DIGITAL AMERICA

Author Archives: Nicola

Connected, but alone? – Final group experience

// Posted by Nicola on 11/25/2014 (11:29 PM)

In the digital age, we are constantly connected. Whether it be via email, Twitter, Facebook or texting the rapid advents in technology has made it extremely easy to remain in touch with friends, family and even strangers. Consequently, these… Read more

In the digital age, we are constantly connected. Whether it be via email, Twitter, Facebook or texting the rapid advents in technology has made it extremely easy to remain in touch with friends, family and even strangers. Consequently, these social networking tools have become a mainstay in many of our lives. Heaven forbid if the Internet was to momentarily lapse. However, as we become increasingly connected via these sites, are we actually becoming isolated from one another? This is a fascinating question and problem that has been the focus of much debate in the 21st Century.

After meeting with my group we delineated about how to construct an experience around these pertinent issues. While I for one was under the impression that it would be easy coming up with an idea, given our constant use of the media, it proved more difficulty than expected. The requirement that our experience would have to take places at the James River also proved problematic. How would we emulate the notion of “connected, but alone” there? And what about the weather…November is not exactly an ideal time to spend an afternoon by a large mass of water. However, we drew links between being out in nature (a natural environment), and how it stood in stark contrast to being online (a man-made, constructed environment).  Thus, our idea of a ‘Picnic Potluck at Pony Pasture’ was born. Building upon the concept “connected, but alone” we essentially decided that we were going to sit, have a picnic, and talk to one another for about twenty minutes. However, in order to assess whether there were in fact any differences when you remove technology altogether, we would then collect everyone’s phone, meditate for about two minutes to get them “in the nature zone” and continue the conversation. The ultimate goal was to test Turkle and Tufekci’s theories. Would the conversation deeper in the absence of phones? Did people have more to talk about when they were able to bring things on their phones into the conversation? Was anyone anxious about not having his or her phone, and did that anxiety impact the quality of the conversation?

While we had worried that the cool (or worse rainy) weather would somewhat derail our experience, the sun was out in full force! We couldn’t have asked for a better day. As we sat near the river eating the spread of snacks it was interesting to note the lack of phone usage. I had anticipated greater use, but as Damian noted afterwards, because we were still technically in class, he felt that he shouldn’t be using his phone. In fact, the only ones to use their phone at all during the first twenty minutes were my fellow group members. Personally, I wanted to snapchat and take photos. Not only do I generally take many photos on my phone, but I felt that having a picnic by the river for class was such a novel thing to do that I wanted to share it with my friends both in Richmond and back home in Australia. The beautiful day only made the pictures even more attractive!

One of several snapchats I took

Just a quick photo

Nevertheless, all class members chatted freely and the conversation that emerged was engaging and interesting. We discussed a whole range of subject areas and there weren’t any noticeable lags. Our ability to maintain a conversation with one another both with and without our phones would seem to affirm Tufekci’s argument that social media and technology is not hindering our ability to communicate IRL. After all, she claims that there is no difference between online and offline, everything is real life.  However, at times our conversation did seem to jump around quickly from one topic to another. It was as if the nature of our conversation mimicked the very nature of how we communicate online. That is, in short spurts rather than in depth discussions (think of the limited 140s characters on Twitter or the innumerable threads on blogs). Thus, Turkle’s assertion that social media is having a real effect on how we interact is fare more persuasive.

Moreover, when the phones were taken away, even though I had not been using it constantly, I did feel strange and oddly unsettled. I found myself double-checking every so often to see where it had gone. In fact, had the food not been there, (acting as somewhat of a distraction) perhaps I would have become even more restless! Again, my behavior certainly affirms Turkle’s view that not only are we becoming increasingly reliant on technology, but also it is, along with social media, changing the way we act and think. As she notes, “We want to be with each other but also elsewhere.”

The goods

In terms of documentation, I was heavily reliant on my iPhone. As previously mentioned, I took photos and snapchats in the first twenty minutes of both the surrounding environment and (I’m ashamed to admit) of the spread of food (see images below). As New Media theorist (and a member of the Turkle camp) Nick Carr would argue, I was essentially looking to my devices to offload my experience and memories rather than actually putting these cultural and interpersonal experiences in long-term memory. However, as the conversation progressed I found myself documenting less and less. After all, when a conversation is engaging one doesn’t feel the need to check or use their phones. As a result, I did not document as much as in previous experiences, particularly once our phones were taken away!

Ultimately, the nature of constant connection in the digital age raises some troubling questions and presents serious issues regarding how we communicate. Despite Tufekci’s compelling and valid argument of the positive role of this new technology, I do find myself leaning closer to the mindset of the Turkle camp. While our experience may not have truly highlighted the changes in our communication, as a young adult immersed within this world I have definitely noticed the shift in the way my peers and I interact. It is a shame too, because as this experience reminded me, being out in nature surrounded by good company and good food trumps chatting online any day.


Categories: Assignments, Blog, Discussion, Pictures, Uncategorized
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Final Project: Digitisation and the Film Industry

// Posted by Nicola on 11/14/2014 (2:02 PM)

Now that my final project idea has been approved, I must somehow try to narrow my area of interest (the changing nature of film and television in the digital age). I think that the best way to do this… Read more

Now that my final project idea has been approved, I must somehow try to narrow my area of interest (the changing nature of film and television in the digital age). I think that the best way to do this is to focus on just the film or television industry. I’m leaning towards the film industry but I am still conflicted…there have just been so many radical changes to the nature of television within the past several years!

Also, it was suggested that I chose a few key case studies examples to analyse in relation to my topic. Perhaps I could look at some cases involving huge Hollywood blockbusters, some that were successful and others that weren’t and see why this was the case? Or if I was to focus on Television then I could choose a few key shows that demonstrate how social media helped to generate a huge following or how the very nature of how they are made and released is a result of digitalisation.

Hopefully as I continue to research this area my ideas and approach will become clearer!

Below are a few articles discussing box office that have proved useful in providing an idea with the current state of the industry.

  • http://www.nytimes.com/2014/08/30/movies/movies-have-worst-summer-since-1997.html
  • http://www.hollywoodreporter.com/news/executive-roundtable-6-studio-heads-748102?facebook_20141114

And a slightly different perspective from acclaimed film critic Roger Ebert:

  • http://www.rogerebert.com/rogers-journal/ill-tell-you-why-movie-revenue-is-dropping
19th November 2014
As I’ve been thinking more about the role of social media in reshaping the nature of the film industry, I’ve started researching not only what that impact is, but also how it is being used by the industry itself. Thus, I came across the following article, ‘How Social Media is Revolutionising the Flailing Movie Tracking Industry’, which essentially identifies how social media sites such as Twitter are now being employed to track and, consequently, predict the success of a film.

It was interesting to note in the article that, “Silicon Valley is eager to prove it can help. Google, for example, released a study last June that found that searches for movies — and especially trailers — can help predict box-office performance with 94 percent accuracy.”

  • http://www.thewrap.com/movies/article/can-social-media-revolutionize-flailing-tracking-industry-107646/
Another article I found attributed the lack of success of Interstellar to bad word of mouth, reaffirming my own position regarding the crucial role that social media plays in determining the financial success of a film. While Chris Lee notes how some argue that Interstellar’s long running time can be attributed to its lack of ticket sales at the box office, Rentrak’s senior media analyst Paul Dergarbedian argues that “…there are many other factors affecting the box office and this [length of a film] is just one piece of the puzzle. And there have been a host of long running time films that have done well.” Rather, “Word of mouth really hurt Interstellar,” says one veteran box-office tracker. “There was a backlash against it. A lot of people liked it. But the people who didn’t like it were very vocal about it. And that word of mouth spread like wildfire.” While Lee does not explicitly point to social media in the negative word of mouth, it isn’t unlikely that where people were “very vocal about it” was primarily on social media sites such as Twitter. Again, this reinforces my thesis that the in the digital age, digitisation of word of mouth via social media sites has had a significant impact in determining the success of a film.
  • http://insidemovies.ew.com/2014/11/11/big-hero-6-interstellar-box-office/

 

23rd of November 2014

Below are a few more articles I have found pertaining to the impact of social media on the entertainment industry. At the moment, I am trying to narrow my focus, but it is easier said than done!

  • https://www.ibm.com/developerworks/community/blogs/025bf606-020a-48e9-89bf-99adda13e9b1/entry/by_the_numbers_social_media_impacts_the_entertainment_industry?lang=en
“How Social Media and Viral Marketing are Saving the Film Industry”
  • http://mashable.com/2012/12/19/social-media-viral-marketing-film-industry/
Although a short piece, author Anita Lee does highlight some key points regarding how the film industry is utilising social media to increase box office revenue. As Lee notes, “…the silver screen has managed to stay afloat because of the very thing that undermined it in the first place: the Internet.”

******
The following article by Britt Michaelian looks at Independent cinema in particular. I’m not sure if I will look into this realm in my investigation as it may be too much to get through with a limited amount of time. Nevertheless, it is an interesting facet of the whole shift in the film industry.
  •  http://www.huffingtonpost.com/britt-michaelian/social-media-is-a-major-g_b_4284162.html
Some quotes from the article:
->“For indendepents who tend to have limited financial resources, social media is the key to connecting with engaged audiences.”

->“Independent filmmakers who are looking to produce low budget films can utilize social platforms like Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, YouTube and Instagram not just to promote films, but also to cast, staff and fund projects.”

->“In the Video on Demand forum, emphasis was placed on utilizing social media in every stage of the filmmaking process – pre-production, during filming and in post production as a means for independent films to stand out from the studio films that dominate 80% of views on VOD platforms like Netflix and Hulu.”

-> “…with a savvy social media strategy, it isn’t just the studios who can build a massive following for films.”

Possible case studies…
Dr. Rosatelli suggested that I might like to look at particular cases that reveal the significance of word of mouth through social media in determining the success of a film. While I am still undecided which ones to focus on in particular, I have come across a few examples that could prove effective in supporting my argument.
Sharknado (2013)
Released as a made for TV movie, Sharknado (a film about a tornado of sharks that destroys a Los Angeles community…) proved wildly successful. It’s success has been largely attributed to the use of social media.
  • http://www.forbes.com/sites/dinagachman/2014/07/29/how-sharknado-transcended-its-genre-and-became-a-pop-culture-phenomenon/
  • http://mashable.com/2013/07/12/twitter-sharknado/
  • http://www.popmatters.com/column/178634-what-does-the-success-of-sharknado-reveal-about-social-media/
“On 11 July 2013, the night on which Syfy’s made-for-television movie Sharknado premiered, the hashtag “#Sharknado” was a worldwide trending topic on Twitter. Within two hours of its initial airing, the program was the source of 5,000 tweets per minute, making it television’s most social program of the evening, and Syfy’s most social telecast ever.”
“According to Craig Engler, Senior Vice President at @Syfy digital, the network used Twitter to build buzz for the Sharknado premiere. As Engler said in an interview, “Hours before the movie even aired we were retweeting the fans talking about how much they were looking forward to watching it and also tweeting out Sharknado ‘warnings.’”
****
TV and social media
Although I don’t think I will focus on Television, I have come across several articles, such as the one below, that do emphasise my argument.
  • http://www.indiewire.com/article/how-scandal-and-hannibal-are-winning-the-social-media-game-20141023
-> “Nielsen studies have proven that the more a show is tweeted about, the higher its ratings go. This comes as an addition to the increasing web socialization of television viewing shaped with the help of “second screens” – that is, laptops, tablets and smartphones. Whether through Twitter, Facebook, Instagram or Tumblr, the idea of sharing one’s viewing experience live and through hashtags is a trend that’s quickly defining what this “golden age” of television excels at: amplifying the fan experience.”
-> ”Twitter lends itself more to the real-time conversation of live-viewing where as Tumblr is more about the extended conversation — beyond the time that a show is airing”
->“People love to talk about television and that’s why TV drives so much conversation on Facebook and Twitter,” Goldsmith said. “It’s a way for viewers to extend the couch and have more people to talk with, share with and make comments. I think as new platforms emerge, you’re going to see even more unique ways to do that.”
*****
In order to bolster my argument I need not only facts and quotes, but also concrete statistics and figures that illustrate the shifting nature of the film industry in the digital age. Thus, I have started to source articles that include such information.

‘By the Numbers: Social Media’s Impact on the Entertainment Industry’

  • https://www.ibm.com/developerworks/community/blogs/025bf606-020a-48e9-89bf-99adda13e9b1/entry/by_the_numbers_social_media_impacts_the_entertainment_industry?lang=en
From the article:
“The poll found that a majority of Millenials (those aged 18-to-34-year-old) believe using social media while watching a movie in a theater would add to their experience, and nearly half would be interested in going to theaters that allowed texting and web surfing. Users were asked what they do on their mobile device, if they use it in a theater. About 55% text, 27% visit Facebook, and 19% make a phone call.  And YET 75% of people (all ages) on social networks in this poll say that being able to use their phone in a theater would make the experience less satisfying and more distracting.”
  • http://www.hollywoodreporter.com/gallery/facebook-twitter-social-media-study-302273#9-social-media-made-critic
Taken from the study:
 
December 3rd 2014: Final post

The influx of big, blockbuster films and sequels is by no means coincidental. Hollywood studios are deliberately placing greater time and effort into producing these types of films. In fact, not only are these films now a mainstay, but there is also a growing scarcity of original stories coming from Hollywood. I’m sure we’ve all seen a preview and asked ourselves, “Another sequel?” “Another superhero movie?” And yet it’s still staggering to take a step back and see just how dire the situation has become.

In order to assess why these changes have taken place, I’ve posed the following question:

Q. What is the role of digitization in determining the types of studio films being made?

In response, I will argue that:

A. Digitization plays a crucial role as the advent of social media has made word of mouth much more of a decisive factor than it ever was before.

In order to support my argument, I’ve decided to focus on two fairly recent case studies. The Lone Ranger reveals the impact of negative social media buzz in determining box office success. The film failed to generate buzz and given the now immediate judgement of a film, it lost an incredible amount of money. Conversely, I will look at another Blockbuster (and a superhero film) The Guardians of the Galaxy to highlight that if used effectively, social media plays a crucial role in determining a film’s box office success. Even a less familiar idea like that of Guardians, if it gets the right buzz and anticipation (and generates a big initial weekend), can be a huge success. Moreover, I will assess the manner in which studios are now attempting to hedge against the threat posed by social media. Namely, the marketing strategies they employ. This will include the role of the actor, who has become paramount in generating buzz for a film. In order to keep my paper focussed, I will use Vin Diesel as an example given that he was extremely active in promoting The Guardians of the Galaxy.

Feedback

After my presentation/pitch I was provided with some useful feedback. For instance, Dr. Rosatelli suggested looking into consumer theories to support my argument, which I intend to do. Several of my classmates also inquired into areas of this topic that I had begun to consider. For instance, the impact that online streaming is having on the film industry was one issue raised. While I did consider discussing this shift in my paper, I’m not sure whether I will have enough time to do so. I may just briefly mention it as a factor, but I will primarily focus on social media as playing a greater role. Moreover, the resulting impact that digitization is having in terms of the actors and their salaries was also mentioned. There are articles being written at the moment discussing the future of the enormous star salary (i.e. paying an actor $50 million for a film) and whether is needed in the digital age with the advent of social media. While this is an interesting question, I do not think it is imperative to the line of argument I am making. Rather, I will focus more time on the current role of the actor in assisting with generating buzz for their film.

Everyone loves a survey!

I decided that the best (and simplest) way for my peers to assist me was by taking a survey. I created the survey in order to find out what draws the target demographic of Hollywood (18-29) to see a film. Is it reviews online, such as those in the New York Times? Do you go and see a movie based on the trailer and marketing? Is it the result of word of mouth? And if so, is that in person, or digitized via social media? By doing so, I hoped that role of social media would become more clear. While many did not adhere to the norms that were reported in a recent poll conducted by The Hollywood Reporter, their responses were nevertheless interesting. Only one affirmed my thesis, stating that the online reviews/buzz via social media are the most decisive factor in why they going and see a film in the cinema. The same individual also was prone to using their phone while watching a film, namely to look up a films imdb page while watching.

Perhaps most telling were the responses I received to the following questions:

  1. What type of film you most likely to see in the cinema and why?

Interesting (but not surprisingly), of those surveyed it was the men that preferred to see the larger budget, blockbuster films. For instance, Joe (20) noted, “… if I am going to spend my money on a movie ticket when I could easily see it free online in a few weeks, I want a real movie experience that is can only be experienced at the cinema. Brendan (20) echoed these sentiments, “Mostly high budget films that make use of sound, and grand visuals the most. I watch most films outside the cinema, so when I go to see a film, the cinematic setting should have contribute substantially to the experience of viewing said film.” These responses further support my claim and the growing trend that given Hollywood’s desire to target this core demographic and thus reap financial gains, they are producing more of the same. In other words, blockbuster films, sequels of those films and so forth.

What’s next?

Aside from now bringing my argument together, I still think that I could strengthen my theoretical framework. Whether that means extracting more information from social media theorists such as Danah Boyd or finding other sources (such as consumer theories) I will have to see. I will also continue to draw some conclusions from the surveys I received to assess whether any of the responses will be of use or shed new light on my paper topic.

 


Categories: Assignments, Blog, Essay, Pictures, Uncategorized

Online and IRL: Protesting in the Digital Age

// Posted by Nicola on 11/03/2014 (10:02 AM)

What lurks beneath the surface…?

While protests have occurred throughout time, the shift into the digital age has witnessed a new method of doing so – online. This media activism has spurned some successful and not… Read more

What lurks beneath the surface…?

While protests have occurred throughout time, the shift into the digital age has witnessed a new method of doing so – online. This media activism has spurned some successful and not so successful protests in recent memory. Moreover, it has raised some interesting questions regarding the role of the Internet and social media as a tool for activism. Drawing on these ideas, the fourth experience that I found myself participating in was a protest – both on and offline.

Having never participated in one, I wasn’t sure what to expect. Would we be aggressively promoting our cause? Or would it be a more peaceful demonstration? After voting to protest for a cleaner lake here at the University of Richmond, we were given the direction to bring along props to aid our demonstration. I decided against donning any sort of anonymous mask. While the idea behind making oneself anonymous can be very effective and has been utilised in protests such as the ‘Occupy Wall Street’ movement, I felt that given the subject of what we were protesting it wasn’t as relevant. Instead, I decided to wear a self-made visual sign with an image of Blinky (the three eyed fish from The Simpsons). I thought that this popular culture reference would be both humorous and easily identifiable for my peers in association to our concern regarding the lake.

Blinky the three eyed fish (see episode, “Two Cars in Every Garage and Three Eyes on Every Fish”)

As we began preparing, it became clear that we would need to apply some ingenuity and flair in order to be noticed and truly heard. To some extent then, a protest can be seen as an advertising campaign. You must be able to sell your ideology or the movement won’t pick up enough of a following to make any noticeable difference. We deliberated as to what would be most effective? Fear? After all much of the American public’s attitudes and beliefs are shaped by fear (see recent cases of Ebola) Or would we use humour? Or perhaps be shocking and controversial? And we couldn’t forget the importance of visual material! But first we needed a name, hash tags and a slogan for our project. Looking to some of the more successful protests that were also rooted in an online environment we recognised the importance of a simple, yet effective name and associated tags. For instance, in the case of Occupy Wall Street, their slogans “We are the 99%” and “This is what democracy looks like” were short, to the point and easy to adopt.Drawing upon this approach, we decided on the following:

  • Name of project: cleanURlake.
  • Hash tag: #URecoli #cleanURlake
  • Slogan: I spy E-coli

With our name finally decided, we proceeded to create posters and flyers as well as setting up a variety of online environments whereby we could conduct our protest and spread the word. Twitter, Tumblr, Facebook, Instagram and email accounts were all activated. A Yik Yak (a popular social media app here on campus which allows people to anonymously create and view posts within a 1.5 mile radius) was also sent out. By establishing a variety of different social media accounts we aimed to boost our online presence and increase our chances of the campaign going viral. After all, the importance of information going viral in the digital age is paramount. Our culture thrives off of the viral video, image, and other media formats. Given that so many individuals (at least in the Western world) primarily access their information via the Internet, and particularly social media sites, any viral content will be likely noticed. However, with that said, getting something to go viral is no easy feat. There isn’t a rulebook or guidelines to doing so, but involves a fair bit of ingenuity and luck. Perhaps if we had had more time we could have also put together a video, seeing as a viral video can provide unprecedented publicity, ‘…the movement has spawned celebrities – like LaGreca, who lambasted a Fox News reporter in a YouTube clip that went viral…’ (“Inside Occupy Wall Street” in Rolling Stone) and has even helped kick-start profitable careers (Grumpy Cat).

A few examples of our online presence

Our Yik Yak gains momentum!

However, the inherent difficulties of conducting a protest became apparent fairly quickly. While it was easy enough to go outside in front of the library with signs and flyers to give out to fellow students and faculty, the physical act of rallying IRL (in real life) does require one to be completely uninhibited. As a more reserved, non-confrontational individual the idea of chanting and screaming was difficult for me to immerse myself in. However, I was not alone as our predetermined chant, “Dirty lake, what’s at stake?” (Everyone loves a chant that rhymes!) remained dormant. Here, our small numbers (only seven of us) also perhaps hindered the effectiveness of our protest. After all, protests are often bolstered by “bodies, accompanied by noise” and in the case of Occupy included ‘…bongos and tablas and tambourines and full drum kits with snares.’ (“Inside Occupy Wall Street” in Rolling Stone)

Our protest site (i.e. In front of the Boatwright Library)

My fellow classmates in action

Further, while I thought the group’s horizontalism approach was a clever idea given its popularity among more contemporary protests (i.e. Occupy Wall Street), it was certainly no without its flaws. In implementing this method, it took a long time to come for my peers and I to reach a decision regarding what the core ideas of the protest were and what the name/slogan/hash tag would be. While we were all provided the chance to shape the protest, it ultimately highlighted how pertinent a single leader and voice can be in executing ideas, and ultimately a successful protest.

Nevertheless, the experience did raise a pertinent issue in the digital age as to whether activism online can ever replace a physical protest. I’m not convinced it can. While it is easy to like or follow an online protest movement, the problems of such “slacktivism” arise. Just because an individual hits ‘Like’ or ‘Share’ on various social media sites, does not solve the issue at hand. It may generate buzz and therefore garner attention in the media, but how long that attention will last is questionable. A new issue may arise and simply push it to the background. This flaw in online activism has seen the failure of such campaigns (I.e. ‘KONY 2012’ and ‘Bring back our girls’ among others). Moreover, online activism is just as risky as real life protesting. While many may think they are safe behind a computer screen, this is certainly not the case as demonstrated most recently in the current protests occurring in Hong Kong. As reported in The Wall Street Journal (October 19 2014) by Gillian Wong, ‘A man was arrested on suspicion of posting messages online that urged people to gather and agitate at a protest site…’ Wong further goes on to note the impact of such an arrest, stating that, ‘The move—one of the first such arrests during three weeks of demonstrations—could potentially chill the protesters’ use of the Internet and social media to mobilize large crowds.’ Thus, it is clear to me that the two (online and IRL) aren’t mutually exclusive and work far better when utilised together (again demonstrated by Occupy, the Tunisian protests, etc.).

While it was difficult to document during the protest given that we were so actively involved, I did manage to take a few screenshots and pictures to aid with writing this reflection. Also, in order to remember some key facts while protesting, I typed them into my phone using my notes app. However, what was particularly useful as a piece of documentation was an article written about the protest by a reporter for the University of Richmond’s independent student magazine, The Collegian (to read it, click the following link: http://www.thecollegianur.com/article/2014/10/e-coli-levels-in-westhampton-lake-inspire-protest). This article also served as a reminder of the protest and provided a more objective view of the event itself.

Our protest appearing on The Collegian’s Instagram page

Ultimately, while we may not have introduced a deafening noise into the signal, I believe our protest certainly brought to light a genuine environmental concern on campus. After all, while protests at my home university are a daily occurrence, with students constantly lining the main pathway chanting various slogans and bombarding any passers-by with flyers, here there seems to be little to no student activism. While many (including myself) often try to dodge the constant harassment and groan about the influx of information, this experience certainly provided me with a new perspective on just how hard it is to effectively protest – whether it be IRL or online. Next time I’m approached or handed a flyer I will certainly think twice before hurrying off!

For more information, check out the protest online:

  • Twitter: #cleanURlake
  • Instagram: @cleanURlake
  • Facebook:
  • Email: cleanurlake@gmail.com

Categories: Blog, Uncategorized
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The Great Divide – Experience #3

// Posted by Nicola on 10/15/2014 (12:37 PM)

Divisions exist in many facets of society, whether it is racial, economic or political. However, I had never truly considered the digital divide to fall into the same category. Nor did it occur to me that the effects of… Read more

Divisions exist in many facets of society, whether it is racial, economic or political. However, I had never truly considered the digital divide to fall into the same category. Nor did it occur to me that the effects of this divide were so far reaching and could potentially inhibit a large portion of the population from engaging with society itself.

Given this extremely significant component of the digital age, I was eager to see what was in stall for the group experience. Assigned to group ‘A’ I was told to simply bring in a charged smartphone. Easy. I am very familiar with my iPhone – I use it to text, call, log on to various social media sites, take photos and so on. I was thus relieved that I would have access to my phone as opposed to members of group ‘B’ who were unable to use theirs whatsoever. However, as the rules of the experience were outlined my initial confidence began to falter. I have never used it to complete an assignment. I, like many other students with the means to afford laptops, solely rely on them to submit any written task (no matter how lengthy).  Consequently, I soon discovered the difficulty of completing the set task.

While I was able to research the question of digital copyrighting quite easily on my phone, several unexpected factors hindered the speed at which I could work. For instance, accustomed to typing on a laptop keyboard primarily using a Word Document, I struggled to type quickly or efficiently on the Notes app. As Emily or Joe dictated, I constantly found myself asking them to slow down and repeat sentences. Moreover, while we were able to access journal and academic articles online it was certainly not easy. Reading such dense material on a relatively small screen was quite exhausting, especially given the limited time frame and my familiarity with the larger screen of a laptop. However, perhaps most notable was that several sites took an incredibly long time to load. Here the efficiency of the Wi-Fi was bought to my attention. Although I did have connection, the server was simply not fast enough to complete an assignment within a limited time. If I found the experience difficult enough working in a group of three, I can only imagine the strain and stress of completing assigned tasks by oneself. As Jessica Goodman (2013) notes in her study of Newark students, ‘…many students have found it impossible to perform the same quality of work on a smartphone that they might be able to on a personal computer.’ Thus, despite Vinton G. Cerf’s claims that access to the Internet is not a human right (2012), it is clear that restricted access does pose serious issues. Now, having experienced these limitations first hand, it is clear that having restricted access does prevent individuals from both participating in, and completing a set task.

Waiting for the page to load…

Forming our argument using the ‘Notes’ app on my iPhone

Interestingly, not one of us went to a book or any other physical material to assist in our research. Although we were literally sitting in a library we nevertheless relied solely on our smartphones, our  ‘…portals to the web’ (Goodman, 2013). This choice speaks volumes for how we access information in the digital age. In fact, our group used the University of Richmond’s app to access the Boatwright Library’s catalogue rather than taking advantage of the librarians or the library itself. While it was thus a faster way to complete the task, it did make me wonder whether the quality would be as thorough…

Accessing the library catalogue via the UofR app

However, what I was most concerned about was whether we would actually be able to get on a computer. Having worked in a library, I am astutely aware of the difficulty of accessing one given that so many other individuals are constantly on them. Again, this is another setback that individuals without easy access to technology must endure. Luckily we managed to grab the last remaining one in the assigned area (therefore avoiding what could have been a highly dramatic scene). With only ten minutes remaining Emily quickly typed up our group response on a word document. We had (miraculously) managed to submit our assignment. Of course, whether or not it was a quality piece of work remains to be seen.

Moreover, the question we were asked to answer as part of the experience proved challenging given the highly divisive nature of the topic itself. After much deliberation (Digital divide audio) we decided to tackle the question by arguing that “rather than perpetuating inequality, digital copyrighting inhibits expression and creative freedom.” While we found relevant cases and recent examples to support our claim, I still am not entirely sure where I stand on this matter. On the one hand, given my interest in films and television (and that I make my own short films), I am completely aware of the difficulty of using any existing material – even the briefest clippings. As someone who is also unable to pay for the rights to use existing material, I agree that these copyright acts seriously limit the freedom of creative expression. Yet, at the same time, if someone has produced a creative piece of work (that they’ve put a lot of time and effort into creating) then the idea that of someone else taking it and using it as they please, without asking for permission, seems utterly wrong. What is the difference between this act and theft? Is it acceptable because it isn’t a physical act of theft as say stealing an artwork is?  Perhaps one solution is the Creative Commons (CC) site that has been established to encourage interaction between the creative communities. That is they are “…devoted to expanding the range of creative works available for others to build upon legally and to share.” The site acts as a mediator for individuals to ask for permission to use an artist’s work as opposed to just taking it.

In terms of documentation, I took a few photos before and after the experience as well as several screenshots on my phone (and of my screen). However, given the frenzied pace at which we were working, I was not able to document as much as I would have liked to. Thankfully, Dr. Rosatelli was also documenting the experience, providing us with access to additional images and video footage. The video footage was particularly useful as it captured all group members actively engaging with the task and thus also helped to jog my memory of what we were thinking during the process itself.

Ultimately, this experience raised some interesting questions and certainly challenged my own experiences with technology. While I have grown accustomed to having easy access to laptops and high speed Wi-Fi, there are innumerable individuals with limited or no access whatsoever. This gap is startling. It is imperative that there are actions taken to reduce it, or we risk living in an increasingly divided society.


Categories: Blog, Discussion, Pictures
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Big Brother is watching you

// Posted by Nicola on 09/21/2014 (10:34 PM)

Mass surveillance. Hacking. Whistle-blowers. The interconnected world of technology and national and international governments is complex, fraught with illegal activity and dubious justifications. At times is hard to believe that these occurrences aren’t merely a storyline of a Hollywood… Read more

Mass surveillance. Hacking. Whistle-blowers. The interconnected world of technology and national and international governments is complex, fraught with illegal activity and dubious justifications. At times is hard to believe that these occurrences aren’t merely a storyline of a Hollywood film, but our reality. Nevertheless, given the task of conducting an immersive experience drawing upon the core components of this largely hidden world, I along with three of my classmates began deliberating what we would do.

At first, we were somewhat perplexed. How would we draw upon our studies of this topic area given that it is so entrenched in technological practices that are not only difficult at times to understand, but also virtually impossible to recreate? Even Fred Turner states that it is a language very few can understand! One suggestion was to infiltrate the University of Richmond’s security room, and somehow incorporate this means of mass surveillance into a game of hide and go seek, monitoring our classmates every move. However, we soon realised the inherent difficulties of this lofty ambition given the various codes of conducts put in place by the University to protect student’s privacy (If only this were the case outside of UR!). After a few more somewhat unrealistic suggestions that required skills beyond our reach (hacking our classmates Facebook profiles), we finally arrived upon an idea. Taking inspiration from our quiz, I had begun thinking of a sort of role-playing game in which each classmate would assume the identity of one of the prominent figures we have been studying (Edward Snowden, Wikileaks, the NSA, etc.) That is, a simulation on a micro level of what has and is taking place in the digital world. By doing so, we would each essentially be walking in their shoes, trying to understand these events from their perspective. While initially we imagined the experience taking place outside, whereby everyone would stand up and move around to discuss tactics to other characters (in a way emulating the ability of such worms as the STUXNET in manipulating physical things), the logistics of doing so proved tricky. Thus, we agreed to remain in the classroom (in a model UN fashion) and utilise a PowerPoint that would act as a visual aid, guiding participants though our experience.

Let the games begin…

Having drawn out characters in the previous class, it was wonderful to see that everyone really jumped on board with our role-playing concept. The props/costumes were great and I felt that they added both an element of playfulness and enhanced the notion of getting into the mindset of one’s character. For instance, as Russia, I decided to draw upon the nation’s relationship with Edward Snowden to inform my visual cues (see image below).

Snowden’s Russian passport (with an additional sign reading ‘+3 years’ in reference to the recent extension of his immunity), a welcome sign and a typed sheet of notes on Russia for the experience.

After debating “Which is more valuable, cyber freedom or cyber security?” (Part 1) in the guise of each character, the experience shifted into part 2: Simulation. Again, we wanted everyone to remain in character to reinforce the notion of thinking and seeing these situations from their point of view. However, given the structure and layout of the questions there were two possibilities offered each time. There would always be a more logical response of the two (see example below). However, in order to avoid a simple yes or no answer, we added a guideline that required a justification of one’s decision.

Simulation question

This segment of the experience revealed the vastly different mindsets of the players. As Glenn Greenwald noted, Snowden sees his role as a whistle-blower as a matter of principle, one that isn’t informed by a motivating factor such as money. Thus, during the experience it was interesting to note the contrast between this highly moral mentality and that of Silicon Valley. For instance, when posed with a choice between giving the government its customer’s information and having to pay an incredible fine (a simulation of the 2007-08 Yahoo case), Silicon Valley ultimately sold out in order to ensure the continued success of their business.  (Click the link below to hear audio)

Digital America Experience – Sound recording

Having successfully journeyed through the simulation, we arrived at our conclusion: the hypothetical simulation (part 3). Essentially an extension of part 2, here the aim was to encourage more creativity and freedom in responses to the hypothetical questions we created (i.e. “Snowden is tracked down and captured by the NSA…. What do you do?”). There would be no right or wrong answers. Although questions were still directed at a particular player, we hoped that they would only initiate the response with others contributing as well.

While for the most part the experience ran smoothly, there were at times lags in the conversation. This required a bit more prompting from myself and my other team members in order to enhance and develop the topic at hand. Also, given that some characters were more prominent in the events, this meant that certain class members were provided with a greater opportunity to become immersed in the experience. Nonetheless, we managed to sustain our experience for the hour – a task that is much harder to achieve than one would expect! The experience also revealed just how difficult it truly is to navigate this murky area of technology and mass surveillance, affirming Mark Poster’s assertion in Information Please: Culture and Politics in the Age of Digital Machines of how traditional forms of power are becoming more complicated and less reliable. I found that it was often hard not only to justify my decisions as Russia but also to ensure that those decisions would ultimately further my own objectives. Moreover, I’m sure many felt victimised during the experience, particularly the NSA who constantly had to defend their actions to multiple parties. It was not difficult to understand how sovereignty could be ‘opened up’ to new and intense forms of critical public scrutiny (‘Leaky Geopolitics: The Ruptures and Transgressions of Wikileaks’).

In regards to the documentation process, we decided to try and emulate the covert techniques favoured by such government agencies as the NSA. Thus during the experience I, along with other group members, recorded the whole conversation using the voice memo app on my iPhone. By doing so, we hoped to emulate the invasive technology employed as a means of mass surveillance by the American government and their affiliated bodies (listen here for another snippet of the experience recorded -> Digital America Experience -Sound recording). Moreover, the audio proved useful in triggering my memory of how the experience played out. I also took profile shots of each participant before the experience commenced as a means of enabling the reader to see how everyone approached their prop assignment (pictures can often be more telling than text alone -see end of post for images). Of course, the additional effect of black and white helps to recreate the air of mystery and tension that has always surrounded the world of espionage. Yet, in using my iPhone I was reminded of the opposing forces between freedom and transparency in our digital age. Although my phone provided a sense of freedom in recording the experience in a multitude of ways, I too was essentially using it as a means of surveillance.

Class members as their assigned ‘character’

Ultimately, despite ebbs and flows in the conversation, the underlying ideas coupled with the enthusiastic participation of all involved brought our experience to life. While Edward Snowden argued his position stating that, ‘You can’t wait around for someone else to act’, perhaps only those with his level of intellect and know how can indeed act within this dangerous environment. After all, as our experience revealed, at the end of the day the NSA/US government will stop at nothing in the name of “protection”.

 


Categories: Assignments, Discussion, Pictures
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Experience #1 – 90s chat room and nostalgia

// Posted by Nicola on 09/08/2014 (12:20 PM)

Logging on to LALive, I was immediately taken back to my childhood. The format of the site, with its minimal text and now primitive graphics, reminded me of my early experiences with the Internet and computers in the late 90s… Read more

Logging on to LALive, I was immediately taken back to my childhood. The format of the site, with its minimal text and now primitive graphics, reminded me of my early experiences with the Internet and computers in the late 90s and early 2000s. Having grown up with the Internet and thus easy access to an abundance of differing social networking sites, I assumed that this experience would largely be the same. However, it didn’t take long for me to realise that the multitude of differences, no matter how small, had a significant impact on the way I interacted online and my perception of online communication itself.

The first thing that took me by surprise was just how swiftly the conversation moved. While we almost exclusively kept within the realm of the predetermined theme of 90s and early 2000s nostalgia, the format of the site made it incredibly difficult to keep up with the particular point at hand. Having constantly to hit ‘reload’ ensured that I was always frantically scrolling back down to see the previous responses, only to find after reloading again, that the conversation had taken a completely new direction. Iscream4icecream perhaps most succinctly noted this frustrating limitation of the site when they responded, “I said that earlier!! no one appreciated it” (see end of post) upon the new focus of the conversation on Tamagotchis, a toy they had mentioned in an earlier post. Moreover, anytime I switched tabs to Google something that another user had mentioned, by the time I returned I found myself about five topics behind, so that my newly sourced information was no longer relevant. By doing so, I was also alerted to the ease at which I was able to switch back and forth from the chat room to other sites, a feature of contemporary computers that would have been largely non-existent in the 90s. The experience would have thus been far more immersive than instant messaging today, where one always has their eye on multiple pages and conversations. Given this restriction of early online forums, it isn’t difficult to see why the WELL was perceived as a mode of recreating the counterculture ideal of a shared consciousness.

Although I could not have anticipated the difficulties posed by reloading, I was far more surprised by some of the issues I faced in the early stages of the conversation. For instance, for about the first twenty minutes, I simply forgot that I could copy and paste. Instead I was laboriously retyping each username that I was directly addressing. Strangely, it seems as though being on an old-fashioned chat room made me forget about contemporary computer shortcuts, as if for some reason they wouldn’t apply. Here too, the advances in online communication became apparent in that I was unable to ‘tag’ or initiate a private conversation with just one user. Everything that I posted was essentially public to anyone who logged onto the chat room. Thus, although at certain points I responded to one particular user, with so many other active users the point soon was lost, left behind as others moved on. Had this been the case today, I would have simply created a new, private message to that user whether it was through iMessage, Facebook or even Snapchat, and continued the conversation in greater depth. Further, if you did not include the username to whom you were responding, confusion could again arise. For instance, in screenshot #2, Lux replied ‘Such a good show’ yet looking at the previous posts it is not clear which show they are referring to. It could have been an afterthought to their earlier post “’Oh Lizzie McGuire’ or to ‘Air Bud was the shit’ or even to Heisenberg’s post regarding ‘Courage the cowardly dog’. Consequently, I began to wonder just how substantial a conversation could be on these types of online forums in the 90s, particularly given that the price of the Internet was far more expensive than it is today. If conversations were only brief or constantly disrupted by differing streams of thought, was the notion of a ‘shared consciousness’ online ultimately undermined?

The inability to add links to videos or post images was another stark point of difference with how I communicate online today. While I had never truly considered how convenient this tool is on contemporary social networking sites, it certainly became apparent on LALive. At certain points, I would have liked to include an image or link to emphasise a point or add another level of interest. This restriction of the site meant that I had to think more carefully about what I wanted to say and just how clear it would come across to the other users.

However, one feature of the site that I would be interested to see make a resurgence is the anonymous username. Not only was it entertaining to come up with our own handle, but it also provided a sense of freedom. By having no profile image or personal information attached to your posts, there was no risk of being forever associated with your comments or statements. There was, for instance, no need to be embarrassed by admitting your love for Britney Spears. While Turner asserts that some subscribers on the WELL, such as Carmen Hermosillo, felt like they were performers, ‘…selling themselves to other readers…’ I did not notice this play out on LAlive. Of course I only logged in for the hour, but certainly in comparison to how individuals harness social networks today it seemed like a more genuine and less edited space than say an individual’s Facebook or Instagram profile. Again I believe this distinction can be attributed to the anonymity that the site enables and the absence of images, filters and other editing devices. After logging off, I wondered if in today’s society, which has witnessed, as Norberto Gomez, Jr. notes, the ‘commoditization of one’s own identity’ an anonymous online presence would be as effective? Would the separation between one’s identity and their words be considered too radical or would it provide welcome relief from the constant influx of private information being made public?

Ultimately the hour flew by. Despite the inherent limitations of a now out-dated site and the difficulties in adjusting to such differences, I found my time online to be a genuinely enjoyable experience. After all, at its core the site enables users to communicate and share ideas with other individuals, and if the conversation is good then everything else is secondary.

Screen shot #1:

Screen shot #2:

Note: Given that the conversation required my full attention due to the rapid pace at which it was moving, I chose primarily to take screenshots as a means of documentation. By doing so, I was able to go back and reread at least parts of the conversation as it occurred which, in turn, served as reminders of my experience. However, I also took the occasional note using the ‘stickies’ application on my computer in order to ensure that I remembered some key points I found interesting along the way. Further, the inclusion of two screenshots in this post emphasises some of my key points relating to the challenges the site presented, with the visuals providing the reader with a more vivid image of the chat room itself.


Categories: Assignments, Blog, Discussion