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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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Pony Pasture Potluck Picnic Party

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

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

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

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

James River.

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

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

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

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

Food, glorious food!

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

People Partying @ the PPPPP

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

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

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


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