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Archive for August, 2013

I’m not talking about technology today.  Today I’m talking about social history, triggered by something I read that made me angry. This is personal and anecdotal but it’s a topic that I’ve give some thought to over the years.

Today, the Washington Post posted an opinion piece by Dana Milbank called “The Weakest Generation?”  Please some time to read it, it’s worth taking in his point of view.  In it he talks about his parents attending the Great March on Washington and he quotes his father as saying, “’ When people talk about Martin Luther King, that’s my connection. It’s a small connection — no handshake or anything — but I’m proud to have been there.’”

This piece is the conceit of the most privileged of the baby boom generation filtered through one who embraced their self rewarding worldview.

His thesis is both wrong and insulting. How can he say of his, of *my*, “[w]e grew up soft: unthreatened, unchallenged and uninspired. We lacked a cause greater than self.” Isn’t that the same charge leveled at his parents’ generation by *their* parents. He’s internalized Boomer bullshit and regurgitated in this editorial.

Curating and passing on history has always been the dominion of the elite and the Boomer generation is no exception. Those who tell the tales Milbank takes as truth were able to go to college and had the free time to attend events like the Great March on Washington.  When they got out of college they went into positions that afforded them to freedom to write about their experiences as though they were nearly universal and to filter the experiences of others through their lens.

Like all older generations, they would have us believe that they made a lasting, positive difference in the world.  Well, that’s true for every generation. Whether it is a World War, Civil War, assassinations, financial upheaval, or fights for voting rights, every generation has had those historical movements and moments that marked its soul and shaped its legacy.

Let me put this into perspective for you: Boomers had a good time at Woodstock, my generation had a good time at Live Aid and contributed to a serious cause.  (And, for the record, his father is no more connected to Martin Luther King, Jr than I am to Madonna just because I was in JFK stadium that blazing hot day.)

They had the BC pill freeing them to enjoy a level of sexual freedom and be open and public about it. When most of us were beginning our sexual lives, AIDS was the ugly specter peering over our shoulder.

Boomers were raised, for the most part, in an age of prosperity and relative financial security. If you grew up in the 70s and 80s, you were much more likely to have had 2 working parents, or divorced parents, or live in blended families. or live through periods where a parent was laid off from their job.

When we were kids, having enough gas to power our cars became a serious, tangible issue.

After September 11, 2001, we may have been told to go shopping, but I also remember in the weeks after, men of all ages *volunteering* to go into the military. I remember all of the people who volunteered to help rebuild New Orleans and those who showed up to assist at my beloved Jersey Shore after Hurricane Sandy.

No, Mr. Milbank, is mistaken if he thinks our generation is untested by trial…[and] squandering American greatness by turning routine give-and-take into warfare”. As every other generation, we have our challenges and we, like any every other generation, have risen to those challenges. Sometimes only partially, often imperfectly, but we rise and will continue to do so.

And you know something, so will the Millennials, who are coming right up behind us, and their children and grandchildren and every successive generation.

Shame on Dana Milbank, shame on him for foisting his weak, biased version of social history off on us.

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When crisis survivors[1] of begin to face the public, often they appear on the TV interview circuit: Anderson Cooper, The Today Show, Good Morning America, etc.  Every host asks the same half dozen questions and every interview is punctuated by the same news footage; the only thing that changes is the set and who was asking the questions. Hannah Anderson[2] threw broadcast journalism into a bit of a tizzy last week because she (unintentionally) flipped the script.

Prior to her kidnapping Anderson maintained an account on the website Ask.fm.[3] As soon as she got home, she took to that site and answered questions from anyone who asked directly and with no filter. She also made a point to tell those identifying themselves as journalists that she would not answer their questions and that they should leave her family alone.

Why Hannah went to that site only she can answer, maybe she wanted to do something mindless, maybe this was an effort to get back to normal, maybe she wanted to see if people had questions for her. What we do know is that the questions and comments ran the gamut from flirtatious to sympathetic to prurient. At times her answers were blunt:

[q] Why didn’t you tell your parents he creeped you out?

[a] In part, he was my dad’s best friend and I didn’t want to ruin anything between them….

[q] Are you glad he’s dead?

[a] Absolutely”(Wian, 2013).

Almost right away, news organizations began hitting up every psychologist, social worker and social media “expert” they could find to comment on this. Some handwringing sob sisters took to the airwaves and Internet questioning why she did this and about how inappropriate it was for her father to allow her access to social media. Others recognized that as a child of the Electronic Social Media Age, Anderson’s actions were not surprising and in fact, could even be considered healthy.  Others still just published screen caps of her account and wrote scant commentary around it. (I’m not including a bunch of citations here as the online commentary is easily googled).

This was different and I’m not sure that the media knew what to do. With her blunt talk, selfies and shots of her new manicure, Anderson didn’t fit the model of “what a victim does”. Was some of the the traditional press squawking at the thought of being pointedly and publicly, cut out of the picture? It is certain that Matt Lauer wouldn’t ask some of those questions that she answered.

According to Baym and boyd, “[P]eople… use the public and quasi-public qualities of social media to carve out safe identities for themselves in the face of legal troubles, create public memorials for the dead, [and] narrate their own stories….(Baym & boyd, 2012). Isn’t that just what Anderson did? In immediately taking to social media, Anderson (quite unknowingly I’m sure) did just that. She put her unedited narrative out there without the help of a broadcast media outlet. If you asked her why she did it, her answer might not be the same as Baym and boyd’s in letter but I bet it would match the spirit.

References

Baym, N. K., & Boyd, D. (2012). Socially Mediated Publicness: An Introduction. Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media, 56(3), 320–329. doi:10.1080/08838151.2012.705200

Wian, C. (2013). Friend: Hannah Anderson discusses kidnapping on social media. CNN.com. Retrieved August 18, 2013, from http://www.cnn.com/2013/08/14/us/hannah-anderson-social-media


[1] I use the term survivor with great intention. I refuse to call anyone who gets through something like this a victim. Increasingly I find that term diminishes the individual by casting them in the role of the captive, the sufferer. The word “survivor” looks towards their future. You are only a victim until it is over.

[2] In August, 2013, Hannah Anderson was kidnapped by a family friend who killed her mother, brother and dog. After an Amber Alert and multi state search, the two were found about a week later and she was rescued. Her kidnapper was killed after firing a gun at police.

[3] Ask.Fm is a European based site where users, who can choose to remain anonymous, can ask other users questions about pretty much anything. The answers to every question appears on the user’s home screen in the form of an extended Q&A

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This graceful looking infographic has two panes. One shows the history of the introduction of browsers and the web technologies that made the internet colorful, interactive and dynamic. the other shows the growth of number of users as well as the monthly traffic over time. You can see the growth of the Internet as it maps to the tools that made it so attractive and useful to people.

It still boggles my mind that when I first went online there were only about 10 million people online. Today almost a third of the entire world’s population is online keeping me company.

Click on the picture to see this beautiful piece. It was originally published by The Washington Post’s The Switch and tweeted by The Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project which is how I came upon it.

So what year did you first get online?

Evolution of the Web

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I arrived in Indiana on July 31, ready to move into my new place and onto this next part of my life. The first two days couple of days were spent all of the “I need this today to function” items. Day three though, I was hit by a wave of homesickness.  I wanted nothing more than to kick back with a tasty pork roll sandwich on a poppy seed hard roll.

I went to my computer and logged into I ❤ Radio and spent the morning listening to a couple of my favorite radio stations. I was able to hear the DJs whose voices I recognize talk about the stores and events I was familiar with. The traffic report told me that the same old roads that get backed up every morning were backed up again.

I went on Facebook and updated my status to say the following:

I’ve been okay up to now but this morning I woke up very homesick 
Thanks to the Internet, I’m able to listen to NJ101.5 and WMGQ, that’s made me feel better. I think once school starts for me on Monday I’ll be too darned busy to be homesick, lol.
I’ll try to post more pics of my place later since a lot of the boxes are gone. —feeling alone
😦

In less than an hour I had messages from people from all the different parts of my life: former classmates, people I grew up with and people I used to work with as well as friends and family. Some made me laugh, another told me she would utter an expletive in my honor on a particularly expletive worthy highway. A couple of others reminded me of the adventure that lie ahead  but my mother (a new Facebook user at the tender age of 70*cough*) had the final word,

Just read your blog. hon, you’re not alone tho. You’ve gone thru a lot in your life, and survived my dear…. You’ve stood up to the challenge. I think you’ll do it.” (by “blog” she means my FB status update.)

I took a class with Keith N Hampton when I was at Rutgers and a couple of times ( I think in part to help me rein in my gleeful techo-utopian attitude) he reminded us that a message on a screen doesn’t take the place of a hug.  He’s absolutely right, they don’t and both academic and popular literature gives us evidence of that.[1] However, my being able to almost instantly access the radio and people from back home was a great mood picker upper.

My FB friends and I were not  alone together in the sense of the title of Turkle’s book;  in the physical presence of others yet using technology to isolate us from each other. Instead that morning SNSs allowed us to be alone, yet together. Alone in our homes, cars and workplaces yet able to simulate a togetherness in spirit and heart.
Not necessarily as good as a warm hug but pretty darned good at doing the job nonetheless.

[1] One extreme example of this is the horror of Romanian orphanages under Nicolae Ceauşescu’s. One of the reasons the children were in such desperately poor physical condition was that they had little or no affectionate physical contact from their “caretakers”.

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This is why it’s dangerous for me to look at any cultural subgroup.

While my academic interest in online connections and communities, what I study is naturally an extension of the study of how people connect with each other and form communities based on common interest as opposed to geography or blood.

I was so fascinated with this documentary I watched it twice. I think this is in no small part due to my own perceptions, preconceptions and prejudices of the denizens of Juggaloville.

 

When I put all of my baggage around Juggalo culture aside, the jargon is different, the drag[1] is different, the cultural icons and touchstones are different; however; this could just as easily have been a gather of battle re-enactors, furries, Pennsic attendees, LARPers, extreme athletes or any other societal micro-subgroup.

Some of the commonalities I saw include,

  • The expressions of their collective outsiderness and the idea of being misunderstood by society at large
  • The sharing (and passing along of) common cultural touchstones with the documentarians
  • The situating of oneself in the history of the ad hoc community  (see 2:40-2:53)
  • Discussing use of the word family and the like to describe the fandom

McMillan and Chavis define community as “a feeling that members have of belonging, a feeling that members matter to one another and to the group, and a shared faith that members’ needs will be met through their commitment to be together” (D. W. McMillan & Chavis, 1986; p. 9) .  The operationalized by breaking it down into four factors:

  • Needs fulfillment (a perception that members’ needs will be met by the community)
  • Group membership (a feeling of belonging or a sense of interpersonal relatedness)
  • Influence (a sense that one matters, or can make a difference, in a community and that the community matters to its members)
  • Emotional connection (a feeling of attachment or bonding rooted in members’ shared history, place or experience)

I can see each of these played out in this short documentary.

It took me about 20 minutes to go from, “Gee, there folks seem odd” to “wow, look how universal their creating a sense of identity and community is”. And that is why I do what I do.

 

References

Drag (clothing). (n.d.). Wikipedia. Retrieved August 10, 2013, from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Drag_(clothing)

McMillan, D. (1996). Sense of community. Journal of community psychology. Retrieved from http://history.furman.edu/benson/hst321/McMillan_Sense_of_Community_1996.pdf

McMillan, D. W., & Chavis, D. M. (1986). Sense of Community: A Definition and Theory. Journal of Community Psychology, 14(January), 6–23.

Validation of a brief sense of community scale: Confirmation of the principal theory of sense of community. (2008). Journal of Community  …. Retrieved from http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com.proxy.libraries.rutgers.edu/doi/10.1002/jcop.20217/abstract

 


[1] In this case I am using the word “drag” as in “clothing carrying symbolic significance” (“Drag (clothing),” n.d.)I used the word “costume” at first but I didn’t like the association of that word with artifice.

This is more than just something these folks put on. In fact, for those with tattoos or non-traditional piercings on their face or neck, this is part of how the present themselves every day.  But I wanted to capture that how they dress at this event, whether it’s an element that is visible or invisible to the “straight” world isn’t quite  uniform, but is a distinct way of identifying themselves as part of the Juggalo family.

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