2008 Summer Internship at Aptivate, an international IT development firm.
My primary project for the summer was re-deploying Aptivate’s online manual Web Design Guidelines for Low Bandwidth. I updated the Guidelines’ content, and re-wrote the html and css code to be cleaner and more efficient. Simultaneously, I maintained the Guidelines bugtracker, developed a marketing plan for the re-deployed Guidelines, and outlined a possible book version.
Secondarily, I worked on the css code for a web site for Aptivate’s client Helvetas.
End of Internship Presentation
Since 1993, when Howard Rheingold proposed that his ‘virtual communities’ shared the same metaphor as the ‘public sphere’ for facilitating the connection between informal conversations and self-governance, academic and non-academic enthusiasts have been discussing the Internet’s potential as an electronic incarnation of Habermas’s democratic ideal. The call for this reality has only strengthened as Internet technologies enable more elaborate online media, tools to self-produce media are increasingly available to the average user, and forums for distributing and broadcasting the end products are free and readily available at the speed of electronic social networks. So-called Web 2.0, marked by a ‘revolution’ of user-generated content (UGC), promises truly democratized media production and, thereby, empowerment of the everyday user: the networked citizen.
Yochai Benkler uses successful networks of UGC producers, Wikipedia and Slashdot, as well as case studies of activism facilitated by blogs and e-mail, to argue that the ‘networked public sphere’ is a reality. In The Wealth of Networks, he argues that in a ‘networked information economy’ power lies in distributed networks of contributors empowered by online social software. Benkler even outlines the emergent norms of this public sphere, which parallel Habermas’s bourgeois norms for rational-critical debate. The key element is participation in UGC. But Henry Jenkins says that there is a growing ‘participation gap’ in terms of new users abilities to critically engage with Internet technologies. The key to Benkler’s public sphere is the fusion of producers and consumers of online media, and Jenkins argues that there is a widening gap between the two statuses.
Jenkins’ ‘participation gap’ is the latest in a series of digital divides, which represent the most fundamental criticism and barrier to the Internet’s potential as a public sphere. Pippa Norris has defined three digital divides: the global divide, the social divide, and the democratic divide. The first two divides focus on well-established discrepancies in the ability to access and use technology and information, at both the inter-state and intra-state levels. But the democratic divide represents a new extension of the ramifications of a digital divide: discrepancies in effective engagement in public life. At this level, a networked public sphere that possesses the media literacy recommended by Jenkins could actually augment civil society’s ability to act in areas of high Internet access. Conversely, those with no access could be left behind developmentally by way of democratic ‘capabilities’, in Amartya Sen’s terms. Thus, we may be left asking: Will Networked Public Spheres be Solutions for or Causes of the Next Digital Divide?
Co-founded web platform in July 2008 to help progressive voters connect to candidates that match their personal politics and create opportunities for fundraising.
This venture never went beyond the idea stage.
Details of Work
- Co-developed idea with Kevin Adler (BetterGrads co-founder) based on social capital theory and political campaign experience
- Designed mockups for front-end and back-end features
- Started to develop business plan, and while researching competition discovered ActBlue
- Decided to retire the idea in May 2009 to work on second venture, BetterGrads
This thesis earned a First Class mark.
‘Social capital’ and ‘the digital divide’ live double lives; in popular media they are buzzwords, and in academia they are debated theoretical constructs. Literature on both of these topics has proliferated from social theorists to The World Bank to new academic research to public policy initiatives to reportage and back again. Digital divide researchers wishing to study the intersections of social capital and internet use find themselves faced with an increasingly muddy field of enquiry. A significant part of this muddiness is the promulgation of ill-defined conceptions of social capital which seem to lack any context-sensitivity. To help clear this up and advance the field of inquiry, this dissertation offers: 1) a redefinition of social capital and 2) a new case study. After a critical evaluation of past literature, social capital is redefined as an individual asset related to normative behaviour, social networking across various communication media, and positive and negative products of localized social interactions. Using a qualitative methodology tailored to relevant fieldwork, individual practices and perceptions of the aspects of social capital and internet use were studied in the rural town of Alston in Cumbria, which enjoys an unusually high level of broadband internet access. The results of this case study are presented as evidence of the need to fundamentally understand community-specific social relations through individuals’ networks and norms. The research supports a thesis of the ‘social shaping of technology’, which explains differentiated adoption and use of the available information and communications technology. In the conclusion, community informatics, a promisingly context-sensitive approach to researching and deploying technologies, is recommended for future study. However, community informatics like any other research and practice approach needs to realize the distinct advantages of a bottom-up method of technology deployment should be complemented by a bottom-up approach to studying contextually-specific phenomena like social capital.
I conducted interviews in the rural English town of Alston to understand how a pilot broadband internet program had changed the community’s social landscape.
Details of Work
- Established contact with key informant at the broadband provider office in Alston, Cybermoor
- Developed semi-structured interview protocol
- Traveled to Alston, living in the local youth hostel, and interviewed residents, April 14-21, 2009
- Transcribed and coded all interviews
- Wrote and submitted thesis
“Wikis invoke a multitude of the theoretical issues regarding authorship raised in late structuralist and poststructuralist thought. For many in the humanities and social sciences, the decentering of authorship in favor of discursive and systemic methodologies more attuned to power, historicity, and a dynamic “field” of representation has led to novel methods for critical interpretation and evaluation. However, such models have not become a significant component in how communication is understood within the public sphere. The singular author is very much the model that governs the expectations of most readers. By complicating traditional notions of authorship, wikis affect associated issues of authority, originality, and value.”
“When I first heard about the One Laptop per Child [OLPC] programme—the goal of distributing inexpensively produced laptops to every child in the world for education—my immediate reaction was: what a great idea! When faced with OLPC’s cute, little XO laptops, the problem of ‘The Digital Divide’ seems so simple and so solvable
“But that was my first alarm bell: simple. It seemed so simple. Solutions can often be simple—but development problems are rarely simple. They are usually historical, culturally specific and inherently complex. And while the XO laptop may have an expertly-designed-to-be-simple interace, it is anything but a simple solution.”