Theory and Audience Analysis

The increase in the amount of data available and the ease of access to the data has certainly produced a cultural shift in how we carry out the activities and interactions of our daily lives.  The question that arises with this shift is whether it is changing the way we learn or simply lessening our capacity to think.  I’m going to go the optimistic route and say that it is changing the way we learn.

Nick Carr pushes the point that all of the various data streams that we have constant access to are inhibiting our ability to engage deeply with content and producing negative cultural repercussions.  He believes that the quality of work being produced overall is less than the quality of work being produced overall 100 years ago.  His main reason for this belief is that people are distracted and unable to focus all of their attention on one issues at a time.

Clay Shirky disagrees with Carr’s argument.  His main point of disagreement is in what should be done about the data overload in our current cultural context.  While Carr argues to return to the good old days when people didn’t have smart phones and didn’t surf the web, Shirky believes that we need to work through issues of data abundance by accepting new technologies and seeing how they can be used to better our culture.

What this essentially boils down to is that while the way in which we receive information has changed, our ability to think critically about that information has not changed.  Because we as a culture are being presented with infinitely more amounts of information on a daily basis than we were 100 years ago, we inevitably will not think critically and deeply about all of the information that we are receiving.  However, with the immense amount of information that we receive, we are able to choose a handful of bits that resonate with our interests and think deeply about those issues.  The capacity to think deeply does not disappear.  I believe that the capacity to think deeply is innate in humans because we as a species are aware that we live and die.  Therefore, we crave a sense of meaning in the world in which we live and die.  We think deeply to find this meaning.

There have been and always will be distractions.  How those distractions manifest themselves will constantly evolve.  Managing distractions is a part of being human.  We as a species can deal with it without losing our ability to have meaningful and productive thought processes.

Virtual worlds introduce a complex new aspect to society.  In allowing for the creation of an avatar, virtual worlds create an alternate identity for an individual.  It is important not write off virtual worlds and those people that choose to participate in them because the line between virtual reality and true reality is not clear cut.
Many virtual worlds incorporate a system in which virtual world money can be exchanged at a certain rate for real-world money.  The exchange rate in virtual worlds gives ethics violations more weight. The fact that people in Second Life can be making millions of dollars a year calls for some sort of regulation.  The current model of regulation is more similar to an oligarchy than anything else.  Virtual worlds are run by corporations and the corporations have the power to do whatever they want to their world at whatever time they want.  A game that can allow users to earn substantial amounts of money calls for government regulations.  This is particularly important when it comes to enforcing rules and laws within the world related to ethics.
A second major issues is that people are developing virtual identities in addition to their real identity.   The two identities are not at all separate from one another.  The link between the two has relevance to many different aspects of society.  The article on retail discusses how using a person’s virtual identity can be beneficial to marketers.  Virtual identities and virtual interactions can allows companies to gain insight into the consumer in new ways.  Virtual identities could also provide  an opportunity for scholars to learn more about human psychology and interaction.
An interesting theme in this course has been related to who governs online spaces.  Thus far, it has been a case in which corporations rule for the most part.  However, corporations need to satisfy the wants and needs of individuals in order for their business models to thrive.  Lawrence Lessig talks about this give-and-take in his theory of the hybrid economy.  In this economy, user-generated content brings together the user as a producer and the corporation as a platform provider.  The user needs the corporation for the platform and the corporation needs the user for the content.
With online citizen journalism, we see the emergence of for-profit business models as platforms for news delivery, just as we saw with broadcast journalism.  However, broadcast journalism operates on a traditional business model in which employees produce content for the corporation.  With online citizen journalism the journalists are users of the site, not employees.   Therefore, it is in the sites best interest to keep the users, aka citizen journalists, happy.
I think that this is the key to avoiding the concentration of ownership of for-profit citizen journalism in the hands of a few. Under the model of the hybrid economy, users hold more power.  As long as users act on their agency in this system, they can have an influence on what the future has in store.