Monday, March 31, 2008

The Digital Divide is hurting our youth

Frank E. X. Dance discusses a serious issue with the internet in The United States even though are country is nearly the best when it comes to this problem. The issue is the presence of the internet in peoples home. Families owning a computer with internet access is getting better each year, however not ever family is fortunate enough to own a computer and this is what we call The Digital Divide. The 1999 NTIA documents show how the increase in digital software as well as the amount of families and age groups began using email to communicate from 1994 to 1999. The facts are evident and not surprising to me at all. Two groups of people that stood out in this study were inner city families as well as families living in rural areas lagged behind in these statistics. Black, and hispanic households were substantially behind in this study which is recurring problem. The digital divide often parallels the economic divide so that the digitally rich keep getting richer and the digitally poor, remain poor. This divide becomes a further problem when these children go to use the school computers and students have to fight over whose turn it is. Denying equal access increases poverty, illiteracy, ignorance, hostility, and anti social behaviors. Today many new jobs are coming about, for instance being a computer technician is a respectable job and Dance goes to say that there is a shortage of workers because it is hard to find qualified people. This shouldn't even be a concern in America, but it is. Imagine having a great opportunity to work for a company and then finding out you have to be somewhat computer savy and can't contribute, that shouldn't happen in this day and age. Dance also mentions the social digital divide, and I'm not so concerned nor feel petty towards those folk. If it is against your religion to use new technology, then Im sorry that you chose that faith. However, I do understand when my grandmother gets frazzled when trying to email or use the internet because I can see how that can be an overwhelming task for an elderly person. The digital divide shouldn't be neglecting the youth though, and these democratic politicians share their thoughts on this subject.... By the way I've never seen a man sweat like Richardson its pretty wild!

The Start, and the Finish

In Gumpert and Drucker's first chapter of "our bible", they discuss the effects and initial impact of cyberspace on society. They argue, as others have (Winner 1993 quoted in the chapter), that "conventional ideas about technology" do not take into account the effects a new media will have on society and culture. The idea that Mr. Alsberg can have a cyber-funeral is totally sweet and should not be seen as "artificial intimacy" but as the next step for societal connectedness. If this class has taught me anything, it is that every internet user customizes their level of involvement and their specific interactions with others in cyberspace. Gumbert and Drucker quote Richard Sennet who makes an excellent point when he describes city building as a way to keep people out more so than to keep people in. By creating "bland, neutralizing spaces", cities attempt to limit the danger of social interaction. On the internet, one's security is defined by the user's general knowledge of the internet, security and anti-virus software on their personal computer and their customized internet experience (some sites and activities on the internet are safer than others).

I enjoyed Phelan's chapter CyberWalden, in which John M. Phelan looks at the internet as a separate reality and compares the cyberspace of today to other mediums. The vividness of HDTV, Phelan argues, falls short of computer and internet because "the machine is part of us." The interaction and feedback that is instantaneous on the internet creates the feeling that the user is inside cyberspace. This "real time feedback" Phelan relates to the call-in shows and participatory broadcast media as the first step in creating feedback media. "What was a public, is becoming an audience." Awesome line, Phelan.

So I come to the end of the book, Communication and Cyberspace, and of course, Neil Postman is there telling me that everything that I just read doesn't solve any problems that the computer set out to solve and that...whoops...we already solved those problems. Sounds like a digital immigrant to me. I agree that the influx of large amounts of information on the internet make it more difficult than other mediums to pick through. But would we prefer that every time a user logs in they have channels/websites they can visit, one at a time? The beauty behind the internet is also its Achilles heel; the more information, the more responsible the user must be in searching. And just because no one would facebook friend Neil Postman, does he really have to take a shot at virtual reality, social networking, emails and TV and call them all an escape from real problems? The digital world is a world inside of our own, it is not an escape, it exists here and now and is the most efficient medium at updating and informing people on current events and news. So Postman, take a deep breath, have a drink, and maybe sign-up for an anger management community or something know, the fake escape world that everyone in the 21st century is enjoying so much.

Cyberspace is King

In Chapter three Beniger describes cyberspace as the ultimate form of communicating. He goes as far as to say that " it might be be seen as th single greatest reversal in human history of the trend to centralized social control" even though it has only been around for the past twenty years. The chapter is centered around the question, who shall control cyberspace, and the answer is everyone. Cyberspace consists of three components: material, relational, and cognitive. These three components make cyberspace its own culture in a way. It consists of tangible artifacts which fulfills its material culture. It posses widely shared information which make it a symbolic or relational culture. Lastly the cognitive culture can be seen in its ability to display less widely shared meanings that influence the behavior of a particular individual by being able to display information in all languages.
Although this way of communicating has exceeded all other forms, it also presents an immediate setback. While the radio and newspapers were able to reach out to millions of people at once, computers have the same ability but to a much greater degree. Although this form of communicating makes these older forms such as facsimile as well as the postal service obsolete to some extent, it doesn't make it more effective. Cyberspace is limitless and this makes it control decentralized. Our behavior is most affected by those we care most about or see most often. However, we can not see everyone through the internet because of it vast multitude. This means that although cyberspace has the greatest range but not the greatest effectiveness because of its target audience. If you were to publish a story it would be better to start of small with perhaps a local newspaper instead of a site online because the chance of anyone caring about who wrote the article or what it's about is very slim. Cyberspace is the best for mass communication because it branches out to the most individuals, but two way communication is more personal because any question can be monitored and responded to, and this form of communication is much better than one-way in controlling human behavior

Muxtape= new fun!

So I've come accross a new site called Muxtape! It allows you to create a playlist of up to 12 MP3s. You can then share your mix with others and retrieve it from almost anywhere with a simple link such as I've also seen it associated with tags on flickr. I've yet to have an account with either site but maybe it's something all of you can enjoy.

Let me know what you think!

A Make Up Blog and a Tribute to the Wire

For the fifth and final season of what Newsweek and others (Barack Obama's favorite character is Omar) have deemed as the most critically acclaimed show on television, David Simon's, The Wire, takes a deeper look into corruption in the media room. In the most notable instance, Baltimore Sun reporter, Scott Templeton has fabricated a story about how he was contacted by a serial killer of homeless people in Baltimore. The story obviously draws a lot of attention, which both Templeton and his upper level management benefit from. They decide to change the direction of the entire newsroom (which is a little scary in itself, the idea that a public news source always has a particular theme of news that "they" think is relevant) towards rising the awareness of the public to the misfortune of the homeless in Baltimore. In response to the public appall raised from these articles, the mayor is forced to change his election motif towards the homeless and helping citizens who cannot help themselves. The political direction of the entire city of Baltimore has been altered based on a fabricated story from one reporter.
In chapter nine, Ron L. Jacobson comments on President Clinton's Telecommunications Act of 1996. The Act was the first piece of major legislation regarding ownership guidelines for United States telecommunications since 62 years prior with the Communications Act of 1934. The Act had two major purposes, to consolidate telecommunications ownership and to try and deregulate the internet in order to provide mass availability. Critics of the act believed that the government needed to keep a closer eye on a media source (mainly the internet) that could provide such an expansive, efficient, and convenient source of news and exploration for the public. In order to do this they forced the ownership of all telecommunication networks to consolidate into only a few major companies (i.e. AT&T and the Bell companies). Behind the rally cry for Universal Service (free public telecommunications access) the consolidation seemed to most as a necessary evil. The way I see it is the government wants to expand the information highway for public appeal, and more importantly for corporate aspirations. At the same time, a medium which can offer the public such an expansive (and invasive) source of news and information, free of charge, is a scary thing to go unregulated. Therefore, the government has rallied behind the idea of Universal Service while sneaking in the idea that this "unregulated" service will fall under the ownership of only a few mammoth companies. The red flag that surfaces for me after sifting through all of this information is, do I really believe that these major news and network providers are unbiased to political coercion? I mean did the government really go to AT&T and tell them they were going to expand their business by legally forcing thousands of small private network companies to come under their (AT&T's) ownership and not ask for anything in return? And were the major companies chosen for consolidation decided upon by drawing straws, or were these the best major companies in the business who would be the most compliant with the current politicians involved? We look back to The Wire and Scott Templeton...We know that the news which is provided to the public will ultimately have political implications on how people and events are viewed by the public, whether the news is true or fabricated. By trying to keep the telecommunications network under the ownership of only a few major companies so that the broad casted news and information can be more easily regulated, is the hand of the American government breaking the innocence of objective news? Check out this youtube on how FOX News is completely biased because of its infiltration by right wing support.

Although I do have my doubts about political involvement in my "objective" news, I believe that the movement towards Universal Service is a positive evolution, regardless of the ownership issues.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Edison Has Been Had

I was checking the New York Times website, as I do from time to time, and I saw an article on the front page about a group of french researchers who discovered a sound recording predating Thomas Edison's by seventeen years.  Having taken a number of intro-level communications at Fordham University I know that news like this is sure to rouse the life back into the true history buffs that roam the halls of the Communications fortress: Faculty Memorial Hall. 

Apparently this wasn't truly a sound recording, or at least that is the way I understood it. Rather, the short ten second clip of a French man singing a baguette-fueled melody was written down on a piece of paper and converted (thanks to American phonoautogrammers!!) at the Lawrence Berkley National Laboratory in Berkley, California into sound mapping out the carefully sketched "phonoautogram." The paper dates back to 1860, a full seventeen years before Thomas Edison's sweet, sweet tunes erupted from his phonoGRAPH in gorgeous New Jersey. 

The Library of Congress in Washington D.C. has claimed the caregiving rights to the historical piece of sound, furthering my personal belief that people in America still care about sound more than everyone. Americans were the ones who found this groundbreaking phonoautogram. . . . in France!! We've got a definite interest, and for that reason I posted this tasty morsel. 

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Interesting Article I Found

Just a little article I was directed to about Twitter by David Murray.

"How to use Twitter (and wheter to bother)."

Back in Action!!

As Gary Grumpert and Susan J. Drucker mention in their essay "From Locomotion to Telcommunication, or Paths of Safety, Streets of Gore," communication technologies are changeling freedom of speech and thus applicable laws within the federal government. Frequented topics of concern include libel, hate speech, and obscenity. We should parallel the functions of the internet to printed publications if they are going to be regarded by the same laws. Or shouldn't we.

Neil Postman asks us the function of the internet, asking us what problem it has come to solve. If books enabled the Protestant reformation, what will the Internet function for our society? Perhaps we are asking to break free from the consumerist standards broadcast by radio, television and print newspapers. Aside from letters to the editor, where is the voice of of the recipient? like the Protestants who wanted individuality of though from the Catholic church, I assert the idea that individuals, once again want to communicate their individuality and independence of thought from mainstream capitalist societal standards.

Good to be back!

G'day Rams, I've just returned to the states from down under. Australia was amazing however it is true what our friend Paull Young told us. When I passed through Sydney i believe Internet access was going for either $5 a minute or $30 an hour, which I really couldn't fit into my budget. Maybe it isn't as expensive to them because their minimum wage is $15 but nevertheless I was deprived of being on the net. Some hostels I stayed in advertised free internet, however there were no computers to access it. From being in the country for an extended period of time it is evident that what Paull Young said is true, they truly are at least five years behind us in terms of technology and the access to it. I asked several people our age if they had anything such as facebook or myspace and nobody did. I spoke to a woman from Sydney who was trying to get a marketing job in Manhattan and she was astonished to hear that i was studying New Media in college and that Fordham University would even offer such a concentration. Well it is good to be back in the best country in the world.

Monday, March 24, 2008

As Promised, A Review of South of the Border

It was about 9:30 Pm on Thursday the 13th when we pulled off of I95 into a neon jungle of ridiculousness. I had been pressuring the driver at the time to pull over since I saw the first billboard advertising South of the Border's many roadside attractions waaaaay back in Virginia, so needless to say we stopped. I was under the impression there would be rides, but rides their were not. I should have checked the website a little more closely. We parked my stuffed minivan infront of what looked like an open arcade and proceeded to try and go in. It was open...but no one was inside. We walked across the asphalt field that separated the two strips of the roadside stop and tried to go into a fireworks shop. Once again, it was open , but nobody was inside. We saw other, probably confused, motorists in the distance wandering around the property just like we were, but we didn't get close enough to really see them or talk to them so who even knows if they were real. We proceeded to go the pink neon lit ice cream parlor. Surprise surprise it was open...and noone was there! Now, when I keep saying "no one was there," I mean it quite literally, no one was in the building. Every gift shop, restaurant, stand, ANYTHING AT ALL was fully lit up and functioning, but lacking any sort of employees. We continued our eerie stroll though this oddly famous over-the-top rest stop and entered a cafe. Finally, some life. We saw a girl behind the counter mopping, she was a teenager I suppose. She looked up at me and quickly went to the back of the kitchen, out of sight to me and my party. She never came back out. At this point my apprehension with the whole situation had reached levels my road trip-mates had already been experiencing. They kept telling me that we needed to go, but I NEEDED to press on. This whole place was a ghost town. I felt like I was in a scary movie of sorts. The neon burned so brightly you couldnt see anything but the South of the Border signs ans shops. We walked some more and found a statue of a ram, so, naturally, we climbed it. The climbing of the ram might have been the most fun part of South of the Border, which obviously isn't saying much. We figured we might as well use the facilities before we got to our still hours-away destination of Charleston, SC. I walked into the bathroom and each urinal was in a closet. Each urinal was behind a small black door and I felt as though leatherface was going to come out and split my sternum apart with a hook, but alas that didn't happen. After stepping out of the dankest bathroom I've used in my career of public restroom patronage we literally sprinted back to the car and motored away. We were in a daze, confused as to why we stopped and why it remains a destination for so many. Professor Strate warned to watch for shady characters down at South of the Border, but he should have warned of it being absolutely abandoned. We ended up finally getting a bite in Charleston; Pizza, in fact. It was some of the worst pizza I've ever had, and I had almost half a pie. South of the Border left me hungry for more.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Wikipedia and Information Overload

In the epilogue, Neil Postman describes how humans were able to effectively find new ways to access and store information, but in doing so, “…created a new problem never experienced before: information glut, information incoherence, information meaninglessness” (390). In some ways, I agree with this statement, especially when we consider the Internet and the huge amount of information it provides. Lance Strate recently posted an article about how the print form of encyclopedias is gradually becoming obsolete, being replaced with online versions or Wikipedia. But going along with Postman’s statement, Wikipedia shows how just too much information about an endless amount of topics can eventually lead to meaninglessness or triviality. A recent article discusses the fate of Wikipedia:

“…Wikipedia is facing an identity crisis as it is torn between two alternative futures. It can either strive to encompass every aspect of human knowledge, no matter how trivial; or it can adopt a more stringent editorial policy and ban articles on trivial subjects, in the hope that this will enhance its reputation as a trustworthy and credible reference source.” (from "The battle for Wikipedia's soul")

Wikipedia, being open to the public, is causing a large amount of trivial information, which I suppose it what Postman would consider, “disconnected from theory, meaning, and purpose” (390) (the author of the article gives the example of how there are more articles that are more in depth about Pokemon characters than a topic that could be more meaningful and worth learning about, such as the Solidarity movement in Poland). I can see why some consider it a problem. There is just so much information on the Internet that probably, to the majority of people, would seem useless and when an information source like Wikipedia is overloaded with generally pointless information that means nothing to them (unless maybe if they’re a fan of something), the value of it as something that could help people is lowered. Though on the other hand, perhaps all of this information helps to build an information source of the kind of culture that humans have (even if it might seem useless). Then again, maybe it’s similar to how news stations might focus more on celebrity news than what is going on in the world.

Another point that Postman mentions is how people who enjoy virtual reality, communicating with others electronically, and watching television “refuse to acknowledge what their real problem is—respectively, boringness, friendlessness, thoughtlessness” (391). This is true in some ways; he even says that it is because these activities, with the help of technology, do nothing to help “touch life’s deepest problems” (391). Though I think technology has helped create new ways of communication that were not possible in the past. In Gary Gumpert and Susan J. Drucker’s essay, “From Locomotion to Telecommunication, or Paths of Safety, Streets of Gore,” they say that the Internet is considered “more secure” and “nonthreatening” (35), which is true, considering also the amount of anonymity it can provide, which allows people to perhaps interact in ways they would not in real life. It lets us interact with people across the world that we would probably never meet without the Internet (though I guess one could travel and interact with people), and allows spontaneous interaction and possibly gain knowledge about another culture but interacting with them. In John M. Phelan’s chapter, “CyberWalden: The Online Psychology of Politics and Culture,” he says, “Distance apart, cyberspace is a humanizing device for creating a kind of ersatz office/pub/common room/ public square area for those deprived, rather cruelly, of one or more versions of the real thing” (52) It seems that many of the things the authors in these chapters say is putting cyberspace and the Internet in a negative light. Perhaps they are emphasizing that even though these technologies can provide so much interaction and information, interactions we have with people face-to-face and performing activities with other people are just as important in shaping the way that humans live.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Our Friend Paull Young on Fox

Our friend, and guest lecturer, Paull Young, appeared on the program Happy Hour, which appears on the Fox Business Network cable channel, and happily, the excerpt was posted on YouTube for us all to enjoy. Here's what the person posting it wrote:

Paull Young of Converseon discussing Social Media and small businesses on the show Happy Hour. The big social media secret is to listen to your customers and give them something that they want. Who knew?

And here's the interview:

Encyclopedias in the Digital Age

Just put up a new post on the topic on my blog: Encyclopedia Down!

Friday, March 14, 2008

Disconnect Anxiety and You (and Me) -- Virtual Tribalism

I'm just going to reproduce on this blog the post I just put up on my own blog, for the sake of my dear, dear students!

So, I was quoted last week in the National Post, a Canadian newspaper. As is always the case, only a few sentences were used out of some twenty minutes of talk, and the tendency is typically to favor the more banal as opposed to the more brilliant insights. But the article is not bad, and most certainly blogworthy.

It was written by Craig Offman, who also interviewed me, and Craig seemed like an altogether decent, and well informed individual. The title of the article is Many Canadians feel anxious without the Net, I've put in the link so you can click on the title and read it on the National Post website, and of course I'll also provide you with the text right here in Blog Time Passing. Oh, and the date of publication is Sunday, March 9, 2008.

It begins with the facts:

‘Internet addiction" and "CrackBerry" are the narcotic-laced phrases we invariably use to explain our growing dependence on laptops and PDAs. Now a Canadian media research company has examined what happens to users in the absence of their virtual communication of choice and coined a term for the modern-day affliction: "disconnect anxiety."

The syndrome is described, in a study that will be released today, as the various feelings of disorientation and nervousness experienced when a person is deprived of Internet or wireless access.

"If you have your BlackBerry or cellphone just outside of your shower, you're probably suffering from it," says Kaan Yigit, president of Solutions Research Group, the Toronto technology-trend tracking company that conducted the study.

Some recent events have tested people's ability to disconnect from their electronic lifelines. Citing concerns about work-life balance, Citizenship and Immigration Canada recently forbade its civil servant from e-mailing on weeknights, weekends and holidays. And a three-hour service disruption last month left around 10 million BlackBerry users in the virtual darkness.

"Everyone's in crisis because they're all picking away at their Blackberrys and nothing's happening," said Liberal MP Garth Turner about a fidgety caucus meeting.

That kind of dependent relationship with our screens is more common than one might think. There are around 19 million cellphone users in Canada, and, according to the group's research, 70% of them carry the devices with them everywhere. More than half of Canada's two million Blackberry owners have taken their devices or a laptop into the bathroom, and 40% bring them along on vacation.

Almost 60% of Canadians with laptops have cozied up to them in their bedrooms at some point - and 26% do so frequently. Around 14% watch TV while logged on to their monitors.

For their study - called Disconnect Anxiety: And Four Reasons Why It's So Difficult to Stay Off the Grid - Solutions Research interviewed more than 3,000 Canadians last year. They found that 26% of them exhibit elevated levels of disconnect anxiety, 33% exhibit above-average levels and 41% are below average. The last group was heavily in the 50-plus age group, Mr. Yigit said, suggesting an obvious generational difference.

So, this is all about Canadians, and maybe they are different, being farther north, and therefore in a colder climate, than those of us in the US. But I suspect we're more or less the same in our usage.

Anyway, that's the data, which basically can be summed up with the basic idea that more and more people are feeling more and more anxious when they are not connected to the net in some way. Now for the explanation:

Some tech-culture theorists explain being online in terms of pleasure: the validation and adrenaline spike one feels when a hundred e-mails are awaiting a response, or when making a new friend on a social networking site.

In the absence of such technology, however, many people experience a sense of desperation or futility. That reaction leads experts to wonder if this reliance signals a sort of "neo-tribalism," a subtle return to our roots in a collective society. Or it might suggest that we struggle - and perhaps fail - to enjoy being on our own.

Now, maybe I wasn't the only one who said this, but this is definitely something that I talked about, as you'll be able to tell from the direct quotes at the end of the article. One of the things I talked about that he didn't include in the article is the need for phatic communication, the simple confirmation of our existence that we get when we acknowledge one another. That's why we have the ritual exchange of greetings, like hello, how are you?, fine thank you, etc. It's not to actually get information from one another, but rather a euphemism for saying, I recognize your existence, and thank you, I recognize yours as well. Every e-mail, message, blog post, comment, tweet, etc., that we receive carries out this same function--it says, hey, you exist! You are a human being! You are a member of our society! And we need that. Especially since so many of us live in environments where we experience a constant stream of disconfirmation, people who ignore us, treat us like we're not there, like we don't exist. That's why people go a little mad in cities. And that's why all of this electronic stimulation, social stimulation specifically, is so very satisfying, gratifying.

Now, back to the article, where the point shifts to safety needs (as Abraham Maslow used to refer to them):

The Solutions Research study concludes that several factors contribute to disconnect anxiety: the growing worry about personal safety and inability to respond to an emergency; the fear of missing important information at work; the worry, particularly among teens, that they'll miss vital gossip; and a fear of disorientation.

Participants in the study used words and expressions such as "half a voice," "panic," "loss of freedom," "inadequate," and, inevitably, "empty," to express their feeling of estrangement.

"Losing technological access means being left out of the loop," explains social-networking authority Danah Boyd, who is a PhD candidate at the School of Information at the University of California, Berkeley, and a Fellow at Harvard Law School's Berkman Center for Internet and Society. "Parents fear that they may not be able to get in touch with their kids. Kids fear their friends will forget them."

Ms. Boyd added that if being connected represents the baseline for social status, then it is not surprising that people are anxious about being disconnected. "No one wants to be left behind."

Nor does anyone want to feel stranded or vulnerable. "In our research, people have expressed the belief that fellow citizens on the streets are less likely to stop and help nowadays," says the study. Not having access or service creates anxiety about personal safety and the safety of family members."

One interviewee from the survey recalls being in Death Valley without a signal, worrying that his rental car would get a flat. "I was just praying," the person said. "What would I have done? Rub two stones together? Cry for help?"

Another complained that an inactive cellphone leaves a person prisoner of one's own silence. "It's almost like you lose your sense of freedom because you just can't call someone," said one person. "You might as well be in the 1800s."

I think this is very much to the point, and I said in the interview, as I've said many times before, that the day is rapidly approaching where we will all expect our vital signs to be monitored 24/7/365.25. Anything can go wrong for anyone at anytime, and at minimum many of us now expect to be able to summon help by way of the cellphone under any circumstances, and feel naked without one. Senior citizens wear those medical alert necklaces, dogs and some people have chips implanted in them so they can be located, so just extrapolate out a bit and in the not too distant future people will be linked permanently and internally (through implants) to the net.

Now the article turns to the youngsters, who have been elsewhere described as digital natives, as opposed to us old folks who are digital immigrants:

For younger people who use social-networking sites such Facebook and MySpace, and who are avid text-messagers, the communication compulsion is no less intense. A typical Canadian aged 12 to 24 sends and receives 90 text messages a week and visits her Facebook account three times a day in order to maintain correspondence with an average of 154 "friends."

One teen explained her virtually sociable mornings this way: "You are in your PJs with your toothbrush hanging out and you are already talking to your friends. That's pretty different than 2005, I guess."

While some of these anecdotes might hint at addiction, Sherry Turkle, a professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, would rather question our relationship to this technology.

"If your child is addicted to heroin, you have one job and one job only: get him off," said Prof. Turkle. "Spending 10 hours a day on Facebook is different. It's really a diagnostic tool. It makes us question what is missing in the rest of someone's life."

Also a psychologist and the author of Evocative Objects, Prof. Turkle said that one young subject told her that "a screen represented hope, hope that life will be more exciting, that it will provide more romance."

The opposite then applies when the user is off the grid. "If something that's seen as sustaining is taken away, people grow anxious," she said. "They feel that nothing is going to happen."

Prof. Turkle also wonders if this kind of manic communication says something deeper about us: our ability to be alone without feeling loneliness. "One of the gold standards of thinking about a fully developed individual is an ability to enjoy one's solitude. So that every time you're alone, you're not lonely," she said. "I wonder if we are part of a generation that is not able to be alone."

I certainly see my 14-year-old son on his cell phone with friends even when he's home for the night, we caught him text messaging once at 1 AM, and he plays with friends online, and talks to them through a headset while playing Halo on his Xbox. The isolation that I remember feeling as a teenager, aside from the limited use of the telephone available to us, is now a thing of the past. I can't really say that's a bad thing.

I do have great respect for Sherry Turkle as a scholar, and the point about addiction is well taken. But she is also defending the sense of self associated with literacy and print culture, a sense of self that emphasizes the private individual, and I am sympathetic to this position, having one foot in the old culture myself. And my mentor, Neil Postman, would certainly approve, but he would also acknowledge that this is exactly what we are, and what we have been losing due to the electronic media. This point was made by Marshall McLuhan as well, back in the sixties, which now opens the door for me to have the last word in this article, echoing McLuhan (and quoting him, but that wasn't included in the article):

Some sociologists see this rampant communication as a return to tribal instincts, with a modern twist. "Rather than people surrounding you in a village, you're in a virtual tribe," said Lance Strate, Chair of the Communication and Media Studies Department at Fordham University in the Bronx, New York.

"When there were real tribes, people had no concept of individualism. If someone was ex-communicated from the tribe, he'd allow himself to wander away and die. He couldn't imagine life outside of the group."

I guess that makes for an interesting way to end the article, dramatic for sure, although I would have preferred a bit more elaboration. But I do think it's a good analogy, between tribal excommunication and today's disconnect anxiety. (By the way, there're some places on the Fordham website where I'm still identified as department chair, and that's why I get incorrectly listed as such from time to time.)

Of course, one of the great differences between virtual tribes and traditional ones is that you can belong to many different virtual tribes, so membership is less central to your identity, or put another way, instead of your identity being subsumed by the tribe, intimately and irrevocably bound up with group identity, identity is now fragmented, decentered, and distributed across many different tribes, not as an individual, but greater than any one tribe. And for other reasons, the tribe itself becomes internalized, but that's another story.

What's also missing is any strong initiation rites, so the boundaries between insiders and outsiders are much looser, more permeable and more easily negotiated. And that means that identification with the group, and loyalty to the group, is greatly reduced from traditional tribal culture. I have elsewhere referred to this as liquid tribalism (in my "Cybertime" chapter in Communication and Cyberspace).

So, wanna be a member of my tribe?

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Everything You think, Do and Say Is in the Pill You Took Today.

In his chapter "Who Shall Control Cyberspace?" James Beniger raised interesting questions and makes rather accurate suppositions about the future of cyberspace. What's most interesting, though is that for Mr. Beniger, there are two classes of people in cyberpace: Those who use it for a social end and those who use it for some other (read as nefarious) end. It would seem that Beniger has no love for people who use the Web to traffic in "less than legal" activities. However, he recognizes that protecting free expression on the Web can not be one sided. It has to have universal applicability in under to mean something. Ultimately, Beniger wants cyberspace to be free of a dominating hand, though he believes that the responsibility of cyberspace "governance" will fall to the powers that be already at large.

Beniger's piece made me think about the recent actions of Comcast. It was recently discovered by the Associated Press that Comcast has been selectively blocking its users access to certain sites, the largest blocked site being BitTorrent and its associated Web sites. Here's the full story. The general consensus from other news sources, and user comments, is that Comcast shouldn't have the power to selectively limit where someone can go on the Web. While in this instance the focus falls on a site primarily used for illegal file sharing, it has much broader ramifications. Namely, what if Comcast doesn't like the Web site you're looking at that's perfectly legal? If the site disparages Comcast, or perhaps the powers that be at Comcast have a moral belief against a certain site? As far as anyone knows, there's nothing stopping this from happening. It raises serious questions about what an ISP is and isn't allowed to do.

There really are no easy answers on how to regulate the internet. And there really are no clear answers on who controls the internet.

John Barlow would probably say that since the providers are only giving you the hardware accessibility to the internet, and that the Web sites aren't located anywhere physical, no one has the right to govern where you go on the Web. Not even your local, regional or state government. For a more in depth look at it, check out Barlow's A Declaration of the Independence of Cyberspace.

And for a look at how Canadians are dealing with similar issues, take a look here.

Title taken from lyrics from the Zager & Evans song "In the Year 2525."

Doesn't AOL Control Cyberspace?

James Beniger sees the very decentralized structure of cyberspace as the very reason it can become so powerful and influencing. Beniger uses the transformation of the U.S. Postal system from a hand and sort entity into a computerized mass mailing database of the future as the warning that cyberspace's power and appeal are not unnoticed by the politically savvy and business power hungry of the world.

Beniger's analysis of cyberspace's capability to amplify the reach and persuasion of mass communication brings up important points about the versatility of the Internet, and is another demonstration of how it has become the all encompassing medium. Indeed as Beniger puts it, the thought of a personalized and intimate form of mass communication, wherein 2 way communication is possible and a record of who believes what is feasible makes for a pretty scary tool for your deceptively persuasive dictator. Beniger brings up the particularly interesting point about cyberspace's threat to the centralized order as being the main attraction it has to the very people it poses a threat to .

While discussing the future of cyberspace, Beniger brings about the likely rationalization of its structure in some form or another. Just as cited in the Postal system's use of it to categorize the masses into whatever subset they please, e-commerce has used cyberspace to make the Internet one big focus group. With so much of this world unclear as it continues to develop, the business and government elites are using this uncertainty to their advantage. Recalling AOL's divulging of several thousand personal accounts to the government a couple of years back I can't help but think that some of Beniger's predictions are already happening. Not to mention what another peer has stated about Google's power. The decentralized world of the cyberspace runs along a digital divide, so its more likely as Beniger puts it that those who control society at large will be controlling cyberspace and indeed, might be already.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Do Google and China control the Web?

In James R. Beniger's text, "Who Shall Control Cyberspace?", he makes the case that the web is a prime target of commercial and political exploitation. Indeed, through forced means, either businesses or goverments could control portions of the web with ruthless power. However, the problem with the web isn't just control, it's jurisdiction.

The reason The Pirate Bay continues to dumb found American authorties is because their central servers are located in Sweden (never mind the debate as to whether BitTorrent trackers are actually infringing on copyright). Thus, all the laws the US passes literally cannot touch the Pirate Bay because they are in this country's jurisdiction. And while the US could pressure Sweden, there's no reason the organization can't relocate their server to another country (or buy their own which they attempted with Sealand).

However, there is one company that most people would agree "controls" the web. And that company, of course, is the famous Google. This might not be truly apparent because Google has not chosen to greatly abuse their powers. But just think about it for a moment. Google is the homepage of the web. If they choose to blacklist your site (and they have their reasons) then how would one ever find your site. Sure you could pass out the URL or depend on links from other sites, but for most of the web, your page is non-existent.

The other obvious controlling agent is the government in countries like Turkey and China. However, there are many technological tools which allow internet connections to break through their firewalls and open the end user up to the entire web. Whistle blowers and bloggers within China use this method to post articles and blogs without the fear of suppression. Such tools are usually trivially easy.

This probably isn't exactly what Beniger is talking about when he speaks of control. But these powers are probably the greatest control one entity can wield over the web. The internet's architects, maintainers, and a good potion of its users enjoy the comforts a lack of control can provide. And many will want and fight to keep it that way.

Sunday, March 9, 2008

"Advertising . . . creates needs rather than fulfilling them

Douglas Rushkoff talks about the arguably most prominent function of commercials: fueling consumer need. Advertisements brand themselves and try to "differentiate" themselves from other brands and products to try to appeal to a consumer's sense of "identity," offering convenience, functionality, and overall enjoyment. Situations are created in ad media that demand solutions, which conveniently are provided by the very people who conceived, and possibly fabricated, the problem.
We sit in front of televisions, listen to the radio, and now more than ever we can ignore advertisements - shrug them off and change the channel. The choices for entertainment and information gathering as so vast the attention span of the modern media consumer is brief. Powerfully "coercive" advertising, almost an annoying bombardment, is a necessary tactic these days. Rushkoff preaches of a television patron must be skilled; must know what to look for in advertisements. Ad campaigns and marketing reach new and more abstract heights as we see car insurance peddled by cartoons and visages of our extinct brethren. Ad campaigns, with there every growing arsenal of mediums to tap the consumer on the shoulder, appeal (in some cases) to an indirect set of feelings and interests that the consumer has. What justifies an old man dancing around coercing viewers of going to an amusement park, as Six Flags did recently? In using humor and upbeat music Six Flags wants YOU, the consumer, to find this appealling or at least share in his joy. More confusingly why have people singing in a Mary Poppins-esque way to promote anti-smoking? Imagery and sly deviations in commercial messages are a reality today. Whether it be the internet, television, radio, or print we are subject to more advertising than ever. It is an onslaught of sorts.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008


your friends in Interactive Rams miss you
and hope the surgery went well
and think you're still sexy!!!

You'll be back on your feet
and rockin' in no time!!!

The Inevitable Internet

Everyday, Internet access is granted to new people for the first time. By nature, the Internet has a Democratic purpose and structure that drives it to incorporate new people in a free exchange of communication. Thus, when it was first designed for strictly military use, it was eventually realized that the technology was being confined. It is undeniable that the digital divide will continue to diminish as social networking, wireless technology,and Internet access stretch across the globe. The Internet is a relatively young technology in comparison to others that people use everyday. Much like all those prior, the Internet creates a divide in those who adopt it and those who don't for several reasons. However, with the breakthrough of social networking and wireless communication, more people than ever will demand web access be provided for them.

According to frank E.X. Dance, what drives the closure of the digital divide is people's access to other people on the Internet. The Internet allows us to reach people on both an intimate level, and also a mass level. The original communication purpose of the Internet that connected people to other like never before was e-mail. Today it seems to many that e-mail may have been a mere stepping stone on the path to the social networking we all take part in today, and what the future may bring in terms of people communicating with others without boundaries.

Eventually, when more and more cities of the world become wireless, other nations will demand access to this technology. The developed nations should in turn provide them with the resources necessary for equal access to the Internet. Eric A. Zimmer and Christopher D. Hunter present the possible risk associated with Internet access in these nations. They say that people fear risks that are both, 'unknown and dreadful". This would be the reason why people fear the risk of toxic waste more so than bicycles. In reality however, more people die a year from bicycle accidents than exposure to toxic waste. Although we can admit some Internet risks are still unknown, it seems to be the view in developed and Democratic nations that a free flow of opinion is not dreadful. However, in developing and non-democratic nations, the notion of an unfetter exchange of ideas that may possibly lead to revolution or civil war is a dreadful one. This is wha continues to divide the world on the web for the time being.

Dance-ing over the Digital Divide

While some grocery shoppers are going to be pushing Media Cartsin Shop Rite by the end of the year, and checking out with self check out kiosks, others will be out of work trying to afford groceries they might otherwise have had if they were still able to assist store customers. What happened to the personal approach and America's obsession with customer service. Might it become minimal with the efficiency of technology. And might Grocery stores even become obsolete in some areas where we can order groceries online, have them pulled from a warehouse and maneuvered to a delivery/loading dock much like the conveyor belt system effective above the heads of patrons, which drops your purchases into a bag at checkout, in B&H photo downtown?

How can we protect the little guy, the computer illiterate, he who is without access and cannot afford courses to increase computer literacy? As the reading noted it is the younger and older age groups which struggle to be online, and with that computer "literate". In my brief research there appears to be a substantial number of programs geared towards children and schools however there are very few non-profit resources for adults, specifically without a price. The problem is further proliferated because, as Frank E.X. Dance suggests, the digital divide often mimics the economic divide, "the poor become poorer and the rich, richer." One of the largest issues to me is the displacement of jobs by the substitution of technology. As we've all seen this is an impossible solution without some consequence/backfire; we learned this first from Homer Simpson of the Simpsons who used technology (a mechanical bird) to perform a simple task (tap a button consistently) which only backfires in a nuclear explosion. The government is not supplying options for those who are behind the divide to acquire the knowledge (and not just the informtion) to succeed in using one of the most necessary tools today. After a decade of talk I believe that Dance recognizes correctly how we will need a ""trickle up" solution. In having this grassroots approach we may be able to conserve the democratic freedom of information that is so cherished. But it will take global computer literacy in order to maintain the information governmental law or edict.

*I am still looking for the Simpson's clip.... if anyone has it let me know!

Telecommunications and Net Neutrality

I found this week's reading to be rather interesting; in particular, I wanted to discuss Net Neutrality in relation to Ron Jacobson's discussion about the rise in telecommunications. He examines an emerging National Information Structure which raises debate as to who will benefit from the proposed super-structure, and how it will be regulated? Should the Internet operate like a utility, with equal service for every level of subscriber, or whether the Internet service providers should be able to provided tiered access and pricing?

Furthermore, he discusses the need for government intervention as well as eliminating the digital divide. The digital divide is similar to Net Neutrality, in which, everyone should be able to access the Internet equally. On a corporate level, Net neutrality is a current and on-going debate about how we should regulate the Internet. One side of the fight is that the government should step in and protect the content providers like,, and In opposition, to the Internet service providers creating an extra market by forcing customers to pay for more efficient and faster service. If this occurs, the companies can control bandwidth on their services and hinder or block certain aspects of the Internet including: competing companies, certain political views, gaudy or immoral content.

I think Jacobson would agree that we need to regulate yet maintain “Internet freedom”. It is essential that Internet traffic be treated equally by carriers. Net Neutrality promotes economic innovation and free speech helps people contend on an equal ball field. A big fear is that Congress will cave to a multi-million dollar lobbying campaign by telephone and cable companies that want to decide what you do, where you go, and what you watch online.

Net Neutrality Walk-Through Video

Divided We Stand

Frank Dance's piece on the digital divide discusses the continued problem of a growing digital divide and addresses a larger and perhaps more important issue that he identifies as the "Social Divide". Dance re-introduces the ever present problem of growing digital divide, separating the internet have's and the have-nots more and more. This phenomenon is affected by income, geographic standing, age, race and education. The growing fear is that in ongoing technological revolution those who are on the outside will lag further behind and be subject to the unfair politics of those privy to this world. Dance brings up the nation's awareness of this problem and their intentions to alleviate the divide through either the free market or government intervention. He suggests that these methods coupled with the economic urgency behind closing the divide and using it to benefit our economy and workforce will assure that a solution will be pursued actively. The real problem Dance introduces is the void of communication those on the bottom end of the divide will incur and further alienation they will succumb to as a result.
Dance remarks that the problem of the social divide is not only directed by the ability to possess technology but also from the desire to possess and use it. Citing the delay of literacy's acceptance historically into societies, Dance claims that there are those who are often unwilling to integrate themselves into new forms of media and technology. For people to accept technology they see its importance to human interaction and growth. Primarily as Dance adds, through the functions of linking humans to one another, the development of higher mental processes, and the regulation of human behavior. Dance reinforces these points with the benefits that voting online provides as well as the camaraderie that e-mail develops and fosters. These are very strong points that Dance makes and he admits the execution of the social divide will not be a smooth transition but I believe several factors will inhibit the proper use of the Internet as a tool to help human growth.
The first is the tendency for humans to relegate their media to forms of consumption, primarily for entertainment. Television, which ideologically should create the viewer an array of benefits, often remains a tube of mindless recreation and leisure, leading to more than anything the impediment of higher mental processes. Not denying the Internet's usefulness, it can be said that the medium is not reaching its full potential for efficiency, or specifically enough even Dance's desires for it. The second reason, which is closely tied to this is the tendency for big business to alter the more social but possibly less profitable elements of the Internet. Undoubtedly, social networking sites such as FaceBook and MySpace have expanded the notion of human interaction that Dance discusses it can foster to close the social divide. But these sites have been manipulated by large corporations into increasingly larger marketing mediums. This isn't necessarily a bad thing, simply something that affects the potential of these sites. Human interaction is limited or determined by the companies who own them and how we speak to one another is judged on the merit of how profitable it can be. I believe Dance's intentions are good and offer a step in the right direction of how technology can influence the betterment of society. However, we must look at our tendency to pursue the almighty dollar and address it. To close the social divide the Internet must not necessarily look at it as the business of human communication but rather as human communication.

A Lesson From the Talking Paper Clip

In "Cut, Copy and Paste" Lance Strate looks at the culture of these digital tools in correlation with pre-historic tools such as the stone knife, citing that their evolution is not so far off and in actuality are tied close together through the advent of writing. In the sense that the digital tool kit creates text and other tools, the ancient stone knife could be used to carve other tools as well as markings on caves, which depending on the purpose could be created for aesthetic or symbolic reasons. This connection is what causes Strate to see our society filled with "hunterers and gatherers" seeking out information.
Revolving around the tools of Copy, Paste, and Cut, Strate outlines how these are exemplary forms of the human activity of tool use. The three tools cover an array of basic functions including arithmetic operations (adding, subtracting, division, etc.) and more impressively the modification and manipulation of symbolic and visual environments. The importance of the latter two functions are particularly interesting because they reveal the ability of these tools to edit linguistic reality and in turn, be able to edit reality. However as in other instances of the packet an essential part of this ability relies on the element of written language. Visually, the digital tool kit has allowed creative control and expression to the laymen by allowing documents to be created that resemble the appearance of professional work.
A key point brought up by Strate is the interaction that takes place between the digital tool kit and the G.U.I (graphic user interface). This relationship seems to be equally reinforcing to both elements, as the GUI places a strong importance on the digital tool kit by locating them first and giving them greatest precedence (aside from 'File' commands). However, the tool kit also reinforces the GUI by granting it simplicity and speed. Strate remarks how without the tool kit the windows on the desktop of the GUI would be isolated. Furthermore, this relation becomes unnoticeable to the user after a time, which makes the impact of the tool kit even greater. "Our tools which are often so inconspicuous and ubiquitous, form the deep structure of human cultures". It is interesting that the impact of the digital tool kit is only partially apparent, while we understand the effects it has had on things such as plagiarism and intellectual property rights, there is so much more we are not privy to. This is particularly powerful when considering we are the ones who purposefully give these tools the leeway of being little more than instruments we use to create meaning, all the while not considering whether they alter or influence the meaning we create and perpetuate.

Internet, Education, and the Digital Divide

It is important that we work to close the digital divide because we would be able to have access to so much more information. Ron Jacobson, in the chapter, “ ‘Are They Building an Off-Ramp in My Neighborhood?’” says that “information is not knowledge. Knowledge is gained by making evaluative judgments on the quality of information, which in turn is achieved through the cognitive skill of separating the significant from the irrelevant” (167). I agree with this statement, since the Internet is so huge, it is easy to get lost in the overload of information, and it really is up to us to determine what information is reliable and what is not. I think that this information that can be derived from the Internet is an important aspect for education, and as Jacobson says, it is important that users are media literate. Though it is true that students can easily cut and paste writing from the Internet onto their own papers, (as Lance Strate writes in “Cut, Copy, and Paste” (55)), the potential knowledge that can be gained from the Internet I think outweighs the trouble it could cause.

In the chapter, “The Digital Divide,” Frank Dance mentions how the Internet should “heighten the profile of education, of participatory government, and of human fellowship” (178). I recently found a site for the OLPC, or “One Laptop Per Child” project that is working to get computers into the hands of children in developing countries. Their goal is “to provide children around the world with new opportunities to explore, experiment and express themselves,” and it is interesting that children have to have a computer in order to achieve those goals. This I think, would be very beneficial for the children because these laptops, which were designed specifically for children will help them connect with other students in other schools or even access the Internet. I’m sure that the number of people online has increased since Dance’s writing of this chapter, and this shows how far some people have gotten in working to close that digital divide. It is good that these children are able to learn differently with these computers, but more importantly, it's that they can have access to the Internet. Though in this case, they would not have complete access to the Internet; what they can access will be determined by the government, which reduces the amount of information the Internet can provide. So maybe it’s not such a great thing; if their goal is to provide them with all of these opportunities and experiments, then limiting what they can access could hinder that process, as censoring the Internet anywhere else will do the same.

Monday, March 3, 2008

Across the Great Divide

I really enjoyed reading about the creation of the internet and ARPAnet's original purpose. I always knew the internet was created originally for the military, but Giese does an excellent job of describing how the creators of the internet broke away and followed the hacker ethic of "free information" which eventually led to the world wide web.

The digital divide is an international problem and must be considered as such in order to promote a global village(where everyone speaks the "digital language"). As is expected, third world and developing countries are behind the curve of technological advances and will be until international organizations like the UN discuss and act in a way that aids these countries. It is the global responsibility of wealthy nations to help developing countries when assimilating to new technology and communication opportunities.

Another debatable subject of pushing for internet internationally are certain governments that wish to censor and police the internet in their country in order to stifle the free flow of information certain nations' citizens receive. Countries like China, who have a tight hold on the media and information that comes in and out of the country do not share other countries' natural acceptance of the democratic nature of the internet. I argue that it is time for international policy-makers to protect the internet's integrity by allowing it to grow uncensored and unfiltered. The great thing about this new technology is that it levels the playing field so that any individual can be heard and promote their ideas. As the internet becomes accessible across the globe, peoples' right to information on the web must be protected. This and only this will ensure that the bridge we build across the digital divide will stand for generations to come.

Saturday, March 1, 2008


I just put up a post on my blog about microblogging, and twitter in particular:

All A Twitter

It's a worth a look, if I do say so myself.