Skip to content

thinking aloud

Home is where you hang your @.

Current event article

November 11, 2010

Hi all,

Click here for the news piece on which I am going to do my “current event” presentation on Monday.

Priyanka 🙂

My Current Event Article

November 8, 2010

Facebook and teens in Vietnam

Structures of Participation in Digital Technology; Edited By: Joe Karagains

November 8, 2010

Chapter 12 à Game Engines as Open Networks; By: Robert F. Nideffer

First, Nideffer says (and it’s true) that the future of gaming lies with the Internet and any device that is able to connect to it (Xbox, Playstation, notebook and desktop computers, tablet PCs, smart displays/TVs, PDAs, cell phones, etc.). As an example of this, Nideffer gives the following statistics about MMOGs (Massively Multiplayer Online Games):

  • They will generated about $1.3 billion in 2004 … and will increase to about $4+ billion by 2008 (a quick search on Wikipedia of MMOGs, and checking their sources show that in 2010 these games are generating around $5 billion with the U.S. alone generating $3.8 billion).
  • The majority of this money is made through subscriptions, but a growing portion of this will come from the sale of virtual assets (in-game property and other items).
  • By 2010, the use of mobile games will reach 2 billion people.
  • In 2000, Internet penetration exceeded 50% in the U.S. … with more than 53 million households connected.
  • According to a study done by Nielsen Netratings in 2004, 3 out of 4 Americans, or a total of 204.3 million people had access to the Internet.

The key enabler of this growth is the “Game Engine” – the background software that makes the game “run”, interactive, and dynamic … “one can think of the game engine as a culturally encoded ‘database interface’, that is, a mechanism through which a predetermined, relatively constrained collection of socially sanctioned procedures and protocols is used to render a world and make it navigable in context. Along these lines, I have argued that it’s important to look at the game engine as a cultural artifact that circulates within a specific social domain, in order to begin thinking about how to make more visible the implicit and often taken-for-granted assumptions operative during software development, as well as to extend the boundaries of what constitutes the game engine. I have done this in an effort to move beyond thinking of the game engine strictly in software engineering terms, and in an effort to also think about it in social engineering and networking terms” (201-202).

His goal is to “examine the ways in which Internet gaming is beginning to address a fundamental social and technical challenge for digital culture: the relationships between the technical challenges of ubiquitous computing, the new social and creative opportunities available to users, and the persistent commercial pressure to segment online networks into private monopoly domains” (202).

As work and play begin to “be articulated through online systems” interoperability and openness within networks will thus affect “our capacities to reinvent our environments in fundamental ways – to affect not only the content of structured interactions but also the infrastructure and context in which they play out” (202).

Kali à This “exemplified  a desire among users to act not only as content providers for a game engine, but as context providers who can rearticulate the uses of the engine.” It went beyond what First Person Shooter (FPS) games offered. Kali shifted “the dynamic from a person-computer interaction to a much more social experience in which multiple players competed or cooperated in the same online environment.” … Kali, “encouraged players to take part in the construction and manipulation of their experience at a deeper and more fundamental level than those enabled through the consumer interface. It traded transparency in the sense favored by game designers of a minimally intrusive interface, for transparency in the sense favored by hackers (and, not incidentally, social scientists) – that of revealing underlying processes” (204).

bnetd vs. Blizzard Entertainment à this case brings up the term “Reverse Engineering” – the process of taking example code (in this case Blizzard’s code) and making new lines of code (through “Packet Sniffing”) that create a better running and new feature using software.

  • Blizzard Entertainment won the case, which gets back to Lessig’s idea that copyright law limits and restricts innovation of current/potential technologies and their developers.

Majestic à “The innovative conceptual move made by the designers was to have the game take advantage of everyday communication technologies like the Internet, phones, email, instant messaging, and fax. Majestic sought to create a narrative experience that blurred the line between lived space and game space. Upon registering, players were able to set the parameters of in-game communication. Depending on these choices, players could be contacted at any point during the day or night by game operatives who would either give them vital pieces of information to aid in moving them to the next stage in the drama, or provide them with misinformation in an effort to send them off track” (208). Because of the huge conspiracy/revolution plot to Majestic’s theme two things caused its failure. First, one could see the problems surrounding its plot especially after 9/11. Lastly, what would family members or co-workers think if they accidentally intercepted a message saying such-and-such person was about to be die, or has an warrant out for their arrest? As a result access rights had to be granted to “intercept” these messages … thus taking away the “surprise factor” the designers tried to create. à Academia and Nideffer’s response to industry failures and governments control over innovation. I will summarize in class, but it can be found at the bottom of pg. 210 to the end of the section of pg. 213.

Chapter 15 à Price Discrimination and the Shape of the Digital Commodity; By: Tarleton Gillespie

Interoperability is hindered not just by copyright law/policies (and others) but rather by the national choices surrounding basic infrastructure … “Early national choices regarding basic infrastructure tended to create ‘path dependencies’ that shaped future developments and hindered the interconnection of national or regional systems (david, 1985; Hughes, 1987). The growth of global information networks reflects, in large part, the rise of a countervailing system of rewards for technologies and standard-setting processes that enhance interoperability, rooted in the concept of ‘network effects’, and in the broader conceptual linkages between innovation, welfare, and trade characteristics of global capitalism” (247).

  • Example – DVDs

Take a look at the image above, recognize it (Safari 4.0 license agreement)? Have you ever read the license agreements after downloading/signing up for some software or other media (movie, music, etc.)? You might want to!

In conclusion – (second paragraph under content protection versus protectionism till the end).

Karaganis, J. (ed.), Structures of Participation in Digital Culture. Social Science Research Council. (2008)

November 5, 2010

Structures of Participation in Digital Culture was interesting to read for the most part and I enjoyed the various arguments pertaining to digital culture put forth by authors from so many diverse backgrounds.

Below is a short summary of chapters 4 and 8, followed by comments/questions for class discussion:

Chapter 4: Other networks: media urbanism and the culture of copy in South Asia, by Ravi Sundaram

Sundaram uses the Indian capital of Delhi to examine his assertion that “new visibilities, networks within networks, and conflicts over intellectual property have changed the old world planner city.”  Sundaram emphasizes the following key points:

  1. Commodity culture has taken over Delhi, due in large part to significant urban density, mass migration, and economic expansion.
  2. Delhi can literally be divided into zones based on the production and consumption of commodities:
    1. Old walled city area: outdated and caught in a time-warp but still the center of commodity exchange
    2. The new municipal area: inhabited by “colonial capital” and the political elite.
    3. The southern part of the city: the most affluent part “where networks of corporate globalization are stronger” than elsewhere in the city.
  3. Media networks have been transformed and the gray market has facilitated the sale of pirated versions of popular cultural products (CDs, cassettes, gadgets, etc.)
  4. Urban planning is on the decline in Delhi, and from this declining landscape new media markets have emerged that exist in the gray areas between legal and illegal.

    a typical Delhi grey market

  5. Pirate electronic networks have led to two cultures: informational bleeding and “just in time” media.
  6. The urban experience in the Indian capital is now heavily contingent upon the media market which in turn is complicated by IPR and the “copy culture”.

Chapter 8: None of this is real: identity and participation in Friendster, by danah boyd

Written in typical danah boyd style, this article shed some very valuable light on the ways in which social networking websites (in particular, Friendster) is being mobilized by the youth. boyd explores the ways in which Friendster has evolved since its launch in 2002 and the manner in which its users (mostly, early adopters) negotiate social boundaries. boyd emphasizes the following key points:

  1. Social networking sites (SNS) are being used in order to maintain existing personal relationships much more than initiating relationships with people.
  2. Friendster essentially “flattened” networks by collapsing a range of relationships into the category of “Friends” in order to allow more visibility for social relationships.
  3. Online networks lead people to “recalibrate” their social structures to “accommodate the conditions and possibilities of online networks.”
  4. People belonging to two “subcultures” (I prefer the term co-culture, though): gay men and Burners were among the earliest and most active users of Friendster.
  5. Participatory performance is of particular relevance vis-à-vis Friendster. Users were performing their identities on SNS by customizing profiles, much like Watkins’s description of MySpace in The Young and the Digital (2009). These identity performances allowed users to “make meaning and build context”, both of which evolved over time.
  6. Friendster was among the first SNS to afford community formation in an online space and participants affiliated to different co-cultures started building online collective identities.
  7. Impression management (management of multiple personas of the same user) is especially significant on SNS because they problematize social boundaries between people as much as much as they facilitate new connections and relational maintenance.
  8. Although Friendster allows for an emphatic articulation of who “you” are, it only gives users this ability through “predefined mechanisms for expression.” In so being, a lot of users find Friendster formulaic.
  9. There is a marked sense of dilemma in users’ performance of identity on Friendster. While the performance of social relationships doesn’t substitute the relationships themselves, social distinctions are being rendered increasingly defunct by Friendster.

10.  Although Friendster let users gain control over their own identities, this control came at the expense of a “larger consensus about the norms and purposes of the system.”

Overall comments

What I took away from both these chapters is that digital media are making relationships more visible (via SNS, for example) and commodities more readily accessible (via the gray market, for example). However, both these phenomena are to be understood within the larger context of communicative ecology as explained by Horst and Miller (2006). Thus, what are people using Friendster for, and why? What are people going to the gray markets in Delhi for, and why? Clearly, cultural change is being facilitated in both these cases thanks to digital technology, but as Kim says, digital technology by itself does not do anything; instead, it is deployed toward specific objectives. My takeaway from these chapters is that the way digital technology is being used the world over is dislocating culture (the known way of life) and relocating it within newer structures of participation with new codes of conduct and new ‘norms’. Therefore, although concepts such as agency, expression, and networks are central to the idea of digital culture as we have come to understand it in these past 12 weeks, it also entails a redefinition of the self in a world where the mediascape is in a state of continuous flux and fragmentation. And, in the years to come, I believe the issues of power, control, and representation, and surveillance will become increasingly salient to the ways in which we understand digital culture.


  1. boyd suggests that “individual sociability will never operate on a global scale” although millions of people are now connected through SNS because these enormous networks are ultimately based on one-on-one relationships and small communities. What do you think?
  2. As per boyd, Friendster demonstrates that there is an inverse relationship between the size of one’s social network and the quality of one’s relationships with the “friends” within one’s network. In your experience, do you find this to be true?

Note: I had a lot of difficulty in understanding most of Sundaram’s exposition mostly due to the way he presents his arguments. So while I cannot comment on his arguments, I do believe that there’s a lot of value in the assertions that boyd makes vis-à-vis new media, social networking, and interpersonal relationships. However, I am biased because I am an admirer of boyd’s work and follow her blog rather regularly. By the way, if you’re interested, here’s the link to her website and here’s the link to her blog. She’s just SO cool! 🙂

next week

November 4, 2010

We are meeting on Monday the 8th to discuss the Structures of Participation chapters. Be ready to share and discuss.

You should all have made significant progress on your projects and need to post them on the projects tab.

Current events are lacking…get some up!

Structures of Participation in Digital Culture: Chapters 2 & 10

November 1, 2010

In Structures of Participation in Digital Culture, Joe Karaganis uses a series of essays in an effort to portray the networks being formed between traditional and social media. In particular, he attempts to explore the role technology (of all sorts) plays in the relationship between social structures and culture, and how this affects both individuals and collective societies.

Chapter 2, “The Past and the Internet”, by Geoffrey Bowker, is part of the opening section of the book which explores the way in which we perceive the world and its history. Instead of looking at the past factually, this section discusses how history is experienced and constructed in a new way via the evolution of technology.

Before the Web, there were two significant revolutions in the way humans recorded the past: written record keeping and the printing press. With the invention of each such change, information about the past (and who has access to such information) changed dramatically. Today, we are making a shift from memory practices marked by oral & written communication to those marked by electronic and oral communication. Network technologies have changed the ecology of recordkeeping and storytelling, where the technological and social are deeply intertwined.

With the invention of the Internet, a whole new way of recording the past has emerged, presenting many new claims regarding how the present is different and how the future will be reconfigured. However, before this can be looked at further, Bowker explores the relationship with the past changes incorporating such new technology in a process that he calls “databasing the world”.  He argues that “only through understanding our ways of configuring the past with new technologies can we develop new models of participation in the construction of knowledge and power.” (22) He breaks down this dilemma into two fundamental questions:

  1. What traces do we leave?
  2. Why does it make a difference?

For example, Bowker uses his experiences on the Web to describe the way that history is not necessarily recorded as what occurred in reality. That is, many of us are not our ‘real selves’ when online; we censor ourselves.

“What we leave traces of is not the way we were, but rather a tacit negotiation between ourselves and our imagined auditors (whether in a sense of listeners, readers, or moral or economic watchdogs); and yet we also need at some level an understanding of what actually happened in order to forge our futures.” (24)

Likewise, when we tell stories of our pasts to friends and coworkers, there are many things we skip over or ‘choose not to mention’. Over and over Bowker brings up the rarity of committing a story to paper with a view to telling it “wie es eigentlich gewesen ist (as it actually happened). However, despite this central fact about record keeping, there is still a need to keep good records! We are getting very good at reconfiguring the past as a tool for exploring & supporting the present; we tell the past as it should have been.

“If we want a future other than how it seems to be turning out, we must create a past that is other than how it seems to have turned out. Only an open past can unlock the present and free the future.” (34)

*Do you agree or disagree with this statement? Why or why not?

One interesting point brought up by Bowker discusses the effects of our cultural circumstances as a reason for the amount of traces left (of not left) behind. “My potential memory is so great partly because I am white, bourgeois, male, academic and American- my set of traces is much more likely to have been covered …than those of a Cameroonian avocado farmer.” We often forget how culturally and politically weighted the Internet is. Likewise, “our environment now is intelligent for those with the technological hardware and competence to listen to it closely.” Social scientists, Bowker argues, need to draw attention to and seek to understand how our relationship with the past is “quietly being reconfigured, and with a revolutionary effect.” (26-28)

* What differences do the “traces” we leave online have for people without the technological hardware to access it? Does it affect them?

Chapter 10 is part of the second section of the book, which focuses on case studies regarding social technology.  It was much harder for me to get into this chapter, as such my focus for discussion will be on Chapter 2.

Social technology isn’t just digital; physical networks play a big role as well. The way our real world-relationships are conducted influence the ways we carry over these interpersonal relationships to the Internet. The individual then, can be seen as an active producer of digital culture. Warren Sack’s main point in Chapter 10, “Picturing the Public”, revolves around the power of “networks” as a way of thinking about association (notably, electronically mediated association). In particular, he tries to “reinsert networks into a longer history of the linked metaphors and technologies that shape our understanding of the “public” and our agency within it.” (165)

Sack dives into the different theories behind “public opinion”, including what it means, how it affects relationships and how it is measured. Likewise, he provides an account of a vast number of metaphorical descriptions of the public, representing different scientific perspectives. Our idea, Sack believes, “is shaped by different configurations of these metaphors.” (168)

Lastly, Sack discusses the network, and its ability to introduce people to those outside of their immediate social circle. In what I thought was a great quote from Thoreau, he says:

“We are in great haste to construct a magnetic telegraph from Maine to Texas; but Maine and Texas, it may be, have nothing important to communicate.” (169)

Just because networks exist does not make them compelling objects of personal identification or (inter)national cohesion. However, the more one connection is used, the more the parties involved have to say to one another, until constant contact between the two forges a new bond between them. Networks, then, supported by modern technology, have fostered the exchange of ideas, which separate or group people into different publics.

The Young & The Digital: Chapters 2 & 5

October 25, 2010

Chapter 2: Social Media 101

Watkins begins Chapter 2, Social Media 101: What Schools are Learning about Themselves and Young Technology Users, states,


Part of MySpace and Facebook’s initial appeal among young people was the fact that even though the vibrant lives they were forming online were so strikingly public, most of their activities, communications, and identities were largely hidden from the adult world (pg. 19)


This however was short lived. With the acquisition of MySpace by Rupert Murdoch not only brought corporate dollars to social networking but also the political governance that was not too far behind. During 2006’s mid-term elections, the Republicans backed a bill called the Delete Online Predators Act (DOPA) which tried to eliminate the presence of social networking sites in the lives of teenagers by requiring any school or library to block access to any Web site that,


is offered by a commercial entity; permits registered users to create an on-line profile that includes detailed information; permits registered users to create an on-line journal and share such a journal with other users; elicits highly-personalized information from users; and enables communication among users.


And, according to Mike Fitzpatrick these sites, “have become a haven for online sexual predators who have made these corners of the Web their own virtual hunting ground” (pg. 20). But what the act seemed to forget was that there are these type of people in the physical world as well. By misrepresenting 91% of the Web’s users by showing that only 9% of them meet strangers online would be like saying that 5% of sports spectators streak or cause riots in the stands therefore … SPORTS ARE BAD! Note, that 87% of teens use the Internet and of that, these 91% use the Internet to further their off-line relationships. DOPA was “striking at the very heart of what made the social Web so compelling in the eyes of many – the focus on community, collaboration, interaction, creativity, and self-expression” (pg. 21). Thus, ALA (American Library Association opposed this bill by saying (in Watkins’s own words) the bill, “glossed over the educational potential of the social Web. Most stunning was the bill’s lack of understanding of the power and richness of social media and why it appealed to many” (pg. 21).

Watkins goes onto point out how the Brooklyn College Library (BCL) has used social networking to its advantage. Social networking has shown BCL, and other institutions, how to become a “dynamic learning environment” (pg. 24). MySpace allowed BCL to connect with art collectors nationally and internationally by “adding them as friends”; allowed the public, students, professors and staff to know what each is interested in and/or talking about; thus, allowing BCL to promote events online as well as the other, traditional mediums. But it comes at a price! The opportunity cost (in business/economic terms) of being present online means less of a “presence” off-line, in the physical “how may I help you” library arena.

Watkins goes onto point out the differences in access among poor and rich communities … so, how do these differences in access change the views of social networking and the Internet within these communities? And, how are these important to our discussion?


Chapter 5: We Play – The Allure of Social Games, Synthetic Worlds, and Second Lives

Watkins begins showing the shift from TV to games and what has caused that. The reasons for playing games seem to change from social group to social group … but there are always ideas of community, friendship and social interaction at play. Yes, there are examples of a guy playing a game like Mass Effect II (a single player RPG – Role Playing Game) for days at a time, but that’s the exception. Majority of people will play games like World of Warcraft (WoW), Everquest, or Second Life where interactions with others is important to their experience and knowledge acquisition.

Like Watkins states at the end of the chapter, “For the majority of young people, the computer-mediated world is about being with real people rather than virtual personas, friends rather than strangers” (pg. 131).

I do have to agree with his assessment that majority of youngsters like MMORPG’s rather than MMOG’s because of my experience as a gamer, and secondly because of my experience with gamers. Note: I will discuss further the skills that one acquires even while playing MMORPG’s for long periods of time … and the reason for the interest in MMORPG’s vs. mainstream media’s view of interest in MMOG’s.