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Have you friended Kip Drordy yet?

If you have to ask who Kip is,  where have you been?

Ok, you might be forgiven for not having the pleasure…. given that Kip isn’t a real person.

For those not in the know, I’m talking about the excellent Facebook episode that those clever people in South Park aired recently. It really was a very clever account of how truly bizarre and obsessional the whole world of social networking can get.

The character of Stan resists and resists until he is forced to give in and do the Facebook thing.  His Profile (with a capital P) grows so huge that it takes on a life of its own.  He can’t keep up with the constant nudges and winks. His granny gets upset when he’s slow to poke her – Facebook is a strange world and does strange things to people!.

Kyle, on the other hand, is a dab hand at the Facebook. He’s building up his circle of friends and enjoying tending his farm until he commits the most dire of social faux-pas.  He friends the uncool Kip Drordy.  In the shallow world of social networking, a profile is only as trendy as the profiles its friended. Friending someone from the wrong side of the fence can cause friendlessness as Kyle soon discovers.

Despite the snub from Southpark, good things are in store for Kip in the, er, real world.   Kip’s Facebook profile now has a whooping 143,000 friends.  You can visit it here. There is something charming about getting almost 7,000 Likes for posting that you’ve just eaten 2.2 cookies. It’s a nice world after all.

The whole episode and the fall out (Kip’s hugely popular profile) asks some very important questions.

What does it mean to be a Friend?  What is a Friend?  Can one really be friends with 800,000 people, or even a fraction of that?  What do social networks mean for people?  Why is there such pressure to connect with others through an online medium, even those we see face-to-face on a regular basis?  What does it mean and how does it feel to be un-friended?  Why has Farmville become such a huge hit on Facebook?  Are there genuine people to be found on the highly controversial chatroulette?  How many Kip Drordys are out there suffering and struggling the indignity of being shunned for not fitting with the norms of whatever society they find themselves in?

Kip Drordy – what have you done for a Kip Drordy today?


How we compare?

The IIA have released the latest State-of-the-net in Ireland report. Some things I found interesting –

A list of what-do-people do on the internet reveals that searching for travel information is still the number one activity. Most standard activities are on the rise, with notable increases in social networking, Government services information and current affairs. The only decrease is in “school / college research”.  Is this a good thing – are students finally getting the message that there are many internet sources that are simply not “formal academic peer-reviewed sources”? Alternatively, is the power and quality resources of the internet increasingly not being availed of?

Regarding internet purchases there is a similar note of curiosity. When all purchases are aggregated we are above the EU average. 36% of Irish people have made internet purchases, compared with 32% of Europeans.  However, in the specific category of “books, magazines and e-learning 12% of Europeans have purchased, compared to only 7% of Irish. Is this a cultural or language difference, or does it say something about our literary tastes and / or activities in Ireland?  Our travel / holiday purchases push account for a significant proportion of our online purchasing.

We’re still lagging behind the EU average for broadband connectivity but the gap has noticeably narrowed.

What’s the bottom line – much done, much left to do?

More on twits and tweets and their uses

I’m feeling a tad guilty for not being a more active twit. I’m not entirely sure why I’m feeling this way. I’m equally not sure who or what is making me feel this way. To figure out the answers to those questions I’ve been looking at some uses twitter is being put to, and what might be good / bad / indifferent about them.

Here’s one that caught my eye about live tweeting by doctors performing a live surgery.  How is this any different than the more common practice of videoing the procedure and then placing it somewhere (online?) accessible to the med students, potential med students, etc, etc, who might be interested?  Answer – the fact that it is live.  What does that add – a buzz factor, a sense of immediacy.  Are either of those needed?

In my humble opinion, medical procedures are too personal and too serious for something as casual and trivial as a buzz factor. Even the most common and apparently straight-forward of operations can go wrong.  This is a human being that is being operated on. Does the world need to know all the details that should be the preserve of that patient and their immediate nearest-and-dearest. The same thinking applies to the immediacy factor. A live commentary might cut down on the worry for the loved ones of the person being operated on, but why might anyone else be in a rush to know about the fate of the patient.

It seems to me that the twitterbug is the latest in an evolution of social networking tools. There are now a lot of these tools available and those that take off typicallyvhave something unique to offer.  For twitter it is the sense of short bursts of real-time here-and-now. It’s being used in a variety of scenarios. The hospital one quoted above I don’t agree with (but thats just me, perhaps otherw would disagree). Immediate on-the-ground reactions to a plane crash before the ‘official’ press can literally get to the scene is a much better use.

But who am I to say what should be used for what. For me, the most interesting thing about such web 2.0 tools is that many of them are out there in the public domain and so its up to the public what use they use them for. Sitting back and seeing what people make of them is a social experiment in its own right.

The Church going backwards

When someone mentions the city of Modena in Italy I immediately think of that great of great tenors – Luciano Pavarotti. He was talent for his native city to be proud of.

But now Modena has hit the headlines for all the wrong reasons.

Apparently the archbishop wants its young folks to abstain from text messaging, social networking websites and computer games for Lent!!  Why, oh why would any one want to do that? Cut yourself off from your friends, deprive yourself of a source of fun, cause confusion in your social life because you cant text your mate that your group is going to club x instead of club y. What if you have e.g. missed the last bus home and are now stranded. How do you let your friends and family know what’s up. The list goes on. But apparently, the archbishop of Modena doesn’t see things like this.

So, why the call for abstinence then? Apparently the young people have to cleanse themselves from the virtual world and get back into touch with themselves.  Oh dear! From my studies of psychology I’ve learned that much of our self-knowledge and who we believe ourselves to be comes from our interaction with others. A tool that lets us do that should be encouraged.

Yes, we know that computer addiction is a very real problem with some people. But think about it for a moment. How many people do you know who spend (or would genuinely like to spend) every waking moment online, who suffer physical and / or mental withdrawal problems if their computer breaks down. I honestly can’t think of any. I know of people who consider themselves highly engaged in their web life but are all reasonable normal well-adjusted people who can engage perfectly well in the real world.

Excuse me now, while I go catch-up with my Facebook friends.

Yesterday’s social networking report – part 2

Seems like that survey published yesterday about our younger folk benefitting enormously from hanging out in cyberspace has got people talking. How about this list from Google?

The titles are particularly interesting. Here’re a few I like –

What are they all saying? In essence, the problem isn’t with the kids and their online explorations and discoveries, its with the parents.

It’s time to lay off the scaremongering and negativity. The online world is not full of predators and fraud scams. There is a lot of good in it and perhaps parents should join instead of criticising from the sidelines. Kids are more savvy than today’s over-protective parents give them credit for.

What does it mean for us educators? Freedom to do what we’ve suspected for a while now might actually work – go to where the kids are and work with them in their own space where they’re comfortable.

The report suggests that kids prefer to learn from their peers than from adults and parents. To me, it’s not the content of the learning that’s important here per se, it’s the mechanisms of learning we should focus on. What are peers doing to inspire each other to experiment with online tools and activities, how is the momentum created and sustained, what blocks are educators (inadvertently) putting in front of students that are not present in their online activities.

I’m not saying that education should move wholesale to the net. That would lose many of the benefits that face-to-face learning gives us. I am saying that the internet is a platform that many young students are comfortable in, so why not embrace it for teaching and learning purposes.

Messing about on social networks – the new learning

Another really interesting report released today

What’s it telling us – something educators know already at some level, but it doesn’t come to the fore until research like this points it out.

Some examples –

New media allow for a degree of freedom and autonomy for youth that is less apparent in a classroom setting”.

What freedom do students have in the classroom? The teacher is in charge, so the students are secondary. How many teachers would step back and allow the students freedom to be autonomous? At the very least they would be accused of not doing their jobs properly even if they are promoters of independent active learning.

“Their efforts are also largely self-directed, and the outcome emerges through exploration, in contrast to classroom learning that is oriented toward set, predefined goals”.

Exploratory learning towards goals that the students set themselves as opposed to pre-set goals set by a mysterious other with little or no input by the students. I wonder which students might prefer?

“Contrary to adult perceptions, while hanging out online, youth are picking up basic social and technological skills they need to fully participate in contemporary society”

What should education be about – preparation for the real life outside it, to be able to thrive in a chaotic modern world. Seems like our young folk are taking matters into their own hands, preparing for their own future and having some fun along the way. You cant argue with that.

“Erecting barriers to participation deprives teens of access to these forms of learning”.

What do many schools and colleges do? Deliberately block access to Bebo and Myspace and Youtube and Facebook, etc.

Who teaches the students about this technology? The answer: ‘trial and error, I guess. Whenever I learn anything with computers, I’ve taught myself’ “.

No-one is forcing anyone to learn and use these tools. No-one is telling students you must do this. It’s all voluntary. Why are students willing to spend the time to learn these tools in their sparse spare time? If students are willing to sit down and voluntarily learn something why on earth would we stop them?

“Youth look to each other’s profiles, photos, videos, and online writing for examples to emulate and avoid in a peer-driven learning context that supports everyday media creation”.

Peer learning without the typical peer pressure.

“Online groups provide an opportunity for youth to exercise adult-like agency and leadership that is not otherwise available to them”.

Students in charge of their own lives, practicing independence and leadership …. Self empowerment at its best – to be applauded and encouraged.

online or offline, you decide

A feature I like in Facebook is the Minekey opinion gadget. Basically, someone poses a statement and asks if you agree or disagree. The % of agree / disagree to date are posted along with comments of the voters if they choose to comment and so add some meat to their dis/agreement. The latest one to pop in my email asks “No amount of social networking can ever substitute its real life counterpart”. Think about that one for a moment – is the person suggesting that Facebook (and equivalents) are inferior to offline social networking. If so, in what ways and to what extent?

Turns out that of the 7000+ facebookers who partook, a whopping 94% agreed!! And these are from people who facebook regularly (otherwise, they wouldn’t have bothered Minekeying). Some of the comments: “face 2 face is the best, but distance is the creator of the need!!!”, “You can pretend who you are and how you feel but you never know if your offending anyone or if anyone is lying unless you are face to face with them. Social networking is impersonal and awkward at times”, “its just a lazy way of communicating, unless you are speaking to people who are miles apart from you”, “but isnt social networking part of real life, so depends on person how do u take it, see it, manage it and share it to become part of life”, “But we can make our real life much easier through social networking”.

So, what does all that mean? The online method has inferiorities – devoid of the cues we take for granted in the offline world how can you be sure of how you are coming across, or if other people really are what they appear to be. But it has its plus sides – the distance of physical geography is not a problem. Others don’t see this online / offline divide as clear-cut. The virtual world is real and the people they met there are real people. Personally, this last one is the view that has proved positive for me. Many of my Facebook (and other SN) friends are real people I would never have met if the online world didn’t exist. Yes, I’ve also met some people I’d rather not have met but online they can be blocked, and it’s much easier to deploy avoidance strategies online than it is offline. Three cheers for online social networking and the people that make it what it is.

Obama winning the net race

So it’s official Barrack Obama is the new US president elect. I’ve got mixed feelings about this one. On the one hand you can’t help thinking that he is exactly the type of person the US needs right now (am aware that I’m saying this as a non-US citizen who doesn’t even live there). On the other hand, Ireland is way down his list of priorities. He wish of US foreign multinationals coming back to the US to bump up the economy there is not good news for Ireland at all.

His usage of the internet in his campaign is something worth blogging about. Ok, he’s not Al Gore but still I’m more than impressed. He used it to make it easy for people to have access to him, his ideals and policies and above all, to contribute, in both words and money.  Obama “gets” the technology and knows how to exploit it, he recognised the ‘long tail’ – a huge amount of his donations were for tiny amounts that individually wouldn’t have come to much. Using the net made it easy for Joe Soap to contribute $60 meant that a lot of Joe Soaps were contributing small amount that collectively added up to a very heft treasure chest indeed.  

1,800 is the answer to what question?
Answer: the number of YouTube vids uploaded to Obama’s youtube channel. He even made tweeting look easy, and apparently there were ring tones, profiles on facebook, myspace, flickr, linkedin, and a whole host of less well known web 2.0 tools.  In essence, he actively involved the people in his campaign. He didn’t just constantly speech at them, but gave them an active role. Internet-driven crowd-sourcing a its finest.

An uh-oh is his VP – apparently old school, cracking down on P2P music sharing and has a strong anti-privacy ideal.  

Obama has expressed interest in creating a CTO (that’s Chief Technology Office to you and me) government office.  It will be interesting to see what this office gets up to. It will be interesting to see what Obama will be like as US president.