andrew boyarsky
Andrew Boyarsky on Skype today

I had a very informative skype meeting with my friend Andrew Boyarsky today. I’ve mentioned Andrew’s work before on this blog, he is an expert in social media and emergency management and works through the CUNY Graduate Center and with FEMA in the New York City area. His latest project is training educators to work in virtual worlds, the site for this project is:

Andrew and I talked about potentials for smartphone-based social media systems in remote areas of the Southwest in the context of the project for Navajo Nation the SMW is working on. He gave me a lot of ideas and a long list of great social media resources including:
Google’s Feedburner, a way to create (‘burn’) and access a variety of rss and xml news feeds, as a publishing platform that allows for various modes of distribution (email, blogs, etc.).
Trendsmap showing real-time Twitter ‘trends’ on a map
Monitter, a way to view specific keywords being sent via Twitter on a map
Tweetdeck, a way to visually monitor and manage Twitter feeds
Hootsuite, a kind of social media ‘dashboard’ that allows you to manage various social networking tools
Twitterfall, visualizing geolocated tweets in real time

We talked about Ushahidi and how it might be useful to visualize health related issues in Navajo Nation in real-time on a map using a system similar to Healthmap, or to simply use Healthmap as a resource. He pointed me to an interesting project mapping corruption and social change in Moldova, that included an Ushahidi Crowdmap called


This weekend the Social Media Workgroup traveled to Window Rock, Farmington and Shiprock to document interviews, record sounds, check out potential project sites, and record gps data for android development. Our collaborator Venaya Yazzie joined us on one leg of the journey.

Venaya, Estevan, Russ, Eric and Ryan at a market near Shiprock

Russ documenting a potential site along the infamous former ‘Route 666′

The view from the other side, the APS/Four Corners Power Plant

During our trip, we had the incredible good fortune to visit with and interview Navajo artist, author and teacher Blackhorse Mitchell and his apprentice Damien Jones. Blackhorse’s book Miracle Hill: The Story of a Navajo Boy has been highly popular continuously since its first publication in the 1960′s, and made Blackhorse the first Navajo author on the New York Times Bestseller List.

Blackhorse in his home where he played piano and sang ‘Blueberry Hill’ with us

Damien showed us many sacred objects used by Navajo Medicine Men.

Both Damien and Blackhorse have spent a significant amount of time in the Czech Republic, and here’s Damien on youtube singing the Czech footballer chant ‘Banik Pico’ (it’s a long story…)

Inevitably, once I’ll write something on this blog, I’ll find that it doesn’t sit well with me and have to look at it from another angle. Such is the case with the previous post’s ‘most important commons may be consciousness’ statement. Although the idea might be evocative from a singularity point of view, it’s important to have a reality check. There are real, physical commons on this Earth that are in peril (for example, wilderness), and we should be careful of losing sight of this while glorifying human consciousness. In Confessions of an Eco-Warrior, environmental activist and co-founder of Earth First! Dave Foreman discusses ‘the arrogance of enlightenment’:

I have heard it said that a wise man can find wilderness in a courtyard garden, can see a Grizzly Bear in a hothouse flower. Perhaps…this kind of ability is undoubtedly healthy for modern people. It allows one to rise above the tawdry mess of civilization, to find unity with Nature…it prevents ulcers and high blood pressure.

But what does it do for wilderness? What does it do for the Grizzly?

Where is the real world? What is reality? Is it within ourselves – in our minds, our consciousness? Is reality only what we perceive? Are our minds paramount, with no reality apart from our heads?

No! The real world is out there – independent, autonomous, sovereign, not ruled by human awareness. The real Grizzly is not in our heads, she is in the Big Outside – rooting, snuffling, roaming, living, perceiving on her own. Wilderness is not merely an attitude of mind; it is greater, far greater, than ourselves and our perceptions of it.

pp. 51-52

In our work with social media and technology, we get caught up in idea of the ‘Internet as commons’, which is important for the free exchange of ideas (and ‘consciousness’), but we should remember that this is only a metaphor and that the original commons was and continues to be the land and its preservation through wilderness, as Henry David Thoreau said:

In wilderness is the preservation of the world.

Without which there would be no Internet, no consciousness and no humans. What to do? How to approach this crisis of disappearing wilderness? Perhaps first read Confessions of an Eco-Warrior and then to go further google Ecodefense: A Field Guide to Monkeywrenching.

Shunning Facebook, and Living to Tell about It, an article in the NYTimes today got me thinking about the work on labor and social media of a fellow doctoral researcher at Z-node Trebor Scholz. Although the Times article cites different reasons for shunning FB, Trebor’s arguments about privacy, ownership and exploitation have been the most compelling to me. He compares time spent on FB, MySpace and other social media to sweatshop labor. ‘Come on!’, you might say, ‘that is an extreme comparison, after all, FB is fun!’ Well, I thought that too but when Trebor pointed out the massive numbers of hours western teenagers spend on social media sites and the monetary value of this content to owners of social media sites (sites that would have zero content without the benefit of this free labor) I began to wonder about inequality and exploitation.

Content generated by networked publics was the main reason for the fact that the top ten websites accounted for forty percent of all Internet traffic in 2006. Community creates massive market value and has become the foremost commodity. Profiting from the labor of the very many, the very few get richer and richer. – Scholz

‘But social media users are also benefiting!’, you say. Yes, it’s true, but most users believe that their content and conversations are under their personal control, they are unaware of the dangerous privacy and restrictive content ownership policies of FB. Trebor continues:

Networked publics contributing to the main social networking sites, however, also gain much in the process! Don’t forget about the pleasure of creation, knowledge exchange, fame, a “home,” friendships, and dates. Contributors to the sociable web comment, tag, rank, forward, read, subscribe, re-post, link, moderate, remix, share, and collaborate, favorite, and write. They flirt, work, play, chat, gossip, discuss, learn and by doing so they share life experiences and archive memories. At the same time, the platform-providing businesses monetize their attention, time, and uploaded content.

I recommend listening to this presentation and demanding full transparency of the rules of social networking sites as they relate to ownership, privacy, and the relationship between cost and profit

3 Days, 30 Twitter hashtags, and countless ways to understand the occupy movement. From 09 December 2011 to 11 December 2011, R-Shief, a lab that collects and analyzes Middle East content from the Internet, will hold its first hackathon with satellite locations throughout the world. The aim of this event is to give activists data collected from Twitter, as well as R-Shief’s machine learning analytics, in a collective effort to offer a public and shared repository for data and visualizations about the Occupy Movements. Register here to participate