Author Archives: morkj2440

Credibility in blogging

Greetings, I hope this post finds everyone well. I hope your final paper here and projects in other classes are wrapping up nicely.

For my research topic for the final paper in English 745: Communication Strategies for Emerging Media, I started by looking at research on where readers perceive credibility in blogs. I ultimately focused on research in the last ten years because research prior to ~2006 routinely characterized readers as white and conservative. Knowing that the number of blog readers has increased and is more diverse today, data and characterizations in recent research would be far more accurate. What I found is researchers are using three common sources for credibility: the author, the message and the medium. My research was a little hampered though as not all the authors used the terms author, message and medium. Their choice of terms conflicted despite providing and using consistent definitions. In other words, the authors disagreed on terms but agreed on their definitions. After creating a table for myself of the authors, their terms and defintions, the data was clearer. I adjusted for the minor conflicts in terms and created a heuristic for myself to better analyze the data. Ultimately, my paper is about finding these term conflicts, adjusting for them with the heuristic, and then finding that blog readers perceive credibility in blogs in ways that are different from mainstream traditional media sources.

If this topic interests you, feel free to read through my abstract and paper below. Take care!

Abstract

With the number and popularity of blogs increasing every day, its content competes directly with mainstream media and the traditional filter-then-publish approach. This poses a problem for readers as traditional methods for perceiving credibility are not relevant when reading the user-generated content in blogs. Therefore, it is important for blog authors and other technical communicators to explore where, or in what form, blog readers find credibility. Recent research shows a tendency to view credibility from three sources: the author, the message and the medium. While not all the researchers used the same terms, their definitions were identical. This allowed for adjusting for the minor conflicts in terms and then determining there was a recurring theme of author/message/medium across the research. It stands to reason then it can serve as a heuristic for more efficient future discussion and research. The heuristic was used in the analysis for this paper, making it easier to discern how readers perceive credibility in blogs. More research is necessary though, as credibility assessment is complex and blogging continues to grow as a medium.

Like it or not, social media is here to stay

The common nexus between the three readings this week is the emerging role of social media in the work of technical communication.  There are implications of changing audiences, changing work roles and workflow.  Each article discusses an impact but all complement one another to describe the rapidly changing professional field of technical communication thanks to the infusion of social media in our lives.

Ann Blakeslee contributed toward a 2010 book for a chapter titled, “Addressing Audiences in the Digital Age,” and discussed social media’s impact on audiences as it permeates all the corners of our personal and public lives.  With the shift from traditional paper to digital documents and communication, Blakeslee first poses the question, do technical communicators need to adjust their view of an audience from selective and specific, to more generic and simpler?  The argument is given the reach of the internet, anyone could read your product.  Ostensibly though, Blakeslee quickly concludes that technical communicators have to continue to approach their audiences as “contextual, unique and particular.”  She finishes her discussion going over three well-established methods of understanding an audience: personas, interacting with readers and reader feedback.

Ferro and Zachry (2014) in their scholarly article, “Technical Communication Unbound: Knowledge Work, Social Media, and Emergent Communicative Practices,” discuss at length how the field of technical communication no longer operates “in a stable structure with set boundaries.”  Instead, technical communicators are engaged in knowledge work and have to continuously adapt to new tasks and technology.  Ferro and Zachry conclude that successful knowledge work includes understanding how social media is used, what information it can provide about audience(s), and how it can assist in collaboration.  I believe Ferro and Zachry agree with predictions from other scholars that social media will become “mission critical” tools in the workplace just like email and instant messaging.

Similarly Stacey Pigg discusses technical communicators’ principal roles of assembling and coordinating texts, technologies and expertise to produce products in her 2014 article, “Coordinating Constant Invention: Social Media’s Role in Distributed Work.”  Through this distributed approach to working, Pigg asserts that social media offers a new “means through which individuals can aggregate people and knowledge.”  As a result, this gives technical communicators a greater reach to others to collaborate and discover new information.

Given these discussions from peer-reviewed authors, as well as the obvious inculcation of social media into individuals’ lives and organizations, I agree that some forms of social media will likely become “mission critical” tools in the workplace like email.  There are two factors that I believe will go into which platforms become “mission critical.”  The first factor is the purpose of the platform.  By this I mean the nature of the content people post.  A social media personality I follow summarized each platform nicely in a recent video:

(Video will automatically start.. watch only until 7:40)

Just as Nick described in his quick analysis regarding Miami (FL) PD’s social media audiences, businesses will have to research their target audience and identify the platform(s) that would best deliver a specific type of content or reach specific individuals. The second factor will be how well the platform moderates content. While this is more of a public relations issue, if a medium is viewed as contentious or looses popularity, organizations and businesses will likely seek other social media.

Technical Communicators must be the expert … the extrovert … and an enabler.

Bernadette Longo’s article, “Using Social Media for Collective Knowledge-Making: Technical Communication Between Global North and South,” examined the role of technical communicators in their organization.  She went on to generalize that technical communicators must act as mediators and integrators of information and communication technologies (ICTs), as well as contribute to the construction of platforms specifically for its users.  She built her discussion from earlier communications scholar, Maggiani, who described the technical communicators’ roles in a social media world as being the expert … the extrovert … and an enabler.  All of these descriptions of a successful technical communicator in an evolving technological world led to me connecting them with two of William Hart-Davidison’s 2010 conclusions in “Digital Literacy for Technical Communication: 21st Century Theory and Practice.”  First, that information itself is a valuable commodity and second, that communication has become why [organizations] operatore.

Saint Mary’s University Entrance (https://www.commonapp.org/explore/saint-marys-university-minnesota)

Picking my way through these two discussions, I repeatedly flashed back to my time working at St. Mary’s University of Minnesota.  As the campus safety director overseeing nine full-time staff members, more than a dozen part-time staff members, and upwards of 50 student workers when school was in session, together we staffed the campus safety and information office on campus.  We were the only 24/7 department at the university, providing security and fire response operations, as well as serving as the go-to spot for any questions on campus.  These duties required the staff to be proficient in fire alarm systems, student handbook policies, daily events on campus and the basic responsibilities of each campus department.  All this added up to a lot of valuable information in order to provide a quick and positive experience for any student or visitor seeking our help.

Other duties include: monitoring fire alarms in buildings, making sure all the doors are activated and monitored, escorting people on campus, interacting with the SMU community, and completing various other office tasks.

Retired Officer: Sally Dotterwick in “Spotlight on Staff” – https://csi.smumn.edu/uncategorized/spotlight-on-staff-2/

We ended up developing this ironically as the university launched a new enterprise information system.  I understand these are very expensive endeavours, as it is used by the entire university.  From Admissions to Financial Aid, the implementation of the new university-wide information system was a disaster.  It was already outdated as it ran only on Internet Explorer (and Internet Explorer was no longer supported by Microsoft during this experience).  The enterprise system was also not set up for Campus Safety.  It did not provide a “mobile” view so users had to use a laptop or desktop computer.  It provided us the ability to seek vehicle permit information and some basic student information, but it did not provide any type of directory feature.  If a staff member needed to locate a student, Student Housing still used a different software that was not integrated into the new system or readily available to Campus Safety.  The enterprise system’s complications and lack of features led me to have to design a system with what was available to us.  In the end, it was the Google platform and our Campus Safety department iPhones.

While my role as a technical communicator began the first day expanding on the resources for staff to use to work effectively, our horrible experience with the new university-wide enterprise system was the final straw.  Since the university used Google as their email provider, we had the full platform at our fingertips.  Using Drive and Google Docs and Sheets, I was able to make a secure homepage for staff to use that had hyperlinks to all our emergency, staff and student information.  For example, all the fire alarm panel and water shut-off locations were available with a few clicks on the department iPhones staff carried.  Also available were information for vehicles on campus and contact information.  If a vehicle was parked in the fire lane, within a matter of minutes any staff member was able to identify the owner and then call or text them.  Staff members were also able to quickly identify dorm room owners using this setup.  Using a Google Form, I was also able to connect campus safety with other departments.  We checked the emergency call-boxes on campus bi-weekly.  Any issues were sent to IT using a Google Form.  When checking the elevators or finding lights out, staff was able to quickly submit information to the Maintenance department.  This was all possible standing next to the issue using an iPhone.

Putting this together was only part of the battle though.  The staff was so diverse, from technology-savvy student workers to professional staff nearing retirement that struggled using the iPhone.  The university utilized Blackboard at the time and I was able use it to provide 5-minute online trainings for staff on our various responsibilities.  All the topics referenced above and more: water shut-off valves so the fire suppression system doesn’t flood a dorm; logging into the secure homepage on the iPhone and the information available within seconds; responding to an elevator failure, and silencing door alarms or granting door access remotely.

What started as an endeavor to make information easier for staff members, ended up as a complete mobile system for staff to function and communicate on the fly.  Little did I know then that my role was more technical communicator in the modern age than a department manager.  In her article Longo concluded that technologies that mediate our communications and make them possible also strip much of the human context.  For a 24/7 problem-solving organization, our use of technology I think added human context.  It provided us the ability to reach information and communicate faster.

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.

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.

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.

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

From: https://medium.com/international-online-journalism/the-impact-of-digital-technologies-on-the-gathering-production-and-dissemination-of-news-7b22142af26e

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.

Being online affects society and democracy, but does it really make good changes?

https://wpmu.mah.se/nmict11group7/category/media-revolution/social-media-for-development/

There are numerous relationships between technology and society, especially in the areas of social media and civic participation.  It provides innumerable arenas for virtual gatherings and discussion.  The access to technology isn’t equal for everyone though.  In his 2012 book, titled Net Smart: How to Thrive Online, Howard Rheingold discusses at length about an “… Emerging digital divide… between those who know how to use social media for individual advantage and collective action, and those who do not.”  Part of me understands this to some extent is inevitable despite our best effort as a society.  This being the case, our work is never over if we commit as a society to decreasing this divide.  Regardless though, I’m not so sure we as a society are prepared to focus only on the divide.  We still need to focus on our basic societal knowledge before we can tackle any technological divide.  Our newer generations’, I believe, are not receiving and therefore do not have the necessary civic knowledge needed in order to use social media yet for democratic purposes

After 30 years of civic participation through Boy Scouts as a child, studying American Legal History in undergrad, working for several small communities in a municipal role, as well as serving on the County Board, I believe in my civic experience but I still doubt my understanding.  There is still more for me to learn about local and federal government.  In recent years, I have found myself people-watching more and more.  In doing so, I am appalled with how little people know about civics and governance.  Using personal rights as just one area to make my point; people expressing their opinion on rights repeatedly show their ineptitude.  “I have a right to do this… I have a right to do that… “  In one experience, a neighbor claimed he had the right to park his vehicle on the sidewalk in front of his house.  I asked him to explain further and he pulled out his iPhone and asked Siri about it.  To her credit, she didn’t return any results for him and he stopped parking on the sidewalk. A few more lessons in civics and this gentleman would’ve had a better grasp of actual enumerated state and federal rights.

Rheingold too all but tells us outright that education is needed in order for us to use technology effectively in society.  Rheingold discusses using coordination, cooperation, and collaboration in order to take “collective action.”  In addition, he emphasizes the importance of knowing the difference.  In establishing an effective “virtual community,” Rheingold discusses the importance of positive effort, patience, and the willingness to not say anything when deciding how and when to act.  When reading Rheingold’s discussion on the problems of social dilemmas, I tasted his hint at the importance of social institutions like family and schools.  None of this comes naturally to us, but I would argue all of these items are still more basic than advanced. Where did we change as a society where we lost the opportunities to teach positive attitude, individual value and verbal tact. Regardless, in the rapid pace of our technological society, education is the fastest way to learn these in order to use them collectively.  Unfortunately though, I don’t think we’ll see this as schools are cutting family and consumer economics and civics classes; and instead teaching to standards.

Without a better understanding and education in civic knowledge, I see parallels to slacktivism in Klang and Madison’s discussion, “The Domestication of Online Activism.”  Slacktivism occurs when an individual focuses his/her activism towards a cause online.  He/she might feel an increase in democratic participation, but in reality this is just online activity that does little to nothing in creating actual change.  Tying in how I believe new generations have less generalized civic knowledge, focusing their effort to participate in government or democracy online also provides little to no actual civic participation despite their personal senses of participation and accomplishment.  You see this in social media posts and resulting discussions.  Even the news profession plays their part in projecting the importance of a social media item that has gained 10,000 likes.  Operating as a society from one social media item to the next is circular though.  Essentially, one social media post can cancel out another just based on its social acceptance through likes.  This approach does not allow for a cohesive and logical flow from one issue to the next.

In sum, online participation and activism may effect some change, but the result, were it in person and informed would be undeniably more effective.  To help this, we need to ensure our newer generations are informed adequately on civics and how their in-person involvement matters in a democratic society.

Have purpose and stay focused out there folks

While reading Hurley and Kimme Hea’s (2014) discussion last week about improving social media use among technical and communication students, I thought about how important having purpose was for a user to use media appropriately.  I look at having purpose in the sense of setting goals and being goal-oriented; and then applying this to media use.  I essentially ask myself, “How best do I achieve a specific result?”  More specifically, along the way “what do I have to do to achieve it?”  Having this in mind, having this purpose, keeps you focused while using media and decreases the likelihood of using media inappropriately.  This week’s readings also caused me to think about the importance of having purpose when surfing the internet and understanding the power of one’s attention.  Discussing attention at length, the readings provided me a greater understanding of the power of my attention.  I can use it for good, but it can also be used against me and my purpose.

In the first chapter of Net Smart: How to Thrive Online, Rheingold (2014) discusses in incredible detail the science behind the power of attention.  Practicing mindfulness, Rheingold argues that a person can focus on his/her attention skills, training your ability to avoid distractions.  Distractions are everywhere. As I type this I am able to look out my windows and see the Mississippi River, several islands, and the bluffs of Minnesota.  Then I jump to thinking about my fall window cleaning.  Catching myself, I wonder back to finishing my thought about focusing my attention.  Were I also not using a Google Chromebook with a twelve inch screen, I would have a larger screen or even a double screen and find other distractions from this paragraph.  Twenty minutes later, I’m back focusing on this discussion. These are just two examples of how the world around us and the media in front of us can draw our attention away from our purpose.

Later in his book, Rheingold (2014) also discussed how media can be used effectively with a more focused purpose.  Essentially, digital participation can be either friendship- or interest-driven.  For the former, there are social media services like Facebook (in the traditional sense) allowing friends to reconnect and maintain a digitally-assisted relationship despite time and distance.  Other mediums like Twitter and MySpace also allow people to communicate and share personal information with one another. Were it not for these services making sharing and communicating easier, the same relationships would be weaker or none-existent.

The latter, interest-driven digital participation, is pervasive in our interconnected world.  Arguably all the media services driven by the Internet provide an avenue for people to connect around a specific topic or purpose.  Websites, social media groups and blogs all provide people seeking others with a specific interest a forum to share and learn.  Niche groups abound; anyone reading this likely participates in a Facebook group or Googled their way to a blog to answer a question.

While these previous topics touched on the power of attention for good, it can also be used against you and your purpose using media.  Being a part of niche social media groups and blogs exclusively can work to only reinforce your own beliefs.  Citing the Echo Chamber Effect, Rheingold (2014) cautioned the power of your own attention.  It is important to realize a singular source of information can cause you to have too narrow of an understanding or perspective. Don’t be afraid of another or opposite perspective on a similar topic.

Having this information immediately available is also potentially damaging.  Rheingold (2014) discussed a study showing a tendency for some to accept less credible information so long as it is received faster and more conveniently.  Despite the immediacy, take the time to check the credibility of the information.

Anderson (2004) also cautioned the power of one’s own attention.  Media uses your attention to reinforce your role as a customer by using your customer history to shift your attention and connect you to other products.  Using features like “Customers who bought this also bought…,” websites can direct your focus and attention to other items.  In our current market of “Abundance,” where everything is available all the time, Anderson discusses how this business approach providing niche products is still profitable for companies.

In sum, attention as a skill is natural but can be refined and honed with practice.  It can also contribute to your success when you use media with a purpose.  It is important to be aware of though, how attention is subtly used against you distracting you away from your intended goal.  By establishing and staying focused on a purpose, media users can better navigate all the information and noise available to them all the time.  Happy focusing.

From one merit badge to many. Critical thinking takes work.

In my journey through the Technical and Professional communication program, I frequently look back at my use of various media and how well (or poorly) I utilized it.  Along with what I’ve learned academically, which triggered the introspection, this review process especially helped me better understand the relationship between technical communication and media.

As with learning anything, my use of media started simple and grew in complexity.  Along this trajectory was a learning curve of wins and loses, success and fails.  For example, with website design I remember my first page in GeoCities listed all my Boy Scout merit badges.  I just put them up there assuming anyone who found their way to my page would conclude I was working on my Eagle Scout rank.  Despite the design itself being simple and taking a minute to create, I was proud of my HTML coding and the intrinsic value of having earned the merit badges.

I’m sure now anyone who found it would’ve simply seen it as a list of circular badges as it lacked functionality and rhetorical elements.  This example demonstrates my lack of understanding in designing for an audience.  What it also highlights is my lack of critical thought, which Hurley and Kimme Hea (2014) advocates in their argument to improve social media use amongst technical and professional communication students.  In today’s wide world of media, the authors discussed the myriad of examples where poor social media use ended careers and reputations and I think the principal culprit was a lack of critical thought.  Among those that succeed in its use, critical thought, among other things they discuss, is necessary in order to succeed in crafting a design or presentation that provides value to someone.