Author Archives: Luke Into the Wilde

the cathartic public sphere

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.”

With the exception of a select few places, some of whose potentials to serve as a public sphere I have already explained in class, I agree with this assessment of Boeder’s prognosis of the future of the public sphere. With a few large corporations dominating web traffic and thereby controlling and curating what people see, corporate interest can dictate the public sphere in most places online. The posts that are not highlighted as alligned with the companies’ interests will continue to get lost in the noise of the internet, buried pages deep in search results or many scrolls down in news feeds. While companies cannot censor speech online, they can effectively silence it or “turn the volume up” on other speech, and drown out views that the consumer/company doesn’t agree with and to say otherwise is to contradicts the political economy of the web.

User experience online will continue to be personalized, polarized, and curated, sometimes out of personal preference and sometimes out of corporate interest, and it will become increasingly vital for consumers to be mindful of who will or won’t be seeing their content as we continue to voice our opinions online.

abstract reading response to Sunstein

Since I’ll be co-teaching this week and talking about the readings, I wanted to do something different. I spent some time writing a few haikus as a response to Cass Sunstein’s reading. These are my two favorites:

The Benefits of the Internet:

All of this knowledge
At my ready fingertips
Oooooh! Cat videos!


I prefer the web
To ballots when I’m voting
Search: how to vote right

collective action on reddit

In your most active personal digital network, why would you say you choose to contribute? Do you think of users differently based on the amount of their activity? How do you think this varies across different social media platforms?

Though I am probably most active on Facebook, I want to answer this question about Reddit, because Instagram because I think its structure lends itself better to answering this question in an interesting way. On Reddit there are 3 fundamental types of users lurkers, contributors, and moderators. Having recently created the /r/comm182 sub, I think I can now speak somewhat knowledgeably to all three roles.

Many users follow a variety of subreddits and vary their activity on each, here are some reasons of my own (and some directly from other Redditors) that explain why we/I choose the various roles in different subs.

Many users choose not to comment in any threads or only have a few in which they like to directly contribute. I only participate actively in two or three different subreddits, and for the rest I only click around and read/watch what is interesting to me. I don’t usually volunteer my feelings about them because for the most part the subreddits have so many subscribers that by the time I have a chance to comment on a post, it has already received so many upvotes that someone has already said what I would have wanted to say, or my comment would never be read because the thread is has received so many comments already. As /u/cleverspainard puts it, “[Reddit] feels like high school. There are the popular redditors with their clever comments. I’m the weird kid that chimes in too late. So I stay quiet and save myself the criticism.”

Commenting on Reddit can make users feel self-concious when they feel like they are not known in the subreddit community in which they are lurking so they choose to soak it up rather than put themselves out there and risk embarrassment.

I choose to actively participate in two threads. /r/sfgiants and /r/fantasyfootball, both for different reasons. During the baseball season, the Giants sub becomes a place of intense bonding and it is a great forum to vocalize ideas in a community that knows my screenname and is small enough (at ~14,000 users) that I see the see the same names pop up consistently (along with the number of times I’ve upvoted them previously) so that I feel as though I am speaking among people who have already formulated generally positive ideas about me and who will be receptive to my ideas. I post in /r/fantasyfootball because during the football season its threads are full of people asking and providing advice. Generally the people who contribute the most (your comments on the thread are tracked) are those who receive the most help, so there is plenty of incentive.

Moderators in Reddit serve something of a community government role, developing and announcing community rules and expectations that help to gel a group together. The people that serve in these roles tend to be highly passionate about their subreddits because they are frequently inundated with comments, submissions, and questions and requests and do this for no compensation except the satisfaction and respect of their communities.

I think these roles are at least somewhat universal across all platforms, with lurkers being people with profiles or accounts who don’t contribute much, commenters being the basic contributors, and moderators being the most active and passionate users.

challenging axelrod and the three conditions

While reading the 3 Necessary Conditions for Cooperation in Robert Axelrod’s 1984 work, The Evolution of Cooperation, I was struck by how cooperation has changed in the last thirty years and how the sharing structure of the web has altered collaboration. I have contentions about each of his three conditions and will try to explain them below:

  1. A likelihood of meeting in the future. Axelrod explains that when parties don’t have plans to meet, it is near impossible to hold others accountable for their ends of bargains. He believes that people are likely to become selfish and abuse the relationship if they cannot be held accountable by the knowledge of a future meeting.
    • The most obvious example to me of this is with musicians. I collaborate with many musicians, especially beatmakers and try to meet them all to gain connections. But, I and many other musicians I know, have also worked with others that we have never, and will likely never meet. It is easy to hold someone accountable online and damage their reputation if they are flaky or stand you up. Also, if each artist, or collaborator in any field is working for mutual benefit (i.e. exposure, a very lucrative currency online) then they have all the incentive necessary to work hard, whether they meet or not.
      • Bike for Three is a collaboration between Canadian rapper Buck 65, and Belgian producer Greetings from Tuskan. The two have never met despite making a great album together. They wrote a song about the concept:
  2. Ability to identify each other. Accroding to Axelrod, if we cannot identify the person across the network from us, we cannot hold them accountable. Therefore everyone we want to cooperate with must be identified as “a person to the system they’re in and the people they’re dealing with.”
    • Each day there is tons of cooperation between individuals and nameless, faceless companies online. I frequently email music blogs for example addressing them by the website name to due lack of an actual name being mentioned and often get responses from them without them providing any name at all.
    • Another prime example is collaboration on reddit, where in r/photoshopbattles for example, users take a picture and riff on it and the ideas and photos of others, upvoting the best or funniest changes to a photo just for fake internet points and the fun of it.
    • Strangers on reddit also order each other food, send Secret Santa presents, or make donations to almost anonymous users on the honor system, paying it forward.
  3. A record of past behavior. The author maintains that the best way to judge future cooperation is by judging someone’s status and reputation.
    • The most obvious example here to me is venture capitalists in Palo Alto. Often companies are founded by young high school or college students or recent graduates, with little to no past experience or reputation to build on beyond a good idea and some flashy marketing. Yet despite this lack of apparently vital industry cred, they frequently receive hundreds of thousands, and occasionally millions of dollars to turn their idea into a reality, making the prospective of future money a better incentive for cooperation than any record of past behavior.

Though I have more to contend with the first condition, I believe that each of these conditions has shifted due to the changing structure of the internet economy. It will be very interesting to see how these tenants of collaboration hold up in say, 50 years. Will they even exist at all?

COLLO and Social Capital

Reflect on a time when you were part of an event (on the Internet) that was trying to establish social capital. Given our class discussion, how do you think that event could’ve been improved or gone better?

As a co-founder of COLLO, a volunteer student organization dedicated to cultivating and facilitating an attitude of growth and collaboration among Stanford student artists, I am constantly trying to leverage the social capital of my networks and those of my fellow Stanford student artists. As the number of people who promotes a work of art increases, the viewership and growth compound exponentially and gives the artist significantly more exposure. This cross-promotion of works from using the Stanford artist community’s unofficial network to find other like-minded students with whom to collaborate. Making art is a process that naturally develops ‘norms of trust and reciprocity’, and therefore increases the social capital of both artists and the network as a whole.

There are many hindrances to the development of social capital among Stanford artists, namely, a lack of communal arts spaces, a lack of cross-disciplinary events, and a university culture that doesn’t necessarily value that arts highly, and is hyper entrepreneurial to the point where many artists see themselves as islands, forced to do everything themselves without the help of collaborators. These points are where COLLO seeks to jump in, providing Town Hall meetings about the arts at school, providing artist spotlights to showcase the fruits of students’ labor, and facilitating jam sessions and skill-share/workshops. These events are steps in the right direction, but there are many other things that still need to be done to remedy these issues. Overall we’d like to continue to develop a more collectivist mentality among artists and increase the number of volunteers to help out to get more people involved in the movement.

Reading Response: Steven Johnson’s Where Good Ideas Come From

This week I was particularly intrigued by Steven Johnson’s summary of his book about where ideas come from. I found it particularly interesting that he destroys the myth of the epiphany with regards to innovation, instead referring to the public sphere as a tool for ideation through leveraging social capital. This social and network capital births ideas much more freely as a result of two or more long-time “hunches” meeting and intertwining.

This exact process provides the words I could never express to explain why I enjoy collaboration so much. I am full of half-ideas, especially with regards to music, but also within more “academic” and other creative fields and I much prefer riffing on the skills and ideas I don’t normally have access to than simply reaching around for ideas in my limited brain.

I would love to write more on this, and plan to soon, but it’s midnight after a long weekend running around the frozen tundra that is currently New York and I have a 7 AM plane to catch back to school in the morning, so the rest will have to wait..

Social Capital and Trust in the Sharing Economy

While researching the concept of social capital this week, I stumbled upon and a 2014 article in Wired about the sharing economy and how it promotes trust. The sharing, or hybrid economy is one that allows individuals to engage in peer-to-peer business with one another via a service. Some examples of these types of businesses include AirBNB, Lyft, Uber, Couch Surfer etc. The article suggests that these applications/sites promote trust by providing biographies of customer and/or seller, verified ratings and testimonials, pictures, and links to social media, encouraging introductions before transactions, and making payment invisible (digital and not part of the face-to-face interaction). The article suggests that these actions promote trust between the people exchanging goods and services and making the interaction feel more human.

It is these actions, infused with personal touch, conversation, and kindness, that get me excited about the future of business. I think our generation is obsessed with developing norms of trust and reciprocity within transactions that will demand that more companies take these ideas into account when building their business models. Even if not everyone can describe it, we know that it feels better to borrow something from, get a ride from, or crash the house of a friend in exchange for cash as opposed to stranger and the companies set up these sorts of interactions, the more business they will create for themselves.

is networked individualism selfish?

In reading Wellman and Rainie’s piece on networked individualism, I kept shifting back and forth about whether or not all of these trends about changing support structures are creating a worrisome one in which we are all becoming more selfish. Networked individualism is inherently self-centered in the literal sense of the phrase, but does that mean people are more focused on themselves than ever?

Obviously friendship trumps selfishness and people like to do things for other people when they’re in need. Peter and Trudy’s story is case in point, but I sometimes worry that with the disintegration of small groups and the family support structure, that despite the fact that we’re “hooked on each other” that we focus more on maintaining a “brand” and portraying an image of ourselves than paying attention to others’ needs unless we’re asked to directly. It’s so easy to lose yourself in your profile and begin to feel that your online image is your real self and that when someone asks for help online and decide you don’t want to “share” their link or something else like that because it risks losing your online social capital. But in person, I feel like people are much more willing to help out because they have to own their action of choosing not to help, because everyone can SEE you not helping.

I think I may have asked the wrong question. Looking back, I think that networked individualism is not selfish in and of itself, but it makes selfishness easier, while simultaneously increasing our capacities to both help and be helped. It’s a complicated thought and I’m still working it out, but that’s where I’m at right now.

curating self

Think about the social media platforms that you use on a regular basis. What kind of image, if any, do you try to portray online? Do you create separate personas for different platforms? How representative would you say your online profiles are of you as a whole?

As I’ve become somewhat of an adult (I’ve decided I never plan on fully growing up), I’ve become comfortable in my own skin (I swear this isn’t a native advertisement for Dove for Men). I actually don’t focus very much on my image most of the time, because I’m surrounded by people I know. Of course when I’m talking to new people whom I respect, I’m careful to sound professional, organized and thoughtful, but the rest of the time, I trust my values and their social manifestations portray my image well. I simply try to never stray too far from my basic principles of kindness, humor/self-depreciation, a little bit of internal rebellion against the status quo (formerly angst), and I balance that out by thinking pretty carefully about risk management.

In person, I am much more complicated than my social media would indicate. Of course I’m sure that this is true for everyone but my interests are broader, my emotions vary more widely, my speech is more frequently off-color and sarcastic, and my personality shifts from more extroverted online, to more introverted in person.

My social media outlets display a version of me whose interests align with Facebook Pages, hashtags and other neat little boxes that corporations have constructed in which we can express ourselves. The things that I post tend to be accurate reflections of me, but only in a select few moments when I’m especially excited about something. This edited way of life allows me to cut out the vast majority of my activities to make me seem like a constantly happy, ever-exciting person, which of course no one is.

All this said, I do work hard to curate an image of myself that is representative of my passions, most specifically music, but it never accounts for the long hours of work I put into the things that I do, I just share the result. I think that’s kind of a metaphor for social media in general. It’s all the results, none of the work, which reflects people’s happy extroverted, sides and interests but does not necessarily demonstrate how they are the vast majority of the time.

interview about mormonism and the internet

This week I wanted to look at how social media and the internet disrupt culture and tradition. I thought an interesting lens through which to look at this topic was via an interview with one of my best friends, Cale, who was in my dorm freshman year. Below is his story:

Could you summarize the transformation in your faith over the last few years?

I came to Stanford essentially unchallenged in my faith. I grew up in a family that was incredibly active in the mormon church and took their faith quite seriously. Through high school, I probably spent 12-15 hours a week on purely church-related endeavors and was praised for it by a community that uses spirituality and religious commitment as a form of social currency.

Coming to Stanford, people were naturally curious about by beliefs and upon sharing them with people I realized that I had some serious concerns about certain parts of the church’s doctrine and culture. Because it was expected of me by friends and family at home, I left school to go on a mission to proselyte in Japan. As my date to leave approached, the cognitive dissonance between what I had been taught my whole life and the concerns I had became too big and I left the mission process getting somewhat exiled from my home and community. I left because I didn’t want to commit to two years unless I was fully invested in the church, so once I left, I spent the entire following summer researching the mormon church as well as religions specifically and in general. After being exposed to other ways of thought I am currently agnostic in belief and trying to focus on the questions that I believe I can answer rather than trying to debate religious questions, many of which I believe are unanswerable.

While you were growing up at home, what was your social media presence like? If you had one, would you say most of your friends were mormon or non-mormons?

I’ve moved a whole lot throughout my life and only in high school was I surrounded by mormons, so I would say that my friend pool was probably equal parts mormon and non mormon. I would note though that my mormon friends are significantly more likely to post about their personal beliefs than my non mormon friends (whether about religion or not). I think this is probably because many of them have a fairly homogenous social media scene and there is little threat to their beliefs within the circles they exist in.

How would you describe the church’s feelings and approaches on social media?

The church has a really really strong social media campaign and marketing campaign in general. They spend a huge amount of money marketing in Time Square, the London rail systems and sending thousands of missionaries across the world each year so they certainly aren’t messing around. Recently, they’ve really tried to up their social media game primarily with, a website where mormons can create profiles describing their faith and how they worship. It’s meant to be a place where people interested in the church can get answers directly from members of the church see that mormons are normal people. They also had a fairly successful “I’m a Mormon” video campaign on youtube that partnered with and served a similar purpose. I think that generally, what the church does is harmless (a lot of their videos are about spending time as a family, gratitude, service, etc), but the recruiting aspect is a little more troublesome. I don’t think that social media full of hastags is a way to discuss really critical and important questions that religions often try to tackle. It’s superficial nature glosses over many of the troubling aspects of the church’s doctrine and misleads a lot of curious people who don’t do more thorough research into the church. I often hear stories of people saying “I wish I would have known more before I joined the church.” I think the church is aware of this and intentionally fails to mention controversial topics to people to  increase the likelihood that people join.

Additionally, it seems as though there is a growing effort of the church to address some of the more controversial topics (i.e. the church’s position on same-sex marriage, their racism in the 60s-70s, and polygamy) however I think the church is largely unapologetic for their past mistakes and still fail to address the key components of these controversies.

What role would you say social media and the internet played as you began to separate yourself from your faith?

I think that one of the biggest helps to me leaving the church were websites like and They fairly address the many problems in the church and bring to light things that mormon culture has managed to conceal for a long time. They are also full of stories similar to my own, offering advice and direction for people questioning the church or considering leaving. They attached me to a community of like minded people with similar backgrounds. This was huge for me because I believe that there is a brainwashing aspect to the church. The church generally condemns anything that they consider “anti-mormon” which to them is anything that they didn’t publish that they don’t agree with so it can be really scary looking at websites like that because they make you fear for your soul if you do. Controlling what you can read is a scary scary thing and these online communities helped me remove that fear and allow myself to honestly look at the church with a clear mind. If I hadn’t read many of their stories, I may not have ever had the courage to break rank and leave the church.

Would you say it was a valuable resource for you as you underwent this transformation? Or was it more of an unfriendly place based on the non-Stanford (Mormon) contingent of your network?

Social media, like many things, seems to be a double-edged sword. The online communities on and the like definitely provided me with a lot of answers that no one in the church could/would provide. But, my social network full of mormons on Facebook is constantly bombarding me with mormon messages trying to get me to question my current beliefs and seems to have effectively done that to many people. Honestly I wouldn’t be surprised if Sunday school lessons started to include sections on “proper use of the #churchistrue hashtag” or “Establish a profile, even a profile of God”.

Anything else you’d like to add?

I don’t think mormons are bad people, I just think they’re misled in a bunch of important areas. The increasing prevalence of social media in the church marketing campaigns worries me because it may continue to stick with the superficial, especially dangerous because it’s a lot easier to share a link than it is to have an intellectual discussion.