Monthly Archives: November 2008

Social networking and new forms of public participation: Towards regeneration of direct democracy.

Syntagma square is the most central place in Athens, just in front of the Greek parliament. raphael-plato-aristotle_yoestActually syntagma in Greek language means constitution, the very book of democratic principles that form our republic. Today I was impressed by a facebook event called “Erasmus Freeze in Syntagma”. It is about an open invitation to freeze, stop moving and doing anything, at syntagma square on a given time, initiated by a group of Erasmus students at Athens.

The facebook event and the corresponding public invitation to participate is accompanied by a web link to youtube showing a similar event held at New York (http://fr.youtube.com/watch?v=jwMj3PJDxuo&feature=related). It was very funny and simultaneously persuading to participate. In addition to this, on the specific event’s page there is a passage explaining the rationale of the movement and prompting to join as a reaction to the constantly increasing running in our modern lives. The fact is that in contemporary enormously sized cities we are all running all the time even if there in nothing to catch, with no specific logical reason.

This constant running is a source of anxiety feeding a vicious circle and leading to a substantial deterioration of living quality. However, what is really impressive is that the new technology mediated virtual social environment constructed at cyberspace offers great opportunities for active civilian participation and citizen initiated movements. Social internet and web 2.0 technologies are facilitating the initiation of such movements by providing the suitable interface, the forum to communicate and organize successful social movements.

Ancient Greece was the first place where democracy emerged in cities-states like Athens in the pure form of direct democracy. All the citizens were voting and participating in taking decisions. Direct democracy, a democracy without representatives, maybe is returning back to its birthplace through European students and citizens at Erasmus Freeze event at Syntagma square. Join the freeze:

http://www.facebook.com/event.php?eid=47589644809

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How children learn in a Hybrid Society?

Before the era of Information Society children were learning through direct apprenticeship and throughistock-social-network direct social interactions in the context of the family, the village or the adjacent city. Information society led to the formation of a global village without clear defined boundaries to hinder the information interchange between the global citizens. In modern society implicit learning takes place due to the norms imposed by mass media. Television and cinema are central actors in today’s learning processes. Family, school and local community remain important learning contexts but mass media play a paramount role by defining what is social accepted as “cool”, trendy and modern which is very important for children and teens as well as for the rest of us.

Mass media and the resulted global village are the “trademarks” of information society. Today however, Internet technologies and the resulted virtual communities constitute a discrete stage in information society because they result to totally computer-mediated social interactions. The salient characteristic of interactivity was missing in traditional mass media like television. Computer-mediated social interactions lead to the formation of virtual social relations or, to be more accurate, to the formation of real social relations based on a virtual space. People entering virtual communities like facebook, myspace, youtube or flickr they feel like joining a real-world localized community, a place full of emotions and lived social experiences with other virtual-mates.

According to the situative approach, learning is a socio-cultural process directly related with living in a society and interacting with other persons. Learning is a social process, so social relations even if mediated by computers and internet lead to learning. Today, children and adolescents use internet social tools, like chat or social networking sites (SNS) more and more in an increasing rate.

There are some attempts to utilize specialized social networking sites to facilitate learning at a class level. These experiments are very important, not because of the very fact that maybe we can use social networking sites to improve learning by “recruiting” a new teaching tool, but mainly because through such experiments we can understand what is changing in the way people are learning. The shift from oral tribes to literate ones changed the very core of human mental and cognitive processes. The increased mediation of human sociality by computer machines maybe causes analogous alterations in our own psychological functions. How learning and cognitive processes are affected by living in a hybrid society? That is the question…


Half truth is very very dangerous… and is very very very common on Internet and facebook!

Two days before I was really shocked by a group invitation on facebook named: “Memory of 3yr oldtruth Jamie Bulger PLEASE READ!”. It was shocking to me remembering this disgusting murder. Little Jamie Bulger was only 3 years old when kidnapped by two 10 years old boys. According to this facebook group: “They took Jamie on a walk for over 2 and a half miles, along the way stopping every now and again to torture the poor little boy who was crying constantly for his mummy. Finally they stopped at a railway track where they brutally kicked him, threw stones at him, rubbed paint in his eyes, pushed batteries up his anus and cut his fingers off with scissors. Other mutilations were inflicted but not reported in the press.“. This facebook group is a call to protest against the fact that “This week Lady Justice Butler-Sloss has awarded the two boys (now men), anonymity for the rest of their lives when they leave custody with new identities.” (as reported in this facebook group.

After reading the above I felt angry and craving to join the group. I were remembering the incident from the news, but I wasn’t remembering these brutal details. However, suspicious as usual by what I see on Internet I decided to check the facts twice from other sources. At wikipedia http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Murder_of_James_Bulger among others I found that: “They then placed batteries in his mouth . False reports claiming the batteries were pushed up his anus were spread by a chain letter. The letter also claimed that Bulger’s fingers were cut off using scissors; this is also untrue. James suffered skull fractures as a result of the iron bar being struck around his head; this wound is believed to have caused his death.” Jamie Bulger case deserve great attention as it is. There is no need for extra false details. And the worst is that may be the the creator of this facebook group doesn’t know that his/her story is partially true and participates in the propagation of this false (half true) information.

I think wikipedia cannot be fully trusted (as everything!) and I have to triple check. However I like to state here that on internet very often we read partially true information. And although with normal lies is relatively easy to recognize them, this is not the case when we confront half truth. With half truth, or partially truth, the true part of the information invokes part of our previous experiences, knowledge or rationality. A major problem in society is to distinguish between lies and truths, to check the validity of digital information sources. In Hybrid Society and in virtual settlements this problem is even more hard to cope with. And I think modern adolescents, true digital natives, are really exposed to information traps like the described above, unless they receive proper education and instruction to handle the today’s “information mess”. Are the educational systems ready to handle digital challenges?

At this point an ancient Greek philosopher advises us: Ώσπερ γαρ την μέλιτταν ορώμεν εφ’ άπαντα μεν τα βλαστήματα καθιζάνουσαν, αφ’ εκάστου δε τα βέλτιστα λαμβάνουσαν, ούτω δει και τους παιδείας ορεγομένους μηδενός μεν απείρως έχειν, πανταχόθεν δε τα χρήσιμα συλλέγειν.


Wired & disconnected!

Today more and more persons are choosing to communicate via social networking sites. In digitalalone spaces like facebook you have the sense you have all your friends together in a cyber-neighborhood. One consequence of this is that someone feels no need to call his/her friends and meet them for a drink or dinner, to see each other and discuss in a time-spatial proximity. If I feel I see my friends on facebook, then there is no need to meet them. I have already learned their news in “minifeed”. I read the wall posts. I know they are good and healthy, so there is no need for more intimate contact. So virtual intimacy is growing by reducing direct contact.

The obvious conclusion to be drawn is that we are facing a totally different quality of communication and sociality. There is a lack of direct body contact which is replaced by virtual contact, characterized by different qualities. This has significant results in the area of individual’s psychology and in the ways of social interaction and communication. The hybrid new environment combines virtual and direct social contact. Due to this there is a transformation of psychological functions in the area of conception, imagination, memory, emotions, cognitive procedures and mental functions, as well as learning processes. This transformation of psychological mechanisms can be compared to the transformation due to the transition from oral to literate societies.

Nowadays being wired in the social networking’s cyberspace means to be physical separated by the means of direct contact. Cyber wired but physical disconnected resulting in a different quality of intimacy. Body contact, smell and feromones were always a significant way of moving from individuality to humanity, from individual to person. For thousands of years human psychological mechanisms were developed without literacy and virtuality. The last few thousand years literacy dramatically changed our mental horizons. Virtuality in the last few years may be is changing our route in a way that will be understood in the future by the next fully digital generation.

This is not science but I beleive time and spatial closeness is the key to strong, intimate and health providing personal relations. Be wired results to be physical disconnected, results to be not touched, literally and metaphorically.