The Power to Create

The final assignment for my Media, Culture, and Technology class was to create a digital story that chronicled my interaction with a technology of my choice. A small description of my project can be found here. By documenting how I reacted to the various books I read this semester, I came to understand how technology as a whole affects my life and discovered what makes me so addicted to technology.

I’ve been a literature lover my entire life. I read whatever I can get my hands on and I have always had a tendency to become too emotionally attached to the books I read. I laugh and cry with the characters and when I turn the last page of the book, I often look up in shock as I realize that everyone else in this world were going about their normal lives. It wasn’t until taking this class, and doing this project, that I realized how much I actually depended on these books.

Most people my age are becoming more and more dependent (some would say addicted) to more modern technologies like the internet, social media, and video games (Sura, 2012; Herzfeld, 2011; Mandell, 2007; Parker-Pope, 2010; Fader, 2013). Since I am not “addicted” to any of these things (my parents may disagree) I chose to analyze my relationship through a medium that has had a dramatic impact on my life. I started this semester with 30 required readings for my various classes.

My stack of books this semester.

My stack of books this semester.

Starting with book number 12, Dave Egger’s The Circle, I kept tabs on how I engaged with the literature. I read a wide variety of books–non-fiction, classic literature, short stories–but my reaction to all of them before this project was the same. I became so engrossed in the worlds of the books that, at times, I was actually living vicariously through the fictional characters.

Once I started to really pay attention to how I reacted to these books, however, I read less and less until eventually, I wasn’t reading at all. Before this semester, there were only two books I didn’t finish throughout my entire student career. Now, there are four books I never even started and two more books I didn’t finish. I was so afraid of immersing myself too deep in these narratives that I chose to not engage them at all. For the first time in my life, I was afraid to read. This made me nervous, negative, and overall less productive in all other areas of my life because I was forced to face the reality of the real world without any means of escape or comfort.

As Sura suggests in her Huffington Post article “Technology Addiction” (2012), it is the very notion of escaping, of separating ourselves from everyone else that causes most people to become “addicted” to technology. Although I was moody and unhappy in those few days I went without books, I did notice that I was spending much more time with people in the real world. I was enhancing real relationships rather than wishing I was friends with characters in a book. As some critics suggest, our growing dependence on technology is making our real world relationships suffer (Rheingold, 2012; Sura, 2012) and until I did this project I didn’t realize how much I was missing out on in the real world while I created worlds of my own through my books.

It was this epiphany that gave me the answer to the “what makes technology so addictive?” question. When I read a book, I can create hundreds of different worlds without ever leaving the comfort of my dorm room. Movie watchers do the same thing as they sit in the theater eating popcorn. Gamers do it when they sit on the couch and play their favorite game for hours on end. This is what makes technology so amazing–the idea that we can be whoever and wherever we want whenever we want. All of these technologies allow users to become completely immersed in worlds they help create–making technology not only addictive, but the modern drug of choice.

Works cited:

Sura (2010). “Addicted to Technology.” The Huffington Post. Web.

Herzfeld, Ronit (2011). “Unplug and Recharge: Are You Living in a Techno-Daze?” The Huffington Post. Web.

Mandell, Jonathan (2007). “Are Gadgets, and the Internet, Actually Addictive?” CNN.com. Web.

Parker-Pope, Tara (2010). “An Ugly Toll of Technology: Impatience and Forgetfulness.” The New York Times. Web.

Fader, Jonathan (2013). “Are You Addicted to Your Phone? Change Technology Addiction.” Psychology Today. Web.

Rheingold, Howard (2012). Net Smart: How to Thrive Online. Print.

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The End of the World

OK, not really. Just the end of the semester. But when I look back on everything I learned in my Media, Culture, and Technology class, it certainly does feel like the end of one kind of world. I started this class, and this semester, as an optimistic and hopeful user of media and technology. After reading many books and articles, watching countless videos, and extensively talking about technology for the past 4 months, however, I have changed into a critical and somewhat skeptical technology user; and this makes me proud.

I started to feel this change very early in the semester, and pointed it out in my post Internet Misconceptions, which I wrote after starting Curran, Fenton, and Freedman’s book. As I mention in this post, I was naive to think that the Internet was a legitimate and effective way of encouraging democracy. After reading Dave Egger’s The Circle (which I discuss here and here), I quickly learned that when in the wrong hands, technology can hinder democracy, even when it looks like it is helping it. This has made me rethink what it means to be an active participant in our society. Instead of sharing a video, liking a status, or signing an online petition, I’ve learned that the best way to make change is to turn off my computer and cell phone and get out in the world. We live in a culture that constantly encourages us to be active participants–and staring at a screen is not the way to take advantage of that.

ohsu.edu

ohsu.edu

This class has also taught me how important it is to check facts and sources before sharing or believing them. While I usually did this before this class, after conducting our CRAP detection survey, I discovered that I am in the minority of my fellow students. Some students do try to fact check the information they get, but not many of them do this at the level they should be. As Howard Rheingold suggests in his book Net Smart: How to Thrive Online, the best way to verify data is to triangulate it–verifying it through three other sources before sharing or using it. I’ve learned that this really is the best way to ensure you are using accurate and recent information.

Perhaps the most important thing this class has taught me, however, is how I interact with technology on a personal level. I’ve learned that I become engrossed in technology not because of the connections they give or the distractions they make or even because they are new and exciting. The most fascinating thing about technology, to me, are the worlds we can create when we use it. This is the issue I am taking up in my digital story, specifically with regard to books–the most important form of technology in my life. By analyzing how I engage with technology, I hope that I can become an even more intelligent and critical user of it.

As this semester draws to close, I look back and think about all I have learned in this class and I am overwhelmed. I’ve learned that technology could potentially take over democracy. That our generation is passively living in a culture that begs for active participation. That everything you read on the Internet (and anywhere else) is not always true. That technology can be used to manipulate children. And, most importantly, that technology is everywhere and we need to be careful with how we use it.

Children and Technology

For a book written in 1977, Orson Scott Card’s Ender’s Game has remained astoundingly relevant. While this wasn’t my first time reading the book (it was assigned reading my freshman year of high school) I can definitely say that the issues it raised were more clear to me reading it again seven years later.

wraltechwire.com

wraltechwire.com

Many of the issues Card touches on went right over my 14-year-old head: manipulation of children through technology, mass genocide of an entire species, the underlying tension regarding the Cold War, just to name a few. This isn’t to say that any of those ideas are relevant to today’s society, but I think one could make the argument we are approaching the first. Many studies have been conducted on the effects technology has on children, though no definitive evidence has suggested that technology is harmful to children (Plowman, McPake, and Stephen, 2008). However, it is clear that technology provides a different method of “playtime” for children. While many children, as Plowman, McPake, and Stephen suggest, combine multimedia technologies with more traditional toys, this is becoming the anomaly particularly in the U.S. I can say from personal experience that is is becoming more and more difficult to find a child who doesn’t know how to work an iPad or computer than one who doesn’t.

In Ender’s Game, children were taught military tactics and constantly manipulated through video-game like simulations that were adaptable to the mind of the child controlling them. While I am not suggesting that children are being manipulated in this way today, some of the technologies we have do adapt to the person using them. As more and more children grow up using these technologies everyday from a very young age, it is possible that concepts like the ones in Ender’s Game will become things of the present as opposed to predictions of the future.

Maybe it’s the fact that this class has taught me to be more skeptical of technology and to be more mindful of my media use, but the children of Ender’s Game are not the type of children I want to see in this world. For a book written almost 40 years ago, Ender’s Game touches on some very important ethical and technological issues that are still pertinent today, especially since Ender’s Game has long been positioned as a young adult book. Are children destined to become six-year-olds with 30-year-old minds just because they use technology? I certainly hope not.

Works Cited:

Plowman, Lydia, Joanna McPake, and Christine Stephen (2008). “The Technologization of Childhood? Young Children and Technology in the Home.” Children and Society 24. 63-74.

The Bird is the Word?

Post preface: For the next few months, Books, Birdies, and Earl Grey will be doubling as a “learning blog” for one of my media classes. Most of my blogs will stick to book discussion, but may be more scholarly in nature.

I recently had to do a group project where we discussed a current event or issue related to the media. My group decided to discuss how Twitter is not only becoming an increasingly popular news source for adults 18-29 (Kerr, 2013; “Why,” 2013), but also how more mainstream news sources (Like CNN, USA Today, and FOX news) are starting to use Twitter as a starting point for finding breaking news stories.

As this video from the Wall Street Journal shows. This is exactly what Twitter wants to accomplish–especially among young, educated, higher income people.

My group compared journalists using Twitter to get breaking news to college students using Wikipedia to start their research. One thing we found, however, was that college students never cite Wikipedia (or even admit to using it) but mainstream news sources are not afraid to claim they got their information from Twitter. While my group saw this as a problem, we were somewhat surprised to discover that not many of our classmates did. Many of them considered news sources smart to use Twitter this way because it could lead to faster and (sometimes) more reliable news because live tweets of an event could be considered eye witness accounts, as was the case with the Boston Marathon Bombings.

I was also taken aback by the demographics of people who get the majority of their news from Twitter. I had always assumed that higher income, educated people would get their news from more reputable sources (like actual newspapers or various news channels). When I discovered that this was not the case, I was surprised.This made me ask the question: Are news sources increasingly using Twitter as a starting point because more young people are looking to Twitter for news, or are young people looking to Twitter for news because that is where news sources are getting their information?

While this question cannot be answered without research and analysis, this group project certainly introduced me to the more productive ways Twitter is being used. I don’t have a Twitter, but this issue definitely made me consider getting one.

Sources:

Kerr, D. (2013). “Twitter a News Source? Not So Much.” in CNet. Retrieved from: http://www.cnet.com/news/twitter-a-news-source-not-so-much/

“Why Twitter Wants to Be your News Source,” in Wall Street Journal. Retrieved from: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SliQCwBzGNc 

Technology Over Democracy?

Post preface: For the next few months, Books, Birdies, and Earl Grey will be doubling as a “learning blog” for one of my media classes. Most of my blogs will stick to book discussion, but may look more scholarly in nature.

As I have mentioned in a couple of my previous blog posts, I recently read Dave Egger’s (2013) The Circle and it has really effected the way I interact with technology. The story takes place sometime in the (near?) future and revolves around a giant multi-media company called The Circle. The company has over 10,000 employees and prides itself on having a “campus” so perfect that none of the employees should ever have to leave. Rather than just being a place of work, The Circle becomes a place to live (they have on-site dorms), a place to eat (the commissary hosts a different famous chef every night), and even a place to play (there are sports leagues and clubs of every kind). As Mae, the main character describes, “It’s heaven” (1).

Courtest of busyteacher.wordpress.com

Courtesy of busyteacher.wordpress.com

At least, in the beginning it is. Mae soon realizes that her work and social are meant to be so completely intertwined at The Circle, that it becomes difficult to tell when she is working and when she is just having fun on social media. By the end of the novel, The Circle has instated the motto “Secrets are lies. Sharing is caring. Privacy is Theft” and has developed a program known as “Demoxie” that will essentially take over democracy by forcing everyone to participate in the voting and political process (303). In a weird turn of events (complete with a plot twist!) Mae is forced to examine the implications of this total takeover and must decide if technological advances are more important than ethics.

Clearly one of the biggest issues in this novel is whether or not a media company (or any corporation for that matter) has the right to force the democratic process on people. By requiring everyone to vote, and punishing those who don’t, democracy no longer becomes about freedom and choice. Coupled with the fact that the results are known immediately and shown to the public, private opinions give way to peer pressure and people may not be willing to voice their real opinions if they are in the minority.

That is a scary world to live in.

Despite all of the amazing technological advances and deeply rooted interconnectedness of virtually everyone on the planet, everyone is constantly being watched by hundreds (thousands?) of people at a time, including Big Brother. To make matters worse, anything that is inside The Circle’s network, which would be everything, can never be deleted. When we discussed this book in class, we talked about Foucault’s panopticon and how this idea affects behavior. If you were constantly being watched by thousands of people, would you really be acting normal or would you be on your best behavior? That is exactly what The Circle hoped to accomplish—everyone being on his or her best behavior.

Courtesy of Wikipedia

Courtesy of Wikipedia

The society depicted in The Circle is frightening, but what is even more frightening is how close ours may be to getting there. If nothing else, The Circle asks the question: Will we be able to recognize when advanced technology is going too far and will we be willing to do something about if it does?

My Life in Books

Post Preface: For the next few months, Books, Birdies, and Earl Grey will be doubling as a “learning blog” for one of my media classes. Most of my blogs will stick to book discussion, but may look more scholarly in nature.

“Morris Lessmore loved words. He loved stories. He loved books.”

These are the opening lines from William Joyce’s children’s book The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore, a tragically beautiful story about the eye opening and fulfilling life that books give us. While a book probably isn’t the first thing most people think of when someone says the word technology, they have definitely been the most influential piece of technology in my life.

While most people in my generation are becoming more and more dependent on digital technologies, in this ever-changing (and at times confusing) new world we live in, I find myself becoming more and more lost in the fictional, simple worlds created by books. Although I’m dependent on a technology that is considered somewhat out of date by today’s standards, I think my addiction is still a testament to how dependent our society has become on technology as a whole.

It is this question that I would like to address in my digital story. What is it about technology that makes it so engrossing? Or really, what is it about us that make us so dependent on technology? This dependency is bringing us dangerously close to the world of Dave Egger’s The Circle; where anything and everything we do must be documented through social media and our interactions are mediated through some kind of screen.

While the specifics of my project are not yet clear in my mind, my vision is to focus on the relationships we have with the various technologies available to us. Later in his book, Joyce says, “Sometimes Morris would become lost in a book and scarcely emerge for days.” I think this line, more than any other line in the book, defines the way we interact with the various technologies in our world, whether it be a cell phone, computer, or, in my case, a book.

Privacy, Personalization, and Predictions

Post preface: For the next few months, Books, Birdies, and Earl Grey will be doubling as a “learning blog” for one of my media classes. Most of my blogs will stick to book discussion, but may look more scholarly in nature.

As I reflect on my learning experience thus far in my Media, Culture, and Technology class, I am at the same time enlightened, riveted, and jarred by how integral technology has become in our society. From the predictions made by Asimov in the 1964 New York Times all the way to fictional futuristic societies of Spike Jonze’s Her and Dave Egger’s The Circle, the evolution of technology, and the media, is an interesting one.

At the end of his article, Asimov made the prediction that 2014 would bring about a “society of forced leisure” in which “the most glorious single word in the vocabulary will have become work!” (Asimov). When this prediction is examined, particularly with regards to The Circle, it becomes a completely feasible future. Dave Eggers’s fictional novel about a media company’s eventual takeover of the entire democratic system (along with everything else) paints a picture of a society where everything is monitored and nothing is private. The company’s motto actually becomes: “Secrets are lies. Sharing is Caring. Privacy is theft” (Eggers, 303). The employees of The Circle are forced to constantly be in tune with the goings on of the company, including the social gatherings of the over 10,000 employees. By the end of the novel, six different screens take over the main character’s desk.

While many people today, including myself, consider social networking to be a leisure activity conducted in times of boredom or procrastination, Eggers suggest that a heavy dependence on social networking can potentially become a full-time job, plus overtime. This not only suggests that Asimov’s prediction may come true but also shows that this growing dependency on technology is taking over our lives, and in the process becoming very confusing. I’m often reminded of a scene in He’s Just Not That Into You (Ken Kwapis, 2009), where Drew Barrymore tries to make sense of it all. Courtesy of Youtube.

Our deep reliance on social media also raises very important questions about privacy. Before taking this class, I felt relatively comfortable with the information I was giving away on various social media sites. Name. Date of Birth. Email address. Maybe my physical address or phone number. But then I started thinking about the fact that almost all of my online profiles are linked together through Facebook or Amazon, which are in turn linked back to Google through my email address. The idea that hacking into one of my online profiles could potentially lead to the takeover of everything was a very scary thought.

What was worse, however, was the fact that I freely gave up this information. As Freedman says in a chapter in Misunderstanding the Internet: “Google and Facebook, with their ‘instant personalization’ facilities are vast storage containers of personal information that users ‘freely’ provide” (CFF, 82). I am not being forced to hand over any of this personal information—I am giving it to these companies on my own. While this seems harmless, and for the most part it is, this data that I am willingly providing is now giving marketers the exact information they need to adequately advertise to someone like me. Rather than the generic and one-size-fits-all ads we used to get on websites, now everything is traced back to your last Google search or Amazon purchase to create a “personalized” ad. Is privacy really the price we have to pay for personalization?

This semester is only halfway over, and I have already learned so much about how our culture and society interacts with technology. I have become more wary about sharing information online, I always crosscheck sources, and I’ve tried to limit the time I spend on social media and technology. Don’t get me wrong; technology is great. But if there is one thing this class has taught me, it’s that we are all at risk of falling in love with our operating systems while Google and Facebook quietly take over democracy right under our noses. Just kidding.

Maybe.