Monthly Archives: November 2005

teenager repellent

At the back of Ms. Magazine, there’s a section called “No Comment” where they re-post advertisements of various sorts that are just so wrong it hurts. They don’t analyze them but they know their audience will get it given their voice in general. Well, given my actively pro-youth culture voice, check this out:

What’s the Buzz? Rowdy Teenagers Don’t Want to Hear It


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Attention Networks vs. Social Networks

(originally posted on centrality)

Network analysts often speak about (un)directed graphs. In essence, this refers to whether or not someone you know knows you. If reciprocity is required by the system, it’s an undirected graph. The vast majority of online social networking tools assume that users are modeling friendship and thus if you’re friends with someone, they better damn well be friends with you. As such, they use undirected graphs and you are required to confirm that they are indeed your friend.

Well, what about fandom? Orkut actually put the concept of fan into their system, but in order to be someone’s fan, you had to be their friend first. Baroo? I’ve noticed that Friendster introduced fans, although it is not consistent across the site; the system decides who is celebrity. I can be a fan of Pamela Anderson but i cannot be a fan of Michel Foucault or Henry Jenkins. While i can understand that the former is clearly a Fakester, the latter is actually a real academic with a Friendster Profile that i genuinely admire (far more than Ms. Anderson). Even on MySpace where bands have a separate section, i have to add them to my friends; i cannot simply be fans.

The world is not an undirected graph and very little about social life online is actually undirected. Many social relations are unequal; they are rooted in directional graphs – fandom, power, hierarchy. So why do we use undirected models?

Of course, there are many systems that have directed graphs. I can read blogs by bloggers who who don’t read me; blogrolls are directed. I can have friends on LiveJournal that do not reciprocate. I can subscribe to feeds of people that i admire without forcing them to do the same. I can make a Flickr user a contact simply so that i can watch their photos. I do all this because i know the world is not undirected.

Part of the problem is that we’ve built a model off of social networks instead of attention networks and there’s a very subtle difference between the two. Attention networks recognize power. They recognize that someone may actually have a good collection of references or be a good photographer and that someone else may want to pay attention to them even if their own collections are not worthy of reciprocation. Attention networks realize that the world is not an undirected graph.

There are many good reasons to use attention networks in systems instead of social networks. Do you really want to force people to get permission to subscribe to public material of someone else? Do you really want to put people through the awkwardness of having to approve someone that they don’t know simply because one person respects the other? Of course, the awkwardness of social networks does not disappear simply by having directed graphs. Reciprocity is still an issue whenever the networks are performative (visible as a statement of connection). This is most apparent in the blogging community where people feel insulted that they are not included on the blogroll of a blog that they read regularly. Thus, people feel the need to perform a relation of someone that they do not read simply for good social measure.

Attention networks are far more visible when people actually use the network for some purpose. Friendster networks are meant to be performative first and foremost. There’s minimal cost to having more friends. It may foul up your gallery searches but, really, does it make a difference if you see 4,325,935 people instead of 4,311,266? Attention networks like LiveJournal and Flickr combine the network with the subscription process. You want to keep your Friends page clean and to only get information from people you care about. Of course, LJ also recognizes that there are times when you need plausible deniability. It allows you to create a separate group of LJ folks that you actually watch (separate from your “friends” list). The subscription process is inherently a process of attention relations, not friendship.

Of course, the computation needed for directed graphs is much greater than for undirected graphs. Is that the main reason that most services require reciprocity? Even when it’s not the best mechanism for the system? Or are there other reasons why folks are obsessed with undirected graphs?

capturing changes in news

This weekend, i managed to see two distinctly different movies concerning radical shifts in journalism and the differences were chilling – Capote and Good Night, and Good Luck.

Capote is a portrayal of Truman Capote, focusing on his work in creating In Cold Blood. In Cold Blood was the first journalistic novel, taking a true story and adding literary flair to draw you in. It allowed people to fetishize real news. In the film, you see Capote devolve as he creates the masterpiece that makes him famous. Writing the book, getting to know and helping support the murderers killed him… Capote never wrote another book and died an alcoholic. Of course, what is only hinted at in the film is the role that his book had on the living people he portrayed, on the people who were intimately affected by this tragedy. If it weren’t for Capote, the murderers would not have gotten their appeals, a the small town in Kansas would never be infamous, and the people could’ve moved on from the horrors without their lives perpetually being invaded for Capote’s gain. Legacies have a price.

Good Night, and Good Luck is the story of how Edward R. Murrow took on Joseph McCarthy by taking advantage of his privilege as a trusted reporter to offer editorialized reporting in order to reveal the underlying problems of McCarthy’s approach. Murrow took on McCarthy when no one else was willing and many credit him for ending the Red Scare. In doing so, Murrow was accused of being a red, his good friend committed suicide and he almost lost his job at CBS. Yet, there’s a reason why he’s an icon to most journalists – he did what was right. Of course, every ounce of this movie makes you think of contemporary times… (are there any journalists today who would stand up to the current regime?)

Both films portray characters who made a choice to write in a way that frames a story, recognizing that the true facts are only one part. Yet, Capote did it for personal gain at a great cost to both him and the town portrayed. Murrow, on the other hand, did it for what he felt was a moral responsibility. Both realized that the reporter did the framing. And yet, at what cost?

What are the moral responsibilities in reporting? In speaking in public? When we recognize that there is no neutral truth, no fair and balanced anying, everything is framed.. then what? How many more Red Scares can we perpetuate? How many communities can we destroy by fetishizing their losses?

the demons

I’m often told that academics chase their demons. They study what they can’t understand in themselves, following their demons out of a desire for resolution.

I’ve also noticed that many of my professional colleagues work to avoid their demons. They travel to outrun them and work so excessively in fear that their demons may confront them.

I started wondering what it means to be a workaholic academic. Does it mean that you’re chasing your demons as they chase you? Or does it mean that you find masochistic joy in constantly facing those demons? Or does it mean that you become your demons?

framing the discourse of drugs and death

Last week, a friend of many of my friends died. Frostbyte (Kevin McCormick) was a brilliant light artist whose live should be celebrated. Unfortunately, the circumstances of his death have introduced some troubling conversations about drugs and production. What is most horrifying is how it has been taking up by the media; i can’t help but watch the news clippings with absolute horror.

What we know is that when police officers investigated Warehouse 23, they found an array of chemicals and glassware. According to the Herald, “Police say they found hundreds of chemicals used to concoct club and date-rape drugs such as crystal methamphetamine and ‘Special K.’ … Investigators found chemicals used to manufacture crystal meth, ecstasy and the date-rape drugs gamma hydroxy butyrate (GHB) and ketamine hydrochloride (‘Special K’).” In response, the “state Senate passed a bill that would prohibit consumers from buying more than 9 grams of pseudoephedrine at a time” and the Fort Point district was closed down to investigate (Globe). In much of the coverage, the lab is being called “impressive” and the Northeast’s largest. (And of course, then the articles discuss the fear and horrors of crystal meth.)

There are three different things that are bothering me about what’s going on. First, producing meth is very different than producing GHB. Meth labs are highly toxic (and thus the reason for the hyper panic involving the closing down of Fort Point) because they produce byproducts; they also usually involve large containers, not glass vials. The coverage focuses entirely on the presence of chemicals for meth; there is no mention of byproducts. Interestingly, the chemicals for meth are also used in producing other drugs (both legal and illegal). If this were a large meth production house, there would be byproducts, not just potential chemicals. This itself made me very wary of the information i was getting.

Based on information about the presence of chemicals, it has been taken as a given that this is a meth lab. The result is a moral panic in Boston which the legislature responds to by passing laws that do little in the way of stopping meth production. So much for innocent until proven guilty or logical outcomes. What role does the press have in actually determining someone’s innocence or guilt? I get very very worried about this. What’s worse is that when the police realize that it’s not a meth lab, it won’t hit the papers, laws won’t be turned back. Everyone will continue to be convinced that it’s a meth lab. Gah.

Finally, i can’t help but scream when i see the press cover GHB as a “date-rape drug.” (And since when did ketamine become a date-rape drug too?? It requires snorting or injection!) This framing presumes that the reason to produce this drug is to engage in date-rapes, supporting the moral panic. Unfortunately, i don’t think that it would be nearly as news-flashy to talk about GHB as the “alternative to alcohol with no hangover.” GHB has a lot of problems and it makes me very nervous to see it in clubs because the OD dose is not that much higher than the desired dose. The bigger problem is that you cannot under any circumstances mix it with alcohol because this will most definitely produce a black-out (and thus, the “date-rape” claim). That said, most people who make or use GHB know this, prefer it to alcohol and know better than to mix the two. To assume that it is a precursor to rape is misrepresentative and irresponsible. Internally, i’m troubled by this framing. On one hand, it’s inaccurate and what happened to truthful reporting? On the other, i detest the presence of GHB in clubs and i understand the urge to use scare tactics to keep it out.. but does that really work? And what damage does poor reporting cause in the long run? (::cough:: This is your brain on drugs… Oh no it’s not.)

I’m worried about how much power the press has over cultural interpretations. I see a lot of my friends hurting right now, trying to come to peace with the death of their friend and cope with the chaos that has ensued. And while some things make sense, much of what is being reported does not line up. Furthermore, it’s being used to frame a larger debate in a pretty problematic way. And it sucks to having the death of one of your friends be used to such ends, particularly when he wouldn’t have wanted it that way. Some folks are outraged, arguing that we should make certain that such situations never happen again. Personally, in the back of my mind, i can’t help but think that i’d rather die having sex on E than decaying alone in a nursing home.

Update: Globe reports that it is not a meth lab but that it was most likely used to create designer (psychedelic) drugs.

fun party invitations

Last night, i went to a housewarming at the house of George and Jason. Their party invitation was hysterical so i had to share:

Come warm the house and drink the beer while we BBQ and dance the night away. In order to maximize your fun, we’re set up a strict timetable for events. Please coordinate your attendance accordingly.

4pm Jason attempts to light BBQ; George and Jason have their first beer
4:10 Jason realizes he has no skillz
4:15 Jason douses BBQ with highly combustible compounds
4:16 Fire is once again rediscovered by man
4:30 George finishes her fourth beer; Jason still nursing his first
5:00 George takes over BBQ; Jason passes out on neighbor’s lawn
6:00 Jason watches George blow smoke rings
7:00 George and Jason arm-wrestle for who has to take out the trash
7:13 First guest arrives
8:00 Jason threatens George with lawsuits for being funnier than him
9:00 George threatens to delete Jason’s flickr account
9:30 Jason uploads photo of George threatening him
10:00 Prince comes on the iPod and a dance-truce is declared
11:00 …

Where: George and Jason’s new pad
San Francisco, CA 94114
drunk directions: (510) xxx-xxxx

What to bring: Something to BBQ or drink
The Noise
The Funk
It On
Up Baby
The House Down


Homosexual is a term originating from the greek words Homos, meaning “same”, and sexual, meaning “sexual.” It is used to describe couples who have sex in the same manner each night. This is different from heterosexuals who have sex in varying positions.

Homosexuality is especially popular in most Christian religions where anything aside from missionary style sex is considered sodomy. Most christians are outright homosexuals and believe heterosexuality to be a sin. — Uncylclopedia

ROFL. ::crash::giggle:: Oooh… my belly hurts. ::laugh::laugh::laugh::

God will strike down upon thee with great vengeance and furious anger

During the elections last week, Dover Pennsylvania chose to replace their school board with eight new members. Why? The incumbents had supported “intelligent design” and the citizens were outraged and expressed it by voting. Well, this did not please Pat Robertson who issued a pox on all their houses:

“I’d like to say to the good citizens of Dover: if there is a disaster in your area, don’t turn to God, you just rejected Him from your city… And don’t wonder why He hasn’t helped you when problems begin, if they begin. I’m not saying they will, but if they do, just remember, you just voted God out of your city. And if that’s the case, don’t ask for His help because he might not be there” — Pat Robertson on The 700 Club

I read this and my jaw just fell slack on the floor. I know that i haven’t paid much attention to Pat Robertson lately but since when is it permissible for judgment to be made by anyone but God? And how does this rhetoric of hatred and vengeance represent God? And let’s assume that the citizens of Dover did poor by God – since when can you not ask for forgiveness? Since when will He not be there?

Somehow, the version of Christianity that i learned entirely missed this type of hate. If Jesus were to descend again, he would be lynched in a matter of seconds by those who worship him for trying to help homeless people, drug addicts and prostitutes. How is it that people cannot see the problems and hypocrisy of such a hateful interpretation of the Bible?

(For the loving side of Christianity, check out Jo and Cross Left)

Homophily of Professional Conferences

(reposted from centrality)

Ever notice how many professional conferences tend to lack diversity (in ideas, methodologies, demographics)? Ah, homophily. Ever wonder why this might be problematic? Or why it might stifle innovation and creativity?

sitting in the boardroom / the i’m-so-bored room
listening to the suits / talk about their world
they can make straight lines / out of almost anything
except for the line / of my upper lip when it curls — Ani

Following from network analysis, we know that birds of a feather stick together and that they invite more like minded birds to join them. And we also know that networks play a key role in innovation and that disparate networks are critical to creativity. Let’s keep those two bits in mind when we think about conferences.

Professional conferences are fundamentally social networking events; don’t let anyone convince you that people are there to listen to lectures. We attend to connect with the people that we know and meet new people who might inspire us (or hire us). Professional conferences are also primarily word-of-mouth events, particularly the smaller ones. You go because your colleagues are going or because someone you know is going and you track their whereabouts. Additionally, speakers are frequently chosen by organizers who they know; they hope these speakers will attract a particular (paying) crowd. Well, by and large, we are friends with, listen to and know of with people like us, making conferences painfully homogeneous affairs.

Unfortunately, even the most conscientious organizers tend to have difficult diversifying their audience because they are under pressure to make certain (paying) audiences attend. Attendees also magnify the homophily problem by choosing events based on their friends. Likewise, companies attend if they’re guaranteed their target audience (for either marketing or hiring). If homophily works so well for these groups, why should we try to diversify?

While we go to conferences to see our friends, the opportunity to learn and really think from a new perspective is still there. We all learn from new people and yet we rarely leave a conference having met more than a handful of people. But try going to a different country – it’s a mind-opening experience. You see your own culture from a new lens. You come back to your home environment and you bring with you ideas based on observations abroad. There’s something very powerful about really moving oneself out of one’s comfort zone, out of the norms.

Well, the same thing can occur at conferences. The more diverse the audience, the more potential for really new ideas because you can engage with more disparate world views. People of different theoretical, methodological, ethnic, religious, political, cultural backgrounds, genders, races, socio-economic classes, lifestyles, perspectives… Diversity matters for more than some PC idea of what’s right. Diversity matters because it helps us see the world in new perspective and engage with development that supports a diverse world. It fundamentally helps innovation.

Those looking to hire at conferences should also care about diversity. If you meet someone at a conference who’s exactly like you, what do they bring to your company? Most companies want innovative minds. Well, you don’t innovate best when in a room full of people like you; you innovate best when you get to play with a lot of different people because you take their throw-away ideas, remix them with yours and voila, new idea!

Organizers want to have a diverse audience because their event will be remembered as the place where someone’s new idea came from, where the ideal employee was hired. Of course, it’s also tricky because over time, as excited attendees return, they too will end up being homogeneous, at least in ideas/perspective. This happens everywhere – events/companies/schools that were once a site of innovation become stale because it’s difficult to keep things fresh.

Of course, it’s also difficult for newcomers to attend a conference that is so solidified in its attendees. It makes it hard to penetrate, to be a newcomer. The amount of effort it requires to attend as a stranger, to learn the cultural values that bonds attendees… it is much higher. Yet, so are the potential rewards. But not if the attendees have so much centrality that they do not wish to meet newcomers.

So, what do we do about it? How do we support diversity in order to evolve? How do we help integrate new people to meet the consistent attendee? Conference organizers design programs; how can they design the event as a whole? There is an art to event organizing and it is not solely one of choosing good topics. But it is definitely a tricky social network problem. You want there to be just enough but not too much centrality. You also want to use the topics and common interests to bond people, not segregate them. You want to help people who will only really meet 2-3 people to meet people most unlike them but who they will still have enough in common to have reasons to engage. What else? What else can social network theory tell us about conference organizing to support innovation through diversity?