Social Networks

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

Rethinking the Borg

Yesterday, I stumbled across an interesting article, A Brain-to-Brain Interface for Real-Time Sharing of Sensorimotor Information. It goes into detail about how a sensor was connected to one rat's brain, and the experiences were transmitted, over the internet, to another rat who learned from the experiences of the first rat.

My science fiction enthusiastic brain went wild thinking about the possibilities. While the starting point is with sensorimotor information, I wondered what else could be transmitted. While the starting point was rats, I wondered what could be done with humans, or even, interspecies communications. What would it be like to experience the sensorimotor feelings of a horse galloping? Could this information be stored and played at a later time, perhaps as an educational tool? Could I become a better pianist or guitarist by playing back sensorimotor recordings of great performers? Could this be added to albums, so I could not only listen to a great performance, but experience the sensory feelings of the performer during the performance?

And what about the use in dealing with conditions like Parkinson's disease or Essential Tremors: Could a researcher gain insight by playing back the sensorimotor recording of a person with these conditions? Could playing back the sensorimotor recordings of healthy people provide some sort of therapy for people with these conditions?

All of this, of course, is precursor to The Borg. What happens as people become more connected to a collective mind? The borg is portrayed negatively in terms of force assimilation, yet our society has always been based on collective experiences and action. The struggle between individual experience and collective experience is an age old struggle.

Last night, I went to see The Indigo Girls in concert in Northampton with my daughter who started her college career in Virginia. It was striking to think about the collective experience of young women around Northampton and how it compared with the collective experience of some of my daughter's classmates from the south. I wondered how many of my daughter's classmates sought to flee their southern collectives, not for more individuality, per se, but to join a collective that was more tolerant, more embracing of their individual experiences.

I remember, many years ago, gathering around a campfire, to sing songs. Singing around campfires is one of the earliest ways in which experiences were shared, in which the collective spread its common ideas. Yet even two decades ago, around the campfire, different modes of collective engagement were creeping in. Many of the songs we knew, we had learned on the radio, and not around previous campfires. The campfire itself, was most likely started using the remains of another way of sharing collective information, used newspapers. We shared our experiences from around the campfire when we returned to our homes and spoke with friends.

Last night, the individuals who had this shared experience had gained collective information other ways. They had listened to music online, perhaps sharing it online. The newspapers were largely replaced by sharing of news online. Perhaps the most striking change was the way the collective experience of the concert was shared. During the concert, people texted their friends. They called friends from their cellphones so their friends could listen in, or to leave a brief recording of the experience on their friends voicemail. Photographs and videos were taken, and I imagine, shared via social media.

As far as I know, no one had implements allowing them to have the same sensorimotor experiences as Amy Ray or Emily Saliers, yet this omission did not seem to lesson the very strong bond between the audience and the performers.

Progress marches onward and some day, perhaps, we will look back at how we have shared common experiences via pictures, sound recordings or the written word, as being as quaint as the gathering around the campfire many generations before. Yet we would do well to remember the words of John Donne, "No man is an island" and that each one of us should say, "For I am involved in mankind".

Does Your Church Have a Social Media Calling?

For years, I've been trying to get church leaders to adopt social media with mixed success. I've spent a lot of time thinking about the responses and recently got into another discussion about churches and social media. One person asked, "What will help you make the case to leadership who doesn't think social media is necessary at all?"

As I thought about it, I had to ask myself, is social media really necessary for a church? Whenever I speak with people about their desire to use social media, I try to get people to focus on how it relates to their mission. Too often, in the business or nonprofit world, people want to use social media because other people are using it.

This attitude was reflected in some of the responses, "Everyone does it why not us!!", "Social Media is Everywhere!" One person went so far as to jokingly (I assume), suggest a coup to replace leaders that don't embrace social media, and others echoed the suggestion.

I responded, "Perhaps, if a case needs to be made for a church to use social media, it isn't the right time for the church to use it." This was not well received by these social media evangelists.

A response I got was, "Congregation has to want to grow, reach out, spread the gospel." I noted that congregations have grown for two millennia without the use of online social media. I'm not sure that the desire to grow requires a desire to use social media, and I recognize that there are ways besides reaching out and spreading the Gospel that churches may find as more important missions.

I followed up with the question, "Should a Church feel *called* to use social media?" When you think about a church's mission, its calling, some seem to be called more towards worship, towards fellowship, towards outreach, towards caring for the needy. The decision about if and how to use social media needs to be tied to the specific goals of a church. Using social media as outreach is very different from using it as a form of worship, education, or ministry to the needy.

One person responded, "Does a church feel called to use a telephone? Or does it just do it? " To the extent that social media is simply another method of one person casually contacting another person, then that response might make sense, but if it is part of a larger mission, part of a ministry, it might require a little more thought.

Following the casual approach to social media, another person responded, "Social media is just another tool for evangelization and other forms of ministry". If that is all that it is to these people, perhaps they should just stay with using it themselves and not try to pressure people less comfortable with the specific tools of social media to use them. Each person should use the tool they are most comfortable with. Are all members tweeters? Are all members phone bankers? There are many gifts, yet one body. Yet I think there is something more to social media than just that.

I tried to reflect this in my comment about how "Churches need to discern which tools will work best for them." It ties back to mission. Using social media may be very useful in reaching certain audiences, but if you're really focusing on prisoners or people in nursing homes, it might not prove all that useful.

I write all of this as I prepare to head off to choir. I need to determine how my time will best be used. Will it be on Twitter or will it be in the choir loft? What is the right mix?

It leads me back to a favorite psalm of mine, Psalm 127. Paraphrasing it for the discussion, "Unless the LORD builds the website, the builders labor in vain…. In vain you rise early and stay up late, tweeting, for HE grants sleep to those HE loves sleep"

Folks in the discussion acknowledged that social media is time consuming, and suggested not mentioning that to church leaders, but I do believe we need to be good stewards of the time that the LORD has given us.

So, I offer this up to others as they think about if and how their church should use social media, or if there church really does have a social media calling.

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Thinking About Conversations.

This afternoon, I read a blog post by David Weinberg, Are all good conversations echo chambers?. He was discussing a blog post by Bora Zivkovic, Commenting threads: good, bad, or not at all. They are both very good blog posts, well worth the read.

David spends a bit of time at the end of his post talking about theories of communication. In particular, David says

I presume that such a theory would include the notion... that conversations have aims, and that when a conversation is open to the entire world … those aims should be explicitly stated

When I talk to people about social media, I often talk about the aim. When doing social media for an organization, it is important to stay on task and make sure that the communications are inline with the organizations mission. Another key aspect to talk about is audience. Who are you communicating with? This includes understanding the motivations and abilities of your interlocutors.

On the other hand, I often talk about social media as a conversation at a party, or perhaps even at the office. It is one of the reasons I like tweets about what people had for breakfast. When I run into a friend, whether it be at work, at a conference, or wherever, I don't start off immediately with the topic I want to discuss. If I see David tomorrow, I'll probably start off by talking about how it's been a long time since I've seen him. Ask how things are going, maybe tell him a little bit about what has been going on in my life, before getting around to discussing his latest blog post.

Now you could say that part of the aim of such repartee is to strengthen rapport be the the participants. That is an aim of the beginning of a conversation. Yet it illustrates that the aim of a conversation may be very broad based and fluid.

Likewise, what is the aim of discussions around the dinner table? At the Hynes household discussions can be very wide-ranging. The aim of the discussions are perhaps primarily about having fun and enjoying one another's company. But there can be subservient aims, like learning something new or stimulating creativity.

I think this may fit into the research that Bora is writing about. The tone of the discussion in comments communicates the emerging aim of the comments. It may be for the sheer joy of flaming or troll baiting. It may be for the joy of learning something new or sparking creativity. Depending on how the comments are approached, the emerging aim may end up being closely in line with the aim of the person who wrote the blog post or vastly divergent.

With this, I want to come back to David's concern about echo chambers. It is why I've been talking about the roles of learning and creativity. Echo chambers seem to reinforce already established views as opposed to being an opportunity for learning or creativity. I'm not sure I know exactly what produces creativity, but it has always seemed to come from when very different ideas collide. We have some wonderful collisions like this around the dinner table, but I've rarely seen such collisions in echo chambers.

Will these ideas collide with those of David or Bora in any interesting way? That would be wonderful. If not, the simple joy of reconnecting virtually with some old friends might be a sufficient aim.

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The Second Screen

I don't watch a lot of television. If I do watch television, it is likely to be something on the Roku, most likely something from Netflix. I haven't yet watched 'House of Cards' on Netflix, but I'm hearing good stuff about it. It is interesting to see changes in who is producing video content.

When I do watch television, I like to do it as a social event and I've tweeted about various shows for years. Now, there are a growing number of 'second screen' apps and websites. I installed Zeebox on my phone quite a while ago, but have never ended up using it. Today, I tried to use it during the Animal Planet Puppy Bowl, but without any success.

The other day, I got an invitation to Tweet.TV Initially, I didn't find Animal Planet, but that was because it had me defaulting to some television system in Pennsylvania. When I configured it to my local cable company, Animal planet came up and I started tweeting about Puppy Bowl.

Tweet.TV has gamification. You score points for connecting, tweeting, etc. You can use these points to pick up deals or freebies, similar to Klout Perks. So far, none of the perks have really caught my attention.

So, as we approach the big game, we'll see what social media tools I'll use for my second screen. What are you using as a second screen during the big game?

Understanding Social Media

It's been about half a century since Marshall McLuhan published Understanding Media and a lot has changed since then. The need to understand media, and especially social media, has grown considerably since then.

As the Social Media Manager for a non-profit health care organization, I often speak at conferences about social media. Besides my role in non-profits, I also talk about social media from the perspective of a politician and a citizen journalist.

Recently, I spoke about how I like to use social media when I'm at conferences. Typically, I try to take notes at the conference using Twitter. I need to refine the thought down to less than 140 characters. Sometimes, this can be a challenge. Sometimes, people might not get what I'm tweeting, without the context of the surrounding tweets. People need to learn more about context, especially for tweets, where additional context can often be found in the hashtags used in the tweets.

When I mentioned this at one event I was at, people said they felt uncomfortable doing that because others might think they were busy doing things online and not paying attention. As a social media manager, I don't often run into that problem, but it is a common misconception.

Just because a person is writing something on their computer, perhaps via Facebook or Twitter, doesn't mean they aren't paying attention. If they are using social media as a means of taking and sharing notes, they may be paying much more attention than others who are just sitting casually at the meeting.

Another aspect of social media note taking is that it is conversational. It is like being able to take notes and see other people's notes at the same time. It can produce brief interchanges that further enhance the understanding of the topic being discussed. I recently ran into this as I was taking notes via social media of the hearings in Hartford about Newtown.

State Senator Beth Bye posted about a nuanced statement from DMHAS Commissioner Patricia Rehmer about outpatient commitment and forced medication. A few different people commented on different aspects of this and I believe everyone came out better informed as a result.

Yet this style of note taking and communications may be unfamiliar to some. Some people may have a mistaken impression that Facebook is just for games or talking about parties. What is worse, some people may try to capitalize on this misimpression to cast aspersions on others. This is perhaps most likely by those who do not want a serious discussion about the issues our country faces and simply want to force their opinions on others.

Such people may, in fact, use social media to distort, and to try to get traditional media sources to spread the distortion.

This appears to be the case of opponents of gun control legislation that Sen. Bye has introduced. Perhaps it backfired on them because the broadcast that NBC had showed a gun control opponent who was not at the hearing criticizing Sen. Bye for being at the hearing and using Facebook to communicate with constituents about the hearing. It helped paint the gun control opponents as uninformed. Fortunately for those opposing gun control, NBC ended their segment with a gun control opponent who was at the hearing and who lauded Sen. Bye for her efforts to keep people informed.

Over the coming years, I expect to see more and more legislators using social media to communicate with the constituents, especially during hearings. Sen. Bye and several other Connecticut legislators provide a good example of how this can be done to improve civil discourse. Of course, during this time, there are bound to be more issues like this one and we all need to spend more time understanding social media.

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