Social Networks

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

#rhizo15 A Primary Task?

Last night, in the #rhizo15 Facebook page, a participant spoke about looking for ways to benchmark her participating in #rhizo15. It feels to me like part of what is being asked is, if I don’t know where I’m going, how do I know if I get there, or if the trip was worth it? It is a serious question, but it doesn’t feel like it applies to me.

One reaction I have is from the poets. Robert Louis Stevenson said, “To travel hopefully is a better thing than to arrive”. T.S. Eliot put it this way:

We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.

Yet I understand this may not resonate for everyone, so I’ll also look at this from another angle, the experiential learning of group relationship conferences. Of course a great starting point for this is the quote from Aristotle, "for the things we have to learn before we can do them, we learn by doing them”.

I’m especially interested in the journey rather than the destination, and learning about the process of learning by learning. I’m not sure what the #rhizo15 experience will be like, but I’m currently looking at it from a perspective of a group relations conference.

Group relations conferences usually have a “primary task”. Here are a couple examples:

The primary task of this learning organization is to study the development and exercise of authority, leadership, power and justice, in the context of change, through the inter-personal and inter-group relations that develop within the workshop as an organization. Unlike traditional learning systems, there are no lectures, panels or power point presentations. Instead, the workshop is based on reflection-in-action; learning focuses on our experiences and interactions with each other in real time.

And another:

The primary task of the conference is to explore, experience and learn from the development and management of roles and systems: to experience leadership, authority, integration processes, self-management in role, diversity and psychodynamic processes in organisations. This goal can be reached by allowing yourself and others to experience the conference, to communicate these experiences and to ex-amine their meaning in order to learn.

Lasts I checked, the Facebook post had about sixty responses. There’s a lot of grist for the mill there. What is it about uncertainty in learning that produces such a response? Is anxiety part of this? Anxiety about what? That you won’t fit in? That you’ll say something stupid? That you’ll end up eating crow? That you’ll end up wasting some of your time? What are our anxieties about #rhizo15? What are our anxieties about other people being anxious? What are our responses to these anxieties? What can we learn from these responses?

So, what might a primary task of #rhizo15 be? Pulling a little bit from the two statements above, and what I’m picking up here and there in various blog posts, tweets, and Facebook posts, I come up with something like:

The primary task of this learning organization is to explore, experience and learn from the development of learning networks, content, and the use of technology in promoting online learning.

What do you think?

#rhizo15 Comment Response

The #rhizo15 conversation is taking off, including a post on Facebook about the use of Minecraft to help autistic students. One of my responses was fairly long, and I'm presenting it in whole here. It lacks some of the context, but illustrates, I believe, some of the thoughts I feel are important in the discussion.

Scott - I find my thoughts line up fairly nicely with what Lyn is saying (or at least what I'm hearing of it). From my background in computers and artificial neural networks, tied together with my interest in group dynamics, I view a network, in and of itself, as inert, and not particularly powerful or significant. It there is interaction on the network, collaboration, then it becomes an interesting topic.

Once there is interaction, there are pressures placed on all the participants, very much along the lines of group relations that Wilfred Bion talks about. These pressures, a conflict between who we think we are or want to be, and what the network wants us to be is a key area of learning.

What is interesting about online networks, and especially virtual worlds, from MOOs to Second Life to Minecraft, is that we have an opportunity to explore different ways of presenting. It starts from the old saying, “On the Internet, no one knows you’re a dog”. In the mid 90s, I saw a lot of people exploring gender identity online: males who would present as females and vice versa, people who would choose non-binary gender identities, and people who would change identities at a moment’s notice. When I moved to Second Life, I ran into many members of the disabled community presenting themselves as temporarily able bodied. To me, all of this answers clearly your question about virtual worlds allowing subjectivity to flourish.

There is another component, which I suspect is important in Lyn’s work. She talks about autcraft as being a closed server creating a safe space with no bullying. I’ve seen plenty of online bullying in virtual worlds, dating back to the infamous Rape in Cyberspace in LambdMOO in the early 90s. Yet it is possible to create safe spaces where members of the network are given even more opportunity to explore subjectivity, and it sounds like autcraft is a good example of this.

I’m sorry to hear that you are running into people outside of Rhizo that you find are being disrespectful to you. It is a factor that needs to be considered carefully with any network someone joins. I hope this clarifies some of my thoughts in response to your and Lyn’s comments.

#rhizo15 Part 1 – Uncertain Learning Subjectives

Today, #rhizo15 starts. It is tempting to put it into some nice sort of box, with learning objectives about learning how to better create online courses, but that seems incomplete or misleading. Learning Subjectives – designing for when you don’t know where you’re going provides a better starting point.

The idea of jumping off into the unknown has long been appealing to me. It is part of the reason I like unconferences, like the upcoming Podcamp Western Mass. Get together with a bunch of bright people around an interesting topic and see what happens.

So, what do I hope to get out of #rhizo15? I’m not sure, but I find a good starting point to be a paper presented at the 1999 International Society for the Psychoanalytic Study of Organizations (ISPSO), Our Best Work Happens When We Don't Know What We're Doing.

In keeping with our own thinking and with the specific context of our own work, our version of Bion's assumption about the effects of exposure to truth is that learning comes from working at the edge between knowing and not-knowing. The core activity linking our organizational research, consultancy, management and teaching - namely, 'learning', or 'growth of mind' - involves exposure to truth-in-the-moment. This depends on the capacity to stay at the edge between knowing and not-knowing.

This also provide a good opportunity to introduce myself to people finding this post through #rhizo15, or for that matter, to people who have become readers of my blog over the years, without having a good sense of where I am coming from.

For the context of #rhizo15, I will highlight some areas I hope to explore, and skip over other areas which are less important. I’ve been on the Internet since 1982. If you know where to look, you can find stuff I wrote online in 1982 which is still online today. I worked for a while on Wall Street, which is where I came in contact with organizational consultants, including ISPSO and the work of Wilfred Bion in Group Relations. I’m particularly interested in how various thoughts about objects, fit together in various psychoanalytic traditions include Freud, Klein, Winnicott, Bion, and Lacan. I’ve participated in various online experiential learning based groups centered around the work of Bion in the past. This may be a blog post or two of its own.

During my years on Wall Street, I also did a little bit on artificial neural networks. I’m particularly interested in the relationship between artificial neural networks, social networks, how this relates to group dynamics, rhizomes, and for that matter the singularity This may be another blog post of its own.

In 2003, I helped write some of the social media software for Gov. Dean’s presidential campaign. I later worked in technology and social media for other campaigns, and have run for office myself. How does or could rhizomic learning and MOOCs relate to politics and governance? Another fun topic to explore in a later blog post.

I was the first person in Connecticut, according to reports I’ve seen online, to be on Twitter, and have I was one of the first people with Google Glass in Connecticut. I’ve been an early adopter and been involved with research on many innovations in computer mediated communications. I’m not sure what else I have to say on these topics, but there may be another blog post in all of this as well.

These days, I work as a social media manager for a nonprofit health care agency focused on providing primary care with a special focus on underserved populations. I have set up a Moodle for the agency and have recently taken a MOOC on teaching with Moodle, I may have written about this some in the past, and I’m not sure if there is another blog post in this topic.

And finally, at least for this evening, I’m currently taking a MOOC from Harvard on the poetry of Emily Dickinson. I had taken their MOOC on Walt Whitman a while ago. I’ve taken to sharing more of my poetic attempts online. Originally, I moved to New York City after college to be a poet, but that never panned out. I’m also focused on my religious viewpoints, which are perhaps best described as a socially liberal mix of Anglicanism with a splash of reformed theology.

Where will all of this go? It will be interesting to see.

Trending: The Evolving Inter-Neural-Network of the Technological Singularity

“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.

IBM's Watson Memorized the Entire 'Urban Dictionary,' Then His Overlords Had to Delete It.

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…

Before DeanSpace, there was …

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
CC liscenses).

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?

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