Blog Archives

Social Norms in the Digital Wonderland

We have so many discussions surrounding how our communication and empathy have been altered by digital culture and community.  We’re still trying to define it and understand our own behaviors in this rapidly evolving hot digital world.  But it isn’t tangible and there aren’t unspoken, yet understood social norms to guide us through it.  So, maybe it is a digital wonderland where everything we once knew is now quite possibly, the opposite.  Do social norms exist once we are interacting in a digital community?  How could we possibly uphold them, if they were even defined, when there is no physical context in which to shame someone for not conforming?

gettyimages-185276824-170667a

Mad Hatter Tea Party from Alice in Wonderland 

Photo source: Getty Images

Barry Thatcher, in Digital Literacy for Technical Communication (2010, p. 175), discusses three human threshold values that identify what humans usually negotiate within cultures.  Although there are more, these three tend to cause the most dilemmas in cross-cultural contexts and are the most connected to different uses of digital media.  The author asserts that cultures vary in the way that they handle these dilemmas, there usually is a yin/yang balance but also tension in which side is predominate… And that is what defines each cultures’ unique cultural integrity.

gettyimages-631148483-170667a

Photo source: Getty Images

The first is shared across all cultures.  It is the dilemma of the “I” relating to others or to a group.  We are familiar with the American preference for individualism.  However, on the other side of that is collectivism.  This is when individuals see themselves as highly dependent within a social construct or community.  This is a cultural view holding social or family groups at higher importance than the individual, the “I”.  Collective communication patterns emphasize interpersonal relationships, social hierarchy, social leveraging, group identities, close personal space, and writer-friendly writing patterns. (Spilka, Ed., 2010, p. 176)  Can’t we see our digital interactions as both “I” and “We” driven?  Of course, but does it have the same construct as our traditional physical interaction?  It doesn’t seem so.  The rules seem to flip-flop a bit.

 

The second commonality is that all cultures make and enforce rules, but the reason they are created and the flexibility of their enforcement varies.  The universalist cultural approach is to establish the rules defining what is right to all individuals, regardless of social standing.  The communication patterns associated with universalist protocols include strategies of fairness, justice and equality.  However, the other approach is the particularist culture.  This approach is such that the rules and decisions are applied depending upon relations and context.  Thus there are specific sets of rules for each social relationship.  While both cultural types exist within physical construct such as the universalist culture being more applicable to countries such as the U.S., Western European countries, and Canada and the particularist culture more applicable to Latin America or Asian countries, how do these cultural communication types change when we interact online?  (Spilka, 2010, p. 177) Are Americans so universally standard in their digital world interactions or do they become more particularist, becoming more involved with individuals because of the anonymity our digital world offers us?  Could this be why people develop such strong digital relationships with people whom they’ve never met face-to-face?

 

Lastly, all cultures negotiate public/private sense of space.  This is the idea that human interaction is a degree of involvement across different spheres of life, and this usually involves some sort of divide and trust factor. (Spilka, 2010, p. 177). There are two different approaches to this, according to researchers.  Those are: diffuse or specific cultures.  A diffuse culture is usually collective; involving friends, coworkers, and other social acquaintances.  These are relationships that tend to involve aspects of your personal life, at times overlapping sections.  On the other hand, diffuse cultures can be those of high conflict, mistrust, and competition.  Quite the opposite, specific cultures are those of high public trust and ease that allow for relationships to exist within their own spheres with little crossover with others.  It favors more collaboration because the competitive piece is not relevant.  At what points do we interact collaboratively within our digital world and, then when do we behave more as in a diffuse culture.  I see the social media aspect of our digital world to be much more diffuse.  In one respect we are interacting as friends, but then also competing at who has the best life (from a digital perspective, at least).

 

All the aspects of communication and culture that are difficult enough to navigate in the traditional sense, seem to be at times upside down in the digital wonderland.

gettyimages-925615678-170667a

Photo source: Getty Images

Am I an Important Cultural Worker?

In Ch. 6 “Human + Machine Culture” by Bernadette Longo in Spilka’s text Digital Literacy, the definition of culture is easily broken into acts that include and exclude (p. 148). In order to feel part of a culture, whether that’s a college campus, a church, an ethnicity, or a city, one must draw borders and agree upon the boundaries of that community. This seemingly innocuous task is exclusionary. While it’s pleasant to believe in the democratizing force of the internet, we have learned in previous readings that the barriers to inclusion still exist, for rural areas, low-income areas, elderly populations, etc. From these last chapters of Spilka’s book we’ve also learned that cultural differences can exacerbate communication problems. Yet, we connect online despite these boundaries, contradictions, and limitations. Longo asks, “Can virtual social connections established within a human + machine culture satisfy our human need to connect with other people?” (p. 148). The answer seems to be no, not entirely, but they can alleviate some of those exclusionary tensions and we can work to draw a wider net around our culture(s).

cultural-differences_orig

Cultural Communication Differences, courtesy of meetus@US

 

Longo also makes clear that as technical communicators or anyone who works with language, we have the “power to invite people in” because we are “important cultural workers” (p. 151-52). Because Longo deconstructs the idea that the online culture is universal or homogenous, she forces us to question how to make the communication tools we produce accessible to all in order to extend the cultural boundaries. As producers, we have the privilege and responsibility of deciding whose culture and knowledge will prevail, and historically we have erred on the side of science and logic do the effect of decimating other histories and cultures (p. 153). We prioritize the rational, the technique while subverting the imagination, nature, art, and pathos (p. 158). I went into the liberal arts because of those subversions, but I’ve immersed myself in logic, technique, and intent. Just as our society has evolved to prize the extrovert, the loudest, and most gregarious, it doesn’t mean that those people always have the best ideas. Does the same mentality apply to technical communication? Do we fall into the fallacy of doing things the same way because that’s the way we’ve always done them? I buck against the notion of free-flowing and “flowery’ help design menus but I’m basing that mostly on my own cultural training and preferences.

homogeneous

Homogeneous vs. Heterogeneous, courtesy of Thesaurus.plus

I know I have been guilty of the worker (or user) as victim trope when designing technical documents in my early years (p. 159), but Longo illustrates that try as we might users will figure out their own ways to use our documentation, oftentimes not in the way we intended. People are ingenious and impatient. Doesn’t it behoove us to give them the benefit of the doubt, ask for their input, and design with their usability in mind rather than assume we know better than they do because we know more about the product than they (presumably) do? As usual, I will apply this to my current position as an educator. When I started teaching, I was terrified that students would ask me a question that I didn’t know the answer to and that I would have to admit that I didn’t know. I shake my head at how naive and pompous that now feels. Of course I don’t know everything, and my students’ experiences enable them to see content from entirely different perspectives than my own. Isn’t that richer? The more I’ve let myself stop being the primary keeper-of-knowledge and made my classroom collaborative and interactive, the more engaging it has become for all of us in the room.

SitandGet

What it feels like during many mandatory professional development meetings (sitting and getting), courtesy of techlearning.com

 

control-freak-quote

Control freaks unit!, courtesy of Psychology Today

I’m a planner and a bit of a control freak. I like to know what’s coming and I like to steer, but sometimes I learn more (and my students learn more) when we put the planner down and see where we end up. In Chapter 7: “Understanding Digital Literacy Across Cultures,” author Barry Thatcher asks technical communicators to return to the tenets of purpose, audience, and information needs, but also to organizational strategies and style preferences (p. 190). Perhaps that means that we have multiple forms of the same content but tailored to the audience. Maybe that means audiences can design the best content solution to fit their needs (though I don’t know how that’s engineered or executed well)? I am very much for examining our own cultural biases and ethnocentrism, but I acknowledge that it’s hard, dirty work. Just as jurors can never be completely objective (nor can any human being), it’s hard to set aside our own inherent cultural upbringing and fully understand or appreciate that another culture does it completely differently. Even as a I read the case study of the US vs. Mexican communication differences, I found myself automatically preferring the Western style. To me, it just made more sense.

Perhaps we start there. We stop to analyze why and to realize that people from other cultures feel equally justified in finding their way the “right way.” If communicating effectively came easy, we wouldn’t have to keep teaching ourselves how to do it. It doesn’t. Human beings are complex. Digital audiences are complex (p. 221). Blakeslee (Ch. 8) recommends we keep researching and applying what we learn, and we keep asking ourselves the hard, uncomfortable questions. That’s where the growth lies. As one of my favorite poets and late-great songwriters wrote,

“There is a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in” (Leonard Cohen).

Teenage Participatory Culture

We live in a participatory culture that is constantly demanding our attention and interaction. Teenagers are highly engaged in this culture and could be setting the expectations of social media engagement. A 2005 survey by the Pew Internet and American Life Project referenced in Howard Rheingold’s book, Net Smart, 87% of children between the ages of 12 and 17 were online. (Rheingold, 2014)  A more recent study by Pew Research Center, conducted in 2018 of teens ages 13-17, found that 95% of teens own or have access to a smart phone and that 45% say they are online on a near-constant basis.  Furthermore, those teens recently polled have gravitated to other social media platforms rather than Facebook.  Pew Research Center: Teens, Social Media & Technology 2018

 

correct pic

 

Facebook is no longer the predominant social media platform for teenagers, not even close.  While adults seem to be using Facebook still more frequently, I’ve noticed that changing.  Personally, I have started using YouTube and Instagram more than Facebook. My social media platform engagement change began because of my daughter.  However, I quickly understood the gravitation towards Instagram and YouTube.

 

Teenagers and now adults are becoming social media producers in many different ways.  We are constantly engaged in this participatory culture. In Net Smart, Howard Rheingold defines participatory culture as, “one in which a significant portion of the population, not just a small professional guild, can participate in the production of cultural materials ranging from encyclopedia entries to videos watched by millions.  And it is a culture populated by people who believe they have some degree of power.” (Rheingold, 2014)  One big outcome of this participatory culture is that web participants then become curators.

 

By the creation of media, consuming it, sharing it, and critiquing it, every web participant is actively engaging in this participatory culture.  There are many benefits or rewards to being involved in social media. Pew Research Center also questioned how teens are currently using social media but also questioned about the negative impacts.

 

participatory culture risks

 

From the data, it is obvious that there are some strong positive effects, but also some very serious negative effects.  To what degree is this participatory culture then more harmful than helpful? According to Howard Rheingold, those in these participatory cultures believe they have some degree of power.  (Rheingold, 2014)  However, from the Pew Research Center data, bullying and/or rumor spreading is the main concern of 27% of the teens who reported mostly negative experience with social media engagement.  This doesn’t indicate that the receiver of bullying feels that they have any power. To that point, in Howard Rheingold’s definition of participatory culture, I would change the part that states these people feel that they have power (in general) to interaction in our participatory culture gives us the illusion of power.  That’s not to say that individuals don’t actually have power in certain interactions, at certain moments.  However, to the degree that our culture changes, it opens up new ways to cause harm. Even the most influential celebrities get harassed and bullied on social media.  They have power in one aspect but then zero in the next.

 

Participatory cultural effects in our digital age create new challenges and I have a lot of concern for teenagers being able to cope with this constant interaction.  Considering 95% own or have access to a smart phone and 45% of them are online on a near-constant basis, according to the Pew Research data. The new technologies necessitate an adult understanding in order to help teenagers navigate in our participatory culture.  And to help us adults, too.

 

 

Another End Brings New Beginnings

I often say that everything happens for a reason and at the time it should be happening.  But what I have found with my schoolwork over this past year-and-a-half is how the uncanny unfolding of situations at work parallel and seem to be answered by my school work.  This class was no exception.  For the past year, I have worked to try and create a blog just for my own department and for various political reasons it has not been very successful.  Fortunately this class has brought a number (too many to count) ah-ha moments. For example, developing a sound social media strategy is vital in order for organizations to survive in today’s digital world.  But the miss to this strategy is how we can also create a social media strategy as it relates to internal organizational communication.  Something I am now working to formalize with my role.

Just like the following image, however, aligning social media tools can be just as challenging to solving a Rubik’s cube.  Interestingly enough, the Rubik’s cube was actually designed by a professor to help his students look at how you solve an objects structural problem and solve individual problems without the whole object falling apart (Wikipedia).  The same goes for developing an internal organizational social media strategy.  While organizations may have entire strategies to build around this topic, it is looking at each situation that needs to be solved and understanding how that situation and solution fits into the whole strategy.

Rubiks

On that note, a sweet melody that brings to you my…

Final Paper Abstract
Many marketing and communication experts have defined this time in our history as Web 2.0.  It is the time in our digital history that highlights how organizations are required by societal norms and expectations to use social media outlets like Twitter and Facebook to communicate and connect with their consumers.  Kids, adults, students, even grandparents are using social media channels to connect with each other on a daily (sometimes even hourly) basis.  But the use of social media for organizations to communicate and connect with employees is uncertain and volatile.  In fact, in a study completed by Towers Watson (2013) the results concluded that just over 50-percent of companies are using social media to connect with employees in some way.  There seems to be little evidence and research into the social media structures and strategy for internal organizational communication.  Therefore, this paper will look at the social media channels that could be used to build an internal social media communication strategy for an organization and to begin identifying the effectiveness of these social media tools and tactics. 

Whew – nearly all of that in one breath.  I will say that the research aspects of this final paper have been tedious, exhausting, and exhilarating.  It can be like finding a needle in a haystack when there is little research out there.  But what has been an interesting challenge is to take the knowledge that has been built around social media and decipher and pull from it how internal communications could benefit from these tools and tactics.

tedius

And although this semester is coming to a quick close, the work around this class and this final research paper will drive my career and school work.  With that, while I could probably write to you for hours on this subject, I’m afraid I must bid you adieu.  Thank you all for such a wonderful semester.  Your thoughtful comments and intriguing posts truly provided for some great thought provoking conversations.

Feliz Navidad.  Happy Holidays.  Merry Christmas.  Happy Hanukah.  And to new beginnings.

Job secrets buried in texts

While I enjoy a more direct and simple approach in writing, it seems that most writing is about repetition and telling stories. Both can be good for teaching, but when you wanting to find the main point immediately, it is annoying. So for the three readings for this week, I will suggest the things that I found most helpful in creating a technical communication career.

Get your own advertisers

In “Coordinating Constant Invention: Social Media’s Role in Distributed Work” by Stacy Pigg, we are told that because of new technology and culture shifts, technical communicators will have a hard time finding jobs, unless they can create their own career themselves. The best way to do that is to find something that you love, find an angle that no one else is really doing, and then blog about it. (I know the article showed the writer getting “inspiration” from blogs that already had content similar to his, but in my opinion, why beat a dead horse?) While the writer whom Pigg described waited for advertisers to make offers to be on his blog, do not wait. Instead, join Amazon’s affiliate program and always include a product in your post. (If you do not like Amazon, there are many other affiliate programs to choose from).

Furthermore, if you are comfortable creating your own videos (your smart phone can handle it), upload them to YouTube and set up your account to monetize them. Next, blog about your video. If you market it right with a catchy title, good tags, and a good brief description, your video could go viral. Good luck!

Learn a culture for profit

 In Kenichi Ishii’s article, “Implications of Mobility: The Uses of Personal Communication Media in Everyday Life,” you get to learn how technology is received in Japanese culture. What interested me most was that the culture of the young was avoiding “direct communication” (p 349). As a technical communicator, in what ways, if any, can we use that to our advantage? While I can no longer find the link, there was a story a few years ago where a woman in Japan made a lot of money by selling videos of her staring into the video camera. I believe that she did it to help people overcome their shyness and other social anxiety issues. She probably created and published her own press releases and joined communities on social media to create a following for her work. I would suggest you doing the same (creating press releases, and joining and participating in communities). There are free press release websites available for use, and you can google how to write a press release, if you need experience with that type of writing.

It would be a good idea to learn about other cultures and try to figure out if there is a way to provide help. Your knowledge could help someone live a better life, or, at least, have a better day.

To learn more, just ask

In “Professional and Technical Communication in a Web 2.0 World,” by Stuart Blythe, he talked about creating surveys in order to gather information for his research. He provided some great tips that you can use when creating your own surveys:

  • let your users be anonymous – this way they can feel free to answer honesty
  • keep your surveys short – no more than 20 minutes. Make sure that your survey has a progress bar so people can see an ending
  • if you need a long survey, break it up in sections and send it out
  • use a web based survey – I suggest SurveyMonkey (it is free), to keep everything easy and in once place
  • post a link to your surveys on social media, email, and on your website, if applicable
  • provide plenty of choices – this way the user can click through instead of typing
  • give a deadline – make sure you give plenty of time to complete it though, such as 2-3 weeks. Follow up with a single reminder halfway through the deadline

Conclusion

While I provided just a few helpful pieces of information from the three texts to get you started in creating your own technical communication career, there are many more listed in the readings. If you have read these readings, which information did you find most helpful or intriguing?

Impact of technology on jobs for the mentally disabled

After watching the Debate about technology and jobs between Andrew Keen and Jonathan Zittrain, there were a number of topics that peeked my curiosity in this 60 minute video.  One, in particular, was this idea around how technology is taking over a number of different jobs within our society.  One thing Zittrain came across in his own research was the idea of: if a robot could do something a human could do, than ultimately it was beneath a human’s capacity to do that work.

But is it?  One of the things Zittrain noted was that if technology does impact a person’s role, it is also important that there is meaningful work for people.  But what if this is meaningful work for some?

mental impairment1

I have an uncle who has down syndrome (DS), which is a type of physical and mental impairment.  Although the developmental delays vary significantly between individuals with DS, it can hinder their capacity of “contributing” to society.  My uncle, for example, has the development that an 8-year-old would have.  Nonetheless he is able to work.  I would say, however, that type of work while meaningful to him could potentially at any point be performed by technology.

So what happen to the dissemination of unskilled labor then?  If we take that away and replace unskilled labor with technology, do we take jobs away from individuals who are elderly or have mental disabilities?  In their article on Technology, Society and Mental Illness, Harvey and Keefe found that technology does in fact have an impact on populations that include the elderly, those with mental illnesses and disabilities.

humantomachine

But, can individuals with mental illness (or even the elderly) strive in this “human+machine” culture that Longo refers to (in Digital Literacy) – against the claims made by Harvey and Keefe?    One of the most fascinating things about my uncle is his own ability to use and adapt to technology.  He can play Wii games and find his way through levels upon levels.  Does he struggle with some things?  Sure – but if he were living in this digital culture would his online counter parts know he was mentally disabled?

In fact, in her article titled, What effect has the internet had on disability, Aleks Krotoski argues that physical impairments become non-existent in the virtual world.  Without having the stigma assigned to them, those with disabilities have the opportunity to flourish online.

This idea aligns well with the information the Longo provided in her chapter on Human+Machine and the importance of investigating and understanding how this human and machine culture works and how it is not equal to the “human+human culture”.  In a human to human culture, as Krotoski found, those with mental or physical impairments are chastised, but in an online virtual environment – when it comes down to humans plus machines – those individuals have the opportunity to participate in society without human barriers.

How do you feel the Human+Machine culture might impact the elderly or mentally disabled populations?  As technical communicators, how do we account for communication to these audiences if they were in fact online participants?

Attention, Anxiety & the Internet

As I’ve often mentioned, my day-to-day life is very virtually centered.  My work is completely internet-based.  I am taking several continuing education courses online and I am now pursuing this program though Stout.  Even my social and romantic life have a significant digital component.  This week’s assigned reading from Net Smart,  by Howard Rheingold, was very relate-able.  In particular, I identified with the first chapter that discussed how our attention can be taken over by our use of digital media.

When email makes you anxious.

Media expert Linda Stone, hit a nerve for me when she said, “we’re putting our bodies in a state of almost low-level flight-or-fight (Rheingold, 2014, p.45).  Lately, I have begun to notice anxiety creeping in to my virtual world and not necessarily “low-level” as she describes it.

I have struggled with anxiety for most of my life.  The anxious state and panic can often occur just easily if I’m out in the “real world,” versus if I am behind my computer screen.  It really just depends on where I am when an anxiety-producing catalyst comes along.  Perhaps the only difference is that I can hide it a little better when I am in the comfort of my own home.

I have been noticing a peculiar shift lately.  Recently, my daughter was going through some health issues.  Because of some extenuating circumstances, I was required to rely extensively on emails to communicate with some of the specialists and insurance professionals that were involved.  Then during this same time period, I was negotiating some financial issues with my ex. I had a friend who was going through an exhausting emotional stretch and reaching out via email.  Then, there have been some very stressful work-related issues that are also being communicated primarily though email.  I am used to the internet being my vehicle to conduct much of life, but suddenly it was being inundated with negative interactions.

I am embarrassed to admit this, but several days, I have found myself lying in bed and not wanting to get up.  I can’t avoid the computer because a lot of the ways I use it, aren’t optional.  During the week, I actually share countless loving emails and instant messages with my significant other.  We are both single parents with a lot on our plate, so it’s our way to connect and share romance. This is a daily habit that usually drives me out of bed to see what is waiting there for me!.  Of course, there were some other positive emails I would be getting as well.  But, during this little pocket of time, the dread and anxiety I felt at having to go face my email box, and be ready for whatever stressful ones came in, was just overwhelming.

Attention isn’t always up to us.

Perhaps the gravity for me is because the internet is more than just “digital stimulation” for me.  It isn’t something that I am addicted to because I crave it per se.  It’s really the village I call “home.”  I shop at the store there. I communicate with everyone.  I work there.  When my marriage was crumbling, I (occasionally) felt that same way about getting out of bed.  I didn’t want to know what going to happen in my home with my ex-husband–but I knew once I got up, whatever stress there was to be had, would be unavoidable.  Now my “home” is more than a building. It is also a complex ecosystem of digital technology.  I cannot always control or mindfully avoid, some of the incoming data that impacts my “online” home.

I am going to spend some more time rereading this chapter as I am fascinated by the concept of “attention” and how we use it.  I also think it is worth considering that the degree to which one can control their attention or minimize where they turn their focus, is dependent on their relationship to digital technology–how much of their interaction with it is in the realm of optional, versus how much is a non-negotiable aspect of their day-to-day life.

LinkedIn Culture and Community

Culture: “the ways in which people relate to each other within a particular social context – how their values, beliefs, assumptions, worldview, and so on are manifested through everyday actions and decisions.” Bernadette Longo – Where We Work (Spilka, 2010, pg 149)

Community: “a feeling of fellowship with others, as a result of sharing common attitudes, interests, and goals:”  Oxford Dictionary

There are a number of different Social Media Communities and the way that people act within those communities is the culture that they participate in. I have Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn accounts. The way I act within each of these communities is different. Facebook is more personal, I let people know about my feelings and what is going on with my family life. Twitter I am still figuring out, but use it more to find out what is happening in the world and with celebrities than with my family/friends/co-workers. LinkedIn is more professional. I connect with coworkers and other professional contacts there. The image below is a good description of where you would want to post specific items about your day depending on who you want to see and who you want to have to discuss this with.

social_where_to_post

http://imonlinkedinnowwhat.com/2011/11/09/social-posting-where-to-post-what-you-are-doing/

While this does not have a very complementary view of  LinkedIn (Is it boring? LinkedIn). It does show seem to show that what people share on LinkedIn tends to be more professional. You are managing your brand on LinkedIn, you want to make sure that what is seen there is professional, and not a description of your wild Las Vegas vacation.

My LinkedIn community is comprised of coworkers and other business contacts. I am connected with a few friends and family, but for the most part it is all my business contacts. The June 2010 STC had an article about “Using LinkedIn to Get Work” This article had a section on Researching Companies that Interest You. This was related to researching companies that you may want to work for, but it could also work from a business perspective. The company could research the employees of a company they are considering doing business with. I could see this being used in my company a lot. We often times market to larger home care and EMS agencies. The could use LinkedIn to check out the resumes of the people who do currently work for us and for those that no longer do. This can give them an idea about how stable our workforce is and if there is a lot of turnover. If there is high turnover, it could imply that we are not a good company to work for and they could reconsider signing our agreement. In addition, we could do the same about companies that we may want to partner with to make our product better.

The culture of LinkedIn is unique. You connect with people and they are considered your 1st level connections. In addition, the connections of your connections are 2nd level. There is even 3rd level connections which are connected to your 2nd level connections at their 1st level (and they are not connected to you).

linkedincomic

http://seotopten.com/blog/2013/04/linkedin-joins-the-social-media-war-with-mentions/#.UncvCvlwqSp

The question is what to do with these connections. There are a number of things to do with these connections, including looking for a new job, promote yourself and research companies.

LinkedIn is a very powerful tool that I am still learning. I did some looking before I started writing this blog and found 40 new connections. I’m sure I’ll find more, but since I am not actively looking for a new job, I have yet to see all the possibilities of this site.

Culture and Community

 

I was aware that culture had multiple definitions, but I guess I hadn’t considered how complex the sociological definition was as compared to the straightforward biological definition. Language and the meaning of words can change and evolve over time. This can lead to very abstract definitions that are very unhelpful. In the Spilka reading, Williams provided a great summary of the meaning of culture and how it changed over time:

‘It came to mean first, “a general state or habit of the mind” … Second, it came to mean “the general state of intellectual development, in a society as a whole.” Third, it came to mean “the general body of the arts.” Fourth,  … it came to mean “a whole way of life, material, intellectual, and spiritual,”’

Culture can mean any and all of the above, which adds to the confusion. We use a word which can have several different meanings, and that meaning is dependent on the context. That creates an opportunity for a vast range or interpretations.

Community seemed more straightforward to me that it has been depicted in the reading. I can understand the desire to create a universal community that includes everyone, but that goal is not realistic. The Brufee communication model explored this option by creating a community with expectations and values that are known by all members.

The idea of insiders and outsiders of a community make sense, but it contradicts the goal of the universal community. As explained by Bernadette Longo, this would be a totality rather than a community. This is also an unlikely idea because individuals do have different values, ideals, and preferences. There are millions of people who use Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, and other social media sites, but very few people use all of them. Even if those sites made controlled upgrades, there is no way that they could create an environment that would convince everyone to join and use the site.

I’ve witnessed Rheingold’s spirit of community on forums such as Boardgamegeek, 40K Forums, and Backpacker, but even those online communities are not without their problems. There are still active members who do not share in the value of community. Many put in extra effort to welcome new members and contribute to the knowledge and friendly spirit of the site, but there are others who wish to keep the exclusivity of the community, and drive away those that don’t seem to fit the feel that they have become accustomed to. My experience is that communities often begin to police themselves, both good and bad, to help control their membership. Sometimes it is driving out the disruptive forces through peer pressure, and sometimes it is driving away people that the policing force sees as annoying. Either way, few communities are truly welcoming to everyone.

Map of Online Communities

Retrieved from http://xkcd.com/256/

With online communities, people have a choice about which communities they would like to be part of. They aren’t like geographic communities where you become part of one purely by proximity or location. Online communities bring people together because of similar interests or ideas. People stay a part of the community because of shared information, shared connections, or some other satisfaction gained from it. There are many reasons people stay with a forum or social media site, and each person defines and finds their own meaning.

In Spilka, Baudrillard’s characterization of postmodern as “the age of simulation… substituting signs of the real for the real itself” was a good summary of part two of the Turkel book. Postmodern has always been a term that I have struggled with. I’ve never been good with relative definitions, so saying that it follows modernism is really not helpful to me. I’ve also never been good with art and architecture descriptions. I appreciate the quote because it does describe a lot of the social interaction between individuals on social media sites. They substitute real interpersonal relationships for hollow online interactions. There can still be meaningful interactions using social media, but many are shallow and hollow shadows of the alternative.

(edit – I realised that the image I uploaded last night was not the correct one.)

A Late Adopter Explores Tissue Paper and More

Last week, while everyone else was blogging about the assigned readings, I was blogging about the previous week’s readings, and I think you could consider this metaphorical for my “late adopter” status. In any case, I’ll be incorporating some of last week’s readings to catch up.

But first, I will describe my foray into toilet paper. I had just read Chapter One in Socianomics by Erik Qualman, who suggests that people who ask “Who Cares about What You Are Doing?” usually do so because they are frustrated because they don’t understand what social media is about (3). I realized that even though I don’t want to admit it, that pretty much describes me.

So, just as I was done reading, I walked through the living room where my husband was watching a movie, and a commercial for Cottonelle came on where a woman with a Bristish accent was talking to people about their “bums” and getting them to try Cottonelle tissue. At the end, she urges the viewers to “visit us on Facebook.”  So, rather than scratch my head and puzzle over the idea that anyone would proactively visit a toilet paper FB page, I decided to do just that. If it’s true that I don’t understand the attraction of social media, then I think I better start learning if I want to someday call myself a technical communicator.

So, the first thing I noticed truly floored me―apparently 325,812 people “like” the Cottonelle FB page and what’s more mind boggling is that at that moment, 2,167 people were “talking” about it. My first reaction was that these numbers paint a less rosy picture than Qualman does when he says that social media is helping people assess their lives and use their time more productively (50-52). But I didn’t come to quarrel, I came to learn.

Other things happening on the Cottonelle FB page: coupons, tasteful jokes and some less than tasteful, conversations about “bums,” and Cherry, the British narrator, answering questions from people that seem rather fake to me (but who knows?).  There are also photos of the Cottonelle toilet paper fashion contest where women are wearing their toilet paper creations. I chose not to “like” the page, despite its attractive promise to send feeds to my FB page if I did.  My life is too full as it is.

Image

The Cottonelle Fashion Contest is, apparently, a hit.

https://www.facebook.com/cottonelle#!/photo.php?fbid=10151877292070859&set=a.10151877291690859.1073741827.199275490858&type=1&theater

Granted, this may not be the best example to sample in my quest to understand social media, so I will keep an open mind and, in fact, I’d love some suggestions from readers about fun social media places to visit.

So, I wasn’t convinced by everything Qualman offered but much of what he had to say about the importance of adopting new business models seems very persuasive.  In the “old days” (maybe around the mid-2000’s) I remember being frustrated by the number of mainstream news services that forced people to subscribe, so I’ve used alternate, free sources ever since.  Today, I did a little sampling and I see that now The New York Times, L.A. Times, Vanity Fair, and Time allow free access to their content, so a lot of people have probably recognized the new business model since Qualman’s book was published in 2009.

Many people engaged the question of online dating and companies’ efforts to become quite nimble in responding to complaints last week, so I won’t delve into that, but the one other concept I wanted to mention was Qualman’s explanation of the “multiplier effect” of social media (41).  I probably knew that intuitively, but to have it spelled out that way was enlightening.  Twenty years ago, I would explain to staff the notion that when a customer is unhappy, he/she tells 11 people, and those people tell  11 people. What a difference a couple of decades has made.

I found the history of the development of computer   technology pretty interesting in Digital Literacy (edited by Rachel Spilka) mostly because it was going on under my nose without me ever realizing it most of the time.  I don’t actually remember where or how  I first started using Windows but I think it just occurred to me as I was reading how much it changed my ease of use: “Meanwhile, Microsoft, which had worked with IBM to develop the original operating system for the PC and, by version 3.1 of Windows, what was once a minor add-on (to make DOS appear like a GUI) became a widely used GUI product” (36).  I have some vague memories of typing in DOS commands prior to that, so Windows was a whole new (and easier) ball game for me.

I became much more aware of technology changes around the late 90’s, and that was because I was doing some public relations writing and working more closely with graphic designers.  Most recently our university created a new website and adopted a content management system (Drupal), so I will be able to get some experience using it and publishing info for our website.  I got a greater sense of urgency about leaving my Internet footprint after reading Jack Molisani’s  “Is Social Networking for You?” because he suggests that people with no Internet footprint will certainly not be taken seriously as a technical communicator candidate (12-13).  At the moment, the main thing you will get if you google “Evelyn Martens” is a bunch of photos and articles about a famous Canadian murder trial of Evelyn Martens (not me).

I found the other two articles from last week’s reading enlightening as well.  I had no idea there was so much history or so many SNS around the world until I read ”Social Network Sites: Definition, History and Scholarship” by boyd and Ellison. I couldn’t believe the number of niche communities that I’d never heard of, such as Ryze, Tribe.net, Cyworld, Hi5, BlackPlanet, Six Degrees, just to name a few.  Of course, I was particularly surprised that there are SNS for dogs and cats, “although their owners must manage their profiles” (214).  I’m glad they cleared that up.  Probably the most interesting example to me was the case of Friendster because of the role the “fans”/”friends” played in both the rise and fall of the company.

It would be novel for me to start a a paragraph with something other than “I never knew,” but I’m afraid that’s still the case with “Always On” by Naomi Baron.  I never knew there was so much material for psychologists and sociologists in studying IM “away” behavior or “presentation of self,” though it certainly makes sense upon reflection.  What probably struck me most in this reading was the sheer logistical undertaking of collecting and logging millions of messages to study social networking behavior.  I also noticed that at the time of the writing of the article, only college students had access, so I’m thinking the numbers may have increased dramatically since then.

So, in conclusion, my take away from this and last week’s readings is that I am going to start checking my FB page at least once a day and try to monitor how much time I’m spending and what I’m doing while there in my own mini-study of my behavior. This will probably not feel very authentic because I’m starting off with the notion that  “I’m using FB to see how I’m using FB,” but I’m thinking I may enjoy it more by looking at FB as part of my homework.

References

Baron, N. (2008). Always On: Language in an Online and Mobile World. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Boyd, d. and Ellison, N. (2008), Social network sites: Definition, history, and scholarship. Journal of

            Computer-Mediated Communication 13, pp. 210-230.

Carliner, S. (2010). “Computers and technical communication in the 21st century.” In Rachel Spilka (Ed.)

Digital Literacy for Technical Communication. New York: Routledge.

Molisani, J. “Is social networking for you?” Intercom. Society of Technical Communicators.  Retrieved

from www.STC.com.

Qualman, E. (2009). Socialnomics. Hoboken, New Jersey: John Wiley and Sons.