Saturday, November 29, 2008

Governance and Social Media (Digital Superstructure pt. 1)

I was picking through two old posts, one about the disembodied nature of empire and the other about the shifting nature of political/economic/social authority on a global level, and I started to think about how to apply my older thoughts on such things to my current interest in social contract theory and the growth of the "digital superstructure(s)" that are increasingly front-and-center in our lives.

In this case, being a contributor, or at least a mildly active participant in one's own "digital life" (since you've got one even if you're not online!) is a better idea than sitting back. The benefits (real or perceived) of being plugged in are simply higher than staying out. Pragmatism, not popularity, is driving us onto the internet - into the diffuse, sometimes highly-selective networks that are changing the speed of news, connecting consumers to producers, or even helping people.

We have absolutely no idea what is coming next, but we know that when things change, or when something big happens, there will be reflexive, collaborative and, above all, supportive networks in place for dealing with whatever it is. Best of all, these networks are, to a certain extent, self-regulating. We are governing ourselves by a loose set of rules that become more and more codified as time goes on. I doubt we'll ever have a "Blogger's Bill of Rights" or anything like that, but things are progressing, whatever that means.

For an interesting look at what might be coming around the bend, take a look at Teilhard de Chardin's Omega Point Theory, but instead of viewing it in terms of true global consciousness, put it in the language of social networking and the internet. Doesn't sound quite so far-fetched now. Or does it?

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Thursday, November 27, 2008

Tweeting the Terror

Tweeting the terror: How social media reacted to Mumbai -

Rough title, there. Yikes. Even I wouldn't (probably) title something like that. The articles puts out a bunch of really good info. It makes mention of the blood donation/helpline tweets. It completely ignores #mumbai and the use of hashtags.

Still, it's an easy-to-understand "primer" of sorts on the role that services like Twitter played and are still playing. The article ends on a sour note for me, and I think that it illustrates quite plainly the distrust and confusion which surround "crowdnews." I shall reproduce the final lines here:

What is clear that although Twitter remains a useful tool for mobilizing efforts and gaining eyewitness accounts during a disaster, the sourcing of most of the news cannot be trusted.

A quick trawl through the enormous numbers of tweets showed that most were sourced from mainstream media.

Someone tweets a news headline, their friends see it and retweet, prompting an endless circle of recycled information.

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Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Mumbai, Terror, and Response

I've been following the mess in Mumbai for the past few hours. As usual, Hashtags represents the best and most live way to keep up-to-date: Even though it's getting a lot of media play, I think it's important to remember the rather peculiar "ordinariness" of the day's events.

We gasped in America when the London transport system was bombed in 2005. Londoners recovered rather quickly and went about their daily lives. They had been used to periodic terrorist attacks courtesy of the Irish Republican Army. 7/7 was really nothing new to them.

The same goes for every time we hear about a seemingly random car bomb in Iraq. That is simply the way things have been. There are children growing up in that country who have never known stability. India is no exception. We blogged at the University of Denver Interfaith Student Alliance a little bit ago about India's interfaith history, and the times when the calm has been shattered by selfish, violent acts.

Does anyone even remember the bombs in New Delhi back in October? If you live in a place like India, where sporadic politio-religious violence happens fairly often, you might not. The events taking place in Mumbai today and tonight are "scaled" for us largely because of the media exposure (thank you Web 2.0), but it always amazes me what it must be like to live in a place where such things happen fairly often. I hope that both Mumbai and India can get back on track and work to make sure that attacks like this don't happen in the future.

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Saturday, November 22, 2008

The Digital Contact, pt. 1

I would say that I am a political scientist. It's not the first thing I do, nor is it the most important, but it's a big part of my life. I've been studying quite a bit about the concept of the "social contract." In its most basic terms, the social contract is a descriptive theory about why human beings choose to join together in civil society and appoint people to lead them. The idea is that before the rise of civil society/government, humans existed in a "state of nature," an amoral place wherein there was a great risk of violent death. Furthermore, in the state of nature there could be no real progression; history was not important because everything, day in and day out, was the same.

The social contract is the agreement between a people and the leader or leaders that they appoint to lead them. The social contract assumes that the people will give up a number of their rights in order to be protected and supplied by the sovereign, or leader. Political scientists have been writing about the social contract for 4oo years. Every new author has an interesting twist or a different viewpoint that furthers the dialogue and contributes to our understanding of the need for government in our modern era.

My intention is to combine extant theoretical notions of the social contract theory with modern network theory and social media to build a framework for the Next Big Step. It is an ambitious project, to be sure, but I think that it is eminently possible.

The basic idea is this: Things have gotten to the point where the traditional systems of government are no longer doing what they were created to do. The growth of communication/globalization has changed the way that people (be they citizens of whatever state) relate to one another and to their leaders. A possible example of the "new way" is Barack Obama's, which provides Web 2.0 functionality to the American government. Whatever the case, we are in a very good position to provide not only a descriptive account of what the new social contract theory will look like, but also a prescriptive account of what we ought to be doing in order to make the transition.

I will be posting periodical updates here, and when I have a whole bunch of stuff written down, I will make the GoogleDoc live, enabling all who have thoughts to weigh in and aid me in producing what will hopefully be a practical, hopeful schematic for the future of social media, governance, and the world community. Best to you all. These are exciting times.

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Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Trivial Pursuits?

So I teamed up with some friends of mine from the Korbel School to compete in the first ever Institute of International Education Denver WorldQuest trivia competition. It was sweet, not least of all because my team won. Actually, we tied with the IIE's own team, but they were just doing it for fun. Plus, they had three Fulbright scholars from three different continents! We won Premier memberships and a VIP happy hour. Sweet!

The questions ranged from identifying Angela Merkel to figuring out which countries DON'T border China. The last round was "World Languages." I got excited because my undergrad work was in language and linguistics and such. One of the questions asked us to identify the number of different ways of expressing the Japanese language. I knew before I saw the multiple choice that it was 4. Not only that, but I knew that they were called Kanji, Katakana, Hiragana and Romaji. We got the question right, but it left me wondering: Why on earth do I know that?

I don't speak Japanese, and probably never will (it's about 8th place in my list of languages to learn). I've always viewed the acquisition of knowledge (even the "trivial") as something like the Boy Scout motto. Be prepared. I guess I keep hoping that one day I'll bump into some eccentric millionaire who's desperately searching for someone to explain to him the importance of the Convivencia or the history of Ireland or the distance from the earth to the sun or the number of languages in Papua New Guinea or the way to make a teabag float in midair.

If I never meet that eccentric millionaire, then are all these bits of information, some a mile wide and an inch deep and some and inch wide and a mile deep, really worth learning?

Monday, November 17, 2008

Popular Sovereignty

Just finished a small write-up about the analogy between individuals and states from the Renaissance to the 18th century as well as an analysis of what this means for contemporary international relations. It's pretty messy - I may repost a cleaner final version someday.

Brauhn - Popular Sovereignty

Motrin and Such

The last day or so has featured a flurry of Motrin (yes, the pain reliever)-related activity on the Twittertubes. I was working at the library most of yesterday, so I avoided keeping up with the madness. I didn't know what was happening, and I figured that I'd savor that and wait to find out today. And so I did, by following through to Thinkjose's post about Motrin's Twitter Headache. He does an awesome job of explaining the evolution of the damn thing, and it's well worth the visit. Apparently, the hubbub was about this video:

Yeah, I agree. Pretty silly. I do like the wordart stuff, though. The entire fiasco is another example of how different things are these days. Gives me more fodder for my upcoming Magnum Opus, which will be a research project involving social media, democracy, and international relations. Gotta think big, you know.

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Saturday, November 15, 2008

Why We Can't Stand Still

My instructor in my Modern Political Theory class was discussing how political theory, like any good idea, is generally applied retrospectively to a given situation. We aren't usually able to see patterns until after the fact. Not that this makes theory worthless, of course; we gain a greater appreciation of what has happened, and we can certainly learn about possible future occurrences of that given situation.

My instructor did point out the need for theory to be as proactive as it possibly could though, by positing this thought-experiment: "What if, tomorrow, science proves that I'm actually standing on the other side of the room?" It was a ridiculous idea, but not outside the realm of possibility.

We already know that time is relative, perhaps even more so than we would like to admit. It is, as I've long held, a social construct more than an empirical thing (I still show up early to everything, though). We can, if we like, view time as everything happening all at once, since there's no feasible end or beginning point for what we call "time." Even more disturbing/inspiring is quantum mechanics, which allows us to think really, REALLY big by looking at things that are very, very small. I offer the following easy explanation of superposition theory:

By this reasoning, my instructor most certainly could have been on the other side of the room, at the exact same time that he was where we perceived him to be. Using the aforementioned notion of time as relative, he could have been inhabiting both positions at different times as well. Whew. We can't stand still because, depending how you look at it, we are everywhere at once.

I love this stuff, but you can't think deeply about it for too long or your brain will explode.

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Thursday, November 13, 2008

Sharia and the State

I've finished up a review of Noah Feldman's The Fall and Rise of the Islamic State. It's not actually all review - there's analysis, too. It definitely would not fit here, so it's been published through GoogleDocs. Take a peek, eh?

Brauhn - Feldman and Sharia and the State

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Monday, November 10, 2008

Obama and the Weather

Eboo Patel has a new one up at the WaPo's Faith Divide: Obama and the Weather

It's a very keen metaphor that he employs. Forecast calls for SWEET.

Bloggers United for Refugees

Bloggers Unite

UPDATE: EarthlyExplorations blogs about refugees and displaced people in the Philippines.

Today is Bloggers Unite/Refugees United Day, so I'm getting involved! It occurs to me that our conception of refugees or refugee status can be conceived of in a few different ways, owing largely to the different definitions of state, nation, and country.

1. Statelessness - Being stateless means that your group (however you conceive of it) lacks a territorially-defined, internationally-recognized place. The Kurds, for instance, number in the millions but still lack a state of their own.

2. Nationlessness - OK, that one got underlined so it's probably made-up. Still, lacking a nation is where being a refugee becomes a bit odd. Nationless people could very well be a part of a state, physically speaking, but being disconnected from people of your own group or even feeling apart from your own people is tough.

3. Countrylessness - That one didn't get underlined; must be real. I used to view countrylessness as some romantic notion of the "world citizen;" beholden to no government and floating throught he world on the wind. Probably OK for some, but when it's not by choice...

On a day like today, when thousands of bloggers are talking about the rights of refugees, helping them to find their families, and to reunite them with their homes, it's important to remember just how complex all these issues really are. They are seldom as simple as we would wish them to be, and international law can only do so much. It may be up to ordinary people to take the necessary steps to promote justice for those who have no home.

Friday, November 7, 2008


If we follow the "behind the scenes" campaign reporting now that the election has been decided, the person of Barack Obama becomes increasingly ambiguous. He said it himself in regards to the campaign; I can't find the article but will attempt to.

This guy is picking up a mighty burden. Reforming the whole of everything. Making government accountable and transparent. Listening to diverse viewpoints. You know, all the bits that make a textbook democracy.

But we all know that he is inheriting a difficult situation, and that he has already reneged on many of his campaign promises. As a pragmatist, I can understand this. I'm left wondering what effect his ambiguity and such could have on the presidency. If things go badly (which I'm sure we can all agree is possible), what kind of a reaction should we have? If I were a betting man, I would say that at this point, even if President-Elect Obama screws up royally, most people will still be behind him.

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Great post about the changing face of poverty eradication up at the Uncultured Project. The 1010 Project is doing great and innovative work in Kenya by listening to the people affected by poverty, and by relating their stories (usually pretty happy stories) to our friends here in the US.

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Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Political Cartoons

I like political cartoons. They have a sweet way of boiling things down for us. Here's one from Mike Luckovich, who writes for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Sure, it made me cry a bit, but I feel that it captures what this election was all about:

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Tuesday, November 4, 2008

President Barack Hussein Obama II

We have elected our 44th President. He is an American who grew up among other cultures. He is an American who has overcome great obstacles, but who has persevered. He is an American who represents the possible futures for the youth of this nation, and for the youth of the world.

But he is an American president who will inherit a broken nation, one that is divided and confused. He is an American president who will be tasked with rectifying out economic woes. He is an American president that must, must work very hard and diligently to restore the American vision. This American vision, this American Dream, is what has bound our nation to the rest of the world.

He is an American who understands these things, and he will not shy away from the hard road ahead.

He is Barack Hussein Obama II, and he is the 44th President of the United States of America.

He is going to need our help.

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Voting Images

From the Huffington Post, Amazing Voting Images.

I've included a few in particular because I find them particularly important for America:

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We are voting


It's not that hard. Come on, young people. Let's do it.

Everyone knows everything

I've been thinking a bit about social media, the internet, Twitter, hyperconnectivity, Facebook, et al. and it occurs to me that all of these things are allowing us to learn a lot about a lot of different things. We are becoming more well-informed. As we learn to process the endless streams of data coming in through our computers and Blackberries and cells, is it possible that we'll grow our brains as well?

I have done some study in linguistics (undergrad), and the link between language/information and brain size is an interesting bit of science that we haven't been able to figure out just yet. Did the need for more complex language make the brain swell, or did the brain swelling enable more complex language? Chicken or egg?

If we are evolving to handle massive data streams, fine. But I'm wondering where this new "knowledge" fits into the grand scheme of things? What's the difference between being "smart" and being "well-informed?"

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Monday, November 3, 2008

Tomorrow, Next Week, Next Month, Next Year

It's around 11 pm here in Denver. I'm hoping that by this time tomorrow night, our country will have done its quadrennial duty and elected a new president. Ideally, we would elect (overwhelmingly) the candidate that I have previously endorsed. Also ideally, we will see an outstanding voter turnout. I think about the billions of Americans that the Obama campaign especially has registered in the last 6 months. The last time that we broke 60% turnout, we were electing Nixon, 40 years ago.

By this time tomorrow night, I want to be able to look back on this election cycle and believe that we learned some important things about our country and about our place in the world.

We shall see what we shall see.

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Can you hear me now? Good.

So somebody Twittered up this article "What Happens to the Obama Network After the Election?" and it really threw me for a loop. I've had a few discussions with people about the massive success that the Obama campaign has had with social networking, in many ways changing the way that people, especially young people, interact with their elected officials. The article (in two parts) is well worth the read.

With such a huge network, there must be something that it can still do after tomorrow. Hopefully it will be more of the same, which in this case represents progressive, grassroots organizing around the issues that really resonate with "The Connected."

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RockAfrica Denver

The Elias Fund and The 1010 Project, two Denver nonprofits, will host RockAfrica Denver, a benefit concert to raise funds and awareness for their partners in Kenya and Zimbabwe. Hearts of Palm, a local band, and Ngumo ye Rudo, a group of Zimbabwean musicians, will perform. CDs will be on sale. RockAfrica – Denver will be at 1101 S. Washington St, Denver, CO 80210. Doors open at 6 pm and the show begins at 7 pm.

Tickets are priced at a suggested donation of $15. Sponsorship opportunities are available. All proceeds from ticket sales and merchandise will go toward the work of The 1010 Project and the Elias Fund.

The 1010 Project is a 501(c)(3) humanitarian nonprofit organization providing income generating grants and guidance to indigenous development partners in Kenya while raising awareness on behalf of the global poor in the United States. The Elias Fund is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization providing hope and opportunity to Zimbabwean youth through education and community development.

For more information, visit and

Sunday, November 2, 2008


The past three weeks have been spent very actively working on investigating and monopolizing my digital self. I feel as if I've wasted far too much time as it is. The diagram below is where I will be working on my presence in the months to come. If this is all very strange, it's because it is. I'm aiming for a public launch sometime in December. Hah.