Learning Narrative

Week 1 – Roots and Visions

We learned about the origins of the early Internet through the eyes of pioneer scholars in the field, such as Licklider and Englebart, big supporters of online connection between personal computers. From the concept of the OLIVER to the user as an H-LAM/T, Licklider and Englebart had great Screen Shot 2015-03-14 at 1.25.06 PMvisions for the future of inter-computer interaction. In our class discussion, we tried to connect the ideas of the early Internet to the Internet that we know today. Betty also led an interactive co-teaching session in which we tackled some of our reading questions on various whiteboards in the classroom through discussion in small groups. Some of the questions that I posed based on the readings we had are below:

  1. Do you think that modern society possesses the equivalent of an OLIVER? If so, what manifestation(s) do you think it has taken, and if not, how close do you think we are to developing it/is it possible to develop?
  2. Do you think that the “gift economy” is still a viable way of sharing information? If so, so what are some ways modern society has adopted the concept, and if not, what has prevented the “gift economy” from persisting?
  3. Engelbart makes an interesting choice to define humans as H-LAM/T systems, essentially reducing humans to their capabilities in a way similar to understanding computers. Do you think this is still a valid definition of users as we continue to understand their interactions with technology?

During that week, I made a short and sweet introduction of myself, set some expectations that I had for myself and for the class, and made my own concept map of the class based on the syllabus. Through my discourse on the forum, I began a discussion about the Charlie Hebdo incident and the subsequent question of how we get our information about current events, commented on the popularity of Yik Yak, and shared an article on stress as a necessary consequence of becoming a more interconnected society.

Week 2 – Imagining Community

This week we tackled scholarly and contemporary definitions of community, and how those definitions apply to communities on the Internet. We discussed the relationship between Gemeinschaft and Gesellschaft, learned about the Third Place, and negotiated the nature of
networked individualism, which is becoming more popular than common notions of neighborhood relationships. Michelle led a co-teaching session on reflecting on our own communities, both online and in real life, and Gabriel taught a brief learner lecture on new online applications that can be used to improve and facilitate productivity. Some of the questions that I posed in response to the readings we had for this week are below:

  1. Screen Shot 2015-03-14 at 1.43.16 PMHow do the concepts of Gemeinschaft and Gesellschaft relate to technology, and do you think they can still be considered separate entities?
  2. Barry Wellman proposes that as our personal networks become more omnipresent, we will need to be more active in adding to and maintaining them. In what ways is this statement true or false?
  3. From your personal experience, what do you define as a community? How does your definition differ from that of an online community?
  4. In what ways can online communities serve as a third place, and in what ways can it not? Do you believe that there are cultural differences between Americans’ use of the Internet and Europeans’ use of the Internet, considering our respective relationships with third places?

On my blog, I responded to an optional reading called “The Machine Stops”, compared my use of online communities with those who considered themselves WELLites, and analyzed my own membership to the arts community at Stanford. I also reflected on self-organizing collaborations and collaborative lexicon-building, which both can be found below:

  1. On Self-Organizing Collaborations - I think the interesting thing about self-organization is that it allows for ideas and initial brainstorming to happen organically. As long as members of a community are open to throwing out ideas, you can find yourself drawn to what appeals to you, or you can find people who find your ideas appealing. It also helps to work out a unique but efficient way of working together; depending on your individual strengths and preferences, it’s usually better to come up with an organization method that combines those, rather than completing a task through a specified series of steps.
  2. On Collaborative Lexicon-Building - It’s very easy to skim through readings and to forget most of the content, especially when important vocab words or concepts are surrounded by large blocks of less relevant information. Lexicon building is a really good way of ensuring that people are paying closer attention, learning from each other, and solidifying important information from the texts. It also serves as a useful reference guide when reviewing past lessons.

Week 3 – Virtual Community and Real Life

Although we discussed topics such as “first and second lives” and collaborative online learning, we spent a significant portion of the class redesigning our syllabus and assignments for the rest of the quarter. As a result, questions that I had come up with in response to the readings were not utilized, but I will include them below for posterity’s sake:

  1. What differences in the relationships with peers and the relationships with teachers do you IMG_0078think change the way that students learn?
  2. Do you think the concept of “slowness” is important in combating inefficient and mindless information absorption? If so, do you think we need to impart this lesson on younger generations who never grew up without advanced technology?
  3. Why do you think the phenomenon of “romanticizing the past” occurs?
  4. Do you think it’s valid to view Second Life as its own socioeconomic class in real life? Why or why not?

After about an hour or so of discussion, deep thinking, and whiteboard brainstorming, we came up with the following academic structure for the rest of the quarter:


  • Write 2 blog posts for every week – one will be a response to one of the readings, and one will be a response to a co-teacher’s blog prompt
  • Comment on one of these two blog posts for every person in the class – 5 comments total per week


  • We will be exploring Reddit as a new platform for our forum discussions; however, we may decide to return to the original platform should navigation be easier
  • Check the forum on at least two different days of the week to ensure that people actively participate in forum discussions


  • Everyone will go once (members of the class who have already taught do not need to teach again)
  • On days with no co-teaching scheduled, the class will prepare questions from the readings to bring into class to interview Howard

Other Details

  • The Lexicon, while still available, is now an optional resource to update; you are not obligated to use it or update it unless it is helpful to you
  • We are getting rid of collaborative projects in favor of higher quality online interactions in our blog comments and forum discussions
  • Reading questions are no longer required, although please come into class prepared to discuss them
  • Final narratives will still happen at the end of the quarter, so continue to update learning journals as we go along

Week 4 – Identity and Presentation of Self

This week was our smallest class of the quarter, and also the week in which I co-taught on identity and presentation of self. We moved our class outside and discussed the nature of presenting identity online through different social media platforms, and how presentation of identity online changes with the nature of the platform and the user’s personal relationship with the Internet. I Screen Shot 2015-03-14 at 1.58.20 PMled an activity in which pairs of students were assigned a generic bio of a fake person and were given the task to create a social media account for that fake person. I believe it helped us gain insight into what choices we make in how to present ourselves based on what we know about ourselves and what we want to share with the outside world. We also met guest lecturer Justin Hall and watched his autobiographical documentary on his relationship with the Internet.

I wrote two blog posts for this week: the first was a reflection on computer and Internet related language, and the second was a commentary on my portray of identity through social media. We moved our forum to Reddit, and on our first discussions on the new platform I talked about Sherry Tuckle’s phrase “identi-frag”, how one might perceive possessing “identi-frags” as liberating, and whether the “upvote” system is a good or bad innovation. I also made copious reading notes for this week, and you can peruse them by looking under the Week 4 section of my personal learning journal.

Week 5 – Social Networks

This week we defined social networks and what social network research looks like, discussed the impact of networked individualism on social networks, and talked about how people passively and actively consume content online. Notes that I took on our assigned readings can be found under Week 5 of my personal learning journal. Co-teaching took the form of a personal interview with Howard, and Luke presented briefly on the process of publicizing independent music in his learner lecture. Some of the interview questions can be found below:

  1. When was the first time you realized that the Internet could become a platform for commercialization or business?
  2. From “Information Accessed in a Networked World,” there was mention of three types of getting information: push, pull, and osmosis. Reflecting on the modern media platforms that you use, what do you think each of those sites exercise? Do they all demonstrate one particular method?
  3. What would you say are some ways that American youth can combat the effects of networks and networked individualism? How can we simultaneously maximize the benefits of new technology without sacrificing our real world skills/relationships?
  4. Online communities/social media led to the evolution of networked individualism. Do you think that this way of relating to other people is just a trend, or do you think it will play a strong role in future social relationships? Is network individualism changing/evolving into something else today?
  5. What do you think is the biggest and most pervasive myth about social media that people need to learn about?
  6. What do you think is the place for “formal” learning? Do you think that “formal” class structure based predominantly on “push” learning is valuable? When and when is it not?

I posted two blog posts this week, one on how social media is more compatible for introverts than standard face-to-face conversation, and one on how the popularized portrayal of the lone genius isn’t as much of a reality today as it used to be. The Reddit forum was busy this week, and topics such as presentation of self on Facebook as a true representation of identity and favorite social media platforms were abound with interesting articles and opinions.

Week 6 – Social Capital

This week we discussed different forms of social capital and why social capital works to form online communities. Michelle graciously volunteered to co-teach this week’s topic, and part of her co-teaching session involved asking Howard some interesting and tough questions on the nature and history of social capital, and on the pros and cons of digital collaborative learning. We participated in a small research activity determining how different organizations, from an individual YouTube star to a large collective action website such as change.org, promote and operate with social capital. She also gave a learner lecture on how dancers share their choreography through YouTube. I did a blog post on an interesting article that I had read in the New York Times Magazine on humanizing passwords, and the forum was abound with discussions on modern social capital and our personal relationships with social capital.

Week 7 – Collective Action

In class we discussed the power of social media, memes, and hashtags in terms of collectiveScreen Shot 2015-03-14 at 3.07.12 PM action, from the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge to Black Lives Matter. One of the most prominent statements that I remember from our readings was that for human cooperation to be possible, there were three necessary conditions that needed to be in place:

  1. A likelihood of meeting in the future
  2. An ability to identify each other
  3. A record of past behavior

On social network platforms, particularly ones where members are allowed anonymity or a fake name as an identifier, number one of the list has ceased to apply. Therefore, the need to place a name to a behavior or a response has become more important in online discourse, and Gabriel’s co-teaching session led to a discussion that covered topics such as anonymity, upvoting, and sharing information for the sake of sharing information.

My last blog post for the quarter (due to a slew of other assignments and outside events that presented challenges to my organizational skills, thus decreasing the quality of my outside-of-class participation in COMM 182) discussed my relationship with a student organization on campus and how social media has been fundamental in securing the real life audiences we need to keep our organization running. The Reddit forum was a little quieter this week than in previous weeks, but it still maintained interesting discussions on how protests are making a comeback, “slacktivism”, and the concept of “tit for tat”. Howard also brought up an interesting question, asking what the difference is between collectivism and collective action.

Week 8 – The Public Sphere

Our last formal class together was filled with interesting discussion, as former students of Howard’s class and activist Wael Ghonim joined the table and provided some interesting discourse in response to Luke’s co-teaching session on Reddit. Anonymity and usernames rose up again as another heated discussion topic, as well as the supposed “inclusivity” of the Internet (due to the availability of the Internet based on social and economic resources available). We also talked about the answer to the question of collectivism vs. collective action and determined that collectivism is a system imposed on a group of people in order to maintain some semblance of status quo, while collective action is a bottom-up, society-driven call to action in order to cause change.

Betty led an interesting learner lecture on online dating and how the industry has boomed due to specialization and game-ification; I led a small learner lecture on cat videos, how they have risen to popularity, and why they continue to be so popular on the Internet today. All in all, the class was a great way to end the quarter, and I felt that I had taken a lot away from the class not only through Howard’s lectures and lesson plans, but also through discussions that I had with my peers.

Comment on The polarizing act of social media by Betty Hancock

I think it’s important that you pointed out the danger in being able to filter our newsfeeds and Twitter feeds to hide comments that oppose our views. I think this feature is really dangerous for people with unethical belief systems, and I think the ability to only look at news we agree with has the potential to really divide and dumb down our nation.

Field Trip

I particularly enjoyed our class trip for the final session. I was fascinated by the work that they’re doing to research the future of politics and health. I had no idea that office even existed or that being a futurist was even a thing, so it was a great way to expose me to something new. I would love to keep in touch and hear about their future public events. It sounds like a great opportunity for continued education, and I love keeping tabs on what’s going on in the world.

Thank you everyone for a lovely quarter! It was a pleasure getting to know each of you, and I wish you all the best of luck in your future endeavors at Stanford and beyond!

The polarizing act of social media

Since playing with friends from a young age, most people are taught principles of fairness and to treat others like you want to be treated. This has to be implemented into a person’s thinking as early as possible. As we get older, groups become more influential as we mature. In today’s world, groups are formed differently, but have some the same powerful influences they had before social media. Social media mobilized communicating and connecting with people. It is effortless to find a group supporting a personal interest or cause. Because of this affordance, the expectations of belonging to multiple groups accompany the “always connected” modern lifestyle. In “The Daily We: Is the Internet really a blessing for democracy?,” Sunstein discusses and mentions empirical data about the tendencies of like-minded groups to make more extreme decisions than groups which include a wide range of opinions. Groups have always had a profound influences dating back to the historic extreme cults and clans such as the Klu Klux Klan. Groups such as these overshadow logical reasoning of an individual to support the more extreme ideals that mildly supported within a group. Peer pressure and other social factors influence this decision, but Sunstein pointed to the diversification of a group to be a determining factor.
Social media and its various platforms emphasize connecting with people and building massive online social networks. As social media has aged, so has the users and their networks. Most users have many connections/friends/followers that they have never met and never intend to interact with in the real world. Because of the growth of online social connections, platforms such as Twitter and Facebook allow for you to filter you news feed. This is a vital curation tool, but it also changes the dynamics of the diversification of the presented information. For example, if you see a comment you do not like or agree with on Facebook, the user has the option to remove this specific user’s post from their future news feeds. Like I mentioned, this is useful tool, but by eliminating opposing opinions, we fall into the trap Sunstein cites in her work. Lack of opposing opinions reinforce like-minded thinking even further and presents the threat of extreme decision making.

A few weeks ago, I saw an episode of Modern Family that I continued to forget to mention. This episode depicts the family communicating and interacting only through Skype. Claire, the mother, is attempting to patch up things with her daughter, Haley, after a boisterous fight. Claire is trying to find Haley to talk things out through video chatting the rest of her family. A few conspiracies were started around Haley’s ambiguous Facebook status and were reiterated by the family who had no knowledge of what Haley was up to. This episode relates to how groups influence an individual and how this influence is more extreme when derived from a group.



Comment on Thoughts 3/6 by Luke

I think Yik Yak isn’t meant to be an agent of change. I think it’s supposed to be a fun, entertaining medium and a good place to get a simple question answered but I think the reasons you supplied signify that it isn’t something that is necessarily meant to be taken totally seriously. Whether or not that is a good idea is another question entirely, and I don’t have any idea there, except that what they’re doing so far seems to be working well for them.

Comment on who is actually participating? by Luke

I think there’s some truth to what you said, but I also think that crowdfunded projects are an example of the public sphere, a battle for ideas where people vote with their voices. People who contribute to kickstarters or indiegogos or, especially change.org. Are just using words behind a keyboard, but those words have a tremendous capacity for quantitative change.

Comment on who is actually participating? by Michelle Xu

I agree, and I think I would go as far as saying that people will always be lazy. If there isn’t the prize right in front of their faces, it’s going to take a lot of voluntary action for the individual to vote or donate money for a cause. The Internet is basically free for the average consumer, so sharing an article might be the farthest the user is willing to go for a cause.

I mean, I think that’s why advertising exists. It’s clever and strategic, which is why big business that have the money are able to get to where they are today.

Comment on the cathartic public sphere by Michelle Xu

I found your thoughts to be a very interesting representation of history repeating itself. To me, it seemed like the Internet allowed users and the common man to have a voice, and maybe in the beginning stages of the Internet people were able to find news beyond newspapers and radio stations, both of which would be controlled by the government or big businesses. It’s crazy to speculate this far into the future, but what if the Internet becomes so saturated with advertising and big business control that something like the Internet 2.0 emerges? Would we leave the Internet to join a newer community?

who is actually participating?

Respond to this quote from last week’s reading: “It seems most likely that the virtual public sphere brought about by [computer–mediated communication] will serve a cathartic role, allowing the public to feel involved rather than to advance actual participation.”

The public sphere is supposed to a place where citizens can come together and discuss issues they have with public policy. Public sphere is intended to be a place where every voice can be heard with equal amount of influence as all other members of society. Since the growth of technology and social media, the public sphere has been transformed much like the other societal institutions. For an environment to be considered a public sphere, it must:

  • Disregard of status: Preservation of “a kind of social intercourse that, far from presupposing the equality of status, disregarded status altogether. […] Not that this idea of the public was actually realized in earnest in the coffee houses, salons, and the societies; but as an idea it had become institutionalized and thereby stated as an objective claim. If not realized, it was at least consequential.” (loc. cit.)
  • Domain of common concern: “… discussion within such a public presupposed the problematization of areas that until then had not been questioned. The domain of ‘common concern’ which was the object of public critical attention remained a preserve in which church and state authorities had the monopoly of interpretation. […] The private people for whom the cultural product became available as a commodity profaned it inasmuch as they had to determine its meaning on their own (by way of rational communication with one another), verbalize it, and thus state explicitly what precisely in its implicitness for so long could assert its authority.” (loc. cit.)
  • Inclusivity: However exclusive the public might be in any given instance, it could never close itself off entirely and become consolidated as a clique; for it always understood and found itself immersed within a more inclusive public of all private people, persons who – insofar as they were propertied and educated – as readers, listeners, and spectators could avail themselves via the market of the objects that were subject to discussion. The issues discussed became ‘general’ not merely in their significance, but also in their accessibility: everyone had to be able to participate. […] Wherever the public established itself institutionally as a stable group of discussants, it did not equate itself with the public but at most claimed to act as its mouthpiece, in its name, perhaps even as its educator – the new form of bourgeois representation” (loc. cit.).


But, in my opinion, public sphere depends on the means of open communication. Today’s technology and social media networks afford us with an open line of communication with basically everyone in the world. This affordance has advanced our lives to where we are today by transporting valuable life changing information instantaneously.

However, because the ability to participate in public debate has become so easy, people assume online participation is enough and never act on their support. Participating and congregating online has proven to be a powerful tool, but without physical action, it is mostly just words on a screen. Feeling appeased by online participation lowers the number of people who traditionally participate. This ease has harmed the public levels of participation and I only see it getting worse. By participating online, people feel included and needed which appeases a vital part of our human nature. People who feel included are less angered by whatever the outcome because they feel as if they have done their part. This is a dangerous path for the public to follow. During the President Obama’s election campaign, I remember the amount of people hoping he would get elected, but were not planning to vote. This is not a direct correlation with the subject matter, but it demonstrates how people are slow to act when it comes to public policy, even when they support the cause. I think modern technology has elevated this even further, but hopefully, the policy makers will adjust and implement more technology in their communication and research methods.