More Consequences and Fewer Conversations?

The second half of Reclaiming Conversation consisted of many thoughts in which I can relate to. For a moment, I was thinking “so she does think technology helps us in a learning environment!” Suppose Dr. Porter applies an event or topic to a theoretical concept, but I don’t have much knowledge of his example. I have two options:

  1. Use my computer for independent research, which may enable participation or a better understanding
  2. Stare at the professor without grasping the lesson

The author might suggest that I ask Dr. Porter to elaborate on the example, but why would I slow things down? My device provides an immediate response. I recall numerous instances where I have defined a word, sought clarification, and more- all in the middle of a conversation. Then, I have had a lot of “huh” moments in the middle of a lecture or discussion due to multi-tasking.

One of my professors posted a discussion board on Moodle and requested that we share research topic ideas for our final project. A few people posted research interests. Others simply responded to the posts, expressing their liking of the topic. There are a few problems with feature itself rather than the professor’s use of the tool.

“No one liked my idea,” stated two of my classmates. My classmates assumed this being that no one responded. In fact, I thought both were great ideas, so I didn’t feel the need to comment or ask questions. Instead, I assumed we would have an insightful conversation during class.  In the tech world, lack of response constitutes as lack of favorability. If given the opportunity to express orally, the students would have been able to elaborate. Unfortunately, online communication is far more complex than it seems. Sometimes, discussion boards and Google docs are harder to interpret versus words and gestures. As I mentioned last week, technology limits opportunities. In this situation, we missed out on what could have been significant research.

Most professions require heavy use of technology- emails, presentations, online grade books, etc. Think about how much time we spend at work (or school). Some Americans spend eight or more hours plugged in. You would think one is ecstatic to go home and talk to their family members. It is, however, somewhat complicated to look forward to face-to-face conversations when the world around you promotes the exact opposite. Doctors do not have to talk with their patients, as results are posted to an online portal. Any person can give a webinar without looking at their audience, or not know what type of people comprise the audience. Instead, the presenter is giving a presentation to a screen- not on it. Whom, or what, are we talking to?

As the author said, let us not wholeheartedly depend on technology to solve our problems. The solution is nonsensical in a digital age, but I believe we should reclaim conversation. When I say conversation, I’m not referring to robotic interactions. Not too long ago, conversations were oral exchanges of ideas and sentiments. I think we’d be surprised at the outcome.

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Let’s Talk About Talking

In Reclaiming Conversation: The Power of Talk in a Digital Age, Sherry Turkle gives a thought-provoking splurge on media’s harmful effects on communication. Conversation has much power in the digital age- especially in an age where there is much to be discussed. Suppose we used our devices to seek information on health, entertainment, politics, and sports. We could have insightful, compelling conversations with each other, which would expand our thoughts on the world around us. Instead, some of us opt to spend the entire time texting or scrolling through a news feed. What is really going on?

“We can design technology that demands that we use it with greater intention,” Turkle states. “As consumers of digital media, our goal should be to partner with an industry that commits to our using of products, of course, but also to our health and emotional well-being.” Smartphones weren’t invented as a destructive tool, but societal behaviors and etiquette have greatly suffered. Major carriers advertise unlimited talk, text, and data. Many employers and educators make information available solely through technology. In addition, we loosely use the term “social” to describe networks including Facebook, Twitter, and Snapchat. How social are we on such platforms? Have developers fooled us into thinking that connectivity will suffice our emotional need for sociability? If the answer to the latter question is yes, I am afraid we will continue on a downhill spiral.

Honestly, our media habits are scary. “We are wired to crave instant gratification, a fast pace, and unpredictability,” the author states. When speaking to certain friends (who shall remain nameless), I threaten to hang up because they are so entwined with other things. I am on the phone to talk and not listen to you tapping all over your screen, ok? I am guilty of multitasking by checking emails and texting. I am, however, aware that some things can wait. Here’s something to consider: a lot of people dread talking on the phone. We prefer text messaging and emailing because we control our thoughts or response time. We are capable of hiding our emotions. How have we substituted substantive conversations with text messages?

People cannot even go on vacation without uploading photos of every excursion. Vacations are short getaways- typically ranging from two to seven days. It has become habitual to maintain contact with our family members and peers, while we should be conversing with other tourists. Those conversations are capable of providing alternate points of view. Those conversations may potentially answer questions about a particular culture. Unfortunately, we often pass up talks and miss out on so much. I expressed my desire to have an “unplugged” wedding ceremony. Although I do not plan to say vows within the next several years, I know that I would rather guests focus on a well-planned, intimate ceremony instead of leaning out past each other with iPads and iPhones. We worry so much about capturing moments while missing the opportunity for pure enjoyment. The disconnection anxiety is real!

I’m encouraged to spend one month using a cellular device (data free) solely for voice calls and text messages. Realistically speaking, there is a strong chance I will go crazy. On the contrary, my free time may consist of more writing and fewer distractions. Perhaps I would spend a few minutes at a red light paying attention to my surroundings instead of launching an app. On my walks around campus, I’d pay more attention to LSU’s beautiful landscape and architecture. Most importantly, genuine solitude will become more prevalent.

Privacy on the Internet? No Such Thing!

When I think of privacy, I think of seclusion, secrecy, or the state of being unknown. Merriam-Webster defines privacy as:

  • the quality or state of being apart from company or observation
  • freedom from unauthorized intrusion

I have tried to understand how and why do people expect privacy on the Internet. Web 2.0 affords numerous opportunities for users, businesses, and other organizations. Useful information is gathered, which has contributed to our understanding of the world around us. From browsing history to social networking activity, it is evident that every form of activity is being tracked. Leading retailers know how and where market products and services. Everyday users know so much about each other, even if there is a lack of encounter. We share our location, place of employment, school enrollment information, marital status, and more. I have 103 Facebook friends, and I strive to maintain extreme privacy settings. I am aware that regardless of my privacy settings, the content is not technically “private.”

Surveillance has probably benefited society more than it has done harm. Of course, there are flaws with big data and the classification of users. According to Pew Research Center, thirteen percent of adults in the United States do not use the Internet. The percentage is relatively small compared to the number of people who use the Internet. Another study published in 2015 revealed that Americans constantly spend time online. So, why not take advantage of this hotspot to collect information?

In August 2015, Jaelyn Young and Muhammad Dakhalla were arrested and charged with attempting and conspiring to provide material support to a terrorist group (ISIS). In May 2015, Young sought advice online on how to travel to Syria. FBI agents communicated with her online, also using messages from her Twitter account to bring charges against her. “I just want to be there,” she posted. Suppose our searches were not monitored- would criminal activities of this nature be brought to justice?

Law enforcement officials have expressed that in some cases, we leave clues and evidence on our pages. Melvin Colon, a suspected New York gang member, made references to past violent crimes and a host of other incriminating posts on Facebook. One of his Facebook friends shared posts with the police. A judge ruled that the information was no longer private once Colon shared the posts with his friends. There are ways around privacy rules on social networking sites. Law enforcement authorities can request private data with warrants or subpoenas. Because other horrendous crimes often conspire right on Facebook, we are fortunate to have a web that is not wholly private.

boyd discussed the use of Geo Listening to seek posts that reference depression, bullying, hate speech, and more. I find Geo Listening to be a great investment for the school district, as students’ online presence is heavier than ever. School authorities can monitor unhealthy life habits, which could potentially save a life while raising awareness about youth problems. But as Kevin Kelly stated, “every person has a human right to access, and benefit from the data about themselves.” Data collection and surveillance should be mutually beneficial for both parties. Collected information should be shared with researchers, parents, and anyone who wishes to use the information for a valid cause.

Affective Publics

Recently on CNN’s New Day, hosts Chris Cuomo and Alisyn Camerota discussed citizens’ frustrations and protests centered on the town hall meetings. There has been speculation that Democrats conspired the protests and interruptions. Democrats have refuted those claims- asserting that citizens are creating an uproar out of dissatisfaction with the current administration. In response, Cuomo shared an interesting thought. He stated, “These town hall meetings have been going on for several years, and they have not always been friendly.” He went on to mention social media’s role in getting the word out about the town hall meetings and the use of social media to organize movements. His thoughts resonated with me throughout the day, and as I was reading Affective Publics, the idea resurfaced.

Movements and protests are leading forms of civic engagement within any democracy. These particular forms of activism have been around for years, but I am curious to know how much they have evolved with the use of technology- those technologies that rapidly spread information and allow users to connect with like-minded individuals. As Cuomo mentioned, the town hall meetings did not just start, and neither did inequality of injustice. We must consider how new media have enhanced visibility and knowledge of events. In addition, the dissemination of information has increased. Another contributing factor may be the immediate visibility of feedback from peers and those who have opposing views.

Papacharissi’s conceptualization of emotion and rationality stood out most. Max Weber defines rationality as “the process of using logic to organize and evaluate facts of reason.” According to the text, there are four types of rationality:

  1. Purposive and instrumental
  2. Value or belief oriented
  3. Affectual
  4. Traditional or conventional

The author focuses on affectual rationality, being that it is contingent on the user’s feelings or emotions. She states, “Affectual forms of rationality are even more subjectively determined and dependent on mood.” So, is there a significant difference in affectual rationality and emotion? How often are users extracting emotions when processing information? In an era of heavy media use, people make judgments based on 3-minute clips and lengthy post. Often I scroll through the comment section of news posts and read numerous “irrational” (in my opinion) statements. Another perspective for analyzing the comments would be to consider how the content emotionally appealed to the audience. Perhaps, the user has no desire to be rational. The content spoke to them, resulting in emotional engagement. It is as if affective publics know what to say to draw attention to the content. Or, emotion will outweigh any fact, opinion, or controversial view. Traditional media, user-generated content, and other media content often appeal to our emotions even when we do not realize it.

Overall, Papacharissi was great with her description of affective publics and their role in today’s society. A combination of affect, emotion, social media platforms and connectivity have created both untraditional and powerful forms of engagement. It is important to acknowledge today’s engagement as a form of ongoing activism. Fortunately, people have the opportunity to use new media to share updates and progress on an issue. Most importantly, users relive and share moments with a simple “click.”

The Same Ol’ Story

In Indian Country, Victoria LaPoe and Benjamin Rex LaPoe discuss the fact media focus on stereotypical images of American Indians. What about other minority groups who are clichéd in mass media? America is made up of a conglomeration of ethnic minorities, religious minorities, gender and sexual minorities, and several others. Let’s think about how some groups are portrayed in the media. Often, African-Americans are presented as dramatic, violent, unsophisticated, or poor characters. Latino characters are often sexualized or presented as maids, gangsters, and even illegal. How are people in the LGBTQ community portrayed? I agree with some of the authors’ thoughts on storytelling and media portrayal. We can go and on- yet, it will be the same old story.

Evidently and for various reasons, directors in mass media control or influence content. Agenda-setting, framing, and gatekeeping have been around for years. While I believe that some media practices are unfair, I also believe that it is a system that will not be changed. I’m not insensitive- just realistic. Leading news organizations including NBC, CNN, Fox News, and others have objectives (like any other business). News organizations must present content that is appealing to their audiences. We know that many journalists are guilty of ignorance, as they will take the “comfortable route” while composing stories. We know that we will see the same types of stories on a regular basis. I visit news sites, and I wonder who wants to see political junk every single day. At an event I attended recently, a young lady stated, “We have to create a program that shares the information other networks don’t.” It sounds like a long shot, but it’s true!

Minority groups, including American Indians, have the digital tools and platforms to tell their story how they want it to be shown. There are smartphones, laptops, and tablets. Videos on Facebook and YouTube go viral on a daily basis. DREAMers and others who want to be heard have taken advantage of digital media. Surely their audience will not be as large, but the stories are occasionally picked up by large news organizations. Bryan Pollard of the Cherokee Phoenix understood that “you have to retain current audiences and reach out to others.” In a sense, major news organizations do both with “traditional” content followed by “sidebar” stories that do not receive as much attention. Multiple audiences will tune into it anyway because it is all we have. Not to defend selective coverage and isolationism, but I honestly see how media coverage of minority groups will be the same way it has been for years. Taking a look at the evolution of news, many of the same journalism/ reporting practices exist today. Sensationalism is key, and some topics just don’t make the cut.

Personally, I have an interest in seeing how minority groups portray themselves using digital media. While some may not realize it, I believe that digital media enable minorities to create much of the content that resembles stereotypical images. This applies to many groups. It’s almost like the old saying about “the pot calling the kettle black.” So, if you are going to use it to tell your story, do it in a way that is contrary to the media in which you criticize.

Digital Inequalities Amongst Children

As an undergraduate student, I interned for the Department of Communications for the Clinton Public School District- an A performing school district, which also received the top rating in the state in 2015. I traveled to each of the nine schools, working with administrators and faculty on publicizing the District Digital 1:1 Initiative. Under this initiative, the district sought to maximize student learning through the effective use of technology. Students in grades K-5 received iPads, while students in grades 6-12 received MacBook Air laptops. Students received training on proper use of educational content, safe use of Internet and copyright, and Internet privacy. Teachers who were not competent with technology received training as well.

I recall visiting the primary grade levels and seeing the teacher’s use of Apple TV provide a virtual, engaging learning environment. One of the instructors shared that it brought “the board to the student’s device” whereas most of the course material could be repeatedly accessed. I could not help but think about Jackson Public Schools- a D performing school district with more than 55 schools, which happened to be the next closest city to Clinton. The children there did not have access to Apple products at school and at home. In fact, a school was considered “lucky” to have a computer lab with enough devices for all of the students. Is there a chance that JPS could perform as good as CPSD with the implementation of technology in the classroom?

As stated in “Digital Inequalities and Why They Matter,” structural inequality often results in homophily in the composition of social networks that restricts access to valuable information and job opportunities. CPSD’s student base was composed of multiple racial backgrounds and ethnicities. On the contrary, most of the students enrolled in JPS were African-American. So, there are two school districts whereas most of the schools are within the same thirty-mile radius. However, the Jackson Public School District’s lack of technological resources will serve as a hindrance, especially for African-American students. Today, students have to use the Internet to apply for colleges, scholarships, internships, and programs. In addition, students can significantly enhance their knowledge of multiple topics through computer use.

Essentially, digital inequalities limit possibilities. If you apply for a job and they ask that you are proficient in programs or software that you haven’t even heard of, it is likely that you will be unqualified. If you never had access, you are left behind or puzzled once you’re in a technology-dependent environment. Recently, I saw a story about middle school students in Ridgeland, MS receiving an award for the Verizon Innovative Learning App Challenge. The group of sixth and seventh graders developed a mobile app aimed at improving societal issues in their schools and communities. How amazing is that? Students are designing apps that age? It’s great for them, but not for the students that have never even used an app. Or, what if some students aspire to participate in the Verizon App Challenge, but they wouldn’t know where to start with designing an app?

I agree with the notion that digital inequalities should be treated as any other inequality. It’s simply not fair, especially for children that were born into this tech-savvy era. Of course, some students will have access to resources based on their parents’ ability to provide such. But, there’s still a chance they will use it inappropriately even if a device exists in the household. Digital inequalities have more consequences than those that have been acknowledged thus far.

Attention Merchants- Who’s Getting It Right?

In The Attention Merchants, Tim Wu traces back through the history of advertising in mass media. The historical approach was very insightful, as it acknowledged the events and shifts that have shaped the messages we see today. Wu also illustrated the fact that practices in advertising blend with communication methods. When placing ads, everything matters- the audience, the network, the location, and the medium. Attention merchants must understand the psychological factors that influence consumers in the decision-making processes. The author uses the term mental engagement to describe the process of capturing (and maintaining) attention. This is interesting, as we know that communication theories have often suggested that cognitive resources are significant in the communication process.

Typically, we hear the bad things about the leader of the Nazis, Adolf Hitler. With reserve to his contradictory ideas, I would argue that Hitler imposed ideas that have stuck around in the field. He understood how to be captivating with messages. Wu stated that Hitler understood the following: “since everything can be ignored, imprinting information in the memory requires a constant repetition of simple ideas.” We see this on television, whereas a thirty-second ad may repeat the same phrase repeatedly. There is no need to be complex because humans will not process everything. Hitler also understood that “to teach or persuade is far more difficult than to stir emotion.” In other words, it will be easier to tap into a consumer’s emotions, and give them the idea that “this product is what you need.” Companies that advertise beauty products have mastered this. Proactiv has used Katy Perry and Justin Bieber to discuss the product’s impact their appearance and self-confidence. Apple has promoted iPhone features as a way to connect family members that are thousands of miles apart. Using military personnel would spark the mind of a soldier or his family. Proactiv and Apple advertisements are examples of the well-planned messages.

We are exposed to advertisements on a daily basis, where it is on television, on a billboard, or on a smartphone. On the other hand, how about those ads that pop up at the end of your best friend’s Snapchat story? What about the annoying ads that pop up on Candy Crush? Often, those types of ads are completely irrelevant and do not correlate with desired material. Have attention merchants within certain brands have disregarded the idea that ads should correspond with the values of the audience? Are we gravitating towards a society where attention merchants are simply seeking a “slot” versus a legitimate engagement?

With credit being owed to technology, attention merchants have numerous ways of monitoring reach and progress. Interactive ads allow users to click around and explore the message in a preferred way. Several companies have taken advantage of apps (or software) that allow the distribution of ads based on a consumer’s location. All in all, there are so many ways for attention merchants to get it right.

For the Super Bowl, you know that your message might reach a large percentage of the 116-million viewers. In fact, some viewers tune into the Super Bowl to watch the ads. The attention merchants at corporate offices like Chick-Fil-A, Doritos, and Budweiser have mastered the methodology. These patterns, like those of the 20th century, will go down in history, and it will be interesting to see what other practices will be implemented by attention merchants.

Digital Listening

Digital listening is a component of new media that gives people, companies, and organizations an advantage to thrive. For news organizations, it allows them to use the A/B testing method to determine which headline will generate more clicks. In advertising, web searches aid in the disposition of ads. These forms of digital listening are no different that the strategic crafting of a personal Facebook status to generate more responses. It is just like taking a picture for Instagram (at your best, with a buzzing caption) to get more likes. Even social activist that participate in social movements know just what to say to create an uproar amongst the public. Propaganda exists everywhere- and we all use the same analytic approaches on a regular basis.

In an amazing, yet flawed digital era, it is important to remember that everything is being tracked for specific purposes. If you conduct an average of five searching sessions to shop for a new car, it should be no surprise that vehicle ads will continuously appear on web pages. However, there are times when we accidentally click something, or perhaps we are doing research that is entirely irrelevant to our personal interests. In those instances, digital listening is considered flawed, and annoying.

The Internet is a multipurpose platform that has evolved over time to fit our interests. Our interests are what create filter bubbles, which show more or less of what we want to see. This particular response of digital listening may be seen on a Google search, social networking sites, and even streaming programs such as Netflix and Hulu. For example, the “Top Picks for You” category on Netflix will vary from person to person. The content to which we are exposed to by way of filter bubbles can be misleading, but I would argue that this is not unethical.

The author discusses the A/B testing method and media’s practice to place an attention-grabbing headline in the center of the page in big, bold letters. In effect, stories to the side of the breaking news are overlooked. Also, people will move on with the idea that the headline in breaking news weighs more prominence compared to other issues. During the preceding months of the 2016 election, we consistently saw one of the two major candidates on the cover page of the main news organizations in place of other topics. Considering Hurricane Matthew and the crisis in Aleppo, an oblivious individual would completely disregard other important issues as a result of propaganda. But, we must consider the fact that it gave people something to talk about- in the classroom, at work, and more thoughts were more visible on social networking sites. Certainly, this was ideal for digital listeners.

Is there a way to use analytics to create a perfect media environment? Here is a more appropriate question: Should we use research and data sets to make complete inferences on how the world works? No, we shouldn’t. Humans developed the Internet. Humans develop programs and software. Bruce Schneider stated that there is potential for getting it wrong. Again, we saw this in the 2016 election. Polls constantly predicted that Hillary Clinton would become the first female president, and the results did not correspond with predictions. Information gathered by way of analytics and digital listeners may be very resourceful. However, it is not always the most reliable practice due to shifts in patterns and ideas.

The Powerful Impact of Participatory Publics

Gone are the days of waiting to be heard by way of traditional media outlets. Over the past few decades, people solely reached out to lawmakers via telephone and email to voice their concerns. People of earlier generations probably felt hopeless in taking steps to bring on social change. And even if someone became informed about an issue, action was not guaranteed. The truth is that you can’t force society to care- partially due to propaganda and agenda setting. We tend to associate news coverage with importance. Media is very impactful in shaping public opinion and if society doesn’t hear about it, perhaps it is not relevant.

By Any Media Necessary tells readers about a wide-range of social movements that are spin-offs of participatory politics. Movements such as #LoveWins and #IfTheyGunnedMeDown started with hashtags on social networking sites. They are responses to major events that will shape the history of America, and serve as engaging and empowering mechanisms for people to tell a colorful story. These are only a couple of movements that have inspired people to challenge laws in society.

DREAMers like Mohammed used media as a channel of communication to discuss his experience as an undocumented immigrant. He created awareness by passionately speaking about the hardships he did not ask to go through when he was brought to America. Mohammed could have told this story as a cry out for help to benefit himself. Or, he sought to inspire other minors that would also be denied the opportunity to attend their dream college. It’s the type of thing that generates buzz amongst the uninformed population, encouraging them to seek social change for those affected. Fortunately, media has enabled people to share experiences without limitations. We see those touching stories about people that cannot afford healthcare to receive treatment for a terminal illness, so they want their followers and “fan-base” to repost and share to reach mass audiences. Maybe, the story will reach enough people for donations or it will reach a lawmaker’s family member. The authors describe this as a mutually reinforcing network. These movements take place for the sake of education, healthcare, human rights, and any other area that compels change.

Indeed, we are in a society that takes a liberal approach on a regular basis. This is possible, primarily because media serve multiple purposes. The dissemination of messages in social movements closely resembles the diffusion of information process. It takes one voice, one video, or one message. Then, change agents and innovators come about and influence early adopters, and so on.

Now, we associate trending topics and social [media] movements with importance. Some movements gain the attention of traditional media thanks to social networking sites. With the occurrence of the numerous movements, we must ask- what is participation? I can start a sweeping movement on Twitter, YouTube, and Instagram. People can use hashtags, tell their own stories, and even spread awareness at events or public institutions. But, in what ways can participatory political agents analyze what movements are successful or unsuccessful? In essence, it would help to know about executions and progress towards making a change.

Teens and Social Networking Sites

Today’s media and technological advances have created different forms of communities. We have the “original” community, which was the only one that existed several years ago. People met up at the fun entertainment spots around town, talked on the phone, and figured things out the old-fashioned way. Now, we have what boyd describes as an “imagined” community, one that permits and encourages social engagement on an eminent level. It is a simple aspect of networked publics- the communities that are essentially a virtual view of “original” communities. With a keen desire to be socially included, people born in the latter years of the 90s and the beginning of the 21th century dominate networked publics.

In It’s Complicated, boyd does an excellent job at challenging the notion that social networking sites and other media are too harmful for teenagers. Although heavy use has its consequences, I would argue that networked publics have done us better than harm.

Older generations and fearful individuals must ask themselves: What would society be like if today’s youth ignored technology and lacked competency in networked publics? Should teens’ behavior be parallel to adult’s behavior on social media?

We are often told it is a good idea to be careful about what is posted on social media being that anyone has access to it. Sixteen-year-old Dominic refrains from accepting people that he does not know to avoid a misinterpretation of his context. He does not feel compelled to be socially responsible as he would be in reality. Teens and adults tend to enact the same practice as Dominic, so why is social media content critiqued on a such serious level? boyd argues that it is simply the idea that everyone can see it. The networked publics are not what people fear. Instead, networked publics illustrate reality. boyd states, “the mere existence of new technology neither creates nor magically solves cultural problems.” (boyd, 2014)

Some have even argued that the rise of technology has contributed to cyberbullying. Of course, it enables it. But we must acknowledge the fact that social networking sites are outlets for millions of people. In addition, teens may identify themselves as a different type of person. The author states that young people do not always understand when they are being harmful, like Ashley and Chris. Ashley simply modeled the behavior of her friends that said mean things on the internet, while Chris used social media to lash out about a personal struggle. How does cyberbullying differ from traditional bullying that has taken place over the years? The question and its potential responses should not be mistaken as a justification of bullying. However, it should prompt one to think that networked publics have increased awareness about the issue itself in several ways. Children won’t be protected from all virtual dangers, just as their parents weren’t protected from every harmful instance when they were growing up.

Were people prepared for what teens can and will do in virtual communities? Are laws, policies, terms and conditions designed to protect users? Should school curricula be designed in a way where youth are taught to be media literate? Do today’s youth know the importance of thinking critically about content in networked publics? Most importantly, do parents understand their responsibility in educating their children? A collaborative effort could definitely shape the future of virtual communities and its effects.