DIGITAL AMERICA

Category: Blog

Connected, but alone? – Final group experience

// Posted by 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

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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 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

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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.”

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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.’”
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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
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Online and IRL: Protesting in the Digital Age

// Posted by 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

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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

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The Great Divide – Experience #3

// Posted by 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

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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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Experience #1 – 90s chat room and nostalgia

// Posted by 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

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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
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Women and Web

// Posted by on 04/21/2014 (9:09 PM)

Ever since we read Poster, I’ve been chomping at the bit to talk about women and the internet.  ”The world has turned upside down, with many of our assumptions about time and space, body and mind, subject and object, gender,Read more

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Ever since we read Poster, I’ve been chomping at the bit to talk about women and the internet.  ”The world has turned upside down, with many of our assumptions about time and space, body and mind, subject and object, gender, race, and class” (51).  Yes, I used that quote in an earlier blog post.  No, I don’t feel bad using it again.  Because when I read that quote, and, I hope, when some of you read that quote, I asked myself if Mark Poster and I could possibly be talking about the same internet.  Because I look at the internet, and I see a place that can make it pretty difficult to be a woman, and I think Quinn Norton and Amanda Hess’s articles can back that up, though they look at the issue entirely differently.

Phase 1 of the project, the idea of which I expect to continue into Phase 2, has largely been case study driven.  Some posts are longer, exploring questions of feminist theory or articles from class, and tying them into things I personally have come across on the internet.  Some are short, almost serving like a pinboard for snapshots of the larger picture.

The theoretical framework of my project is largely based in feminist theory — questions about rape culture and patriarchy — and especially how these things can become magnified in a simultaneously hyperconnected and yet more anonymous medium.  However, underlying this whole discussion is a reliance on Turner’s work in Counterculture to Cyberculture, because, like he rejects idea that the New Communalist communes really reflected a change in gender roles or cultural ideals, so it seems that the digital culture has not provided the escape from those things either.

Phase 2 aims to look more at solutions than Phase 1′s case studies do — we know there are problems with the way women on some sites are treated some times, but are there safe spaces on the internet?  Are there moves being made to open the community up?  There are women in Anonymous and on 4chan and Reddit: how do they navigate the system, and can we learn something from that?

Phase 2 will also look at intersectionality, because as Flavia Dzodan so eloquently put it: “My feminism will be intersectional or it will be bullshit.”  It’s all well and fine to talk about women on the internet, but without talking about how all those other dimensions Poster mentions at the end of his quote change the way women experience online communities, it will be wholly incomplete.

Your assignment, should you choose to accept it [I don't actually know if it's optional, you'd have to ask the professor about that one], is to answer the following questions either in the comments or in an email (rachel.hall@richmond.edu), if you’re uncomfortable posting them in public.

  1. When you get on the internet, what are the first five things you do or sites you go to?
  2. On a scale of 1 to 10 (1 being incredibly unsafe/uncomfortable and 10 being very safe/comfortable), how do you feel on those sites?
  3. Have you ever been on a website that made you feel unsafe or uncomfortable?  What content drove that reaction, if so?
  4. Do you regularly go on Reddit, 4chan, or online forums?

Bonus round — Not at the same level as the previous questions [so don't feel obligated], but more for funzies, because they’re more exploratory/interactive.

  1. Go to Reddit.com and click through the front page or any of the sub-reddits or threads.  What’s the first thing you see that makes you uncomfortable?  If your answer to this is “nothing,” congratulations, you are now a Redditor.
  2. Check out my project blog, womenandweb.wordpress.com!

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It’s Just a “Boyish Hoax” Ladies, Relax!

// Posted by on 03/24/2014 (6:53 PM)

After our class discussions last week, I wanted to continue to focus on the topic of women and the Internet.  After reading Amanda Hess’ article, Why Women Aren’t Welcome on the Internet, it became just how important this issue truly… Read more

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After our class discussions last week, I wanted to continue to focus on the topic of women and the Internet.  After reading Amanda Hess’ article, Why Women Aren’t Welcome on the Internet, it became just how important this issue truly is in our current society.  In our digital age, it is far more likely for individuals to feel comfortable expressing themselves more freely than they normally would in face-to-face conversation.  This is, simply put, because we are able to hide behind a screen.  We do not feel the direct affect our words have on others, have control over who sees what we post, and do not have to take the risking our confidence.  Although this ability for open expression does yield various positive results, it is also poses very serious threats to individuals’ emotional and physical safety.  Where do we draw the line?  When is a threat made online taken as seriously as one made in person?  Whose responsible for this content and what shall be the repercussions for it?

One set of statistics in Hess’ article really stood out to me: Feminine usernames incurred an average of 100 sexually explicit or threatening messages a day while Masculine names received 3.7.  Similarly, she references a survey that Pew conducted gathering data from 2000 to  2005 which showed the percentage of internet users who participated in online chats and discussion groups.  Participants dropped from 28 percent to 17 percent, “‘entirely because of women’s fall off in participation’” (Hess).  After receiving both morbid death and terrifying rape threats, it is understandable why a woman would turn away from the Internet- delete her Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc.  Should women really be so uncomfortable to the point where they have to do so?  Where they feel there is no other option than to “digitally disappear”?  This position women often face does not seem fair to me.  The use of the internet will only continue to expand and women should not have to choose between using the Internet and feeling safe.  The Internet is a crucial resource for work and social communication between family and friends.

A big part of this dilemma is the lack of law enforcement in regards to digital threats.  Hess discusses the experiences of numerous women who had been continuously threatened on the Internet.  Even after consulting the police, however, the situations largely remained unresolved.  As Hess asserts, “the Internet is a global network, but when you pick up the phone to report an online threat, you end up face-to-face with a cop who patrols a comparatively puny jurisdiction” (Hess).  With police dismissing online threats as non-immediate and therefore not serious, women are left alone with no real resolution or justice.  With this common pattern of police response, it seems as though they are suggesting that women should take online threats lightly.  Obviously, a woman can experience harassment anywhere, not just on the Internet, however, as our society continues to increasingly depend on the Internet, it is no longer something we can overlook.  Today, harassers are able to remain anonymous and target women for no reason whatsoever.  Who is to tell women that their fear and anxiety is not real?  Why is the seemly discrete message seen to be, just forget about it and move on?  Something is fundamentally wrong with this picture…

The Internet is not a safe place, and even less safe of one for women.  Although there have been various efforts to prevent online harassment and bullying, there are no laws that allow women to bring claims against individuals.  This is because the Internet is not an official workplace, but a never-ending universe that lacks individual accountability.  Even if multiple users attack an individual, there is no way to group them into one and take action.  The Internet allows a sense of mobility and liberation that causes—even encourages— individuals to say whatever they want to without any repercussions.  Although I understand the challenges of holding anonymous screen names accountable for their words, I think that it is something that needs more focus as it will only continue to have an effects on our society, on an individual level and on a larger scale.  The Internet has become real life and we need to start treating it accordingly.


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Are Cellphones a Good Solution for the Digital Divide?

// Posted by on 03/01/2014 (5:06 PM)

As college students we use technology in almost every aspect of our studying throughout the day. We type our papers on our laptops, read our textbooks on our ipads, and are in constant communication with our professors via email on… Read more

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As college students we use technology in almost every aspect of our studying throughout the day. We type our papers on our laptops, read our textbooks on our ipads, and are in constant communication with our professors via email on our smart phones. It seems unimaginable to think of coming to college and not having the basic knowledge of how to use Microsoft Word or even how to send an email. However in the article “The Digital Divide Is Still Leaving Americans Behind” it highlights a significant portion of our population that is still growing up illiterate on the computer. Reflecting back on my experiences not only enrolling in college but also registering in the beginning, not having access to technology and in particular computers would have put me at a significant disadvantage.

The article focuses on whether or not it was a human or civil right for students to have access to technology that is crucial in this day and age. Before learning more about this subject and having a discussion in class I would have never considered providing students with computers or Internet access a human right. However the more and more I think about it, the more I see it disadvantaging the students. It’s similar to not teaching lower income student’s math and then throwing them into a subject in college where math is the lining for all course material. While learning how to send an email is seemingly easier to learn than 12 years of algebra it still creates a huge gap between students. I have yet to encounter someone at the University of Richmond who is not literate on the computer. Is this because those underprivileged students couldn’t attend Richmond because of the lack of access of technology to apply or is it next to impossible to excel at school without the use of a computer.

 

One of the ways that some people were attempting to combat the lack of access to computers and Internet connection was with the introduction of smart phones. In a New York Times article “Industry Makes Pitch That Smartphones Belong in Classroom” it talks about an experiment that gave smartphones to students without computer access and they saw a significant increase in the quality of the students performance. It is important to note though that the study was funding by Qualcomm a maker of cell phone chips for smartphones and who wants to break into to education market. The study also discussed how the students were heavily monitored on their use of smartphones and the scope with which they were allowed to use their phones. Cell phones have always been seen as a huge distraction and I feel this isn’t going to change anytime soon. The New York Times article talked about how 10 states have school wide bans of cell phones for this very reason I feel like cell phones would be significantly harder to monitor without access to the phones activity directly. I also feel it may be frustrating sometimes to do a large amount of schoolwork on my phone. I couldn’t imagine typing out a long research paper on such a small screen and a small keyboard.

 

Whether cell phones are the right answer to weakening the digital divide or making sure every high school student is literate in computers before heading off to college something does need to change in the public education system in regards to access to technology. If we allow this divide to keep growing bigger it is only going to strengthen the income gap between classes because it is impossible to advance in the world today without a basic level of computer knowledge. Whether or not it is a human right or a civil right is still unclear and might remain unclear for years to come but the right to learn should be available to everyone no matter what.

Articles:

http://www.nytimes.com/2009/02/16/technology/16phone.html?_r=2&

http://mashable.com/2013/08/18/digital-divide/


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The U.S invading the ‘Third Space’

// Posted by on 02/09/2014 (9:48 PM)

When reading Poster’s book “Information Please” one idea really stood out for me, the concept of the third space. Poster defines the third space as ‘ the cultural encounter between the colonizer and colonize happens in an ‘indeterminate space of… Read more

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When reading Poster’s book “Information Please” one idea really stood out for me, the concept of the third space. Poster defines the third space as ‘ the cultural encounter between the colonizer and colonize happens in an ‘indeterminate space of the subject(s) of enunciation’ (Information Please). This third space is where cultures interact and are exposed to the mannerisms and quirks of the opposing culture. The Internet has allowed us to gain access to an enormous amount of information and in the process opens our eyes to new ways of life.

What Poster seems to be articulating is how this access to other cultures will eventually break down the walls of prejudice and will allow the shock value for different culture, we have never been exposed to, decrease dramatically. The Internet could completely revolutionize the way we interact with other cultures and the way we gather information about relationships and learned interactions.

 

One example brought up through our class discussion was the introduction of relationships through the broadcasting of Sex and the City to other nations outside of the U.S. Many Arab countries are fascinated with the show and the fashion that is portrayed and this obsession exposes them to the American structure of friendship and the ‘single girl lifestyle.’ This exposure could lead to changes in their friendships and how they view their own relationship in their communities.

 

However does this give the U.S a distinctive advantage over the ‘third space’? The U.S has a large control of the media that is being broadcasted worldwide and in return U.S society has the power to use that influence to sway the opinions and actions ofother countries. In a New York Times article it even mentioned how the use of ‘soft power’ through the media was seen as a strategy to gain a better public perspective abroad. While it stated there were no tangible results there is no denying American media is taking over the world. In the article some proof of this was ‘ the televisions program “CSI” is now more popular in France than in the United States.”

 

http://www.nytimes.com/2008/12/01/business/media/01soft.html?_r=0

 

Is the sheer amount of power the U.S seems to have going to influence the third space and then in turn the societies the third space is touching? While many Arab countries are broadcasting Sex and the City and being exposed to U.S culture, as Americans what are we getting exposed to? We rarely see the widespread popularity of another nations media in America. We have to seek out other cultures in order to get that exposure and thus weaken our prejudices and reduce our shock value. While the concept of the ‘third space’ does seem accurate, I feel like it might not have as great of an effect on the U.S as it does on other countries around the world. We need to not only diversify our thinking but also diversify our media in order to gain the complete benefits that Poster is explaining in “Information Please.”


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The Paradoxical Freedom of Technology

// Posted by on 01/19/2014 (11:11 PM)

Cassaundra Fincke

 

The first two chapters of From Counterculture to Cyberculture by Fred Turner address some interesting historical events that have heavily contributed to today’s culture surrounding technology.  One of Turner’s discussions which I found particularly interesting deals with… Read more

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Cassaundra Fincke

 

The first two chapters of From Counterculture to Cyberculture by Fred Turner address some interesting historical events that have heavily contributed to today’s culture surrounding technology.  One of Turner’s discussions which I found particularly interesting deals with the student stigma surrounding computational terms. In the 1960s, the advances in technology, particularly concerning the military, gave this new technology a sense of power. As such, people began likening human functions and states to terms used to describe machinery. For example, the term “networks,” which is an operating system in a computer, began to be used to describe the inner workings of the human brain. Students in the 1960s presented a backlash against this movement as they did not want to be thought of as merely one bit of functionality in an overall machine. However, this idea is not completely extinct in present times.

Although people still use computational terms, I do not believe they have the same negative stigma or frequency they once did. In my personal experience at college, I find the times that I tend to think of my brain as a computer or calculator are linked to certain subject matters. For example, when I am working on an analysis such as this, I feel that my brain is more humanistic in that it perceives things differently than others thus allowing me to have a different opinion or perception than someone else. This is because an analysis is very opinion-oriented, and thus unique for every individual. Conversely, I have always felt a bit more mechanic and like part of a process when working on a math or science equation as there is usually a designated way to solve these problems making people just a part of the equation. For someone like me who is not very gifted in these areas, it can be comforting to know that there is a specific method I need only “plug into” my mind to carry out. However, I would be just as troubled as the students who revolted if this mentality permeated into all areas of life. While power is something virtually everyone seeks and values, it is dehumanizing to associate this power with such a rigid piece of technology, like a computer.

Interestingly enough, we now tend to believe that technology has freed us rather than constrained and dehumanized us. But is this really the case? Technologies like cell phones and computers, which were originally meant to keep us connected can often now do just the opposite. All too often people are glued to their phones while in the middle of an in-person “conversation” only contributing to the topic by mechanically muttering “yeah” at the appropriate times. We tend to Google search answers to opinion questions rather than thinking through things for ourselves. Sometimes people even text or call each other from different rooms in the house. By engaging in this behavior, I believe we are dehumanizing ourselves in a manner of speaking in that we are abusing our technology (freedom). Technology can offer much assistance in our quest for various levels of power. However, we all too often let it turn us into mindless, “plugged-in” machines who are on auto pilot in our daily lives rather than being fully engaged.


Categories: Blog, Discussion
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The Beginning of The End

// Posted by on 01/17/2014 (5:23 PM)

The opening chapters of Fred Turner’s, From Counterculture to Cyberculture, explore the historical context of  the utopian vision of computing technology as well as the metaphors, language, ideas, and movements that are linked to it.  He largely focuses on… Read more

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The opening chapters of Fred Turner’s, From Counterculture to Cyberculture, explore the historical context of  the utopian vision of computing technology as well as the metaphors, language, ideas, and movements that are linked to it.  He largely focuses on Stewart Brand, a networker who founded the Whole Earth Catalog and WELL (Whole Earth ‘Lectronic Link) which were both focused on creating an openminded and flexible kind of culture.  Brand was an important figure in the idea of the Merry Pranksters as well as in the MIT media Lab.  From the 1960′s through the 1980′s, he experienced diverse environments and sought to link projects and people and promote new ways of thinking.  Brand’s enterprises over those two decades of “shifting politics”, Turner suggests, appear as precursors to the World Wide Web.

Turner also discusses the public perspective in 1967 and the fear and unrest that arose as computers were viewed as technologies of dehumanization, centralized bureaucracy, and the rationalization of human life.  Computers were an overt symbol of the military and the centralization of power.  People feared the creation of an automated society that was a potential threat to their freedom.  In the 1990′s, however, computers had served as the defining devices of cold war technocracy and emerged as the symbols of its transformation. Two decades after the end of the Vietnam War and the fading of the American counter culture, computers somehow seemed poised to bring to life the countercultural dream of empowered individualism, collaborative community, and spiritual communion (2).  It is interesting how in just thirty years, the cultural meaning of information technology shifted so drastically.  The power of computing, once seen a threat to freedom and a individuality, was soon perceived as encouraging to personal freedom, collaboration, dispersed authority, and knowledge.

After learning about the shift in perspective of technology from the 1960′s to the 1990′s, it is interesting to consider the view of the subject in my generation.  It is overly evident how ingrained technology is in our society today, particularly among the youth.  Walking around campus, it is almost rare to see a student hands-free, head up, taking in their immediate environment and the individuals who occupy it.  It is not hard to understand technologies’ massive role in influencing the world around us.  iPhones have replaced the need for face-to-face conversations and computers are now the popular substitute for books, newspapers, and magazines.  Seven-year-olds are asking for cellphones and computers as birthday gifts instead of bicycles or games.  Dinner conversations have taken a backseat to technological entertainment and car rides are often silent as everyone is “plugged-in”.  It is undeniable; we live in the digital age.

I often find these observations to be depressing, only reminders of how genuine social interactions have seemingly diminished into thin air.  It is almost as if someone’s texting or Facebook/Twitter/Instgram page is more of a representation of who they are than the individual him/herself.  For the majority of young people, technology is their primary device for communication and expression.  In my opinion, this only hinders their personable development as they spend increasing amounts of time focused on their digital appearence as well as the personalities portrayed by others.  Technology can often limit the imagination and creativity of young minds as they are bombarded with distractions on the web that are more often than not- well, garbage.   Some might argue that I have a biased view on how our generations technological networks have influenced our social interactions and that is probably accurate.  My opinion is formed by personal experience, however, and I tend to see technology today as a tool for a shallow interconnectedness that, ultimately, isolates us from one another. To me, this is where the irony lies.  A device created to connect humanity on a broad scale has the effect of distancing us when we are, physically, the closest.

 


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How WikiLeaks Blew It

// Posted by on 02/25/2013 (8:45 PM)

This man, Julian Assange, has become the face of WikiLeaks. As the founder, he created the network of secrets and successfully leaked many sensitive documents. What he may not have realized at the time is that his image had… Read more

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This man, Julian Assange, has become the face of WikiLeaks. As the founder, he created the network of secrets and successfully leaked many sensitive documents. What he may not have realized at the time is that his image had a strong influence on people’s perception of the website. Assange’s anti-American attitude was revealed in his selections of leaks. A majority of the leaks were targeted at American government and organizations. WikiLeaks biggest mistake was adopting a clear political agenda. The WikiLeaks were directly based on Assange’s political views, meaning that his followers mostly ascribed to a certain belief system. The site didn’t start this way, but since 2010 it has progressed in this light. Assange’s personal affairs have contributed to a decreasing credibility from his followers. The US government is less willing to compromise and/or work with Assange, given his obvious anti-American feelings. The article which Assange promised to leak about Russia was never real eased, raising eyebrows about the documents actual existence. WikiLeaks also has a reputation for secrets of its own, mainly with associated mainstream media. The site is reported to have gone behind editors’ backs and take articles personally.

Assange’s “chamber of secrets” is in its collapse-mode, according to an article in Foreign Policy last August. The site has lost the reputation for supplying accurate and credible information to the public. The political agenda of the website also dissuades readers from taking the content at face value. Assange’s personal life also impacted the website. When Assange was accused of sexual assault, the organization was impacted because of the inherent connection between the creator and his product. The article I read takes the side that WikiLeaks will not make a comeback from its current situation. While I agree with the main points of the article, I believe that either at the end of the standoff in the Ecuadorean embassy or before then, a new leader/face of WikiLeaks will emerge. The world has a demand for secrets and inside information – so many people are yearning for that inside knowledge or a leak that could open a policy window for them. Somebody will continue this chamber of secrets, whether it is through WikiLeaks or not. The US government security has little external control over how these websites choose to expose information, but we can only hope that now the US systems are secure enough to keep hackers out of classified business. I’m not completely confident given the actions Anonymous is capable of.


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GoogleTube

// Posted by on 02/04/2013 (1:12 AM)

 

M&A

As an aspiring corporate lawyer, I’ve done a good amount of research into how companies and corporations split up their legal departments. A large part of most every legal department is mergers and acquisitions (m&a),… Read more

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M&A

As an aspiring corporate lawyer, I’ve done a good amount of research into how companies and corporations split up their legal departments. A large part of most every legal department is mergers and acquisitions (m&a), which, according to the WikiPedia definition, is an aspect of corporate strategy, corporate finance and management dealing with the buying, selling, dividing and combining of different companies and similar entities that can help an enterprise grow rapidly in its sector or location of origin, or a new field or new location, without creating a subsidiary, other child entity or using a joint venture.”

We all know how wildly successful Google has become- not just as an internet search engine, but as a nearly ubiquitous “brand of internet.” To “google” something has become a real part of the English language, and the word has become nearly synonymous with internet use. Counterculture to Cyberculture told us that “like the rural landscape of the 1960s, Barlow’s cyberspace would stand beyond government control.” Google, however is certainly not beyond government control.

The company has grown to outrageous proportions through mergers with and acquisition of over 120 different entities, among them YouTube (bought for a steal $1,650,000,000 in 2006) and DoubleClick (online advertising firm bought for $3 billion in 2007) to Motorola Mobility (bought for $12.5 billion in 2011). These acquisitions have been rendered into such household names as Google Maps, Google Docs, Gmail, Google Analytics, Android, Google TV, and the list goes on.

These transactions are by no means maverick in nature. The Farlex Legal Dictionary tells us that “federal and state laws regulate mergers and acquisitions. Regulation is based on the concern that mergers inevitably eliminate competition between the merging firms. This concern is most acute where the participants are direct rivals, because courts often presume that such arrangements are more prone to restrict output and to increase prices. The fear that mergers and acquisitions reduce competition has meant that the government carefully scrutinizes proposed mergers. On the other hand, since the 1980s, the federal government has become less aggressive in seeking the prevention of mergers.”

So, yes, ”The online masses have an incredible willingness to share. The number of personal photos posted on Facebook and MySpace is astronomical, but it’s a safe bet that the overwhelming majority of photos taken with a digital camera are shared in some fashion. Then there are status updates, map locations, half-thoughts posted online. Add to this the 6 billion videos served by YouTube each month in the US alone and the millions of fan-created stories deposited on fanfic sites…Operating without state funding or control, connecting citizens directly to citizens, this mostly free marketplace [the internet] achieves social good at an efficiency that would stagger any government or traditional corporation.” (The New Socialism: Global Collectivist Society is Coming Online). That’s all valid. In fact, it’s just peachy. But the truth remains that the internet, no matter what we are able to share, is pretty well guarded. It’s not Barlow’s maverick cyberspace anymore…

http://www.wired.com/culture/culturereviews/magazine/17-06/nep_newsocialism?currentPage=all


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The Girl Who Cried “Fire”

// Posted by on 01/28/2013 (10:27 PM)

This weekend, a terrible fire occurred in a Brazilian nightclub called “Kiss.” The club was filled far beyond its capacity, which lead to further chaos when the fire broke out. It spread faster and was difficult to contain. Over 230… Read more

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This weekend, a terrible fire occurred in a Brazilian nightclub called “Kiss.” The club was filled far beyond its capacity, which lead to further chaos when the fire broke out. It spread faster and was difficult to contain. Over 230 people were killed and the scene described in related articles is disturbing and tragic. Could the fire have been saved by social media?

The Huffington Post published an article about a 20 year old in the club who posted a Facebook status within an hour of the disaster. The post read “Incéndio na KISS socorro,” which translates to “Fire at KISS help.” The post received many comments, including one that said “the last check-in.” The girl who posted the status died in the fire, alongside hundreds of others. The fire appears to have been started as a result of pyrotechnics used in the band’s performance.

Another article in the Huffington Post about the incident says that the band that performed on this night feels threatened through social media sights.  People have been making claims that they will have to pay and the band fears retaliation.

In this instance, we see social media for good and for bad. Well, the victim’s post could have been better if her Facebook friends had perhaps reacted in a more urgent matter. Does this stem from that people make over-dramatic statuses? Then there is the flip side, that the band is now receiving threats through social media outlets. How will they keep themselves safe when (probably) all their activity is live-posted and geo-tagged thanks to Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Foursquare…

I find the situation simultaneously hopeful but discouraging. Social media is such a powerful tool, even has the power to save lives; in the physical and the metaphorical sense (think about FB campaigns that raise money). That being said, so often it is used for harm or for scheming. It’s so vast and basically impossible to control. If people could learn to harness the positive potential of social media outlets, the internet could become a less threatening space. What if you could tweet @911 (or the equivalent emergency hotline) and get a call or help immediately? Or text your location to a “HELP” line if you are in a situation and unable to make a phone call, i.e. a crowded club or the back of a kidnap van? The possibilities are there.

Facebook Post

Brazilian Nightclub Fire


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Money For Nothing

// Posted by on 01/27/2013 (10:33 PM)

“You break into any system that you are not authorized to enter, you should be willing and able to face the consequences. The Age of the Merry Pranksters and a Bus going Further are long gone. I loved it then… Read more

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“You break into any system that you are not authorized to enter, you should be willing and able to face the consequences. The Age of the Merry Pranksters and a Bus going Further are long gone. I loved it then but this time is not then. Too many scammers and info-terrorists are running rampant so Hacker Beware.”

That is an individual’s comment on a New York Times article concerning the Aaron Swartz situation. In his eyes, Swartz illegally downloaded millions of copy-written files and was completely responsible for his actions. This is certainly a valid point; after all, the documents WERE held on a secure subscription-only server, and he TECHNICALLY broke the law. However, are today’s piracy and copyright laws outdated and incapable of properly policing online illegal activity? After all, Swartz’s potential punishment was “35 years and $1 million in fines,” a punishment rivaling that of armed robbers and individuals who commit dangerous, face-to-face crimes.

Although JSTOR opted to not press charges against Swartz, other organizations have taken ineffective and costly approaches to “punish” those who have illegally downloaded products online. The RIAA is notorious for suing people of all ages (as in, from children and the elderly) for thousands of dollars per illegally downloaded song. In this article research shows that out of $64 million spent on lawsuit campaigns, they only brought in about $1.4 million in settlement money. That’s only 2% of the money they spent that they’re getting back.

I’ve done a ton of research on copyright laws and the media in the past, and from my research I’ve concluded that today’s laws are inadequate in the face of the vast amount of technological changes that have occurred since they were written. For example, is it illegal for an individual to buy a game or a movie legally and then pirate the same copy just so that he or she can get around the pesky always-stay-online” DRM included in the paid version? That’s what happened to Shawn Hogan, who was sued after illegally downloading the movie Meet The Fockers via BitTorrent. His case was unique because he provided evidence that he owned a legitimate copy of the DVD, and the case was settled.

I am not an opponent to strict copyright laws. After all, people deserve to be paid for their work. However, I think that the laws need to be revamped, thrown away, or replaced in order to accomodate a world in which law-abiding people are being sued for thousands of dollars for “illegal” activities that, under scrutiny, aren’t worth the pain and suffering that they cause. If someone wants to both buy a copy of Diablo 3 and a pirated version just to play the pirated copy offline, who are they actually hurting? If Aaron Swartz takes JSTOR articles and posts them for others to read, should he be imprisoned for 35 years? Where does it END?

By: Andrew Jones


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Be The Hero

// Posted by on 04/01/2012 (12:30 PM)

After watching Jane McGonigal’s Ted Talk on how gaming can make the world a better place it got me thinking. I dove in a little further and asked how is this possible how could the superheros of video… Read more

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After watching Jane McGonigal’s Ted Talk on how gaming can make the world a better place it got me thinking. I dove in a little further and asked how is this possible how could the superheros of video games become real life? McGonigal specifically talks about how much time we spend on video games and how you could be using that time to make a change as well as have fun. Video games bring people together. People from China are playing people in the United States and people from the United States are playing people in England. Video games have there own little web of five degrees of separation where in some instances, everyone knows everyone. There are the best players and the worst players, then the new ones and the old ones. But all these players have skills. So what if we harness these skills use them for good instead of evil in a sense.

Like McGonigal said we should create a video game that lets people help solve the oil crisis, theses gaming superstars could become superheros. They could help save the world in their own way. People try to be superheros all the time and people try to make a difference. Sites like Great Americans talk about average everyday citizens who make these incredible acts with no reward in mind, they do it because no one else is.

In this video a firefighter talks about how she saved a man and his son while driving home from work one late afternoon. She didn’t have to do it but she did. I think we are naturally inclined to help people so why wouldn’t a video game that makes a difference work? I think given the option and knowing it makes a difference we would be more inclined to play it and become that real life superhero.


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How secure are we?

// Posted by on 03/12/2012 (8:58 PM)

After doing some research on Stuxnet, I have begun to wonder how secure we really are. Now, I’m not talking about physical security, like the possibility of a nuclear war or getting mugged on the street, I am talking about… Read more

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After doing some research on Stuxnet, I have begun to wonder how secure we really are. Now, I’m not talking about physical security, like the possibility of a nuclear war or getting mugged on the street, I am talking about security on cyberspace, cybersecurity. If hackers can spread a virus that can wreak havoc on nuclear reactors, they can also hack into thousands upon thousands of websites and steal information. As our world continues to increase in the amount of and dependence on technology, the amount of information about ourselves that is entrusted to corporations through the Internet or is stored in the cloud, is also increasing. And it all makes me wonder, how secure am I?

A recent opinion piece on Wired states that with the exponential increase in cyber attacks within the past few years, something must change. These attacks have grown to being much larger than simply stealing a person’s credit card number, but stealing the information of thousands of customers or hacking the power grid may be more realistic threats, depending on whom you ask.

In this video, there are clips of President Obama saying that these threats are serious and possible, yet Jim Harper from the CATO Institute, states that these are not serious threats because they are not probable and even if they did occur, they would not last too long.

Which leads me to the question, do you feel safe? When I think about cybersecurity, I am not too worried about my information. I try to be responsible about choosing which sites I give my information to and ensuring that they are reputable and secure. Some websites have my credit card number so that I can check out quicker and not have to put it down each time (Amazon, Barnes & Noble, etc.), but am I naive to think that I am safe? Is there any way that we can truly be safe or are we all susceptible to an attack?


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I-Campaign Funding?

// Posted by on 02/11/2012 (8:08 PM)

Imagine being able to accept credit card payments from anywhere. Imagine holding a bake sale to raise money for a charity and being able to take donations straight from your phone. Well that’s what Read more

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Imagine being able to accept credit card payments from anywhere. Imagine holding a bake sale to raise money for a charity and being able to take donations straight from your phone. Well that’s what Square does. With the simple device and a easy to use app, you can take credit card payments/donations from anywhere. The entire setup is completely free you get the device and the app for free but there is a percentage taken out of each card swipe that the company keeps. The money is deposited into your account the next day and then you are good to go. Kevin Rose gives a quick demo just to show the pros and cons of the device.

But not just everyday people are using this app. Politicians are jumping on this bandwagon and using Square to start funding there political campaigns. President Obama has always been campaigning in new and upcoming ways. In his 2008 campaign he had an app designed to let his voters read news about the campaign, check local events, and help with campaigning. Now these presidential campaigns are adopting this new technology where supporters can download the app and collect donations for the campaign from anywhere they want. The use of social technologies like twitter, facebook, and myspace have only made the switch to the anywhere donations so much easier. Supporters can follow links and donate straight from there, but now with square anyone can collect donations for these political campaigns.

So what does this change? Campaigning has changed so much over the years and in so many ways. It has become more dependent on technology to spread the word and find more supporters. Is this a good thing or has it become to easy. Are Politicians getting let off easy in there campaigning? Do things like Square make it better for the supporters or easier for the candidates? Is it still a political race and not a popularity contest? Are we voting for people because they have apps and facebook pages or are we voting for people because their views coincide with ours?


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Exclusion Fever

// Posted by on 01/20/2012 (2:39 PM)

Fred Turner’s From Counterculture to Cyberculture not only provides an accurate history of the Whole Earth Network, but also convincing arguments discussing both its positive and negative aspects. With the ultimate hope of a Utopian future, participants in the counterculture… Read more

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Fred Turner’s From Counterculture to Cyberculture not only provides an accurate history of the Whole Earth Network, but also convincing arguments discussing both its positive and negative aspects. With the ultimate hope of a Utopian future, participants in the counterculture that blossomed in the late 1960s embraced the ideals of psychedelics such as LSD. The high provided by such drugs allowed one to see things differently, feel liberated from the looming nuclear (and by association Communist) threat, have an individual yet communal experience, and have enlightened thoughts. Stewart Brand – one of the most influential participants in this counterculture, as well as creator of The Whole Earth Catalog, genuinely worried about losing his identity as he grew up in the 1950s, a period characterized by containment, anxiety, and fear. This desire to actively seek, secure, and improve one’s identity was very common among active supporters and members of this counterculture, and more specifically the Whole Earth Network.

Stewart Brand

While the liberal concept behind the Whole Earth Network might seem attractive at first, Turner has persuasively provided legitimized criticisms for this “way of life” Brand created. The following five points are representative of Turner’s critique:

  1. Members disregarded and ignored racial issues
  2. Traditional stereotypical masculine and feminine roles were enforced and continued
  3. Communalists acted as colonizers
  4. Members ignored the current Vietnam War
  5. Members utilized mainstream culture yet denounced it at the same time

The first point is especially intriguing. While the members of this counterculture envisioned a peaceful Utopian environment that was all-inclusive and welcoming, practically all of them were white Americans. The vast majority of this white crowd was young, well educated, intelligent, and wealthy. Without blatantly vocalizing racist views, the homogenous members all demonstrated an adherence to them. In The Whole Earth Catalog itself, only white men and (sometimes) women were pictured. This ignorance of other races proves to be even less liberal and progressive given the time period, when the fight for Civil Rights had just gained major publicity and attention. However, the members of the Whole Earth Network weren’t the only exclusive group at the time.

From 1960 through 1975, a revolution was occurring known as the Black Arts Movement (BAM). This site (Perceptions of Black) provides a detailed background of the movement as well as Black art images and excerpts from texts relevant to BAM debates. As the introduction points out:

“Advancing African American liberation through self-determinacy and, in time, Black Nationalism, the ‘Black Power Concept’ directed African Americans to separate from mainstream (understood as white) society to determine ‘who are black people, what are black people, and what is their relationship to America and the rest of the world’ ”

The BAM intentionally excluded the black community from the rest of America in order to find their identity and place in the world after suffering through a history of belittlement, injustice, and discrimination. It aimed to achieve this goal through the encouragement and demonstration of Black Power. Simultaneously, white men and women in the Whole Earth Network were excluding themselves most obviously to communes where they too sought to find their identities, in fear they would lose them.

Although both movements held very different (perhaps even opposing) reasons for their quests for identity, they shared the same common goal. They also excluded their respective groups from the rest of society not supporting them (or those not members of their respective in-groups) – for the BAM it was non-black America; for the Whole Earth Network it was practically white Americans not fitting the majority stereotype detailed earlier as well as individuals of other races, etc. While both movements may have had aspects that are seemingly liberal, open-minded, and welcoming, their actions proved to be quite the contrary. Both the Whole Earth Network – representative of the 1970s counterculture – and the BAM fell victim to the same illness that has driven problems throughout all of history – exclusion fever.


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Not just for sharing photos anymore

// Posted by on 01/16/2012 (7:52 PM)


When a person takes a picture with their mobile phone, they often want to share it with the world around them. There are dozens of ways to do this (Facebook, Twitter, email, print and send, carrier pigeon,… Read more

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When a person takes a picture with their mobile phone, they often want to share it with the world around them. There are dozens of ways to do this (Facebook, Twitter, email, print and send, carrier pigeon, etc.), but one used by millions is called Instagram. The mobile phone app used by many has not only become a popular way to share photos, it has affected the way people take pictures.

The author of this article in the January edition of Wired, wrote that when scrolling through the site, there are the typical pictures that would be suspected: cats, pictures of oneself, etc., but what was surprising was what else had been posted. The app and its filters allow and encourage its users to become artsy. Users are not simply taking pictures for documentation purposes, but because with the filters, they can make something ordinary, extraordinary. What they are using their cameras for has changed as well as what they are taking pictures of.

One simple app, constructed by six people, has allowed millions to share photos online and has changed the way many of them take pictures and even the way they look at their world. This article makes one wonder what else apps can do. Sure, apps can make communication simpler, can be used for entertainment, and allow us to connect with the world around us, but how often do they change the way we view the world?

Personally, I’ve never used Instagram. I have looked at friend’s pictures that they have posted, but have never used it for myself. After reading this article, I was intrigued and am curious to see what I can do with it, to see what kind of photographer it makes me. Have you ever used it? Has it affected the way you use your cameraphone or more importantly, how you view the world? We are becoming increasingly attached to our technology and it interests me, but also makes me worry about the future. Will there be more apps such as Instagram that benefit society or will new apps simply draw us closer to technology.

For now, I leave you with a couple of pictures I found on their site of stairs, different viewpoints on ordinary stairs. It sure will make me look at the next staircase I ascend differently.


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