Blog from February, 2011

I found this on Facebook...

A friend posted this link as his status and it made me chuckle. And then it reminded me of Hannah's post from a while back.

Also, this video is totally related to our group's project!

Legal ethics, social networking

Check this out. New ways of getting out of jury duty, apparently!

Colbert V HuffPo

In keeping with my innate and deep-seated fear of having things stolen from me on the internet, I thought it was very appropriate to link y'all to Mr. Stephen Colbert's feud with the Huffington Post.

He literally reposted their website under a new header. All the same stuff, but with a new header.

And if that's not scary, they did the same to him, with the Huffbert Nation.

Here's an article by The Christian Science Monitor (which I never expected to link to), that makes a good point. Colbert's satirical theft of HuffPo is an attempt to draw attention to how intellectual theft is almost acceptable on the internet, and how rare original thought really is out in the Tubes. And, if Google really IS trying to remove links that aren't original sources, what was the point of the AOL takeover of HuffPo in the first place, and will it turn out worth it?

The Future

Today's xkcd is both funny and thoughtful. How are we going to imagine the future once we do invent the flying car?

PBS Frontline - Revolution in Cairo

For anyone interested in the role of social media in the Egyptian uprising, the first half of this Frontline documentary that aired Tuesday is a fascinating inside view of the makings of the revolution. The film crew follows the April 6 Movement, a Facebook-centric activist group that spent 3 years organizing protests, and presents a story that the revolution was ignited by an apartment full of 20-somethings.

Frontline: Revolution in Cairo

Vindictive? There's an app for that!

The Huffington Post recently ran an article about this new Facebook application that allows you to monitor your ex's relationship status called the Breakup Notifier. I would describe myself as a bit of a proponent of schadenfreude and even I think this is a little much...

Edit: Upon re-reading the article, I think I let my own personal biases color my judgment of this. While I would use this to find out when my ex is single so I can feel justified in knowing that he or she is not only a slew of expletives, but also alone, many people might not. Either way, this is a very interesting app. And I am impressed it only took the creator four hours to create.


For some reason, I seem to think issues in Philosophy of Mind related to functionalist accounts of the human mind in relation to computers are extremely relevant to a course entitled "Digital Humanities," as this is the 3rd blog post I've made which touches on this stuff. Anyway, I just read this article by Stanley Fish and thought I'd share:

Last summer, over in the related (but, at the moment anyway, sadly quiescent) space called Digital Geneseo, I posted a link to the cognitive scientist Steven Pinker's June 10, 2010 New York Times op-ed, "Mind over Mass Media". I thought I'd re-link to it here in light of some our recent readings and as a counterpoint to the general tenor of the PBS Frontline documentary, Digital Nation.

Best bits:

As with primitive peoples who believe that eating fierce animals will make them fierce, [media critics] assume that watching quick cuts in rock videos turns your mental life into quick cuts or that reading bullet points and Twitter postings turns your thoughts into bullet points and Twitter postings.


The solution [to the new distractions presented by technology] is not to bemoan technology but to develop strategies of self-control, as we do with every other temptation in life. Turn off e-mail or Twitter when you work, put away your Blackberry at dinner time, ask your spouse to call you to bed at a designated hour.


It’s not as if habits of deep reflection, thorough research and rigorous reasoning ever came naturally to people. They must be acquired in special institutions, which we call universities, and maintained with constant upkeep, which we call analysis, criticism and debate. They are not granted by propping a heavy encyclopedia on your lap, nor are they taken away by efficient access to information on the Internet.

Microeconomic Cheat Sheet - Notes for WoN Ch. 2

While reading Chapter 2 of Wealth of Networks, I noticed that Benkler does a great job explaining some economic concepts, but not so great a job explaining some foundational concepts informing his assertions. So, I decided that it may be beneficial to our class to explain a few things about microeconomics that he doesn't cover very well.

1. Marginal cost: the additional cost incurred to create one additional unit of an item

It is one of the assumptions of economics that human beings are rational creatures who think "at the margin." This means that we make lots and lots of little decisions all the time. Rather than going to Walmart and thinking "Should I buy name brand products or generic products for the rest of my life?" we ask ourselves "Do I want to buy great value pasta or Barilla pasta today?" With regards to production, marginal costs are incurred when a producer decides to supply one additional unit of whatever they make. For example, the marginal cost of apple pie is the answer to the question, "What will making one more apple pie cost me?" The marginal cost includes the price of everything that goes into the making of that pie: a kitchen, ovens, pie pans, ingredients, and the time it takes to bake it. This means that the price of pies is more complicated that a constant value. Making the first pie is really expensive. Between buying a room and putting an oven in it and everything else you'd need, we're talking about a pie that costs a few thousand dollars. What about the second pie? You can use the same kitchen and utensils, and it could even fit in the oven at the same time as the first one so you wouldn't need any additional electric. It's marginal cost is probably closer to $5 (the cost of the additional ingredients and prep time).

So, when Benkler talks about information, he takes about the difference between the marginal cost of knowing the info for the first time and the marginal cost of telling the millionth person. Think about writing a research paper. The initial investment that you have to make is pretty substantial. You have to find out information, think of something creative to add, do the actual writing, etc. Then, you can tell our class about what you discovered for a cost that is essentially negligible (the oxygen you used to speak and 1-2 minutes of everyone's time). So, once information is created, the cost of sharing it is basically free. Like the apple pies, high marginal cost for the first unit which drastically decreases.

2. Market Efficiency: In order to understand why a market would be inefficient, it helps to know what makes it "efficient."

Benkler references the fact that a market is considered "efficient" when marginal cost equals price. This is much easier to understand when we look at picture:

The blue line represents demand. It shows how willing people are to buy a product at any given price level. In order to read the graph, you draw a pretend horizontal line from the price scale over to a spot on the blue line, then you can draw a pretend vertical line down to the quantity line to see how many people would buy the product at that price. When price is high, fewer people want to buy an item. When price is low or zero, lots of people want it.

The red line represents supply. A business wants to get enough money to cover the marginal cost of making their products. Therefore, the supply curve goes in the opposite direction as the demand curve. When the price is low, the imaginary box we draw to the red line shows that only a couple of businesses will want to sell their product. When the price is high, many more businesses want to sell the product in question.

To understand market efficiency, we can think about this graph as representing happiness. Let's pretend that it shows the market for apple pies in Geneseo. What if the price of a pie was $50? Draw the imaginary horizontal line high up on the graph. Looking from left to right (low quantity to high), we can see that it hits the demand curve very fast. Only 5 people are willing to pay that much for a pie. The triangular space made by the price scale, the horizontal price level, and the demand line shows us how happy the pie-buyers are. Maybe one was willing to buy a pie for $200, two would have paid $100, and three were expecting to pay $50. For the first 3 buyers, $50 is a steal. They're so happy! If we keep following our price level to the right, we can see how many people want to bake pies where it hits the supply curve. Students would want to drop out of college because pie seems like such a valuable industry. For the 5 lucky pie bakers, they just made a whole bunch of money. If we trace a vertical line down to the supply curve, this shows us how small a price these bakers would have accepted. Maybe $1. So at the end of our auction, a few people are thrilled, all the other pie eaters in Geneseo are indifferent because they care more about $50 than apple pie. Lots of bakers are sad because people don't want to buy huge numbers of pies at exorbitant prices.This is inefficient.

Now imagine that the price of pies is $10. Much more reasonable, so many more people will want to eat pies, and fewer students will want to drop out of school to become bakers. Pretend that $10 is the dotted line already drawn on the graph. The number of pies people want to eat is exactly the same as the number people want to bake! Everyone who wants a pie for $10 can have it and everyone who can bake pies at a marginal cost of $10 can do so. People are so happy! The entire triangle between the red and blue lines to the left of this intersection point shows us just how happy Geneseo is. An efficient market!

What about the information market? If marginal cost of spreading information is zero, lots of people will want it. This makes sense. Also, because the cost of giving away information is nothing, the supply (red) line for this market would be horizontal along the quantity scale. They can give the info away infinite times without incurring any cost. Because of copyright laws, though, the market for information has a high price. Not everyone who wants it can afford it, and even those who can info-buyers are less happy than they would be if it was free. Info-givers are getting a profit because every unit of information costs nothing to them but brings in money. The extra happiness that info-givers get from this profit, however, does not match the amount of potential happiness lost by info-buyers. That's why Benkler gives examples of how much happier info-buyers would be by showing us that the cost of buying access to journal databases and spending money buying sheet music has a negative impact on the amount of new stuff created. Then, he tells us about how only a few industries are even really getting a profit from copyright protection. Profit gained < Potential innovation lost -> Copyright hurts overall American happiness

So, hopefully these explanations help to clear up a few concepts for anyone who is having trouble with chapter 2. Leave a comment if you have questions or if I didn't explain something well enough.

Notes in the Margins

In a digital world, is it the end for notes in the margins?

A possible assignment?

Watching Digital Nation with my housemates/classmates, we got the idea to do as the correspondents suggested and post videos of our digital life stories to their website. Once we realized we couldn't work the MacBook camera, we postponed our project, but decided to mention it to the class as a possible assignment. What do you think? You can post your stories here.

News isn't dead yet, folks

Here's an opinion piece that I wrote for the March 11, 2010 issue of The Lamron. I think it's very relevant to our class, but because I can't link to the online version due to the fact that our new website does not yet have back issues/archives up, I'm pasting the text here. When we do get the archives up, I promise I'll post the link to prove it's a Lamron article and not just a personal blog post in the disguise of a community blog post =)


This past weekend, some members of our E-Board got to attend the Western New York College Media Conference. Overall, it was a positive experience that generated some great ideas. The Keynote Speaker, David Mathison, author of Be the Media, was thoroughly confused in his understanding of news media (and sometimes basic facts – Mohammed and Confucius were 1,000 years apart, not around at the same time!).

Mathison was very well intentioned, I must say. He was speaking about the democratization of the media and how in today’s world with tools like camera phones and Twitter anyone can be a member of the media and report a news event. While this hopeful speech disregarded the real fact that many people in the world still do not have access to these tools, the message was that we can all now free ourselves from an “elitist” kind of a system.

As a multitude of people have already done, he claimed that traditional forms of media are dying and we have to learn to use new ones. This is true in one sense but not in another. A kind of conceptual equivocation was a work throughout most of his talk.

Let me first say this: speculation without follow-up is not news, it is a rumor. Mathison used the example of the young man who first broke the story of the plane landing in the Hudson last year using a picture phone and Twitter, saying that “a picture’s worth 1,000 words.” Yes, but a picture could be worth 1,000 wrong words! People could look at the picture and think terrorist attack, or drunk or suicidal pilot, or a problem with our air traffic system, or any number of things that were not true.

Unlike the average citizen carrying around a hi-tech phone, a news reporter has an ethical responsibility to report truth to the best of his or her ability, meaning that any statement of fact such as “a plane has landed in the Hudson River” must be followed up, ASAP, by research and facts which reveal the details of the situation.  Are we wrong sometimes? Yes – I’ve already had to apologize for misleading syntax on two separate occasions. But the ethical obligation is there; we are accountable for what we put in print and attach our names to.

Is this democratization a bad thing? No, not at all. More voices should be heard, but the increase in the number of people reporting things leads to an increased need for – not the call for the extermination of – news reporters in our society.

Maybe we can’t report through the medium of newspapers for much longer, but we’re still an integral piece of civic culture. When you’ve got everyone running around reporting information, you need people who will actually go and research it and present a cohesive report of facts as they actually exist, not as people perceive or guess them to exist.

Perhaps not all news reporters hold the same high standards as I do, but that’s a column for another day.


Carmedy West

Carmedy West is a SUNY Geneseo senior and an Edgars Fellow pursuing a BA in Anthropology. Last semester, she and I discussed the possibility of her joining Honr 206, Digital Humanities, from Al Akhawayan University in Morocco, where she's spending her final semester of study before graduation. Our plan was to have her join our class meetings by Skype or Gchat. We were both excited about the idea, but unfortunately, Fatima's schedule became too complicated for the idea to work.

Fatima recently sent me the link to her senior honors capstone project in Anthropology, "Fatima's Blessing: Hijabi in the USA."

Fatima writes,

For my capstone I spent a little longer than one month wearing the Muslim hijab, or head scarf, as part of my capstone's larger focus on the image of women who elect to wear the head scarf in the United States. To communicate with others and publish my work I created a Blogspot account at and updated it daily throughout the course of my project alongside a Youtube account that I also posted video blogs on. The result was an outpouring of both support and hostility toward my project from all across the world — the majority of support coming from Muslims and the majority of hostility coming from Anti-Islamists. It actually became very fascinating and although I've stopped updating the blog daily since the most exciting portion is up I thought you might beinterested anyway since I believe it falls under the scope of Digital Humanities.

Fatima's YouTube channel is here.

Screen time

Here's an article which cites a study by the Kaiser Family Foundation about media consumption among children ages 8-18 (younger than all of us, yes?):

The part that most struck me was this: "Director of the Center on Media and Child Health and Boston pediatrician Dr. Michael Rich pointed to the ubiquity of media usage as an indicator that it may be too late to continue debating the question about whether media was a positive or negative influence on children’s environment. Instead, media may have become essentially “like the air they breathe, the water they drink and the food they eat.”

What are people's thoughts on such a topic? Does the ubiquity of electronic media usage mean that we're moving past the debate about the merits or lack thereof of such a model of information transaction?

Google Trends

I found this today after our Ngram experiment.  I think it's pretty fascinating to see just what people are searching for.  You can sort it by year, country, language, etc.  This is just another example of how we are leaving a digital trail of truth about our existence behind us as we go.