Monday, October 6, 2008

Comments on Social Networks, Social Graphs, Data Portability and Education

The subltle and almost unconscious nature of technology acceptance and use might be likened to a crowd of people passing by a doughnut shop in the early morning hours. The enticing smells of the freshly baked pastries wafting lazily through the air, settling lightly and enveloping the senses, fall on various unsuspecting passers-by, one individual at a time, in varying degrees of intensity. Some individuals will notice the wonderful aromas immediately and succumb completely to the enticment, others with practical restraint, will walk onto the other side of the street, to avoid the temptation, but with the delicious smell still lingering in the air around them, and yet others will not even be aware of the delectably distracting smells at all! The first acceptors will then buy some doughnuts, offering them to co-workers and friends. Those that walked onto the other side of the street, though vowing to avoid, still smell the lingering aroma, and think, "maybe tomorrow...". Those that were oblivious to the smells originally, might walk by the next day and awaken...

Maybe I'm just hungry, but it seems like the subtle settling of an aroma on individuals
and their varied responses to it approximates the idea of technology acceptance and use.
Some individuals who are highly sensitive to a particular medium might be the first to find, accept and experiment with a new technology. Many others, in turn, as the 'aroma' finds them either directly or through a friend, will engage in the technology. Some will be even later-comers, and then a handful of people will never 'partake' of the technology.

Social networks, Facebook included, seems to share that analogy. Many of the
early adoptors found the site immediately and immersed themselves in the technology. They were the first to find the uses and enjoyments from this social platform. The next wave of individuals are now discovering, through friends directly or word of mouth, the different ways to use that platform that is most helpful to them.

Educators have begun to incorporate the idea of social networks and find that by so doing, the students are being guided in learning and practicing 21st century skills. Christine Greenhow, a learning technologies researcher, states, "Students are developing a positive attitude towards using technology systems, editing and customizing content and thinking about online design and layout. They're also sharing creative original work like poetry, and film, and practicing safe and responsible use of information and technology." In a first-of -its-kind study, researchers at the University of Minnesota have discovered the educational benefits of social networking sites. The same study found that low-income students are in many ways just as technologically proficient as their counterparts, going against what results from previous studies have suggested. From this study, 94% of the students observed used the Internet, 82% go online at home and 77% had a profile on a social networking site. Their use of social networking sites focused on learning the technology, enhancing their creativity, and becoming aware and open to new or diverse ideas and communication skills. They also found that students connected on social networking sites to discuss problems in homework. Greenhow suggests that it is up to educators to broaden the use of social networking to promote education, and what it means to be a good digital citizen and leader online.

As for the social graph, it is truly amazing how connected we all really are! It really makes me think about the brotherhood/sisterhood of man, and how we need to find our commonalities in order to have peace and unity in the world. Maybe these social networks will enhance our ability to see those common elements. I also thought about how unity was stressed in the various Conference addresses. Maybe social networks, and the social graphs that describe them, will be a tool for unity. A social graph is a sort of geneology that might actually be helpful to the church's genealogical efforts!

Data portablity, as I view it from the articles I read, although frought with technological problems and privacy issues, is still valuable concept, and the discussion about it is the beginning of a conversation that may well eventuate into a more open internet society.
It will be interesting to see what develops over time in this area!


opencontent said...

Your intuitions about the doughnut shop serve you well. I would encourage you to read the Wikipedia article on Rogers' notion of diffusion of innovation:

There is quite a bit of work in this area, and if you're interested I would encourage you to go have a look.

The social graph as a means toward unity is an interesting idea... It just makes more explicit the connections that already exist between us all...

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