« March 2009 | Main

April 28, 2009

"But I Wanted to Vote for Obama!"

On an episode of "The Simpsons" a few months back, Homer walks into the electronic voting booth. He attempts to vote for Barack Obama, but the speaker spits out, "One vote for John McCain." Frustrated, Homer tries again. Again, the vote registers as one for McCain. And in the midst of recounts and debates on every aspect of the voting process, it's hard not to wonder where we're going.

Paper votes can get thrown out. Automatic machines can be rigged or can malfunction. As conspiracy-theorist as it may sound, there's probably no way to make sure that 100 percent of the correctly cast ballots will be counted. Some of the proposals considered to help get the nation out of sticky spots are rather well thought-out - instant run-off voting is one of them. If that were the case here in Minnesota, we probably would have been spared this ongoing Senate battle. And any disenfranchised Dean Barkley voters would have their second choice vote - Franken or Coleman - really count.

However, some of the solutions offered are inane... like voting on the Internet. Something which has been proven time-and-again to be one of the easiest things to hack into, and some people want to leave something as important as elections to that. It also brings up interesting questions about the digital divide - exactly how many people would be able to vote if it was online only? And if it was a melding of the two, what's to stop someone from voting several times at public computers, home computers, friends' computers, and finally in person? Any final solution will probably more of a realization than anything else: nothing is perfect, but there are ways of being fairly accurate. And an online poll isn't one of them.

April 14, 2009

The Changing Face of IM

This week in class we're discussing Professor Stern's book "Instant Identity," about the online habits of tweens and teen girls. The majority of were data was compiled in 2002 and 2003, when I was in high school and a fairly frequent user of Instant Messenger myself. Since then my habits have changed entirely. I believe IM habits have changed nationwide as well, thanks to the advent of two things: Facebook and texting.

Professor Stern says none of her girls really dabbled in online blogs or diaries at the time she was researching her book. However, at the exact same time, many of my friends were setting up accounts on LiveJournal, Xanga or MySpace. I was a junior in high school at the time - so perhaps a year or two older than the girls included in the book - but the "future" of online journalling was already apparent to me. I created my own MySpace around this time, mainly because so many of my friends already had one. However, I rarely updated it and haven't logged onto the site for at least four years. Perhaps this has something to do with the serious college student thinking MySpace is too high school, but I think it's more than that. After I graduated, I more or less stopped using IM altogether. It could be that I just became too busy to spend hours online talking... or it could be that I created my Facebook page a month or two into my freshman semester.

While IM is still a widely-used resource, it does not seem as important to me as it did a few years ago. Facebook has absorbed everything I used IM for anyway - I can send people messages without having to remember their e-mail, I can set up get togethers, etc. Facebook Chat even has the same purpose as IM - making something like AOL or Yahoo Instant Messenger seem obsolete. There's another thing that seems to be replacing IMing - texting. While it may not allow for comprehensive discussions (my texting plan only sends out messages up to 160 characters), it gets the job done. If I'm trying to get some friends together, all I need to do is send out a massive text to everyone I'm trying to get a hold of. Like Facebook, texting seems to offer everything that IM ever did. And while it probably won't go away anytime soon, these days IMing is being seen as more and more of an old, unexciting technology.