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Posts Tagged ‘technology’

Look Up Exaggerates Damages of Social Media uses science to dismantle the claims in the viral video “Look Up” made by Gary  (aaaand no, I’m not linking to it).

They put claims such as ” We share frivolous bits of ourselves on social media, but leave out anything meaningful” up against current literature and find the claims ring as hollow as an empty keg. The sources they cite are diverse including: danah boyd, Kowert, Griffiths, and Oldmeadows article on “geek” stereotypes, the New York TimesPew Research Center’s Internet and American Life Project, and Deters and Mehl’s article on how Facebook can make us feel less lonely. They wrap up by citing an article from Slate.com which not only recaps technohysteria of the 20th century  but also reminds the reader of the Douglas Adams comment that any new technology will be regarded with suspicion and trepidation by people 35 or older.

Le sigh.

My generation?  We embraced 24/7 MTV and the the Sony Walkman with gusto. However,the Nervous Nellies of my youth intoned that these communication advances would erode our morals and make us socially disconnected narcissists. And now I see so many of us spouting those same arguments about computer and/or mobile media. Has my generation become our our parents at their most hand wringingest?

(Well, some of us, your gentle blog writer refuses to succumb to that kind of thinking.)

This cyberhysteria is the latest incarnation of panic over technology. Marvin’s When Old Technology Was New (1988) is a good book that tackles this topic with full force. She spells out how in the 19th and 20th centuries, electricity, the telephone, telegraph. the radio and television were subject to the same fear and hysteria as computer and mobile media is today.

Our most advanced consumer technology serves at the whim of its owners. I’m not a utopianist but a realist, we control our technology and that means that we have the lion’s share of control over what it does to us, our families and our children. On its own technology isn’t not good or bad, it’s tool and like a hammer it can be used to build or destroy.

Take a deep breath Gary, now exhale. There, that’s better isn’t it?

 

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I’ve been away from my beloved blog here for so long, I feel as though I should sing a chorus of “Don’t Cry for Me Argentina”.

But I’ll spare you.

My primary academic interest is examining the ways we create and recreate our lives in virtual spaces. I come from the point of view that technology like a hammer or saw;  fantastically useful tools that someone can decide to pick up and use as an implant of construction or destruction. It’s not the tool, its the end user.

Virtually every new communication technology from the alphabet (Thank you Nancy Baym for that great quote from Plato!)* to the airplane (because you do realize that transportation is a type of communication tool, right?) to the Internet has been decried as that thing that will make our society dystopic, make our society utopic, make us smarter, make us dumber, foster connections between people, drive us farther apart. And someone will always proclaim that it somehow makes us less human and our youths sex mad, .

Poppycock and Balderdash.

This is why I disagree with authors like Robert Putnam and Sherry Turkel. Yes I think society has changed, but I think it was and is still doing just that: changing.  Every age has its affordances and constraints from its technology, but technology is just the tool, not the determiner of the world we live in.

That is completely up to us.

Anyway, for the uninitiated among you, xkcd is a thrice weekly web comic written by Randall Munroe.  It is funny, highly geeky, and at times head scratchy. A few days ago, he absolutely nailed how ridiculous the moral ( and every other) panic associated with technology is.

(BTW: if you are not familiar with the comic, I suggest checking it out. It’s great!)

* In her book, Personal Connections in the Digital Age, Nancy Baym quotes Socrates’ warning‘, by way of Plato,  that the creation of an alphabet that allowed people to write instead of extemporaneously orate would make us all dullards. Makes me chuckle every time. 

(Link to this comic: http://xkcd.com/1289/)

xkcd Simple Answers

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Chatter of cellphones

According to a September 18, 2013 report from The Pew Internet and American Life Project, Joanna Brenner wrote that as of May 2013 “91% of American adults have a cell phone”. According to their historical data tracking adult cell phone ownership, in 2006 that number was only 73% (Brenner, 2013).

That means that in seven years, cell phone ownership grew almost 18% in 7 years and now more than 90% of American adults own a cell phone. Up until this point in time, IIRC, television was the technology that was adopted in most quickly by Americans households. According to Karl Hartig’s 1998 chart in the Wall Street Journal, Classroom Edition,  television ownership reached approximately 75% around 1957 it did not reach approximately 95% penetration until about 1970, a period of about 13 years. Not even electricity or personal computers match that rapid rate of adoption (Hartig, Tuning in: Communications technologies historically have had broad appeal for consumers). It seems though, that cell phones have.

I’m sure that some of these figures are driven by the fact that the purchase of a television took a much bigger immediate bite out of a household budget in the 1950s through the 1970s than a cell phone does today. Another factor that I think comes into play, especially early on, is that television, despite the dystopian view of it killing intra- and inter-family communication, could be a highly social media. A family that owned a television could invite family, friends, and neighbors to watch TV with them. You didn’t have to own a television in order to share in a special event such as the final game of the World Series or popular TV shows such as “I Love Lucy” or “Gunsmoke”.

However telephones are, generally speaking, not a technology that can be enjoyed communally.

For example, think about a social network of six households each with two adults and three children. It was possible in the mid-50s that only two of those six households would own a television and the other households might visit to socialize and watch TV. If we fast-forward to the turn of the 21st century and look at a network of six households, again each with two adults and three children, you would likely see the adults and possibly one or more of the children, each having their own cell phone. It would stand to reason that a physically large (remember the first TV sets were essentially the size of a piece of furniture), expensive, and mom essential item would be adopted at a slower pace than something smaller and cheaper that offered more immediately obvious professional and personal affordances. The thing that amazes me is that TV was so rapidly adopted despite its relative cost.

(I feel that I should apologize at this point for not researching statistics on what percentage of a family’s budget a new television would cost versus the percent of a family’s budget a cell phone would cost. Despite not having numbers I am comfortable in stating that the purchase of a television in the mid-1950s through 1970s would’ve consumed a larger part of a household budget versus the cell phone purchased between the turn of the 21st century and 2013.)

So a chatter of cellphones populates our public spaces, replaces our home phones and, for the 50+% of us who use smartphones provides, information and entertainment almost any place at almost any time. Scholars such as Barry Wellman and Keith Hampton study the effects of our perpetual connectedness via mobile media technology. It looks like they will have a lot to study for some time to come.

References

Brenner, J. Pew Research Center, (2013). Pew internet: Mobile. Retrieved from Pew Internet & American Life Project website: http://pewinternet.org/Commentary/2012/February/Pew-Internet-Mobile.aspx

Hartig, K. (Designer). (1998). Tuning in: Communications technologies historically have had broad appeal for consumers [Web Graphic]. Retrieved from http://www.karlhartig.com/chart/techhouse.pdf

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In boyd and Ellison’s foundational article, Social Networking Sites: Definition, History, and Scholarship, they define a social networking site thusly:

…[W]eb-based services that allow individuals to (1) construct a public or semi-public profile within a bounded system, (2) articulate a list of other users with whom they share a connection, and (3) view and traverse their list of connections and those made by others within the system (Boyd & Ellison, 2008, p. 211).

A Social Media Agency is a UK based PR firm that firm that designs marketing exclusively for social media. It’s natural then that they would maintain a directory of social networking sites. And they do. They maintain a list of almost 250 social networking sites. They range from general use sites like Facebook and Twitter to niche sites for booklovers, vampire enthusiasts and more. That list could easily swell if they added alternative reality sites such as Second Life, blogging platforms such as LiveJournal and WordPress, massively multiplayer online role-playing games  (MMORPGs) like World of Warcraft (do folks still play that?) and dating sites such OKCupid and EHarmony, that have appended social media like elements  to their interface. It seems as though there are enough sites for everybody including the dog.

No, I’m serious about that dog part.

But, if the all the world’s a stage, how many parts do we play today? How many parts can we reasonably sustain? Sociologist Erving Goffman used the theatrical metaphor of the “performance” to describe our interaction with other people. He didn’t mean it in a way that implies people act falsely in front of others, but that we comport ourselves differently for different “audiences” or groups of people. For example, when we are at work we behave in a way appropriate to the workplace. When we are with a bunch of friends watching football our demeanor and behavior is most likely different even if there is an overlap in the two groups (Goffman, 1959).

In their study of identity and interaction online, Bullingham and Vasconcelos, found that, “[t]he key finding from interview data is that participants often attempt to re-create their offline selves online, rather than actively engaging with persona adoption”(Bullingham & Vasconcelos, 2013, p. 109) But they only looked at a very small population and asked each person about their activity on one particular site. It’s not a leap to believe that in the same way our concrete world work and social selves differ according to the setting, that our Facebook and LinkedIn selves will differ in a Goffmanian way as well. After all, even if there is an overlap in the people we are linked to on the two sites, we are there for different purposes.

So many social networking sites; so many interesting opportunities.

References

Boyd, D. M., & Ellison, N. B. (2008). Social Network Sites: Definition, History, and Scholarship. (D. M. Boyd & N. B. Ellison, Eds.)Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication, 13(1), 210–230. doi:10.1111/j.1083-6101.2007.00393.x

Bullingham, L., & Vasconcelos, a. C. (2013). “The presentation of self in the online world”: Goffman and the study of online identities. Journal of Information Science, 39(1), 101–112. doi:10.1177/0165551512470051

Goffman, E. (1959). The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life. (E. University Of, Ed.)Teacher (Vol. 21, p. 259). Doubleday. doi:10.2307/2089106

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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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