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Into the Woods

// Posted by on 11/25/2014 (12:55 PM)

To commemorate our last experience, we headed out to Pony Pasture for a picnic along the James River to “get away from it all.” Since I submitted my law school applications, my time online and on my phone has increased… Read more

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To commemorate our last experience, we headed out to Pony Pasture for a picnic along the James River to “get away from it all.” Since I submitted my law school applications, my time online and on my phone has increased exponentially. For the last week, I have checked applicant blogs on the Top Law School (TLS) forum nearly every hour for updates on who’s getting in, and my phone has never more than a foot away. In the spirit of powering down and tuning in, I’ve put my phone on “airplane mode,”and for however long it takes me to finish this reflection, I’m staying off the blogs.

Opinions on the conversational effects of social media and technology (like smart phones, TV, etc.) can be divided into the Turkle and Tufekci camps. Where Tufekci sees social media as a tool to strengthen bonds and “in real life” discussion, Turkle fears that we have sacrificed conversation for connection. Originally, I fell somewhere in between the two “T’s”. Self-reflection and a necessary “wake up call” from my family, friends, and law school admissions consultant/temporary life coach about my obsessive blog and email trolling has pushed me into Turkle territory.

In too-frequently updating my email and reading the TLS forum, I have checked into media and out of my life at Richmond. I’ve spent more time in my room and less time with my friends, growing increasingly accustomed to Turkle’s concept of being “alone together” with the other TLS bloggers. When my group came up with the idea to use the experience to have two conversations, one with phones and one without, I knew that separating myself from my email, even for twenty minutes, would be a challenge, and it was.

Despite my phone-less anxiety, I was impressed with the depth of the conversations we had. We asked each other questions, took active interests in each others’  lives, and there were no noticeable or lengthy lags in our discussion. While it could be argued that the strength of our conversation is evidence of Tufekci’s point, I don’t think our sample of bright, engaged Richmond students represents the average American. Turkle’s examples that he employs to support his claims might be extreme, and as Tufekci points out, he may incorrectly equate social media and social robots, but from personal experience, I think Turkle is on to something when he argues that we’ve come to expect more from technology and less from each other.

For the next few days, I’m going to trade in my forum for family and my phone for friends, tuning out of the anxiety-ridden world of law school admissions and into a calmer reality.

 


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No Time Like the Present

// Posted by on 03/30/2014 (8:13 PM)

According to Douglas Rushkoff, a media theorist and author of Present Shock, everything happens now.  So, what does that really mean?  In the first two chapters of Rushkoff’s novel, we are introduced to the meaning of “present shock”.  Rushkoff argues… Read more

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According to Douglas Rushkoff, a media theorist and author of Present Shock, everything happens now.  So, what does that really mean?  In the first two chapters of Rushkoff’s novel, we are introduced to the meaning of “present shock”.  Rushkoff argues that individuals have lost their capacity to take in the traditional narrative because the future has become “now” and we are constantly adapting to the new and unpredictable challenges it presents.  As a result, he continues, we have developed a new relationship with time on a fundamental level.  We are so preoccupied with living in the technological now, which is always active and changing constantly, that individuals are increasingly losing their sense of direction, personal goals, and future altogether.

This idea of a widespread narrative collapse is a significant aspect in the idea of present shock.  The traditional use of linear stories to attract viewers through a sort of shared journey has been replaced with unintelligent reality programming and TV shows.  I think Rushkoff’s argument is a completely accurate one.  In my generation, individuals have lost their ability to fully absorb information through this kind of story / narrative form.  We constantly feel the urge for a change, a new piece of information, a distraction.  Although it is easy to relate this to our current and most popular social media networks, we can perhaps look at something a bit different.  Take music for instance.  Even a decade ago, the process of purchasing and listening to an album or CD was an experience in itself.  You waited for the release of this album, maybe even in line at a local music shop.  After, you might go home and listen to this album with friends or alone and listen to it from beginning to end.  When is the last time you did this? You saw a friend do this? You witnessed anyone doing this?  This imagined visual might even seem abnormal or even weird in our current world.  I believe this is why mashups were created and became so popular within the last decade.  Why would you listen to one song when can get pieces of a few of your favorites within only 2 and a half minutes?  Digital technology is responsible for this ongoing change among individuals attention span and ability to be present in a moment.  In our generation, there is a sort of tangible anxiety and impatience among us that is only perpetuated by digital technology.  Think about how many people you see daily, scrolling through their Instagram, Facebook, or Twitter every few minutes waiting, almost yearning for something to grab their attention or excite them. This never-ending digital feed has caused a lack of appreciation for quality over quantity.  In turn, it depreciates our ability to focus and separate our real lives from our digital ones.

With the creation of the Internet, it was largely assumed that individuals would have more time to themselves, not less.  People might be able to work from home, from their bed even, and complete tasks that they would normally have to go into work to take care of.  This assumption, however, was based on the idea that technology would conform to our lives when, in actuality, the exact opposite happened.  As Rushkoff suggests, human time has become the new modern commodity.  People can no longer extract themselves from our overpowering digital world—they are always at its beck and call.  Whether it is a buzz from a tweet, call, or text, the interruption of technology is a common and constant one.  In turn, face-to-face conversations and meaningful opportunities are diminishing.  These shared experiences are being replaced with the “shared” experience of being distracted by technology and our devotion to it.  This relates to Rushkoff’s coined term “Digiphrenia”: this idea that because technology allows us to be in more than one place, individuals are overwhelmed until they learn how to distinguish the difference between signal and noise information.  Again going back to this idea of quality vs. quantity, it seems as though we are starting to value quantity at an ever-increasing rate.   I found this idea of being able to live in two different worlds to be particularly interesting— not only are we able to dip into different worlds at any given time, but we are able to project a different “self” as well.  As we have previously discussed, individuals can create and advertise any sort of identity they choose to and shift worlds at any point in time.

In my opinion, technology has caused us to be increasingly absent from the real “now” in order to be present in the digital ever-exisiting one.  We are collectively sharing a moment of “not sharing” that is deemed acceptable under the guise of  technology.   In turn, individuals’ ability to be completely present, mentally and physically, in any environment or situation is becoming increasingly rare.  Rather than experiencing what is happening in the moment, we find ourselves wondering what is going on in another moments, moments somewhere else with different people.  This “present sock” syndrome is only propelling feelings of constant anxiety, impatience, and seemingly unattainable satisfaction in our world, especially among my generation.  We are letting technology dictate our lives and consume our real and valuable time in exchange for mere seconds of shallow excitement, gossip, or news.

 


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This is What Democracy Looks Like

// Posted by on 02/23/2014 (8:03 PM)

After reading Jeff Sharlet’s article, Inside Occupy Wall Street, it is obvious how much power and influence technology has in our society.  The product of a simple yet powerful tweet, the Occupy Wall Street demonstration proved itself to be… Read more

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After reading Jeff Sharlet’s article, Inside Occupy Wall Street, it is obvious how much power and influence technology has in our society.  The product of a simple yet powerful tweet, the Occupy Wall Street demonstration proved itself to be much more than a mere protest as it inspired a media awareness that lead to Occupy movements worldwide.  After observing the movements growth over the period of a few months, Sharlet, someone whose spent years immersed in the right wing, refers to the OWS movement as “an incredible display of political imagination”.  Indeed, the movement was one-of-a-kind as it united diverse groups of people through technology, promoting a kind of shared voice while simultaneously creating a community that was truly unique.

It is not uncommon for one to as what was that something protesters were fighting for?  As Sharlet mentions, Adbusters had proposed a “‘worldwide shift in revolutionary tactics,’ but their big ideas went no further than pressuring Obama to appoint a presidential commission on the role of money in politics”.  Although they had initiated the beginnings of the protest, they were unaware that they had begun a movement that reached unimaginable heights.  What amazed me was the progression in size of the movement and protesters that loyally followed.  It had begun with around 2,000 individuals but quickly grew, attracting people from all over.  With the creation of a public clinic, library, and kitchen, the Occupy Wall Street movement had created a new whole.  It is almost as if they created a world within a world.  People committed to the cause considered this home and seemed to have this sense of shared generosity and spirit.  People were, undoubtedly, attracted to OWS for different reasons.  As protester Jesse Legraca admitted, he was first drawn to the park after seeing a topless girl.  And the addition of free food did not hurt either.  Fellow protester David Graeber, in contrast, was a radical anthropologist and anarchist who was committed to the cause and even created the theme to the overall movement.

This idea of unification is what drove Occupy Wall Street and allowed it to function for as long as it did.  As previously mentioned, Graeber created a theme for the movement, “we are the 99%”.  This movement was particularly different than past ones as there were no designated leaders or speakers.  People, rather, functioned as a large group and were excited by the idea that they were taking true advantage of democracy.  Thus, this feeling of genuine democracy is a significant aspect of the OWS movement.  As Shalret states, many Americans view “democracy as little more than an unhappy choice between two sides of the same corporate coin”.  With minimal agency, the chance to be part of a real decision—to make a change—is an exciting prospect. With no defined reasons or statements telling people why they needed to come to the OWS demonstration, it created this sense of liberation and open communication.  People came to the cause to decide as a whole what their aim was and what decisions to were to be made.  OWS protesters had one voice, literally, as they adopted a new form of amplification—the human microphone.  This only emphasized the idea that every individual could be heard and served only to further unify the community.

For a leaderless movement, Occupy Wall Street was an extremely unique demonstration of the power of technology in our society.  The movement in itself was created and further perpetuated through technology and media.  It is obvious that a movement like this could not have existed even twenty years ago and just highlights how quickly technology has progressed throughout the past decade.  The question is, what will come next?  How will protests or social/political movements function in a decade? How will technology continue to shape our world and will it be for the better?


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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 Decline of the American Empire

// Posted by on 02/25/2012 (5:48 PM)

One of the programs I watched on Al Jazeera this week was an episode of Empire called “The Decline of the American Empire.” The description of the episode was:

“The… Read more

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One of the programs I watched on Al Jazeera this week was an episode of Empire called “The Decline of the American Empire.” The description of the episode was:

“The US has the world’s biggest economy, the most influential culture, and the most potent military machine, with a budget that equals that of all other nations combined. It is the only power with a global project defended and supported by more aircraft carriers, Fortune 500 companies, and more successful media-tainment conglomerates than any other. America’s post-Cold War optimism has given way to pessimism, forecasting a declining power and more crucially, the end of “the American era”. But the last decade has been problematic for the world’s only superpower. The rise of new regional and global powers, coupled with Washington’s recent war fiascos and financial crisis have worsened the outlook for the future of the US. So, is all this talk of the US decline premature? And if not, what role will the US play in a post-US century?

The first 20 minutes or so looks primarily at the military-industrial complex in America, and actually highlights many similar points outline in the 2005 documentary Why We Fight, directed by Eugene Jarecki, detailing the rise and maintenance of the “American war machine.” The first major point that the program “The Decline of the American Empire” deals with is the idea of U.S. strategic overstretch. Using the U.S. implementation of carrier battle groups (consisting of “an aircraft carrier, cruisers, destroyers, scores of combat aircraft … and a multitude of long and short range missiles and other weapons… it is so large the entire thing requires roughly 10,000 military personnel to operate”), it is pointed out that while we have 12 of these groups, no other nation on Earth has one, and the question of “why?” is raised.

The answer comes from Nicholas Burns, former U.S. under-secretary of state: “We are absolutely keeping America safe. The world is so complex right now, there’s so many threats and challenges to our national security. You can’t meet them in Boston, in Los Angeles, you have to go out to meet them to defend the country.” This is where I tend to grow a little skeptical. To me, defense implies reacting to some threat or adversity, not going out and looking for, or meeting, challenges. In the following video clip, starting at around 2:40, Lieutenant Colonel Karen Kwiatkowski echoes that sentiment by stating “If you join the military now, you are not defending the United States of America. You are helping certain policy makers pursue an imperial agenda.”

While certainly arguing a concrete political view, I think that Karen Kwiatkowski, among others in the documentary, makes a pretty bold statement about the military-industrial complex.

I think the root of the problem is closely related to the statement by Karen Kwiatkowski, that the military-industrial complex has led to a disastrous rise is misplaced power, with “people making policy who have no accountability to the voter.” This concept is elaborated on and really dissected in “The Decline of the American Empire.” Professor Andrew Bacevich states: “There is in a sense, a partnership, probably goes too far to call it a conspiracy, ’cause it’s wide open, but there’s a partnership between members of congress, the armed services and large scale defense contractors, all of whom benefit in different ways by maintaining very high levels of military spending.” This relates directly to the concept of defense, and whether we defend ourselves at home or out in the world, because, according to Nicholas Burns, “We can’t just retreat to fortress America you know and bring up the drawbridge and hope to defend our international security interests by bringing all the troops home,” and therefore, “The cycle is endlessly perpetuated. Wars need funding, funding creates jobs, jobs strengthen the economy. So perhaps the most important question of all, is whether geo-political instability is the excuse, rather than the justification. This is the essence of real politics.” I think it’s an extremely controversial topic and question, but it’s my opinion that this U.S. strategic overstretch, coupled with misplaced power due to policy makers acting more on an imperial agenda than strictly one of protection, is, in fact, contributing the the decline of the American empire.

An important thing to understand, however, is the current nature of this empire. Tom Engelhardt puts it into relative perspective by stating “There’s a kind of a madness to the situation which we’re discussing very rationally in a way, and that is this, I mean in the Cold War, a genuine major enemy, a giant nuclear arsenal, the Soviet Union, a giant army, an imperial power, that was that moment. Now, the Soviet Union disappears one day and the resulting period we end up with is a national security state, a Pentagon budget, a military intelligence bureaucracy, a national security state that’s staggeringly bigger in a world in which, at most, there are a few thousand scattered terrorists who wanna do something to us. We’re dealing unsuccessfully with a couple of minority insurgencies in the greater Middle East. I mean its extraordinary to imagine that somehow we ended up with this gigantic, call it what you will, imperial… behemoth.” I think our country has spent far too long attempting to deal with an actual threat (as in, the Cold War) to know how to handle even a minor threat (as in, “a couple of minority insurgencies”), let alone no threat at all.

I don’t want to come off as anti-American in anyway, but after watching these documentaries and programs, I feel as though we need to need to regain some perspective on the world and our particular role in it. While the general message of “The Decline of the American Empire” was that this decline is moving at slow speeds and might not ever lead to the downfall of our country, there are certain things that need to be done to ensure America remains a world superpower.

One of the things the program pointed out was the fact that both American education and American corporations are still dominating the globe, echoing the main idea behind the article “Are Companies more Powerful than Countries.” The narrator of the program states “But while America Inc. may have lost it’s AAA rating, American brands still dominate the globe. Coca Cola has a global revenue of $35bn per annum, Microsoft, $69bn and Apple a whopping $100bn.” Technology analyst Kate Bulkley elaborates by saying that “Rumours of the collapse of the US tech sector innovation is let’s say overblown. I think that there’s a lot of innovation still in Silicon Valley, there’s a lot of innovation in America full stop. You can’t count out the companies like Google, Microsoft, Facebook, you know they just keep coming.”

The last thing I want to talk about is the military-indisutrial-media complex. Starting at around 6:05 in the video below, the documentary delves into the role of the media in America’s wars.

Normon Solomon, in an excerpt from his book entitled “The Military-Industrial-Media Complex,” begins with “After eight years in the White House, Dwight Eisenhower delivered his farewell address on January 17, 1961. The former general warned of ‘an immense military establishment and a large arms industry.’ He added that ‘we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex.’ One way or another, a military-industrial complex now extends to much of corporate media. In the process, firms with military ties routinely advertise in news outlets. Often, media magnates and people on the boards of large media-related corporations enjoy close links—financial and social—with the military industry and Washington’s foreign-policy establishment.” While we might not have propaganda films like the original “Why We Fight” movies, we still have the news media, which, as an extension of the military-industrial complex, manipulate their audience by controlling the flow and content of the information presented. While this has its advantages, such as sparing the audience of brutal, violent images or videos when possible, is it ethical or moral to attempt to control how we think about the events being presented by not presenting the whole picture?

Obviously there is a spectrum here, and these are just my opinions based on the documentary we watched in class and the program on Al Jazeera about the decline of the American empire. I think that the U.S. military-industrial(-media) complex is still struggling to find its niche in the current geopolitical climate, and by continuing to operate as though we still have a major threat against our country (like we found in the Soviet Union during the Cold War), our country is steadily heading towards a decline in our power throughout the globe. I would like to know how other people interpreted the documentary, however, and if anyone actually watches the entire program “The Decline of the American Empire,” let me know how you would connect the two, or whether you think that there is no link between the major ideas presented both programs. Lastly, although I think that the news media is doing what’s in their best interest by limiting the information they relate to us, I think that there is still an opportunity to become as informed as possible via social media sites like Facebook and Twitter. Do you think the general news media reports on too little information, too much, or somewhere in the middle depending on the topic? Furthermore, how will the rise in social media sites influence the reporting by the news media, and do you think one or both of them will have to evolve to compensate for the other?

 


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