The Modern Cyborg: McLuhan Today

Cyborg is derived from the 2 English words cyber and organism. Google describes a cyborg as “a fictional or hypothetical person whose physical abilities are extended beyond normal human limitations by mechanical elements built into the body.” When I was growing up, Cyborg was my favorite team member of the Teen Titans, and I always wondered how long would it take for society to be able to make me a cyborg so I could be just like him. According to McLuhan, we’re already there and we’ve been there for a while now. I don’t mean that in medieval Europe, people were running around with half their bodies made out of technology. However, since then, and maybe even before that, technology has been evolving human ability from the way we talk, to the way we work, cook, sleep, and everything in between.

Bandura taught us that our aptitude for technology, like most things, is created through social cognitive theory. We learn through observation and we  improve self-efficacy by doing over and over again. McLuhan looks at media/technology as the main component of our evolving society. McLuhan shows us that technology has been the driving factor in the development of human ability and interaction. Technology isn’t just a machine we use, it becomes a part of us, and extension of ourselves, integrating itself into every aspect of our life and changing what traditional looks at. For proof of this, you can look at things like radio and tv which are late 19th century/early 20th century inventions that completely revolutionized how we see and hear the world. However, those born and raised in the late 20th century/early 21st century will be raised in a world where radio and tv are relatively prehistoric and the seeing and hearing experience has been propelled into high definition music and video streaming applications that fit cozily on a mobile phone.

Yes, in Today’s society, we have redefined the harmony between technology and human beings. What was once a fantismal concept of a majority robot and part human being, is now a normal human being with the ability to enhance their sensory input/output through technology in their lives that have become second nature. In today’s society, it’s important to note that technology has become the buffer for traditional communication, and according to McLuhan, this is the new traditional. Having a cellphone was just the start, and for the fact, so was texting. Now popular social media platforms have become the primary means of communication between multitudes of individuals. Your profile is no longer a hobby, but has evolved into your social media presence. Instagram and Twitter accounts are being asked for during job interviews. You don’t have to talk on the phone to order food anymore, instead technology has evolved so much that you can have door to door grocery and meal delivery with just the push of a couple buttons.

The ability to live and survive is being compacted into these tiny  devices that we grab off of our side tables and dressers without even thinking of. When my generation were hitting their early teens, we were heckled for being so attached to our mobile devices, but now, members of society who don’t own one are closer to off the grid than on.  Continuing to hound “millennials” about excessive technology use is futile because the next generation is inherently plugged into the world with the amount of technology in society now. What’s normal and traditional will continue to be revolutionized by new technological advances and we, as a society, will continue to be the new Cyborgs.

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SCT, Self-Efficacy, and the Reinvention of Myself

First, a consideration for the reader: I am very happy with who I am and am thankful for the opportunities that have lead me to be the person I am today. This connection of SCT and Self-efficacy was not written to induce any reaction other than that of a recollection and attribution of these concepts to my life.

Without going into much detail, who I am today is not who I was ten years ago. This can be said of nearly every person (with a few exceptions) and I am aware that the claim is not a radical one. SCT is often simplified to the concept of Reciprocal Determinism, the relationship and dynamics between an individual’s person, environment, and behavior. In my life, all three of these (in my own self-analysis) were consistently negative. From the angle of the person, I existed as someone with exceedingly low self-esteem (low self-efficacy), which was especially clear on a social level. My environment was one that involved high amounts of stress (not that I was in any physical danger) and underwent several changes in my physical and social environments during my teen years. My behavior fit within the textbook predictions of someone existed within the person and environment that I described, and as I mentioned earlier, the clearest example of this was in my social (lack of social rather) life. Upon reflection of how I saw my reality at the time, it is understandable that my self-efficacy was low and how my self-efficacy really dictated my responses to the stimuli in my life. My behavior accurately depicted my current emotional/mental state and a physical record of this could be found on my first social media accounts (which are now, thank God, deleted and lost in history.) My first posts/tweets were more negative, vague, and mostly held a sense of dissatisfaction. Now this is not to say that I was posting for the sake of recognition or feedback, but with the introduction of these new mediums, it became an opportunity to express the negative view of my reality and be rewarded by a slight release of endorphins. This pattern went on for several years, and really hindered my self-efficacy to grow in a direction that was healthy. It wasn’t until I made a conscious decision to attribute my reality (person, environment, behavior) as an opportunity to grow that I saw a shift in my self-efficacy. I started to read more, enter difficult social situations intentionally, and made a habit to learn about my environment from micro and macro levels. This meant that when I was interacting at all on my social media accounts, I would create a conscious effort to post more positive content. Essentially I was training my person and behavior to become more prepared for the inevitable environmental factors that would have crippled me before. This transformation is an ongoing process that I still work on today. I still will catch myself posting/tweeting content that is not in some way positive to myself, and I still will struggle with certain social situations if they are unfamiliar or uncommon. But I can look back and see a change in how my self-efficacy is now at a more stable and confident level, as well as recognize that I can attribute negative influences in my reality as positive learning opportunities.

 

In reflection of the film “We Live in Public,” I think that many thoughts that I have had about the online world and especially social media were confirmed and laid out on a physical stage that may never happen again (legally.) Josh Harris’s unique ability to gather talent and personality from all ends of the spectrum for his websites and especially the small “city” he developed really point to how influential and intoxicating online membership can be. I believe that after all of the information was brought out about his projects, people saw the signs of some of the serious repercussions of living in an online-immersive environment. I do not think that today, it is thought of as often, or is rather joked about considering the obvious chokehold that online relevancy has on our American society. On the surface, it would appear that self-efficacy is high among those who interact online, but upon any further research, it is clear that depression, aggression, and defensive tendencies are at the peak of this new generation that has been brought up in both a physical and virtual world. Nearing the end of the filming of Josh Harris’s project, it becomes clear that emotionally, members (rats) of his society were less confident and much more willing to carry out the requests (commands) of those in charge.

“If you walk up to someone and tell them to take off their pants, they won’t do it. But if you walk up with a video camera and ask ‘Take off your pants.’ They’ll do it. The eyeballs that perceive that moment give it power.” This quote from on of the filmmakers accurate describes today’s online world. “Do it for the Vine!” and other pressures make the online world now a place that can almost incite anyone to do anything, simply because others are watching. SCT’s “reinforcements” are evident as soon as you enter any online profile, where now the rewards of the virtual world are now more important (or rather perceived as more important) than that of the physical world. We are creating an environment that is often not mentally healthy, but is also dangerously Orwellian.

Building Social Perception through Digital Information

wikipedia-researchPaid advocacy has become a largely debated topic in recent years. Paid editing—also known as sock puppetry or black hatting—is when individuals or companies pay writers to create and edit reference material for promotional purposes. This practice is troublesome because it blurs the distinction between editorial content and advertising. A notable example of this dilemma involves, Wikipedia, a collaborative website allowing anyone to contribute and modify reference articles (Shirky, 2005).

In August 2012, one of Wikipedia’s editors removed a page representing an internet security company- CyberSafe– after discovering that the article’s linked citations were relevant to internet security, but did not specifically reference the company (Owens, 2013). After the page was removed, numerous users expressed opposition, constructing arguments that were similar to those on the CyberSafe page. This coincidence raised suspicions in the Wikipedia editor, causing him or her to submit five user accounts for “sock puppetry investigation” (Owens, 2013). The analysis confirmed that they were in fact “sock puppet” accounts and that black hatting was happening far more often than they thought.

t-shirts-on-8bitDecals45Executive director of Wikipedia, Sue Gardner, explains that in addition to violating the website’s core principles of providing unbiased and credible information. She argues that editing-for-pay produces content that is often prejudiced and misleading.  Moreover, Gardner (2013) explains that paid advocacy is a breach of Wikipedia’s editorial policies regarding “neutrality and verifiability” (Gardner, 2013).

After a lengthy investigation, Wikipedia announced that it would block “381 user accounts for paid editing” (Earhart & Barbara, 2015). Jimmy Wales, founder of Wikipedia, explained that the decision was made after Wikipedia discovered an embezzling scam involving a network of users with fake accounts. These phony accounts were used to solicit individuals and businesses into paying a Wikipedia editor to create their page and have it protected from negative editing (Dredge, 2015). Hundreds of people were deceived because the “faked accounts” impersonated senior Wikipedia editors and falsely claimed that their practices followed Wikipedia guidelines.

As a result, those who paid for editing services were surprised to discover that their pages were deleted for guideline violations. Wikipedia’s investigation into black hat accounts revealed that “more than 200 individuals and businesses have fallen victim to the fraud” (Owen, 2015) and around 250 pages were deleted (Owen, 2015).

information-wants-to-be-free-10544In response, Wikipedia has asked the public to contact them if someone offers to create of protect a page in exchange for money. Furthermore, Wikipedia emphasizes that “decisions about content. . . are made by the community of volunteer editors – they edit and maintain Wikipedia for free, so everyone can access free, reliable knowledge,” (Owen, 2015).

Deceptive marketing practices permeate several aspects of digital media. Paid advocacy is especially problematic in cases where the members generate content through consumer reviews.  Over the years, the media has started to focus on consumer reviews, exposing stories where companies pay individuals and/or employees to write reviews that enhance reputation. Paid editing is becoming increasingly common in consumer reviews, as expressed in a 2012 Gartner study, estimating that “one in seven recommendations or ratings on social media sites like Facebook would soon be fake” (Streitfeld, 2013).

Untitled (4)For businesses, online reviews carry significant value and greatly influence their current and future success: : “In a 2011 Harvard Business School study, a researcher found that restaurants that increased their ranking on Yelp by one star raised their revenues by 5 to 9 percent” (Streitfeld, 2014). To counteract the negative effects of paid advertising, the FTC has started conducting investigations on companies that pay for product or service reviews and fail to disclose this affiliation with consumers.  For example, the chief executive of US Coachways was exposed for hiring freelance writers and mandating his staff to create fake accounts so they could write positive comments to downplay the negative reviews. After the investigation, US Coachways was fined $75,000 and agreed to stop writing fake reviews (Streitfeld, 2014).

On November 7, 2015, CBC Marketplace News aired a story about a man who was fighting to have his online review removed from TigerDirect.com. The man explains that he wants his review taken down from the website because the company edited his review to make it appear more positive.

In other cases, companies are supportive of banning paid advertising and have started to take action to prevent it. Amazon, the largest online retailer, is using the U.S. legal system to crack down on paid advocacy. An NBC News story explains that Amazon has filed a lawsuit against 1, 114 individuals that were paid to post reviews for products found on their website. The company claims that writing fake reviews “tarnishes their brand,” and damages its reputation as an online retailer. Amazon hopes this lawsuit will serve as a future deterrent and help the company rebuild trust with customers.

Paid advocacy is a growing concern for many people- do you think it will cause users to become distrustful or  skeptical of customer reviews? Does paid advocacy ‘devalue’ online ratings and other informational content? Do you think the FTC will have the resources to effectively monitor fake reviews? Does Amazon have the right idea in taking legal action against those paid to write positive reviews?

fake-reviews-1

References

Dredge, S. (2015, September 6). Wikipedia Founder Backs Site’s Systems After Extortion Scam. Retrieved November 18, 2015, from http://www.theguardian.com/technology/2015/sep/06/wikipedia-founder-backs-sites-systems-after-extortion-scam

 Earhart, E., & Barbara, J. (2015, August 31). Hundreds of “black hat” English Wikipedia accounts blocked following investigation « Wikimedia blog. Retrieved November 18, 2015, from https://blog.wikimedia.org/2015/08/31/wikipedia-accounts-blocked-paid-advocacy/

 Gardner, S. (2013, October 21). Wikimedia Foundation Executive Director Sue Gardner’s Response to Paid Advocacy Editing and Sockpuppetry. Retrieved November 18, 2015, from https://blog.wikimedia.org/2013/10/21/sue-gardner-response-paid-advocacy-editing/

Owen, J. (2015, September 11). Wikipedia Senior Editors Impersonated in Scam which Tricked Hundreds into Paying for Content to Go Online. Retrieved November 18, 2015, from http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/crime/wikipedia-senior-editors-impersonated-in-scam-which-tricked-hundreds-into-paying-for-content-to-go-10496801.html

Owens, S. (2013, October 8). The Battle to Destroy Wikipedia’s Biggest Sockpuppet Army. Retrieved on November 17, 2015, from http://www.dailydot.com/lifestyle/wikipedia-sockpuppet-investigation-largest-network-history-wiki-pr/

Shirky, C. (2005). Epilogue: Open Source Outside the Domain of Software and Source. In Perspectives on Free and Open Source Software (pp. 483-488). Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Streitfeld, D. (2012, January 26). For $2 a Star, an Online Retailer Gets 5-Star Product Reviews. Retrieved on November 18, 2015, from http://www.nytimes.com/2012/01/27/technology/for-2-a-star-a-retailer-gets-5-star-reviews.html

Streitfeld, D. (2013, September 22). Give Yourself 5 Stars? Online, It Might Cost You. Retrieved on November 18, 2015, from http://www.nytimes.com/2013/09/23/technology/give-         yourself-4-stars-online-it-might-cost-you.html?_r=0

Social capital in crowdfunding brews small business success

One of the biggest advantages of being online that we shower praise upon social networking websites is the power to bring and connect everyone together in ways never thought imaginable.  This capability of the Internet allowing users to rapidly connect and form interpersonal and romantic relationships facilitates the accelerated growth of social capital. Putnam (2000) provides a clear picture of social capital by defining it as “…connections among individuals – social networks and the norms of reciprocity and trustworthiness that arise from them” (p. 19).  “Because human beings are largely social animals, social capital is a necessary resource” (Ji et. al, 2010, p. 1106). People want to be a part of society, they want to be a part of collective and fulfill their need for belonging, as outlined by Maslow (1952).

This is why the norms of reciprocity and trustworthiness are born from one’s social network because they want to be a part of communities where they feel involved and trusted. Chiu et al. (2006) outlines two facets of social capital: bonding and bridging. Bonding social capital refers to deeper, meaningful social connections and relationship, which is typical built between family members or close friends, while bridging social capital is typically built between groups with a heterogeneous makeup that come together for a similar cause or a commonality.  People in these groups or communities are able to pull their resources such as knowledge or maximum audience reach. Chiu et al. (2006) findings echo this tendency of online communities and the ability to encourage more pooling of their resources, so the impact and social influence of the online community can be exponentially greater. “…the facets of social capital — social interaction ties, trust, norm of reciprocity, identification, shared vision and shared language — will influence individuals’ knowledge sharing in virtual communities” (Chiu et al., 2006, p. 1872).

This leads individuals and groups involving themselves or donating money to something that is important to them and they want to help others reach their goals. As Shirky (2008) explains, the Internet and its new social tools allow groups to organize, coordinate and collaborate at little to no transaction costs unlike traditional businesses and organizations. This is why crowdfunding websites like Kickstarter and Patreon are successful because groups can quickly and easily organize and coordinate their efforts and resources due to the abundant sources for social capital. Whether it is crowdfunding’s impact on citizen journalism, which allows citizen journalists to cover in-depth local issues that the community cares about, which are not in the spotlight of traditional news organizations or the video game industry in how it subsidizes games and breaks away from the overhead control and influence from high-profile developers, crowdfunding websites have shown to allow for numerous opportunities in accruing social capital. When one is highly motivated and invested, they want to be part of the return process and see where their money is going because there are issues of accountability, and transparency in terms of what individuals see or receive as rewards not being accurate reflections of the final product, especially with the case of the Oculus Rift virtual reality headset.

Fingerman (2015) explains investors on LocalStake projects or campaigns will “either receive equity, a share of future revenues or interest on the loan in return.” Sara Hanks, CEO of CrowdCheck, says LocalStake might not attract large companies or campaigns because of the website’s promise for “…receive equity, a share of future revenues or interest on the loan in return” (Fingerman, 2015), but it is best suited for community-based businesses such as craft breweries and yoga studios.

Scotty’s Brewhouse, an Indiana- based brewery generated almost $400,000 from 120 accredited and non-accredited investors in a LocalStake campaign earlier this year after an online campaign through social media and advertisements on the brewery’s menus and bathroom stills.

Scott Wise, president and CEO of Scotty’s Brewhouse, said, “It wasn’t really just the money you’re getting in the process. For me, and for a lot of people who dip their toes in these waters, really you are creating fans” (Fingerman, 2015).

Crowdfunding campaigns can show the power, impact and value of social capital in an age where opportunities to accrue it are everywhere. It also shows how motivated users can have their voices heard because the capability of new social tools allow groups to circumvent traditional business hierarchical structures and processes in favor of a self-organizing method.

Where do you think the future trend in crowdfunding websites will be and how will social capital be the potential catalyst?