Friday, April 24, 2015

Information Glut as a Catalyst of the Fragmentation of Self: Implications of Advertising

The first paper to get a grade for this semester! There are four from this semester still floating around in a professor's computer waiting to be slapped with a grade.
Finally, the boost of confidence needed - just in time to tackle an 18 page behemoth...and with just 16 days to go...
Let's not forget the three other papers left to write.
Um, sure...no stress.
This is the first time this many papers have been put off this close to deadline. Good thing graduation is just a mere few weeks away...(but wait, what's that about getting a second degree?! More on that later...)

Here is it, as requested by one Mr Charles Bivona (of Facebook, Twitter and Blogging fame), in all of its 98% glory. The instructor for the class (Advertising and Society) is a tough cookie, and the topic chosen turned out to be logistically difficult in stringing together concepts to create a coherent argument, so the grade was a surprise. Of course now that it's done it looks ridiculously easy.



or read it here...

Information Glut as a Catalyst
of the Fragmentation of Self: Implications of Advertising

In The Saturated Self Kenneth Gergen focuses on social saturation caused by technologies themselves as the forerunners to increasingly fragmented self identity. However apt Gergen’s argument may seem, there are byproducts of the relationship between people and technologies that may be the real perpetrators. One such byproduct of technology and human relation is the increased abundance and dissemination of information and knowledge through information technologies. As much as there is an abundance of information, so is there a wide range of types. This critique will focus on a particular kind of information, which is that created by advertising. The position is that it is information itself that impacts identity control, not necessarily technologies. Rather, it is the ways in which information is created, distributed and processed through technologies that proliferates ostensible fragmentation of self identity.
Each stage of the technological revolutions - from printed words, to radio and film - has changed the shape of information and society[1], including how we understand and manage self identity. Focusing on information technologies, a connection can be created between advertising and the fragmentation of self identity in the post modern world. There are also strong implications for its nurturing of the “[...]populating of the self, [as well as] the acquisition of multiple and disparate potentials for being”[2] as it fosters dissonance and anxiety in identity control. 
As cable television meant the end of shared cultural experience through nightly news[3], so does information technology further contribute to the loss of cohesive shared experiences, facilitating the fragmenting of self. New advertising strategies attributed to the rise of information technologies and computer-mediated environments may extend this further, not only propagating it, but catering to a fragmented identities in society.

Advertising as Information and Culture
Advertising is a form of marketing communication and a medium of information. Advertising provides information about a product’s capabilities and characteristics, but it also informs culture through the use of symbols, creating “cultural materials”, cultivating and confirming stereotypes, influencing how we understand ourselves in the social world, as well as impacting the perceptions of the world in which we live.[4] The primary way in which we receive these information messages is through technologies, which have progressed from print to today’s information technologies. Whether we acknowledge it or not, advertising information affects the subconscious, which guides our cognition in our self-identification construction.[5]
Reflecting on the writing of Karl Marx, Neil Postman, in Technolopy, proposed that technologies influence people’s perception of social and mental life[6], which in effect influences culture. As Gergen further illustrates,“emerging technologies saturate us with the voices of humankind”[7] and these voices, whether they be in the form of entertainment, advertising, or social interaction, carry information messages. The exposure to these vast range of messages can lead to loss of coherent identity and to the fragmentation of self identity, “increasing sensitivity to the social construction of reality”[8], thereby increasing anxiety as we struggle with information that does not conform to our concept of self in a process called cognitive conservatism.[9]
The messages and information of advertising continues to change, mirroring the evolution of society.[10] With the growth of information technology, advertising messages continue to become more about the consumer of the product than the product itself, pandering to the insecurities of the target audience.[11] Advertising uses “cultural cues to communicate fairly complex messages [...] exploiting stereotypes and cultural references”[12] further capitalizing on anxieties of fragmented self-identity.
Evolving Advertising as Catalyst
There is a sweeping shift in our exposure to advertising information, as well as advertising’s exposure to our information. As marketing moves away from a traditional approach[13], developing new strategies like niche or target advertsing, taking advantage of innovations like cookies, tracking pixels, and developing emotional analysis software[14], the ability to cater to aspects of the fragmented self identity increases and persists. As technologist David Weinberger asserts, “by pulling together implicit data from multiple sources, marketers can avoid being fooled by our lopsided self-presentations on any one site”.[15] This not only validates the fragmentation of identity but facilitates the maintenance.
However, it is not perfect validation just yet. As Nikhil Seith wrote in an article for AdWeek, while meaningful messages cannot be crafted if identity is not understood - which is achieved through data - so far marketing isn’t doing an adequate job. Cookies aren’t really enough. The answer, according to Seith, is The Internet of Things - wiring your physical world to your digital world in order, which will combine increasing amounts of fragments and craft a more cohesive identity.[16] Therein lies the holy grail of advertising in its quest to profit from the satisfaction and validation of every theoretical fragment of self.
Social Influence of Advertising Information
A technology focused and saturated society is a condition of ”culture [and] a state of mind”.[17] Gergen asserts that saturation by technology is contributing to the reformation of society, and that this has implications on knowledge and information.[18] As the shape of knowledge and information becomes an increasingly social construction, involving networks of people, so does the dissemination of cultural information inform an even greater population.[19]
Cultural information provided by advertising is further distributed by the ever growing population of social networks, through visible relationships constructed with products and services by following the accounts, and by activities such as “likes” and “retweets” and “thumbs up”. These types of valuable “peer recommendations”[20] also reinforce the messages, giving new authority to the cultural claims of advertising and its information
Through the new network of knowledge not only do previous authorities on information lose the “singular” power of their voice[21], contributing to “the erosion of authority”[22], but the amount of information is expanded.  The revitalized authority of advertising messages in the hands of the masses, incorporated with the vast networks afforded by information technologies, leads to “dynamic” cultural influences and “multiple cultural knowledge systems” which individuals employ to “understand, interpret, and behave” in any given situation.[23] Given the multiple contexts of the world and information that information technology provides, “no transcendent voice remains to fix the reality of selves [into place]”.[24]

The Influence of Information from Advertising Relationships
In the information fueled world of the technology focused society, the definitions of reality become redefined,[25] including definitions of self and identity, creating platforms through which  “a barrage of new criteria for self-evaluation” are realized.[26]  Further, expectations are redefined due to increased information which “may also disrupt the social and psychological processes underlying identification through which individuals come to understand who they are as persons”.[27]
As Gergen states, “the technological achievements of the past century have produced a radical shift in our exposure to each other” pushing people closer, subjecting them to growing numbers of  populations, which propagates unimagined relationships.[28] There is an endless juxtaposition of information messages from diverse social groups competing with those of companies and products through advertising. This increases the amount of cultural information, cluttering media and culture[29] with complex arrays of cultural messages about who a person is or should be, which increase identity control anxieties.
Interaction with products and brands through the aforementioned social networking fosters the “manifestations of relatedness” in which “face-to-face encounter[s]” and “reciprocal interchange” become irrelevant in fostering and maintenance of valid relationship paradigms.[30] Gergen warns that “[...] one must be prepared for the possibility that media figures do enter significantly into people’s personal lives”.[31] This effectively plays out in celebrity endorsements and ‘celebrity as brand’ where personalities essentially become the brand or product.[32]  There is an undeniable allure and power of celebrities as a persuasive power.[33] By using celebrity to forge “genuine, long-term relationships” brands create “meaningful ways to engage customers” by infusing “genuine personality in their brand” or product and cultivating a bond.[34] This creates an environment in which a consumer can have a perceived relationship with entertainment personalities, particularly through social networking. The cumulative effect of this advertising strategy creates a significant informant of a branded personality whose messages can have a powerful impact on the fragmented construction of self identity, “allow[ing] customers to makes a statement about who they are”[35] through their relationship with the brands.
All social situations, whether it be “non-digital” or information technology-mediated, are environments where “we make ourselves intelligible to each other” while gathering “[information of] others’ patterns of being”.[36]  Brands strive to create relationships with consumers[37] through advertising strategies such as branded personalities, creating a plethora of identity information, and therefore become a further catalyst to the construction of self identity.
Understanding ourselves through interpersonal relationships, group affiliations, and advertising messages[38] - sometimes presented by a figure who is influential on an interpersonal level - continually adds to, influences, and changes the information we have available for identity control. While all of these social relationships may be seen as a catalyst to the “multiphrenic condition [...] in which one swims in ever-shifting, concatenating, and contentious currents of being”,[39] it is still the information provided that is used to guide, shape, and instruct self identity.

The Rational
In Gergen’s postmodernism sphere, we are doubtful about who we are, “dismantled” and lacking any “real and identifiable characteristics – such as rationality, emotion [...] exist[ing] in a state of continuous construction and reconstruction”. Accordingly, this postmodern dystopian perspective encourages the “[...] populating of the self, reflecting the infusion of partial identities”[40] creating environments in which Gergen claims there is no essence of self to remain true to.[41]  Gergen attributes this phenomenon to social saturation, but it may be something more; it may be the seemingly disordered heap of information that technology encourages, and it may be a reasonable response to the circumstance.
The fragmentation of self may be a completely rational and natural outcome in the domain of an advanced technological world experiencing a glut of cultural information. Drawing from a modernist perspective of self, where “knowledge of the world is built up through observation [and] it is not by virtue of heredity that we are who are, but by observation of the environment”,[42] we can infer that our environment influences and shapes our identity. We are what we see, hear and learn. We are what we are exposed to, and if we are exposed to scads of mixed information messages over time, then we become fragmented. Therefore, varying cultural messages, which influence us subconsciously[43] will shape identity and corresponding gradients of self.  To put it plainly, rather than understanding identity as being an innate inherited construct, we can recognize it as flexible. Just as we have learned to “juggle multiple principles of [information] organization [in the networked world] without even thinking about it”[44], over time so have we learned to monitor and implement aspects of identity, while in some instances, becoming overwrought with the violation of our sense of identity.[45]
Gergen’s assertion is that “the fully saturated self becomes no self at all”[46] and that technology which leads to social saturation is to blame. This smacks of “technodeterminism”, attributing the fragmentation of self to new technologies gives technology authority and power.[47] We are not being “made” by technology, even though its influence can certainly be seen as a factor. It is not technology, nor simply the social aspects perpetuated by it; it is the propagation of and exposure to its information, the glut of it, that fragments our sense of self.
To better clarify, if it was purely a social issue, and one was exposed to one hundred people in an echo chamber, fragmentation would be unlikely compared to being exposed to one hundred people with twenty different polarizing viewpoints. Ergo, social saturation does not guarantee a fragmented self identity.

Conclusion
In a rejection of Gergen’s usage of the term ”multiphrenic condition” and “unlimited multiplicity”, what he sees as “multiplicity” can be defined as “adjusted self” and is just one coping mechanism used when presented with a challenge to identity, like incompatible demands, in which an outcome can be a redefined identity.[48] People have always had to maintain separate “selves” - i.e. work self, family self, social self - “performing a variety of roles” throughout any given day in a process called identity management.[49] It is true that information technologies, such as social medias, intermixes these places or states of identity - for instance causing your “work identity” and “social identity” to collide - causing friction in maintaining all of the so-called “selves” a person must sustain as they move not only through the tangible world, but the digital as well. The condition of which he speaks is not that of separate identities, but gradients of a single identity that society encourages the individual to compartmentalize in order to be accepted.
Gergen asserted that “[Information] technologies of social saturation are central to the contemporary erasure of individual self”.[50] However, they may not actually be an erasure. These technologies, and more aptly the information produced through these technologies, may add, or simply alter “an individual’s sense of self”[51], encouraging self realization and reinforcing self perception while influencing all aspects of their identity.[52] Additionally, information technologies create opportunities, “enriching our potential for seeing connections and understanding things in contexts we have never considered” before.[53] In this way these technologies are an enhancer, not an erasure. Perhaps the answer lies in a more sophisticated understanding of the impacts of advertising information on self identity, the opportunities new technologies afford, and the recognition of the consequences of errant acceptance of vast array of messages that society is bombarded with every day through information technologies.


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Footnotes
[1] Postman, Neil. Technopoly: The Surrender of Culture to Technology. New York: Vintage Books, 1993. 67.
[2] Gergen, Kenneth J. The Saturated Self: Dilemmas of Identity in Contemporary Life. New York, NY: Basic Books, 2000. 69.
[3] Weinberger, David. Everything Is Miscellaneous: The Power of the New Digital Disorder. New York: Holt Paperbacks, 2007. 130.
[4] Bartholomew, Mark. "Advertising and Social Identity." Buffalo Law Review 58 (2010): 931-76.
[5] Bartholomew, Mark. "Advertising and Social Identity." Buffalo Law Review 58 (2010): 938
[6] Postman, Neil. Technopoly: The Surrender of Culture to Technology. New York: Vintage Books, 1993. 21.
[7] Gergen, Kenneth J. The Saturated Self: Dilemmas of Identity in Contemporary Life. New York, NY: Basic Books, 2000. 6.
[8] Gergen, Kenneth J. The Saturated Self: Dilemmas of Identity in Contemporary Life. New York, NY: Basic Books, 2000. 16.
[9] Adler, Ronald B., and Russell F. Proctor. 14th ed. Australia: Thomson/Wadsworth, 2014. 45.
[10] Reilly, Terry Edward, and Mike Tennant. The Age of Persuasion: How Marketing Ate Our Culture. Berkeley, Calif.: Counterpoint :, 2009. 162.
[11] Postman, Neil. Technopoly: The Surrender of Culture to Technology. New York: Vintage Books, 1993. 170
[12] McChesney, Robert Waterman. "Does Capitalism Equal Democracy: Advertising." In Digital Disconnect: How Capitalism Is Turning the Internet against Democracy, 41-46. New York, New York: New Press, 2013.
[13] Weinberger, David. Everything Is Miscellaneous: The Power of the New Digital Disorder. New York: Holt Paperbacks, 2007. 118
[14] McChesney, Robert Waterman. "Does Capitalism Equal Democracy: Advertising." In Digital Disconnect: How Capitalism Is Turning the Internet against Democracy, 41-46. New York, New York: New Press, 2013. 157.
[15] Weinberger, David. Everything Is Miscellaneous: The Power of the New Digital Disorder. New York: Holt Paperbacks, 2007. 163.
[16] Sethi, Nikhil. "The Future of Advertising Hinges on Understanding Identity." AdWeek. December 9, 2013.
[17] Postman, Neil. Technopoly: The Surrender of Culture to Technology. New York: Vintage Books, 1993.71
[18] Gergen, Kenneth J. The Saturated Self: Dilemmas of Identity in Contemporary Life. New York, NY: Basic Books, 2000. 119.
[19] Weinberger, David. Everything Is Miscellaneous: The Power of the New Digital Disorder. New York: Holt Paperbacks, 2007.
[20] McChesney, Robert Waterman. "Does Capitalism Equal Democracy: Advertising." In Digital Disconnect: How Capitalism Is Turning the Internet against Democracy, 41-46. New York, New York: New Press, 2013. 157.
[21] Weinberger, David. Too Big to Know: Rethinking Knowledge Now That the Facts Aren't the Facts, Experts Are Everywhere, and the Smartest Person in the Room Is the Room. New York: Basic Books, 2011.
[22] Gergen, Kenneth J. The Saturated Self: Dilemmas of Identity in Contemporary Life. New York, NY: Basic Books, 2000. 16,
[23] Hong, Ying-yi, and Desiree YeeLing Phua. "In Search of Culture’s Role in Influencing Individual Social Behaviour." Asian Journal of Social Psychology 16 (2013): 26-29.
[24] Gergen, Kenneth J. The Saturated Self: Dilemmas of Identity in Contemporary Life. New York, NY: Basic Books, 2000. 138.
[25] Postman, Neil. Technopoly: The Surrender of Culture to Technology. New York: Vintage Books, 1993. 48, 60.
[26] Gergen, Kenneth J. The Saturated Self: Dilemmas of Identity in Contemporary Life. New York, NY: Basic Books, 2000. Xix, 76.
[27] Nach, Hamid, and Albert Lejeune. "Coping with Information Technology Challenges to Identity: A Theoretical Framework." Computers in Human Behavior, 200, 618. *citation of Burke, 2000
[28] Gergen, Kenneth J. The Saturated Self: Dilemmas of Identity in Contemporary Life. New York, NY: Basic Books, 2000. 41, xi, 53.
[29] McChesney, Robert Waterman. "Does Capitalism Equal Democracy: Advertising." In Digital Disconnect: How Capitalism Is Turning the Internet against Democracy, 41-46. New York, New York: New Press, 2013.
[30] Gergen, Kenneth J. The Saturated Self: Dilemmas of Identity in Contemporary Life. New York, NY: Basic Books, 2000. 170, 155-156.
[31] Gergen, Kenneth J. The Saturated Self: Dilemmas of Identity in Contemporary Life. New York, NY: Basic Books, 2000. 56.
[32] Reilly, Terry Edward, and Mike Tennant. The Age of Persuasion: How Marketing Ate Our Culture. Berkeley, Calif.: Counterpoint. 2009. 221.
[33] Reilly, Terry Edward, and Mike Tennant. The Age of Persuasion: How Marketing Ate Our Culture. Berkeley, Calif.: Counterpoint :, 2009. 227.
[34] Reilly, Terry Edward, and Mike Tennant. The Age of Persuasion: How Marketing Ate Our Culture. Berkeley, Calif.: Counterpoint. 2009. 268, 221.
[35] Reilly, Terry Edward, and Mike Tennant. The Age of Persuasion: How Marketing Ate Our Culture. Berkeley, Calif.: Counterpoint. 2009. 221. 196.
[36] Gergen, Kenneth J. The Saturated Self: Dilemmas of Identity in Contemporary Life. New York, NY: Basic Books, 2000.4, 69
[37] Reilly, Terry Edward, and Mike Tennant. The Age of Persuasion: How Marketing Ate Our Culture. Berkeley, Calif.: Counterpoint. 2009. 242, 268.
[38] Bartholomew, Mark. "Advertising and Social Identity." Buffalo Law Review 58 (2010): 931-76.
[39] Gergen, Kenneth J. The Saturated Self: Dilemmas of Identity in Contemporary Life. New York, NY: Basic Books, 2000. 80.
[40] Gergen, Kenneth J. The Saturated Self: Dilemmas of Identity in Contemporary Life. New York, NY: Basic Books, 2000. 7, 49.
[41] Gergen, Kenneth J. The Saturated Self: Dilemmas of Identity in Contemporary Life. New York, NY: Basic Books, 2000. 4, 138.
[42] Gergen, Kenneth J. The Saturated Self: Dilemmas of Identity in Contemporary Life. New York, NY: Basic Books, 2000. 41.
[43] Bartholomew, Mark. "Advertising and Social Identity." Buffalo Law Review 58 (2010): 931-76.
[44] Weinberger, David. Everything Is Miscellaneous: The Power of the New Digital Disorder. New York: Holt Paperbacks, 2007. 11,40
[45] Gergen, Kenneth J. The Saturated Self: Dilemmas of Identity in Contemporary Life. New York, NY: Basic Books, 2000. 17.
[46] Gergen, Kenneth J. The Saturated Self: Dilemmas of Identity in Contemporary Life. New York, NY: Basic Books, 2000. 7.
[47] Weinberger, David. Too Big to Know: Rethinking Knowledge Now That the Facts Aren't the Facts, Experts Are Everywhere, and the Smartest Person in the Room Is the Room. New York: Basic Books, 2011. 173-174
[48] Nach, Hamid, and Albert Lejeune. "Coping with Information Technology Challenges to Identity: A Theoretical Framework." Computers in Human Behavior, 200, 618-29.
[49] Adler, Ronald B., and Russell F. Proctor. "Communication and Identity: Creating and Presenting Self." In Looking Out/looking in, 51-58. 14th ed. Australia: Thomson/Wadsworth, 2014.
[50] Gergen, Kenneth J. The Saturated Self: Dilemmas of Identity in Contemporary Life. New York, NY: Basic Books, 2000. 49.
[51] Nach, Hamid, and Albert Lejeune. "Coping with Information Technology Challenges to Identity: A Theoretical Framework." Computers in Human Behavior, 200, 618.
[52] Gonzales, Amy, and Jeffrey Hancock. "Identity Shift In Computer-Mediated Environments."Media Psychology 11, no. 2 (2014): 167-85.
[53] Weinberger, David. Everything Is Miscellaneous: The Power of the New Digital Disorder. New York: Holt Paperbacks, 2007. 124.

Bibliography

Adler, Ronald B., and Russell F. Proctor. 14th ed. Australia: Thomson/Wadsworth, 2014.

Bartholomew, Mark. "Advertising and Social Identity." Buffalo Law Review 58 (2010): 931-76.

Gergen, Kenneth J. The Saturated Self: Dilemmas of Identity in Contemporary Life. New York, NY: Basic Books, 2000.

Gonzales, Amy, and Jeffrey Hancock. "Identity Shift In Computer-Mediated Environments."Media Psychology 11, no. 2 (2014): 167-85.

Hong, Ying-yi, and Desiree YeeLing Phua. "In Search of Culture’s Role in Influencing Individual Social Behaviour." Asian Journal of Social Psychology 16 (2013): 26-29.

McChesney, Robert Waterman. "Does Capitalism Equal Democracy: Advertising." In Digital Disconnect: How Capitalism Is Turning the Internet against Democracy, 41-46. New York, New York: New Press, 2013.

Nach, Hamid, and Albert Lejeune. "Coping with Information Technology Challenges to Identity: A Theoretical Framework." Computers in Human Behavior, 200, 618-29.

Reilly, Terry Edward, and Mike Tennant. The Age of Persuasion: How Marketing Ate Our Culture. Berkeley, Calif.: Counterpoint. 2009.

Postman, Neil. Technopoly: The Surrender of Culture to Technology. New York: Vintage Books, 1993.

Sethi, Nikhil. "The Future of Advertising Hinges on Understanding Identity." AdWeek. December 9, 2013. http://www.adweek.com/news/advertising-branding/future-advertising-hinges-understanding-identity-154330.

Weinberger, David. Everything Is Miscellaneous: The Power of the New Digital Disorder. New York: Holt Paperbacks, 2007.

Weinberger, David. Too Big to Know: Rethinking Knowledge Now That the Facts Aren't the Facts, Experts Are Everywhere, and the Smartest Person in the Room Is the Room. New York: Basic Books, 2011.

Saturday, April 4, 2015

Reflection on 'Too Big to Know: Rethinking Knowledge...'

There are about five weeks left before graduation. Graduation! With some exciting opportunities waiting for us at the end of the graduation stage, it can't get here fast enough...but for the countless papers yet to be written. With three of the nine papers under the belt [none of which have been graded yet] (not counting a small writing project that doesn't count as a paper) it felt time to post at least one, at least in interest of keeping the blog active and ready for when there is more time to write for personal fun and enjoyment.

The following isn't a paper that poses an argument. It's a reflection paper, much like those from the Truth, Knowledge and Reality Class last Spring semester (See: Critical Reflections on: 'Free Will' by Sam Harris, 'Why Truth Matters' by Michael P. Lynch, 'When Science Meets Religion' by Ian G Barbour, and 'On Being Certain' by Robert A Burton). It is for an independent reading and study course in Communications of which there are six (self-selected) books.You probably won't see all of the resulting papers here because...well...to be honest you can't put the same amount of effort in every paper when you have nearly 10 to write within about an eight week time frame.

Also. This isn't some of our better writing. It kinda feels like we're phoning it in this semester, so to speak. The heart isn't into it and every fiber just wants to get on with the next part of life....whatever that may be (travel, painting, writing, gardening, cooking, new job opportunities!)

Well. Anyway. Here it is. The first paper of the final semester...


The Life of Knowledge
A Reflection on Too Big To Know by David Weinberger

               The room is the smartest person, according to David Weinberger in ‘Too Big to Know: Rethinking Knowledge Now That the Facts Aren’t theFacts, Experts are Everywhere, and the Smartest Person in the Room Is the Room’. Of course, once you being to understand what he means by the room, your whole concept of information, knowledge and expertise are restructured, as it should be in the world of interconnectedness.
The room is the smartest person, so it goes. However, the room is not exactly a room, and the room is made of networks not walls, and the network is made up of people not conduit. The room is made up of people who, in the new structure of knowledge, become individually insignificant. Rather, they gain significance as a whole in the new organization of knowledge: networks, which make up the body of information, or data. The knowledge is in the network of information (people) itself, the culmination of expertise and knowledge (people) that inhabit the room, which is the very structure of the room. It is in this network where information is transformed into what Skip Walter refers to as “actionable” knowledge which is simply information that is used for a purpose and therefore has significance (3).
The smartest room, this network of knowledge, exists on the internet, in social connections. These networks have developed as places of associations between “lots of people who are different from one another [where they are] not only finding expertise but also generating it” (57). This environment has taken the shape of knowledge, previously linear in nature, and transformed it into not just a circular form, but various forms involving symbiotic relationships.

Structure and Process of Knowledge Itself
Previous to Too Big To Know the idea that knowledge has a shape was, personally, a foreign concept. Weinberger manages to describe how the shape of knowledge has evolved from linear structure – such as one direction information like that presented in books – to a multi-directional web of information in which the seeker can discover information and knowledge in any number of ways  as well as add to it (100).
Despite this new structure of knowledge it has a life which is akin to the life of the old linear knowledge in that it has the same old problems and can be “misquoted, degraded, enhanced, incorporated, passed around through a thousand degrees of misunderstanding, and assimilated to the point of invisibility” (110).  Only previously, the editorial nature of knowledge and expertise prior to the Net was that of privilege, whereas now the editorial nature provided by networks is in the hands of the masses. Expertise has multiple voices thanks to the new structure, and that doesn’t always have positive implications (67).
It is in the hands of the masses that expertise on any one topic can have an array of implications. It is that trait where the network gets its diversity, where it “[…] enables a type of expertise just about impossible to actualize before the Internet existed” and gains “value only because that network contains many different types of people” (55).  The variety is not just in the mere connections of countless people through the network, it is the variety of ways in which they think and what they know (56).
The issue in the network is in the sifting of the large mass of knowledge created by it, to moderate it to a point of usefulness. It calls for a new method of filtering which is now done through methods of influence through social networks. Weinberg says this can be disruptive, especially when it comes to authority of knowledge where it is transferred from experts to people we know (10) – theoretically people who have no valid authority. When information and knowledge is shifted from central “authorities” to an array of influences, both in our social networks as well as the expanded networks connected to them, we are bombarded with fragmented information. This fragmented information shapes perceptions and attitudes. This information may be outside the scope of new authoritarian social networks who never the less are granted authority over the information transformed into knowledge. In this way the information is not so much reduced by filtering as it is should be, but it is compounded; this form of filtering “increase[s] information and reveal[s] the whole deep sea” (13). Weinberger says this mass of information “has consequences” (10), and he proceeds with outlining many of the pros and cons of this new “anything goes” nature of information generation and dissemination.

The Cons in the Pros
Perhaps one of the most interesting concepts Weinberger presented as a pro to the network is a new take on diversity, which is the cornerstone of the “smartest room” in question. The proposal is that the concept of diversity is growing away from that of an ethnic or racial structure, to that of a diversity of backgrounds, education levels, economic levels and experiences that flow through all, regardless of religion, gender, sexual orientation or racial identity. This slow-growing concept, particularly in business, is an idea outside of the popular rhetoric of what traditional diversity is and means.
The kind of diversity Weinberg discusses works by creating a range of new perspectives with heuristic implications which in the workplace presents as innovation and creativity. This form of diversity builds on new ways of seeing and doing and battles against the group-think, which leads to mediocrity (77). This new understanding of diversity can be seen as having potentially ill effects if adopted to broadly, such as the reversal of anti-discrimination legislation. However, for the purposed of the network it can be a positive revolutionary force, as well as a carrying negative attributes.
As Weinberger is sure to point out at various steps, the revolutionary nature of networks does not mean they are all universally smart, or even that the network is universally used. As he points out, referencing the work of researchers Eszter Hargittai and Danah Boyd, “social class, age, and subculture affects [s] how we use the [network] and what it means to us (173). To further illustrate the psychological pitfalls of the usefulness of the network (i.e. the internet), Weinberger states that “for those who have no interest in intellectual rigor, or who lack curiosity […] the Net may well be an environment that degrades knowledge” (91). In these ways the diversity of global society does not translate directly to the diversity of “the room”.
When diversity is functioning properly in the network of “the room” knowledge is built vis-à-vis shared expertise. When done on a mass scale, cognition “quickly migrate[s] to these networks of experts” (62). However, though “knowledge has always been social” in much this way, and the theory goes that we are “smarter when together” the fact is that this isn’t always the case with networked knowledge (51). Now that authority of knowledge is in the hands of the masses, Weinberg makes a claim that the lack of a privileged position introduces the worry that “we will be lost in a swirl of contradictory ideas” (90-91). It is difficult not to see how this plays out in everyday dissemination of information on the net. As Weinberger says, in some cases the network is dumber (67) for its mass cognitive blend, creating misrepresentations (66) and having an isolating effect on information (63).
Networks are subject to forming insulation from criticism and outside points of view, resulting in echo chambers (63). According to Weinberger, citing the work of Cass Sunstein, this type of insulated echo chamber can lead to the breeding of extremism (83). In the network, extremism birthed from isolation is counter intuitive to the positive creative nature found in the aforementioned diversity, a nature which promotes a more objective view than those of static ideologies. This problem is at the root of what Cass Sunstein calls “information cascades [where] false and harmful ideas […] gain velocity [and credibility by how easily] and frequently they are forwarded”, passed on, or shared (117). One not need be in the network of the internet long to recognize this outcome is not only real, but persistent.
To further the point in his parlay of cons of the network, Weinberger reflects on the work of techno-dystopian Nicholas Carr, who says that what the internet is doing is changing our cognitive processes for the worst. While on some level this may be an accurate perception for some, it is highly technodeterministic, as Weinberger confers, to conclude that “technology causes us to use and understand it in particular ways” (173). The idea that technology acts upon us, causes as if by force, and not the other way around, has implications regarding ideas of free will and control in relation to the technological world.
Other problems with information and knowledge transference in the network arise in interpretation, which, as Weinberger advises, is always subjective. Knowledge, in all of its structures, lives in the connection of life (119); and while it is accessible to all, sans the network in previous generations, it “shows itself to use depending on our starting point, viewpoint, and inescapably human sense of what matters to us” (180) and “all knowledge and experience is an interpretation” (89).
Interpretation is essential to the transference of knowledge, but in “real events are experienced by individual minds that strive to create an accurate inner representation which is then expressed in words presented to others” (112) and creates a world in which they approach their understanding “from a particular standpoint (113). As Weinberger states, “our experience is always from a point of view, looking at some features and not others” (89), experiences of which there are countless ways in which to interpret everything (90). These experiences must contain context in order to be made sense of (90). Each frame of context carries the standpoints of the past with it which impacts the effectiveness of how we convey information and knowledge, as well as how we interpret it.

Importance and the Culture of Knowledge
Being left to figure out what is important about the evolving structure of knowledge, with its mass contribution of variable information from multiple standpoints, it is not hard to recognize the fatigue that transpires through the overload of the system. Even more are the implications on how to navigate what is available and come to terms with the death of authoritative knowledge. Understanding how to navigate these new structures and processes of knowledge is important, and are subject to a culture of their own which is “guided by implicit rules and expectations” and become important to aspects of social structure (90). The underlying fact is that knowledge is essential to the process of creating identity and culture, to understanding the world and ourselves (4).
With a network of connectedness that inhabits many parts of the globe, bringing together a plethora of ideas, theories, and beliefs, “information overload [arises] as a cultural condition (9).
The information provided isn’t necessarily essential, and the overload feeds the insecurity of our own knowledge and instincts. For example, Weinberger briefly remarks on child raising experts who dispense “skill […] often with just a few cogent mottos” (49). The consumption of books such as these types of boiled down common-sense guides to life illustrates the insecurity of our own knowledge, authentic knowledge passed down generation after generation, basic instinctual knowledge. When we erroneously put into the hands of the masses the authority on basic knowledge, it threatens the authentic self. With any number of experts available we often forget that within us is our own knowledge. For this reason “learning to evaluate knowledge claims” and developing critical-thinking skills becomes more essential than ever before (192). Unfortunately it often seems that critical thinking skills fall by the wayside as those who consume knowledge, dispensed from those who have been afforded authority on the grounds of nothing, neglect their own instinctual knowledge.

So What, Now What
With all of the cons, Weinberger still notes that “a net richer in metadata [information] is richer in more usable and useful knowledge” (188). Despite the range of expertise and useful knowledge created in the diversity of the network, he acknowledges that “we are going to disagree about everything”, attributing it to the very nature of diversity which inhabits the network of information and knowledge (87). The fact that our perceptions, beliefs, ideas and attitudes are individually shaped by so many different voices means each of us approaches the same knowledge set with different ways of viewing it. However, this can be recognized as nothing new; humanity has have never really agreed on anything. If it had agreed on anything, things would have remained the same throughout history. No revolutions, no loss of attributes deemed essential by some and inconsequential by others – no growth or change.
Perhaps the networked world in which we now live in, in which everybody projects their voice into the abyss of knowledge and expertise, has simply been magnified by the network. Perhaps it was always like this, but through this new structure of knowledge, in the amplified connectedness of society, we now see how disconnected we really can be on various subjects such as those of human rights, politics, gender, religion, and any number of other less essential topics. Alas, Weinberger’s “pragmatic truth” sums it up, “what we have in common is not knowledge about which we agree but a shared world about which we will always disagree” (182).

Throughout the book Weinberger probes how media, communication and information shapes and influences culture and the implications the new structure of knowledge has for the future. The topics laid before you were merely highlights and musings as there is neither time nor space to plumb the depths of his text for the purpose of this reflection. The best way to conclude is with Weinberger’s own utopian aspirations of the potential for “the smartest room”, optimistic and hopeful, that “…perhaps our hyperlinked infrastructure will give us a self-understanding that makes it easier for our curiosity and compassion to overcome our self-centered fears.” (193).
xxxxx

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Here, Study This

First exam tomorrow. Media History. Dreadful names and dates to remember.

Luckily the professor supplies a number of questions that he'll choose three of, of which students will get to choose two of for the short essay portion of the exam, and to be included with 33 multiple choice questions.

This is the last semester you'll have to hear about homework and exams and tests (officially graduating in May!!). You'll probably come to miss it...because you'll have to read...whatever it is that used to be here before...

Schlock. Probably. 

Or maybe nothing will be here...June will be five years since starting this blog...and damn...we've come a long way, baby...(!)
Maybe it's time to retire from the blogging.

Anyway...
In the meantime, you'll get some final learnin' in, yeah?

Here's a sample of what the kids learn in media history the first five weeks (questions are the professors, answers are our own - by all accounts they should be correct. Bold, underlines and italics are for stressing important things to try to remember to string together coherent sentences in the exam).
...Learning is fun!

1. Explain the historical background and importance of the John Peter Zenger trial of 1753 and its influence on the First Amendment and Bill of Rights three decades later.
John Peter Zenger was the editor of the New York Journal who published subversive anti-British views of an (anonymous) James Alexander. At the time criticizing the government and its leaders was illegal under British law. Therefore, Zenger’s participation in the publication of Alexander’s critical views regarding arbitrary power by the government eventually resulted in a 1735 court trial for Zenger on the ground of seditious libel. 
The trial lawyer for the case was Andrew Hamilton. Hamilton helped establish the precedent that the words themselves must be false to be libelous, scandalous or seditious in order for Zenger to be guilty. This was the first time that such an assertion was made as the British law at the time, which applied to the colonists, outlawed seditious libel.
The principles behind the defense of Zenger, who was found to be not guilty by a jury, were regarded as a milestone in colonial religious and political freedom. The resulting judgment was eventually used in influencing laws regarding free speech and included in the First Amendment of the Bill of Rights.
2. Explain the background and issues regarding the conflict between the Federalists and Anti-Federalists after the American Revolution. Also explain the related conflict with the First Amendment (Bill of Rights) protections of the press and prior restraint.
The Federalist, led by Hamilton and Anti-Federalist, led by Jefferson, issues revolved around a strong central government versus states rights. 
Federalists, the business class of society, supported the constitution and a strong national government, while using exaggerated financial and political problems to further their cause. Additionally, they thought Bill of Rights was unnecessary because they felt the powers would largely be held in the hands of the states if not granted or handled by the national government. They actively used the press, through a series of articles by Hamilton, Jay and Madison (The Federalist Papers), to persuade public and encourage ratification of the constitution. 
Anti-Federalists, comprised largely of farmers and artisans, were anti-constitution. They felt that the constitution would create an authoritarian government. Additionally, they felt that without a Bill of Rights there would be no guarantee of the freedom of speech, religion, press, assembly and the right to petition. They opposed a national centralized government and strongly advocated that a Bill of Rights be included in the Constitution.

The Zenger trial of 1735 was used to illustrate the need for a Bill of Rights in order to protect the press from punishment and censorship due to prior restraint. According to Anti-federalist views a national constitution, absent of a Bill of Rights, would allow the national government to supersede rights taken for granted and destroy the freedom of the press. 
The over-all appeals made by the Anti-Federalists to include a Bill of Rights, and the Federalists concession to grant the request and adopt the Bill of Rights, was an important catalyst in the ratification of the Constitution and the subsequent protection of the press. The Bill of Rights set a precedent for freedom of the press to enjoy no prior restraint, no censorship prior to publication.
3. Explain the background to the concepts of prior restraint and censorship in England beginning in the 16th Century - and their relationship to the development of movable type and the printing press.
The concepts of prior restraint and censorship prior to the 16th century were primarily regarded as laws opposing the criticism of the government, or British monarchy, and ruling religious factions. The published criticism became known as “seditious libel”. 
The development of movable type, which made publication easier and quicker than before, contributed to the widespread diffusion of information. This spread of information and uncensored opinion assisted in degrading the monopoly on political, moral and religious opinion enjoyed by the ruling class (largely the Catholic church, as well as the monarchy). The ability for more voices and more opinions to be spread throughout society threatened the government and religious ruling class, which led to actions of prior restraint censorship. 
Prior restraint as pre-publication censorship was enacted through a network of censors imposed by advisers of King Henry VIII, which included (in 1534) the requirement of royal permission to publish and in 1542 a law prohibiting the criticism of the government and Catholicism. The resistance to this prohibition included violence, arrests and restraint, and sometimes death, and other actions which essentially prevented some from obtaining royal license to operate at all.
4. Explain the rise of the National Intelligencer and its importance in America in the 19th Century. Give examples of innovations it introduced.
Started by Samuel Harrison Smith in the 1800’s, The National Intelligencers was developed to cover the activities of Congress. The tri-weekly paper was regarded as remarkable because it supported “liberal policies in a conservative manor”, a sort of bipartisan account of Congress for the time, never experienced before. 
Through his shorthand reporting, an innovation at the time, Smith was able to report on Congressional news in a new way not seen before by the public. This shorthand was a skill he passed on to his predecessor to the Intelligencer, Joseph Gales Jr.  
After Gales took over, congressional printing contracts, which had been a mainstay for the paper, were being granted to low-bidders which benefited the non-newspaper businesses and added extra struggle to established newspapers. As with Smith, Gales depended on the government print contracts to fund operations. This new method of government contact distribution therefore challenged the monopoly that the National Intelligencer had on Congressional news. 
Despite the challenge, the National Intelligencer remained a valuable service and “an organ of [at least three] presidential administration[s]”.
5. Outline the rise of the Penny Press beginning 1833 and explain the factors that contributed to its success. Use the explanations from both the textbook and content from the Zinn book: A People’s History of the United States.  
The first penny press was created in 1833 by Benjamin Day. Day produced a paper called the New York Sun, which through strategic economic methods. Some of his methods included patent medicine advertising, as well deals made with local merchants to set prices so that the consumer left the establishment with a penny in their pocket, which was the cost of his newspaper - much less than other newspapers. 
The growing democratic market society abled Day to sell his paper at a cost affordable to the masses. The audience of the penny press, such as the working class and growing immigrant populations was on the rise. As the shift in political and elite coverage moved more towards “entertainment news”, readership increased. Ben Days success inspired the growth of various other penny press papers such as James Gordern Bennette’s New York Herald, Horace Greenly’s New York Tribune, who expanded on the model to include innovative variations in news coverage that included perils of the common population, as opposed to the elite and expanded crime news and religious commentary. 
Factors that contributed to the rise of the Penny Press from 1833 to the 1840’s include increased literacy rates, and new printing technologies. New technologies were an important factor that made production easier, making distribution of news more widely available. Additionally, the desire for entertainment, such as crime news and local events, an “opiate for the masses”, the tired and exploited workers, was on the rise. The Penny Press papers met the needs using sensationalized news written by skilled writers and editors. Finally, the developments in manufacturing which led to the growth of consumer goods, gave rise to more advertising which supported and contributed to the need for funds to produce the publications, and increased the affordability of the papers.
6. Describe the development and introduction of the telegraph and its influence on the beginning of the Associated Press and suggest what made the telegraph such a major communication development?
The invention and development of the telegraph was innovative in separating the limits of communication from geography and transportation. The quick communication across great expanses enabled news from far regions of the United States to spread quickly. The telegraph also became seen as a democratic leveler of privilege through further dissemination of information. The telegraph system eventually evolved to be an important source for news regarding such events as the Mexican American war. As the telegraph services and technology expanded Westward, it gave rise to brokerage news services such as The Associated Press and the Abbot & Winans 
The Associated Press (1846), a news brokerage service still highly regarded today, developed through a series of contracts and agreements between editors and telegraph services. The system of the AP was used to share the cost of gathering news, but especially the sharing of valuable wire time, spreading out the costs among a number of newspaper establishments to decrease the expensive practice of obtaining the news from far distances. Telegraph services were in high demand due to limitation of time available and access due to limited amount lines which at the time was only between Baltimore and Washington, D.C.

The price and access issues that surrounded telegraph technology gave rise to the inverted pyramid style of reporting, which placed precedence on the pertinent information first. The speed of news through telegraph services also contributed to the attributes of better quality news service, such as more predictability in quality, schedule and form, which became important for the commodification of news.

Thanks for studying with us!