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Joanna Cruz

Student , The Cooper Union For The Advancement of Science and Art

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Would you rather be an information producer, propagator, or consumer?

In my Bioelectricity class this week, we talked about the propagation of electrical signals in the body. We learned that sensory cells and neurons act like information "producers." As sensory cells in the eye, ear, nose, tongue and body generate the electric signals that stimulate neurons, "information" is produced by the body! This information is then transmitted in the form of action potentials (or "spikes") along myelinated axons which act as "information propagators" as they efficiently and rapidly distribute these signals. These signals may be received by the dendrites of other neurons which act as receivers, or "consumers" of the action potentials.

Learning this material has inspired me to ask: how can biology inspire us as we disseminate "ideas worth spreading?” or as we consider our roles as information producers, information propagators, or an information consumers? How can we best help propagate worthy and novel ideas?

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    Feb 22 2012: I have thought a lot about whether I'm a producer or consumer. I think that the world is quickly becoming a place where almost everybody spends almost all of their time consuming and not producing -- people are paralyzed by their addiction to bingeing on information, which in many cases is just useless, distractory entertainment. (How many people do you know who spend all of their discriminatory time on facebook, or watching TV or YouTube videos?) There is a place for entertainment, but not when it consumes your whole life and chokes your ability to produce. This trend actually causes me to worry about the future of humanity. I suspect we'll see a future day when humanity separates into two classes, the producers and the consumers. The producers will have all the power. I think this would be a great storyline for a novel...
    • Feb 22 2012: A novel, you say? Sounds like Sci Fi. I am on it! =)

      On a more serious note, I'm also worried about our tendency to consume and propagate, more than produce. How many times have I found myself "reblogging" something on tumblr without adding a thought of my own? How many repeats of horrid memes pass through my news feed every hour on Facebook?
      In today's society, I think too many of us think we don't have enough time to be producers. It's so important for us to be up-to-date on popular things that most of us don't think that the easiest way to be the "first to share" would be to become a producer. We don't think that we can all be artists, or thinkers, or writers. But think of all the time you'll have to learn and practice if you moderate your consumption time on youtube, or facebook or watching TV.
      But I still think there is hope for us. As consumers, we get sick of repetition. We crave new things, and if the producers can't keep up with our cravings, we step into that role. That's what happened with the memes. Meme generators just made it easier for the consumers to be the producers. (The production of memes, mind you, does not give me any hope at all for the future of society.) But I still think we'll retain our ability to swing from consumer/propagator to producer, and back.

      Creativity doesn't die, especially while we still retain our individual perspectives.
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        Feb 24 2012: Thanks so much for your comment!!!!!!

        I agree with you and I think it is so amazing that you ended your comment with hope. As Luke said, we should be wary of the future we are facing because of our lack of production but that should never stop us from hoping and improving. We do have cravings for something other than the mundane and this thirst for more will hopefully spur curiosity.

        I think we need to be more self-aware of our information intake and outputs and make an effort to encourage each other. I find that we become producers when someone challenges us, like on YouTube when our favorite subscription posts contests or when people make suggestions for new recipes to try and ask for feedback. I think asking for advice also could help. The more I write and think about this comment, maybe, the more it seems that production requires a group effort in which we all stimulate production and discussion like with neurons firing. The only way you can measure a signal or response is if multiple neurons within the same area are firing not just one because of all the noise that can distort the a single low amplitude signal.

        And if you do ever end writing that Sci-Fi story, let me know! :)
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        Feb 26 2012: This concern with people retweeting over producing original works has been a concern that many philosophers have been trying to reason for decades. For instance, Foucault wrote “What is an Author?” in 1969. His idea is that an author only exists as a function of the piece of written work. It it neither part of the original producer or consumer’s interpretation of the work. We are never producers of information, we are simply the conduit with which the author expresses information.

        Many may ask, does that mean we cannot produce unique info? It depends on what we consider “information“. Marshall Mcluhan believed that the message is in the medium. I also believe that the message may be affected by the medium with it is travels. A simple example is that through many experimentation, it was concluded that people can read faster if the number of words per line hovered around 3 (like for newspapers). In this case, the medium definitely alters the message as a novel printed with only 3 words per line would drastically affect how the read intakes the words. With this said, one’s decision to reblog, retweet, or pin it to pinterest affects the effective message of the post.

        Then there’s Borge’s “Library of Babel”. In it, Borges suggests that there exists a world where there exists books whose contents consists of words of every length and character combination possible. In this world, people search for books that contains in it, the story of their life. This idea is also similar to the issue with retweeting. We are presented with data and we have the task to filter it.

        Having said all that, I believe that we are information consumers, producers, and propagators. However, we are not knowledge producers. The attainment of knowledge rests solely on our own ability to filter what we consume. Nor do we produce useful information because the attainment of knowledge by others rests solely on their hands. We are only producing more data for them to filter.
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      Feb 22 2012: It is easier than ever though to become a producer or propagator, and a lot of people do. When culture or information was all about watching television, there was a very high barrier to entry if you wanted to become a producer (not to mention propagator).

      But today anyone curates their own Facebook or Twitter feed, which I think is fully comparable (although mostly at a smaller scale) to the curating Chris and Bruno do. So we are all propagators; we may binge on information but we only pass on the best stuff.

      And if you want to start producing, you can just write a blog post about your own understanding of a topic that you have just been reading about, adding information to the global hive mind (the reference had to come sooner or later)
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        Feb 22 2012: I agree that it's easier to create (and remix) and be creative now than probably ever before in the history of mankind. I agree that there is a flourishing of incredible creativity among many people. However, I would also argue that most people's Facebook or Twitter feeds merely give the author the false sense of security and *illusion* that they're creating something valuable. Does the simple expression of a person's opinion and mundane day-to-day moments enrich the world? Certainly. But is it producing something new and inventive and creative? I think that's harder to argue. I think it *is* easy to argue that entire lives are now being wasted, consumed by digital distraction and "conspicuous consumption of information". It's very hard to point to something specific that is actually accomplished or made by endless hours of consumption of media -- and the problem with creation of facebook or twitter content is that, for the most part, you're actually indulging in vicariously living other people's lives, rather than going out and living your own. (See also "FOMO", "FOMO addiction" and "availability heuristic" applied to your mix of posts from your facebook friends...)

        Maybe the issue though is that the time that used to be spent washing clothes in a river and milking cows and gathering mushrooms is now spent on Facebook, so that the net effect is no actual increase or decrease in actual productivity or productive output?
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          Feb 22 2012: Perhaps it is a new thing we have to learn and when people experience that (a) they CAN produce and (b) they ARE ALLOWED to produce then they will grow in how they use the Internet.

          My own experience is that when I started using social media to find information on things that interest me, I didn't necessarily immediately find the best sources. But with time, I learned where the prime sources were, and I adjusted my Google Reader to suit.

          If you read newspapers' online sports pages today then maybe tomorrow you'll start checking out some soccer blogs, because that sport happens to appeal to you. The day after, you may be filtering out the very best ones and then finally, you'll start adding your own information to the network by commenting and blogging yourself.
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        Feb 24 2012: Thanks for your comment!!!

        I don't think it necessarily a new thing we have to learn but something we need to become more comfortable with. Coming from a student's perspective, I think I have become complacent with absorbing all the information I can so I can produce something of significance. I think some people get caught up in that or become uncomfortable with their ability to contribute. I think we need to learn how to transition from consumers to propagators to producers with confidence.
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        Feb 28 2012: The internet can indeed be a great tool for producing and propagating. I think the best example of that is the gaining popularity of open source software thats out there. With hundreds of collaborators, the final product ends up much more powerful than any individual could come up with on their own. By working together as consumer, propagators, and producers, we can truly achieve great things. Take for example the group of gamers who figure out the detailed molecular structure of a protein-cutting enzyme from an AIDS-like virus found in rhesus monkeys by collaboratively playing a game.(http://cosmiclog.msnbc.msn.com/_news/2011/09/16/7802623-gamers-solve-molecular-puzzle-that-baffled-scientists)
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      Feb 24 2012: Thanks so much for your comment!!!

      I think you make an awesome point and unfortunately, we all fall prey to these addictive tendencies especially myself.

      It is necessary to have a balance between producing and consuming. Being a consumer should inspire propagation and production. The furthest some people are willingly to go is to propagate information or good information as Ashley G says. However, there seems to be huge barriers that many cannot seem to get over in order to produce, one of them being time, as already stated. I think another one is comfort zone. My bioelectricity class has been posting two conversations every week and comfort zone has been a limiting factor in our production. Some are timid to share and produce because they are unfamiliar with participating in this specific discussion medium. Some feel they cannot adequately share because of a lack of knowledge in the field of question. Others have difficulty articulating their ideas or are self-conscious that they cannot contribute to the conversation. I have felt all of these one time or another during the past three weeks but I am becoming more comfortable and attached to my thoughts and comments. Maybe we all need to take the first step, which is also the hardest, because practice enlarges the comfort zone.

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