Social Networks

Entries related to social networks, group psychology, anthropology, and really any of the social sciences.

Summer Reading and Listening

Yesterday, I handed in my last paper of the summer semester, so now, I have a few weeks of where I can read and listen to stuff for fun before I start reading for the fall semester. It seems like there is a lot on my list, so I thought I’d try to organize a little bit of it and perhaps draw others into a discussion about some of this.

Listening

In a few days, I’ll be heading off to Falcon Ridge Folk Festival, so I’m listening to play lists of performers who will be there, especially those in the Emerging Artist Showcase and who will be appearing on The Lounge Stage.

Also, last Thursday was the feat of St. James the Apostle, which got me thinking about caminos. I found a podcast I’ve started listening to, The Camino Podcast. It’s worth the listen.

Preparing for Sermons, Eulogies, and Sabbath

Unfortunately, I’ll miss the Performing Artists Showcase at Falcon Ridge this year because I will be at a memorial service for my father. He enjoyed the poetry of Robert Frost, so I’ll be re-reading a bunch of Frost’s poems as I prepare to say a few words there. Then, at the end of the month, I’ll be preaching on texts related to Sabbath. A couple of my classmates recently read Sabbath as Resistance: Saying No to the Culture of Now by Walter Brueggemann, so I’ve started that. Another book one of my classmates recently read is Soul Tending: Journey Into the Heart of Sabbath by Anita Amstutz. I’ve added that to my “Want to read” list.

Poetry

As I mentioned above, I’ll probably re-read a bit of Robert Frost Hopefully, I’ll add some others into the mix, like Mary Oliver, Ted Kooser, Naomi Shihab Nye, Sarah Kay, and maybe even some T.S. Eliot or Christina Rossetti. Suggestions are always welcome.

Dissertations and Syllabi

The reason I mention Christina Rossetti is that a friend of mine wrote his doctoral dissertation on “The Anglo-Catholic quality of Christina Rossetti's apocalyptic vision in The Face of the Deep”. I have that on my reading list, but I suspect I may not get to it this August. Likewise, one of my professors wrote his dissertation on Sin and Brokenness, Passage and Purpose: Reforms in Recent American Lutheran Rites for the Pastoral Care of the Sick. He also sent me the syllabus for a course he teaches on “Theology and Liturgy in the Digital Age”. It has a great reading list I will have to explore later.

Racial Justice

A couple friends have recently mentioned books they are reading related to social justice. One person mentioned Dear Church: A Love Letter from a Black Preacher to the Whitest Denomination in the US by by Lenny Duncan. It is high on my reading list for August. Also around racial justice is the book, White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism by Robin DiAngelo. These are both books that it seems would be best read in a discussion group. I’m wondering about online discussion groups, either on Goodreads or Facebook. Anyone up for such a group?

Affinity Groups Online and other reading

I recently finished reading Affinity Online: How Connection and Shared Interest Fuel Learning (Connected Youth and Digital Futures) by Mizuko Ito et al. I’m especially interested in discussing this book. I’d really like to talk about it in terms of personal learning networks, faith formation networks, and the future of the church.

The idea of online reading groups around racial justice is one such place to explore this. Another would be around climate justice. There are few books on this list, like one by my Christian Ethics professor, or another that friends are talking about called Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge, and the Teachings of Plants by Robin Wall Kimmerer

Preparing for the fall

And, when I get through all of this, assuming nothing else pops up on the list, or around mid August, whichever comes first, I’ll start reading for my fall courses. Some of those texts I’ve probably already read, and either need to be re-read, or read for the first time.

So, what are you reading?

ISO A Third Space Eschatology Affinity Group #CDSPTheology #CLMOOC

I am an almost sixty-year-old cis-het Euro-American male Low Residency Masters of Divinity student at Church Divinity School of the Pacific. During the fall and spring terms, I take classes online, discussing the texts in the schools learning management system. I head out to California in January and June for brief intensive courses. Because of this, my experiences with theological education are different from many other theology students. For me, this is compounded by some of the interests I bring to my studies.

I’ve worked with computers since the 1960s. I’ve been on the Internet since the early 1980s. I’ve developed an interest in digital pedagogy that has led me down many rabbit holes. I’ve learned about Deleuze and Guattari from online affinity groups. I’ve become interested in connected learning, postcolonialism, speech act theory, third space theory, poststructuralism, and a raft of writers such as Foucault, Lacan, and others. However, my knowledge in all these areas is rudimentary at best.

For my day job, I’m a communications manager at a Federally Qualified Health Center. I started there, close to a decade ago, as their first social media manager, and social media remains very important to me. That said, I’m ambivalent about much church social media. It too often feels like it is more focused on marketing and less focused on formation or transformation than I would like.

Some of this changed with a course I took last fall entitled “Postmodern Christian Education”. As part of the course, we read John Roberto’s “Reimagining Faith Formation for the 21st Century”. In the book, he presented the idea of a “Faith Formation Network” which is sort of like a personal learning network focused on issues of faith. The idea particularly grabbed me and is helping catalyze some of my thinking around faith, education, and digital media.

One group I’ve interacted with is the Connected Learning MOOC. This month, they are starting up a slow read of Affinity Online: How Connection and Shared Interest Fuel Learning by Mizuko Ito et al. I don’t really have time to add this to all my other reading, but since it’s a slow read and they invite people to join in as they can, I figured I’ll read and comment when I can. Their opening questions are “What is an affinity network?” and “what characteristics do affinity networks have?”

The book starts by talking about a young woman who ends up part of a Harry Potter related fiber artists group. In the old days, it was unlikely she would have found “a critical mass of knitters who are also Harry Potter Fans.” (Ito, 1)

I’ve read a little bit, here and there, about postcolonialism and third space theory, but I know very few people that are well versed in it and certainly haven’t found a third space theory affinity group. So, when I started wondering about how third space theory might apply to eschatology, I didn’t really have a good place to go, other than wondering the digital library stacks in search of a lead.

So, to the list of things I’m studying this semester, I’m adding an exploration into affinity groups, an explanation into Third Space Eschatology, and ideally hoping to find or develop a third space eschatology affinity group. Thoughts?

Retreat Reflections: Early Morning

Reflections while on a silent retreat at Holy Cross Monastery on the banks of the Hudson River; February 17, 2018. As is often the case when I am travelling, my sleep was fitful, waking up at various times throughout the night.

At around 5:30, a little after my normal rising time during the week, but a little before my normal rising time during the weekend, I arose and went to the bathroom at the end of the hall. Someone noticed me and said, “Good morning” which was followed by what sounded like an embarrassed silence as he quickly left the bathroom.

After my morning ablutions, and a brief check of news and social media online, I headed downstairs and noticed the sun rising over the Hudson River. I headed out into the little cloister and sat on a bench to watch the sunrise. I took a picture which I shared online.

How much should I be online during a silent retreat? I think it was useful to hear, to read, some of the zeitgeist of my friends; mourning the death of a relative and feeling hopeless about America with its divisiveness and violence. Posting a picture of a sunrise from a monastery seemed like an appropriate level of engagement for this morning.

I’ve been thinking a lot about social capital recently, especially in terms of George Soros’ comments about social media companies. See Winston Smith’s Facebook Page for some of my recent thoughts on this.

If we carry Soros’ comments forward, and perhaps add a Marxist interpretation on it, perhaps we need to be thinking about alienation of social capital. We use our social capital and expend emotional energy in our posts online. Social media companies try to monetize some of that capital and energy by selling advertisements. Divisiveness is helpful for social media companies to get a clearer sense of what will sell best to whom. We become alienated from the value of our social capital and emotional energy.

There are various things we could do. We could spend more of our time, social capital, and emotional energy off-line. We could seek workers collectives to share our social capital, like Diaspora. We could let it influence how we act online and offline, by becoming less eloquent, hopeless, or maybe even violent. Or, we could become wiser in how we use our social capital and energy online, making it more effective, and perhaps even less alienating.

I have been experimenting with this in various ways. I did 100 days of gratitude, encouraging my friends to post things they are thankful for. Thinking about the book Help, Thanks, Wow, I tried to do this with days of wonder as well, but societal despair quickly found its way in. I’m trying to think of other ways to approach this.

As I watched the sunrise over the Hudson River, I remember an old saying, “The miracle was not that the bush was not consumed. The miracle was that Moses noticed.” I stopped and noticed the sunrise. Perhaps this will be a retreat of noticing God’s miracles in our daily lives. Perhaps, this is a discussion to have on Facebook.

Perhaps there is also something in this about becoming like a child. Jesus said, you shall not enter the kingdom of heaven unless you become like a little child. In what ways are we to be like little children? Is some of it looking with wonder and awe at the miracles of daily life, that too many of us as adults, find little opportunity for?

Winston Smith’s Facebook Page

Companies earn their profits by exploiting their environment. Mining and oil companies exploit the physical environment; social media companies exploit the social environment.

- George Soros, Remarks delivered at the World Economic Forum, Davos, Switzerland, January 25, 2018

It is an interesting formulation of an old idea. How has our social environment been exploited? How similar is this to the way the physical environment has been exploited?

It isn’t a new idea. For a long time writers have complained about feeling compelled to give away their content in order to be read. I am doing that here. I put my post up. I share links to it on Facebook and Twitter, and hope someone will read it and respond. All of this becomes content to be used by large social media companies to make money off of advertising. Little, if any of that makes its way to the content creators.

To make things worse, the social media companies’ algorithms favor content that will get the most advertising revenue as opposed to the most trustworthy content, or the content that will best lead to the betterment of society.

Soros goes on to say,

Something very harmful and maybe irreversible is happening to human attention in our digital age. Not just distraction or addiction; social media companies are inducing people to give up their autonomy.

He talks about John Stuart Mill’s “Freedom of Mind”, and suggest the manipulation that is possible when people start losing freedom of mind has “already played an important role in the 2016 US presidential elections”.

He then invokes 1984 and Brave New World

This may well result in a web of totalitarian control the likes of which not even Aldous Huxley or George Orwell could have imagined.

If Winston Smith, the hero of 1984 were alive today, instead of a diary, maybe he would be posting on Facebook. This begs the question of how we understand “thought crimes”.

Some of my libertarian friends might equate “thought crimes” with “hate speech” and fight against rules about hate speech. The Ethical Journalism Network provides a useful five point test for hate speech.

They note the tragic consequences of hate speech, especially in the context of the Rwandan genocide. There first point is to consider “The Position or Status of the Speaker”.

journalists and media are regularly trapped by media-savvy and unscrupulous politicians and community leaders. These skilful users of media stir up disputes and discord in support of their own prejudices and bigoted opinions and rely on media to give coverage to their sensational claims and opinions no matter how incendiary they are.

It is interesting to consider not only the position of the speaker, but the medium they are using for speaking. Soros talks about the large social media companies saying,

The internet monopolies have neither the will nor the inclination to protect society against the consequences of their actions. That turns them into a menace and it falls to the regulatory authorities to protect society against them.

There is also the issue of groupthink. Is this a different way in which thought crimes are prosecuted? Around 2010, Eli Pariser coined the phrase “filter bubble” to describe how people social media algorithms group people together around shared ideas. Are there filter bubbles contributing to groupthink?

In 1972, social psychologist Irving Janis coined the phrase “groupthink” which

occurs when a group makes faulty decisions because group pressures lead to a deterioration of “mental efficiency, reality testing, and moral judgment”

Recently at my alma mater, there have been protests that were sparked when a member of the college football team posted racist material on Facebook.

The student was removed from campus and conservatives might bewail what they consider groupthink in the reaction of the students. Yet for it to be groupthink one would have to argue that protesting racism shows a deterioration of moral judgement.

How should we respond to the exploitation of our social environment? Are there things we can do to help repair our social environment? I pose these questions especially for politicians, religious leaders, and journalists.

#SMS17 Beyond the Parish Walls

On Saturday, the South Central Region of the Episcopal Church in Connecticut held an ‘unconference’ where we discussed many topics of interest to the attendees. One topic was social media, which was especially significant since Sunday is Social Media Sunday.

One of the goals of the various regions in the Episcopal Church in Connecticut is to promote inter-parish collaboration, so we talked a bit about how often we liked the pages of the churches around us, and shared their posts. It is my hope that our discussion at the unconference, my blog post about the unconference, and subsequent discussions will lead to better collaboration between churches.

Of course, working in social media, I’m interested in measuring this effect. So, I have put together this list of churches in the South Central Region that I like, and how many of my friends on Facebook like them. The list is probably incomplete, but it is a good starting point. I’d love to see some of my friends do something similar.

Then, we could all make an effort to get to know people from neighboring churches, like them on Facebook, share their posts, and come back at a later time and see how these numbers have changed.

So, here’s my list, with the Region Facebook page listed first, and then the different parishes in the region and the number of friends that like or have visited the parishes. I’ve sorted it by the number of friends that like or have visited the parishes, and I was surprised to see that my home parish is not at the top of the list.

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