Sunday, November 28, 2004

Questions, three articles

  1. Is Kraut and Cummings's definition of computer "domestication" (as "that which is not work") defensible? Training a gender lens on it seems to produce the old, old canard that only paid work is work, and household labor is not work. (I was particularly dubious about "finance" being a "personal, leisure, non-work" use of the Internet, p. 224. I don't get paid for maintaining my household's investments, no, but it sure ain't leisure in my book.) I am tempted to wonder if the more "labor"-ish uses of the Internet were actually the wedge driving its use in the home. And how does the increasing contingent workforce (especially contractors and micro-businesses) play into this? Are they counted as "workers"?

    On the other hand, I can certainly accept their guess that increasing demographic heterogeneity in Internet use reflects the greater diversity of American homes as compared to the American workplace.

  2. Is Mark Porter's contention that software development invented "entirely new patterns and cultures of work" (p. 342 et seq.) anything more than wild ahistorical romanticism? This guy's never programmed for a living, has he?

  3. Postigo's account of the AOL situation seems to imply that community effort is incompatible with paid labor (or at least with management thereof). Is that true in all cases, or was AOL just particularly hamfisted in handling its volunteer labor force?

questions, 11/29

1. Kraut and Cumming's article discusses the social trends of Internet usage up until 2000. Since then, we have even more modes available for online communication, for example, blogging and skype (internet telephony). Does this suggest a continuing increase in social use or a response to meet user needs or both? What about paying bills online, would you consider this a social use or a cross over and are there other examples of the two blending together?

2. Volunteer is defined by both freely entering a transaction and not being compensated for it. It seems from Postigo's article that both parties had other informal expectations. For example, the volunteers wanted to gain experience, more access and possibly more recognition while and AOL needed more control. Is the definition of volunteer evolving and what do you think are reasonable expectations for both parties? In some ways the arrangement almost sounded more like internship, where experience was the primary reason for working without pay, there was still some compensation from fringe benefits and the possibility of working for AOL in the future.

3. That said, why aren't other corporations exploiting this type of volunteer arrangement? Was the eagerness surrounding the volunteers for AOL unique to this time and place in the technology boom (or whatever we should call this time period)?

29 November

1. On Postigo, I had a question of just what content the volunteers created when they had access to the in-house text editor/publisher? It had to be pretty thrilling to yield as much volunteer buy-in as it did. When AOL changed its pricing to attract users in the mass rather than well-heeled enthusiasts, what had changed in its business model? (A history of which I am ignorant.) Are there alternatives to the models of Internet users Postigo presents, to wit, enthusiastic volunteers, unpaid web proletarians, or company-designated community leaders?

2. I am not familiar with the standard use of statistics to interpret social trends, so will appreciate some clarification of how Cummings and Kraut are saying what they are saying. How does their prediction of the disappearance of surface mail square with what Poster says about the penetrability of e-mail? If there is an upper limit on the computer security that novices will invest in, isn't there also an upper limit on their trust of e-mail and online chat? What about the content issue? Isn't there more reliable, general purpose information available now and in the last five years than there was in 1994-5?

3. It seems as if the best way to read Poster is in conjunction with Lucore's article. Poster seems to have gotten to the store a little late. What concrete evidence, or proposal for action, does Poster present to indicate real hope for workers to use the Internet to "throw off their chains" etc. For some reason I'm thinking of Kramer's reversal of the peephole in the door of his apartment.

11/29 discussion questions

1. I was interested in the question Cummings and Kraut asked regarding whether the Internet has become "domesticated" because of a change in the user base or because of a change in the online environment. While they are able to show to some degree that the demographics of Internet users increasingly reflect U.S. demographics, they were unsuccessful in showing a change in the environment with their data. Does their suggestion of using adaptive structuration theory address this question or something else?

2. In many ways, the technocentric tone of the Poster article makes it sound like something that would have been published in the mid to late 90s, when everybody was supposed to be working from home, provided of course that work as we knew it didn't end outright. Is there a more sober way of discussing the impact that networked computing has on the nature of work? I'm not convinced by the "posthuman" argument, especially given the discussion we had last week (how easily and quickly the technology disappears when we really start talking about the labor).

3. Does Postigo's example of the changes in community-building activities at AOL ("community as commodity") take a step towards understanding changes in the online environment and online culture, or is the corporatization of the Internet only part of the big picture?