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Michael Wesch is an anthropology professor at Kansas State University and has made a series of videos with his students that address some of the issues we have discussed in our exploration of digital ecology.

This one in particular made me thing of a lot of points brought up in the classroom (some directly, some indirectly).

This video has come up in several different contexts for me in the last year. On one level, this is a video about students, “how they learn, what they need to learn, their goals, hopes, dreams, what their lives will be like, and what kinds of changes they will experience in their lifetime.” But it was created in the collaborative context we have discussed this semester – real time edits to a Google Doc. And what it reveals is a student body inextricable from the technology they utilize and that surrounds them. In fact, technology is a huge focus in this video.

My favorite quotes:

“When I graduate I will probably have a job that doesn’t exist today.”

“I will write 42 pages for class this semester. and over 500 pages of email.”

“I am a multi-tasker. (I have to be).”

Me too.

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The one idea from this course that I am having the most trouble with is organization. What is the trouble? I really cannot come up with any settled understanding of how digital technology and our society (‘our’ meaning…?) can promote change towards something different (different than…?). My lack of knowledge in the fields of history, economics, business, global cultures, politics, technology development, etc., hinder me from coming up with a satisfying understanding. This ‘issue’ I am having has been growing all semester as I have listened to others and myself voice concerns and hopes for a future in which we can have more freedom.

Part of what boggles me is how digital technology can be understood as pushing opened boundaries between people so that time and place are transformed to have less control over interactions. Yet, I have a hard time understanding how this is not going to scatter and spread and reproduce populations in different and separate places rather than enabling the connection of people. Although the internet and broadband technology alters space/time, it still creates spaces and time still affects developments.

Basically, how are people going to organize themselves? How can digitalization aid mobilization? How can the automation, speed, accessibility (obviously problematic), and moldable ability of digitization be used to create cohesion and force for a diverse population?

I am trying to think of an example that would clearly show or describe what I am trying to articulate here. This, is also difficult for me at this point. I am trying to implement something I have learned from courses on mobilization theory and social movements in general from the past that might glean some information for me, but, I can’t think of an example of something I could analyze with needed authority.

The anti-war protests on campus today gave me a little to work with. As a friend walked by asking me, “Who are they yelling at? Isn’t this like preaching to the choir?”, I looked over at the group of less than twenty people yelling out from the Campus Center stairs at the people sitting on Chapin lawn, and I had to wonder, ‘Are we really who they want to be yelling at? And if we were to get up and yell with them, who would hear us?’ Bringing these ideas to an online context, I wonder even more about organization and audience and how people could really be brought together. I can’t come up with how to be affective when there is already so much information and activity. How can attention become focused on a common thread?

I realize this all is extremely general. This is probably due to my own quandary over what cause or goal should be worked towards with my own capabilities.

doing some research for my thesis defense (shameless plug #1: NEXT WEDNESDAY 2:30pm Dewey Common Room) and these made me think of our class. for whatever reason i can’t get hte images to just show up so here’s the links:

Our discussion today on podcasts and viewing programs on the internet was very interesting. While I argued that it didn’t matter how people viewed or listened to the program (because at the end of the day, everyone would have seen the same content) Sarah brought up another great point when she said that the commercials and ads that are placed on each of the different methods of viewing/listening could affect the way in which we are affected and changed by it. I decided to conduct a mini experiment to see if this was true. I listen to NPR everyday via two ways, online on NPR. com and through selected podcasts that i add to my ipod which allow me to choose a certain program from the last week or so. Though i listened to the same programs, I noticed that the things “in between” each segment differs greatly. The program on the NPR website I found was targeted to a more mature audience, probably relying on the fact that these are regular, news hungry listeners. The commercials featured small news clips, future shows, information about events etc. the Podcast was “hipper” putting popular music in between segment breaks and highlighting different shows. This is probably because podcasts are almost always targeted towards iPod users who are considered hip anyway. I was surprised by the difference in the two programs. I feel like I learned more while listening to NPR. com, but enjoyed the podcast more. I wonder if Sarah was more correct then, in saying that we are not always conscious of the difference between the two, but a distinct difference exists. Depending on which way you watch or hear, your perception of a show could change greatly, making it a very individualistic experience to each and every person who heard it. This is so bizarre!

 

I’d like to delete my facebook. Would I ever do it though? Probably not. Here are some thoughts on why:

 

Facebook has become one of the largest social networks, racking up more than 60 million users in the less than five years it has been in operation. This is astronomical growth, and discussion over it has spanned from dinner tables and parties to high school and college classrooms. But what makes it so special?

 

For one, it has the ability to keep people “in the know.”  By enabling one to tell their story without ever having to speak, by introducing oneself without confrontation, for setting up parties and events, and recently even keeping track of basketball scores, online games, and gambling, facebook is changing the way in which we conduct social interactions and turning us into, what one New York Times columnists believes, “Virtual Zombies”. I can send a “gift” to a friend, or poke them. And they can “high five” or “hug” me-all of which where we never actually touch. 

 

 Now that heavy company advertising has been added to the site as well as the rush to create the newest, hippest “applications” such as the design for a new online facebook chat room (available within the next year) a new concern arises. How will these two factors control how much time we spend on the site? For example, I recently walked into a classroom where three girls were all playing a popular facebook game, entitled “scrabulous.” They were playing (silently) against each other, without any actual interactions besides their virtual, verbal war.  What this highlights is that Information has now turned into sheer entertainment. Instead of what used to be a five-minute stroll on facebooks’ walls, messages and profile pages, hours are being spent monitoring such games.

 

With more time being spent on the site, it is drawing larger “invisible” audiences- those who only look at profiles but don’t actually post anything. Though privacy settings have been implemented two years ago to control what different types of people can and cannot see, (friends, network, coworkers, etc.) there is still the issue of putting too much of oneself on the internet.

 

I wonder about the importance of keeping our virtual world separate from our real world, or rather: are we allowing sites such as myspace, facebook, blogs etc. be a legitimate extension of ourselves? A wonderful New York Times Columnist Maria Aspan points out that it is near impossible to delete a facebook account permanently, making it forever traceable and therefore a constant reminder in the lives of those who have ever created one. Aspan wrote in her article, How Sticky Is Membership on Facebook? Just Try Breaking Free that Facebook servers keep copies of the information in those accounts indefinitely. Indeed, many users who have contacted Facebook to request that their accounts be deleted have not succeeded in erasing their records from the network. Same is true for myspace users, and many other social networking sites. This could potentially get us into pickles much later in life, when we are applying for jobs and move from the “binge drinking” college photo’s, wall posts, and comments that are posted during our earlier years of use to more mature and tame aspects.

So, even if I wanted to delete my facebook, some form of it would still be available and easy 

Often discussions about the Internet’s horizontal and decentralized orientation call into question the role of experts (read also: filters, gatekeepers, elites, etc.) in an information society. There is a divided camp between those who believe that this transition from vertical broadcast and print media is detrimental and those who champion the democratizing potential of knocking the tower down (or at least reclaiming it for the people).

It’s important to keep in mind that media are arguably the most influential institutions in our society. The role of the Fourth Estate to hold the government accountable is a cornerstone to our democratic process. In a country like the United States, we live under a privatized media empire of six corporations who provide almost everything we know about what is happening the world around us, how we should behave, and what we need to consume.

We have returned several times to the idea in this course that governments are increasingly intertwined with corporations – and that arguably these companies are indeed more powerful than governments themselves. If the role of the press is to hold the government accountable, then what happens when the corporations that control the press are more powerful than the government?

It is difficult to grapple with issues surrounding accuracy of information when our educational system focuses more on advocating for a medium of truth (print, libraries, etc.) as opposed to giving us the critical thinking skills to interpret and analyze all the raw data (information). It would be a mistake to assume that if it has been printed it is true. Though opponents to horizontal communications like Wikipedia will slight the “wisdom of crowds” by pointing to a series of fact-checkers, editors, and other professionals who assess the accuracy of printed information, the reality is that far too often what gets printed is still grotesquely inaccurate.

If we are to progress in a digital world we have to deal with these issues directly. What I think is harder for people to deal with in addressing these complexities is the threat they pose to our sense of reality itself. We are all simply people exposing beliefs and ideas about the world around us. The displacement of gatekeepers, the removal of barriers to entry, present a direct threat to a hierarchy of truth. Historian Marshall Poe writes:

The power of the community to decide, of course, asks us to reexamine what we mean when we say that something is “true.” We tend to think of truth as something that resides in the world. The fact that two plus two equals four is written in the stars — we merely discovered it. But Wikipedia suggests a different theory of truth. Just think about the way we learn what words mean. Generally speaking, we do so by listening to other people (our parents, first). Since we want to communicate with them (after all, they feed us), we use the words in the same way they do.

Wikipedia says judgments of truth and falsehood work the same way. The community decides that two plus two equals four the same way it decides what an apple is: by consensus. Yes, that means that if the community changes its mind and decides that two plus two equals five, then two plus two does equal five. The community isn’t likely to do such an absurd or useless thing, but it has the ability. (“The Hive.” Atlantic Monthly, September 2006, 86-94).

Grappling with these new technologies create whole new barriers for understanding, but they also increase our communication potential. Instead of relying on an assumption that certain mediums deliver accuracies, we need to learn to challenge all information we are presented with directly – to sort it, research it, and determine its validity based on whatever networks and means are available to us (traditional or otherwise). Granted, not everyone has the resources to devote a great deal of time to these efforts. This is why we make choices on what sources we trust for information. What the digital world challenges is the idea that these sources need to come from the vertical empires of experts and their institutions. Wikipedia and open-source software show us that top-down is no longer the only option.

So, today in class we often used the term ‘in real life’ and I was wondering if anyone has any thoughts about this term. For me, unless I am reading an i/m conversation or posts on a message board, I often feel compelled to take issue with how common this term has come to be in our culture. In real life? Really? Is that to suggest that the events and experiences (and values and meanings) that take place virtually/online/computer-mediately aren’t ‘real’? Sherry Turkle makes the distinction of RL (real life) verses ROL (rest of life) as a way to alleviate the contestation she has with virtual happenings being held against ‘real.’ I’m quite interested in this because in my writing I find it hard to justify considering some things ‘IRL’ (and some things not), so, I tend to stick with “online” and “offline” as a way to differentiate the two.

I would be interested to hear (read) any opinions about this…

-Sara W.

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