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Hive Mentality or Individual Worker Bees? (Phase 1 and 2)

// Posted by on 04/13/2012 (1:21 PM)

My final blog can be viewed here. The background information posted below is also overviewed on my blog.

 

For my final project, I decided to explore further the idea set forth by Jane McGonigal in her Read more

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My final blog can be viewed here. The background information posted below is also overviewed on my blog.

 

For my final project, I decided to explore further the idea set forth by Jane McGonigal in her TedTalk “Gaming can make a better world.” When watching her talk for the first time, I found myself considering our current United States culture and society today and whether or not these problem-solving ideas were applicable to all issues, no issues, or just some. We are all taught to be individuals from a young age: getting ahead is about individual goals and individual skills, and the goals or aspirations of a group mentality are not focused on when being taught how to problem solve. This issue kept coming back into my head, and I began to apply it to greater walks of our society. I found myself wondering if individualism was so ingrained in us that it could never be replaced, or if a movement towards collaborating with others was possible. I thought about these issues on small and large scales, whether it be from the teachings of a kindergarten class to our economic system as a whole, how it functions, and what values it promotes in us as citizens and as workers. I wanted to explore whether implementing a system of teaching young children to work collaboratively instead of individually from an early stage would be beneficial later on, or if there are some issues which are simply too polarizing to be solved by groupthink and all that could be done with it already is. To explore these issues, I searched further into what McGonigal has published about her theories and explored the frameworks of those she has drawn from in her exploration.

 

Throughout my search, I came across (once again) one of the most exciting examples of collaboration used to solve a major issue to-date. McGonigal introduces the idea of collaborative intelligence in her case study Why I Love Bees as a way of demonstrating how problems are solved with group work. Collaborative intelligence could be applied to solve anything: but could it? An example of success is the scientists who, after grappling with a problem that had stumped them about AIDS for 10 years, decided to develop a program called Foldit which allowed users to download, play, and solve problems they put in front of them. The users took this program and solved the 10-year battle scientists had been waging in just 10 days. (More about this here). This is one of the most perfect examples of collaborative intelligence: gamers came together, formed groups, and solved a major, previously un-solveable issue. After exploring the Foldit website further, I came across their “Groups” section. The groups are ranked from highest-scoring to lowest, and each has a profile that describes their methods and ways of working as sort of an advertisement to join. One of the top groups is called “Contenders” and its mission statement reads: “We are a team of like-minded individuals, interested in discovering new methods and philosophies about folding, and doing things a little differently. There is no hierarchy; we have no dedicated soloists or evolvers or even a team ‘captain’. We possess a range of experience and ability, and recognize that each of us can ‘bring something to the table’. Encouraging discussion and questions, all are free to express themselves. We play our soloist games our own way; but if someone finds sudden success, it’s posted for the benefit of the group, detailing what was done to get there.” Collaborative intelligence at its finest: having no “dedicated soloists” and recognizing that “each of us can ‘bring something to the table’.” In a collaborative group, “all are free to express themselves” and one person finding success is “posted for the benefit of the group.” Below is a video about Foldit, who uses it, how they use it, and why it was developed:

 

 

I was sad to realize that, while reading the Contenders mission statement, I found myself a little surprised that people advertise working this way. I’ve considered many times the fact that, when in the “real world,” group collaboration is essential to success, and the benefit of whoever you are working for is the group goal to be achieved. But it has been so ingrained in us from the beginning of our schooling that collaboration just isn’t the way to get ahead; you get ahead individually, not moving forward in a hive. You get the promotion, you and your 6 coworkers do not. I had this mindset in full force when I read McGonigal’s article “SuperGaming: Ubiquitous Play and Performance for Massively Scaled Community.” Supergaming, McGonigal says, consists of “experiments in massively scaled, public collaboration” which create “an emerging constellation of network practices that are both ludic, or game-like, and spectacular--that is, intended to generate an audience.” Supergaming “Harnesses the play of distributed individuals in a high-performance problem-solving unit,” or the “hive mentality” set forth by Kelley in Why I Love Bees. McGonigal overviews arguments set forth by Clay Shirky (hey, that name sounds farmiliar…) in an essay he wrote called “Communities, Audiences, and Scale.” Shirky argues that these supergames create massively scaled communities which collapse due to the inability of humans to maintain more than a certain number of connections with others. Shirky argues that once this number is exceeded, the community becomes an audience, which is “typified by a one-way relationship between sender and receiver, and by the disconnectino of its members from one another- a one-to-many pattern.” Communities, however, are set up so that people “send and receive messages, and the members of a community are connected to one another, not just to some central outlet- a many-to-many pattern.” Shirky argues against the ability of these new supergames to create massively scaled communities. He writes, “Because growth in group size alone is enough to turn a community into an audience, social software, no matter what its design, will never be able to create a group that is both large and densely interconnected.” Massively scaled group collaboration as a way of problem-solving, therefore, is not looking so good.

 

For the next phase of my project, I will explore McGonigal’s theoretical foundation even further and apply it to our society in ways I’ve come up with throughout my research. I will continue my academic search of articles on education and how groupwork is both useful and detrimental and come up with an answer to the question of whether or not it would be beneficial to implement programs to promote the hive mentality in youths. I will explore the question of whether or not those who tend to play games are just more open to group work than those who do not: is it a psychological difference? Is there no difference at all? Is McGonigal’s suggestion that we spend 21 billion hours a week playing games going to improve the collaborative efforts we’ve already learned from games, or are some issues still on the table to be solved just too polarizing for collaborative efforts in coming up with solutions? How is the digital media that we use today making this movement towards collaboration easier? Is it potentially making it more difficult? Have we developed types of technology that make it more possible on a massive scale? Does collaborative intelligence put the world on the verge of an “epic win,” as McGonigal puts it? Will all our faces look like this in a few years, when we discover that working collaboratively really can save the world?

 


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Internet: The Next World War?

// Posted by on 04/09/2012 (11:35 PM)

My May issue of Vanity Fair arrived in the mail today. While thumbing through the magazine, I stumbled upon an article titled World War 3.0. The article discussed the current question over who will control the internet. For a… Read more

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My May issue of Vanity Fair arrived in the mail today. While thumbing through the magazine, I stumbled upon an article titled World War 3.0. The article discussed the current question over who will control the internet. For a simple question, the answer is rather loaded. Interestingly enough, the article brought most of what has been discussed on this blog full circle.

The question over who will control the internet has come to the forefront of any debate regarding the internet. At the end of 2012, there will be a negotiation between 193 nations to revise a UN treaty pertaining to the Internet.

“The War for the Internet was inevitable—a time bomb built into its creation.”

There is no doubt that the question of control would eventually arise. However, it seems that no one is ready to answer it on a global scale now that the question has come knocking. The article clearly explains that the “Internet was established on a bedrock of trust: trust that people were who they said they were, and trust that information would be handled according to existing social and legal norms. That foundation of trust crumbled as the Internet expanded.” The issue of trust arises because of four crises regarding the internet: sovereignty, piracy and intellectual property, privacy and security. From PIPA to SOPA to Anonymous to MegaShare and WikiLeaks, the initial trust which the internet was founded on has begun to crumble.

Thus, the world of the internet lies in the midst of two polarized notions: Order v. Disorder and Control v. Chaos. The article explains that “the forces of Order want to superimpose existing, pre-digital power structures and their associated notions of privacy, intellectual property, security, and sovereignty onto the Internet. The forces of Disorder want to abandon those rickety old structures and let the will of the crowd create a new global culture, maybe even new kinds of virtual “countries.” At their most extreme, the forces of Disorder want an Internet with no rules at all.” What would the Internet be like with no rules at all? Would it function? Would the users of the Internet truly be able to self-govern? Could the entire Internet run like Wikipedia, where every contributor checks and ultimately balances every other contributor? Or is such a notion idealistic?

When thinking about the Internet and thus, control over the internet, why the internet was created must also be address. The Internet was intended to deal with a military problem, it was not intended to does what it does today. Vint Cerf a “father of the Internet” and the “Internet Evangelist” (his actual title at Google) along with Robert Kahn created the TCP/IP protocol which allows computers and networks all over the world to talk to one another. However, the development was initially created to help the military, not for you or I. Since it was designed to be undetectable in terms of a center, the Internet has no center.

Internet has no center

The testament to the nonexistence of a center for the internet was the creation of ICANN in 1998. ICANN “signaled that the Internet would be something akin to global patrimony, not an online version of American soil.” When thinking about the Internet, many people, especially Americans, think of the Internet as an extension of American culture. While American culture is widely dispersed throughout the Internet, it is not the only cultural that is shared. There exists a multiculturalism through the Internet that does not make it merely an online version of America. This perhaps is the reason why the Internet economy was grabbed globally. The Internet economy was not just an economy for American, it was an economy for everyone. However, with a shared Internet economy, nations lost old ideals of governance.

While it seems that the battle for control is driven by corporate ambitions, the real war is driven by governments. Cerf explains that “If you think about protecting the population and observing our conventional freedoms, the two [the Internet and Government] are real­ly very much in tension.”

The DefCon Hackers Conference intended to bridge the gap between hackers and the government. Jeff Moss (or Dark Tangent), DefCon’s founder, uses DefCon to promote conversation between the Internet’s forces of Order and Disorder. Moss has become the go-between who translates his subculture’s concerns to the culture at large, and vice versa. Each year, increasing numbers of law-enforcement, military, and intelligence personnel attend Def Con. This is one unique way that the bridge between the world of the Net and the world of government have successfully and peacefully (without war) converged.

Among the things that are explained by Moss are the nature of hackers. Collective hackers, like Anonymous work as a hive. There allegiance is to the hive above all else. It is not to a government or corporation. Such a notion of a hive speaks directly to Jane McGonigal’s belief in the power of the hive. Perhaps the power of the hive is the true power of the internet. The truth that allegiances have shifted from nations to hives.

 “Everybody always calls it rebuilding the airplane in flight. We can’t stop and reboot the Internet.”

Since the internet can’t be stopped, its challenges must be addressed. Vanity Fair suggests that there will be three issues on the table at the negotiations in Dubai at the end of the year: taxation (a “per click” levy on international Internet traffic), data privacy and cyber-security (no more anonymity) and Internet management (global information-security “code of conduct”).  The article suggests that anonymity has contributed to, if not created, almost every problem at issue in the War for the Internet. Is anonymity really the issues? Would we need control if our real names were attached to over Internet habits? Vanity Fair suggests that currently “the task at hand is finding some way to square the circle: a way to have both anonymity and authentication—and therefore both generative chaos and the capacity for control—without absolute insistence on either.” Perhaps the greatest challenge with the internet is that there is no real absolutes. Black and white issues are much easier to address than those with shades of grey.

Many believe that the Domain Name Systems, the Internet’s only central feature, must be shielded from government control however, through organizations like ICANN governments will still be involved without controlling it. Arguably, the most important issue when debating the control over the internet is the need to preserve “network neutrality”. One thing that many agree on: The Internet is open to everyone, service providers cannot discriminate and all applications and content moves at the same speed– this should not change. If the Internet is one thing, it ought to be fair.


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Be The Hero

// Posted by on 04/01/2012 (12:30 PM)

After watching Jane McGonigal’s Ted Talk on how gaming can make the world a better place it got me thinking. I dove in a little further and asked how is this possible how could the superheros of video… Read more

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After watching Jane McGonigal’s Ted Talk on how gaming can make the world a better place it got me thinking. I dove in a little further and asked how is this possible how could the superheros of video games become real life? McGonigal specifically talks about how much time we spend on video games and how you could be using that time to make a change as well as have fun. Video games bring people together. People from China are playing people in the United States and people from the United States are playing people in England. Video games have there own little web of five degrees of separation where in some instances, everyone knows everyone. There are the best players and the worst players, then the new ones and the old ones. But all these players have skills. So what if we harness these skills use them for good instead of evil in a sense.

Like McGonigal said we should create a video game that lets people help solve the oil crisis, theses gaming superstars could become superheros. They could help save the world in their own way. People try to be superheros all the time and people try to make a difference. Sites like Great Americans talk about average everyday citizens who make these incredible acts with no reward in mind, they do it because no one else is.

In this video a firefighter talks about how she saved a man and his son while driving home from work one late afternoon. She didn’t have to do it but she did. I think we are naturally inclined to help people so why wouldn’t a video game that makes a difference work? I think given the option and knowing it makes a difference we would be more inclined to play it and become that real life superhero.


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A Case for Collaboration?

// Posted by on 03/26/2012 (10:21 PM)

Collaboration can be a powerful tool. However, is it in our nature to collaborate? Forbes says yes, at least for female collaboration. While musing over the general notion of collaboration, I looked back on my personal experiences. Collaboration is arguably… Read more

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Collaboration can be a powerful tool. However, is it in our nature to collaborate? Forbes says yes, at least for female collaboration. While musing over the general notion of collaboration, I looked back on my personal experiences. Collaboration is arguably frowned upon in schools (think doing homework or assignments collaboratively… in most schools this is considered cheating). If individuals are conditioned through education and collaboration is not encouraged, is it possible to expect collaboration through the internet to solve problems? Of course, there are moments—group projects— when collaboration is encouraged in schools. However, most individuals fear group projects because they cannot control every aspect. In group projects, every member should have an equal share in the work. While that’s wonderful theory, anyone who has ever been part of a group project knows that this is rarely the case. There is usually a group “leader” who usurps the power and probably does most of the project allowing the other members to merely write their names on it.

So this morning when I stumbled upon an article on Forbes.com that discussed the rise of social collaboration, I was intrigued. The articled discussed a theory of the owners of HACKEDit.com “that acknowledging a major difference between men and women will make all the difference for the tools of Web 2.0 being built today.” The difference is simple, four words:

Men network, women collaborate.

About 77% of Groupon’s income come from a female consumer base. The company just took their ability to tap into that market a step further through the creation of the Groupon Scheduler, which will allow women to collaborate online directly with the businesses they use. There is no denying that men network and women collaborate. Linkedin has done it’s own research and found that “globally, men are more savvy networkers than women.” Moreover, the Pew Internet Research found that nearly twice as many men use LinkedIn as women (63% vs. 37% respectively).

The article ultimately states that it is surprising that such a “lack of online social collaboration tools being designed for women” exists. I found this whole article rather interesting and surprising, since I do not usually view females as better collaborators than men. I think Jane McGonigal’s TED Talk on Gaming and her I Love Bees article, really challenge the legitimacy of this theory. From McGonigal’s viewpoint it seems that anyone can be an excellent collaborator if provided the right mindset.

What do you think? Are women natural collaborators? Can men be as well? Does Jane McGonigal challenge your initial beliefs?

 


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Spacewar: “A Flawless Crystal Ball”

// Posted by on 01/23/2012 (10:08 PM)

In his 1972 article in Rolling Stone, Stewart Brand delves into Spacewar, the first digital computer game developed by Steve Russell. Ironically, for Brand, “gaming” did not yet exist (we need to flash forward about 8 years to see the… Read more

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In his 1972 article in Rolling Stone, Stewart Brand delves into Spacewar, the first digital computer game developed by Steve Russell. Ironically, for Brand, “gaming” did not yet exist (we need to flash forward about 8 years to see the world of gaming explode). So his report didn’t credit Spacewar as part of a natural progression of software or even hacking, and Brand definitely did not view it as genuine piece of the technology revolution puzzle, but it was still fun.

What Brand did acknowledge about Spacewar was (as quoted from Spacewar: Fanatic Life and Symbolic Death Among the Computer Bums):

  • It was intensely interactive in real time with the computer.
  • It encouraged new programming by the user.
  • It bonded human and machine through a responsive broadband interface of live graphics display.
  • It served primarily as a communication device between humans.
  • It was a game.
  • It functioned best on, stand-alone equipment (and disrupted multiple-user equipment).
  • It served human interest, not machine. (Spacewar is trivial to a computer.)
  • It was delightful.

So Spacewar was a crystal ball… how?

Recently I stumbled upon this gem of a TED Talk:

Now I am probably the furthest thing from a gamer, so McGonial’s theory was eye opening, even if I didn’t really buy it.

My disclaimer before I get into Spacewar’s prophecy, if you will…

I apologize to any mother whose gamer also stumbles upon Jane McGonigal’s talk. Much to your and Marie Hemming’s (see comments on McGonigal’s Talk and you will quickly learn why) dismay this will only encourage his/her gaming.

Now onto the “how”… (based on McGonigal’s theory)

Spacewar was interactive:

  • COLLABORATORS: at every level and mission, hundreds of thousands of people ready to work with you
  • EPIC STORY: inspiring story of why we’re there, and what we’re doing
  • POSITIVE FEEDBACK: leveling up, plus-one strength, and plus-one intelligence

 

Spacewar encouraged new programming:

McGonigal created three games that that are an attempt to give people the means to create epic wins in their own futures:

  1. World Without Oil: an online game in which you try to survive an oil shortage
  2. Superstruct at The Institute For The Future: the premise was a supercomputer has calculated that humans have only 23 years left on the planet.
  3. Evoke: if you complete the game you will be certified by the World Bank Institute, as a Social Innovator

Spacewar bonded human & machine through graphics:

photo by Phil Toledano

 

Jane McGonigal explains the above gamer expression, photographed by Phil Toledano, as:

“a classic gaming emotion… if you’re not a gamer, you might miss some of the nuance in this photo. You probably see the sense of urgency, a little bit of fear, but intense concentration,deep, deep focus on tackling a really difficult problem… If you are a gamer, you will notice a few nuances here: the crinkle of the eyes up, and around the mouth is a sign of optimism, and the eyebrows up is surprise. This is a gamer who is on the verge of something called an epic win.”

McGonigal hopes to make it as easy to achieve an epic win in the real world as the virtual world.

 

Spacewar served as a communication device between humans:

Games like World of Warcraft make gamers virtuosos at: WEAVING A TIGHT SOCIAL FABRIC

“There’s a lot of interesting research that shows that we like people better after we play a game with them, even if they’ve beaten us badly. And the reason is, it takes a lot of trust to play a game with someone. We trust that they will spend their time with us, that they will play by the same rules, value the same goal, they’ll stay with the game until it’s over. And so, playing a game together actually builds up bonds and trust and cooperation. And we actually build stronger social relationships as a result.”

 

Spacewar was a game:

Games can save a civilization, as McGonigal explains through Herodotus’ story of Lydia during an 18 year famine which eventually lead to the Etruscans. Games allow us to ignore real-world suffering because they are engaging and immerse the player in satisfying blissful productivity. McGonigal believes if we game long enough, we can eventually solve real-world problems instead of virtual ones.

 

Spacewar served human interest:

McGonigal claims that if we want to solve problems like hunger, poverty, climate change, global conflict, obesity, we need to aspire to play games online for at least 21 billion hours a week, by the end of the next decade. We need to answer these questions:

What about games makes it impossible to feel that we can’t achieve everything? How can we take those feelings from games and apply them to real-world work?

 

Spacewar was delightful:

Games like World of Warcraft also make gamers virtuosos at: URGENT OPTIMISM

“Think of this as extreme self-motivation. Urgent optimism is the desire to act immediately to tackle an obstacle, combined with the belief that we have a reasonable hope of success. Gamers always believe that an epic win is possible, and that it is always worth trying, and trying now”

 

So, the question then becomes: do you think gaming can save the world?

 

Jane McGonigal: How gaming can make a better world


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