Posts Tagged Media

Challenges of Building Social Capital Online

15 August 2011

Last week, I opined on the decay and potential renewal of “social capital” in America. As chronicled by Robert D. Putnam, tectonic shifts in American culture, society and the economy led to decreased participation in civic organizations and dissipated communities, which in turn weakened the social fabric that holds together American life. In that introductory post, I proposed the online sphere as an alternate “public space” to strengthen (not replace) offline communities, and to put forward a few questions, the first of which I’ll try to answer here: How can new technologies help foster civic engagement and create social capital, without detracting from the same?

I’m not blindly sanguine about the impact technology can and will have on human relationships and society. We can sit at a bus stop in New York and video chat with a friend in Morocco or Thailand– a phenomenon that by historical standards might fairly be considered a miracle– but that same act can make us blind to the world at our feet. A few months back, the New York times ran an article describing “parallel play” in the fully wired (er, wireless) American home. Perhaps you know the scene: a family is gathered together in the home for the evening, but the room is quiet, each individual gazing, grimacing, giggling at their respective device, headphones in. These scenes are creepy, and they should serve as a reminder that just as these tools have the potential to bring people together, so too can they divide us and make us distant from those right around us.

“Go online to get offline” is a catchy phrase (and has been adopted by sites like Meetup.com and dating site HowAboutWe to describe their approach), but it’s perhaps the most concise summation of the social potential I see in network– and especially mobile– technologies. I’m not interested in online qua online. Purely online activities can have their value, but they’re unlikely to build social capital. An online protest never threatened any existing power structure. An online church service isn’t going to build a strong community. And I tend to find that even online conversation can only sustain a personal relationship, rarely build one. Rather, I see potential where online human networks intersect with offline, “real world” communities. (more…)



The World Cup: The World’s First Truly Globalized Media Event

22 June 2010

We’re soccer fans here at NDN, in case you haven’t noticed, and we’re currently addicted to the World Cup in a bad way.  As the Cup approached, I wrote a couple short posts on how the World’s Greatest Sporting Event might affect global connectivity– whether it would drive adoption or innovation– particularly in the mobile space.  And it has, no doubt.  If you’ve been watching on ESPN, you’ve heard the announcers remind you that you can “follow all the action online, on your TV or on your mobile phone” (with British accent-emphasis on the mow-boile phoune).

In addition, it turns out all this football madness has had an impact on this here internet.  Post Tech reports that the opening day of the World Cup saw the highest web traffic ever, with over 12 million visitors every minute around noon EST.  That’s a good 50% higher than the second-highest peak in history of 8 million visitors/minute, which occurred on the evening of November 4, 2008.  Note that the third-highest peak ever was also a World Cup moment– it happened around the time the US was eliminated from the 2006 Cup by Ghana. Akamai has the numbers.

Maurice Edu Scored That GoalWhat’s driving all this? A few facts, followed by a few theories: Numbers this big are necessarily driven by North American internet users.  While every other continent is over 100% above usual internet usage (North America is at about 90% above typical usage), all those continents combined don’t equal the number of viewers in North America.  So despite the canard that Americans don’t care about soccer (popularized by Europeans, adopted by American conservatives)… they do.

But, if the numbers are driven by the U.S., why does the World Cup cause a bigger spike than, say, the Super Bowl? Or Michael Phelps? Or the Christmas Day bomber?  Part of the explanation, at least, has to be that the Cup, unlike most sporting events, happens at odd hours, while Americans are at work, rather than on their couch, so they’re depending on the internet, more than television. But I think there’s also a more interesting explanation…

As NDN has noted time and again, we live in an increasingly globalized, interconnected world– and this trend has accelerated as connectivity has expanded to include the over 4.5 billion people on earth with a mobile phone. Increased web activity around this truly global event is echoing beyond borders, and the passions of foreign football fanatics are driving greater activity of American web-users. 

What I’m saying is that World Cup frenzy in the US is being driven not just by soccer-maniacs, but by regular people who are responding to the global obsession. Though Stanley McChrystal snuck into Twitter’s Trending Topics today, the top-ten list has been absolutely dominated by World Cup-related items over the past two weeks.  Media produced around the world is being gobbled up by Americans. And who could have imagined the word Vuvuzela on the lips of so many Americans this week?

Global football madness is driving Americans’ activity on the web, whether they know it or not. I can think of a few examples of American media driving global activity, but this may be the first time it’s gone in the other direction. Does that make this World Cup the first truly globalized media event?  I’d say so.