Monthly Archives: September 2011

My first two questions this week related to the Benkler reading, and the third related to the Shirky reading.  After discussing the Benkler reading, I believe that weak-tie relationships have a special and meaningful place in society today.  The idea is that an individual can build their own social networks in more complex and personalized ways because of the availability of new technology.  The ability to cast a wider net while still maintaining strong-tie relationships is a benefit of the new technological structure of our society.
While I posted my second question after reading the Benkler reading, it turns out that the Shirky reading does a pretty good job of addressing the question.  Some of the changes being brought about by communication technology are changing social behaviors in a fairly drastic way.  On the broadest of levels, these changes are allowing for faster collaborative production and collective action.
Shirky uses the example of Wikipedia to illustrate how collaborative production is made infinitely easier and faster with new communications technologies.  For collective action, Shirky points to several examples of people uniting over new platforms to bring about change.  Shirky talks about the American Airlines flight, the Voice of the Faithful and flash mobs. Shirky emphasizes that the motivations for this kind of action have been there all along, but new communications technology open new doors for how people can communicate and organize.
The last question I posted came from Shirky’s reading and related to the effect of anonymity on the development of online communities.  I posed this question specifically in relation to the anecdote that begins the book.  Now that I have almost finished reading, I don’t think that this is a main concern of Shirky’s.  Shirky discusses how the concept of cyberspace has become obsolete in today’s society because so much of what we do online is so heavily interwoven with our ‘real’ lives.  Shirky is more concerned with how new communication technology enriches our realities.  Anonymity does return as a troublesome issue with the analysis of Wikipedia regarding vandals.  However, the vandals become insignificant in the big picture because of contributor’s love for the project.
  1. Is  a wider group of weak-tie relationships beneficial?  Are these weak ties superficial or do they add something meaningful to an individuals social experience?
  2. How is the fact that the internet allows for textual, aural, and visual communications and one-to-one, one-to-few, few-to-few, one-to-many, and many-to-many communications affecting the way we function as social beings?  Is it changing our behaviors radically?  Are today’s youths going to be wired in totally different ways than my parents generations?  What similarities transcend the differences in technology?
  3. How much does anonymity online change the virtual communities that are developing?

While I find McGonigal’s argument to be a very innovative and compelling solution to some of today’s biggest problems, I am still left without clear answers to my three original questions.

In advocating gaming to improve society, McGonigal is addressing big issues in our society that are of major concern.  A strong sense of community and personal interaction is important for the functioning of a society and the well-being of an individual.  It is worrisome that our society seems to be becoming more and more isolated and individualistic.  Loss of community is such a large-scale problem with far-reaching consequences.  Complex problems can often appear to be too large to be addressed in a practical, feasibly way.  In this context, McGonigal’s proposition has value in that it is a concrete and specific solution to a very complex problem.

In looking over my three questions, my concern with the applicability of this theory can be boiled down to whether or not the real world can be manipulated into a world in which gaming still works.

McGonigal uses a combination of techniques and constructs from both the dominant communications theory and the alternative communications theory to support her proposal.  She uses concrete examples on a small scale and then uses less concrete  examplesand more inference to jump to bigger ideas. Conclusions that she draws from the communications science paradigm are generally related to specific examples on a smaller scale.  For example, she collects data from comments sections in online games.  She then uses these smaller-scale examples to jump to her epic-scale idea of bringing gaming into reality to improve society.  Her large scale ideas are supported more by common epistemologies.  For example, she uses the anecdote of her concussion and the game scenario that helped her in recovery to conclude that this could be effective for others.

After reading more in her book, my original questions are still without an answer.  I do not think that McGonical has clearly outlined and supported an argument as to how we can outline real-life goals as clearly as gaming goals are outlined.  Secondly, the taks of translating gaming optimism into real-world optimism is very daunting.  Changing someone’s attitude or outlook on life is a very complex task that cannot be easily addressed with an operational definition.  The most important obstacle in her proposal is the fact that game consequences simply do not matter as much as real-life consequences.  Attitudes and outlooks change when consequences change.  People make decisions by weighing the potential benefits against the potential consequences.  The gaming world is fundamentally different than the real world because consequences are different.

Still, McGonigal has a very innovative proposal on how to improve out society.  Her argument has sparked my interest and I am interested to see where this theory will go in the future.

  1. How can we so clearly outline goals in real-life situations to address very complicated problems?
  2. Is the fact that game consequences do no matter as much as real-life consequences a significant problem in McGonigal’s theory?
  3. How can the optimism felt in gaming be translated to real-world optimism?  Real-world failures are not normally accompanied by the attributes that make up a ‘fun failure’.