Month: December 2013

Filter Bubble

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”Just what I was looking for!” We have thought that many times looking for information on Google. Even if we thought that it is a strange topic, Google gave us exactly the answer we need. Is this casualty, or is there something else behind that precision?

Eli Pariser‘s TED Talk reminds me of some theories that we have studied throughout this course, concretely the Two-step flow theory and the Agenda Setting (explained previously on this blog).  Both of them have a common point: there are gatekeepers that control the information before its general diffusion. The interesting fact is that when we look for a topic on Google, peculiar gatekeepers ”help” us in order to find exactly what it is relevant for us. The peculiarity is that they are Algorithmic gatekeepers, computer programs that decide what we want to see and what we do not need to see. However, after know that fact I feel we all are manipulated by a robot, a computer program that gathers personalized information that fit to our believes and concerns, instead of showing us the objective reality.

On the other hand there are differences between ”relevant” and ”important’‘. Personally, I think that, in a democratic society, I do not really need relevant information, the information that fits to my opinion, I need the important information, the truthful and objective real information. Maybe I am disagree with that information because its ideas are against my current believes and opinions, but it is important to know about it. Additionally, being able to know about that information give us the opportunity to see, and maybe understand, another point of view, a new perspective that can change positively our current opinion, or even make our current opinion stronger. Therefore, we should have the control to decide how to set our own information filters in order to not be blind, regarding the real situation of the world.

My final thought is that, we do not need just relevant information, that will gratify us and will provide us the information we need at a specific moment, instead, we all need the same important information, even if it is uncomfortable. On the other hand, in a democratic world, we need transparency online too, all kind of information from all kind of filters that we can control. Then, the result will be more awareness about the world, more perspectives that will enrich our own point of view and, of course, a real connection to the whole world.  

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Eli Pariser – TED Talk:   http://www.ted.com/talks/eli_pariser_beware_online_filter_bubbles.html

Social Networks

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The human being  is a social being. Since the moment we are born, we need to feel connected to someone, starting with our mothers. We are continuously developing relationships; with relatives, friends, classmates. Additionally, in this technological era, something called Social Networks Sites appeared. Through this social networks, people try to keep in touch with people that already know, they meet new people and even find romantic relationships. Hence, I will talk about Facebook, the most important social networks nowadays, among youngsters and older people. What kind of relations we can found using Facebook? What possible concerns could appear related to Facebook? Can we keep in touch with people after physical disconnection?

First, I would like to talk about Social Capital. This is, basically, the result of resources accumulated through the relationships between people. The social capital is usually treated as something positive for the society, because it means better public health, lower crime rates and trust between the members of a social group. Also, we can differentiate two kinds of social capital: bridging and bonding. In one hand, bridging social capital means ”weak ties”, through this connections, the members provide useful information and more perspective for one another, but there is not emotional support. I think this is the kind of connection and social capital that there are between most part of the ”friends” in social networks, they know information from one another and maybe share the same music tastes, but they cannot provide emotional support one another. On the other hand,  we have bonding social capital, which means emotional close relationships that we can find in our family and close friends. I believe that it is really difficult to create bonding social capital using social networks, especially when this ”friend” is someone that you have never seen in-person (online to offline).

Additionally, it is interesting the idea about ”maintained social capital”, which is the ability of Social networks to keep in touch people after physical disconnection. That usually happens when families move for job reasons, decreasing the social capital. In order to keep in touch, people rely on emails, instant messaging and social networks; they want to feel connected and maintain the social capital, rather than having offline interactions with new people in the new location. I have felt something similar when one of my best friends moved to Bulgaria last year. We said that we will always be in touch by Skype, emails and social networks, such as Facebook, and I can say that these technological tools are really useful in order to keep in touch with friends, that I am physically disconnected with, but still connected, somehow. However, I don’t think that keeping in touch with my old friends is not allowing me to create close relationships with the people nearby.

On the other hand, there could be some concerns about social networks, related to privacy. But I think that Facebook has fixed many of these problems in the last years, controlling more the privacy and allowing the users to set their own privacy. I think it is all up to the users, now; they have to decide their who are their ”friends”.

My conclusion is that we are social beings, that need to feel connected to people that share their same interests, values, attitudes, etc. Fortunately, technology allows us to reach this goal, for example, by social networks. However, it is up to us how we will use these tools, in order to avoid problems related to identity presentation or privacy. If we use these tools wisely, we will be able to increase our social capital, we will be able to keep in touch with our old friends and family, and we will be able to connect.

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Technology and Society

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During this course, we have been focused on the effects that media contents have in people’s life. We have been studying different theories that pretend to explain those effects: Mass society theories, limited effects theory, two-step flow theory, etc. All these theories were focused on how powerful are the media messages. However, now I would like to focus on the technology, that makes new media possible. And the major question about technology is: Is the technology changing the society, or the society is determining  the technology and its usage?

In order to answer this question and understand the causal flow between technology and society, some theories appeared. I would like to mention some of them, and focus on one specific that I think is the most convincing. First of all, I would like to talk about Technological determinism, that states technology is a powerful agent that directly influence the society, changing it. In my opinion, it is something like Mass Society theory, which believe that media messages directly influence people, changing their behaviors and lives, but applied to new technologies. However, there is another theory, social construction of technology, that states the opposites idea: people change both technology and society. Therefore, social factors determine the new technologies and their uses.

The theories explained before are very polarized, completely different one another. Nevertheless, I would like to stress on a third theory: Social shaping of technology. This is a theory that melt determinism and constructivism.  The result is that people, technologies and institutions have power to influence the development and the uses of technology, not just the technology has this power (determinism) neither just society has this power (constructivism). All this agents (people, technology and institutions) are interrelated and determine the forms and the uses of technology in different times, places and groups. I think this is the most convincing theory because it cannot be as easy as the determinists and constructivists state, there must be more agents that determine the causal flow between technology and society. Additionally, there are examples that prove the power that people, technology and institutions have, related to technology and society changes. For example, sometimes technology change the society introducing a new technological tool that shake a the society. However, this change might not be in the whole world, instead, the influence might occur in a specific place, time and social group. On the other hand, people could change the technology by deciding, for example, what technology is most useful for them, and how they use it. Then, the technological industries will produce technological tools that the consumers want, changing the technology. Finally, institutions can change the development and the use of technology, for example, by introducing and promoting a specific technological system in the public institutions.

After this analysis, my conclusion is that, we are living in a technological era that is continuously changing, introducing new technologies and removing the obsolete ones. In this process people can change the technology and its uses but, also, technologies have the power to change the society by intruducing new technologies. This reciprocal process is shaping the world, is shaping our lives, and it is shaping me, as member of a society and user of technology.

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