What is social about social software?

Before we forget all about the label Social Software and move on to Web 2.0, 3.0, or whatever comes next, I think it would be useful to dwell a little bit on the use of the word ‘social’ as applied in this term. What does it mean for software to be social? Intuitively, we know that Social Software is software that fulfills some sort of social function, allowing us to form social connections, and perform social activities that give shape to social groups. But as evidenced by the number of times I just used the word ‘social’ to define Social Software, it is clear that what we have here is a tautology: by taking for granted what we understand by ‘social,’ the adjective in question both provides an absolute definition and at the same time manages to define nothing.

Technology, the culture of testing, and obstacles to school change

Will simulations be the next form of standardized testing? There has been much talk in recent years about the use of simulations and gaming in education, both for children and adults. The best educational simulations and games —we are told— embody ‘active learning’ (learning by doing, or the formation of knowledge through the subjective cognitive […]

Virtual Freedom and Tolerance: The Perils of Uniform Diversity

Britain’s Mass Observation project consisted of hundreds of people keeping journals of their daily lives in order to generate a sociological snapshot of British society in the 1930s. Today, researchers are probably already undertaking similar studies of our societies by looking at blogs.

Anyone engaged in such research would probably find that our societies are not lacking in diversity. Every ethnicity, ideology, religion and fetish known to humankind is probably represented in cyberspace. But does this diversity translate into more tolerance? Given the general state of affairs in the world, the answer would seem to be resoundingly negative. … more

Postmodernism, Virtuality, Globalization and the (fragmented) Self – 3/3

But are technology and virtuality inherently oppressive? Can they not be instruments of subversion, even while partly complicit in capitalism? To believe that technologies cannot be re-appropriated and subverted would be to yield the power of human creativity to the will of multinational corporations. Somewhere between Audrey Lorde’s belief that the master’s tools will not dismantle the master’s house, and Ani DiFranco’s opinion that every tool is a weapon if you hold it right, there must be a productive space for technology and virtuality within praxis. If that is a possibility, we must begin by critiquing the unsustainable practices of virtuality: mainly, it’s refusal to “get real.”

Postmodernism, Virtuality, Globalization and the (fragmented) Self – 2/3

But if the decentered self requires the internet to support its multiple identities and realities, and the internet can only be maintained with the hardware and electricity provided by multinational corporations, then we must admit that the decentered self is partly complicit in the process of globalization. In other words, the discourse of the decentered self must acknowledge how it, as a product of postmodern culture, helps to perpetuate the centralized logic of capitalism. As Jameson argues, “every position on postmodernism in culture-whether apologia or stigmatization-is also at one and the same time, and necessarily, an implicitly or explicitly political stance on the nature of multinational capitalism today.” (¶ 4)

Postmodernism, Virtuality, Globalization and the (fragmented) Self – 1/3

Frederic Jameson’s essay, Postmodernism, or The Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism, describes the ethos of its time. Published in 1984, the work provides a detailed analysis of the social and political implications of postmodernism, and predicts the continuation of a trend already well in progress in the 1980’s: the further fragmentation of the self. Jameson’s predictions are validated and updated in Sherry Turkle’s book Life on the Screen (Touchstone Press, 1995), published a decade later. Where Jameson looks at art, literature and architecture in the 1980’s, Turkle looks at virtuality and the online world in the 1990’s for evidence of the postmodern decentralization of the self, and what its sustainable and unsustainable consequences might be.