May 1, 2009

Technology Gone Bad!

Has technology really going bad? Technology was theoretically speaking supposed to be your friend. It was made to make things easier for people, easy access, more convenience, and an advanced tool for efficiency and effectiveness. However, some see the technology available as a luxury (use it when they can), some use it on a daily basis as a necessary tool (cannot live without it), some struggle to use it due to limited access or knowledge, and all the while there are a few bunch that are extremely knowledgeable and crafty with technology that they find ways to thrive on others misfortune. It is not to difficult to hack into other peoples computers or accounts that would opens up access to all of personal and private information. Hacking is a skill and an art. But the negative uses of hacking makes it hard to like and therefore gives technology a bad image. People are afraid of technology because they know it would make them susceptible to being robbed of their privacy. So what happens when we are forced to use the technology that we cannot trust?

After watching the insightful documentary “Hacking Democracy,” it would be easy to admit that throwing away all of the technology in the world and going back to times when no such tools existed would not be so bad. One of the most important features of American culture (and known world-wide) is the freedom of expression and the opportunity to be anything one strives for. This opportunity also gives us the right to vote as American citizens. Voting is a privilege and a right, however that privilege is not honored to non-citizens and is also taken away when one commits a felony or crime of some sort. No one in prison is allowed to vote. It may be easy to say, “who want criminals that won’t follow and obey the laws to vote and have an input on our lives?” So it is necessary to understand that taking away your voting rights is one way to take away your voice. Well, what does that say about the rest of the people that are allowed to vote and they exercise that right, but their votes are still manipulated to show results that benefit certain groups or powers? What voice do they have if they cannot rightfully be heard even though they’re accounted for?

We live in a democratic world, so they say. In reality, we are exposed to being manipulated and fed garbage that will make us confused and exhausted for a time period till we give up on the issue. The first step to gaining ground is by asking questions endlessly and tirelessly, but we must also know the right type of questions to ask as well as how to ask it and who to ask it to. There are many channels to deal with when one’s right is not being executed with the right process. Before we scream at so many different people though, we must initially ask ourselves if all of this matters at all and how much we are willing to commit to the cause of fighting for our rights and our dignity.

Online Storytelling

New digital media has opened the doors for artistic and individualized forms of expression. There are many different outlets for people to get their voices heard on the Internet. Whether it’s about race, gender, class, culture, tradition, and etc… people will always have a say and the Internet provides them that opportunity. Visual images and such as video and still photography can be used in a multitude of ways to make a presentation. Therefore, it is important that the audience or rather former audience (who are now the creators of media) learns to use videos or other media forms to enhance their content.

One great example of the former audience making great use of the tools available to create a message is Stories for Change (http://storiesforchange.net/). Stories for Change is a site dedicated to digital storytelling for communities and individuals. The site features videos created by individuals with the passion and drive to tell their stories. Some of the topics covered include, but are not limited to, drugs, domestic abuse, alcoholism, cultural traditions, relationships, and racial oppression, along with gender and class issues as well. Stories for Change is a meeting place online where you can share your digital stories, find resources to learn how to use tools for editing video, audio, images and more, and also join a network or community that have a common interest in a new media forum.

We all construct an identity of some sort when we are presented with the tools to make use of our craftsmanship and be creative. This applies to creating an account on an online social networking site as well as creating visual images to be posted online. The University of Houston has a unique program on the Educational Uses of Digital Storytelling. They offer some tips on effective ways of presenting stories made for the digital world. One such tip includes the 7 Elements of Storytelling, presented by the Center for Digital Storytelling (CDS) in California, as follows:
1. Point of View
2. A Dramatic Question
3. Emotional Content
4. The Gift of Your Voice
5. The Power of the Soundtrack
6. Economy
7. Pacing
The above listed elements can be found at the University of Houston’s site at (http://digitalstorytelling.coe.uh.edu/7elements.html).

Everything we do online will be tracked and monitored by a wide range of audiences. We can construct a false identity or represent ourselves in the truest form possible. However, in either case, we will have to deal with the reception we receive from our digital stories or identities whether positive or negative. We need to realize that the Internet allows us to speak up and speak out, but the same tool that allows us the freedom of expression also makes us vulnerable to criticism. I believe that is the democratic way of the Internets operation and rightfully so.

March 13, 2009

Global Digital Divide and Possible Solutions

Global digital divide is the “great disparities in opportunity to access the Internet and the information and educational/business opportunities tied to this access … between developed and developing countries” (Lu 2001 p. 1). Whereas the digital divide in its traditional format focuses on groups of social class (i.e. race, income, gender, etc…), the global digital divide refers to classes based on geographical divisions and reflects the economic divisions internationally that exist. The Internet, although a great form of democracy across national borders and highly an equal opportunity medium, should in many ways help developing countries establish themselves amongst the developed. However, a conflict in terms of resources to utilize the Internet to its capabilities hinders many, if not all, of the developing countries. To solve such a colossal problem, there are several organizations that try to minimize and narrow the gap of the divide and perhaps bring the developing countries up to speed on communication and technological advancements.

One such organization helping to sponsor outreach programs to solve the global digital divide issue is the IMARA organization at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. IMARA, meaning “power” in the language of Swahili, is a project for “empowering communities through sustainable technology and education” (http://imara.csail.mit.edu/). Some of the services that The Imara Project provides are providing refurbished computers and training skills necessary to connect with the rest of the world, teaching maintenance skills for sustainable development, providing low-cost accessible computers, making technological courses available for citizens, and computer education for children before their adolescent years. The Imara Project’s global objective is to “find and implement long-term, sustainable solutions to make educational technology and resources available to domestic and international communities” (http://imara.csail.mit.edu/).

The projects that Imara does around the world is operated and implemented under the guidance and sponsorship of the MIT Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL). Most of the members of Imara are volunteers and staff provided by MIT, whose support of this project is in a very hands-on approach. MIT volunteers and staff have donated their equipment, such as computers, along with their valuable time and expertise into developing this project and making sure it survives. However, despite the work done by Imara, there is still a long way to go to bridge the global digital divide.

Buying and setting up computers inside developing countries and training the natives is not as simple as it sounds and is not the only answer to solving the issue. In order for the bridge to be constructed between the haves and have-nots, it must start with the governments and their willingness to allow their infrastructure to develop and their citizens to progress. This would take some investment, but with projects like the Imara, it is feasible, but governments must let their guards down a little bit in order for such growth to occur. It is understood that the Internet is a “great equalizer,” so it is important the developing countries not miss out on opportunities to expand their potential growth, rather than deprive their citizens of the necessary education to survive in the future of advanced technology and communication systems.

It is safe to assume that not all countries are created equal, but to keep it that way would seem unethical. It is rather more principled to acknowledge the lesser powers and help them succeed in their technological understanding. The Internet is only as good and as strong as its users. If some undeveloped or underdeveloped countries were to be left in the cold, then I would argue that the Internet has a missing link, and it would never fulfill its potential as long as that link is missing. Efforts to bridge the digital divide like the “One Laptop Per Child” and Imara Project are moving in the right direction. But it is not enough. Even more, the digital divide not only exists in countries outside of the more developed nations, it also exists within these nations. Low income and households do not always have access to the Internet or even a computer. The work that needs to be done to eliminate or even reduce the digital divide concept requires the involvement of everyone that is privileged enough to have one.

Internet Addiction in China: Is it a Government Issue?

It was not too long ago I heard a statement about the amount of Internet users in China (at the time about 160 million) would soon be more than the entire population of the United States (approximately 300 million). It wasn’t a question of more Internet users in China than the U.S., but China would have more Internet users than the whole population of the U.S.A. Currently, China has about 290 million Internet users, which is about 21 percent of China’s population, an increase of 130 million in about a year and a half. Compare that to the amount of Internet users in the US (220 million users, about 70 percent of the population) and it shows the extent of the possibilities of growth in this communication for China. However, having such a large number of Internet users in a country with a Communist government, an economy on the rise, and a global standard to meet and exceed that of competitors on the international scene, comes with great responsibility and even greater rules and regulations.

The most alarming part of these figures is the work cut out for China to maintain their country’s policies and uphold them. In addition, the effect of many members of their society to get attached to the Internet creates a new dimension to their responsibilities. A recent survey finds that Chinese spend a majority of their leisure time online. This creates problems for the government to maintain a healthy relationship between its citizens and the communication tools they utilize. Although some of the restrictions enforced by China’s government may prevent negative effects of the Internet such as online gambling or pornography, it does not necessarily limit the amount of time Chinese citizens spend playing online games and socializing with others on the net. The treatment center established for Internet addicts in Beijing by Chinese psychologist, Tao Ran, is impressive and very useful for the development of the country in a positive direction. However, it would be more beneficial for the government to have more support for this treatment center, it that it can help its citizens become more productive.

China though has it own concerns with the Internet. China has made restrictions on posts or information that was in favor of Tibetan or Taiwan independence; a move the government feels is unsafe to public order. The issue not only affects the people of China, but organizations and business that operate through the Internet. The California First Amendment Coalition (CFAC) filed a petition arguing that China’s restrictions affect the US service providers, in that they would have to seek government approval or work from a local level by registering. This issue may be a violation of China’s trade agreements in their association with the World Trade Organization.

The problem becomes that the Chinese government is getting help from other countries that want to tap into China's Internet market. Because China makes it difficult for them to operate freely, any company or country looking to establish a business online would have to conform to the rules and regulations that China has set forth, no matter how unjust or intolerable. Even if any individuals post or send information through the so called "China's Great Fire Wall," archiving and retrieving information is important in their operation, in which any post may be cleaned out, but the information is still there to be retrieved when they deem it possible and necessary. This may constitute as an overly extreme tight control, but in the Communist operation, it seems as though that is how things will be run, at least for the moment. Which is why they want to block out any of the discussions and postings about independence, protests, and overthrowing the communist rule because it would be at their disadvantage.

So where does this leave us? Well, while the Chinese government focuses on maintaining their Communist rule, the citizens are suffering from Internet addiction mainly associated with playing online games and socializing. Does it not make sense that some protestors and activists may also be Internet addicts that have plenty of time to create posts or discussions against the government’s operation? It may be possible to assume that other than friends and family to monitor Internet addicts, the technology to do so may not be available. However, the Internet is a supposedly a democratic media environment in any given country or state; therefore, it is understood that the way the government handles this medium and the mass media in general, would have a large implication on the use and even perhaps the distribution of the Internet within its territorial influence.

February 20, 2009

Participatory Media: Is it good competition or more mess to filter out?

We now live in the age of participation, where you have an option to give your opinions on any and every subject available. With the immergence of Movable Type, we can all make a blog and join forces in distributing the news more accurately right? Do we always agree with what the media has to offer us, content wise? Then why don’t we take it upon ourselves to go out and write about different events and rate restaurants, movies, albums, report issues on controversial programming and what the mass media won’t show on air?

All of this actually happens on a daily basis, but to find such content is more difficult due to the enormous amount of blogs created daily and who creates it. “The Pew Internet & American Life Project found that 57% of American teenagers create content for the Internet—from text to pictures, music and video.” Teenage girls? Yes, great deals of blogs are created as replacements for diaries. They represent these teenagers’ life at the moment and they share them mainly for their audience consisting of close friends. But shall we all have to go through these “diaries” in order to find something more meaningful and relevant to our interests and us? I don’t think that it’s necessary to say that these “diaries” are surplus to requirements; they hold significance like all other blogs, in that they allow a member of society, an ordinary citizen, to participate in media making. Thus, it makes for a need to balance out all types of media created. Comedy, dramatic, current issues, campaigns, personal and all other blogs are equal in importance to the creator, but how the audience can find meaning may be the issue we face at the moment.

Blogging should not be confused with actual journalism, one that involves covering a topic in depth with investigation, different viewpoints, and fact checking. Blogging is a personal opinion, what makes it participatory is the comments that people make to make it more interactive. The news is delivered to you and your opinion is rather irrelevant in most cases, a blog however can have a feedback comment associated right on the blog. So is this good competition? Well, for what it is, an opinion based commentary, yes. However, it also more information that the audience has to filter out in order to find blogs they would prefer to read as opposed to the constant flood of “diaries.” An article on The Economist defines a blog as a “personal online journal,” but it also goes further to analyzes a blog as being “social by nature, whether they are open to the public as a whole or only to a small select group” mentioning that “blogging is also about style.” With these characteristics, anyone can blog about anything and participate in the media. The main difference seems to be the credibility of blogs. Opinions sometimes render personal attacks based on the creator’s involvement in a situation. But the news has substantial methods of structure that show a continuity of order and responsibility to the audience in what they present. If blogs showed more structure towards research and investigation backed by substantial facts, then they too can prosper beyond traditional media.

Social Networking… Where do we draw the line?

I recently activated my Facebook profile after a year of hiatus to start making some contacts and network with members in certain career fields or that share similar interests. When I was first introduced to Facebook, I found myself constantly attached to it, always trying to see something new, but when it took up too much of my time I closed it. Now that I’m back, I see the growth has dramatically expanded and I’m a now friend with my boss, my cousins still in high school, and several family members. All of these people see me in a different light, however, on Facebook, they only see one and that is however it is that I represent myself.

I believe at this point in time in the Information Age and with technological advancements, we really must look into ourselves and try to set up an image that represents what we stand for. It is often said that it is important to make a first impression. While for many a first impression is a lasting one, there are those that would argue that any impression is bound to change over time. What if that impression is based on your Facebook profile or even on your Myspace popularity? Do these social networking sites have a purpose in defining who you are and what you’re about? Well if you present yourself in that sense, then yes they do. You are criticized by the way you present yourself online. Such is the case now that employers will have you pull up your Facebook profile and go through it with you.

So then what is the purpose of these sites if we cannot enjoy the luxury of privacy and not have to worry about the revealing images of every detail in our lives? I’ve always seen everything based on face value. Social networking to me is a network, be it your friends, colleagues, family members, and even new people you may find interesting. If all these people have access to your profiles, then you must be wary of the things you post and upload. Best said, you must not be ashamed of having your boss, parents, kids/nephews/nieces, close friends, and other networks see these revealing facts or images that represent who you are and what you are about. To illustrate an example, I cannot contradict myself by lecturing my little cousins and giving them advice about proper etiquette, responsibility, and respect and then they see a picture of me drunk and wasted or with raunchy images with other women. I would lose their respect in that matter or influence them to take on my behavior if I’m their supposed role model. Am I setting a proper example for these kids? Is this the image my boss wants to see of someone that represents the organization?

The creator of Facebook, Mark Zuckerberg, states, “People want access to all the information around them, but they also want complete control over their own information. Those two things are at odds with each other. Technologically, we could put all the information out there for everyone, but people wouldn’t want that because they want to control their information.” Overall it would be wise to create a professional and yet casual appearance that may be a good representation of you. But to ruin your reputation based on some images of you online that rarely don’t give any insight into the real person you are may be dangerous.

Introduction

Hello Hello!

This is Fanuel Tsehaye (aka The Dream) expressing some personal thoughts and ideas about the discussions and topics that will be discussed in one of my classes for the spring 2009 semester, Jour 4551 New Media & Culture.

Here is a brief description of the course as described by Professor and Dr. Shayla Thiel-Stern on the course syllabus:

"New Media Culture, or New Media and Culture, is an upper-level survey and exploration of how new media communication technology has shaped and been shaped by culture and society. Within various fields of liberal arts – from those based in social science to hard science, from humanities to arts and literature – we examine the issue of how new media functions within the world and gives shape to various disciplines within the liberal arts. Furthermore, added insight on this one vital topic within the world of liberal arts will lend a critical understanding of new media as it relates to your own liberal education. Although new media has become a standard part of learning within your own major fields of study, this course will encourage you to critically examine the broad function of digital media in your lives. The course will examine a number of relevant themes within the study of new media and culture, from the realms of politics and government to the understanding of gender, the media, globalization, democracy and literature as explored and defined through new media."