Thriving Online with Howard Rheingold - Episode 13
Thriving Online with Howard Rheingold
Marc, Scott, and Randy interview Howard Rheingold - critic, writer, and teacher; his specialties are on the cultural, social and political implications of modern communication media such as the Internet, mobile telephony and virtual communities.
- Aja Bogdanoff, manager of TED Convserations kicks us off this episode.
- Randy announces his new whitepaper Five Questions for Selecting an Online Community Platform
- Marc is co-author of a new report from Pew: Six kinds of social media networks in Twitter
- Net Smart: How to Thrive Online is the most recent of the many books Howard has written on emerging media.
- Crap Detection 101 (video) points to his Master Class
- How to cultivate a personal learning network
- (Video Webinar) Social Media and Peer Learning: From Mediated Pedagogy to Peeragogy
Aja: Hello this is Aja Bogdanoff, the online community manager at TED.com and you are listening to the social media clarity podcast.
Randy: Welcome to the social media clarity podcast. I’m Randy Farmer.
Scott: I’m Scott Moore.
Marc: I’m Marc Smith.
Howard: I’m Howard Rheingold.
Randy: This week’s news is that Marc and I both have new papers out. Mine is a new white paper entitled Five Questions for Selecting an Online Community Platform. There’s a link to get the PDF in the show notes. While there are numerous books, blogs and white papers out there to help community managers grow and manager their communities, there’s no true guide to how to pick the right infrastructure for your community, especially when you’ve never done it before. Ning.com asked me to help them put together a platform-agnostic guide to making the right choice in a complicated marketplace with competing claims and features. It is truly the first guide of its kind and we’re happy to share it with you. It’s 19 pages long, but don’t worry, much of that is call-outs and workbook formatting to make it easy to go through the process. If you like your insight in smaller chunks the paper will also be serialized over the coming weeks on the Cultivating Community blog, so you might want to subscribe.
Marc: My news this week, our new report run the pew research internet project and the social media research foundation. The report is entitled Mapping Twitter Topic Networks from Polarized Crowds to Community Clusters. In the report we show six different types of social media network patterns that are distinct and commonly found in social media platforms like Twitter. I invite other people to take a look at the report at pewinternet.org. I hope you’ll find it useful.
Randy: Today we interview Howard Rheingold, critic, writer and teacher specializing in the cultural, social and political implications of modern communications media such as the internet, mobile and virtual communities. He’s the author of several books, including: Tools for Thought, The Virtual Community, Smart Mobs and Net Smart.
Marc: Howard, in your classes what kinds of issues are coming up as most present.
Howard: Well the issues of identity are big for young people and it’s interesting at the rate at which they’re attitudes are mutating. As I was in the classroom at Stanford when Facebook was on I think Harvard, Princeton and Stanford. It was very new and it was a radical shift for students in order to know who each other are you can pretty much stalk everybody in your classroom instantaneously. That was never really available before and I was there four years later when the first graduates who had been using Facebook thoughout their Stanford career, were faced by the prospect of not getting into graduate school or not getting the job they wanted because of their drunken Facebook photos. That issue first arose during that first class who had been through four years of Facebook and it has not gone away.
How do we conduct this kind of impression management online? To what degree do we have control over what people think of us? To what degree has the media rested a lot of that control away from us? What are we going to do about it?
I’ll have to say that I’m seeing the shift in enthusiasms that more and more students are more and more critical of the role of social media in their lives and particularly Facebook. It very rapidly became necessary to be on Facebook. You really weren’t a college student unless you were on Facebook. Now I’m seeing more and more students who are deleting their Facebook accounts or they do what they started to do when they were in high school which is they will shut down their Facebook account when they’re not on Facebook. We’re seeing strategies emerging from students who aren’t particularly getting these from college classrooms, but we’re seeing these issues emerge when we’re having discussions about what social media mean. I think that we’re seeing a if not a maturing, a broadening of the interests of young people about what social media is doing to them.
Marc: We’ve been talking a lot about how even if you tried to selectively share, which may be one of the requirements to create community, the sense that there’s stuff inside the boundary that isn’t going to be outside the boundary. That very capacity in information technology may be eroding, that it’s not possible anymore to selectively share because we know that all forms of privacy can be eroded.
Howard: We are already in a world of collision that if you call in sick your boss better not see you Instagramming your pics from the ski slopes. We used to be able to create boundaries between our work life and our home life or the life our kids see of us and the life that our adult friends see of us. With all of this self-reporting and the ability to aggregate it we are enabling people to know what we’re doing all the time and we don’t really have any kind of institutional or informal social means of educating people about the choices that the technologies that are available confront us with.
I’m very interesting in norms and social behavior and learning in regards to the social collisions that are caused by the entrance of this ubiquitous surveillance technology into our social lives.
I think all of us were among the very few people who were concerned about where surveillance technology, data-veillance technology was going 15 years ago or more. Nobody really cared. There was not really any citizen response to those who warned where things were going. I think it’s too late to do anything about the technology and it’s probably too late to do anything about the political regulation of technology. We’re seeing that play out with the NSA revelations and the response to it, but what we do have control over is what we know and how we behave.
I wrote my book Net Smart: How to Thrive Online, published in 2012 precisely because we’ve got a huge population of a couple of billion people have internet access and only a tiny of fraction of them are really aware of the ramifications of their behavior. Why don’t we start with enabling people to understand what it means when they share and what control they have over it and the ways in which they do have some agency over shaping the way they appear to others? This is not the first time that we’ve had a lag between the disruptive effect of a new communication medium and the norms and mechanisms that arise to deal with that. We’ve had writing and the printing press and the telephone before. I think that this is something different. It’s much larger. It’s much more powerful. It’s happening much more rapidly, but I think the same issue applies which is that there’s a period between when the technology enables all kinds of new enterprises, new behaviors, new social and political arrangements and the spread of a literacy about how to do it.
But Marc, do you remember we were talking in 2000 about the way that the intersection of the mobile device, the internet and the PC were lowering barriers to collective action and we were seeing signals like the texting revolution in the Philippines and the activists using online media to coordinate in real-time during the World Trade Organization demonstrations in Seattle in 1999. It took 10 years for the Egyptian activists to use Facebook and YouTube and Twitter. Why? I think primarily it had to do with the spread of the literacy about how to do that. These things are happening very, very rapidly and I think some people are not keeping up, some people are rejecting and some people are beginning to create social boundaries.
Norms and etiquette are culturally related. Maybe we’ll see the Chinese and the Japanese and the Indonesians and the North Americans and the Brazilians evolving different norms or maybe we’re seeing global culture in which what we now consider to be rude won’t be considered rude by anybody in the future. We don’t really know.
Randy: Thank you for talking to us today Howard. It’s been a real pleasure.
Howard: It’s been fun for me as well.
Scott: Yes thanks Howard.
Marc: Thanks Howard.
Ramdy: I’ve watched your promotional video for Net Smart and it promised concrete advice about how to navigate social media successfully instead of just being afraid of it. I’d like to ask, do you have some specific advice that you could share as a tip for our listeners?
Howard: Well there are a number of tips. Some of them I think are pretty simple, nevertheless a lot of people could benefit by paying attention to them.
I’ll start with what I think is the most important and perhaps the simplest which is what I call crap detection. We live in an age where you can get the answer to any question; you can get it pretty much anywhere. You can get many answers to any question and you can do it within a second or two, but now it’s up to you, the person who asked the question to figure out which of those answers is accurate, which of them is misinformation, bad information or disinformation. One really simple thing that I taught my daughter, look for an author and if you find an author search on that author’s name and see what other people have to say about that author. You can’t trust everything that everybody says about someone, but it’s usually pretty revealing particularly when you’re looking up a claim of scientific or scholarly information or in medical information.
I think another thing is to think about the personal learning that we now have the ability to put together collections of information sources and pay attention to people, to learn about just about anything we want to learn in ways that never were possible before. If you are interested in learning digital video or any other expertise or any other field, you can go on to Twitter, you could do a little search and you could find some people who know what they’re talking about. Follow them and you could find out who they are following and follow those people and you could make a list of experts in that field.
That brings up the issue of social capital. You know that kind of everyday reciprocity of information sharing that you see on Twitter and elsewhere in the short run it may seem insignificant or even trivial, but what you’re doing is you’re building those networks as trust and norms of reciprocity from which social capital emerges. I can demonstrate this for my students anytime by asking a question on Twitter or Facebook at the beginning of class, then towards the end of the class going back and seeing what people have to say.
I get a lot of answers. I got a lot of answers because I have a pretty big network and that has a lot to do with me being online so much and with sharing a lot online, but I also get answers because I answer other people when they have questions as well. I get information that way all the time from people I have not connected with before and some of it’s very useful and I thank them for it and they have started engaging me. I engage them back because what you put out to your network can come back to you 100 fold. I think those are all things that don’t require a lot of technical expertise and the user of social media would benefit by using.