Author Archives: Aisling

Final Project: What’s your Filter?- The Self Through Instagram

// Posted by Aisling on 11/28/2014 (10:13 AM)


11:12 am

As Instagram continues to rise in popularity, it is becoming another platform for people to perform and present themselves. As Instagram is inherently focused on filters, followers and likes, I believe that it will be worthwhile to… Read more


11:12 am

As Instagram continues to rise in popularity, it is becoming another platform for people to perform and present themselves. As Instagram is inherently focused on filters, followers and likes, I believe that it will be worthwhile to consider how people construct themselves within these constraints, and whether or not these constraints are actually seen as liberating (e.g. a filter may “free” someone from being pale) or constricting (e.g. a picture may require a filter to be “insta-worthy”).

11:15 am

A conversation with a friend about her bio on Instagram-

The quote on her bio was: I wish there was a way to know that you’re in “The Good Old days” before you’ve actually left them…

Although I would be lying if I said that I didn’t think about my own Instagram bio, I found this conversation to be quite interesting. My friend was very concerned with her bio (the small space underneath your account photo and your pictures), and also with what she should include in it. It’s a teensy little space but it can say so much… Or can it? Who is really looking at/ judging your Instagram bio? Isn’t Instagram all about the pictures? It also made me think about who she thought would see her bio.. Who was she trying to impress? And why would this quote do the job?

11:46 am

I got my first camera in 7th grade, and insisted on bringing it everywhere with me. I would bring it to school, vacation, soccer practice, birthday parties… pretty much anywhere that I could. I was obsessed with taking pictures. I took a lot of pictures of landscapes/ nature, but when Facebook became popular for my age group, I found that nobody really cared for my landscape pictures. However, my Instagram profile is full of nature/ landscape shots, and they actually get more “likes” than any of my other photos. I post other photos too, but for me, Instagram is a venue for me to share the different landscapes of my life.

11:55 am

Some articles

6:07 pm

The whole idea of Facebook being selfish related back to Instagram for me… The idea that we are putting our best selves forward without regard for what others’ best selves may be.

6:25 pm

One of the Instagram accounts I am looking into in depth. He is a soccer player from Bermuda who is studying business at University of Toronto.

6:31 pm

Another Instagram account that I am looking into. She is an aspiring actress from Bermuda who is studying at University of Toronto.

6:41 pm

This is another account I am using. She lives between Bermuda, London and New York. She has just transferred universities for sophomore year.

6:48 pm

This user has also sophomore year transferred. She went to a New England prep school and is originally from Los Angeles, California.

7:01 pm

This is my personal Instagram account.

7:15 pm

One thing I am curious to look into is the way that theories regarding the self, such as self-affirmation theory, relate to users’ posts and usage of Instagram. Is there a certain person that they are portraying through the square shaped images? Are their photos edited in certain, stylistic ways? And what type of photos/ posts are they? e.g. user photos, landscapes, selfies, photos of themselves, pets, memes, GIFs…. Is there a certain topic that different users’ profiles tend to gravitate towards? Are the captions serious or funny or somewhere in between?

One thing I have been thinking about alongside these questions is the fact that I myself am a user of Instagram and also personally know the majority of the users that I am focusing on. As I am a user and know the people behind the accounts quite well, it makes it quite difficult to take an objective viewpoint. Knowing the people personally gives me insights into their lives and what was going on at the time of each post. In a way it is an advantage, as I know what might have driven them to post certain things, but it is also difficult, as it can make me quite biased. However, it also gives me particular insights into the “selves” that the users seem to be projecting/ presenting on Instagram versus the selves that they are/ present in other forms of interaction.


12:22 pm

Some theories on the self:

About the book from my communications class that helped to form my topic/ ideas:

“Dramaturgical Model of Social Life”

9:37 pm

History of Instagram…

  • launched Oct 6, 2010
  • 1 million users in first 2 months
  • iPhone app of the year in 2011
  • FB buys April 2012


An article Dr. Rosatelli sent me … Tween girls and their posts on Instagram.


When I first began thinking about and working on my topic, I strongly believed that my project would lead me to a connection between Instagram and narcissism. To be honest, this had a lot to do with one of the accounts that I chose to look into, as I felt that this page was extremely self-centred and self-promoting. This Instagram did play a part in my decision to pursue this topic, so it is fair to say that I was initially biased concerning the expected outcome. When I submitted my proposal, I included several articles and studies linking Instagram and narcissism. Dr. Rosatelli cautioned me against this assumption, and encouraged me to let the research guide me to my findings. I followed her suggestion, and forced myself to look at my research project with a fresh eye.

Something that helped me to do this was an article I read while doing research in a communication class. I read an article about Facebook as a venue for the presentation of our true selves, and was very interested in this idea. Facebook isn’t narcissistic? I was intrigued. I thought that their argument made sense, a strong point being that we cannot be an idealized version of ourselves on Facebook because our friends (both online and offline) regulate our posts. Our friends would be confused if we claimed to be happily dating a supermodel on our Facebook page if in fact we were struggling through a divorce. I wanted to take this idea and see if I could apply it to Instagram, and in specific my final project.

As I was leafing through some of my communication notes, I had an idea. I looked back on some readings we had done earlier in the semester concerning Erving Goffman’s theory on the presentation of the self in everyday life. This theory stuck out to me, as it focused on the theatrical or dramaturgical aspects of the way that we present ourselves. The way that we perform ourselves. In the sense that we are able to control and perfect what we post, Instagram becomes a performance. So, I decided to apply Goffman’s theory to the presentation of the self on Instagram, in an effort to understand how Instagram could function in a similar way to the theory of Facebook. How Instagram could actually be a presentation of our actual selves.

I used Goffman’s theory to liken different aspects of Instagram to the theatrical elements of Instagram. Similarly to how Dr. Rosatelli cautioned me not to assume links with narcissism, I didn’t want to force this theory onto Instagram if it didn’t work out. However, I found that the theory made a lot of sense with Instagram, and I was able to make some interesting connections between the two.

To help gain some insight on basic Instagram use, I created a quick survey on My survey can be found here I asked my peers several questions, such as whether or not they use filters, and what the most important aspects of Instagram were for them. The majority of people who took the survey had between 100 and 200 posts on their account. 81% of people had other apps that they used to edit posts prior to Instagram,  and 75% of responders mostly or always used filters. Over 50% of the people who took the survey said that the amount of likes received per photo was the most important to them, while the quality of photos posted was second most important. Thus, most people use filters and mostly care about the amount of likes that they receive per photo. Although this data may seem to be incongruent with my statement that Instagram is a presentation of the self, as it highlights the “edit to perfection” mindset, I believe that it actually helps to strengthen my point. People put so much time and effort into their Instagram posts not because they are working to create their idealized selves, but because it is a representation of themselves. People edit, fuss, and care so much about their posts because they are looking to perform themselves in the most accurate way. Just as people may perfect your style of clothing in order to express yourselves, people perfect their style of editing and posting.

Overall, I am glad that I was cautioned away from my initial assumptions, as letting the research shape my thoughts and conclusions made for a very interesting project and experience.



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Pony Pasture Potluck Picnic Party

// Posted by Aisling on 11/25/2014 (10:49 PM)

How many times have you sat down for a meal and noticed that half of the people at the table are on their phones? Or when was the last time you were talking to someone and realized that they were… Read more

How many times have you sat down for a meal and noticed that half of the people at the table are on their phones? Or when was the last time you were talking to someone and realized that they were paying more attention to the feed on their phone? At least from my own experiences, I have sat down at that table far too many times, and often feel frustrated when I am trying to talk to someone and they care more about what’s going on with their phone. And I can’t that I am not guilty of doing either myself.

For our Experience #5, we wanted to focus on the theories provided by Turkle and Tufekci. Turkle focuses on the idea that connection replaces communication, while Tufekci believes that social media is strengthening connectivity and communication. It was important for us that the experience be relatively fun, as it was our last one and also had to take place at the James River. Somewhat inspired by a conversation that Nicola and I had earlier in class that day about Australian Instagrams, we thought it would be interesting to compare conversations when we did have our phones versus when we did not. We thought about walking around the area or venturing out to the rocks, but ultimately decided to have a picnic at the river. While donut holes and brownies are certainly fun, food is often a good topic of conversation and connection, so we thought that it would be appropriate to incorporate it into our conversation based class. We called it the Pony Pasture Picnic Potluck Party.

James River.

Once we arrived at the river, we spent a few minutes walking through the trails in search of the perfect (and least “nature” smelling) rock for our picnic. We found a rock, and spread a few blankets across it. We then put out the food and sat around the rock.

Our group had thought of ways to incorporate phones into conversation, and I think Emily was trying to do this when she asked me if I had any pictures from my trip to Toronto. Although nobody ended up being interested in the pictures, I thought that it was a good attempt to begin and focus a conversation around a piece of technology.

The idea of a conversation centered around a piece of technology certainly came up during the first 20 minutes, although I didn’t find it to be an extremely significant part of the conversation. I don’t remember what exactly she was showing  people, but I do remember Nicola using her phone to show people pictures of what we had been talking about. Tufekci states, “Social media is enhancing human connectivity as people can converse in ways that were once not possible.” (Tufekci, The Atlantic) I think that this notion was present here, as the addition of the ability to access images instantly added another dynamic to the conversation in order to help the understanding on both sides. In this way, the phone was useful to the conversation and provided a topic for further talking and comprehension of the subject.

However, more so than the way that phones were important to the conversation, I found that the food people brought played an important roll in what we were talking about. From the donut holes to dining dollars, I think that the presence of the food sparked more conversation than the presence of phones. While the phones allowed us to provide images of what we were talking about at the moment, the food at the picnic gave us several different topics of conversation. For example, the donut holes sparked a conversation about chains and local restaurants, which then led us to talk about different local restaurants and chains that we liked. Rather than simply add on to the end of a conversation or remark, the food sparked the initiation and flow of several conversations. For me, at least, I found the food to be more of a “distraction” or conversation point than the present of cellphones.

Food, glorious food!

Although I had expected people to be on their phones throughout the first twenty minutes, I think that the context of the picnic influenced how and when people used their phones. Personally, I wasn’t significantly tempted to be on my phone, however I did check it from time to time. If I had a message I responded, and I took some pictures of the food and the river. However, I found that because it was still “class time” I felt a little odd and even rude pulling out my phone to text. In this sense, I certainly think that the context of the picnic influenced my phone usage. Had I been at a picnic with six of my closest friends, I think that it would have been different. For example, I think that people would be a lot more focused on getting pictures at the river, or snapchatting our riverside picnic.

People Partying @ the PPPPP

Even though I didn’t feel anxious without my phone during the second 20 minutes, there were still a few times when I would reach down beside me looking for it. I would be looking to check the time, or see if my friend had texted me back yet. However, the conversation my friend and I were having wasn’t very important, so I didn’t feel anxious about responded or what her next text might be.

I didn’t notice a huge change in conversation when we put our phones away. Actually, I found that collecting the phones caused the biggest change in conversation, and even seemed to awkwardly halt it for a moment or two. This was interesting to me, as I had expected the second half of the conversation to be much more forced than the first half. However, people did not rely on their phones as much as I had thought they would, so the second half and first half were relatively similar.

Overall, this experience actually helped to restore a bit of my faith in humanity and our generation’s ability to hold decent conversation without constantly checking our devices. Turkle has a compelling argument concerning connectivity vs communication, and as I read her article, I found it increasingly easy to nod my head and agree with what she was saying (NYT). Perhaps this article influenced how I imagined the second half of our picnic to be. I had thought that it would be just like the lunch tables I too often sit down at: silent, apart from a few “mhmms” and tapping fingers. I also know how easy it is to appear to be present in a physical conversation while actually being completely consumed by what is happening on my phone. I was honestly surprised and delighted that this didn’t seem to happen during our experience. While I believe that daily life has elements of technology that both nurture and hurt communication, I found that during our experience the technology did not seem to play a large role in either hindering or fostering our conversations.

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I Spy E. Coli

// Posted by Aisling on 11/02/2014 (6:12 PM)

“Ana Luna Adventures- The Ocean is out there…. Are you?” Kinda catchy, right? That is the caption that received the most “likes” on the Facebook page I created this past summer. The Facebook page was for the catamaran charter boat… Read more

“Ana Luna Adventures- The Ocean is out there…. Are you?” Kinda catchy, right? That is the caption that received the most “likes” on the Facebook page I created this past summer. The Facebook page was for the catamaran charter boat I worked on. I created the Facebook page for the purposes of marketing and advertising, with the hopes that people would see the page on their newsfeeds, learn more about Ana Luna, and eventually book a cruise as a result of the page.

When the page went live, it needed likes. People won’t take a page seriously if it doesn’t have a lot of likes. I sent invitations to “like” the page to a bunch of my friends from home, boarding school and college. Through these connections the page began to gain likes, and become more “official looking” (more likes= more people endorsing it= people more likely to like the page/ be interested).

I would post pictures and status updates daily, about the different cruises and any deals that were going on. Although everything I posted got attention, it was the attention of my friends, and most of them lived in the US or England. The page came to be somewhat of an inside joke amongst my friends locally and abroad, and even people I hadn’t personally spoken to knew about my summer job and #AnaLuna. My friends would share Ana Luna’s posts, and comment on the pictures, but not because they were interested in cruises.

Although the page did generate genuine likes from tourists who had been on the boat or locals who were familiar with the business, the majority of the likes came from my peers. In this sense, the page got a lot of attention, and the name Ana Luna spread throughout my circles both in Bermuda and abroad, yet it was not the attention I had hoped for when I created the page.

The Ana Luna

Experience #4 focused on the idea and elements of protests, both virtual and physical. We were asked to come to class with a protest tool and some knowledge about what we were protesting: the E. Coli levels in the lake and its general uncleanliness. I painted a sign that read, “I spy E. Coli,” and brought along a few other props. These included an orange hat that conveniently says, “water hazard” across it, an FBI hat, some goggles, and a pair of handcuffs. While I think that the water hazard hat is relatively self-explanatory, the other items might not necessarily be so. I thought the FBI hat might be interesting as the FBI is an organization of power, and in this sense the hat would represent a certain element of investigative power for the protest. The goggles were representative of the fact that people cannot safely swim in the lake, even if they have the means to do so. Although the handcuffs received some glances and even straight up questions, I did have a reason for including them in my prop collection. In a similar way to how people tie themselves to trees in some protests, I thought that someone might be interested in handcuffing him or herself to something as a way of experiencing this element of the physical protest. (Needless to say, the handcuffs never left the library room.)

The handcuffs left behind…

The first part of the experience was to begin a viral presence. To achieve this we targeted social media sites such as Yik Yak, Tumblr, Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. I was assigned to the creation of the Instagram account. Before we could set up our designated profiles, we had to come up with account names and a slogan for the project. After much back and forth brainstorming, we decided on “cleanURlake” as the project name, as it could be taken as “clean your lake,” “cleaner lake,” and included “UR.” We decided on the slogans/ hashtags “UREColi” and “I Spy Ecoli.”

The sign I bought to protest

So, with the account names decided, we each set to work designing our online profile. I put together the Instagram account, and began collecting images to post. However, an Instagram account with no followers is not only depressing, it is also relatively pointless. To gain followers I messaged my friends the name of the account and asked them to follow it. I then posted in the field hockey group chat, asking them to follow the account. Shortly after I reached out to them, both my friends and the team began following the account and liking the pictures. Easy peasy, right?

A post from the Instagram page

After the accounts were set up, it was time to move the protest from the virtual world and into the physical world. We geared up with our protest props, and headed outside the library. As there were only 5-7 of us protesting at one time, I felt that it was quite difficult to achieve the proper essence of a protest. Instead of feeling like we were influential, I felt as if we were awkward and in the way. Although we did have a few students chat with us or agree with the cause, it often seemed as if students were trying to avoid us and felt uncomfortable by our presence. In this sense, it was hard to feel like we were making much of a difference, or effectively getting our point across about the lake.

My classmates protesting outside the library

In the documentary, We are Legion, one man describes the change from protesting as himself to protesting with a mask on. He talks about how much different he was able to act once his identity was veiled, and how he came out of himself and into the protest. His actions became unattached to his identity. Although I didn’t wear a mask as I protested, certain aspects of the experience helped me to understand the feeling he describes. While I was outside physically protesting, I was Aisling Gorman, standing with a sign in front of one of the most heavily visited spots on campus. Anything I did would be tied directly to Aisling Gorman, and Aisling Gorman would be held responsible for it. Knowing that my actions and identity were so intertwined made me feel somewhat timid, and careful in the way that I protested. Admittedly, I was worried about my image.

However, the Instagram page presented an opportunity for me to protest the E. Coli in the lake under a name that wasn’t necessarily my own. Although my friends knew that it was Aisling Gorman posting the pictures, I was hidden behind the handle @CleanURLake…. It wasn’t really me. I found that I was much more active on the Instagram page than I was outside, even though I was acting from a handheld screen. The Instagram account was my mask.

Another photo from the Instagram page

Overall, both the virtual and physical protests were interesting to me, for different reasons. Coming into the experience I had expected the physical protest to be much more effective, and had thought that we would make much more of a ruckus than we actually managed to create. At first I was pleased with the followers and likes coming through on the Instagram page, however, as I saw more and more friends throughout the week, my feelings changed. I noticed that I was constantly being asked about “this eco friendly Instagram page.” I realized that, for the most part, the people who had followed the account didn’t actually know what they were following. They had only followed it because I had asked them to. They did it for Aisling Gorman as opposed to @cleanURlake.

Although the explanation of the page did generate some meaningful E. Coli related conversations, these conversations occurred in the physical as opposed to the virtual. Coming to the realization that the page wasn’t popular in itself reminded me of the Ana Luna Facebook page I had set up this summer. While both pages got plenty of attention, the attention was attracted by a factor that was somewhat separate from the page itself. It has led me to question the effectiveness of such pages, and to wonder at what point do these pages actually reach legitimate efficiency. Even though the process involved in the virtual presences of Facebook and Instagram may appear to be easy, gaining legitimacy and efficiency for the pages is much more difficult. I found this experience to be interesting and worthwhile as it provided an insight into the workings of a protest, while also unexpectedly connecting to my experiences this past summer.

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Divide and Conquer? Not So Much

// Posted by Aisling on 10/15/2014 (10:46 AM)

This past weekend, I headed down to Charleston, SC with a group of friends for fall break. Even though it was a “break” from school, we all seemed to still have homework to do. One of my friends, Sara, had… Read more

This past weekend, I headed down to Charleston, SC with a group of friends for fall break. Even though it was a “break” from school, we all seemed to still have homework to do. One of my friends, Sara, had a 2000 word paper due on the Saturday, and was really trying to get it finished before we arrived in Charleston. So, as we were driving, she sat in the middle seat on her computer, typing out the essay. We hit a lot of traffic, and her computer ended up dying about 2 hours before we reached Charleston. When her computer shut off, she sat for a few minutes, and then pulled out her iPhone. Within seconds of unlocking her phone, she had opened up her essay on her iPhone screen, and had begun working again. At first, her thumbs were flying over the tiny screen, and she seemed to be very productive. However, after about 10 minutes of intense screen-switching, scrolling, zooming, and typing, she put the phone down and simply said, “I can’t.”

For experience #3, Brendan, Emily, and I focused our work on the digital divide. The term  “‘digital divide’ is often used to discuss the connectivity gap among distinct regions and demographics.” (Goodman) We thought it would be interesting to explore this gap, and create a gap of our own within the classroom. To achieve this, we split the class into two groups, and restricted one group from the use of any electronics, and the other to the use of a smartphone. With their restrictions in place, we then told the groups to research the idea of copyright inequality, and to turn in a paragraph response and a list of sources used.

I was assigned to group B, otherwise known as group “Access Denied.” We were not allowed to use anything that connected to the Internet to conduct our research, and could not even bring our phones along with us for the purposes of time keeping.

Stack of iPhones prior to the experience

The question we were researching had to do with forming a position on whether or not copyright laws produce or enhance inequality. Although the question itself was not difficult, we had no idea where to find the physical books on copyright laws, so we went to speak to a librarian on the first floor of the Boatwright Library. Even though she was very helpful in looking up books for us, at first she did not understand why we couldn’t do it ourselves. When Damian approached her, she suggested he look up his topic in the library’s system. However, the library’s system is online, and we weren’t allowed to access it ourselves. When we explained the experience and why we weren’t able to look it up, she willingly did it for us, and gave us a list of several books to find.

Speaking with the librarian

The fact that the library’s system exists online was extremely interesting to me, as I considered what it would be like to be without constant access to an Internet connection. Although our librarian was willing and helpful, we might not have been so lucky. Suppose you were a high school student without Internet or a smart phone, and had to do all of your research projects at your town’s public library. You can only book two-hour timeslots on the computer each day, and you need this precious time to actually write your research papers. You can’t afford to use your minutes looking up books. So, each time you needed to find a book or a journal, you would have to do what we did, and ask a librarian to do something that the library expects you to be able to take care of yourself. The first two times the librarian might be helpful and even kind, but if you are coming in every week or two with a different project, it may not continue to be the case. Would you become notorious for not being able to look up your own books? Would the librarians eventually refuse to help you? Would you be forced to cut into your 2 hours and look up the books yourself, possibly causing you to have to then rush to finish your paper? Questions like these were swimming through my head as I tried to transpose our current library experience into one occurring at a public library.

Although the librarian in the Boatwright Memorial Library was very helpful, she delivered the unwelcome news that the books we needed were in the Law Library. Luckily, Elizabeth knew how to get there, because I certainly didn’t.

The walk from Boatwright Library (5) to the Law Library (19)

Once we arrived in the Law Library, we began looking for the books. We went straight to where we thought the books would be, and realized we had no idea where we were or where we should be looking. Eventually, Elizabeth went and spoke to a Law Librarian who pointed us in the right direction. However, we had all sort of split up to look for the books, and we ended up losing Brendan. Because we didn’t have our cellphones, we had no way to contact him, and had no idea where he was or what he was doing. As we were very much in a time crunch, we didn’t stop to look for him, and proceeded to find the books.

Damian, Elizabeth, and I skimmed through a book each, and quickly jotted down some thoughts. We had no idea what time it was (again, no cellphone to quickly check), but we had a feeling we were very crunched for time. The stress was real in this situation, and we even considered running back to Boatwright. Ultimately, we used the walk back to gather some thoughts, and to try and write up a paragraph. Thinking and writing while walking is extremely difficult, and it felt like our thoughts were extremely jumbled and not going in the direction we wanted them to. Without anything substantial on our page, we made it back to Boatwright, and found Brendan at the front of the library, sitting at a computer. We had run out of time, and needed to quickly come up with something to hand in. Our thoughts were flying everywhere and it was hard for us to come up with anything concrete. On top of not having our thoughts together, we also didn’t have our sources together. Although Elizabeth remembered her book, in my rush to get back in time I completely forgot to write down the name of the book we cited in our paragraph! It wasn’t the end of the world because it was part of the experience, but I can’t even imagine how stressful that would’ve been if I was a highschool student rushing between libraries in a time crunch. I probably would’ve had a mental breakdown.

Searching for books

Going through the research process without connectivity was something I found interestingly difficult and eye opening. I have always taken my ability to get online for granted, and have never thought of what it would be like if this ability was taken away from me. Watching my friend put her smartphone down in defeat after she tried to write her paper on it seriously made me reconsider what I do take for granted. Similarly to how Sara couldn’t work on her iPhone, Goodman’s article states that (like Sara), “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.” But what if Sara didn’t have a choice? What if she only had her smartphone? Sara is intelligent, and does well in school, but how would this change if she only had a smartphone? Would her potential and intelligence be lost somewhere between the difference of a touch screen keyboard and an actual computer?

In her article, Goodman refers to a Whitehouse study, which showed that only 71% of Americans have broadband at home. In a country of over 316 million people, that leaves close to 90 million Americans without a broadband connection in their homes. 90 million is a lot of people, but coming from an island with a population of 65,000 it is hard to conceptualize what 90 million actually means. To help my understanding of how immense the divide is, I tried to relate America’s 90 million to my 90 million. I decided that it would take over 1,300 Bermudas to reach the number of Americans without Internet access in their homes. That’s over 1000 countries (albeit tiny ones) put together. Connectivity is something so taken for granted, and yet there are over 1300 Bermudas without it.



The digital divide creates a gap, but after this experience I also feel like it creates an abyss. A place of lost potential and performance. Because I have never personally experienced the digital divide in my lifetime, it was hard to actually imagine what it would be like to be on the other side of it. However, after going through the experience without any access, I truly feel like this experience opened my eyes to the complex issues and difficulties surrounding the divide.

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Experience #2

// Posted by Aisling on 09/21/2014 (9:21 PM)

It’s 6:45 on a Sunday evening, and you are putting off your homework by spending some quality time on Facebook. Scrolling down your newsfeed, you see a post from that kid you sat next to once or twice in econ… Read more

It’s 6:45 on a Sunday evening, and you are putting off your homework by spending some quality time on Facebook. Scrolling down your newsfeed, you see a post from that kid you sat next to once or twice in econ sophomore year. You’re really interested in wasting some time so you go ahead and click on his page. Just by scrolling through his profile you learn that he now goes to college in the Midwest, belongs to a boy band, and adopted a puppy last year on a whim. Clicking through his pictures you get to “meet” his girlfriend, and by clicking on her profile its easy enough for you get to know her on a pretty basic level. Where she’s from, where she works, where she went to high school, what type of music she listens to, what sorority she belongs to, and her favourite quotes from The Notebook. You have no real connection to either of these people, and yet they have made so much of their personal information public to you- willingly.

As of July 2014, Facebook has over 1.3 billion active users. These 1.3 billion people have, and continue to, voluntarily share pieces of themselves with the world, via Facebook.

For Experience #2, I was assigned the role of the NSA/ USA Government. In class we were told to familiarize ourselves with our character, and to bring something to class that represented our character. I was a little bit nervous to be playing the NSA/USA, as the character played such a central role in the second unit of Digital America.

This was one of the things I brought to class as a representation of the NSA… The seal has been altered from the brave, American bald eagle, to a more sinister looking bird that is listening in on Americans as opposed to protecting them.

Although I had been somewhat expecting a lot of the experience to relate back to my character, I was still surprised and even taken aback when the discussion repeatedly turned towards the NSA. It often felt like the majority (if not all) of the characters at the table at least somewhat disproved of the NSA/USA government and their actions.

Despite the fact that we were all in “character,” this element of the discussion was an interesting surprise for me, as I was the only one at the table in the position to legitimize the NSA and back up its activities. I found this a little bit difficult, as I felt that a lot of the assigned readings had been relatively biased against the NSA/ USA government. For example, an article from The Guardian quotes Edward Snowden as describing the NSA as “the federation of secret law, unequal pardon and irresistible executive powers that rule the world…” Later in the article, Snowden then goes on to refer to the government as doing “far more harm than good.” Although these statements are very clearly Snowden’s personal views on the organizations, it was hard not to agree with them and reshape them as my own, as I knew relatively nothing about the NSA before taking this class.

Just like Santa Claus, the NSA is always watching…

That being said, I often wanted to agree with the claims of my classmates instead of fight back on behalf of the NSA/ USA government. My classmates raised issues of privacy and liberty, especially in concern to the “everyday American citizens” who are now subjected to NSA surveillance. “Why does the NSA care about the private details of these peoples’ lives? Do you understand what an invasion of privacy this is?”

Although I initially wanted to agree with my classmates, it was questions like these that really got me thinking. It got me thinking about my Facebook page or my Instagram account, and the sub-cultures that exist throughout both of them. People are constantly making details of their lives quite public, from the pancakes they made for breakfast to the way they voted in the last election. Thinking back to the kid from econ’s girlfriend, it is all too easy to discover things about people, and often without trying.  And the girlfriend would have no way of knowing that you’d been snooping on her, building a person and a personality out of the information on her Facebook page. This idea of creating a personality from different intangible points reminded me of the “personal data trails” (Bamford) discussed by Bamford in his article for Wired. Bamford claims that the NSA is collecting items such as “parking receipts, travel itineraries, bookstore purchases” (Bamford), in order to construct a person and potentially identify any suspicious habits. Although the NSA goes about creating a person much differently than you do as you look into the girlfriend, the end goals are interestingly similar.

This realization was something I found to be quite interesting, as it made me think about how easily we give ourselves away but yet how horrified we feel when the NSA begins to look for similar information. If you went to Waffle House for breakfast and Instagramed a picture of your waffles, that is perfectly okay, and people will know where and what you ate for breakfast. However, when the NSA puts it on your “paper trail,” you get a feeling that your liberty has been violated. It creates an interesting dichotomy.

Although I understand that the NSA/ USA government’s actions run much deeper than collecting paper trails, and I still cannot say I agree 100% with their surveillance programs, it is not hard for me to admit that experience 2 helped me to view the NSA in a new light, and to begin to try and understand it from different points of view.

Cartoon “weighing the options” between security and liberty.


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Chatting with the 90s

// Posted by Aisling on 09/08/2014 (11:05 AM)

Categories: Uncategorized