Retrospection

December 4, 2011 Leave a comment

It’s been a fun ride, but the semester is finally winding down. For the last four months we’ve been discussing Web 2.0, the tools associated with it, and some of its pros and cons. It has been interesting, to say the least, to discuss the Internet within the framework of a classroom, mostly because discussion of the Internet never stays simply as a discussion of the Internet. At this point, the Web permeates almost all aspects of our lives, and to try and separate the Internet from issues like morality, politics, the law, or relationships is nearly impossible. The tools and technologies and their implications that we have discussed over the course of the semester have made this point abundantly clear.

While there were definitely a few Internet technologies we discussed that I had never heard of before, for the most part I had at least a little prior knowledge about the main tools. It’s hard not to know anything about Twitter or Facebook or YouTube. But then again, learning to use those social networking tools in a different or new manner completely changed the way I thought about them. Prior to this class, I had already had a Twitter account that I used quite sparingly, mostly to just follow the news. I still think it’s dumb to tweet about what you ate for breakfast, but I understand the appeal and the rationale behind tweets of that sort. To be part of the community, one has to interact with the community, and Twitter makes the opportunity to interact about as easy as it can possibly be – while tweeting about breakfast is dumb and mundane and kind of egotistic, it is still an interaction, and with the enormous amount of people in the Twitter community, somebody might respond back. Or by following a certain group of people that discusses the same ideas, you can choose to jump into the conversation with an @reply – a discourse one might never have had the opportunity to entertain before. So count me as a Twitter convert. I still don’t tweet nearly as much as I probably should, but I do use the service more than I did previously, and enjoy some aspects of Twitter that I had never really thought about before.

Twitter was easily the tool I got the most out of this semester, some of the other tools I didn’t find quite as appealing or interesting. I never really took advantage of delicious. My brother is a huge fan of delicious and social bookmarking and has tried a countless number of times to get me to use the service, and I should have used this class as an opportunity to become familiar with it. I didn’t. I also still use YouTube in pretty much exactly the same way I used it before – to watch funny videos. However, lately I have had the urge to start creating my own videos and uploading them to the website, which for some reason is something I had never considered before discussing YouTube in this class.


Previously mentioned funny video

This class was a great opportunity to discuss the Internet in a social setting. While the Web 2.0 is based on user generated content and sharing that content, sitting in front of a computer, or reading info off a cell phone can be a relatively solitary activity. To have the opportunity to discuss what we know or think about the Internet, how we use the Internet, or have an opportunity to experiment with different tools in a new, but safe and insulated manner was refreshing and a chance to explore arguably one of the most important aspects of modern life.

Web 2.0 tools

November 14, 2011 Leave a comment

At this point, it is pretty much impossible to avoid using the “Web 2.0.” Web 2.0 is the Internet as we know it today. The tools that define Web 2.0 in terms of allowing the user to consume, create, and share are ubiquitous. Facebook “like” icons have invaded nearly every website. If you can’t find that icon it’s sitting right next to the share on Twitter button. Or the Digg icon. Or the StumbleUpon icon. Or the YouTube icon.  Or the Google “+1” button. You get the idea. The tools that we have discussed and talked about in English 3372 permeate the entirety of the Internet. Unless you’re still traversing cached Geocities and Anglefire pages, the icons are most likely there, but at this point your eyes probably glaze over them out of numb familiarity.

As ugly as these icons can be, you can’t discount their importance. These icons, and the tools they represent have essentially connected websites, and people in ways never seen before ie. Web 2.0.

The two main Web 2.0 tools we have used this semester in English 3372 have been WordPress and Twitter.

Let’s start with WordPress. WordPress is this host for this website. Yep, this one – see the wordpress.com before the blog name in the URL address? Yeah. My experiences using WordPress have been interesting. This isn’t my first blog, but just because I was aware of some of the pitfalls in blogging does not mean I was able to successfully avoid them this time around. The idea that “anyone can blog” isn’t totally true. Anyone has the opportunity to blog, using websites like WordPress, but blogging is not nearly as easy as many people assume. Blogging takes time, energy, and a good amount of forethought. Once you start a blog it seems like all the ideas for interesting things to say kind of dry up or don’t sound quite as interesting anymore. Self-censorship can be a bitch.

But that doesn’t mean I haven’t enjoyed using WordPress. While I probably prefer Tumblr for its simpler user experience, writing this blog has been interesting and at times rewarding. I haven’t fully utilized the ability to comment and follow my fellow classmates – which is another integral part of blogging that is often overlooked. Commenting on someone else’s blog requires a little bit of courage – you may be directly attacking someone’s opinion and your name and avatar is directly attached to it. You better be able to back up what your saying. This part I think also gets overlooked because it seems so simple, making it easy to forget about or put off… indefinitely.

Now on to Twitter. I had been using Twitter since before taking English 3372, but this class has given me a new perspective on the microblogging website. Where else could I see Ashton Kutcher acting like a complete F@#$ing buffoon in real time. Actually that’s a lie, I don’t follow Ashton Kutcher, but it was hard not to hear about what had happened because of Twitter (Trending Topics). But I do have a new respect for the social networking site. I still have a hard time posting useless information about myself or random thoughts I might have, but I have found that the self-censoring moods that have stopped these tweets has receded slightly this semester. It’s difficult when all I can think about before tweeting is this comic from The Oatmeal. It is still a work in progress but I’m trying.

These tools are just 2 of what English 3372 has deemed Web 2.0 tools, though they are especially integral to some of the ideas we have defined as central to the Web 2.0 experience, namely the ability to create, consume, and share content.

Endnote: If that comic from The Oatmeal wasn’t enough to satiate your hunger for Internet humor I present you with one more, also courtesy of The Oatmeal. Thank you Internet for providing a forum where tweets like this rise to the top. Link possibly NSFW – and possibly not funny depending on your sensitivity levels. I laughed.

Literacy and Technology Linked

November 7, 2011 Leave a comment

In Chapter 1 of the book “Technology and Literacy in the Twenty-First Century: The Importance of Paying Attention” Cynthia L. Selfe discusses the future of education, the importance for technological literacy, and the pitfalls associated with a major revamping of the education system, most notably Clinton’s “Technology Literacy Challenge.”

This discussion of technological literacy raises some important questions, but I think also misses the mark on some of her predictions regarding the subject, in that I don’t think she could have predicted how integral computers have become to everyday life.

Selfe’s discussion has two major foci. The first focus being the disparity an initiative like the Technology Literacy Challenge can create and widen between the lower and upper classes. The second focus being the socially created guidelines for what constitutes technological literacy.

I’m going to start with the second focus, which will hopefully lead me into a discussion of the first.

I think the fatal flaw in Selfe’s discussion of technological literacy is that she wasn’t able to predict just how exponentially fast computer usage would grow. She defines technological literacy as

“the linking of technology and literacy at fundamental levels of both coneption and social practice. In this context, technological literacy refers to social and cultural contexts for discourse and communication, as well as the social and linguistic products and pratices of communication and the ways in which electronic communication environments have become essential parts of our cultural understanding of what it means to be literate.”

How could she have known that in just over ten years, computers would be able to fit in a pocket, and Facebook would be a ubiquitous form of communication that nearly all of the country’s population has had some contact with, if not daily usage of? Not only have computers become easier to use with the newest operating systems (I’m looking at you Mac OS X), they have become easier to use  constantly (smartphones), and cheaper. The level of education required to operate computers has declined drastically in the last ten years. Communication and discourse with the use of computer technology has become an integral part of the fabric of today’s society.

VS.

However, that leads us to Selfe’s first focus, the social disparity created by a government mandated program of technological education, which has not been alleviated by the proliferation of computers and a general increase in society’s technological literacy. Selfe describes how this education system will continue to create the following recognizable social structures: “a literate segment of society, an illiterate segment of society, and a stable citizenry that continues to be sorted hierarchically into social subgroups.” The proliferation of technology has done nothing to change the social order of our country.

One of the passages from the article really stood out.

“According to its sponsors, this this large scale literacy project will offer all Americans equal access to an education rich in opportunities to use and learn about technology. With such an education, project sponsors claim, graduates will be qualified for high paying high tech jobs and thus have the means of achieving upward social mobility and economic prosperity within our increasingly technological culture.”

I read this and I think of computer science majors, people that will develop the technology for the future, people creating the next Facebook, the next big website, the next big iPhone game, etc. In reality, when this quote talks about “high-tech” jobs, they are probably referring to the any job that requires the use of a computer. If everyone now has a basic knowledge of how to use computers, social gaps will continue to stay the same, if not widen because the upper class has access to better education and better computers.

“On a pragmatic level, definitions of literacy serve as triggers, or requirements, for other socially determined systems of support.” I don’t think this could have been stated any better. There are underlying “socially determined systems of support” that determine what constitutes technological literacy – sometimes these definitions are good, sometimes they may inadvertantly discriminate against social classes and racial groups. Unless something can be done at this level of the problem – the foundational disparities in opportunity – creating a new system that can provide equal access and opportunities to all, no standard level of technological literacy will serve to give all citizens access to success.

The proliferation of computers has increased the base level of technological literacy in computers, something Selfe probably did not anticipate. However, the definitions of what constitutes technological literacy and how to attain certain benchmarks for what it means to be technologically literate, are still based upon a system that discriminates against the lower social classes. Anyone with access to the Internet has probably dabbled with Facebook or Twitter increasing their technological literacy, but if everyone is making the gains at the same time, it is as if we’re just racing with the caution flag out.

Wikipedia

October 31, 2011 Leave a comment

My first time contributing to Wikipedia was an interesting experience. After hearing some of my classmates horror stories I was expecting a long and drawn out process that probably wasn’t worth the trouble. But luckily I did not encounter any of the problems some of my classmates encountered in trying to have their articles posted.. My article on the Seattle Studs isn’t necessarily the most important topic in the world, but it does fit into a larger category of “summer baseball college wood bat teams” that does have a pretty large presence on Wikipedia. I didn’t have a ton of third party references but I was able to link to other articles on wikipedia that gave my article context and I think bolstered its credibility and importance (in terms of whether the information was relevant and worth keeping in the wiki). The Studs have a storied history that dates back more than 50 years, so there was quite a bit of information and tradition to work with and I was able to post some of the Studs’ accomplishments in national and international tournaments.

My first experience writing for Wikipedia has left me wanting more, as now I have a much better understanding of how the website actually works (and some of the arbitrariness in terms of what articles are posted and which are not) and how easy it is to contribute. I’ve always known that Wikipedia isn’t necessarily the most trustworthy source, but know I better understand the reasons that the site can be a very good jumping off point in terms of research, rather than just quick fact checking. I’ve seen some of the trouble my classmates have had getting their articles by the moderators, so I know that not just any random article and writing is guaranteed to have a place in the online encyclopedia. Now I’m also aware of the relatively strict guidelines for sources and formatting. However, the ease with which my article was posted kind of confuses me. I didn’t think it would get posted on my first submission, but it was. And this kind of highlighted some of the subjectivity in the moderator’s opinions in what qualifies as relevant information and what does not.

At the end of the day, this experience has also made contributing to Wikipedia a little less intimidating. I remember the days in high school when Wikipedia first started and usernames weren’t yet required and I would click on random articles and insert “penis” randomly. (Yes, I was a very mature 16 year old). Those days are long gone. Now usernames are required to edit and submit, and moderators closely follow changes to the major pages, with users often being banned for continually posting opinionated and skewed information, most often on political and religious pages (or the Nickelback band page which might draw as much fervor as the other two topics). At the same time, I never actually thought about contributing meaningfully to the online encyclopedia. I use the website multiple times a day to look up random information, but for some reason adding to it never crossed my mind. Sometimes it can be difficult to make the plunge into an unfamiliar online community, but I found contributing to Wikipedia to be a painless process that has given me newfound faith in the random articles I read daily and the knowledge to contribute again in the future.

Sidenote: I still would never dream of using Wikipedia as a source for a paper or something important, but it is a great way to quickly end drunken arguments and get the basics for some difficult topics or histories.

Shirky and Bush – Changing Technology and Institutions

October 16, 2011 Leave a comment

“Everyone is a Media Outlet” (Shirky Ch. 3) and Bush’s “As We May Think” may have been written over 60 years apart, but they touch on many of the same themes and ideas regarding technological innovation. Whereas Bush was writing in 1945 and focused on predicting what he saw as probable innovations, Shirky discusses the actual implications of the new technologies that have been developed (many of which Bush predicts/alludes to) in the last two decades.

I am thoroughly enjoying Shirky’s perspective and insights on Web 2.0 and its implications on society. His comparison of the printing press to the Internet as tools that have broken down professional barriers was enlightening because I have never thought about it that way before. The direct effects was increased literacy, the indirect effect was the erosion of professional barriers that depended on the illiteracy of the masses. The Internet it working in much the same way in terms of breaking down these professional barriers, and not always in a good way. Shirky discusses the “mass amateurization” of certain professions, especially journalism, and the impact on laws governing certain journalistic protections.

What bothers me about this phenomenon is that it gives an infinite amount of bloggers a sort of legitimacy because they have been “published.” Some bloggers deserve respect and a legitimate label, but the majority of bloggers do not. I understand that in the end it comes down to the user to decide what they want to read and what they find legitimate and Web 2.0 give the users the ability to choose what is important and blah blah blah blah blah. I’m not saying the media should be controlled by a few major news corporations, but the threat of a tsunami of noise overwhelming a news reader is just as large a threat in terms of determining important information. I know we fall somewhere in the middle, but it greatly reminds me of the Orwell/Huxley “debate.” In this case I’m not trying to say that the government is trying to control us or anything like that, I’m not that much of a conspiracy theorist, but that there are social implications to each extreme (too few sources vs too many sources). Legitimacy is important and the proliferation of Web 2.0 ideas is going to force society to figure out a way to determine legitimacy. This process is already taking place in terms of user filtering, but there is a major difference between what people want to hear, and what people need to hear (ie. Truth – if there is even such a thing).

There’s so many variables that go into this sort of discussion and situation it would be impossible to talk about it all in one blog post, but the implications of the ideas posed in Shirky’s book are huge and far reaching.

Sort of sidenote: while reading Shirky’s article discussing journalistic legitimacy I could not help thinking of Bill Simmons aka the Boston Sports Guy aka the Sports Guy aka the LA Sellout Guy? – a former independent blogger during the 90’s that gained a cult following for his regular sports fan persona. He was eventually hired by ESPN and is now their highest paid writer. He has completely transformed sports writing over the last 20 years. Does this make him a legitimate journalist? I don’t really know. His writing isn’t anything special, especially as his “sports fan” style has become commonplace across most sports blogs, but now he has the backing of a multibillion dollar corporation and millions of people read his articles. Kind of an interesting situation.

The article by Bush reminds me of a contemporary futurist, Ray Kurzweil who has gained some modicum of fame (or infamy) for his beliefs that Artifical Intelligence will be created within the next 15 years, and human immortality will become a reality soon after (and his regimen of 200 pills daily and the idea to clone his dead father). Kurzweil is a genius – he has created some amazing technologies including a text to speech synthesizer (which Bush also mentioned) and started a very successful business. However, the article by Bush highlights just how difficult it is to predict the future. It is easy in hindsight to recognize some of the technologies hypothesized as versions of machines we actually have today, but most of the creations hypothesized aren’t actually accurate. The ideas are similar, but the implementation is completely different. Technology was growing at a much slower pace in the 1940’s, so it is hard to believe any modern predictions of the future will be able to grasp the exponential growth of modern technology to accurately predict the future in a more accurate or precise way than Bush did in the 1940’s.

 

A Rape in Cyberspace, and a look at the Inner Workings of the World Wide Web

October 9, 2011 Leave a comment

The two articles looked at today are interesting for very interesting reasons. Dibbell’s Rape in Cyberspace examines some of the ethical and governing issues revolving around online communities, and Berner-Lee’s article The World Wide Web discusses the Web in terms of the necessary coding and structures, which reveal just how far the Web has come since it’s inception.

I though a Rape in Cyberspace was the much more interesting of the two articles, and not only because I kept picturing Mr. Bungle as looking like the clown from It. 

This situation forced the community of LamdaMOO to seriously contemplate what it means to be part of an online community, the necessary (or unnecessary) governing bodies, and the difference between virtual crimes and real world crimes.

As I have never played a MMORPG or been a part of an active community like LamdaMOO or Second Life, I cannot honestly make a judgment on the emotional effects of a situation like this. However, from the outside looking in I can give my opinion of the situation. The article does a good job of dividing the ideas of the “real world” from the “virtual world” and the grey area between the two, but I think in this discussion Dibbell fails to note that in the “virtual world” there is a limitless amount of space. The user is not limited to their physical realm, so there is always the possibility of movement that is not possible in the real world. Because of this he creates a sort of false dichotomy comparing the real world to the virtual world. The only options in this situation for the users aren’t only the real world or the virtual world. There are an infinite number of virtual worlds for the user to take part in. I understand they may have an attachment to this certain world of LamdaMOO, but at the end of the day they can leave that situation in a way that might not be possible in the real world. I think this changes some of the dynamics of governance and regulations over worlds like LamdaMOO.

But this isn’t to downplay the importance of the “crime” committed. Mr. Bungle did emotionally traumatize (I’m trying really hard to empathize with this situation even though I do see it as kind of ridiculous), and there should be some form of punishment. I don’t deny that.

I thought this was the most interesting part of the article – the users coming together to try and form some sort of government to regulate user’s actions in the community, and the discourse that took place.

For the Bungle Affair raises question that — here on the brink of a future in which human life might find itself as tightly enveloped in digital environments as it is today in the architectural kind — demand a clear eyed, sober, and unmystified consideration.”
The Internet is amazing in that it allows users to come together and discuss in ways never before possible, and as we move forward, these are the sorts of questions that need to be answered. The Internet has changed dramatically even since the days of this article, and as it becomes more closely enmeshed with out real world lives, what sort of actions online are to be deemed illegal? Only actions that have real world consequences? Or actions that to real world consequences? Then who’s job is it to judge what may or may not constituted an inflammatory action. When children are killing themselves because of cyber-bullying, something obviously needs to be done. But where do we draw the line? Only after someone kills themselves? Seems a little late to me. But at the same time I don’t think any of of the freedom of the Internet should be infringed upon because I think it would do more harm than good in the long term regarding discourse on the Internet. Sometimes trolls are needed. But this blurring of the two worlds requires some serious thought as we move into a future that is going to be even more closely interwoven with the Internet.

The second article, The World Wide Web is interesting because it give the reader a look into just how far we have actually come since the Internet was created. What was originally meant to be an interoffice communication tool has spread across the world and is now spreading information everywhere and to everyone with a connection. Being a child of the Internet age, it is hard to imagine a world without the Internet.
One of the greatest products and catalysts of the Internet was the invention of websites like blogger.com, that allowed the user to create and share information without knowing how to code, ushering in Web 2.0. This article explains the structure of the Internet in terms of the required coding and protocols that were essential to the Web 1.0 and its users – I use the Internet probably more than the average user and I know very little about coding and this does not hamper my usage in any noticeable way. It may enrich my experience, but living in this ignorance doesn’t really affect me in any way that I notice.

The actual structure of the World Wide Web is becoming less important to the average user as designers have made websites much more user friendly and less dependent on knowledge of coding.

Categories: English 3372

Shirky, “It Takes a Village to Find a Phone”

October 2, 2011 Leave a comment

The story of the stolen/lost Sidekick is amazing. We could sit here and argue the moral merits of this situation all day (personally I just find it kind of ridiculous Evan went to such great lengths) but it is a good example of harnessing the power of social networking to affect real world results. It was one specific situation that was resolved through the use of the Web in a way that would not have been possible even five years before.

kind of funny to think this whole thing was over one of these

Through the power of the Internet, one guy was able to get thousands to support his cause and eventually pressure the NYPD into investingating a lost cell phone! That’s unbelievable (for an assortment of reasons). Shirky argues that this was possible because the Internet has made “forming groups” much easier and Evan made a “plausible promise.” This is just one highly visible example of a phenomena taking place all over the world today; namely, traditional institutions and norms are being challenged by these new, easily formed, and sometimes highly visible groups; this takes the form of everything from Evan looking for a cell phone to the Arab Spring and Occupy Wall Street. He argues that this isn’t going to take away the institutional advantages of traditional corporate hierarchies, but it is taking away their “relative advantages.”

One thing that stood out about this article is just how quickly things are changing. Evan was searching for a Sidekick, and used Myspace, a personal blog, and gained notoriety through Digg. It is only five years later and Sidekicks are obsolete, Myspace is effectively dead, and ever since Digg went to Version 4 it has essentially become Reddit’s runoff. Shirky mentions how Evan’s situation would not have been possible five years before, well five years after, the same situation might take a very different form. I could see something like this being much more streamlined and crowdsourced through one very simple Reddit post explaining the situation. Not only that, but many phones now have anti-theft protection so the phone would have been easily locatable and the situation may never have reached the point where Sasha got arrested.

I have been reading the first chapter of “Wikinomics,” and it touches on many of the same topics; ie. crowdsourcing, deconstruction of hierarchies and traditional power structures, and transparency (as in the case of the NYPD), etc. However, I’m glad Shirky mentions that Web 2.0 is not going to usher in “some posthierarchical paradise” as many thought in the early days of Web 2.0. Corporations and hierarchies are not going away, they are going to adapt to this new world just like individuals. I think one of the goals should just be to usher in a new age of transparency to restore trust in traditional institutions such as government and businesses.

Evan getting a PR job after this fiasco reminds me of the Google guy, but this guy is way smarter and savvier.

Categories: Class Only, English 3372 Tags: ,