Social Networks

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

Shaping Ava

Rabbit, Rabbit, Rabbit. Happy New Year! We perform our rituals, say our incantations in hopes that, somehow, this year will be better. For a day, we forget the quote attributed to Einstein, “Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results”, and make the same resolutions.

This year, I’ve been seeing a quote attributed to Mark Twain making the rounds, “New Year's Day--Now is the accepted time to make your regular annual good resolutions. Next week you can begin paving hell with them as usual.”

Last night, we had a YouTube Riff Off. This is a game we play where one person plays a song on YouTube, and the next person riff’s off of that tune, selecting some other tune the first tune made them think of. We go around and around as one tune leads to another and one mood gives way to the next. It is interesting to observe what emerges.

We started off with Auld Lang Syne and went to songs about children growing up, Cat’s Cradle, Circle Game. We went to the sending off phase of Black Parade and Carry on my Wayward son, to remembrances, in “Will you remember me”, “Box of Rain” and “Ode to Billie Joe” The Riff off culminated in a nod to religious coexistence in The Kennedys’ song Stand.

Perhaps it reflected some of the themes for the coming year, as Fiona potentially heads off to school and I explore more deeply my religious calling.

Afterwards, we watched “Ex Machina”. I’ve been interested in AI’s for a long time and remember a saying that AIs would end up looking like their creators. Back then, the folks working on AI were nerdy engineers. In Ex Machina, the guy creating the AI is a reclusive genius. The software for the AI is the large search engine he has created and made his fortunes off of.

It is an idea that has fascinated me for a long time. What if our search engines and social networks are the new AIs, or at least the source of information for these AIs about social behavior? Seem unlikely? It’s already happening.

IBM's new Insights service harvests data from millions of tweets and uses Watson to analyze them for sentiment and behavior

IBM'S Watson Can Figure Out A Lot About You—Just By Looking At Your Social Media

IBM Is Using Watson To Psychoanalyze People From Their Tweets

Matters Of The Mind: Mass. Computer Scientist Creates Technology To Read Emotions

So, are we now just pawns, nodes in some giant AI? Are the results of the 2016 U.S. Presidential campaign already predetermined? Does it matter who gets elected anyway? Are we just amplifying echoes in the social media echo chamber when we like or share messages about Trump, Bernie, or Hillary?

Can we shape Ava? If so, how?

It seems easy to be discouraged when you look at all the issues our country and our world faces. Will what I write help shift the direction of climate change? Will what I write help bring an end to oppression; to racism or sexism?

I chose to remain optimistic. I think Robert Kennedy’s quote provides some insight.

Each time a man stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope, and crossing each other from a million different centers of energy and daring those ripples build a current which can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance.

Here, we could go off into a long discussion about whether sharing posts that reflect our political or religious views counts as standing up for an ideal. We could talk about slacktivism and whether we are just going back to paving the road to hell. Yet that, too, most likely leads to hopelessness and inaction.

Instead, I think David Foster Wallace presents a more useful way of looking at it in his commencement speech, This Is Water

The really important kind of freedom involves attention, and awareness, and discipline, and effort, and being able truly to care about other people and to sacrifice for them, over and over, in myriad petty little unsexy ways, every day. That is real freedom. The alternative is unconsciousness, the default-setting, the “rat race” — the constant gnawing sense of having had and lost some infinite thing.

Perhaps this is the real challenge, for the new year, for each day, in shaping Ava, to challenge the default settings, to pay attention, to be aware, not only to the trending topics on Facebook or Twitter, but to the simple things around us, the beauty of the squirrel running in the woods, probably the same squirrel that has been raiding your bird feeder, the common humanity of the homeless guy you see on the street.

Happy New Year.

What’s in Your Thanksgiving Feed?

This morning I’ve been thinking about what is in my Facebook News Feed. How much would people be thankful? How much would they be making political statements about Thanksgiving? How much would other politics be part of the mix?

So, I coded the top fifty status updates. Here’s what I came up with: Twenty were about Thanksgiving. Thirteen of those had some sort of added message, often about feeding the poor or welcoming refugees. Included in the Thanksgiving posts were the requisite posts about Black Friday and Alice’s Restaurant.

Eleven were political statements of one sort or another. Comments related to the unrest in Chicago was most common, followed by comments about Trump (all negative), and Obama (mixed). Six were advertisements.

Five were about the world of entertainment, and eight were about other stuff, including a post about cats, a post about religion, and random other things.

It’s interesting to think about this as we spend a day being thankful, and perhaps bring a little more gratitude and a little less negatively to Facebook.

So, what’s in your feed?

The Roads to #DigiWriMo

For the past several years during the month of November, I’ve often participated in National Novel Writing Month. #NaNoWriMo. Over the years I’ve completed two first drafts of novels, and worked on several others. I’ve written the 1,666 words a day to get to 50,000 words for the month. I’ve had friends act as readers of draft, and gotten feedback from them.

It has been a valuable writing exercise, and I enjoyed meeting some of the other #NaNoWri participants and write-ins and dinners, but I’ve never gone back and edited the novels, sought to publish them, or shared them with a wider audience.

In January of this year, I participated in a couple of MOOCs. One was on the poetry of Walt Whitman. It was part of a series, and I later participated in one on Emily Dickinson. They would good courses, but I felt even more disconnected from the participants than I did with #NaNoWriMo.

I also took a course on using Moodles to set up a MOOC. It was very helpful on the technology side; how to configure and administer a MOOC. The community was much more vibrant, and while it wasn’t a focus of the course, we did drift into discussions of pedagogy. It was there that I learned about connectivism, which led me to participate in another MOOC, a different sort of MOOC, a connectivistic MOOC called #Rhizo15.

It was great, and I remain connected with the people I met through that event. There was talk about wandering in that course and I brought in my poetry to it. This brings me to the title of this post, The Roads to #DigiWriMo. It isn’t one path. It is a bunch of paths intertwined.

So let me return to the poetry path for a moment. I decided to make writing a poem a day my 2015 Lenten discipline. It went well, and some of the poems aren’t all that bad. I joined up with a group of Episcopalian poets and met with them from time to time. Through them, I learned that Yale Divinity School was having a conference on poetry and I attended.

It was a deep religious experience for me that has brought back into my consideration a path I had looked at years ago, but not wandered down, the path to possible ordination as a priest. I have met with my priest. We have met with my bishop, and my priest is setting up a discernment committee to explore this path more fully with me. I’ve thought it would be interesting to have a parallel, online discernment group. I set up one part of it on Facebook, and I expect this will intertwine with my #DigiWriMo explorations.

One of the speakers at the Yale Conference was Christian Wiman. I’ve been reading his book, My Bright Abyss. In it, I found a wonderful quote, “existence is not a puzzle to be solved, but a narrative to be inherited and undergone and transformed person by person”. Mixing the ‘journey’ metaphor with the ‘narrative’ metaphor, it seems like this quote is the starting point, the first mile marker on my #DigiWriMo journey.

I am looking forward to mixing a bit of poetry, novel writing, technology, and explorations into pedagogy and my spiritual journey together with what others are posting in #DigiWriMo. I hope you’ll join me and hang on for the ride!

#sms15 Social Media, Outreach, Stewardship, and St. Crispin's Day

Today was Social Media Sunday, yet I didn’t get a chance to post from church. It was St. Crispin’s Day, and I shared about that from Facebook in the afternoon. It was our turn to host participate in Chapel on the Green, and between services I helped make sandwiches. It was also my turn to speak to the church as part of the stewardship drive. Below are my comments as I prepared them.

We believe in One God, the Father Almighty, Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name. Most merciful Lord, we confess that we have sinned against you, in thought, word and deed. All things come of thee oh Lord and of thine own, with gratitude, have we given thee. These words wash over us on Sundays and I want to take a moment to think about some of them.

All things come of thee oh Lord, and of thine own, with gratitude, have we given thee.

I think of this during those long vestry meetings when we struggle over the budget. All things, the pledges and the expenses come ultimately from God. I often mention Psalm 127 at these times, “Unless the Lord builds the house, those who build it labor in vain.” The Lord is building something special here at Grace and St. Peter’s.

Years ago, I served on the vestry of a church that had no endowment, or rather, as our Priest would say, our endowment was the members of the Church. Coming up with a workable budget was hard, but we did it.

I was an IT executive on Wall Street at the time, making a lot of money and pledging generously, I thought, to the church. My wife of the time ran the Sunday School program. We had two daughters, as beautiful as Job’s.

All things come of thee oh Lord….

If I were preaching a prosperity gospel, I would stop right here, but that’s not how the story really goes. My wife told me she wanted a divorce. I suffered greatly and was hospitalized. I met Kim as I tried to put my life back together, but it was still difficult. Kim’s mother died. I lost my job. We lost our house and went bankrupt. Kim got Lyme disease and we drifted from church to church. There was a lot of brokenness.

All things come of thee oh Lord…

I can’t pretend to make sense out of what happened. If I was stuck with a prosperity gospel, I would have ended up stuck with a crisis of faith, or worse. Where did the prosperity go? But that’s not how the story goes either. People from church, from the various churches I’ve attended along the way were there to help. Maybe a meal, or a place to stay, or sometimes just a smile, always showing God’s Love.

All things come of thee oh Lord …

When I think of giving back to the church, I also sometimes think of Matthew 25: "And the King will say, 'I tell you the truth, when you did it to one of the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were doing it to me!'

… and of thine own, with gratitude, have we given thee.

To each of you who have given so much to me, and to our family, a word of encouragement, a smile, a hug, a meal: thank you.

There have been times, when the money was tight, that we couldn’t make a financial pledge. There were times that it was a struggle even to sing, or to smile, but ultimately what I can give back, what has been given to all of us, by God, is love, and the financial pledges, all the other stuff we give back is but a manifestation of God’s love.

So, I ask you, as you fill out your pledge forms, pledge your prosperity, pledge your brokenness, but most importantly, pledge the Love God has given you.

All things come of thee oh lord, and of thine own, with gratitude, have we given thee.

Thank you.

Social Media and Leadership

Today, I spent the day at the Connecticut Health Foundation’s All Fellows Retreat. As always, it was a source of plenty food for thought. At a previous fellow gathering, I learned about the conscious competency learning model. In this model, we start off as being unconscious of our incompetence in a particular area. The first part of learning is discovering our incompetence, becoming consciously incompetent. We then develop competence becoming consciously competent. We continue using the skill until it becomes second nature. At this point, we cease being conscious of using the skill, and we become unconsciously competent.

The original context I learned this in was in being culturally competent. When dealing with people from a different background, how often do we end up saying something unhelpful or unkind, without even knowing it? We might be offended or defensive when someone brings it to our attention, but hopefully, we start working on becoming more competent in our cultural communications.

I thought about this today, as I drove up to the All Fellow Retreat in another context: How does the competency model apply to social media? How many of us have gotten to the point where using social media is second nature to us? Do we remember when we struggled over whether or not to post certain things?

Today, we talked about three aspects of the actions of individuals, teams, and organizations: Robust, Relevant, and Relations. Many organizations get stuck with robust activities. They may be really good at doing something, but how relevant is that to the organization? From a social media perspective, this is like looking at how many followers you have, or how many hits your webpage gets. (Remember the old definition of HITS? How Idiots Track Success). This gets to the relevant part. If you have a lot of followers, a lot of traffic to your website, even a lot of likes or comments, if it isn’t helping you achieve your organizations mission, if it isn’t relevant, does it really matter?

The sweet spot comes when you add in relationships. During the discussion today, one person mentioned a coworker who always showed pictures of her kids. The person at the retreat spoke about learning that if she wanted to motivate and engage that worker, starting the discussion around kids seemed most effective. I think this captures some of my frequent comments about tweeting about breakfast. It is part of building the relationship that gets other people engaged.

I hesitate posting this, for fear of sounding too much like too many ‘social media experts’ posting their thoughts about how to do social media. Yet I’ve decided to share it, hoping it will resonate with some people and perhaps generate further thought.

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