Author Archives: kromriej

Final Post

Hi everyone! We made it! I feel like the semester has flown by and I can’t believe it’s already at an end.

With my job transitioning to being online completely, for my final paper I wanted to take a deeper dive into social media tools used in the workplace to facilitate collaboration and participatory culture.  I think when most people think of social media they think of Facebook, Snapchat, Instagram, etc., but the aim of my paper was to take a look at tools used at work that can also bring together workplace communities and communication such as Teams, Trello, Yammer, etc. In my final paper I dive more into what traditional social media is, how it’s used, how social media can be used for learning and collaboration in the workplace, what types of social media for the workplace exist and for what purpose, how they are used to facilitate collaboration, and how the workplace can utilize them to create a participatory culture in the workplace. With a majority of people working from home I found this topic extremely interesting, as it was clear to see that social media tools would be an extreme help to the transition from the office to the home. Plus, it gave me a lot of new ideas to take back to my own workplace! I’ve pasted my abstract below, but if you want to read my paper let me know and I’ll send it to you.

I hope you all have a happy holiday season and are able to enjoy it with your loved ones (even if it’s virtual)!

Abstract

Over the last decade or more, we’ve all become familiar with the many social media sites used in people’s personal lives. Whether we choose to download and use them or not, we all have heard of Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, Twitter and the numerous platforms similar to them. While we wouldn’t imagine any of the above mentioned social media sites being used at work, there are other social media tools that do exist specifically for the workplace, and are designed to assist in team building, digital communications, collaboration, and enhancing participatory culture. With different and new versions of the “workplace” due to Covid-19, and not knowing when the workplace may return to normal, it’s important to determine if social media and digital tools in the workplace can be beneficial to employers and employees. This goal of this paper is to research and identify social media tools, and how social media can be used to increase workflow, build relationships, promote collaboration, and create participatory culture and inclusive communities in the workplace.

Addressing Literacy Discrepancies

Close-up of Medical Information Form

In Spilka’s book, Digital Literacy for Technical Communication, Ann Blakeslee uses Chapter 8 to deep dive into addressing audiences in a digital age. She begins the chapter by documenting a scenario in which a technical communicator conducted a usability test of a Web based application that assists individuals when selecting their health insurance. Blakeslee notes that this application was designed for users in one single location, as well as the potential for a technological proficiency gap among users (Spilka 2010). When reading this scenario, I couldn’t help but think of my line of work and the lengths we must go to ensure that the documents we are posting online are accessible and easy to understand. For my job specifically, age of the member (and sometimes location) plays an important part in the material we are posting. We need to be extra cautious of member materials for Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) programs where age is a factor; such as Medicare, Medicaid, and Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP). According to the CMS TOOLKIT for Making Written Material Clear and Effective: Using a reader-centered approach to develop and test written material, those that are often enrolled in these programs (“CMS Audiences”) are “culturally, linguistically, and demographically diverse, and they include significant numbers of people with lower literacy skills”. 

However, while Chapter 8 in Spilka’s book revolves heavily on creating materials based on reader’s feedback, my position doesn’t allow us to speak directly to members. To assist us in our technical communications for these specific audiences, CMS has published online toolkits to aid in the creation of member materials that are part of CMS programs. These toolkits are focused on the reader and creating documents for them as “the target audience” and their ease of use. Blakeslee writes, “one of the main goals is to write and design documents with the target audience in mind, often with the aim of making their work easier”, and that is what these toolkits assist in doing (Spilka 2010). The CMS toolkits address their audiences’ needs, by encouraging those that are responsible for the design of materials to “focus on how your intended readers react to the material. It’s the readers who decide whether the material looks interesting, whether they feel it has been written for them, whether they care about what it says, whether they find it easy to understand, and whether it influences what they think, feel, or do.” This is what Blakeslee describes as “information writers need about their audiences” (Spilka 2010). Accessing and navigating a digital space among these audiences may may differ from other groups, so it’s imperative that we make these documents easy to locate as well as easy to understand. To make sure that documents are ready for member eyes, we have tools we use to test and make sure they are testing out at the correct level.  The Health Literacy Advisor™ tool is one we commonly use to assess and improve the readability of documents; as well as giving the document a Flesch-Kincaid grade based on the amount of syllables in each word (which contributes to difficulty of reading) and sentence, as well as the proper nouns. 

However, there isn’t consistency among materials and only certain clients require that the material tests out at a lower literacy level. Why is this? Materials are being distributed to members in multiple locations where digital and health literacy levels differ; but if only certain clients are requiring that materials test at a lower literacy level, there may be members who have difficulty comprehending the material in locations that don’t have this requirement. If these materials are being designed for CMS audiences, why aren’t they being designed at a lower literacy level across the board regardless of location or client to guarantee that all members understand the material? For example, last week I was tasked with designing a universal flyer to be posted online for multiple clients that is used to inform members of approved diabetic supplies based on their Medicare plan. When uploading to the client to get their approval, the Minnesota SB plans rejected it saying that the material needed to test at 7th grade reading level and it was currently at a college level. I ran into the same problem with North Carolina plans. However, clients such as New Jersey, Alabama, and Arkansas approved the same exact flyer as-is. Even sub divisions of North Carolina (EXH) and Minnesota SB (BCBS Minnesota) approved the college level flyer, while plans in the same division rejected it. I have to assume there is user feedback, assessed demographics and standardized guidelines on the backend that determine these decisions and requirements that I’m unaware of, but on the surface it seems like these literacy differences have the potential to cause confusion and harm among members. Blakeslee writes, “It is dangerous, especially in cyberspace writing, to presume that your writing will have a limited and well-defined audience”… or in this case an audience with a higher health literacy score. In a brief report titled, Discrepancy Between Patient Health Literacy Levels and Readability of Patient Education Materials from an Electronic Health Record, the authors found that 54.8% of the patients in their study were reading and comprehending medical documents at or below an 8th grade level. Some documents they were receiving were testing at 7th grade level, but, others were at a 9th grade or above. The authors of this study write that “Health care policymakers have stressed the importance of decreasing the discrepancy between the readability of patient education materials and the reading level at which many Americans function.” Their findings suggest that designing easy-to-read materials for a general population “may help maximize readability, comprehension, doctor-patient communication, patient satisfaction, and health outcomes”. Blakeslee writes, “Technology is a tool for addressing the varied need and skill levels in all readers” (Spilka 2010), and in this case I think that means addressing discrepancies in literacy levels to ensure everyone understands materials that impact their health and wellbeing.  

Spilka, R. (Ed.). (2010). Digital Literacy for Technical Communication. Routledge. 

Collaboration for Social Change

Over the last few years, the last few months to be more specific, individuals have taken to social media to document, share, and bring awareness to situations of social injustice and civil unrest. As Longo states in her article, Using Social Media for Collective Knowledge-Making: Technical Communication Between the Global North and South, “Citizens using mobile ICTs to produce and communicate their stories of civil unrest are not technical communicators in a traditional sense, but they certainly participate in a technologically mediated communication environment” (2014). These communication environments that she speaks of are tools used for ‘sharing information and making knowledge’ used by people from all over the globe. Given the variety of users, when designing these platforms a humanistic approach must be taken. She goes on to write that, “we need to consider how we can build platforms for mutual contributions from not only professionals who officially design media and content but also media users whose lives are affected” (Longo 2014). An embrace of the collaboration between designers and users would mean that “the content would become richer, deeper, more useful, and would include multiple ownership or collaboration. A collaboration through social media, properly undertaken, results in the truest form of audience-centered content” (Longo 2014). Sometimes, however, these collaborations aren’t able to happen due to the masking of injustices. In the book, Digital Literacy for Technical Communication, Longo quotes Lyotard by writing, “Cultural silencing of injustices points to failure in uniting all people within a universal community. He asserts that the only way to construct a universal community is to deny local histories and culture” (Spilka 2010). While citizens are able to communicate their stories of civil unrest, and a collaboration between designers and users on the creation of communications platforms would be beneficial, how can technical communicators alone help to bring awareness to social injustices and marginalized individuals?  

https://www.wellandgood.com/white-normativity-in-language/

According to Natasha Jones, author of The Technical Communicator as Advocate: Integrating a Social Justice Approach in Technical Communication, “A critical approach to diversity and social justice helps to legitimize technical and professional communication (TPC) by providing scholars with a way to acknowledge the impact of communication as a way of mediating the human experience. Integrating a social justice perspective is necessary for interrogating how TPC can be complicit in reinforcing which perspectives and whose experiences are valued and legitimized” (2016). While previous communications were centered on efficiency and expediency rather than the human experience, technical communicators must implement ways “to critique, intervene, and create communicative practices and texts” that positively impact marginalized individuals and their experiences (Jones 2016). Technical Communicators can do this in a couple of ways, beginning with a ‘Decolonial Approach’. A Decolonial Approach centers around “taking apart the story, revealing underlying texts, and giving voice to things that are often known intuitively do[es] not help people to improve their current conditions” (Jones 2016). This approach, according to Jones, aims to remedy “colonial influences on perceptions of people, literacy, language, culture, and community and the relationship therein and support the coexistence of cultures, languages, literacies, memories, histories, places, and space—and encourage respectful and reciprocal dialogue between and across them” (2016). Bringing this full circle back to the importance of collaboration; another way that technical communicators can use their platform for social change is through participatory action research. This is an approach that “aims to encourage full collaboration among researchers and participants in the design of research studies and scholarly inquiry to improve, understand, and support social change” (Jones 2016). Through collaboration, technical communicators are able to partake in important conversations and encourage actions that promotes social change. In order for us to learn, grow, support social change, and design with marginalized groups in mind, we must be open to listening and having difficult conversations with those from different backgrounds and experiences. Jones ends by writing, “legitimizing the experiences and perspectives of others encourages researchers to explore other ways of learning, knowing, and communicating. Approaches like the ones mentioned open and encourage dialogue among various groups and stakeholders, priming a rhetorical space for critical reflection and action that supports advocacy goals and creates alliances with populations that have been traditionally marginalized” (2016). 

Jones, N. N. (2016). The Technical Communicator as Advocate. Journal of Technical Writing and Communication, 46(3), 342-361.

Longo, B. (2014). Using Social Media for Collective Knowledge-Making:Technical Communication Between the Global North and South. Technical Communication Quarterly, 23:1, 22-34. 

Spilka, R. (Ed.). (2010). Digital Literacy for Technical Communication. Routledge. 

The Digital Review

https://socialmediaweek.org/blog/2017/08/online-reviews-affect-sales/

Recently I attended a photography workshop for businesses, and one of the key take aways was, “Millennials love reviews”. Being a lifelong customer (and Millennial), this resonated with me as true. I not only am always reading and relying on reviews before purchasing products and services, but I am also leaving reviews as well. In the article, Why Are Customer Reviews So Important?, Jill Anderson writes that “Merely informing customers of the availability of a product or service is no longer adequate; customers are also craving knowledge from first-hand experiences.” Rachel Spilka describes the importance of reviews and first-hand experiences in the book, Digital Literacy for Technical Communication. She writes of Zuboff and Maxmin’s economic predictions in 2010 that someday, if not already, there will be a shift to a support economy where the economic value is geared towards individuals and their needs, rather than towards mass-produced products (Spilka 2010).  Zuboff and Maxmin relate the current system to the solar system; with the corporation at the center of the universe where price is the most important, and the customer way on the outer edge of the rotation (Spilka 2010). With an economic system that revolves around price, the importance of customer service is sacrificed. Spilka writes, “The level of service has deteriorated so far that customers take for granted that they will have an awful experience if they try to use customer support” (2010). Zuboff and Maxmin predict that in a new economy customers will be at the center of the universe, and “The customer’s happiness will be the true measure of value, not the dollars that can be earned from selling products. Around the customer will be a series of support individuals and alliances, changing and recombining as necessary to bring to customers the products and services they want. With improvements to the communication system, customers will no longer stand for the conditions of the previous model, but will insist on getting the goods and services they want” (Spilka 2010). To put it bluntly, “When customers can communicate instantly about products and services, rate them on online sites, publish and read blog reviews, and in general, use Web 2.0 technology to exchange information, they are not going to settle for mediocrity and maltreatment” (Spilka 2010). 

With the collaboration that Web 2.0 allows, businesses and customers are able to interact with each other through the digital review process to ensure that customers are the center of the businesses’ values. Jill Anderson, author of Why Are Customer Reviews So Important?, writes, “Reviews provide an opportunity for businesses and customers to build a relationship with one another. Through the written review, customers have the power to shape the success of companies who are willing to respond to and act upon customer demands and expectations.” In the article, How can digital literacy help you understand your customers?, Rebecca Sentance writes, “Understanding customers means knowing what motivates them, what questions they want to answer, what obstacles they are coming up against (which is critical for improving customer experience) and how their behaviours are changing and evolving.” Being a business focused on digital literacy allows for “more advanced data-gathering and processing methods, which can help them get to grips with customer needs and behaviours” (Sentance 2017). Businesses that are “digitally savvy” are able to better understand their increasingly digitally savvy consumers, allowing them to hone communications, enhance productivity, and meet fast-evolving consumer expectations (Sentance 2017). On the importance of digital literacy, Sentance ends the article by saying, “To be competitive and to be trusted, everyone in an organisation should be familiar with their customers’ experience.” User-Centered Design is a design method that utilizes digital literacy to keep consumers and their experience as the number one priority (Spilka 2010). Regarding the collaboration tools that Web 2.0 offers, Spilka writes, “organizations are now able to create products in a transparent mode so that “users can see progress and provide feedback throughout the process. Open-source projects use mailing lists, blogs, wikis, and other online collaboration tools to make an ongoing series of enacting initial changes, testing, enacting further changes, and so on” (2010). In order to keep consumers at the heart of what they do, product developers and organizations must implement design methods that keep users’ at the center, as well as understand and utilize the digital collaboration tools at hand to interact with and listen to those same consumers.  

Spilka, R. (Ed.). (2010). Digital Literacy for Technical Communication. Routledge. 

FOMO before it was ‘FOMO’

https://www.inc.com/james-sudakow/i-turned-off-all-of-my-social-media-notifications-for-a-month-i-lived-to-tell-tale.html

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.  

The Power of Social Media

https://www.facebook.com/Black-Lives-Matter-Blue-Jay-Peaceful-Protest-104873677926388/ 

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.  

“I’ll just Google it”

http://www.middleyearsministry.com/2015/12/news-u-can-use-teens-can-tell.html

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.  

Knowledge is Power

In the article, Web 2.0 User Knowledge and the Limits of Individual and Collective Power, Nicholas Proferes begins by talking about Tim O’Reilly’s 2004 definition of Web 2.0. According to O’Reilly, Web 2.0 was created through an ‘architecture of participation’ as it gets better with the more people that use it and remix it by providing their individual data as well as data from other sources. In comparison to Web 1.0, Web 2.0 is said to deliver “rich user experiences” according to Tim O’Reilly (2016). Others in this article are also quoted by saying that Web 2.0 “provides novel opportunities for the articulation of individual and collective social power by enhancing participation in media production and cultural expression” (2016). Based on these descriptions, it sounds like the ultimate platform. A platform where growth and contribution is of the utmost importance, and users can be key players in online communities by offering their knowledge and experiences rather than being passive observers. However, other arguments in the article detail how “users are left with little true choice or control regarding how information about them is collected and shared; how user labor is commoditized; and, how users are alienated from the information they produce” (Proferes 2016).  These findings bring up the 10 year old debate: does Web 2.0 empower the user or disempower the user?

While users may feel empowered sharing content on social media that is important to them, Proferes writes that, “these so-called technologies of empowerment slowly began to be realized as a data-mined, mobile, always-on, surveillant social media” (2016). He continues by writing that some of these sites are constantly “undergoing continuous tweaking, changing, and updating to provide new functionalities” (2016). Which seems great, right? Why wouldn’t you want your interactive apps and sites to work out the bugs automatically to allow for smooth and flawless interaction. However, he goes on to write that with these updates and changes,  “users may be less aware of when changes to a Web site or service occur (as users do not have to install a “new release”). Further, they may be less aware of knowing what has changed when updates occur. These changes contribute to a situation where “platforms” are constantly shifting under users’ feet” (Proferes 2016).  As a user, it’s hard to feel empowered using technology when you’re unaware of how to use it properly and/or how the technology may instead be using you.

One of the most confusing elements of social media is the algorithm. Many users don’t know about the algorithm and how it works, therefore disempowering the user to use it effectively.  The author writes that, “a lack of information regarding how these technologies function is a problem for users. Not only do users often have incomplete, inaccurate, or otherwise incorrect understandings of information flows in Web 2.0 spaces, but their development of more robust understanding can be hindered by the sites’ structures, code politics, and algorithmic transparency, and by the discourse surrounding them” (Proferes 2016).

https://www.pinterest.com/pin/43065740174985963/

However, users have come a long way in the last 10 years. With more information and understanding of the algorithm and social media sites, the user is better equipped to understand why they are being shown specific content. In addition to understanding why they are being shown certain information, they can also use their own knowledge as a source of empowerment when it comes to their own contributions to the online community. As Proferes says, “Thus, access to information about how technologies function creates a genetic base for other expressions of power, both in relation to the Web 2.0 environment and outside of it” (2016).

For example, Trending Topics on Twitter. According to Proferes, “Twitter does not disclose exactly how the Trending Topic algorithm works. This lack of algorithmic transparency has led to some confusion about why some topics trend but others do not. Twitter Trends are automatically generated by an algorithm that attempts to identify topics that are being talked about more right now than they were previously” (2016). As a user, not knowing why your topics aren’t trending can be incredibly disempowering and discouraging; especially when others that may be similar are. However, having access to information about how Twitter’s Trending Topic algorithm works would directly influence and encourage users’ decisions about how best to share information through their tweets. Knowing that the algorithm responds more effectively to short burst of tweets and that it is best to change the hashtag every couple days is an example of the user being able to make decisions that will benefit them based on the knowledge they have acquired. The information and knowledge of the algorithm that the user has at their disposal will better their chances of appearing in the Trending Topics; therefore allowing the user to feel more empowered as “the exercise of symbolic power is shaped in part by relative informational power” (Proferes 2016).

One social media account I follow, @nastyfeminism, is aware of and knowledgeable about the algorithm. The account has over 100,000 followers and each post usually receives thousands of likes – until recently. Recently they noticed that the content they were posting was receiving less than 400 likes, which was completely out of the ordinary. They hadn’t changed their content, but were instead noticing that Instagram was filtering them out. To see how many people they would reach they created a test post, asking those that follow them who saw the post to leave a comment so they could see who the post was reaching. Understanding how the algorithm works allowed them to use that knowledge on their platform to try to reach more people specifically with that post. In addition to the post, they also told followers who saw the post how to get the post to reach more people as well.

In the last 10 years since Web 2.0 was coined, users have come a long way. Graduating from Web 1.0 where they could only passively observe, users now are able to engage and add to the content they see online. Rheingold writes, “Now that we have gained access to digital tools that enable us to share what we know and aggregate small contributions into large knowledge repositories, a new level of collective intelligence is possible” (Rheingold 2012). Users are empowered by their knowledge, and are able to share and use that information to their advantage. Proferes finishes by saying, “A lack of knowledge about how Web 2.0 platforms function limits understanding how the technical environment shapes individual informational experience, thus impacting information sense-making; it inhibits understanding the context of the environment others experience and how others may interpret information from Web 2.0 platforms; and it limits the expression of forms of power with the social, political, cultural, and economic world surrounding the Web 2.0 environment” (2016).

Rheingold, H. (2012). Net Smart: How to Thrive Online. London: The MIT Press. 

Choosing Between Ethics and Abundance

Getty Images

It has now been seven months since it was declared that Coronavirus was a global pandemic. With elections around the corner, those that don’t trust voting by mail must face the unfortunate reality that they will have to choose between their right to vote and their health. While this dilemma is much more serious and life threatening, there is an underlying parallel that exists between that situation and The Long Tail by Chris Anderson. With the evolution of the internet there is a larger selection of goods and services from mass retailers online, as well as the added convenience of instant download or having the goods shipped directly to your home. Users are finally able to find an album by an obsolete artist that they haven’t been able to find since 1989 with ease. The album that they had been searching numerous record stores for years for is now available at the click of a button AND they don’t need to leave their home or interact with others to obtain it. During a pandemic that sounds like the ideal situation, right? A real no brainer. However, what happens when the mass production company that buyers are supporting (Amazon, Walmart, etc.) are infamously known for treating their workers poorly? Is that still a company that shoppers should feel good about supporting when they could be supporting a local small business instead?  Shopping locally, however, has its negatives as well. While they are creating jobs and revenue for their town or city, there’s a good chance that the smaller, locally owned record shop may not have that album by that obsolete artist that listeners haven’t been able to find since 1989 as the shop’s selection is smaller. With that, the consumer’s question becomes, “Do I sacrifice not having this album to support local businesses by not buying online, or do I purchase it from a vendor who is infamous for treating their workers poorly?” 

The Long Tail by Chris Anderson, details how online vendors have the luxury of providing an abundance of entertainment goods in comparison to physical businesses and establishments. Online retailers such as iTunes and Amazon can house a plethora of movies, books and music as their online storage is infinite. The record store down the street, however, doesn’t have that convenience. These physical establishments must consider whether what they are offering will sell or not, and if housing it will make enough money to cover the cost of carrying it. Anderson writes that, “An average record store needs to sell at least two copies of a CD per year to make it worth carrying; that’s the rent for a half inch of shelf space” (2004). Local shops can’t carry the obsolete or niche items that online retailers can because it will end up losing them money in the long run; and instead must stock their shelves with the trendy items that are sure to sell (Anderson 2004).  

Anderson writes also that online retailers don’t have to worry about these overhead costs, and because of this they are able to stock their inventory with trendy hits as well as the more unheard-of niches. “With no shelf space to pay for and, in the case of purely digital services like iTunes, no manufacturing costs and hardly any distribution fees, a miss sold is just another sale, with the same margins as a hit. A hit and a miss are on equal economic footing….Suddenly, popularity no longer has a monopoly on profitability” (Anderson 2004). While online vendors can provide more obscure selections, they are also able to use the algorithm to their advantage. Vendors can note patterns in buying behavior and suggest recommendations of similar artists and interests. If consumers adhere to these suggestions, the offering of personalization and customization paid off and the vendor has an opportunity to secure another sale.  

However, while the algorithm is benefitting the online business, is it doing anything for the consumer? Sure, they are being exposed to new artists and interests that they may have otherwise never explored before, but at what expense? In his book Net Smart, Howard Rheingold writes about how users’ contribution of photos, likes, videos, posts, etc. to the online world has the potential to profit large corporations (Rheingold 2012). Rheingold includes in his book a quote by Trebor Scholtz regarding online contributors that reads, “They leave behind innumerable traces that speak to their interests, affiliations, likes and dislikes, and desires. Large corporations then profit from this interaction by collecting and selling this data. Social participation is the oil of the digital economy” (Rheingold 2012). Whether consumers are aware that privacy settings can be adjusted or not, their actions and online navigation has the possibility to directly influence the algorithm and the content they are shown – sometimes without their knowledge and/or consent.  

So, is it worth it? Is having that album by that random artist that has been obsolete since 1989 worth putting more money into the pockets of businesses that have little regard for their employees? According to the article titled Jeff Bezos values profits above safety’: Amazon workers voice pandemic concernduring this pandemic Amazon warehouses have neglected the safety of their employees to keep up with demand of online shopping. In the article one Amazon worker is quoted saying, “The fact that we’re still expected to report to work in a compromised warehouse to ship non-essential products if we still want to earn our living tells me that Amazon and Jeff Bezos clearly value profits above employee safety or health.” (Sainato, 2020). Other Amazon warehouse workers spoke about the conditions as well saying,  “We have no more wipes and hand sanitizer. We aren’t provided masks, don’t have the proper gloves, and not everything is being sanitized and cleaned before it comes to use”, “The 6ft rule isn’t really being followed”, and “We have people working day shifts and night shifts, meanwhile the virus lasts on cardboard for up to 24 hours, putting all of us at risk who come in contact with boxes or plastic wrap.” (Sainato, 2020). All of this is happening while Jeff Bezos remains at home on his track to be the first trillionaire the world has ever seen.  

It’s also important to consider if having the album by that random artist that has been obsolete since 1989 is worth having your information tracked by large corporations for their profit. In the article, 7 Ways Amazon Uses Big Data to Stalk YouJennifer Wills details how Amazon uses analytics to determine how consumers spend their money for targeted marketing to increase loyalty to the Amazon brand. According to Wills, Amazon can “analyze what items you purchased previously, what is in your online shopping cart or on your wish list, which products you reviewed and rated, and what items you search for most to recommend additional products” (2020). Wills also writes that, “Amazon reviews words highlighted in your Kindle to determine what you are interested in learning about, has a shipping model that uses big data for predicting the products you are likely to purchase, when you may buy them, and where you might need the products” (2020). The article closes by saying, “Other companies benefit from Amazon Web Services by using them to analyze customer demographics, spending habits, and other pertinent information to more effectively cross-sell company products. In other words, these retailers can use Amazon to stalk you, as well” (Wills 2020). 

While Chris Anderson raves about the emergence of abundance that online vendors have to offer, and consumers may not always be able to find what they are looking for in smaller local shops, it’s important to consider the risks of supporting the long tail businesses that seem like a good idea on the surface. 

Anderson, C. (2004). The Long Tail. Retrieved 2020, from ChangeThis.

Getty Images. Online Shopper. https://www.inc.com/peter-roesler/new-research-reveals-more-consumers-are-shopping-online-for-everyday-items.html.

Rheingold, H. (2012). Net Smart: How to Thrive Online. London: The MIT Press.

Sainato, M. (2020, April 7). ‘Jeff Bezos values profits above safety’: Amazon workers voice pandemic concern. Retrieved September 19, 2020, from The Guardian: https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2020/apr/07/amazon-warehouse-workers-coronavirus-safety#:~:text=The%20firm%20insists%20safety%20is,seasonal%20employees%20who%20test%20positive.&text=Instead%20they%20called%20mandatory%20overtime%20for%20two%20weeks.%E2%80%9D

Wills, J. (2020, April 22). 7 Ways Amazon Uses Big Data to Stalk You. Retrieved September 19, 2020, from Investopedia: https://www.investopedia.com/articles/insights/090716/7-ways-amazon-uses-big-data-stalk-you-amzn.asp

Ramblings of no interest to anyone

Previous to this class my blog experience boils down to one lonely and embarrassing blog I created on Blogger when I was in my early 20s. When Pinterest was at its peak and I was scrolling every day, I noticed that all the posts I clicked on led to blogs. Most of them were managed by stay at home moms or professional bloggers, and they were rich with content. I was always sucked in by one post, and then would naturally read 2-3 more posts in addition to the original one before realizing how much time had passed. I loved reading these blogs and wanted to start one, but had no idea what to do. Do I journal? Do I write short stories? Do I give tutorials? I had no clue where to start or what to do when I got started, so naturally it was an epic failure. It basically ended up acting as an anonymous online journal that nobody read, because of course the content was extremely personal and not applicable to anyone else. The audience wasn’t getting anything out of my online vent session. Not only did I not know how to reach people with my writing, I had no clue how to physically reach the people. How on earth do I get this blog in front of people? I was clueless, and honestly still am. Nowadays, it’s a lot easier to share your content by posting on social media, adding the content to websites with SEO, attaching the link to a pin… but back then? I just assumed I’d write the journal entry of the year and since it was online I would automatically be a worldwide online sensation overnight. Knowing that I didn’t reach anyone, I can’t help but wonder why I wasted the time in the first place. What was the point of blogging? 

The article Why We Blog was a helpful reminder as to why people choose to blog. The article features interviews conducted with a range of bloggers that detail why they choose to blog – and the answers are all across the board. What it boils down to, is that more often than not most blog are written by every day, ordinary people such as ourselves, that are intended for smaller groups of readers and provide a platform for a variety of expression (Nardi et al., 2004). When reading this article it solidified something for me. This article confirmed that although you may not have readers there is a yearning for connection and/or validation; this might even be something that bloggers didn’t know they needed until they started blogging. According to the authors, in their interviews they uncovered “five major motivations for blogging that pertain to the bloggers sampled: documenting one’s life; providing commentary and opinions; expressing deeply felt emotions; articulating ideas through writing; and forming and maintaining community forums” (Nardi et al., 2004). Thinking back on my short lived blogging experience, I think it’s safe to say that I fell under the category of ‘expressing deeply felt emotions’ and ‘documenting one’s life’.  

Bloggers in the article say that their blog serves as a ‘relief valve’ where they can “get closure out of writing” and “let off steam.” (Nardi et al., 2004). However, if we look at these reasonings, again I come back to the thought “what is the reader getting out of this” and “who cares”. While some of the bloggers in the article were offended at the mention of “blogs being indulgent chatter of little interest to anyone but the blogger”, if you are writing for yourself, who cares? If you are using your personal blog as an outlet for your emotions, thoughts and ideas, does it really matter if the readers don’t get anything out of it, or if you have any readers at all for that matter? If you aren’t writing directly for the viewers or the sole purpose of entertainment, interaction or critique, maybe it’s okay that you are using the blog rather than that journal between your mattresses as a means to express yourself freely with ‘chatter of little interest’.  

Whether writing for yourself or for others, I think the fact that blogging can be done behind the shield of the internet (or anonymously) eliminates some vulnerability that might otherwise be present in an in-person setting. Nobody wants to be the person that makes a statement or asks a question in an in-person group and feels stupid, hears crickets or faces backlash. I have found that while writing on my laptop from the comfort of my home I’m much more carefree and open than I would most likely be in a larger group of people or in a classroom setting. Like many I’m sure, I’m more likely to contribute my thoughts or opinions knowing that the blow of confrontations or negative feedback is softened by the online safety net. This is of course assuming that the conversations being had are wholesome, mature, respectful and without the presence of internet trolls. Perhaps using a virtual setting where people won’t be able to see you has the potential to allow the writer to step outside their comfort zone and produce more fulfilling and engaging content.  

If creating distance between the writer and the reader allows the content to flow more freely, it’s possible that the communications between the two surrounding the content have the potential to be more open and honest – possibly creating a closer online community. In addition to the potential of a close knit community, the blogging platform could be used as a motivation factor for writers to generate even more content than originally intended. The article mentions one blogger, Jack, and how he “began posting poems about halfway through the study, though he had initially told us the blog was not a proper forum for poems. Later he said: “I … discovered that allowing myself to post poems was helping me write poems, since I could think of it as material for the blog to be immediately posted, as opposed to being stowed in a drawer somewhere.” (Nardi et al., 2004). Plus, if you do have readers, you have them to consider. They’re going to be chomping at the bit for the next piece of work! 

Nardi, B.A., Schiano, D.J., Gumbrecht, M., & Swartz, L. (2004). Why we blog. Communications of the ACM, 47 (12), 41-46.