Monthly Archives: October 2020

Digital Flux: Just Nice?

While reading Spilka (2010), I was once again able to read through how digital technology developed and in what ways it affected the job market. This compact content is very useful for me to understand the crucial historical part of the digital technology and to see the changes brought to our work from a wider point of view. As Spilka (2010) mentions, due to the development of digital technology, the skills and titles for the job as technical communicator have changed: writer, editor, illustrator (p.22), spelling/grammar checker (p.47), or information developer (p.26); also in my perspective, user-centered researcher. On top of this, “[N]ot only did the volume of content expand, but so did its reach” (Spilka, 2010, p.41). Due to the expansion of the reach supported by digital technology, people as well as technical communicators can be interactive with one another beyond physical borders, and I believe this also worked as catalyst for globalization in a way.  

However, Spilka (2010) also points out that “the movement from blue collar work to knowledge work (Druker, 1993)” that requires “education and expertise” caused unemployment in our society (p.53). Although Spilka (2010) is expecting a rosy future, saying, “advances in technology continue to shape our work” (p.48), I argue that the unemployment problem caused by the labor replacement of robots will be very/more serious and should be resolved both for current and future generation. Otherwise, there will be serious extra labor force issue and unemployment problem in the near future. Both of these problems can be a threat to the economy – both domestically and internationally, initiating problems in each community. Therefore, I contend that we should not only take advantage of digital literacy but we need to be prepared for the side effects of digital technology.

*Image from Google

Technical communicators are jacks of all “technical” trades

While technical communication and technical writing has been an existing profession for several decades, it seems like it is still a career choice that many people do not know about or are even aware of. I often find myself answering questions to family and friends about what a technical writer does or explaining what the technical and professional communication program at Stout teaches. My parent’s track record for even remembering what the program is called isn’t the greatest (though it is of the longer of titles), but if they can at least remember one or two of the words I give them credit.

In some respect, I think of a technical communicator as a jack of all trades in their respective industry. Much of the first two chapters of Spilka’s book Digital Literacy for Technical Communication echoes this definition. In the introduction, she writes, “we are identifying ourselves not as members of any one field, such as technical communication, but rather, as cross- or multi- disciplinary” (p.5, 2010). These disciplines could include, but are not limited to, English, communications, physical sciences, social sciences, engineering, visual design, and so on. Really, it’s a little bit of everything.

My background as an undergrad is in physics; specifically, my degree was a Bachelor of Science in applied physics, with a minor in English. My work history during and after college, I feel, has been far from conventional (which I’m pretty okay with). Some of my jobs that leaned closer to physics were as a research assistant at UW Eau Claire for the physics department, and as an engineering technician for a manufacturing company. Now, I’m doing more of the “communications” side of technical communications while working in the non-profit sector of Eau Claire as a coordinator. I honestly was never sure what exactly I wanted to do as a career, but I knew I liked working with people through speaking or writing and was capable of understanding science and working with numbers. This is why I think I was drawn to tech comm with having a such a mish mash of skills, interests, and experience.

At the core of technical communication is of course technology; and technology is always evolving. As its evolved, technology has fortunately facilitated tech commers to become skilled at many things, either through traditional schooling or DIY-type instruction, so that tech commers may, “become their own designers, illustrators, and production assistants” (Spilka p.45, 2010). There is somewhat of a symbiotic relationship between technology and technical communicators. While technology grows, the skills of technical communicators also grow, and they can thus communicate/advocate the wonders of technology.

It’s still a little tricky to give one clear definition for technical communication (which is probably why some technical communication course’s first assignments are to write up a definition). One thing I think it certain, though, is that technical communicators are versatile in their skills. While technology grows, I think the importance of our role also continues to grow.

Many minds make better work.

I am always impressed by the ideas that come from a collective passion for a project. I like to watch clever people solve problems, elevating teams with their ingenuity and helping to build a better community in the knowledge industry. One of my favorite things to do is read through constructive (underline, highlight, bold, triple emphasize constructive) comments online. Open source software forums, innovation blogs, and advice pages are some of my favorite online places to spend time. Of course, there is garbage to be filtered out, but when I find nuggets of wisdom, it’s inspiring.

Photo by Pixabay on

Crowdsourcing has a foothold in the professional world, too. Not only do companies use online portfolios (like this one from Zendesk) to tout and refine their products, they’re encouraging companies to develop community forums to take functionality even further (another example from Zendesk) by asking questions, requesting features, and troubleshooting problems.  When the data in these sites are collated, a very useful overview develops; one that welcomes not only industry success stories, but customer experience stories, both of which help companies to remain competitive.

Rachel Spilka, from UW Milwaukee, wrote about this trend back in 2010 in her book “Digital Literacy for Technical Communication: 21st Century Theory and Practice.”  In looking at internal business cases, she wrote “using databases to publish content lets the company welcome contributions from people outside the technical communications department, including those who work for the company in technical and marketing capacities and customers who have developed expertise with the products and services who have a first hand user’s perspective” (29).  In my professional experience, this is the norm, one that has provided value and reduced duplicate work.  One tool I’ve used to encourage this type of inter-departmental communication is Confluence, part of Atlassian’s suite of products.  Their product allows teams to publish project tables, wiki pages, schedules, historical data and trends, and knowledge bases. Each of these publications comes with a comment section at the bottom.  Anyone could comment on any page at my company.  This helped most notably, in my mind, when designers were working through a project and someone from customer service chimed in with concerns or praises about how a change may impact the customer experience.  Their knowledge of the UI and developers’ knowledge of system dependencies helped to find an acceptable solution, thus avoiding costly redesigns and disagreements before they happened. I also saw a very scary maintenance schedule altered after a conflict between teams surfaced.  Because one team’s schedules and plans were published, others could search for key words to ensure their own work in the same network spaces weren’t at risk. Instead of weeks of undoing the changes and follow up meetings, the teams simply changed their schedules by 4 hours each, allowing both of them to do their work in the same 24-hour window without incident. 

I’m curious about positive, specific experiences others have had with crowdsourcing.  Do you have an example of a clever solution that was contributed by a user?  Perhaps a responsive employee helped to prevent a problem?  I could use a dose of human ingenuity and innovation.

As it turns out, my dream job is also in Technical Communication

In discussing the changing roles and duties of technical communicators because of rapidly changing and improving technology, both the book, “Digital Literacy for Technical Communication: 21st Century Theory and Practice, “ and the scholarly article, “Professional and Technical Communication in a Web 2.0 World,” refer to many un-named or categorized jobs that exist as direct descendants of technical communication but are so new and evolved they seem unrelated.  One of those roles is my dream job, and it is directly responsible for my decision to enroll at UW-Stout and complete the Technical and Professional Communication (TPC) program.

Growing up in law enforcement, I was exposed to the people-side of it and learned the importance of good communication.  Part of the myriad of interactions that occur between police and the public, communication is always a factor and plays a role in the outcomes.  It is from these experiences that law enforcement is able to build on its relationship with the public generally.  As I began my career and the years passed, I saw what I felt was a slow decline in officers’ ability to simply have a dialogue with the public, especially community members.  Of the reasons, perhaps the most important I think is the professionalization of policing and the academic field failing to teach and emphasize communication and relationship building (and humility but that’s missing from so many areas).  My observations, along with an experience dealing with state and national media, I discovered a passion for what turns out to be a technical communicator, but in law enforcement.

This photo was taken by a gentleman biking across the United States. A cyclist myself, I checked on him and we ended up sharing a considerable dialogue. Before continuing on his journey, he asked to take my picture for his trip blog.

Roles like this already exist and are commonly referred to as Public Information Officers (PIO).  Little did I know before finding the TPC program that PIOs were part of the communications career family.  Joel Despain, who works for the Madison Police Department, and Kyle Roder, formerly of the Eau Claire Police Department and now an instructor and educator, captured my attention when I would see them in the news.  Their work is reflective of references from the readings I mentioned earlier.  Most importantly they serve as middlemen in decoding complicated incidents, procedures and policies for the public.  R Stanley Dicks talked similarly about technical communicators; and one could make the reasonable argument he was talking instead about PIOs when he spoke about symbolic-analytic work, where you analyze, synthesize, combine, rearrange, develop, design, and deliver information to specific audiences for specific purposes.

Authors of the scholarly article also spoke of important recommendations for teaching technical communicators, and especially PIOs.  First, technical communicators have to be a master of many skills and tolls.  As a PIO, whether coming from within law enforcement and working as a sworn PIO, or outside and working as a civilian PIO, he/she has to quickly learn and be confident in the fields of the other’s path.  As a sworn PIO, you have an understanding of training, procedure and case law, but not the news industry or web/social media design and content management.  The reverse is true for non-sworn PIOs.

With the internet now a dominant method of communication, the article authors also recommended educators should expose students to situations in which they must choose the best channels for communication in a given situation.  There is traditional news media, whether newspapers, radio and television news, or the various internet and social media options for communicating with the public now.  PIOs must gain a sense of using a specific medium for a specific audience or purpose.  For example, through a department webpage you can make a plethora of information available, but accessibility issues might keep the elderly and physically handicapped from accessing it. With someone trained in usability and communication theory, these subgroups will be considered.

While this is my dream job and I may or may not be fortunate enough to do it full-time at some point, nothing is keeping me from practicing my passion now.  Working for a medium-size police department, I already manage our webpage and provide occasional content for the social media officer (another super part-time role).  In my current role though I hope to inch closer and closer to my dream job, whether it is creating the chief’s annual report or continuing to provide appealing and informative content for the public to better know and understand their police department.

Writers are friends, not tools

There are just under 2 billion websites online as I write. By the time I publish this, about 7 million other blogs will have been posted today. What are the odds that any of the 4.7 billion internet users in the world will ever stumble upon my website? Unfavorable. And what are the odds that anyone who stumbles upon this article will read it from beginning to end? Again, unfavorable.

What can be done to improve my odds? How can I keep my readers from abandoning me for one of the billion other websites that are literally always right at their fingertips?

Maybe I should back up a bit and ask myself why I want readers in the first place. Is it for my sake? Or for theirs?

In Jonathan Zittrain’s talk on whether the internet is taking us where we want to go, he poses the question of whether today’s internet moguls are tools or friends. That is, are websites acting as neutral devices to be used without moderation or as software inclined to benefit end user (or society at large)?

If the posts on my website are intended to be a friend rather than a tool, then it’s not as important for me to make sure every reader finds me and never leave me. What is most important is that when a reader who needs me does find me, they will get what they need in the way that they need it.

If my intended audience is made up of communicators looking for insight into improving their craft, then I must make those insights stand out and easy to understand.

Two ways to be a friend, not a tool:

Use clear and descriptive headers

Headers are important for three reasons:

First, skimming readers brake for headers. Take a look at Nielson Norman’s article about the F-Shaped Pattern. It’s already ingrained in our nature to expect to get the best cues in the header and lead sentences. Pack them with information-carrying words.

Second, they help the reader prioritize your content. If your reader is busy, easily distracted, or simply impatient, then a good header will help them determine quickly if that section is worth reading. Yes, you might love that clever bit of alliteration in that one paragraph, but you need to remember that you’re being a friend to your reader and it’s not nice to make them spend extra time reading through things they weren’t looking for.

Third, they will improve your SEO. Google pays close attention to H2 and H3 tags, so if you have something important to talk about, put it in your header and make sure it clearly describes the content that follows.

Put your information in list form

Have you ever started reading a short article that turned out to be a very, very long one? Probably not very often because one of the first things many readers do is check to see how long an article is before they even begin.

If your information is presented as a list, and if you tell your audience beforehand how many list items there are, then you have made your content more consumable. At any given moment, the reader can know how far they’ve read and how much is left.

These organizational cues also give the impression of value through quantification. How many helpful pieces of information were in this post? Well, that is highly subjective. But how many things did my audience read about headers today? Three. It’s much easier to market an objective three than a subjective dozen.

An audience is more likely to read what they perceive as consumable and remember what they perceive as valuable.

Kids These Days

I teach reading, writing, and communication skills to undergraduate college students. Before I made the jump to post-secondary ed., I taught high school English. I have a MA in English and am working on a second masters degree in Technical and Professional Communication. I love to read and learn. School is clearly my happy place. But that happy place is increasingly that place where I’m looking at the young people around me in horror, wringing my hands about what will become of the world when these kids get hold of it.

In the past five years, I’ve had several situations where I’ve finished my semester thinking the most lasting and impactful thing I’ve taught my students is the importance of taking notes and having a planner. I used to enjoy thrilling class discussions early in the research essay process when students were trying out their arguments on each other to identify holes in their reasoning. Students also used to tackle big topics and seek out unique solutions to the problems they identified. Lately, though, I’ve pivoted to spend far more time trying to incentivize students to do more than simply Google the specific information they need to prove what they think is the truth. Why go to the bother of struggling through the science on climate change when I can Google “climate change hoax” or “climate change polar bear”?

I don’t think this is personal failing on the parts of these students. I really don’t. In measurable ways, they are hardworking, and too many of them struggle with real anxiety and depression on a daily basis. This is less a case of “kids these days,” as it is a “what have we done?” situation. Chayko points out that “In general, people who attempt to multitask regularly and chronically suffer cognitive and behavioral deficits. They have difficulty recalling information and are slower at processing information.” Between infinite choices on the television thanks to cable, Netflix, YouTube, Hulu, and the like, as well as their smartphones and social media accounts, we brought them up in a world that demands they multitask or be left behind. Now I’m going to expect them to focus and dive deep on issues when everything in their lives has rewarded them for doing the opposite? I can try, but it’s not going to be pretty.

And that anxiety that can sometimes cripple an otherwise successful student to the point that they fail the class because they can’t bring themselves to write a final essay I have proof they are perfectly capable of writing? Chayko has that covered, too: “Anxiety can be experienced even when people are simply unable to answer their ringing cell phones. In a study by journalism professors Russell Clayton, Glenn Leshner, and Anthony Almond (2015), iPhone users who were unable to answer their ringing phones while completing a puzzle reported feelings of anxiety and unpleasantness. Their heart rates and blood pressure increased. Their cognitive functioning was impaired, and they had a hard time paying attention to the task at hand.” The very presence of their smartphones creates anxiety. Unfortunately, the absence of their phones does the same thing. Solve that riddle for me, please. Students either check their phones for communications and risk the loss of focus or ignore their phones and risk the loss of focus.

Schools should be the place where we teach students how to resolve these paradoxes in their lives, how to manage their distractions and find the joy of deep focus and thought. Just thinking about it gives me goosebumps. We did some bad things to our educational system at the same time we were creating these other distractions, though. “It can be argued that many aspects of a society, including social systems such as education, health care, and the government, have become McDonaldized—so concerned with moving people through their systems in predictable, calculable ways that individuals are becoming more controlled, less empowered, and somewhat dehumanized in the process.” 🤦🤦‍♀️ Ooops?

It’s possible that the human brain that is weaned on an iPhone will be able to handle the multitasking better than brains that started with boring paper books and local channel television options, and I trust teachers to find the spaces in between the standardized requirements to sneak in inspirational, life changing learning experiences for students. This is probably no different than previous generational disagreements about priorities and values. I’ve heard that people thought books would destroy the fabric of society when they were made more widely available. Imagine how it might have been for our great-great-great-great grandparents trying to pry their child away from a book to engage in conversation. Slip a phone into that picture instead of the book and it looks awfully familiar! So maybe it isn’t as bad I think, but these distractions, this anxiety, this lack of critical thinking and sustained focus can’t be ignored, either. For sure, though, the blame is not on the kids. It’s on us.

The Multitasking Myth

In Mary Chayko’s book, Superconnected, she explores the widely debated topic of multitasking. In today’s digital age, people are responding to text messages, scrolling through their feed, taking phone calls, and posting on social media while taking on other activities or tasks. Chayko explains that the term multitasking is misleading; that while the term implies individuals are performing tasks simultaneously, they typically switch between tasks instead, breaking the “flow.”

According to a University of California Irvine Study, there is a theory that it takes approximately 23 minutes and 15 seconds to focus again after breaking concentration. This is a concerning statistic given how frequently people check their phones. That is, if you check your phone only three times a day, that is over an hour of work lost. When comparing this to my personal life, I thought about multitasking at the workplace. I listen to Pandora stations and podcasts throughout the day and often reach for the phone to change stations and skip music. Perhaps I would be better off sticking to one channel or avoid such distractions entirely.

It seems that even having a phone in proximity can be troublesome. If an individual avoids responding to texts and phone calls at work, but sees their notification screen light up, they are in a constant state of anticipation. Though the physical act of checking the phone is eliminated, the proximity of the phone still has the power to break concentration. Chayko states, “In general, people who attempt to multitask regularly and chronically suffer cognitive and behavioral deficits. They have difficulty recalling information and are slower at processing information.” While the brain absorbs and processes all the new information, I could see how it would be more difficult to retain information and perform the task at hand. While it is important to take breaks every now and then, the amount of time lost from phone use can add up significantly, even if it’s just checking notifications.

As we continue to move forward into the techno-social word, we will evolve and adapt with the opportunities for instant connection. Chayko quotes Ulla Foehr who states, “In this media-heavy world, it is likely that brains that are more adept at media multitasking will be passed along and these changes will be naturally selected.” As we evolve with technology, it will be interesting to see what is produced over the next few years and what will become of the human-machine relationship.

Chayko, M. (2018). Superconnected: The Internet, digital media, and techno-social life. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications.

It’s Getting Personal – Protection of the Vulnerable User

Jonathan Zittrain (2015) talks about the trajectory of the Internet and the potential roles needed to regulate it. If the Internet does define our perception of the world as he says, then it becomes a critical issue for society to say when it goes a step too far or falls short of “doing good.”

For me, “doing good” means not contributing to the spread of misinformation or acting out of financial obligation. I believe that only truths should exist online or in print, and short of that, disclaimers about the level of confidence used to publish information should be present on every page. As television, radio, and other mediums have been forced to comply with regulations, so too should the Internet.

Zittrain also introduces the analogy to fiduciary duty or looking out for a client’s best interest. Right now there is no stipulation that a search engine or any other online source needs to give information that is verified or should be working for the benefit of the user. At the end of his talk, he says that academics should care about these issues because they will continue to need to navigate them. He does not mention a specific responsibility or call to action, but five years later we can see how his talk accurately forecasted the current online landscape.

So what about now?

We know that algorithm math has power over many aspects of our culture and even the decisions we make. It predicts and calculates based on data we volunteered without thinking about it. How many unnecessary questions do we answer because they are required fields in order to create an account?

We also know that key manipulators are paying attention to make the data work for their goals: whether through increased sales, control of their market, or less obvious end results. Is the Internet a lawless arena, or can we work towards transparency and established rules? Finally, are we willing to give up the freedoms we have enjoyed for a more regulated Internet experience? Or would we rather place all of this responsibility on the user – a user who may not understand when the math is working with or against him or her.

The Internet and Grind Culture

This year I started following an Instagram account named “The Nap Ministry”. The account is maintained by Tricia Hersey, a.k.a. The Nap Bishop. Hersey is a performance artist who works to normalize the idea of rest and relaxation in the Black community. Hersey and her Nap Ministry “examine rest as resistance through collective napping experiences, immersive writing workshops, site-specific installations, and performance art” (Cullors & Williams, 2020). 

The Nap Ministry Instagram account is an antidote for “grind culture”, the idea that “seeming to be busy and connected is to be alive, to be recognized – to matter” (Chayko, 190). “Rest”, says an Instagram post from October 10th, is not some cute lil luxury item you grant yourself as an extra treat after you’ve worked like a machine and are now burned out. Rest is our path to liberation. A portal for healing. A human right.” Rather than encouraging readers to click and spend money. The Nap Ministry’s mission is to encourage people to turn off their phones or computers and sleep or meditate.

Have you seen any other social media accounts that encourage users to log-off and practice self-care?

The Nap Ministry Instagram:

Cullors, P., & Williams, A. B. (2020, September 3). Q&;A: Nap Ministry’s

Tricia Hersey talks  rest and racial justice. Retrieved October 19, 2020,



We need you Academia

Simple Google search, 10/18/2020

In her 2014 textbook exploring technology in society, sociologist Mary Chayko concludes that technology is continually advancing, getting smaller and smaller, and computing faster.  Throughout her book she discussed numerous ethical dilemmas that exist with technology, and with its continued advancement, we will also see more dilemmas.  Harvard Law Professor Jonathan Zittrain spoke about just this in his speech about the “Allure of the Algohrithm,” at the Aspen Ideas Festival in 2015.  Generally, Zittrain discussed technology companies’ role (like Facebook and Google) in providing information to users and searchers.  Specifically, Zittrain posed the question, “Is it okay for an online service like Facebook to push a specific political candidate to their users on election day?”  He concluded, “No,” and went on to conclude that academia can play a role in determining ethics for companies in the information-sharing industry. First though, academia needs to swallow a pill of humility and use their expert status more modestly.

While Zittrain pushed academia forward as a solution, I am going to attempt to identify where members and experts in academia can work specifically to improve the information seeking experience.  Zittrain posed a different question in his presentation that identifies the central issue facing technology companies like Facebook and Google: “Why not make … a platform with equal access on non-discriminatory terms so that it’s not just one decision by one company to sell me off … but to expose me to a variety that exists out there?”  Key term in this question is the meaning of non-discriminatory, and this is where I think academia can jump in and help.

Clearly an issue with technology companies like Google and Facebook is their algorithms used when searchers and users seek information.  Mathematicians and software-writing experts in academia are perfect for exploring algorithms and software features to better search, filter and sort information pushed to users.  Just like Zittrain describes top news topics pushed to users in 2014, as a Facebook user I see the same theme of topics, friends and their posts the majority of the time.  Occasionally I see a post or picture from a friend and think to myself I haven’t seen anything about them in a while.  Checking out their profile, I see other recent posts and photos that never pushed to my feed.  This issue is also evident in the rotating popular post that people put up to magically alter what Facebook sends to them (“If you post this, it will change your feed dramatically!”)

Ethicists and philosophers in academia are also perfect to identify corporate values and actions that promote a non-discriminatory information-sharing environment.  While they’re notorious for only positing ethical questions to students, they have the training and knowledge to identify effective and ineffective practices for corporations.  Actions by the corporation, both internally with its employees and externally through their information product, affect the users and the information provided.  Even though a corporation may need to identify their specific goals, it is through their actions that goals are met.  Academics can also delineate thresholds that exist on the various slippery slopes.  When it comes to misinformation, how much is too much inaccurate information?  Or what information is inappropriate and why? Or lastly, how can bad or inappropriate information be presented so it’s represented, but not promoted by the technology?

Academia can play a critical role in identifying practices and values for companies struggling with ethical dilemmas in technology.  Regardless of moments of pompousness, academia stands unique in their search for knowledge without profits.  Characterized by a peer-reviewed environment, members and experts in academia provide an important balancing effect to information and discovery.  And just like the search for knowledge is endless, so is the journey through ethical dilemmas with technology.  Just as Chayko assures us technology continues to advance, so will the issues associated with it.  Academia can be an enduring resource for corporations seeking to provide an equal and non-discriminatory environment for information.

FOMO before it was ‘FOMO’

Let’s go back to 2003, I was 11 years old and in the 5th grade. You know, the time when everything means the world, and your friends mean even more than that. I remember specifically being friends, scratch that, BEST FRIENDS FOREVER, with two girls named Alli and Erica. We did everything together, all day every day. Best friends. What they don’t tell you about friend groups with odd numbers, however, is that usually someone is left out. I mean, I don’t remember ever owning friendship necklaces that had more than two pieces. Nope, always two, never three. When the person left out happened to be me I think is when I experienced FOMO for the first time; although back then I don’t think it was called FOMO. I remember one instance in the fall of 2003, when Erica wanted to have a slumber party with Alli and I. Erica was neighbors with a girl named Kelsie from the grade above us, and man was Kelsie cool. Every weekend Kelsie always had the cool kids from the grade above us over to her house, so by going to Erica’s I knew we would go over to Kelsie’s too. That meant I would get to hang out with all the older, cool kids…. and did I mention the cool boys?? I had to go. However, my parents were never a fan of the “late asks”, so when I asked on Friday after school if I could go to Erica’s the next night, the answer was no. I was crushed. I begged and begged, but they didn’t budge. Erica and Alli would call me every other hour to ask if my parents had given in, and every other hour I had to tell my friends that they hadn’t. I remember feeling so left out, uncool, and sad. I knew my friends were having fun without me, and I couldn’t do anything about it. I just had to wait patiently for Monday when I would get to hear all the painful details about how much fun I missed out on.  

While I don’t remember that following Monday, and I don’t remember anything they probably told me; I tell this story, because back then I didn’t have social media connections. I didn’t even have a cell phone until two years later, and even then it was a Tracfone. But, looking back on that memory, it makes me wonder if I had had access to social media during that time would I have felt as left out? Would the fear of missing out have been present if I had the ability to “feel” connected to the event by watching snapchats from them or receiving FaceTime communications? Maybe if I had it wouldn’t have been as heart wrenching that I couldn’t be there. Or, would I have felt worse checking social media to see posts or notifications about the night I was missing out on? Honestly, who knows, but something tells me it would be the latter.  

In the article, Is There a Connection Between Social Media, FOMO and Depression?, the author talks about fomo as being “loosely defined as an “uneasy and sometimes all-consuming feeling” that people are missing out on what their peers are doing”. While scrolling and viewing social media, online users may come across posts that create the perception that everyone is having fun and living their life to the fullest. When comparing their own reality to the content they are seeing, it is typical that users develop negative feelings surrounding inclusion and social standing. The article, Is There a Connection Between Social Media, FOMO and Depression?, goes on to detail that “Additional damaging feelings may arise from viewing individuals who are socially connected to the viewer, but the viewer is not part of the activity or event”. Statements like these make me feel like 2003 Jess would have felt more excluded, rather than included, if I were to have viewed my friends having fun without me on social media. A very similar story was documented in the article SIX WAYS SOCIAL MEDIA NEGATIVELY AFFECTS YOUR MENTAL HEALTH, when Stina Sanders (a model with over 100k followers on Instagram) wrote “I know from my experience I can get FOMO when I see my friend’s photos of a party I didn’t go to, and this, in turn, can make me feel quite lonely and anxious”.  Social media scrollers stumble upon highly edited and posed photos documenting the lives of others causing the user to feel that their life is less interesting, exciting and happy in comparison (Chayko 2017). Documented social events where the user wasn’t invited and publicly documented relationships, can also lead to feelings of jealousy and insecurity. In her book Superconnected, Chayko writes about how fomo can manifest in the user because, “There is so much going on, and only a small portion of it is happening to you” (2017). 

Looking back, I think that having access to social media during that night would have made my 11 year old self feel worse than I already did. I was already feeling mad, jealous, and excluded from not being there, and I think seeing everyone having fun would have amplified those feelings. As you get older, however, you realize the worth of your time. You care less about missing out on events because you’re able to distinguish what you actually want to attend or be a part of, versus attending everything out of obligation so you don’t miss out on anything. In addition to only committing to events that you want to be a part of, articles such as  Social Media and the Fear of Missing Out and Redesigning social media platforms to reduce ‘FoMO’  have outlined ways to apply mindfulness to your social media use and find your focus, as well as possible design solutions to eliminate feelings of FOMO on social media platforms.  

Chayko, M. (2017). Superconnected. SAGE Publications, Inc.  

Remembering the Positives of the Digital Age

Many times after reading about the effects of technology on our lives, I feel slightly more negative than positive. I tend to focus on the negatives in terms of our mental health and consumption, however, Chayko’s chapter in Superconnected: The Internet, Digital Medial, and Techno-social life” I felt empowered to read about factual positives of social media and Web 2.0 in our lives. I was unaware of the theory that during the industrial age, we grew further apart from one another. This time period did not allow for social technology yet, so camaraderie and social connection lessoned. Once the digital age arrived, this separation was mitigated through available digital communication. Chayko explains that “in this sense, “tribes” that might once have met over a fire pit or in a village green can once again gather frequently. Their gathering place, though, is now the internet or a social media site” (Chayko, 2018, p.182)

Now, even when I am sitting in my cubicle at work, I am connected to friends, family, and interests by just a few clicks. This contributes to the world feeling smaller and more connected, even if we are connecting through a digital means. Especially with the onset of social distancing measures, it feels welcoming to know technology acts as a miraculous device to communicate.

When we now feel moments of loneliness or boredom, we have the technology to engage with. It allows a space for myself to pursue my passions as well as connect with like-minded people. This proves Chayko’s assertion that “there is always some kind of entertainment that can be sought, found, or even created online” (Chayko, 2018, p.185). Just as humans created tribes and collaborative events in the past, users replicate that process online. From virtual marathons to live stream gaming, there is no end to entertainment and connection through the digital world.

Personally, I also feel the benefits of technology when I am trying to reach out to friends or family, even when I am not physically close to them. I am (probably annoying!) habit of calling my family or friends down the list if the previous contact did not answer. No matter what time of day, I am bound to find somehow to share something with.

Reflecting on this phenomenon makes me feel incredibly positive about the high points of technology. We have the ability to share our lives with almost anyone at a moment’s notice. It is a seemingly small, yet powerful action at our disposal.


Chayko, M. (2018). Superconnected : the internet, digital media, and techno-social life. Sage Publications, Inc.

Rapid Growth in the Digital Age

Technology has had a huge jump in advancements within the last century and it seems as though new technological achievements will only increase within the coming years (Chayko, n.d.). Though it may seem like a long time ago when television wasn’t even in existence, in the grand scheme of human evolution, the leaps and bounds we have taken in digital innovation has been astounding. When I was in middle school taking my first technology class, I had a teacher tell me something that really changed the way I viewed how rapidly our world is changing. He told me that the computer that was in our extremely outdated cell phones, was more powerful than the computers that were able to put a man on the moon.

Since then, the jump in technological achievements our society has had has been astounding to think about. Within the last decade or so, the phones that we have access to now is so far more advanced than that clunky outdated cell phone that I used to carry around, that it really puts into perspective the rapid rate at which our society is evolving. According to Chayko, the rate at which computer hardware has improved is doubling every eighteen to twenty-four months. With this in mind, it doesn’t come as a surprise that within the last decade, I have more computing power in my smart phone (which is still a few years behind the current smartphones) than when I had my small cell phone. New features have been added since then, new advancements to improve the user experience and visual look. I wouldn’t have even imagined that I would be able to watch movies, listen to music, play games, or research all in one device when I was younger.

This all feels like a reaction to the way society has all been connecting with each other through digital means. As people all over the digital world crave for ways to be entertained and easier ways to stay connected, technology must improve at an even faster rate to keep up with the demand. Technology industries are always feeling the pressure of having to one up each other as the internet has made it much easier to spread information. Word of mouth is an effective way to get new consumers to a product. With the connectiveness of the digital age, this method has become even more important in the race to create better user-friendly technology.

This competition has led to some groundbreaking works all over the technological world. My favorite examples of this has always been in the entertainment industry. New technologies are always being developed to allow to create crazier films and video games. The rivalry between Xbox and Playstation has led to huge leaps in video game graphics within the last few years. I remembered a time when Batman Arkham Asylum blew my mind in terms of its graphics. Compare that to Batman Arkham Knight and you can see a huge spike in graphic quality and the intricate details that went into making the game. During my youth, Spider-Man really changed how I saw movies. Even then though, I never would have imagined that we would get anything as crazy as Avengers Infinity War or Avengers Endgame. The leaps in 3D animation has also jumped significantly if you were to compare Toy Story with Toy Story 4. As the digital world increasingly demands the latest in technology, I can’t even imagine what the future may look like as computing power increases at the rate it currently is.

Chayko, M. (n.d.). Superconnected. Retrieved from

Technology is Gaining Control

What do we give up by accepting our technological coexistence? Continuing my exploration of Mary Chayko’s Superconnected: The Internet, Digital Media, and Techno-Social Life, the notion of loss of control began to surface. In chapter 9, Chayko touches on cell phones affording us the ability to adjust plans at the very last minute. Chayko goes on to say, “time can be perceived as more porous, less fixed” (p. 184). Time is something lost within our presence in the constant techno-social world. We are available to each other at a moment’s notice and we expect our society to function within this expediency. This notion takes us back to Howard Rheingold’s Net Smart and the notion of imitation learning Rheingold expands upon. If our techno-social society dictates instant communication between one another, then you either abide or are a non-conformer. When it comes to text messaging, the instant back-and-forth has become so culturally standard, there are lengthy amounts of online literature dedicated to not being texted back. From Medium’s 3 Reasons Why I Did Not Reply to Your Text Message Yet to the holy grail of honesty, The True Reason Guys Don’t Text Back, instant communication causes its share of miscommunication. With the cell phone or digital communication, becoming status quo, time has taken on a new meaning. Our presence within a techno-social world becomes constant, which in turn creates a level of involuntary participation. Although we are, through our technological devices, constantly “on”, our physical presence within time has become more selective. Physical time, as previously pointed out by Chayko, has become porous. We are available at any given time, yet, we can opt-out of physical engagement at a moment’s notice. Chayko uses this notion to transition into technology rescuing us from mistakes. Of this, Chayko writes, “If we count on technology to rescue us if we make mistakes, we can be prone to making more mistakes.” This leads, for Chayko, to the concept of control. The technological devices which represent our presence in the world begin to control us. The question, then, actually comes in the form of an article entitled Is Technology Actually Making Things Better?

      Pairagraph is a fantastic website featuring articles of discourse by two notable individuals in a particular field. John K. Davis, Professor of Philosophy from Cal State Fullerton, and Jason Crawford, author of The Roots of Progress and an engineering manager with a long history in Silicon Valley, take on the issue of technological betterment. Early on, Davis’s portion of the article states of technological progression, “We can easily feel like the sorcerer’s apprentice, confronted by an ever-widening array of new toys that are spinning out of control.” With the mention of control, we are back to Chayko’s chapter 9 and the dependency of technology for solving our mistakes. As almost a response to Chayko, Davis argues our wisdom must grow with technology and, unfortunately, it is not. Technology is expanding rapidly in many avenues; our wisdom simply cannot keep up. Davis continues, writing, “the core problem is that we’re becoming more powerful but not more wise.” This is a problem. With technology now able to influence elections, control nuclear weapons, and run entire operations through AI, wisdom is required, or we face a total loss of control. Crawford, in his portion of the article counters, expressing all the good technology has done over the last century to make life easier for the average person. He expands on the concept of isolation and the connectedness technology has afforded many – a key concept by Chayko. Crawford continues by arguing although technology produces risks, it has also saved society from risks including disease control to house fires. Crawford, although arguing the pros of technology, concedes to Davis’s notion that technology is making us more powerful but not wiser. The article winds down to conclude growth in our wisdom is required to matching growing technology. Chayko, then, is accurate in pointing out the lack of wisdom we adhere to when technology continues to solve our problems. Although it can, and certainly should be argued as Crawford has, the many benefits of technology. We have to recognize and confront the many ways technology is very rapidly gaining control over our society. In Jonathan Zittrain‘s discussion at the 2015 Aspen Ideas Festival, he questions if technology is friend or foe. His concern works as an argument for the wisdom necessary for defining the role of technology in our modern lives, and not completely losing control. 

Do IT!

As in almost all cases – as far as I know – both benefits and shortcomings/side effects coexist. As the side effects, such as teenagers’ reach to illegal items or lack of conversation among family members, resulted from the advent of social media and digital technology have been discussed in many ways from various perspectives, I intend to focus on the benefits of those two this week.

As Chayko (2018) mentions, the internet and social media can bring people who could have separated for good back together, providing a place for gathering. This place has a limit to neither space nor time. Rather, the up-to-date versions of media allow people to enjoy “transmedia entertainment,” Chayko (2018) calls this function “constant availability and continuous connectedness.” I especially agree that we are living in the world of almost-24/7 availability. We can control our kitchen and home appliances on our smartphones or tablets. Moreover, it is possible to control cars on smart devices without opening a car door or starting the engine nowadays.

I believe that one of the biggest changes in this era of technology and media is a paradigm shift in ads. It is common to see people put ads on social media – probably more than on blogs – these days. Even one of my close friends is planning to move his ad to Youtube since he has already uploaded ads on social media. For that kind of (ad) videos on Youtube, there is not that much you need. As long as you have a smartphone, you can make a video of yourself and edit it on your smartphone. Only if you desire to make yourself look a little bit better, you might want to put on some makeup or buy some lighting – I’ve seen so many types of cheap lighting system online these days. One day I was recommended to make a video for Youtube in order to promote my English class, however, my question is, “How would I make myself accustomed to this social media ad?” Or “Am I ever going to use it at all?” “What can we do for those who are kind of outside of the boundary of the use of social media in our community?”

No Such Thing as Multitasking

I typically spend a good chunk of time on the readings for this class every week taking good notes, mostly because I really enjoy the topics in this class. This week however was rather busy and I wasn’t sure I’d find the chapters as interesting as the last few chapters were explored. So, to give me a bit of a break while also getting the reading done for class I had my computer read the text to me while I played Stardew Valley. One can imagine how called-out I felt when, as my computer read Chapter 9 of Mary Chayko’s book Superconnected: The Internet, Digital Media, and Techno-Social Life, I heard the suspicion that younger people who had grown up with technologies such as smartphones and laptops (me and my peers) could be so used to integrating these technologies in their lives that they could end up trying to multitask more aspects of their lives. One might assume that after being called out by my computer for multitasking and putting my generation to shame, I might put down my Nintendo Switch and read the chapter for myself, but anyone who did assume so is incorrect. 

No, instead I continued playing my game, listening intently as the robotic monotone of my computer’s voice sounded Chayko’s research and insights about the very activity I was undergoing. I have spent years listening to podcasts while performing non-complex tasks (doing the dishes, playing simple games, rendering drawings, etc.) and consider myself rather good at retaining the information that has been read to me, and so I wanted to see what Chayko had to say on the matter and also how it matched up to my personal experience. 

I was rather pleased with my decision as Chayko went on to explain how, while students can face detrimental effects while checking social media and messaging while studying, other digital activities could assist certain elementary students. I was also a little disappointed at how I did not remember all of this part, my personal bias causing me to forget that Chayko was referencing how the digital activities that helped some students were relevant to the task they were completing. I, however, stand that I could have forgotten this information if I had personally read the information myself. 

Chayko does back up my decision a little later on when explaining exactly what multitasking is and how some people are just better at it than others. She explains that multitasking is simply switching between tasks rapidly. Though, I find this explanation a little too simple. I consider it more so switching one’s attention (which Chayko defines as the act of giving mental concentration to a given task or unit of information) between the tasks they are doing, rapidly. Chayko reaffirms this when noting how individuals who multitask can end up giving continuous partial attention to many things at once. When one is doing something that they should ideally never switch their attention from, like driving, it’s quite dangerous if they attempt to multitask. My father, who is a contractor and often spends a lot of time driving his truck hauling his trailer to and from sites, will often use the time that he is driving to speak to clients on the phone, drink his morning coffee, and while he no longer does this, used to go over his paperwork. All while driving. While I don’t believe my father should drive like this, I think he’s good at doing it because he has developed his ability to switch his attention to what is most important whenever it’s necessary to switch. This skill has also, valuably, bought him time that he otherwise wouldn’t have if he were only paying his attention to one task. Each task individually would carve crucial minutes out of his already horribly busy schedule. 

Chayko emphasizes the value of looking at both the gains and losses associated with the new ways we’re dividing our attention in the techno-social landscape. I value my time more than anything, and I’m willing to give up a lot of depth of knowledge or quality of work in order to have more time. I wonder if this speaks to my working poor background. I listened to Tara Westover’s memoir Educated (while working on my independent study), and her writing of how her father, a junkyard scrapper, feared time in a way that forced him into making many poor safety decisions struck a sad note in me as I remembered the way my dad would drive. I would like to give every task my full attention, and I believe I would if there were more time to do so. I see everyone fearing time these days, with how work and free time get blurred together working from home or having one’s employers have constant access via a cell phone. While having the computer read, I stole back a bit of the time for something that was relaxing and I think it gave me more energy to get through the other work I had left to do that day.

Staying Focused

While reading this week’s chapters in Supperconnected I had a bit of a surreal moment. I had just spent some time browsing through movies available on HBO Max, which my dad just subscribed to and shared with me, to decide on a movie to watch tonight, when I quickly remembered I was in the middle of reading our text. I switched tabs and resumed the chapter which continued to explain the concept of multitasking, and how, “It is not really possible to do several complex cognitive tasks simultaneously. More often, people move back and forth from task to task, switching as rapidly as they can or need to do” (Chayko p. 190). I thought that this was right on point, perhaps too on point, and that I was demonstrating this at that moment.

What is Your Focus? | Gracie Gulf Coast Brazilian Jiu Jitsu

My propensity to multi-task on the internet is something that I am definitely aware of but try to minimize and work on. It seems that many devices that access the internet, like phones, computers, tablets, and even gaming consoles, are built in such away that allow accessible multitasking. Phones keep most applications running and allow to switch back and forth between them, and internet browsers let you keep as many tabs running as your computer’s RAM allows (I’m actually not sure if there is a limit). I usually try to keep the amount of tabs I have open to a minimum, although I have a habit of cycling through the ones I have open to remember what I was doing on that tab, and assessing if it’s necessary for me to keep it open. Eventually, I’ll hone in on one project that I’m working on, but it does take time for my attention to come to a singular focus.

With having a partially virtual job that is mostly self-scheduled and having the independence of online school, the potential for my attention to go rampant is very high. What I try to do throughout the week is “chunk” my time. That is, delegating one hour-ish hour blocks on a specific task; whether that be completing an assignment, meeting with a client, our taking some time to relax. I do this with moderate success, though often times I will go off the path for whatever reason, for instance if I have an idea for paper that comes to me during relax time.

Related to multi-tasking outside of the digital realm, in my job where I train clients with cognitive disabilities and help them develop their jobs, multi-tasking is a “skill” that occasionally gets attention. Most of the time, this is for being able to talk/socialize with their coworkers while performing their job task. In my experience, for someone who can already perform a specific task at an adept level, they either can or cannot talk while they do the job. It is very difficult to teach a person how to split their attention. Instead, if they do struggle doing this, I encourage them to stay focused on their task and perhaps take breaks to socialize with people between tasks, or at an obvious break point. This is sort of like my idea of “chunking,” but on a more micro-level.

In general, the effects of continuous partial attention, which Chayko explains a little further in the chapter, is something I am aware of and try to improve on for myself. For designers, it might be something to keep in mind to help people in honing their attention for future devices or applications. I think it would be a really interesting challenge to try for a certain amount of time only use the internet while having one tab open at a time. It’s certainly possible, but I wonder how difficult it would actually be, and how potent my impulse to open up another tab would feel.

Surviving Virtual Life

There are a lot of conversations happening, and evolving, around the use of technology in scholastic settings.  Before 2020, there was a majority opinion that phones and laptops can be disproportionately distracting during classes.   Kentaro Toyama, Associate Professor of Communications Information at the University of Michigan, sat down with James Steyer, founder and CEO of Common Sense Media, at a 2015 talk presented by the Aspen Institute where they discussed their preferences for the students’ use of technology in their classrooms.  Overall, they didn’t support it, saying that it can distract from the lesson and the student interactions. They asked students to refrain from using cell phones and laptops during lectures, saying that when screens are on, our tendencies to wander through social media are stronger than the desire for deep learning.  Though putting screens out of reach can cause some distress initially for the students, by the end of the course most expressed appreciation for the ability to focus solely on the content without the temptation of social media distractions.   

The drive to be constantly entertained by screens, and an equal apprehension about giving that up, is perhaps most common with younger generations, but it’s part of everyone’s life to some extent.  It’s part of our normal, both when seeking out information and maintaining relationships. Mary Chayko talks about this quite a bit in Superconnected (2015): “we require some kind of continuity and sameness from day to day.  Taking part in techno-social life online can provide this type of constancy for it is always, dependably, there” (202).  Additionally, “being plugged in can provide us on a very deep level with the comforting feeling that we are not alone” (201).  Nevertheless, Chayko touts the benefits of unplugging: “it can be enriching to be bored sometimes” (200). 

Today, however, things are different.  Students are online remotely from kindergarten to graduate school because of the pandemic.  It’s no longer a conversation about avoiding distractions in the classroom; it’s about being online in order to participate in the lessons overall.  Even Steyer’s Common Sense Media site has been overhauled to support remote learning for students and parents alike and provide support during Coronavirus.  There are new challenges now – how can we do MORE online while maintaining a healthy life balance?  Common Sense Media offers advice on motivating students, taking care of our mental health, even hosting and attending remote birthday parties. 

It’s counterintuitive when Chayko declares “while modern people certainly experience their share of stress, digital technology and social media users do not generally have higher levels of stress than those who are less digitally connected” (192).  For me personally, this isn’t the case in 2020.   Reading the news, not interacting with neighbors, working and studying remotely – they all take their toll on my stress levels and I struggle to unwind.  The CDC site has an entire section about coping with stress during the pandemic.  Am I in the minority here? Are others settling into this normal better than I am?  I’m especially curious about how kids and parents are doing with online school, and how they’re balancing that with few social interaction opportunities offline.  I bought a bike to try and find some balance, but in WI that’s a temporary solution.  I am open to others’ ideas.

Ontological Security

“The confidence or trust that the natural and social worlds are as they appear to be” (Giddens, 1984)

How much confidence do we have in emerging media? How much confidence should we have in emerging media? Chayko presents the concept of ontological security as a positive force that governs our digital space interactions. While online interactions have certainly altered the stresses of socializing, exacerbating some and alleviating others, generally speaking, online socializing can be a positive social outlet (Chayko 2018). Chayko references the ontological security phenomenon in the context of social access. We do not necessarily need to be constantly in contact with others, but simply the knowledge that we could be with extremely minimal effort is comforting and familiar. There is an awareness that if we need a social interaction, it is as simple as sending a text, email, or checking social media. It is a simple way of accessing a complex network of relationships that represent part of our ontological security.

However, what if we can’t or shouldn’t trust that these “social worlds are as they appear to be” (Giddens, 1984). In Johnathan Zittrain’s 2015 lecture on internet trends, he poses uncomfortable questions regarding the power wielded by these digital social structures. Because so much of our public lives and social interaction now takes place on the internet, and because we are investing so much of our energy, so much of ourselves, into these online identities, we are granting communication platforms an extreme amount of power and influence. We also may be doing so, perhaps, without due consideration.

Zittrain mentions an experiment, for lack of a better word, conducted by Facebook. A locality was targeted with get out and vote rhetoric in the form of socialized messaging (33:30). Individuals would see those in their network who had voted. There would also be a message of encouragement letting the user know to notify Facebook when they had voted. This caused a “measurable increase in voting” (Zittrain 2015, 33:46). Imagine if this had been a targeted effort only encouraging those who fit certain demographic groups or who had posted or engaged with certain content. Is this ethical? Should this be legal? Does this rise to the level of voter manipulation or even voter suppression?

And, ultimately, the question of ontological security remains: Do we, “trust that the natural and social worlds are as they appear to be” (Giddens, 1984)?

When we consider the social responsibilities of social media platforms, many ethical issues arise that serve to throw this trust into question. Zittrain raises another concern with massive implications despite the answer: “Is public safety ever a reason to tweak the algorithm?” (33:00). Zittrain is specifically referring to current events images, reports, articles, stories, and content that depict social unrest versus tamer, nonprovocative content. This is shockingly relevant in today’s social climate. The question Zittrain is specifically asking is do social media platforms have an ethical duty or even any right to interfere with the algorithm so that sensitive current events issues are diluted with cat memes to the point of placating users? I see significant issues with algorithms policing action in this manner.

The internet being a primary vehicle of socializing also means it has an important role in social justice and activism. Social media is an incomparable tool of planning, organizing, and sharing information for activists. There is so much potential there for more people to be brought into the conversation, for voices to be elevated, and for real discussion to take place that is not hampered by time or location. It is frightening to consider the degree of power the algorithm holds to shut down, or at least dull, that progress by dilution.

Taking Zittrain’s thought experiments into consideration, we should all be concerned about the power of social media algorithms and tools. We should all wonder how they impact our lives now and how they could. It is a very real concern when debating whether these are platforms or publishers, or whether the responsibility lies with the users or the organizations. These are real questions for us to consider as we delve into the digital space.

While these issues are complex, they are simply summed up with the idea of ontological security. Do we trust that these social worlds are as they appear to be? (Giddens 1984).

Chayko, M. (2018). Superconnected: The Internet, digital media, and techno-social life. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications.

Giddens, A. (1984). The constitution of society. Berkley: University of California Press.

Cheap Tricks: Targeting your audience by exploiting free labor

One of the most amusing features of language is the portmanteau. When two ideas can be fused together, it’s serendipitous when their spelling can be, too. It would never have been socially acceptable to wake up late and have dessert for your first meal of the day if no one ratified it by naming it “brunch.” A utensil that’s half spoon and half fork would never have caught on if “spork” wasn’t such a delightful word to say.

In the 1980s, a new portmanteau was coined by Alvin Toffler, a futurist. “Prosumption” isn’t as catchy as spork or brunch (and is clearly not as well-known seeing that it’s highlighted by my spellchecker). However, the concept of prosumption is at the core of what is advancing us exponentially in the digital age. It’s the act of simultaneously producing and consuming.

Everything we do while connected to an internet-enabled device (personal computers, cell phones, vehicles, smart TVs, card readers, voice assistive devices, and maybe even your kitchen appliances), produces data that can be collected and shared. While there are still heated battles over our right to privacy and ownership of the data we produce, most consumers are blissfully unaware of how much data they’re truly creating.

And thus the cycle continues: the gazillion points of data our fitbits and smart coffee makers are sending to someone, somewhere, enables these anonymous mysterious beings (probably working for Apple or Amazon) to continue creating more novelty items so we can purchase them in droves and go happily prosume some more.

As they say, if you can’t beat them, join them! Here are a few neat websites that have collected data from those prosuming sheep. Use the information wisely and ethically (and try really hard to tell yourself you’re not going to use it just to get a few more views and make a bit more money).

  • Let’s start with Now, you’ve got to know that Amazon has a lion’s share of data about their audience. While the tools on this site aren’t free, you could guess that the tools they’re selling are backed by some solid data. The tools can help you with content research, audience analysis, and competitor analysis as well as some of the more common SEO tools you tend to find with similar tools.
  • For some quick and easy (and free!) insight into the age and gender of your audience, check out the no-frills Just enter in the keywords for your content and get some lightning-fast data. If you were curious, about 70% of the users who searched for packers, football, or Lambeau were males between the ages of 35-65. That might not be a shocker but, at the very least, it suggests the data is pretty accurate.
  • Something I know you’re going to love is Do you want to know what people are asking in search engines? This tool takes your given topic and runs search data for all the questions you could possibly think to ask. If the home page doesn’t pull you in, the intuitive infographs will. (For an added bonus, use this site in conjunction with the Keywords Everywhere browser extension—you’ll thank me later.)

Whether you’ve given up on your own sense of digital privacy or still fighting the good fight against the onset of the robot overlords, the data is out there. Hopefully you can find a way to use the data for good (and for profit, but mostly for good).

I Know You Are, But Who Am I?

“Life isn’t about finding yourself. Life is about creating yourself.”-George Bernard Shaw

Imaginative play is one of the joys of childhood. It removes all barriers and allows anyone to be a dragon, a queen, a dump truck driver, a farmer, a teacher, a professional athlete. The list of options is nearly infinite, and I only say “nearly” because I’m no good at math and I’m guessing someone might take issue with the fact that an infinite list is not actually possible. I digress. In Superconnected, Dr. Mary Chayko notes this method of identity formation, writing “Individuals also develop their selves and identities by using those in their immediate vicinity as a kind of mirror to the self. They look carefully at people’s reactions and responses when “trying on” a new behavior, characteristic, or preference. If something elicits a positive response, it is more likely to engender a sense of confidence, and such a quality is more likely to persist.”As children try on these personas, they are feeling them out independently, but also are very much aware of how others respond to them when they are that teacher, farmer, dragon, etc… This is how gender stereotypes are imposed before many even notice they’ve contributed to their existence. Girls are indulged when they play with dolls; boys are often shunned for playing with them. Girls get posed for pictures when they play in makeup; boys are drawn rewarded when they make a great throw with a football. This is changing, of course, but it’s still there. These roles are reinforced in media, as well. Families on tv often consist of a mom and dad, usually of the same race, and their children. Again things are changing, but those changes are new and fighting for space and a lasting place in the cultural identity. Ideas about class, culture, race, and intelligence are likewise taught to children, often without ever being discussed openly.

Most children accept these identities relatively well. Then they become teens, and this is where the internet really makes things interesting. For all the concerns one might have about social media bullying, access to inappropriate content, constant distractions, and the unwise decisions of adolescence that might now live forever online, teens who are finding the more confining identities available to them when they look for a model in their daily lives can find validation and acceptance. Chayko acknowledges this positive aspect: “Those who have been targeted or harmed due to socially marginalized aspects of their identities can use the same digital technologies to find one another, rally, and support one another. In the process, their group identities can be bolstered and their individual identities strengthened and extended into new directions. For those who have experienced such struggles, this can be so supportive as to be lifesaving.” So when I say that things like gender norms, closed definitions of “family,” stereotypes of race and class are changing, this is part of what is helping advance those changes.

Still, though, those negatives do exist. The key here is to embrace the change instead of fight it. To be proactive. The internet and social media are 100% a part of the lived experiences of American teens today, regardless of what we think of that fact. It’s not the only dangerous element of the teen years, either. Handing the car keys to a teen brings with it a host of dangers, too, but we still do it. Letting children spend the night at a friend’s house sometimes goes wrong. Playing high school sports can lead to injury. In each of these cases, though, experts (i.e. adults with experience) prepare teens for these experiences. Young adults take drivers ed. classes, clock hours behind the wheel with experienced drivers, and pass a test with a state examiner before driving off alone. Children are prepped from preschool for sleepovers with conversations about appropriate and inappropriate behaviors, walking them through what if’s and how to’s for those unforeseen situations. Coaches take their student athletes through warm ups and work them up to a level of play that mitigates the risk of injury. The answer to protecting against the downsides of the internet for teens is not rocket science. It’s modeling. It’s coaching. It’s teaching.

Like dress codes and norms of acceptable behaviors in schools, workplaces, and other shared spaces show teens how to successfully show up in the “real” world, we need to create similar guides for the virtual world. It might seem obvious to an adult that what one shares online becomes a part of their identity, that that rant or inappropriate meme shared publicly will have repercussions, but it’s not always obvious to a person whose life experiences have not yet taught that lesson. Adults must stop expecting teens to know how to navigate these online social spaces online simply because we let them into them when they asked. Explicit conversations must be had acknowledging that “Because people can control their self-presentational behavior online, they manage their impressions strategically and make decisions about what to self-disclose, and they do this both with known audiences and with strangers.” Good and bad examples need to be pointed out. What if’s and how to’s must be role-played. Adults must open up their own accounts as models for the young people in their lives. It’s not just, “Someone asked me to smoke a cigarette, what should I do?” anymore. It’s also, “Someone wants me to send them a naked selfie. What should I do?” and “I think this meme is funny, but I’m not sure how others will take it. Can I show you?”

My mother used to pull notes from my pockets and read them shamelessly. Police shine their headlights in vehicles parked in secluded spots after dark. Teachers monitor the halls in the schools. Online spaces need adults in the room, too.

Splinternet: The Opposite of Superconnected

Mary Chayko (2018), in Chapter 5 of Superconnected: The Internet, Digital Media, and Techno-Social Life, comments on globalization in technology use and network-building. She then defines the term “digital divide” to describe disparity among different groups using and accessing technology, and brings up the link between internet access and a country’s national income. Her discussion also highlights the relative success of many European countries, Singapore, the U.S., and Japan as competitive in the field of information technology. The chapter is titled “Global Impacts and Inequalities,” which asks us to consider the worldwide consequences of digital access issues and Internet governance.

America’s contribution to a global economy throughout history has often been de-emphasized by political administrations or citizens adopting attitudes of nationalism. Whether it was to grow the national economy or an attempt to build consumer trust in only American-made products, these actions greatly affected how the invention of the Internet and digital technologies would spread.

In 1933, the Buy American Act first solidified a focus on nationalism. As a result, some consumers stick to American cars and feel pride seeing Made in the USA on any product, big or small. As a nation, we create strategy to increase access and technology for Americans at home first, and as a second thought establish relationships with developing countries to increase their access. The attitude seen in many elements of American culture promotes access and economic benefit for Americans, but does not address issues of global digital access or commerce.

Besides national income and nationalist attitudes, an additional concern is raised in a 2019 Wall Street Journal article: The Rising Threat of Digital Nationalism. While select countries already dismantled the concept of a free world wide web by regulating their citizen’s content, this article describes the possibility of multiple, fragmented networks and closed “online borders.” Looking from the perspective of weaker countries, who do not yet have technological advantages, this situation could put them in a vulnerable position. If they were looking to become more competitive, they would need to choose which strong network of countries to join, which sounds way too close to a set-up for a world war. The full article is linked below: is this threat as worrisome as it sounds?

Citizen and professional news are perhaps more similar than different right now

The first two minutes are most valuable. **There are a few instances of adult language in this clip!!**

In her 2014 textbook exploring technology and society, sociologist Mary Chayko discusses at length the effects of technology on professional and citizen journalism.  Essentially, technology has caused a shift in power, from that of the industry or profession, to that of the individual.  Where once power rested in the ability to print and distribute print and publications, such as with newspapers, magazines and book publishers, an individual now has the means through the internet and social media to distribute information.  Due to this, argues Chayko, citizen journalism is pervasive but with its own flaws.  In her own words, “Professional journalism and news dissemination have changed dramatically as untrained citizens have begun to take on many of these roles and can share and publish information on social media without a “gatekeeper.””  Chayko quickly concludes though, “If we are all citizen journalists … then we should look to the disciplines of journalism and the social sciences to act in ways that uphold truth, accuracy, and understanding.”

In Chayko’s conclusion, especially when she references truth and accuracy, she fails to adequately discuss the dark side of journalism that has been around well before the internet (I honestly believe Chayko is carefully telling us professional news is slowly decaying).  Technology and the internet has provided a means for people (even citizen journalists) to distribute information regardless of its veracity.  The internet is a highly unregulated and peer-less entity.  Published information from its depth devoid of accuracy or presented with bias is not exclusive to the creation of the internet though.  Exaggerated, fake or otherwise entertainment reading has been around for much of the 20th Century.  Tabloids like The National Inquirer, Star and The Sun have drummed up drama and spun articles on the famous and wealthy since well before the internet.  Standing in line at the supermarket is all it takes for someone to read the cover images and conclude they lack truth, accuracy and understanding.

I’m not aware of much industry pressure or regulation in terms of tabloid news.  In fact, this part of the industry is responsible for an immense amount of privacy violations against celebrities and perhaps even responsible for the death of one celebrity.  Princess Diana’s motorcade is said to have been fleeing paparazzi vehicles when it crashed, which led to her death.  Despite instances like these, tabloid journalism enjoys the freedoms of the professional press (I stand to be corrected here and invite commentary).

Tabloid journalism also serves to demonstrate the power of print for ill and vain.  The industry no doubt makes money, as paparazzi photographers stand to receive quite the payday for embarrassing and unflattering photos of celebrities.  Ad sales also contribute to the profits, and ultimately toward the drive to continue publishing filthy and trashy stories.  This approach to publishing stories that grab the reader came to mind after Chayko discussed professional journalism’s contemporary approach to “[make] the news seem as interesting as possible in an attempt to attract more viewers or readers. This has led to a fairly high general level of sensationalism in which news stories are written and produced…”  Here, Chayko carefully tip-toes around the transition that has occurred in professional news: from that of balanced, highly screened and produced news, to that of a flavor more reminiscent of tabloid journalism.  Simply watch a couple hours of CNN or even the Weather Channel and you’ll better understand how boring news items are ballooned.

A considerable part of Chayko’s discussion is spent on the growth of citizen and “fake” news.  Chayko discerns a difference between professional and citizen news, describing the former as having information “…considered to have the edge in accuracy and believability over that of citizen journalists or bloggers.”  She is really drawing a fine line and I do not see a significant difference anymore; at least the difference between the two is shrinking rapidly I would argue.  The quality of professional news came from internal, self-regulated standards.  As a result, organizations are internally allowing sensationalized news.  Would more education or training help?  Possibly, but there is no Bachelor in Fair News degree.  Specialty news schools exist, but are a niche and graduate too few to supply news channels and papers nationwide.  The majority of professional news members attend colleges and universities that are in our backyard. What is the answer? The only place it can given the constitutional protection news media enjoys: within. Chayko adequately explained the rise of citizen and “fake” news, and intentionally or not, also explained how it is characteristically similar to professional news than different.

Mead, Fan-Fiction, and Star Wars

I was drinking mead with a friend last week (because my life is blessed) and we lit upon the subject of fantasy novels. She told me how much she enjoyed the work of Cassandra Clare and mentioned that Clare took audience feedback into consideration when creating new fiction. Perhaps it was because of Clare’s background in writing fan-fiction that made her tune-in to audience feedback so enthusiastically. When fans mentioned they saw the potential for a polyamorous relationship between some of Clare’s characters, she added a polyamorous relationship in a short story. Clare has also reached out to fans for advice, like when she asked fans of Middle-Eastern descent for feedback on a Persian character she was writing.

These fans are not compensated or credited for their contributions, but they no doubt find pleasure from working with this author as it allows them to “write themselves into being” (pg 119). They have direct influence over the author regarding the storylines and characters they want to see in her work. The relationship between Cassandra Clare and her internet fanbase can be considered participatory culture because it allows a group of people on social media to help the author create art “without being compensated in return” (pg 67). 

Not all artists might feel comfortable with this level of feedback from their audience, but I think it’s a healthy reminder that the role an audience plays in the act of creating art. The documentary The People vs George Lucas examines this relationship between creator and audience. While I don’t approve of the extreme sense of ownership or entitlement that some of the Star Wars fanatics display in that film, I do wonder if the Star Wars prequels would have been more successful if George Lucas had a direct line to his fanbase like Cassandra Clare.

Expression of the Self

In Mary Chayko’s book, Superconnected, she touches on the self, which she describes as “the person that you are, physically, psychologically, and socially.” The self can be broken down into three categories – the actual self, the ideal self and the ought self. The actual self is what you are, the ideal self is the type of person you feel you should be and the ought self is the type of traits you might possess someday. Through social interaction, our self and identity changes over time.

To some degree, the mobile phone has become an extension of ourselves. Social media sites like Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter allow us to choose how we present ourselves. We showcase our lifestyle and personality, often capturing the most positive aspects of our lives. Chayko reflects on Erving Goffman’s concept that we are “performers,” as we behave in the way we believe certain roles should act.  When presented with a platform of digital selves, we compare and transform the idea of our own sense of self, acting out such roles.

Similar to the way a child might pretend to be a teacher or a doctor, the people we interact with and follow on social media influence our behavior and tap into our desires. An example I can think of that involve all the selves pertain to my interest in running. I’ve been a runner my whole life and often post pictures from races or send updates about my time and routes with other runners (real self). I start following people or pages that embody my interest in running whether it be Olympic athletes, bloggers, or local runners in my community (ideal self). Inspired by other ideal selves, I may decide to tackle a new running goal or switch up how I have been practicing (ought self). In addition, certain platforms or influencers might inspire me to buy certain running apparel like watches, shoes, or clothing.

Social media platforms make it possible for the actual and ideal selves to intersect. Chayko states, “It may seem strange to think of social life as a show, but think of how you might behave if there were no audiences whatsoever for your behavior – if you lived entirely alone and did not encounter others on a daily basis.” Although this may be an extreme scenario, it’s an interesting concept. Would I still behave the way I do now or continue the same hobbies? Is my behavior reflective of my actual self or is it rooted in the idea of showcasing an ideal self?

In the current digital world where influencers are on the rise, the question that comes into to play is whether or not people are being their true authentic selves. Chayko states, “People imagine, play, perform. They try things out and see how other react.” People will continually shape their digital self and experiment according to certain reactions.  While it’s important to present your actual self, social media allows us to explore a wide range of interests and hobbies and shape our identity through segmented selves.

Chayko, M. (2016). Superconnected : the internet, digital media, and techno-social life. Sage Publications, Inc.

Rinsta, Finsta, and Sinsta: The Identies of Instagram

The inclusion of technology in our everyday lives has produced impactful changes in societies. We experience life through apps, share thoughts and feelings digitally, have robots vacuum our floors, and throughout all this share ourselves with technology. Traditionally, the only other beings we could share with is other humans with whom we knew personally. As Dr. Mary Chayko’s chapters 4, 5, and 6 of Superconnected: The Internet, Digital Media, and Techno-Social Life explores, technology is shaping the way we live and with whom we identify. As Chayko’s chapter 6 states, “self and identity are shaped and transformed in interaction with others” (p.114). However, the modern “others” extends far beyond our traditional, physical social circle. Technology, primarily within the sharing of ideas and social media, has ushered in a new opportunity for identity development. Chayko discusses “agents of socialization”, which can include family and friendship groups where we are most comfortable and authentically ourselves (p.115). In 2020, however, agents of socialization, for many, reside outside their direct network and instead function as social media influencers. Influencers, on an individual level, can vary greatly. Some identities are affected by the organizational powers of Susan Santoro of Organized 31, while others prefer the adulting advice and musing of Katina Mountanos. By absorbing the advice provided by both of these influencers, online users are inspired, or influenced, to shape their identities. We may mimic their behavior, dress, communication style, or social media photos. For many of us, these agents of socialization define how we project our identity out to the world as our multifaceted selves.

     When working with undergraduate students, I have always been impressed by how invested they are in Instagram. Their Instagram identity holds a great deal of weight in their life, but one instance of themselves isn’t enough. Just as Chayko discusses the multifaceted self, she states of identity, “people tend to produce and manage their online identities rather strategically and to evaluate others’ identities just as strategically” (p. 119). The students I have worked with, supervised, and taught, do just this. The self is multifaceted and so when presenting their identities online, they do so in a multifaceted way through various Instagram profiles. Many years ago I was introduced to the terms applied to these profiles rinstafinsta, and sinsta. A rinsta, or real Instagram, is an individual’s main account. In my experience, students tend to post an identity that is easily digestible to all in this space. Meaning their mom and dad, grandma or grandpa, or the common public could view it without any cause for concern. The finsta, or fake Instagram, on the other hand typically requires approval to follow (private account). It isn’t necessarily used for content that is “naughty”, it’s a more an authentic, unedited version of the individual’s identity. Finally, there is the sinsta, yes, this is the fun one. Unless you’re a parent, then this is about to be uncomfortable. The sinsta is a private account where the user is free to post whatever they want. Ok, relax parents, it doesn’t necessarily have to contain a naughty picture, frankly, some use it as just a “secret instragram” not a “sin”-stagram. Others, however, definitely use it as a place for sin, and for that, parents, I am sorry. The reality is these various Instagram accounts showcase the multifaceted identities we can supply to others. 

    We are not all angels, but we’re not exactly devils either. We are people who create our identities through various engagement with others which includes social to sexual practices. As Chayko states, “technology use by the young can have a range of effects, both beneficial and potentially hazardous” (p. 127). The way I see it, at least, when young adults feel they need to share something a little private, they are wise enough to create a fake, private account. By doing so, they’re already more sophisticated digital citizens than good old Anthony Weiner, the former New York politician and convicted sex offender. For the record, the students I engage with are all legal adults, who I assume are engaging with other legal adults. My opinion if I worked with middle schoolers or high schoolers would probably have a very different outlook. 

The Price of Oversharing Our Lives

When I look down at my phone or laptop, I sometimes get the feeling that this small device knows more about me than myself at times. The things we Google, the patterns in which we post, and our likes and dislikes all get funneled through this device onto the internet. Surely, we all have our own personalized way of interacting online, and we showcase this free of charge usually. In Superconnected: The Internet, Digital Media and Techno-Social Life, Mary Chayko states that, “As people contribute information to websites, blogs, and social media networks, they tell others a great deal about themselves and make quite a bit of personal information public without being compensated in return” (Chayko, 2016, p. 68.). This relates directly to how I experience online engagement. It is that feeling when you are researching the best tennis racquet to purchase, and then tennis advertisements pop-up on a different seemingly unrelated application. Or, when a social media application recommends a topic that you have internally been wondering about, have not looked for it online yet.

These almost uncanny experiences remind me that every minute of every day we are feeding our personal information into this digital medium with little to return. We have created our own return, and that is the meaningful engagement we have with other humans who are also on these media platforms. Likewise, this meaningful connection that we get out of engaging in media is also changing. The human aspect of Web 2.0 is slowly decreasing, as the relationship is starting to be just between us and the technology. We persistently feed our information into this system, only to be met with more technology to interact with. For example, “whether one is shopping, banking, or trying to contact someone at a business by phone, it can be difficult if not impossible to find a human being to be of assistance when making transactions or discussing pertinent issues” (Chayko, 2016, p. 69).

With the onset of Covid-19 and social distancing measures, we have fallen even further away from human connection instead exchanged for technology. No longer is traveling to the grocery store needed when ordering online groceries is just as efficient. Every aspect of our daily life is becoming a commodity to technology. As humans, we are sharing much of our lives to these technology companies in exchange for almost nothing, besides feeling embedded in the systematic technology. Personally, I think technology and the creative space Web 2.0 has provided have great benefits, however, we must be aware of what we are giving away to be apart of this space. As the world grows increasingly digital, we are almost forced to overshare ourselves in this way. Hopefully, our sense of autonomy stays with us as well.

Chayko, M. (2016). Superconnected : the internet, digital media, and techno-social life. Sage Publications, Inc.

The Power of Social Media 

To say that 2020 has been rough would be the understatement of the year. We are in the midst of a pandemic, as well as a fight for social reform, all while heading straight towards the next Presidential Election taking place in less than 30 days. What makes things easier in these hard times is the ease of communication and sense of comradery that online communities provide. I can’t speak for everyone, but I know that personally I have remained updated and informed regarding current and local events thanks to social media. Many of the people or organizations I follow have shared useful information to the general public such as how to request absentee ballots, where to drop off donations, and where to find free Covid-19 testing to name a few examples. Communicating and sharing via social media has allowed for “people to reach out to one another and organize their actions so that as a group they might make a greater difference” (Chayko 2017). Social media outlets have provided a platform in which users can spread awareness, connect with and recruit others, organize actions, and perhaps meet in person to carry out those actions.  

Back in May, when George Floyd was murdered here in Minneapolis, I saw the powerful effects of social media firsthand. While I don’t think it was appropriate that footage of the murder was being spread as it feels disrespectful to George and his family, I did understand why it was being shared. What had happened was awful. But, because of civilians recording the murder, it was now being talked about on every news outlet and social media platform instead of being swept under the rug. Chayko asks the question, “How will the internet and digital media assist you in making an imprint on the world around you and perhaps changing the balance and use of power?” (2017). The use of personal recordings as well as social media platforms allowed for the general public to witness what had happened. After the murder, my social media was flooded with organizations to donate to, where protests were occurring, where to drop off supplies, and city official’s phone numbers and addresses to connect with. Based on what was being viewed online and in the news, people were able to use social media to contribute to the dialogue about police brutality against black men and women.  

With social media comes accessibility. Through social media the general public has access to information from others, as well as access to higher officials in power. Chayko writes that, “It is now possible to speak directly to politicians, business owners, or leaders of all kinds of organizations via a Twitter account or a blog, for example. Social networks open up pathways by which messages can more easily be sent to those who are in power. Even if recipients do not respond individually or even see every single message, tens or hundreds or thousands of such messages may have a collective influence” (2017). By providing access to those in power, as well as publicizing information, events, causes, and protests, social media has inspired change and helped many movements gain momentum.   

Unfortunately, the story of an unarmed black man dying at the hands of a cop isn’t new. This is an unjust narrative has been around for decades. What is more recent, however, is the accountability that comes with this narrative being talked about and shared on social media. As Will Smith said on The Colbert Show in 2016, “Racism is not getting worse, it’s getting filmed.”  

Because of the ease at which information can be shared now, we are seeing a whole new world of possibilities where activism is concerned. In the Wired article, Social Media Helps Black Lives Matter Fight the Power, Mckesson said, “The thing about King or Ella Baker is that they could not just wake up and sit at the breakfast table and talk to a million people. Social media could serve as a source of live, raw information. It could summon people to the streets and coordinate their movements in real time. And it could swiftly push back against spurious media narratives with the force of a few thousand retweets”. While Chayko writes that citizen journalists haven’t been trained in professional journalistic techniques, often times aren’t fact checked, and may plagiarize, it’s been found that many viewers and listeners turn to Twitter or Facebook for breaking news coverage rather than traditional media outlets (2017). The mainstream media lumped peaceful protesters in with the arsonists, looters and rioters that took to the streets of Minneapolis after the death of George Floyd; but The Role of Social Media in Black Lives Matter details how social media was able to “fill in the gaps in mainstream narratives”. Not only is social media able to be a place to “share resources, petitions, and links for donations”, but a place for live coverage. Facebook Live and Unicorn Riot were able to provide live coverage of the protests (and riots) to document for viewers unsolicited acts of police violence that the mainstream media wasn’t reporting. Chayko writes that, “Independent and citizen journalism represents a voice for “the people,” an opportunity for them—us—to be heard, to gather, and to make a difference” (2017). From social media response, to protest mobilization, to legal action, The Role of Social Media in Black Lives Matter article states that “the power of social media is not to be underestimated”. 

Chayko, M. (2017). Superconnected. SAGE Publications, Inc.  

Your Roomba is Sending the Layout of Your House to iRobot HQ

I apologize for the clickbait title but with the fact being that I heard people fearing over this on Tumblr and in our course textbook within the week I considered it a ponderable subject for this blog post. Also, my clickbait title isn’t exactly false. Unless you set a Roomba device not to in the app, Roombas will send the mapping data of your house to the cloud, where it’s compiled with other data to make a map for the app. So yes, the Roomba is sending the data to iRobot headquarters, which despite the company’s name being so close to the Will Smith movie, is not planning to use the information to break into everyones homes and start the robot revolution. 

However, those that raise the concern around Roomba and other products that collect data in similar ways are likely correct in raising the alarm bells. I know that when I first read the bit in Mary Chayko’s book Superconnected: The Internet, Digital Media and Techno-Social Life where she raises the concern about Roomba’s data collection, I laughed. She writes:

“Digital sites and apps may seem free to visit or use, but a bounty of personal information is generally provided during such visits. Even as the iRobot “Roomba” is sed to vacuum a floor, information about the items in that person’s house (and their mapped locations) is being collected and could theoretically be shared and sold; imagine ads for armchairs following you across the internet simple because your Roomba has detected that you do not own one!”

Mary Chayko, Superconnected

I had read that bit about a day afte having stumbled upon some folks on Tumblr fear-mongering over the Roomba for the very same reason and (in my assumption) a very reasonable user came in and laughed away concerns noting how Roombas can’t collect much information and only use it to make Roombas work better and that previous models of the Roomba would get stuck easily in many homes because the designers and machines didn’t have adequate testing data and to solve that data problem the designers added data collection. Naturally, with the biases of reading that post earlier, I laughed off some of Chayko’s warning. Since, I’ve changed my mind, to an extent. I’ve read more up on the concerns of data privacy and the millions companies are making in the era of surveillance apitalism, much from Chayko’s book. 

During the week I also watched The Social Dilemma, which explores the many ethical concerns around the current technological landscape through dramatization and interviews with several major thinkers on the topic. One such thinker is Joe Toscano, founder of the Better Ethics and Consumer Outcomes Network (BEACON), and former Experience Designer at Google, who left Google in 2017 due to ethical concerns. Toscano has a whole TED Talk about his concerns and possible solutions that I watched shortly after watching the documentary. In the talk he stresses that data collection is not simply automating what the tech industry deems as low cost menial work (like the housekeepers that predated to Roomba), but also other jobs to let companies hire less workers and make more money while the labor market becomes even more destabilized. Most frightening to me was the information that Adobe CC (who I thought couldn’t possibly hate designers more than it already does by becoming a subscription service in 2013) collects data from its users which will be used in Adobe Sensei which will automate parts of the creative process, likely eliminating jobs in an already incredibly competitive job market that I am going to school for. 

The technology we use collects data on every thing that we “give it permission” to do, and the companies that hold this data are only going to use it to make more and more money with no regard for the consequences on the users’ lives unless we change how these companies are allowed to operate. From Your Roomba May Be Mapping Your Home, Collecting Data That Could Be Shared by Maggie Astor, the Supreme Court worries that once we allow the information about the inner maps of our homes to be something that companies can record, share or even sell, other privacies could be at risk due to the precedent. 

I recommend visiting, as it relates heavily to the material of the section of Chayko’s book we just read through, and it’s less of a time sink than the documentary (another added bonus is those cringe-worthy dramatizations are not in the website).

Identity formation through self-expression on the internet

I often wonder what the long-term effects of social media and technology engagement might be for people who have had access to them at early ages. Chayko terms children who have grown up with technology as “digital natives,” whom, “have come of age in environments in which the internet and digital media are an ordinary part of people’s lives” (p. 126). For myself, at the age of 25, I am probably on the border of this definition, as I can remember growing up without knowing what the internet was. My family did not acquire high-speed internet until I was roughly in middle school. My first exposures to it were probably at school during information/technology classes, though I also remember going over to my neighbor’s home and using their computer to watch music videos on Yahoo! music. I can remember what life was like before internet, but I was also introduced to it at a young age.

The Final Days of DRM: Yahoo Music Store Closing, Will Eat Your Purchased  Music - ReadWrite

I am no psychologist, but I know there must be tremendous effects, both positive and negative, to identity, social, and emotional development on children who are digital natives. In the Netflix documentary The Social Dilemma, an interview with social psychologist Johnathan Haidt explains that there are higher rates of depression and anxiety in teenagers beginning from 2011 to 2013. He suggests that these teenagers spend more time on their devices and less time engaging with their peers in physical environments, thus are less comfortable with taking risks and pursuing things such as driver’s licenses or romantic interactions. His evaluation might be that these youth’s identities are more dependent on social media.

Chayko, on the other hand, offers that there are some positive aspects of having access to the internet during childhood development. Much of this comes from being able to practice self-expression through blog posting, photo sharing, editing social media profiles and avatars, video making, and many other things. On the internet, there is a significant amount of freedom allowed for a person to express themselves. Chayko explains, “many individuals can feel more playful and free when they are online, which can translate to a sense of freedom when expressing the self” (p. 120). There is a lot more room and less consequences to experiment and take “social” risks in expressing. This reminds me of the movie The Eight Grade which released in 2018. The movie’s central character, an eighth-grade girl named Kayla, is very shy and introverted during most of her in-person social interactions, but is rather outspoken and articulate in her YouTube vlogs where she advocates topics in mental wellness and personal motivation. Although she is quiet, at times she acts out the behaviors she advocates for in her videos in moments of personal growth.

While the movie is fictional, I think its themes shed light on how using the internet as an outlet for self-expression can help young individuals discover truths about their identity. Chayko elaborates on this, and explains, “[Children] can try out and test who they are and who they want to be,” receiving both positive and negative feedback during their growth. The Social Dilemma focuses more on the feed/advertisement algorithms of web 2.0 sites, which could potentially reinforce a dependency. The speakers in the video argue that a major restricting of these algorithms is in order, which I agree with. What I also think is important in general, among other things, is to monitor children’s use of the internet, observing its effects, and allowing them to express themselves, but also encouraging them to do both online and offline.

Chayko, M. (2018). Superconnected: The Internet, digital media, and techno-social life. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications.

Rhodes L. (Producer), & Orlowski J. (Director). (2020). The Social Dilemma. Retrieved from

Sharing Entailing Many Issues

As Chayko (2018) notes, people these days share lots of information online and that kind of information accumulates a lot and spreads in public, which Chayko  (2018) refers to “crowdsourcing” (p.73). Sharing useful information for free of charge with unlimited access can benefit a number of members in the community of social media. However, as Chayko (2018) points out, it has emerged as an issue that people do not acknowledge how much of their personal information is exposed or illegally used for the matters they are not even aware of (p.67). As Chayko (2018) touches the very sensitive part, so called, surveillance, I believe that it becomes a more sensitive issue to discuss when it comes to considering if surveillance is “asymmetrical” or “vertical” (p.84). Although there would be many side effects such as data mining and hacking, I argue that there should be a certain type of system or organization to protect the personal information of online civils.         

The issue that I desire to focus on is the one about “fake news” (Chayko, 2018, p.82). As the content of the post is up to those who post it, it is actually true that posters can upload whichever content they want as long as it is not directly against the posting rule (eg. In S. Korea, direct swearing can be deleted without any notice to the poster who posted it). To take an example of fake news that caused a huge turmoil in S. Korea, there was a positing on the biggest portal web site, called Naver, in S. Korea a few years ago. Some person posted that N. Korea is preparing a new type of arms so that they can suddenly attack S. Korea any time soon. This post became so influential that people started to get food and necessities from grocery stores. Soon there formed lines in front of grocery stores, and people buying instant noodles and canned food were broadcast on TV. Looking back, I am so glad this fake news was proved untrue before long and moreover, that there was no riot or violent crowds due to the chaos from public worries about war. However, what if there were? What if this little piece of fake news became so big that it affected so many people and provoked crowds’ violence inside. My questions are: “Who would catch this kind of fake news makers which I consider a cybercrime?” “Who would punish them and how?”        

Memes and Online Attention

Over the last few years, we have seen a rise in the sharing of memes. The idea of an easy to digest image and a sentence to express a certain idea or joke has overtaken social media and has become the predecessor of the once popular vine videos. It seems like memes make up a good chunk of what you will be scrolling through on your Facebook, at least, in my case. Scrolling through my Facebook feed, I will find videos, pictures, ads, and memes. Very rarely do I see people posting up personal posts about their interests anymore but rather, it has shifted to posting memes that reflect their humor or ideals. This shift could possibly be due to how quick and easy it is to like a post and then press a share button. I am no stranger to this as well.

The content of memes could be anything. It doesn’t even have to be limited to a picture, but could be a video, or a gif. Memes are not meant to be visually appealing design wise, which could be the reason behind the actual appeal to them. They are easily accessible and quite easy to make. All it takes is a simple editing tool, and an idea. Memes have a DIY visual style that is in a way, very inviting to others that want to partake in it.

As sharing and creating memes has become more prevalent over the last couple of years, it has become customary and almost in a way, respectful to like or react to the post of whoever had shared it before you (Chayko, n.d.). Online attention has led to a high status on social media. The more likes you have, the more popular you are. It is something that is not just unique to Facebook either. Other social media sites such as Instagram and YouTube thrive off of likes and sharing. It is how Youtubers gain their fame and fortune. It is on Instagram users can promote their art or brand.

You didn't like my Facebook post NO FRIENDS FOR YOU! - soup nazi | Meme  Generator

In the digital world of meme sharing, it is considered proper etiquette to give attention to others in the form of liking and following, in exchange for their attention (Chayko, n.d.). When you share something from someone but don’t like their post, you may get the occasional, “Like my post before sharing” comment. This is something I have seen myself when I forget to like the original meme that my friend has shared before sharing it myself. As long as I like and share a meme or post from my friends, I will often find that they will do the same for me, adding to this cycle of giving and receiving in the world of digital attention. Many people crave attention in one way or another. With the rise of social media and meme sharing, that attention has evolved into a give and receive type of relationship.

giphy.gif (500×500) | Como eu me sinto

Chayko, M. (n.d.). Superconnected. Retrieved from

The Ongoing Discussion Around Online Content

There are a lot of high-visibility, high-impact cases happening right now regarding online content. From the battle over net neutrality, to copyright infringement cases (see Oracle vs. Google) to attempts at quelling fake news (see Facebook’s QAnon battle) to the ongoing battle to end cyberbullying, they all straddle the line between free speech and public responsibility. The outcomes will affect our experience online, and thus, as Mary Chayko discusses in Superconnected (2018), our online socialization experience.

Who we are online should not be considered different than who we are in our daily offline lives. “It makes sense to think of the self that is created, performed, and exhibited online as a manifestation of the self that exists offline as well” (118). This is especially true for those that are growing up in technologically rich environments. They “generally become rather comfortable with technology and are less likely to view the online and offline experience as separate contexts” (129). It is thus reasonable for us to expect the same litigious, participatory, diverse, and consequential culture online as we are afforded offline. It is also reasonable for communities to react strongly to the cases that affect their social development (how they see themselves and how they’re seen by others).

What is different is the amount of data mining and surveillance we’ve become accustomed to when we’re active online, and how this is used by others. “Online communities are characterized both by watching and by a high awareness of being watched” (89).   If this were to happen in our daily lives, there’s little doubt anti-harassment and anti-stalking laws would be leveraged. Instead, we participate in what Chayko calls an “attention economy” (76) where the attention we’re paid when we’re online is the real currency. This attention can empower us to reveal beliefs and habits that we may not otherwise find a niche for in offline society.  The more time and attention we invest in these niches, the more we’re likely to find groups of individuals with the same non-mainstream thoughts and habits.

Digital media provides individuals with platforms and tools that can be used to express all kinds of ideas and impulses.”

Mary Chayko, Superconnected (2018, p119)

The success and longevity of these groups, which sometimes develop into reaffirming echo chambers (82) and narrow agents of socialization (115), are affected by the outcomes of cases pertaining to our online experience.  In a litigious society like the US, this is unsurprising, but it nonetheless has an impact as to how we’re socialized and develop our sense of self both on and offline. We form opinions based on what’s legal, on what’s morally justified, on what feels like corrupt overreach.  Sometimes, a legal verdict is seen as biased censorship, forcing groups underground, sure of their oppression, an attempt to hide the truth (here’s an interesting conspiracy FB profile I sometimes scan).  Other times, it’s seen as a sensible means of protecting gullible consumers from being deceived or corporate developers from being deprived of what they’re justifiably (and financially) entitled to.   

I’m not sure how I feel about online censorship and copyrighted vs. public domain code overall. I think there is danger in misleading content around government and health, but I do not know who should act as the source of and enforcer of ‘the truth.’  I think net neutrality is crucial for innovation and healthy self-identities but can be harmful for kids if they stumble on the ‘wrong’ content.  I think the Oracle vs. Google case can create a messy minefield.  I think that conspiracy theories are endlessly entertaining, and I struggle with censorship.  I have also seen friends fall hook, line, and sinker into ridiculous echo chambers fraught with wild ideas that take away from genuine enrichment.  How do you feel about the pending cases, their impact on our online lives, and how this may or may not translate to our experiences offline?

Consumers as Volunteers

It seemed to happen slowly and then all at once. Anecdotally, over the last two decades I would observe small changes in the businesses I (or my parents) interacted with as a consumer. The Blockbuster stores of my youth were transformed first by Netflix’s mailing service and RedBox and then permanently made obsolete by streaming services. Tickets used on busses and lunch account personnel were replaced by scanners for school IDs. And of course, a section of self-checkout stalls popped up in every grocery store.

Some of these automated entities required more work of the user. For example, those using self-checkout at the grocery store must scan and likely pack all of their own items. However, the speed and efficiency with which this can be accomplished often negates the extra effort on the part of the consumer. In the circumstance of the versatility of scannable school IDs, the consumer does need to keep track of their school ID, rather than just supplying their name or an account number, and needs to remember to bring it. There is some extra effort required on the part of the consumer that is necessary in order to negate the role of the previous intermediary employee who existed between the consumer and the database.

Target Self Check Out, 6/2016, Newington, CT pics by Mike Mozart of TheToyChannel and JeepersMedia on YouTube #Target #Self #Check #Out
“Target Self Check Out, 6/2016, Newington, CT pics by Mike Mozart of TheToyChannel and JeepersMedia on YouTube #Target #Self #Check #Out” by JeepersMedia is licensed under CC BY 2.0

This is a partial description of the consumer as a volunteer employee phenomenon described by Chayko in Superconnected (2018). We are seeing this phenomenon develop rapidly in virtually every industry. Mobile banking apps frequently replace the need to visit a branch, online payments and scheduling for classes increases efficiency and decreases the necessary number of paid employees. Of this development, Chayko writes, “Customers willingly participate in the production of the product or service, even as they consume and sometimes pay for the experience” (2018). I find the generalized perspective in this chapter to have degrees of accuracy and inaccuracy.

First, it is true that consumers are often required, or at least heavily encouraged by automation and digital services, to participate more readily in their own service. As mentioned above, a greater demand is put on the consumer in circumstances such as using a self-checkout. However, I would posit two objections to the general perspective that this is a negative. First, currently the choice for consumers remains for many of these services. Traditional bank branches, check out lines, and stores in which videos can be purchased still exist. One could make the argument that these systems may be become obsolete and it is just taking longer, but I would suggest that is a simplification of the broader trend. One of Chayko’s primary predictions of this trend is that as the consumer takes on more responsibility, businesses are the sole benefactor. Businesses that currently provide traditional and automated options are already exploring additional convenience-based uses of technology that actually do require more effort on their end.

Consider the booming trend of grocery pickup. Many grocery stores are allowing their customers to fill virtual carts from the comfort of home, select a pickup time, and have their groceries delivered to their car without even having to exit the vehicle for free. It is even a common policy to substitute an item that a customer ordered with a more expensive or numerous option in the event that the original item selection is unavailable at no extra cost. For example, in my own grocery pickup order, I had selected a 40 pack of an item. The store did not have the 40 pack in stock, so I was given two 24 packs at the same price. This model requires significantly less work from me, more work on the part of the business as someone has to fill my entire order, and puts the business at a very real potential for loss as customers receive more expensive substitutions at a lower price.

A second argument in support of automated digital services is customer convenience. Consider using a banking app to deposit a check versus going into a branch. Yes, technically at the branch a customer service representative assists you and performs part of the functions of the interaction. On a banking app you are responsible for the entire interaction. However, does this necessarily mean more work for the customer or just less work for everyone? Personally, I detest going to the bank, waiting in line, shuffling my toddler from one worn out hip to the other while I dig through my bag to find my wallet. It is exponentially preferable to me to open an app on my phone that recognizes my face and gives me immediate access to all of my accounts and many services. Although, that is many services, not all. More specialized services such as loan assistance still require the customer to go into the branch and, if my bank’s 30-minute-long checkout line is any indicator, customer service representatives are not lacking for business.

Ultimately, it is difficult to predict exactly where these trends will lead. It is frightening to consider, but leaps of human ingenuity have occurred in the past and fundamental tenets of ethics, morality, and decency have generally won out. I hold an optimistic perspective that this will continue into the digital future.

Chayko, M. (2018). Superconnected: The Internet, digital media, and techno-social life. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications.

Spoiler Alert: We Don’t Know What We’re Doing. Yet.

In his book, Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind, Yuval Noah Harari explores the evolutionary path humanity has taken to get where we are today. He acknowledges a cognitive revolution, the agricultural revolution, the industrial revolution, and the scientific revolution as pivotal moments in the evolution of mankind. While daily life has changed markedly for humans through each of those revolutions, humanity has remained constant in its need for community. That need for community is where we so far failed, unfortunately, to successfully leverage the digital world available to us.

As Mary Chayko identifies in Superconnected: The Internet, Digital Media, and Technosocial Life, though, “Social life—living in tandem with others, in relationships, in families, in communities—is one of the aspects of people’s lives most profoundly changed when information and communication technology enters the equation.” She also asserts that “The internet and digital media connect people together in ways both mundane and significant. they help bring people into one another’s awareness and allow them to discover commonalities and contact one another.” We should be enjoying a transcendence of our differences, but so far we just seem to be entrenching more deeply in them.

I have to wonder what happened in the few years since Superconnected was published to make those optimistic statements feel like a fairytale. Once upon a time, humanity was gifted the internet and everyone lived happily ever after… Instead, our digital tools and social media spaces seem to be dividing us more than anything else. Is it us? Is it the technology? Is it Obama? I think we can find two possible answers to how we are failing to make the most of this recent revolution in the history of our evolution.

First, Harari informs us that our ability to band together and form communities hinged in large part on the commodification of gossip. Relationships and reputations were built, strengthened, damaged, and rebuilt as individuals shared coded information about the individuals in the group in the form of gossip. This hasn’t changed much in the intervening thousands of years. We seem to have reached critical mass in the last thirty years, however. Harari says, “even gossip has its limits. Sociological research has shown that the maximum ‘natural’ size of a group bonded by gossip is about 150 individuals. Most people can neither intimately know, nor gossip effectively about, more than 150 human beings.” When gossip was still being exchanged in the local beauty salon or bar or office space, we could maintain those communities. It still works within families, friend groups, workplaces, and small communities. With the ballooning of our communities into spaces that can accommodate thousands and more, however, our ability to maintain community by leveraging “gossip,” and thus personal relationships, falls apart.

Then there’s another of Harari’s evolutionary truths that states “Imagined orders are … the only way large numbers of humans can cooperate effectively.” The lack of leadership in these spaces inhibits the ability of the group to make any real progress beyond simply sharing the common interest that brought them together in the first place. Moderators can block users, delete comments, and write rules of etiquette, but there is no real power in any of those moves. The affected parties can either continue to post or start their own group. In this way, the limitless access to communities does less to open our eyes to more perspectives than it does to provide ample opportunities to reinforce our own.

Given that digital reality is so new in its current forms, it’s not surprising that humanity would need more than thirty years to adapt. Until we do find a way to manage and leverage these spaces for good, expect as much division as there is highlighting of commonalities.

Digital Transcendence: The Recipe that Will Give Your Blog an Afterlife

Consider all the ingredients that come together and make up the food we eat. There are endless possibilities to what pastries could be made from a bit of flour, sugar, eggs, milk, and whatever else you might find in your pantry. Cakes, cookies, muffins, sweet breads, donuts, and pies all have thousands of different varieties and can be made using techniques that differ among cultures and traditions.

Now that your mouth is watering and your stomach growling, take a moment to think about how and why you know what they are and how they’re made. As humans, we need to eat. As communities, we have limitations on the availability of ingredients. As a culture, we have foods that have become a tradition. As a country founded and built by immigrants, we have been imbued with the culinary wisdom of dozens of cultures with centuries of experience.

These foods have persisted through the ages because of a singular social construct: the recipe.

Recipes transcend their creators. They are more than ink and paper. They have their own past, their own present, and their own future. Recipes live on because of their importance in the minds of those who’ve made it, those who’ve eaten it, and those who’ve taught the recipes to others.

Like recipes, all the bits of information, ideas, and values that define us will live on in the minds of those around us and those to come. In Superconnected, Mary Chayko writes that “all social connections and groupings, including those that originate face-to-face, exist in their most complete form in the minds of their members.”

The knowledge we have curated in our lifetime can be passed on through our interconnectedness and be given a life of its own. Here are a few observations on what we can do to make our blogs as consumable and memorable as grandma’s thanksgiving pies:

What is accessible to your audience?

What good is a recipe if you don’t have all the ingredients? Likewise, what good is the information you’re sharing with your audience if they lack the background knowledge to give it the proper context?

Hubspot’s blog on knowing your audience recommends monitoring audience feedback. Analyze how people are responding to your content to gauge their understanding. If the only thing people have are questions about the flux capacitor, then you know you need to edit your blog and add in some helpful notes from Doc Brown.

What does your audience really want?

There’s only one reason a recipe can disappear from existence—no one wants it. Create a recipe for chocolate chip salmon tarts and see how long it lasts. Similarly, the information you share will have to fall into two main categories:

Something familiar: Whether it’s a reliably fruitful experience or a quick answer to a quick question, some audiences know what they want and expect to find it on your page.

Something new and exciting: Audiences are often reading and researching to learn new things or to find inspiration that will bring them out of a rut.

You can prepare your audience for what kind of content you’re giving them in your page title. It can either be a “This is how it’s done” title or a “What if you try this” title.

Always add flavor.

Whether for good or bad, both food and knowledge are memorable for their unique qualities. Find a way to make your words resonates in your audience’s mind after they read it. Maybe it’s a good pun, a line of wisdom, or the perfect chart that illustrates an idea.

Your audience may not remember you or the name of your blog, but if the knowledge you share transcends the page and finds a place in their memory, you have come a step closer to bringing something immortal into the universe.

Intimate Connection in the Digital Age

In Mary Chayko’s book, SuperConnected, she touches on reality, presence, and proximity. Chayko states, “It is sometimes hard to understand how community, social presence, emotionality, and intimacy can be experienced when physical cues are absent or diminished in digital environments. If we can’t see someone’s face (which is often the case online) or touch a hand or meet up for a date, can we really become intimately connected?”

While reflecting on this question, I thought about the photoblog, Humans of New York (HONY), a collection of street portraits and interviews with New York residents. The seemingly ordinary photographs of these residents are combined with captions that share intimate details about their lives. From happy to sad, to surprising, or uplifting, the captions have a “chicken soup for the soul” storytelling style that evoke a variety of emotions. In the case of HONY, social media users are mere observers to these strangers’ experiences. And although the residents pictured in the photographs are strangers, viewers have connected with and perhaps even related to the subjects’ struggles, joys, and other compelling stories.

There is something to be said about sharing intimate details through a digital medium, especially when it’s with a stranger. Chayko states, “This is similar to the “meeting on the train” phenomenon, in which people confide secrets to a total stranger whom they do not expect to ever see again simply because the setting lends itself to the sharing of intimacies.” This phenomenon has been the reason for the success of other projects such as PostSecret, a space where strangers send in anonymous secrets. Unlike HONY, viewers don’t have access to any identifying information.

PostSecret’s voyeuristic display of messages relates to Chayko’s “lights off” comparison. While intimacies are more easily shared in the dark, people lower their inhibitions and feel more comfortable sharing personal information when the visual face-to-face confrontation is eliminated. This platform transcends ordinary interaction as people write in to divulge their deepest confessions. In this case, it seems social media has created new avenues for connectedness, even on an intimate level. The relatability and sense of connectedness that comes from such platforms can be therapeutic to both the subject and its users.

While I’ve only shared two examples, the number of similar projects has escalated significantly since the popularity of blogs and other forms of digital media. It is amazing to see how much people are willing to share online in order to connect with others or enhance their online presence. Even more interest yet, is the fact that our brain interprets these digital images in the same way as our physical experiences.

Chayko mentions that in response to these digital images or events, “the brain’s cognitive and perceptual systems prepare the body for the situations that are confronted, and, physiologically, the body and brain respond.” People have developed a unique relationship with technology and react to such posts, videos, and images with physiological responses that would deem the digital experience to be real. While the face-to-face interaction is absent, the emotional impact remains.

Technology will never be able to replace the importance of face-to-face interaction, but it can certainly enhance relationships and make it easier to connect with a wide variety of social groups, regardless of proximity. Whether it’s a late-night text, a phone call, or off-the-cuff confession, the digital environment has allowed us to form meaningful relationships and become more intimately connected.

Chayko, M. (2018). Superconnected : the internet, digital media, and techno-social life. Sage Publications, Inc.

Friend Requests are for Friends

In chapter two of her book, Superconnected: The Internet, Digital Media, and Techno-Social Life, Mary Chayko explains how an early social networking site did not account for what she calls a “truism” of online social networks. She explains that the people forming online communities joined sites to maintain and enhance existing relationships. The truth was that the majority of these people hoped for connections that were established in the real world first, online second. The online community was a way to improve communication and offer more opportunities to connect, but this was in addition to the face-to-face meet ups. Thinking about how this perceived persona compares to social media users now can be an interesting reflection.

The site Six Degrees connected people that were geographically far from each other, so it missed what modern algorithms use to connect people who could reasonably visit each other. The creators saw what was possible but did not see how users would want to use such an advantage. As an alternative to talking to strangers, a person on Six Degrees could decide to chat with a different stranger who they would never have met otherwise. This forced alternative was not as genius as the sites to come later: it asked users to choose an activity they never wanted in the first place. Thankfully, technology would not become an alternative to living a full, in-person life as the users continued to socialize as they always had. The site was popular but it would never become a mainstream form of communication.

Instead, later social networks enabled quick and easy “chat,” “messenger,” “wall posts” and eventually tags that would assist communication occurring in the real world. Communities collectively decided to create profiles and built individual networks from a handful of closer friends into a larger system of friends of friends. However, it was in addition to and not replacing the normal face-to-face communication. Before leaving for work, a person could ask their spouse to pick up milk from the store. Later, a quick conversation on Messenger could be used to add to the grocery list, thus enhancing their lives by saving a trip to the store. The affordance of better communication in existing relationships was the key missed by earlier networking sites.

Another great example of a popular affordance is in the ability to look up people who only still existed in the past. This is often acknowledged by older social media users who before had accepted the reality that they would never know what happened to “Pat from high school.” Interestingly, despite this new ability of old classmates to connect online, the traditional high school reunion get-together has still not been threatened. All the things we do on social media are not meant to replace the ways we have gathered, and as a society we have not let them. As humans, we can tell the difference between virtual community and real community. Keeping that in mind, there is nothing to fear about the innovations in social connections of the future.

Cyberspace is Becoming a Part of Our Physcial Space

Many times within our modern society, there is a feeling of duality between the physical world and the “cyberspace” that Gibson alludes to. As Mary Chakyko, author of Superconnected: The Internet, Digital Media and Techno-Social Life, notes, this cyberspace is not a fully accurate representation of our relationship with the online world, but it does highlight some important points in relation to how we interact with this digital dimension. Likewise, Chakyko describes that “William Gibson’s view of cyberspace as the universe ‘behind all the computer screens’ was, and still is, critical to helping us envision, understand, and define the environment and the experience of becoming involved in computer use” (Chayko, 2016, p. 44). When I meet someone once in a while that does not have a smartphone or access to frequent internet, I can not help but be intrigued by their perspective of the world. To them, the digital world and Web 2.0 most likely does not impact their day-to-day thoughts directly. Their opinions are not shaped by a boundless cyberspace.

In relation to myself, I feel as though almost half of my perspectives on life topics are influenced by the internet. From cooking to current events, I rely on technology to give me updated perspectives on these ongoing topics. Sometimes, it feels as if when I open up Twitter, I am stepping into the cyberspace world. Any arguments or hot topic takes on the application are invisible in my physical world perspective, but once I connect to the application, another sector of society seems to unfold. This experience interests me greatly, since I also understand the cyberworld inadvertently, or even directly in some cases, affects the physical world. Chayko states that, “as researchers learn more and more about how real and consequential digital environments are, and how authentically they are experienced, the term cyberspace is becoming less and less precise a descriptor” (Chayko, 2016, p. 45). When I read this quote, I immediately connected it to the Instagram phenomena of receiving “likes” on posts. What Happens to your Brain When You get a Like on Instagram, written by Eames Yates, describes how receiving “likes” on Instagram posts actually creates a rush of dopamine to the user. After this experience is compounded time after time, it can generate how one feels like in the outside world. This type of situation directly shows how the “cyber” world is flowing seamlessly into reality.

A scene from the Matrix comes to mind always when I think about this. In a way, we are feeding our energy and time into the digital space to cultivate it. This obviously has great benefits, but also some negatives. This continuous process that we are now looped into now forces the cyberworld to merge with our normal reality. I enjoy the efficiency and entertainment the digital space provides, but also find it quite draining at times. In my own head, I’d like a place where you could unplug from the cyberworld, but as these chapters are showcasing, the cyberworld is already assimilated into our world. I am interested in the future as technology grows, how it will be even more so just an extra component to our already existing reality.


Chayko, M. (2018). Superconnected : the internet, digital media, and techno-social life. Sage Publications, Inc.

“I Would Be Dead Without the Internet”

The “Emotionality and Intimacy” section from chapter 3 of Superconnected was information I had taken for granted as common knowledge. I wonder if that worldview is based on my age, and if older people who have grown up without the internet are unfamiliar with the “emotional glue” that online interactions can provide. I, unfortunately, can’t remember the exact podcast I heard journalist Gaby Dunn share her experience with intimacy in an online environment, but I will post it in the comments if I find it again. Gaby was a young, isolated, queer person who found a supportive community online. In the podcast episode I was listening to, Gabby told the hosts about her online experience being dismissed by one of her previous partners. “I would be dead without the internet,” she told her older boyfriend at the time. His response was, “I’m sure you would have been fine.” I’m curious how much of this disdainful response from the boyfriend was caused by his not having impactful interactions on forums, blogs, or other social media, and how much of it was caused by him just being a jerk.

I found Gaby’s story very easy to accept and identify with. Many of my friends from high school belonged to chat rooms that they found as fulfilling as in-person friendships. The high school students I teach have mentioned taking trips to visit online gaming friends (this was pre-COVID). My best friend stays at home to take care of her two young children and has found “emotional glue” from an online forum. When my friend first became a mother, she was living in a new town, hours away from her friends and family. She joined an online community of new and experienced mothers, who shared advice about pregnancy, humorous potty training stories, product recommendations, political discussions, and more. The connection my friend felt with this online group helped her ease her anxieties about becoming a mother.

Despite the damage internet bullying can do and the frustration that online trolls can cause, I am so grateful for the positive impact that online communities have had on vulnerable individuals. 

The Rush of Human Engagement

In sociologist Mary Chayko’s book, Superconnected: The Internet, Digital Media and Techno-Social Life, she writes in Chapter 3 about the surge of emotion (good or ill) that people often experience when they connect with one another online. Chayko terms these emotional surges as “the rush of human engagement” because they are generated in and by the human engagement that occurs online. 

I first experience this digital emotional rush when I first began interacting with, my very first online community.  The rush of human engagement is now a term, albeit a mouthful of one, that I can use to explain the joyous rush I got as a tween receiving a positive comment on a fanfic I wrote, the shame I felt when receiving a negative review, the excitement of the news buzz when a new development for the product my fandom was built around came about and I got to be a part of the community and the reaction, or the “mee too!” feeling when someone had the exact same headcanon I did.

For brevity, I will refer to the rush of human engagement as simply the rush for the remainder of this post. I got the rush every time I logged in and noticed someone had interacted with my account in any way, and in seeking out that rush I updated my stories and account more regularly. At least once a week I would rewrite my profile page, adding news updates to what I thought would be relevant to my readers, and not long after I started on, and seeing as I had an interest in visual art, I logged into to, in my mind at the time, start my artistic career. In a way, I was right to consider it the start because being involved in DeviantArt taught me what it means to be a concept artist, which became my dream job and the reason I attended Stout as an undergrad. 

Over time, in pursuit of the rush, I switched over to DeviantArt full time, neglecting and eventually deleting my account. When what little popularity I had on DeviantArt faded, I also switched over to tumblr full time. I ended up scrubbing my name off my tumblr and became more of a lurker

Chayko notes in Superconnected that because the accountability that comes with face-to-face encounters is lessened and there are fewer inhibitions in the digital space, people can become thoughtlessly negative and impulsive and have negative relationships with their virtual communities. I’ve had a minimal online presence for years after seeing people act this way and get canceled and get criticized so much for misstepping that at least one person who got this treatment attempted suicide

Since scrubbing my presence off tumblr and trying to start anew with my online presence in the form of my Twitter, Facebook, website, and ArtStation, I would say that no longer seeking the rush in the way I had in my childhood has been both good for me and has also dulled my online experience. Today while my girlfriend and I drove to Eau Claire to get her a Covid-19 test she asked why I hadn’t shared fanart I’d made of a novelist’s characters on social media so that the author, who is in no way famous, could see and I had a hard time answering her. In truth, I didn’t know the exact reason but I remembered having done such bold things in my childhood when I was a fraction of the artist I am now and the rush I got from engaging in that way and the even bigger rush I received when my work was appreciated by the creator. When I was a teenager I had an online friendship with another fanartist for a game I loved and eventually, I developed a huge crush on her and even flirted with her and sent her artwork of our characters. Now I barely have the courage to share anything I make, even if it’s original and professional. Being in this class has brought up a nostalgic feeling for the rush I used to get from being a part of and engaging with online communities. And while I’ve been steadily trying to ease back into an online presence of some kind, as can be seen in one of my tweets at the top of this post, I still would like to be more online. I just know that if I could reach out to this author, miles away in the UK, through social media to show them my work that it would bring both of us joy. I’m sure we’d both experience the rush of human engagement. Maybe in a few weeks, I’ll make a post and send it their way, or if I’m too nervous I’ll just tag them and their books.

A reality without internet? For sure less news and maybe a class reunion


In her 2016 textbook, “Superconnected: The Internet, Digital Media, and Techno-Social Life,”, Mary Chayko posed the question to readers, “how would your life be different if technology available today were not?”  I am going to explore that hypothetical as best I can.

One of the more prolific opportunities the internet provides me is instant access to news worldwide.  Daily I spend at least 90 minutes reading news from a variety of sources.  CBS News is my go-to, although this tendency is slowly transitioning to Reuters.  I then move on and scan various newspapers.  I first check my local ones, the Winona Daily News and the La Crosse Tribune.  Then the nearby metro newspapers: the Wisconsin State Journal, the Journal Sentinel and the Pioneer Press.  Most of the time, since the Winona, La Crosse and Madison newspapers are all the same publisher, checking just one allows me to see major pieces from all three.  Then some days I check the Duluth News Tribune or The Seattle Times or the Appleton Post Crescent.  I do the same type of journey with local television news.  Lately, WGN has caught my attention.  I find them interesting since they are somewhat of an anomaly not being associated with the big four: CBS, ABC, NBC or FOX.

If the internet did not supply me with my variety of news options, my interest in news may not exist.  If it still did, it would be very difficult for me to cover as many news options.  For one, it would be impossible to access local news outside of my region.  WGN is a nationally-syndicated network, so I would be able to watch their news, but WISN out of Milwaukee (a four hour drive away) would be inaccessible.  So would KOMO News out of Seattle.  With print news, I would have to have subscriptions and my mailbox would be filled every morning.

My high school class and I are an example Chayko could’ve used when discussing her own 2014 research.  In it she determined the use of internet, digital, and mobile technologies makes face-to-face interaction more likely to occur rather than deter.  Additionally, those who use the internet and digital media most often are those who stay in closest contact with their friends face-to-face.  My high school class of 2001 used Facebook in order to reconnect and plan our class reunions. Thanks to it, approximately 32 out of 39 of us were able to connect (I had to quickly go into the Facebook group and count the members).  Still using Facebook, we were able to discuss gathering options, location options, contingencies and the like.  We are even able to pay one another through Facebook for party costs.  Despite our small size, Jessica in England is able to remain an active class president.  Mark in Maryland stayed connected and also returned to Wisconsin for our reunions.  We were even able to get Evan, Katie and Nick, to attend.  All three were longtime classmates but left our high school and graduated elsewhere, and Facebook allowed us to connect.

Were it not for Facebook, our class reunions and irregular communication would be much more difficult.  Jessica would be spending considerably more money on postage and I can’t even imagine how you might track people down without the internet.  Perhaps send letters to classmates’ parents and ask for their mailing information?  Discussing options for a party, such as a location and activities, would be daunting and take a considerable amount of time.

Life Without Internet

“It is assumed that the whole world is wired, living in a state of electronic connectivity, and that’s just not the case. There are places in the world, such as much of southern Asia and sub-Saharan Africa, in which internet access, computers, and even electricity are seriously scarce” (Chayko, n.d.). These two sentences at the beginning of Chayko’s book, Superconnected, was something that had completely slipped my mind until I read them. The way that people in our society has stayed connected over the last couple of years has dramatically evolved, in both good ways and bad ways. The way people communicate has changed as digital communication became more and more diverse has had an impact on our society. This has just become a matter of fact that I had forgotten that there is still places all over the globe that does not have access to the internet nor are they connected by this planetary wide imaginary web of communication. About 52 percent according to Chayko, live without internet connection as well as people within our own country. This is mostly due to social or cultural differences.

I have spent the last few years living on a college campus or near one where internet access is a must in order to complete assignments. It also becomes a must in staying connected with friends from all over the state. The internet let me stay in contact with my niece and nephews that lives two hours away, or with my high school friends who I love as though they are my own brothers. Of course, there was also a point in time where my new friends and I would be messaging each other through Facebook while we are literally in the same room of our college dorms. It was definitely an interesting time of my life adjusting to having all of this freedom at my disposal.

Whenever I take a trip back to visit my family and friends, I am often reminded of what my life was like before I had the internet. My mother lives a poor life, barely able to pay for bills, which means having things like the internet is not a necessity. I always found it difficult readjusting back to that life of not having the internet when I am visiting home. Chayko’s sentence has made me think about the rest of the world and how their life is like as well. Does it impact other people who do not have the internet? Does it even matter at all for societies that never had it in the first place? These days it is a necessity for me to have internet connection in order to work on assignments as well as in the wake of the Corona Virus, keep me connected to my courses from a safe distance. It has made a long-distance relationship with my girlfriend much easier when I can video chat with her whenever I would like with the touch of a button. But for societies that never had internet in the first place, that never needed it and are able to function perfectly as well as our own society, how do they stay connected?

My mother used to tell me stories of her time living in the mountains of Laos. There, people were only connected with the people within their direct vicinity. If you wanted to visit a family member in a completely different village, you would have to walk for hours, maybe even days. She would tell me how dangerous it was, having to watch out for predators, or evil spirits as she would say, that would come to take away their souls. But from the sound of it, she, and many of the elders that fled the war-torn mountains, were completely content with that isolation. Staying connected with people in other villages wasn’t as important as being connected with the people in your village, as being connected with nature, or as living a minimalist lifestyle. I would use to ask if she preferred a society where she had internet and all of these technologies, or would she prefer living in the mountains. She would always say the mountains.

Chayko, M. (n.d.). Superconnected. Retrieved from

Reality vs. (Virtual) Reality

Chayko’s book “SuperConnected” helped me to see the beginning of the digital era and its process more in detail and also from a different perspective. Chayko (2018) explained how technology and internet we have now such as internet, computer, smartphone, social media, etc. have developed in a well-organized way with numerical data. It is also interesting that Chayko sees technology as part of social systems. This issue also leads me to think about “To whom will the technology give greater power and freedom?” as Chayko (2018) quotes Postman (1993). Regarding this, I would always thought that whoever can develop new technology and up-to-date gadgets might be able to grab the power and freedom in modern society depending on the level of technology, where Chayko (2018) explains, “individuals in technology-rich communities and societies tend to live techno-social lives.”

Also, the sociomental spaces that Chayko (2018) introduces are interesting that people have a collective, shared conscience there and that the space behind the monitors has been enlarged and had an intersection with the physical space as Chayko mentions. As neighbors living in the nearby area get together often and feel a sense of belonging with one another, people develop a shared identity, culture, purpose, and fate, as well as feelings of togetherness and belonging in the same online communities. Likewise, space – whether it is online or offline – is an important factor in the era of technology. Chayko even explains that this space can be shaped and reshaped and that people enter and exit different spaces. The author also mentions that digital environments are directly related to reality and that they are eventually reality.

I especially want to focus on how deeply digital world is connected with the physical world/reality. Chayko (2018) says, “Digital environments are so fully enmeshed with the physical world… [O]ne need not even be online to feel the impact.” If this phenomenon happens in a positive way, that can be helpful to both those who are online and offline. However, if that affects in a negative way, like what happened in S. Korea a few years ago, that can cause serious social issues. A teenage boy killed his friend because his friend annoyed him. This teenage boy said that he felt like he had to kill him just like he killed his enemies in computer games he had been playing. This tragedy happened because the boy couldn’t distinguish reality from the virtual reality. Hope people who spend time in virtual reality can be educated to distinguish these two realms so that there would be no more tragedies like this in reality.  

“I’ll just Google it”

We are all connected. As humans we yearn for connection; and because of this we’ve been finding ways to connect since the beginning of time. Through the use of sound and touch we began communicating, and our methods of communication have only expanded since the days of the cavemen and women. The book Superconnected by Mary Chayko does a great job of detailing specifically just how far we’ve come in terms of communicating.  Before tweets, snapchats and lightning fast text messages, there were no formal methods of communication. Instead there were gestures, grunts, cave paintings, stone carvings, and smoke signals; that although rough around the edges, demonstrate the “desire to communicate with one another, to be seen and known and understood” (Chayko 2017). Soon these sounds turned into words, and these words turned into languages allowing ideas and thoughts to be more easily shared. After languages developed, writing followed in early civilizations such as Egypt and China to keep count and record transactions and information. Because of this new way to communicate, “People were freed from having to retain everything they knew in their minds; now that they were able to write much of it down and pass it along, messages could be more complex, more abstract, and could have greater longevity” (Chayko 2017). Early messages on parchment and stone allowed for information to be stored and communicated to others living during these older periods of time, but also those living decades or even centuries later.  Fast forward from early writings, to moveable type and the printing press which allowed for mass production and widespread communication, to morse code and the telephone which allowed for faster communication, to the 1900s inventions of the computer and cell phone. These two most recent inventions “do not necessarily supplant those that came before but are often used in combination with them, sometimes inspiring changes in how the existing technologies operate or are used” (Chayko 2017). By building off of past inventions and innovations to create a cellular device that allows for instant access as well as quick and widespread communication gives users a (sometimes) quick, efficient and painless experience. With all this knowledge at the tips of our thumbs, why wouldn’t we (as users) take advantage of that?  

In the past weeks I’ve been confronted with a debate that directly relates to the above question. On two separate occasions, once with my 73 year old grandmother and once with my 54 year old co worker, we were having a discussion that was halted by a topic we were unable to answer. For the sake of time and continuing our conversation, I said, “let me Google it quick” and on both occasions was met with annoyance, frustration, and “All you kids today just rely on Google instead of your brains, why don’t you try thinking instead of looking it up on your phone”. To me, this response was troublesome and annoying. While I agree that using our brains to problem solve and think critically is important, if I don’t have or don’t’ know the answer why wouldn’t I use another available tool designed precisely for sharing information? Why wouldn’t I look up the answer that we both don’t know so that we could continue talking about it? “It’ll come to us, just wait” they said. Well it didn’t, and now days later I don’t even  remember what we were trying to figure out.  

The creation of the internet and Web 2.0 allowed once passive users to alter their course of participation to include more engagement, sharing and contribution to existing online communities. So while older generations may think that younger generations have become reliant on this newfound technology, I can’t tell if it’s a good or bad thing? Sometimes I think that these conversations boil down to life experience, perspective and past education. In my mind, if I don’t have that past education or experience to contribute to the conversation, why wouldn’t I use the tools available to me to learn about the subject or figure out and unanswered question? In the article, Is the internet killing our brains?they say that “The things we experience that end up as memories do so via unconscious processes. Things that have emotional resonance or significance in other ways tend to be more easily remembered than abstract information or intangible facts. These things have always required more effort to remember in the long term, needing to be rehearsed repeatedly in order to be encoded as memories. Undeniably, the internet often renders this process unnecessary.” The Scientific American article, Are Digital Devices Altering Our Brains?, backs this argument by saying that “There is simply no experimental evidence to show that living with new technologies fundamentally changes brain organization”. Knowing that these quick information searches aren’t exactly harmful, it seems silly not to take advantage of the wealth of information out there when needed. When ancient civilizations began recording languages and information, future generations were able to learn from what they had written. Chayko writes that “those facts could become fixed in people’s minds and in the collective memory of the group. Sharing information in this way became part of how people related to one another and helped connect them to one another” (2017). So, what about when we don’t use the technology that we have access to? Based on the quote above, by NOT using the internet to seek out answers and knowledge in conversations, are we missing opportunities to learn and connect with older generations? 

Chayko, M. (2017). Superconnected. SAGE Publications, Inc.  

Techno-Social Evolution

Artist Rudolph Zallinger’s famous illustration The March of Progress showcases 25 million years of human evolution. Similar illustrations of technology product evolution and human technological evolution have also been produced. The evolution of technology is thoroughly explored within chapters one through three of sociologist, and musicianMary Chayko’s Superconnected: The Internet, Digital Media, and Sociological Essentials. Although technology is evolving, we are evolving alongside technology. This evolution can be viewed from a macro level as we observe the many ways technology has shaped our cultural experience. Technological evolution, however, can also be viewed in the ways technology is changing us on a micro, individual level. Who we are in our everyday lives is not always who we are online. Do we all live a double life? I would argue to some extent, yes. Yowei Shaw, co-host of the podcast Invisibilia, says it best in the episode Post, Shoot, in regards to our online presence, “this person has a relationship to us, but it is not us.” The interesting thing to note is that technology and the many communities and networks within the internet, mobile communication, and social media networking (Chayko’s triple revolution) create a gateway to be whoever we want – at least, online. Although Chayko’s second chapter will discuss the birth of the dark web, let’s live in the light and instead look beyond the depravity we know can exist online. Our focus here is instead on who we become when our persona is translated to others through the online lens of social media channels.

Drama Queen Illustration, Dharma Comics by Leah Pearlman

   Leah Pearlmanas told by Vice news, found fulfillment in sharing her comics on the social media platform Facebook. Not only did her comics allow Pearlman to convey her inner thoughts, but she was also thrilled by how many likes they garnered. Until one day, Facebook changed its algorithm and the likes slowed to a dull crawl. Pearlman was distraught, comparing the feeling to that of not receiving enough oxygen. Riffled with insecurity and concern over her lack of likes, Pearlman decided she would buy Facebook ads. It was the only option she could turn to for filling the void likes had left behind. Chayko’s third chapter discusses reality and the brain, how online reality trickles into our real-world reality. Pearlman’s addiction to likes and the validation they offered her was having real-world consequences. The irony of this story is that Pearlman, a previous Facebook employee, is credited with inventing the like button. Her very creation became what validated her life as an online comic. Likes were what gave purpose to her creations and the currency to her efforts. Her online persona became controlled by the click of a button signaling social approval. Its symbolic representation harkens back to Chayko’s sociological statement on human beings gravitating toward one another to fulfill needs, including safety and love. The approval of the like buttons makes us feel both loved and safe by the positive attention and approval from others.

Breakfast in Bed Image, Kashlee Kucheran, Instagram

Love will make us do crazy things. Mix love and technology and you’ll get things like Catfishing. Love, in this context, can drive us toward false online representation for the love of a mate or the love of an audience. Living with technology, as Chayko’s second chapter addresses, means living within an augmented reality. Social media and the internet provide us with the ability to filter the lens capturing our lives. We do not always experience moments as they are, but instead how they will be showcased on the internet. In fact men and women alike, for the love of others displayed through social media likes, have unsuccessfully stopped their lives to chase the dragon of online fame. Kashlee Kucheran, did something many of us dream about doing. She quit her high-paying real-estate job, sold her house, and began a new career as a travel blogger. Kucheran ventured to Europe, the Middle East, and Asia, writing and photographing her journey. Along the way something changed, Kucheran began spending more and more time on Instagram. Driven by likes, follows, and comments, Kucheran details in an article she authored for the Huffington Post she could spend 6 hours trying to capture the perfect photograph. She details waking up to get ready (full hair and makeup) before taking a ‘just woke up’ breakfast in bed photo. Kucheran’s life as a travel blogger, her techno-social existence, was being ruled by Instagram results. Gone was her whimsical passion for adventure, instead, her travel was dictated by the quality of images for use on her Instagram. Ultimately, Kucheran saw minimal growth from her Instagram efforts and decided it was time to take a break from the platform. Chayko’s third chapter states, “technology can be so deeply integrated with so many aspects of life that it is almost as though the tech has seeped inside the person, cyborg-style.” Kucheran’s life, ruled by technology, had transitioned from the human connection, or the human experience, to a technology-driven existence. Yet, Kucheran is not alone in her venture to live so extensively in an online space. Many of us focus more on ourselves as an online persona than ourselves as a person. It is as if the next step in Rudolph Zallinger’s evolutionary illustration should just be a digital network.  

The bittersweet side of shareware

As many of us discussed during our blog post a few weeks ago, the long tail of the internet described by Chris Anderson includes a seemingly endless sea of digital media, from music, games, TV shows, books and more. A great deal of what makes up this content is free, to a certain extent, and with different levels of legality. A creator can purposely share their content online for free as shareware. A creator can also release their content on a subscription based platform, such as Spotify for music or Apple Arcade for games, where consumers pay far less for their media and creators get at least a small amount of revenue. On the other hand, other consumers can share pirated versions of content through different distribution website, which breaches legal grounds if the creator does not give consent for their product to be shared. In Superconnected, the authors bring up Napster as an example of an early website that allowed file sharing. Napster was eventually shut down because it allowed user to break copyright and music ownership laws, oddly enough as a result of a lawsuit filed on the website by the band Metallica who at the time was already at the peak of their fame.

Metallica vs. Napster | Eyerys

While Metallica was probably correct to infer that the practices on Napster were illegal, and may have thought they were doing a service to smaller bands who perhaps didn’t have quite the financial support to go up against the popular website, there was arguably a ‘good’ side to Napster (or at least the theory of online file sharing) that was a benefit to artists, which Metallica didn’t quite see. The band The Arctic Monkeys, for example, grew in their fame because they gave away their music at shows and encouraged fans to file-share their music online. Now, the band is internationally successful. A lot of other successful bands following have similar stories, especially during the early 2000s era of music and the internet.

This is also very similar to how the video game Doom partially gained its popularity and success when it was released in 1993, even before prevalence of broadband internet. The company id software, a small self-publishing development studio at the time, decided they were going to release their video game in three parts. The first part was actually free to download on the University of Wisconsin Madison’s FTP network on the internet. Their idea was to allow people to try the game out and perhaps gain an interest, and then purchase the rest of the game which would be mailed to them on floppy disks. The night of the games release, an unexpected 10,000 users attempted to download the game, which crashed the networks servers twice in a row. After the second crash, people who were able download the game ended up sharing it on other networks so other could receive it. Though not entirely free, as people still needed to purchase the other two chapters, this demonstrates how file sharing can be a great benefit for creators. (The documentary series High Score on Netflix gives a very interesting telling of this story along with other part of video game history).

For Napster, Chayko describes, “it introduced a culture of music dissemination via the internet and digital media that iTunes, Youtube, and streaming services like Netflix and Hulu exploited with great success” (p. 37). This way of distribution is now standard and can allow many creators and artists to grow in their success. However, it’s also important to keep in mind that artists do deserve to receive proper compensation for allowing their work to be distributed online. While it’s trickier these days, and streaming sites don’t always provide enough, having a fan support site like Patreon or Fiver can be an adequate method, among several others.

The Case for Consequences

When computers, the internet, and digital connectivity were first making their debut, very few could predict the direction in which they would lead and virtually no one could predict the scope. Originally, technology and the internet were conceptualized as removed extensions of our world. These cyberspaces were imagined as otherworldly, fantastic escapes that would engage a kind of communal hallucination in which all users would participate. However, this initial prediction has not remained completely relevant to our understanding of and interaction with digital spaces today.

In the 2018 text, Superconnected, Mary Chayko argues (alongside the original predictor of the cyberspace phenomenon) that this definition does not accurately capture the true implications of digital connectedness. Chayko argues that the digital and face-to-face spaces have become inverted, with the digital having a significant and real impact on in-person interactions. Digital communication trends have an impact on how we conduct ourselves in in-person interactions. The internet also has very tangible consequences, in and out of the digital space.

This is an extremely accurate assessment. In fact, it may be posited that digital interactions have greater consequences on our overall socialization due to the sheer scope of communications. However, I would argue that there still is a sense of collective “hallucination” present in the use of the digital space, though with negative results.

It is a well-documented phenomenon that internet users do not behave in the same manner online as they would in person. Many combined factors inherent to internet use create an atmosphere of anonymity and a lack of accountability and empathy. This phenomenon, referred to as the Online Disinhibition Effect, is described in John Suler’s “The Psychology of Cyberspace”.

Suler points to the following elements of online interactions as the primary causes for the Online Disinhibition Effect:

  • You Don’t Know Me
  • You Can’t See Me
  • Asynchrony, or the notion that you do not have to “deal with” the recipient’s emotional response in real time
  • The creation of characterized versions of who a user is talking to online when anonymity is present. If a negative interaction occurs, a user may reflexively develop an entire persona with whom they are interacting, rather than limiting your interpretation of the individual to the username.
  • A lack of understanding of real-world consequences, a disconnect between online interactions and real-world consequences
  • A lack of contextual understanding, the notion that we are all equals in every conversation, interaction, debate, etc., which grants each user with the same initial level of credibility

While logically, Chayko’s assessment of the use of the term cyberspace and its original link with the notion of collective hallucination is entirely accurate, there is still a sense of disinhibition when using digital spaces. The contributing factors referenced by Suler indicate the cause, but regardless of the reasoning extremely real consequences are the result of digital actions.

There is an imperative need to bridge this divide for internet users. Citizens of the digital space must be aware that their actions have tangible consequences and resist the Online Disinhibition Effect. There must be a cooperative effort to reject the originally proposed collective hallucination premise of digital spaces.

*Trigger Warning: Criminal action resulting in loss of life*

When the Online Disinhibition Effect goes too far, when the collective hallucination cascades into reality, we can see the impact. We can see the very real consequences. “Swatting” is a term developed relatively recently that describes calling the police on someone indicating the presence or threat of violence where there is none. The goal in doing so is to have the police swarm the swatting victim, usually rushing into the person’s residence with a team and subduing them. “Swatting” is defined by CloudFlare as “a cyber harassment technique with a goal of sending an armed emergency response team to a victim’s location”. While swatting is usually done via a phone call to police local to the victim, the disputes often originate online.

Swatting is a very serious cyber harassment technique with real-world consequences. Per a Business Insider article, in 2019, 19-year-old Casey Viner was sentenced to 15 months in prison for a swatting attempt that resulted in the death of an individual completely unrelated to the situation. The individual with whom Viner was having the dispute, which originated on an online gaming platform, had given Viner an old address, encouraging him to “do something”, bringing the online interaction into the real world. The individual who provided the false address was also charged in the incident.

The digital space is not removed from the “real world”, it does not lack consequences, and it is certainly not a form of collective hallucination. What more of a real consequence could there be than the death of an innocent individual? The Online Disinhibition Effect must be curbed to acknowledge that these spaces have very real consequences. This must be a cooperative effort or society will continue to see the negative impacts of online disinhibition.

Chayko, M. (2018). Superconnected: The Internet, digital media, and techno-social life. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications.

Cyber Security at MoD

“Cyber Security at MoD” by Defence Images is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0

Online vs. IRL – Is there really a difference?

I never really considered the ‘sameness’ of offline physical life and online digital life, because, duh, they’re very different. Mary Chayko (2018) disagrees, from both a social and physiological perspective, and she’s right. Now I’ve got to figure out how to relearn my entire paradigm. Hear me out….

Predictably for a text used in academia, Chayko begins Superconnected (also a blog) by running us through the history of societies, ramping us up to the way they’re formed and used today. She paints a broad definition of societies, saying that they’re “at their essence, large, collective, nonphysical entities” (39).  Thus defined, she argues societies are as relevant online as they are offline:  Physiologically, “the brain and body often respond to mediated and digital events in the same way that they would respond to those that take place face-to-face” (56).  Professional ‘knowledge industries’ coupled with social networking, news, mobile phones, and resource sites mean there’s space online for every aspect of our physical lives. “It simply isn’t helpful to think of digital, mental activity as a species separate from, outside of, or less than real life – not when real life is drenched in cognitive activity” (57). 

My knee-jerk reaction is that she’s wrong, and apparently I’m not alone, for she admits “in western society, the mental ream tends to be stigmatized  relative to the physical, so people often do not consider mental phenomena to be as consequential as the physical” (58). I believe life online is fraught with secrets, catfish, and omitted details.  Real life is verifiable, tangible,
less shifty.  Right? Even in my narrow experience, no in fact, that’s not right after all. Let me share some drama.

I have very good friend (double masters’ degrees, witty, hard-working, from a close-knit family) that met a guy at work in 2017.  They hit it off immediately.  Six months later we’re talking weddings and homeownership.  He moved in, they traveled, it was a wonderful time.  In 2020, she came home one evening to find that he was gone. So was a bunch of their stuff.  That was it. *POOF* Gone. Through mutual friends (online and offline) we eventually found out that he had moved in with another woman about 35 miles away.  As if that were not unbelievable enough, the next month a legal document arrived at her house, for him, with a different middle and last name!  We went online immediately, finding things that we never knew, including family details, legal woes, and two divorces!  WHAT!?

If they had met online, would this have been more obvious? Would we have dug for and found a digital trail that led us to these secrets more quickly? It’s counterintuitive, because I always felt like meeting someone online and moving the relationship into the real world was a way bigger (and less safe) ideal than meeting someone in the real world and exchanging online information. Again, it isn’t just me; Chayko says “some people claim that digital environments are rife with deception and hence less real than offline spaces – that the relative anonymity found in many digital spaces breeds deceit, falsity, and danger. Indeed, deception is a possible outcome fo digital tech use, given that face-to-face accountability is diminished” (57). This is what I always considered fact, until that whole crazy situation came into new clarity with Chayko’s book. Take it from this previously disconnected duo – don’t appoint online and offline different values when it comes to socializing. Your brain doesn’t fully differentiate, nor does the busyness of daily life: “digital environments are so fully enmeshed with the physical world that one need not even ben online to feel the impact” (64).

Most people use online connectedness to build, bolster, and give new dimension to face-to-face interactions and communities.

– Mary Chayko, Superconnected, 2018 p.64

In America, the telecommunications act of 1996 ensured our connectedness online.  Today, we are indeed superconnected.  While we may get away with different things when we’re online than when we’re offline, neither environment is exempt from elevating our relationships with others, for better or worse.