“Though my soul…

“Though my soul may set in darkness, it will rise in perfect light; I have loved the stars too fondly to be fearful of the night.”

Sarah Williams


I recently read this article, by James Curran, and what I found was that the most difficult thing was picking just one aspect to post about for fear of getting lost in the deluge of information, and assumption of what the internet was supposed to do or us.

Economically speaking, the quote from 1999’s issue of Wired Magazine, “The Roaring Zeros: The good news is, you’ll be a millionaire soon. The bad news is, so will everybody else” is as good a place to start as any. We were never going to all be millionaires because of one simple principal, escalation. Generally speaking this means that if everyone in the neighborhood drives an 88 Honda  and one person gets a Lexus  then everyone wants to get a Lexus  soon the neighborhood is overflowing with them. Now whats our original Lexus owner god o if he/she wants to feel special? Answer? Buy a Bentley. and the cycle repeats.

Much in this same way, I would argue that the internet was never going to make us all financially wealthy (although we make more than we used to), but it was going to make is more informationally wealthy. Here in 2014, we have the sum total of all of humanities knowledge available to us 24/7, along with global connectivity (excepting certain nations who have restricted access to those things). but with all of us being “informationally wealthy” what does the original information broker do to stay on top?

Heres a hint….they wire tap, steal identities, and troll your emails.

Just my humble interpretation though….

After watching the TED talk by Rebecca McKinnon entitled Lets Take back The Internet !, I personally felt that this was a magnificent talk and a powerful question to consider. I believe that MacKinnon was absolutely right that in order to maintain or create an internet that is citizen-centric, it will require some measure of oversight, but at the same time isn’t oversight what were railing against right now? Admittedly were imposing too much oversight and of the wrong kind, such as in the case of China and certain Arab nations, but lest we allow this to descend into anarchy as opposed to the utopia we all wish it to be some regulation must be applied.

I wonder if the real question isn’t whether or not to oversee this domain, but how to do it effectively while at the same time defending civil liberties and individual rights. I won’t claim to have the answer to this or to even know where to find one, but I do believe that involving those peoples to be overseen is vital.

It can also be argued (without much disagreement) that corporations have entirely too much power (see my post last week on the net neutrality ruling). As for me personally, the thought that there is a “corporate barrier” between me and my “democratically elected representatives”, many of whom are supported and financed by those self same corporations is more than a little frightening. Perhaps its time to scale back the mega corporations and return to a more locally sourced economic base? If this could be accomplished, then the power that those companies wield over the internet would be reduced.

Just my opinion.

Who are the journalists now?

After delving into an article by Jay Rosen entitled The Journalists Formerly Known as the Media: My Advice to the Next Generation, I found myself straining not to go down the rabbit hole of who is media. but after some deep thought on the subject, it occurred to me that the title itself isn’t the argument.

The concept of “I’m there, your not, let me tell you about it.” is a very prescient tool. This tells me that we are all journalists. Ever since one cave man poked another and pointed at the previously unseen mastodon herd, there have been “on the scene reporters” and this being said, the town crier of medieval Europe was a journalist.

when boiled down and concentrated, the phrase “we are legion”, is perfectly valid. There was a time when we looked to “professional journalists” and were content to let them bring us the news. But today most of us are unshackled from desks, and desktop computers. our phones carry more processing power than the entire apollo program and are no longer rotary and attached to the wall. I would argue that the term journalist, no longer implies a specific and rarified skill, but rather it is simply a descriptor for a degree title, because you have to call it something. The true sharing of information and reporting on current events is done by “we the people”.

Uncertainty Reduction as a Communication Theory…

For this post, I have chosen to explore the concept commonly referred to as the “Uncertainty Reduction Theory”. While there are a great many aspects and permutations of this theory, I believe that it can be effectively boiled down to the words of the text in saying “…when strangers meet, their primary concern is one of uncertainty reduction or increasing predictability about the behavior of both themselves and other in the interaction”.
This suggests that during an initial meeting the psyche of one or both individuals is primarily concerned with reducing the feeling of uncertainty and reaching a stage of predictability that will wrest control of the interaction as close to certainty as possible.
While this theory begs many interesting questions about the psychology of the human condition, it also seems to suggest several declarative factors inherent in all of us. One of these is that for a majority of humans, uncertainty is still a hard-wired problem for us, one that we instinctively seek to reduce whenever or wherever possible.
While I have no empirical evidence for this, other than my own opinion, it could be argued that the human aversion to uncertainty is an evolutionary holdover from our halcyon days as, if not a prey species, at the very least not the top of the local food chain. With natural predators and environmental factors, it can be argued that this led to almost an ingrained risk aversion unless absolutely necessary.
While this theory in its current incarnation is only thirty-eight years old, and however this theory may have begun, it can no longer be denied that it is an active fact and component of the vast majority of interpersonal communications.
Over the course of the nearly forty years since this theory was developed, its applications have multiplied into the realms of relationships as well as that of social media interaction. Its inception was originally an outgrowth of the “post-positivist” tradition, which espoused the belief that when there is a researcher and subject dynamic, one cannot help but influence the other.
Charles Berger and Richard Calabrese originally developed the uncertainty reduction theory, in 1975. It was originally developed as a means of explaining the frequent anxiety experienced by people during an initial encounter or meeting. During the development of this theory, it was divided into two sub sections, which are prediction and explanation.
Prediction describes the ability to forecast or assume the other parties behavioral and communicative choices and act accordingly prior to that choice being made. Explanation involves the ability to understand the message being shared and the motivations behind sharing it in an immediate manner.
Additionally our drive to use this theory, as it is stated, is created by one of three factors. First, anticipation of future interaction, which means that we know we will encounter the person again, therefore we deem it best to become familiar in order to avoid the discomfort of the initial meeting. Additionally, there is incentive value, no small thing among humans, which means that the other party has something that we want and therefore creating familiarity by reducing uncertainty will further that goal. Finally, there is the problem of deviance. This occurs when the subject acts in an off putting or different way than we have come to expect, either in dictation, or in overall message being delivered.
Berger also proposed a series of “axioms” tying uncertainty to the concept of relationship development. Primary among these is verbal communication. This is a fairly straightforward concept. Basically this states that during an initial interaction, the more you communicate with the other party verbally the more information is shared and therefore the amount of uncertainty goes down. Due to this as the uncertainty decreases the level of verbal communication will continue to increase.
Next comes the concept of nonverbal warmth. This is perhaps one of the most effective means of reducing uncertainty. Utilizing this “affiliate expressiveness,” allows one to convey a sense of comfort as well as sympathy which should in turn inspire a reciprocal action the other person involved, even extending to the idea of a group presentation.
Next comes the concept of information seeking. This is due in large part to the feeling of uncertainty stemming from the lack of actionable information. This leads to an increase in information seeking. When we begin to feel comfortable, we reach a stage where the search begins to decrease until it reaches a sustainable level for the relationship.
In addition to this is the concept of self-disclosure. This originates from the concept that high uncertainty makes people hesitant to disclose personal facts about themselves. But ones this disclosure has been made the uncertainty level drops significantly. Often times in situations where we are meeting someone new, we feel compelled to share facts about ourselves.
Another axiom is reciprocity. This more so than most is an integral part of uncertainty reduction. During initial encounters we often measure our self-disclosure, nonverbal warmth, and verbal communication in order to balance it to the amount being shared by the other party, hence a reciprocal cycle is created. We are often careful not to “over share” or “under share” with another person so that we can feel as if we have a balanced relationship.
In addition to reciprocity, the concept of similarity is also a key driving force in communications and the reduction of uncertainty. We instinctively seek out those who exhibit similar traits to us. We may frame this by many factors not limited to gender, race, economic status, or athletic allegiance. This is done to ensure that there is a base starting point for the interaction therefore facilitating its speedy development.
In direct opposition to the old adage “familiarity breeds contempt”, the axiom of liking is another in this string that reduces the uncertainty of interactions. This concept is fairly straight forwards in the sense that you will be less uncertain and enjoy more a conversation or communication with someone that you like.
Finally, the concept of shared networks closely mirrors and evinces the concept of similarity. This once again shows that when the two parties have common ground the uncertainty is therefore reduced
During the study of human communication, one cannot help but apply this principal in many ways. Whether it stems from the philosophical bend of postempiricism which gave rise to it, or the application of its effects upon social media based communication, one doesn’t need to look to hard to see uncertainty reduction in action.
From an academic perspective, this is usually alleviated through the use of “ice-breaking” exercises, which shatters the uncertainty through forced acclimation. This is also seen in other realms as well. During military training, total strangers are often observed to building bonds and eliminate uncertainty in as little as an hour through forced verbal communication, shared networks, as well as the reciprocity built into training.
In another example of how this theory is applied, however intentionally or unintentionally, during a study it was shown that a marked percentage of arrested persons waived their Miranda rights, specifically the right to remain silent, in order to appear innocent and “make the officer like them”.
This is a startling application of this theory in action. The study goes on to show that in addition to waiving rights, there are also marked percentage increases of false confessions made by detained individuals when this theory is applied through the Reid interrogation method. This method seeks to exploit the feeling of uncertainty to influence the individual to seek comfort by appeasing the law enforcement officer by confessing.
Another example is the work done by Marjolin Antheunis on the application of uncertainty in a social media environment where nonverbal cues are absent.
During this study, subjects were evaluated while using computer mediated communication methods. In various stages, they used text only, visual communication though a web cam, and face-to-face communication to evaluate the differences.
This study indicated that the act of using axioms common to the uncertainty reduction principal, specifically question asking and self disclosure, were more frequently used during digital communication than they were during face to face encounters.
It is my belief that the usefulness of this theory is incontrovertible. Not simply from a communications viewpoint, but an evolutionary one. This speaks to how we as a species face the new and the uncertain. Additionally form a philosophical lens it at least beings to address why we would want to in the first place.
In order to proliferate our species we are required to reproduce. Statistically speaking the vast majority of that is going to occur with persons outside of our social group at one point or another. This demands that we equip ourselves with the skills to address this interaction. It is a biological imperative that we branch out, and grow beyond our current situation. And those among us who best evince this characteristic will in short order propel themselves to success over those who do not.
While holding no empirical evidence of this, I submit that what separated the early Neanderthal from Homo erectus may well have been the ability to socially interact for the betterment of the species. Fit is my belief that any species that cannot overcome the simple yet sometimes overwhelming hurdle of social interaction required for the building of pair bonds and eventually offspring, is not long for the world we find ourselves in.

Memetic’s, communications final (and oldest) frontier…..

The theory of memetics, which many think is relatively new, is quite possibly as old as civilization and our species itself. This is the concept of mental content based on an analogy of Darwinian evolution. This was popularized by Richard Dawkins in the late seventies and early eighties, but actually carries its origins back to the times of the ancient philosophers.  According to Merriam Webster, he root of this term “meme” means “an idea, behavior, style, or usage that spreads from person to person within a culture”.

Another definition of the term “Meme” by the Oxford English dictionary states that a meme is “an element of culture that may be considered to be passed on by non-genetic means”.

Many of us are familiar with the term meme in the context of social media and web sites such as Facebook and twitter. This happens when someone disseminates something on the Internet, and this begins a transmission vector to other people. There are times in which this individual item can cross the globe in a matter of hours.

This is frequently done through mimicry and humor, but with the advent of the Internet for social and recreational use, it has spawned through memetic means, and entirely new sub culture and with it a new language and social hierarchy.

This language often takes on the form of acronyms or the shortening of phrases and concepts in to a series of letters that can resemble emotional expressions, called emoticons. An example of the acronyms would be the use of “LOL” to indicate that a person is “laughing out loud”, or typing “j/k” to indicate that one is joking.

Another technique of this is indicating volume of voice by typing either in small letters or in all capitals. Additionally, when dealing with emoticons, one can “wink” at another person without actually seeing them simply by typing “;-)”. Through the use of memetic transmission, this new language has become commonplace in a little less than a generation, faster than any other cultural language before it.

In order to further expand on this point, it is necessary to explain the concept that this is based on which is Universal Darwinism. This theory states roughly that genes are not the only things that experience Darwinian evolution, or “evolution of the fittest”. The analog referred to here is that most often of cultures.

If you apply the elements of Darwin’s theory which are “replication, variation, and natural selection” to man made constructs such as civilization and societies, it becomes far easier to see this supposed practice in action.  Indeed, not only can we apply it to these things, but also to culture and religion.

If under this principal, memetics is the spread of an idea from person to person, then consequently, one of the biggest purveyors of memetic assimilation must be the religion of the world.

Based on a study done in 2005 by the Pew Forum and published in “Global Christianity in December 2011, approximately 84% of the world believe in a higher power of some sort and/or belong to a religious group. To expand on this a bit, according to a survey, in 1910 the global population of self-identified Christians was approximately 600 million. Another study performed in 2010 listed this number at approximately 2.2 billion Christians.

That means in the last 100 years the population through ministry and proselytizing increased in the world by 1,600,000,000 people. This is one such way that an idea can be shared and grows through memetics.

According to Dr. Susan Blackmore, a graduate of St. Hilda’s College, Oxford, and the University of Surrey,  “memetic evolution is a vast process of ideas, legends, and stories, and things competing to get into our brains.” And continues “everything that gets copied form person to person is memes”.

This laymen’s definition on memetics is but one example of how vast this process is. To expand on its impact on human civilization, Dr. Augustin Fuentes, graduate of UC Berkley, and professor of anthropology at Notre Dame believes that increased social complexity was necessary for our interaction with the environment and within our own social groups.

In other research, there have been developments on this concept as well. One such development is known as the memetic algorithm or “MA” introduced by Pablo Moscato in 1989.

The memetic algorithm is, put simply, a method of measuring and tracking memetic evolution in a closed social system such as a community or city.  This is more commonly used in a computational sense, where the data can be more appropriately captured and analyzed and is called memetic computation or “MC”.

This leads us into a newer and largely unexplored territory, which is known as memetic engineering.  This can be done through a variety of methods and techniques, but put simply it is the practice of deliberately passing on the afore mentioned element of culture, which has been specifically created for transmission. In short, what we know today as marketing and advertising is one such example.

Applying the concept of memetic engineering and marketing, the conclusion can be drawn that through effective marketing, an idea of the superiority of a product or view point can be passed from person to person through a carefully targeted and crafted message. In marketing circles, commercials that do this are known informally as “evergreens”.

A commercial with this label will never entirely die off and will come back year after year much like its arboreal namesake. An example of this can be the time honored and loved Cadbury Egg commercial featuring several types of animals attempting to make the chicken sound that it eventually achieved by a bunny, the company mascot.

The endurance and proliferation of this message hinges upon its enjoyability until you only connect it to the company as the author of a welcomed message. Because this message is so enjoyable people begin to discuss it with one another and the company’s name begins to spread in a logarithmic fashion.

This is only one example of course; the use of persuasive marketing exists in almost every media outlet and format. This, however, does not exist only in production, but also in what has been dubbed “associate marketing”. This form of advertising is older than one might think, going back as far as the civil war, and continuing on throughout the economic depression and into today.

Professions such as door-to-door sales have existed now for over a century and from a memetic stand point, seek to spread the idea of the superiority of their product. They also seek to have the consumer spread the word of the product as well.

While this can also easily be applied to other scenarios such as pyramid schemes and so on, it is safe to say that memetic evolution can be found in almost all phases of human culture and life, and to some degree even among our primate cousins in the ape family.

Simply put, the theory is that when one learns something of importance, that information is shared in such a way that other members of the community do not have to learn the same lesson through experience.

It can only be wondered, when Charles Darwin published his work on the origin of species, whether he was even remotely aware of the subsequent fields of study, even in other disciplines, that he would help to open. The principals of memetics are helping to shape, not only individual live, but through those lives, entire cultures and indeed our entire species.

What does today’s tech savvy citizen look for in a modern news media outlet?