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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

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”.

Jug A Who?

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.

This has been a busy summer. I’ve had some big things in the works that have kept me away from my beloved blog here but I’m going to remedy that. For the time being I will be using this blog to make shorter posts, maybe even Twitter sized, as a way of capturing ideas that I may not have the time to write an expanded essay on but want to return to at a later time.

My biggest news is that I am going to Purdue University 

beering

Beering Hall, Home of the Brian Lamb School of Communication, Purdue University.

for my PhD.  I’m thrilled to work with the fantastic faculty and the other students I’ve connected with have been friendly and engaging. I know I will be challenged and stimulated. I am preparing to leave New Jersey early next week and this next part of my life in The Academy begins in mid August.

My new email academic address is  pjeter@purdue.edu

While I will miss my friends and colleagues at Rutgers University, the nice thing about being an academic is that those connections are never really broken. They are now my collaborators and fellow alumni. It’s not the end but a rite of passage, a transformation,  and that excites me a great deal.

Along those lines,  I will be co-presenting two papers at the National Communication Association 99th Annual Conference in Washington DC in November. If you are going, please  look for me, I’d love to grab some coffee with you. (OK, I love coffee period but I’d love to connect with  anyone who reads my blog). I’ll discuss those papers a *tiny* bit more in a later blog. I’m not giving too much away, though, I want you to come see the presentations!

Keep watching this space; my adventure continues.

The dichotomy of the virtual world versus the real world is a lie.

Now that I have your attention, let me explain.

There are no longer two separate spheres of existence. Activity online has become more ubiquitous, commonplace. There is only one real world and online interactions are just one of the many stages we perform upon within it. It has become another venue in the same way we in habit other spaces such as out home or the bowling alley or school.

Nancy Baym, Microsoft Research principal researcher and author of Personal Connections in the Digital Age is an active tweeter. Recently, she tweeted a link to an article about by Paul Miller about what happened when he decided to unplug from the Internet for a year.

Talk about unexpected consequences.

The second sentence in his essay is, “One year ago I left the internet. I thought it was making me unproductive. I thought it lacked meaning. I thought it was “corrupting my soul.” This statement isn’t shocking, we’ve heard people say variations of this before. What is more telling is his first sentence,

I was wrong”.

Why his experience didn’t work out the way he thought it would is played out in this passage, “I drew her [his young niece] a picture of what the internet is. It was computers and phones and televisions, with little lines connecting them. Those lines are the internet. I showed her my computer, drew a line to it, and erased that line.”

Internet I

He made a mistake that all but doomed his experience to end with a feeling of desolate isolation as opposed to the  feeling of freedom he was thinking. When he illustrated the Internet for his niece, he showed it the way an IT person might, a network of various bits of electronica connected by cords and cables.

But the Internet is far more than that. A more accurate depiction would have been a network of all of the family, friends, and acquaintances in his life linked together by lines of varying thicknesses. Some lines might be doubled or tripled, and maybe even different colors.

The Internet isn’t about computers and smartphone and tablets; it’s about people and how we connect with each other. It’s about the myriad types of relationships we can initiate and maintain with keystrokes, images and sound. It’s about who we contact and why we contact them

Internet II

At the end of the day, the Internet is about people and their process of using the technology to connect, not that machines that facilitate the act of connecting. This is true whether you are talking about the alphabet, train travel or email.and  how often; it’s about how close we are to them and what methods we use to contact them

Miller’s experiment ties back to a tweet that Baym posted later on, “So important to study old media because otherwise we think everything is new and we are historically special. That’s me talking.”

In the same way that living without a phone is hard for most of us in the First and Second worlds to imagine, it is becoming increasingly difficult to imagine life without connection through the internet: email, social networking sites, message boards, etc. While Miller initially enjoyed things he felt he was missing, he ultimately found that he was engaging in the same behaviors he blamed on the Internet. He stopped leaving the house and would passively watch TV all day. Without tools such as Skype, email and Twitter, he began to feel the social disconnect that would occur for many of us if our Internet access was cut off.

The lesson learned is that while the hardware is new, the attitudes and behaviors are the same. From the alphabet to television people expressed concerns about how a particular communication technology was going to degrade the quality of our relationships and civilization  itself.

What Paul Miller discovered is that once a new technology becomes integrated into society it becomes enmeshed in the fabric of our relationships. It is the rejection of new communication technologies that can have a negative impact on our ability to be fully present in the lives of those we know and love, not new technologies.

Memes

Although my main interest in in social interactions and identity online, I am also enamored by pop culture and memes are one of the foremost manifestations of modern pop culture. In his book, The Selfish Gene (1989) Richard Dawkins coined the word meme to describe a unit of cultural transmission. He adapted it from the word gene which is a unit of physical attributes that are passed on from generation to generation.[1] The idea is that like genes and viruses, memes move from person to person through social contact.[2]

Radio had its Hindenburg disaster, Welles, “War of the Worlds” and coverage of the bombing of Pearl Harbor. TV had its “Lucy Ricardo Has a Baby”, “Who Shot JR?”, and The Superbowl.[3] This infographic is an amusing amble through the Internet’s contribution to our collective social memory.

The radio and TV events I mentioned look dated to us was struck by how old fashioned the early memes look today, a scant 20 years later. . Consider how dated The Dancing Baby looks to people who were born in 1994. I remember how state of the art it seemed at the time, a lot of older computers couldn’t even run it at full speed. [4]  It was (by the standards of the day) memory intensive and pushed the graphic capabilities of many computers.  Today, in an age where video games look almost as lifelike as movies, the 3-D rendering of The Dancing baby looks rough and unsophisticated.

Enjoy the infographic (If it’s tough to read, you can click on it to make it larger).


[1] While things such as intellectual or musical ability may at first blush not seem to be physical traits, your genes only carry the potential for the physical capability of a person’s brain or body to be predisposed to perform a certain function better than others. Once can carry a gene that gives them the potential to be a world class swimmer.  If they don’t nurture that talent through practice and competition, that gene is still there and available to be passed on even if the carrier didn’t take advantage of it.

[2] And yes, I am including union of ovum and sperm as a type of social contact. I recognize that under some circumstances, the people contributing the genetic material have no direct social contact. I do consider the contact they have to be mediated by the medical personnel and technology that fosters fertilization.

[3] Like we really believed that she and Ricky slept in double beds. Oh 1950s TV you were so full of the lulz!

[4] You can view The Dancing Baby here-à http://www.dancing-baby.net/Babygif.htm  Go here to see The Hamster Dance à http://www.findmyhosting.com/web-hamster/

History of Memes