Thursday, 15 May 2014


My Twitter account has all of 23 followers, and  about five of them are real people. If you want to follow me, please do: @maryeffrancis, but I don't really mind if you don't. I have little of any consequence to enlighten you with, especially in 140 characters, though it is fun trying. My Twitter account keeps me up to speed with the accounts I follow and has become a major source of information. So, thank you Twitter, for taking me off to The New Scientist and it's report on the impact of freeing up the web through social media. 

Way-hey! I thought, this'll be good! 

It wasn't.

ONLY a few years ago, "Web 2.0" – a term now as quaint as the "information superhighway" – was considered revolutionary. Rather than relying on the lumbering dinosaurs of big media to get news and entertainment, people could film their own videos and voice their opinions directly via Twitter and YouTube. Barack Obama's 2008 presidential campaign and the Arab Spring showed that people could use social media to organise, mobilise and democratise. Emerging technologies promised a liberating future.

So far, so good. But Alice Marwick's analysis reveals what we already know: 

Rather than activism or even creative pursuits, social media was mostly used to boost popularity and status. I observed that these people were intensely concerned with how many followers they had on Twitter, how many people read their blog and whether they were invited to the events broadcast on Dodgeball (later, Foursquare). As a result, they carefully designed their online interactions to enhance or conceal facets of themselves, creating personas which they imagined would be eagerly consumed by onlookers.

 Of course I know this, because this is exactly what I do myself, and am not particulrly proud of it. Though,'eagerly consumed' is hardly how I would describe the traffic to this blog. Between 200 and 300 views each month, which is hardly viral, but nevertheless, each view is valued - don't stop! 

So what happened to the promise of the internet to change everyone's life for the better? Hugely wealthy corporations control it, repressive governments block it, porographers and juvenile narcissists swamp it -   is there any hope for the gorgeous altruism that once offered the promise of the freedom of exchange of ideas? 

There is, of course. Three weeks ago, I found, and I'm already a fan. I shall forego theoretical physics (Harvard) and 'An Introduction to Computer Science and Programming' (MIT) having  plumped for 'Resilience' (Washington) and, starting in September, 'The Art of Poetry' (Boston). All may be audited for free. 

Week Two into Resilience has we, the students, writing down our values and listing a week's worth of behaviours that will have us choosing what we really want to do in the light of who we really want to be. I WAS going to post them here, but, well, there are a few things I have to sort out first. To do with popularity and status... . 

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