inkwell.vue.91 : Howard Rheingold - The Virtual Community, second edition
permalink #126 of 184: Katie Hafner (kmh) Fri 27 Oct 00 10:28
    
Speaking as a reporter, I've grown very anti-study lately. So many of
them seem trumped up just to get attention (and they often, ahem,
succeed). But the several years' approach on the part of the UCLA crew
seems a good one. I wonder, though, how they plan to adjust their
research methods as circumstances change (and the Net, as we know, is
constantly changing).

Speaking of change, Howard, I'm wondering what you think of the big
contraction taking place right now in the dot com world and what it
will mean when, say, eve.com doesn't exist any longer to harness the
comestics "community." I'm wondering, off the top of my head, if you
think that the streamlining will take us back to an earlier, less
cluttered and noisy, perhaps even less commercial place, from a virtual
community/online social network perspective. Will it all get cleaner
somehow?
  
inkwell.vue.91 : Howard Rheingold - The Virtual Community, second edition
permalink #127 of 184: Howard Rheingold (hlr) Fri 27 Oct 00 10:33
    
The non-commercial space where millions of creative people did wonderfully
artistic, fun, public-spirited things online never wented away. It simply
never got a lot of ink.

You could probably search the WELL in 1994 and find people mocking the
idea that money could be made on the Internet.

Isn't there a kind of rolling public amnesia happening? Remember the
"digital revolution" of the Rossetto era? I have evidence that at least
some of the dotcom culture think of it as somewhere back there with the
Summer of Love and the gold rush of 1849. I was at a party a Justin
Hall's. I met a young woman who was a community director for a dotcom
whose name we would all recognize. She asked where I met Justin. I said
"Hotwired." She said: "What's Hotwired?"

Now, with so may Internet stocks in the tank, perhaps the dotcom era is
speeding into the past, and in a year and a half, newcomers to whatever
the scene is by then will regard it as a quaint artifact of the past,
along with the digital revolution, summer of love, and 49ers.

I'm tempted to say that the people who fell for the level of bullshit that
has accompanied some/much of the dotcom version are getting what they
deserve. I know that I've been accused of debasing the terms, but I was
truly outdone by some of the business plans and actual businesses in the
"content, commerce, community" space. 

I'm working on an article now about the impact of the AOL lawsuits on
volunteers. The WELL hosts might be affected. But the possibility that
commercial operations will have to pay volunteers probably won't have a
large effect on online communities, so many of which are totally
non-commercial and held together by volunteer labor.

Cooperating to create a public good without feeling cheated by freeloaders
is what sociologists call "the collective action dilemma," I have
learned. Without people who cooperated because they derived value from the
common creation, and because it was cool to do, and because they got some
ego gratification, where would the Internet, the Web, or, for that matter,
the WELL, be today?
  
inkwell.vue.91 : Howard Rheingold - The Virtual Community, second edition
permalink #128 of 184: Katie Hafner (kmh) Fri 27 Oct 00 10:40
    <hidden>
  
inkwell.vue.91 : Howard Rheingold - The Virtual Community, second edition
permalink #129 of 184: Katie Hafner (kmh) Fri 27 Oct 00 10:41
    
Am I hallucinating or did my last post just show up three times?
Maybe I don't like Engaged so much after all?
Why does the Well use it again?
  
inkwell.vue.91 : Howard Rheingold - The Virtual Community, second edition
permalink #130 of 184: Katie Hafner (kmh) Fri 27 Oct 00 10:45
    <hidden>
  
inkwell.vue.91 : Howard Rheingold - The Virtual Community, second edition
permalink #131 of 184: Katherine Hafner (kmh) Fri 27 Oct 00 10:50
    
Oh my god. It's Night of the Living Posts. I just bailed out of Engaged and
am back on Picospan!
  
inkwell.vue.91 : Howard Rheingold - The Virtual Community, second edition
permalink #132 of 184: Cynthia Dyer-Bennet (cdb) Fri 27 Oct 00 11:29
    

And it's not even Halloween yet! ;-)
  
inkwell.vue.91 : Howard Rheingold - The Virtual Community, second edition
permalink #133 of 184: Mary Eisenhart (marye) Fri 27 Oct 00 11:36
    
Aiyee!

Howard, if Denise's project is at all germane here, could you say
more? I've always been a big fan of interdisciplinary cross-fertilization,
and I think the people who are into Communities of Practice often
see it as pretty important too.
  
inkwell.vue.91 : Howard Rheingold - The Virtual Community, second edition
permalink #134 of 184: Katherine Hafner (kmh) Fri 27 Oct 00 11:37
    

Engaged remains a bit of a mystery to me...
  
inkwell.vue.91 : Howard Rheingold - The Virtual Community, second edition
permalink #135 of 184: Katie Hafner (kmh) Fri 27 Oct 00 11:47
    
Speaking of interdisciplinary work, David Zaret, whose book Howard was
referring to, was trained as a sociologist, not a historian, but the
cross-over has perhaps gained him more respect in academic circles. 
  
inkwell.vue.91 : Howard Rheingold - The Virtual Community, second edition
permalink #136 of 184: Katie Hafner (kmh) Fri 27 Oct 00 11:53
    
The book, btw, is "Origins of Democratic Culture" (Princeton
University Press)
  
inkwell.vue.91 : Howard Rheingold - The Virtual Community, second edition
permalink #137 of 184: Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Fri 27 Oct 00 12:11
    
(Katie, I hid the 'ghost' posts. We can erase 'em. I'll send you an
email.)
  
inkwell.vue.91 : Howard Rheingold - The Virtual Community, second edition
permalink #138 of 184: Katie Hafner (kmh) Fri 27 Oct 00 12:42
    

Howard and I were just exchanging e-mail about the Zaret book and I
think we'll bring the discussion back in here, where it seems very
appropriate. Here's a description from the Amazon listing: "Zaret
explores the unanticipated liberating effects of printing and printed
communications in transforming the world of political secrecy into a
culture of open discourse and eventually a politics of public opinion."

Howard, you said in your email that you're particularly interested in
the public sphere, since you believe that's where the Internet will
have the longest-term and most profound impact on people's lives. 

What exactly do you mean by public sphere?
  
inkwell.vue.91 : Howard Rheingold - The Virtual Community, second edition
permalink #139 of 184: parenthetical comment: Howard Does MP3! (jonl) Fri 27 Oct 00 13:11
    
(Just wanted to mention that you can hear Howard reading a slice of _The
Virtual Community_ at
http://www.salon.com/audio/nonfiction/2000/10/27/rheingold2/ )
  
inkwell.vue.91 : Howard Rheingold - The Virtual Community, second edition
permalink #140 of 184: Howard Rheingold (hlr) Sat 28 Oct 00 09:54
    
I will return later when I have slightly more leisure and post some small
chunks from the book.

A very simplified but not, I think, simplistic description of "the public
sphere" is that it is where individuals of democratic societies exercise
their citizenship by freely discussing the issues that concern them. It is
where "public opinion" is formed. In other words, democracy is not just
about voting for representatives. It's about people who are literate
enough, free enough, and have the places and/or media where they can
exchange views, disseminate information, apply reason and argument to the
issues of the day, and, presumably, shape a public opinion that is
well-informed enough for democratic governance to work.

There is, obviously, a strong connection between communication media and
the public sphere. The printing press, the television broadcasting
station, the desktop connected to the Internet. Each communicatio
technology affords to some people the power to inform, persuade,
influence, organize others. The fact that the Internet transforms each
desktop into (potentially) a printing press, place of assembly, and
broadcasting station seems to me to be the most profound long term source
of political change. How will that power be used? Will established power
structures buy it, coopt it, find ways to censor it or otherwise seize
control of gateways? Will a sufficiently large population understand and
seize the opportunity that the new literacy affords -- as the populations
of modern democratic nation-states seized the opportunities afforded by
printing presses that didn't have to be licensed by the king?

The origins of the modern public sphere are interesting to me because so
many of the debates and politcal battles over the Internet clearly echo
previous debates and battles over the press, radio and television.
  
inkwell.vue.91 : Howard Rheingold - The Virtual Community, second edition
permalink #141 of 184: Katherine Hafner (kmh) Sat 28 Oct 00 14:07
    
Do you mean debates that took places over the press, radio and
television, or debates *about* the role of the press, radio and television
when it comes to the public sphere?
  
inkwell.vue.91 : Howard Rheingold - The Virtual Community, second edition
permalink #142 of 184: Amy Jo Kim (amyjo) Sat 28 Oct 00 14:11
    
Those are deeply thought-provoking questions, Howard - thanks for
articulating them! I look forward to being part of the dialog that
starts to answer them. We're living in exciting times.

In addition to empowering self-publishing (as you point out), the
Internet also helps small-time content distributors thrive by lowering
distribution costs, and making it easier to get into a tight feedback
loop with your constituancy. This enables virtually unlimited
narrowcasting (unless the gateways are closed through regulation)

So... all these developments are reshaping what we mean by the "public
sphere."  How did the introduction of press, radio and television
reshape the public sphere? And what does that teach us about the likely
evolution of the Internet?

tight feedback loop with their cons among a also exciting about the
rise of the Internet is that it 
  
inkwell.vue.91 : Howard Rheingold - The Virtual Community, second edition
permalink #143 of 184: Amy Jo Kim (amyjo) Sat 28 Oct 00 14:12
    
<oops - katie slipped, and I made a typo. Ignore that last line>
  
inkwell.vue.91 : Howard Rheingold - The Virtual Community, second edition
permalink #144 of 184: Howard Rheingold (hlr) Sat 28 Oct 00 14:44
    
The press made three important kinds of changes in the polity:

1.  Mass production of printed works initiated and fueled the growth of a
literate population. The technology of a printing press is not in itself
as important as the changes in the ways of thinking and communicating that
it enables. Printing presses don't cause democracy (technological
determinism), but they make literacy possible, and literate populations
are capable of discussing, arguing, and taking action on issues of
political governance.

2.  Petitions, broadsides, letters to the editor (Common Sense, the
Federalist Papers both come to mind) made it possible for a larger number
of people to seek to influence public opinion. Indeed, the case is made by
people who write about the public sphere that public opinion grew out of
these exchanges.

3. When the ruler is capable of such influence, direct petitions offered a
channel for public opinion to influence the ruler.

Mass media of the electronic broadcast era, radio and television
(particularly after the US govt regulated them in the way it did) enabled
a relatively smaller proportion of the population to influence, persuade,
educate, and mislead much larger populations. Television, in particular,
because the most important factor in elections -- and one that demanded
increasing amounts of money from political candidates.

The enabling technologies for radio and television were inherently
centralized and increasingly expensive. Through an accident of history
(nobody building the communication grid or working on components of
affordable personal computers foresaw that an entirely new medium would
emerge when the computers were connected through the communication grid),
every desktop can print, broadcast, publish, and enable discourse.

Will this make a difference? That's what I think is the important question
in regard to the Internet, the public sphere, and online discourse.

I do strongly suspect that the quality of discourse is key. Flaming each
other about guns, Israel, abortion, etc. isn't going to elevate the state
of the public sphere, IMO.

Interestingly, Benjamin Barber, author of "Strong Democracy," is working
on software that enables and supports effective political discourse and
decision-making.
  
inkwell.vue.91 : Howard Rheingold - The Virtual Community, second edition
permalink #145 of 184: Katherine Hafner (kmh) Sat 28 Oct 00 15:41
    

J.C.R. Licklider, my personal hero (and an interdisciplinarian if ever
there was one), did talk about computer networks and their potential
for facilitating human communication and interaction.
  
inkwell.vue.91 : Howard Rheingold - The Virtual Community, second edition
permalink #146 of 184: Howard Rheingold (hlr) Sat 28 Oct 00 15:45
    
I was fortunate enough to interview Licklider for Tool for Thought, albeit
over the telephone. Many many people will tell you that there might not be
personal computers or the Internet if it had not been for him -- both his
personal charisma and his foresight. My chapter about him is:
<http://www.rheingold.com/texts/tft/7.html>
  
inkwell.vue.91 : Howard Rheingold - The Virtual Community, second edition
permalink #147 of 184: Katie Hafner (kmh) Sat 28 Oct 00 21:53
    
And this little snippet on Licklider from my history of the Internet:

The idea on which his world view pivoted was that technological
progress would save humanity. The political process was a favorite
example of his. In a a McLuhanesque view of the power of electronic
media, he saw a future in which, thanks in large part to the reach of
computers, most citizens would be "informed about, and interested in,
and involved in, the process of government."

He imagined what he called "home computer consoles" and television
sets linked together in a massive network: "The political
process...would essentially be a giant teleconference and a campaign
would be a months long series of communications among candidates,
propagandists, commentators, political action groups, and voters. The
key is the self motivating exhilaration that accompanies truly
effective interaction with information through a good console and a
good network to a good computer."

I think he wrote that in the 60s.
Talk about foresighted....and optimistic!
  
inkwell.vue.91 : Howard Rheingold - The Virtual Community, second edition
permalink #148 of 184: Howard Rheingold (hlr) Sat 28 Oct 00 23:28
    
One of the critiques that have been directed at my writing, and which
certainly would be directed at Licklider's quote is that such words are
"the rhetoric of the technological sublime." The magical ability to
transform the most problematic aspects of human nature are projected onto
technology. What would he have said of spammers? Kiddie porn? He and
Taylor did issue a clear warning about what is now called "the digital
divide." And they were writing in a time when the zeitgeist was far less
critical of technology than today.

Nevertheless, the point that has continued to seem important to me since
1993 is that the tool makes new kinds of hopeful cooperative social
enterprises possible, but the tool is not the task. It takes people,
working together, to use the tool to accomplish the kinds of ends
Licklider foresaw, and which I still hope for.

Clearly, a realistic look at the totality of online discourse reveals an
enormous amount of ill-thought and often venomous spew. There is the
expensively crafted disinfotainment of the megacorp, and there is also the
spontaneous, emergent, grassroots self-disinfotainment of the online
chattering classes. Rhetoric, syntax, logic -- the fundamentals of
reasoned discourse -- are valued by a minority. Even clever flamage is a
tiny fraction of raw pottymouth ravings. Are the flamewars in Usenet
political newsgroups the kind of reasoned discourse that the public sphere
requires?

To which I can only reply: The final form of the medium isn't totally
decided. The eternal triumph of the trivial is not yet accomplished. It's
entirely possible that today's hopes for many to many empowerment through
new media will be seen in the not too distant future as laughably
naive. However, it isn't the distant future yet. Right now, it's still in
play.

What could people do to bring about a more vital public sphere, in which
informed use of online discourse and publishing could play a part? I can't
help but think that the most important need is to help more people learn
basic netiquette and the fundamentals of effective communication -- and
why all the same tired ploys that substitute for real argument are as
unattractive as they are destructive.

Surely, not everyone would be receptive to such education. But if it did
succeed. If civility and intelligence were to gain a foothold, even a
small one, the Net could enable the phenomenon that makes the Net such a
disruptive technology -- effective communication might become infective
and spread everywhere more quickly.

Yeah, I guess an outbreak of reason would be considered by many, with good
reason, to be naively utopian. 
  
inkwell.vue.91 : Howard Rheingold - The Virtual Community, second edition
permalink #149 of 184: Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Sun 29 Oct 00 08:11
    
A couple of comments...

Are we really talking about a medium here? Or an environment which
encapsulates many media?

If I view your last post with my engineer's hat on, I would say "But
that's a training issue..."  And I think you've said as much, but perhaps
it bears discussing some more...

When you seek to build the civil society, civility is inherently a
'training issue,' no? How do build an infrastructure to address the
training issue?  I think that's what tradition was for, but the postmodern
view undermines any sense of tradition as representative of cultural
chauvinism. How do you build a tradition within the postmodern soup? What
are the codes for a new civility?
  
inkwell.vue.91 : Howard Rheingold - The Virtual Community, second edition
permalink #150 of 184: Howard Rheingold (hlr) Sun 29 Oct 00 09:36
    
Alan Kay called the computer a "metamedium" precisely because it
encapsulates and emulates all other media. The point I make when I use the
word is to emphasize the social communication aspects of
computers-plus-networks, which can do everything from direct the traffic
of packages to mediate market transactions to serve as a knowledge
repository for human genome mapping.
<http://www.rheingold.com/texts/tft/11.html>

Doug Engelbart started thinking about how people could use computers as
communication media, and more -- as tools to think with, and to enable
people to work together in ways that were never before possible. His
classic 1962 paper on "Augmenting Human Intellect" emphasized that the
machines are just part of a system that includes humans, artifacts,
language, methodology, and training. Training is not an add-on. It's an
essential part of the technology he foresaw. The fact that literacy about
the use and context of technologies such as online communication is seen
today as an add-on is a clue, I think, to what is wrong with this picture,
and where we still need to go.
<http://www.histech.rwth-aachen.de/www/quellen/engelbart/ahi62index.html>

For a while, building a tradition was part of the norms and culture of
social cyberspaces: Veterans new that the value of the public goods of the
Internet was increased by spreading the norms of netiquette and
cooperation. In this sense, netiquette certainly wasn't as simplistic as
"no flaming." Indeed, newbies who asked questions that were in the FAQ
were often educated by mailboxes full of flames. But the people who sent
the flames were concerned enough about the norms of cooperation that made
the Net valuable to try to pass them along, albeit rudely. The entire
issue of civility is way beyond my capacity to address in a post, and is
certainly part of a wider issue than online discourse. I suspect that it
has to do with the rapid changes in the norms that have enabled people to
exist as individuals in a competitive society, yet act collectively to
create goods that serve everyone. I saw it in action yesterday when the
electricity went out in part of my town. At several complex intersections,
people treated the dead traffic lights as four-way stop signs. It worked
pretty well in a couple of places. And in a couple of places, free riders
blithely endangered themselves and others and gave their finger to the
ad-hoc cooperation.

A lot of words in that last graf. Probably means I don't know the answer.
  

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