May 1, 2009

True Life thoughts

After watching the full documentary and doing a presentation on True Life and the girls featured who spent their identities online, I thought about recurring patterns of identity formation in relation to the articles and readings on the issue.

Shayla Thiel-Stern's book describes how girls adapted a different lifestyle simply through instant messaging, only to transform through more advanced communication techniques online. Even I assume a somewhat different identity online; I refer to myself in most of my online sites and memberships in online communities as The Sports Brain, a nickname I selected because of my passion and knowledge of multiple sports. However, I manage to balance my online activity with things people were accustomed to doing long before the rise of the Internet (going to movies, games, etc.)

A theory I developed about why men and women become so addicted to online ventures, based on the materials I read in class and articles outside of class, is a lack of acceptance in the regular community. Judy in True Life had a social anxiety disorder and would often seclude herself in the real world, leaving her family at a young age. Others had problems with family relationships and saw the online community as a way to fill in the blanks. If online users struggle to excel in certain skills, it may increase the chance of them turning to online addiction to RPGs or virtual networking sites in order to achieve acceptance and achievement in their lives. Using the Internet to promote yourself is not a problem, but it can be difficult to detect if someone has a problem with "overlogging on." I'm sure there's some scholarly research with online addictions and real world feelings. I just haven't found them yet.

April 30, 2009

In the name of democracy

The HBO documentary Hacking Democracy providing an interesting insight into the possibility of an election being hacked by people who didn't necessarily have to know software code. The fact that Bev Harris, a person who had little computer experience and no experience as a journalist discovers this could make people wonder why the professionals were unable to find what Harris did. However, their concern over vote tampering echoes the skepticism from some registered voters over electronic touch-screen systems.

While the findings, including the Hursti Hack, present a real problem in ensuring that votes do indeed count, the lack of any concrete examples of an election being hacked (which is complicated in itself as hackers can alter data without detection) likely won't change anything. The human consensus tends to follow the leader and ignore any problems they aren't familiar with until something drastic happens, causing things to change (talk of security holes circulated after 9/11 as people wondered how the attackers slipped through unnoticed). However, Harris' investigations did attract attention in some areas and she was contacted in 2006 to test touch-screen voting systems. Dan Gillmor might user Harris and Black Box voting as an example of interactivity giving power to the people and affecting change, especially given her lack of computer expertise prior to finding the vote tabulation software online.

March 13, 2009

A rise in the dollar means a drop overseas

In relation to globalization, a New York Times article reported on how a strengthening U.S. dollar can actually hurt foreign markets. In a nutshell, dollars invested in American government bonds means a dollar is taken away from eastern European and African markets as both regions also cope with a global recession.

The article is a clear-cut example of the dangers globalization can have; whatever happens in one geographic region will affect another, including a slumping economy. While focus in the United States targets job losses and the shrinking economy domestically, news outlets will occasionally provide reports of what's happening overseas, where the picture isn't much better. In fact, many economists now rely on Asian market activity (they're ahead in time zones) to predict what will happen with the Dow Jones.

Although the class discussion on globalization has passed, it doesn't mean the topic is irrelevant as many students eye graduation and fear the future with most of the world hurting economically.

Follow-up on "Growing Up Online."

Prior to the midterm, I watched the remainder of the Frontline documentary "Growing Up Online" to see if there was anything interesting to note before the exam. Although I was watching it with a purpose to immerse myself with the knowledge necessary to score well, I found one segment peculiar.

Cyber-bullying is still new, but the segment I watched mirrored another case of suicide caused by cyber-bullying in the news, where a 13-year-old girl hanged herself after someone else's mother played a cruel joke on her. In many ways, I believe this form is more dangerous because if the perpetrators can cover their tracks, it can be very difficult to stop (people can simply switch screen names or use the screen name of another person on their buddy list to evade detection).

The documentary also touched on school fights and other forms of bullying uploaded to YouTube. Unfortunately (due to their own negligence), those responsible are sometimes arrested and charged with assault as they essentially upload evidence of their own actions; as was the case in Florida where several girls participated in attacking another teenage girl.

I'm aware that cyber-bullying gets media coverage here and there, but the topic itself could make a solid episode of Frontline, because unlike sexual predators who try (and usually don't succeed) luring children, bullies may be harder to ignore because teens are generally dealing with peers and won't see them the same way as total strangers.

February 20, 2009

The state of newspapers

Watching segments of the Frontline episode on the changing dynamic of newspapers and reading the related texts was nothing new for me. The material wasn't boring, but I've followed the continuing decline of newspapers where nothing seems to work to make them profitable again.

To elaborate on the discussion proposed Wednesday, I believe local ownership is necessary for news quality and management. Avista took over the Star Tribune without much media experience, and the paper has since filed for bankruptcy, compared to its McClatchy days when it weathered the storm beating on other papers. Corporations operate nationally and have difficulty targeting local demographics; they have to cater to a more generic group.

However, even if all ownership was local, the future looks bleak for newspapers. Two fatal errors was lack of anticipation for new media and offering all its content for free. That's not to say readers should pay for it, but a model where bloggers and other aggregates would pay a fee to link a newspaper's stories online would certainly help bring dollars in. However, solving declining readership is even tougher. While stations and websites do link to newspapers, the speed that news can be transmitted often makes newspapers obsolete as far as getting there first. By the time you read the morning headlines, you likely heard about all of them either on TV or online.

The whirlwind continues to blow and the outlook is grim. For now, most media outlets will likely limp through the recession until things get better, and that is a serious threat to the quality of journalism.

February 17, 2009

Critiquing Andrew Keen

Keen was the focus of last week's lectures with his general criticism of new media, including citizen journalism and other user-generated content. He claimed that these people only add clutter to the Internet because they don't have the professional training that working journalists and other masters of the field have.

Keen does have a point in that regard. The most popular videos on YouTube aren't those created by professionals, but amateur-quality videos that offer little substance, including "Evolution of Dance." Other popular videos include music videos and other content that entertains rather than informs.

However, Keen overlooks the impact users have with mainstream media, as people like Dan Gillmor are ready to point out how the citizen is proving to be an influential force. It was the blogosphere that caught Trent Lott's pro-segregation comments in 2002 and CBS' reporting mishaps regarding George W. Bush's military record in 2004. YouTube became a household name when a campaign opponent of George Allen posted a video where he used the term "macaca," costing Allen his Senate seat.

Keen's arguments certainly position him as an elitist or stuck to old ideas. New media can be a successful counterpart to the traditional forms if they're utilized for democracy and not simply as a space where people can watch babies laughing and cats playing pianos. While they may get a laugh, they support Keen's argument about new media hurting us instead of helping us.