The ALA and CISPA

Woolwine’s argument for the ALA needing a different type of ethical argumentation is set in the context of the USA Patriot Act, passed in the wake of the September 11th, 2001 terrorist attacks. Of particular note in the USA Patriot Act were provisions that limited the privacy and restriction of access to library records. The ALA saw itself as a “strong institution” standing “between the government and citizens” and thus released resolutions calling for preservation of intellectual freedom and civil liberty and condemning the parts of the USA Patriot Act that threatened those rights.

While the USA Patriot Act was passed over a decade ago, one recent group of legislation that brought privacy concerns was the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and the Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act (CISPA). The ALA spoke out against both of these acts. While SOPA had very visible public opposition, on the grounds that it would lead to Internet censorship and stifling of creativity, the opposition to CISPA has not been as strong. In a CNET article from April 23rd, 2012, it is pointed out that, unlike what happened with SOPA, support for CISPA continues to grow in the United States Congress. However, CISPA seems to be more representative of the kind of attack on intellectual freedom that the ALA rallies against. CISPA would allow Internet companies to hand over customer records to the National Security Agency (NSA). This is the exact kind of intrusion that the ALA argued against in the USA Patriot Act. However, the ALA hasn’t spoken out against it as strongly as it did against the USA Patriot Act.

Before we tackle why that is, Bowker’s article can give us some insight. In his article we also saw how the process of creating intellectual arguments and structures (in his example a disease classification information structure) can affect and be affected by institutional culture and society. One point that Bowker makes is that the uniformity of the classification system must be matched by the uniformity of the bureaucratic system (53). We can similarly see that the arguments posited by the ALA are a direct result of the structure of the organization. While each individual organizational entity within the ALA has some degree of autonomy, it also has a culture, which fits into the larger culture, and thusly it produces ideas and work that fit in with the larger whole. Finally, Bowker’s assertion that “information infrastructures force us to pay close attention to the unit of historical analysis” (59) helps us understand that the ALA’s views on intellectual freedom are deeply rooted in the history of the organization.

So why hasn’t the ALA fought as strongly against CISPA? Well for one, this isn’t a bill that has passed yet. The only statement from the ALA has been in the form of a press release on April 24th, 2012 , quoting ALA President Molly Raphael urging supporters to contact their elected representatives and urge them to oppose CISPA. For the ALA to issue as strong a statement as those against the USA Patriot Act will require at least a few months of meetings and voting by its various committees and councils. The ALA is a behemoth organization consisting of nine distinct organizational entities, each with their own sets of leadership and rules. Each entity has councils and committees that create rules, resolutions, and proclamations. And any action at a lower level has to be routed through a myriad of groups before it reaches the genera ALA. The ALA’s relatively weak public argument against CISPA is a prime example of how the size and complexity of the ALA (which, in all fairness, is not unique to the ALA) can get in the way of it making bold statements against legislation that negatively affect libraries and their patrons. To me this signifies an opportunity for the ALA to change the way it operates to allow for quicker issuing of official proclamations in cases like these.

References:

The Murky World of Digital Copyright

Google and Oracle are currently in the throes of a titanic copyright struggle, as the Economist points out.  The crux of the case: is the Java programming language itself copyrighted, or is Google free to use Java APIs (Advanced Programming Interfaces) in its Android mobile operating system.  Oracle, which recently purchased Java’s progenitor Sun Microsystems, has argued that Google’s use of Java sans-licensing fees is akin to digital piracy.  Google, wanting to keep Oracle from getting a piece of the Android pie, has eloquently argued that Java is akin to a poem–the words themselves cannot be copyrighted, but the product of those words (in Google’s case, Android) can be.  It’s definitely a new spin on the programmer phrase “code poetry.”

I bring up this case of Google v. Oracle for two reasons.  One, it’s incredibly rare to see two tech giants go after each other in such a public manner over copyright (Apple v. Samsung is the other tech battle du jour).  Second, and more germane to our discussion last week on the benefits and drawbacks of open access to digital materials, is this idea that digital works are somehow different.  Basically, the notions of copyright and open access as we traditionally know them are on the precipice.

Eliza Dresang, in her article “Intellectual Freedom and Libraries: Complexity and Change in the 21st Century Digital Environment,” re-iterates the idea that libraries are designed to be open.  Despite some restrictions on content (mainly via the Children’s Internet Protection Act causing libraries to install Internet filters), Dresang makes the case that libraries are still a safe place for the open spread of ideas.  She claims that “access is one of the profession’s core values and an important ally of intellectual freedom” (p. 179).

However, Alistair Black and Anthony Bryant, in their article “Knowledge Management and Diplomacy: Reflections on the Demise of the Valedictory Despatch in the Context of an Informational History of the British Diplomatic Service,” show that there is a downside to the notion of open access.  They detail the case of several British diplomats who’s final dispatches from the field caused a political uproar.  This caused the long-standing tradition of the valedictory dispatch to end–showing that sometimes, open access can lead to a chilling effect on speech.  It seems rather counter-intuitive, but if the speech is considered socially immoral, complete and unfettered access to said speech can cause the speaker to silence themselves.

Taking these two cautionary tales together, I posited that the next big battle between electronic communication and open access would take place around items that are protected via Digital Rights Management (DRM) systems.  If a Kindle book is DRM-protected, is that a way of limiting my speech?  Since I’m not speaking per se, it’s not limiting my speech, but it is limiting my access to other people’s speech.

In a way, it comes full circle.  Since Java was published openly, Google used it.  If Oracle loses this court case, which most programmers hope will be the case, why wouldn’t they try to re-work the license agreement?  Or worse, add digital protection to the SDK?  While the language itself might be free, the tools and support frameworks don’t have to be—and nothing prevents future versions to be either.  In sum, digital rights management is a danger to the very notion of open access, even if it ostensibly protects rights holders.

 

References:

  • Alistair Black and Antony Bryant, Knowledge Management and Diplomacy. First Monday, vol. 16, no. 1-3, January 2011.
  • Dresang, E. T. Intellectual Freedom and Libraries: Complexity and Change in the Twenty-First-Century Digital Environment. The Library Quarterly v. 76 no. 2 (April 2006) p. 169-92.
  • Rumble in the Java jungle. The Economist. 21 April 2012. <http://www.economist.com/node/21553047>

The Morality of Machines and the Problems with Copies

In the article, “Where are the Missing Masses? The Sociology of a Few Mundane Artifacts,” Bruno Latour explored a sociological reading of technology that ascribed morality and action to machines. Latour’s argument, and the articles title, stemmed from a comparison of the missing masses in physics and sociology. While in physics this refers to unobservable matter, Latour’s argument sought the missing masses of morality and law that control human behavior. For Latour, the missing mass of sociology was located in technology, and the interactions between human actors and technological “nonhuman actors.” Specifically, he argued that sociology needs to include technology in its study, or at least consider a sociological reading of technology. In my reading presentation I also highlighted another argument that Latour made, that it is not possible to separate society from technology because there are interconnected and interdependent.

Latour’s article emphasized the interaction between humans and technology by understanding technology in the context of what it would require a human to do to achieve the same outcome. The automatic door closer, or groom, was a recurring example throughout his argument. He argued that the groom effectively replaced a human doorman, which would otherwise be the only way of ensuring that a door remained closed. Specifically, he called this interaction delegation, displacement, translation, or shifting. He believed sociologists should investigate this process when human effort is displaced or delegated onto a nonhuman actor, or technology. Latour was also interested in the process by which machines delegate action back to humans. In the case of the groom, the door closer required a relatively strong and non-disabled person to open the door. Latour termed this process of technology delegating action to humans prescription.

For Latour, prescription was also the dimension by which machines gained a semblance of morality. In terms of prescription, Latour argued that machines were relentlessly moral. They actively controlled or at least implied how humans should interact both with machines and with the world. To better understand this, Latour suggested that the action of machines be translated into imperative sentences like “do this, do that, go there, don’t go there.” An example of this in action is a stoplight, which controls when and how humans progress on a street.  This process of machine mediated morality explained the missing mass in sociology that Latour was interested in.

Class discussion was also particularly interested in this argument. There were arguments that ascribing morality to machines was preposterous, as how could an inert piece of technology really control anything, or determine how it should be used? One rebuttal to this argument focused on the designers of the technology, emphasizing how the morality inherent in machines was in fact the displaced morality of the machines designers. The second argument focused on the fact that morality is not absolute, and just because a piece of technology indicates how it should be used, or how humans should interact with it, does not prevent humans from interacting with it in a completely different way. All of these arguments were also present to an extent within the Latour article, so there was fertile ground for debate.

In the article “It’s Not All About You: What Privacy Advocates Don’t Get About Data Tracking on the Web,” Alexander Furnas explores the application of these concepts to the world of online data tracking. Specifically, Furnas ponders the implications of advertising and websites that attempt to prescribe human behavior. To do so, they make use of vast quantities of aggregated user data, which allow advertiser to not just target specific user bases but to generate and prescribe demand within populations. Where Latour explored the possibility of human and nonhuman actors to recursively generate more behavior in each other, Furnas considers the implications of this process in the aggregate. Given an immense sum of data about diverse individuals, designers can generate artifacts that prescribe aggregated programs of action. Furnas’s article even directly recognizes and references Latour’s sociology of technology arguments. Specifically, Furnas seeks to apply this morality of technology directly to designers, arguing that they must consider the ethical implications of technology design. The article also goes on to lament the fact that the data collected by websites and advertisers is proprietary and limited, obscuring its potential to influence technological design and understanding outside of business contexts.

The other article for this week was Catherine C. Marshall’s “Digital Copies and Distributed Notion of Reference in Personal Archives.” The article focused on the problems that result from the frequent copying of digital files by individuals. Specifically, the article approached the problem of multiple files from the perspective of personal archives. A lot of the problem results from the combined factors of the ease with which copies can be made and kept, and the tedious difficulty of maintaining a single version. When in doubt, most individuals follow the process of benign neglect and simply keep every single copy of a file.

The problem Marshall is interested in is that eventually many users want consistency across some or all copies of a given file.  One option in this situation is to maintain a master copy of a file. In many situations, this is done on a server automatically, thus allowing changes made to copies to propagate back to a master server side copy and maintain consistency. However, there are many problems with this solution. For example, many times users do not want complete consistency. The individual metadata and evolving social metadata of a given file is useful in its specific context, but may not be useful in the sense of a master copy. Users also do not necessarily trust the process of automatic synchronization. This was in line with Latour’s arguments about the process by which humans interact with and delegate actions both to and from machines.

The crux of Marshall’s point was that copies often take on a life of their own, and maintain useful independent instances of data. This presents archivists with a particularly challenging problem of what exactly should be archived. To solve this problem, Marshall argues that archivists need to consider both benign neglect and a new distributed model of storage and retrieval. This model would acknowledge the specific social metadata of copies, without producing a single definitive instance of a file. To put this in Latour’s terms, this program of action would be created from the interplay between the creator of the files (the designer), the files themselves (the artifacts), and the users. Essentially, you cannot separate the files (technology) from the designer and the users (society) without losing valuable context and data.

 

Resources:

Latour, Bruno. “Where Are the Missing Masses? The Sociology of a Few Mundane Artifacts.” Shaping Technology. By Wiebe E. Bijker and John Law. Cambridge, MA: MIT, 1992. Print.

Marshall, Catherine C. “Digital Copies and a Distributed Notion of Reference in Personal Archives.” Microsoft Research.

Furnas, Alexander. “It’s Not All About You: What Privacy Advocates Don’t Get About Data Tracking on the Web.” The Atlantic. Web. 15 Apr. 2012. <http://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2012/03/its-not-all-about-you-what-privacy-advocates-dont-get-about-data-tracking-on-the-web/254533/>.

Books, Libraries, the Internet and Democracy

 

In 2011 The New York Times ran five different stories about how the internet has had a positive effect on democratic efforts across the world.  Highlighting countries from China to India and Vietnam, the Times coverage tells basically the same story each time, linking technology with a rapidly expanding democratic values. But one must question such a blanket positive assumption—asking is this always the case?  Does free access to information on the internet always coincide with acceptance and promotion of democratic values?

 

The Best and Wade article conducted a quantitative analysis of data over a ten year period and suggested that there was a little evidence to point toward a positive correlation between internet usage and democracy.   The Best and Wade article also went so far as to say that there was little evidence of a positive correlation between literacy and democracy.  These findings are surprising given that the Maack article focused on the cultural diplomacy connection with libraries and access to information.  Maack’s research indicates that the history of cultural diplomacy really hinged on this viewpoint—that given the opportunity to read and understand the dominate country’s cultural perspective and governing philosophy—subordinate countries would embrace these values.  Both Maack and Best and Wade have demonstrated in their writing that these assumptions are not well founded.

 

While it may be difficult for democratic countries and countrymen to appreciate how anyone could endorse an anti-democratic perspective, both the Maack and the Best/Wade articles reminded readers of the sometimes irregular path to political power—that sometimes the intention of the purpose of the tools does not always equal the anticipated outcome.

 

I nevertheless felt that both articles pointed to this recurring theme about the role of the internet (or information access) and its effects on the political lives of global citizens.  More broadly, I found that at the core of this argument was the binary debate between technological determinism and social constructivism.  The abundance of media coverage, as evidenced by the New York Times, indicates that mainstream media has embraced the point of view that the technological tools link the internet will have a positive impact on the growth of democracy in the world.

 

Conversely, there are a quieter, but equally compelling, cohort of critics to this view point—who caution against this unsophisticated blanket enthusiasm for technology.  This technological argument has manifested itself as the techno-utopian versus techno-pessimist debate.  And part of what I was interested in, when considering the value of these readings for my presentation, was the manner in which this disagreement plays out.  Each side has their opinions supported by thoughtful evidence or at least a good narrative.

 

On the one side—the techno optimist—would argue that social revolts like those we’ve seen in Egypt, Tunisia, and across the Arab world would not have been possible without the vast increase in expressive technology.  Techno pessimists or cybercritcs would lob back that such views are naïve – that the internet is a technology made by man and thus a tool that can be controlled to further entrench dictators as easily as it could be used to unseat them.  To that the utopians would respond that such predictions are shortsighted and that the path forward to democracy is a long one.  They argue that the longer the internet and social media have to take hold on a population, the less willing they will be to live in a society that bans or censors their efforts at communication.  That every nations leaders will have to accept that their choice is rather black and white, either accept that the internet cannot be controlled or close it for good.  The techno optimists therefore believing that no modern country would close its communication borders only to be relegated to a hermit existence.

 

The argument goes around and around, but the articles we focused on for the week of April 9th pretty staunchly upheld the techno pessimist standpoint, that access to information in general may not always result in the advancement of the “freedom agenda” as those who originally created it may have intended or thought.  In stead, both of our writers suggest that despite the political agendas set forth by those in power, what we really have in play here is a system that is a tool—made for the people by the people.

 

My favorite techno-pessimist:  Evgeny Morozov

TED TALK:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-hFk6FDrZBc

NET effect BLOG:  http://neteffect.foreignpolicy.com/blog/5386

RSA video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Uk8x3V-sUgU

 

Techno-optimists:

The New York Times

Alarmed by Independent Candidates, Chinese Authorities Crack Down. Sharon Lafraniere. The New York Times. (Dec. 5, 2011) News: pA4(L). Word Count: 1118.

 

Free Speech and the Internet. The New York Times. (July 4, 2011) Opinion and Editorial: pA18(L). Word Count: 355.

 

China: censorship suit filed against Web company. J. David Goodman. The New York Times. (May 20, 2011) News: pA8(L). Word Count: 85.

 

Vietnam: Democracy Advocate Jailed. Seth Mydans. The New York Times. (Apr. 5, 2011) News: pA6(L). Word Count: 770.

 

Despite Intimidation, Calls for a ‘Jasmine Revolution’ in China Persist. Ian Johnson. The New York Times. (Feb. 24, 2011) News: pA14(L). Word Count: 420.

 

Shy U.S. Intellectual Created Playbook Used in a Revolution. Sheryl Gay Stolberg. The New York Times. (Feb. 17, 2011) News: pA1(L). Word Count: 1453.

 

4 part BBC episode “How Facebook Changed the World” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lnPR90dJ3Gk

 

Investments that Gain Social Capital

In “Beyond Bowling Together,” Paul Resnick analyzes the condition of social capital in the United States. From his perspective social capital is on the decline, and in an analog sense, it is. Resnick’s point of reference is the structured social group. Bowling leagues, Boy Scouts, gardening societies, etc. Groups like these used to be one of the main components of daily life for the average American, but the advent of the Internet has changed our hobbies. Quite literally in the case of Jenna Hartel’s study on gourmet cooking. A hobby that started in the 1950’s, gourmet cooking was centered on reading materials and cooking classes. Now, it is almost exclusively an individual hobby and the Internet is its most heavily used resource. The point is not to socialize, but to gain as much information and as much skill as possible. As such, our new hobbies seem to have increasingly diminished social capital as Resnick feared was the case.

To counteract the decline of social capital, Resnick pushes for research into new forms of communication, and new ways of building that capital. When his paper was printed, in 2000, Facebook had yet to launch and the idea of social media was nonexistent. Now, however, there are floods of these digital, social platforms. But interactions on these platforms don’t seem to be worth as much social capital because they don’t occur in a physical space, and therefore don’t encourage the kind of emotional and cultural bonds that are developed in face-to-face interactions. Instead, these new forms of interaction are almost entirely information based. Hard data such as photos, addresses, journals, and location updates are exchanged rather than more nebulous concepts such as communal sentiment or group cooperation. This exchange of information, however, does fit in with Resnick’s understanding of the systems we employ to generate and use social capital. We have appropriated these systems for use with informational capital and hence, create pathways and resource exchanges similar to those that were formed in the exchange of social capital.

But does this mean that social capital is being replaced by informational capital? And if so, do we need to adapt the current systems in order to help them produce social capital again? From the evidence in Hartel’s study, it would seem that the former is true, that information is the new currency being exchanged and used to create consistent pathways between people. After all, gourmet cooking has become a solitary hobby, and yet social media platforms such as Twitter and epicurious.com are used to exchange recipes and techniques. People gain value in this exchange depending on the quantity, quality, and consistency of the information they provide. In other words, they have informational value not social value. It even seeps into physical, social interactions such as going to a restaurant on a date. The outing takes on a secondary importance as a fact-finding mission for the hobbyist thus slightly reducing the energy that is invested in the social connection.

Even though informational exchanges are on the rise, there appears to be a new movement in the production of social capital. Robert J. Shiller’s article “Democratize Wall Street, for Social Good” addresses a new investment technique that is developing both monetary and social capital. The concept is called crowdfunding and essentially, it allows for multiple investors to contribute small amounts of capital to startups via websites in order to distribute the risk. It has even been included in the recent JOBS Act passed by Congress. It’s still a very nascent concept and therefore the outcome is unknown, but from a cultural perspective it’s incredibly like social capital. Multiple investors mean a distribution of risk but also a distribution of interest and responsibility. Investing in startups is always risky, especially in the current economic climate, but if the cost is distributed, people might feel more comfortable making investments in ideas and companies in which they have a personal interest.

This system is similar to the development of LLCs in the 1800’s. They distributed the risk of investment so that no investors could be held liable for mishaps, only the company itself. An exchange takes place here that is not merely monetary. A sense of trust is established because the possibility of one party taking advantage of the other is reduced, and the development of trust links directly to Resnick’s model for social capital. Conveniently, trust is strictly a social concept, not an informational one, which makes it a good indicator of the status of social capital. If these sort of social bonds can be formed for financial purposes, surely they can extend to daily interactions on the Internet.

Even though we are separated by distance and sometimes culture on the Internet, new communities emerge regularly and something similar to a value system arises within them via forum rules and moderators. Much like the idea of crowdfunding, however, trust and emotional bonding are still nascent within these communities. People are invested in subject mater and information and not necessarily in the emotional support that can be gained from such interactions. So the question still remains: is it possible to cultivate social capital in the age of the Internet? The economic effect of crowdfunding will likely be a good indicator. If enough trust can be cultivated to make the system work, then there are likely to be similar changes occurring in other areas of the Internet. As these changes occur, we will be able to see if the worth of social capital has survived the technological revolution. But for now, information is still the currency of choice.

Resources:

Hartel, Jenna. Information in the Hobby of Gourmet Cooking: Four Contexts. Everyday Information, ed. William Aspray, Barbara Hays. (MIT Press, 2011). p.217-248

Resnick, Paul. Beyond Bowling Together: SocioTechnical Capital. HCI in the New Millenium , ed. John Carrol, Addison Wesly. (2000). p.247-272

Shiller, Robert J. “Democratize Wall Street, for Social Good.” The New York Times, April 7, 2012, sec. Business Day. http://www.nytimes.com/2012/04/08/business/democratize-wall-street-for-social-good.html.

Social Memory and the London Underground

The map of the London Underground is an iconic symbol. In “Mind the Gap,” Janet Vertesi explores the idea that to many people the map is London. Instead of acting as a mere description of one type of transportation system, it becomes the representation for the entire city. Vertesi explains, “The map is not only an interface to the subway system, but is also metonymically used as an interface to the city as a whole, establishing a virtual space in which the analog urban environment can be explored, constructed, narrated, and understood”

The Tube Map for the city of London

London Tube Map

London is huge, “immensely complicated and defies description. Indeed, London’s defining characteristic is an absence of overall form” (Encyclopedia Britannica). In this absence of form, the London Tube map becomes the form of the city. As Vertesi learned through personal interviews, people use the underground to understand the city. When she asked Londoners to draw the city, nearly all of them used Tube stops as reference points, even while pointing out that they knew the map didn’t accurately represent the true geography of London.

One of the reasons the Tube Map is so recognizable and so memorable is its simplicity. Although the map contains a lot of information, it is laid out in straight lines, regular angles, tight corners, and bold colors. Maxwell Roberts, a professor and psychologist writes “For any network, the very best maps do not just make journey planning easier. Their apparent simplicity will imply that travel will be effortless, and an attractive design will engage people, encouraging them to make full use of it.”

However, for all its simplicity and recognizability, the Tube map does have some flaws. In order to be simple, it must be distorted, and it obviously cannot include every geological and topographical aspect of the city. These spots, along with suffering from the lack of Underground access, also become invisible to those who use the map to understand the city. Vertesi reported that in her interviews “several of my respondents noted that this makes these neighborhoods [without tube stops] even more disadvantaged, as being ‘off the map’ divorces them from civic culture and political discourse.”

In the same way that the Tube map becomes a representation of London, with its stations acting as geographical hitching posts and creating invisible neighborhoods, social memory acts as a representation of history, with major events and historical figures becoming the “Tube stops” on society’s map of its past.

Eviatar Zeruabavel writes about the social aspects of memory in “Social Memories,” emphasizing that memory is not individual: “In fact, many of our earliest ‘memories’ are actually recollections of stories we heard from [parents, grandparents, and older siblings] about our childhood. In an odd way, they remember them for us!”

These social memories become a representation of our collective past, just as the Tube map becomes a representation of the city of London. But instead of Tube stops, we have People Who Are Important, Events That Changed History, and Cultures That Matter. These events that we learn about in school and from our families and communities form the map that we all know and recognize. Because of the simplicity, we can remember it and make sense of it. And just as the London Tube Map creates invisible neighborhoods, our “social map” of History creates invisible events, people, and cultures that are only seen by those who set out to explore the unknown.

A good example of this “social map” is the recent decision of the London Transportation Authority to temporarily rename its 361 Tube Stops in honor of Olympic Athletes for the 2012 games. Of the thousands of Olympians to have competed over the past century, 361 were chosen to represent the Olympians as a whole. This, quite literally, shows the parallel of a taught history and a tube map. For those unfamiliar with the history of the Olympics, this newly renamed Tube system will let them know which athletes matter and are worth remembering, as chosen by the map’s creators. Those athletes will become the base around which people’s knowledge of the Olympics is formed.

Small piece of London Tube Map with stations renamed for Olympic athletes

Underground Olympic Legends Map

In a Bloomberg Businessweek article, the creators of the map mention the “heated debate” that went into deciding on the station names, and their willingness to “defend [their] choices.” It’s interesting to note that even the temporary renaming of stations in honor of a historical event creates disagreement and dissension. Deciding who and what goes into our social memory is not an easy task.

Obviously history must be taught in some form, and with younger children especially, some simplification is necessary. But it’s important to note that just as the London Tube Map becomes London, those history lessons become history; they become the collective memory of a society, and we need to ensure certain events and people are not left out simply because they complicate the map.

Sources:

London. (2012). In Encyclopædia Britannica. Retrieved from http://library.eb.com/eb/article-235576

Vertisi, J. (2008). “Mind the Gap: The London Underground Map and Users’ Representations of Urban Space,” Social Studies of Science, 38: 7-33.

Zerubavel, E. (1996). “Social Memories: Steps to a Sociology of the Past,” Qualitative Sociology, 19(3), 283-299.

Roberts, Maxwell J. (2007) Henry Beck Rules, Not Okay? Breaking the Rules of Diagrammatic Map Design. Unpublished manuscript, Department of Psychology, University of Essex.

Lehourites, C. (2012, March 28). London Underground map gets Facelift for Olympics. Bloomberg Businessweek. Retrieved from http://www.businessweek.com/ap/2012-03/D9TPJ3RO0.htm.

 

 

 

Creatures of the Middle Ground: Libraries and Autonomy

In Parks Canada, The Commemoration of Canada, and Northern Aboriginal Oral History, Neufeld (2008) illustrates the challenges of developing a national narrative and identity in a society with diverse cultural communities. Parks Canada is a national agency responsible for maintaining socially and culturally significant sites that are symbolic of Canadian national history and identity. First Nations is a community of indigenous peoples located in Canada that possess their own cultural identity and history that contributes to the national identity and seeks to share a space in the national narrative. Neufeld (2008) poses the question, “How can a national agency contributing to an existing unified national identity effectively serve the interests of disparate cultural communities included in our national community?” (p. 10).

In Libraries Build Autonomy: A Philosophical Perspective on the Social Role of Libraries and Librarians, Barbakoff (2010) discusses how libraries can be used to reject or reinforce specific social values and ideals. Barbakoff suggests that the social role of libraries and librarians serves to reinforce the moral value of autonomy and articulates specific ways the services offered by libraries and librarians contribute to autonomy building.

Applying Neufeld’s discussion of cultural communities to Barbakoff’s portrayal of libraries as social tools, how can the library as a national institution that contributes to a unified national identity effectively serve the interests of different cultural communities within the national community?

In order to answer this question it must first be established that the library as an institution contributes to a unified national identity and that it should be concerned with serving the interests of different cultural communities within the national community. As a symbol of democracy, freedom, and equality, the library undoubtedly conveys a national narrative and communicates a unified national identity. Another aspect of that national identity however, is cultural diversity. As a nation, we tend to pride ourselves on and define ourselves by our cultural diversity. As Neufeld (2008) suggests, “It’s important to recognize that other cultures have parallel ways of ascribing meaning and that a refusal or determined inability to acknowledge this fact weakens the social fabric that defines our country” (p. 25). Neufeld suggests the need for “a middle ground where these multiple meanings can be acknowledged and accommodated” (p. 23).

This suggestion is reminiscent of cultural border theory and articulates a need for libraries and similar institutions to be “the middle ground” in order to serve different cultural communities and maximize the benefit, impact, and ongoing necessity of their services. Cultural border theory examines how individuals, particularly marginalized individuals, who occupy multiple social or cultural spheres, are often discriminated against and denied full acceptance by either group because of their duality or multiplicity. They are “pushed to the margins” by members of the group and exist on the border between the conflicting parts of their identity. As part of multiple communities yet fully accepted by neither, these individuals are often denied a complete identity, voice, or place within society. In the context of the First Nations community as described by Neufeld for example, the First Nations individuals exist as part of an indigenous social and cultural community, as well as the Canadian social and cultural community. In attempting to claim both parts of their identity they are initially marginalized by the dominant social and cultural narrative and denied a full voice and place in society.

A similar example can be found in the New York Times article, For Many Latinos, Race is More Culture Than Color by Mireya Navarro (2012). In this article, Navarro discusses the United States census and the categories that are provided for race and ethnicity. Navarro observes that for the 2010 United States census, more than 18 million Latinos selected the “other” category (compared to 14.9 million in 2000) for the question concerning racial identity. Navarro asserts that for many Latinos, “the country’s race categories – indeed, the government’s very conception of identity – do not fit them.” Because the dominant society fails to acknowledge or accommodate the different ways various cultural groups construct identity, these individuals are forced to become “others” and denied the opportunity to assert their identity and place in society.

Many border theorists however, propose this borderland as a “space of change”. This indefinable middle ground, as part of both yet belonging to neither, presents an opportunity for marginalized groups or individuals to construct and claim an identity, voice, and place in society. It is within this middle ground, where different socially and culturally derived groups and perspectives converge, that social shaping can occur and result in a more dynamic and influential understanding of society, culture, and the individual.

In order to serve different cultural communities the library should function as this borderland or middle ground. As Barbakoff illustrates, libraries already somewhat function as a middle ground through the provision of opportunities for autonomy building. Barbakoff (2010) defines autonomy as “the moral capacity to make one’s own choices” and identifies it as “a primary moral value, essential to living a flourishing life.” Barbakoff illustrates the importance of autonomy in reference to individuals with disabilities and discusses how these minorities have been historically oppressed by socialization, which turns their differences into sources of discrimination and shame. Barbakoff suggests that systems that are biased towards the majority may reduce their autonomy “as they internalize the dominant message that they are less valuable.” Barbakoff asserts prioritization of autonomy as a means of consciously and publicly rejecting oppressive social norms. By emphasizing and valuing autonomy, libraries acknowledge and accommodate alternative perspectives and ways of ascribing meaning and thereby support the interests of different cultural communities within the national community.

In addition to functioning as the middle ground, librarians and the library itself should attempt to be “creatures of the middle ground” (Neufeld, 2008, p. 25). As a creature of the middle ground, libraries and librarians should consciously and emphatically acknowledge and accept their multiple roles and places within different social and cultural spheres. As Neufeld suggests, a creature of the middle ground, “must not only continuously reevaluate its objectives but craft new analytical tools in an ongoing way to meet the evolving understanding of what is taking place on the middle ground” (p. 25). As a creature of the middle ground the library should become an active part of the social shaping process it facilitates and change as the needs and perspectives of the society it serves changes.

Libraries must be wary of defining purposes and methods too rigidly to avoid limiting their ability to function as the middle ground or as part of the middle ground. In discussing autonomy, Barbakoff (2010) outlines “five competencies employed in the exercise of autonomy: access to information about many life possibilities, self-reflection, critical thinking, self-worth, and willingness/ability to act” and describes the different activities libraries engage in that support these skills. While these competencies and the activities that support them may be valid components of autonomy, libraries and national institutions that aim at supporting diverse cultural communities within a national community should be cautious in attempting to articulate or define how social values are specifically enacted. Barbakoff’s “willingness/ability to act” for example, would not only be difficult for a library to measure and evaluate for efficacy, but also inadvertently suggests a distinct way of enacting autonomy and negates alternative culturally based interpretations of this value.

The library as an institution undoubtedly conveys a distinct national narrative and contributes to a unified national identity. In order to support and strengthen our social fabric and effectively serve the different cultural communities that make up our national community, libraries and librarians should become “creatures of the middle ground” to help acknowledge and accommodate alternative perspectives and ways of ascribing meaning. By creating a space that acknowledges and accommodates multiple cultural perspectives, and constantly reevaluating its purposes and methods, libraries function as both a “middle ground” and “creatures of the middle ground” and are therefore effectively able to accommodate different cultural communities within the national community.

Works Cited

Barbakoff, Audrey. (2010). Libraries build autonomy: A philosophical perspective on the social role of libraries and librarians. Library Philosophy and Practice.

Navarro, Mireya. (2012). For many Latinos, racial identity is more culture than color. The New York Times. Retrieved March 25, 2012 from http://www.nytimes.com/2012/01/14/us/for-many-latinos-race-is-more-culture-than-color.html

Neufeld, David. (2008). Parks Canada, The Commemoration of Canada, and Northern Aboriginal Oral History. In P. Hamilton and L. Shopes (Eds.), Oral History and Public Memories (pp. 7-30). Temple University Press.

The Power of Collective Memory

The human act of remembrance can be powerful indeed. The Sherman article details the construction of French war memorials commemorating the First World War. His concentration is on those in France due to the singular attitude of the French people toward war and the deceased, and on commemoration of the First World War due to his desire to portray an important historical shift which differentiates between memorials of the past and those of more recent wars.

This change took place during the times of the Napoleonic Wars. In earlier wars, both in France and in the Roman Empire, it was very common for war memorials to feature illustrations of generals or high-ranking tacticians, those who actually “won” the war. The commoners and soldiers were mostly or wholly ignored. In more recent war memorials, however, one very often sees a depiction either of masses of soldiers or of architectural wonders with no people at all, showing the many who fought in the war rather than portraying a few individuals vital to the efforts. This new recognition is related to the way the general populace is viewed, and the changes in that situation with a transfer to more democratic and anarchist views.

The French community is a group greatly affected by World War I, and as a result by the memorials and ceremonies which remember the events of the war and the people affected by it. The people gather at ceremonies to show that the entire country gathers as one to remember the soldiers of the war, that such an important event has entered their collective memory.

Collective memory is a very powerful concept that changes forever the way people view an event. The way the French people view World War I now that they have created memorials will never be the same as the way they saw it before it was engraved into their official recollection. The very way in which people consider events is changed itself by their desire to consider it.

And this phenomenon can occur with collective memory of any venue. For example, one common venue of collective memory of another sort can be found in the workplace. The pair of articles by Orlikowski explains the process of this collective memory’s creation through the implementation of Lotus Notes in Alpha and Zeta Corporations.

In the first company, Alpha, Notes did not work well. Although it was intended to facilitate interpersonal opinion, many of the workers used the software to enhance their work in ways with which they were familiar. In the second company, Zeta, Notes was a much better fit. This was in part because Zeta implemented a pilot program, to begin to plant the seeds of a knowledge of the system. It was also, however, because the existing collective psyche and memory of Zeta was more closely aligned with Lotus Notes than was that of Alpha. Since the industry could not change themselves, they could not effect such a fundamental change as the use of new software with quite as much success as Zeta.

Once the system began at Zeta, primarily to assist the Customer Service aspect, it did, as intended, foster a large amount of interaction between the coworkers. In fact, it was at times difficult to distinguish one case as the work of one individual as opposed to that of another. In that case, the case best entered the company’s collective memory, as a part of the work that no one person could remember on his or her own, but rather something that the company as a whole could remember collaborating to complete.

The use of the new software allowed for more explicit documentation of calls. However, it also came with its share of disadvantages. For example, there was the issue of security. Some personnel had difficulties transferring their more sensitive files from the old system to the newer one. Also, along with the positive aspects of coworker interaction, such as the ability to share work, came the ability for one’s work to b seen by one’s boss. As a result of that, there was a large amount of fear of surveillance by managers and by security systems. This fear stifled work at times, while the interactions with others had the opposite effect. Once the employees changed within their minds, however, it was easier to change other aspects.

The use of collective memory in a national setting, and also in the medium of the workplace, shows that the human psyche is a powerful instrument in whatever setting it is used. It may cause an idea to succeed beyond the greatest hopes for it, or it nay cause it to fail in such a way that it will soon be forgotten.

Through discussion, one idea that featured prominently in discussion was the concept of online memorials as opposed to physical structures. There are many online remembrances of the September 11 tragedy, and these online services may change the entire structure of collective memory, since they may change over time while a physical and permanent memorial may not. The psyche behind an online memorial, though, differs from that surrounding a physical, unchanging landmark. For this reason, different remembrances seem more fitting, are acknowledged, and become a part of the collective memory, of different groups of people.

One other topic that we mentioned is the way companies at times may seek to change their collective memories even before the implementation of the new software, by hiring new staff. Collective memory changes the most effectively at times if the people, not the item being remembered, changes, since human minds often resist fundamental shifts. If personnel selection is done carefully, however, and the software to be used is chosen carefully as well, changes may be easier than previously imagined.

An article in the Atlantic Monthly discusses an evolution in collective memory with respect to war remembrance in the United States. It portrays the way collective memory is changed as it shifts to a new generation, as it has with the Civil War and will with the events of September 11. This change in collective memory is what the French attempt to accomplish with their several war memorials and ceremonies. It is what the Alpha and Zeta Corporations seek to achieve as the employees adjust to new software and to interacting in new ways. It also occurs when companies or nations have new people to remember, rather than the same ones who remember life before the change.

Whenever any change is made, one generation will always be the first to live through that shift in patterns. And the new system will never be exactly the same as it is once it has settled into a remembrance of things past.

Works Cited

Levin, Kevin M. “What the Civil War Can Teach Us About 9/11 Remembrance.” The Atlantic Monthly. 17 March 2012.
Orlikowski, Wanda J. “Learning from Notes: Organizational Issues in Groupware Implementation.” Proceedings of the 1992 ACM Conference on Computer-supported Cooperative Work. 1992.
Orlikowski, Wanda J. “Evolving with Notes: Organizational Change Around Groupware Technology.” 1995.
Sherman, Daniel J. “Art, Commerce, and the Production of Memory in France After World War I.” Commemorations: the Politics of National Identity, p. 186-211. 1994.

Information Cocoons and Blogging Ethics

The rise of the world wide web brought with it optimism regarding the dissemination of information: with this tool, we would be able to access a wide range of viewpoints from diverse backgrounds, belief systems, and geographic locations.  However, it seems that the Internet has had just the opposite effect.  Instead of taking advantage of the diverse viewpoints offered to us, we seek out only that which conforms to our own belief systems, creating an ‘information cocoon,’ in which we become further and further ensconced in our own prejudices (Sunstein 2006).

It is within our nature as human beings to form relationships with those who are similar to us (McPherson 2001).  Our tendency toward homophily exists on several dimensions such as age, race, sex, religion, education, behavior, and beliefs. In this paper, I will examine the dangerous effects that our homophilous relationships can wreak.  By seeking out opinions and ideas from people who are similar to us, we significantly limit the information that we receive, and in turn increase our propensity toward bias and error.

In his article, The Daily Me, New York Times Columnist Nicholas D. Kristof states,

We generally don’t truly want good information – but rather information that             confirms our prejudices.  We may believe intellectually in the clash of opinions,  but in practice we like to embed ourselves in a reassuring womb of an echo chamber.

By accessing only information that conforms to our pre-existing beliefs, we cut ourselves off from new ideas, while becoming more and more entrenched in our previously-held notions.

Kristof (2009) offers several examples of this phenomenon.  In one study, Republicans and Democrats were offered various political mailings from a neutral source.  Researchers found that both groups strongly preferred to read information that validated their pre-existing beliefs.  When either group expressed interest in reading opposing arguments, it was only for those which seemed obviously silly or untrue.  It seems we are only interested in hearing ideas from the opposition when it is easy to caricature them as idiots.  We are not interested in receiving good arguments that may convince us to reevaluate our ideas.

Another study comparing 12 nations found that Americans are least likely to discuss politics with people who hold different views (Kristof 2009).  Remarkably, this tendency toward homophily worsens with increased education.  In fact, high school dropouts seemed to have the most diverse group of discussion-mates, while college graduates maintained the most homophilous discussion groups.  This tendency toward homophilous relationships creates a dangerous feedback loop: the more we surround ourselves with like-minded individuals, the more entrenched in our beliefs we become.  The more entrenched we become, the less likely we are to seek out or accept differing opinions.

By insulating ourselves within homophilous groups, not only do we miss out on important counter information, but we often become more extreme in our biases.  Sunstein (2009) found that when groups of liberals debated on a topic, liberals who entered the group holding fairly moderate, or even conservative, beliefs on a specific topic, left the deliberation much more liberal.  Discussing an issue with like-minded people for only 15 minutes can have a significant effect on polarization and bias.

Blogs are not immune to the influences of homophily and information cocoons.  In fact, tools such as Google Reader allow us to select the blogs we choose (most often blogs that conform to our ideas and values), and read only those sources.  Blogs tend to post stories from contributors who share similar attitudes, link to blogs that espouse similar views, receive comments from similar users, and even post advertisements from similar organizations.  A study done on 1400 blogs found that 91% of the links on each blog were to like-minded sites (Adamic 2004).

One possible solution to this problem is to hold blog writers accountable for the preponderance of information cocoons.  Kuhn’s blogging ethics (2007) aims to account for a wide range of blogs and includes four main goals: to promote interactivity, to promote free expression, to strive for factual truth, and to be as transparent as possible.  In order to account for information cocoons, this code of ethics could include requirements that blogs feature contributors with diverse believes, that blog writers disclose their biases, and that bloggers include links to alternative viewpoints.

It is worth questioning whether the responsibility to avoid information cocoons should rest with the blog writers. Perhaps by hoisting these requirements onto blog authors, we will dilute their perspectives, censor their ideas, and in turn create less diversity of information.  Perhaps, then, the responsibility should fall on the blog reader to be aware of the danger of information cocoons and to seek out diverse viewpoints. In fact, this is precisely how Kristof concludes his article.  He says,

So what’s the solution?  Tax breaks for liberals who watch Bill O’Reilly or                  conservatives who watch Keith Olbermann?  No, until President Obama brings us             universal health care, we can’t risk the surge in heart attacks.

So perhaps the only way forward is for each of us to struggle on our own to work             out intellectually with sparring partners whose views we deplore.

By being more conscious of the information we take in, we will be able to access a diverse set of viewpoints, enriching our understanding of the world.  Perhaps core curriculum in higher education or even primary or secondary school can focus on the notion of the information cocoon, striving to create information-literate citizens who are capable of seeking out and evaluating a diverse set of ideas and beliefs.  Perhaps there is a need for a secondary, neutral resource which links to reputable sources of divergent opinions,

One conclusion is clear though: awareness of the danger of information cocoons will do much good in enhancing the way we access information.  The danger of the information cocoon creates a wide array of challenges within the information profession: from the engineers creating search algorithms at Google to the editors and readers of political blogs to educators and curriculum reformers.  By being aware of these dangers, we can strive to create and consume balanced and diverse ideas.

WORKS CITED

Adamic L & Glance N. (2005). The political blogosphere and the 2004 election: Divided             they blogAccessed March 7, 2012 from             http://citeseer.ist.psu.edu/viewdoc/summary?doi=10.1.1.59.9009

Kristof, N. (2009, March 18). The daily me. The New York Times. Retrieved March 7,             2012 from http://www.nytimes.com/2009/03/19/opinion/19kristof.html?_r=2

Kuhn, M. (2007). Interactivity and prioritizing the human: A code of blogging ethics.             Journal of Mass Media Ethics, 22(1), 18-36.

McPherson, Miller, Smith-Lovin and Cook (2001). Birds of a feather: Homophily in social             networks. Annual Review of Sociology, 27, 415-444

Sunstein, C. (2006). Infotopia: How many minds produce knowledge. New York: Oxford             University Press.

 

 

Can your past prevent a future?

With the continued spread of social networks, blogs, and other personalized media, individuals have provide for mass consumption an unparalleled amount of personal information. After the data reaches the internet, companies such as Acxiom begin collecting the information to store in massive databases. Through these public databases, along with the social networks and the careful use of search engines (i.e. Google), companies evaluate prospective employees to determine whether they are viable candidates for a position. The question I pose: Can your past prevent a future? Before answering this question, we must first create a better understanding what happens during the hiring process and how your internet persona can affect those decisions.

Privacy is an issue that has been contested for over 400 years in the US, beginning with mail, continuing through telegraphs, party-lines, telephones, and now the World Wide Web (See American Privacy: The 400-Year History of Our Most Contested Right for more information on the subject). With the advent of the internet, however, privacy has been brought to the forefront as more individuals readily post personal information to the web. Unlike past generation where an individual could pick up and move when something went wrong, the opportunity to delete oneself has disappeared. With no way to remove data after it has reached the internet, individuals are losing their ability to start over when unwanted information comes to light.

Due to the prevalent amount of information available on the internet, companies have begun utilizing the web as a vital source for their pre-employment screening process and background checks. It is my opinion that though this resource is invaluable to employers when reviewing applications, it is unethical to do so without prior knowledge given to the prospective employees. Should information be found, the prospective employee should be given the opportunity to clarify the misunderstanding. When companies begin using social networks to obtain data, they are placing themselves at risk of being sued by individuals who do not gain employment. This can happen because when the employer sees a person’s social information, they gain access to federally protected data (i.e. race, gender, disabilities, et cetera)(Johnson). This is made worse because the legality of pre-employment screening using social networks has yet to be established in court (Johnson).

Background checks, or pre-employment screenings, involve reviewing past employment verifications, credit scores, and criminal histories in order to evaluate a prospective employee. Companies preform background checks as a benefit for themselves to: prevent wasting time, money, and resources on a potential employee, prevent lawsuits for negligent hiring, and provide access to vast databases of personal data. When they add a pre-employment screening as well, the companies peruse social networks, search engines, and public databases. The Executive Director of the World Privacy Forum, Pam Dixon feels that when a company snoops on social networks, “It’s like saying, ‘Can I read your personal diary?’”, which she believes will prevent anyone from using social networks (Johnson).

Unfortunately, many issues can occur when a company begins searching through the internet to attempt learning more about a potential employee. Issues can include misinterpretation of data, irrelevant information to the job, past mistakes, and incorrect person being investigated. With each issue, if the employer found a problem, the job seeker would not be given a chance to contest the collected data. This can be problematic for individuals with common name, or that do not follow society norms.

According to law professor Cass Sustein, norms are “social attitudes of approval and disapproval” or “what ought to be done, and what ought not to be done” (Solove). When an individual does not follow society’s norms, such as having visible tattoos and piercings, they can be viewed poorly by potential employers. This perception can be made more difficult by the internet due to each person having the ability to present their persona without limits. By providing information, photos, videos, and opinions, individuals place themselves on display for the world at large.

In the article Teddy Bear Patriarchy: Taxidermy in the garden of Eden, New York City  1908-1936, Haraway discusses the idea of perfection. When Mr. Akeley begins planning his display, it clear that he is seeking perfect specimen to shot, stuff, and present. Akeley even tells an anecdote about his hunt for elephants. During the hunt he comes across an unbelievable specimen that would be perfect, except for a glaring issue of asymmetrical tusks (Haraway 41-42). Akeley sought his idea of perfection in the animals in an attempt to present a grand exhibit. However; by seeking perfection, Akeley lost the opportunity to provide a more realistic display.

This expectation of perfection plays a key role in the hiring process of companies. With the current widespread unemployment, and the plethora of potential employees, the ability for companies to pluck individuals who fit their cookie-cutter mold is on the rise. With the internet, individuals have placed themselves on global display allowing companies to select their perfect image. It is for this reason that society must work to create better safe-guards against the negative spread of information, as well as make hiring practices more transparent so that each party may fully hold themselves accountable.

 

Resources:

Garton, Ash Timothy. The File: A Personal History. New York: Random House, 1997. Print.

Solove, Daniel J. The Future of Reputation: Gossip, Rumor, and Privacy on the Internet. New Haven: Yale UP, 2007. Print.

Haraway, D. (1984) “Teddy Bear Patriarchy: Taxidermy in the garden of Eden, New York City  1908-1936.” Social Text, 20-64

Jones, M, Schuckman, A., and Watson, K. (2004) The Ethics of Pre-Employment Screening Through the Use of the Internet.

“Background Check.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 19 Feb. 2012. Web. 27 Feb. 2012. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Background_check>.

“Fact Sheet 16: Employment Background Checks: A Jobseeker’s Guide.” Employment Background Checks: A Jobseeker’s Guide. Web. 23 Feb. 2012. <http://www.privacyrights.org/fs/fs16-bck.htm>.

Lane, Frederick S. American Privacy: The 400-year History of Our Most Contested Right. Boston, MA: Beacon, 2009. Print.

Johnson, Steve. “Facebook Posts May Cost You a Job.” The Post and Courier. 11 Feb. 2012. Web. 28 Feb. 2012. <http://www.postandcourier.com/news/2012/feb/11/facebook-posts-may-cost-you-a-job/>.