Archive for January, 2011

A little more than halfway through Clay Shirky’s “Here Comes Everybody.” The book has been very interesting up to this point, and anyone wishes to learn and understand more about the internet and social media should definitely check it out.

Just learned how Wikipedia came about. It was a drawn out process that culminated into the website that everyone knows. The development was fascinating as the original concept was to take experts in various fields to build an internet accessible encyclopedia. It would have a similar setup to the current incarnation, in that it wouldn’t pay these experts, but simply request their knowledge. Turns out experts don’t care to put their expertise to work on these pro-bono cases as often as the creators hoped.

So the creators took a different approach. They actually learned the wiki method from another person, but they managed to take it to a new level in a new direction. Open up the editing capabilities to the entire world. Anyone interested would be allowed to add, remove, and edit the articles. Know a little then add a little. Know a lot then add a lot. Crazy to think that the community at large could come together to produce such a network of ideas, let alone collectively build upon one another’s thoughts.

By now, most if not all, have experienced Wikipedia. The one component that draws my attention most is reinforced by its setup in the belief that anyone can contribute. Over time, I have come to the realization that everyone is an expert. Expertise may be a relative term, but bear with me as I try to explain my position. Everyone has knowledge about something. We’re not talking “leading expert,” but enough knowledge to surpass the general populous. Let us take the child sitting at home listening to music as they rage against their parents. I would bet that child possessed a set of knowledge in music that their parents would not know and could not grasp. Why should that appreciation be neglected? The kid that sits at home and plays video games knows a lot about those video games. The learning is happening, just aimed in a different direction. Should we not encourage learning in all its forms? Perhaps we can direct it towards more pertinent interests, but the first step is to understand.

Knowledge in various fields, even those that are not regularly reflected upon in a positive light by society, is expansive. If we can appreciate knowledge in all forms, we can encourage knowledge for knowledge sake. That is something that is falling apart within our society. Scholarship is falling to the pragmatism that society is requiring. People don’t go to school to learn knowledge, but to learn a skill. How do we get back to wanting to learn knowledge?

Chapter 1, Part 1

To say something is different is simply to recognize change.
“Well that’s different,” Phil uttered as he gazed up at the brown stained ceiling above him. The fact that he realized anything as he came out of his drunken stupor was almost as impressive as the fact that he could recognize his ceiling, or better yet, that this ceiling was not his ceiling. It was odd because the walls were too close to one another. The problem of how anyone could fit a bed into a room with walls so close became the next issue to enter his mind, which was directly followed by the solution; he was not lying on a bed. As it turned out he was lying on the ground, and though carpeted, it was still very hard. Whoever paid to carpet the floor beneath him did not care for the simple luxury of a quality carpet to cover this back breaking floor. Phil started to feel the pain creeping into his hip from sleeping on his side. While the uncomfortable resting place had managed to enter his thoughts, his main focus was still on why the ceiling was not the one that he would expect upon waking up and still why the walls were so close.

Then struck the epiphany, he was in a hallway. He turned his head slightly to the right and realized he was at a door. The brass numbers 312 could be seen through the haze that still filled his morning eyes. This means that he was at his door. He also noticed that his keys were in his door. Phil doubted that many other people would have the exact same keychain as the one that his niece gave him two years ago, an ugly thing, but better to always have it than to see her one day and have to answer the questions of why he doesn’t. It was a loving gesture; therefore, it had a purpose beyond the subtle way that it would remind him of its presence by jabbing his thigh with its antennae. Thoughts of the ornament were replaced by another unusual sight, his door was open. Phil simply thought to himself and came to a pleasant conclusion: someone must have been kind enough to bring me home and after wrestling away my keys, opened the door, and assumed I could do the rest. Friends might help a drunkard change out of a soggy, beer drenched shirt, but for a stranger opening the door is about the best you can hope for. Well anything above murder and mugging was a pleasant outcome given the possibilities.

Thoughts of the stranger stretched his mind from side to side, though the alcohol tended to interfere with the memory, and trying to put a face to the stranger was not an easy task. Phil quickly gave up on the notion that he might come to the sudden conclusion that he knew who the stranger was, but instead decided to move his thoughts inside his home.

While reading, Clay Shirky’s “Here Comes Everybody,” I came across an example using the Birthday Paradox. It explains how relationships within a group are much more complicated than the individuals within the group. Shirky uses the scenario of 36 people in a room allows for a greater than 80% chance that two people will share a birthday. How does that work?

My thoughts lingered on this topic for the next few days. I would wake to my mind trying to grasp the setup. Instead of singing in the shower, I found myself attempting to work out this scenario. How could 36 people have a greater than 80% chance of sharing birthdays? 36 people cover about 10% of all possibilities. The so called paradox explains that each person has a relationship with each other and thus allows for greater chances than you can see on the surface. Huh? I sought out Wikipedia for an understanding, and it explained through lots of mathematical formulas that Shirky was indeed telling the truth. But it still just didn’t make sense to me.

Every opportunity I get to poll 36 people within a room, I will. Birthday Paradox doesn’t sit well with me. Maybe I’m missing something. Maybe I just can’t wrap my mind around this. Maybe I’m right and the world of academics and mathematics are wrong. That last one probably isn’t correct, but hell, why should I start doubting myself now.

Have you ever read something that came from someone with a long list of credentials and think “duh?” It’s understandable. Social sciences focus on human beings and their tendencies. I’ve been a human being for over 26 years, and within that period, I’ve interacted with a lot of other humans beings. I might not be an expert, but I’m not any form of novice either. That statement can be spoken by almost anyone and everyone who has ever looked at those around them with any kind of intellectual observation.

Which leads me to my conclusion that social sciences like to state common sense in such a matter of fact way as to allow the readers to witness some kind of eureka event. The epiphany is an illusion. Not because the message doesn’t have some validity, but because it is common sense wrapped up in a fanciful selection of words. So the next time you read a passage from a person of implied importance within a field, take a hard look at the message and decide if you knew that before he said it. Maybe you knew it, but never thought about it before in that manner. I guess that holds some value.

Perhaps I’m just in a cynical mood, but those are my thoughts for the day. I hold the right to admit that I’m wrong and change my opinion. But, first I need a reason to believe that I’m wrong.