EXT 503 - The New Decision Makers


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  • The hope is that a crowd online will be creating and controlling it. The idea is that a whole range of people from all walks on life get online and share their knowledge, increasing the knowledge of others in the crowd and helping to educate and inform in ways that were formerly not possible – think, for example, of how education in a suburb of Montreal might be different than education in a ghetto in, say, Mexico. Collective wisdom shapes business. It shapes economies. It shapes societies and nations. All by getting a bunch of good brains together to come up with better ideas. This is what Sawyer is talking about in the collaborative web…
  • These are the 5 key features of successful collaborative webs. Each of these features links back to the wisdom of crowds. Each assumes that with one good idea comes another and another – and even failures lead to better ideas. So we’ve seen that the Web performs well as a collaborative environment – but who’s actually doing the collaborating?
  • Who’s controlling information today? Who owns and creates intellectual capital (which becomes ‘real’ capital)? What power relations are in opposition?
  • There’s a sense that everybody generally has access to the Internet (in the Western world) and that, accordingly, all are empowered to engage in information society. The rhetoric of empowerment sounds something like this: It’s easy to do! There’s no reason not to. Idea that creating communities suggests a simplicity of use, to me – otherwise, it’d be too difficult to create communities. So their rhetoric suggests that all is equal. However, the rhetoric of empowerment masks the perpetuation of existing gender hierarchies. “anybody can do it” – when only a select few can and actually do do it.
  • Moreover, the most productive individuals in the crowd are likely to be young in age, certainly under 30 and probably under 25 years of age… as this age group is most active in the so-called Web 2.0 environment of mass content creation, such as through blogging. What does this mean for us? Crowdsourcing applications are primarily created by white middle class individuals – so there is no true diverse wisdom of the crowd if all those in the crowd have the same background, same beliefs – are WASPs. That means that, ultimately, a crowdsourcing application that succeeds or a socially-produced wiki or the comments of a blog are merely reproducing the aesthetic and the values of white, assumedly straight middleclass men.
  • In categories such as visiting video-sharing sites, rating & posting comments about videos, uploading clips and creating online representations of themselves: Males are more active than females 18 to 29 year olds are the most active Pew studies: “Annual Gadgets Survey 2007,” “Online Video,” “Usage Over Time”
  • Crowdsourcing asks the largely young white male population to submit their ideas to be produced and sold to the rest of the world. More important than the money they’re making is, of course, what it means to be producing something for the masses to buy into. The knowledge the privileged few holds becomes an instrument of power and control over individuals or society. Crowdsourcing, as a form of technology, is not only a social and cultural project but also a project that is formed in power structures and coloured by dominating values in the societies and cultures in which it occurs. Why is this hard for us to accept? Because we’re already living in it, like a frog in increasingly warm waters, we all (here!) look at the world through a masculinist and/or Western lens and fail to question what it means for a small group of people to make our decisions. (And, yes, in making our small decisions, they’re also making our big decisions because control of production and labour is effectively control of our capitalist operations.) What I find especially interesting is how crowdsourcing operates. When I was first reading the crowdsourcing article, I thought it was cool that the process of crowdsourcing eliminates multiple iterations – the big guys at the top put out a brief, ask people to contribute their labour, sift through that labour and determine to whom they’ll pay the equivalent of a slave’s wage. The organization of crowdsourcing itself is characterised by a centralized, hierarchical set-up with little input from the bottom up. Actual control over decision-making often rests not with the grassroots contributors but with those who will dole out the cash in the end, the management personnel. The power relationship here is one that cannot be overlooked in favour of a happy-go-lucky turn with new collaborative technology. There is an inherent power relationship – there are multiple contradictions and perspectives in opposition. Everyone is not equal on the Web, in spite of what we hear. Crowdsourcing is not neutral, though it claims to be. It does not offer easy access for all, though it pretends to. It’s not just about uploading a t-shirt with a clever slogan on it.
  • Here’s an example of what’s going on in crowdsourcing. Who’s actually producing?
  • Members of the crowd actually are impacting decisions. Here’s the Dell example. Primary audience: Upscale, educated, technically savvy ALSO 20+ products & services based on user-generated content on IdeaStorm.com Products and services Dell – and other major companies – are producing are actually being developed by the same people who have always developed our products and services: the privileged among us. So how democratic can crowdsourcing be if only a privileged crowd gets involved? If the crowd is primarily males aged 18 to 29, and if the crowd is what’s creating information and products/innovations online, then are we not just reiterating in the dominant patriarchal discourse? If so, what is the harm in that? Who gets production power and, in doing so, power to influence what is produced?
  • Multiple studies show that the Internet is rampant with commercial websites that target and construct women largely as consumers and online shoppers. Women, online, are consumers – and the web sites we visit continue to skew towards reconstructing us as consumers. Meanwhile, men continue to be producers. What does this mean not only for society, which has long accepted this, but for people who claim that the Internet acts as a great equalizer?
  • When you influence what’s produced, you influence what’s consumed and what’s available to be consumed. And given that we live in a consumer culture, we are all then consuming what the dominant voice – here, the white male – tells us ought to be consumed. Our decisions, then, are made for us. Bad for marginalized groups – good for maintaining the status quo, wherein the same people make the same decisions they’ve always made on our behalf.
  • EXT 503 - The New Decision Makers

    1. 1. THE NEW DECISION MAKERS How the collaborative web and crowdsourcing in particular are encouraging 18-29 year old males to shape & influence production
    2. 2. <ul><li>People have </li></ul><ul><li>always valued </li></ul><ul><li>information. </li></ul>That information has usually been transmitted from one source to another to another…
    3. 11. “ The Wisdom of Crowds” <ul><li>“ When groups provide information in aggregate, you get better decisions than you would have had only a single member of the group contributed.” </li></ul><ul><li>The Wisdom of Crowds: Why the Many Are Smarter Than the Few and </li></ul><ul><li>How Collective Wisdom Shapes Business, Economies, Societies and Nations </li></ul><ul><li>Author: James Surowiecki </li></ul>
    4. 12. In the collaborative web… <ul><li>Incremental improvements on ideas </li></ul><ul><li>Small sparks light a larger fire </li></ul><ul><li>Frequent interaction among teams </li></ul><ul><li>Multiple discovery is common </li></ul><ul><li>No ownership of the Web </li></ul>
    5. 13. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KKQUZPqDZb0
    6. 14. Factors that brought about crowdsourcing <ul><li>Rise of amateur class in new mode of production: open source software </li></ul><ul><li>Cheaper tools on a more powerful Internet – people have more power than ever (and more than companies might’ve wanted) </li></ul><ul><li>Evolution of online communities: efficiently organized, economically productive units </li></ul>
    7. 15. Communities = crowds <ul><li>“ In the realm of information production, the community is beginning to rival the corporation for primacy.” </li></ul><ul><li>Jeff Howe </li></ul><ul><li>Crowdsourcing: Tracking the rise of the amateur </li></ul>
    8. 16. <ul><li>The big question now: </li></ul><ul><li>Who makes up those communities/crowds? </li></ul>
    9. 17. “ But I thought everyone made up those communities…” <ul><li>Sense that all have access to Internet and online information society </li></ul><ul><li>Reality? </li></ul><ul><li>3% of the world’s population has access to the Internet. </li></ul>
    10. 18. The hegemonic web? <ul><li>“ Many studies on the digital divide indicate the typical web user is likely to be white, middle- or upper-class, English speaking, higher educated, and with high-speed connections.” </li></ul><ul><li>Brabham, 86 </li></ul>
    11. 19. What is the effect of communication technologies claiming to be worldwide but actually being quite inaccessible to 97%+ of the world?
    12. 20. <ul><li>“ Communication technologies claim to be erasing boundaries when in fact they may be creating and reinscribing the same hierarchies between rich and poor, male and female, young and old, citizen and non-citizen and, of course, First and Third World .” </li></ul><ul><li>Leda M. Cooks and Kirsten Isgro </li></ul><ul><li>A Space Less Travelled: Positioning Gender in Information and Communication Technology (ICT) Development </li></ul>
    13. 21. Creators & consumers of UGC <ul><ul><li>Males are more active than females </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>18 to 29 year olds are the most active </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Pew studies: “Annual Gadgets Survey 2007,” “Online Video,” “Usage Over Time” </li></ul>
    14. 22. Crowdsourcing Better t-shirts. Better tomorrow.
    15. 23. Who’s actually designing on Threadless.com? DESIGNER INTERVIEWS Total: 89 Males: 72 Females: 12 Unknown: 9
    16. 24. More than t-shirts – real decisions <ul><li>Dell Inc. decided to install Linux on its PCs as a result of high demand on IdeaStorm.com, its crowdsourcing site. </li></ul>
    17. 25. Who’s producing? Who’s shopping?
    18. 26. Labour. Production. Power. Money.
    19. 27. Content/Labour = Power
    20. 28. Something to think about <ul><li>Crowdsourcing.typepad.com (Howe): </li></ul><ul><li>“ The conventional corporation isn’t going away any time soon, but hegemony is certainly under attack.” (May 1, 2008) </li></ul><ul><li>Is this true? Is hegemony (the preeminence of one group over others) under attack? If not, what does Howe’s statement mean for those not in the position of power? </li></ul>
    21. 29. Something to think about <ul><li>Does a real problem exist re: gendered technology/Web-based tools – or am I just trying to pick a fight? </li></ul>