Saturday, December 16, 2006

Wikipedia (Group 6)

Continuing with some of the similar themes as the blogging vs. professional journalism discussion, I think that the question of Wikipedia's trustworthiness and quality is one that is even more important to be considered, given the rapid ubiquity of its presence in mainstream culture. The example of the scientific articles is interesting, and I think some of the issues pointed out by Britannica in their response to the "Nature" study are valid, though embedded within their particular vision of what an encyclopedia should be. I feel that this definition is changing for the younger generation, and it's a change that needs to be acknowledged and worked with.

When I think of the question of how some might use Wikipedia incorrectly, I can instantly picture a stressed, under-motivated middle school student scrambling at the last minute to complete a paper for American History or some similar topic turning to Wiki simply as a quick source for lots of relevant information. As a result, the student may not have the full picture of the given topic and might write an entire paper on how the number of African elephants has skyrocketed in recent months.. This presents a great risk to the academic process, and I think it's difficult to argue against the statement from Britannica and others that it's difficult to fathom trusting entries that could have been edited by 10-year-olds, for all we know.

That said, some of these concerns aren't necessarily new, and the academic realm has been able to deal with previous issues of a similar nature. Look at SparkNotes and similar online ventures as an example. It's extremely easy to "borrow" paper ideas, or even complete blocks of text from these sources that have their particular viewpoint on the literary work of choice. Through a little bit of research and awareness, however, instructors have worked around this assault on academia, and now SparkNotes is simply seen as a "dirty secret" of sorts for students, when used as a direct influencer of paper content. Although literary criticism, analysis and summary is quite different from more black-and-white subject areas like math or science, I think similar tactics would allow for young students coming up through the ranks to realize the position that Wikipedia holds for them.. It's simply a matter of further de-institutionalizing convenience for students and drawing a designation between peer-edited open source and scholarly-reviewed and created closed source.

Professional journalism vs. blogging (Group 4)

The discussion on whether blogging truly qualifies as journalism is definitely a noteworthy one in terms of analyzing how exactly readers determine the validity of the words read in these various sources. However, in terms of establishing the standards that qualifies an information source as one rather than another, I think its a somewhat pointless game, especially given the sort of person that tends to follow blogs online.

As was discussed in the reading, it is apparent that the blogosphere has a certain form of internal policing that allows for readers to differentiate between trust-worthy information and smut. In many ways, I would argue that this policing has found more of a home in blogging than in the print realm, as ridiculous "news sources" such as FOX News, or more locally, the Mendota Beacon, are able to get away with writing practically whatever they please under the facade of "journalism", regardless of how well researched or written the work is.

Bloggers, however, know that they do not have a "captive audience". Given the relative ease of starting a blog, if bloggers truly want their words to be read, they realize that they won't get away with poor writing and reporting for too long before someone calls them out on it, or at the very least, simply stops reading. This policing is allowed by services such as Bloglines, and the comments that can be posted on entries, as well as the ease of forwarding URL story links to other individuals, rather than needing to have the physical print copy sitting in front of you.

Blogging allows for an international playing field of information consumpion in a way that is much different from the traditional journalistic framework. In many ways, however, I feel that it holds true to many of the traditional journalistic "values" than what journalism has become today. That said, I don't consider it journalism, but why does it need to be? It's simply another avenue for information-seekers to take in their quest for Truth.. Maybe with more options out there, people will have a better chance at (feeling like) they've achieved just that.

Monday, December 04, 2006

The DMCA (Group 3)

News article on newly released DMCA exceptions (Wes Philips)

What I found most intriguing about the exceptions listed to the DMCA by the Librarian of Congress in this article was the framing of the rhetoric about the protection of these copyrights. Some of the wording seems extremely old-fashioned, particularly considering that it is part of a "digital millennium" piece of legislation. The wording is also extremely non-sensical in many ways, to me, almost as though it was purposely written somewhat loosely because they weren't share where the line should be drawn.. Some of these exceptions I read over at least three or four times, and I'm still not entirely sure what they actually are referring to. As a borderline "tech-savvy" JMC student at UW, you'd think that legislation should certainly be written in a way that could actually be understood.. But maybe that's too much to expect from Congress.

Digital land grab (Henry Jenkins)

The Jenkins article raises some points that I think are definitely worth discussing with his argument, beginning somewhat strangely with the obscure fact that Lewis Carroll texts are in the top three most referenced in the English language. I think it is very important to realize that, in many ways, the media landscape is so different from what there was in 1930 that it's kind of difficult for me to see a legitimate comparison between the times. Blogs, web-editing tools and the trend of customization have meant that people have been able to play a very active role within their culture. Unofficial sites for musicians, athletes and other celebrities still run rampant, as well as blogs devoted to movies and television series, such as one of my personal favorites from this summer, Blogging Project Runway. The blog owners have been in close contact with many prominent figures from the show, and if the Bravo producers had some sort of problem with it -- and its loads of inside information and screen captures -- they'd have shut it down long ago... there is even a quote on the site from a Bravo suit stating his praise of the venture.

That said, the BPR people did feel the need to place a disclaimer on the page, stating that they are not affiliated with the Bravo Network, and I wonder if this was at the request of Bravo. I think we are somewhat limited in our abilities to respond to our current culture. There clearly needs to be a line drawn between 'cultural salutes' that aim to profit vs. those that aim to simply build awareness or inform, and this is a difficult distinction to be made. In order for a motive to remain for the original content producers, there need to be some protections put in place. I'm not sure that our administration has put the right people in the position of deciding where that distinction should be made, but perhaps it will just be a matter of fleshing out some of the quirks of our new media landscape before the balance can be found more appropriately.

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Net neutrality (Group 2)

High stakes battle over net neutrality (The Denver Post)

Coming into the presentation in class on Thursday only knowing what I had read the night before online in the class readings, I hadn't thought too much about which side of the net neutrality debate I found myself on, and although I think there are problems with both views that need to be more closely examined, I'd be more on the side of the writer of this editorial, with their view that these companies need to be allowed to find a business model that works for them, just like any other business should be able to. Regulation is not the answer to this. Our economy functions so that the profit motive (usually) prevents something as potentially detrimental as an extensive broadband divide of sorts from happening.

I think that both sides have certain motives that are being covered by the smoke and mirrors of the framing of their side, and I think it should be interesting to watch the development of the debate closely in the coming months to see if any of these motives come to surface.

Congress must keep broadband competition alive (Lawrence Lessig)

One of my main concerns that came up following the group presentation about the framing of the net neutrality issue is also evident in the Lessig article. A lot of the argument about network providers charging fees for premium Internet to services such as YouTube doesn't seem to be based on anything beyond "what ifs". Sure, that sort of regulation could have damaging effects to the "little guy" on the Internet, and it should be addressed, but I'm not sure that the sort of regulation he is discussing would be the best vehicle for these protections.

Additionally, I guess I struggle with the comparison of net neutrality concerns to the different costs of Internet services -- from dial-up to wireless to broadband. It makes perfect sense that users of the Internet should pay more for greater speed and capabilities of their Internet surfing, and some of these options are constructed in such a way that it makes sense that it might be left in the hands of only a few companies... Just look at Charter in Madison. They practically have a monopoly on Madison cable, but do we really want five different companies running their wires all around the place? A monopoly is never the optical position for consumers, but sometimes nothing else really makes much sense.

Is knee-jerk regulation really the answer to this issue?

The PATRIOT Act (Group 1)

Opposing the Act (Russ Feingold)

First of all, I just want to lay it out there right away that Russ Feingold is pretty much my hero. I know the family and I greatly admire how all of them are not afraid to stand up for what they believe in, even when setting oneself apart from the crowd (such as Russ did with his vote on the PATRIOT Act) could have devastating ramifications for career goals. We need more people like that in this world.

As for Feingold's argument in this speech, I think it is sad that a lot of what he is saying isn't too different from what a lot of people say, but that it has continued to receive little attention from the powers that be. "Flying while Muslim" is a continued offense in the eyes of many powerful figures, and racial profiling continues to a large extent with air travel, and in other circles as well. "Guilt by association" as a whole is definitely something that needs to be better thought out, and I think this arrives at his main point. Feingold does recognize the need for solid security measures, but has perhaps a deeper understanding of the stifling effects that library and computer censorship could have

Government Surveillance and Political Participation on the Internet (Brian Krueger)

This was an interesting study, and the conclusions from the research done by Krueger isn't necessarily what I think I may have predicted. This provides us an interesting perspective on how people are actually responding to the issues implicit with the Act in their day-to-day activities, but I'm not completely sure that it's the end-all-be-all of any McCarthy period-esque censorship.

The Internet, by nature, is an excellent platform for divergent thought, and it makes now that I think about it, that this counter movement to the majority is not dissuaded by perceived government surveillance. These sorts of "off center" people are less likely to allow the fear of being censored to keep them from speaking their mind, and it's almost a reclaiming of power to use the Internet in the way that they want to, rather than the way that they may be told to.

In short, I think that Internet use is generally too micro of a platform to truly get a feel for the macro effects of this Act, as Krueger mentioned, but is definitely an interesting argument.

Monday, November 20, 2006

Disconnecting the dots

Faced with the challenge of disconnecting myself from a feed for some time, I knew I could have played it easy by pulling myself away from something like Myspace or Livejournal for a few days or so, but that would have been too easy. Given my habitual use of various feeds as distraction from homework and all of those academic things that I should be doing, I decided to hit myself where it hurt: No Facebook or AOL instant messaging use for at least 24 hours.

My trial began shortly after I was finished with class on Thursday, around 1:30pm, as I checked Facebook one last time in Helen C. White library before working to finish up an English paper that was due in section by 4:35. It was my one last taste of Facebook's procrastination-rich flavor before pulling myself out of the loop for some time.

As I sat and typed the paper, occasionally reaching stopping points and attempting to battle writer's block, I found incredibly tempted to type in the facebook web address to see if I had any new messages from friends, and it honestly was difficult to avoid doing it. As it turned out, I finished my 4 page paper within about two hours, which is probably the fastest I have ever thrown a similar assignment for a class together.

After some downtime visiting friends and handing in the paper at class, I headed home, and again felt tempted by my main other vice -- AIM. As it turned out, I decided to just call a friend and leave the house for the evening to keep from being tempted. After a few drinks, later in the evening upon my return home, I actually went to log on to Facebook as a matter of habit, and had to close out of it immediately before going to sleep. It was harder than I thought.

The next morning, I worked a three-hour shift at the front desk of a dorm, and again, I fought boredom and temptation to keep from turning 6 inches to the left and checking out the latest Facebook updates. I made it through, went out for lunch, and came home to discover that I had forgotten to call a friend about a meeting later that weekend. In my continued avoidance of AIM and Facebook, it took four phonecalls before I got a hold of someone who had the number I needed, when it probably would have been found instantly on Facebook.

Later in the day, I was scheduled to staff another shift at work -- from 7pm to 1am, a shift that I usually bring my laptop for, in order to serf on the UW Housing wireless to pass the time during dead periods... I caved around 7:30pm and logged onto AIM, going straight to Facebook afterward.

In the end, I lasted 30 hours, during which I felt a mixture of freedom and a bit of anxiety that I was missing out on something and somewhat disconnected with friends. Now living out of the dorms for the first time this semester, Facebook and AIM have been great utilities for remaining connected to friends that I formerly saw daily and now rarely see, and it felt a little bit lonely to be limited in my interactions.

Despite this, I did feel like I got more work done during the time away from AIM, in particular, and that I felt generally more calm. The time spent with friends seemed more relaxed and less interrupted, although I feel like I cheated a bit by still using my cell phone and e-mail throughout the time. I honestly am not sure how long I would have lasted had I not included these two additional tools.. but I'm guessing it would have been pretty ugly.

Conclusion: Dang, guess I'm pretty technologically dependent after all.


This is a little bit late, since I wanted to make sure that I had thoroughly gotten through M.T. Anderson's Feed before making comment on it here. In class, we had discussed a lot of what was included in the text -- the lesions, the ubiquitous advertisements, and the disturbingly internal workings of the feed itself for this group of teens -- but what interested me more, and I think speaks a little more loudly is what is not included in the futuristic text.

In a form that runs counter to most forms of literature, there is not one physical description of any character presented in this text that gives their body any individuality or marking apart from the crowd, which I think is extremely important for many of the themes that the feed speaks to. Never is weight, physique, eye color, hair color, etc. brought up -- it seems as though all of these differences are erased. Additionally, in the scenes that describe physical activity between characters, the body's movements are described very mechanically, perhaps an ode to the fact that a machine (the feed) has become so central to their lives.

This oversimplification of the individual seems to be one of the main concerns held by Violet and her parents. They are allowed to have a greater awareness of this problematic issue due to their distance from the feed, as Violet reaches the point that she wishes that it could just be shut off.

It was also notable, to me, that none of the traditional "markers" that go beyond simply Aryan-centric features have also been excluded from Anderson's text, and this reflects the society that they live in. Only briefly is a gay character mentioned (one of the teen's grandfathers), and never is a difference in race discussed, perhaps suggesting that these individuals have been further pushed to the margins as the feed introduced a greater social divide between the haves and have-nots.

As depressing as some of these issues are, sadly, I'm not sure how far our world is from the world of Feed. Although I think it is an overexaggeration to say that we are destined to a similar societal structure within the next 50 or even 100 years, I think it's certainly worth thinking about and drawing a lesson from it. What happens when these machines shut down? How far will we allow these feeds to go in becoming internal to ourselves and our bodies? Where do we draw the line between the corporation, the government, and the individual? These are all questions we will be facing more and more in the near future, and I'm not sure that we're really ready to answer them.. I'm not even sure how I'd begin to answer them.

Monday, November 13, 2006


The Mode of Information and Postmodernity (Mark Poster)

Poster argues that "the mode of information [with the poststructural approach] enacts a radical reconfiguration of language, one which constitutes subjects outside the pattern of the rational, autonomous individual" (398). I feel that this argument is particularly difficult to disagree with, given the trends we have been seeing over a decade after this chapter being authored. The Web has completely changed the use of language in discourse and within social networking, influencing every aspect of how we are socialized to present-day norms. Today, some people out there regularly use networking platforms such as Myspace, or even to try and find their future "soul mates" (or perhaps just a random "rent-a-soul-mate"), and this carries little to no social stigma, particularly with the younger generation. We soon derive our very identity from the way we present ourselves online, as "the individual is acted upon in relation to his or her identity as it is constituted in the database" (404), which can often be a fairly narrow definition.

The way that instant messaging lingo has infiltrated our everyday dialogue is also very interesting to me, and it's fascinating that online text can often be substituted to carry the same meaning as the actual printed word, when really it is an extremely different medium. As students, we tend to trust articles that we find in online databases when putting together sources for research papers, without thinking twice about how these texts could have been edited or altered through the shift to the online world. I think it's an accurate perception that this, too, undermines much stability that was present in the print-based world (I feel like I'm back in J201 with that statement... Oops.)

For a Cultural Future (Eric Michaels)

Michaels examines an Australian Aboriginal tribe in this chapter, looking at how they introduced broadcast television to their culture, causing a pretty large stir. I think that it is important to note that if the television was able to be kept internal to their tribal group, it could be an effective means of communication and celebration of their culture, although I can certainly understand the concerns that some had with the new technology. It's difficult for us to say what is suitable for the Warlpiri, because of what Michaels describes as our ethnocentric focus. That said, I don't think we're headed toward a "lifestyle future" (421) as he argues, as I honestly don't feel that media consumers are truly dumb enough to just demean everything to the lowly status of a cariacture representing a lifestyle, rather than a very real cultural practice for a group of people different than them.

Weaving Women and Cybernetics (Sadie Plant)

And now, the report from the feminists! Don't get me wrong -- I've taken plenty of women's studies courses and am familiar with many of the arguments, especially since I would probably also identify as a feminist if I was asked. I think there certainly is a serious gender divide in access to some of the new media and opportunities available within the information sector today, and this is something that needs to be acknowledged and looked into, but I think some of Plant's points were a bit overdramatized, such as the statement that the concealment of women's "weaving" into our culture was "the denial of matter which has made [men's] culture -- and his technologies -- possible" (435). I have a problem with codependent definitions, such as this.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Bimber (part deux)

One of the points that most interested me in the second half of Bimber was his conclusion regarding postbureaucratic forms of political organization having a limited scope because they "lack the capacity to project political influence over time" (193). This comes as a direct result of the abundance of information available via the Internet and other technologies, and reveals that we have certainly not evolved past the need for some of the features of previous information revolutions, including oh-so-old-fashioned word-of-mouth, thus reinforcing the trend for what has been the vase for political communication for decades before. Doesn't seem like as much of a "true" revolution any more...

As a strat. comm. major within the J-school, I think it is fascinating to acknowledge that technology is growingly able to re-create these earlier features in the commercial venue via e-newsletters, coupon programs, or online sweepstakes to collect information about consumers. The consumers are encouraged (or sometimes required) to enter information about some of their friends in order to reap various benefits, and as a result, the "ad" is more trusted, having come from a friend. This has been found to be a very effective and trendy direction for advertising to go, as the onslaught of advertising in our lives leaves us searching for this facade of trust and legitimacy.

Although this trend may bode well economically and has a good reach, I think it also reflects some other concerns that Bimber has, such as fragmentation and the information divide. If one does not have regular access to the Internet, they cannot explore these sorts of sites. Equality is certainly a major issue here, even more so for the political realm Bimber focuses on than the commercial realm.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Bimber (first half, chapters 1-3)

Information and American Democracy (Bruce Bimber)

In the first half of Bimber's work on how information technology has influenced the democratic process in the U.S., he first introduces some of his claims before launching into a historic background outlining the sequence of his four information revolutions (23), as they grew increasingly pluralistic due to the wide variety of information flows being used. He described the groups that emerge from these pluralistic flows as post-bureaucratic, as more people have greater access to the information that enables political mobilization.

These four revolutions served as the backbone of much of Bimber's theory presented thus far, and although I do see a lot of merit in the claims he is making related to the increased mobilization the technology allows, I think they are a far too simplistic way to look at the evolution of information tech's use with democracy. This is especially true with activist interest groups today, who use a wide variety of media from all four "revolutions", so I guess we are too assume that the revolutions are cumulative, rather than sequential.

I did think it was interesting that he pointed out some of the limitations of post-bureaucratic political organization as well (109), including the "discounted value of inexpensive information and communication", and I think this is particularly topical, given the recent election this week. Because it has become so cheap to get your message out there and easy to assemble advocacy groups, voters are constantly being hit with a barrage of messages. I volunteered for most of Monday and Tuesday canvassing, and encountered much frustration among voters from all of the chaos that came with being hit over the head with non-stop political messaging. Have we reached a point where it has almost become "too" easy? I'd say.... maybe so.