Marketing and Coercing Involvement in Social Networks

Private Social Networking almost has an oxymoronic ring to it, even moreso when dealing with social change. Aspen Baker’s blogs on the topic were certainly the first of their kind I had read on the subject. I do believe, however, that the private online community created for Exhale by Baker and her staff serves a niche market that already has a built-in direct marketing mechanism. Thus, as fascinating as the community is, it is hard to equate with more mainstream (i.e. less private) social networks.

People get on Facebook for different reasons; keeping up with family and friends, promoting business and events, and so forth. All these reasons stem from the umbrella reason of wanting to network/have a network, a reason that Facebook and Exhale users probably share. But the users each is willing to attract is quite different. Facebook is now open to essentially anyone with an email address. There was a time, however, when only people at a certain university could create an account (viewers of The Social Network, correct me if I’m wrong). So even at its microscopic origin, the trait that brought Facebook users together was enrollment at Harvard. A difficult life choice, no doubt, but nowhere on par with the choice that men and women have to make regarding abortion. Such is why Exhale’s online community need be private, for to my knowledge the community (and Exhale on a whole) exists solely for those who have abortion experiences. Any involvement with the organization is already open to scrutiny and ridicule much more severe than the occasional nerdy joke Facebook’s initial users may have faced. This leads to the counseling hotline, what I referred to earlier as the direct marketing mechanism that Exhale has. People calling the number already have a vested interest in either learning about or sharing their own experiences with abortion; that is, they have opted in or are at least curious about what Exhale has to offer. It is then that callers can mention the online community. No such marketing mechanism occurs when there is no specific target market. Twitter, Linkedin, and the Facebook of today only require what countless millions of people already have in a functioning email address. It always amused me that LinkedIn is supposedly just for “business professionals,” as I’m sure my 7th grade sister could easily get online and create an account with professional student or freelance writer as her title. Judging from Baker’s description, it would take a lot more work for a pro-life activist to breach Exhale’s online community. Again, like the now defunct Saturn car brand, the prerequisite for joining Exhale lies beyond an email address.

When discussing the free market approach to privacy, Blumberg and Eckersley’s white paper on locational privacy brought up the opinion that the existence of coercion falsifies notions of an explicitly private company rising to power. I do not necessarily agree with this sentiment (niche or not, the success of Exhale does stand for something), but it does remind me of my older sister’s foray into Facebook. For years, her friends had asked me whether she “was online” or not. When I asked her about it, she reiterated the desire to stay away from the network. So one holiday season when she was visiting, I went ahead and created an account for her (somewhat funny side note, her account was interrogated due to our admittedly unorthodox family surname). I believe this made her feel obligated to see what all the fuss was about, thus a subtle form of passive-aggressive coercion. Some three years later, she has been hooked on Facebook ever since.

Posted in Internet, Online, Social Media | Tagged | 2 Comments

Politidigimedia in the classroom

Reading the introduction to Megan Boler’s Digital Media and Democracy and the way she was chastised by Tim Russert immediately brought to mind unearthing the past of an undergraduate instructor of mine. During spring semester 2005 at UT-Austin, I applied to the College of Communications’ Senior Fellows Honors Program, which was headed by a Journalism Professor named Robert Jensen. He was a fascinating character; a native North Dakotan male who identified as a feminist and whose political colors ran a deeper shade of blue than any Democrat in Congress (how he ended up in Texas is beyond me, but I am grateful for it). Upon further research, I learned that he had some choice words following the September 11th attacks. His editorial, published in the Houston Chronicle (yet seemingly absent from their current website), received heavy criticism, including from the President of the University. This sort of reaction was to be expected. But while perusing Facebook shortly after, I learned that Jensen’s actions had been noticed by the Young Conservatives of Texas’s “Most Dangerous Professors” list.

At the time (and probably to this day), I found this list somewhat silly. In a practical cliche, the “dangerous” professors were primarily those in liberal arts fields (to the organization’s credit, the sister list, or “Honor Roll,” also included left-leaning professors who didn’t “press” their views on students). But I figured that when choosing which classes to take, politics wouldn’t even be part of the equation. Regardless of my own feelings, however, the impact of Web 2.0 in the realm of politics was clear; it brought like-minded people together and allowed for ongoing commentary on topics of interest. In this case, students took the mainstream media’s reaction to Jensen’s “unpatriotic” viewpoints and built upon it, subtly encouraging a Jensen boycott in the form of not taking his classes. Boler would probably point out a citizen journalistic quality, as part of the lists included first-hand accounts from students of the cited professors. Jensen himself applauds the fact that the YCT raised the question of politics in the classroom, for, in his opinion, the “student body is largely depoliticized.” In that regard, I agree. But whereas the YCT group believes such discourse should be quelled, I believe that it should be shared, with students allowed to draw their own conclusions. Boler’s experience with Russert was almost exactly like an example that Jensen presented us in class, in which Tom Brokaw reported on a third world country’s (I keep thinking Nicaragua) first ever democratic election, and how good it was for the country. It turns out that the candidate not backed by the United States won, so a couple of days later, Brokaw came back on the air describing the election and its results in the exact opposite fashion that he had prior to its occurrence. By showing us such a documentary, I don’t feel that Jensen was pushing us towards a certain ideology as much as he was trying to get the class engaged on a political level. With the YCT watchlist, I have the opposite reaction. The fact that no professors from the business school are on either the watchlist or the honor roll leads me to believe that students did not even care to examine that school’s instructors.

Perhaps I’m simply biased, as I enjoyed Jensen’s class and found him as an intelligent, fair professor (this despite my own personal politics probably being in conflict with Jensen’s). In the same way that Moeller states the idealized press serving as a check to the government, active students such as those in the YCT should check on Jensen and his peers’ actions. The group’s activities represent the activism of the Web 2.0 community; it and other student groups have taken advantage of the digital realm in creating Facebook pages, discussion boards, websites, and other tools not accessible till recent times. Who am I to say that only people who share my own opinions and praise instructors I like should be the ones given a voice? Thus, in retrospect, I realize my hypocrisy of supporting open discourse yet blasting the organized opinions of concerned students. So, Young Conservatives of Texas, keep blasting Professor Jensen, if that’s what you feel is right. Maybe one day the Young Liberals of Texas will rally their troops digitally and muster up the exact opposite viewpoints on each professor, praising Jensen for his actions. Digital media has offered such options to everyone, so it is only right that people from all fronts present their views. It is only then that individuals can take a look at the differing opinions and form their own opinion of what is right.

Posted in Media, Politics, Uncategorized | 4 Comments

Professional Protection or Access for All?

Rip! A Remix Manifesto skillfully merged two of my favorite topics: 1. The music of Girl Talk (I sincerely hope the man puts out a new album soon) and 2. the issue of media control and ownership.

Two circumstances have shaped my views concerning the latter topic. First off, I grew up in the Napster age. Sharing and willfully sharing files with other willful individuals just didn’t and still doesn’t seem like a legal issue. If someone purchases an album, then he can technically do what they want with it (such is why I love media libraries; just check out a CD, burn it to your computer, and return it five minutes later. Not much different from xeroxing an Encyclopedia, no?). When neighbors borrow each others’ kitchen utensils or small appliances, does George Foreman stomp his feet in protest? His grills are certainly more expensive than most music albums, yet to my knowledge he doesn’t mind the exchange. Thus, this laissez-faire approach shaped my stance for many years.

Then I got a job. Not just any job, but one at an entertainment distribution company whose primary business responsibilities are to 1. make foreign product tasteful for the American market (dubbed/subtitled anime) and 2. distribute the finished product. Every day I see firsthand the work and effort that goes into making these products, whether it be in the recording studio, DVD authoring, translation, or a plethora of other time-consuming processes. I do not even work within the traditional distribution model; as one of the senior members of our online production team, I spend every day trying to ensure the best possible product reaches consumers… for free online consumption. Hulu, Youtube, and a plethora of other online partners (not to mention our own video portal, shameless plug) allow the public to watch our shows for free, with only a few fifteen to thirty-second ads thrown in to generate a teensy bit of ad revenue. And all the work we do doesn’t even account for everything that goes on overseas in an original production cycle. The main point: a lot of work goes into producing then offering our product with as many options as possible for fans of anime.

Yet still, for various reasons (some dealing with quality, others with cost), several people refuse to sniff the product. Instead, they translate, subtitle, and dub the same anime that we do. Whether the quality is better or worse is negligible; of interest to me is what motivates them to do this. If it were me, I would either choose to do things purely for fun, or do my research and work hard enough to parlay my passions into an enjoyable career. I don’t have issue with either of these two camps. But if someone does take a product that entity A signed over to entity B to distribute, and entity C swoops in and tries to make profit off of it, then there is something at stake. This isn’t a case of the American entrepreneur who patented an Amazonian medicinal plant, in which one entity took advantage of another that had no voice and probably shouldn’t have been patentable in the first place. Instead, this is a case of two willing entities, A and B, making a mutual agreement. As a result, I can understand why not just musicians but even the gigantic media conglomerates we have come to shun become upset when their product they “own” is “stolen” from them.

The perceived loss of profit that occurs is too speculative for validity, however. Returning back to my Napster roots, I was not downloading other peoples’ songs then going off to make and sell CDs. If one kid legally obtains an anime that we distributed and has the wherewithall to make something of his own to show his buddies and get a kick out of, I believe he has a right to do that, as there is no true monetary exchange occurring. Now, if Napster began to try to monetize for its own profit (which I believe it did near the end of its lifespan) without taking into account all the music shared on its site, then there would be a problem. At quarterly meetings I often hear our CEO praise the legal team for shutting down bootleggers at convention, selling their own DVDs off of shows that we have the rights to. As the company who signed the distribution contract, I think we have a right to do that. Such is why a thing like Creative Commons exists, and why I wish it were more popular. Granted, it better be the actual artists who figure out the licensing rather than the record labels. Perhaps that’s too idealized for 2010, but hopefully the media landscape will evolve to that point, the same way that my employer followed Hulu’s lead and evolved a free streaming module.

So what to make of Girl Talk, an artist who profits off of reinventing preexisting — and preowned — media? Even with my experience as both media consumer and employee, I can’t think of a straight answer. A coworker once stated that he helps out both the original artists and himself when a Girl Talk song plays, which I agree with. Oftentimes I will look up who Girl Talk included in the mashup then play their song which, at the very least, increases awareness of them. Now, would it have been in Girl Talk’s interest to first ask permission from the original artists, a la Weird Al Yankovic and his with-permission parodies? Probably. But, for the most part, even with the sampling, a Girl Talk song sounds like something completely new. I am a big Weird Al fan and have been since childhood. Although he does not accomplish the same things musically as Mr. Gregg Gillis has, both are fascinating musical reinventors. One could describe Weird Al as the straight parody, the “Steamboat Bill, Jr. to Steamboat Willie” type. Girl Talk is more of the “random samurai and kung fu movies to Kill Bill” variety. So if Girl Talk can continue taking other artists’ music and transforming them into something all his own– and do it with enough skill to the point that people are willing to pay money for his work — then more power to him.

Posted in Internet, Media, Online, Ownership, Politics, Technology | 6 Comments

My (D)Evolution : The Transformation of a Hyperactively Deep Student to a Deeply Hyper Individual

In an undergrad advertising class, a professor of mine enlightened the class — and, quite possibly, specifically the generation of late 80s born, 90s-mid 2000s grade schoolers — to the fact that we were simultaneously the last generation to experience the traditional learning methods of the past yet the first to experience the newer learning modules that technology brought forth. This debatable yet for the most part accurate observation permeated my mind throughout my reading of Hayles’ article and viewing of Stone’s lecture.

In elementary school, I learned cursive and typing skills side by side, the former through focused written repetition and the latter in the guise of a game environment. While the typing was learned in a game environment, it couldn’t really be considered multitasking, for “learning to type” and “helping the turtle cross home row” were accomplished doing the same task. Even before then, my predilection towards spelling and “grammar Nazism” developed through my grandma’s enforced repetition of writing each letter of the Alphabet for an entire row three times over while alternating upper and lower case, multiplied twenty-six times to account for each letter (that’s right, “XxXxXxXx…” took up just as much space as the most common letters… perhaps this indirectly led to support for equal opportunity?). So my earliest years were marked by the deep attention learning module.

At some point, however, my bunker mentality began a gradual yet drastic shift to hyper attention. As I wrote line after line after letter after letter on wide-ruled paper (thank goodness it wasn’t college-ruled) at my desk, it dawned on me that the television was in the same room, that the Mute button was fully functional, and that pressing the button triggered something called Closed Captioning. And, if I tried hard enough, I could manage to write with reasonable legibility between the lines while still catching glimpses of my beloved Animaniacs.  Thus began my descent into hyperactivity and discovery of multitasking.

Years and years passed, and my access to various types of media increased. Easily the one tool that completely changed my life in sixth grade was a Windows 95 computer that came installed with Microsoft Office. Before, my familiarity with computers had more to do with exploration of single applications at one time. Tinkering on a Macintosh my teacher aunt brought home, I would write a story and animate it in Kid Pix, barter for goods in the Oregon Trail, improve my knowledge of the world’s nations through tracking down Carmen Sandiego. But 1. each of these events was more or less leisurely, and 2. none were done simultaneously. For me, the Windows taskbar changed all that. For a history project, I could look up England on my Encarta Encyclopedia CD-Rom… while also checking my email. I could write a paragraph on the topic, then have a quick Minesweeper fix. The shift that took place from elementary to middle school only urged me deeper into the technological realm. Assignments that were once required to be written in spiral notebooks made way for the option to type homework– which in turn made way for mandatory acceptance of turned-in printouts over handwritten work. This provides a clear example of Stone’s observation of how the education system evolved from seeking multiple options (allowing both handwritten and typed homework) to ease of use (eradication of the handwritten assignments). Even now, my statistics class distributes take home tests that must be completed within Microsoft Excel, a painful endeavor for a Mac laptop (and, hence, one button touchpad) user. Funny… typing homework was once thought to be the easy way out, or for students with illegible handwriting, but now it is handwritten homework that has a lower-class stigma attached to it.

For that little boy who watched cartoons in silence while working on my ABCs, the supposed godsend of adopting the tools of technology was a curse in disguise. Rather than writing essay assignments at maximum efficiency, I would type a little here, take a nap there, then groggily try to finish an hour or so later. Either that or I’d check the latest NBA box scores. I was probably a skilled-enough writer to where the quality of work did not suffer too much. What did suffer, however, was the amount of time spent recovering with long-term sleep; my system of short naps is ineffectively in place to this day.

My efficiency no doubt dropped precipitously. How did this happen to me, someone who was once able to finish nightly math assignments in less than ten minutes, or was addicted to the local library because I finished books at such an alarming rate? At the time, I blamed it on a traumatic move across the highway, away from friends and comfort. This certainly still has a lot of validity in explaining an unmotivated teenager, but has no bearing on my transformation to a hyper-attentive individual. Throughout college, on the surface this hyper-attentive activity manifested itself in a double-major, business minor, enrollment in the honors program, and multiple internships (for and not for credit), by no means a bad thing. But this is on the macro level; microscopically, I still had the same problems trying to reawaken the efficient deep attention of my youth. Perhaps this is why I found it a necessity to study Radio-TV-Film and Advertising, two fields where I have genuine interest in; the few times that I have been able to summon my long dormant, deep attentive concentration, it has been on papers and projects for which my interest in the subject matter does not waver. By no means do I regret my undergraduate studies, nor do I regret the events that caused this transformation to the hyper-attentive person I am today. But I do acknowledge that had certain events not occurred, I might have developed into a very different individual.

Today, I am almost entirely hyper-attentive in all arenas of life. I take the grocery ads to restaurants when I eat and read them while txting and chewing. Even while completing this blog post of utmost interest, I 1. microwaved and ate a Hot Pocket (note: in no way do I endorse Hot Pockets as a means of sustenance), 2. constantly updated the election polls, 3. checked all four email accounts, 4. began watching an archived NBA game from last week, and 5. took care of all necessary bedtime bathroom functions, save for showering. And, even though Hayles brought up video games later on, the move towards a hyper-attentive individuality has absolutely ruined me as a gamer. In the same way I cannot read fiction novels or watch a TV show unless I think it will benefit my life (which, somehow, I feel Mad Men does), I cannot even devote myself to playing video games, as they would require full concentration on my part. Sometimes, I really feel that hyper attention has screwed up both my academic and leisurely endeavaors.

But perhaps a return to the deep is in store. In my personal experience, Hayles has it right when she highlights studies describing that “it is more time-efficient to do several tasks sequentially than attempt to do them simultaneously” (Hayles 189). I experienced quite the revelation at work this week, when I decided to concentrate on creating screenshots for a show all at once rather than alternating between screenshots and encoding video. My coworker thanked me for the prompt completion of the project. Knowing that at least one of the tasks was complete, and that its completion was acknowledged/appreciated by a peer, made me nostalgic for those days of single information streams. So for anyone who has made it through this 1200+ word blog post, remind me of this paragraph, and of my youth, of that period in life when I was not deeply hyper, but hyperactively deep. Maybe then will concentration finally take back the mantle from concurrence.

Posted in Internet, Media, Technology | 4 Comments

Teenage Wikipedia Wasteland: A Study in Online Collectivism

Several years ago, I met the younger brother of one of my better friends. He had a number of interesting quirks about him, the most fascinating being that he was an editor of Wikipedia. At the time, Wikipedia was relatively new, so I thought nothing of the fact that it was not necessarily reliable and everything of the fact that someone I knew actually edited content on this useful website. I know a Wikipedia editor?! Wow!

…He was fifteen years old. And, in a virtual feud he had defending his editing against a moderator, it definitely showed.

This perceived lack of editorial competency (whether or not this person was “competent” is discussed below) is one of many issues that Wikipedia-penned film director Jaron Lanier cites regarding Online Collectivism. Using my friend’s brother– for the sake of this blog, we’ll call him “Dave” –as a subject, I thought it’d be interesting to compare Lanier’s criticisms of the Wiki/online collectivist format in “Digital Maoism”with Dave’s involvement editing (and, to my knowledge, creating) our Westwood High School’s Wikipedia entry.

“No, the problem is in the way the Wikipedia has come to be regarded and used; how it’s been elevated to such importance so quickly. And that is part of the larger pattern of the appeal of a new online collectivism that is nothing less than a resurgence of the idea that the collective is all-wise, that it is desirable to have influence concentrated in a bottleneck that can channel the collective with the most verity and force.” – Jaron Lanier

This probably applies less to Dave and more to myself. I was guilty of immediately placing Dave on a pedestal after I found out that he could edit and thus affect the perception that millions of people have regarding our high school. I am unsure how many other people edited Westwood’s entry, so cannot say whether or to what extent the entry was a collective effort. But in reading about a school that I attended and know extremely well, I felt that Dave was very accurate.

“”Kinetic isotope effect” or “Vesalius, Andreas” are examples of topics that make the Britannica hard to maintain, because it takes work to find the right authors to research and review a multitude of diverse topics. But they are perfect for the Wikipedia. There is little controversy around these items, plus the Net provides ready access to a reasonably small number of competent specialist graduate student types possessing the manic motivation of youth.” – Lanier

Westwood High is arguably a topic that does require the right authorship and research, as it is a specific, active institution of learning. And what better author to detail it to the rest of the world than one of its own? If there’s anything that Dave had (and probably still has) in abundance, it is youthful vigor and enthusiasm.

In all these cases, it seems to me that empirical evidence has yielded mixed results. Sometimes loosely structured collective activities yield continuous improvements and sometimes they don’t… Accuracy in a text is not enough. A desirable text is more than a collection of accurate references. It is also an expression of personality… When you see the context in which something was written and you know who the author was beyond just a name, you learn so much more than when you find the same text placed in the anonymous, faux-authoritative, anti-contextual brew of the Wikipedia.” – Lanier

This is a gray area for Dave, as he wrote about Westwood on Wikipedia for that specific purpose. However, one of the topics he elaborated on (in fact, the one that got him in trouble with moderators) was that of Westwood’s International Baccalaureate (i.e. IB) program, a feeder program that in theory attracts highly motivated, academic students… to stereotype, students who care about grades. A lot. Dave described the adverse effect that the IB program had on non-IB students whose GPAs were not kept separate from their IB-enrolled peers, and he did so in critical fashion. The term I remember Dave utilizing was “the thorn in Westwood’s side.” I suppose this was a case of the communal moderation succeeding, as Dave’s somewhat biased description of IB disappeared within the week. Now, had Dave created a website discussing what the IB program means to Westwood, or had posted his thoughts to a message board rather than a Wikipedia entry, then chances are it would have carried more weight; on Wikipedia, he simply came across as a bitter student whose class rank suffered thanks to the IB program.

Posted in Internet, Online | 3 Comments

Media rights: Of Invaluable Importance or an Insignificant Illusion?

It’s very difficult to remember what life was like before the internet made media more accessible to everyone. At least that’s how I felt before I viewed “Steal This Film II”; according to the documentary, the same problems and issues of ownership have been around for centuries.

There has always existed an enforced (though not necessarily accepted) rule of who controls a society’s flow of information. How such power is derived may be a point of contention. The documentary draws an amusing comparison in a “rabbit salesman” sketch; a dapper fellow catches wild rabbits and sells them for profit, much to the chagrin of a pet-perusing mother and daughter. Does ownership of a commodity or governance of a society simply come down to whoever is most entrepreneurial, whoever is clever enough to draft up a piece of paper as proof? The documentary details the advent of the printing press in this regard, and how European governments worked to eradicate any writings dissenting of their own viewpoints. Problems arose when citizens’ actions or thoughts disagreed with those in power: according to attorney Fred von Lohmann, the mainstream solution was to “chop off the heads of a few villagers and mount those heads on pikes as a warning to everyone.” Today’s leaders thankfully refrain from physical violence, but they still make it a point to make examples out of the most serious offenders, putting bootleggers and Napster users in jail for exorbitant amounts of damage. But according to historian Elizabeth Eisenstein, while “printing [became] associated with rebellion and emancipation” in Europe centuries ago, file sharing now takes the torch of underground empowerment.. Likewise, just as French revolutionaries fled to other countries to spread their repressed gospel, today it is only a matter of time before Kazaa becomes the next Napster, Limewire becomes the next Kazaa, and so forth. In the words of Princeton’s Bob Darnton, “New media adapt themselves to… circumstances, and often… become more effective because of the repression.” Wise words indeed… but there’s a touch of sad humor to it. Whereas prior events dealt with more sweeping issues of democracy and free thinking (social/religious revolutions, the Enlightenment, etc), in modern America the most important c0ntent is that which can be sold for profit. So while there exists a smaller scale collapse of institutions, the most visible pirated products today– music, movies, software– typically lack deeper substance and are simply forms of entertainment. As I write this, one of the last-standing, better-known vestiges of the original file-sharing phenomenon has been shut down by a music industry hard up for compensation. It’s an intriguing commentary on the values of American society when forms of entertainment become the most important pieces of intellectual property.

So what to make of all the red tape and legality? Is it necessary for content to be controlled, or does it work best when it operates freely? As someone who attended grade school when Napster first made waves (thank you, saavy older sibling) but who now works at an entertainment company constantly working to protect its distribution rights, I can sympathize with both sides. Sometimes the radio station won’t play that amazing B-side (do those still exist?), or the thousands of cable channels will overlook that silent cinema gem. And when something is so easy to do, it certainly doesn’t seem like it’s illegal. Likewise, a lot of time and effort went into the recording studio and film shoots, the overall production of the content. In my employer’s case, multiple entities work on a finished anime product, and each one must be accounted for for the business to function properly. The coexistence with pirates isn’t necessarily a bad thing; when the underground anime industry starts offering more for free/at a lower cost, the actual companies must improve their product. And when the companies accomplish this and consumers are convinced, the underground industry should follow suit with an improved product of their own. Granted, this may be an idealized view of how things work; more often than not, as businesses will point to the “legal vs. illegal” argument while pirates tout the appeal of a “free” module. But it gives credence to Darnton’s comment on the evolution of new media in the face of repression, the difference being that competition replaces repression. If anything, the existence and enforcement of media rights ensures that consumers have the opportunity to get a product that best suits their needs (taking into consideration cost vs. quality). It is up to the consumer to decide whether or not the risk of penalization outweighs or is outweighed by the reward of a freely distributed product.

Posted in Internet, Media, Ownership, Politics | 1 Comment

Online Politics, the Networked Individual, and Peter, Paul and Mary

I have recently experienced a surge of political junkie-ness. Part of this may be due to November elections coming up (though, in Texas, the outcome is rarely in doubt). Part of this may be due to living on my own, having a job, needing to worry about taxes and insurance… basically “growing up.” Or maybe Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert make politics that accessible and easy to digest for previously unaware people such as myself.

By far the greatest factor, however, has been the advent of the internet. I do not have cable, yet even when I did the worldwide web provided me with my most consistent news source. In the times that I am not actively seeking information, Yahoo! or Google’s blurbs inform me of current events that might be of interest (though a question does arise as to who determines which information is most important). Likewise, it is easy to search for any information about one’s favorite topics and politicians, and also gives the ability to choose one’s news source. Being the nostalgia hawk I am, some of the content I have does tend to be from the past, which I can do with ease thanks to both official and unofficial archiving of news stories. **Not to turn this post into one throwing about my own political leanings, but some of my favorite youtube videos deal with FOX News constantly trying to insult and discredit Congressman Ron Paul during his 2008 presidential run, yet failing miserably.** Television lets you choose the source but not the content. And not only can I read these articles and comment on them (which I admittedly haven’t done yet), but I can read other people’s reactions as well. The ease of both passively and actively seeking political information as well as the potential for educated discourse is the greatest draw of the internet as a news source and is what Manuel Castells refers to as networked individualism, “the synthesis between the affirmation of an individual-centered culture, and the need and desire for sharing and co-experiencing” (Castells, 223). As weird and sad as it may sound, I am developing as a political individual not only through the actions I take in real life, but also through my actions on the internet.

Of course, such integration into the online network comes at a price, especially as it is a network so closely tied to all media. Galloway and Thacker state that, “The role that communications and information networks have played in international terrorism and the ‘war on terror’ has meant that media have now become a core component of war and political conflict” (9). This is a for better or for worse situation that has swayed depending on the situation. Surely the images shown on television and photographs taken during the Vietnam War helped to bring about the eventual withdrawal of soldiers. Chances are that similar images and stories are influencing public sentiment in our current conflict as well. But at the same time, for a group or individual with cruel intentions to better map out their strategy, they only need look to the internet, where archives of media both past and present are waiting to be unearthed. Granted, one would hope that it is a lot harder to be globally malicious than simply looking things up online the same way that grade school students do for research papers (that said, the realm of online predators is eerily thriving). In any case, networks such as the internet guarantee that the communication and information flow is available, often for anyone and everyone, to access.

Is there a solution to such a problem? For this generation, I think that the problem is not that there is too much access, but that the people in power often do not care to utilize networks that are foreign to them. Not surprising, considering most of the policymakers in this country are well past the “internet-friendly” stage of life. Maybe this is what makes/made politicians such as Barack Obama and Ron Paul so appealing to internet-saavy individuals; not only did they have strong traditional campaigns, but they and their supporters successfully harnessed the communication and information network that something like the internet offered them. So in time, the problem can shift to who the bad people are accessing media online. But for now, the one of current politicians not knowing how to best spread their message and excite their constituency is what I would think is more pressing. Say what you want concering, Obama, Paul, or even Stewart/Colbert and the Tea Party’s minions, but the politicians and movements that are well situated within the network of the internet have brought passion back into politics. Just my humble opinion.

On a different note, referring back to Castells’ comment on networked individualism (but mainly to my own recurring motif of nostalgia), it’s hard to find Peter, Paul, and Mary fans among my peers. Maybe people just don’t care for the good ol’ politically infused yet Billboard-friendly folk song these days. Luckily, there’s a whole network of other fans that five years ago I might not have realized existed thanks to a site such as Youtube. Thanks to other networked individuals uploading videos such as this one from the Civil Rights March, I can enjoy the songs both for musicality and for the social impact they may have helped bring about. It brings a whole new dimension to the music when, with my less-than-basic musicianship, I cover such songs. Political junkie-ness never sounded so good.

Posted in Internet, Online, Politics | 3 Comments