Overcoming Stigma, Encouraging Community

The biggest “social dilemma” I fear will affect South Madison is Rheingold’s concept of “stigma.”  Rheingold defines stigma as the information we give off through how we behave and the way that we dress. It helps us coordinate social interaction and identify people to interact with.  Due to the cultural diversity of the South Madison community, I fear that the stigmas that have developed over time will prevent some people from associating without provocation. As brought up in earlier posts, it is easy to get accustomed to an every day routine and to hanging out with a close group of friends. As stated by Graber in the “Communications Global Activism Strengths..” article, personal identity narratives frequently replace collective social scripts. I don’t believe that stigma is a concept unique to the South Madison community however, in that environment it may be more difficult to overcome.

Online communication technologies allow us to develop a network of loose social ties that spans more “stigmas” than traditional face-to-face interaction. If South Madison has not adapted these technologies, or has limited access to them, they will not be able to utilize these online media to develop a wide-ranging, diverse network.

To overcome the hesitation to interact that stigmas promote, we will need to heavily involve the “early adaptors” within the community. As stated by Rheingold, as the number of participants in a given demonstration or movement increased, the risk involved in participating declined. If we can involve the leaders of the various community groups and ethnicities, and engage them as “early adaptors,” others in the community will be more apt to join.

In addition, if we find that the South Madison community has limited access to the web, we may need to utilize text messaging technology to heavily supplement the content featured online. Many of the movements highlighted in the readings were organized via text message. Utilizing this technology may enable us to engage a wider audience on a more frequent basis.


The Social Dilemma in South Madison

It’s really astounding to see how far technology has changed even from a decade ago. As Reingold says in “Smart Mobs: The Power of the Mobile Many”, he wonders what is the world’s potential when it comes to using new technologies to bring people together for a cause. He said that even in 2002, “Wild as it sounds, mobile squads of citizen telejournalists have already surfaced.” The invention of the “blog” and mobile phones with the capacity to take audio and video and post it directly to the web was nothing but a vision at this time. Looking ten years into the future to today, the technologies that one uses every day far surpass the technologies a decade ago.

By looking at new technologies such as smart phones and laptops, the lack of these technologies in certain areas may affect the South Madison area greatly. People today are more and more referring to websites, e-mails, etc. to access events, news and more in their communities. When people can not simply access an internet connection, they essentially lose connection with a part of the world. They can’t access resources that many people take for granted on a day-to-day basis. I think this definitely could be an the issue in the South Madison area. If our research shows that people in the South Madison area do not have normal ways to access the world wide web every day, then that could be a reason why as to this community may be experiencing a “social dilemma.”

What I think technology can do to help the South Madison area is by first understanding the demographics of this diverse neighborhood, including available internet access or owning smart phones and home computers. One simple thing that will help South Madison connect more on a social level is something which our class is already accomplishing: a website. The potential we have in store for this website will greatly help bring people from many areas together to see what South Madison is all about. By combining elements of food, culture, and language into our website, we incorporate many backgrounds and make this incredible information available to anyone.

Community Engagement: Don’t Diffuse Responsibility

Social dilemmas are caused by a concept similar to the “diffusion of responsibility” theory in sociopsychology. Many people choose not to participate in activities that they know could better their community and society as a whole because they often believe that someone else will do it for them, and one person will not make a difference. This concept is apparent in many communities, but the area in which a social dilemma is most apparent in South Madison is in the “bonding” component of the community. Robert Putnam explains that bonding and bridging are the most important components in strengthening a community’s social capital. Because I haven’t had much field work in South Madison so far, I haven’t seen many first-hand instances of social dilemma in the community, however in the brief field work I did experience, I picked up on a divide in the ethnic groups in South Madison. I assume many people in the community recognize this divide, but there is little being done to actively work on the problem. I assume this occurs because there is often not as much access to new communication technologies to help promote bonding in the community, due to the low socioeconomic status of much of the South Madison community.

The use of new communication technologies could help solve or lessen the social dilemma in the South Madison community by quickly and fluidly reaching masses of people at one time. By reaching out to more people through the use of things like websites and social networking media, there is a higher likelihood of people seeing their friends or other people in their community working to better their community on a collective forum, and therefore a higher likelihood that they will do the same. Unfortunately, there is also the possibility that the “diffusion of responsibility” concept will kick in, so there must be a very clear incentive to participate in the project. This is where the “crowdsourcing” idea becomes important. Each member should feel that they have a responsibility in shaping the communication technologies their using to strengthen their community. The incentive of the use of these new communication technologies, in the case of Savor South Madison, should be that the technology is shaped however the community members want.

Through Savor South Madison, the community members of South Madison need to know that if they work with us, we will shape our technology however they want. For example, the platform design team has created a pamphlet this weekend to hand out to different food establishments throughout South Madison, specifically outlining for them what our mission is, and that we can provide FREE PR and advertising services for them. Also, by directly targeting different establishments throughout the community, we will be lessening the possibility of diffusion of responsibility, singling out people and places who can help us achieve our goal in this project.


“Revolution happens when society adopts new behaviors” – Shirky

The problem of social dilemma exists in South Madison. Citizens don’t engage enough in community or collective action and this poses serious threats to creating a cohesive and social environment. Some cases that exemplify “social dilemma” in South Madison include: citizens not attending or being aware of community events, a lack of social media that citizens can follow and contribute to and one main website or online forum which people can view and see what is happening in the community. I believe that people don’t engage in community or participate in collective action because they are busy, lazy or satisfied with their already established social circle. Although engaging in collective action in one’s community is a good thing to do, people can get “stuck in a rut” and not think about or care to reach out to others in their community. Personally, I can begin to fall into a pattern of doing the same thing with the same people every weekend. Although I know UW and Madison offer many community events, I become lazy and just rely on what I already know. Sometimes looking up an event or changing my routine can become too overwhelming and I just like to stick to my already established pattern. After reading these articles and reflecting on my own habits, I recognize this problem and plan to look into upcoming events in the Madison community (in South Madison as well!).

I believe that new communication technologies can lessen or hopefully solve the social dilemma people in our community might experience. The internet and email is the easiest and most straightforward way to reach out to citizens. As Shirky states in his article, people have the impulse to share important information and with the use of email, forwarding a story is simple. He relates this idea to the Geoghan Priest scandal reported in the Globe in 2002. Weblogs grew from this story and the “VOTF” was established as a result. According to the report, “the internet becomes a kind of affiliate for many.” People who read the Globe were activated to join together and voice their opinions about this scandal in an open online forum. According to Shirky, social tools don’t create collective action, they just help remove obstacles. I love the way that Shirky phrases, “revolution happens when society adopts new behaviors.” A (communal) revolution in South Madison is possible when this society adopts new behaviors – utilizing our South Madison site, following social media feeds about upcoming events and communicating with other citizens about what to do in the South Madison area. This can help establish a “smart mob” behavior such as when Filipino texting helped take over the Estrada government. This can also help form “virtual cliques”  such as what happened with the Upoc program in NYC.

Although increasing collective action in South Madison is possible, other people have to act before an individual joins a group. After viewing guest lists of Facebook events happening in South Madison, citizens will become more inclined to go because they see that others are attending. I truly believe that social media advances collective action and we need to utilize and promote social media outlets to raise awareness about events in South Madison. As Shirky stated, “whenever you improve a group’s ability to communicate internally, you change the things it is capable of.” Internal communication is integral to developing collective action in South Madison and eradicating its social dilemma. With the use of social media outlets, email, online forums, Facebook events and our site, collective action in South Madison will happen.

Pinteresting: Interesting facts about Pinterest

Social dilemmas require incentives

Social dilemmas occur when people do not want to participate in initiatives that better society because they believe that others will participate and render the same results whether they participate or not.  It is less work to “free load” off of others who participate and still benefit from the progress they make.  This is known as the “collective action” dilemma.

While I have not directly observed it, I am sure that social dilemmas occur in South Madison.  Although most in South Madison know that they need to advance the area, I doubt many actively work to do so.  This probably occurs because given the low socioeconomic level of many of the residents, they need to focus n advancing their own lives.  It might seem like an unnecessary  additional task to try to better the South Madison Community as a whole.

New communication technologies can lessen social dilemmas people face because they are so transparent and easy to use.  The latter is beneficial because people are more willing to participate when it does not take as much time to yield results.  The latter, however, is more complex.  The transparency of social media can be beneficial because it exposes many people to the initiatives taking place.  For example: if someone created a Facebook group with the goal of benefiting South Madison, many South Madison residents will become aware of the group as more and more of their Facebook friends join the group.  This could encourage them to do the same.  However, this could also increase the collective action dilemma.  If South Madison residents see many others working to benefit the area, they might feel their participation would not help the initiative.

What Savor South Madison and other communication technologies need to do is show residents that each of their efforts help benefit South Madison.  These technologies need to prove that each individual who participates can directly benefit from their participation.  This could include the free advertising like Savor South Madison gives various businesses.  Still, to create the desire for participation, non profits need to give more direct incentive as well.  I have learned in other classes that this direct incentive can range from money to free t-shirts.  While our class cannot offer these incentives, I hope the promise of free advertising will be enough to foster participation in our initiative.

Overcoming barriers, a long term project

While I wish it was not true, I believe that the primary challenge facing the South Madison community’s ability to adopt new communication technologies will take quite some time.

What is the primary challenge?  Money and time.  Unfortunately, new technologies require both.  Money is key in order to purchase the tool through with residents can access social media, namely a computer.  And while one can now purchase a computer for much less than they could years ago (unless they want to follow the UW-Madison trend of exclusivity toward Macbooks), in a difficult economy I am willing to bet that many lower income families will sacrifice a computer and instead use ones available at the local library.  Still, even if an individual does purchase a computer or utilizes a library’s, the second key component for taking advantage of everything a computer has to offer is time.  This, I fear, is the biggest challenge facing South Madison residents.

In the preliminary field work the research group has conducted, I have observed a pattern of hardworking citizens that most likely do not have much spare time for learning social media.  Social media does not make money, so why use it?  While this is a problem, I believe it can be turned into an opportunity.  In the minds of many business owners, they probably do not understand how to utilize social media.  Although it is not in the realm of this class, if libraries held free workshops for South Madison residents at which specialists educated them about possible advertising opportunities with social media, it could help shop/restaurant owners.

What our class can do to help motivate South Madison residents to use social media is enhance bonding and bridging through our objective of food.  If we succeed in our efforts to help residents bond with others and bridge with people from surrounding areas, especially UW-Madison students, they will find social media can help them stay in touch.  Once residents begin to use social media for social purposes, they might begin to realize how it can be used for advertising purposes.  Many of the restaurant and shop owners we spoke with said UW-Madison students are some of their primary customers.  If these owners utilized Facebook, Twitter, Groupon, etc, I am willing to bet that it would reach a lot of these students.  This could eventually create a domino effect: Owners advertise to students through social media, the students share the information with other friends on social media, and it’s Christmas for owners.

Still, all of this will take longer than one semester to complete.  If we are to prove to South Madison business owners that new technologies can help their businesses, we need to show them that our class has succeeded in doing so.  Once we show them the successes of our class (assuming we are successful), owners will want to expand on our initiative.  They can learn by example.

Our class can only begin efforts to increase bonding and bridging among South Madison residents.  Over time, hopefully future classes will continue to build on our efforts and the bonding and bridging in South Madison will grow stronger.