Category Archives: Social Media

Where Does Connectivity End?

The good, the bad and the ugly. I think everyone has their own stance on technology, what it means to them, their engagement with it and how it may be beneficial or detrimental at times.

In Superconnected, author states, “The pro side is I’m available, and that is the down side, also” (Chayko, 2008, p. 114).

Digital Technology - Potential

Let’s just let that sink in . . .

The conflict will always exist. We agree to disagree, agree to feel in sync or follow course and disagree to share our own perspectives or to just be different from the rest. The introduction of technology and it’s integration of connectivity has led us, our world, and our interactions to become even greater than before the use of technology. Without technology, some of us may reap the benefits, form stronger connections, have interactions in which are more meaningful, however, the inclusion of technology enables individuals to gain greater insight into specific cognitive functions, motor abilities and can even assist with making deeper relationships or allowing those who are afraid to speak up the opportunity to offer input.

As the pros and cons can continue to be weighed. I still find myself loving technology and all of its capabilities, but there are instances in which I oftentimes wish I was not so easily connected to everyone. I don’t mean the latter in a harsh or cruel way, but working in the field of communications and marketing at my full time job the demand and upkeep is exhausting. My daily routine consists of back and forth communication, correspondence both formal and informal, impromptu meetings, interruptions and quick instances of contact which allow for me to have this sort of love/hate relationship with the use of technology and connectivity to others. However, on the flip side it’s convenient when you are the one in need of a response, answer or need to check in on an item and the affordance of sending a quick email, picking up the phone or glancing at a computer screen to locate one’s schedule are some of the perks to this resource.

Going further, the use of technology exists beyond the workplace and allows for one to stay connected with his or her personal circles. As I begin to ponder, this part of connectivity I do enjoy seeing my long lost high school friends, living miles and miles apart and being able to see what they are up to or check in with them. Additionally, Chayko notes the following when highlighting the use of social media, distractions and what’s commonly referred to as, ‘FOMO’ she states, “I feel like I need to check [my favorite sites] regularly or I’ll be left out” (Chayko 2008, p. 125).

F . O . M . O . (Fear Of Missing Out) – In a recent article by Psych Health, the contributor said this, “The grass always looks greener on the other side” (Langdon, 2018). Langdon notes, the common uses of social media and how one can often be seen in a different light or the notion that individuals highlight the positive aspects of what’s happening in their lives over the negative ones. While it’s great to reflect on the positives and to showcase the big life moments you may be undergoing, this style of posting may come across to your viewers as “gloating” or may illustrate an inaccurate glimpse of everything happening in your life at that time.

FOMO ImageThis whole idea of “FOMO” is one that’s been highly researched and allows for individuals to even take quizzes to see where they may fall on the FOMO scale. Here’s a quiz you may take to see where you fall on this scale.

When technology is a tool versus our friend

Tool or friend?

I personally enjoyed Jonathan Zittrain’s discussion on how tech companies can shift algorithms from being a “tool” to being a “friend.” From my understanding, algorithms act as a tool when they give us results regardless of the potential outcome, and act as a friend when they work for us, the user. For instance – Zittrain showed that if you typed the word “Jew” into Google some of the first search results were anti-semitic websites. This is an example of an algorithm acting as a tool rather than a friend for the user. However, years later, these anti-semitic websites are no longer the first result, showing that Google has changed its algorithm. This is one of those situations where Google may be trying to change the algorithms from “tool” to “friend.” Google may have accepted social responsibility to remove harmful search results.

However, I feel that Jonathan Zittrain’s predictions that tech companies could make algorithms that are not friendly to users are becoming true. In August, the Intercept first reported that Google was in the process of making a censored search engine for internet users in China. This censored search engine can link search results to a user’s phone number, blacklist terms like “student protest,” and could replace air pollution results with doctored data sources from China. This is clear scenario where Google is making a tool that is a friend to the shareholders and certain government bodies, but not a friend to the actual user. Many have criticized this move as Google losing their moral compass. 

There are many other examples like this where companies create algorithms that are clearly not meant for the user, but for the company. In my tech marketing role, I’ve truly learned how algorithms can work for and against users. There are tools like “Full Story” that allow you to watch recorded sessions of individual users exploring your website. While this is a friendly tool for marketers, it doesn’t offer much privacy for users who are involved. As someone who works in the tech industry, I often ponder my own role of creating and using tools that are not friendly to users. I avoid marketing tactics that overly-rely on user data, and try to create content based of ethical principles and data.

The human-machine relationship

We can also see this “tool” versus “friend” discussion in our readings this week. Dr. Chayko focuses on what she calls the human-machine relationship in chapters 8 – 10 of Superconnected. She explores this concept by discussing how children are using and becoming dependent on technology at ever-younger ages: “Children often receive their first phones from caregivers seeking to keep them safe in the event of emergencies . . . many caregivers also do not want their children to be on the wrong side of a perceived digital divide. Owning a cell phone can be an indicator or status, wealth, or power.”

I remember getting my first cellphone in elementary school, but it was only supposed to be used for emergency situations. Receiving a cellphone was significant to me because hardly any other kids had one and it felt like I have been given a special privilege. And back then, this was just a simple flip phone – there wasn’t much to do on it except call my parents. However, by the time I was in high school, smartphones had become a thing and almost everyone had one. I wanted one too, not because I needed one for an emergency, but because of everything it could do.

In just a ten year timespan, our use of cell phones have flipped from being something to use in a state of a emergency to something you can use for almost anything, convenience. In a way, our cell phones have transformed from “tool” to “friend” in many ways – we can easily request a ride, find a place to eat, and text our friend along the way. But this much convenience has also lead to an over-dependence on our phones. I wouldn’t say it’s the reason we are “addicted” to our cell phones though. We are not addicted to convenience, we are addicted because of how the algorithms have been designed.

Social media news feeds are addicting because they track what we are interested in and continuously show us topics that are related to our interests. While keeping our new feeds relevant and interesting is a nice “friend-like” feature, it is not designed for us, but designed to keep us using the application. Today’s UX designers and engineers carry huge social responsibility to design mobile interfaces that are not addictive. An article on the Adobe Blog suggests that UX designers are “responsible for keeping users rights protected and their experiences enjoyable, but ethical as well.” When engineers and UX designers feel like shifting algorithms for users, they must first ask themselves if there are any ethical consequences of making these changes. 

One of the best things that we can do is educate the next generation on these harmful algorithm practices. Not so long ago, I read an article that Gen Z is quitting social media in droves. I’m not sure how true this is, but it does give me hope that the next generation is thinking about the ways algorithms and technology affect them.

Is it Possible to be Too Connected?

My father, who I admire, lives by a piece of advice his grandfather gave him – everything in moderation.  I’ve grown to understand and apply that way of thinking to my own life because I realize the wisdom in those three words.  It’s okay to have a piece of pie for dessert, but if I have a large piece of pie with three scoops of ice cream every single night after dinner, eventually I am going to suffer some negative effects in my health.  Even things that are good for us can turn harmful if we overindulge in them.  Exercise is an example.  It’s very beneficial for our bodies in many ways, but if we overdo it, we can injure ourselves or even reverse the benefits.  So, with my great grandfather’s motto in mind – everything in moderation – it is possible for us to be too connected from a technological standpoint.

As technology has grown and advanced, we have become more and more connected.  This connectedness provides us with a plethora of wonderful benefits.  I love it that my children are all just a phone call or text away.  It gives me a sense of comfort in knowing that they can call 911 if they are in an emergency situation.  I can purchase items online and have them shipped to me by the next day.  When my father traveled to Ireland , I could stay in contact with him and know he was well and enjoying himself.  I live in the north, and we get some terrible snow storms.  Since I have a company issued laptop, I can work from home when it isn’t safe to be on the roads.  There are so many advantages to living in a super-connected world.

Along with our ability to stay so interconnected comes some problems that are very real and very dangerous.  Our personal and financial information is at risk.  Our personal preferences can be known even without us realizing it.  We can be targets of those wanting to steal our identities, our financial wealth and our consumer preferences.  Mary Chayko, in her book Superconnected, writes, “The rise and proliferation of the internet, digital media, and ICTs represent the potential for individuals to live richer lives but also lives that are more closely scrutinized and surveiled.  The harnessing of collective knowledge and superconnectedness yields infinite possibilities, but the outcomes are unclear, uncertain” (p. 215).  In his book NET SMART:  How to Thrive Online, Howard Rheinhold writes, “Privacy-related issues such as identity theft, state-sponsored surveillance, and behavioral data mining that surmises more about your preferences than you’d prefer anyone to know are the subjects of daily headlines, and touch every aspect of our lives” (2012, p. 239).

Technology is being used to influence how people think and how they act.  Jonathan Zitrain, professor of Law at Harvard Law School, in his talk Alure of the Algorithm and Why We Should Be Aware, described how the Facebook algorithm can be used to predict relationships between people even before they connect on Facebook.  This is just one of the many examples of how being so connected has the potential to cross over into intrusiveness.

Can we be too connected?  Is it possible that our abilities to find out information about one another has become so advanced that we just don’t have the ability to stay as secure and private as we want and need to be?  There are ways to enhance our security, but it requires us to stay vigilant.  How do I, personally, apply my great grandfather’s motto of “everything in moderation” to this situation?  I do believe we are on a fast course to being so interconnected that we have created a world that has some new security issues for us.  I suggest we do everything we can to educate ourselves and others about the possible pitfalls of this interconnectedness that is our reality.  Then let’s take what we know and teach others about how they can keep their information safe.  

Always Open for Business

In chapter 9 of Mary Chayco’s book SuperConntected: The Internet, Digital Media, & Techno-Social Life, the author discusses the subject of “constant availability” with regard to digital and social media connectedness.  Chayco says, “People who live in tech-intensive societies can come to truly depend not just on digital technologies, but on the convenience they afford” (p.183).  She quotes an interviewee of hers that said, “The pro-side is I’m available, and that is the downside, also” (p. 183).

Fortunately, and unfortunately, this rings true for an online, social media based business as well.  If I need to contact a local store, someone at the post office, or even a restaurant, I have to wait until they are open again for business.  For instance, yesterday (a Saturday), I visited my son and found that the cat he recently adopted from the Humane Society is having some sneezing.  Of course, I wanted him to take her to our veterinarian for a check-up.  Unfortunately, the vet we use does not open again until Monday morning.  Considering that sneezing is not a medical emergency, there was no warranted reason for him to take her to a special 24-hour Emergency Vet Clinic.  So, alas, we will call on Monday.

My online business operates much differently.  One might say, I am always open – even though my hours are clearly posted on my website.

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My posted hours do not stop customers from messaging my business page AND my personal page all hours of the day, every day of the week.  …And, I am guilty of doing the same.

My son and I decided we wanted to get similar tattoos recently.  We knew that the tattoo shop was closed at 2am when we were discussing this idea, but that did not stop me from contacting the shop that came most highly recommended (by my local Facebook friends) via private message (yes, at 2am) and asking about availability for the next day.  To my surprise, the reply came almost instantly with the tattoo artist who was available to do our artwork and what time we should plan to show up as walk-ins.  And, when we showed up that next morning, the owner remembered our message and got us right in for our tattoos.

 

As users of  24/7 social media, where do we draw the line?  Or better yet, are most even aware that they could be crossing a line?  An argument can be made that, anyone who does not want to be contacted outside of business hours can simply ignore the messages until they are back “in the office.”  However, as simple as that seems, Facebook has made it complicated to ignore a message.  It dings, it sits in the notifications and haunts us with that little red number at the top of the app letting us know that we have UNREAD MESSAGES, and, if that isn’t enough, Facebook also shows our customers that we have read the message by having our little profile picture circle move down the message thread.  No denying we received it – or even what time we read it!  Thanks Facebook!

I suppose the worst that could happen is that I lose a customer for not responding quickly enough to a message she may feel is urgent enough to send at 2 am.  For some businesses, that probably would not matter as they have many customers and many more to come.  In my smaller customer base (around 400 buyers total), it takes each one to make this work for me.  So, I truly can’t afford to lose even one customer – and I find myself jumping through hoops and answering messages as quickly as I receive them, even if that is in the middle of the night.  Chayco speaks to this and suggest perhaps it is not the fault of digital technology.  She says, “Keeping up with a flood of stimuli and information can be challenging and burdensome.  Tasks may start to snowball;  people can feel they need to work and/or be digitally connected day and night, lest they fall behind the curve…but…these stresses are not caused by digital technology us.  In fact some of these stresses are simply the ‘cost of caring'” (p. 191).

 

 

The Spiral of Silence in Social Media

The desire for human connection drives much of our communication.  But at what point does hyperconnectivity become anxiety inducing or silencing?

 

Hyperconnectivity is the extreme increased interconnectedness of people who resulted from technological advances.  Social media platforms massively contribute to hyperconnectivity. Numerous studies and articles are written to address and discuss the impacts on society, communication, and mental health as a result of the rapid changes in to our interconnectedness and changes to communication methods.

 

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Ben Abbot, for Virgin (How the human need to connect works with hyperconnectivity), addresses the fact that as a result of comparing ourselves to others, we struggle with insecurity.  This is a result of us viewing all the happy, idealistic posts our social media “friends” post and comparing them to what’s really going on in our lives, as opposed to the idealistic posts we make on social media.  I’ve felt inadequate by other’s projection of perfection on Facebook, even by those who I know well. I do understand that no one is perfect.  However, I quickly forget that when all I see is everyone’s projections of how they want their digital reputation to come across.  It seems there is a goal of digital perfection.  I’m actually taking a break from Facebook for a while because my hyperconnectivity caused rising anxiety and I started to use silence for self-preservation.

 

Hyperconnectivity has caused me to become silent in order to preserve my dignity and sanity.  This  is the result of a theory known as the Spiral of Silence.  The Spiral of Silence is a term created in 1974 by Elisabeth Noelle-Neumann, a German political scientist. According to the website, Elizabeth Noelle-Neumann: The spiral of silence, dedicated to Elisabeth Noelle-Neumann’s work, her assumptions of social behavior are controversial but the spiral of silence theory is widely cited and replicated in social sciences.  The spiral of science is based upon numerous hypotheses.  The core basis to this behavior is that people are afraid of social isolation and therefore will be silent if they feel their opinion or belief will be rejected by the mass of their public sphere (in our digital world, those would be our Facebook page “friends” or Twitter followers.). The spiral of silence is typically elicited by controversial issues (politics, abortion, religion, etc.) and causes someone to be silent out to fear of pressure or social isolation.  The decision to be silent usually is done subconsciously (according to Elisabeth Noelle-Neumann’s research.  However, I’ve consciously made the decision to remain silent in many cases.  In 1974, when Elisabeth Noelle-Neumann defined the spiral of silence, mass media had a recognizable effect on public opinion by amplifying one side’s opinion and thus silencing the other.  This sounds to me that it is much more likely that silence is done so more consciously rather than subconsciously.  It is not that individuals changed their mind to avoid isolation, they kept their opinion to themselves.  An article by James Vincent (The “Spiral of Science”: How social media encourages self-censorship online,) discusses research done by Pew Researching Group that proves people will stifle their opinions on social media if they believe that their friends won’t agree with them.  Further more, the research and James Vincent’s article agree that concern for social isolation may not be the only reason for silence.  It appears our hyperconnectivity is evolving the spiral of silence into including factors such as “likes” and the permanency of  posting online opinions into our silence.

 

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Social media influences the spiral of silence on a much larger scale than mass media in 1974 because of hyperconnectivity. Further more, the way we become silent is different and the reasons we stay silent are different.  There are many reasons to stay silent: we value what others think of us, we want to avoid conflict, we don’t get enough “likes” on our posts, or we are simply overwhelmed by hyperconnectivity and all the information that we simply need a break.  I expect this is a short list of reasons and will grow as more research is done on the effects of hyperconnectivity and human behavior.  Has our desire to feel connected caused us more harm than good?

 

 

Tracking Your Every Move as You Shop

Close up on the Amazon Go store sign at the downtown Seattle Amazon headquarters

In Superconnected, Mary Chayko discusses how the internet has revolutionized the retail industry. She mentions Amazon’s efforts to make online grocery shopping successful.

“The largest share of online revenue in the United States is generated in retail shopping, with Amazon the top vendor…Some businesses have not translated to e-commerce as well as others, but due to the large profits possible, innovations to them are being explored. For example, grocery shopping, which as of 2014 had not found major success online, seems to have a brighter future in e-commerce. Amazon is fronting the cost of an expensive delivery infrastructure, without which the business could not take off, and customers are getting used to the idea of buying fresh food online. It takes both a technological and a psychological shift for some businesses to succeed.” (p. 169)

It’s interesting to note that Amazon just opened a cashier-less grocery store in Chicago this week. This is the fourth Amazon Go store and the first outside of Seattle. It’s in the same building as Amazon’s Chicago office.

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The Chicago Tribune posted a video of a high-speed walk around the store. In the video, you can see the store’s slogan: “Just Walk Out Shopping.” There is no cashier or self-checkout stations.

Customers use their smartphones to scan an app on their way into the store. From there, hundreds of video cameras and infrared sensors in the ceiling track shoppers as they move around and pick up merchandise, which is monitored by weight sensors. Items are added to a virtual shopping cart as customers take them off the shelves.

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Chayko warns about data privacy in e-commerce, “…data mining and surveillance should be kept in mind. Consumers and companies alike should be aware of the implications of widespread sharing on people’s privacy and safety and of the (in)security of data in online spaces.”

Depositphotos_40145553_m-2015An article in the Washington Post quotes Alvaro Bedoya, the executive director of the Center on Privacy & Technology at Georgetown University’s law school, saying it’s highly likely that Amazon Go collects more information than any other retailer setting today.

There’s also concern about the effect of cashier-less stores on jobs. Bloomberg reports that Amazon is considering opening up to 3,000 Amazon Go stores in the next three years. The Washington Post points out that being a cashier is America’s second-most common job according to federal data. About 3.5 million Americans are cashiers.

The Chicago Tribune reported that at the Amazon Go in Chicago there are several employees who answer questions, help customers download the app, find their receipt on the app, restock shelves, and check photo IDs of those buying alcohol.

I’m looking forward to visiting Amazon Go. As a tech enthusiast, I’m willing to give up some privacy for the convenience and novelty. And, now that I know there are cameras and sensors tracking my every move, I’ll be sure to be on my best behavior.

Overwhelmed or Emboldened? I Choose Emboldened

FrankensteinThis fall I’m teaching an online Introduction to Literature course. The first piece of fiction my students read is Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, a 200-year-old Gothic novel that asks the same question that Mary Chayko does in Chapter 10 of her 2018 book Superconnected: “what does it mean, really, to be human” (214). In a discussion board post, my students agreed on three major requirements:

  1. the desire for knowledge and learning;
  2. the ability to form connections with other human beings and show empathy for them; and
  3. the ability to feel intense feelings like love, faithfulness, rage, and vengeance.

Some critics believe Shelley wrote Frankenstein as a warning against the ever-reaching power of man. Essentially, they claim it is a treatise against the notion of “playing God.”  I ask my students to think about how Shelley’s monstrous creature relates to today’s modern advancements like cloning and artificial intelligence. Much of the content throughout Chapters 8, 9, and 10 of Chayko’s text made me feel anxious, hand-wringy. Then I came upon media theorist Douglas Rushkoff’s quote:

“Living in modern technologized times can be a shock to the system [. . .] the more we become aware of these challenges—economic troubles, climate change, wars, any of a host of social problems—the more we can become overwhelmed with the prospect of actually solving them” (Chayko, p. 215).

Yes! That’s how I felt while reading this week’s content. That’s how it feels right now when I go online or turn on the radio. A recent New York Times article, “It’s Not Just You: 2017 Was Rough for Humanity, Study Finds,” shared that reported negative feelings were at an all-time low across the globe (Chokshi, 2018). Quite frankly, worrying about internet surveillance is the last issue many people (including me), already tired, stress, and overwhelmed, want to add to their worry list.

 

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Kim Jong Un and President Trump, Source: Time Magazine

However, like many other big issues (greenhouse gases, suicide prevention, North Korea) that we individually can only do so much about, individually we can educate ourselves on these issues and talk about them with friends and family, or blog about them on platforms like this. We can pay more attention when headlines about “net neutrality” pop up in our Facebook newsfeed. We can read works like Chayko’s and try to answer the questions she asks. As people privileged to live in a technologically-adept and responsive society, we have an obligation to make sure these new advances that make our lives easier and more efficient aren’t thwarting the human rights of others, that they don’t do so already.

 

Mary Shelley warns of “playing God,” but we know since Frankenstein’s publication in 2018, we have seen advancements that would frighten and mystify her. “As science writer James Gleick looks at it, ‘We can be overwhelmed or we can be emboldened’ (2011, p. 419)” (Chayko p. 215).  I choose emboldened, with the knowledge that liberty isn’t free. As Sam Cooke puts it: “A change is gonna come.” We have to be ready for it.

Dating apps, devices and microcoordination

Mary Chayco’s book SuperConntected: The Internet, Digital Media, & Techno-Social Life dives into the 24/7 connectedness we have to others. We, as technology users, are connected to our social groups 24/7 regardless of physical location. As I was reading through Chapter 8, I kept bringing the content back to users on dating apps.

Dating App Pic

This connectedness and constant availability can hinder relationships as much as it can strengthen them. For a moment, consider the available dating apps: Tinder, Hinge, Bumble, League, etc. In these apps, users can open the app, connect with other users, and message the person virtually immediately as long as it’s a mutual connection. But when and how does the other person respond? If the person responds immediately they may come off desperate, however – as users who are essentially constantly available and connected, how long is appropriate to wait before responding? There’s are tons of articles on the internet offering advice to users on this subject, like this one from EliteDaily “How Long Should You Wait to Respond to a Message on A Dating App?” which says the key is to wait five minutes. Chayco says, “because the internet and digital media permit individuals to contact one another at a moment’s notice, people often expect to be able to reach one another and to make plans at any time. These rational expectations can be heightened when people want or need extra attention” (p.183). In the dating app scene, I believe it is true that these types of rational expectations are heightened. Users are expecting a timely reaction because of how connected we all are to our phones, but balancing those technological expectations with dating expectations can add some confusion in the mix.

modern dating

Once users on these apps connect with a person, they can message the person through the app and make plans to meet up in real life. Chayco continues in this chapter to discuss the ease of making plans with technology, she calls it microcoordination (p. 184). Sure, technology like cell phones give users an easy way to make & change & adjust plans but, as Chayco says “it can also help contribute to a climate in which plans and schedules are generally seen as vague, indefinite, and perpetually incomplete” (p. 184). I listen to this podcast, “U Up?which is a podcast about modern dating (p.s. It’s hilarious and I highly recommend it). In the podcast,  Jared Freid and Jordana Abraham, the co-hosts, are regularly getting emails from listeners and discussing how to move dates from casual conversation on the apps to a real-life date. And they are always discussing how so many people are getting ghosted (see #2), getting dates canceled last minute, and generally having texting conversations about going on a date but never actually making the plans.

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Weighing the readings this week against modern dating and dating apps, it seems that technology is making it easier than ever to meet people online, but harder than ever to actually make plans and follow through. Gone are the days of formal dates and grand gestures to win someone over. In today’s dating scene, dating apps seems to be the norm, where users are consistently connected to each other, but somehow this connectedness perhaps also hindering relationships.  

Feeling Superconnected

Hello, fellow bloggers!

For starters, my sincere apologies for my delayed contribution. I had this post saved as a ‘Draft’ before attempting to submit it via mobile phone. Unfortunately, it seems I was unsuccessful in that effort, which I hadn’t realized until tonight while searching for post comments/feedback from you all.

Regardless, I am thoroughly enjoying Superconnected thus far, as I can relate to many of Chayko’s perspectives, opinions, and suggestions. Pardon the clichés, but she pushes me “out of my comfort zone” while inspiring me to “think outside the box”. Before I began reading, I really wasn’t sure what to expect, though I also didn’t expect her messages to be so deep, thought-provoking, and borderline controversial. That being said, I feel pleasantly surprised, intellectually stimulated, and eager for future readings.

Below are my reactions to Chayko’s primary areas of focus of web content: Ownership and Security.

Ownership

Ownership

Image courtesy of Digital Resource

As a whole, I agree with Chayko’s general stance on web content ownership. The way I see it, all web content is susceptible to at least being accused of plagiarism. While we can argue that our opinions belong solely to ourselves, even subjectivity is bound to be common among users. In other words, no matter how unique I believe my opinions to be, others are bound to share the same opinions. Therefore, if I publicly post what I’m hoping will be a unique, original opinion, others may still accuse me of content theft.

I believe this is what Chayko is getting at as well. However, it seems like she’ll provide a strong opinion and then almost immediately encourage her audience to challenge her opinion. Does anyone else gather this?

Security

Internet Security

Image courtesy of Router-Switch

Again, in general, I believe Chayko and I share similar views on web content security. No matter the precautions we take, I think it’s safe to say that all web activity is susceptible to being monitored by a third party, and all web content is susceptible to being obtained by an untrustworthy source.

You’ll notice that many websites contain a ‘Security’ section outlining the platforms being used to promote information safety and confidentiality. For example, such a section may contain a ‘Norton Antivirus’ logo, implying that this antivirus software is activity being used by the website. You may also see a ‘PayPal’ logo, designed to assure users that it is safe to purchase the website’s products through this reputable third-party payment processor.

However, please don’t be overly trusting! You can never be too careful when it comes to internet security. Such icons don’t necessarily guarantee any specific level of security, as any website in the techno-sphere can contain images of antivirus software and/or payment processors. To be a little more explicit, thieves can host fraudulent websites containing endless, invisible viruses and forms of spyware. However, to create a false sense of security, these thieves can easily include the aforementioned ‘decoy’ icons on their wormy websites. Copyright infringement? Perhaps, but still hardly the least problematic area of this type of web-trap.

Final Thoughts

people in the information space

Image courtesy of Mobile ID World

I am not certain there are right or wrong answers to the aforementioned topics. Regardless, these particular topics are prevalent, controversial, and “here to stay” (you had to expect one final cliché).

 

Superconnected: The ownership of ideas and information security

While Dr. Chayko discusses information and communication technology in a number of ways, I was particularly intrigued with her discussions about idea ownership and information security. In this post, I’ll outline these ideas and contribute my own thoughts about idea ownership and the security of information within digital systems.  

Ownership of ideas

Dr. Chayko questions the ownership of ideas in chapter four. She ponders if we own our ideas and how we can attribute ownership to something that’s not yet tangible. I ponder this questions often in my professional and academic work. Of course, I cannot claim someone else’s ideas as my own, but at what point can we truly trace the origin of an idea? My freshman composition professor also used to tell my class that no idea is truly original because we always got it from somewhere else (he would always make this argument so we would source our information in essays). This is something that has always intrigued me.

Our ideas evolve from interconnected and disconnected empirical experiences. Sometimes, it can be difficult to know the origin of an idea or if it is truly my own. This begs the question of what is more important: the idea itself or the execution of the idea? Chayko notes that, while “specific intellectual contributions are legally protected”, general thoughts are not.  

As such, differentiating between general ideas and intellectual contribution is something that I personally struggle with as a writer. When I’m writing an article about a new IoT (Internet of Things) initiative, I am often inspired by things I see and hear around me.  In order to codify this ideas, I try to apply my own interpretation in the form of execution — going beyond the ‘what’ and venturing into the ‘how’, ‘why’, and ‘what’s next’.

That said, the current speed at which information propagates makes it exceedingly difficult to trace the origin of an idea or that idea’s originating execution. We seem to be in an era where the only way to truly keep our ideas private is to keep them to ourselves or to try to pursue legal ways to copyright and trademark ideas. Dr. Chayko is also not the only one who is pondering this question. There are many articles, like this article from the Guardian, that explore the idea ownership and plagiarism in the digital age. In this article, the author seems to conclude that the application of the idea is more important than the original idea.

I personally believe that we can be inspired by what others have written and be allowed to write about similar topics. With the speed of which information propagates, I don’t see how this can’t be a reality. However, I do believe original ownership of ideas should always be sourced from those who originally inspired us. We cannot copy the structure of their idea, (i.e. we should add to the conversation, not copy what they said.) To do otherwise would just be dishonest. In that regard, II believe the original idea and the execution of the idea are both important. 

Secure communication and information

Chayko made me ponder secure communication and information accessibility. She states, “It is important to consider exactly how accessible and open computer systems should be – how various kinds of information should be accessed and who should do the accessing.”

If only information security was as simple as stock photos make it out to be.

My company deals with this type of question almost everyday with the line of work we do. We help customers connect physical objects or systems to the Internet – these objects or systems can be anything, but most businesses use us to connect valuable infrastructure or assets that they would like to keep an eye on from a remote location. However, when you connect an object or system to the Internet, it is now sending and transferring tons of data and information into internal systems and other places. My company helps make this process secure and safe so none of this data can be hacked or used for nefarious means.

But this is the problem with connected systems. While every IoT company will promise that they will safeguard against these things, there is no way you can ever stop someone from hacking into something if they truly have the means. Nothing can ever be completely secure, which opens up the question, “What should and should not be connected to the Internet?” While we are connecting physical objects to solve real-world problems in the world, should we?

Personally, I believe there are certain things that should be connected and there are some things that just shouldn’t be connected (for instance we don’t need connected basketballs and connected hairbrushes — yes, these are real things). The only objects that should be connected are the ones that offer continuous, recurring value for the business and for the customer. I believe businesses are responsible for making sure the products they are connecting add value not just to their business, but their customers’ lives. Only then can they justify connecting their systems and gathering information from objects and systems. 

Chayko, M. (2016). Superconnected: The Internet, digital media, and techno-social life. New York, NY. Sage Publications

The use of communication becoming automated . . . “Hey, Alexa!”

 

Communicating with individuals, robots and machines are a part of some individual’s lives that live in first world countries. For some Americans, the use of communication has become so monotonous, streamline and assisted that it enables the user to become reliant on a machine, robot or personal assistant like device to handle the job or task.

With the use of communication the range of possibilities remained wide open. In this week’s reading from Mary Chayco’s book, SuperConnected: The Internet, Digital Media & Techno-Social Life, she states, ” Licklider described all kinds of possible uses for computerization, including digital libraries, e-commerce, and online banking, and he also envisioned a point-and-click system for using the computer” (Chayco, p. 19). The highly intuitive “world wide web” was breaking through ground as early as 1950, however some of us were not keen on how all of this would come together or perhaps had no idea this was beginning to set a precedent for the future of communication.

The use of robotics made its debut in the early 1950’s. Chayco said, “In 1954, American inventor George Devol laid the foundation for the field of robotics with the first digitally operated and programmed robot, named Unimate, which worked on a New Jersey assembly line” (Chayco, p. 19). More of this was in the works and Chayco furthers this concept with the following statement, “An extension of artificial intelligence, robots, guided by computer programs, would take on rote tasks that could be automated, but they would also, as we shall see, take on more complex tasks over time and become more lifelike” (Chayco, p.19). The use of robots was becoming centralized and congruent with the use of technology and communication.

But, let’s switch gears quickly . . .

As you may know, in the 21st century some of us have access to voice activated systems, such as Siri, Alexa, etc. and it sure does make life a little easier… well that’s what we like to believe right? As we learned about earlier and from Chayco the use of and integration of robots and robotic machines with human-like capabilities began it’s debut in the early 1950’s, but flipping ahead 60 years, users now have access to smaller voice-activated robotic like machines, similar to Alexa.

Amazon released a personal device for your home, business, and car or wherever you are to help provide you with assistance with your day-to-day lives. Alexa allows a user to ask just about anything and the virtual assistant will provide you with an answer.

The connection with other technology on the market!

As Alexa continues to gain popularity and newer technologies are released the compatibility of Alex and the new technology will need to continue to work in congruence. Earlier in the reading Chayco mentions how older technologies will work to become compatible with newer technologies or the newer technologies will integrate or become compatible for the older devices. Chayco said the following in response to this, “”Interestingly, as new technologies are invented, they 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 (see Dunbar-Hester, 2014; Jenkins, 2006; Volti, 2014)” (Chayco, p.17). Even during the 1800’s communication and technology were setting the foundation for the future.

What’s next?

As we begin to forecast the future, what’s next or likely to be introduced in the form of technology and the use of communication it’s no surprise some of the hottest products out there are leading the way. Amazon’s Alexa is working on it’s own robot for the home as of April, 2018. It’s something that’s not ready it, but some companies have begun to introduce similar like devices and Amazon’s Alex recently expanded it’s capabilities to include it’s own “skills.” The skills are referred to as commands that are synced with other technology-advanced devices around your home that enable “smart-like” features to communicate and cooperate alongside the virtual assistant, Alexa.

Read more on the article featuring the future of Amazon’s robot-like Alexa.

Why Google Needs Oversight

google on smartphone

A smartphone and computer running Google search. Photo from Depositphotos.

In Superconnected, Mary Chayko discusses the inception of Google. It was developed by Stanford PhD students Larry Page and Sergey Brin and revolutionized the internet when the search engine became publicly available in the late 90s and created algorithms in the early 2000s. Today, Google is the world’s leading search engine.

“At the same time that it produces results for the user, Google also stores, caches, and archives large portions of web content as the web is being searched…Apple, Microsoft, Facebook, Yahoo, and other major tech companies also allow the data that flows in and through their platforms to be mined and in some cases participate in the mining. As a result, nearly everything that is done on the internet is tracked, analyzed, stored, and then used for a variety of purposes,” Chayko writes.

Google Accumulates Power
In May of this year, Steve Kroft of the TV news magazine 60 Minutes reported on the power of Google and critics who say the company, worth three quarters of a trillion dollars, is stifling competition. Google, which is owned by the holding company Alphabet, went public in 2004. It has also bought more than 200 companies including YouTube, the largest video platform, and Android, which runs 80% of smartphones.

In the 60 Minutes story, Gary Reback, a well-known antitrust lawyer, says Google is a monopoly. He says it’s a monopoly not only in search, but also other industries such as online advertising. Plus, Google accumulates information about users and sells that information to advertisers. He points out that people tell search engines more than they tell their spouses, giving Google a “mind-boggling degree of control over our entire society.”

The Business Insider reports Google is also a major player in the news industry, surpassing Facebook last year as “the leading source of traffic to news publishers’ websites according to Chartbeat…the majority of traffic to publishers’ websites from mobile devices.”

Google Dominates its Competition
Also, in May, the Wall Street Journal’s Christopher Mims wrote about the growing demand to break up the monopolies of Google, Facebook, and Amazon. He writes, “…as they consolidate control of their markets, negative consequences for innovation and competition are becoming evident.”

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Google search results for “Mexican restaurants near me” showing Google information at the top of the first page

Jonathan Taplin, a digital media expert, says in the 60 Minutes story that Google has no real competition because it has 90% of the search market and Bing, Microsoft’s search engine, has 2%. The co-founder of Yelp, Jeremy Stoppelman, points out that Google has changed its search results over the years so that instead of returning the best information from around the internet, results at the top of the first page are often from Google properties. Google lists results from its own data first such as maps, restaurant reviews, shopping, and travel information. This is especially important when many users are viewing results on the small screen of a mobile phone.

Google Faces Regulation
Google has been fined by the European Union for anticompetitive actions. Over the summer, the EU slapped Google with a $5 billion fine. According to the Business Insider, the EU ordered Google to stop using its Android operating system to block competitors. Google is appealing that fine. Last year, the EU fined Google $2.7 billion for illegally promoting its shopping search results over its competitors.

The U.S. government should follow the example of the EU and provide more oversight of Google and other tech giants. It’s clear that Google is a powerful force in society, and with the company’s dominance comes the need for transparency and accountability. Recently, Google, Facebook, and Twitter have been called to testify and answer questions at U.S. Congressional hearings regarding Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. elections. An Axios article by David McCabe had more ideas on how the government could provide oversight:

  • Require Google to release more information regarding its algorithms
  • Make it easier to sue big tech companies like Google
  • Designate it as a “common carrier” which would allow the government to appoint a body to oversee Google

All of these options should be considered, and more should be done to make sure Google and other powerful tech companies do not wield too much influence over our lives without our knowledge and consent. It should be noted that I relied heavily on Google to research this blog post.

Crowdsourcing is Key in my Social Media Based Business

Before I discuss crowdsourcing and its necessity in my social media based, direct sales business, let me give a bit of background.  I work for Vantel Pearls as an independent consultant and team leader.  This company began as an in-home party sales company much like Tupperware or Thirty-One Gifts.  However, with Facebook’s invent of the Live Video Streaming feature, Vantel Pearls consultants began to take their parties from the living room to the live video platform, thus allowing them to reach an audience well outside of their local social circle.

During my live videos, the customer makes a purchase, selects the oyster they would like to open, and I shuck the oyster, live, to reveal the pearl inside.  That pearl is then sent to our home office to be set into the jewelry piece they selected and they will receive their jewelry in 2-3 weeks via US Mail.  It may seem simple – Hit the “Go Live” button and voila, everyone in the USA sees your party, hops on, and makes a purchase!  Right?  Well, no.  As a matter of fact, Facebook algorithms make it virtually impossible to reach more than a small handful of even your Facebook friend’s list, much less those outside of your circle.  This is what makes crowdsourcing so important in my business.

Mary Chayco’s book SuperConnected: The Internet, Digital Media, & Techno-Social Life discusses crowdsourcing in depth in Chapter 4.  She says, ” Online attention can take the shape of a single glance at a photo or a more active step: a like, a follow, a share, a comment” (76).  It takes time and effort to build a social media presence.  My business began with my local social circle and a select few of my Facebook friends who had interest in the product and experience I was selling.  I encouraged those friends to host a party with me; they became the “hostess” with the promise of earning free jewelry based upon the purchases made by their friends and family (their circle).  They invited these friends and family members to the party and by doing so, increased my “circle” a bit more.

During my live parties, I spend time engaging with my customers and making sure they are having fun.  I wear silly hats, play games, bring on special guests and offer prizes to buyers as well as to people who SHARE my video on their personal pages.

By having them comment a phrase with the hashtag sign in front of it  (#Just1morepearl),  I am able to randomly choose a “Share Winner” though FB feature called “Woobox.”  I ask that they make all shares public so that I can verify the share was made once the winner is chosen.

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Mary Chayco says, “This is, indeed, a kind of economy, and it is one that has come to matter to many of us.  Attention is attracted as something shared is acknowledged online.  A kind of compensation follows in the form of likes, follows and comments.  More tangible rewards like social connections, jobs, and money can even follow” (76).  Facebook allows me to keep track of likes, shares, and follows via “Insights” that can be found on my Facebook Business Page.  It keeps track of the trends week-by-week so I can see the ebbs and flows in the number of people who are seeing and interacting with my page.

Mary Chayco points out that, “Attention online is subject to increasing returns.  That is, the more one has of it, the easier it is to get more.  …To succeed in such an economy, it helps to create or re-mix attention getting content and then to rapidly capitalize on bursts of attention as soon as they occur in hopes they will follow back and engage in return” (76).  This is something I find myself doing often.  When I change the times I go live, or the prizes I give away on a given night, sometimes my live viewers will jump dramatically.  When they do, I immediately take that cue to mention liking and following my page, joining my VIP group, or signing up to receive my text notifications.  I rev up the energy, start singing – anything to get those people to take it one step further and like or follow my page in hopes that they will, over time, see me pop up in their feed and ultimately, become interested enough to make a purchase.

However, all of this has been more that I can do alone.  Around Christmas, I enlisted the help of four “Admins” to help me run my Facebook Business and VIP pages.  These four individuals are responsible for making posts to increase interaction on my pages during times when I am not live, booting trolls from my live videos who, as Mary Chaco describes them, are “individuals who… “hijack”…and provide extreme, irrelevant responses in an attempt to pull focus away from the…original intent” (74), and sharing my live videos in groups to increase viewers.  I suppose you could say I outsourced crowdsourcing.

In March, Vantel Pearls sent me to Rivera Maya, Mexico in an all expense paid trip for being in the 125 top in sales.  My gratitude went to my customers, because, without their constant shares, post interactions, and purchases, I would not have a business.  While I am certainly not famous nor the absolute top seller in the company, I count my business a success because of my customers’, Admins’, followers’ willingness to share me with their friends and family – their willingness to crowdsource!

Left Behind

Communication is a desire of all humans.  Over the centuries, humans have found better, faster and easier ways to communicate.  We’ve even found ways to communicate with people who are thousands of miles away or in space.  As we’ve advanced, we’ve benefited – at least most of us.  One specific area that has benefited is workplace communication.  Modern technological advances have allowed organizations to have intranet sites that inform employees about company sponsored events, stock value, employee resource groups and training opportunities.  Employees visiting their intranet sites can learn more about the company and what leadership’s goals and vision are.  They can view organizational charts, access forms and policy documents and even read company newsletters.  Those who have company issued devices such as laptops and smartphones have the means to send and receive messages via company email, use an electronic time keeping system and access various applications.  Because companies have kept up the pace with modern technology, communication within them has been enhanced.  It has opened wonderful doors of opportunity for many employees.  However, there is one segment of the workforce that lags far behind the others in terms of having good access to modern communication methods and modes – production workers.

Employee engagement is lowest among production workers.  This lower employee engagement can be linked to less efficient communication to and from production workers.  So, while the majority of our workforce has been able to take advantage of and reap the benefits of what Mary Chayko, in her book Superconnected, calls a participatory culture, production workers do not have these same opportunities.  While internal workplace communication is growing and changing with the times among all other segments of the workforce, production workers are being left behind.  It’s no wonder they are less engaged.

While solutions to this problem are difficult to find, the reasons are fairly simple.  If, for example, you are a welder working the third shift at a large company, you most likely don’t have a company issued laptop or smart phone, you don’t have the ability to leave your work on the line to attend a town hall meeting and you probably don’t even have a company email address.  So, much of the company information about upcoming events, changes, training opportunities, policies, etc., is cascaded down to you through word of mount or perhaps a poster on the break room bulletin board.  You are not a part of the participatory culture that everyone else enjoys.  This creates a serious communication gap between production workers and the rest of the organization.

How can we bridge this digital divide between production workers and the rest of the workforce?  How can we give them better opportunities to participate and engage with the business they are such a valuable part of?  Is it financially feasible and beneficial for organizations to invest in ways to create avenues with which communication can flow to and from production workers?  An article by Jeffry Bartash in MarketWatch emphasizes how low unemployment rates (among other factors) have left many businesses facing a labor shortage.  Companies are paying for workers to take courses and get certifications as a way to obtain more skilled laborers.  They’re also offering better pay and benefits to attract workers.  What if some companies offered production workers time to attend town hall meetings and other company-wide events, or leverage mobile application technology? Bulent Osman writes in Forbes  magazine about how important it is to reach these employees, and that leveraging mobile technology is a feasible way.   Companies absorb the costs of providing workers with the tools to communicate better because they know how it benefits the business and increases employee engagement.  I issue a challenge that we begin to find ways to close the digital divide between production workers and the rest of the workforce, and that we provide them with better communication tools.

Blogging: Past Experiences and Article Reflection

Past Experiences with Blogging

I discovered my passion for web writing/editing back in the fall of 2013 when I began taking online Professional Communications courses through Fox Valley Technical College. To hit the ground running, I created two blogs of my own. First, I created a Milwaukee Brewers blog called Barrel Man’s Brew Blog. Shortly thereafter, I created a professional-advice blog called Positivity and Professionalism. Though clearly dated, the blogs are still live:

Barrel Man’s Brew Blog

Positivity and Professionalism

I enjoyed maintaining these blogs, as it was solid “beginner” experience for me in my new field. However, I found them to be time-consuming, possibly because I was trying too hard to create “perfect” content out of the gates. As a result, I most actively blogged while I was only working part-time.

The time factor is the primary reason the two blogs have become stagnant. However, having gained significant personal and professional experience over the past few years, perhaps I could rekindle my bloggership while hopefully being more efficient and responsible with my content creation/management.

 

“What Blogging Has Become” by Robinson Meyer

I enjoyed reading this article while learning about Medium, a company I was previously unfamiliar with. In fact, I learned that Medium created Blogger, the blogging platform of Barrel Man’s Brew Blog.

Though I enjoyed this article, I’ll admit I’m saddened by its primary message. Meyer insists that blogging is dead, old news, a thing of the past, etc. However, I’m not specifically offended by Meyer’s words, as it’s one person’s opinion at its core. Instead, I’m disappointed that, well…he might be right. Upon further review, it seems many other internet voices agree with that of Meyer, whose post might reflect a trending, collective viewpoint on bloggerhood. Darn it. Just when I was considering a blog reboot!

Unless I’m misunderstanding the content, I believe Meyer is explaining how blogs were so prevalent that they became the status quo of internet content, or the new “normal”. Furthermore, with blogs becoming increasingly prevalent across the web, it’s as though bloggers spread a message to the effect of “This is the type of internet content that appeals to the masses in the 21st century. Deal with it!”

As a result, it seems many electronic newspapers, magazines, and journals have adopted a “bloggistic” writing style to stay current and relevant. Accordingly, traditional journal-type blogs are no longer common because the majority of internet content contains a blog-like formula. In short, blogs are no longer cool and trendy, since everyone is blogging, even if they don’t realize it.

Your feedback is welcome, as I am not sure I’ve grasped the intended message of this article.

Thank you!

Jeff

Crowdsourcing, is it beneficial or harmful?

Social media channels exist because users (individuals, companies, organizations, etc) continue to post, share, like, and interact with content. Each user is actively participating in sharing their photos, status updates, locations, likes and dislikes with the world, collectively creating content for others to consume. But at what cost?

Mary Chayco’s book SuperConnected: The Internet, Digital Media, & Techno-Social Life discusses this idea of crowdsourcing, “Because the sum of the contributions of a group so often exceeds the contribution that any one of few people could produce, crowdsourcing can yield astonishing innovation” (p. 73). Examples like GoFundMe, Wikipedia, and Kickstarter are great examples of crowdsourcing content and money for the collective benefit. With crowdsourcing, GoFundMe can raise money for a cause, Wikipedia had detailed content for users to consume, and Kickstarter backs new, innovative products for consumers. In these instances, groups are emerging and sharing in common goals. However, what happens when content is being crowdsourced for individual accounts?

Think about Instagram for a moment. Content is being published at an increasingly quick rate and users with large followings are aiming to publish “on trend” posts. I follow a lot of comedy accounts and many of these accounts have feeds that look like this (@beigecardigan).

Instagram

 

These accounts are sharing tweets or memes that other users created, published, and now this new account is getting the reward (the “likes”) for republishing it. The “credit” for the content is occasionally (but not always) included by keeping the Twitter username at the top of the post.  

Who is being exploited? Who is benefiting? Does it benefit the person who originally created the content? Maybe they are getting additional traffic to their page, but what if they are not credited? This type of content curation is clearly benefiting the owner of the account who is sharing other people’s original content. There is no need to be original – there’s already a world of entertaining content available at our fingertips.

And it’s not just individual social media users. Companies like Buzzfeed do the same thing regularly. For example, this article 23 Posts That Prove Millennials Really Are The Worst Generation is a collection of tumblr posts and tweets from individuals who commented on why millennials are the worst. Buzzfeed does credit the person (but you couldn’t tell if you weren’t looking, see red circle below). In this case, Buzzfeed is absolutely the one benefitting from this user content. By using other individual’s original content, they create an article, drive audiences to it from their social channels, and in turn advertisers pay them to post ads on their website.

Buzzfeed

 

So is this a problem? Or just part of the social media expectation? Chayco says, “Online attention can take the shape of a simple glance at a photo or a more active step: a like, a follow, a share, a comment. But attention is a two-way street. In exchange for accumulating likes and follows, it is generally expected that one will like and follow in return, though not necessarily an even one-to-one exchange” (p.76). Is this type of content sharing the clearly uneven one-to-one exchange Chayco discusses? Is having your original content shared in a Buzzfeed article enough of an acknowledgement to the user as it is a benefit to Buzzfeed?  

Exploitation? Who cares? They like me!

 

SallyField

Sally Field’s 1984 Oscar acceptance speech

“Please like, comment, and subscribe to see more content like this.” I finish watching a YouTube video and click the thumbs-up button to show my approval. I scroll through the comments. I then flit through Facebook and Instagram, offering a few more “likes” and posting a picture of my cat. According to Mary Chayko, author of the 2018 book Superconnected: The Internet, Digital Media, and Techno-Social Life, I am contributing to the “participatory culture” of the internet age (p. 68) in which I prosume (produce + consume) content (p. 69).

My social media presence is small, but as I’ve liked posts, articles, and pictures over the years, I notice more targeted ads and sponsored posts. They certainly know I’m a woman of a certain age who likes cats, travel, food, and yoga. exhale-inhale-kitteh-yoga-cat-yoga-27239757In Chapter 4 of Chayko’s book, the author cautions that this free sharing of information is making corporations profitable while not paying consumers:

“As people contribute information to websites, blogs, and social media networks, they tell others a great deal about themselves and make quite a bit of personal information public without being compensated in return. Such data, in the aggregate, can make organizations and corporations very wealthy” (p. 68).

Our internet habits make large corporations money, but so did our TV habits and our radio habits before them. Buyer beware; viewer beware. At least now we have more say in what gets created.

Chayko asks if people are being exploited when they share personal, free information online so readily (p. 76). In a capitalist society, we’re driven by profit. Though cruising the internet and social media feel like casual, non-consumer activities, they’re not. The YouTuber we watch for fun is likely making a profit. The items they’ve chosen to talk about are probably profit-driven, based on viewer requests or brands scouting them. Like any form of communication, a tit-for-tat structure forms this “prosumptive nature” of the techno-social world. If you like my picture, I’ll like your video. If you ask me a question, I’ll give you an answer. While we’re not directly paying for our social media applications, we are paying with the amount of attention we give them. In the so-called “attention culture” of the internet, the amount of attention we give to a social media presence creates a currency in the form of attention paid (p. 76). This has become so important that some creators now pay for likes, comments, and subscribers: see Buzzoid or Stormlikes. We like attention, and we like to feel part of a community; social media gives us that.

“Those who communicated via these online networks very often came to feel bonded—like members of a community or club in which they were genuinely, often deeply, engaged. It was, for sure, a new way to initiate sociality ” (34).

To feel part of that genuine community, we gladly ignore exploitation.

As social media personalities become more well known, they have to become more savvy, too. Any why shouldn’t creators who put out strong content make money from that content? Many bloggers and vloggers lament the hours they spend writing, editing, and tagging their posts. They have to be skilled at technology, communication, marketing, branding, and research. Audience members are also pretty good at sniffing out phonies, and with the number of options available to click and find something new, content has to be good, or at least amusing. No matter whether we’re speaking through grunts and hieroglyphs or emojis and hashtags, we have a “timeless human desire to communicate with one another, to be seen and known and understood (p. 15). Social media and the internet allow us to do that every day, all day, if we so choose (which carries a burden of its own).

To stay part of this growing online community and attain the always-on attention we seek, most users overlook or ignore the very-real exploitative nature of this techno-social world. 

(While composing this post, a series of throwback songs popped in my head, including Madonna’s “Material Girl,” Diana Ross’s “Upside Down” and Rockwell’s “Somebody’s Watching Me”).

 

My Blogging Journey – Lisa Rohloff

216309Blogs are a unique and wonderful medium for writers.  We can post just about anything, anytime, our audience can respond with their candid thoughts, and we can grow and develop as a writer through this process.  Here, I will describe some of the limited experience I’ve had with blogging, what I feel I gained from it, and where I’d like to go with blogging in the future.

My first experience with blogging was in 2011.  I was taking a class towards my bachelor’s degree in Communication, and I was required to create and maintain a blog.  It was fun!  I enjoyed creating something of my own that was both visual and textual.  I filled it with different essays, poems, and assignments I had written.  But, after the class ended, I did not keep the blog updated.  Since beginning my master’s degree program at UW Stout, I’ve also had one class where we entered blog posts.  We were only required to do a couple posts, but I enjoyed that as well.  From there, I started a blog of my own, but since I didn’t keep it updated, I cancelled my post.  I’d love to have a blog and keep it updated regularly, but with working full time, taking classes towards my Master of Science in Technical and Professional Communication (MSTPC) and my family, I honestly don’t have time right now.  However, I am excited that this class gives me an opportunity to develop my blogging skills, so that when I am ready to start my own blog, I’ll be that much better!

Blogging is a terrific way for writers to satisfy that deep desire to write while honing their writing skills.  It is also a great way to gain honest, real-world feedback.  Bonnie A Nardi, Diane J Schiano, Michelle Gumbrecht and Luke Schwartz wrote, “In our sample, we discovered five major motivations for blogging:  documenting one’s life; providing commentary and opinions; expressing deeply felt emotions; articulating ideas through writing; and forming and maintaining community forums” (2004,  p. 43).  The blogging I have done fits best into the categories of articulating ideas through writing and forming and maintaining community forums.  But, what I’d really like to do in the future, is to express deeply felt emotions.  I picture myself reclining on a comfortable deck chair, listening to the birds sing their songs to one another, and allowing the wind to calm me as it moves through the leaves.  I long to smell the pine fresh air and then use my pen to help my audience smell it too.  I know I’ll eventually have my own blog – probably soon after I graduate from the MSTPC program.  Until then I’ll keep learning about how to do it well.

 

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

 

Social Media’s Digital Labor

Social Media gives us the connection we long for as human beings.  We feel part of something so much bigger than ourselves and are able to connect with past and current friends on a daily basis, if we so choose.  However, is social media connecting us the way we believe it to be or are we all incorporated into a false consciousness where what seems to be super connected is actually complete alienation?  One could argue that it is a matter of perspective, possibly determined by our internal definition of “connected” or that we are potentially being brainwashed on a massive scale.  According to Mary Chayco’s book SuperConnected: The Internet, Digital Media, & Techno-Social Life page 71, the idea of false consciousness is that individuals may not realize that giving away their free time by making and reproducing creative digital communications, they are actually benefiting the more powerful in society rather than themselves.  In other words, social media users and producers are focused upon the view that they are being creative or accomplishing a goal but actually those free efforts are benefiting companies.  Of course there are paid promotional considerations, influencer marketing, and other ways to monetize a blog or other social media platform efforts…  However, who is benefiting the most from this digital labor?

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The weight of our social media engagements.

Image Source: https://goo.gl/images/sZPpck

 

Digital Labor is the act of individuals producing content for public consumption on social media platforms such as Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and others that benefits organizations and corporations (Chayco, 2018, p. 71). It’s an organization of human experience that drives marketing, mostly unbeknownst to the producer and the consumer.  In one respect, by the vast amount of digital media consumers are exposed to, they learn about products and services that may not have crossed their path or are able to be involved in crowdsourcing or crowdfunding.   However, one could argue that by websites and companies having this inexpensive or even free digital labor, that consumers are exploited.

We rush to social media as a way to express ourselves creatively and to be included in the digital society.  Engagement on social media has become to norm in our highly digital society so much that the act of not being engaged in social media is seen as antisocial.  We’ve come to a collective consciousness in regard to digital media behavior and we didn’t even realize it.  We didn’t question it.  In addition to digital labor, companies also gain information about online behavior by the use of “cookies” (Chayko, 2018, p. 84-85).  This online behavior monitoring and data mining, along with our digital labor, reveals so much personal information about an individual that I’m certain they wouldn’t just tell a complete stranger.  However, that is exactly what is happening with our digital media interactions.  The video below shows how labor has evolved and what it looks like as a “social media workforce”.  It speaks to the idea that we do not feel we are being exploited or alienated as a result of coercion and then our consent.  It’s a bold statement and hard to accept because we like that rush of human interaction.  Again, there is much value in digital communications but we have a responsibility to understand exactly what it is we’re engaging in and agreeing to.

 

Digital labor can be beneficial to consumers on social media platforms but as producers and consumers, we need to reclaim our worth.  Social media users are valuable to corporations by their ability to reach others.  So, how do we make certain we are not free or cheap digital labor?  It starts with awareness.

 

References

Chayko, Mary. (2018). SuperConnected: The Internet, Digital Media, & Techno-Social Life (2nd ed.). Sage Publications.

Fuchs, C. (2016, October 24). The Digital Labour Theory of Value and Karl Marx in the Age of Facebook, Youtube, Twitter, and Weibo. Reconsidering Value and Labour in the Digital Age, 26-41 [Video File]. Retrieved from https://youtu.be/L-GtQilch3A

 

 

My blogging experiences and motivations

The article, “Why we blog” discusses people’s motivations for writing blogs, which got me thinking about my motivations. I have a couple of experiences writing for blogs and I have learned different lessons (about myself and writing) from each of them.

The Tech Ladder – Blogs as muse

Occasionally, I write original tech content for my own website, the Tech Ladder. When I first started this website, I used it as a place to practice writing articles that focused on trending tech content. I practiced because I had tons of experience writing academic essays, but hardly any experiences publishing my own articles.

From this experience, I quickly learned blog writing was drastically different than academic writing – the purpose and style of writing serves different means. I learned that readers didn’t want to read long blog posts, they wanted something quick that educated them. I could use bullet points and needed to find images to make my writing compelling. I learned how to make the visual structure of articles (headlines, headers, and paragraph length) visually compelling so readers would stop to read certain sections. I no longer had a professor who was going to read it no matter what I wrote or said – it was my job to make it interesting and compelling for all sorts of readers.

My main motivation from this blogging experience was to become a better writer. In that sense, I used blogging as a means to educate myself on how to write on the Internet. While this doesn’t seem like an incredibly vulnerable act, it kind of was. Writing my first blog post on this website was slightly nerve-wracking and exhilarating as the same time. While the article wasn’t about me, (and I don’t think I’ll ever be the type of person who blogs about my personal experiences because I just don’t find this type of posts enjoyable/cathartic), it was about me becoming a stronger and more proficient writer (which can be a vulnerable act). I learned that I enjoyed article writing and took my tech content to other websites, which helped spark my career into technical writing.

Blogging for school – Blog as a community forum

The article “why we blog” discusses using blogs as community forums and comes to the consensus that they are not that effective for creating meaningful communities. I believe this is true and not true – it depends upon the needs and goals of the community.

I once created a community blog for an undergraduate class that was particularly difficult. Other classmates joined the blog because they also knew the professor was no easy grader and they were going to need all the help they could get. While we worked together to share study guides and such forth, there was definitely a group of classmates who contributed more to others. Regardless, there was some engagement. Classmates actively posted questions about homework, and sometimes used it as a place to vent their frustrations about the difficulty of the class. At the end of the course, many shared their final grade they got back, whether it was good or bad. I was surprised by how some were so willing to share their personal thoughts about their grades and other experiences in the course.

Afterwards, one classmate created a new blog for us to continue communications with each other even as we parted ways. This blog was not successful, mainly because the need for a community was no longer there. Before, we used the class blog because we felt we needed it to pass the class. Now that the need was gone, there was no reason to use this website or visit it to see what was new. This showed me in order to create a community, you need to have common need or goal in order for it to stay alive.

Particle Blog – Blogs as commentary

I currently publish tech content on my company’s blog. We mainly use this as a place to inform our engaged audience about trends in our industry, and product-related posts. Our main motivation is to provide commentary on our piece of the tech space and show that we are thought leaders in the industry. Writing for a company has taught me the challenges of continuously publishing relevant content. While there is plenty to write about – it can be challenging to stick to a schedule, which can be hard to build an audience when you post infrequently. It has taught me that blogs must contain more than just words these days. You must include images, videos, and other forms of interactive content to keep content engaging. It has also taught me about SEO, and making blogs findable via google search.

At the same time, it has taught me this is probably one of my favorite forms of writing. I like being a thought leader in a space and being able to show how things are evolving in a given industry. It allows me to put my writing in a public place, and receive reception to my work. I can consider myself as a published writer, which was always my dream growing up.

I look forward to blogging with you guys in this class. Even if I don’t wants get to comment on everyone’s post, know that I am reading and enjoying your posts.

References

Nardi, B., Schiano, D., Gumbrecht, M., and Swartz, L. (2004). Why we blog. Retrieved from https://uwstout.courses.wisconsin.edu/d2l/le/content/4180658/viewContent/26292099/View

You blog, I blog.. Well, I tried to blog and here’s what I learned!

Blogging – A platform used in today’s world to offer one’s opinion, recommendation or share information to a tailored audience. In Press ‘Publish’: Start an Academic Blog, Mann  (2015) refers to a blog as, “The contracted form of weblog, a website made up of ongoing entries, usually called posts, that are published in reverse chronological order (i.e., the most recent entry appears first, at the ‘top’ of the page, and so on)” (Mann, 2015).

The very first time I was introduced to blogging was through Pinterest. One day, I was pinning away on all the accessories, designer apparel, outfits, latest fashion trends and just about anything that related to luxurious homes including curb appeal, dreamy master bathrooms, kitchens, and the extravagant necessities one could only dream of having.  It was on this pin, right here, where I was brought to a blog… As the pin loaded, I stopped and almost shut my computer. But, I became so intrigued by what was loading that I anticipated what was to come.

I thought to myself, “Wow,” I could do something like this myself, but perhaps what would I write about? The question stumped me so much that I began researching like crazy all the different topics I could write about. One blog led me to the next blog and the next and so forth. Finally, I took away one recurring theme in each of the blogs and research I compiled online which was to find a specific topic to write about. The blogging industry was becoming so popular that one was advised to write on something very specific to attract, entertain and retain a certain audience. The next piece of advice often given was to write on something that interests you.

thought bubble

 

That’s it.. I wrote down a few items I was heavily interested in and this is the last I came up with:

  • Hockey
  • Fashion
    • Designing Apparel
    • Hair Styles
    • The Latest Industry Trends
    • What’s in Season and what’s not
  • Eczema
    • Yes, I understand this is painful and boring, but as soon as I found a food related link contributing to my dry-skin outbreaks. I wanted to inform, help and guide other individuals on my experience.
      • I couldn’t believe that certain “foods” were linked to my skin outbreak and that I consumed a vast amount of my free time researching skin care products, best practices and reading about other’s experiences, cures, and triggers which caused or help eliminate eczema.

Now, it was time to write. (Yikes!)

  • I could not come up with words, sentences, phrases or images/videos I wanted to include or expand upon for any of the above topics.. I felt a sort of shift in my interest level and motivation to write a blog altogether.

The blog – Well, the blog did begin, but it was for an undergraduate course during my time at UW-Madison. As I began to build my own personal website part of this site included a blog where others could read about my personal background, experiences and areas of interests. Essentially, it was another resource for hiring companies and professionals to get a better feel about the type of person I was and how I could fit into their culture and organization.

  • Reflecting on this (above) I noticed Mann (2015) talked about professional development and career advancement as reason 4 of 5 to begin an academic blog. While at the time I curated this blog, I wasn’t sure how much help or assistance it would ultimately provide me; I’m beginning to see the advantages of presenting a potential employer with more than just a resume… Mann addresses the benefits of creating a blog for this reason by stating, “A well-done academic blog can be a nice feature on a CV” (Mann, 2015). As I began to generate more content to add on this blog, I focused more on the clarity of the content and specific topic to highlight versus just writing to write! Additionally, Mann talks about his experience being awarded a scholarship by keening into the topic of making scholarship available to a wider audience (open access) and with the creation of his own website, ultimately he could illustrate what he was highlighting (Mann, 2015).
    • Y U P !
      • Mann is spot on. For me, as I created my own website I used the website domain in my graduate school application, resume and various other job sites to showcase my own capabilities, reference my work and highlight other interests that were outside of the job scope.

I guess that’s all for now, but there will be more to come with this course and another try at creating an academic blog with all of you.

-Kim Drake

 

References:

Mann, Joshua. (2013, July 25). Press ‘Publish’: Start an Academic Blog [Blog post].

Retrieved

from: http://www.academia.edu/4101490/Press_Publish_Start_an_Academic_Blog

 

 

Previous Blogging Experience

My previous experience with blogging is limited, at best.  In 2008, when I began homeschooling my sons, I decided to chronicle our journey through blogging.  Each day, for around 2 months, I would finish school with the boys and spend an hour or more recapping our day in my blog and adding photos of the work the boys had been doing or activities we had completed that day.  I had something to show my doubting family and friends – “Hey guys!  Look!  We really are doing something!”  However, after the first few months of doing this, I grew weary.  It was taking forever and we had just finished a day of challenges and joys that we worked through or celebrated in the moment.  It was an experience for us – not my doubting family and friends!  So I stopped the blogging.

About 4 years later, I decided to pick up blogging again.  I had started taking a weight-loss supplement that I was just determined was going to change my life!  In my direct sales brain, I decided that the best way to “share my journey” with the masses once these miracle supplements had taken me from a size 10 to a size 2, was by chronicling said journey in a blog.  I am pretty sure I blogged sporadically for 13 days before realizing that, A. These supplements were not producing the miracle I had hoped for and B. Most people probably didn’t want to read about my bloating and nausea day-in and day-out.

As Social Media became more popular and my number of “friends” increased exponentially, I found less need to share my life by way of blog.  Author R. Meyer speaks to this in his 2015 article, “What Blogging has Become.”  He says, “We had already lost (the single-URL game)…But in return, we got Twitter and Facebook and whatever your other favorite social-media tool is. They adopted the chatty tone of blogs, and they unified the hundreds of streams of content in reverse-chronological order into just one big one. They made blogging easier, because a writer didn’t have to attract and maintain a consistent audience in the same way anymore. And along with the chattiness and ease of blogging, they were supposed to bring its attendant emancipations to the masses, too.”  For me, Facebook became a “blog” of sorts.  Granted, my post length is shorter on Facebook, but the sentiment is the same, and adding photos to Facebook could not be easier.  Add in App tools such a Word Swag and I can make a post that both grabs the attention of my reader and makes a statement all at the same time.  And there is no need for my friend/reader to think of me and purposely go to my blog and read – oh no! – Facebook makes sure I pop right up on their screen and tell them all about my day whether they wanted to know about it or not.

Blogging reminds me of the hand-written journals I used to write as a kid.  I have stacks of them stored away that I have not picked up in at least 25 years and will likely never read again.  Life is all about seasons and, most of those, I do not care to relive once they have passed.  Of course, Facebook missed that memo and each day alerts me to relive my posts made on the same day X number of years ago.  Who doesn’t love saying goodbye to their beloved cat each year on the same day through heart-wrenching photos of the kids in tears and the little cross they made for his grave?  Thanks Facebook!

Occasionally, I will find a witty, generally sarcastic blog post that I stop and read, but those are few and far between for me and generally I happen upon them by sheer accident.  Other than that, I have never found blogging to be all that enjoyable personally.  I have never stuck with blogging on my own and I am sure that I have never read anyone else’s blog in its entirety.  I am cautiously optimistic about blogging for this class and I am interested to learn about blogging and social media usage with regard to technical communications.

Rebecca Snyder

 

Is social media driving traffic to blogs?

Blogging for my work organization

I am an idea contributor to the UW-Madison Department of Mechanical Engineering blog as part of my full time duties in my current position. This blog is rebranded on our website as “Department News” highlighting stories about our faculty research contributions, student group successes, and alumni stories. It is entirely composed of articles, there are no videos, podcasts, or other forms of media listed.   

The blog itself is separated into content categories of alumni, awards, educational innovation, faculty, in the media, newsnotes, perspective, research, student services, students, uncategorized, and Wisconsin Idea. Each article is tagged with one or many of these items based on what it relates to. Additionally, each article is tagged with the primary or affiliated departments (i.e. Mechanical Engineering and Industrial and Systems Engineering) for the specific topic.

I am not the primary contributor to this blog. We have a fully developed External Relations Team housed within the College of Engineering whose primary job is to find and tell these stories about the College of Engineering. My role comes in two-fold, 1) when the idea is just an idea and 2) when the newspiece is produced. I am a collector of information from faculty, students, and alumni and I share that information with our External Relations Team. I make sure that those individuals are informed of the story idea, the important contacts for getting the information, and any photography that might accompany the story. Once our External Relations Team produces the piece, I share the story on our Department of Mechanical Engineering Facebook page.

Sharing blogs to social channels

As mentioned, once a blog is created it is my responsibility to share the information to our Facebook channel. The article “What Blogging Has Become” by Robinson Meyer discusses the organization of old blogs in “reverse-chronological order” within a connecting set of topics. However, now with Twitter and Facebook there is a whole new tone to blogging. Meyers says, “They [Twitter and Facebook] made blogging easier, because a writer didn’t have to attract and maintain a consistent audience in the same way anymore… they were supposed to bring it’s attendant emancipation to the masses” (“What Blogging Has Become”). I totally agree with that. When I am posting the blog posts our team created to our social channels, I already know I have an engaged audience. The followers of my page have some interest already in what I am posting, and in turn are following these social posts to the blog page of our website. It seems clear at this moment, that Facebook is driving traffic to the website, not vice versa. It will be interesting to see how this is affected as the social media landscape continues to shift. As Meyer’s highlights in this article, the social channels organizations are using is one of the primary contributors to driving traffic to blogs today.

Beyond participating in my organization’s blog, I do not have any other online blog presence. I do occasionally visit blogs, primarily thanks to Pinterest, where I click on pins that typically lead me to a individual’s blog post who is sharing a recipe, fashion advice, or home decorating tips. Blogging is a much different art form than social media, where I am heavily present. Whereas some individuals dive into their blog, it is much more likely that peers will see me on social channels like Snapchat and Instagram.

From Mommy Blogs to YouTube Vlogs

I began reading blogs when I was a technical writer in Fargo, ND, in the early 2000s. Professionally, I followed some technical communication blogs, and personally, I read a handful of “mommy blogs”, one of which was the famous Dooce.com (Heather Armstrong), who has gone on to write several books about her experiences with mental illness and parenting. I still read a few of those lifestyle blogs, but many of the bloggers quit blogging after five years or so. I also had a personal blog for about six months where I mostly recorded my thoughts and observations for the day or week. I quit because it felt odd when people started commenting on my posts.

According to Nardi et al (2004), people are motivated to blog for five reasons: 1) to document their lives; 2) as a form of commenting on events; 3) as a way to process topics (catharsis); 4) to figure out how they feel about a topic (“thinking with computers”); 5) to build community with like-minded individuals (p. 43-45). My personal blog was a version of motivations 1, 3, and 4, and the other blogs I read were for similar reasons. I agree that these are reasonable motivations and that many bloggers touch on all five of those motivations at some point in their publication history.

When I began reading blogs, most of the bloggers posted at least several times a week. As their blogs grew their audience and perhaps the bloggers’ personal lives became more complicated as a result of that, their postings became less frequent, which is also a trend that Nardi et al (2004) note; they call it “blog burnout” (p. 42).

Nardi et al’s article “Why We Blog” was published in 2004, and a considerable change has occurred in that 14 years. Kissane (2016) chronicles the five most important trends in blogging include: 1) the end of the blogger and the advent of the influencer; 2) the size of posts becoming longer and more substantive; 3) removing or at least responding less to viewers’ comments; 4) incorporating more and better graphics; 5) measuring how long viewers stay on the site versus whether they visit the site. I definitely see these trends happening. Though I watch more YouTube now than I do read blogs, I hear more and more people refer to themselves as “influencers” or “creators.” Graphics have definitely become more elaborate, and I know that Google/YouTube provide tools for users to perform data analytics, which tell creators how long people are staying on specific pages or videos. I’m not sure I see the trend of fewer comments, but I know some creators choose not to reply to comments or even to block or remove distasteful content (troll behavior).

To have an online presence, be it blog or vlog, influencers must stay up-to-date on technological trends and essentially become mini producers. They have to know how to edit, tag, add music, know the rules around adding content (like music), keep on top of comments, police the comment community, and keep content fresh. Several of the big YouTubers have management teams, and more advertisers are recruiting these influencers to help sell products. That’s an entirely other can of worms regarding ethics and rules.

References

Kissane, D. (2016, Jan. 12).5 most important trends in blogging for 2016. DOZ. Retrieved from

https://www.doz.com/content/trends-in-blogging-2016

Nardi, B., Schiano, D., Gumbrecht M., and Swartz, L. (Dec. 2004). Why we blog.

Communications of the ACM, volume 47(12), 41-46. Retrieved from Content from Comm

Strat for Emerging Media-FA18-900C-1724:

https://uwstout.courses.wisconsin.edu

Blogging and Digital Marketing Strategy

Blogs have become my main use for Facebook.  While I first used it as a social outreach tool, I now appreciate it as the one place I can see all the blogs that interest me in one feed.  I also technically follow many bloggers on Pinterest. Pinterest is my go-to place for recipes, craft ideas, or sewing projects.  When I click on those Pins, I’m directed to the site. I find that I am more likely to engage with these bloggers if I can use certain social media platforms as a central feed or board. Otherwise, as my email inbox fills up, I’m more likely to delete communications without reading them.

Digital Marketing Strategy is an excellent tool for gaining blog followers.

From the article “16 Top Tips from Blogging Experts for Beginners” https://blog.bufferapp.com/blogging-advice-for-beginners-from-16-experts, by Belle Beth Cooper, she states she’s heard blogging referred to as a “mixture between an art and a science”.  What a precise statement!  The balance between the writer’s artistic, personal expression and attracting an active readership is an analytical challenge.

I’d like to touch on a few of the 16 tips provided in Belle Beth Cooper’s article that tie in Digital Marketing Strategy and blogging.

#4 – Build an email list.

Creating a call-to-action encouraging readers to sign up for an email list does make sense because your intent is having that open channel to reach their inbox.   However, consumers are bombarded with emails on a daily, if not hourly basis, and realistically because of the demands on people’s time, your email is more likely to end up in the trash.  Although the intent of building an email list is to circumvent competitive factors such as Facebook News Feed ranking (EdgeRank isn’t used anymore by name but Facebook still ranks based upon 1000’s of factors using algorithms) and Search Engine rankings, there are simple ways Bloggers can stay visible on social media platforms.

I encourage you watch this brief video by Facebook, “How Does Facebook News Feed Ranking Work?”.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5kXYC265yn8

A few recommendations I offer to create different call-to-actions encouraging readership are:

  1. Encourage readers to not only “like” your page but to also “follow” it.
  2. Encourage comments to your blog posts on social media.
  3. Consider “sponsored” posts. “Sponsored” posts are available on most social media platforms including Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest. “Sponsored” posts allow the blogger to target consumers who’ve already indicated behaviors that tie into their target audience.  Blogger’s can determine their own spend and the analytics immediately show if it paid off.

#6 – Focus on building an amazing call-to-action.

A central component of any Digital Marketing Strategy is the call-to-action.  What do you want the visitor to your blog site or webpage to do? As much as a blogger should stay true to their artist output, how are you going to encourage people to read it?

Nate Kontny, founder of Draft, a blog for writers, noted that when he created a strong, relevant call-to-action, it “immediately increased my Twitter followers by 335% in the first 7 days!”

The proof is in the analytics!

#7 – Give stuff away.

This sounds ridiculous at first because aside from wanting to share your writing as a blogger, there’s also the intent for it to be an income source.  However, the main idea behind “giving stuff away” is showing good faith to your readership.  Share those writing tips, offer a new seasonal recipe, or give away a PDF sewing pattern.   The best way to win followers is to offer them something they didn’t have prior to coming to your blog site or webpage.  This encourages readers to follow your blog.

According to research by Incentivibe, “adding a giveaway contest pop-up to the bottom-right of their website led to 125% more email subscribers”.  Again, I believe that the main focus should not only be on email subscribers, but the same giveaway contest could be offered to gain social media followers.

Digital Marketing Strategy can be a very useful tool in operating a successful blog!

 

Access to Health Care Information for Non-English Speakers

My final paper was inspired by one of my recent blog posts about digital literacy across cultures.  Digital literacy plays an essential role in how groups of all types of people access information.  My paper explores how non-English speakers access to public health information compare to the homeless.  Both are sensitive groups in America that would benefit from increased digital literacy.  This paper compares and contrasts how they are able to receive information.  It also explores two ways technical communication can be used to improve non-English speakers access to public health communication.  The primary is the use of public libraries and the subsequent will be through the use of English speaking helpers who help the non-English speakers gain access to jobs and information.

I wanted to compare homeless and non-English speaking communities because they have similarities and differences.  Some non-English speakers may also be members of the homeless community. Both populations tend to be sensitive due to lack of access to medical care, access to technology and both face a variety of challenges in their daily lives.  Both groups lack traditional communication tools which can hinder their access to health care information.

My main finding was the best way to get non-English speakers access to public health related information was to help them help themselves.  Public libraries are a great free resource to information, computers and internet access. One tool I found very handle was Google’s translate tool.  You can either type or copy and paste in text and select the output language.  This could be an easy way for a non-English speaker to translate their own health information to their native language without having to rely on others or a simplified version.

7726B0F3-D73C-4B2E-A2E9-7466F100F25A.jpg

Figure 1. Translate.Google.com

What I remember from going into a public library as a child is that the computers were set up with the library website as the homepage.  I was interested in looking at different websites for different towns to see what type of language support if any was available.  I was pleasantly surprised by my hometown library website.  There was a orange button in the lower right hand corner that hovers as the page moves.  It is a link to translate the page.  This is a great resource for non-English speakers.  It makes it easy for them to learn where to click to have the information translated into their own language.

C2DA0BFA-C615-4C7C-90C3-B7F49A22E009.jpg

Figure 2. ecpubliclibrary.info

The conclusion I came to was the best way to help others would be to teach them to use technology, teach them where and when they can find access and help and encourage them to learn.  As non-English speakers become more comfortable with technology they will be able to find more resources on line for public health information but it will also improve other aspects of their life.  They could even learn English through a website in their native language making things much easier.  This could help them increase their job skills and potentially find a higher paying job as well which could also increase their access to health care information.

Blending 70s and modern tech

While I was looking for sources for my article that discussed the military’s use of emerging communications and technology, I found this article from the Duffel Blog, which is the military’s version of The Onion. 

The article, “Navy Issues Tablets to Prepare Sailors For Careers Working With 1970s Electronics” isn’t wrong. In fact, the system I was trained the maintain, the AN/SLQ-32, was developed in the 1970s.

Duffel Blog “quoted” the Master Chief Petty Officer of the Navy Mike Stevens: ““This is a cost effective way to replace the two books we issue at boot camp and it will also streamline the training process so recruits can spend more time folding clothes.”

Also true. And yes, I spent a lot of time in boot camp folding and ironing clothes. These mundane tasks are given to teach recruits to pay attention to details. Most of boot camp is designed around that purpose, actually.

However, while issuing tablets to Navy recruits can generate some funny stories, it signals a huge change in the service: audience analysis. Military service is often categorized by blind obedience, but the Navy is moving away from that philosophy. Leaders are encouraged to explain the “why” behind orders. And the military is creating training methods and knowledge management systems that mimic the devices and apps digital natives are already familiar with.

When the news about Navy boot camp issuing tablets to recruits, I joined in the ribbing around the ship that new recruits were spoiled. However, reading the story again through my technical and professional communication lens, I can appreciate Stevens’ revolutionary idea and I applaud him for making it happen. Because several of his salty peers would have dismissed the idea the way I originally did.

In addition to looking at new technology, I also examined the military’s use of social network sites. Overall, the military encourages servicemembers to use social media for its positive benefits, like keeping in touch while deployed. The military has even created its own knock-off version of Facebook. YouTube, Blogger, and Wikipedia. However, the military is still working on negating the negative aspects of social media: OPSEC violations and harassment.

Speaking of OPSEC. Check out this sweet declassified report I found.

Finally, I examined how technology was changing warfare tactics. I found a source that talked about Russia spending a lot of money to create #fakenews when it annexed Crimea in 2014. #shockedsaidnoone

However, #fakenews will be an issue for incoming servicemembers because multiple researchers found today’s students aren’t very good at discerning fact from fiction online.

Overall, I assessed the military’s use of technology and emerging communication methods as on the right track but with room for improvement.

Gatekeepers

This course has helped given me a different perspective on digital literacy. Looking at the speed at which technology is being created, I anticipate I will lose my touch if I were to even step away for a second. I can also imagine there will be much to talk about with the repeal of net neutrality in the next course.

For my final paper I chose to focus on social media and how it can be used to improve disaster relief situations. In my paper I started by revisiting the argument between Andrew and David, and looked their argument on Gatekeeping vs. Amateurs. I found that certain processes in disaster relief thrive better with amateurs and some better with gatekeepers.

In one paper I found, a crowdsourcing software implementation, similar to Uber, helped match people who were in need of help with people who needed help (Murali et al., 2016). This can be especially useful when disaster relief may not even be scheduled, but people are able to offer assistance to each other. The most interesting thing I found, though, was that in using crowdsourcing software, we mostly focus on people who are amateurs using the system, but the dynamic of a gatekeeper still does exist within the software. In the case I found the software punishes or rewards people who behave as expected. Additionally, people can be rated and this rating can be viewed by others. This is all to deter misuse and exploitation of the system. At this point we rely on whether or not the design and functionality actually work well enough to maintain a proper workflow so that as many victims get help from volunteers as possible.
I also tried to focus on how social media in the papers I looked at used different levels of communication as stated by Rheingold. I specifically looked at different levels of collective action and how certain applications may support networking, coordination, cooperation, and collaboration (Rheingold, 2014, pp. 153-154). I found that most applications these days are achieving a collaborative level of collective action.

I also wanted to quickly share some of the data from my case study. I did my case study on Equifax and used Twitter and Google’s Natural Language API to generate some meaningful data for my study. The Google API focuses on Sentiment which is basically how positive or negative the words used in a sentence are. I calculated average sentiment per tweet. I then used a free tool called Tableau to visualize tweets made by Equifax over time. I recommend Tableau for anyone who needs to make a chart and share it quickly, I found it about as good as any paid ones I have used in the past.

TwitterEquifax

Twitter Equifax Data

https://public.tableau.com/profile/miriam6169#!/vizhome/EquifaxData/Story1

References

Murali, S., Krishnapriya, V., Thomas, A. (2016). Crowdsourcing for disaster relief: A multi-platform model. 2016 IEEE Distributed Computing, VLSI, Electrical Circuits and Robotics (DISCOVER), pp. 264-268. doi: 10.1109/DISCOVER.2016.7806269

Rheingold, H. (2012). Net Smart. Cambridge, Massachusetts: The MIT Press.

Social Networks and the Changing Patterns of Communication

SocialNetwork

Image: wikipedia.org

My final paper for English 745 – Communication Strategies for Emerging Media builds on ideas I have been studying in multiple classes and in carrying out my work as a public affairs specialist for a large health care organization. My paper explores the ways in which networked communication afforded by social media platforms is changing the patterns of internal and external communication in the workplace. The study explores previously-published research to draw connections between practices that have been learned from consumer behavior on external social media and practices that have been applied to internal organizational communication. It also includes my own observations. In the paper, I analyze the ways in which top-down, or one-to-many communication is being replaced by a many-to-many, networked flow of information. A review of the literature finds that this restructuring of communication has led to a deemphasizing of hierarchical organizational models and a growing prevalence of peer-to-peer collaboration. With the growth of networked communication, this study finds that individuals who place themselves at the intersections of social networks have the most influence.

To highlight three of the sources that interested me most:

David Meerman Scott, in the book, The New Rules of Marketing and PR, describes how social media, such as blogs, Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram have afforded businesses new tools with which to reach potential customers and maintain relationships with existing customers, and how those businesses that use social media most effectively have had to adapt to a new communication power structure. In the not-so-distant past, marketing and public relations (PR) communications followed a one-to-many flow of information. Marketing and PR professionals created messages, which were then distributed to a mass audience via paid advertising and press releases (Scott, 2015). Scott describes how companies must adapt to the ways in which their customers now seek information: “…the evidence describing how people actually research products overwhelmingly suggests that companies must tell their stories and spread their ideas online, at the precise moment that potential buyers are searching for answers” (p.41). Social media, such as blogs that allow comments, Facebook pages, and Twitter feeds, have disrupted the previous one-way flow of information: “We also have the ability to interact and participate in conversations that other people begin on social media sites like Twitter, blogs, chat rooms and forums” (Scott, 2015, p. 41).

Mehra, Dixon, Brass, and Robertson, in the article, “The Social Network Ties of Group Leaders: Implications for Group Performance and Leader Reputation,” found that the social network ties of group leaders in a large insurance company were an indicator of leadership reputation and group success (2006). The study sought to measure the centrality of group leaders in internal and external social networks and to draw a connection to the group leaders’ reputations and the success of their groups, represented by sales and customer loyalty. Mehra et al. found that a group leader who was centrally placed in a network of his or her group members and/or a network of other group leaders did have an enhanced reputation for leadership among their group members and peers (2006). Perhaps more significantly, the study found that the groups led by those leaders were also more successful, both in overall sales performance and customer loyalty (Mehra et al., 2006).

Robert Berkman, in his article, “GE’s Colab Brings Good Things to the Company,” studied how GE is using an internal enterprise social network (ESN) called “GE Colab.” Interviewing GE’s chief information officer, Ron Utterbeck, Berkman found the organization was drawing on the same benefits offered by a external social networks such as Facebook to leverage existing connections and build new ones across the organization (2013). Utterbeck described the goals of using the platform: “…some of our challenges, as we’re global, is how do you connect people? How do you make it so that you can search and get the right skill sets very easily? How do you make GE a lot smaller of a place? How do you have a virtual water cooler?” (Berkman, 2013, p.2).

Utterbeck said the company is seeing real benefits to facilitating these network connections:

“We’re solving problems faster. When you belong to these groups and you can see how people are saying, ‘Hey, I got this problem,’ literally, within minutes, three or four people comment on it and say, ‘Have you tried this? What about this?’ People are connecting, finding the people they need.”

I also touch on the topics of crowdsourcing and crowdfunding. My favorite example of this is the novel The Martian., which author Andy Weir originally posted, chapter-by-chapter, for free on his blog. Scientists who read the chapter suggested technical corrections. Readers eventually urged Weir to make an ebook available for sale, which he did, on Amazon, for $0.99. The popularity of the download led to a hugely successful book and movie deal. You can read all about it here: http://www.businessinsider.com/how-andy-weirs-the-martian-became-so-successful-2015-6 

This research has been useful to me at work, where we use an enterprise social network called Yammer and other tools to collaborate across departmental and geographical boundaries. It has been interesting to study the ways in which personal connections, help get the job done, as I have definitely observed in my work. This is something I will continue to study throughout my master’s degree program.

 

 

 

Digital Literacy Across Cultures

This week I found an interesting connection between  Chapter 7: Understanding Digital Literacy Across Cultures in Spilka’s (2010) Digital Literacy for Technical Communication and the workplace. Spilka discusses that accessing and understanding digital media in some communication settings is one meaning of digital literacy. The chapter specifically focuses on the US EPA (EPA) and the Mexican Counterpart Semarnat.

I work for a state agency in the natural resources division.  Specifically  public dining water regulation.  This chapter made me think about the audience we had while regulating drinking water quality and how culture plays a part in who has access to the information and what information is available.

There are a few ways the public can receive heath information about possible contaminates in their drinking water.  They could initiate the gathering of information by accessing our website.  A significant amount of information is available and many  publications are available in PDF form to save or print.  The other way they could gather information is if they work at a business with drinking water issues and see postings in the break room and by faucets or fountains.  They also could go to a number of local businesses such as a church, bar or restaurant and find the same posted information.

Our publications have been created to include multiple versions for some of the hot topic issues such as lead and lead.  Both brochures are available in English, Spanish and Hmong.


Image: dnr.wi.gov

Another way we offer multi language support is through our customer service lines.  You can talk to someone on the phone, a chat through the website, or email in your questions.  All three of these services are available in English, Spanish or Hmong.

The main idea I had while thinking about this post was what happens when someone is no longer seeking this information out but a sensitive population that is unable to access this information due to cultural issues.  It is no secret that we have undocumented workers in Wisconsin.  If one of these undocumented workers work at a location with water contamination issues such as nitrates it may be difficult for them to understand they are at risk if the information is not given to them.

When there is a specific contaminate violation often times  businesses have to post a public notice that alerts the consumers to the public health risk.  While we do provide language in the violation that if they have 5% or more non English speaking consumers they also need to post in the most common language.  What percentage of these at risk non English speaking consumers will actually receive this information?

Further digging on our website came up with a number of resources specifically to translation and public notices.  These are great resources for businesses that need to public notice but I still feel like not all at risk consumes get the same amount of information as their English speaking counterparts.

Cross-Cultural Communication

Although we have built communication bridges across the ocean, the cultural differences in our adaptation remain unique in each cultural context.  Accommodating these barriers has proven to be one of the most difficult and complex tasks I have encountered.

I enjoyed looking at the different emails given by Barry Thatcher to the team in Mexico (Spilka, 2010, pp. 172-173).  It is evident that the emails are much more formal in Mexico than in the USA for business relations.  Beyond formalities, it is evident that the revised email follows some cultural process that just doesn’t exist in our culture.  Re-introducing myself in an email to someone would feel very awkward, especially if we’ve been communicating for a while.

world-map-large

Several times I have been in charge of managing an offshore team.  Many of the areas we have employed the teams from have very different “hierarchical and interpersonal values” (Spilka, 2010, p. 170).  Depending on the culture, the workers may be either too proud or too scared to communicate effectively.  When email is one of the main forms of communication, this can be very problematic.  The biggest issue I encounter is that questions that should be asked are not asked.  Sometimes I will need to take Barry Thatcher’s approach by formalizing an email that shows respect.  Other times I will need to show that I am approachable and accessible for them to communicate as a peer rather than a manager.  If we do have someone from the same cultural background locally we will sometimes employ them to help build the relationship.

I have travelled to meet the offshore team a few times.  It’s funny that even though technology has given us so much, travelling to meet and break some bread with offshore teams builds this relationship better than any email has ever done.  Even communicating with team mates across the USA is helped by being able to put a face to a name.  Bernadette Longo states that “People value human relations” (Spilka, 2010, p. 156).  This is evident in this case.

Barry Thatcher also examines cultural differences in layout and composition of a website.  Almost a decade ago I studied abroad in South Korea.  I remember trying to navigate the websites there and it was almost impossible.  Even if I was able to translate the page, the cultural differences in layout and process were much different.  I had also wanted to use the popular social media site, Cyworld, but was quickly denied because it required a Korean Social Security number.  Finding the correct websites were also difficult without the ability to read or write in Korean.  Although Google could bring up some results, the cultural knowledge was mostly inaccessible.

To try to accommodate communication gaps across cultures, my company has its own CMS specifically for different cultures.  Each user will have their own culture profile configured, and when they look up templates for documents, they will be specific to the region they are located in.  If they are creating a document to be distributed in a different country, they can retrieve the document for that specified culture.  This approach seems to embrace the fact that we all have different approaches to how we communicate digitally.  At the same time, I cannot imagine having to maintain that system.  Possibly, it may also create a sense of exclusion rather than inclusion for certain contexts.

Right now, the solution for cultural divides seem more human than machine.  I can’t really see this changing either, as cultural understanding requires empathy, and is a dynamic being.

 

11/16/2017 Edit:

Attaching some examples of emails from other cultures. The one on the left is an email to my husband from some Brazilian Vendors, and the one on the right is from Spanish vendors. It’s interesting to note the formality differences in the messages. 

Siestas by the sea and the importance of empathy

This summer, I briefly worked with the captain of ARC Almirante Padilla FM-51 during a multi-national exercise. During some town time, he told us that Colombia’s coastal cities, like his hometown of Cartagena, take mid-day siestas and businesses are often closed. Unfortunately, the Colombian navy does not siesta during lunch. The captain said sometimes this is frustrating when he wants to use his lunch break to run errands but all the local businesses are closed. He also pointed out that Colombia’s inland cities, like its capital Bogota, don’t siesta either.

ARC Padilla

ARC Padilla FM-51

Others asked the ship captain about Colombian food and the weather. No one asked about business communication practices. I don’t know how much value the Colombians place on e-mail communication, but is likely not as high as Americans. In Barry Thatcher’s (2010) essay “Understanding Digital Literacy Across Cultures,” he pointed out Colombia is the only Latin American country that considers e-mail as an “in-writing” agreement and only if the senders and receivers can be verified (p. 182).

This week’s readings in Rachel Spilka’s (2010) anthology Digital Literacy for Technical Communication reminded me of working with the Colombian captain for several reasons.

  • Bernadette Longo (2010) noted in her essay “Human + Machine Culture” that “people value human relations. We want to feel connected to other people” (p. 156). She also observed that “since the 1980s, our interactions with people have become more and more mediated by electronic devices” (p. 156). I am glad my colleagues and I took the opportunity to have a face-to-face conversation. After reading Sherry Turkle’s Alone Together: Why We Expect More from Technology & Less From Each Other, interpersonal communication skills are not something to take for granted.

 

  • Thatcher (2010) pointed out that Americans tend to assume the rest of the world operates the same way we do; however, many countries, especially Latin American ones, tend to value interpersonal values more than we do (pp. 170-171). Hearing that some countries still value siestas is a good reminder not to take everything so seriously.

I am glad my colleagues and I took the opportunity to learn more about Colombia because it added to my “empathy bank,” so to speak. Ann M. Blakeslee (2010) conducted case studies with five technical communicators for her essay “Addressing Audiences in a Digital Age.” She learned only half of the writers were actually able to communicate with their audiences to learn what their preferences are (p. 208). The other writers were prevented from having direct contact with their customers and only received second-hand information from other company employees (p. 208).

In addition to direct customer communication, the technical writers used personas, trouble call logs, and user reviews and feedback forums to perform audience analyses (Blakeslee, 2010, pp. 207-210). These practices also contribute to the overall empathy levels of the technical communicators Blakeslee (2010) surveyed. I think Steve Krug (2014), who wrote Don’t Make Me Think, Revisited: A Common Sense Approach to Web Usability said it best: “Empathy is virtually a professional requirement for usability work” (loc. 2,627).

So my goals this week are:

  1. Take opportunities to communicate face-to-face instead of through electronic means.
  2. Continue to use empathy in my decision making.
  3. Nap.

Genres and Metaphors: Following the Roadmaps

I like genres. I like to know where the boundaries are, even if they are flexible. If you ask me to create a document, I will want to see an example. If you ask me to create something new, I will probably try to find an outside example. How long can it be? Who is the audience and what kind of language are they comfortable with? What kind of tone is appropriate? What is the typical size of the chunks of information? It may sound unadventurous to some, but I want to know what the rules are, even if it’s okay to break a few for good reason.

In the chapter, “Human + Machine Culture,” Bernadette Longo discusses Spinuzzi’s concept of genre tracing, which combines activity theory and genre theory to look not only at a particular genre, but to examine how people interact with it—a genre’s life cycle as it passes through creation and use. This was especially interesting to me, as I am constantly navigating these paths in a large and complex health care organization.

Longo’s example of electronic medical records was particularly familiar to me, as my organization converted to a new medical record system over the summer. This was a

major undertaking, as it involved not just learning new software, but new workflows. The software company worked with the organization to create workflows that would, hopefully, get the job (many jobs, actually) done most easily and effectively. This involved getting different parts of the organization (which had at one time been separate organizations of their own) to agree on a standard set of tools and processes. This involved much negotiation and consideration of not just the technology, but also the institutional culture. Who creates a record? Who needs it later? What needs to be included? Who has authority to see records? Who can change them?

In developing the workflows, designers needed to understand how the various staff members would interact not only with the software, but also with each other. As Longo points out, power differentials between those staff members can either aid or impede the workflow. If employee A needs a set of information from employee B, does employee B have the necessary authority to make sure employee A provides that information? When the direction of work and the power structure are misaligned, it can lead to conflict.

Meeting my own deadlines sometimes depends on receiving timely information from someone who is much higher on the company flowchart than I am. If that person does not consider my request important enough to respond in a timely manner, the workflow is stalled.

I was also interested in the way Longo described the use of metaphor as a bridging technique to learn new technologies. When we work with something new, we sometimes give it an old name that we recognize. Take files and folders in Windows, for example. The concept helped computer novices adapt to PC technology as home computers became commonplace in the 1990s. Metaphor helped old school radio broadcasters like me bridge the gulf from analog to digital audio equipment. When digital systems were designed to store and play songs and radio commercials, the commercial files were identified by “cart numbers.” This is because commercials were previously recorded onto rectangular cartridge tapes—carts for short—which each had a number printed on an adhesive label. With digital systems, there were no more carts, but “file number” was too big of a mental leap. Similarly, we still referred to “tape,” as in “tape an interview,” or “edit the tape,” nearly two decades after the last reel-to-reel tape recorder was removed, leaving only servers loaded with .wav files.

The two topics are related, in my mind: genres and metaphor as bridging language. The conventions of a genre help me understand the framework in which I am working. The bridging language of metaphor helps me navigate new technology using a familiar road map (another metaphor!).

Fun fact: did you know that “computer” originally referred to a person? Check it out here.

Content Management in Job Searches

It can be almost funny when you find connections between real life and content in your assigned coursework. After reading Chapters 3, 4 and 5 in Digital Literacy I found myself in an ironic situation. My husband and I had to work together to create content. On Friday my husband came home from work and I asked him how his day was. He said it was fine and then I heard the real story. Corporate human resource represenatives came into the plant in our small town and said that all 40 employees would be laid off sometime between January 1 and April 1 2018. The company has a much larger plant about an hour and a 1/2 away that employees around 200 people. The employees were told they would be making 1/3 of the positions available in the larger plant but it would be open recruitment.

My husband hasn’t updated his resume since the last time he was job hunting 5+ years ago. Knowing there is such a high demand for these positions I stressed how important it would be for us to have a professional looking design with quality error free content.

My search for a new resume template started with Google search for free creative resume templates. Some pages I was afraid to click on because I was worried about the sources. Other pages had nothing but ads or still required payment. I spent a number of hours using a variety of search terms to find this content. There was very little if not zero content available that was professional, modern and clean designs.

My next search was to try to find content that was very low cost. I remembered seeing digital content such as clip art on ETSY and thought it was worth a shot.  I was able to find just what I was looking for using Etsy.com search for instant download resume templates that cost between $1 and $2

Screenshot_003.png

To my surprise all it took was paying $1 instead of looking for the content for free. The template I picked had three templates with it. One for the resume, one for a cover letter and one for references. It included instructions and templates in a variety of formats. Both for the Apple software Pages and for Microsoft Word.

I think this taught me a lot about the availability and cost of content. No one wants to give up content for free. Even if it is just a dollar per download that adds a lot to the professionalism and quality of the product.

Rhetoric around the house

Dave Clark (2010) had a hard time finding a good definition of “technology in his essay “Shaped and Shaping Tools.” I feel confident seven years later academia has caught up and crafted a definition of technology that includes rhetoric. Because around my house, the non-humans are more adept at persuasive discourse than the human. Here’s my list, starting from the top:

1. Socks. I learned watching the Canadian Broadcasting documentary The Lion in Your Living Rooma cat’s meow is the same frequency as a baby’s cry. So Socks uses pathos to express his desires. Here he is asking to go outside.

2. Roomba. My vacuuming robot would be a great example of rhetorical technology because she uses ethos, pathos, and logos to communication and she’s not nearly as demanding as the cat. I’ll tell you how she accomplishes this using actor-network theory.

Clark (2010) touched on actor-network theory toward the end of his essay. I think actor-network is important to the discussion of rhetoric and technology because the theory states that “almost all of our interactions with other people are mediated through objects of one kind or another” according to John Law (1992) in “Notes on the Theory of the Actor-Network: Ordering, Strategy and Heterogeneity (p. 381). In 1992, Law (1992) used an example of an overhead projector to make his point of how things mediate communication (p. 382). Today, Law (2010) would have several examples to chose from, including Twitter which was Clark’s (2010) “current techno-rhetorical obsession” in 2009 (p. 86).

I think Roomba shows some advancements in rhetorical technology because she communicates directly with the user; her communications are not mediated. Her ethical appeal is derived from the fact that she is capable cleaner. Some friends and recommended Roomba, but we were skeptical because of the $600 price tag, but she was worth the investment. Before Roomba joined us, the house needed to be vacuumed at least weekly to keep up with the dog’s shedding. I see Roomba’s logical appeal every time I empty her bin and dump out all the dog hair and cat litter she’s collected around the house. Roomba appeals to me emotionally, too,  because I associate her with positive experiences. After she completes a job, her associated cell phone app generates a map that shows me where she cleaned.

RoombaMap

Roomba’s success is due to the fact that her designers at iRobot did not just build a vacuuming robot, but they considered the other actors who would interact with the robot. In Roomba’s case, the other actors are people of varying technical backgrounds. The app offers written, photographic and video demonstrations on how to troubleshoot and conduct routine maintenance. And Roomba’s debris extractors are designed so the user cannot put them back in the wrong positions.

Hopefully, products like Roomba can help researchers like Clark (2010) better define technology and how products can use rhetoric to provide a better experience for consumers.

3. Husband. Does not use ethos, pathos, or logos, but still somehow manages to get his way … sometimes.

 

Navigating the Changing Waters of Technical Communication

 

In the chapter, “Information Design,” Michael J. Salvo and Paula Rosinski draw repeatedly on the concept of “metis,” an ancient Greek term that refers to navigating change. The metaphor struck home for me. My family had a sailboat when I was in middle school, and I still take advantage of the chance to go sailing with others when it comes along. My wife and I had a great time on an evening charter sail in Bayfield, Wisconsin in October, and I took a turn steering for a while. I had to keep a number of factors in mind to navigate safely between the mainland and Madeline Island. There was the unchanging, but invisible hazard of the water depth. I had to follow our captain’s guidance and the feedback of the depth finder to avoid running aground. I had to be mindful of moving obstacles, such as other boats. And I had to be mindful of where the wind was blowing, so that I would not get trapped too close to a shoreline without enough sailing room to tack my way back out to safe water.

As I read the chapter, I thought that sailing was a good analogy for navigating the changing conditions of technical communication. There are obstacles we know about, like the depth of the water in a bay, which change slowly, and there are unexpected changes that happen more quickly, with less warning, such as the direction of the wind and movement of other boats.

The chapter includes a description of a futuristic, but not hard-to-imagine scenario. A father enters the word “broccoli” into a search engine. The search engine takes into account not only the word, but the searcher’s context: what room of the house he is in (the kitchen), what time it is, and what time the family usually eats dinner. The search engine determines that the searcher is looking for a recipe containing broccoli that can be made in an hour or less.

We currently use and allow some of these context-based tools. I will search “restaurants near me” in a new city, and let my phone tell the search engine exactly where I am. I know from the ads that pop up on my Facebook page that Facebook knows I occasionally search for clothes, kayaks, and musical instruments. But as developers are working to take marketing advantage of more and more of this data, and context-based results can be very useful, some of us are getting uncomfortable with the notion that somebody knows where we are and what we’re searching, reading, and buying. A previous borrower of my Digital Literacy for Technical Communication textbook wrote “****ing creepy!” in the margin of this section. Just like we are now able to mostly shut telemarketers out of our lives by signing up for no-call lists, many people will likely block access to personal data, and new rules are making it easier to do so.

This article from Marketingprofs.com outlines Europe’s forthcoming General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). These rules will require any companies doing online business in Europe (regardless of where the company is located) to ask consent every time a piece of personal data is used; just allowing a user to opt out now and again won’t be enough. Companies also will need to provide users with a way to access and change their preferences at any time.

Continuing with the sailing/navigating reference, developers have been sailing toward an ideal to providing a personalized experience to users. Now they will need to sail around the obstacle of much stricter privacy rules.

Technical communicators will also need to make course changes career-wise to survive

DanSailing

The author

changing conditions. In the chapter, “Content Management,” William Hart-Davidson points out many changes to how communication work is accomplished, including the automation of some writing tasks. A few years ago, as a working journalist already watching the job market shrink dramatically, I was alarmed to learn that online news outlets were employing news-writing bots to create content. This is not limited to news aggregators and gossip and click-bait sites, but includes, as noted in this article in Wired, serious news organizations such as the Washington Post and Reuters.

Who knows where the wind will blow next? Our employers and our own careers will be best served if we learn to be navigators, ready to plot a new course when needed.

 

Digital Literacy in My Life

The theme of digital literacy is one that I find very interesting.  I am lucky to have grown up around technology at home and in school but I also find myself relating to digital literacy.  The older I get the larger gap I am finding from being up with current trends and technology.  Digital literacy is something that needs to be a constant in your life.  If you find yourself on the path to digital literacy and decide to stop learning you can fall behind very easily.  Even though I have a strong technical background, things change so fast that I need to actively try to keep up.  Sometimes this works and sometimes it doesn’t.

In the workplace digital literacy has been moving forward rapidly in the past few years.  At the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources we are being pushed to be more transparent and to save money. This goes hand in hand with digital literacy.  We are now keeping digital files and utilizing software like SharePoint to share information within our agency and with outside partners.  Instead of sending hundreds of emails we are starting to store important documents in one central location.  This is also happening with the information we are sharing with our external partners.  In the past there have been instances where we give our County Health Department partners flash drives of documents they need to follow up on drinking water violations.  New this year we have set up an external SharePoint website that allows them to access this information.  This is also good for our agency because we can upload new information as needed and let the County Health Departments know it is available.  We can also make small changes to errors or typos.  This is much more efficient way to share information.  In the past we would need to send out a whole new set of flash drives to everyone.

In the academic world I don’t know if I have seen as much change as I have seen in the workplace. I started as an undergrad at UW-Stout in fall of 2003.  Stout had their Laptop Loan Program up and running. I believe I was one of the first few years where all undergrads got issued laptops as part of the tuition.  This was a wonderful idea.  During my undergrad years I took a number of online classes using the same software we are using today such as Learn@UW-Stout. The library had a number of online resources just like we do today as well.  Stout was very ahead of the game with the use of technology.  I am wondering what Stout is going to do now as to keep their high level of digital literacy and technology use among students and professors.  I hope this is a trend that continues and they always stay on the forefront of digital literacy in an academic setting.

In personal life it is much harder to keep up with digital literacy.  We often keep computers, cameras and cellphones longer than the technology is considered cutting edge which makes it hard to keep up with the latest and greatest technology.  In my family we keep cell phones until they break and then we will get a new one.  We don’t go buy the newest one every year.  As time goes on cell phone performance really declines.  It’s almost like they intentionally make performance awful to push you towards buying a new one.  Many things are not meant to last a long time anymore.  Products are being made cheaper and cheaper so when you replace what has broken you can upgrade to the next thing.

Another example of digital literacy being slower in personal life is my husband’s technology use. He had a very similar experience growing up with technology at home and at school.  He has an engineering degree and has always loved math.  For his 35th birthday a few years back I decided it was a big enough birthday to do something extra special so I bought him an IPad has always loved Apple products and I thought this was the perfect gift.  He opened it and said thanks but I didn’t get much of a reaction.  I asked if he didn’t like it but it turns out he didn’t know what a tablet was.  Fast forward a few years and this tablet has become his primary computer.  He doesn’t use a traditional computer at home anymore.  He uses his tablet for everything from bills, photography, music, mapping, spreadsheets to games.  We are no longer tied to a traditional computer plus the tablet can go anywhere we go from hotels to camping.  This advance in technology has been extremely useful in our lives.

Digital Literacy Embraced

Earlier this week I was chatting with one of my superiors who was visiting the regional campus from where I taught my IDL class that day. Of course, she asked me about my class (since I am required to take classes to keep my Speech certification). I told her what we have been discussing and told her about the case study I am doing on Western’s use of social media etc. She asked me what I thought of their Twitter posts. I mentioned that I enjoyed the content, but the spelling and grammar mistakes are plentiful. Her response was that in the more technical fields, grammar and spelling are second to content. I pointed out that the president of the college just tweeted and it contained an obvious error. She scoffed and said it was no big deal. Maybe I should have kept my mouth shut, but I told her that Western’s Twitter followers may not share her view about spelling and grammar since many would see that as lacking an eye for detail or incompetence. He expression changed and she proceeded to a back office. So, I revisited that conversation when I read Dicks’ article, “The Effects of Digital Literacy” and his quote of Moore and Kreth (2005) stating “The days of being grammar cops, wordsmiths, and software applications experts are not over for technical communicators, but those skills are diminishing in value. . . ” (2010, pg 54).

Perhaps the English instructor in me has difficulty with letting those skills fall into second. I imagine many technical communicators may feel the same way. However, with the changes in responsibilities for technical communicator’s, I can see having to let something go. . . perhaps one has to put away the grammar cop badge and focus on other areas.

So many changes have occurred over the last 30 years, but many significant changes in the last decade have really eliminated many responsibilities of what I perceived many technical communicators do. In fact, I recently changed a writing assignment in one of my classes to a website review. I figured it would give them more of a technical view of writing and also get them to see what is considered when devising and evaluating a website[ Audience, purpose and content (as is for other types of communication)] verses an essay. The students (typical college students at a UW school) are much more engaged on this assignment since most are more technology-minded.

Technical communication is changing so rapidly, I am not sure I can keep up. I can’t imagine how challenging it must be for someone who has been in the field for 30 years. Dicks’ states, “Technical communicators watched some people leave the profession because they chose not to change the way they worked and because they insisted that true writing involved writing for paper (2010, pg 76). I see the same happening in my field. Some instructors at Western refuse to teach Online or IDL classes and refuse to use Blackboard. I find that a bit ironic since it is a technical college; however, it benefited me since I don’t mind teaching in either mode. I was pleased to hear that the college is finally making all instructors at least use Blackboard next year. Also, in some disciplines, faculty will have to teach Online or IDL if needed. Some may see it as an infringement of their rights (which I don’t understand), but technology is changing the workplace, not just for technical communicators, but for those of us teaching people who need some or all the skills of that field.

 

 

TC: The Madonna of career fields

If Madonna had stayed a “Material Girl” and never made “Confessions on the Dance Floor,” she likely would not have an active 40-year entertainment career. Technical communication has also continued to evolve to stay relevant. The key to success for technical communication is not getting too hung up on the name.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics defines the profession as “Technical writers, also called technical communicators, prepare instruction manuals, how-to guides, journal articles, and other supporting documents to communicate complex and technical information more easily. They also develop, gather, and disseminate technical information through an organization’s communications channels.” The Bureau of Labor also predicted the field will grow 11 percent–faster than the overall average–in the next 10 years because it will be “driven by the continuing expansion of scientific and technical products. An increase in Web-based product support should also increase demand for technical writers. Job opportunities, especially for applicants with technical skills, are expected to be good.”

In her anthology Digital Literacy for Technical Communication, Rachel Spilka (2010) said her collection “points to the critical need for evolution” (p.3). And Saul Carliner’s (2010) essay “Computers and Technical Communication in the 21st Century” illustrates how the field has been able to embrace new technologies to provide better support for customers. However, as the field continues to evolve, professionals in the field may not be called “technical writers” or “technical communicators.”

Eva Brumberger and Claire Lauer (2015) investigated the evolution of the field in their article “The Evolution of Technical Communication: An Analysis of Industry Job Posting,” which was published in November 2015’s issue of Technical Communication. The researchers analyzed 914 job postings from Monster.com over a 60-day period for a variety of jobs to include content designer, information architect, social media developer, technical editor, technical writer, UX researcher, and web writer (p.  The researchers only kept listings whose primary duties were rhetorical in nature, and divided the jobs into five fields: 1. content developer/manager; 2. grant/proposal writer; 3. medical writer; 4. social media; 5. technical writer/editor (pp. 228-229). In their analysis, Brumberger and Lauer (2015) discovered that all five fields place a strong emphasis on written communication [at least 70%] (p. 236).

According to Carliner (2010), technical writers in the 1970s were primarily producing written content to help customers understand their newly purchased mainframe computers (pp. 22-25). In current times, Carliner (2010) said, software engineers perform the roles of technical communicators (p. 25). Brumberger and Lauer (2015) reported almost 40 years later, technical communicators are expected to be strong in written communicators [75%] (p. 236).

While technical communicators first created books, most technical content today is found online, according to R. Stanley Dicks (2010) who wrote: “The Effects of Digital Literacy on the Nature of Technical Communication Work” (p. 51). So, while a lot in the field has changed over 40 years, the core competency of written communication has not wavered. The emerging media platforms have given the field an opportunity to produce more meaningful written content because it has better communication channels with its audience. Dicks (2010) wrote that companies cannot hide common product issues because they will show up on product reviews, blogs, and message boards (p. 57).

Madonna has remained relevant for 40 years because she was able to keep a pulse on what was current. Technical communication has performed a similar feat by evolving but also by keeping audience analysis at the forefront. As long as the field continues to perform audience analysis and adapt, it will be a viable career opportunity for years to come.

 

 

Digital Literacy: Survival Skills for the 21st Century

Unsettling? Challenging? Rewarding? How should we view the future of technical and professional communication? R. Stanley Dicks uses all of those words when wrapping up the chapter, “The Effects of Digital Literacy on the Nature of Technical Communication Work.” I would argue that these three adjectives must almost always go together, for if we are settled, we are not challenged, and without being challenged, I don’t know how often we can feel rewarded.

I’m not saying I’ve never felt overwhelmed by changing technology. It is hard to even define the field of technical communication due to its many emerging subsets, such as usability and information architecture. The various tools of social media, content management, and distributed work, seem too many to count, let alone learn. But that is also what makes the field exciting.

I remember thinking it was funny that my dad (now 83) could not figure out how to use a computer mouse. Now my grown daughters laugh at the way my brow furrows when I’m trying to figure out a new app on my smart phone. I may not be as quick to pick it up as they are, but I still feel the excitement of learning to use new technology.

When I was starting out in the working world, as a radio broadcaster and copywriter, the clack of the typewriter and the finished page were the symbols of work and accomplishment. But the convenience of word processors overruled my nostalgia. When I took a class in HTML in the mid-90s, I found myself glued to a desktop pc for 8 hours at a time, enthralled at the way my text and tags combined to create a whole new, dynamic medium. I have found great usefulness in Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, and LinkedIn. Today’s easy-to-use web tools, such as the blogging site I’m using right now, can also make for some very satisfying work. I embraced e-learning in a big way, going back to school to finish my bachelor’s degree, and now tackling a master’s program. I am excited to learn to put more tools to use. Just today I was wishing I had a real content management system to work with, as I found myself making the same revision to multiple documents.

It will not be enough, though, Dicks argues, to learn to use the tools. We will not be able to settle in to learning a set of skills and then turning out good work, year-after-year. But what fun would that be anyway? We will need to participate in developing new ways to use these tools. Workers who can produce the same results over and over will not have job security as the 21st century continues. Those jobs, as Dicks points out, can be outsourced. It’s hard to outsource ingenuity, though. Those of us who learn to undertake symbolic and analytic work will be valuable to our employers. As the support economy grows, allowing customers to drive service rather than rely on it, those of us who can devise better ways to serve them will prove our worth, and hopefully reap the rewards.

I gave considerable thought to trying some type of freelance or contractor work when I

TechCommimage

Image: University of California Irvine http://www.carsera.org

made a career change less than two years ago. I’m not sure I’m ready to work remotely just yet. I might not get out of my bathrobe. But I am getting used to collaborating with partners I have never met in person. That career change also led to a crash course in collaboration, as I find myself creating content that depends on subject matter experts to feed me the information I need and help me convey it accurately, designers to help mold it into a usable form, and social media experts to help get it distributed. Some days I find myself stretching further into one or all of these directions myself, as the need arises.

The best thing I can do to stay afloat in this flood of innovation is to keep stretching those skills, and, most importantly, keep developing the ability to work with these multi-disciplinary teams. I don’t have to be an expert in everything, but I hope, if I ever find myself in another job interview, to be able to confidently say I can work effectively on a team, manage widely varying projects, and contribute creative expertise that will help add to my employer’s bottom line, no matter what my job title is.

 

Not your mom’s Web 2.0

 

Although I felt I had a good grasp on using the web (and some forms of social media)  really did not understand its full potential, history and cultural influence until this class. This week’s particular readings engaged me into researching articles to learn even more. I feel like I discovered a new world, and at the same time, wonder how I could have limited my vision over the years.

First of all, although I find the web, social media etc. informative and entertaining, I never truly saw it for all it’s worth —  for its communication and collaborative abilities as discussed in Rheingold’s Net Smart. Now I understand and agree with Wayne Macphail’s statement, “You need coordination to dance, cooperation to dance with a partner, and collaboration to dance with a flash mob” (Rheingold, 2014, pg. 153). Himmelman’s Taxonomy of Networking, Coordination, Cooperation and Collaboration helps me understand how online communication works to bring people together, share ideas, learn, explore and more. e218_ol_fig7_01

(Partnerships and Network)

In fact, I immediately related it to my teaching pedagogy. My classes do incorporate  networking activities by chatting with other students; coordination activities by sharing resources helpful for class; cooperation by peer revision/editing and online class discussions; and collaboration by creating a group wiki or project.

From observing my kids’ (ages 16, 21 and 30) online interactions, I see they even use their social media in the same way. For example, my son uses his Facebook and Instagram to to network and meet other teenagers who share similar interests in music (jazz and rap) and sports (football and basketball). He has joined social groups to delve into those interests more. This has led him to collaborating with others he wouldn’t normally meet. He now has friends he creates music with and with whom he either physically meets to play a sport or plays fantasy football with or even plays with on Xbox. He may not socialize the way I did as a teenager, but he is definitely communicating with others on a variety of levels through differing modes of communication.

These communication skills are essential in today’s world, for it can lead to innovation as

a result of collective intelligence. Yes, the idea of collective intelligence is not new. In Harnessing Crowds: Mapping the Genome Collective Intelligence article, MIT Center for Collective Intelligence not only reviews basic Web enabled collective intelligence, but also examines more modern examples and the structure that leads to their success. Although MIT’s “map” gives a  clear picture of how collective intelligence works, it does coincide with Rheingold’s useful tool’s discussed in chapter 4 of Net Smart.

On another note, in the article above, MIT Center for Collective Intelligence discusses examples of collective intelligence such as having a YouTube channel:”In YouTube, every user is associated with a “channel.” On these channels, users can upload their own videos and/or link to selections of other users’ videos, via a favorites option. Users can subscribe to other users’ channels and receive notifications when their favorite channels have been updated. Users thus form social networks that affect their choices of what videos to watch.” In this way, You Tube can help expand the knowledge of a group. However, in “DIY Videos on You Tube: Identity and Possibility in the Age of Algorithms, ” Christine T. Wolf examines “. . . how the social and material aspects of YouTube are entangled in search practices, we can see how these experiences might work to narrow, rather than widen, individuals’ information worlds.” Nonetheless, I imagine that this is not the case with most modern forms of web-based collective intelligence.

The use of collective intelligence and crowdsourcing has been quite prevalent (unbeknownst to me) in the business world. I have found several blogs and articles online about  how “In today’s marketing community crowdsourcing is often seen as a modern marketing technique due to its technological influences” ( Mateika).

Kaytie Zimmerman says, “The idea of crowdsourcing is fairly new, with the term only being coined within the last decade. Because it is so cutting edge, millennials have comfortably taken on the idea as part of their daily lives” ( Zimmerman). So, since my students (many going into business) consists largely of millenials, I am interested in learning more about crowdsourcing and how I can incorporate this new knowledge into my classes.

 

Read only: The persistence of lurking in Web 2.0

Scott Kushner discusses the contradiction of social media being fueled by participation when in reality most people virtually stand back and don’t participate in his article Read Only: The persistence of lurking in Web 2.0. I found an interesting connection between Kushner’s article about lurking and Rheinhold’s piece titled What’s a Parent to do? What’s a Parent to know? on page 245 of the Net Smart text.

As a parent of a five year old daughter my husband and I have had to think a lot about what and how much we post about our daughter. When we were growing up the idea of oversharing about children never existed. Now I have to worry about posting where she goes to school or where we are. I also worry about posting if my husband is gone for a work trip. I don’t want it to be public knowledge that my daughter and I are home alone.

Lurking plays a big role in online safety for families because you never know who read or saw information and didn’t acknowledge it. Without acknowledging it with a comment or reaction I have no way of knowing who has seen this information. Lurking is dangerous because as hard as we try to make sure our privacy is protected others may share our posts or post things about our families without our knowledge. Its like lurkers can easily gain significant facts and information without having to try. It makes it much more available to them and it also ties in the gray area of privacy. Just because you know its wrong to keep checking back on peoples posts and pages doesn’t mean that will stop them.

In general I feel that lurking isn’t always a bad thing. My husband rarely posts. Usually if he does its because he did something neat or noteworthy when his family wasn’t with. This doesn’t happen very often. Usually I am the one to post things. He also guards the number of likes or comments he makes. He believes that if you constantly like or comment on things they have way less meaning then if you hold back and only comment on things that are really neat. If you lurk in a healthy way it be a positive thing but it can be pretty easy to tip the scale and create an unhealthy habit.

I think most lurkers out there are harmless but unfortunately in 2017 the web has evolved to allow this practice to take place easily and discreetly in most cases.

Ajax: Real Time Collective Action

A big buzzword in my field is “Real-Time”.  Every company wants real time applications with automatically updating interfaces for increased usability.  Real-time allows users to think less and do more.  People don’t have to request for the latest statuses when they are already using a web application, the application will tell them there is an update.

Jack Jameison discusses Ajax’s role in the Web 2.0 world in his article Many (to platform) to many: Web 2.0 application infrastructures.  Ajax is simply a combination of technologies that allows user interfaces to be updated automatically when the server tells it to.  An application that uses this technology allows interfaces to automatically send or receive messages from a server without provocation from the user.  This has drastically changed how use the internet, and what we expect from it.

Jameison voices his skepticism about web technologies such as Ajax because this revokes control from users, giving less visibility into how they are really interacting with the web application.  One example might be that you receive a message you don’t want to respond to from someone online.  Now they have a status to tell the other user that you read that message just from you being online and it popping up on your screen.  Now the situation may be awkward, and can definitely be an unintended behaviour.

While real-time applications do come with unintended behaviours, they have also opened up new doors for how we communicate with each other online.  Rheingold discusses and divides “collective action” in the online world as three different categories: cooperation, coordination, and collaboration (p. 153).  Collective action has been empowered by real time capabilities of the web. Automatically updating interfaces helps provide a more active feeling to participation when you know that someone has read or replied to your comments online.  Collective action has become much easier, especially with the development of smart phones.  Most people in my city use Facebook to communicate and arrange meetings.  Too many times I’ll be notified that the location of the meetup has changed or people have had to change the time.  This helps encourage a level of trust between people who are trying to coordinate meetups.  I do not miss the days when I was stood up because nobody could tell me that the plans had changed.

Real-time applications give the ability to broadcast messages to users of a system, whether it’s an amber alert or your current location.  Sharla Stone discusses in her article Real-Time Disaster Relief how applications were developed just for tracking people who needed help in disastrous situations.  The applications provided the ability to track rescue requests in real time, find resources for people who needed help, and help in information sharing where it was previously difficult to do without the help of technology.

Applications and movements like this always inspire me and make me want to join.  Hopefully I will be able to participate in something as meaningful as this in the future.

Activism in Web 2.0

Are the Internet and social media good or bad? Do they represent an advancement of our society, or the beginning of its collapse? As Howard Rheingold points out in “Net Smart,” the better way to frame the question is to look at what are the good ways to use these tools, and how can we encourage them?

While the increased reach afforded by social media is obvious, Mathias Klang and Nora Madison, in their article, “The Domestication of Online Activism,” argue that various social media platforms impose limits on their use that dilute the effectiveness of online activism. Some of these limits are due to community standards rules set by the platforms. Facebook, for instance, will delete a post promoting breastfeeding if a nipple is visible.

There is also the issue of what will get noticed. Those who post social awareness messages are competing for attention with cute cat videos. I was intrigued enough to watch a video designed to illustrate white privilege yesterday. Half an hour later, I watched a video showing a chubby cat trying to climb into a tiny box (I am not proud of this). The creator of the white privilege post had to fashion the message in an attention-getting way. This struggle is not new, nor is it confined to social media. The only way to prevent this would be to distribute activist messages on dedicated activism channels, which would then not reach a general audience. Preaching activism to an activist audience would defeat the purpose.

I find myself focusing on how to fashion my messages to take advantage of the strengths of social media, rather than lamenting their limits, as Klang and Madison seem to be doing.

Changing media and messages are nothing new. As Rheingold points out, Socrates believed verbal communication was superior to written language. He feared written language would lead to superficial understanding. Written communications have been getting shorter and shorter over the centuries, from books to articles to posts to tweets. We should not forget, though, that through much of human history, few people could read at all. If you’re looking for an ideal period of history where all people took it upon themselves to be fully and accurately informed, I don’t think you’ll find it.

The question is, how much can we expect of the audience? Rheingold outlines the skills we need to cultivate to be good online citizens. The hope is that people will make the effort. Every day in my Facebook feed, I see posts shared by old high school classmates that indicate they have no interest in crap detection. I am engaging in crap detection by checking out their sources, controlling my attention by ignoring certain posts, and tuning my network by unfriending those who continually waste my time. On occasion, I see one of these folks apologize for sharing a piece of fake news after someone has called them out on it. Maybe they’ll be more thorough next time.

Klang and Madison are right to point out that the platforms themselves have power to block or shape messages, and activists should continue to challenge policies that are barriers to certain viewpoints. However, they may be overstating the weaknesses of online activism. While it is true that it does not take much effort to like a post or tweet, or even to share one, each person who does so is investing some social capital. As I watch the posts that my connections like and share, I am continually evaluating their credibility as a filter. I will ignore junk news, whether it is shared by a person I rarely agree with or by a like-minded friend. If someone shares an opposing viewpoint from a reputable source, I’ll give it my time. I don’t want to trap myself in an echo chamber of one-sided discussion.

It is up to me, as a consumer, to engage in this crap detection and tuning of my network. While the term “fake news” has become a crutch to dismiss any opposing viewpoints, at least it brings the need for crap detection to public awareness. I agree with Rheingold that students need to be taught to consider online sources critically. I recently read an article in the American Federation of Teachers magazine outlining these very concepts.

We have a ways to go, but I think we are slowly learning that participating in web 2.0 requires us to become our own fact checkers.

Web 2.0: collaboration and oversharing

Sailors in the information warfare community, such as information systems technicians, intelligence specialists, or cryptologic technicians, generally live with the “nerd” stereotype, and most of us live up to it in different ways. My nerd outlets are academics and fitness tech. Others like anime and several of these Sailors play video games, especially World of Warcraft. (Although, I’m told the game isn’t as cool anymore and many have moved on to other games. Don’t ask me what’s cool now.)

So imagine my surprise when Howard Rheingold wrote in his book 2014 Net Smart: How to Thrive Online that World of Warcraft was cool. He said, “World of Warcraft is the new golf [in Silicon Valley]” (p. 158). Rheingold said World of Warcraft, as an interactive, multi-player game is a great example of collaboration online because players must form teams to complete quests (p. 158). He also cited a researcher who said it’s been estimated gamers have spent 5.93 million years playing World of Warcraft (p. 158). In some ways, I’m not surprised. My husband, feeling some nostalgia, spent the last year playing an older version of World of Warcraft on a Czech server. All I know is his “raid” schedule definitely cut into our social life. While annoying then, after reading Rheingold, I can appreciate the amount of collaboration it took to assemble 30-plus gamers (I think) from across the globe to play at a certain time.

Collaboration is important, according to Rheingold because it leads to “collective intelligence,” which is “a situation where nobody knows everything, everyone knows something, and what any given member knows is accessible to any other member upon request …” according to Henry Jenkins in his article “Collective Intelligence vs. the Wisdom of the World,” published in 2006 and cited by Rheingold (p.159). Collaborative efforts and crowdsourcing have created some of the web’s best resources including Wikipedia and the Linux operating system.

Rheingold says updating Wikipedia is a simple process: “All anybody has to do is click the ‘edit this page; link at the top of every Wikipedia page” (p. 181). Rheingold also wrote that Wikipedia’s founder’s first project, Nupedia, was a failure because the volunteer-written articles had to be vetted by an expert, which proved to be costly and time-consuming (p. 180). Wales dropped the expert vetting and Wikipedia took off (pp. 180-181).

However, Nicholas Proferes, author of “Web 2.0 user knowledge and the limits of individual and collective power,” published in 2016, argues Wikipedia isn’t the collaborative platform it claims to be because “only a small number of elite editors … contribute a significant amount of content to the platform.” Proferes added that “Getting new Wikipedia users to contribute has been a significant challenge” because the new users need training.”

To see who was right, I decided to make a small change to my alma mater’s Wikipedia page. I added the link to The Times-DelphicDrake’s student newspaper, and it was almost as easy as adding a link to WordPress. The “link” icons were the same in Wikipedia’s visual editor. I opted to create an account, and when I did, I was given tips on a username. After I added the link, I was asked to describe my changes and enter a string of letters to let Wikipedia know I’m a person and not a bot, then I hit “save changes.”

While Rheingold and Proferes disagree on the ease of Wikipedia, they both agree that Facebook’s privacy settings are difficult to navigate through. Proferes cited Lorrie Cranor (2003), who said “read-ability experts have found that comprehending privacy policies typically requires college-level reading skills.” Rheingold cautioned Facebook users “it is crucial to always keep in mind that your control of what Facebook technology can do with, as well as to your information … is limited, plus subject to change at any minute” (p. 234).

Overall, Rheingold sticks to the positive sides of Web 2.0 technologies while Proferes explores some of their pitfalls, but men caution users that regardless of what platform they are using (especially Facebook), it is important to know how the service works and what information it is collecting and sharing about you. So, be a good citizen on the Web, share your insights, just don’t share your whole life.

Amazon Sharing Information at Incredible Speed

I was inspired by Jennifer’s blog post and also the Cluetrain’s “95 Theses” this week.  Levine, Locke, Searls & Weinberger discuss that through the internet people are inventing new ways to share information with incredible speed. I was amazed during the month of September at the amount of awareness Amazon.com brought to a very important issue in my family life.  Childhood cancer awareness.  Jennifer also blogged this week about another event that helped promote awareness for childhood cancer awareness.  Originally I had a different topic in mind for my blog but after seeing Jennifer’s post I realized that I wanted to share more to this story.

I first learned that Amazon was partnering with the American Childhood Cancer Organization ( https://www.acco.org/amazon/ ) through some of the cancer family groups I am a member of.  It took everything I had to not order something and waste money just to see a box.  Little did I know our iguana needed a new heat lamp and my husband made the purchase not knowing what the box would look like. Amazon sent out 10 million boxes with the following message on it:

IMG_5589

The marketing for this campaign is smart. 10 million boxes arriving at homes within a day or a few days to all types of people the make purchases from Amazon.com.  Amazon.com’s decisions can relate a number of ways to the Cluetrain Manifesto “95 Theses”. These #1 is Markets are conversations. These special boxes could have created new conversations anywhere from the fulfillment area, the shipping process, the delivery location and the recipient.

These #2 is that Markets consist of human beings, not demographic sectors.  This fact really helped spread this message to all groups of people and quickly. Human beings that may not been originally “targeted” to receive this message now have the opportunity to learn about this important cause.

Did anyone else receive or see a childhood cancer awareness box from Amazon in September?

 

Get a Clue: Join the Long Tail

Chris Anderson’s “The Long Tail,” made it clear why online businesses/services are more successful than brick-and-mortar businesses services. Granted, I presumed much of the success had to do with instantly receiving the product or service and the lower costs due to the lack of physical space required. However, when I consider myself as a consumer, I realize that I tend to purchase items/services that don’t just “talk in the soothing, humorless monotone of the mission statement, marketing brochure, and your-call-is-important-to-us busy signal. Same old tone, same old lies” (Levine, Locke, Searles & Weinberger ,2001).

For example, I tend to use Amazon to purchase easily-shipped items to my rural home (an hour at least from any city with shopping choices other than Walmart). I used to purchase my clothes at a small local JCPenny. However, in the past few years, the internet has become available to almost all in the Driftless Region of Wisconsin, so most of us have chosen to shop online, thus leading to the closing of stores like our local (at least 20 miles away from me) JCPenney in a town of 4,000 people. I imagine delivery/trucking companies are thriving though since packages are not being sent by truckloads to large brick-and-mortar businesses, but are being shipped to homes. This must me true in my area, for I see a UPS  or Spee-dee delivery truck on my road at least twice a day!

In addition to shopping online, I also listen to a local radio station which plays music “on the long tail.” WKPO 105.9 is a local station which claims to play a variety of music and it does! Each DJ chooses what they want to play, so it isn’t a pre-recorded list of hits. I imagine it is for some (based on my listening experience), but some DJs (on-line personalities) really pull from the long tail. For example, Tim Eddy cranks out the obscure music he loves which is a combination of rock, blue grass, funk, folk etc. He doesn’t just play hits, but plays music he enjoys and since he is well-known in the communities he serves, he tries to play what he feels his audience may enjoy, even if not popular elsewhere. Do I turn to another station when he gets on a roll of playing folk? Yes. Do I return? Yes, for I find more new songs/artists I enjoy by listening to his show.  “You can find everything out there on the Long Tail,” and Tim Eddy knows that (Anderson, pg 11)!

Although I do have cable television, I choose to use Netflix and Hulu for my entertainment instead. Like my choice in music, my film interests may be those from the Long Tail. Yes, I enjoy foreign films, independent movies, British television dramas and documentaries in addition to the popular choices such as Shameless etc. Anderson points out that “Netflix has made a good business out of what’s unprofitable fare in movie theaters. . .because it can aggregate dispersed audience,” much like what Amazon and other online businesses are doing. Both Nexflix and Hulu also follow Anderson’s “Rule 3: Help Me Find It,” by making suggestions based on my previous viewing. So, far the suggestions have been very good, so I often go to suggestions instead of searching for new titles to watch. This saves me time and broadens/deepens my interest in film.

Overall, the digital world has broadened my view with diverse options. In addition, it has also enhanced my physical world by allowing me to enjoy life on my hobby farm in rural Southwest Wisconsin and have shopping and services, not normally available here, available to me. In essence, it has saved me time and energy in my physical world, so I can enjoy what that world has to offer: a summer breeze, frolicking goats, changing leaves and golden sunrises.

The Fridge is Full and There is Nothing to Eat!

I can go to the store and buy $300 worth of groceries, but when I look at the fridge after doing chores all day the last thing I want is to figure out what to make for dinner. There are just too many choices. This same phenomenon seems to happen with any other bountiful option of choices, whether it’s Netflix, or Spotify, it feels like I have even less options than when I had a collection of entertainment that could fit on half a bookshelf. With the bountiful amount of content and information available online, how are we getting anything done?

Metadata

Rheingold reminds us that this is not the first time an overabundance of information was made available to us. Rheingold reiterates that the printing press influenced scholars to “sharpen disciplines” and “define genres” to handle “the information overload of the 16th century” (p. 54). Genres and disciplines in this case are just metadata to help sift through the overload of data. And we are handling the internet in much of the same way. We use tagging online to help categorize and organize knowledge. The difference is that tagging is done by a large population of the internet rather than a few scholars.

The online entertainment businesses help consumers figure out what they want using categorization as well as recommendations. Anderson notes that recommendations for related content helped fuel book sales for content that may not have been previously considered (p. 2). Online entertainment has drastically helped increase the supply in business by the very nature of the delivery platform. Companies no longer have to worry about having enough popular content on their shelves since their shelves are just disk space and network constraints. Anderson also notes that the profitability of niche content is now more evident than ever. This means markets for niche content are much less risky than when we were limited to time slots on TV and in movie theaters.  But again, the overabundance of content is hard to sift through as a consumer. Meta-services like CanIStream.It have come around just to help people try to find if they are already paying for the service that hosts content they want to watch. Additionally, services like Netflix and Amazon both have recommended content and user generated ratings for every movie or episode that you can view to get a feeling for the level of quality.

Quality

The internet has given humans a greater voice on the internet, whether it is Yelp, online reviews, or online content from “amateurs.” And this is great, because we can potentially find better representations of public opinions.  The Cluetrain Manifesto highlights the new voice that people have been handed now that the internet can help us stand up to big corporations.

Unfortunately, this voice also leads to a large amount of bad content from uneducated and ill-willed people. This creates the need to have a level of skepticism when trying to find good information sources. Rheingold’s chapter on Crap Detection looks at some heuristics for finding trustworthy information. Services that help debunk bad information or review bad services can help us navigate these problems, but sometimes even that is not enough.  The level of internet security for a lot of this online content is not upheld to the same PCI compliance standards as banking, and we’ve seen how well that has gone. But that’s not to say we should no longer use it. Any channel of communication, whether it is the internet, phones, letters, books, or person-to-person communication, can be exploited. As such we should remain skeptical, critical, and keep up with where we get our information from, and where we put it.

This brings up the desire for content filtering and governance for these very reasons. Rheingold brings up Socrates’ skepticism of the written word, highlighting how without scholars to guide knowledge exchange there can be dangerous consequences (pp. 60-61). There appears to be an on-going trend throughout history to put governances and restrictions on knowledge. I fear that this option will set us back and make the internet unusable. Like I said before, everything can be exploited.

Conclusion

With more information than ever before, we are finding ways to manage and organize information into smaller amounts of information until it is exactly what we need. We are even creating services to help discover which services we should use.  With all the dangers that the amount of information being generated can impose, we must be careful about governances and restrictions, there is a fine line in protecting people’s minds and censorship.

 

Chasing the Long Tail

Chris Anderson’s article, “The Long Tail,” had special resonance for me. I spent about half of my 28 years in radio doing music “disc jockey” shifts (we called ourselves “air personalities,” as we stopped jockeying any kind of discs in the mid to late 90s). I understand all too well Anderson’s diagram showing the anatomy of the long tail, with a small number of major hits clustered on one end, and the long tail of lesser-appeal material trailing off into infinity. Our limitation on the radio was time, just as the limitation in (now scarce) music stores is shelf space.

We could only play one song at a time on the airwaves. If you selected a song from the “hits” end of the spectrum, you stood the best chance of holding a large share of your audience. If you selected one of your girlfriend’s personal favorites from the obscure end of the spectrum, most of your audience would tune over to one of your many competitors and would not come back until they screwed up and played something the listeners did not care for. For this reason, the choice was taken completely away from the djs and the playlists were programmed based on research, music testing, and safe hits. Hence the repetition and general lack of adventure of most stations. Many a radio programmer learned the hard way that while everyone says they want to hear more songs, they really want to hear more songs they like. Hit a clunker, and they’re off to someone who gives them what they want. Fewer listeners means lower ratings, lower advertising revenue, and lost jobs for those who steered their employers’ multi-million-dollar broadcast facilities in the wrong musical direction.

I know, of course, that there are many off-the-beaten-path songs that are beloved by a smaller, widely dispersed audience. Still, I was stunned at the statistics Anderson shared about how well those lesser known songs perform on digital music platforms, which can afford to offer up hundreds of thousands of songs for listeners to choose on their own time from anywhere in the world. Some of the radio stations I once worked for played around 300 songs, total. Current hits were played several times a day, while older nuggets might turn up once a month. The digital jukebox company, Ecast, offers up 150,000 songs on their barroom music service. Astonishingly, 99 percent of them are selected for at least some play each month. Some are played more than others, obviously, but digital storage and worldwide distribution make it possible for music and entertainment services like Rhapsody, Pandora, Netflix, and Amazon Prime to make money off the obscure works, too.

I’m delighted when one of these services offers up something I would never have had access to under the media limitations of my youth. When a movie about early 1960s folk musicians called “Inside Llewyn Davis” came out a few years ago, I could not find it in a local theater, despite a supporting role played by Justin Timberlake. On signing up for Amazon Prime a couple of months ago, I was finally able to see it. That prompted me to look for the soundtrack. It was readily available via digital download, and a few cd copies were available as imports or used. I doubt I ever would have found that in a local record store.

There is still room for hits. Part of the appeal of a hit is the shared experience of enjoying it together. Crank Rick Springfield’s “Jesse’s Girl” in a room full of children of the 80s like myself and you will find everyone singing along. But, as Anderson points out, “Everyone’s taste departs from the mainstream sometime” (7). Now we can find those songs, too.

Sure, you’ll find a lot of junk as the barriers to publishing music and movies come down, but when the cost is low, I don’t mind stopping the weird indie movie I was watching and trying something else. And, as Howard Rheingold outlines in chapter three of his book, “Net Smart,” this makes room for globe-spanning communities of like-minded movie, book, and music fans to sift through the rabble, pick out the gems, and share their favorites with one another.

I still make time for my radio friends, especially in the car, but I’m glad that as I bang out my blog, I can listen to the late 80s Minneapolis alternative rock band “Trip Shakespeare,” even though I only know two people who remember them. Maybe I’ll find some more now!

The Kinnick Wave, Roku, and reviews

I dare you to keep a dry eye after watching College GameDay‘s feature on the Kinnick Wave. (Links to the video and to a segment created by Fox Sports can be found here.) When University of Iowa Children’s Hospital completed its new building, it included a “press box” on the top floor that overlooks Kinnick Stadium. During football games, patients and their families can go up there to watch the games.

A fan page called Hawkeye Heaven engaged in the participatory culture that Howard Rheingold (2012) discussed in Net Smart: How To Thrive Online. It posted this on Facebook because, like Rheingold described, “they believed they had some degree of power” to create a change (p. 115). After being “liked” over 5,000 times and “shared” more than 3,000 times, the word got out.

And resulted in this:

When Iowa played Iowa State the following week, ESPN delayed the commercial break after the first quarter to air “the wave” live.  And about a month later, ESPN featured this on College GameDay (same video from the link in intro paragraph):

This is my favorite response to the ESPN feature. Fran’s Red Face is a spoof account for Iowa’s occasionally emotional men’s basketball coach.

This is just one example of how social media can effect positive changes, which was one of the themes for this week’s readings. In addition to Iowa fans, football fans at College GameDay’s live broadcast at Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, Va., did the wave as well as fans in East Lansing, Mich., who were hosting Iowa against Michigan State.

But movements don’t always need large followings, they just need a platform, said “The Long Tail” author Chris Anderson. In his Wired featured, he explained major entertainment companies invest the majority of their money in big names and big productions, which is ill-advised because “‘misses’ usually make money, too. And because there are so many more of them, that money can add up quickly to a huge new market. Or in my case, a big jump in morale in the workplace.

When I first started working for Ingersoll Wine Merchants, we listened to an adult contemporary station on the radio. At first, it wasn’t bad, but it did not take long for the station to become repetitive. Then, shortly after Christmas and all of its song, my boss purchased a Roku box, and we started listening to Radio Paradise, which is a wonderful listener-supported station that plays a wide variety of music. It introduced me to a lot of new artists, including Jill Barber, a Candian jazz singer, who I saw live in New York in 2014.

While it is good to follow the road less traveled for music and entertainment, it is not always recommended for consumer goods. I learned Cluetrain’s No. 11 on its “95 Theses” the hard way shortly after I graduated college. (Author’s note: This story from 10 years ago is a little embarrassing, but I think it illustrates my point. … Don’t judge too harshly.)  I was looking to expand my exercise video library, and Carmen Electra’s Aerobic Striptease sounded like fun. When I looked into it, the video series had a lot of negative reviews for not being long enough or challenging enough. Despite the bad reviews, I purchased it anyway and saw for myself it wasn’t a good buy. When I moved from Des Moines, all those DVDs made the “donation” box. Now when products on Amazon have many negative reviews, especially regarding customer service, I find an alternative product.

Like Rheingold said, social media provides a lot of positives, as long as we use our BS filters and don’t let it take over our lives.