Category Archives: student blogs

Reflecting on Air-B-N-Me & the Class

After participating in Air-B-N-Me, it allowed me an opportunity to reflect on how it was a microcosm of my experience with digital media as a whole. It was daunting at first, fun and creative once I got into it and yet included some technical obstacles that frustrated me and left me wondering if it was all worth the effort. The opportunity to “participate” in digital media with my colleagues and with others was fun, although it still seemed like less of a free-flowing give-and-take and more of a bulletin board type of opportunity. I don’t think that was the original vision of the project so I’ll give the creators the benefit of the doubt, but I believe that the creativity exhibited by both the creators and participants made the project worthwhile. As I pointed out above, I think it provided a lens into what’s good and bad about my online experiences thus far. It also showed me that the possibility of exploring new ways to use digital media to share online space in a creative way that expands our ideas about reality and community makes the whole thing worthwhile.

Going back to the beginning of the class, we focused on our responsibility to participate in the world of digital media and how the line has become blurred between our “real” lives and our digital lives. This is a tough lesson for a guy like me to learn because I feel strongly that there are simply parts of our lives that should remain unplugged. However, even during the time I’ve been in this class, I’ve found myself dragged (sometimes willingly, sometimes unwillingly) into the online world more and more (spending more time on my phone, more time tweeting, on Facebook, etc.).  Is this good or bad?  I still tend to see my kids spending time online and my reflexive response is that they should shut it off and go find a friend to play with outside. However, this class has helped me realize that their online lives are in some ways equally substantial and consequential as their lives in the real world. I am trying not to disparage the lessons they can learn by participating in online communities, while simultaneously trying to take more steps to immerse myself in that world. At the beginning of this class, I wrote in my second blog (This is Collaboration?) that I was appalled at the idea that someone could take the skills they learned in World of Warcraft and parlay that into a job at MIT. The problem I had was seeing how the skills earned by manipulating online communities were so different or more important than the skills used to navigate disputes and problems in the real world. Several months later, I feel like I can look back and have a better understanding of the particular difficulties inherent in building your online profile and communicating therein. Understanding how to communicate without being misunderstood, how to communicate to a large group of people in remote locations and how to keep abreast of the sheer volume of communications in an online space are daunting and unique challenges.

The presentation that I created helped me see more clearly the connection between what I do as a journalist and the participation of people all over the world. Up until now, I still saw UGC (user generated content) as something of a unique aspect of my business – something that overlaps with my job only every once in a while. But I see now that journalism is being transformed as we speak by people providing content and analysis and participating in the way news is not only created but communicated and understood across online spaces. We in the news are no longer even the match that lights the spark, but one match of many. And while we play a role in how news is communicated and understood by the masses we may no longer be the primary conduit of that message or the key to how it is framed. Finally, I’ll mention the technical problems that I encountered along the way. Creating my presentation, joining Instagram and participating in the Air-B-N-Me brought me face-to-face with a number of challenges in actually getting programs to work the way they were supposed to. In many ways I felt like my son as he tried to figure out what file to take pictures from or how to rename them – something totally unrelated to the task he was trying to accomplish (although he didn’t know it). I feel like some of this stuff should be intuitive and it’s not, some is needlessly complicated for the sake of aesthetics and some simply doesn’t make sense. Maybe it’s my old brain trying to comprehend something new, but I don’t think so. I think there are times when people who are in charge of bridging the gap between new media and the new generation sometimes forget about us in the generation that came before. Give us a break – we are trying to get on board as well.?

NetProv Air-B-N-Me

I wasn’t too sure about this project at first. Don’t get me wrong. I’m all good with the creative aspect and the idea of inhabiting someone else’s life actually inspired a few interesting story ideas that I tucked away for future use. But in this case, it was the technological part of this that made me nervous. I have absolutely zero experience with Periscope and was concerned about letting people actually view my life for any period of time. (I know other people seem to have no problem with that, but it’s not exactly my thing). In reality, it turned out that my fears were (somewhat) justified when it turned out that the creative part was by far the most fun and the actual process of getting the posting together and up on the site was far more painful than I would have thought (and admittedly more difficult than it probably should have been).

Meeting with my group was a good way to kick off the project. I had initially thought about creating an ad that would offer the lurfer an opportunity (“swapportunity”) to be a child again.  I had a vision of me riding my bike down a hill in the sunshine when I was 10 or 12 and feeling like there was simply no weight on my shoulders. No responsibilities, none of the pressures that would come later in life. Enticing right? However, in discussing that with my group I initially thought a classmate was doing something similar. And then when she switched, I felt like perhaps others on Air-B-N-Me would do it.  I haven’t come across a similar idea on the site. Oh well. During our discussion, Melissa talked about giving some insight into what it was like to do her job as a waitress and I decided to take one of the unusual aspects of my job and make it the subject of my swapportunity. Thus, I decided on PreDawnDriver and gave people the chance to ride with me (instead of me?) to work at 4am from the Jersey shore all the way into NYC. The pitch? Enjoy a quiet commute with no traffic and no one bothering you – just you, the moon and the empty road. Creating the ad was easy and I accomplished it without difficulty. I created the video over the course of a few trips and then cut it together with Windows MovieMaker, added sound and posted it to YouTube. The problem was that I could not figure out how to post the video. I could see other people’s video links under their own posts. But when I tried to add to my forum posts I got this.


Error 404 – Not Found

The document you are looking for may have been removed or re-named. Please contact the web site owner for further assistance.

I tried a couple of different routes. I went back to the original instructions here. Nothing under settings. Clicking on Content under my account just took me back to the main swapportunities page. Nothing. I even tried to switch from Google Chrome to Firefox. Still couldn’t figure it out. I even reached out to Melissa to see if I had to sign up for  Periscope and that I had simply misunderstood the directions. She said no, I simply had to create the ad and put in the URL for the YouTube video. But how do I do it???

After probably an hour over a series of sessions, I finally figured it out. Go to Forum Posts, then to the available listings under the Forums Index and I had to crate a New Topic. Problem is, this wasn’t intuitive to me. I couldn’t see what forum I was posting in. It didn’t say anything about the ad. Why not at least put a NEW button on the page with all the other Forum Posts. Or label a button New Posting. I wasn’t even sure where my post would wind up until I actually posted it and saw that it had (to my relief) shown up where everyone else’s had.

This is my ad.

I also took some time to look at other people’s ads and found them creative and interesting for the most part. I will give a shoutout to our classmate Colin for an exceptional post.  I also check out this post and this post and commented on both. Some of the others seemed like people simply mailing it in (so to speak) – shooting something, anything for 30 seconds and posting it.  I wonder if in the next incarnation of this, we push people to videotape the wildest, most fascinating and unusual moments for people to “swap” with. It would take a bit of a change in the narrative behind the project, but might make for interesting results (and could prove to have more of a life beyond a classroom project.) All in all, I enjoyed Air B-N-Me – I thought it was a very creative idea nd I enjoyed taking part -just would have done the site a little bit differently.




Learning Instagram

Before We Began

The primary reason that I chose Instagram as the media platform I’m exploring is that my kids wanted to try it. In this blog, I explain how I went about exploring this medium and then how my kids did. Both said they were “excited”, although Frank also said he was “nervous” and Jackie expressed concern about sharing personal information (something I expect is a result of her parents’ pounding that cautionary message into her head). I don’t really know much about Instagram other than that is picture sharing. I am not by nature someone that shares a lot of what is going on in my life with people beyond my immediate social circle, so there is some question in my mind about how practical it is to open an account and how much I will use it. Really, I know nothing beyond that. I don’t really know how Instagram works, whether people check into my account to see my pictures or whether I post them like Facebook or send them out like on Twitter. I have used other social media but not a lot. I am notoriously bad at posting on Facebook and I use Twitter mostly because of school, although I have posted more in recent weeks as I find articles that I think are relevant to what we discuss in class. I guess it says something about my level of familiarity with social media that it even enters my mind to use it. I will say from the start that my children’s impression of Instagram was as vague as mine but they know classmates that use it. I don’t know anyone that uses it. They were both excited to learn about it. My feelings are less excited and more curious, although that may just be the stick-in-the-mud adult that I’ve turned out to be.?

My Adventure

As I actually went through the steps of getting on Instagram, my first primary decision was what picture to use for my profile. I opted for a picture of a shadow that I had saved on my computer. Why? I think for two reasons – one, because I like the sense of mystery and incompleteness that it denotes and two, because I am still nervous about putting my picture out there. I have some cute pictures of my mom & I, my sister & I and my son & I that I could have used, but I honestly wasn’t comfortable putting any of their pictures online. Doesn’t help that when I had second thoughts, I went to edit my profile and don’t see an option to change the picture. So I’ll keep it the way it is for now. On the main page, all of the people that are “suggested” that I follow are pop stars or media stars like Ariana Grande, and three (3!) different Kardashian/Jenners (out of a total of 10 suggestions). Thanks Instagram, but I don’t want to follow any of these people. I wonder about my kids though – did they follow any of them? And damn, there’s a lot of skin in these pictures. Kim Kardashian’s pictures are basically her boobs and her butt – and they look like they were all taken by a professional photographer to maximize the lighting. So I guess I have to search for someone to follow. I don’t know where to begin. I finally opted to look for the band, Above the Moon, which is my cousin’s band and who I saw last night at the Wonder Bar in Asbury Park. I figure my cousin is usually on top of social media promotions and I was right – I found them. I note that many of the pictures are also on their Facebook page – are they basically interchangeable?  One thing I noticed when searching is that the names are really small and its hard to distinguish one result from another through the super tiny pictures. I tried Ray Bradbury because I was just reading about him and I found a number of Instagram accounts (?) with his name in them. I can’t tell if any of them are officially from his estate or anything (maybe picking a dead guy was a bad idea). But I did notice that when you click a picture, it has options to follow that person – so I can see how you would start in one place and be carried through a search that could result in you following a number of different people along the way. I tried searching for Axl Rose and, again, I didn’t know if there were any official accounts. I did run across one labeled Fan Page and one labeled Axl Rose Photography. In Googling, I found out that up until December of 2014, there was no way to determine whether an account was official or fake. Then they introduced little “verified badges” or checkmarks to make it clear. I searched “Prince” to see if I could find his and I did. One thing I noticed in playing music on Prince’s Instagram account is that if I open another window in the same browser, the music stops. Glitch! Wow – I just went back to my profile and I already have someone following me. I’ve only had an account for 20 minutes!  And I don’t have any posts!


Oh wait – ha ha – of course no one is following me. It is +I+ who is following someone else – my cousin’s band. Guess I’m still getting the hang of this, although I suppose I should have known that one. I almost went back and erased what I just wrote, but in the interest of expressing the full digital media adventure, I left it in.

Speaking of which, it is not immediately obvious to me how to upload photos. After scouting around, I realize I have to click on my profile photo and it gives me an option to change the picture or upload new ones. That is odd.  That can’t be the only way to upload pictures, can it? OK, no it must not be. That’s just for changing profile photos. Oh – now I see. I need to download an app to get it working.

9:09pm – I’m not thrilled with the way this site is set up. None of the little icons are labeled and they don’t even label themselves when you hold the cursor over it. Also, isn’t it ridiculous that I have to download an app to post pictures? I’m sitting at my computer and have pictures I want to post on the computer. Why can’t I just post them from here? It seems an unnecessary step to force you to download the app (and as you will see shortly, this is what derailed my son in his attempt to set this up). Now my computer is telling me that ITunes was downloaded improperly and I have to redo it. This is getting aggravating.

9:31pm – After 10 minutes and a bit of panicking over the possible loss of hundreds of songs stored on my old version of ITunes, a new version was installed and all the songs were still there and I managed to get the Instagram app.

9:42pm – One problem, I have no idea how to get it to work now. It’s downloaded – I see it on my screen, but when I click on it, nothing happens. I am having a ton of trouble with this and after working on it for a half hour, trying to go back and reload the App, I am giving up for the night.

9:17am – OK – brand new day and I’ve decided to bag the idea of doing this online and instead, downloaded the app on my phone. It took 5 seconds to download it and once that was done, it was very easy to access the pictures on my phone, choose one, throw a filter on it and share it.


Frank’s Adventure

Just as I did, my son Frank had a lot of problems. However, his difficulties stemmed from more from an overall unfamiliarity with how we navigate online spaces. In the end, he spent 40 minutes trying to figure out how to build an account and couldn’t do it ultimately without input. (My wife was filming him and we both agreed that neither of us wouldn’t give him any help unless absolutely necessary). He was initially excited because, as he told me, he had “never had a social media before”. He went right to the instructions on the Instagram webpage. He got derailed, however, and ended up on a page about the app and din’t know how to download it (he was on the wrong page). He used Google repeatedly to try to figure out how to do things and he ended up going down a couple of rabbit holes (both regarding the app, regarding signing up and then later regarding naming a file which he felt was necessary to get an account photo loaded up for the site. The context of the video I added below is that at this point, he has figured out that he can’t load Instagram via instructions for the app (which dont help anyway).  He has instead figured out how to create an account on the computer, but does not know how to upload a picture. He is scouting around in the files, getting derailed on how to name a file, etc.  Here is my son basically coming to the end of his rope.


In the end, Frank was near tears at the end of this process (or I should say the point at which he gave up). This was not a friendly process and for some of the same reasons I cited above (icons not being labeled and confusing directions between using the app and uploading photos via the computer for example), Frank was disappointed and, at present, is no longer enthused about using Instagram.

Jackie’s Adventure

My daughter Jacqueline is not having anywhere near the same kinds of problems. While Frank struggled for nearly an hour, Jackie was able to sign up for Instagram in about five minutes and had no problem uploading a picture, actually deleting and picking a new one three times before she found the one she wanted.  For Frank, all the excitement he felt in the beginning of the adventure seemed to boil away into frustration. For Jackie, the excitement was still there when she finished. Check it out. In watching the videos of Jackie’s experience, I will repeat again that I was uncomfortable with the nature of some of the photos that come up right away as part of the people that are offered for her to follow. Could Instagram ask the age of the user and then tailor the options for that age group? Or does that occur through some sort of algorithm that scrutinizes the people she follows? By the way, Jackie has succeeded in her goal and already has 11 followers!!  (She is following one person – her friend Lacey).



I went in to this experience, expecting it to be simple and straightforward. In fact, before I began, I was almost rooting for one of my children to have difficulty signing up because I figured there was a fairly good chance that all three of us would sail through the process and there would be very little to write about. I was very wrong. I was surprised that the directions seemed less than straightforward, that there were limits on how you can upload photos and that the site itself was so unfriendly to users. In fact, it seemed more engineered for aesthetics, making sure that the icons were small and unlabeled perhaps to look “clean” while the Instagram photos of the people they were pitching (like Ariana Grande and Kim Kardashian) were centered and large to make sure they made up the heart of the home page. I think that someone trying to set this up needs some advanced understanding of how computers and social media works. A newbie like Frank was clearly confused and frustrated and even I had to abandon my first plan of how to use Instagram and go to plan B, downloading the app on my phone. Only Jackie seemed not to have problems, although she has not uploaded any photos that I know of outside of her own profile picture. I found this form of social media to be frustrating. To me, the process of sharing photos is more effective on Facebook or even Twitter (or Vine) and I would rather use something like Facebook to look at friends’ photos and Google or TMZ if I want to see pictures of celebrities. I think part of the original attraction to this site was the idea of more intimacy – that the other people or celebrities are sharing something more personal by taking the pictures themselves – and I will say that I found some of that, for instance, looking at Prince’s Instagram (which offered some sound clips as well). But overall, they seemed like glorified publicity photos (for celebrities) and added very little value above and beyond pictures available on other forms of social media. It was just a lot bigger pain in the butt.



Chapters 6 & 7 (The End of the Story?)

I found the idea of Jenkins’ “civic imagination” intriguing – and I would imagine that for the majority of us, we never emerge from that state. Imagining a better world is a dream for all of humanity but, as is pointed out, the difficulty is in taking up the mantle of change agent.The report that he refers to points out the forms of participatory politics, including 1) sharing info through social media 2) engaging in online conversations 3)creating original online content 4) using tools like Twitter to rally people toward a collective activity 5) building databases that can investigate an ongoing concern.

It seems to me that by doing all these things, you=can= participate in social action, albeit from the comfort of your living room. Is there a component of this kind of participatory politics that needs to be more personal and active in the sense of physically going out into one’s community? My initial sense says there must be, but perhaps that is because I have not developed my sense of what it is to be connected to others in my community through social media. It makes sense that language should then be adjusted to take the field of participatory politics out of the hands of wonks and put it in the hands of the average person.

Interesting though that when we look at our TV screens we still tend to see politics as an exclusive club. Yes, we see grassroots organizations springing up – and yes, when it comes to local actions I feel there is some impact. Pressure over the LGBT bathroom law in North Carolina seems to be raising the possibility that the bill will be repealed. When it comes to national politics, we are seeing huge groups of people trying to upend the status quo. It remains to be seen if it will happen. I know through my own research that the ability to reach voters on a personal level , even by targeting them through non-political interests (like reaching them through websites they frequent) has revolutionized the way campaigns are run. Obama first grasped that back in 2008. We will have to see how it changes the election this time around. My guess is that if it’s Hillary Clinton against Donald Trump that the Clinton team, having been taken down by web savvy campaign managers once before, will have a better strategy this time around. Will Trump’s people realize how important it is to have a web-centered strategy as well?

I found it interesting that Mimi was so concerned about “delegating authority to big corporations and governments”. although I agree that there has been a startling decline in support for things like social welfare and education. But I think that trend is mirrored by the public at large, not just big companies. I feel like companies are more inclined to try to make attempts at being more socially responsible because their profiles are so much more readily available than they were in years past. I don’t think companies are able to hide what they do the same way they used to. Besides, as the author points out, I think people are more and more apt to pick up the slack when it comes to supporting causes if only because it’s so much easier to be connected to one and to be “active” from the privacy and comfort of their own homes (using the tools listed above).

The whole story about the DREAM act is informative. We covered that extensively and I was surprised by how much that movement was driven by locals. We had a number of people on our air who were not professional talking heads, but instead were real people with stories to tell about how current legislation had impacted them and how they needed change. I have found throughout my career that people telling real-life stories are typically the best way to illustrate movements or define an organizations’ activities.

I find it interesting that the authors make the distinction between dealing in the real of big-P politics (like our presidential campaigns) and little-P politics which basically means that they are operating outside of or against traditional power structures. I think this distinction is critical when we consider what to do with our current political system. For years, we have listened to politicians talk about reform (working within big-P political structures) and each election I think we see a larger and larger chunk of the public disillusioned by that kind of talk. if politicians were going to reform the system, they would have done it already. Instead they simply find new ways to keep the power in the hands of the powerful. Perhaps this election will be the tipping point. I am no fan of Trump, but he is rightly calling out both the Democratic and republican political systems for putting their thumbs on the scales. To this point, young people have tried to change the system from within. I don’t think it will be long before people decide that the system must be changed in a more radical way. Not surprising then that the authors make the point that young people are more apt to favor online spaces that value their voice and where they can actually produce change – something that rarely happens within traditional power structures. I wonder, at the same time, whether in previous generations, the agency that the authors say is so desperately craved by young people was found in other situations – perhaps neighborhood clubs and games? Pickup baseball? Garage bands? I don’t know. But it seems that power structures have always been the same and that young people have always craved the need to lead as opposed to follow. There were opportunities for that, I’m sure, long before the Internet came along.

I think the Harry Potter is fascinating and something I hadn’t known existed. But I do recognize some historical precedent in the phone or letter writing campaigns mentioned in the article. In fact, there are several instances in which TV shows were brought back by letter writing campaigns (or the modern equivalent) – as far back as Cagney and Lacey and including one of my favorites, Arrested Development. In looking up other campaigns like this, I also came across instances in which Amnesty International helped organize letter writing campaigns for prisoners to be freed, although those campaigns existed within a pre-existing structure. Of course, it is one thing to call on people to write letters. They still have to write them.

The idea of these kinds of activities honing both skills that can be translated across the “activist” spectrum is important. I think that, as with anything, you figure out what to do and what not to do. Or what works and what doesn’t. One thing that I’ve noticed is that some of these grassroots campaigns (like a Black Lives Matter) have trouble when they reach a certain point of exposure or size – at that point, it seems someone or some set of someones needs to take over to give the group direction and shape its message. The problem is that when a group becomes so large that it is any number of disparate messages (not voices – messages) it begins to collapse inward on itself. I believe that Black Lives Matter was effective up to a point but was co-opted by some and its message was obscured by others. A simple parallel is when a group of rebels takes over a country or topples a dictatorship. If no one is in charge, then the group tends to fail to take advantage of its own momentum. I leave it up to others to tell me if I’m wrong. Simply put, do activist movements, particularly grassroots ones, need a functioning head? Do they need a leader? The authors make this point aptly when they discuss what happened with the Kony 2012 video. It spread so far and so fast that the organization that created it was unable to keep pace and, as the authors explain “the young people who had passed the video along through their social networks were forced to confront these critiques on their own, without access to adequate information, without any real training or experience in the skills of rebuttal.” This is particularly problematic when the people who would have these kinds of skills look down on the young people who are participating – either marginalizing their impact or the consequences inherent in their participation. Adults need to recognize the power of young people in not only communicating but shaping a message – and help them learn how to do it. Once we take an active role in perpetuating an idea or a concept (or a video that does so), we put ourselves in a position of responsibility for that content, even having to defend or explain it if necessary. It makes it very clear that it’s easier to start a movement than it is to sustain it. And one more thing – the authors point out that “activism is cultivated”… Can a movement be successful simply if it empowers more activists? Or does it have to have a goal and achieve it? Can making people socially and politically active be a successful outcome in and of itself?

I thought it was fascinating and a little sad to realize the kinds of risks that young people are taking when they take part in social activism. It kind of encapsulates the risk I think some of us, as parents, feel about the Internet at large – that kids can share a little too much of themselves without realizing that there are people out there that will take it and twist it and potentially use that which was revealed at great personal risk against the person who revealed it. So the conversation then needs to be that actions we take online – and they use the example of a teenager supporting same-sex marriage online even if it causes real-life consequences in her neighborhood – carry weight and help to define us not only online but in the world around us too. I don’t have any personal experience with this because I don’t put too much of myself online and as a journalist I am actually prevented from doing so, but I know that when I am looking through Facebook or Twitter, one little comment or political diatribe can define (in my mind) the person who is giving it. It is particularly risky online (as opposed to a face-to-face conversation) not only because you don’t know who is reading or reacting to what you have to say, but you have little or no opportunity to add context or answer questions. Like it or not, you are defined by what you put out there.

Conclusion: The authors talk about reimagining participatory culture. This book helped open my eyes to the possibilities available to us when it comes to engaging all different kinds of groups online, but it also showed me how much effort and time needs to be put into making mindful decisions about how we engage, what responsibilities we take on and how our decisions shape the larger online communities around us. I found it particularly fascinating that they said that “participatory culture risks being both everything and nothing”. It =can= have all this transformative power if more and more people become actively involved – something I believe will happen in the future, although it’s not a foregone conclusion. But I agree that if all people do is tag photos and take pictures of what they’re having for dinner, our online communities risk becoming a vacuous replacement for real relationships. As with everything, it depends on who gets involved and how and for a person like me who is undoubtably a lurker, it is also a challenge to seek out my own place within these communities.


My Presentation on Participatory Learning

My turn to present this week and I found this to be quite a challenge. There are so many different aspects to the way we participate online that it’s difficult to get your arms around them all. The authors themselves found themselves butting heads over how to define the problems they saw – the solutions, of course, are that much harder to identify.

Chapter 4 begins with an exploration of what connected learning/participatory learning is all about (they argue about the differences, but it is essentially a difference in the scope of the type of learning as far as I can see).  The idea that connected learning can be an entry point for young people of all persuasions and interests is enticing. Yes, we need some basic digital know-how, but other than that, the idea is that anyone with interests can join the education conversation and everyone has something to learn from everyone else. As I will explore in my presentation, that raises an obvious question: if every is on equal footing – teachers and students alike – then what role should teachers play going forward? And if we take the argument to its next most obvious conclusion, do we actually need teachers at all?  (Sorry Dr. Z – not talking about you). The point is that this kind of learning is something we all do together – a hallmark of Web 2.0. It also runs directly counter to the traditional educational model where communication is all too often one way, involves clear power structures and often inhibits instead of promotes participation. I know that even in today’s schools (which is certainly leaps and bounds beyond what I experienced in terms of engaging with each other), there is still a lot of obstacles when it comes to learning from fellow students. What I’ve witnessed is that outside of school groups, the education is still very much one way (or Web 1.0) – the kids look up info, pass it on to the teacher and get it back.  There is no engagement or anything that would make it come alive. (Like using the information in real-world situations).

As for the responsibilities we have for managing the information, I thought it was interesting to consider the parallel to the turn of the 20th century when more signs and lights and things like that cropped up. However, the big difference between then and now is that I feel the individuals were more in control of the information – they were the sole active participant while the information itself was static. I think you could argue that today, the information itself is active – pummeling you through ads and web pops and blogs and our phone that is constantly beeping to tell us about a new text or message. The information is happening to us in a real and active way.  It acts upon us like a force and changes our behavior before we change it.  I think that is much different than the way things were 100 years ago.

I don’t think it’s a major surprise that the stupidest and most salacious material in the digital environment gets the most attention. I don’t think they explored enough of why (although maybe that’s for a psychology class) but I did think it’s interesting that danah boyd argues that we need to be careful about boiling things down to good and bad and thereby imposing our own value judgments on digital media. However, I wonder if the imposition of value judgments is a way to explain the rise of niche movements. Perhaps that’s explaining something that has a positive cause (people have strong interests in lots of things and want to explore the myriad of those things deeply) with a negative one (there needs to be lots of options for people because they are so particular and judgmental about the material thats out there..).  Nonetheless, I wonder if there is a parallel between the rise of niche communities online and the evolution of cable television over the last few decades when we saw the explosion of channels catering to every single type of person and personality out there. In the same way that many of those channels are struggling to find an audience today, many of those niche spaces online are no doubt struggling to grow as well. I would imagine however, that the bar for simply existing is much lower when it can be achieved with just a computer and a person and not a major television studio.

The idea of moving from “they the media” to “we the media” hit home for me since I am part of the media. I have seen firsthand the way the public’s participation in the media influences and changes the way news is portrayed and communicated and, in some cases, the national narrative as a whole. I have used the case of Sandra Bland as an example in the past – and although her family started the movement by calling for justice in her police custody death, it was pressure from the public at large that helped lead to indictments in her death. We in the media have benefited greatly from people on the ground participating in “news coverage” – whether it’s from pictures that are sent in, or from guys that used to listen to ham radios and call in fires and accidents to our newsroom at News 12 back when I started.

The authors argue that we need to be more mindful of what media is and cast a critical eye on it to avoid being exploited. I would argue that’s already being done. The vast majority of people I meet rightly or wrongly see the media is being biased or under the influence of some greater power. My concern with that is that eventually the public will have no so-called “honest brokers” and no uninfluenced body to turn to for the facts or the truth. What then? We all become consumers of our prechosen news outlet, being fed the news we already know we agree with and reflexively denying anything we believe comes from a biased source (which would be every place else).  That, to me, puts us in a very precarious position when it comes to finding common ground upon which we can discuss differing points of view.

Moving ahead to Chapter 5, the crux of the authors’ discussion centers around the clash between capitalism and digital creation. The problem comes when corporations set the terms for audience participation. Automatically, we are now longer free to act however we wish. Of course that’s not necessarily how the corporations want it – a point made clearly by the authors. In fact, I thought it was interesting that they went out of their way to point out that companies often try to remove all restrictions only to discover later that it’s either an invitation to chaos (like with MySpace) or simply not viable (countless broke online companies). So we see these competing desires: companies trying to balance users taking part in what they are doing without taking it over while users try to have a say without having their creations co-opted or exploited. I also found it fascinating that Mimi asks whether exploitation can go the other way when participatory users can actually change and exploit commercial culture. Napster anyone?  That leads us into the idea of free labor – and whether people can or should expect money for something that, in the past, was considered a hobby or an act of pleasure. Certainly, if you look online, you’ll find millions of people getting involved and actively participating online just for the fun of it. I was shocked when I went on a fan fiction site and discovered that there were not only hundreds of stories there (many quite long and well-crafted) but also that there were hundreds of reviews of those stories.

The answer (to me) is that there is no answer. Some people who make videos and put them on YouTube will argue that they are simply for fun and have no inherent value (other than emotional). Others will argue that they are budding film producers and therefore they should be paid anytime it’s reproduced. Still others may assume they feel one way but change their minds once someone waves a couple of bucks. Is that bad? No, it’s human nature. But I agree that we should be careful of assuming everything we create is #1 worth money or #2 fit or worthy of public consumption. Sometimes it’s still worth it just to do things for fun…..



Figuring out my kids’ digital lives

Chapter 2

As a parent, I had a strong reaction to many of the arguments put forward in the first chapter and spent the bulk of my time on that. The intro states that adults fail to recognize or appreciate the ways in which youth use tech to connect with others, learn and participate in public life. It also argues that as a default position, many adults simply come to the conclusion that digital media participation is bad or evil. I can remember a time when heavy metal music and MTV were seen as morally corruptive (I even did a high school project on rock album covers that were labeled as explicit because of graphic and sexually suggestive content). The parallel reminds me of the argument I used to make to my own parents. Just because they didn’t understand it or get into it didn’t make it a bad thing. I tried to remember that throughout the reading of this chapter.

It’s tough as a parent to observe kids operating online without [passing judgment or trying to guide them, although I agree with the author’s point that our desire to claim expertise based on our vantage point complicates matters.  But I will say that being an adult does offer me some level of expertise and responsibility over my child’s activities. Some of the passages the authors presented as evidence of the positive benefits of online experiences made me nervous. For  instance, danah boyd wrote that “some of my most formative experiences are with strangers that I met online”. This is a totally alien concept to me – I can’t imagine discussing (as she apparently did) my sexuality with strangers, although I can only imagine that the anonymity allowed her to communicate in a way she couldn’t with people she knew.

The authors draw parallels to radio and zines to show young people have often grasped new communication before their parents and argue that young people often have to defend the communities they created against adult attempts at regulation and intrusion. Could this be expanded as a point to argue against government restrictions and regulations as well? I think it can. The point they make is that young people inevitably change their public behavior escape that oversight or express their freedom in new ways.  It is an interesting point that regulation sometimes gets equated to good parenting. However , the idea that parents are now getting to see a part of youth culture that they previously didn’t get to see means that parents I guess need to be more educated about what they are seeing. The article seems to underline the  fear that parents have about kids, arguing that it is unwarranted, borne out of misinterpretations and overreactions, and that it can limit their opportunities and undermine trust.  I think this minimizes the role a parent can play in helping kids with the internet. Yes, I recognize that I can overreact, but when all my kid watches is Dance Moms and Carnival game videos, don’t I have a role in encouraging him to try other things?  Can’t I have a role in opening up a child’s vision of the internet as opposed to be accused of limiting it?

Danah argues that many parents have a “distorted understanding of sexual predation” and introduce “unprecedented risks of victimization”. I will say that as a parent I am at least as worried about my kids giving away personal information online as I am about them being victimized by a sexual predator.  I think some basic knowledge comes along with growing up in this media day and age and that some of those common sense protections are becoming baked in to our kids’ growing up.  I would ask – are we paying the same amount of attention to making sure kids don’t follow a person on the street that promises to show them a puppy?  We have to focus on common sense across the board – not just in one area or another….

In the same way, we need to focus on bullying across the board – part of that being cyberbullying. I have found that bullying in its entirety has become a primary focus for schools and I feel that by using terms like “moral panic” we minimize the threat from all forms of bullying….  I would agree that I believe that “bullying happens more frequently at school”. I question the authors’ position that “parents, on the other hand, focus on the digital realm.” (p44) Not sure that’s the case. If my kid is showing signs of depression or injury or withdrawal or anything weird, I’m looking at +all+ possibilities – not solely digital media, but im not excluding it either. If we agree that social media is a primary form of communication among young people, why =wouldn’t= you focus on it when things are going wrong?

It’s interesting and daunting that kids are creating their own languages and codes to express themselves online in a way that specifically alienates adults.  I’m not surprised though.

I think there is merit to the argument that kids’ ability to have not only private conversations but entire private relationships out of the view of adults is daunting. Didn’t our parents always say they wanted to meet our friends at least once?  My mom always told me she didn’t want me dating any girl that wasn’t willing to meet her.  So why should we expect less contact with our kids’ friends when we have absolutely no basis for knowing them – not even that they are from our same area, or have heard of their parents or know they come from the same school…. And this isn’t racist or classist or anything like that, it just means that we want to have a grasp of some aspect of who the people are that are interacting so closely with our kids.

It’s interesting that the authors want to celebrate young people’s agency when it comes to doing what they want to do in regards to digital media but condemn adults’ agency when their choice is not to participate in digital media.  Maybe I’m missing the point a bit. Of course the idea is to shrink the gap between what young people and adults know about digital media, but at the same time, the authors are making the point that young people are actively trying to retain that gap.  Adults need some help in trying to close it.

It’s nice to hear then that, as Henry puts it, “there are spaces where adults and youth have extremely healthy cross-generational interactions”.  However, I’m interested to know where the interests of, let’s say, young teens and adults intersect however – and how often misunderstandings derail interaction simply because of the maturity gap. (Is there a maturity gap online in the same way there is in person?) Maybe, as the reading points out, there are opportunities for adults to give kids insight into their problems… but is it effective when that adult may have next to no knowledge about the context of that problem or that person?

Since my kids are adolescents, I can appreciate the idea that we must recognize this period as kids being in a “state of becoming” who are looking for “opportunities to learn.” I think Mimi’s argument that adults need to recognize that they exhibit some of the same unappealing behaviors that their kids do is old. Yes we all realize that we have to model better behavior for our kids. It’s not that we as parents don’t realize it, it’s that we have trouble actually changing our behavior even knowing that we are setting a poor example. I don’t agree with danah’s argument that young people are pigeonholed as the ones that are oversharing. I hate oversharing and, as far as I see, adults are the ones most at fault. Perhaps it’s just because I don’t have as much contact with young people on social media, but certainly that are adults that spend far too much time chronicling their own li9ves without asking anyone if they care to hear it. Again, I see the authors railing against a situation that I am not sure exists. (Of course that doesn’t mean it doesn’t, but they seem to be attributing issues of digital media participation that cross age lines and creating a delineation – that when young people do it they get demonized and we should pay more attention to when old people do it).

I found it interesting that Mimi argues we see the digital generation as one mass and don’t distinguish among populations that are more and less privileged and how the same kind of media impacts different populations. It reminds us that it is not just the message that makes an impact but the way it is received and by whom.

Chapter 3

Genres of participation get into the idea of “hanging out, messing around and geeking out”. Focus is on friendship-driven learning and participation – motivated by social connection. Messing around is exploring digital tools and techniques. Hanging out leads to geeking out – the kind of online participation that connects people around interests not necessarily around seeking information.

As pointed out in the last chapter, we have to recognize the difference in access and participation for different groups of people. Interesting that they talk about people kind of taking on alternate lives – not wanting to be associated with their “mundane lives” or lives outside the digital communities. I can certainly relate to wanting to seek out a life different from the one I live every day. This kind of enhanced fantasy gives people the chance to start over and be valued for a different set of skills than the ones they’ve grown up with – perhaps a set that they’ve never used outside of their digital lives. What an awesome opportunity. The idea that culture picks and chooses what types of digital activities are valued and what aren’t feels to me like a cultural ebb-and-flow that exists far beyond the digital realm.  Look at music. Certain types of music – even certain types associated with certain cultures or genres of the population – were alternately disparaged, driven underground, brought to the mainstream, celebrated, then sidelined again.  I’m thinking of blues, rock, metal, rap, on and on. Back to the digital aspect of this, the hope would be that as digital access improves, some of the barriers will come down. However, we can’t assume that will be the case just as we cant assume that people operating in genres that are sidelined within the digital community currently would rather than those genres be mainstreamed – perhaps they like being in the shadows. As Mimi points out, the problem is that the position of power and resources are pretty ingrained and aren’t going to change the way cultural opinions might (or if they do, they’ll change very slowly). As she points out, just having a smartphone doesn’t change that.

I see danah boyd’s argument that the kinds of political practices that are most visible and most celebrated are being conducted by middle and upper class white people. I’m not sure that the Ferguson protests and the Black Lives Matter movement  didn’t put that theory to rest. I note that she says activism from people of color are often deemed controversial and problematic and in the case of the aforementioned protests I think there’s some validity there but I would argue there were a lot more factors that went into making the protests controversial other than just race. I think the participation gap is closing, just as the authors had hoped, but as they point out, it doesn’t mean we are all on the same playing field. However, I would argue that, as someone who is not as active in digital communities, that the divisions between us as cultural groups and digital communities stretch far beyond race and gender. With access improving, people that want to participate can do so more than ever.

Filtering my idea of me

Chapter 2

Filtering our images and ideas is inevitable, initially because of cultural sensitivities and preconceptions and increasingly, because of technology. As Jill Walker Rettberg puts it, “We filter our images, our email and our newsfeeds.” I think often we see selfies as particularly revealing. I believe that it gives us the chance to filter ourselves and direct the way other people see us, but maybe it’s also about allowing us to see ourselves from a different perspective.

The article makes the case that when you talk about filters in a traditional sense, you are talking about taking things away. However, Rettberg argues that in the case of electronic media, filters can enhance as opposed to taking away.  I would argue that’s a distinction without a difference – in all cases, you are trying to add by subtracting, leaving the end product somehow improved due to the filter (either by filtering coffee grinds or filtering impurities from water or filtering unwanted content from email).

I found the example of a preformatted baby journal to be particularly interesting since we had a baby journal for both of our children and didn’t use them at all. For my son, I took pictures once a month to mark his growth and by the time my daughter was born, I was keeping a journal that ended up including milestones for both kids. I don’t know if that was an unconscious response to a baby journal that I felt would have inhibited me, but it certainly seemed that I was into doing something different when it came to chronicling my baby’s growth.
I kind of understand the idea that Facebook filters out negativity – but users likely filter that out too, more likely responding to what is positive rather than what is negative. Rettberg admits to this by saying, “Partly this is because we would prefer to remember the good moments, but it is also because we know what we are supposed to document from having seen other baby journals and photo albums and from having seen which photographs and stories our friends and family share with us, offline or on social media.” That said, i agree wholeheartedly with the idea that we can’t represent our own lives (or at least its very difficult to do so) without dealing with cultural/tech filters.
The idea of filtering beauty for example is so abundant – we rail against starlets (even while we are watching them) but also make fun of them when photoshop goes wrong. However, the simple fact that there are so many avenues to offer visual representation of any given subject, like beauty or anything else, means that the parameters and “rules” and filters about what is acceptable and what isn’t are so varied that nearly everything has a place.

Love this by Victor Shklovsky when he wrote that “The purpose of art is to impart the sensation of things as they are perceived and not as they are known. The technique of art is to make objects ‘unfamiliar,’ to make forms difficult, to increase the difficulty and length of perception because the process of perception is an aesthetic end in itself and must be prolonged.” However, I’m not sure this is what Instagram is about. If the idea of some digital media filters is to “enhance” imagery, I’m wondering if the filters are used to get closer to what people believe the “real” essence of their image is.  The essential “me” or the essential idea of “family”. In that way, I think they are striving to find something more common to all of us – more inherently familiar, not unfamiliar. In other words, Shklovsky is arguing that the filters create art. I’m not sure that’s what the majority of Instagram users are trying to do.

I was surprised to learn about the photo filter that didn’t allow realistic representations of African-Americans but it certainly reflects the cultural filter of the time as well.  It is sad to think that it took the pressure of big business to create a change in the filters, although, as Rettberg points out, most average people probably assumed there were simply limits to the technology while experts in the commercial field realized that wasn’t true.
I’m not sure that I agree with Rettberg’s point about genre filters limiting what we put online (or what is acceptable to put online or even what is technologically achievable). Yes there are parameters for each type of blog (the example of a diet blog points to a fairly obvious conclusion that people want to share stories of success rather than failure, but im not even sure that’s always true) – the genres are so varied now that i believe the parameters become meaningless.  i also find, however, that people share problems and concerns by blogging as a way to find advice and support. so idon’t agree with the finding that its always about “constant progress” (p31) as much as it is about constant life. (I am thinking specifically of the example of a friend’s blog about her battle with MS.  She shares her successes and failures more or less equally. It is, again, more of a story of living day to day as opposed to building toward some goal in the future)
Chapter 3
I love the idea that people purposefully chronicle their lives in a way that, as the author attributes to Frank O’Hara, situate themselves in time and as author of their own lives.
As for the idea of the weblog (or Facebook) as a cumulative representation of ourselves, I find it interesting that we now have such a readily available tool to see ourselves as we were two three or eight years ago. Not only can we see ourselves but we can see what we were thinking, who we were associating with, etc. I believe people in class talked about the fact that it can sometimes be jarring to have Facebook remind you of something you were doing 5 years ago, reminding you that you thought something or someone was so important back then when the intervening time has shown you how unimportant they really are (or were). I’ve heard others tell me they wish they could turn off the feature that brings up things they wish would rather stay hidden in their past. I just took a walk through memory lane on my Facebook and was equal parts entertained and saddened. It included pictures of a friend who recently died and images of the band that I played in for several years but broke up last fall. Many many good times are represented there, which is great, but always a little depressing when you are reminded that they are in the past – in some cases, the distant past.

I thought the photos of head shots were fascinating and went back and looked at both Noah’s and Ahree’s.  The idea that her video was less watched because she was female and Asian was interesting but honestly, I found Noah’s a bit more compelling for two other reasons: one was the amount of time covered and two because I could actually see the passage of time (as one commenter put it, “the passage of time is scary, isn’t it?”.

Of course, it can be extraordinary to see how life moves around us, separate from ourselves. As I pointed out before, sometimes looking backward can be painful, although in the case of one’s own family, particularly children, I find that the sensation is often the opposite. I love looking at old pictures of my kids – partly because they are adorable and bring back great memories – but also because I can remember all the fears and worries I had about what kind of people they would grow into and I can look at them now and see how successful and wonderful they’ve become, even at 10 and 12. So many fears that were so big then have since been utterly forgotten. It reminds me that the fears I have now may very well meet the same fate. I found a series of photos last year that showed a similar passage of time for a father and son.  It is here.
Watching Rebecca Brown’s video was moving and added perspective to her condition, one I never heard about. I doubt there is a better way to demonstrate the pain of losing one’s hair than to show people the same face with hair and watch how that expression changes as they deal with losing it and even having to shave their own heads.
I found this very interesting – the idea that people use their Facebook profile photos, not just to show pictures of themselves but to show something about them.  As the article puts it “Some users even use a photo of themselves as a child, or a photo of their own child instead of a photo of themselves, in a move that simultaneously anonymises them a little and shows how profile pictures can function as metonyms: this is part of me.” A quick glance at my own Facebook friends found that while most showed their faces, there were plenty of kids and pets. Also quite a few showing either obscured images of themselves or themselves pictured from the book (bet there could be an interesting study into why people would choose that representation.  I actually used a picture of my son from the back as the primary image on my page).  I also saw a handful of cars, cartoon characters and some verbage that was a kind of personal motto or mantra. I’d say roughly half of the people that displayed themselves showed themselves with other people, mostly loved ones and family members. In this sense, it seems obvious that people not only want people to know them, but know them in context. Perhaps the idea is to make sure people know that there are others that love them or that they love others. I think it’s an easy way to communicate with the wider world a snapshot of a successful (meaning: purposeful and fulfilled) life.
As for the section on photobooths, I will only say that anytime I ever walk into a photobooth, I feel the need to show some sort of a progression from one photo to the next. Even doing different faces doesn’t seem enough to me. We are very clearly given a series of moments to freeze in a particular order.  I always try to frame some sort of narrative in those four images.