Monthly Archives: October 2012

"Wiki prof de raison" (chronique d'Antonio Casilli,, 29 oct 2012)

Le site d’information continue la publication d’une série inédite d’Antonio A. Casilli, auteur de Les liaisons numériques. Vers une nouvelle sociabilité ? (Ed. du Seuil). Pour cet épisode : Wikipédia effraie les enseignants. Qui l’accusent de se tromper et de ne pas stimuler l’esprit critique. Comme si Wikipédia était une encyclopédie ! C’est d’abord un réseau social dédié au doute, pas aussi ouvert qu’il le prétend…

The academic, the wikipedian, the vandal [Full version, updated 05.11.2012]

The French translation of this essay is available on OWNI (part 1 and part 2), as installments of my column Addicted To Bad Ideas.

With the new academic year kicking in, my colleagues and I have decided to add a little wiki twist to a couple of courses we teach at Telecom ParisTech. I started a Wikispace for my digital culture class, and with Isabelle Garron and Valérie Beaudouin we’ve made compulsory for first year students to try and edit and discuss at least one Wikipedia page, as part of their initiation to online writing.

Sure, Wikipedia has been used as teaching tool in academia for some years now, to say nothing about its increasing popularity as a research topic. But the main rationale for using it in the classroom is that it has become the one-stop-shop for bibliographical research and fact-checking.

Challenging the Academic Mindframe

Think about your own online information habits. What do you do when you don’t know the first thing about a given topic? You probably google it, and the first occurrence is most likely a page from Jimbo Wales’s brainchild. You do it, we do it, our students do it. So we have to incorporate Wikipedia in our academic activity, not because it’s a cool gadget, but because otherwise it will create a dangerous blind spot.

[Don’t panic… Ok, panic]

And yet, admitting to this without panicking is not simple. At least here in continental Europe, ill informed judgments about the allegedly poor quality of Wikipedia articles are still commonplace in higher education. Some – like the French high-school teacher Loys Bonod, who had his 15 minutes of fame earlier this year – go as far as to add false and misleading information to Wikipedia, just to demonstrate to their students that it… contains false and misleading information.

Such paradoxical reactions are a case in point. Wikipedia is just as accurate and insightful as its contributions. Hence, the need to encourage its users to relinquish their passive stance and participate, by writing about and discussing relevant topics. Of course, one might say, when it comes to Wikipedia the Internet iron law of 90–9–1 participation applies: for 90 simple readers of any article, there will be only 9 who will make the effort to click on the “modify” tab to actually write something in it, and maybe just 1 motivated enough to click on the “discussion” tab and start a dialogue with other wikipedians.

Social scientists can come up with many explanations for this situation. The claims about the dawn of online participatory culture might have been largely exaggerated. Or maybe the encyclopaedic form tends to recreate cultural dynamics that are more coherent with an “author vs. reader” dichotomy than with many-to-many communication. Or maybe Wikipedia editors tend to intimidate other users in an effort to increase their own social status by implementing specific barriers to entry.

Try starting a new article. In all probability, its relevance will be challenged by some editor. Try starting the biography of a living public figure. Chances are that a discussion will ensue, focussing not on the public figure in question, but on the private qualities of the biographer. Is the author just an IP-based anonymous, or a legit logged-in user with a recognized contribution track record?


« La téléréalité, de la télévision au cinéma » (France Culture, La Grande Table, 12 oct. 2012)

Podcast de La Grande Table, le magazine culturel de la mi-journée sur France Culture, consacré à la téléréalité et à ses avatars cinématographiques récents. Pour en parler, sur le plateau de Caroline Broué, le journaliste Alain Kruger, le philosophe Mathieu Potte-Bonneville et le sociologue Antonio Casilli, auteur de Les liaisons numériques. Vers une nouvelle sociabilité ? (Ed. du Seuil).

Pour écouter d’autres podcast d’Antonio Casilli sur France Culture.

God Bless America restitue une image très primaire du contenu de la téléréalité et du malaise que les téléspectateurs peuvent ressentir, tandis que Reality nous montre que la téléréalité est un film berlusconien qui restitue la perception italienne, celui d’un rêve paradisiaque. Il faut voir comment, en Italie, la télévision a remplacé le lien social. Pour avoir accès à certains services publics, à certains réseaux de solidarité, il faut passer à la télé. C’est la télé qui permet la réinsertion de personnes précaires, la réparation des injustices. La télé n’a peut-être pas remplacé la religion, mais elle a remplacé l’Eglise italienne en tant qu’institution.

« Le smartphone de Roland Barthes » (France Culture, La Grande Table, 04 oct. 2012)

Podcast de La Grande Table, le magazine culturel de la mi-journée sur France Culture, sur les nouvelles mythologies, de la voiture au smartphone. Pour en parler, sur le plateau de Caroline Broué, Alain Bublex, Philippe Trétiack et le sociologue Antonio Casilli, auteur de Les liaisons numériques. Vers une nouvelle sociabilité ? (Ed. du Seuil).

Pour écouter d’autres podcast d’Antonio Casilli sur France Culture.

Open Cure: When Digital Humanities Meet Medical Humanities

The French translation of this essay is available on OWNI, as the first installment of my column Addicted To Bad Ideas.

While studying urban violence, I bumped into data artist and TED fellow Salvatore Iaconesi (aka xDxD.vs.xDxD), who was working on some impressive riots visualizations. A couple of weeks ago, he published a video on his website bearing quite upsetting news…

[Video: Salvatore Iaconesi – My Open Source Cure]

Despite my initial disbelief, that was not a hoax, nor a situationist artwork. Admitted to San Camillo Hospital in Rome and diagnosed with a brain cancer located in his frontal lobe, Iaconesi was facing limited therapeutic options (surgery, chemo or radiotherapy) and a poor prognosis (gliomas are almost never curable).

Determined to look for further advice, he grabbed his medical records and headed back home. Where he discovered his MRI and scans were in proprietary format… Luckily the self styled “software pirate artist” and creator of the collective Art is Open Source, had a couple of hacker tricks up his sleeve. He cracked the files, put them online, invited feedback from medical experts and laypersons. In a couple of days he started receiving everything from get well emails, to scientific literature references, to health professionals contact information, to tips for cutting-edge therapies. Of course, it was a mixed bag. So he decided to map, sort out and analyze these disparate contributions by means of a data visualization tool of his own design. The scrollwheel he now updates daily on his website is a navigable graph providing access to medical records and relevant information delivered by the online community rallied around his “open source cure”.

[Screenshot: Art Is Open Source – La Cura / The Cure]

Open cure and the Medicine 2.0 Zeigeist

The cultural significance of Iaconesi’s case is manifold. The most straightf orward way to address it would be to focus on the privacy implications of his online quest for an open cure for cancer. Is the sharing of medical records and the crowdsourcing of a treatment indicative of a shift in our relationship to the personal dimension of illness? Although the artist’s decision to “go open” about his condition is perhaps appealing for the press running the usual media circus around him, this question is far from original. Prominent cancer survivors (the likes of Jeff Jarvis or Howard Rheingold) have long argued that there’s a curative potential in Internet “publicness”. The creation of networks of people providing emotional support and sharing experiences as well as medical advice is hardly a novelty. This resonates with the experience of millions of cancer bloggers and discussion forum members, documenting their lives and daily struggles online.