My younger sister got Facebook and that terrifies me. 

Not that she will deliberately post silly things. Actually, compared to most 15 year olds she is relatively well adjusted; not an attention seeking twelvie. But everyone has awkward teenage years, and increasingly people are living (and sharing) those years online. Eventually she will end up posting or getting tagged in a post doing something stupid. Teenagers are growing up in a digital fishbowl, where everyone can see every moment. People have to be aware of what they are posting and who has the ability to see it. As Howard articulates in “The Vernacular Web of Participatory Media” the interconnectedness of the internet means that institutional and personal coexist.

“A myriad of everyday expressive moments and the official discourse of powerful institutions” (Howard, p509)

And while we are always warned about the dangers of the internet but I don’t think there is a moment where people are taught about the true weight of their social media practices.

There are plenty of stories of workplace dismissal resulting from an employee’s social media because the reality is what Howard describes, everything is so woven together on the internet the personal and professional are joined. It takes a conscious effort to keep those aspects of your life separate.

In the case of the video of the Barminco miners’ “The Harlam Shake” lead to the dismissal of all those involved as well as spectators, totally up to 15 workers. They were not fired because of a breach of a Social Media Policy, in fact the miners said that the reason their shirts were off was so no company logo could be seen. However, the dismissal was based on the video’s evidence of their breaking several apparent rules and breaches of “core values of safety, integrity and excellence.  And this is not the only example…

I don’t think that there is ever a time where we are specifically taught to dictate our own experiences and manage our own public (or semi-public) image. And I think there should be. I regularly delete old posts, un-tag myself from others’ photos and review my ‘friends’ list on facebook. But I am only really aware of this because of information provided to me at a university level education and by that time most people have had several uninformed years of social media usage.

 

Robert Glenn Howard. “The Vernacular Web of Participatory Media.” Critical Studies in Media Communication, 25.5 (2008): 490-513.

Reviewing the Importance of Technology in Revolutions

More than six months ago I wrote an article called “I have problems with the term ‘Twitter Revolution’.” And I really did. I thought that calling the role of technology in distributing information and reporting on the events a ‘revolution’ was undermining those who were actively participating in the revolts.

And it’s still the case. Wolfsfeld, Segev and Sheafer have researched “Social Media and the Arab Spring” and have come up with two main theological principles. That we can’t define the role of social media without political contextualisation. But also that the most social media interest happens after significant events, not before them. Just as Mohamed Bouazizi setting himself on fire in December 2010 and the following social media flurry became a catalyst for the Tunisian Revolution. 

However there is still a problem with this ‘sharing’ culture. Newsom and Lengel show that although western countries are less overt in their gatekeeping the stories that are chosen to be shared are still open to manipulation and bias because of our own frameworks and news values. A story of a young women standing up to oppressors could be viewed as having a better angle than that of an educated male in a similar story, and as such our social media would support that more… 

Doing Communication and Media Studies these are the type of case studies that get discussed frequently. We analyse the role of social media, and I am always skeptical. But this time one of my peers shared this video:

“It played not really a huge role in organising it but shhh don’t tell anyone. Otherwise nobody will pay any attention to this tiny country in north Africa” (On the Jasmine Revolution)

He goes on to say that the activist said that “the media cares about us because they think there’s this sort of technological revolution that’s happening…”

And that’s the thing that changed my perspective. I still think that there are issues with using the term, and that there are issues of legitimacy and ‘facts’ when it comes to reporting from social media. However, if it means the stories of those who might otherwise be voiceless are heard then how can you remain stoic?

Education in an Open Information Era

So in class this week we had a conversation about MOOCs, which are Massive Online Open Courses available as a type of online learning.

Not familiar with them? This video explains far better than I ever could!

 

Now, I am a huge fan of access to equality, especially equality in learning and education so I was really excited by this idea. Cormier’s video explains that anyone can join, anyone can choose what to learn, and they can chose how they learn. They are given access to resources and information but the lack of formal class structure means that some physical barriers people to accessing higher quality education are not so much of an issue.  Plus it is free; anyone with computer and internet access can participate.

And there still are plenty of ‘kinks’ that need to be figured out. No-one is denying that. Steve Cooper and Mehran Sahami’s paper Reflections on Stanford’s MOOCs show that some of the biggest issues that are raised with this current platform as we are currently have it are issues with validation and plagiarism, evaluation, grading and certification. But these are issues that could be solved with more time, research and technology.There are so many subjects and more are continuing to be added each year!

But they could be used to complement my institutional learning, to provide alternative resources, to give me new and different perspectives on similar topics… Even to keep my brain from switching off over summer and my forgetting how to function as a student…

But then I realised…

It’s 10pm on Sunday night and although I promised myself I would publish a blog this week I am on YouTube and Facebook…

I am interested in the topic. I love writing and blogging. I really just want to finish it so I can go to sleep. But without a looming deadline I can’t motivate myself to do it.

I would definitely would be one of 93% of students who sign up for a class excited for the topic and eager learn but never make it to the end…

This is me. Every. Time.

I still think they are a great idea and that they step in the right direction in this era of open information we are living in. There is a lot of information out there, if it sounds like something you’re interested in give them a Google.

“Writers need readers”

As many of you will know that while I am doing a media and communication degree, I am a Journalism/Professional Writing major. A large portion of my degree is writing: blogging; essays; stories; articles…

In my degree we have discussed the concept of ‘prosumers‘ and interactivity and audience participation countless times. However I was reading “When Readers Become End-Users: Intercourse without Seduction” by Jane Dorner and a quote jumped out at me.

“Writers need readers, not users, in order to make a living”

And that line surprised me a little bit.

I have always considered the ‘prosumer’ as a positive change, where individuals can be more immersed in their favourite aspects of media culture I blogged about Fan Fiction in Convergent Culture sharing some of my favourite examples of an active consumer. And I was aware that there was a potential for negative effects (I even blogged about some in Copyright Culture) but they always seemed to be little problems for big corporations.

But the reason that quote struck me is because I am a writer. I produce content. I blog, I write creative stories, even the essays I write for university are my works. And that’s something that I want to continue doing throughout my life, potentially in a career. But up until I read that I never considered the possibility that my audience was an active one.

Dorner’s whole article (though a bit dated) explores the concept that words don’t seem to be property anymore. That concepts, ideas, opinions are fluid, and its hard to view that content as a physical thing. There is a more recent article by Rob Cover called “Audience inter/active; Interactive media, narrative control and reconceiving audience history” which is all about reevaluating the author-text-audience relationship (pg 139) and he too talks about the role of writers and the no-longer passive reader.

My readers can comment, and are welcome to note their approval/agreement or criticise my opinions/writing ability/articulation. Readers can ‘like‘ my post. Readers can ‘follow‘ my blog. Readers can ‘share‘ it across other media platforms…

But these are all features that are available through my chosen platform. They aren’t features of the ‘prosumer‘ culture. I have to admit, I still don’t really know how I feel about my readers being ‘users’. I just can’t imagine anyone wanting to have a more active interaction with my work; is that naive of me? If it isn’t affecting me now, it is something that I certainly will have to come to face as I continue to write and publish work online.

 

Cover, R “Audience inter/active; Interactive media, narrative control and reconceiving audience history” New Media & Society, February 2006 vol. 8 no. 1 139-158′

Dorner, J. (1993) ‘When readers become end-users: intercourse without seduction’, Logos, Whurr, London, 4(1):6-11

 

Science Fiction and ‘Real Life’

I have previously blogged about Sci-fi and The Internet of Things, but there I was discussing the science fiction portrayal of an highly interconnected dystopia, and the potential  dangers of the internet.

Today I want to talk about sci-fi and technology again; but looking more specifically at ‘cyberpunk’ and its conceptualising of technological advancements in society.

Cyberpunk looks to a future where information technology is wealth and knowledge is power. Most cyberpunk texts are set in a post-industrial era with a rigid status quo and an oppressive corporate power.

Cyberpunk

 

One of the most famous, and potentially most influential of this niche sub-genre is Gibson’s Johnny Mnemonic which was first written in 1981 and produced into a film in 1995 (but the plot was substantially changed). Of all of Gibson’s cyberpunk works ‘Johnny Mnemonic’ captured the attention of people, and did not just invoke their fears of technology, but provoked discussion.

David Tomas suggests that Gibson;s cyberpunk works have provided an opportunity for the discussion of “preliminary observations on the interaction between advanced technologies, human identity and marginal oppositional cultures.” (pg 187).

It is this idea that science fiction allows and facilitates discussion that is particularly interesting to me. While I previously understood Sci-Fi to explore the role of technology, predict the advancements and present the dangers I never considered the possibility of it’s ability to facilitate discussion.

Tomas quotes Gibson as saying: “apprehending the present seems to require the whole Science Fiction toolkit” (pg 187). It is interesting that those literary techniques used by sci-fi authors to invoke extrapolation and technological discourse are not just literary tools but are now needed to communicate day-to-day life.

What were once fictional depictions of the future are slowly making their way into our reality. Consider the genetic modification in Brave New World; the bio-technology in Blade Runner; the piecing together of men in Frankenstein.

Science fiction is sensitising us for the changes to come, and Gibson’s Cyborg worlds are an exploration of the ethics, morals and laws of the social and biological changes that may be coming…

 

Gibson, W. (1988) “Johnny Mnemonic”, Burning Chrome, Grafton, London, 14-36

Tomas, D. (2000) ‘The technophilic body: on technicity in William Gibson’s cyborg culture’, in Bell, D and Kennedy, B (eds), The Cybercultures Reader, Routledge, London: 175-189.