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Bocconi 2016 Per-corsi

Bocconi 2016. Media Ecology

About the course

We live in an infosphere with the help of a smartphone that we keep always on. It is not anymore only about a change in the media. it is about a chang in ourselves and in the environment.

Are we better informed? How do we look at the future? How do we develop the opportunities that technology offers? Is our freedom enhanced or limited? Are we better citizens?

Understanding the infosphere is a critical, constructive, creative path.

The course in which we discuss about all this is called “Digital humanities. Media Ecology: information in the digital age”, at Bocconi University. Students will be asked to discuss their experiences in the infosphere, in order to share what they think about freedom, creativity, newsmaking, and the emerging discipline of the digital humanities.

The program:
FEB 8th – Infosphere
FEB 15th – Future
FEB 22th – Innovation
FEB 29th – Happiness
MAR 7th – Platforms
MAR 7th – Rights

FEB 8th – Introduction

Facebook, Whatsapp, Google Maps are now basic tools for the daily life. A smartphone that is going out of charge makes people feel uneasy. Humans live connected by digital tools in an infosphere that is defined by digital media.But what do we know about the media ecology that is emerging? The media frame the vision that shapes any decision making.
Questions emerge: is the growing complexity of the media affecting human ability to learn, think, decide, live together? Are the media limiting or empowering societies? Is there such a thing as a “collective intelligence”? What are “big data” and the “internet of things” going to do to the economy? How is changing the role of newspapers in this environment? Algorythms and robots are going to take over intellectual jobs? How can people make the most of the digital opportunity?
In a knowledge economy the debate is growing: the course is designed to discuss and share a critical approach to the matter, by refusing any banalizing hype as well as any depressive prejudice: innovation is a process, it is not a given. Students will actively participate to the discussion. No special technical skills are required. Suggested readings will help the discussion. Of course, it is not mandatory to read them all, and particularly so books by the teacher. Some information about the teacher (both in English and Italian) can be found at: http://blog.debiase.com/about-me/

FEB 8th – Infosphere

“Frequently the messages
have meaning”.
Claude Shannon

The problem we are facing is not anymore about how the media will change: it is about how we are changing

We live in a new kind of environment. An environment that is enriched with information. And we use new tools that are now part of our body

In 2013, 98% of information recorded by humans was in digital format; in the year 2000 it was 25% – Martin Hilbert, quoted by Victor Mayer-Schönberger and Kenneth Cukier in BIG DATA 2013

The Supreme Court has decided that the phone is part of human anatomy

What is information?
Bits: from data to knowledge

Information has a history. Digital information theory starts in 1948. And it changed a lot of our lives. At present, a sort of info-sphere is our new environment: a digital ecosystem in which we both live and learn. There are consequences that we should think more about.

Luciano Floridi, Information. A very short introduction, 2010
Paolo Vidali e Federico Neresini, Il valore dell’incertezza, Mimesis 2015
James Gleick, The information, 2012
Claude Shannon, A mathematical theory of communication, 1948 http://worrydream.com/refs/Shannon%20-%20A%20Mathematical%20Theory%20of%20Communication.pdf

«The fundamental problem of communication is that of reproducing at one point either exactly or approximately a message selected at another point.
Frequently the messages have meaning; that is they refer to or are correlated according to some system with certain physical or conceptual entities. These semantic aspects of communication are irrelevant to the engineering problem.
The significant aspect is that the actual message is one selected from a set of possible messages. The system must be designed to operate for each possible selection, not just the one which will actually be chosen since this is unknown at the time of design.» (Shannon)


When is now?
Prehistory, history, hyperhistory

If everything is written…
… power shifts from deciding what to write…
…to writing the algorithms that manage information

The problem is now:
which platform controls the information flow
and what are its algorithms and its interests

open, commons and neutral
proprietary and non interoperable
known to all
unknown to most

What are the Digital Humanities?
A new set of transdisciplinary curiosities and a new problem for epistemology

Digital Humanities
“WE LIVE in one of those rare moments of opportunity for the humanities, not unlike other great eras of cultural-historical transformation such as the shift from the scroll to the codex, the invention of moveable type, the encounter with the New World, and the Industrial Revolution. Ours is an era in which the humanities have the potential to play a vastly expanded creative role in public life.The present volume puts itself forward in support of a Digital Humanities that asks what it means to be a human being in the networked information age and to participate in fluid communities of practice, asking and answering research questions that cannot be reduced to a single genre, medium, discipline, or institution. Digital Humanities represents a major expansion of the purview of the humanities, precisely because it brings the values, representational and interpretive practices, meaning-making strategies, complexities, and ambiguities of being human into every realm of experience and knowledge of the world. It is a global, trans-historical, and transmedia approach to knowledge and meaning-making.
Yet there remains a chorus of contemporary voices bewailing yet another “definitive” crisis in humanistic culture, yet another sacrifice of quality on the altar of “mere” quantity. Our response is not just a counterargument in favor of new convergences between quality and quantity, but also one in favor of a model of culture embodied by this book itself. We do not think the humanities are in perpetual crisis or imperiled by another battle for legitimacy with the sciences. Instead, we see this moment as marking a fundamental shift in the perception of the core creative activities of being human, in which the values and knowledge of the humanities are seen as crucial for shaping every domain of culture and society.”

Matthew Gold, Debates in the digital humanities: http://dhdebates.gc.cuny.edu/debates
Digital Humanities News at King’s College: http://www.kcl.ac.uk/artshums/depts/ddh/news.aspx
Center for Digital Liberal Arts, Occidental College, Los Angeles: http://oxy.edu/center-digital-liberal-arts

About Media ecology

Media ecology theory centers on the principles that technology not only profoundly influences society, it also controls virtually all walks of life; it is a study of how media and communication processes affect human perception and understanding. Ecology in this context refers to the environment in which the medium is used – what they are and how they affect society. The theoretical concepts were proposed by Marshall McLuhan in 1964, while the term media ecology was first formally introduced by Neil Postman in 1968. (Wikipedia)
Assumptions of the theory: 1. Media is infused in every act and action in society. 2. Media fixes our perceptions and organizes our experiences. 3. Media ties the world together.
Marshall McLuhan used the phrase Global village to describe that “humans can no longer live in isolation, but rather will always be connected by continuous and instantaneous electronic media”. This global village let mankind step into a new “information age” in which human communication is “growing so fast as to be in fact immeasurable,” (Wikipedia)

FEB 15th – Future

How we decide?

Daniel Kahneman, Thinking, Fast and Slow, Penguin, 2013

What can we say about the future?

The future is the consequence of what we do now:
– We decide by intuition
– What we decide builds the future
– Sometimes there is reasoning, most of the times not
– The ideas we have about the future shape in some ways our decision making
– The ideas we have about the future shape the future

“Economics is the science that studies why its predictions didn’t work”. The Economist

“There are no facts in the future, only narratives”. Institute for the Future

We discuss three kinds of narratives: financial, technological, ecological. And we look at how the narratives about the future are changing by discussing some trending topics:
Big data
Particle physics
Additive production
Artificial intelligence
Collective intelligence
Sharing economy
Climate change
Space exploration

For example we take a look at what Carl Benedikt Frey and Michael A. Osborne, Oxford University say about jobs:
“According to our estimates, about 47 percent of total US employment is at risk”.

To which, Tom Perrault, Harvard Business Review, answers:
“But there will be a limit to how far computers can replace humans. What can’t be replaced in any organization imaginable in the future is precisely what seems overlooked today: liberal arts skills, such as creativity, empathy, listening, and vision. These skills, not digital or technological ones, will hold the keys to a company’s future success.”.

Future studies readings:
Al Gore, The future, WH Allen, 2013
James Canton, The extreme future, Dutton, 2006
Joel Garreau, Radical evolution, Broadway Books, 2005
Age of networked matter. http://www.iftf.org/aonm/
Future visions. http://news.microsoft.com/futurevisions/
Fantascienza come racconto del futuro http://blog.debiase.com/2016/01/15/fantascienza-come-racconto-del-futuro/
Future timelinehttp://futuretimeline.net
How to see into the future. http://www.ft.com/intl/cms/s/2/3950604a-33bc-11e4-ba62-00144feabdc0.html#axzz3zPYJLR8D
● Comparisons are important: use relevant comparisons as a starting point;
● Historical trends can help: look at history unless you have a strong reason to expect change;
● Average opinions: experts disagree, so find out what they think and pick a midpoint;
● Mathematical models: when model-based predictions are available, you should take them into account;
● Predictable biases exist and can be allowed for. Don’t let your hopes influence your forecasts, for example; don’t stubbornly cling to old forecasts in the face of news.

We don’t know the future, we just build it, by acting now and generating consequences
We act now by thinking in a way that is understandable in terms of narratives
The future is not the future of technology: it is a mix of scientific, technological and humanistic knowledge

FEB 22th – Innovation

What is innovation? Why we need so hard to think about innovation now? Are we getting more able to adapt to change?

Innovation is not a set of new things
Innovation changes a story… or even history
Innovation happens when the creation generated by a new vision is adopted
Innovation is where technology and humanity meet

Patterns of evolution:
Imagination (process of creation)
Connection (enabling environment)
Selection (choice of what survives and thrives)

Geoffrey Moore, Crossing the Chasm

Moore’s law
Metcalfe’s law
Power law

Exponential organizations


Innovation Killers. How Financial Tools Destroy your Capacity to do New Things, by Clayton Christensen, Stephen Kaufman and Willy Shih


FEB 29th – Happiness

What do we want? What makes us happy?

There is no correlation between consumption and happiness
There is no correlation between growth in GDP and happiness
There are goods that make us dependent and other goods that make us happy (or unhappy)


relational goods
environmental goods
cultural heritage

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, Flow, Harper 1990

“Twenty-three hundred years ago Aristotle concluded that, more than anything else, men and women seek happiness”.
“Happiness is not something that happens. It is not the result of good fortune or random chance. It is not something that money can buy or power command”.
“The optimal state is one in which there is order in consciousness. This happens when psychic energy – or attention – is invested in realistic goals, and when skills match the opportunities for action”.
“The last step: how people manage to join all experience into a meaningful pattern”.

We feel in the flow if we live in a story that makes us feel compelled and able to achieve our goals
Narratives are (sort of) the story in which we live and have an influence on our goals
As we innovate in a way that is adopted we may experience the flow

Is the info-sphere good for happiness?
It generates more relations: of what kind?
It makes us more informed: are we sure?
It is fun: but what exactly is funny in here?

To be happy in the info-sphere we need to be actors and not audience
To be happy we need meaning

MAR 7th – Platforms

Are we better informed in the info-sphere?
There are more opportunities for getting informed
There are maybe too many opportunities for getting information
We can be better informed only if we are aware of the way platforms work

Information overload is a failure of filters. How do platforms help us deal with it and what are the algorithms that they use? What are the consequences of those algorithms? Do you know about the Facebook experiment?

Eli Pariser, The filter bubble, 2011


Facebook’s experiment
“Experimental evidence of massive-scale emotional contagion through social networks”
We show, via a massive (N = 689,003) experiment on Facebook, that emotional states can be transferred to others via emotional contagion, leading people to experience the same emotions without their awareness. We provide experimental evidence that emotional contagion occurs without direct interaction between people (exposure to a friend expressing an emotion is sufficient), and in the complete absence of nonverbal cues.

What’s so different in the digital media environment?
Time, attention, authority are the new competitive dimensions. While our learning, memorizing and connecting strategies change quite a lot. But we now have to deal with information overload and some other problems. This is not the end of media evolution.

Luca De Biase, Cambiare pagina, Rizzoli, 2011

Economy of digital media
Scarcity was: space, memory, processing
Scarcity is: time, attention, relevance
Scarcity shifts: from supply to demand

Present platforms are not the end of history
Facebook, Google, Apple have a history. And a strategy. But they also have competitors. How does a platform get traction and success? How a newcomer can get a success, too? What is the network-effects and how can we deal with it?

B.J. Fogg, Persuasive technology, 2003

Ecology of media: a plurality of mutations
Infinite mutations are needed for a rich media ecosystem to flourish. A sort of new consciousness is needed to escape the danger of being trapped in a platform without making the most of it.

Luca De Biase, Homo pluralis, Codice 2015
Aaron Balick, The psychodynamics of social networking, Karnac 2014

MAR 7th – Rights

How human rights are adapted to the info-sphere?

“Code is law”
Lawrence Lessig, Code, 2006

“A future of control in large part exercised by technologies of commerce, backed by the rule of law (or at least what’s left of the rule of law).
The challenge for our generation is to reconcile these two forces. How do we protect liberty when the architectures of control are managed as much by the government as by the private sector? How do we assure privacy when the ether perpetually spies? How do we guarantee free thought when the push is to propertize every idea? How do we guarantee self-determination when the architectures of control are perpetually determined elsewhere?”
Lawrence Lessig, Code, 2006

Writing code is making law
We regulate daily life on the basis of incentives and rules that are written in the code of which platforms are made
It can be that the future will be even more so, while technologies will work more and more smoothly into our daily life
A discussion about rules is a democratic discussion
There is a “human rights dimension” for inspiration and imagination
There is a “constitutional dimension” to rule the rulers
There is a “legislative and administrative dimension” for normal laws
There is a private participation to ruling, that happens by writing code that is adopted and becomes part of daily life
There is a commons dimension that needs social innovation

Digital media and human rights

At the Italian Chamber of deputies a Commission has been established to study and propose a Bill of rights for the Internet. The question that was asked to members is clear: does the internet change the environment in which human rights work and can be diminished? The Commission’s works have generated a Bill. What does it say? And how can it be implemented?


Human rights and the internet
net neutrality
platform interoperability
digital impact assessment

Any person has the right that the data he/she transmits and receives over the Internet be not subject to discrimination, restrictions or interference based upon the sender, recipient, type or content of the data, the device used, applications or, in general, the legitimate choices of individuals.
The neutrality of the network, whether it be mobile or fixed, and the right to Internet access are necessary conditions for ensuring the effectiveness of the fundamental rights of the person. They preserve the “generative” function of the Internet and the production of innovation. They ensure that messages and their applications can travel online without suffering discrimination on the basis of their content and their functions.

Any person has a right to the complete and up-to-date representation of their identity on the Internet.
The definition of identity regards the free construction of the personality and cannot take place without the intervention and the knowledge of the data subject.
The use of algorithms and probabilistic techniques shall be disclosed to the data subject who, in any case, has the right to oppose the construction and dissemination of profiles regarding him or her.
Any person has the right to provide only the information which is strictly necessary for complying with legal obligations, for the supply of goods and services or for accessing Internet platforms.
The definition of an identity on the Internet by a state entity must be governed by appropriate guarantees.

Digital platform operators are required to behave honestly and fairly in dealing with users, suppliers and competitors.
Any person has the right to receive clear and simple information on how the platform operates, not to have contractual terms arbitrarily altered and not to be subjected to conduct that could make accessing the platform difficult or discriminatory. Any person shall be in any case notified of changes in contractual terms. In this case, they have the right to terminate the relationship, to receive a copy of the data concerning them in interoperable form and to have the data concerning them removed from the platform.
Platforms that operate on the Internet, if they represent services essential to the lives and activities of people, shall facilitate conditions – in accordance with the principle of competition and under equal contractual terms – for the appropriate interoperability of their main technologies, functions and data with other platforms.

Any person has the right to have their rights recognised on the Internet both at national and at international level.
The Internet requires rules consistent with its universal, supranational scope, aimed at fully implementing the principles and rights set out above, to safeguard its open and democratic nature, to prevent all forms of discrimination and to prevent the rules governing its use from being determined by those who hold the greatest economic power.
The construction of a system of rules shall take account of the various territorial levels (supranational, national, regional), the opportunities created by a variety of forms of self-regulation consistent with the above principles, the need to preserve the capacity for innovation, the multiplicity of actors operating on the Internet, and shall encourage involvement in ways that ensure the widespread participation of all concerned. Public institutions shall adopt the appropriate instruments to ensure such participation.
In any case, the regulatory innovations regarding the Internet shall be subject to an assessment of their impact on the digital ecosystem.

Can we make this work by design?

Social media help people meet other people they like
People need to meet also people they don’t necessarily like, when they have something to do together
“Civic media” need to be designed in order to meet that need
Luca De Biase, Media civici, Apogeo Feltrinelli, 2013

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