Sunday, April 22, 2007

NPOV opportunities

I'm sure I'm not the only one who views Wikipedia as would a stoner who sees beauty in things that are not so apparently thought-provoking to industrious sober people.

To these sober folks, Wikipedia is like a productive zone of collective beeworkers producing an impressive array of enyclopedia entries. In this functionalist or machinic sense, Wikipedia can be an amazing phenomenon in its own right, just not to me. It is not the statistic showing how Wikipedia far outpaces Encyclopedia Brittanica in quantity of articles that reveals to me its greatest beauty. Nor is it Wikipedia's formidable reputation as a source for accuracy.

There is a higher purpose still that seems to still be eluding those who would rather quibble over the current status of a particular Wikipedia entry.

puff puff

"Dude, the planet is calling its children together so they may heal. "

puff puff

And since this exercise tends to look rather like an acrimonious exchange between trenchant ideologues, the community of sober discussants don't see the hidden beauty of what is called a "Neutral Point of View" (or NPOV) conflict.

But maybe they would see what I'm seeing were they to call it an NPOV opportunity.

We have been living in a dialogue-deficit economy. Just go to the library stacks and peruse through the Middle East Politics section. Witness the artefacts of years of academics talking at each other-- or at the very most, profiting off the others' utterances as an excuse to produce a new book. Collectively, academia has failed to do what one encyclopedia entry on Wikipedia has done: compel a large-scale human lock-in. One that won't be broken until every possible subjectivity has been worked through, transcended into a higher realm of dialogically-informed knowledge.

Joseph Reagle, in his PhD dissertation proposal has identified this as the "transsubjective" goal of knowledge. Something I might venture to say, which is attainable only for the most politically benign of knowledges. It is sad to say that in the current state of our planet we can't even reach a healthy transsubjective portrait of what happened during the Holocaust. Just imagine, then, how difficult it would be to get a globally-coherent picture of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

It is in the context of this difficulty that I think people should be taking the longer view, by appreciating Wikipedia processes rather than Wikipedia products. Cormac Lawler's M.A. thesis takes this moment very seriously and I look forward to working with him and others one day towards optimizing the learning experience that is a very necessary consequence of knowledge production.

Monday, April 16, 2007

Spinning the Cocoon of Death

The following moment of doubt afflicted me recently and if it doesn't happen to you, you should be worried. I read a book that introduced me to the concept of an “information cocoon”.

I'ts a pretty self-explanatory term, actually. Due mostly to the Internet, we surround ourselves with information that harmonizes with our world. It is easy to do this on the Internet. We can customize our news feeds through Google, Yahoo, MSN and the countless other portals that offer to package the information we receive based on our interest, gender, location, consumer profiles and other variables. The latest buzz word that has flowed beyond cyberspace to infect everything is the prefix “my” to precede any other thing. In New York an evening news program advertises a billboard on the subway announcing how their brand of news is, rather: “my news, my weather, my world”.

But why isn't it “our” news, I ask? Can't I share my news with someone else? Oh, nevermind. This catchy individualistic phrase can certainly be attributed to the smashing success of MySpace and MySpace alone. But perhaps it is now a given that media must be customized in a way that greets me cheerily like a morning cup of coffee.

And that, folks, can't possibly be a good thing. I don't know about you, but I don't necessarily read to be entertained or comforted. Sometimes I read in order to expand my horizons and nuance and complicate my worldview. It was upon thinking about the very idea of an “information cocoon” that I immediatley panicked, wondering if I was firmly nestled into my own cocoon. Or to be exact.

I cried and cried.

I did't want to succumb to an insidious form of intellectual provincialism. Even if some of my sources of information didn't always come from a corporate news source-- no matter-- there would always be an easy spoonful of information ready to feed me.

Are you not guilty of this yourself? Who, after all, just randomly surfs the Internet these days? I follow leads – usually emails or MySpace bulletins with links sent by friends and trusted sources. When I google something, I am rarely going to check out the 15th page, but rather, I click on the first few search results, which based on Google's formula, means I am wallking down the most well-trodden path.

Then there are the information aggregators, sites like that display links to rightfully entertaining or usefel sites, frequented by many, and passed between friends. When I'm online and I want to suck some tasty screen but don't know where to go, I head to

If information is really being consumed this way, then this leaves me with lots of questions to ask.

    1) Is my cocoon hindering my intellectual progress, creating massive blindspots preventing me from ever hearing out the 14-year old Indonesian boy who has something genius to say?

  1. Is this really even a cocoon? Maybe its the opposite of a cocoon. Maybe I am utilizing technologies that aggregrate information drawn from a very wide net.

  2. Am I quickly just becoming a passive node that is receiving and transmitting information to the next person?

  3. And finally, is the Internet the best thing we've ever had to work with? Or does it harbor the delibitating connotations of a cocoon?

I would like to answer these questions by taking a step back from the “cocoon” metaphor. Might we view everything that is resonant and meaningful to an individual, as a product of that human spinning cocoons on a daily basis, not just on the Internet? There is a huge field of literature devoted to explaining the way humans filter out all kinds of sense data in their lives in order to create meaningful and coherent worlds for themselves. It's an instinct that we can't help if we want to be human.

As to the question of is it good/bad that we are filtering out many other worlds in the process of creating a world or two. Who am I to judge? I tend to put a high premium on cross-pollinating my learning experience. That is why I write a blog solely devoted to idea of dialogue, by the way.

All I can really say is that the more I attempt traverse geography, culture and class in my readings, the more unlikely it is that I will be lulled to sleep by a particular discourse. If you don't actively take steps to design your own world, which I'm sure is a fantastic one, by the way – a world will be afforded to you.

And by all means, don't forget to link your world to this blog.