On our second Tuesday, Greg Taylor started the day with “Formal Modeling in the Social Sciences.” It seemed that the group generally very much appreciated and respected Greg’s take on “big data” and computer modeling. He first stressed the fact that models are only simplifications and abstractions of reality; the world is complicated and thus we need to distill it down to something understandable. He is drawing from economics and how the scholars in this field do their research. Greg had a simple, but great graphic on one of his slides. Assumptions –> Calculation –> Results. The “math” part comes in for the calculations and results. He explained that as long as the math is right, this is right. However, the assumptions that the researcher begins with is the most important part. All of the calculations can be correct, but if assumptions are not realized or if a researcher is not reflexive, this is when problems can arise, especially in quantitative research studies. At the end, Greg argued that modeling can help us understand underlying social functions.

Our next speaker was the much anticipated Luciano Floridi. His talk was titled: “Transdiegetic Information: What it is and why is matters.” I, of course, enjoyed his introduction to what “real” philosophy is and should be, including his statement that “facts and formulae are not enough,” we need analyses of open questions. And, this is philosophy. #preach  Instead of using the binary “online/offline,” Luciano proposes that we use “onlife.” He is right; it is silly to think that we ever actually log on or log off anymore. He uses diegesis (recounted story) as a lens to understand the information that is afforded in technological environments. Once the provider plays with what information the user can see and interact with, the provider changes the experience. He used media such as Apocalypse Now and House of Cards as traditional one-to-many-model examples and then showed how these are similar to what we can now do with participatory media technologies. This interaction, he says, can erase the distinction between diegetic (internal) and nondiegetic (external) information. Thus, he introduced the term transdiegetic. Information is transdiegetic is it can move seamlessly between diegetic and nondiegetic spaces in a dynamic way. Therefore, our new media technologies blur distinctions between reality and virtuality and human, machine, and nature; alter the nature of information from scarcity to abundance; and shift the priority from entities to interaction.

Our first student presenter was Emily Stacey whose presentation was titled “The Pamphlet meets Application Programming Interface: Social movements and the digital age.” Emily is interested in applying social movement theory to political protests. She believes that transmovements help people to mobilize because they can transcend borders and traditional boundaries. She spoke about “hashtag activism” and how networked horizontalism brings in different groups without one over another. For example, Emily conducted studies regarding “#sidibouzid” and “#Egypt/25Jan.” One finding she presented was that movements are faceless, but not leaderless. She is now working on developments in Ukraine–she has much more great research to come!

Our next speaker was James Cho, and his presentation was about networked individualism and American Evangelical Christians. Drawing from scholars such as Heidi Campbell who discusses “digital religion,” James is interested in the online and offline blurring for religious norms, and he wants to understand the intersection of religion, identity, and politics.

Our last presenter was Ellen Brady. Her research focuses on actual vs. perceived privacy on healthcare discussion boards. These healthcare discussion boards allow patients to find peer support, and they are then empowered to control the flow of their health information. Ellen is very interested in methods and ethics. She presented some intriguing findings regarding patients who really wanted to tell their stories and not be anonymized. But, she also told stories about patients who outright told her that her research was awful and that they did not want to be involved in any way. The nice aspect of these anonymous spaces is that if something goes wrong, users can go away for a few weeks, open a new, anonymous account, and regain the digital peer support. Of course, this is not possible in other online spaces, and even the site itself, along with it’s third-party affiliations (because of IP addresses and cookies), knoww it is the same user behind the screen.

I must mention that for lunch on Tuesday I got to eat more delicious pie from Pieminister. As you can see, I was spoiled with a veggie pie filled with goat cheese, spinach, and sweet potatoes, mushy peas, mashed potatoes, and gravy!!