Ethnography Notes pt. 5

Wrapping up the Enthnography Field Notes!  Exciting times.

Overall what I’ve found most interesting about this experience is the fact that the facebook group has seemed to have grown so much over the time I’ve been observing.  There was the massive participation jump from Notes pt. 2 to Notes pt. 3, which was both good and bad – more people were posting and commenting, but there were also some facebook arguments that were uncomfortable to read and came across as very harsh, and specifically pointed at certain people.  Between Notes pt. 3 and Notes pt. 4 however, this problem seemed to correct itself.  There were still differences in opinions, but personal attacks didn’t happen (or at least the number of them had significantly decreased) and the opinions seemed to be expressed in a thoughtful, careful way which took into account the perspectives of others.  And now with Notes pt. 5 I’ve seen another interesting development that I wouldn’t have been able to predict at the beginning of my forays into the world of facebook activism: the direction of posts is subtly becoming more diverse.

People are still posting links to interesting things celebrities are doing to start discussion (successfully!) about feminism issues, and links to events on campus to raise awareness and increase turnout.  But now people are also posting more calls to action – either in the form of people (like myself) needing help on school projects relating to the topics, or links to petitions.  Furthermore, there’s been a definite (though probably not intentional) focus on everyday ways these issues are manifested, and ways to relate back to things applicable to people’s everyday lives – from a post about tumblr, to a post about geek feminism, to feminism in the fashion world.  These posts made the issues at hand seem much less broad and much closer to home.

I’m interested in seeing how the facebook group will continue to develop.  I’m unsure as to whether this development will change in coming years because of the transient nature of college campus student groups or whether the older members of the group will end up setting a precedent that the younger students will continually build on.  I’d hope it would be the latter, but this study would need to be extended over a longer period of time to show this.

Ethnography Notes pt. 4

Similarly to last post, the facebook page is legitimately booming with activity right now.  Differently from last Notes post though, when I discussed the polarizing and heated arguments, the conversations were much more constructively argumentative.  People who are a part of this group are never going to all agree on everything all the time.  Issues such as the ones that are posted in this group are issues that naturally warrant a lot of different, strong opinions and are bound to cause some arguments.  However, recently these arguments have not been your typical ‘yell at the other person and only spout your opinion without even bothering to read what the other person is putting up to refute you’ facebook arguments but have actually been constructive, with both sides expressing their opinions well and LISTENING to what the other is actually saying.  It was very encouraging to read most of the conversations.  There was even one person who felt comfortable bringing up an opinion that she knew would be controversial and unpopular considering the other comments about a recent reaction to an issue on campus, but she felt as though the other side needed to be brought up and did it in a neutral, unoffensive way, which was in fact not poorly received.

This is what I’ve loved about watching this group, they really do seem to make facebook an effective means for their goal.

The only other thing that’s changed since the last time I wrote a Notes post is that I made a post myself on the group (the shock!).  I was calling out for some stories that I can hopefully incorporate into my digital storytelling project.  My basic plan right now is to collect some moving stories/creative expression of various mediums (audio, visual, audio and visual – I’d love to have video of someone telling their own story, but I understand if no one is comfortable doing that) and edit them together to create an emotional response in people that will lead to some form of a call to action.  As of yet I have not gotten any responses, but I am optimistic.  I would love to include stories from people in the group, but even if I don’t, I am going to look into asking people from my own campus for stories for the project.

Book Remainder Summary

Sherry Turkle’s book Alone Together: Why We Expect More from Technology and Less from Each Other is divided into two parts; Part 1 is “The Robotic Movement: In Solitude, New Intimacies,” and Part 2 is “Networked: In Intimacy, New Solitudes.”  Part 1 focuses on how sociable robots affect humans, and is organized mostly by focus on a specific robot for a specific chapter, but it also more thematically based, as she can pull in examples from other robots, which she mentions in later or earlier chapters.  Part 2 also had chapters devoted to specific networking technologies, but more often was thematically based.

Part 2 of Alone Together focuses around themes of human interaction with each other due to changes in technology.  Some chapters have a particular focus around familial relationships, such as Chapter 9 “Growing up Tethered” and Chapter 14 “The Nostalgia of the Young.”  These chapters emphasize that not only are children using technology to a point of being anti-social with members of their own families, but that adults also do this, and this is negatively effecting children.  Other chapters, such as Chapter 10 “No Need to Call” and Chapter 13 “Anxiety” discuss the use of the phone and how changes in technology have made people uncomfortable with actually calling someone else; calling has become a weird in-between for text communication and face to face communication.  It’s too personal for just socializing and small talk, but too impersonal for heavy news which you would want to discuss face to face.  The rest of the chapters in this section (Chapters 8, 11, and 12, “Always On,” “Reduction and Betrayal.” and “True Confessions,” respectively) center more heavily around the interconnectivity associated with new networking technologies and their effects on relationships between people.  Both positives and negatives are discussed.

One of the important points Turkle tries to make throughout her book is that technology in itself is not bad, it is how we choose to use it that makes it good or bad.  She sites a few examples of how technology can help people “work through” their problems by “us[ing] the materials of online life to confront the conflicts of the real and search for new resolutions” (214).  This is obviously a beneficial thing, available through the use of technology.  It is only when people use technology not to work through their problems but to “act out” the problems by just recreating and repeating them virtually causing “little growth” (214).  In any conversation about technology, I think it’s important to keep this idea in mind, as does Turkle.  It’s not necessarily what it is, but how it’s used that is the important thing.  We don’t need to necessarily go about changing the technology itself, but changing how humans view it and react to it.

Ethnography Notes pt. 3

Okay.  So a lot of interesting things have gone on in the group since the last time I posted notes.

1: International Women’s Day happened (March 8th).  As the facebook group is about Feminism, this was kind of a big deal.  There were several posts about this and events happening around campus relating to International Women’s Day.  One thing that was particularly effective about the group that I thought was really cool is someone asked what events would be happening, and the platform allowed for people to share events as comments in response to the question.  This is a fantastic way for every member of the group to potentially contribute relevant information as well as find information collected in one place.

2: There was an update about the issue alluded to in my last post, the fb page did in fact help affect some change, which is pretty exciting!

3: Black History Month and race issues/other isms were discussed in relation to feminism.  I actually don’t have a whole lot to comment on this particular point, but it seemed interesting to me.  It was at once humanizing and inclusive, yet at the same time quite exclusionary, which was…. interesting.

4: There were over 5 posts that had more than 20 comments.  Previously, there had only been one or two posts between notes that garnered more than 5 comments, so this was a big change.  I don’t know exactly what caused this, but it has been interesting and has affected my view of the group somewhat.  The comments generally came from posts that linked to articles or videos that had controversial content, and the comments were generally arguments between 2 or more people about reactions to the articles/links/posts.  These arguments could be quite polarizing and heated (to the point that even over text it was very obvious people were getting extremely frustrated).  It was a reminder for me of how much can be misinterpreted over text when vocal inflection and body language are not present to clarify, and also how typing to a screen can dehumanize the people you are communicating with.

Overall, I still think the facebook group is very effective in terms of raising awareness to issues and forming a community that gives opportunities to get involved in related activities on campus, but the dissension witness over the last week or so made me personally feel the disunity within the group, despite the fact they are “united” over a single cause.

Chapters 3 and 4 Summary

In chapters 3 and 4, Turkle continues to work through the various types of robots she’s studied, and discusses the effects they have on people and the wider concerns these effects could present.

Chapter 3 focuses almost exclusively on the AIBO robot dog.  Turkle discusses observations that children tend to give the robots some form of autonomy, since they express the idea that the AIBOs have the capability to “want … attention” (57) and it “has feelings all by itself” (59).  However, because the AIBOs are robots, there is no guilt or shame with leaving the AIBO when the children don’t feel like playing with it.  In this way, kids “are learning a way to feel connected in which they have permission to think only of themselves” (60).  This self-centered-ness encourages the narcissism inherent in today’s society due to the structure social media surrounding us 24/7, as Bill Davidow and Christine Rosen (authors of “The Internet Narcissism Epidemic” and “The Age of Egocasting,” respectively) would argue.

Taking note of the prevailing idea of “attachment without responsibility” (60), it is easy to imagine a world where connections are all too easily made and broken when people don’t live up to the unrealistic expectations created by too much interaction with “perfect” robot companions.  However, while a robot can be “a companion … it cannot be a friend” (62).  Turkle makes it clear that this distinction is important to note and is potentially harmful if people, particularly children, are not aware of it.  “Robot companionship … consigns us to a closed world – the lovable as safe and made to measure” (66).  Not only is it a closed world, it is a fake world that doesn’t allow for the realities of everyday life, and if children don’t learn how to deal with the disappointments of life in a healthy manner, the world will only become the worse for it.

Chapter 4 continues on the idea of the dangers of robots replacing humans as Turkle contemplates her discussions with children about the possibility of robot babysitters and robot caretakers.  Like any roomful of reasonable adults, the students had mixed reactions to the idea.  Some thought that a robot babysitter would be better than a human babysitter because the programming would make the robot do the job to a tee, unlike human babysitters who might fail to make an appropriate dinner or provide appropriate attention on the kid.  Other students were more skeptical and brought up the fact that machines have malfunctions, and the robot babysitter could breakdown.  However, if technology did not fail, there would be an element of convenience with a robot babysitter – they are “always ready” (69) and available, whereas searching for a human babysitter may be difficult or stressful depending on the situation.  Still other students brought up practical issues such as issues of cost – one student asks, “what’s the point of buying a robot for thousands and thousands of dollars when you could have just kept the babysitter for twenty dollars an hour?” (73).

Though Turkle seems to concede that robots are practically useful and can be helpful, she is hesitant to really sing the praises of robots because of the harmful effects she sees as possibilities.

Rhetorical Analysis

The website I will probably use for my Digital Storytelling Project will probably be Center for Digital Storytelling.  The site purpose/mission is:

To promote the value of story as a means for compassionate community action.

-Center for Digital Storytelling

They try to reach as large an audience as they can, evidenced even through the formatting of their website, which has a very simple, accessible layout that it easy to navigate.  Headings, which are in boldface and a slightly larger font size, allow for users to effectively gather information.  The background is solid white, and the text can be clearly seen, read, and understood.  The color that is used on the page is a soothing green color, matching the tree motif in the logo, which is prominently displayed in the left sidebar of the website.  The logo, through the tree motif, evokes a sense of growth, stability, and connection, as the “roots” are the most emphasized part, since the tree is inverted.  The “roots” are depicted as circles connected to each other, imagery which is commonly associated with online networking in this day and age.  Connecting the roots of the tree with the idea of online networking allows for connotations of a nurturing environment, since the roots are where the tree gets its nutrients from.  Furthermore, the tree motif alludes to the ideas of “going green” and “saving the planet” because trees are so commonly associated with issues surrounding the environment and people who are passionate about those issues (they don’t call them “tree-huggers” for nothing!), creating a sense that the Center for Digital Storytelling cares – about the environment, about the nurturing connections community can make, and about you, and your stories.  They also offer workshops to create your story if you need help or want to learn more.

Information Stories: Sustaining Democracy in the Digital Age is a much more business-like site.  Firstly, the words “Information” and “Democracy” practically scream business.  Secondly, the site comes from a University, specifically Ohio State University.  Underneath the Ohio State University logo, there is a description:

a series of short digital narratives conceived by law professor Peter M. Shane and filmmaker Liv Gjesvang.

Because of the business-y elements, the site to me seems exclusive, possibly even stuck-up.  In contrast to the welcoming, nurturing nature of Center for Digital Storytelling, Information Stories is unappealing to me as a platform for my Digital Storytelling project because the feel of the site has a good chance of affecting the feel of my video, as the site will give the first impression, and I want my video to be emotionally moving and touching (when I actually figure out what I want to do with my project), things which may be slightly more difficult to achieve if on a site that doesn’t evoke emotion from the first glance.

Similarly to Center for Digital Storytelling, Stories for Change also uses green as a primary color and is pretty clear and easy to navigate, though it is a little bit more cluttered, causing it to lack the simply elegance of Center for Digital Storytelling’s website.  They “[aim] to connect and extend the global network” and claim that

The power of community digital storytelling rests in its ability to inspire, connect, and incite action within and between local groups; the goal of Stories for Change is to further nurture that spirit online.

This site is very similar to Center for Digital Storytelling, but it just isn’t nearly as well done in terms of using media and metaphor to convey ideas and evoke emotions.  Also, the video that I watched for this site (Charlie’s Rediscovered Life) was “created in a workshop facilitated by [the] Center for Digital Storytelling,” which leads me to prefer Center for Digital Storytelling even more.

Coffee Shop Conversation

(My apologies about forgetting to do this for Friday, making up for it now)

Stephanie Vie: . . . Social media can be a great tool for activism, look at the example of the Human Rights Campaign’s call to increase awareness by changing your profile picture on Facebook.  “The ease of spreading information in a site like Facebook made the HRC logo wildly popular, particularly in the United States, for a brief period of time. . . .  Memes related to causes, like the HRC logo, help draw attention to societal issues and problems and can result in increased feelings of support for marginalized groups.”

danah boyd: But Steph, this doesn’t really have much of an impact past when it’s popular, and though that is a good example, “what [typically] scales in networked publics may not be what everyone wishes to scale” and the movement could have easily flopped.

Clay Shirky: I agree with danah.  Since people are “organizing [themselves] without organizations” movements and “communities that had formed” because of these movements are likely to “dissolve” after the hype has worn off.  This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, –

Nicholas Carr (under breath at another table): Of course it’s a bad thing, young people today need to better their attention spans and delve more deeply into issues, not just skim the surfaces and participate in non-committal movements that thereby lack meaning. (picks up his tea and newspaper and leaves the coffee shop shaking his head with a sigh)

Shirky: as the self-organization allows for more cost-efficient structures and information which is more readily available, when it otherwise might have been difficult to obtain or search for.

boyd: But we still have the problem with the fact that it’s only “for a brief period of time.”

Me (putting down my empty hot chocolate cup and turning around towards their table from my own): I’m sorry to interrupt, but she has a very good point.  Look at the Ice Bucket Challenge.  It was immensely popular for a summer, but then faded into oblivion.  Sure, there was a lot of publicity and money raised during that time, but when it’s mentioned now, people don’t really have strong feelings about ALS research, they just remember how viral the whole thing was.

Vie: I suppose you do have a point; also, regrettably, because the “transmission, replication, and mutation” possible with the HRC’s image, though the modified images “ostensibly still created in support of gay marriage rights, showed little fidelity to that original message.”

Me: Exactly!  Making something viral doesn’t really make people care about causes, but can just be an ego-boost of “look at what I’m doing” as opposed to “look at this cause.”  People might be sharing just to jump on the bandwagon with everyone else instead of for the right reasons (like actually feeling strongly about the cause).  Anyway, I’m sorry to have been eavesdropping on your conversation, but I have to go back to class now.  Maybe I’ll see you all around some other time!

Vie: Bye! (turning back to the others) Hm, that raises a good question- does it matter if civic action is for the right reasons or if it is just a popularity thing if it spreads the message? . . .

Friday

I am so happy it is finally Friday.

The readings for this class focused more on the effects of technology on organization.  One of the points I found particularly interesting from the second chapter of Clay Shirky’s book Here Comes Everybody: The Power of Organizing without Organizations was the fact that “collective action creates shared responsibility, by tying the user’s identity to the identity of the group” (51).  Considering the semi-recent speeches on digital identity, I found myself pondering whether or not this was true.  Online there is a certain sense of anonymity, but can you get anything done by just being online?  Can there be collective action solely in online spaces or do people have to own up to their beliefs and have a responsibility for them and how they are supporting them to make the change they want to see?

There’s a certain sense of being held accountable for your actions, both online and offline.  If you are in public spaces, there is a certain standard of behavior expected.  In some cases, there are laws about such things (public indecency in a park or something similar), but in other cases it’s just how humans function (standing facing the front of an elevator, equidistant from the walls and other people in the elevator) and can be seen as common courtesy.  With new “networked publics,” as danah boyd terms them, we’re having to construct new standards for what is appropriate in different spaces.  boyd mentions a “blurring of public and private” but says that “privacy is simply in a state of transition as people try to make sense of how to negotiate the structural transformations resulting from networked media” (12).  To an extent, I agree with boyd.  However, at the same time I don’t think that people who are growing up with these technologies think that defining “private” and “public” and taking the time/effort to determine which of those categories things they post without thinking should be in is important.  As such, I think that people will start to be held accountable for their online lives just as much as their real lives, because their ideas and actions will be cataloged, able to be replicated, searched for, and potentially able to go “viral” and be seen across the globe.

Internet Activity – A Mixed Bag

These readings for class were both excerpts from the same collection, “The Digital Divide” edited by Mark Bauerlein.  However, the chapters in themselves are excerpts from other, larger works by John Palfrey & Urs Gasser and Lee Siegel.  The fact that the book is composed of chapters excerpted and mixed in with other such chapters is illustrative as the very points those chapters make:  the Internet is a mixed bag.

Forrest Gump quote

Adam@Home Comic

Just as Life is like a box of chocolates, so too are People.  Having recently re-watched Pay It Forward, a fantastic movie that I recommended in my last post that every person should watch at some point in their life, and having been a part of a conversation about sin/self-hate/self-love, I have been thinking about the quality of people in the world.  Are people inherently good, or are they inherently bad/evil?  For Pay It Forward to work, the answer would have to be that people are inherently good.  With how Jerry’s part of the story is portrayed, Pay It Forward seems to take the stance that people are inherently good, but they are, and always will be, liable to screw up… big time; but this doesn’t mean they can’t still do good and make a difference in others’ lives.

What does this have to do with the Internet?  Well, the goodness/badness of the Internet really depends on the people who use it, how they use it, and what they are using it for.  There’s a lot of bad in the world.  As Trevor put it in Pay It Forward, “Everything sucks.”  But people can change that, by just being good people; by doing something big for someone else and inspiring that person to likewise do good.  I don’t know if people as a whole are inherently good, but whether they are or not, they can always do good, and there is great hope in that.

What does this have to do with the readings?  Both readings approach how Internet is used from different perspectives.  Palfrey & Gasser have a more positive outlook, saying the Internet can bring forth good change by illuminating what’s wrong in the world, while Siegel is more negative, saying that we can now anonymously attack each other and have lost the meaning of the words “democracy” and “freedom.”  The Internet is undeniably used in both ways, but that doesn’t mean the tool of the Internet in itself is bad.

Siegel recalls TIME Magazine’s 2006 Person of the Year: a computer screen with the word “You.”  As people in an age of growing communication and networking technologies, every single person has the opportunity to change the world in big and small ways, for the good or for the bad.  Make sure your contribution is the former, and encourage others to do so, and maybe the debate about the “goodness” of the Internet won’t be a discussion anymore.  Is this an “overly-Utopian idea?”  Yeah.  “So?”

Social Change and the Internet

Before getting into the actual response to the reading, I’d like to go on a quick tangent.

The movie Pay it Forward is one of the best, most inspiring movies of all time.  If you haven’t seen it, watch it.  I’m not going to give any spoilers, but it is actually related to readings and other things I’ll be writing about in this post, so if you have seen it, keep it in mind as you read this.  Okay, tangent over.

So the readings for class this time gave a positive view on things communication technology and social media can be used for in terms of civics and activism.  The example of the origin of Ushahidi in Clive Thompson’s How Successful Networks Nurture Good Ideas was the absolute epitome of the title of the article/book excerpt, and I personally found it very inspiring (much like the movie Pay It Forward).  Connections through social media, all the “weak ties” Sherry Turkle talks about, are great for networking, and that’s what social networking can be used for very positively.  Relating back to the talks of the last few classes, it’s when we get wrapped up in comparing ourselves to the ideal picture of others’ profiles that we are using technology in a negative and potentially damaging way.  Back to the point –

FAILED NETWORKS KILL IDEAS. BUT SUCCESSFUL ONES TRIGGER THEM.

-Clive Thompson

Successful networks, using networks and extended networks to inspire political and social change is a FANTASTIC thing in today’s society.  Technology is a tool, and can (and should) be used as such.

Over last weekend, I went to a Christian Conference.  One of the causes/sponsors of the conference was the End It Movement, which is about ending modern-day slavery.  Normally I don’t do a whole lot of donating/begging people to donate, but the concept and the way they sold it really resonates with how social media and social networking should work in today’s society.  The idea is that if you donate $7, and get (ideally 27) friends of yours to donate $7, and they get their friends to donate $7, who in turn get their friends to donate $7, who ALSO … you get it.  The point is with everyone pitching in a little bit and using extended networks to reach more and more people who are also giving a little bit, you’ll end up with a considerable amount that will actually be able to make change in the world.

So get inspired, guys.  You CAN make a change, and social media is a great tool with which to do so.

******If you’re interested in the End It Movement, here’s a link: https://secure.enditmovement.com/******