“Leaving on a Jet Plane” performed by Peter, Paul and Mary is playing on Pandora. It is their selection for what I might like. Bruce Jenner, Brian Williams and a 50 foot sculpture of Darth Vader at the Sapporo Snow Festival are trending on Facebook. Jenner and Williams are also trending on Twitter, along with a bunch of things I’m not following. Also trending on Twitter is #msc2015, the Munich Security Conference.
The technological singularity is the hypothesis that accelerating progress in technologies will cause a runaway effect wherein artificial intelligence will exceed human intellectual capacity and control, thus radically changing civilization in an event called the singularity. Because the capabilities of such an intelligence may be impossible for a human to comprehend, the technological singularity is an occurrence beyond which events may become unpredictable, unfavorable, or even unfathomable.
Have we reached the technological singularity? Are these snapshots of what is now trending in social media glimpses into some artificial intelligence? After all, besides all those algorithms looking for what is trending or of interest to us, Watson is reading what we write online.
Yes, perhaps as Wikipedia says in its definition of the technological singularity, “unfathomable”.
So, let me present a way to think about the technological singularity. It grew out of my interest in the work of Wilfred Bion and Group Relations combined with some work with artificial neural networks back in the nineties.
The internet is a network of networks. If we accept the idea that each one of us is a neural network, then our social networks are networks of neural networks. What keeps this inter-neural-network from having some sort of intelligence?
One of the key things in artificial neural networks is the ability to learn from a process called back propagation. If the predicted results differ from the actual results, the strength of connections between nodes are altered to bring the results closer inline.
Long before the days of Twitter and Facebook, I pondered such a system. How could you get individuals, nodes in this inter-neural-network, to modify the strength of their links? Now, Facebook has addressed this. You can like, comment on, or share posts, strengthening the links. Or, you can unfriend someone. The network is evolving.
How is this inter-neural-network shaping us, changing us? How can we understand it? To what extent can we understand it?
It is evolving. So are my thoughts. More later…
In November, David Weinberger put up a blog post, Before Facebook, there was DeanSpace. It highlights a video of Zack Rosen, a founder of DeanSpace, talking about how DeanSpace came to be and what it was all about.
But before DeanSpace, there was Hack4Dean. I’ve recently been reading though some of the email archives of this group and wanted to note a few things. It’s interesting to reread some of this today in light of all that has gone on since 2003.
In one example, there was a discussion about Creative Commons licenses: One post suggested
My choice is to require all people who sign up using our code to concede all rights to their material to a Creative Commons share alike attribution
liscense. (or they we could give htem a couple other options for different
In this, we here precursors of discussions about who owns or should own content on social media sites. The DeanSpace idea stayed with each person owning the content and making it available for others to use via a Creative Commons license. As much as I like Creative Commons, I argued against the requirement, believing that each person should have as much say as possible over their own content. We were, after all, trying to reduce barriers to participation.
In a different post, Zephyr Teachout put the issue we needed to address in very simple terms:
there is a more basic role for
Deanster, and the reason for its urgency (w/the idea of experimenting
w/this functionality on top of it).
People can't find eachother.
Dean supporters in the same area can't find eachother.
Dean supporters w/the same interests can't find eachother.
We have, incredibly, a nationwide movement of people who happen to run
into eachother if they use the get local tools -- or show up wearing
buttons -- or are on a listserv. Imagine what it could be if I could
search for local people to ask them to join me?
Here we are twelve years later. We have Facebook and Twitter. We have presumed front runners for the 2016 Presidential election. Perhaps there are or soon will be autonomous emergent campaign organizations, but I’m not seeing them right now. To play off of old clichés, mostly what I see now are cat videos and assorted memes. We see polarization and people unfriending one another over discussions of racism and white privilege. About the only campaign I could see emerging from Facebook right now is Grumpy Cat for President.
Can we rekindle to DeanSpace fire? What would it take?
We are interested in hearing your thoughts on the role that social media--specifically blogs, Facebook and Twitter--played in the events that unfolded over the last several weeks at General Theological Seminary. It feels to us as though the Episcopal Church has just been through a new experience and we'd like to try to understand it better.
I am an Episcopalian and a social media professional. I’ve been following the events at General Theological Seminary very closely for the past few weeks, and when I saw the inquiry above, I felt it was time to try and gather some of my thoughts about what has gone on.
A little context: When I was in my twenties, I considered the priesthood or the monastic life, but I never had a clear sense of calling and went into the world of business.
Around 1993, I help set up the first website for the Parish I attended, and then for the Diocese of Connecticut. In 2003, I helped write social media software for Gov. Dean’s Presidential campaign. I was the first person in Connecticut on Twitter, and continue to be an early adopter of digital technology.
Last month, I wrote about The Facebook Daily Office and how social media is changing my prayer life. Soon after, our church had a Vestry retreat, which I wrote in Reimaging Bread. This was a few days after I had heard about the turmoil at General Theological Seminary. I touched on social media and what was happening at General a little bit in that post.
It is worth noting that I heard about it on Facebook, when a friend wrote
I just want to put out there to my fellow Alums that my silence surrounding GTS has not been due to lack of care. I cannot even begin to express how much I care, how deeply I am lamenting, what kinds of thoughts are going around in my head from my oh-so-unique perspective. I have decided to adhere to silence as a discipline,… This week was the time for me to pray.
As a communications professional, I always come back to a couple key ideas, especially around crisis communications: Say as little as possible, and always return to the mission statement.
For me, in this crisis, the statement I applied was:
The mission of the church is to restore all people to unity with God and each other in Christ.” (Book of Common Prayer, pg. 855.)
I also feel that when thinking about social media, Psalm 19:14 is very important
Let the words of my mouth, and the meditation of my heart, be acceptable in thy sight, O LORD, my strength, and my redeemer.
I echoed these themes in an email I sent to a board member, who had posted something on Facebook that was being widely quoted, and appeared to be further enflaming the situation.
I feel compelled to reply. On the professional level, your response appears very unwise. When in a crisis, people involved should say as little as possible publicly, and when they do speak, they should always return to the mission. In this situation, I would return to “The mission of the church is to restore all people to unity with God and each other in Christ.” Was your post helping restore all people to unity with God and each other in Christ? Was it helpful in restoring the unity of the professors and board members? You may have intended it to be, but it does not appear that way to an outsider. I also always return to Psalm 19:14 “Let the words of my mouth, and the meditation of my heart, be acceptable in thy sight, O LORD, my strength, and my redeemer.”
Part of the response was
Please know, however, that I did not and would not have ever posted them without permission to do so.
I responded suggesting it was important to “understand that having permission to do something does not make it wise, caring, or Christ-centered”. I also spoke a little bit about the important
“difference between intention and impact, especially when it comes to communications about highly contentious issues.” My may have great intentions, but the impact may be different, even the polar opposite of our intentions.
At our Vestry meeting this week, we had a long discussion about what has happened at General, and how it relates to our Parish, to The Diocese, The Episcopal Church, The Anglican Communion, and to Christendom.
When I worked on Gov. Dean’s campaign, and on political and journalistic efforts online afterwards, the Internet was often compared to the printing press; it will bring about changes to all our institutions on the level of the days of Gutenberg.
What does this mean for religious institutions? Perhaps it would be better for Reformation scholars to comment on this. The printing press made it possible for every person to have access to a Bible. The internet gives every person access to their own pulpit.
What does this mean for church structure and reimagining the church in the 21st century? I’m not sure, but there are a few things of note.
Giving everyone access to a Bible does little if few people know how to read. Giving everyone access to a pulpit does little if few people can preach well.
We are all still learning how to communicate effectively online. I hope the experiences will cause people to look back to the mission statements and to Psalm 19 to find ways of proclaiming an ageless Gospel on new media.
The other day, I was talking with a friend about political campaigns and social media. He commented that all he was seeing in a specific candidate’s social media political posts was negativity. I see a lot of that as well and it struck me that perhaps what is needed is politicians who will post for 100 days, things they are grateful about.
There are less than 80 days left until this year’s election, so even doing it until election day would be a big thing. Such posts could reflect the values of the candidates in a much more beneficial manner.
The 100 days of gratitude, or sometimes 100 days of happiness is a popular challenge going around the internet right now, so making it 100 days of political gratitude isn’t a big stretch. Also, with the ice bucket challenge going around right now, social media challenges appear to be the thing, although I know some are beginning to weary of such challenges.
So, to all my friends running for office this year, are you up for a 100 Days of Political Gratitude challenge?
It may be that the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge is close to running its course. More and more, I see people criticizing it, asking not to be tagged, etc. A friend who runs a rescue farm wrote about not having time, ice or money, and I thought, we need a farm chore challenge. Muck out a stall, feed some horses, and share a video of it online, or contribute to an animal rescue.
It made me think of another challenge, which I’ve been trying to get a chance to write a few thoughts about for the past couple weeks, the 100 days of gratitude challenge. One such gratitude I might post is about being able to safely let my twelve year old run around outside after dark with friends screaming and laughing and having fun. Not everyone gets to do that. In fact, far too few people get to do that.
It made me think of my friends who have black kids and the talks they have to have with their kids.
Today, another friend posted, “I love that the ALS challenge is capturing attention, wish we could create a Michael Brown Challenge....” Many friends replied and I started to reply there, but I thought it might be better as a blog post.
The power of the Ice Bucket Challenge is that it is something lots of people can participate in and share virally. Many of us may be too cash strapped to be able to contribute to the ALS Association, but we can at least help share the message with a video. What might be a good simple thing many people could do to help spread the word about undoing racism?
Since I had just gotten home from church, my thoughts started off in that direction. The church I currently go to is very diverse. It is one of the things I love about my church. However, at other times, I’ve attended churches that are very homogenous.
I remember years ago, when I was in college, a friend of mine invited me to go to church with him. We walked along the road together, and a car pulled up and asked if he was going to church. He said he was and that I was coming with him. We both climbed in the car and headed off to church.
As we walked up the steps, Ronnie introduced me to many of his friends. One, an older woman, looked me over closely and said, “I’m surprised you want to come to church with us.” I looked at her, puzzled. “Really?” I asked. “Why?” She got all flustered and apologized and said maybe she shouldn’t have said anything. I looked around for a clue as to what that was all about, and it slowly occurred to me. I was the only white person there.
During the service, there was a time for guests to get up and introduce themselves. I felt awkward and insecure as the eyes of a hundred black churchgoers looked at the only white person in the congregation.
For me, a white person who was not accustomed to being in the minority, it was an enlightening experience. I wondered if that was how some of my black friends often felt.
My first thought was that the undoing racism challenge for white folks might be something like going to a setting where they experience being in a minority. Yet getting people to take pictures of that and share it online might be a challenge, limiting the potential to go viral.
Instead, what if we made it simpler. Post a picture of yourself hugging someone from a different race or ethnicity and challenging your friends to do the same, and then perhaps attending some sort of undoing racism training or contributing to an organization aimed at undoing racism.
I realize it isn’t much of an ask, and I can imagine some of my racist friends who talk about how even one of their best friends is black, might participate to convince themselves they aren’t racist, but it is small enough and simple enough to be doable.