April 29, 2009

Are You My Vote?

Isn’t it lovely that there’s all this controversy surrounding our ability to vote and put someone in office – you know, correctly? As much as I dislike filling in the second side of the bubble sheet for judges I have no clue about, hand cramps and all, I prefer this method of voting to touch screens. I would not trust it to take my vote accurately. And this isn’t based off the reading from NY Times Magazine and Hacking Democracy, but my own experience at the library trying to check out books with their touch screens. I had one of the old, old library cards that couldn’t be put in the slot for the computer to read (I was lazy in getting a new one). So I had to tap in the barcode of my card. I had a highly frustrating experience of standing there for how many minutes repeatedly touching the numbers and having nothing show up. I almost gave up when it finally worked. Mind you that this probably a couple years ago and the system has probably updated (and my card has too), but it goes to show the unreliability with these things. I’ve had the same issue with wedding registry screens at department stores of repeatedly touching a button to get to the next screen. Having problems like this is totally unacceptable when it comes to voting.

Hacking Democracy has been a very enlightening documentary, and I am glad to know people like Bev Harris are on the prowl to enlighten the public when the wonderful computers eat our votes. It is astonishing that Diebold and election centers are throwing out paper ballots and counting slips. I mean, the hell? Way to instill trust in your ability to conduct an election, people! Oh, and what is with keeping that computer code private? That absolutely needs to be public and vetted for security issues. I’d say if we can’t see the code, we don’t need the machines. Anyone who has ever been on a computer knows they can freeze up or crash on you. There should be no waffling around from governments on certification of the machines because if this mess interferes with our right to vote, then I say litigate the bleep outta ‘em!

Any given technology should be looked at from all standpoints in order to assess its impacts and decide if the technology is needed or how it can be improved. While it’s sad that we need organizations like Black Box Voting to clean up after an election, it’s also necessary if we want change. If we all believed that Diebold, ES&S and other companies said their machines count our votes more accurately just because it’s a computer and it’s faster and easier than hand counting, we’d never know that there were problems. Activists are needed to bring to light the downside of any given technology. It needs to be reported to the public, not hidden. Which is why it’s so disgusting to me that these companies want to gloss over problems that have arisen with the machines, but maybe this indicates giving over our vote to a private company isn’t the way to go if they won’t be forthcoming with whatever questions we might have.

I now feel rather ashamed that I haven't been paying more attention to the Senate recount and results because this is a very legitimate issue to discuss with any computerized machine that tallies our votes.

Identity(s)

I’d never really given much thought to where our identities come from before so I actually find the idea of it being socially constructed intriguing. I thought it was just something I grew into based on my own experiences, never thinking about how other people and society influenced it. But I can definitely see how this aspect should be included; my experiences didn’t happen in a vacuum as other people were involved so I’d naturally be reacting to their personalities and deciding what I did and didn’t like. The idea of having multiple identities, however, is odd to me because I would never see them as being mutually exclusive. I mean, I could understand it at a younger age, middle school or something, trying to decide where you fit in. I can’t believe I’m admitting I’ve seen this movie, but in A Cinderella Story with Hilary Duff (shudder – I watched it when I was sick, ok?), she had a male friend that was essentially trying on identities with his clothes – cowboy, rapper, etc – but his persona was the same, kind and caring. He just spoke as the identity would and reacted as the identity would. It just creates a weird image to me of somebody trying on an identity much like clothing and discarding it when it doesn’t fit – all traits of it. Identity can change over time, but not where all facets are completely replaced instantaneously.

I do also agree with the idea of presenting a different aspect of your identity in different situations. Though – see, I’m saying aspect of identity, not a different identity altogether in different situations. I may get angry and yell at family members over something, but I would never (I hope) react the same way to someone in my place of work. I trust my family when I vent, but how would I know how a colleague would react? This is determined by social courtesies and how society expects you to act out in public so you alter yourself accordingly. Society definitely has a huge hand in constructing gender identities. Gah! It’s just so completely obvious how intertwined it is, what is a girl and what is a boy. I do remember reading recently in the Star Tribune about how the “tomboy” construct has been fading. http://www.startribune.com/lifestyle/42817822.html?elr=KArksUUUU
I was so a tomboy when I was in middle school; I even applied that term to myself rather than having someone label me with it. But I’m glad to hear that it’s been leaving. When I was in high school, being in sports was more the in-thing than being a cheerleader, and these girls (myself included) never ran around looking asexual.

Regarding Shayla’s book, Instant Identity, well, what to say about IM? I was in college when she was doing this study in 2002 and 2003. I did use IM, yes, but I used it to keep in touch with my family that I didn’t see everyday and friends that didn’t go to school with me. I don’t use it anymore though; I haven’t used it in years. But I’m not surprised by the dynamics that girls exhibited with IM in the book. I’d rather seem them be upfront with their issues than conniving and going behind people’s backs. That behavior is annoying every way, shape and form.

March 13, 2009

Divide and Conquer? Not Here

The digital divide. It feels like it’s been a few years since I first heard the term so it’s interesting to see what the status on this issue is now. I had the pleasure of living in Chaska when the city tried to bridge the divide with Wi-Fi. It sounded cool, cheaper. We tried it. Man, was it awful. I think there was some password we had to type in to connect to the internet, and the connection would take forever. Apparently, we didn’t live close enough to the box (not sure what they’re called) that was strapped to the lamppost. I’m vague about this because we didn’t use it for that long. Between my dad and me, we needed something faster so we switched back to the cable company. I’ve not kept up with what Chaska has, but apparently, there is high speed chaska.net.

I thought it was interesting to pose the question of which one of the solutions we’d put money towards. I sat in silence until I realized that it is quite an impossible answer. In the group I was talking with, someone picked citywide wireless as the one to fund. My first thought was – what is someone who has no clue what they’re doing going to gain from citywide wireless? The next thought then was that all those solutions had drawbacks. For instance, digital technology centers are great for helping people who don’t know much about the internet and showing them how to get around, but as the MPR article mentioned, there can be a long wait for a computer. Citywide wireless can help solve that issue. The solutions seem complementary to me. Where one solution has a downfall, another solution plugs up the hole. The next problem, though, is that are we looking at one solution to solve the problems all over the world or regional? Citywide wireless isn’t really going to help people in Africa if they don’t have the infrastructure to do it. But it will work well in the U.S. And I liked how Shayla pointed out that what would it be like if you came to the U but had no computer/internet background? And how scary would that be? Wow. For everything that has to be done online at the U and other private entities moving online (banks, credit card companies – everything concerning your paycheck is online for the MN employees. Nothing is paper, not even the W2), to not know how to get at any of it – well, that really underscores how big of a problem this divide is to me. And that’s why I would say the divide is a bigger problem to tackle than what will happen to newspapers. There will always be news – it’s just a matter of the industry figuring out the best way to report it now. Obviously, I don’t want to see the hard copy paper disappear, but if people can’t get online to read the news and interact with it, then we are just making life harder for those without the proper access to be successful.

All right, so I actually listened to the Kevin Kelly talk on the next 5,000 days of the web before Peter Fleck spoke to the class. Or somewhat listened as I was trying to read something else at the same time. So knowing that Peter Fleck was going to talk about the digital divide, I started to wonder why he wanted us to watch this video. By the end of Kelly’s talk, yeah, I was little freaked out about this “machine” knowing everything about us. It reminded me of the movie I, Robot where that A.I. VIKI starts thinking it knows what’s best for us humans and sends out the robots to “guard” and “protect” the humans by scaring the bleep out of everyone. No thanks; I don’t want to see a Machine like this in the future. So in trying to connect this with the digital divide, I was like, are people who don’t have access now supposed to be glad they aren’t putting all their information out there for this creepy Machine to know about? But I suppose the more realistic thing to think is no access means you’re left out and if we become dependent and interconnected with this thing, then it’ll be harder for people who aren’t connected to function in society properly…ok, whatever. I’m sticking with my first thought.

Too Much Sociality A Bad Thing?

All right, confession time. I have to get this out of the way before I start dumping on this topic. Deep breath…I don’t have an online profile. Gasp! Whew, that feels good. No, I do not have an account on MySpace, Facebook, Linkedin, blah-blah, etc. Does that make me feel unconnected, like I’m floating about in the oxygen-less black pools in outer space? Ha! Heck, no. Although Twitter is intriguing me, being able to get short (short, yes! Time-saver), current updates on what someone (like an author) or some organization is doing.

Facebook, etc makes sense to me in the following ways: keeping in touch with someone who lives far away (get pics and video) or a causal way to chat with someone you once knew well, but don’t anymore, like high shcool (feels like an email accomplishes this though), networking (hello, Linkedin). It’s also great that people are taking take advantage of where the masses are and marketing themselves on MySpace. If they weren’t, they’d need to fire their PR people or take a PR class. But wanting to know how my friend is feeling this morning while sitting in her oh-so-boring history lecture? Whatever, I’ll ask her later when I see her. If I talked about everything online with her, I wouldn’t need to see her in person. Kidding. But while she’s posting on someone’s wall, or whatever it is people do, I’m trying to pay attention to the class that I’m, you know, paying for. So I am amazed that people are on Facebook during class. What’s so urgent that you need to tune out the prof? Is it addiction? Probably not, more like boredom (why are you taking that class then?). You really can’t define addiction as being on for six hours a day (hopefully not at once though) since so much is online now that it forces us to be there.

Growing Up Online, however? It’s frightening how these teens don’t give much thought to what they post online about their so-called public privates lives. My biggest worry about putting any content online is, “how does it represent me? How does it present me to other people?” I mean…baring the thongs? Why? Why would somebody want to do that? Clearly, the freedom of posting whatever content they want is going to their heads, because they are not thinking of the ramifications for later in life. Even if it’s the minimal, “I can’t believe I posted that, I’m so embarrassed. “ Never mind what kind of person you’re putting out there for other people to see (College admissions?! How did you not see that coming??). It’s like the same mentality of speeding in the car with your friends, thinking you won’t ever get hurt because it’s just. So. Cool. And it’s the Moral Panics Online where teens (girls at least) are more willing to try something risqué when they’re around their friends. Hence, the thongs, I guess.

When Shayla asked us what we thought about Second Life, if the trend of keeping your face glued to the screen for hours on end was scary, I mentally answered with a big, fat YES! Scary enough for me that I wanted to say it creeped out the very fiber of my being. I’m fine with the concept of the game (I remember good ‘ol Sim City). It’s people like Mr. Hoogestraat who have just gotten so sucked into it (that’s addiction) that they’re willing to spend however many hours building a virtual coffee shop while his (living and breathing)wife sits around in the living room watching TV. (Side note – what’s up with every time the article mentioned her, she was watching TV? But the boob tube is another topic.) So that someone would devote so much of his or her waking hours on this game is disturbing to me. To detach yourself from what’s going on in the world – politically, economically, that you forget to eat – just makes me shake my head until I can’t stand the swaying motion anymore. Yes, the game and other SNS-related software can be a way to express oneself, put your “real” self out there and meet new people, but to essentially shun life can’t be healthy. But I don’t really have an answer for it because we can’t regulate people’s personal time.

I guess this blog post comes across more like a rant, but – oh well. Web 2.0 is like a diet. Everything can be fine in moderation.

February 19, 2009

The Wayward Newspaper

I like the newspaper. I get a variety of information; I can turn the page back and forth whenever I want without worrying about the info disappearing off the page for some reason. I can compare articles side-by-side; I can see a spread of similar articles all at once. There’s just something practical about getting my news from something I can actually hold in my hands. And it’s a bonus when I don’t have dancing and/or flashing advertisements distracting me from reading the words.

I agree that newspapers dropped the ball regarding getting people to pay for articles on their Web sites. We should be paying for the content. It’s not free to get the hard copy so why make it free online? But given the current choice between paying and not paying – yeah, people are just going to read the news online. Going from not paying to paying online is obviously going to be a hard transition. I don’t think Walter Isaacson’s micro-payments for reading articles is the way to go – and I don’t even know how much a micro-payment would be. Would they vary between newspapers? If I was presented with the a web page that asked me to pay before continuing on to the article, I’d probably decide not read it unless I absolutely needed it for something. It just seems like a very limiting concept to feel you have to be selective about what you want to read because you want to make sure you’re getting your money’s worth.

I wouldn’t mind paying for an online subscription in the same manner as paying for a hard copy subscription (or you can pay a subscription rate that gets you access to multiple papers or papers of your choice). Once you pay, you get access to the site. It’d save on paper and would save the company the cost of printing and delivering (or give us a choice?). All newspapers would have to do this though or the concept won’t work. But it’s better than deconstructing the newspaper as the commentators in the NY Times article about the battle plans for papers suggest. After reading the article, it felt like news subjects would get scattered all over the place with everyone specializing in something. And this means I’ll have to work harder at trying to track down the best place to read said subject (politics, science, local, etc.) and take more time to consume it, which is something I don’t have a lot of right now.

It would be advantageous for newspapers to figure out what they can offer that people can’t get elsewhere – or offer better – as a little extra incentive. I think investigative journalism is definitely an aspect. It’s sad that this is the first thing that’s been cut at most papers (because it costs a lot of money, I know). It’s odd, but nice though at this particular time, that news Web sites consisting of laid off reporters are popping up all over. It’s ironic that the Web site can pay for reporters based on donations and grants, but the big companies can’t manage it.

Our subscription to the Star Tribune was canceled a couple weeks ago because others in the household decided the subscription rate was too high. It’s making me see the paper more fondly. When I see it on the table, I want to read it. I’m having trouble reminding myself to go online.

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On The Cult of the Amateur

The Cult of the Amateur by Andrew Keen has its hits and misses. One thing I had to star and underline is that the resource being challenged by all this amateur content is our time. There is not enough time in a day to try to consume the content available – even the content you want. I also agree that there are downsides to Web 2.0 that are acting like a thorn in our collective side (i.e. identity theft, false information and lack of credibility, any form of spam and scams, lies and rumors about someone, misrepresentation, etc.). But not every aspect of the Web 2.0 technology is useless and evil.

I think it’s unfortunate that after citing some drawbacks, Keen automatically dismisses an application for user-generated content. Maybe society is still trying to weed successfully through the best way to use these applications, but right now, while they’re new and exciting, everyone wants to try them. Perhaps in having everyone try them, we can find the flaws. I don’t think there’s anyway around the fact that someone somewhere is going to use an application in an unintended way that stinks for the rest of us so nothing is ever going to be perfect. You can only hope the benefits to society outweigh the bad and figure out how to negate the bad best you can.

Of the applications he talks about, I pick blogs. I do not agree that all blogs are just piles of unedited, misinformed, and useless information. It’s not fair to make generalized judgments like this and apply them to every blog. Are all blogs relevant? No, probably not. I think a blog is simply someone’s opinion, an opinion that the blogger is entitled too. I’m entitled to ignore it. It’s not like we’re being chained to our computers and being forced to read blog after blog until we believe what they say to be true. Regarding political blogs – I read some on occasion and they always seem to be about the blogger’s opinion on some particular news story, not that the blogger is trying to replace his/her blog with mainstream media. More often than not, the blogger offers a perspective that wasn’t covered in the news article and can help to make connections between different facts because they take the time to stay on top of that. And I find Keen’s notion that we’re all going to turn to blogs for stories and facts absurd. There’s no way I would substitute a blog for the detailed news story at the New York Times. Blogs are only supplemental.

Secondly, we do not have to rely solely on gatekeepers to lead us through the swamp of information and tell us what is useful and credible and what is not. Many of us can figure this out on our own, but to be safe, many college classes (high school?) are now teaching students how to make these distinctions on their own. We don’t have to sit passively by waiting for some gatekeeper to put some information in front of us. So how is Keen able to assume that most of us trust the information in Wikipedia (page 46)?

There are a couple other things I read that stuck with me about books (but aren’t totally about the new media we focus on in class) so read on if you like.

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