Who’s writing this?

November 27th, 2016

I apologize for the wait! Here are some thoughts spinning off of the discussions of online communities and identity.

An interesting thing I noticed while reading “The Online Disinhibition Effect” was the name of the journal that the article was published in: CyberPsychology & Behavior. Seeing “cyber” and “psychology” meshed into one word was strangely thought-provoking. The oneness of the words seems to suggest the merging of two fields when psychology and behavior must be examined in context of the Internet. That is, the term implies that a different set of psychological norms must be applied when examining people’s behaviors in a virtual platform.

Interestingly enough, a search on the term cyberpsychology brings up many articles relating to depression, FOMO, internet addiction, and compulsive internet usage. It appears as though the usage of the Internet, and social media platforms in particular, is recognized as being harmful to one’s mental well-being. However, even when these negative associations are so well established in academia, people continue to grow and expand their social media usage. In my opinion, this phenomenon could be explained by looking at how Internet usage influences people’s emotions in the short-term vs. in the long-term.

Speaking from personal experience, I find that much of what I participate in online is driven by a desire to gain access to information that are traditionally private. That is, the publication of private information on a public platform satisfies my desire to “look into” others’ behaviors in a private domain. Immediately after reading status updates or pictures, I feel like I have “gained” something – knowledge about how others spend their time or perhaps a sense of inclusion. I can easily see how the short-term fulfillments can become so addicting, mostly driven by our desire to blur the lines between what’s private and what’s public.

In the long-term, however, repeated themes in social media posts lead to a desire to not only be on the receiving end of information, but also to be the one posting and sharing information. This, I believe, is what drives the depression, FOMO, or addiction cited in many articles. It is precisely because we see so much of something, that we begin to feel like we have to jump into the conversation by reciprocating something of our own. And when we are unable to reproduce pictures or posts that adhere to what we see, we begin to feel different or out of place. The internet, I find, magnifies all the tiny details because as Suler touches on in his article, the asynchronicity of communicating online allows us to examine the fine prints of others’ lives in comparison to our own.

Internet Governance

November 14th, 2016

Big thanks to Prof. Waldo and Dean Smith for bringing in Dr. Bradner in as a guest speaker during our past meeting. I thoroughly enjoyed his talk and the humor in his PPT.

As mentioned by Dr. Bradner during his talk, the internet remains as one of the few things that is not governed at an international level. This current lack of governance, however, does not suggest that there is a general consensus on how internet should be governed. Instead, much of the decisions are differentiated at the level of individual countries. For example, while the States have minimal rules governing the internet (FCC rules), China has built a “Great Wall” around internet access and usage.

In my opinion, I do not believe this lack of governance is sustainable. There is obvious tension bubbling underneath the surface, particularly with increased international pressure on countries like China that limit access to certain parts of the internet for its citizens. Although this tension is now contained within reasonable scope (no active intervention yet!), it could easily culminate into something greater should “catalysts” be introduced. This catalyst could take many forms. For example, if a specific incidence involving internet governance draws empathy or attention from an international audience, it could be easily sensationalized through media.

Interestingly enough, despite the restrictions that China places on the internet, Dr. Bradner mentions the incredibly vibrant internet community within the country. Although I did not ask what he meant by a “vibrant internet community,” I identify with what he is referring to. Although the media and the general public may imagine Chinese citizens as people suffering from suppression or a lack of access to information, I never felt like I “lacked” access to anything. Although I can’t access YouTube, Google, Instagram, or Facebook, I have access to many outlets like Tudou, Baidu, Weibo, and WeChat. The restricted sites are such small parts of the regular routine in China that a lack of access to those resources only result in small inconveniences, if any. But as China is now a location of tourism and work for many foreigners, the issues are evolving into a larger international concern.

Digital Citizenship

November 4th, 2016

The discussion at last meeting centered around the intersection of technology and governance. It was very interesting to examine positions of authority as nontechnical people attempting to address technical challenges. Guest speaker David Eaves specifically mentioned a change in the expectations of IT departments that occurred at the local level about ten years ago. According to Eaves, initially, IT departments were generally in charge of tackling technological challenges relating to operations of the city. For example, their roles may have entailed making sure that everyone has electronic access to documents or troubleshooting specific computer or access problems. However, as local governments began to conduct interesting studies with data, other cities attempted to emulate the type of technological progressions that took place. Unfortunately, as the IT department was trained to be “traditional” problem-solvers, they generally lacked appropriate skills to conduct innovative research and restructuring of data collection methods.

The problem described here, in my opinion, is something that needs to examined from the bottom-up approach rather than top-down. Although state governments are likely to have the means and man-power to collect data in an efficient and non-repetitive manner, local governments, which are arguably the institutions closest to citizens, may not have enough human resources to develop similarly eloquent or efficient methods. As a result, although everything may seem to move efficiently from the perspective of the upper levels of government, the “ground work” data collection, where the basis for upper level analysis may come from, could be implemented poorly or in a manner that is less than ideal. This in turn, is the most direct impression that citizens have of government’s efficiency, resulting in a negative user experience and government representation.

Something else that stuck out to me was the problem surrounding allocation of resources. That is, the problem of if someone had to choose between using resources towards developing a great software or marketing the product itself, they would choose the latter.  The decision, again, appears to boil down to relating technical concepts to a nontechnical audience. This reminded me of a talk I attended given by Steven Chu, the former Secretary of Energy, where he described communicating the science behind climate change and climate change policies to various politicians. If only there was a lower barrier towards understanding all the technical knowledge behind computer science or science in general, then the policy development process itself could become much more streamlined and efficient….