April 30, 2009

Hacking Democracy?

After watching Hacking Democracy, all I can say is, "Wow, what a documentary!"

My high school Civics teacher ended our final class of my freshmen year with this quote: "If you take one thing out of this class it better be this: VOTE! A lot of people have fought for this right so all of you can. If you have one duty as a member of a democracy, it's to vote! Please, please, please vote."

I turned 18 just before the 2004 election, and have voted in 2004, 2006 and 2008. I have also voted in some primary elections. I believe everyone should vote. But if the votes aren't being tallied correctly -- What's the point!?

I feel the Minnesota SoS Mark Ritchie runs a tight office. I have yet to hear much criticism about how his office handled the 2008 Senate election between Franken and Coleman. But after watching Hacking Democracy, can I really be sure my votes were counted correctly?

I was appalled at the situation in Florida. After so much attention was brought upon the state after the 2000 Presidential election, the documentary proved that not much changed when another presidential election was held four years later.

I would like to see more done to ensure the accuracy of elections. Thanks to the people who helped bring us Hacking Democracy, this may soon become a reality.

IM as an identity construction

I really enjoyed Professor Stern's book on adolescence and Instant Messaging. In particular, her assertion on page 59 sparked a lot of memories for myself: "Communication through IM may be emerging as a primary source for how some adolescents conceive of themselves and take on an identity."

During our adolescent years, particularly from 6th grade to maybe 10th grade, we are constantly changing who we are and who we will become. A lot of this is done at school, in who we talk to, what classes we take, what we wear, and what activities we participate in. But identity construction has spilled out into time spent away from school, thanks impart to Instant Messaging.

I was a late attendee to the IM party, not getting into it until I was a sophomore in high school. Also, with a dial-up connection and a twin sister hoping to use the same computer for the same purpose, I didn't get to spend as much time on it as perhaps some of Professor Stern's subjects. However, I witnessed firsthand how much effect IM can have on building your identity and fitting in while at school.

School days and events were broken down endlessly by my friends and myself long after the final bell rang each day. We talked about upcoming sporting events or school functions, planned skipped days and talked to others we may not have seen much during the day.

In my school, if you were not online, you were out of the loop. Every night was a chance to learn something new about a friend or someone else at school. And each time you longed on was another chance to earn someone's trust, gain a better friend and construct your identity.

I haven't longed on to MSN Messenger for months, and my IM'img sessions fell off dramatically after going to college. Now more confident in who I am, I don't miss the long adolescent conversations that consumed so much of my evenings.

March 12, 2009

One Laptop Per Child

I was very intrigued with the “One Laptop Per Child” program during class and small group discussion on Wednesday. Further delving into the program, I found an article that CNN did on the project last week. It can be found here.

The article describes all of the positive effects the program has had for children all over the world, especially in current and historic conflict zones like Iraq, Afghanistan, Rwanda and the Gaza Strip. 750,000 children are currently benefiting from the OLPC’s cheap laptop computers, and chairman Nicholas Negroponte says that figure could double by June.

One of my former co-workers recently left for Iraq. A former member of the U.S. Army (and was deployed twice to Iraq), he will be working at a technology center and helping promote computer literacy in the country. While he is not working directly with the OLPC program, his efforts are directly tied to the growing attention given to closing the digital divide. I salute him for making this effort and trying to help others.

In time, I hope, the digital divide will be nearly non-existent. The future of communication and information needs will rest solely on ones access to the Internet. It's important to help those people who would otherwise be shut out from this impressive and increasingly necessary new medium.

March 10, 2009

Is Globalization good for everyone?

I've studied globalization in philosophy and economic courses, so I was very interested to think about it in terms of information exchange in class on Monday. However, I have some serious reservations with globalization in terms of its economic and political implications, particularly how rich countries are exploiting poorer countries for cheap labor. This needs to change.

About 2.8 billion people live on less than two dollars a day, and about 1.2 billion people live on less than one dollar a day. 799 million people are undernourished, one billion do not have access to clean water, 2.4 billion do not have means for adequate sanitation, and 876 million adults cannot read. More than 880 million people do not have access to basic health services, one billion people do not have sufficient shelter, and two billion do not have electricity. About 50,000 people die everyday from poverty-related causes.

Since rich countries have been responsible for the poverty gap, it is our obligation to help the poor nations out of poverty. Instead of dropping crates of bottled water and rice occasionally, a full-blown effort must be undertaken to get poor countries on their feet so they are self-sufficient. The rich nations have to fund this project through a new economic system. While its unrealistic to have all corrupt governments overthrown, it is important to make sure the money is going for relief efforts, and not in the pockets of some cigar-smoking dictator. A group needs to be established to ensure all funds are going to the people. Another necessary goal should be to educate people. Sure, we can give money and supplies to the poor, but for them to really grow, they need to learn some sort of profitable trade.

Teaching a Nigerian man how to be a subsistent farmer is a good example. The man can rely on a steady crop, while feeding himself and his family. There also must be established markets for him to receive fair prices for his goods. Fair Trade has already established a good market for agricultural products from the global South like coffee, chocolate, tea, and bananas. Fair Trade labels with not appear on goods where forced labor and exploitative child labor were allowed, and buyers and producers trade under direct long-term relationships. Fair Trade allows producers to receive a living wage at a steady price.

Only when fair prices and fair wages for all are implemented, will the true benefits of globalization be realized.

February 19, 2009

The decline of newspapers

Watching the Frontline video in class on Wednesday got me thinking about how much newspapers have changed in a relatively short period of time. I've grown up reading newspapers. Being from a small town, my family subscribed to the weekly town newspaper (News Record), the daily newspaper of the nearest city (Red Wing Republican Eagle), and the daily paper of the bustling nearby metropolis (Rochester Post-Bulletin). Also, living on a farm, we received numerous weekly dairy farm publications like Dairy Star. Depending how you view the days of the week, my news cycle either began or ended on Sundays, when my dad would stop at the lone convenience store in town after church and let me buy a copy of the Sunday Star Tribune. The thick publication was half ads, but I didn't mind. During the course of the week, I had developed a firm base of knowledge at the local, regional, and state level, and to a lesser extent, national and international.

Like I said. I've grown up reading newspapers.

Which is why it pains me to see the industry faltering. And that's only as a casual fan and observer.

As a college senior and aspiring journalist, I'm currently looking for employment. There's not much out there. Papers all over are cutting staff, not looking to hire.

I work at the Star Tribune as a high school sports copy aide. Every day, I walk from one end of the third floor to the other, and I'm constantly reminded of this by all of the empty desks. Some are cluttered with random boxes or pushed against the wall. Worse yet, some have been removed, leaving empty space where a professional used to diligently work to inform and educate its readers. What will it take the reverse this trend? I'm not sure. If I knew, I'd gladly shout it from rooftops, beginning with the one at 425 Portland Avenue. Until newspapers can figure out how to maximize value out of the Internet, the desks will remain empty.

And more are soon to join them.

February 15, 2009

The Cult of the Amateur has hit Owatonna, Minn.

Our weeklong discussion about Andrew Keen's "The Cult of the Amateur" was filled with topics ranging from newspapers to books, CD sales to internet surveillance. Most of the examples Keen uses are centered in California, where he lives and works.

After returning from class on Friday, I opened my print edition of the Star Tribune (I don't personally subscribe, but my fraternity continues to renew its subscription, allowing me to read the Strib online and at the dinner table) and found an interesting story about a fellow 22-year old from Owatonna, Minn. who has achieved MySpace fame with his musical talents. The story can be found here.

Adam Young and his band, "Owl City," played a sold-out concert at the Varsity Theater on Friday, and also had a sold-out show in Chicago on Saturday. His MySpace page has over 15 million views and 150,000 song downloads.

The story draws comparisons to the group "Scene Aesthetic" in Keen's book, a band with a MySpace cult-following that played crappy venues and had trouble taking its online success into the commercially successful recording industry.

I hope the local boy can make something of his MySpace success. I think Keen would agree, too. In the end, his success is going to come out of a recording contract -- a transition to the Big Media that Keen pushes for throughout his book.