Richard Rogers: So wel­come every­body. I want to intro­duce briefly the theme of the Winter School and this notion of oth­er­wise engaged.” 

So, oth­er­wise engaged refers to our time as a time of dis­trac­tion. As a time when social media is actu­al­ly begin­ning to focus our atten­tion on things that are dis­tract­ing. And I want to talk a lit­tle bit about first of all of our new—and it’s going to sound like an oxy­moron, but it’s our new sort of dis­tract­ed modes of engage­ment. So I’ll argue that there have been a num­ber of new terms that have been coined to cap­ture modes of engage­ment, so ways in which we are engag­ing with our machines and our plat­forms, which are fun­da­men­tal­ly dis­tract­ing or make us dis­tracted. And I want to talk a lit­tle bit about so-called solu­tions” to this new sort of dis­tract­ed mode of engagement. 

And then sec­ond­ly, I’d like to talk about how whilst we’re being dis­tract­ed, and engag­ing, in a dis­tract­ed way, we’re also being mea­sured. And these par­tic­u­lar met­rics, which I call van­i­ty met­rics, are met­rics based on these dis­tract­ed modes of engage­ment. So I’ll describe that briefly, and then I want to intro­duce a solu­tion to that, what I’ve called crit­i­cal ana­lyt­ics. So crit­i­cal ana­lyt­ics is the sub­ti­tle of Winter School and I’ll intro­duce it to you—also rather con­cep­tu­al­ly but also quite prac­ti­cal­ly what some crit­i­cal ana­lyt­ics for cer­tain new mean­ings of engage­ment could be. 

So let me start off. Otherwise engaged, whilst also an expres­sion, is quite a well-known play by Simon Gray, 1975. And it’s a play that starts off with a man, a very well-to-do sort of intel­lec­tu­al man, sit­ting in his liv­ing room. Turns on opera music; Wagner, Parsifal. And he’s going to enjoy in a sort of con­cen­trat­ed, focused way, a Saturday after­noon lis­ten­ing to opera music. 

What hap­pens to Simon Hench, as he’s called, is that he is dis­tract­ed. First his ten­ant comes in and dis­tracts him. Then an old school­mate who wants some­thing from him comes in and dis­tracts him. And then an aspir­ing stu­dent comes in and asks for his atten­tion. And what hap­pens grad­u­al­ly as he’s asked for atten­tion, he grad­u­al­ly falls apart. Turning into this…well not quite a mad­man, but turn­ing into some­one who has sort of lost his mar­bles, so to speak. And then ulti­mate­ly at the plays end what we find is that he has com­plete­ly lost his abil­i­ty to care. And this is the point that I want to make. So dis­trac­tion lead­ing to a lack of care. To not being able to care.

Now, these days there are at least three—and there are others—ideas about how we now engage with new media or social media. How we engage more gen­er­al­ly. And these are three terms that’ve been coined. One is called flick­er­ing man” and this is by Nicholas Carr who wrote the well-known book called The Shallows. And I just want to quote real­ly briefly what he means by this. This is Nicholas Carr writ­ing in 2007 in a blog post that pre­ced­ed the book The Shallows, and he writes: 

Contemplative Man, the fel­low who came to under­stand the world sen­tence by sen­tence, para­graph by para­graph, is a goner. He’s being suc­ceed­ed by Flickering Man, the fel­low who darts from link to link, con­jur­ing the world out of con­tin­u­al­ly refreshed arrays of iso­late pix­els[, shad­ows of shad­ows]. The lin­ear­i­ty of rea­son is blur­ring into the non­lin­ear­i­ty of impres­sion; after five cen­turies of wake­ful­ness, we’re laps­ing into a dream state.
Nicholas Carr, From Contemplative Man to Flickering Man

Now that’s just one term. You may have also heard the term ambi­ent aware­ness.” Now Clive Thompson, who wrote about this in The New York Times, he did­n’t coin in this term. This term goes back into inter­ac­tion design, computer-related design cir­cles. But he’s refer­ring to our seem­ing need to have con­stant up-to-the minute updates on what oth­er peo­ple are doing. Not be able in some sense to live with­out them. Wanting to be ambi­ent­ly” aware of the other.

And the third one, and this is the one I think that got the most atten­tion, by Linda Stone, con­tin­u­ous par­tial atten­tion” is what she coined. And she defined it as an arti­fi­cial sense of con­stant cri­sis— (And maybe this is very American, actu­al­ly.) An arti­fi­cial sense of con­stant cri­sis so as not to miss any­thing. So you need to always be half on your smart­phone, and half pay­ing atten­tion because you don’t want to miss any­thing. She calls this semi-sync” mode, where she says it’s not quite syn­chro­nous, it’s not real­ly asyn­chro­nous com­mu­ni­ca­tion, either. It’s semi-syn­chro­nous communication. 

Okay. So, what are some of the solu­tions to this new kind of dis­tract­ed mode of engage­ment? I want­ed to talk—this is the first part—and talk a lit­tle bit about what is increas­ing­ly being called—and there’s a new O’Reilly book out by Amber Case, 2015. What’s increas­ing­ly being called calm tech­nol­o­gy.” So calm tech­nol­o­gy goes back to a famous piece by Mark Wiesner John Seely Brown who worked at Xerox PARC in the 1970s. Sorry, the 1990s. They were in the sec­ond gen­er­a­tion of peo­ple there.

They wrote a piece called The Coming Age of Calm Technology. And it’s inter­est­ing because they describe a time that’s not very much unlike our time. They write, Information tech­nol­o­gy is more often the ene­my of calm.” And then here you go, 1990 this is. Pagers, cell­phones, news-services, the World-Wide-Web, email, TV, and radio bom­bard us frenetically.”

Of course nowa­days what we have is some­thing not nec­es­sar­i­ly all-surrounding but rather on the inter­face. And these are dia­log box­es, pop­up box­es, push noti­fi­ca­tions, alarms, updates. So what Brown and Wiesner and Amber Case have called for is to encalm… (it’s actu­al­ly not real­ly a prop­er verb but I quite like it) …encalm the inter­face. And then what Brown and Wiesner referred to, we are inter­est­ed in that which informs us but does not demand our focus or atten­tion. Now this is dif­fer­ent from par­ti­cal con­tin­u­ous atten­tion or ambi­ent friend-following, etc. This is a method for quote-unquote smoothly”—And this is Amber Case, smooth­ly cap­tur­ing a user’s atten­tion only when nec­es­sary while calm­ly remain­ing in the background.” 

Okay, so this encalm­ing tech­nol­o­gy as a solu­tion to the inter­face. But what I want to talk about main­ly this morn­ing to kick off is the kind of engage­ment met­rics that have been devel­oped over the over the past few years. And these engage­ment met­rics, I would like to argue, mea­sure our dis­tract­ed mode—or dis­tract­ed modes—of engage­ment. So these engage­ment met­rics (Klout scores, etc.) are mea­sur­ing dis­tract­ed” modes of engage­ment. And they make a num­ber of assump­tions about social media use. So what’s social media for, accord­ing to this par­tic­u­lar idea of a Klout score or the rest? 

Well, social media are for the per­for­mance of—and this is a nice place to talk about this—success the­ater. To show­ing each oth­er that you are suc­cess­ful. A friend of mine, a Dutch friend of mine, a num­ber of years ago called social media opschep—opschep media. Is that…for the Dutch peo­ple in the crowd. It’s sort of like exalt­ing your­self, mak­ing your­self appear to be suc­cess­ful. And this was in The New York Times Wortham called this suc­cess theater.”

An ear­li­er idea of social media which is still out there—certainly with respect to LinkedIn and with respect to Twitter, less so with respect to Facebook which is increas­ing­ly more of a fam­i­ly or a sort of pri­vate life medium—is the idea of pro­duc­tive net­work­ing. So we need to be pro­duc­tive. So net­work­ing,” which one would do…I don’t know, at a con­fer­ence or at some sort of busi­ness meet­ing or what­ev­er, has now gone online. It’s a sort of neolib­er­al form of net­work­ing. So we need to be pro­duc­tive there. And that pro­duc­tiv­i­ty, and that suc­cess, as well as what peo­ple will want in the future—this is con­sumer futur­ism. This is a nice term that I like, it’s like study­ing brands online, or needs, or desires, or what mar­ket­ing, what peo­ple will want in the future. So the com­bi­na­tion of suc­cess the­ater, pro­duc­tive net­work­ing, and con­sumer futur­ism which we project into social media, these three things lead to ideas of think­ing that Klout scores and oth­er engage­ment” met­rics are important. 

And with this I thought of Baudrillard’s—I mean I don’t nor­mal­ly side with Baudrillard but I…why not— Baudrillard’s idea of sta­tis­tics as par­tic­u­lar forms of wish ful­fill­ment come to mind. And these sta­tis­tics as par­tic­u­lar forms of wish ful­fill­ment, they have a name these days, and they’re called van­i­ty metrics. 

So van­i­ty met­rics, what do they do? They large­ly mea­sures three things. Celebrity, so like fol­low­er counts, etc. Celebrity. Now Daniel Boorstin, the for­mer American Librarian of Congress once quite famous­ly defined celebri­ty as the qual­i­ty of being well-known for being well-known. So it’s this sort of loop of well-knownness which…so it’s show­ing that you’re well-known. So this is the fol­low­er counts, etc. 

The sec­ond type of van­i­ty met­ric is what could call influ­ence. Now, net­works of influ­ence, this is an old term. A lot of the clas­sic net­work visu­al­iza­tions, net­work maps from begin­ning in the—well actu­al­ly, begin­ning in the 30s and onward, would trace the extent to which a par­tic­u­lar per­son was the spin in the web, or the hub. These are col­lo­qui­al ways of phras­ing the more tech­ni­cal idea of in-betweenness. And so if you have influ­ence, you are high­ly between, high­ly in between—that’s a sort of social net­work mea­sure. But you are high­ly in between strate­gi­cal­ly. So your place, your between­ness is amongst the pow­er­ful. And that’s the def­i­n­i­tion of influ­ence. And this is also built into social media metrics. 

Also the last one is—and this relates to con­sumer futurism—the idea of a trend, or the idea of trending as some­thing that’s impor­tant. So the idea that there’s some­thing that is ris­ing, that is rel­a­tive­ly new. So the idea of a trend is—another def­i­n­i­tion, ris­ing rel­a­tive nov­el­ty is how I would define trend or trending.

Another sort of idea, and this is peo­ple who are in the busi­ness of futur­ism or con­sumer futur­ism, they prac­tice cool­hunt­ing.” There’s a few— Actually, Faith Popcorn is one of the more famous ones in the US, but there’s also one in the Netherlands. I don’t know if some­one remem­bers this per­son­’s name…The TrendHunter. Anyway. 

So, what I would like to argue is most of his engage­ment met­rics, these van­i­ty met­rics, have the assump­tion of these par­tic­u­lar val­ues as being sig­nif­i­cant. Celebrity influ­ence and that which is trend­ing. So what I would like to do real­ly briefly in the next sort of five min­utes or so if I could do, or ten min­utes if Anna will allow me, is talk about an alter­na­tive to van­i­ty met­rics. And this is what I would like to put for­ward almost as an agen­da and only one pro­posed solu­tion. This is one sort of mod­est pro­pos­al of how to do an alter­na­tive to van­i­ty met­rics which I like to call crit­i­cal analytics. 

And the first thing that one needs to do, I argue, is shift one’s under­stand­ing of social media as a site for self-presentation. Shift the idea of social media as a site from self-presentation to the site for caus­es. Issues. And exper­tise. So online, in not only Twitter—which is also often­times con­sid­ered a pro­fes­sion­al medium—but also on Instagram and Facebook, else­where, caus­es are put for­ward and ral­lied around. And one can also derive a num­ber of what I call crit­i­cal ana­lyt­ics in these spaces. And I want to talk about, real­ly real­ly briefly, five engage­ment met­rics. And I’ll describe them briefly to you and give you one short exam­ple and show you a cou­ple of very very sim­ple infor­ma­tion graph­ics as well that sort of try to cap­ture these things. 

Engagement met­rics are are these. Dominant voice: who dom­i­nates. Concern: who’s con­cerned, who’s not con­cerned. Commitment: are those who are con­cerned show­ing com­mit­ment? Positioning: what kind of posi­tion is one tak­ing? And align­ment: on whose side are you? So these are the five engage­ment met­rics” that I’d like to put for­ward as an alternative. 

And as I said, we’re shift­ing the idea of social media from that it is only a social net­work to the fact that it could also be an issue net­work, a space of the exchange of sub­stance, and also a space for not just celebri­ty and trend and cool­hunt­ing and trend­ing top­ics, but also of author­i­ty and of exper­tise. And so here they are briefly defined. I’ll also cir­cu­late these slides for you. I’ll make link to them. Dominant voice and how each of them are defined. And these are actu­al­ly quite sim­ply defined here, but they’re oper­a­tional­iz­able. I mean, you can actu­al­ly use this stuff. 

So dom­i­nant voice. Showing which source is con­sid­ered most cred­i­ble. Or which sources.

Concern. Whether or not a par­tic­u­lar per­son or orga­ni­za­tion is present or absent in an issue space. 

Commitment. This is the longevi­ty or the per­sis­tence of con­cern. Are peo­ple only in and out of a space real­ly quick­ly? Did they just fol­low the trends or are they committed?

Positioning. What kind of words do you use? And I’ll come to exam­ple. How do you posi­tion the par­tic­u­lar issue that you’re talk­ing about?

And align­ment. That is…I have here the oth­er com­pa­ny a key­word keeps,” which is a sort of fun­ny way of say­ing who’s using the same language? 

Okay. I want to very quick­ly go through each of these say that you’ve seen them.

Dominant voice. Which sources and terms are allowed to speak, and which are mar­gin­al? So this is always a ques­tion in an issue space, also in social media. I want to show you an exam­ple that has to do with the HIV vac­cine. This is a brief project that we did a num­ber of years ago where we count­ed the num­ber of men­tions of HIV vac­cine in sec­tions of American news­pa­pers. So how often was HIV vac­cine talked about in the busi­ness sec­tion, and then resized accord­ing to num­ber of men­tions, and how often was HIV vac­cine talked about in the health sec­tion of the news­pa­per. So you can see rather quick­ly and imme­di­ate­ly that busi­ness dom­i­nates the HIV vac­cine. So the dom­i­nant voic­es with respe—at least in the news—are in business. 

Concern. To whom or whom not is it a mat­ter of con­cern? This exam­ple is from Fukushima a few years ago, when there was quite a sig­nif­i­cant nuclear acci­dent because of a tsuna­mi. And you see here in this graph­ic that is a indi­ca­tion of the spread of the sort of radi­at­ed water off the coast of Fukushima. And we asked our­selves the ques­tion to whom is this a mat­ter of con­cern? So who is car­ing about this par­tic­u­lar issue? So we queried a num­ber of envi­ron­men­tal orga­ni­za­tions and we also queried a num­ber orga­ni­za­tions who con­cern them­selves with species. And it turns out that only the envi­ron­men­tal orga­ni­za­tions and very few species orga­ni­za­tions con­sid­ered it a mat­ter of con­cern. So you see here the dis­tri­b­u­tion of con­cern over the type of organization. 

The third one is com­mit­ment. That is, the longevi­ty or the per­sis­tence of con­cern. So build­ing on the pre­vi­ous one to whom is it a con­cern, but to whom is it a con­cern for how long? And we have today a rep­re­sen­ta­tive of Greenpeace here who’s going to pitch a project lat­er. We pre­vi­ous­ly have done work study­ing Greenpeace’s longevi­ty of con­cern, Greenpeace’s sort of issue com­mit­ment over time. So which issues per­sist for Greenpeace and which issues are more fleet­ing. You see here two issues, forests and nuclear. This is a tag cloud show­ing six­teen years of atten­tion. So which issues did Greenpeace cam­paign for over the six­teen years and which ones only a few years. You see here that interestingly—I don’t know if you real­ize that Greenpeace actu­al­ly is a fusion of two of their main issues when they start­ed. So the envi­ron­ment on the one hand and peace and dis­ar­ma­ment on the oth­er. And over the years, the envi­ron­ment has risen and dis­ar­ma­ment has—or peace, the peace” in Greenpeace has declined. 

The fourth one, and I’m almost done, posi­tion­ing. So, the ques­tion here’s who joins a par­tic­u­lar pro­gram and who joins and anti-program. The exam­ple is from the Summer School last year, where we just had the Supreme Court rul­ing in favor of same-sex mar­riage in the United States. And on Instagram and else­where, Twitter and else­where, the hash­tag #LoveWins was in ascen­dan­cy and there was a counter hash­tag called #JesusWins. And so what we were look­ing at is the dif­fer­ence between the one… So who choos­es to join #LoveWins and who choos­es to join #JesusWins. How are you posi­tion­ing your­self? So we can also turn that into a crit­i­cal ana­lyt­ic, into a metric. 

And final­ly, align­ment. That’s what I defined pre­vi­ous­ly as the com­pa­ny that key­words keep. That is who else is using par­tic­u­lar words and there­by in align­ment with one anoth­er. This is an example—it’s am old exam­ple, it’s a clas­sic example—from the UN Security Council meet­ing in 2003. This was the first debate about the the bar­ri­er between Israel and the Palestinian ter­ri­to­ries, which the Palestinians call an apartheid wall and the Israelis call a secu­ri­ty fence. And here’s all the dif­fer­ent ter­mi­nol­o­gy used for that same bar­ri­er, and who uses it. And you see by using a par­tic­u­lar key­word, at least in this par­tic­u­lar graph­ic, you are in align­ment with oth­ers who join you in using that key­words. So the choice of words is important. 

Okay, so those are the crit­i­cal ana­lyt­ics that I am propos­ing to you today—and there are many more, of course—which then would be an alter­na­tive to van­i­ty met­rics. So to kick off the Winter School, what I’ve done is describe our age as an age where we have dis­tract­ed modes of engage­ment. Where we are distracted—but we are engaged at the same time. But these are dis­tract­ed modes of engage­ment which have been described as Flickering Man, etc., ambi­ent atten­tion, etc., and intro­duced the notion of encalm­ing tech­nol­o­gy. That’s one project that’s work­ing on the inter­face. But there’s also a met­rics projects. And the met­rics project is to move beyond the idea that we need be dis­tract­ed, that we need be always only half here. But rather that there is still the pos­si­bil­i­ty and the plau­si­bil­i­ty for engage­ment. And that is, there is engage­ment if you shift your gaze in social media from the social net­work to the issue net­work and to the expert net­work. I’d like to thank you very much for your atten­tion. That’s it.


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