Digitally Disruptive
Digitally Disruptive
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Digitally Disruptive

Table of Contents

Introduction: History’s Relevance to Digital Disruption

Disruption Isn’t New

The digital realm may be fairly recent, but disruption isn’t anything new. Like so many phenomena from past eras – the printing press, modern agriculture, quantum physics – something new comes along and changes everything, rewriting civilization afresh. The digital is only a fresh chapter in this pattern.

But our hyper-mediated present seems to move past the past, as though a prior century were comparable to last year’s mobile phone model – quickly discarded as we ever focus on the absorbing spectacle of the present. Our digital civilization seems blind to its foundations – perhaps because the ceaseless parade of what is new allows little leisure for reflection.

This ebook is written based on the assumption that the only way to understand our digital existence is through the lens of history. Each chapter addresses a current topic, but in terms of history. Sometimes we are repeating history; sometimes we are evolving it. But we are never escaping it.

Disrupting How Knowledge is Shared and Evolved

Books enable reflection, in part because they take time to write, to publish, and to read. This is part of print’s great legacy: it slows us down, gives us some distance to evaluate, to be objective. No wonder books have such a revered place in our culture. They can give order and clarity, and they can be agents of change.

But books can be ponderous, sluggish and slow. And even a brief volume can take many months or years between its conception and its ultimate distribution. Even electronically-aided publication is lethargic, subject as it is to traditional methods of gathering, vetting, and preparing content for proper dissemination.

This very slowness can be a virtue, of course, allowing for ideas to form, to be refined and peer-reviewed, to come together as a nicely finished and coherent artifact. But it can be a vice as well. Our day moves faster than print and print-based ways of knowing.

This is why LeanPub has been our choice for creating a short book, briefly put together, and by amateurs. LeanPub is committed to the idea of “publish early and often,” echoing Eric Raymond’s software development philosophy of “release early and often”: in an environment where it is possible to quickly circulate and get feedback on one’s ideas, it is better to circulate them quickly and in a “good enough” form, rather than to delay for the sake of better quality.

Quality matters, of course, but arriving at quality may require tolerance for less-than-best at first so that one can leverage the exposure of one’s ideas and take advantage of informal feedback from a range of people (rather than formal reviews from a select few).

These are student essays in the original sense of that word, from the French essayer – meaning to try (that is, both to attempt and to test). We are testing our ability to connect the digital now with the historical then. We won’t get it all right. But we are escaping the print world view mentality that insists nothing is worth circulating unless it has been perfected. No, we perfect as we go, happily connected to so many people who can build upon whatever we offer in good faith.

To paraphrase Newton’s famous phrase, progress occurs by standing on the shoulders of giants – and perhaps on the shoulders of lesser creatures who don’t put themselves in Newton’s class. We authors do not have pretensions to grandeur, but we have learned a thing or two in studying history and connecting it to today. So here it is, and we hope it will be something upon which others may build.

Dr. Gideon Burton

About the Editor

Dr. Gideon O. Burton, Brigham Young University

Dr. Gideon O. Burton, Brigham Young University

Gideon Burton has taught at Brigham Young University since 1994. Trained in the history of rhetoric, he focuses on exploring the new media and helping students become digitally literate. Visit him on Google+ at or on Twitter @wakingtiger


Since the Enlightenment Era, we have believed that progress accompanied civilization. We believed that as technology advanced and knowledge improved, we would become a better and wiser society. Even now we believe we have progressed beyond many terrible mistakes of our past, and look forward to an ever brighter future. However, the effects of some of our most shameful mistakes still linger today, disrupting the progress we think we are making. Adam Burton describes how the internet provides both information and misinformation and how false rumors refuse to die online, thereby disrupting the progress of knowledge and ideas. Kristin Lindsey explains how technology aids the support of child labor worldwide, thus disrupting the moral and ethical progress of society. So although we may think we advance unhindered into a better version of society, the Digital Age simply hides what hinders us.

Moving Backwards with the Internet

Adam Burton

Due to its nature as a communications medium, the Internet disrupts civilization’s progress by keeping popular ideas alive indefinitely.

The internet remembers everything

Humans like consistency. They like ideas that linger, ideas that grant understanding of the world, and ideas that bind the community together, and in this way the people can live with peace of mind. Over the course of history, such ideas have sprung up and then been published to the masses via the current popular medium of communication so that everyone can share in the ideology. Eventually new ideas replace the old, and the newcomer is spread to the people and the cycle begins anew. As we elaborate upon popular ideas and and replace old ones, we believe ourselves to be in a state of glorious progress, leaving behind the darkness of previous ages and improving our knowledge and quality of life.

However, in today’s digital age, this interpretation of “progress” is suffering. Leaving behind the past and moving unfettered into a new age was easier when the records of the past were perishable and few in number (as paper books are) and as new editions of books overwrite their predecessors and push them out of memory. But with the Internet, old information lingers for a long time because the Web retains all of its information and therefore ideas refuse to fade away. Due to its nature as a communications medium, the Internet disrupts civilization’s progress by keeping popular ideas alive indefinitely.

Rumors about vaccines and autism

Today there is a popular rumor going around which claims that vaccines cause serious mental defects in children. However, most of the hype over this topic comes from genuinely worried parents in online conversations, not from published reports from scholars and researchers. Where did this rumor begin? In 1998 Dr. Andrew Wakefield, a British surgeon and medical researcher, wrote an article for the medical journal Lancet and taught that certain vaccines cause conditions such as autism in healthy children. His article scared parents all over the United States, causing them to shun vaccines altogether and avoid vaccinating their children. Since then many concerned medical groups like Oxford Journals have done heavy research on the topic, and according to their results Dr. Wakefield’s claim was not true since he didn’t use enough participants in his study and then purposefully falsified his own results [Plotkin]. To better spread the truth behind Dr. Wakefield’s article many blogs and forums continue to hold long and detailed discussions explaining the research done to debunk Dr. Wakefield’s claims, such as the W.W. Norton Everyday Research Methods Blog, and others try to change the public’s minds by explaining the reasons behind the paranoia (Ropeik). However, despite all the research-backed proof behind these counter-claims, the belief that vaccines cause serious defects in children still scares thousands of otherwise well-informed parents today. So why does this rumor persist despite the arguments to the contrary?

Because the Internet, like the proverbial elephant, never forgets. Records of old conversations about Dr. Wakefield’s article – as well as the article itself – exist online for the curious researcher to stumble across, no matter how how long after that information was created. Blogs, forums and sites where worried parents share their thoughts on vaccines are open to the public. Unlike the words in a real-life conversation, or even scholarly claims over the course of several editions of paper books, the things we say online have a dual nature of both comments and permanent records. Those who participate in these online conversations in return might repost their findings and spread the message to their own networks, which can repost the idea again and again to continue the chain of communications.

This is proof that the Internet, aside from doing the same information-spreading as the printing press but on a larger magnitude, has a tool for spreading information that the printing press never did: an unfailing memory which is open for the public to access and spread. These factors keep an idea alive and well long after it would have otherwise faded away under a simpler medium. This isn’t always a bad thing, and in fact this idea-permanence has done a lot of good both in the medical field and in every other area, but often sensationalist ideas stick around much longer and tend to be more exciting than reserved, fact-based ones.

By historical contrast the printing press was a powerful engine for perpetuating ideologies since it frequently reprinted them in new, updated editions as they were developed upon. But the Internet is an even stronger means of spreading and preserving popular ideas because, unlike with the printing press, the information that is published online remains there indefinitely no matter how often it is “reprinted” or how long ago it was debunked. In addition, the entirety of the Internet’s vast knowledge is open to anyone with a connection: everyone can participate online, posting what they think about those ideas anywhere, anytime, for any reason, and without any authority figure to stop them from doing so. Through the combination of the virtually immortal memory of the Internet and the basic need of humans to communicate with each other, ideas can go viral and become deeply ingrained in a way no other medium could manage.

The printing press invents virality

Mass communication has been the primary vehicle for popular ideas throughout history, no matter what the medium. And even when conventional communications technology wasn’t as permanent or pervasive as the Internet, popular ideas persisted for a long time because they kept getting republished and their popularity was renewed regularly, as if it were a living creature that needed to be fed to stay alive. In Renaissance times and long thereafter, the most common medium of mass communication was the printing press: new discoveries were released in new editions of books, and each new iteration elaborated upon the previous one. Though books were replaceable by their descendants, as long as a series of book-generations kept talking about a given subject, that idea would thrive, for the lifeblood of an idea is communication.

During the 1400s, the printing press became an incredible tool that could spread ideas faster and more effectively than any technology before it. For a surprisingly small amount of time and money a publisher could produce hundreds upon hundreds of books, newspapers, pamphlets or journals. This was a wonderful invention, as it had the power to spread useful knowledge to the people; and since that knowledge was widely spread and reprinted rather frequently, it became popular. For example, Galen of Pergamon was a Greek doctor and medicinal scholar born in 130 AD whose ideas would essentially establish the European medical canon more than a millennium after his death. Galen wrote prolifically about the human body and the principles that it operated on (including the four humours: blood, water, black bile and yellow bile, the balance of which in a person’s body determined his or her state of health). He wrote hundreds of treatises and documents outlining principles and theories and in his own days was highly respected as a medical expert. However, due to the social taboos of his day, Galen was never allowed to dissect a human cadaver, so he was forced to work only with wounded gladiators, or with animals such as monkeys and pigs, and make educated guesses about the human body from what he learned. He made no secret of his speculations [Boorstin], and in fact he encouraged people to avoid blindly trusting in his works simply by virtue of his fame. He wrote:

If anyone wishes to observe the works of Nature, he should put his trust not in books on anatomy but in his own eyes and either come to me, or consult one of my associates, or alone by himself industriously practise exercises in dissection; but so long as he only reads, he will be more likely to believe all the earlier anatomists because there are many of them.” (Boorstin)

In an ironic twist of fate, during the Renaissance and the fanatical praise of Classical times that came with it, Galen’s works were discovered and reprinted with zeal on the brand-new printing press as the doctors and thinkers of the time, glad to be shaking off the ignorance of medieval times and obsessed with the ability to spread their newfound knowledge far and wide in a revolutionary printed form, ravenously studied everything they could that would teach them about the enlightened ways of Classical thinkers. Thus Galen’s ideas about the human body practically came to be worshiped by Renaissance doctors, despite being incomplete and incorrect in places.

This fanaticism got to the point where Jacobus Sylvius, a leading medical authority living in France in the 16th century, taught that “the most important contribution to a better knowledge of the human body would be a more accurate Latin rendering of the purest Greek text of Galen… Sylvius [also] shared a popular view that if a dissected body did not show all the features described by Galen’s text, it was because the human body had actually changed, and because, in the passing centuries, the human species had declined from the ideal form seen by Galen.” [Boorstin] Sylvius, as well as the rest of the Renaissance medical world, had blatantly disregarded Galen’s own advice to not trust authority but to discover knowledge for oneself. It wasn’t until several centuries later that the Greek doctor’s ideas would be refuted by modern technology and medicine. Eventually these discoveries created a new medical dogma to replace the one based on Galen’s texts, and in a relatively short matter of time Galen was made obsolete.

The internet vs the printing press

This example about the Renaissance devotion to Galen gives us a glimpse of how some ideas tend to get stuck in the people’s minds for a very long time, to the point where they become fanatically devoted to the idea of the idea rather than the facts behind it, as long as it is popular enough. It’s as if history were saying “Warning! This is what happens when an idea goes viral.” Fortunately, the overzealous fascination with Galen eventually blew over as people discovered new scientific knowledge, and that knowledge started getting printed regularly instead of Galen’s writings. Since then, the new information kept getting published, and therefore that is what remained in the minds of the people from then on.

It was possible for an idea to “go viral” in the days before the Internet; the only requirement was that the viral information had to be reprinted constantly in order to be fresh in the minds of the people. As soon as something else started to be circulated in its place, the old idea would fade away and give way to the new one. The Internet got rid of that trend. Now, even when an idea is “out of print” and is no longer producing more copies or versions of itself, the idea still exists online for people to discover and talk about; it no longer needs to be constantly reprinted in order to be kept in the public’s mind.

As I said before, humans like consistency. We like to believe that the world functions according to a fixed set of rules, making the universe digestible and comfortable. In addition, we tend to think that as long as enough people believe something, then it must be true, even if sometimes it is incorrect. For example, the rumor that vaccines cause autism – despite abundant proof to the contrary – is such a common idea and presents such a sensational threat to our stability and happiness that people become morbidly fascinated with it and support the idea in their minds even if their information is incomplete or imperfect. Their understanding of perceived danger makes them comfortable, especially when their friends and the forums and blogs they follow online are so willing to keep talking about it.

In conclusion, the Internet by nature as a communications medium disrupts society’s progress by disrupting the way in which information is spread to the masses. It changes the way that people see and trust authoritarian sources of knowledge, because old information can appear just as valid as the new and anybody’s opinion can be presented as fact, regardless of the author’s qualifications. And as long as an incorrect idea persists in the minds of society at large, especially if that idea refuses to disappear in the face of proof, “progress” of any kind will be very difficult to achieve.

Works Cited

Boorstin, Daniel J. The Discoverers. Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group. 1985. Kindle Edition. Chapter 45.

Everyday Research Methods Blog. W.W. Norton & Company, Inc. 20 July 2014. Web. 27 May 2015.

Plotkin, Stanley. “Vaccines and Autism: A Tale of Shifting Hypotheses.” Clinical Infectious Diseases. Oxford Journals. 14 October 2008. Web. 27 May 2015.

Ropeik, David. “On the Persistence, and Underlying Causes, of Vax-O-Noia.” Psychology Today. Sussex Publishers, LLC. 13 February 2015. Web. 10 June 2015.

Image Credit

internet_marketing_strategies by SEO is licensed under CC BY 4.0

About the Author

Adam Burton

Adam Burton

Adam Burton was born in California, grew up in Utah, and now lives a somewhat migratory lifestyle with his medical student wife. Adam is an undergraduate student at Brigham Young University studying for a Bachelor’s Degree in English, and enjoys trying his hand at writing creative fiction.

Let’s Not Disrupt Child Labor

Kristin Lindsey

Despite the social progress that we would like to believe technology brings, new digital developments facilitate the support of child labor in ways that were historically impossible.

We like to think that with society’s progression we are becoming more accepting of social equality and more protective of human rights, moving from old, traditional beliefs to newer, modern ones.

But are we really? With the rise of the internet, social media, and televised news broadcasts, you’d expect crime and wrongdoing to be more transparent—more obvious. Corrupt politicians are publicly exposed for the wrongs they commit. Criminals are accused of their crimes and get their stories published all over the internet. Professional sports teams accused of cheating are shamed on national TV.

Although the Digital Age has the power to expose leaders and companies of the wrong or illegal things they do, social ills continue on more levels today than ever before. The rise of technology is a great disruption to our expectation that society has ever-progressing system of moral principles.

How is child labor practiced and supported today?

The supporting of child labor is one of today’s greatest social ills. Although we have laws restricting the employment of child workers in the United States, child labor is commonly practiced in foreign countries that export goods to United States consumers.

According to the United Nations Global Initiative to Fight Human Trafficking (UN.GIFT), Pakistan, Bangladesh, and India are the current world leaders in the amount of products being made by children (Lillie). UN.GIFT further describes the ways in which children are being forced to work in these countries.

In the large carpet industry in Pakistan, children are sought after to work on the looms in carpet factories to create “delicate, complex patterns” with their small hands. They are subject to physical and sexual abuse, and many experience severe health problems and injuries as a result of hunching over the loom all day.

In Bangladesh, a recent garment factory collapse resulted in the death of over 1,000 factory workers, many of which were children who had been sewing garments for American companies such as Wal-Mart and Wrangler.

In the sporting goods industry in India, children as young as seven years old are recruited to sew footballs and soccer balls. Much like the industry in Pakistan, “debt bondage is used to sell children into forced labor” in India, meaning that the children are sold by their parents for money and forced to work until a debt is paid off (Lillie).

All three of these countries employ young children for low wages and in dangerous working conditions to make products for export to foreign countries. These products are made available in vast quantities, thanks to online shopping sites, making them more easily accessible to us than ever before.

Not only have online shopping sites facilitated child labor, but the Digital Age has also affected child labor practices by making supply chains more transparent. Internet and television have made it possible for news to spread fast and to be heard by great masses of people, having the ability to inform the public about companies that have been accused of having their products made by working children.

When people heard that Nike was getting its products from factory workers in unethical working conditions, people protested and suddenly had an interest in this issue (Wilsey & Lichtig). People are quickly learning about companies that get their products from working children and may appear to be opposed to these actions, yet they continue to purchase these items.

Why? Because people are more concerned with their material possessions and physical comfort than with distant child laborers. Love of luxury drives people to continue purchasing items made by working children, increasing the disruption between perception and reality

The rise of child labor

Child labor became a major issue during the Industrial Revolution in the 19th century. As people flocked to cities and new manufacturing processes gave rise to factories, children were needed to work, either to perform jobs that required small hands or to support their families. They worked long hours and were exposed to very dangerous working conditions, as told in “Hard Times” by Royston Pike.

Pike said, “The accidents which occur to the manufacturing population of Birmingham are very severe and numerous, as shown by the registers of the General Hospital . . . many are caused by loose portions of dress being caught by the machinery, so as to drag the unfortunate sufferers under its power” (Pike). Pike tells of a family of four young girls: “Harriet 8 years, Anne 6, Mary 4, and Eliza 2 years old: of these the three elder are employed as lace drawers. Harriet was not quite three when she began to work. Anne was about the same, and Mary was not quite two years old. . . . How early do you think that they leave their homes?—I can tell you what a neighbour told me six weeks ago. . . . ‘[H]er child works at a mill nearly two miles from home, and I have seen that child coming from its work this winter between 10 and 11 in the evening: and the mother told me that one morning this winter the child had been up by 2 o’clock in the morning . . .’” (Pike).

This first-hand account is one of many that describes the hardships that children experienced while working in factories in the Industrial Revolution. While accounts such as these may seem to be an issue of the past, child labor is still just as much a reality as it was during that time. Children today experience the same long work days, low wages, and unhealthy working conditions as children did in the Industrial Revolution.

These social ills of the Industrial Revolution occurred after the Enlightenment when the idea to protect human rights came about. Liberalism arose with thinkers such as John Locke, who proposed the idea that humans are inherently good and that people are capable of coexisting in peace (Sturgis). Liberalism favored a world founded on freedom and equality, in which each individual had the right to life, liberty, and property.

Even with the advancement in society’s recognition of human rights, children were still employed and abused merely to keep up with society’s industrial growth. Just as in the past, we as a society are eager to choose material progress even when it harms our social progress.

It’s even more disgraceful today when we can agree wholeheartedly with the harm caused by child labor in the Industrial Revolution and are still willing to support it out of greed.

What would it take to disrupt child labor?

I’m guilty as much as anyone else of contributing to the rise of materialism—of wanting more than enough, craving the newest trends or the newest gadgets. I go to Amazon in search of cheaper deals than stores offer. I constantly want to upgrade my phone to the newest model in order to stay “up-to-date” in Apple’s latest products.

I’m not saying that wanting these material goods is a bad thing, but it gets dangerous when we are willing to lower our moral standards in order to get them. This mentality prevents us from improving and bettering ourselves as a society as we desire to do.

Kailash Satyarthi, a children’s rights activist and winner of the 2014 Nobel Peace Prize, said the following in a speech, “Let Us March!”:

We live in an age of rapid globalization. We are connected through high-speed Internet. We exchange goods and services in a single global market. Each day, thousands of flights connect us to every corner of the globe. But there is one serious disconnect. It is the lack of compassion. What we need is a transformative compassion that leads to equality, freedom and justice.

Satyarthi, someone who has seen first-hand the impact of child labor around the world, suggests here that we combat materialism and greed with compassion. Compassion is certainly something working children desperately need, but is it enough? What would it take to disrupt child labor?

Perhaps the internet—the same tool that has prolonged the issue of child labor today—could also be the solution.

We see this today on certain food items, where the label lists a code or link for the consumer to be able to find the exact farm or location from which the food was grown or raised. If clothing companies had a similar transparency to their supply chain, they would be more careful about where their products are coming from and consumers would be more aware of how these companies’ products are acquired.

For example, a carpet company called “GoodWeave” requires that each rug is given a label certifying that no child was employed in the making of that rug. In order to earn the label, importers and exporters of the rugs must be licensed under the GoodWeave certification program and agree to have surprise inspections where their carpets are made (“Child-Labor-Free”). The label lists the GoodWeave website for consumers to be able to find the company online and learn about how these rugs are uniquely made, thereby spreading awareness of the fair labor practices they use.

More companies need to be this open with the origin of their products if we want to create cleaner supply chains and put an end to child labor.

We think of ourselves as a progressive society—always growing and advancing in positive ways—yet technological advancements have created new challenges that have never existed before. Technology has disrupted society’s progress by furthering the employment and abuse of children around the world. This occurs even though technology can make crime more transparent.

While child labor has been an issue for centuries, the digital sphere has made it easier for products to be sold on a much larger scale and distributed all over the world. Having the items you need so easily accessible online makes it easy to become a mindless consumer, buying what you want without giving a second thought as to how that item will end up in your hands.

Materialism in the technological age is one of the reasons why child labor is still thriving today, and it is one of the greatest disruptions to the social progress we only believe we are making.

Works Cited

“Child-Labor-Free Certification.” GoodWeave. Web. 13 June 2015.

Lillie, Michelle. “Child Labor Blog Part III: Manufacturing in Asia.” UNODC. United Nations Global Initiative to Fight Human Trafficking, 2015. Web.

Pike, Royston. Hard Times. New York, Washington: Frederick A Praeger. 1966. Accessed from

Satyarthi, Kailash. “Let Us March! Kailash Satyarthi. 2014. Web.

Sturgis, Amy. “The Rise, Decline, and Reemergence of Classical Liberalism.” Belmont University | Nashville, TN. 1994. Web. 10 June 2015.

Wilsey, Matt, and Scott Lichtig. “The Nike Controversy.” Web. <

Image Credits
  1. By USAID (USAID Bangladesh) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
  2. Lewis Hine [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

About the Author

Kristin Lindsey

Kristin Lindsey

Kristin Lindsey grew up in Castle Rock, Colorado and currently attends Brigham Young University. She is studying biology and aspires to be a marine biologist someday. She enjoys spending time with family, traveling, scuba diving, and photography.


In the past, identity was defined by the social rank of the individual, ethnicity, family ties, and religion. Disruption to identity has occurred as technology has advanced and become an asset to almost every individual world-wide. In this section, four different chapters focusing on fashion, nationality, violence, and technology, will examine the different methods of the digital age and how they are transforming identity. Hayley Wigginton discusses how fashion provides ways of identifying oneself based on appearance. Denise Tuairau demonstrates how globalization and increased opportunities to experience other cultures have given additional tools for defining individuality. Lexi Hanshaw will depict the way in which identity is defined based on technological possession, understanding and use. Lastly, Taylor Quass will discuss how violence is an aspect of identities both social and personal, as well as how violence is sanitized today in it’s use and functionality. These chapters will compare modern day and historical examples to showcase the evolution of identity.

Disruptive Identities

Lexi Hanshaw

Identity itself is disruption today. It has become a new frame of reference in these current times.

With the influx of technology and knowledge we see immense disruption in the topic of identity. Identity itself is disruption today. It has become a new frame of reference in these current times. A change in reference took place during the Enlightenment Era, other times in history, and is proceeding today. Presently individuals are self-representing themselves online. It is crucial to understand that toleration for both the new and the old views, lenses, opinions, etc. need to be incorporated and exemplified for true progression to take place. This chapter will focus on ‘Changing Frames of Reference’ and specifically relating it to the identity.

Changing frames of reference

Copernicus was an Enlightenment thinker during the Enlightenment Era. He is most well known in relation to the heliocentric model; a model that proposes the idea of having the sun, not the earth, at the center of the universe. Sarah Drogin states in her book titled, Spare me the Details, “most historians point to Nicolaus Copernicus (1473-1543) and his novel ideas regarding the movement of the earth as the starting point of the Scientific Revolution…Copernicus, through study and reasoning, concluded that the earth and planets revolved around the sun. This heliocentric (sun-centered) theory was in stark contrast to the traditional geocentric (earth-centered) theory” (Drogin).

Moving from the geocentric to heliocentric theory is an example of moving from one frame of reference to another. A frame of reference is the way the world, a theory, ourselves, or an idea is seen with our eyes. It is to look through a new pair of lenses, adopting and living in a new sort of light because of a newfound understanding.

When we look into the Enlightenment era, we see many great changes in the way the world was seen. In addition to moving from the frame of geocentric to heliocentric, there was also a great move from rural to urban, where many deserted their own land and farms and made a courageous move to the city; although, the geocentric to heliocentric move was the biggest conversion.

Imagine the people of this time as they learned of this new theory. They had become very accustomed to being the center of the universe. Everything revolved around them; not just metaphorically, but literally or so they thought. This was a drastic change of reference to this population at the time.

There are two things we learn from the story of Copernicus. One, sometimes you have to completely alter your way of thinking (changing a frame of reference) and two, sometimes such changes are very disruptive, just as we observe with Copernicus here. Copernicus and his story is much more than a familiar story adopting a scientific worldview. Perhaps it is a challenge or a threat to identity. Was man special anymore when his world was relegated to being the third rock from the sun?

Rise of identity

Currently today, we have more unsettling changes on our hand. Our struggle is much more than realizing that we may not be the center of the universe any longer. I’m speaking of a certain disruption caused by identity, which is becoming a huge topic of today. You could say we are coping with a lot of change in identity due to technology, but in fact the change isn’t so much a shift to new tools or a new technological environment. It really stems from the disruption of identity. This causes identity to be that much more of a topic in our society today than it was during the Enlightenment Era.

Identities were not looked at the same way then as they are now. Identities focused on a social class or work position. People’s identities were changed as their frames of reference shifted. Many went from being isolated to very connected and intertwined. A personal touch was given, as people were more involved with others because of the closeness in proximity within the cities. Education was evolving. New public spheres were being created. Identities were forming rapidly.

But today we see how critical the form of identity is by the selfies people take and post and by the ways and style of social media. Using selfies and social media doesn’t make identity a critical topic, but the time, thought and energy we use to put all these pieces of information and pictures online is. The word selfie was actually placed in the dictionary recently because of the new wide use. A selfie is “a photograph that one takes of oneself with a digital camera or a front-facing smartphone, tablet or webcam, especially for posting on a social-networking or photo-sharing website” (

Our identity is a topic constantly on our minds. We are always thinking about our identity and readjusting it based on changing circumstances. This readjustment requires digital changes, which in turn requires us to make and use profiles (Facebook, MySpace, Twitter, Google+, Instagram, Pinterest, LinkedIn) and avatars (graphical representation of the user or the user’s alter ego or character. It may take either three-dimensional form, as in games or virtual worlds, or a two-dimensional form as an icon in internet forums and other online communities).

We really worry that much about “graphical representations” about ourselves more than who we really are. We self represent today more than any other time in history and that makes us reflective about who we are today.

danah boyd is a social media scholar, youth researcher, and advocate working at Microsoft Research, New York University Media Culture and Communication and the Harvard Berkman Center for Internet and Society. danah boyd is a well-rounded individual to say the least. boyd wrote a book title, It’s Complicated: The Social Lives of Networked Teens, where she argues “that society fails young people when paternalism and protectionism hinder teenagers’ ability to become informed, thoughtful, and engaged citizens through their online interactions” (boyd). As boyd points out, it is crucial for the youth of this age to be well educated with the technology present. It is also important to be aware and cautious.

Currently, people are using labels like “digital native” to give an identity to a given generation. Marc Prensky, an author, coined the native-immigrant concept, which “describes the generational switchover where people are defined by the technological culture which they’re familiar with,” (Joy). In all actuality, we label a whole generation and give them an identity based on the technological culture they are familiar with.

These are labels we use to cope with change. It turns out identity is not an old-generation-to-new-generation shift. The nature of identity is changing. Identity has a new frame of reference that is constantly both varied and evolving.

Why have we allowed for the technology we own (whether we know how to use it or not) define us? As we formulate a digital identity or multiple digital identities, we lose our personal identity because we are living online. People don’t get out and do things like they used to because they live vicariously through others online. Social media is a depressant, it’s a go to or an outsource. People go online to look at others artificially happier lives.

Marc Prensky speaks of this change discussed above saying, “People get frightened by change and they should be. They need courage to face the future these days, especially those who feel left behind…People adapt instinctively and humans are very good at that. The young people live in the context; the older people see the changing context and struggle” (Joy). For example, a young 13 year old may define themselves by the new IPhone 6 their parents surprised them with instead of the way they treat others or their performance in school. While an 80-year old woman who receives an IPhone 6 from her children as a gift, doesn’t even know what to do with the glass-covered gadget.

Multiple identities and frames of reference

The digital world requires us to be many people all at once. So truly, it isn’t a matter of whether we are digital natives or immigrants. There isn’t just one change people need to make. It is not just identifying between low technical understanding or lacking a technology base to being current and up to date. Partly due to the rapid ongoing change that is going on, and our inability to keep pace completely with it, we end up having to work within multiple different frames of reference, just as we sometimes have to switch between one kind of technology to another. In essence, we are required to have multiple personalities to go along with our multiple devices and media, and to the locations they take us. It isn’t a matter of being up with or behind on technology. The technology can require us one minute to be a global citizen, typing to someone in another hemisphere, and the next minute, being more present in the current room where you stand.

This suggests there are definite overlapping frames of reference as people take the old and create the new. New frames are created with every turn of history, and we are making history right now. One thing leads the other. Today we see the multiple identities in preference between printed books and ebooks, physical calendars and calendars on smartphones, Christian denominations using physical scripture versus digital based scripture, and many more examples.

I’m not suggesting that we each need to create new identities or that we should allow possessions, technology or anything else but our actions define us. It is critical that we incorporate both the new and the old frames. We should look at the past, incorporate it with the present and eventually the future. When this is done, we will find more success in progression and the betterment of society as a whole. It is critical that we become dual citizens in the present.

Rejecting the one-frame world

Truly, the only way to effectively cope with the great change we see is to identify with it and to own the reality that we won’t be settling on any single identity so long a we have our current technology. And we all know the technology we have will not be going away anytime soon. A healthy identity today is one wh allows itself to switch roles and tools as the need arises. This isn’t being false; it’s being true to our current conditions. We hear often that the only constant is change. This perfectly applies the new and continual frames of reference we see advancing so consistently.

Martin Luther is an interesting example from history of a certain individual apposing change. When you hear his name referenced in this way, you may be puzzled or wonder where this will be taken. It is curious to note that Martin Luther was largely apposed to the Heliocentric theory taking root and spreading. He greatly disagreed with Copernicus’ theory; as did the Catholic Church.

In all actuality, Luther was all about changing and shifting frames of Reference. He is the perfect example of bringing about and leading drastic, groundbreaking changes. Luther had twisted, snipped, reformed, added and thrown out other pieces of doctrine from the Catholic Church, in the end creating a new religion. Luther was a radical in regards to religious authority and even doctrine. Yet, when it came to science, he was completely conservative and shared a mutual sideline with the Catholic authorities. In essence, Luther was perfectly willing for his religious identity to change but when it came to science, he found it wrong and fought the heliocentric idea presented by Copernicus.

Copernicus’ model was considered heretical to the Roman Catholics because it apposed it’s teachings. Even Luther’s underlying Lutheran minister Andreas Osiander said of Copernicus, “This fool wants to turn the whole art of astronomy upside down.” Osiander even went as far as to write a disclaimer that the heliocentric system was a theory, not a fact, and added it to the book’s preface. This lead readers to assume Copernicus had written it himself. By this time, Copernicus was old, ailing and unfit to aggressively defend his work.

Ironically, Copernicus dedicated De revolutionibus orbium coelstium to Pope Paul III, with high hopes that the church might approve and adopt his Heliocentric theory. The church banned Copernicus’ book and it remained on their forbidden reading material for three centuries ( At this time, a potential change in identity of many individuals was prevented when Copernicus’ book was banned.

Luther was not open to this scientific change, even though he was an agent of change when speaking of religion. We must be more agile than Luther was, more able to bend with the times and not insist on past ways or views. Maybe our new identity is that we are people with multiple and quickly changing identities. These multiple and quick changing identities are so full of adjustment because of all the technology and media in our society. We need to be comfortable being citizens of different and sometimes opposing worlds. These world’s are not just old or young, digital or paper. We have identities, multiple identities, made up of the past and present, all meshed together, creating new frames, new views, and new opinions.

I was 17 when I first got my hands on a smart phone. I went from an indestructible brick object (flip phone) to a phone that held internet, apps, music and immense amounts of storage. I didn’t even understand the potential I held within my hands. As I learned, I realized I could never go back and would never go back. Today we choose the frames of reference we peer into life through. We choose to record our history in a book or a journal, or online. We may write our schedules out, or type them into a phone and sync it with our computer. Or we may choose to do both. We may overlap two frames of reference and enjoy the view of both in our lives. I myself am that individual, who both reads and studies scriptures on a phone and in a book. I put calendar items in my phone and on my paper calendar. I read textbooks in ebook format as well as in the thick heavy style too. And I’m not the only one. Ironically, many families have both a DVD blue ray player, a VHS player and a magnificent collection of movies in both DVD and VHS format. Is one option better than the other? Should one take precedence? We must allow citizens of opposing paradigms to move forward in their own ways, and allow progression to take it’s road.

From the historical story of Copernicus and the opposing ideas discussed earlier, we see that people don’t always want to accept the new frames of reference at first, or the new identities it may give us. Luther was even a free thinker himself for his day, yet he would not adopt the heliocentric theory and greatly apposed it. Today, I can think of many examples from my own life of individuals who do not want to adopt new ways and technological advancements or those identities. Technology scares many simply because they do not understand or know how to work these impressive gadgets, as we learn from Prensky.

I admit, I sometimes find myself feeling inadequate when I do not know how to use a certain website or other device. You feel lost and confused. But with further education and a willingness to learn as boyd suggests, on every individual’s part, we can come to see through new and overlapping frames, find new light and learning and improve through the technology that we have before us, so readily available.

So what’s the answer? How do we use technology is a positive way, incorporating the many frames of reference available to us? Can technology be used in a way where identity is not disguised, or disrupted? With my research and study, I believe the answer is no. Identity will always be disrupted. But technology is not going away, it will only increase and expand. So we as families and individuals, with the ability to choose and to educate ourselves, must choose to use technology in a safe and meaningful way that does not define our own identities or work but allows us to benefit others and ourselves.

Works Cited A&E Networks Television, n.d. Web. 4 June 2015., n.d. Web. 11 June 2015.

“Digital Natives, Digital Immigrants.” From Digital Natives to Digital Wisdom: Hopeful Essays for 21st Century Learning (2012): 67-85. Web. 9 June 2015.

Drogin, Sara S. Spare Me the Details: A Short History of Western Civilization. Bloomington, IN: IUniverse, 2008. Print.

“It’s Complicated.” Its Complicated RSS. N.p., n.d. Web. 11 June 2015.

“Nicolaus Copernicus: On the Revolutions of the Celestial Spheres.” Milestone Documents RSS. N.p., n.d. Web. 27 May 2015.

“What Does It Mean to Be a Digital Native? -” CNN. Cable News Network, n.d. Web. 29 May 2015.

Image Credit

“Łukasz Watzenrode” by Unknown - Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons

About the Author

Lexi Hanshaw

Lexi Hanshaw

Lexi Hanshaw is from Southern California. She is currently studying pre-communications at Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah. She enjoys soccer, outdoor activities, reading and photography.

Fashioning Your Identity

Hayley Wigginton

The rise of the digital age and the subsequent long tail of clothing disrupt traditional views of identity by equalizing society. We are no longer socially ranked based on our adherence to popular fashion trends but can manipulate them to convey our personal identity.

Fashion reflects the identity of society. It exemplifies their standards of beauty, indicates the state of the economy and represents societal ideals. Until recently the fashion industry has been dominated by an elite group of clothing makers and sellers. Consequently, in the early 20th century, it ranked people based on their ability to adopt popular trends dictated by these designers. In the digital age fashion has become a mode for expressing identity due to the rise of the digital age and the long tail phenomena. The long tail theory describes “a shift from mass markets to millions of niche markets” (Anderson) which ensures a diversification of products. In the 21st century we are able to showcase our individuality by utilizing these diverse products found at a variety of prices. By giving a historical reference in the 1920’s and comparing it with our current ideals of fashion we witness the disruption of fashions rigid guidelines in defining and expressing identity.

Enslavement to an Icon in the 1920s

The 1920’s marked a period of change for the entire western world. Gone were the days of WWI and the Spanish Influenza. Strides were being made in women’s suffrage and American woman had gained the right to vote on August 26, 1920. “A new feeling of freedom mixed with disillusionment combined to create a new kind of culture - a live for today, devil-may-care society that led into the Roaring 20’s and the distinctive look, sound, and fashion of the Jazz Age” (Monet). The dresses women wore became shorter to accommodate dancing. Their dress waistlines dropped and they wore their hair in a bob—the closest women’s fashion had ever come to resembling a man’s appearance. It is a look that remains idolized as “the flapper”. Although it resulted from women’s desire to celebrate their new identity, they enslaved themselves to the flapper icon. They formed a rigid social system based on the type of clothing one wore.

The look was easily recognizable and quickly categorized which lent to easily defined classes of those who were flappers and those who couldn’t maintain the look. An article published in “Outlook Magazine” in 1922 described the popular trend. “If one judge by appearances, I suppose I am a flapper. I wear bobbed hair, the badge of flapperhood. I powder my nose. I wear fringed skirts and bright-colored sweaters, and scarfs, and waists with Peter Pan collars, and low-heeled “finale hopper” shoes” (Page). The style left little room for innovation or idiosyncrasies. You could be categorized as “in style” or “out.”

Made popular by famous icons such as Zelda Fitzgerald, the flapper trend swept the nation. She describes the trends hierarchal movement. “Her (the flappers) outer accouterments have been bequeathed to several hundred girls’ schools throughout the country, to several thousand big-town shop-girls, always imitative of the several hundred girls’ schools and to several million small-town belles always imitative of the big-town shop-girls via the “novelty stores” of their respective small towns.” Big city girls ruled over those of suburban and rural towns. The wealthy stood apart from the middle and lower classes since price paid a huge role in the adoption of the flapper look.

It is estimated that to maintain the look of a flapper would have cost $115, about $1,200 in today’s currency (Zeitz, 81). The average American could not afford to maintain the look! Lines were drawn and assumptions made based on the speed and entirety that one adopted the look. You were judged by your appearance and your worth was deigned from the clothing you wore. If you were unable to attain the look, you became an outcast in your group of peers. The importance of keeping up with the status quo to achieve social recognition is demonstrated in this story about Mrs. Mesime and her daughter Ida.

Mrs. Mesime was arrested for standing watch while her daughter stole $150 worth of clothes from a market street clothing store. When asked why she aided her daughter in theft, she told the judge “I had no money to buy the clothes my daughter wanted, Ida got the craze to be a flapper, and to get her the necessary clothing we decided to steal. I was afraid she would adopt a worse method of getting her finery, so intent was she upon being able to dress as well as other girls in the neighborhood” (Zeitz, 81). Although extreme, Ida’s story portrays the social strain that affected the women of this era. These strains have lifted with the onset of the digital age and instead of scrambling to keep up with the national ‘identity’ of woman in the flapper age, we create our own ways of expression.

The Digital Age: a changing frame of reference

The democratization of fashion refers to the abundance of relatively cheap ready to wear styles and the decrease of overarching fashion authorities (Ward). Fashion’s democratization changes the role it plays in society; it is a tool useful in defining identity rather than in categorizing wealth and position. This is due to our technological advancements in the textile industry, but also through the near limitless resources of digital platforms. Online shopping, fashion blogs, Pinterest and fashion apps provide immeasurable variations and ideas for creating personal identity through dress.

Diana Crane expresses the degradation of fashions role in defining social status. She describes the transformations that modern technology and digital availability have lent to the industry. “Clothes have gradually lost their economic but not their symbolic importance, with the enormous expansion of ready-made clothing at all price levels. The availability of inexpensive clothing means that those with limited resources can find or create personal styles that express their perceptions of their identities rather than imitate styles originally sold to be more affluent” (5). Fashion in the digital age has changed our frame of reference.

A new market is born

The digital age has also furthered the diversification of fashion. CEO Tony Hsieh agreed to sell shoes online when he found out that footwear in America was a $40 billion market with almost no sales occurring through the Internet. Zappos makes over $1 billion a year and boasts thousands of shoes on its site- from name brands to lesser-known designers. “The Internet imposes no barriers to entry, no economies of scale, no limits on supply” (Shirky) encouraging a whole new market for fashion that has changed the industry forever. As Tony Hsieh illustrated, there are benefits to online shopping such as competitive prices and nearly limitless designs. Due to the ever expanding and developing online clothing market you can find styles to suit the individual- regardless of taste.

My niece is a self-proclaimed 13-year-old “fan-girl.” Hers is a selective group idolizing popular fiction. Although her interest is by no means a dominating culture, she has outlets for purchasing clothing to reflect her personal style. A quick search for “fan girl fashion” brings up hundreds of results; one of the best known is “Ashley and Araca created Her Universe with the mission to create stylish, fashion-forward merchandise for female sci-fi fans” ( This illustrates the phenomena of the long tail of fashion. Our hits driven society has taken a blow as niche groups are better represented with the onslaught of digital platforms. Designer brands and big city fashions don’t affect my niece and she isn’t judged based on her lack of adopting a singular dominating fashion, because the long tail degrades the idea of being “in style” or “out.”

The long tail includes the rising population of people interested in creating fashion and sharing their ideas. Where once we would be forced to turn towards pricy labels to achieve our desired look, platforms such as, fashion blogs and tumbler have led to a rise in “DIY” or “Do it yourself” projects. With access to simple instructions and common materials, clothing can be made for a fraction of the price., a site full of relevant, popular articles wrote about the designer knock-off phenomena. People can mimic what they believe to be popular fashion at a fraction of the price by implementing creativity and DIY tactics. The article’s headline reads “It’s so frustrating when you see something you love that costs 1,000x what it actually should” (Wang). It goes on to show 20 popular styles and techniques to reproduce the featured looks inexpensively. The DIY movement contributes to the long tail and the developing of personal identity through fashion.

With the accessibility of the Internet the voice of the crowd can be heard and average people that shop at the same stores and make the same money as mainstream America are quickly rising in influence. The ability to create your own personal style is quickly becoming a trait more admirable than owning designer ware. Previously the Media was the main medium for bolstering the Fashion industry. Fashion week in Paris influenced famous designers from all over the world. Magazines, such as Vogue, were a staple for fashionable individuals.

Although the media continues to influence fashion, Business Insider remarks on the magazine industries decline and the rise of ordinary individuals fashion blogs. “While magazines aren’t exactly the ostriches they once were when it comes to building an online presence, the fact that Tavi, a single teen blogger from the Chicago suburbs, is influencing nearly as many people as the entire online staff of Teen Vogue can’t be ignored” (buisnessweek).

The democratization of fashion: cultural implications

This emphasis on identity is a relatively new concept in the digital age. As Lexi Hanshaw mentions in her chapter on changing frames of reference, online profiles change the way people view themselves and others. We are constantly aware of our appearance and strive to put our best foot forward on social media. Having a unique identity has become more important than ever in standing out from a crowd of millions of online users. We strive to take the best instagram photo or write the cleverest tweet in order to persuade others to view us as we wish to be seen. Fashion is a tool in conveying identity. It is the outward layer donned to further cement our image. It is the first look we give others into our personalities. We fashion our identities through the clothing we choose to wear. This is a huge shift from past ways of thinking, which used clothing as a method for enforcing social structure.

The rise of the digital age and the long tail of clothing have equalized society. No longer do magazine and popular designer trends dictate, “This way is the only way.” This phenomenon ensures that we have freedom from the social hierarchy characterized by the fashion as seen in the age of the flappers.

I am grateful I’ve never felt like Ida in the story about Mrs. Mesime. Living in the digital age, I have so many options for attire. I do not feel pressure from the high fashion magazines to adopt their fashion. There are countless options! For example, Amazon and EBay allow buyers to contact sellers as far away as China in order to buy garments at reduced costs in unique fashions.

I love learning about fashion through the ages and am especially interested in the radical changes during the 20th century from Edwardian fashion to the 90’s grunge style. As we moved towards the digital age, fashion lost some of its ability to make rigid class distinctions. My favorite places to shop are thrift stores. You can find one-of-a-kind pieces for well under $5. I am grateful for the long tail and the changes it has made to the industry in order to ensure that my life is not dictated by trends in contemporary society.

The turning point

One may argue that we still fall into social classes and can be judged based on our economic situation, education attainment and other factors. However, it is easier to blend class barriers because of the decline of the designer’s monopoly in fashion. Those with considerable wealth may dress in sweats and a t-shirt because it’s in style or what makes them comfortable. They won’t be condemned or dropped from their social class. Social classes have lost fashion as a weapon in labeling the “elite” from the rest of society.

Unfortunately, although we have avoided one trap we have fallen into another. People will judge your personality based on your clothing. I did a science experiment for a biology class my freshman year of college to prove that a male’s shoes correlated directly with his major. I hypothesized that individuals who wore athletic shoes daily were most likely pursuing math/science related majors. Boys who wore “specialty shoes” like Sperry Top Siders, snooks, or toms tended to study public relations, business or finance- careers heavy in human interaction. Those with alternative footwear such as Birkenstocks, moccasins or wing-tip dress shoes studied Art, History and English. I made my guesses based off of my own observations. Although the study appeared narrow-minded and judgmental, I found that I was able to prove my hypothesis correct after surveying a group of boy’s dorms. Fashion still has a hand in labeling in an equally invasive way but in my opinion with a less detrimental effect.

A dramatic shift in our culture has occurred as the role of fashion transformed from defining social status to expressing identity. Clothing is a huge focus in our society and it has become a tool for liberation instead of confinement. The digital age has made a positive impact in the fashion realm, dislodging dangerous social habits. The democratization of fashion is a positive disruption to previously held views of fashion as a means of identifying status. Today we are free to choose how we represent ourselves. We are spared the grief of past generations whose significance was based on their ability to dress up to par with the rest of the nation.

Works Cited

Anderson, Chris. “About Me.” About Me. Wired Magazine, n.d. Web. 11 June 2015. <http/>.

Crane, Diana. “Fashion, Identity and Social Change.” Fashion and Its Social Agendas: Class, Gender, and Identity in Clothing. Chicago: U of Chicago, 2000. N. pag. Print.

“The Fashion Blogs Are Beating Vogue At Online Influence.” Business Insider. Business Insider, Inc, 18 July 2011. Web. 28 May 2015.

Fitzgerald, Zelda Sayre. “Eulogy on the Flapper.” Metropolitan Magazine June 1922: n. pag. Print. Lamare, Amy. “How To Make $450 Million Selling Shoes – The Story Of Tony Hsieh And Zappos.” RSS. N.p., 01 Nov. 2013. Web. 25 May 2015.

Monet, Dolores. “Women and Fashions of the Early 20th Century - World War I Era - Clothing of 1914 -1920.” HubPages. HubPages, n.d. Web. 25 May 2015.

Page, Ellen Welles. “A Flapper’s Appeal to Parents.” Outlook Magazine 6 Dec. 1922: n. pag. Web. Saltar, Nicola. “The Fashion Industry and The Long Tail Effect.” Media Musings. N.p., 14 Sept. 2013. Web. 25 May 2015.

Wang, Peggy. “26 Designer Knock-Off DIYs That Cost Way Less Than The Real Thing.” Buzzfeed, 1 Feb. 2013. Web. 29 May 2015.

Ward, Rachel K. “Democratization of Fashion.” Fashion & Power., 4 May 2011. Web. 29 May 2015. Zeitz, Joshua. “New York Sophistication.” Flapper: A Madcap Story of Sex, Style, Celebrity, and the Women Who Made America Modern. New York: Crown, 2006. N. page. Print.

Image Credit

“Dress” by Roberto Trombetta CC by 2.0

About the Author

Hayley Wigginton

Hayley Wigginton

Hayley Wigginton is from Sacramento, California. She studies Geography and International Development at Brigham Young University. She likes traveling, reading and being outdoors.

Digital Identity Subjected to Social Darwinism

Denise Tuairau

In the 20th century, colonization was justified by Social Darwinism. Identity was affected because one superior race and culture was imposed while the others’ were progressively suppressed. Similarly, today, our digital identity is subjected to social standards set by the online crowd. Those who can adapt to them will prevail while the others will progressively be suppressed.

Identity: The colonizers and the colonized

In the 20th century, groups of people were mainly distinguished between “white” and “other colors”. People were superior and acceptable if they had a white race, white culture, white civilization, and so forth. This mindset started with the theory of Social Darwinism. Darwin’s “laws of evolution” were applied in Society: The fittest or best-adapted traits, races, and cultures would prevail. Social Darwinism lead to the spirit of Colonization. Colonial authority was set upon the notion that “Europeans in the colonies made up an easily identifiable and discrete biological and social entity: A “natural” community of common class interests, racial attributes, political affinities, and superior culture” (McClintock). In regards to colonial politics, McClintock explained that there were written “legal and social classifications designating who was “white”, who was native, who could become a citizen, rather than a subject”. “White” people were the Colonizers while people of “other colors” were the Colonized.

At the time, the Colonizers were identified as pure, powerful, and civilized, while the Colonized were identified as weak, ignorant, and inferior. The mix of races was seen as a danger against racial purity and cultural identity. Social Darwinism justified the Colonial idea that “civilized white races [had] a duty to the “heathens”, to educate, and to protect [the Colonized]” (Drogin). For instance, France set a mission they called, “La Mission Civilisatrice” (The Civilization Mission): Colonizing to them was indeed a duty to civilize others and their culture was a gift they were generously giving. If one’s identity is defined through race and culture, then the identity of the Colonized, seen as the least socially fitted, was being suppressed, even replaced by the identity of Colonizers. Social Darwinism was reflected in Colonization and by that, it affected people’s identity in the 20th century.

In the early 1900’s, Victor Segalen, a French author, lived in Tahiti, which is where I am from, and he was one of the few who disagreed with what the French people were doing to the Tahitian culture. Victor Segalen expressed his disagreement through a book he wrote called, “Les immemoraux”. It’s the story of a Polynesian who failed to recite a certain legend for a traditional ceremony, and out of shame, he left his island and only returned 20 years later. At his return, he was shocked by the drastic change caused by the European culture: His culture seemed to be lost.

Personally, I saw this happening from my grandparents’ generation to mine. For instance, language at the time was a strong part of culture. My grandparents’ generation, and that is in the early 1900’s, mainly spoke Tahitian. When my parents attended school, they were not allowed to speak Tahitian although that was the language they used at home. So my parents’ generation is known for speaking both languages fluently. Then, with more and more public facilities having to be French speaking, my generation ended up being only fluent in French. However, today, we can see with the generation after me, the return of the Tahitian language and even the Tahitian culture in general. That is because of the Digital influence. As Castells said, “the more the world becomes global, the more people feel local” (p.6).

A globalized and diversified identity

In the Digital Age, identity is no longer imposed onto another the way it used to be during the time of Colonization. Since the internet, we find an interchange of cultures leading to a process of international integration: “[Internet] users are able to develop their own identities largely on their own terms” (Brabham). Today, in the Digital world, people are open to different races and cultures, while in the 20th century, “adaptation to local food, language, and dress… were [seen as] sources of contagion and loss of the white self” (McClintock). At the time, there was a great fear of becoming inferiors like the Colonized by mixing up cultures. Today, there is a new form of collective identity.

In regards to a new form of collective identity, ideologues today suggest that the rise of the global network of society is the coming of a flat world, a world with common rules and values. That is similar to the mindset related to Social Darwinism and Colonization: An attempt to form a high and unified culture. However, the reality is that globalization enables people to keep their “cultural specificity, hanging onto their god, their family, their locality, their ethnicity, and their nation” (Castells). The production and distribution of cultural products like movies, music, clothes, food, arts, and so forth, make the network global but the products stay local and diverse. As Castells said, “We are not sharing a global culture. Rather, we are learning the culture of sharing our global diversity”.

Interestingly, that “culture of sharing our global diversity” leads to the idea of being free to identify ourselves however we want to. Thomas said, “The internet allows wide audience opportunities for exploration of identity… [It is] no longer bound by the confines of the embodied identity… The old can feel young, the ugly can feel beautiful, the shy can be extrovert, the loner can be popular and vice versa” (p. 17). The exploration of identity in the Digital world offers liberation to many. However, there is a disruptive identity today with limits set by the Social Darwinist influence.

Identity: the “adaptable people” and the “masses”

Today, there are more interracial unions than there has ever been throughout history. But we find a similar effect of Social Darwinism on identity today than there was in the 20th century. In the online environment, identity is defined by posted aspects of the body (e.g, gender, race), emotions, relationships, cultures, and the way storylines are adopted (e.g, social context or imaginative role-playing). Thomas clearly explained that online identity is, “the authoring of self…it’s me but minus the things I don’t like about me. Those aspects of self-chosen to be shared with the public”. In a way, the concept of digitally sharing only the fittest or best-adapted aspects of an individual correlates with the theory of Social Darwinism. The digital identity is therefore disruptive: People today are so confident that the progression of technology can only lead to more free and diversified ways to identify ourselves but reality shows it differently.

Interestingly, there are online social standards, which, like Social Darwinism, are based on common feelings, tastes, and opinions. The online crowd sets a common judgment on what seems to fit in best in the Digital world. I found this interesting comment from Will Kriski on Google+: “Keeping up with FB [Facebook] changes is like Social Darwinism. Only adaptable people will keep up, leaving the masses to languish in obscurity”. Online social standards separate those “adaptable people”, fitting best in the Digital world, to “the masses”, being progressively suppressed.

Let’s take the example of the MTV show called “Catfish”. The show is about checking if the person someone is having an online relationship with is real. Most of them are not who they claim to be in the Digital world: Either they stole others’ digital identities or they idealized their appearance. The reason is always the same: Wanting to fit in. Creating such fake online identities allows them to meet the online social standards. As a result they can build relationships with those “adaptable people”, which would not have been the case in the real world. In fact, in the show, most of the partners end the relationship with their fake online lovers once they discover their real identity. The host of the show, Ned Burns said on Google+, “Sometimes you want to fall in love, but not with a real person, because real people are imperfect and their imperfection is a terror”. It is clear that there is another aspect of Social Darwinism today. We find a subjectivity of identity in the Digital platforms, limiting that exploration of identity mentioned earlier.

A globalized but disruptive identity

In general, identity has been defined by one’s race, traits, culture, interests, and so forth: What distinguishes a group of people or a person from another one. In the 20th century, Social Darwinism, the theory that only the most socially fitted people prevail, lead to the selectivity of identity: It was either suppressed or imposed. Colonization, reflecting Social Darwinism, has been a great evidence of that: Colonizers attempted to impose the white “superior” identity on the Colonized in order to establish one high and unified civilization.

Today, because the internet has allowed a wide international exchange, we can now enjoy globalized and diversified identities. People are more open to differences: They can be part of a nation, yet have their own culture and identity. In addition, creativity in the online environment allows a greater diversity as people can freely make their own digital identity. With that happening, it is commonly believed that our continuous technological advancements can only make the issue of identity better. But the truth is, there is a disruptive identity today: Like Social Darwinism had an impact on the identity of the Colonized, it has a similar impact on today’s Digital identity.

Online social standards keep changing based on the crowd’s common judgments and opinions. When creating Digital identities, people tend to identify themselves based on what would be most appealing to the online crowd. As Lexi Hanshaw said in her chapter, Changing Frames of Reference; then and now: “We live in a time where the only constant is change; where those who are able to adapt to change the quickest are most successful”. There is clearly an aspect of Social Darwinism in the Digital world: People are digitally distinguished between “the adaptable people”, those who keep adapting their digital identity to the online social standards, and “the masses”, those whose non-appealing identity are progressively being suppressed from the Digital world.

Works Cited

Brabham D. “Crowdsourcing”. The Mit Press Essential Knowledge Series, 2013.

Castells M. “The power of identity”. John Wiley and Sons, 2011. Social Science. P. 1-17.

Drogin S. Spare me the details! iUniverse, Inc, New York Bloomington Shanghai.

McClintock A., Mufti A., Shohat E., “Dangerous liaisons: Gender, Nation, and Postcolonial perspective.’’ Minneapolis, Univ. of Minnesota Press, 1997. Cultural politics. p. 345-360.

Segalen V. “Les immemoriaux.” Terres Humaines, 1956.

Thomas A., “Youth online: Identity and literacy in the Digital Age.” Lang Publishing, Inc, New York, 2007.

Image Credits

Hain J. Image of identity (Visual). Licence CCO public domain.

Special Thanks

Krisk W., Google+

About the Author

Denise Tuairau

Denise Tuairau

Denise Verdugo was born and raised in Tahiti, French Polynesia. At 18 years old, she moved to Provo, Utah, to be a Chemical Engineering major at Brigham Young University. Denise speaks French and English, she’s passionate about cultures, science, and cooking. She married and became a mother in 2012.

Blood In Our Eyes: How Violence Unites and Divides Our Identities

Taylor Quass

The topic of violence has become a catalyst for identity both socially and personally. It has become a greater part of our identity than what many would like to believe, especially in this the digital age.

501st Legion at the DragonCon in Atlanta, Georgia

501st Legion at the DragonCon in Atlanta, Georgia

We seem to view the world with ‘blood in our eyes:’ People unite, divide, and judge by violence. Obvious links to violence include recruitment campaigns of terrorist groups like ISIS, bullying, assault, and murder. However, that’s not my focus. No, I’m talking about how the most pervasive forms of violence in our society today are not seen in hurting each other, but how the topic of violence builds up, distinguishes, and disrupts of communities.

Some may think they are free of violence and its influence, but the that’s simply not the case. Violence has in part become a sanitized reagent in this the Digital Age. Violence is a catalyst, or thing that facilitates a reaction or change without itself needing to change. It’s a catalyst for identity both socially and personally, for unifying and dividing, even if the evidence is subtle.

This article will discuss how violence unites and divides us, as well as how exactly it has become a sanitized catalyst and reagent for identity today. By recognizing that violence can be part of identity can we use violence as a tool and control its presence in our lives instead of being controlled by it.

Violence unites us

My friend John dressed as Ronan the Accuser. He worked together with his wife Corina to create this outfit. He won an award for best costume at his work

My friend John dressed as Ronan the Accuser. He worked together with his wife Corina to create this outfit. He won an award for best costume at his work

The digital age has given us the internet and thereby access to a virtual world. This virtual world is not limited by physical boundaries or distances. Rather, it transcends them, connecting people across vast distances instantaneously that otherwise would never meet. People with very specific interests can interact one with another and form niche communities. Hayley in her article discusses the long tail and specific interests there. People unite by mutual interests, and the digital aspects of our world facilitates that. Many of these are based on something violent in nature, thus making violence a facilitator as well for collective identity.

An example of this is cosplay. Cosplay is by definition dressing up as a character from a book, game, or movie. How many of you or your (adult) friends and family enjoy dressing up and wearing costumes, even on days besides Halloween? How many of those friends make those costumes themselves? For most people, I doubt the number is high. The word ‘Cosplay’ may not even be in your vocabulary. Yet there are those who enjoy it. A lot of characters these people dress up as use swords, guns, and other such weapons. The storm troopers shown in the opening picture carry guns, for example, and the character my friend is dressed up as - Ronan the Accuser from the Guardians of the Galaxy franchise - kills lots of people. It’s used as a pretext.

The 501st Legion is an entire group of such people who enjoy the Star Wars franchise and identify themselves by it. You can request them to come to an event, or they may just decide to go themselves. They go to things like store openings and conventions worldwide. The 501st Legion was literally “…founded to simply provide a collective identity.(“Our Mission”, Par. 4, italics added) Below is an excerpt from their charter:

…The Legion is an all-volunteer organization formed for the express purpose of bringing together costume enthusiasts under a collective identity within which to operate. The Legion seeks to promote interest in Star Wars through the building and wearing of quality costumes, and to facilitate the use of these costumes for Star Wars-related events as well as contributions to the local community through costumed charity and volunteer work… (501st Legion Charter)

This is a hobby to them. It’s fun. They and others like them collaborate, share, and identify and form their self image by such things online. Though their interest as well as the interest of other such groups is based on something violent, the fans themselves are not. They are regular people like you and me. If you go to a comicon, you won’t find people killing each other. Instead, you’ll find a lot of happy people having fun and feeling like they are a part of something bigger than themselves.

Violence unites us personally

A kind of violence that unites is martial arts. Most if not all martial art styles teach about balance, peace, control, and responsibility, bringing together a lot of ideals under one roof. A lot of people go to studios to learn martial arts, some from a very young age like myself. I took Karate when I was 10 or so for self-defense training and to get some exercise at a nearby dojo, a martial arts studio. The more I trained, the more accomplished and confident I felt. Part of who I was - my identity - came from how I knew martial arts.

Dojos aren’t the only place to learn, however. Many hundreds of online sources like the YouTube channel FightTIPS exist to teach it. For some, it’s a matter of self-defense. Others, a hobby. Either way, it helps form their self-image and identity, both social and personal.

When I was in Middle School, I used violence to help unify my strengths and ideals in order to form my identity. One time, a kid slammed a locker on my head. I was a nerdy kid who didn’t have many friends and spent his days reading books and playing games. I didn’t know who did it - they snuck up on me when my back was turned, and left as soon as the deed was done. I was angry and hurt, and vowed to change my situation. I was done being bullied. I decided that day to become like the heroes I had read about, and to be the hero to myself I had played as in my games.

The next few times bullies teased me and said I was so fat I could “sit on people and kill them,” I said “yep. Wanna find out?” I told them I would fight them to the ground and ‘sit to kill’ if I needed to. They stopped soon after.

Though I didn’t hurt a single person, the violence I had associated with my identity helped unify my strengths, desires, and ideals enough that I could stand up for myself. I used the ideals and examples often represented through violence in games, books, and movies to change my self-image into a more confident one.

Other ways people unify their personal identities through violence today is through books, news, movies, and games, all of which are widely available digitally. In books, we can identify, connect with, and feel for the heroes and their struggles. In the news, we can read about happenings, learn from them, and decide how we’d react. In movies, we can watch heroes conquer villains and overcome challenges. In games, we can experience and decide for ourselves how to act in situations both real and fantastical. In all these cases, the struggles at times mirror our own. The fantastical situations can be allegories of something real, or relate to something we know or face ourselves. From these experiences we define ourselves. Thus, our self image is formed and united in part by violence.

How violence divides us

Double standards on violence in society

Violence is often viewed with a double standard. We as a society can deem the same act or result of violence acceptable in some situations and completely unacceptable in others. A hero in one country can be a villain in another, for example, the Red Baron of WWI. Other examples include sports, the riots of baltimore, and violence between men and women. By these things people form opinions and determine who’s on ‘their side’ or team.

An easy example is sports. Think about it - could you tackle a complete stranger in front of a cop, and get away with it? No. If anything, you’ll get arrested for disruptive disorderly conduct and assault, and the other person would have the chance to file charges and possibly sue you for all your worth. In this instance, the act of violence is frowned upon.

But at American Football games, players tackle other players all the time and fans cheer them on. Some fans even go as far as to travel thousands of miles to see their team play, dressed (and at times painted) in their team’s colors. Some people view these games as form of tribal warfare (Ethan Gilsorf) , pitting community against community and city against city.

Rioting is a not-so-socially-acceptable example of violence dividing us. To the rioters and their supporters, the destruction of property and fighting against police is an acceptable demonstration of discontent, and violence their means of delivery. But to others it is not. On such issues, people go online to voice their opinion and pick sides long after the thing is said and done, sometimes causing sometimes nationwide or global debates. Baltimore riot is a prime example; it was sparked by a racial issue involving a white cop shooting a black man.

Another, very stark example of double standards is violence between men and women, both on- and offline. The domestic violence charity ManKind Initiative staged an event where they had a man and a women take turns being the abuser in public (Raychelle Lohmann, Par. 6). When the man was abusing the woman, people rushed to her aid. When the woman hit and otherwise abused the man as much as he had been previously abusing her, people laughed and did nothing. Again, people are divided on our opinion of violence based on who does what when.

Violence disrupting identity online

Ever notice how people online can be very mean? In comments sections and forums, people at times tell others how they’re idiots and should just die, or how much they’d like to stab, maim, kill or otherwise hurt them? Such violent and derogatory comments are seemingly given freely, diving online communities based more on feelings rather than knowledge or capability. Ever wonder why they do that?

It used to be that anything published took money and time to be printed and distributed. Nowadays, anyone can publish online, and do so anonymously. See Adam’s article for further discussion regarding internet publication. Some people argue that it’s because of the anonymity of the internet that people post mean comments, or how little they need to care. Others, like me, argue that it also has to do with how little thought and interaction is required. According a study conducted at University of Haifa in Israel, it has to do with eye contact.

When their eyes were hidden, participants were twice as likely to be hostile. Even if the subjects were both unrecognizable (with only their eyes on screen) and anonymous, they rarely made threats if they maintained eye contact…. [Eye contact] fosters empathy and communication.” (Moyer Par. 3).

The internet allows people to not see each other’s eyes when they discuss or debate online. With no eye contact to “fosters empathy and communication” (Moyer Par. 3), people sometimes act and speak more violently and with more hostility to one another than they would otherwise. This disrupts people identifying as a community or society as they pick sides online without ever knowing or even caring about who the commenters are. Furthermore, for the commenters, the threats can be sanitized in nature (discussed later) because they aren’t making eye contact with those they are threatening.

Double standards for our digital and non-digital identities

In the real world, most people don’t go around killing other people for fun. They’re usually quite peaceable. In the virtual world, that’s a different story. There are things people can and sometimes will do in a game which they would never do in real life. Violence being a major one, as it is culturally unacceptable.

In fantastical online games like World of Warcraft or Runescape, players can be anyone. They can be smiths, merchants, mercenaries, or even bandits. If they need money or experience, they can go kill things. In others games like Grand Theft Auto (a franchise that has sold over 185 million copies), players are criminals. They can steal cars, rob, deal drugs, and murder if they so choose. Normal people can be someone virtually that they themselves would never aspire to be or even want to associate with in real life. Why?

Because there they are free. There is no bureau in charge of online content, no government that determines what is and what isn’t allowed so long as it doesn’t infringe upon the rights and property of others (unless you’re in countries like China or Korea, where the internet is censored by the government). No Secret Service agents will come looking for someone if they kill the digital president, nor angry digital relatives if they accidentally run over grandma. They can do whatever they want virtually without fear of real-world consequence. Some people as far as to become someone else online, thus dividing themselves from themselves, morally-speaking.

Violence: a sanitized catalyst for identity

The digital age has allowed a sanitation of violence on a scale the human race has never before seen. Why? Because the digital world allows us to cherry-pick the things seen in our entertainment and media. In many games, you have a chance to die, sometimes violently. But even if you die in a game, you won’t die in real life. The threat of permanent, personal death is cleansed from digital violence. Some other games let you fight without any blood or gore. In the Mario franchise, you are a lowly plumber forever rescuing a princess. You ‘kill’ enemy creatures by jumping on their heads, throwing or shooting things at them. Any way you kill them, enemies simply disappear, leaving a game clean of some of the horrors of violence while still leaving the act of violence.

In TV shows like Merlin, people are dying left and right. I really wonder why people like living in Camelot the capitol. Yet very rarely is the blood and gore that would actually occur in real life ever seen on screen.

Violence is not something completely horrible anymore. It’s something that can now be used as a tool, a catalyst, a reagent, a basis for a plot in a book, game, movie, or TV series. Anyone can experience it safely. It’s something you can incorporate into your identity without repercussions because it can be experienced in a safe and controlled way. Because it’s on a screen or on paper, anyone can see and experience it without blood on their hands, instead keeping it to stay in their eyes. Real people don’t have to die for our amusement like they did in the Coliseums of ancient Rome. Virtual ones can take their place, and people can go as far as to experience it as a participant themselves.

People can be united by a sanitized, violent disruption

A long time ago, Persia wanted to invade Greece, a region then divided into a bunch of independent city-states. Sparta tried to unite these city states, but they only managed to get about 3 dozen or so to join forces at Thermopylae, a narrow pass in the mountains (David Frye Par. 16). The others either sat idly by or joined forces with the Persians. People in the coalition didn’t have much faith either, evacuating women and children even as they sent 7,000 troops to their supposed death.

Yet according to the account written by Herodotus, this small force held off the Persians for 7 days, slaughtering thousands in the process. They only fell when a Greek named Ephialtes betrayed a secret path around Grecian defenses to the Persian King, and the coalition had to order a retreat. A small force of 1,400 troops - 300 of which were the Spartans and their king - stayed behind to cover the retreat, fighting on that 7th and last day. Though they lost the battle, tales of this conflict spread throughout Greece like wildfire and inspired the Greeks enough to unite them and repel the Persian invasion. This is a prime example of a violent event that united us in the past.

We still have such uniting but violent events today. On 9/11/2001, the World Trade Center towers and the pentagon were hit one after another by 3 hijacked planes. News broadcasts dominated the airwaves and as the events unfolded, allowing people to watch in real time as the towers burned then fell in a voluptuous cloud of smoke and debris. Numbers of the dead later poured in, showing that nearly 3,000 people died in the space of 2 hours.

Though hotly debated as to why the towers fell, the eyes of America were abruptly turned both towards the victims of that catastrophe and the terrorists who instigated it. By a single disruptive event, millions of Americans and others worldwide united in cause and identity to help. Children drew pictures and wrote thank-you cards to the firefighters, police, and those who lost loved ones during the attack. Some like actor Steven Buscemi helped sift through debris and search for survivors. Others who couldn’t directly help provided money, food, shelter, and emergency supplies. Many all over the world even held prayer services and offered words of comfort where they could. Militarily-speaking, countries around the world helped fight against terrorism.

However they helped, they did it because they identified somehow with the event and felt like doing something. Many people can tell you exactly where they were on 9/ll, how they felt, and what they did about it. They were united by this identity, and comforted those in need. Today, Americans identify their strength and personality as a country as well as their stance on terrorism based at least in part on the events of that day.

In both of the cases and others, a violent event became a social catalyst and helped unite a people and their identity. Both events were also sanitized of certain ‘unnecessary’ details. For the battle of Thermopylae, records don’t often include a list of the dead, or much detail about how people died. Instead, they focus on the tactics, how bravely people fought, who did what and why.

For the 9/11 attacks, plenty of people had enough cameras that anyone can watch everything without needing to actually be there. People can learn about who did what, who died, and then debate at our leisure. People can choose what pictures, videos, and reports of carnage and destruction they both see and share, and can thus sanitize it.

Why this matters

I wish to stress this next point; I am neither encouraging violence, nor am I saying it’s good or evil. What I am saying is that violence is a far more common and pervasive part of identities than what some people would think. Violence being so sanitized allows it to be so.

Part of knowing and owning identities psychologically-speaking is recognizing all the parts that make it up. A functional, basic, or sometimes defining part of an individual, group, or community’s identity can be as much violence as colors or nationality would be. Failure to recognize and/or admit violence as a functional part of identity, when present, can result in violence controlling and disrupting our identities and, through them, our actions.

If we can recognize that aspects of personal and social identity can be affected by violence, then we can use it as a tool and catalyst for identity, unity, and diversity. By knowing, recognizing, and owning the violence as a part of identity development can we truly use violence as a tool or catalyst in moderation instead of being controlled or governed by it.

As you can see, violence is the basis of many things people like. People form parts of their personal and social identities by means of violence, unite and divide by it, and see the world with ‘blood in their eyes.’ Today especially, violence is sanitized in its use allowing people to unite and divide their personal and social identities. It is thus a catalyst. By recognizing that violence can be part of identity can we use violence as a tool and control its presence in our lives instead of being controlled by it.

Works Cited

Burawoy, Michael. “The State and the People, Symbolic Violence and Physical Violence.” University of California @Berkeley School of Sociology. University of California. Web. 1 June 2015.

Duncan, Thomas K, and Christopher J Coyne. “The Origins of the Permanent War Economy.” The Independent Review. Independent Institute. Web. 25 May 2015.

Fazen, Shane. “FightTIPS Channel.” Online Video Clip. YouTube. FightTIPS, n.d. Web. 10 June 2015.

Ek, Slavoj. “Introduction: The Tyrant’s Bloody Robe.” Violence: Six Sideways Reflections. New York: Picador, 2008. Print.

Frye, David. “Greco-Persian Wars: Battle of Thermopylae.” History Net Where History Comes Alive World US History Online. Military History, Jan. 2006. Magazine Article. Online Edition. 10 June 2015.

Gilsorf, Ethan. “Of Tribes And Touchdowns: Why Sports Matter.” Wbur. Boston NPR News Station, 22 July 2013. News Article. Online Edition. 10 June 2015.

Goins, Jeff. “Are People Meaner Online than in Real Life?” Goins Writer RSS. 2012. Web. 12 June 2015.

Heitmeyer, Wilhelm. “Control of Violence Historical and International Perspectives on Violence in Modern Societies.” New York: Springer, 2011. Print.

Herodotus. “The Battle of Thermopylae” Sam Houston State University. Transcription. Sam Houston State University, n.d. Web. 8 June 2015.

“Legion Charter.” 501st Legion. 501st Legion, n.d. Web. 10 June 2015.

Lohmann, Raychelle Cassada, M.S. “Women and Violence: Society’s Double Standard.” Psychology Today. Psychology Today, 19 July 2014. Web. 10 June 2015.

Moyer, Melinda Wenner. “Eye Contact Quells Online Hostility.” Scientific American Global RSS. Scientific American, 2 Aug. 2012. Web. 12 June 2015.

“Our Mission.” 501st Legion. 501st Legion, n.d. Web. 10 June 2015.

“Some Evidence That Violent Video Games Reduce Actual Violence.” Freakonomics RSS. Web. 29 May 2015.

“#ViolenceIsViolence: Domestic Abuse Advert Mankind.” Online Video clip. YouTube. ManKind Initiative, 22 May 2014. Web. 10 June 2015.

Image Credits
  1. “Parade 123”, Hilary, Wikipedia, used under CC, originally posted to Flickr by Hilary in 2008
  2. “John is Ronan the Accuser”, Photo of John Carlsen by Corina Carlsen, 2014
  3. Photo of Taylor Quass by Stacie Hogan, 15 Aug 2014

About the Author

Taylor Quass

Taylor Quass

Taylor Quass was born March 14, 1991 in Provo Utah. He grew up in Palo Alto, California, Elk Ridge, Utah, and Shoreview, Minnesota. In school, he participated in football and drama. Outside of school, he loves to play games of all kinds, hang out with friends, and read and write epic fantasy. He is currently studying to become an electrical engineer with interests in 3D printing and Prosthetics. He is married to the most beautiful, wonderful woman and love of his life, Heather Quass.


In every age, major civilizations have been defined by their social institutions. The litmus test for the strength of these civilizations has been the effectiveness of their social institutions: government, religion, economy, education, and others. Changes in these pillars of civilization have either led to their growth or their destruction.

We have already seen the impact of the Digital Age on our social institutions. Commercial and educational institutions are now both facing the potential for major reforms, though they take the shape of disruptions at first. We want these disruptions to be positive.

The economy has been heavily impacted by the emergence of digital piracy. Anthony Johnson discusses digital piracy, its impact on the economy, and potential solutions to its disruptive effects.

The educational system has recently standardized core curriculum, but today the method of teaching could be just as significant as the content being taught. Acacia Woodbury explores the potential benefits of open educational resources.

Standard Fare: Establishing the Digital Classroom

Acacia Woodbury

Open educational resources should be standardized, allowing teachers and students additional tools and contexts to optimize learning experiences.

Education has held its post as a defining institution of society throughout the ages—shaping each rising generation, fueling growth and culture. Little wonder that major changes in education are often viewed as disruptions. But a disruption can be a good thing. Education has been disrupted by debates about college tuition, grading policies, the effectiveness of post-secondary training, etc. There are plenty of voices vying for the spotlight, ready to make a dozen alterations to our present methods.

It’s helpful to use the Digital Age as the context for this discussion. It’s the context of education today, and it can help us recognize what the most relevant and important changes really are.

The Digital Age has altered many aspects of life already, and they have been altered for good. Education could be the next institution due for some retouching—and once it begins in earnest, we won’t be able to return to our old methods and perspectives. Is it worth it to trade the efficiency of the familiar for the efficiency of progress? It very well may be in the case of open educational resources, or open-source learning.

What are open educational resources?

Open educational resources (OER) are teaching tools made freely available by digital means. These resources allow what is called open-source learning to take place, an approach to education that integrates digital tools, platforms, and resources with the traditional classroom.

These resources have been emerging in other facets of society. For example, people no longer need to buy a book if they can find it for free online. This makes possible a new level of self-education than has ever been achieved. It has already had lasting effects on the way our society works. Without any kind of instructor, anyone can look up anything they care to know about the Civil War or organic chemical compounds or calculus. In fact, they can hand-select their learning platform, method, and application and match it to their purpose and learning style.

Why should the formal education system adjust and become more inclusive of these resources? Teachers and students already have access to them. There are several advantages to using them, and the real question may be why these resources haven’t been widely used in classrooms.

OER allows teachers to personalize their courses to better fit their subject and their students. It also gives students the ability to interact with content and respond through digital dialogue, or even create original content. OER gives students more responsibility for learning relevant skills as well as the core curriculum.

No need to throw out the traditional classroom entirely. Our education system plays too important a role in our civilization. But the purpose and drive of education is improvement. Rather than suggest we make every resource free and rely on intrinsic interest and high levels of insight to propel the next generation forward, I think we ought to reevaluate our teaching methods. OER could be a well-matched enhancement to our educational priorities and goals.

While open-source learning is still a relatively new idea, with many as-of-yet unexplored possibilities, it has been implemented in a variety of ways already in a few classrooms. I’ve seen hints of it in my own experiences as a student, and there are some school programs leaking OER and open-source learning methods.

But the real power in this kind of learning is still locked away by a lack of universal application. The first step is to help people understand what these new ideas are, where they come from, and what the benefits they offer.

The person who first coined the term “open-source learning” was David Preston. He earned a PHD in Education Policy, taught at UCLA, and ran his own management consulting firm. In 2004, he saw an opportunity to use his new ideas and joined a high school English department.

Preston was determined to use open-source learning methods to help his students. He “allow[ed] students to create their own learning experiences as a virtual complement to the classroom studies. Students work[ed] with teacher-mentors to communicate and collaborate, using in-depth online research, blogs, social media, and other interactive tools” (Preston).

In this way he became more of a guide than an instructor, helping his students to learn how to interact directly with experts, authors, and online communities. Preston said:

“Students have access to the Internet in their pockets, but most teaching environments don’t even begin to touch the power of online technology. At first I started using these tools because I thought that it made the curriculum more engaging. But as open-source learning evolved, I realized that these tools—and the networks they can create—give students many more choices for expressing themselves in the context of the curriculum and finding depth in the material” (Preston).

Some people may misunderstand the term “open-source learning.” I’m not saying we need to convert every teacher’s lesson plan into a Wikipedia-style free-for-all. It can be a misleading term.

I’m saying that there are digitally curated resources that could enhance the classroom, make learning more engaging for students, and train students in technological skills they’ll need later.

No creation of content is necessary, though some teachers may find a personal collection of their favorite tools helpful. These resources already exist—physically and conceptually. All we need to do is integrate them with the classroom.

The sooner we decide to do this and begin the upward haul, the sooner we’ll be over the learning curve and sailing forward into smoother waters.

What would the benefits be?

If there are benefits to using open-educational resources, what are they?

First, because students do not always know where these resources are to be found. They do already exist, but digital resources have exploded into a vast web of knowledge that can be difficult to navigate without some initial guidance.

Second, having found the resources, students can quickly become lost without a real-time instructor giving feedback and direction. Relevant and interesting as some information may be, it can be passed over by accident if the student doesn’t have a specific structure given to their exploration.

Third, if the resources are known and applied by the student, the diversity of each subject’s context may remain obfuscated. Or, in other words, the students may not always know enough to become fully cognizant of the questions inhibiting their comprehension of relevant topics, whether belonging to a more distinct or a broader lens of study.

These three benefits, combining OER with the traditional classroom, focus narrowly on some specific needs of the students. There are also benefits for students who are interested in a more interactive learning process and benefits for teachers.

OER can promote concept creation and original thinking in students. They offer new contexts for them to discuss and hypothesize and interact with real-world examples. OER include ebooks, free software, portals, open information communities, electronic collaboration, personalized learning, space for original content development, digital dialogue, public domain sources, current events resources, and scholarly journals. The list could go on and on . . .

Many schools around the nation already teach typing, basic computer skills, online research, and similar skills. This is a good step towards using OER and open-source learning, but it isn’t the same thing.

Open-source learning prioritizes the empowerment of students and teachers in their individual conditions. Teachers are empowered by the ability to adjust the design of their course and hand-select the platform, the media, the digital tools to fit their goals. This focus becomes for students to develop skills and perspectives that translate directly into the workplace rather than master the common core alone.

While the goal to teach essential content will not change, there are now more efficient ways to teach them. There are also new skills that are becoming relevant because of the digital age, and the new technology is as much a necessary skill for students to learn as the content they are studying.

I saw the beginning of this when Smart Boards (basically white board and a projector combined with interactive functions) were introduced in some of my classes as replacements for the boxy projectors. It happened seamlessly. No one questioned whether we would go back to using that clunky old projectors. There was a slight learning curve for students and teachers, but then we moved on and put the new tool to use. It was more efficient, so we adapted.

I had a diverse educational experience, and I saw a wide variety of methods put to use. I attended schools of all levels across five different states. I have been homeschooled, attended public schools (some wealthier than others), and participated in an online charter school with a performing arts location. And I currently attend a private university.

I love learning, so I appreciated the opportunities some of my teachers gave me to explore content in my own way, to generate my own ideas. The digital age allows for more ways that teachers can guide students in this kind of interactive, explorative learning. It would be a big change to standardize open-source learning methods, or even some of its elements, and the idea is hotly contested by those who see more potential for problems than for positive growth.

Adaptability is the soul of efficiency. Our educational methods need to adapt to the Digital Age. While there are many benefits for making the change, there are potential consequences for not doing so as well.

Our civilization is being redefined by the Digital Age. It may be a disruption in many ways, but that is the pattern civilizations have followed on the path of progression. One way or another, we will need to make changes. That, or we may find our society stuck in the past as others make use of the new opportunities.

We need to adapt, and we need to do it collectively. If we don’t do it together, it won’t have the same staying power in society.

Why is standardization important?

Different teaching methods have been employed throughout history—from the Chinese system of strict memorization to the gentleman’s academic perusal of Europe to one-room schoolhouses on the frontier. More modernly, we have standardized the common core, a federally recognized set of curriculum. The possible effectiveness of these various methods is only ascertainable—and, indeed, it is only possibly valuable—as far as it is standardized. By this, I mean that it has been adopted universally by schools or teachers.

Some teachers are diving right into the use of OER and open-source learning, and others are just dipping a toe into it. Why standardize?

The reasons are the same as they always have been in the question of standardization. Because it is more efficient that way. Because it will have a greater effect that way. The metaphor “reaching the end of the row” comes to mind, reminiscent of early irrigation systems that were only as effective as they were capable of reaching down to the end of every row and watering every plant in the field. It’s the same principle here.

Standardization is the process of unifying the standards within an industry or field. These can be physical standards (like the base-required integrity of a steel girder) or conceptual standards (like the expectation of academic honesty or the value of submitting work to peer review). This can also be a good thing. I like structurally sound steel girders on my bridges—thank you.

The history of standardization reveals its strengths and its weaknesses very clearly.

Standardization was conceptually conceived with the mass production of the Industrial Revolution but it was born in the 20th Century. In the early 20th Century, electric engineers each had their own standard sizes and methods of testing the effectiveness of their materials. They had to maintain long, complicated files in order to recall the various requirements for each of the companies they worked for.

R. E. B. Crompton got tired of this and decided to solve the problem with a universal system. He recognized that there’d be a special point where engineering could be most efficient while also allowing for differences in individual projects. Not everything needed to be universally the same about the engineers’ work (and it’d be inefficient to attempt to make it so), but by standardizing the most common measurements and materials, engineers could work together and communicate more easily with one another.

He publicly argued the benefits of standardization and promoted it actively on an international level. Though he advocated for standardization in electrical engineering, the principle is still applicable to education.

Crompton presented an essay about the standardization of machinery at the St. Louis International Electric Congress in 1904. Of standardization in engineering, he said:

“I think we must all agree that electrical standardization must bear a different meaning to standardization of far older . . . types of machinery. . . . It is highly undesirable that any types, patterns or sizes should be standardized if these are likely in any way to hinder the future development of design, but all who have looked into the matter know how much useful electrical standardizing can be . . .” (Crompton, 769).

Crompton’s peers recognized this idea as a clear advancement in the efficiency of their work. Crompton was asked to organize the International Electrotechnical Commission, and he was voted to be the group’s first president in its first meeting.

I think that many of the virtues of standardization were put forth by Crompton or displayed in the processes he went through to achieve it. He discovered the most necessary places where standardization would benefit workers and manufacturers in his industry. He asked other professionals in his field about their experiences and what might benefit them. He made room for future development and improvement in anticipation of a time when the process he was instituting might need to adapt.

Too much fluctuation or too little evaluation of adaptations can have negative effects. Many people look at Wikipedia as an example of an untrustworthy source because its fluctuating system necessarily compromises some standards of accuracy. Likewise, if the standards chosen to be standardized are too low, too high, or not measured the right way by the standardizing authority, then the standardization will cause more problems than it will solve.

However, the ability to adapt is important when approached properly. Crompton would agree that for standardization to be the most effective, it should be capable of adaptation. As we remain aware of those weaknesses and limitations, we can improve upon them.

A more modern and topically relevant example of standardization is the common core structure of curriculum. Adapting to open-source learning would not only be an efficiency in its own right but it would augment the standardization of the common core.

I personally relied on a certain amount of unity in the subjects taught at my schools when I moved multiple times across the country, frequently in the middle of a school year. If I’d had access to OER, it could’ve been even smoother of a transition.

The principles of teaching with OER are being taught in high-level classes, like Dr. Caitlyn Dooley’s about constructivist theories and research. Her syllabus reads, “Technology, such as email, wiki, blogs, group bulletin board, database search engines and so forth will be integrated into the course. These tools will be essential for your learning as they carry much of the on-going communication beyond campus walls” (Dooley, 4).

There is no doubting the importance of these resources and skills in the Digital Age. The need is increasing for students to be exposed to them in an academic setting much earlier than is currently happening.

Coupling open-source learning with effective standardization practices will take our educational system to the next level and support another generation of our civilization. Employing these ideas that were born in the 20th Century will help us make the most of our Digital Age.

What would a digital classroom look like?

My experiences with participating in an online charter school give me some insight into a model of how this new method could work. Online classes had their downsides, so I am not trying to advocate online school. It represents one possible application of the digital tools I am talking about.

In the online charter school, my classes we organized and distributed on a platform called Moodle. Moodle can be used by teachers or administrators (or even business owners) to organize teaching tools for large groups of people.

In a Moodle classroom, students are given access to the resources they need to learn a particular lesson, they explore the resources on their own—albeit in a guided format, and then they complete an assignment on the subject. The learning process was more open to student interpretation and concept development.

Some assignments are simply to contribute to a digital dialogue with other classmates on the subject. Others were more traditional evaluations. But even if the assignments did not differ too widely from traditional ones, the method of learning invites individual questioning and exploration. The student is required to be proactive in the learning process.

This method can easily be blended to the traditional classroom. An entirely digital school is not necessary to use these methods and tools.

Wesley Fryer is a good example. He teaches fourth and fifth grade science classes, and he maintains a blog about his teaching experiences called The Speed of Creativity. One of the unique ways Fryer has implemented digital tools in his class was to record his voice at independent stations for his fourth-grade students so that they could pause, replay, or rewind the instructions he was giving them. In this way, he organized and taught several groups within his class at the same time.

This method gave students the ability to problem-solve on their own with a teacher nearby to guide them when they needed help. They didn’t only learn the material in the class but were excited to use what they’d learned to create another digital teaching tool (recording their class’s work) for others to reference. (Fryer)

Edwige Simon, an Educational Technologist at the University of Colorado Boulder, contributed an article about digital teaching tools to the Edutopia blog. The site has many resources available for teachers who are interested in developing lesson plans or sharing resources in class with digital tools. Simon recommends six specific steps for teachers to make use of digital resources and makes many other tools

Simon introduces her approach by outlining the primary benefits of open educational resources: “Textbooks are a great source of reliable information and ready-made activities, but the content they provide can be generic and not particularly engaging for students. By leveraging the instructional potential of web-based resources, you can increase student engagement, expose them to authentic content, and engage them in collaborative activities that trigger critical thinking and creativity” (Simon).

This kind of communal knowledge pool and interactive learning is exactly what open-source learning—and the Digital Age itself—is all about.

Works Cited

Crompton, R. E. B. “Standardization of Dynamo-Electric Machinery and Apparatus.” Transactions of the International Electrical Congress, St. Louis, 1904. Albany, N.Y.: J.B. Lyon, 1905. 768-775. Print.

“David Preston: Open Source Learning Combines Academic Standards with 21st Century Workplace Skills.” UCLA GSEIS Ampersand. University of California, Los Angeles, 23 Aug. 2013. Web. 26 May 2015. <>.

Dooley, Caitlyn. “ECE 8920 Constructivist Theories and Research Syllabus.” Academia. 1 Sept. 2011. Web. 26 May 2015.

Fryer, Wesley. “Lessons Learned with Elementary STEM Centers.” Moving at the Speed of Creativity. 25 Jan. 2014. Web. 26 May 2015.

Simon, Edwige. “Teaching with Web-Based Resources.” Edutopia. 28 Apr. 2015. Web. 26 May 2015.

Image Credits
  1. “Woman Hand Desk Laptop” by Pexels licensed under CC 0
  2. “Untitled Classroom Photo” by Wesley Fryer licensed under CC 2.0
  3. “The Road Builder” by Vanity Fair incensed under Public Domain

About the Author

Acacia Woodbury is studying editing and digital humanities at Brigham Young University. She has lived in five different states, and she has attended a wide variety of schools between them all. When she isn’t tinkering away at someone else’s writing, she’s usually composing her own.

Whack-A-Pirate: The Economic Game of Digital Piracy

Anthony Johnson

If we do not examine history and discover the ways that piracy of the past was stamped out, then just like the days of old we will find ourselves trapped in a new golden age of digital piracy, one where a common nuisance becomes a very real terror that will continue to disrupt many aspects of our lives.

The face of digital piracy

Imagine you’re playing a game of whack-a-mole. You lift your hammer and smash it down on the plastic head of a fuzzy little animal… only to watch two more pop up by it’s side. You try to get another, and watch as three more appear. Within a very short amount of time, with every target you successfully hit, you find yourself quickly outnumbered and, ultimately, are forced to surrender, your pride and psyche disrupted as you admit that you were outmatched by a bunch of simple, colorful, moles.

This is the conundrum that is currently facing not only our corporations, but the American economy at large. With the emergence of the digital pirate, very much modeled and alike to the pirate of the golden age during the enlightenment, we are finding our civilization disrupted as piracy continues to grow. While it is currently not a widespread issue, there is a need to make the topic of digital piracy as the practices costs an average of $250 Billion dollars and 750,000 jobs per year (Leahy). If we do not examine history and discover the ways that piracy of the past was stamped out, then just like the days of old we will find ourselves trapped in a new golden age of digital piracy, one where a common nuisance becomes a very real terror. From the way we purchase online to what we print out to use offline, from how we view the economy to how we even treat each other as human beings, we are dealing with disruptions that impact many aspects of our lives.

Pirates then, pirates now

Digital Piracy is partially controversial as it is growing increasingly difficult to define what a digital pirate is – so much so that Adrian Johns spent a chapter in his book Piracy explaining that it is currently impossible to define what digital piracy is (Past, Present, Future). While he is right in the regard that all attempts to define digital piracy to the point that it would work in the dictionary has so far failed, a basic legal categorization has been formed. In 1976, with the growing widespread popularity of digital taping, the United States created ‘Title 17, United States Code, Sections 501 and 506 of the United States law’, a law that was supposed to detail digital piracy as only being copyright infringement (Digital Piracy). However, with additional law suits, the emergence of the internet, and a host of digital crimes that the law was not adequate prepared for, additional sections were added to Title 17 that has since gone on to cover nearly all forms of digital crimes; while the person who downloads thirty songs illegally and Edward Snowden differ in the severity, motivation, and even types of crimes they’ve committed, because of their digital nature they would both have at least one charge of ‘digital piracy’ under Title 17 (Digital Piracy), (Johns), (RIAA – The Law), (Brewin), (Salcido). As such, the simplest way to define Digital Piracy is simply by the sum of its parts: Piracy (Which was defined by England and Woodes Rogers as any crime committed at sea) (Hunted), committed in the digital ‘ocean’.

Additionally, before we divulge into the similarities of the historical pirate and the digital one, careful note should be taken that so far, Digital Pirates have (so far) not proven to be as violent as their predecessors in the past. While the depictions of violence, torture, and pillaging are over-glorified and misrepresented in Hollywood, the word ‘parley’ coming into common usage as to mean a attempt to negotiate with pirates before lives were hurt (Woodard). However, for the times when peace talks failed, a pirate wasn’t afraid to resort to physical violence while, to this point of writing, digital pirates have not had to use means of violence to establish their goals. On the same day I write this, however, I read a new article of how Digital Pirates are now infecting hospital equipment and monitors with malware and violence, threatening to turn off life support and other vital equipment of hospitals if their demands are not met (Storm).

With that note in place, let us look at some of the easy, immediate comparisons we can make between Digital Pirates and, specifically, the pirate of the Golden Age. Some common traits shared between the two types of pirates are that both venture out onto an open sea (the oceans versus the internet), both steal from merchants (European monopolies versus the mega corporations of our day), and both do it for a variety of reasons that mainly consist of pleasure, wealth and freedom (an unchanging vice in all ages).

But simply saying this misses a pertinent doctrine: that according to the law, there is no difference between the various sorts of pirates and they are, in fact, equal. This is partially given by the inability to classify pirates of a sea faring or digital kind. In his book Piracy by Adrian Johns, the author spent a significant portion of his first chapter explaining that impossibility of give a concrete definition of what constitutes not only a digital pirate, but any kind of pirate. Every kind of thief has been given the slanderous name, while those who rob themselves try to claim they should not be labeled in the same category as these infamous sea dogs (Johns).

Digital disruptive scurvy

Why take such interest in understanding what a digital pirate is? Because digital piracy has affected us as a civilization at many rungs of the social ladder. From the simple lowly artist to the mega corporations that churn out multi-billion dollar hits month after month, Digital Piracy has affected us all. While the parenting moniker of Digital Piracy is often used as a stand in for the more specific crime of ‘digital copyright infringement’, it has even began to manifest itself in different ways as to harm the normal citizen.

I am an author. I originally tried publishing my first novel myself in January, and was delighted to hear of many friends and family members who were reading and enjoying the book. However, when I tracked the sales of how my book was selling, I was shocked to find that only three people had bought it. When I started questioning others about how they acquired my book, I was disappointed to discover that one of the first people who bought it had uploaded the entire ebook for free online, my own friends turning into pirates and stealing against me.

Now, having signed a contract with a publishing company who will distribute it nationwide in the near future at this point of writing, I can’t help but feel nervous as I consider the digital platform being one of the main tools to distribute my book. Fellow artists, like Logan Lynn, a newly signed musician who wrote a guest post for the Huffington Post, expressed the same thoughts I had in expressing the thoughts of the wider creative community (Lynn). Due to Digital Piracy, many would be artist like him are no longer making the already meager living that they need to maintain themselves and are forced to pursue other vocations to live (Leahy). Such a economic shift has been compared with shrinking the long tail: while those earning massive sums like corporations will continue to survive the damage being caused by digital pirates and those indie artists that only receive five downloads a month have yet to grow dependent on their trade, those caught in the middle of the long tail are having their portions decreased, often to the point where like Logan Lynn where they either have to get a second job or switch their careers entirely. A significant portion of the business sector, or long tail, is currently being damaged and cut out by digital pirates (Semlyen).

The damage goes far beyond simple artists, however. In 2011, Senator Leahy of Vermont and his constituents, while making an argument to pass several new bills regarding online properties,were able to show that Digital Piracy had costed the American economy approximately $250 billion dollars and 750,000 jobs per year spread across nearly every business sector (Leahy). Further studies, conducted by the Business Software Alliance and the Recording Industry Association of America, produced similar results (Online Piracy in Numbers).

Perhaps worst of all is that our very appreciation of art and ability to cultivate new masterpieces is degrading. The very works that people pirate by the millions are quickly becoming non-existent as the pirates that pillage the internet sea ruin our ability to enjoy things as they are. 3D-Printing, the new innovative method of creation though digital schematics, is currently facing legal trouble and possible regulations as Digital Pirates upload their stolen schematics at best and, when they’re truly vindictive, hacking and uploading viruses to prevent further use by the unlucky owner (Bender). The Indie, so well beloved and praised in our modern culture as a symbol of a more diverse society, is now being throttled as what could have been semi-successful groups are now forced to live on mere breadcrumbs should they wish to pursue their craft (Forde). Even our normal, day to day behavior away from the digital world is starting to shift from this crime; in recent studies conducted by universities across America, digital piracy was seen as a gateway crime that caused a higher likelihood in additional deviant behavior, including addictions to the internet, pornography, actual physical in store theft, and drugs (Dewey).

Digital Piracy is no longer a nuisance; it is a wrench disrupting many aspects of our society. The economy cannot continue functioning in this manner, and will continue to bleed out and cost thousands of jobs and billions of dollars every month if we do not adjust for this sudden influx of digital crime. We must do something to adjust to the new status quo of the digital economy.

Thankfully, there are answers and solutions, many of which originate with one man: Woodes Rogers.

Woodes Rogers, pirate exterminator extraordinaire

Pirates have existed since man first put a boat on the water: just as Cain killed his brother soon after the first humans appeared on land, men began to rob and hurt each the moment they put their feet into the water, going back as far as 14th century BC (Hill). Additionally, piracy hasn’t been contained to the seas either throughout the course of time: copyright infringement, the most prevelant form of digital piracy, even has roots to the 15th century AD and before (Edwards).

The most interesting pirate, the one we wish to compare to the digital manifestation that plagues us and also the type of pirate most exemplified by the mass media, is the pirate of the Golden Age. Lasting from about 1620 to 1730, the Golden Age of Piracy was the era when the sea faring pirate was at is strongest. Much of what transpired because of these rouges can be blamed partially for the benefits of the Age of Enlightenment; while the Enlightenment is normally an era marked by great scientific, individual and physical prosperity and growth, it was marked principally as the age of freedom: a man, like no time before, became free from the near all powerful reigns of magistrates and priests

The best example of this search for freedom and the core values of the new political shift of the Enlightenment was the so called ‘pirate republic’, a twisted realization of Locke’s dreams. Based out of Nassau and covering a near six thousand square miles of islands and sea, here were lands where men were free to choose who they served and were not only permitted but encouraged to do whatever they pleased (Woodard). While Woodard mentions a little bit about the benefits of a being a pirate in his book, a quote coming from the infamous Bartholomew Roberts, who became a pirate just after being a sailor for six weeks, can better and more quickly express some of the common thoughts for becoming a pirate in this era (Breverton).

“In honest service there are thin commons, low wages, and hard labour. Yet as gentlemen of fortune we enjoy plenty and satisfaction, pleasure and ease, liberty and power… so what man with a sensible mind would choose the former life, when the only hazard we pirates run is a sour look from those without strength or splendor? No, a merry life and a short one shall be my motto, for I have dipped my hands in muddy water and found it is better to be a pirate than a common man” (Breverton).

There was little reason to be a honest man: according to Welsh historian and author Terry Breverton in his work Black Bart Roberts, a sailor had no disability or retirement benefits and was only making an estimated four dollars per month in pay, adjusted for inflation. Furthermore, he said if you did not already come from a prestigious family or accomplish some miraculous feat such as killing a world renowned pirate, the chance for promotion and improvement were next to none: a man working a navy ship would often be held with the same contempt as one who had been aboard for two weeks. The benefits of being a pirate, as Black Bart Roberts explained, were far better than being a common citizen (Breverton). Isn’t this true for our day as well; isn’t the benefits for being a digital pirate still far more numerous than that of being a honest buyer?

Yet within ten years of the establishment of the republic of pirates, when piracy was at it’s peak more than any other time in history, sea-crime was almost completely eradicated as pirates were morphed once again from a terror to a bed time story to put your child to bed at night. In 1718, England has had enough of this pirate menace and appointed Woodes Rogers to act as governor in the Bahamas and resolve the pirate disruption. Ultimately, his mission was a success, and by the end of his first term in 1721 the Golden Age was nothing more but a lingering memory as the seas were once again largely safe to travel. This sudden turnabout can be traced to three very important, decisive actions that demonstrated a simultaneous combination of tenacity and mercy that no pirate could have prepared for (Woodard).

The first was that of mercy: through a variety of actions organized by the government of England and implemented successfully by the famous governor of the Bahamas, Woodes Rogers, a general cry of pardon was given to all willing pirates who would submit themselves temporarily to an officer of the law, give an account of their crimes and renounce pirating for the foreseeable future. Should they have done this, they were granted a prize instead of a punishment: some gold and a small piece of land in the Caribbean should they so wish. As such, one who wished to gain power within society no longer had to become a pirate to do so: in fact, if you were not a captain one would gain more prestige through the pardon than by serving under a black mast (Hunted).

The second crusade that helped end the golden age was that of betrayal: in the same pardon, Woodes Rogers began to employ the more successful pirates that turned a new leaf into pirate hunters, paid more handsomely than the navy men of old. In this way, it became more profitable to be a pirate hunter than a pirate: they were paid a base income per month of service, a bounty for every pirate captured, and allowed to keep for themselves whatever items were found on the ships of their captured foes. Benjamin Hornigold, even took it further: once the second mate to the infamous devil known as Black Beard, he went from being a dangerous pirate to a successful hunter who became a national hero in England for his service, intriguing to all for his dangerous past and new way of life. There was little reason as to avoid taking a pardon (Hunted).

Last of all, the grapeshot that destroyed the way of life for these pirates was perpetuated without consent by the English government: the economy. As seeds and other products had been imported for so long into the European nation, local businesses began finding ways to manufacture them themselves without resorting to India, Asia, or the Americas. Thus, the price of goods being shipped across the sea were not was valuable as they once were: there was little reason to risk your life attacking a ship, which were much better equipped than at the beginning of the age of piracy and now escorted in fleets, when the reward for doing so had severely lowered in value. Thus, with the deaths of the prestigious few who fought until the end, like Blackbeard, Roberts, Rackham and finally William Fly, the golden age of pirates came to a close in 1726… only to be reborn in the digital age of piracy.

Stopping digital piracy

So to return to the ultimate question, how will we stop digital piracy? How can we win this game of Whack-A-Pirate, when the tactics of the past have done little to nothing to stop the disruptive wave of Digital Piracy? Author Adrian Johns theorized about a way to end this Golden Age of Digital Crime, a topic which he used to close his book with in the chapter titled Past, Present, and Future in a way that agrees with history’s success of Woodes Rogers and the thoughts published by historians such as Colin Woodard (Woodard). Discussing the two steps that must be taken, he first opened with

“As piracy has grown and diversified, so a counter-industry has emerged, dedicated to combating it. The coherence and scope of this industry are relatively new and remarkable. In previous centuries, particular groups or industries mounted efforts against piracy; but they did not generally them as fronts in one common cause. Now they generally do. The same tools, tactics, and strategies can be seen deployed across what would earlier have been discrete conflicts. So the first implication is that we need to appreciate the historical significance of this industry of antipiracy policing” (Past, Present, and Future).

To go along with this thought of historical reenactment, the pardon of 1719 was one of the most brilliant moves that could have ever been perpetuated by a governor: typically, a thief is moved to stealing not only by a desire for riches but a vendetta as well. With the a full pardon excusing any acts of revenge carried out in the past, coupled with a small bribe on the side to incentive the offer, it went a long way to demonstrate to pirates that they had no viable reason to continue their life of crime. If we could do the same with men such as Gottfrid Svartholm and Fredrik Neij, the imprisoned founders of The Pirate Bay, we would be taking a huge step in extending a hand towards reformation.

Also taking a note form the proven playbook of Woodes Rogers is the act of pardoning pirates. Edward Snowden, who caused the NSA controversy a few years back, earned his asylum in Moscow by agreeing to work for the Russian government. Now, he is more content than ever as he is put to a far better use and pay than he ever was in the United States. While there may be a slight moral qualm to this aspect, it is hard to argue that we are in need of men like Snowden with their very specific and modern set of skills.

Lastly, to touch on the second thought of Adrian Johns, is his recommendation that we shift the economy itself. Just as the devaluing of goods caused a decrease in piracy, Johns mentioned how the end of the copyright or in his words, ‘intellectual property’, will cause an immense shift from pirating to abiding by the law (Past, Present, and Future). Alternatively, as suggested by computer science major and Huffington Post Writer Mac Hart, companies simply need to find ways to release their product with superior features that are impossible to pirate, such as a cloud based saving and the ability to save their product in various formats. In his words “Once our government and the media industry realize that they need to compete with piracy rather than destroy it, they will overcome it.” (Hart).

Altogether, I believe that this is a way we can greatly decrease the act of digital piracy: Both Adrian Johns and Colin Woodard established in their works how the digital pirate of today is almost a perfect copy of the pirate that terrorized the seas during the Enlightenment, and there are countless articles that discuss the current disruption being wrought within the social structures of our society by this modernized criminal. While a pirate may be driven and operate by a variety of reasons, the law recognizes all digital based crime to be digital piracy and we, as good citizens, have the legal and moral responsibility to uphold the law.

Works Cited

Bender, Adam. “Will 3D Printing Usher in the next Wave of Internet Piracy?” Computerworld. Web. 5 June 2015.

Breverton, Terry. Black Bart Roberts: The Greatest Pirate of Them All. Gretna, LA: Pelican Pub., 2004. Print.

Brewin, Kester. “Edward Snowden - Modern-Day Pirate?” The Huffington Post UK. AOL UK, 4 July 2013. Web. 29 May 2015.

Dewey, Caitlin. “Study: Digital Piracy Linked to Internet Addiction, ‘deviant’ Friends.” The Washington Post. 2 July 2014. Web. 04 June 2015.

“Digital Piracy.” Mode Trend, 2015. Web. 09 June 2015.

Edwards, Phil. “What Elizabethan Book Pirates in the 1500s Can Teach Us about Piracy Today.” Vox. Vox Media, 01 June 2015. Web. 05 June 2015.

Forde, Eamonn. “Column - How Free Is Ruining Everything - Q MagazineQ Magazine.” Q Magazine. Bauer Consumer Media, 22 July 2012. Web. 04 June 2015

Hart, Mac. “Embrace Piracy.” The Huffington Post., 2 May 2012. Web. 31 May 2015.

Hill, Karen. “Who Were the First Pirates?” Super Beefy. 14 Oct. 2007. Web. 29 May 2015.

Johns, Adrian. “A General History of Pirates.” Piracy: The Intellectual Property Wars from Gutenberg to Gates. Chicago: U of Chicago, 2009. 8-15. Print.

Leahy, Patrick. “A BILL OF DUTIES.” Advocate of Peace through Justice 84.2 (2011): 46-47. Partick Leahy, Senator for Vermont, 6 Jan. 2011. Web. 29 May 2015.

Lynn, Logan. “Guess What? Stealing Is Still Wrong.” The Huffington Post., 03 Aug. 2012. Web. 31 May 2015.

“Online Piracy in Numbers - Facts and Statistics [Infographic].” Web Design Dubai Dubai Web Design and Web Application Development Company Online Piracy in Numbers Facts and Statistics Infographic Comments. Go Gulf, 01 Nov. 2011. Web. 04 June 2015.

“pirate.” Unabridged. Random House, Inc. 28 May. 2015. <>

“RIAA - The Law - May 27, 2015.” Http:// RIAA, 27 May 2015. Web. 29 May 2015.

Salcido, Jerry. “17 U.S. Code § 506 - Criminal Offenses.” 17 U.S. Code § 506. Cornell University of Law, n.d. Web. 01 June 2015.

Semlyen, Phil De. “| Features | Empire.” Bauer Consumuir Media, 23 June 2013. Web. 09 June 2015.

Storm, Darlene. “MEDJACK: Hackers Hijacking Medical Devices to Create Backdoors in Hospital Networks.” Computerworld. Computerworld, 08 June 2015. Web. 09 June 2015.

Woodard, Colin. The Republic of Pirates: Being the True and Surprising Story of the Caribbean Pirates and the Man Who Brought Them down. New York: Mariner, 2008. Print.

Image Credits

Partially used: Digital Piracy by The-Camo. Used under the Creative Commons Share Alike 3.0 Liscence. The original work at (

Special Thanks

Karen Hill, Mac Hart, and Logan Lynn

About the Author

Anthony Johnson was born and raised in Oregon and can usually be found with his eyes glued to a book or some kind of screen. Having gained a love for literature at an early age, he tried his own hand at writing and signed on to work at Green Ivy Books in 2015. Be sure to check out his premier novel, A World of Strife, and be sure not to pirate it.

Anthony Johnson was born and raised in Oregon and can usually be found with his eyes glued to a book or some kind of screen. Having gained a love for literature at an early age, he tried his own hand at writing and signed on to work at Green Ivy Books in 2015. Be sure to check out his premier novel, A World of Strife, and be sure not to pirate it


Across history, crowds have been associated with mindless riots, political rallies, and resources for organizations or individuals. As a resource, the crowd is typically translated into a form of hard physical labor such as serfdom, slavery, or factory labor, only tapping a fraction of that crowd’s potential. The ideas of the Enlightenment gave the crowd more rights through the birth of democracy and showed the world that the crowd has more potential than they had previously been given credit for. In the digital age, the crowd is taking part in a disruptive new way and causing equally disruptive innovations to the way we interact, communicate and collaborate in the digital world.

Mason Parkes describes how in the same way that democracy disrupted the political systems of pre-Enlightenment Europe, the new levels of crowd collaboration possible in the digital age can disrupt the current political system through never-before-seen levels of participation. Tiana Cole discusses how the participatory culture of Web 2.0 is getting the crowd to work together in a new and disruptive way on projects such as Bible translation.

Democracy 2.0

Mason Parkes

The Age of Enlightenment tapped crowd resources like never before. Now, due to new digital developments, we can reach entirely new heights of popular participation that can provide Enlightenment-like changes in our political system.

The Age of Enlightenment was a period of disruption for western civilization. At the beginning of this period, Europe was plagued with difficult questions, and nobody knew just who had the answers. The faults of the governments and even the churches of previous eras were becoming more and more apparent, and the people needed someone to whom they could turn. The answers that have shaped the Western world for so long after this crucial era didn’t come from professional politicians or clergymen. A group of Enlightenment thinkers collaborated through a loose organization known as the Republic of Letters (due to its reliance on the mail for correspondence) to solve major problems. This small group or crowd started a shift that led the larger crowds to be included in the democratic processes in many nations.

Today we have more powerful tools available to help us more efficiently harness the power of the crowd. We no longer have to hope for random collaboration from interested sources; we can use things like broadcast search crowdsourcing to call the masses to action and disrupt our stagnating political system.

What is broadcast search crowdsourcing?

Broadcast search crowdsourcing is a way of looking for new solutions that may come in unexpected ways from unexpected sources. This type of crowdsourcing, a term used to describe the practice of distributing labor or creative tasks to a large group of unassociated people, consists of an organizer asking a question, stating a problem, or otherwise introducing a challenge and inviting society as a whole to come up with ideas. Most ideas won’t work, some will, the best may receive financial compensation. That is the way that websites such as operate. describes itself as a “global innovation marketplace where creative minds solve some of the world’s most important problems for cash awards up to $1 million.” (InnoCentive) And a quick look through the available challenges is impressive. Government agencies like NASA look for ways to create a space colony independent of Earth. Large corporations like Ford advertise their need for “Accessories to Enhance the Driving Experience.” To get a better taste of this, let’s look a little more at this particular challenge.

The challenge offers $15,000 to the person or people who can create an accessory that can be beneficial for a person driving through sparsely populated areas or rugged terrain. It states several of the challenges involved in these situations and specifically lists Australia as the environment to be considered. The problem solvers then have until the posted deadline, in this case, a month and a half after the challenge was posted, to be able to respond with some sort of innovation that they think the Ford Motor Company will deem worthy of up to $15,000. And just like that, anybody registered at the website (registering required no more than basic information like home and email address) can participate in this challenge, throw their hat into the ring of innovation and attempt to take home a nice sum of money.

This is an amazing concept. There really isn’t anything that qualifies one person to have a better idea about a car accessory than another. There are people who study engineering for years on end and know the ins and outs of the business and have come up with countless innovations, but there are other people who don’t know nearly as much about the technical side of this industry. Maybe they’ve just noticed something that their car is missing, that all cars are missing, and through this process they can not only be compensated for their insights, but contribute to the auto industry and maybe even to society as a whole. While the applications for businesses can be readily seen, I think that this approach can benefit society in more ways than just fancier cup holders. There are more important problems facing society than the accessories in our cars or even the future of space exploration. There are problems here and now that we need to solve. Who better to answer the questions of the masses then the masses themselves?

Crowd collaboration in the Enlightenment

What kind of questions can a crowd answer? How reliable can a group of at best loosely associated people work together and communicate and postulate new ideas that could lead society in a new direction? I think that to answer these questions, we ought to look to history, particularly at the crowd collaboration at the time we now know as the Age of Enlightenment. Consider the year generally thought of as the beginning of the Age of Enlightenment, 1650. Europe has just emerged from the devastating 30 years’ war between the Catholics and Protestants. England fares no better, as it still has two years before it struggles out of a decade of civil war. The Catholic Church, the force that unified Europe for more than a millennium, now faces the scientific revolution, and the new facts of a heliocentric universes that goes directly against its teachings. In short, the world is in turmoil. The answers are disappearing; the things that people thought they knew, the things that they never challenged, may be entirely fictional. It was a world turned on its head, a world of chaos.

Thomas Hobbes wrote much of chaos in his Leviathan. In the following paragraph, he describes the environment in which we would live without an organized political society.

In such condition, there is no place for industry; because the fruit thereof is uncertain: and consequently no culture of the earth; no navigation, nor use of the commodities that may be imported by sea; no commodious building; no instruments of moving, and removing, such things as require much force; no knowledge of the face of the earth; no account of time; no arts; no letters; no society; and which is worst of all, continual fear, and danger of violent death; and the life of man, solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short. (Hobbes)

Surely Hobbes saw the dangerous possibility of this type of society as England strove to achieve some sort of balance through its civil war. And I venture to think that all of Europe could have similar thoughts during this time period. Surely, the remarkable Age of Enlightenment stands out as a crowning achievement in human thought, because, as a pearl looks so brilliant against a black velvet background, it stands so starkly in contrast to the conditions existing before it. While there was no centralized call for collaborations, like there is in crowdsourcing, there were major problems that needed solving in society, and people didn’t know where to turn for answers. In the past they could have asked the Catholic Church or the government or other authority figures, but at this time these organizations were looking weak and answerless. A new and undiscovered source was needed to help stabilize society.

We can look at the group of philosophers now called the Enlightenment Thinkers as the source of many of these answers. Men like John Locke, Voltaire, Benjamin Franklin, and Jean Jacques Rousseau began to think up new ways to look at the world, new ideas for government, new ideas for ideas themselves!

Something that sticks out about these men is the diverse cloth from which they are cut. They came from many nations, some were formally educated in the finest institutions, others had little formal schooling. Some were doctors, others lawyers, others inventors, but the thing that they all had in common was the desire and ability to help society.

They communicated through what is now known as the Republic of Letters. The Republic of Letters is the term used to describe the network created by these enlightenment thinkers, so called because they communicated via letter. It wasn’t an actual republic or nation, it was just a loose association of people who communicated their ideas in order to respond to the issues of the day.

Stanford University has recently started a project called, “Mapping the Republic of Letters.” In this project they analyzed 55,000 letters between 6,400 correspondents to give us some picture of the scale of the Republic of Letters (Chang). The accompanying map shows to a small degree the extent of this communication across Europe.

Map of Locke’s (originating in England) and Voltaire’s (originating in France) correspondence

Map of Locke’s (originating in England) and Voltaire’s (originating in France) correspondence

This map shows the correspondence initiated by just two members, John Locke and Voltaire, of this international society, but illustrates just how extensive this network really was. Through their letters, these otherwise completely unassociated people could collaborate and form the ideas that continue to influence western society as we know it. They formed a “crowd” through which they were able to propose solutions to the problems at large in society.

Today, a wider range of people can participate in this creative collaboration process. Digital literacy has replaced basic literacy as the requirement for collaboration. Now, look at this map that shows the participation in the aforementioned Ford challenge.

Map of participation in the Ford “Accessories to Enhance the Driving Experience” challenge on

Map of participation in the Ford “Accessories to Enhance the Driving Experience” challenge on

People from all over the world, joined together in a type or “republic of car part ideas” are actively trying to create what could be the next great innovation in the auto industry. But I think that all of this innovation could be used for more. As noble as new car parts are, what if we were to put these people to work in solving the problems that plague nations, or even the world as a whole? When Enlightenment thinkers collaborated, they innovated many facets of today’s society, particularly the democratic ideals that have governed western nations since this time.

The Age of Enlightenment allowed the crowd to participate more. People began to see that the masses were good for more than mass labor. People could collaborate through a democratic process to form new policies that benefit all involved. These men changed our society to be more democratic in a very democratic way. For centuries democracy has met the needs of the people, but we are now faced by increasingly complicated issues. Due to these complications and other problems, like the increased influence of money in political campaigns, the democratic system is stagnating. Participation is declining, and fewer and fewer people believe that they can truly affect change through the current system.

Crowdsourcing and Enlightenment-level disruption

The crowd collaboration that took place through the Republic of Letters revolutionized the political processes of many nations by taking democratic ideals to new heights. Crowd collaboration in the digital age can once again advance this progress.

It is concerning to see the torpidity of our political system. I see people who identify more with a party than a nation and are more concerned with whether the background behind a speaker is blue or red or what letter is beside the name of the person talking than what they are actually saying. And, as stated in a recent poll, “More than four in five Americans say money plays too great a role in political campaigns,… while two-thirds say that the wealthy have more of a chance to influence the elections process than other Americans.” (Confessore) I think that the way to boost the interest and the sense of efficacy that people have in the political process is making them a more vital part of it.

Lawrence Lessig, a Harvard Law professor and outspoken proponent of political change, wrote about these financial problems in a recent blog post, “Our democracy will not heal itself. Reform will not come from the inside alone. We must end our Christian Science-like approach to this disease, and take the steps that a cure will need.” (Lessig) He explains in the same article that the broken political system serves the status quo, so the insiders don’t really want to change it, no matter which party they represent. And if change and outside influence is so necessary to the political system, to “restart” the heart of democracy, as Lessig might put it, then the people ought to supply it through the process of crowdsourcing. It has revolutionized the world of business, allowing products to meet the desires of consumers, shouldn’t the same advances be made in the world of government?

That’s the idea behind things like Popvox, a website where people can see all the bills currently being discussed in Congress and weigh in on them. Quick options are supporting or opposing the bill, and then you may offer comments, which can be sent on to the congressmen and women involved. This is a step up in the political involvement that an ordinary citizen can have, but really it’s just a new way of writing a letter to the people that represent you. A step up from this is the website entitled, “We The People,” where the White House allows people to make and support petitions that the President will consider.

We, as a nation, however, are still behind other countries like Iceland, who “took crowdsourcing to its logical conclusion in 2011 when it drafted its new Constitution using input from Twitter and Facebook users,” as journalist Caitlin McGarry said. And then there is Finland, where, as McGarry said, “politicians last year began using a crowdsourcing platform called Open Ministry to draft new legislation.” She states in the same article, “Political crowdsourcing in America is largely used for recreational purposes (see: Death Star, federal debt reduction calculators).”(McGarry) (She mentions the Death Star in reference to a bill proposed on the aforementioned website “We The People” which was proposed and received enough support to merit the president’s consideration.)

Many people look around today and see a plutocracy instead of a democracy, where those who fund campaigns are the only ones with any real influence. In this atmosphere the act of voting seems to be meaningless. Its almost as if the real decisions have already been made. Almost everybody is in agreement that we need a change, and crowdsourcing can provide that change. Tanja Aitamurto, in a book she wrote for the parliament of Finland, concludes,

Crowdsourcing, among other new participatory methods, creates new possibilities for citizen activism in established political processes. They give citizens new means to govern themselves. This can lead into citizen empowerment and more informed political decisions. They also offer new possibilities to take the citizens’ voice into account in traditional policy-making.” (Aitamurto, 42)

This level of citizen participation, possible now like never before due to the digital world in which we live, is what experts like Lessig are arguing for. Lessig, the Harvard Law professor I mentioned earlier, in a senate subcommittee meeting in 2012, said,

I think to the surprise of many people, you would see that ordinary people deliberating about what the Constitution needs and how the reforms should go forward, would far surpass ninety eight percent of what is commonly discussed in this particular context. And that’s because, frankly, politics is the one sport where the amateur is better for the nation than the professional. (Taking Back Democracy Hearing)

The amatuer he refers to is the ordinary citizen, the person who cares. Worth noting is that the word “amatuer” comes form the latin “amator” meaning “lover,” and here the amatuer truly is someone passionate about society. He advocates the creation of citizen conventions that work together as juries who can deliberate in a way that will allow them to reach new ideas. I think that crowdsourcing can be used as a way to allow these people who care to give real constructive input. There are of course many variables involved here, and more variables get added in each time a new person joins the political process, but Enlightenment ideals gave more power than ever before to the masses, trusting them to make the responsible decisions that will meet society’s needs. We can now use these digital tools to create more situations in which people can participate, and in these situations, there are people that can emerge, the currently “undiscovered experts,” as Aitamurto puts it, with the ideas that can help millions. And who knows? Maybe one of them could be the next John Locke.

Works Cited

Aitamurto, Tanja. Crowdsourcing for Democracy: A New Era in Policy-making. N.p.: n.p., n.d. Print.

Chang, Daniel, Yuankai Ge, Shiwei Song, Nicole Coleman, Jon Christensen, and Jeffrey Heer. Visualizing the Republic of Letters. Stanford University, 2009. Web. 28 May 2015.

Confessore, Nicholas, and Megan Thee-Brenan. “Poll Shows Americans Favor an Overhaul of Campaign Financing.” The New York Times, 2 June 2015. Web. 03 June 2015.

Hobbes, Thomas. Leviathan. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1991. Print.

“InnoCentive.” Create Accessories to Enhance the Driving Experience. Ford, 1 May 2015. Web. 25 May 2015.

Lessig, Lawrence. “Frodo Baggins for President.” Medium. N.p., 06 June 2015. Web. 08 June 2015. McGarry, Caitlin. “Power to the People: Crowdsourcing in Politics.” TechHive. N.p., 21 Jan. 2013. Web. 28 May 2015.

Taking Back Democracy Hearing, 112th Cong. (2012) (testimony of Lawrence Lessig). Print. “We the People: Your Voice in Our Government.” We the People: Your Voice in Our Government The White House, n.d. Web. 28 May 2015.

Image Credits

Edelstein, Dan. “Mapping the Republic of Letters.” Stanford University, n.d. Web. 25 May 2015.

About the Author

Mason Parkes

Mason Parkes

Mason Parkes was born in Las Vegas, Nevada in the year 1993. He is currently studying physics at Brigham Young University. Follow him on Google+ at

Reformation 2.0

Tiana Cole

Reformation 2.0 is a facet of the digital age where people are getting more than just greater access to the Bible—they are getting more responsibility for it through greater opportunities to contribute, collaborate, and communicate on modern translation projects using crowdsourcing.

Martin Luther and the other Reformers shattered the status quo in 16th-century Europe by making the Bible available to the general population through diligent translation efforts. We might call a similar phenomenon in our day Reformation 2.0, a facet of the digital age where, in contrast with the original Reformation, people are gaining more than just greater access to the Bible—they are gaining greater responsibility for it through more opportunities to contribute, collaborate, and communicate on modern translation projects using crowdsourcing. This digital collaboration represents a disruption to traditional methods of working on such projects, providing a faster, more inclusive, and often more fulfilling way to accomplish a task.

Crowdsourcing and collaboration in the digital age

The idea that people can work together to get work done is not new, but what is new is the spin the digital age has given it. With more people having access to the Internet and consequently other ideas and people, the digital age has revolutionized how we collaborate.

A few years back, Jeff Howe coined the term “crowdsourcing.” In his own words, crowdsourcing is “the act of taking a job traditionally performed by a designated agent (usually an employee) and outsourcing it to an undefined, generally large group of people in the form of an open call” or, in what he calls his Soundbyte Version of a definition, “The application of Open Source principles to fields outside of software” (Howe).

What are open source principles? According to Brian Gentile, tech executive at Jaspersoft and founding member of, the distinguishing principles of open source are transparency, participation, and collaboration (Gentile). Ideally, in crowdsourcing there is also a balance between top-down and bottom-up processing, with some level of control coming from the top matched with a healthy level of activity and input from the bottom.

Modern translation projects like Google Translate greatly benefit from the use of crowdsourcing; although the engine is automated to some degree, users are invited to become part of Google Translate’s community to help improve translations by providing human insights that machines cannot duplicate.

The dawn of the digital brought about the means to make crowdsourcing possible, enhancing collaboration and speeding up countless projects, Bible translation being one example. Can you imagine what the Reformers could have done with access to the wisdom of the crowd? Well, with modern translation projects in Reformation 2.0, we get to find out.

What was Reformation 1.0?

To fully appreciate the concept of Reformation 2.0, it is important to first understand what Reformation 1.0 was like.

The religious attitude of the Reformation period took the piety of the Middle Ages and combined it with the importance of the individual found in Renaissance humanism to create a human who was focused on God, and what was most important was that individual’s personal relationship with God. This attitude is in direct contrast with the medieval spirit of communalism, where the individual was nothing without the group.

The Catholic church, a powerful top-down authority for ages, was beginning to lose its control over European civilization, and the radical individualism sparked during the Reformation resulted in the creation of several smaller church groups whose existence the Catholic church attempted to quash but ultimately had to accept.

Essentially the only thing these Protestant churches, as they came to be known, had in common was the belief that the Catholic church was wrong, or at least should be different. Aside from that, each church developed its own core beliefs and stayed within their own circle.

Martin Luther is well known as the Father of the Reformation, with his outrage over the selling of indulgences and his 95 Theses nailed to the door of the Catholic church in Wittenberg, but he is also known as the Father of the German language for his German translation of the Bible.

As an Augustinian monk, Luther discovered the Latin Bible in the monastery and upon reading it realized that there was so much in there that was not shared with the general population, and because they could not read Latin, it remained unknown to them. Since knowing the word of God is vital to developing a personal relationship with Him, Luther decided to remedy this by using his expertise to translate the Bible into German.

The only problem: there was no standardized form of the German language at the time. The two principal dialects were High German and Low German, and fortunately as a boy, Luther had grown up moving back and forth across the linguistic boundary and consequently used and understood both. He used his bilingualism to make arbitrary decisions based on his knowledge to standardize the dialects into one common language in writing. The intended result was a Bible that could be read the way an everyday German would speak.

Because of this, his translation of the Bible gave thousands more people access to the word of God, a privilege that formerly had been available only to the elite or clergy. To this day, the German language still owes many of its characteristics to the decisions Martin Luther made in the 16th century as he translated the Bible (Cox).

Not everyone thought Luther’s interpretation was impeccable, however. In John Foxe’s “Book of Martyrs,” a contemporary of Martin Luther, Father Simon, is quoted as saying that

Luther … was the first Protestant who ventured to translate the Bible into the vulgar tongue from the Hebrew text, although he understood Hebrew but very indifferently. As he was of a free and bold spirit, he accuses St [Jerome] of ignorance in the Hebrew tongue; but he had more reason to accuse himself of this fault, and for having so precipitately undertaken a work of this nature, which required more time than he employed about it. There is nothing great or learned in his commentaries upon the Bible; every thing low and mean: and though he had studied divinity, he has rather composed a rhapsody of theological questions, than a commentary upon the scripture text: to which we may add, that he wanted understanding, and usually followed his senses instead of his reason. (Foxe)

So, yes, Luther was a great man who did a great job, but he was still just one man, with human faults, imperfect knowledge and understanding, and never enough time. While he did the German language a great service, what insights could have been missed by not consulting the crowd? How might the German language be different today had common people had more input on the way their spoken language was written?

Granted, given the sociopolitical atmosphere during the Reformation, it would have been nearly impossible for a large-scale collaboration project to take place (the Catholic church probably would have had a heyday if the entire German population began contributing to a translation of the Bible), but today in Reformation 2.0 we have that freedom and ability.

Later in the Reformation period, King James I commissioned a new translation of the Bible to quell the disputes between the Catholics and Protestants in the kingdom. In contrast with Luther’s individualistic approach to translating, he assembled a group of 47 highly educated individuals, with Cambridge, Oxford, and Westminster being equally represented in groups of six. Each group was assigned a section to translate and all were made to abide by a set of standards to minimize bias (Blumell).

While this was not an example of true crowdsourcing (one reason being a lack of an open call for contribution from the masses), it was a step closer to it, and further away from the decisions and bias of the work of just one man.

The participatory culture of Reformation 2.0

The advent of the digital age and the participatory culture of Web 2.0 allow us to explore this alternative approach to translation by working with what Luther never did: the crowd.

Reformation 2.0 reflects the disruptive influence of Martin Luther and the other Reformers of 1.0, who took the Bible from the small group of the social and clerical elite and made it available to the community at large. Crowdsourcing makes that application gracefully to the digital age, where collaboration on creative ideas and projects involves not only the gifted and educated, but also the amateur and aficionado. The main difference, though, is the level of participation: Luther trusted the people to read the Word—now we as the crowd are being trusted to interpret it.

In contrast to the radical individualism found in the 16th century, Reformation 2.0 is characterized by a desire to work together to create something worthwhile. As previously mentioned, Reformation 1.0 led to the creation of several small groups that worked within their own spheres, but in Reformation 2.0 those smaller groups and individuals now want to collaborate, and the digital tools of this age make it both attractive and possible to work on even massive projects together with complete strangers, united by a common cause. According to Dr. Miguel A. Jimenez-Crespo, “Normally, the reasons for [large crowdsourcing efforts] are speed, quality and global reach” (Jimenez-Crespo, 195), all of which perfectly fit with the motivation behind modern crowdsourced Bible translation efforts.

The mission of the early reformers continues today through groups like Wycliffe Global Alliance and the smaller organizations it includes. Named for one of the early translators of the Bible into English, Wycliffe Global Alliance is a worldwide organization that focuses on “participating in and encouraging the worldwide Church in ministry among minority language communities” (“Why We Exist”). The overarching goal is to see the gospel message spread to all people, with a vision that by 2025 every language still needing one will have a Bible translation program up and running, primarily maintained by volunteers.

Groups like this exist because an astronomical number of people in the world still do not have access to a Bible for almost exactly the same reason as the people in Luther’s day: one does not exist in their language.

According to Wycliffe Global Alliance’s website, there are over 6,900 languages in the world today, and more than 2,000 of those languages do not have either the Old or New Testament available to them. In terms of individuals, those 2,000 languages represent almost 1 billion people. Most of these people and languages are concentrated in the regions of Indonesia and the Pacific Islands, mainland Asia, and Central Africa and Nigeria (Wycliffe Global Alliance).

The groups associated with Wycliffe Global Alliance are using crowdsourcing techniques to reach out to the Christian community online and use the linguistic resources of that community to translate gospel texts into thousands of lesser-known languages. Each project has established goals and models to follow to help participants know how to accomplish the task, and as a result these cooperative efforts are filling a linguistic and literary need.

One of the organizations under Wycliffe Global Alliance, unfoldingWord, has a crowdsourcing project called Door43, referring to Colossians 4:3 in the New Testament which talks about having a door opened to declare the word of God. In this project, participants choose from over 200 languages to begin translation on Bible materials—and if you don’t see the language you’re looking for, you are invited to create a page for it.

Translators join a community online called the Hall where they can communicate with others working on the same project, and there are established guidelines to follow to make sure translations are in harmony with each other (Door43).

There are also multiple levels of “checking,” the first of which is done by the translator herself, then by the language community (primarily to test how natural and accurate the translation is), and finally by a recognized organization to approve the distribution of the translated material. Evidently, this last check is also optional (ibid).

In 2011, The Seed Company partnered with a community in South Asia to see what would happen in an attempt to crowdsource a translation of the Bible. Gilles Gravelle, director of research and innovation at the Seed Company, blogged about the results as follows:

All segments of the community participated. Significantly, women and youth were able to participate, adding their perspectives which are typically missing because of cultural constraints. Non-literate people were able to participate because the people chose to work in groups. People from seven regions, across denominational boundaries, worked together with surprising unity and harmony. And most importantly of all, they view the translation work as their own from the very start, and it is already making an impact in their community in ways we could not have guessed. (Gravelle)

The astonishing level of participation in this and other crowdsourced projects indicates that the crowd has the potential to accomplish much greater things than any one individual when given the tools they need and united by a cause they believe in.

Disrupting ideas from the past

Granted, there is often resistance to something new because it disrupts the old, and sometimes more is not always better or easier. In my time as a student, I’ve been a part of many group projects, and I know firsthand how hard it can be to work on the same document with other people and be unified in voice and style—not to mention the dozens of other details that come with combining the creative and intellectual efforts of several people.

If we get that kind of complexity working in a group of only three or four people, imagine the complexity of unifying thousands of people collaborating on the same project. Problems are bound to occur, which is why from time to time Google Translate will give you a very strange translation result (which other humans then attempt to fix), or other projects that have been assembled in piecemeal sometimes sound like a writer with multiple personality disorder.

What makes something disruptive? More than just being different from the past, it involves doing things in a new way that may be seen as outrageous, illegitimate, or jeopardizing tradition, but eventually becomes widely accepted. The Reformation movement at first was an unthinkable revolt, the ideas that came from it eventually shifted into the spotlight of the mainstream. In the same way, crowdsourcing the Bible sounds heretical to some at first, but in time it seems to make more sense.

Crowdsourcing is certainly not celebrated by everyone. Take professional translators, for example. Danilo Nogueira and Kelli Semolini wrote an article in Translation Journal warning companies seeking cheaper labor with quick results of the pitfalls of crowdsourced translation. They assert that “crowdsourced translation cannot replace professional work,” because although amateurs may do a good job, “it is hard enough to control terminology in a one-translator job and jobs handled by more than one translator require glossaries and editing by as few editors as possible” (Nogueira & Semolini).

While there is some apprehension about their very source of income being outsourced to the digital world, they also make the claim that “crowdsourcing is a fad and it will fade away like all fads, whether we do something about it or not” (Nogueira & Semolini). But only time will tell.

In translation, the ultimate goal is clear comprehension. This passage from the translators’ (of the King James version of the Bible) preface to the reader epitomizes why translation matters today, especially when it comes to the word of God:

But how shall men meditate in that, which they cannot understand? How shall they understand that which is kept close in an unknown tongue? … Translation it is that openeth the window, to let in the light; that breaketh the shell, that we may eat the kernel; that putteth aside the curtain, that we may look into the most Holy place; that removeth the cover of the well, that we may come by the water, even as Jacob rolled away the stone from the mouth of the well, by which means the flocks of Laban were watered [Gen 29:10]. Indeed without translation into the vulgar tongue, the unlearned are but like children at Jacob’s well (which is deep) [John 4:11] without a bucket or something to draw with. (“The Translators to the Reader”)

We live in a world full of untapped talent and ability. Through crowdsourcing, we can find people with the abilities we are seeking and collaborate to give people in every tongue easier access to the Bible.

Reformation 2.0 not only revolutionizes the way we receive and distribute information, but the way we create it as well. As we grow more and more familiar with our digital world and continue to develop our own personal knowledge as well, we will be able to contribute in increasingly meaningful ways.

Although the efforts of the few and gifted are significant, the cliché still seems to ring true: we can accomplish more by working together. With so many digital tools at our disposal today and an increased ability to work together to achieve something great, the possibilities for effective collaboration through crowdsourcing are limitless.

Works Cited

Blumell, Lincoln H. and David M. Whitchurch, “The Coming Forth of the King James Bible,” in The King James Bible and the Restoration, ed. Kent P. Jackson (Provo, UT: Religious Studies Center, Brigham Young University, 2011), 43–60.

Cox, Patrick. “Martin Luther Didn’t Just Reform the Church, He Reformed the German Language.” Public Radio International. Public Radio International, 2 Apr. 2015. Web. 27 May 2015.

Door43: Open-licensed Biblical Content. Distant Shores Media, UnfoldingWord. Web. 26 May 2015.

Foxe, John. “The Project Gutenberg EBook of Fox’s Book of Martyrs.” The Project Gutenberg. The Project Gutenberg. Web. 21 May 2015.

Gentile, Brian. “Transparency, Participation, and Collaboration: The Distinguishing Principles of Open Source.” Red Hat, 30 Sept. 2010. Web. 25 May 2015.

Gravelle, Gilles. “What Happens When a Crowd Translates the Bible?” The Seed Company Blog RSS. The Seed Company, 15 Dec. 2011. Web. 26 May 2015.

“How We Do It.” Distant Shores Media. Distant Shores Media, 25 Jan. 2013. Web. 22 May 2015.

Howe, Jeff. “Crowdsourcing.” ‘Crowdsourcing’ Web. 25 May 2015.

Jimenez-Crespo, Miguel A. “Future Perspectives in Localization.” Translation and Web Localization. Routledge, 2013. 193-197. Print.

Nogueira, Danilo, and Kelli Semolini. “Crowdsourcing.” Translation 14.2 (2010). Web. 29 May 2015.

“The ‘Translators’ Preface to the Reader’” “Translation… Openeth the Window to Let in the Light”: The Pre-History and Abiding Impact of the King James Bible. The Ohio State University Libraries. Web exhibit. Also transcription:

“Why We Exist” Wycliffe Global Alliance. Wycliffe Global Alliance. Web. 1 June 2015.

Image Credits
  1. This work, “The Gospel According to the Crowd,” is a derivative of “Inauguration Crowd” by Pablo Manriquez, found on Flickr, and “Book of John” by John Snyder from Wikimedia Commons, used under CC BY-SA. “The Gospel According to the Crowd” is licensed under CC BY-SA by Tiana Cole.
  2. Picture of Tiana Cole copyright 2013 by Karly Jo Photography. Used by permission.

About the Author

Tiana Cole

Tiana Cole

Tiana Cole was raised in Orem, Utah and is a student at Brigham Young University. She will graduate with a Bachelor of Arts degree in linguistics in April 2016.


Throughout history, the production of art has been maintained in a disciplined and controlled environment. As Mindy Burton discusses in her chapter, part of what fueled creativity and art was the structure that patrons in the Renaissance provided. This tradition has been disrupted in the world today, where it is easier than ever to produce and distribute in the digital age. With the rise of amateurs, we see art that is created from passion, emotion, and creativity, as mentioned by Ben Snow. Advancements in society have changed the way we create, interpret and access art.

Artistic Expression in a Digital World

Ben Snow

With the progression of technology, digital art is gaining both popularity and legitimacy in our society, at the expense of the traditional art experience.

Artistic expression is greatly influenced by advances in science and technology. These advances have disrupted many of the customary methods for producing and enjoying art that have prevailed within our culture. With the growth of the digital age, society has witnessed the introduction of amateur artists, emerging opportunities for art sharing, and a return to the original goals of artistic expression. However, we have also experienced certain artistic casualties as we lose access to art establishments and organizations. As technology advances, many dominant traditions of artistic culture are being abandoned as society increasingly embraces the added benefits and conveniences of digital art.

A digital wrecking ball

As our society has progressed, artists have more opportunities than ever to exhibit their work without any dependence on physical localities. Artistic establishments have fared poorly as they perpetually lose the support of their patrons, donors, and society in general. As a result, many organizations have been abandoned, only to be replaced by digital institutions that offer art that is easily accessible, convenient, and inexpensive.

Michael Kaiser, chairman for the DeVos Institute of Arts Management, has discussed the difficulty for art establishments to survive in the changing world of arts. Kaiser stated, “I have never observed a time when so many of our organizations, large and small, are unsure how to move forward… It will take strong plans—for art-making and for revenue-generation—and even stronger plan implementation to survive, let alone thrive, in this century” (Kaiser). Unable to measure up to the competition of online art and entertainment, many institutions that were so crucial to the art experience in decades past are unwillingly facing extinction in the digital age.

A history of rejection

Although we must acknowledge the casualties of certain artistic traditions, changes and shifts in the world of art are certainly not unprecedented. In many instances, individuals in the past have resisted such changes at the time of their introduction. When photography was initially introduced in the early 19th century, it greatly divided the artists of the day. Many were skeptical regarding the legitimacy of photography in terms of art and expression, which led to a time of heated disagreements and controversial sentiments.

Photography also affected the livelihood of others who made a living in the arts. For example, a painted portrait became unnecessary, since it could be replaced with a detailed photograph in a fraction of the time. Painters were forced to adapt to the changing desires of clientele who requested their skills. As a result, the world of arts experienced a profound shift. While discussing the role of photography, Walter Benjamin stated that “earlier much futile thought had been devoted to the question of whether photography is an art. The primary question – whether the very invention of photography had not transformed the entire nature of art – was not raised” (Benjamin).

Oftentimes the shifts in artistic customs are seen as attacks on tradition, when in reality such shifts are sculpting and developing the art of the future. It becomes the role of society to determine how these disruptions are providing new opportunities that were previously hindered in the name of tradition. According to Paul Valéry, “we must expect great innovations to transform the entire technique of the arts, thereby affecting artistic invention itself and perhaps even bringing about an amazing change in our very notion of art” (Valéry).

After the dust settles

Current opportunities for artistic creation and distribution have undoubtedly emerged as a result of these artistic shifts. We no longer live in a world where a one-size-fits-all mentality prevails. All types of art can be accessed, examined, and shared. In the musical arts, we see the limits of the radio and CD’s being replaced with instant access and streaming of any variety of songs. Visual arts have seen painters and photographers who are trained, scrutinized, and popularized through media. Technology has even led to the rise of talented film-makers and videographers who otherwise would be denied an audience for their productions. Due to the advances of technology, art can be enjoyed by a wider and more diverse audience than ever before.

Digital improvements have also led to the rise of amateur artists. These artists are not motivated by nor rewarded with economic gain, but with personal fulfillment that comes through expression. With the benefit of technology, anyone can become an artist, with the results being universally available. As a result, artists today are able to create according to their own sensibilities, with confidence that in the world of the internet they will be able to find and market to others with similar tastes.

Embracing the Future

Art in our world is changing. It has led to the disruption of traditional experiences, but it has also resulted in growth and progression of art distribution and enjoyment. In our culture, do we tend to reject anything new if it does not meet the current standards of legitimacy? Are we quick to deny ourselves the opportunity to experience quality art simple because it breaks out of the status quo in terms of production or distribution? Just like in previous centuries, the changing art of the day may be controversial. However, as we strive to define the legitimacy of new arts, let us remember our history. Technology is now defining our culture, and as a result plays a vital role in the growth and development of the arts we embrace and enjoy. With the progression of technology, we may be abandoning certain traditions of the past, but to the benefit of all the technological wonders yet to be discovered in the art of the future.

Works Cited

Benjamin, Walter. “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction.” Schocken/Random House, ed. 1936.

Kaiser, Michael. “A Difficult Century.” Huffington Post, Web. 06/06/2015.

Valéry, Paul. Piéces sur L’art, Le Conquete de l’ubiquite. 1931.

Image Credits
  1. “Blanton Museum Art (12)” by Zereshk - Own work. Licensed under CC BY 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons - media/File:Blanton_Museum_Art(12).JPG
  2. “Photographer-studio-1893” by A.H. Wheeler, photographer, Berlin, Wis. - Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons - media/File:Photographer-studio-1893.jpg

About the Author

Ben Snow

Ben Snow

Ben Snow is currently studying Exercise Science at Brigham Young University. He will graduate in August 2015 and plans to pursue a career in Public Health. Ben was raised in the Pacific Northwest, lives in Utah, and loves all things related to sports and the outdoors. He also enjoys reading, traveling, and spending time with his family.

Patrons of the Digital Renaissance

Mindy Burton

We have a potential renaissance in art today, but we need a catalyst for creativity to guide and sponsor budding artists: the digital-age patron.

The digital age may seem like a tornado sweeping through the arts, disrupting the traditional relationship between artist and patrons, and even changing the definition of an artist. What fueled the arts from the past is quite different from today. All the artistic activity in today’s age is wonderful, but it’s very chaotic. It is important we understand the changes in order for art to continue to be fueled, giving it the opportunity for an even greater, modern Renaissance.

Art in the digital age

The potential Renaissance for art today is happening due to some key factors in the digital age: the availability of creative tools and easy methods of distributing art.

In today’s age the resources and tools available to artists seem unlimited. A resurgence of interest for artists has exploded. Everything has gone digital, whether its the tools to create the art, or the tools to distribute the art. It has opened up the doors, for what used to be expensive hobbies, to the everyday person.

Take photography as an example. Before digital cameras, it took a true expert to be able to produce images that would look good. Photographers didn’t have the luxury of reviewing shots, so they would only take a photo if they knew it would look good. If they had a roll that held 24 frames, each frame cost money and none would be wasted. With the digital camera, however, a photographer has the luxury of taking 100 photos and not having to worry about “wasting film”.

The experiencing of creating art is no longer limited to professionals.

The internet has opened up the doors to artists everywhere. Whether they are pushing their photography, music, or art on their own through social media, or using a service such as iTunes, Teespring, or iStock. They have the control and ability to reach those who are interested in their art. Artists don’t have to move to a big city to try and make it, they can create and distribute their art from their Mom’s basement.

The net effect of all this artistic activity is a great multiplication of the kinds of art being made and the types of people making it, and this ties in with the digital age phenomena known as the “long tail” and the “rise of the amateur”.

Theory of the Long Tail

The theory of the long tail in the marketplace first came about in 2004. The main idea is that our culture and economy is moving away from the head of a demand curve, most popular products or more generic, towards the more specific or niches (Anderson). An example of the this is in music sales. A popular musician such as Taylor Swift will sell her album (head of the curve) to the masses, but thousands of individual songs (niche or long tail) will be sold by lesser known artists.

The digital tools, internet, and long tail are the pieces that give rise to today’s amateur.

A positive impact of the digital age for artist is that there are more out there! Artists are not limited by physical boundaries or institutions. Anyone with a camera can be a photographer. Anyone with Garage Band can create music. Artist can look up “how-to” tutorials on almost anything: photography, drawing, painting, writing music, and so on. Artists do not have to be trained in the classical or traditional sense to rise to fame.

The music industry is one of many industries that has seen a rise in amateurs. The Internet and its many music related platforms has allowed musicians to get their music out to the masses faster and easier. Some artists, like Lindsey Stirling, have even been able to make it to the head of the long tail without using a record label.

All of this is great for the arts! But with all this is an overabundance of art, and the digital age is wild and untamed. The Internet is flooded with young, auto-tuned people like Rebecca Black, who go viral simply because everyone can’t stand her. With all these budding artists, how can those with true potential be discovered and supported so that we can have a true Renaissance of today? Perhaps what is needed in the digital age is to have patrons.

Artists and patrons during the renaissance

If we look back in history, the Renaissance can teach us how it was patrons in the Renaissance who managed to bring along the great artists of that period. Nothing illustrates this better than the great artist, Michelangelo.

The ceiling of the Sistine Chapel houses one of the most famous works of art, painted by Michelangelo. He spent the better part of four years lying on his back to complete this master piece, totaling, roughly, 5,000 square feet. He would not have been able to complete this work without the patron who commissioned it, Pope Julius the II.

The relationship between a patron and an artist during the renaissance was quite involved. They provided structure for the creative artists. The patrons wanted to find the best of the best to produce art for them. These patrons took on an active role in the creativity of art they commissioned, giving direction on not only subjects or themes, but also what materials to use (“Artists and Patrons”). They also were the ones who could ensure the art was completed, because they commissioned and paid for it.

Another key way in which patrons made art happen in the Renaissance can be seen in the example of the Medici family. This family was extremely wealthy, had a lot of political power and some even served as popes. The first family member to become a patron of the arts was Giovanni di Bicci de’ Medici, a banker.

The Medici family provided means of living for artists, which enabled artists to focus on their work. Artists were supported financially, and sometimes even given a place to live, like Leonardo da Vinci, who received patronage for seven years (New World Encyclopedia). The family commissioned pieces with Donatello, Fra Angelico, Sandro Botticelli, and Michelangelo.

Why was patronage so important during the Renaissance? They brought the best artist to their city, fueling the accomplishments of the Renaissance (Drogin). But, there were limitations to this structure. Patronage was proprietary to the wealthy, and since artists relied on patronage there were limited artists.

Digital patronage today

We can see similarities in patronage, like the Medici family, today. Celebrities have discovered artists and taken them under their wings.

Justin Bieber was only 12-years old when he became a sensation on YouTube. He flew to Atlanta in hopes of landing a record deal. He was able to meet Usher, who not only signed him but took him in as a protege.

David Foster is another music producer who saw talent in a 17-year old boy, Josh Groban. Within just a few weeks of Foster discovering Groban a situation arose. Andrea Bocelli, a well known Italian singer, was unable to attend a rehearsal for the 1999 Grammy Awards. He was singing a duet with Celine Dion. Foster convinced Groban to fill in, and that moment changed his life.

These artists were backed by a patron who took care of their needs or put things in place for their career, allowing them to focus on their art, much like the Medici family.

Another form of patronage is seen through crowdfunding. Patronage is distributed through many people. This is most commonly done in the form of, where an artists ask their fans for money so they can produce their work.

Both single patronage and distributed patronage are great, but they each have limitations. There aren’t that many big-wig sponsors discovering new talent, it takes someone to know someone. In the case of Groban, it was his vocal teacher who knew Foster directly that connected the two.

Crowdfunding is a great kick start for many artists, but it can only take them so far. How many times can you ask your friends and family and small pool of fans to fund ongoing work? It is true that if an artist is able to get traction outside of friends, family and fans that they can see more success from their crowdfunding. It can open the doors to more opportunities. But crowdfunding doesn’t allow for those who want to be patrons beyond what crowdfunding platforms allow.

And so, though there are some good examples of patronage happening today, we need to perfect digital patronage in a couple of ways.

Nicholas Zakas decided he wanted to publish an ebook. He chose as the platform partly because of the digital tools it provided, but also for the structure and order it provides. He said the customized landing pages and URLs automated the publishing process and simplified things for him. In addtion, “The fact that Leanpub handles all orders and returns is fantastic. I never wanted to deal with that stuff” (Zakas).

Zakas was also able to set two different prices for his book, the “suggested price” for $19.99 and the “lowest price” for $14.99. The results from his sales is where we truly see evidence of the digital-age patron. Out of the 888 sales, 243 paid the higher suggested price of $19.99, 74 above the $19.99 price, with the highest payment being $78.62. These are amazing results that illustrate the point that people were willing to pay more than what was requested in order to thank and encourage more of this person’s work.

Patron’s provide validation and structure

Validation and encouragement can come from money, or it can simply come from “likes”. Many artists create things and put them online for people to view for free. Instagram, for example, has been a way that visual artists can share their work with fans. They are then validated and encouraged by patrons through engagement and “likes”. These likes don’t equate to money, but what is important about the validation is that artists feel as though people are invested in them.

Patronage of the best sort is not just about providing money, but about providing validation and structure.

Without patrons from the Renaissance there wouldn’t have been such great flourishing of arts. Isabella d’Este was another famous patron during the Renaissance. She was one of the many patrons for Leonardo DaVinci, but also a lesser known instrument maker Lorenzo Da Pavia. But she was also an amateur. She herself liked to learn how to play new instruments. She also liked hosting parties, writing, fashion and collecting art.

She provided structure for an instrument maker Lorenzo Da Pavia. She commissioned him to make different types of instruments, whether they were for herself or as a gift. The first instrument she had made by Lorenzo was the clavichord. She first wrote him in March of 1496, and he promised to deliver it by July. But the timeline kept getting pushed back. She persistently contacted him to deliver her piece, and the persistence paid off. She got him to put her work in front of other patrons because she held him to his contract (Prizer, 86).

Their relationship lasted 19 years. Her investment and encouragement in Lorenzo was surely a key in what was said about him and his reputation. “It is true that the harpsichords, clavichords and other diverse keyboard instruments would have been altogether equal, except for the fact that he also was the one who brought back [into prominence] the orders of pipes and strings into certain harmony and perfect consort (Prizer).”

The best patrons provide structure and creative limits that bring along the artists’ talent. Isabella wasn’t just invested in Lorenzo, she gave him deadlines.

Daivd Whitacre is an example of a patron of the digital-age who successfully who provided structure and order to create a virtual choir. He first started by putting up his musical scores on his blog for anyone to download. He then put up the background music so volunteers could learn it on their own. From there, people could record their “audition” and submit it to him for possible selection. He was then able to put the tracks of his choosing together, to produce a beautiful piece of music (Burton).

If we can capture the structure and support from patrons of the Renaissance, we can see an even better modern day Renaissance. We can see the flourishing of arts like never before.

Works Cited

Anderson, Chris. “The Long Tail, in a Nutshell.” Longtail. Web. 10 June 2015. [](

“Artists and Patrons.” Italian Renaissance Learning Resources. Web. 27 May 2015. units/unit-8/essays/introduction/

Burton, Gideon. “Brave New World.” 9 Sept. 2012. Web. 10 June 2015. creativity-and-big-picture-for-new-media.html.

Prizer, William F. “Isabella D’Este and Lorenozo Da Pavia, ‘master Instrument-maker’.” EMH Early Music History 2 (1982): 87-118 120=1127. Cambridge University Press. Web. 29 May 2015.

“The Making of An Artist.” Italian Renaissance Learning Resources. Web. 27 May 2015.

“Medici Family.” New World Encyclopedia. Web. 27 May 2015.

Isabella d’Este and Lucrezia Borgia as Patrons of Music: The Frottola at Mantua and Ferrara Author(s): William F. Prizer Source: Journal of the American Musicological Society, Vol. 38, No. 1 (Spring, 1985), pp. 1-33 Published by: University of California Press on behalf of the American Musicological Society Stable URL: Accessed: 29-05-2015 19:53 UTC

Zakas, Nicholas. “NCZOnline.” Leanpub: One Year Later. 18 Mar. 2014. Web. 10 June 2015.

Image Credits
  1. “The Sistine Chapel” by Flickr user Glen Scarborough. Used under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 license.
  2. Copyright Nicholas Zakas, 2014. Used by permission. “Leanpub: One year later” 2014/03/18/leanpub-one-year-later/.

About the Author

Mindy Burton

Mindy Burton

Mindy Burton was raised in Mapleton, Utah. She is currently studying Public Relations at Brigham Young University and is very passionate about the rise of social media. Follow her on twitter @mrsMindizzle.


We hope that you have enjoyed reading Digitally Disruptive, an ebook created by students of Dr. Gideon Burton at Brigham Young University during Spring, 2015.

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