Technologies of Cooperation

This is the topic for Week 5 of Howard Rheingold’s course – Towards a Literacy of Cooperation

This topic has been discussed in relation to:

  1. Affordances
  2. The role of social media in political events
  3. Sharing economies, social production and collaborative consumption

1. Affordances

Affordances       Slide from Howard Rheingold’s Week 5 presentation.

A number of affordances were suggested in the discussion, some related to the Slide and others not. Click on the image to enlarge it.

  • An understanding of the pedagogies which support cooperation, e.g. a formal hierarchically managed community of practice might not be as effective in encouraging cooperation as a community managed Facebook page.
  • The ability for users of a platform to see the activities, patterns and network relationships of all others using that platform – such as depicted by social graphs, biomapping, system maps etc.)

This enables users to create and adjust their expectations about others.

  • The ability to see the big picture and handle complexity (longbroading and emergensight). I’m not sure about this because the work I have been doing with Roy Williams and Simone Gumtau on emergent learning suggests that in complex environments it is not possible for one person to see the whole picture. For me this is why cooperation might be important.
  • The importance of timely feedback. In order to cooperate we need to know what the other person thinks. Trust is important in this process and reputation and social capital scoring devices were thought to be helpful, such as the system on which eBay works. Brand Yourself is a tool which was mentioned.
  • Open source tools e.g. PLOTs – which is a community which develops such tools to apply to environmental exploration and investigation. This also reminds me of sites such as iSpot – a website which is aimed at helping anyone identify anything in nature and in so doing supports wildlife conservation.
  • Collective disaster response through sites such as CrisisCommons –   which provides a platform for people to self-organise. There are many more of this type of site
  • InnoCentive – which crowdsources innovation problems to the world’s smartest people who compete to provide ideas and solutions to important business, social, policy, scientific, and technical challenges.

A question raised in this discussion was whether we can adapt to the pace of technological change. There is not space here to report on this discussion in depth, but the work of Ray Kurzweil and Bill Joy  was mentioned and thought to be rather depressing.

2. The role of social media in political events

Whilst some of us might only recently have become aware of the power of social media to influence political events, Howard has been thinking and writing about it for more than 10 years.

He talked to us about how he had first thought about this in Tokyo 13 years ago when observed how people were using their mobile phones; about the organized demonstrations in the Philippines, Korea, Spain, the Ukraine, Los Angeles, Chile and Egypt. However he said that a Smart Mob is not necessarily a wise mob and not necessarily non-violent. We continued to discuss this in relation to the events in Cairo and the idea that ‘the new tools of social media have reinvented activism’ – but we also noted the doubts expressed here – and that

‘ The power to gather round like-minded people can lead to false impressions of hearing all voices’.

YouTube, Facebook and Twitter all play a role in world events but the importance of that role is being debated and it was suggested that we ‘Beware the online ‘filter’ bubble’ – where personalized searches might be narrowing our world view.

3. Sharing economies, social production and collaborative consumption

Howard asked us

‘In what ways are technologies of cooperation enabling new forms of economic production, transaction and consumption.’

It was pointed out that forms of economic production are not new (think carpools, car boot sales, community organizations etc.) but that they have been made easier by new technologies. There are many examples

  • Large capitalistic companies (e.g. IBM) are open sourcing their software. This benefits both the company and to a lesser extent others. It is not an altruistic act.
  • Educational leaders now network and interact on a daily basis.
  • Crowdsourcing computation is an example. SETI@home –  is a scientific experiment that uses Internet-connected computers in the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI). You can participate by running a free program that downloads and analyzes radio telescope data. Literate populations can now do new things together and science has become a collective enterprise.

Perhaps one way to think further about all this would be to read Howard Rheingold’s book Net Smart –  in which he thinks discusses how to use social media humanely, intelligently and mindfully.

Cooperation has shaped our species and our species is shaping cooperation.

‘A new narrative is emerging in a large number of disciplines – competition is shrinking – cooperative arrangements are expanding’

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