A See-Through Society

Micah L Sifry


I found this particular article to be my favorite of the readings for this week. I enjoyed Sifry’s insight, albeit a bit too optimistic at times, similar to Steven Johnson. The overall theme of the article is that more and more individuals are turning to the internet for their news, which provides them with more information quicker and abundantly than television news. Sifry highlights the benefits such as people can talk to the politicians and learn more about their policies and beliefs. This transparency leads to more information about the politics, as Sifry explains “breeds trust, and enables leaders to earn out trust.”

            This article deals heavily with double-edged sword: how much information is too much information? This is a question that I have contemplated throughout the semester and still do not have a solid answer. Sifry cites that over half of individuals ages 18-29 use the internet to receive their political information. I think this number is great as it shows more and more young people are getting involved in politics. As we have discussed, I believe once more individuals peruse the internet for news stories, they will be exposed to new blogs and websites they previously were unaware of. As a result, they will be exposed to new ideologies, as well as findings niche communities that share their beliefs. With information at our finger tips, voters will be more informed, in turn resulting in the best possible candidate winning the race. No longer will people vote solely cause of political alignment or what there neighbor told them to do, rather everyone will have their own beliefs after thoroughly researching. Political ads will not have a major effect anymore because that rhetoric will not appeal to the masses as the mass will know facts from false advertising. That is the hope of Sifry and internet enthusiasts, and it is one that I believe to be positive. I think it is great that younger people are beginning to become politically engaged due to the internet. The younger we can harness politically engaged generations, the better equipped our country will be in the future. Despite all of these benefits, I can not help but overlook the glaring negative aspects this article provides.

            Sifry is calling for complete transparency and lack of privacy for political elites. He wants every record to be public knowledge and up for interpretation. I am a large supporter of this for instances such as the San Francisco scandal and the research that went into the firing of U.S. attorneys. What I am not a proponent for is individuals digging up personal information to expose a potential candidate in search of personal greed.  I think individuals who expose stories, or even make them up, to tarnish a candidates image can negatively effect this transparency model. If your wife and children are constantly under public scrutiny, why would anyone want to ever run for president? Sifry mentions the “little brother is watching” notion, that little brothers look up to their big brother and watch everything they do. In this case, the country in the little brother, admiring their older brother, the president, but the younger brother, in this case, has a million camera phones waiting to snap the next embarrassing photograph. In this case, if you are running for president, you now bring your entire family into this mess. Your children are now expecting to be perfect angels, which I know from experience, at a young age is nearly impossible. Your wife now goes from an average American, to a heavily scrutinized spokeswoman and ambassador for the country. She is expected to make just as many appearances as you and say all the right things, and if she fails to, your campaign and image is directly effected. With all of these things adding up, a potential great candidate may stray away from running from president, thus leaving us with under qualified candidates. One instance I think about this is when the 2012 presidential campaign came to an end and Mitt Romney, the next day after losing, said he was relieved. He explained how the whole race and constant meetings and answering of questions took a toll on him. The presidents have enough to deal with pertaining to the Country, the do not need the added pressure and headache. I am worried that all of this transparency will turn the presidential race into a popularity contest, one in which the winner has the least blemishes on his record. People will no longer vote for the best candidate, rather who has made the least mistakes in his or her past. Sifry says this transparency enables the best candidate to win because all of the facts are available to the public, but as with every good thing, there are always the handfuls of people who ruin it.

            My final thought about this, and how it pertains to me, is during my job hunt. I am a marketing major and several of my hiring hopefuls asked for my twitter as they said it was a great way for them to get to know me as well as branch out and meet others in my career. Shortly after, I ran home, made my twitter private, and spent the next hours deleting any negative tweet dating back to my senior year of high school. I think this is similar to that of the presidential race. People are analyzing the internet in search of the next big story or scandal. They use our social media tools in order to get to know us, and if we have one small blemish, expose it and expect us to have an answer. I think it speaks to our cultures obsession with scandals and “if it bleeds in reads.” Heaven forbid someone have something positive on their facebook, perhaps a picture of them at a 5k race for breast cancer. The potential employer only cares about that picture of you chugging a beer with your shirt off. Transparency is great, like the Wikileaks, when it is used for positive change. I do not think our culture is mature enough to leave it at that. I believe it will always be a double-edged sword, one that reveals U.S. attorney scandals and has them rightfully fired, and one that anxiously awaits with their camera phone waiting to expose you for personal gain.


The New Socialism: Global Collectivist Society Is Coming Online

Kevin Kelly

I found this article to be a pretty interesting read. I had to do a little background research as I was not entirely sure what exactly socialism entailed. While reading it, I kept having flashbacks to Steven Johnson’s Future Perfect. In this article, Kelly explains that new socialism includes sharing, cooperation, collaboration, and collectivism. Kelly explains we are shifting from government-controlled information to real time information, from forced labor to volunteer work, and a shift from centralized hierarchies to distributed power.

            The main thing I took away from this article was my impression and respect for the amount of people who run these sites that we use daily for free. I was unaware that there are so many instances of this until we starting learning about sites like 4chan and Reddit. I was shocked to learn that successful sites like Reddit are operated by a few moderators who use the site daily and wanted to get more involved. Kelly mentions that these sites are successful because of the collaboration and lack of hierarchy. I would agree, but I would also argue the main factor is the dedicated people who operate them. I am not a huge believer in decentralized businesses and movements as I believe they have there limit, but I think the instances mentioned in this article are successful because of the passion. In order for someone to put in a large amount of hours on a daily basis for little money, you have to be passionate about that subject. As a result, everyone working on creating and running the site share that passion. With little money involved, the hassles that come with it are removed. People wont have to argue about salaries or preferential treatment because everyone is treated as an equal, with the same end goal in mind. The whole he said she said or disgruntled workers aspect of the business can be avoided, thus leaving only a much more enjoyable work place. As a result, hierarchies are not necessary for these business models. The goal of brining people together and creating a fertile place for innovation is the only thing these workers care about.  It is the collectivism that Kelly mentions, where self-directed peers take responsibility. They collaborate with one another, and often the process is effortless with a lot of cooperation. Each member contributes and delivers more then they need. They are all greatly dedicated, and as a result, the sum outperforms the parts. With Wikipedia, contributors could contribute ninety articles, none of which are necessary or pertain to them. They do it purely for joy, and as a result millions of visitors benefit from their work. It is all of this sharing and high level of communal engagement that is forming this new socialism. The dedicated workers are at the center showing that decentralization and collaboration can spark innovation.


Here Comes Everybody!

Clay Shirky


In the first chapter of Shirky he mentions a really cool idea that I never though of known as the prisoner dilemma. The dilemma deals with collaboration with another individual. If you know them, but are unable to collaborate with them, that may be able to help your situation because they will not reveal any information to the police. However, if they do not know you that well and want to save themselves, they will tell the police you did it in order to save themselves through personal greed. We use this dilemma in everyday conversation and interaction. If we trust another person, we will complete a task for them, with the idea that they will do so in return. Harvard professor Robert Putnam uses this notion in his book bowling alone, where he says our community is weakening. He states that we no longer have weekend picnics or community bowling events, rather we are growing further and further away from our neighbors. I completely agree with this and I believe the lack of social capital is affecting the strength and stability of our nation. Many of our technological improvements have improved our efficiency, in turn resulting in a faster paced society. I believe we are turning into a nation of quick satisfaction. We no longer know our neighbors names, rather we are too busy texting while walking our dogs. There are fewer and fewer family dinners and more dining on the go. We are turning from a united nation to an indifferent and divided one. I think this is horrible and has a negative affect on how we live. When I was sitting in class five minutes early today waiting for the professor with six or so other students, not one bit of interaction took place. Every student was buried in there phone scrolling through there tweets. I compare this to the rise of reality television shows. Over the years, more and more reality shows have appeared due to our obsession with others lives. Rather than having a conversation with the kids in the classroom, everyone was concerned with what was going on outside or with there friends at another school. As much as I hate to say it, in twenty years I think interaction will be minimal. I think this is horrible as our community and culture is based around interaction. We no longer want to commit a large number or hours to clubs or sports because the end result of satisfaction is too far away to achieve. We want everything immediately and that just isn’t feasible.  The more efficient our culture comes, the more our weaker our community becomes. I think our community continues to become divided as we no longer have interactions with strangers. As much as it sucks, we only come together as a nation when tragedies happen, and that only lasts about a week. In a couple of days, I will no longer see Boston Strong tweets or pray for Boston. The tragedy will come and go and we will go back to burying our heads in our phones. There are no more town hall meetings because it takes too much effort and time to drive to the meeting and sit there for four hours. We can simply hold it online and sign off when were bored. I think the sense of community of the 70’s and 80’s where kids ran around outside and parents conversed are gone.


Chapter 11 deals with three main concepts, promise, tool, and bargain. Shirky explains how all three and intertwined and each one must be completed in order for the next to happen. The main theme I took away from this chapter is how all 3 aspects are necessary for a successful interaction. The internet provides a platform that allows groups to rise and fall quickly. An example is Myspace, which used to be at the forefront of social media, and now you can barely find an active user. I think this speaks about the current state of our culture and social needs as well. We are constantly searching for the next big thing that can make our life more efficient. As I mentioned earlier, this search for efficiency eliminates the interpersonal aspect of daily interactions.

            While I was reading this, Shirky mentions that the group succeeds when all of these 3 things are met. I couldn’t help but think back on the birthday paradox, which I thought would make the end result much harder. Somewhere along the way someone in a business transaction breaks the promise or alters the bargain. I kept thinking in my mind about sports agents and how deals are constantly falling through. Along the interaction and negotiation, terms change and promises are broken whether it be for greed or greener pastures. It is often hard for a bargain to be met because it has to be a good fit for both parties. A successful sports agent utilizes all of these tools during his interaction to successfully land a deal. If the promise or bargain is too broad or extreme, the other end of the negotiation will not agree and the deal will be terminated.  The promise can often be complicated by the group size and commitment of the parties. One example that comes to mind, dealing with sports agents, is when Rudy Gay was being drafted and both team had agreed in principle to a deal. When the next day rolled along, the deal was terminated because gay’s father joined the mix and did not agree upon the deal. As shirky explains, the larger the group size becomes the more complicated the promise becomes. That is why, as Shirky states, there is a fine line that must be drawn during all of the concepts. Each step must be properly met in order for the next to take place, which makes sports deals the hardest and purest form of Shirky’s example.


Questions: Do you believe technology is positively or negatively effecting our community?

Is the transparency Sifry is calling for too much intrusion?

Can you provide an example where the prisoner dilemma would work in real life? I think these could be interesting.