book? And why they do so for “free?” If not, do Shirky’s theories of opportunity make sense or not? What is the importance of the distinction between the question “Why do they do all that on YouTube” and the question “Why do they do all that on YouTube for free?” Do you agree or disagree with Shirky’s claims about the real difference between generations (such as Generation X and Y), and why?

As I’ve stated in previous posts, being in a fandom or participating in memes makes a person feels included in a group, productive with their time, and (in many cases) happy with the effort they exert to impress others with their work. Regardless of whether or not the creator is being paid monetarily, they are paid with a wealth of feedback, viewers, and appreciation for their work. (On this point, I would like to note that not everyone has success with posting their work online, and many receive negative feedback. However, they’re still being recognized – and sometimes recognition is worth more to a person than any dollar amount capitalism may place on it.)

Shirky argues that the real difference between generations is “less because people differ [and more] because opportunities do.” (page 121). It is easy to see how opportunity can fluctuate through the years; as Shirky points out, the economy is a great factor in creating and destroying opportunity. With Generation X and the 1987 market crash (ensuing recession included), opportunity was seen plummeting deep into the ground. As the markets transformed, opportunity grew and so did participant motivation. However, I think that – in this sense – our Generation Y is quite similar to Generation X. There isn’t a copious amount of opportunity to be found, so one can’t help but to be disengaged from typical means of participating in the economic culture of our society. Therefore, plenty of time is spent producing content for the web in the hopes of creating opportunity for oneself. In this way, we are different from generation X, but only because the means of achieving such goals are far easier to access than in days past.

 

I am a Fangirl, Hear me Roar

There are many communities on the net that have been built around a shared interest, whether that interest be in a person (such as the Grobanites) or a work or kind of art (such as fan fiction sites), or some kind of entertainment (witness still very active communities built around long-cancelled television shows like Lost and Star Trek). Are you part of– or have you been close to anyone who has been part of– any such communities? What were your/their motives? How do these relate to the motives explored by Shirky, such as feedback loops and intrinsic motivation?

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The Fanatic Domain

Welcome to the internet, where anyone can connect to the rest of the world in order to collaborate with a multitude of like-minded people in order to revolutionize our socialization. Some people come to laugh at pictures of cats with poorly written captions, some come to watch videos of wannabe cool boys eating pavement in the gnarliest ways possible. (Don’t worry, it’s safe to click. I’m not about to go looking for someone tearing their face off by accident when they’d missed jumping a gap). Others, however, come to collaborate in the name of some of the greatest pieces of fiction, musicians, games, movies, and television shows of our time. These people belong to groups known as fandoms and are filled to the brim with some of the most interesting people on the web. From Grobanites to Sherlockians, Whovians to Potterheads, there are fandoms for literally everything one could hope for.

So what is a fandom? By one of the many definitions presented by the scholars at UrbanDictionary.com, a fandom is “A domain in the internet about a comic, a book, a tv show, a video game etc. There are several fandoms all around the internet, where fans converge and the comunities are really big, many have forums, fanfics, fanart, etc.” (Lara, 2003) Seems accurate enough. I am disappointed that Miss Lara fails to include the mental breakdowns that most participants in the fandoms suffer at one point or another, but I shall explain that in the next paragraph.

I Believe in Sherlock Holmes

I am a proud (well, not always proud) member of the Sherlock fandom, aptly dubbed by some person on the internet as a “Sherlockian.” Catchy. BBC’s Sherlock, co-written by Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss, explores a modern-day adaptation of Sherlock Holmes in twenty-first century London as the zany consulting detective we all know and love from Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s book series, Sherlock Holmes. Accompanied by his pocket-sized companion/blogger – Doctor John Watson (Martin Freeman) – Sherlock (Benedict Cumberbatch) tackles murders and mysteries left behind by his greatest nemesis, James Moriarty (Andrew Scott). Together, the detective duo solve crimes and bring an entire fandom to its knees through incredible deductions. The show is brilliantly written and an absolute marvel to watch. If you don’t already watch, I advise you to do so. Now. Here’s the link to buy the discs.

I mean, come on. Who can resist an itty bitty Irishman in a suit?

Putting Sherlock itself aside for a moment: let’s talk about Shirky’s theory that we all participate in fandoms on some level or another in order to feel included within something larger than ourselves. What are our motivations to do such a thing? For myself, being in the Sherlock fandom means that I’m able to spill my feelings for the show out on the web, find a bunch of other people who like to do the same, and make friends through our common interests of brooding detectives and homicidal sociopaths. It’s a method to feel like I belong somewhere, as opposed to feeling as if I’ve got nothing in common with the people around me who’ve never even heard of the show.

Then again, it’s not all sunshine and bright days in the fandom, either. A part of being a Sherlockian is waiting for the next series of shows to air. It’s been over a year since the last episode of series 2 aired. We’ve still got six months to wait for it to air in Britain. It’s a nightmare, and some in the fandom do display signs of mental instability after some time. Take for instance #ReplaceSherlockQuotesWithPancake. No one is certain of where it came from, why it was created, or how it took off, but here we are.

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Yet even through the madness, the dreadful waiting periods, the sexual frustration, and the crying over fictional characters, I’ll still remain a piece of the fandom (albeit as sane a piece as I can be).  There are far too many rewarding friendships, artistic creations, and entertaining writings which spring from this fandom each day, and I can’t help but to be caught up in it all. It’s like finding a place to call home, even if that home is a virtual world filled with other people with questionable sanity. It’s rewarding to be part of a group that is inspired to create even the most insane pieces of work because of this little show, and I couldn’t be happier about it.

Let’s Talk About Blogs: The Onion

Onion

Time for one of my personal favourite blogs/news sites: The Onion. This blog is certainly the shining example of Political Satire, if nothing else. The reports do concern a number of recent events and can provide the news in a roundabout way, but most everything concerning The Onion is falsified and simply written for the sake of satire itself.

The Onion concerns itself largely with current events – and like all other blogs right now, the Boston Marathon Bombings take up a majority of the recent posts to the site. As is the norm with many humor sites, there are some language issues and (depending on how offensive you find swearing) may be best to avoid if you’d rather have the hard facts on reporting. However, seeing as reporters haven’t exactly wowed anyone with their deductive reasoning lately, The Onion may be just as good a source for your news as any other accredited station.

BREAKING

Semi-Detailed Review

General Theme: Satirical

Political Slant: Left

Cite Sources? Not typically.

How does the blog’s information compare to the newspaper? The paper certainly competes with quantity of news reports, but is somewhat higher on the scale of quality. Don’t go to The Onion for your news.

What you didn’t like: I love this site. There’s nothing for me to hate here.

A link to a specific post you felt was interesting: Next Week’s School Shooting Victims Thank Senate for Failing to Pass Gun Bill.

Let’s Talk About Blogs: Little Green Footballs

GreenFootballs

The minimalistic theme of Little Green Footballs was a bit bland for my tastes, but it didn’t stop the posts from being quite colourful and – a number of times – shocking. The blog is – like Daily Kos – a compilation of multiple authors reporting on similarly-minded subjects. However, unlike Kos, this blog seems highly-dedicated to pointing out the mistakes which mass media tends to make in reporting. Right now, it’s been dominated by the Boston Marathon Bombings, but they do offer a good place which pulls everything together in a clear picture.

Again, this is a socio-political or economic blog dependent on who the author is and what the latest happenings in the world are. It seems to be an entertaining blog to those who enjoy a bit more abrupt reporting or who like to confer with others about how ridiculous large media corporations can be. It’s one I would spend some time perusing, but I most likely wouldn’t be going back to check it out anytime soon.

Semi-Detailed Review

General Theme: Journalistic, Political, Media, Informative, Opinionated

Political Slant: Moderate to Left

Cite Sources? There are internal citations for most every article.

How does the blog’s information compare to the newspaper? There are probably too many opinions here to compete with real news, but the things reported are eye-opening and somewhat jaw-dropping.

What you didn’t like: I’m fine with the language and the voices, but the theme was the only truly grating thing to me. I personally dislike stark white pages.

A link to a specific post you felt was interesting: Anti-Muslim Demagogue Pamela Geller’s Firehose of Hate Speech. This is pretty much why I stay away from Wingnuts like Glen Beck and Pamela Geller.