Archive for April 9th, 2008


Douglas Rushkoff
“Social Networks Are Like the Eye”
A Talk with Nicholas Christakis

I read with great interest – as usual – the Edge article by DOUGLAS RUSHKOFF: “Social Networks are like the Eye” – A Talk with Nicholas Christakis.

Certainly no shortage of the point and counterpoint logic on anyone’s part. Rushkoff and Alda both working as part of several social networks themselves show a dismissive stance to marketing but are published in a most pristine record of ideas on the Internet where, despite their claims, they market their approaches. Good stuff for many but wait, what are they saying with all those not-so-grand illusions (‘living systems’ or subsystems of brain numbing metaphor piled on metaphor…) or mentalistic and romantic ideas of a ‘vis viva’ forces to establish value of their agendas over ‘others’ agendas.

YIKES! What’s going on?

Two things come out of all of this:

  1. Social networks are treated as a separate uber-case of behavior apart from other forms of behavior. It reminds me of how in the late 40’s and much of the 50’s the railroads treated themselves as an ‘industry’ rather than part of transportation.
  2. The metaphor is the medium. As such, they are contributing to the slow dilution of the very communication that they are so proud to expound on. Much of the article’s context is spent validating selected metaphors and not explaining how social networks work empirically.

Incased in the strategy being presented it was like I was being induced to look for a communication homunculus but instead was provided a drumming of the numbing anti-parsimonious meme concept of Dawkins. Raise you hand if ‘ideological components’ does wonders here in explaining social networks. Using a metaphor to support an analogy… to support another metaphor is hardly what Edge has built its reputation on.

“It’s the media shell that allows a media virus to spread through the mediaspace undetected, while it’s the memes inside that interpolate into our confused cultural code, forcing their replication.”

Doesn’t this sound a little like ‘vapor’ explanations that resurfaced in the 1850s from Aristotle’s ‘vapors’ theories as what was responsible for behavior? Aristotle and others that followed posited that there were ‘airs,’ just as there were different liquids and different solids that caused behavior. How are vapors that different than memes and metaphors that have nothing to do with people doing stuff?

To interrupt these authors, consider that social networks are based on interaction / access. No one cares about the brand of the camera, phone, or graininess of the content. For social networks to grow there needs to be content to access and the viewer needs to be able to respond. End of story. It defies predetermined categories of demographic gurus. Content gets acted on and in so doing lets the provider know what is of value. Hits and sends to others = important. No action = not important. Move on. Where are the virus – memes – biological systems metaphor required?

The question that begs to be answered is why are these metaphors necessary or used? Do they may provide some communication value leap-froging a more parsimonic or empirical resolution about social network etiology? For Edge it may come down to what was the objective of airing this set of monologues. While interesting, they are diversionary to understanding the subject matter in the title.

The world has more media options and combinations that move a message than ever before. Like reality TV it seems that every TV media exec has the secret and that one more reality show will be better than one less. As if each media exec has blinders on, they don’t get it that the form of media and the content carried live until the predictability and the exposure create habituation. This, along with competition for a viewer’s time, and things changing, variability occurs and gets selected and is the next big (valued) thing. Everyone gets to take credit for the next big thing because no one can show how to do it again. It is as old as game shows, westerns, crime soaps and variety shows.

Mr. Rushkoff asks “What is the cultural immune response related to MySpace or YouTube?” No one knows – which makes the talking heads cranky. But is there any question that there will be another episode change? Of course not. To use the idiom of the article, “if something has value, the code is picked up and carried, converted and re-sent via other shells elsewhere until its value has run its course to the end user.”

As content without a polarity, the media material exists in a vacuum and only becomes viral [and thus of ‘value] if it is attended to on the network… it was not ‘design specificity’ but the lack of specificity in the media channel that gives it value to network members.

Moving on, I was surprised at the vitriolic or at least pejorative tense of some of the assessment.

“Thus “viral marketing” was born. Meanwhile, visionaries interested in the possibilities for organismic awareness offered by mediated interconnectedness were lumped in with the fascists of earlier eras. Anything smacking of “meta-organism” reminded the intelligentsia of Hegel or, worse, Jung. Instead of looking — like scientists — at the incipient reorganization of civilization on a new dimensional level, they cringe like early readers of Le Bon’s The Crowd, incapable of seeing in collective organism anything but the tyranny of the masses.”

The nice thing about Edge.com is that it has an abundance of ‘intelligentsia’ all with identities that with little coxing evolve into priestly pontifications like that above scolding us for questioning the latest epoch of truth. In my experience, ‘scientists’ don’t need to yell. There data is what matters.

One last note on Ruchkoff’s primer on social networks; like artificial intelligence, Boolean logic and internet language code, there is a point where social networks will get absorbed into the fabric of life and the next generation of life without fanfare. We are observing an important yet fleeting data point that has meaning only if the data involved lead to other dynamic social activities. Ultimately none of this will be understood unless a less romantic strategy of study is applied to that behavior.

John H. Bryant

The Woodlands, TX USA



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Polygamist sect conditioned girls from birth
Washington Times – 1 hour ago
By Valerie Richardson The 16-year-old girl whose phone call led to the massive raid on a West Texas polygamist compound was repeatedly beaten and sexually abused by her much-older husband, according to state documents released yesterday.
Teen mothers reported at polygamist sect’s compound
Los Angeles Times
Papers detail alleged abuse at sect’s compound
USA Today
New York TimesKGANThe Associated PressABC News
all 3,205 news articles »

There’s a shocker!   Didn’t see that coming.   Who would have thought that?  I wonder what they mean by ‘conditioning’ in this Google news article on 4-9-08 about those people in South Texas?   Are they claiming they were conditioned like rats or monkeys?   That’s outrageous!

I guess that religion is just weird…a cult or worse! Good thing it has been discovered so that we can ‘help’ save those members of the CHURCH OF JESUS CHRIST OF LATTER-DAY SAINTS people… After all, they used all the conditioning methods below.  Some are versions of other methods listed but those polygamists used them on their women and children…

Reward – Reinforcement

· I’ll reward you if you do it. “if you do this spread sheet I’ll pay you on pay day at this rate…”

· “Thanks! I’ll make certain your parents know how good you did in school today.”


· You won’t get an allowance if you don’t clean your room.  “If you don’t read the scriptures today, I won’t be able to speak to the mullah on behalf of your salvation.” “If you can’t recite the Catechism section in Church on Sunday God will not be pleased.”

Positive Expertise

· As your pastor, I can tell you that rewards will occur if you do X, because of the Gods love for you.  Or “If you start working out at our gym regularly, you’ll be thinner and will make a good wife to bear children with one of the elders of the community.”

Negative Expertise

· Speaking as an authority on the subject, I can tell you that punishments will occur if you do Y, because Y is a SIN!  “If you don’t recant, you may never get another chance—God’s patience in these matters is not infinite.”

Gifting, Pre-giving

· Giving something as a gift, before requesting compliance. The idea is that the target will feel the need to reciprocate later. “Here’s a little something we thought you’d like. Now about those reading the homely this Sunday? . . .”


· Calling in past favors. “After all I’ve done for you!  I request this small favor and now it’s a big deal all of a sudden….”

Aversive Stimulation

· Continuous punishment, and the cessation of punishment is contingent on compliance. “I’m going to read my Bible out loud in front of your friends if you insist on playing your rock music. When stop listening to that garbage I’ll stop reading out loud.”

Moral Appeal

· This tactic entails finding moral common ground on a set of rules, also conditioned, and then using the rule set of a person to obtain compliance. “You believe that women have a traditional importance in the family don’t you? You don’t believe that women ought to work as hard as men, do you? Then you ought to sign this petition! It’s the right thing to do.”

Positive Self-feeling

· You’ll feel better if you X. “If you join our kibbutz today, you’ll feel better about yourself because you’ll know that you’re improving and contributing your soul every day.”

Negative Self-feeling

· You’ll feel bad if you Y. “If you don’t marry this Zionist and bear him children, you’ll find it hard to live with yourself or your faithful parents who brought you up to obey the law of Punjab.”

Positive Altercasting

*    Good people do X. “The truly faithful people tend to volunteer for sacrifical training right after high school. Are you one of the faithful?”

Negative Altercasting

· Only a bad person would do Y. “You don’t look like an atheist.  Are you sure you won’t come to services with me if I go out with you?!”

Positive Esteem of Others

· Other people will think more highly of you if you X. “People respect a man who drives a Mercedes. No one cares about his _______ [fill in the nefarious type] connections.”

Negative Esteem of Others

· Other people will think worse of you if you Y. “You don’t want people thinking that you’re a loser, do you?”

I’ll bet the vile conditioning the polygamists used was a lot different than the ‘good’ ways that others condition their members, employees, children, citizens …














Baby sitting

Watching TV










Ok, you caught me… choking is not learned; it’s a reflex. The others are all learned though through consequences as feedback.  The polygamists were conditioned and we’re all conditioned using the same methods and procedures.  Good guys do it and so do bad guys.

It’s just that what we call bad is arbitrary and not absolute.  It too is conditioned.  Along the way we all come to value some things and not value others.  When some potentate says its bad some of us believe it and some laugh out loud.

What we believe gets conditioned and becomes our reference points – better known as our “biases” – which gives them their good, righteous, virtuous, and lofty titles and also their which give them their evil, sinner, heathen, crook, terrorist, bad biases titles.

So how were the West Texas women and children in the story different than other groups that do the same thing only aren’t…

· polygamists

· isolated them from other ideas and influences

There isn’t. Seems that the Catholics have their nunneries, the other religions have their missions, catechisms, bar mitzvah’s, etc.  The Hasidic Jews in New York area are particularly secretive about their practices with young people.  Why isn’t the New York state and US Marshall’s offices investigating them or raiding their temples?

Could it be that there are some biases going on…?   “If you are like us, we can look the other way but if you are not like us and we can find some reason to make you fit in, we’ll take a shot at disbanding your, vilifying you or making your practices illegal.”

No one is tolerating the abuse that was present. However, if that was the sole criteria for raiding a sanctuary of worship we’d raid the NBA training camps where spousal abuse is treated as a collateral damage for players having the pressure of making a lot of money.

There are a lot of double standards; let’s not wince but get a clear view of what’s going on. Then we’ll all meet at the other churches and high schools where similar abuses and sexual abstinence are conditioned.  That’s worked wonders hasn’t it!?

So the next time you see a heading in the local scandal sheet or city newspaper like:

“Polygamist sect conditioned girls from birth”

We’re all conditioned from birth…  So, you know that it is not about “conditioning from birth” but that something else is there that the editors don’t agree with or that will sell a lot of papers.

And oh, by the way, that behavior set is conditioned too.

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