The concept of justice is typically thought of in the sense of legal restitution for an individual’s crime against another. The concept of justice is much more broad than this. An injustice doesn’t need to be an individual act it could be a set norms that affect a segment of a population. Take telecommunications for instance before the Americans with Disabilities Act was signed into law. Things taken for granted by the majority like telephones and television shows were proved inaccessible and practically useless certain people with hearing and speech difficulties. The injustice here is providing unbalanced access to specific forms of communication, the implementation of closed captioning and the Teletype machine rectified these injustices. This is what is known as social justice and is commonly referred to “as a means of bringing about social change, fighting inequality or campaigning for human rights” (Light Lukin 2008). Social Justice comes in many forms, ranging anywhere from policy making to education. Despite popular belief, those who enact social justice don’t have to be philanthropists or government agencies, they can be individual citizens. All that is required to bring about social change is the desire to do so. There is a plethora of media for one to perform a social justice. Many have turned to the burgeoning world of mobile media and other information communication technologies (ICTs). Applications with a social agenda tend to be effective through the ubiquity of mobile technology use and ownership.
I decided to try my hand at social justice to prove the concept that any individual can perform social justice. Unfortunately, I could not think of a social injustice to attempt to rectify so I first had to find one. I couldn’t think of a better way to do so than to sit in some of my favorite Philadelphia locales and observe people, how they interact with their environments, those around them, and their mobile devices. I went to two bars in the city found a decent vantage point where I could observe many individuals and groups at once. What I found while there did not shock me much but merely confirmed a belief that I had already held, that mobile technology is affecting the way in which people interact in physical spaces. I noticed young groups of friends often failing to carry conversations for very long, and when they did the conversation was of little to no importance to the world as a whole. Those few conversations that did discuss big picture subjects such as world news, politics, or science were generally ill informed and presented in very weak arguments. I also observed that when these groups of friends would run out of things to talk about nearly every single person sitting in the group would turn on their smart phone and connect to Facebook, Twitter, and other social media websites. This phenomenon seemed to be localized to younger people which seems to have back up Rich Ling and Jonathan Donner’s argument that younger people seem to be more accepting of social interactions being interrupted by mobile phones than older people (Ling Donner 2009). This at first confused me, I was in an inherently social space yet its inhabitants resorted to a secondary social space when their conversations hit a low point. I myself rarely use social media and do not poses a mobile device capable of connecting to the internet, so I had a hard time understanding the compulsion to revert to a digital social space while in a physically social space.
Many others have observed this behavior in social spaces some on much more grand of a scale. In an article published in 2010 by Keith N. Hampton, Lauren F. Sessions, and Eun Ja Herb, it was shown that people are becoming increasingly more socially isolated through extrapolated data from US General Social Survey conducted in 1985 and 2008 (Hampton). Some postulate that this could be because of the prevalence and increasing use of smart-phones and the Internet. What this theory and the General Social Survey fail to realize is that the nature and definition of being social may be changing. Consider the Internet, perhaps it is making people more socially isolated in the traditional sense. I prefer to think of sociability currently transitioning from one space to another. Socializing historically took place in a physical space such as the bars I visited, however today access to social networking through the Internet is becoming more prevalent. Thus I argue that people are in fact not becoming more socially isolated they are just moving to different social spaces ones that aren’t physical but digital. A Pew Internet study on how social networking sites affect peoples lives, concludes “the findings suggests that there is little validity to concerns that people who use SNS [social networking sites] experience smaller social networks, less closeness, or are exposed to less diversity” (Hampton 2011). From my observations while in the bars I can also draw the conclusion that many people rely on these digital spaces to be social when physical spaces fail to provide the social properties they desire. The social issue in this situation is that the art of discussion is losing out to a world where entire opinions and worldviews are being expressed in 140 characters or less. It has taken me 854 words just to describe how this would be a problem.
Alas, I have identified a social justice issue. Then the challenge became how to create a form of social justice using the very technology that is identified as the issue. At a 2002 Computer-Supported Cooperative Work (CSCW) conference an early experiment in crossing physical and digital spaces was implemented a plasma touch screen that allowed people to interact in a face-to-face setting through a digital social space. Researchers state, “in bringing the content of online, digital community spaces directly into physical places, we intentionally invert the logic of the virtual environment construction, which historically has involved representing real physical objects within digital spaces” (Churchill). This was done with mild success and was arguably one of the first uses of a digital social space being used in a physical space. Just like this experiment I chose to use a mobile application to aid in my goal to promote informed discussion in physical social spaces.
The best way I saw to do this was through a social game that can be played on a mobile device. Unlike most mobile games this game would need to involve physical interaction so I decided to adapt a few games that already existed. Cards Against Humanity is a game of wits in which players are charged with the task of creating the funniest statement by filling in the blank on a drawn community card with a statement card held in their hand. This game has a viral following and has informed other games similar to it like The Metagame created to promote discussion and arguments about some of the silliest subjects imaginable. I combined the two of these games to come up with Cards For Humanity. The game functions by first determining a moderator, which changes ever round played. The duty of the moderator is to determine the best argument for the subject being discussed. Once the moderator is chosen a topic card is drawn and the rest of the players are dealt a hand of argument cards that pertain to that particular topic. The other players then choose the argument they would like to make and are given 5 minutes within the app to use a search engine to quickly research their argument and the topic in general. Once the five minutes has passed players then take 2 minutes presenting their argument for the topic. Once all the arguments have been presented the moderator then votes for the winner.
I chose a mobile app for this game unlike its physical card based counterparts so the topics and arguments can remain up to date. The application would require a staff and algorithmic search engines to disseminate trending news stories and issues from hundreds of sources. Players also would have the opportunity to create their own decks so the conversations they have are specific to their interests. For the lazier players out there the app would also allow them to choose premade decks based on certain broad subjects such as sports, science, music, etc. The game would allow winning players to summarize their arguments and post them to social networking sites so as to allow those not present in the physical space to participate indirectly through a digital space.
This game if played often could change the social dynamics of the physical space. Imagine going to a bar or a restaurant with a group of friends, and instead of discussing the latest drama between such and such on Facebook you can discuss the ongoing conflict in Crimea or the affects the media had on the Rwandan Genocide. Menial conversation will be replaced by thought provoking discussions both in the physical and digital social spaces. Not only does this app promote informed debate but it also promotes the importance of research and what it entails. It will train players in what to look for in a reliable source of information and how to present that information in the most convincing manner. It could also aid those like myself who have difficulties articulating thoughts to groups of people, and help them overcome their stage fright.
Accessibility as mentioned before can bring up social justice issues entirely on its own so it goes without saying that it would be an important consideration in the conceptualization of Cards FOR Humanity. The app would be distributed for free and the on the applications website the source code would be made available to programmers so the game can be changed and improved in an open source community. The app would of course have to be approved and checked for bugs by the Cards FOR Humanity staff before an open sourced update was redistributed. This will allow for a safer more secure application of which players could trust. Granted the application would be difficult for those with poor eyesight to play, but that would be more of an accessibility hurdle for mobile devices in general. I chose an opt in design for the linking of the game to players social network accounts because I believe that some conversations are better left to the ears of those present to hear it. Many employers are involved in their employee’s online social networks. If say, the game took an opt out model a player could not fully realize this and accidentally post an opinion that some would disagree with creating a tough situation for that individual. The app will collect data from players however that data will not be linked to any identifiable information of the individual. The data would include arguments made, winning arguments, sites visited to inform arguments, popular player made topics, and the most and least used arguments. This data will better inform the programmers and staff in choosing topic and argument cards and will also allow the application to make suggestions to helpful websites in the research portion of the game.
Through my observations in the field I noticed a tendency for groups of friends who are in an inherently social space to abandon face-to-face socialization for the comfort and familiarity of an online social networking site. At first glance I considered the idea that people are becoming less social because of their mobile technologies but I soon realized that simply was not the case. People aren’t becoming less social, they are just becoming social in different ways moving from physical to digital sociability. I believe Cards FOR Humanity could effectively merge the two spaces in a fun and informative environment. It will also promote educated conversation about topics and issues that are relevant to the world. It will also train players how to effectively research and make an argument, two practices that are imperative to the advancement of society. If sociability is allowed to move entirely to the digital sphere vast groups of people run the risk of losing touch with communicative practices.
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