Reading response C
The Center and The Periphery
Dan: I was remembering earlier Vannevar Bush’s essay from 1945, “As We May Think,” which in many ways was a precedent for the calm technology article. In his proposal or speculation was not this cloud of networked devices, but this big, heavy, physical desk that had all the equipment inside it (including microfiche), and it would allow this deep learning, the “T” basically. It would allow learned intellectuals to follow each others’ paths through academic scholarship.
It’s interesting to think how we went from this deterministic physical, positivist model—one which also emerged out of nuclear war (I mean Vannevar Bush wrote that as like a side project from inventing the bomb)—and how we basically graduated to this unknowable cloud of content—this endless sea of information—and also one with such social problems that he couldn’t possibly have anticipated.
Ayham: Well that’s why I’m always skeptical of the endless sea of information. I think there simply are ways to just focus. Maybe that’s us still getting out of our adolescent phase, as Nilas said.
If we’re using the analogy of the center and the periphery, there are advantages to both. Being able to swim around is important, but it’s also good to have developed ways where you can focus and unpack certain subjects. That is a positive aspect of these cloud networks and communication platforms. They do allow you ways to unpack and focus and dig deeper.
Dan: Maybe there’s a helpful relationship between the center and the periphery. We should allow our peripheral vision to play a part in what becomes our centers—what we focus on.
We sort of assume that there’s one monolithic social network that’s going to solve all these problems, but that’s not how our physical lives work. We read lots of different magazines or have lots of different overlapping real world social networks and media channels. We don’t expect any single one of those channels to provide every single perspective. The fact that there are different newspapers with different perspectives doesn’t mean that there’s a bubble problem.
Maybe the problem with Facebook is that it’s this monolith that includes everyone and it’s not just that they’ve created bubbles, but that they are using dark patterns to exploit those bubbles. I know those patterns are driven by what’s going to make people feel good in terms of social identification and herd mentality. On Facebook, there is no editorial perspective—no sense of social responsibility—that you might expect from the most partisan printed newspaper.
Nilas: I’m curious about this sort of “social responsibility” in terms of Are.na. It’s not exactly the same as anything else, but Are.na is developing into something different with more users. For example, people are starting to add some of my content into their “Pinterest-style” channels—you could call them “mood boards.” I use Are.na often as a research tool with a lot of context. With more users who don’t have the same approach, they easily use it while removing all context.
Wenwen: It reminds me of what Ayham said “like it is in real life”. Compared with the context of real world, the context of internet or virtual platform can be easily removed by users, especially when it comes to be in the larger scale. In the real world, the context can give you a much more clear and precise clue to the center and the periphery, what is appropriate and what is not. But on the internet, all the structures are made by designers, where the privilege can be abused or neglected.
Ayham: Both your points remind me that it is important—if we’re talking about digging deep and focusing— that there be a difference in opinion. It’s similar if you were doing research for an academic paper to be published—it’s important to not ignore a differing opinion because that’s how you make an argument.
Dan: Having access to the different opinions is important too. You have different newspapers or different TV channels that express highly partisan perspectives, but you can change the channel, or you can buy the other newspaper. With Facebook, you just can’t very easily. There’s so much friction to move to another channel on Facebook, which is a problem.
Ayham: Is it possible to have differing opinions with just pure image collecting? Or does it all turn into Pinterest-style? When you say Pinterest, I think everyone already has an image in their mind what that collection looks like.
Ayham: There’s a stereotype of that collection.
Laurel: But at the same time, I can imagine myself as a teenager using Tumblr or something (although maybe even now Tumblr is dated) and doing something super naïve like that. I think there’s some value in letting go of your images, or work, to an extent. For the people who are really dedicated, hopefully there will be a dedicated archive or book someday in addition to the image stripped of all context. It’s important to have layers to be accessible.
I was reading a really cheesy self-help book like six months ago about social media. It said, “give it up for a month. Don’t delete your account or anything. And then, after the month, if you want to go back you can— just know the reason you decided to return.” With Instagram for instance, I said to myself, “It's really annoying in some ways, but it’s valuable to know what’s up.” Because I follow so many users I value, I get to see the overall zeitgeist—what’s in the air. It’s the periphery, and seeing it in bulk and zooming past you gives it value. It’s good to be in touch with the periphery.
Ayham: Going back to the question about the personal voice, which seems related, “How do you approach an extremely loud room?” Are you saying you’re trying to focus in on someone’s individual voice (as a listener), or are you a single voice contributing to that production (as a speaker)?
Dan: Is Cab’s approach one way to think about it? I mean at the meta level. I think one of the things that’s really nice about that interview is how he talks about the invention of Are.na as a curatorial choice. Like that’s his content, that’s his project.
Ayham: And artwork. He’s explicit about that.
Dan: Yeah, that’s his perspective. If the rest of you can figure out how to have your own perspective inside Are.na, hopefully you can.
Bryce: The artist, Jason Musson, said in a tweet, “Be the content you wish to see on the internet.” I took that to mean, just because I’m on Twitter and seeing people tweet all of this, there’s actually a lot of good stuff on Twitter. But there’s also a lot of bad stuff—I think there’s a lot, and you can say that about any social media platform. I just took that to mean that I don't have to participate in conversations I don’t want to. I can just say the things I feel only I could be saying, and maybe some people will like that.
Ayham: Yeah, and perhaps the people who like Twitter tend to be the people who don’t tweet.
Bryce: Oh, yeah that’s interesting. The general attitude I get from every single person I follow on Twitter is that Twitter is not good.
Matt: A lot of people in one room talking about how they don’t like the room that they’re in. Ayham: It’s almost like a joke—”No Exit.”