Writing. Design. Social Change.

Posts from the ‘Social Web’ category

A commitment to community building and civic action offers faculty and students in our field opportunities to address immediate real-world needs in our own neighborhoods.

Join us for a half-day workshop on Thursday, May 24, 2018, from 9-12 at Computers and Writing 2018 at George Mason University. With John J Silvestro, Bill Wolff, and Aimée Knight.

This workshop features several models to involve academic courses in digital projects with local nonprofits and community-based organizations. Learning to leverage digital media platforms to advocate for and with communities provides students a meaningful way to engage in designing communication for social change.

We discuss an array of research and creative projects that 1) serve the needs of community partners and 2) can be accomplished by students in one semester. We provide examples from completed projects in areas ranging from professional writing to digital production, including advocacy campaigns, social media audits, website design, digital storytelling, data visualization, video production, and social media content creation.

During three hands-on work sessions, we will provide guidance and support as workshop participants move through the process of designing and developing their own project or assignment that can be worked into a new or an already existing or a new course. Each participant will leave the workshop with a blueprint for a project which responds to community-identified needs and creates real-world deliverables that benefit students and communities. For more details, contact me @aesthetically.




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My friend D didn’t sleep last night. He had to take exams this morning. D is from Istanbul. Friday he choked on tear gas. Today he takes exams while protests rage outside his front door.


He says it’s hard to focus on exams as he recalls the violence in the streets.Bravery

Is there anything I can do? Yes, he said. You can tell others.

End police violence

D is optimistic. There’s something beautiful happening in Turkey – people are growing strong.


He wants us to focus on the positive, “heart warming” moments of this social movement. The images he shared are, in fact, extraordinary.


This is the social web at its finest. Times like this. We might not live in Turkey or have dear friends living there, but that doesn’t really matter. The reality of our world is harder and harder to ignore due to our interconnectedness. The web enables us to embrace this solidarity and take action. It may not seem like much to you, but do tell others about what is happening in Turkey. If you want to do more, please contribute to this fund , organized by the Turkish people to take out a full page ad in the New York Times or the Washington Post to let the world know about OccupyGezi.

I also want to share with you one of my favorite TED Talks. According to Robert Thurman, the social web enables us to all be “little Buddhas” – aware and knowledgeable about what’s going on. This makes it harder and harder to ignore injustices on both a local and global scale.

Here’s Uma’s dad on what it means to be enlightened today.



Paul Klee Twittering Machine 1922Standing before Paul Klee’s Twittering Machine (1922) at the Museum of Modern Art, I recall Marshall McLuhan’s words and consider how we shape our tools and in turn how our tools shape us. In Klee’s day, the painting could have served as a social commentary on the forces of nature and industry colliding. Today, perhaps we should look again. The bird’s are shackled to the wire. The crank turns, we stand in our chains to sing songs of relentless cacophony.

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Drawing from contemporary social theorists Bruno Latour, Pierre Bourdieu, Michel de Certeau, Karin Knorr Cetina, Jyri Engeström, and Ulla-Maaria Engeström, we can look at how people connect through shared objects. The argument here is that the object is the thing that links people together.

For example, people come to Delicious to share bookmarks, people come to YouTube or Vimeo to share videos, and people come to Twitter to share links and status updates. As a result, social networks consist of people who are connected by these shared objects  (in these cases: the bookmarks, the videos, and the updates). According toEngeström, “The social networking services that really work are the ones that are built around objects.”*

Yesterday, we put this to the test in my social media course. My class is currently reading Clara Shih’s The Facebook Era: Tapping Online Social Networks to Market, Sell, and Innovate. I adapted her “Reciprocity Ring” description into an activity on social objects (pages 58-61). Shih’s “Reciprocity  Ring” builds from Mark Granovetter’s 1973 theory of The Strength of Weak Ties among users of social networks. (However he’s not mentioned in her book).  Granovotter’s research questioned the idea that the amount of overlap in two people’s social networks corresponds directly to the strength of their relationship. Instead he focused on the power of weak ties. According to Granovetter: “emphasis on weak ties lends itself to discussion of relations between groups and to analysis of segments of social structure not easily defined in terms of primary groups.”

In our class exercise, we were interested in how a social object, in this case a status “request,” brings people together.

  1. Each student wrote their name and a “status request” on a yellow Post-It Note. Some examples of student’s requests included an umbrella, a ride home, a babysitting job, a futon, an internship.
  2. Students placed their requests in a circle.
  3. Students surveyed the requests. When they could contribute to a request, they wrote their name and how they could help on a new Post-It Note. Students placed their contributions below the original requests.
  4. Students then connected (with string) each object to the person who offered a contribution.

This exercise makes visible how the social object, here the status request, mediates ties between people. People were not interacting directly with other people in this exercise. People were interacting with the social object, the status request. This exercise demonstrates that social objects are persuasive in nature and prompt participants to perform activities. These activities are relational in nature. The more interactive the social object, the more opportunities for connection.

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