DigComm - Jan 2016

Week 5 Reflection: Free Culture, Free Speech, and Monetizing the Internet

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This week, we explored a variety of topics pertaining to internet use. Much of what we discussed expanded upon our previous discussion on “Who owns the internet?” with the added delving into of what each person can and can’t say on the internet. During the live session, my classmates and I presented on several different aspects of online ethics. I really enjoyed this part of the discussion, because as we have started to see over the past few weeks, when it comes to the internet and online culture, the laws are lagging and there is often a whole new set of rules.

After answering a prompt about our opinions on free culture, I did some more research on the topic, independently of anything we were assigned for class. I had been under the impression that “free” culture meant not charging for the viewing and distributing of art and other like-minded materials, such as movies and music. In actuality, “free culture” adopted the term “free” to liken itself to free speech. The idea of a “free” culture is more about the free-flowing exchange of unrestricted information than pirated music, which I was surprised to learn.

However, in America, there’s already things like open-source software and hacker culture – things that are fairly free to begin with. Yet there are still those who argue against this freedom. Sure, these critics are mostly large, important copyright lawyers and those who profit off of restricted access, but there are also smaller artists and upcoming producers who support the idea of a free culture, yet need the profits that come with restricted access to make a living producing their art.

So is there any validity to the idea that copyright law is ruining art? Particularly, in music, I can think of a few examples that might support this. Copyright has made remix culture and certain forms of expression particularly difficult. Additionally, it has really hurt the ‘average’ fan in a lot of ways. What about the poor couple who lost their wedding vows, speeches, and entire wedding audio all because their first dance was set to Taylor Swift’s ‘Shake it Off’? Just because an artist is greedy and their lawyers want to capitalize on fan popularity (see: how the original owner of the ‘Harlem Shake’ song made millions with YouTube and Content ID) doesn’t mean that fans should be discouraged from showing their appreciation with remixed art forms. Isn’t setting your wedding dance to a Taylor Swift song part of being a fan? Isn’t participating in remix culture part of what being a fan is all about?

This week’s material was troubling for me because, while I can see both sides of the issue, I am largely in favor of a free culture – with dual use of the word “free.” I believe that art should be less restricted, and I believe that art should be free of charge. For example, I have little respect for musicians who choose to keep their music off streaming services – don’t people who can’t afford the extra luxury of buying an album deserve to listen to music, too?

Yes, artists deserved to get paid for the content they produce, and, yes, there should be laws in place so that artists cannot be copied and thus lose profits to someone else’s copy, but there has to be a better way. In interviews, actors and musicians are quick to say that they produce art for their fans and because it is fulfilling – not for the money. Of course, many artists who make these statements are those that can probably afford to lose a few dollars due to a pirated CD – especially when album sales don’t really matter anymore.

But what about their fans who have student loans, car payments, and rent, and thus simply can’t spare a few extra dollars to see a movie in theaters or buy an entire album – or even a song or two on iTunes? To ignore the very real income inequality among supporters of music and movies is, I think, insensitive. At the same time, to ignore struggling artists who produce independent films and need ticket sales to be validated is also insensitive. I’ve thought a lot about this issue, and examined the many complicated aspects of it from both sides, and I’m still no closer to a solution or an answer than I was before Week 5’s Live Session.

Going forward, I welcome the input of my other classmates. I can’t be the only one who has struggled with this idea of a “free culture” and how it intersects with more complex issues, like systemic poverty and income inequality, so it would be valuable to see some other opinions on the issues. Furthermore, I feel as though I’ve debated a few relatively complex ideas in this blog post, and yet I didn’t even venture outside of American policy. Other countries have far more restrictive rules, so how could the idea of a “free culture” ever possibly work on a global scale?

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DigComm - Jan 2016

Week 4 Reflection: Digital Overloads and the Digital Divide

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This week’s class was, fittingly, split into two very obvious portions. For the first half of the session, we talked about our digital consumption diaries. Across the board, my classmates admitted to spending a majority of their day connected to digital technology. Many of us work in front of computers all day, and most of us found that when we weren’t in front of a computer, we were on our smartphones or watching television.

Personally, I crunched the numbers, and digital technology use made up for an alarming 15.41 hours of my day – that’s 64.20%. I am dependent on my technology for virtually every moment that I am awake. In fact, on a typical work day, from the moment I wake up until I break for lunch, there is not a single moment that I am not connected to digital technology in some way. My dependence on my smart devices can sometimes make me forget that there are people in the world who aren’t connected, which was why I was so surprised to find that 15% of Americans are actually not online at all.

Of course, that number is substantially higher when expanded outside of America. As we discussed in class, about 5 billion people worldwide still do not have internet access. As someone who relies on the internet and her digital devices pretty much around the clock, I was completely surprised to learn this. Many non-internet users cite reasons such as irrelevance or difficulty when asked why they are not online, but there are also larger reasons why many people globally cannot connect. Things like income level, access to education, physical disabilities, and language barriers can all get in the way of someone who wants to get online. These various global and social factors all contribute to the widening digital divide we have begun to see – also known as the huge gap between those who have internet access and those who don’t.

During this week’s class, we split into groups to try and brainstorm solutions to narrow the digital divide, via a mock conference topic agenda. The topic that I found most interesting was providing access to physically disabled users, as only 38% of disabled Americans report using the internet. In class, my group brainstormed ways to make the internet more disabled-friendly. Since there seem to be tools to help people with limited mobility eat, get dressed, and otherwise function autonomously, why is there such a discrepancy when it comes to tools that might make computers and digital technology easier for them to handle?

There is a very serious lack of disabled-friendly technology. Given how helpful digital technology has proven to be, and, how all the benefits we’ve discussed in class might positively impact so many non-internet users, creating this technology seems – at least to me – a priority. Additionally, I was shocked to learn that many Americans who are not online are offline by choice.

34% of non-internet users think the internet is just not relevant to them, saying they are not interested, do not want to use it, or have no need for it. This seems particularly crazy to me, as I can name dozens of benefits of being connected, and, during the live sessions, my classmates repeatedly point out even more benefits I may have overlooked. The fact of the matter is that the world couldn’t function without digital technology – America especially. Everything, from hospitals to libraries, now functions online. Smartphones are capable of more now than ever before, and digital technology is well on its way to ruling even the longest holdouts – like parking meters and small businesses.

So when we talk about the digital divide, it’s important to discuss more than the glaringly obvious. Yes, there are parts of the world where the internet is not affordable, and yes, there are people whose education levels or income hinder them from getting online. But there are also the aspects that most people (or at least me) forget to consider: things like disability and a lack of interest. Solving these problems are a little harder. There’s not much that can be done aside from creating a dialogue and getting people talking about these issues. The internet and digital technology have allowed for all of us to become connected, so why not use these tools to help further the connection? Let’s start an open dialogue on the benefits of the internet, both so we can educate those who don’t see the appeal, and quiet some people who feel the internet is more of a hinderance than a blessing.

I guess what I really liked about this week was the sharp contrast I observed between our discussion of our consumption diaries and the digital divide. For someone like me, who is always connected, it was jarring to switch gears and focus on so many who aren’t connected. If nothing else, it’s always important to check your privilege and remember that there are some people who don’t have access to the same things you do for any number of reasons. Additionally, brainstorming potential solutions was fun, and a cool way to think of how we might one day get involved in a real, global communications issue.

In the coming weeks, I look forward to exploring this topic more in-depth. Outside of the digital divide, I am curious to learn other global implications and changes that have come about as a result of our growing obsession with digital technology and the internet.

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DigComm - Jan 2016

Week 3 Reflection: Social Media & Web 2.0, Explored

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I love to start blog posts with a quirky cartoon, but given that the topic this week was social media, I couldn’t find anything that wasn’t overwhelmingly negative. We already know how I feel about the internet, technology, and those against it, so I won’t get into it now, but I do think it’s a little silly that so much of the ‘mature’ opinion seems to reflect the idea that social media is dumbing us all down.

I see social media mostly as a generational fad, like bell bottoms or disco or other fads that generations before me were obsessed with — like ruining the economy. Older members of Gen X want to use any excuse to shame ‘millennials’ for updating their social media accounts, but I am a firm believer that everyone should embrace social media, as it has proven to be a huge force behind shaping the current landscape of digital communication.

Whether we like it or not, social media is integrated in virtually every aspect of our lives. Even the simple aspect of dining out at a restaurant has become a social event with sites like Yelp or FourSquare. Social media is the new e-mail, in the sense that it has become so widespread that we look at people who aren’t on Twitter or Facebook the same way we might look at someone who doesn’t have an email address — as though they are completely insane.

Social media and Web 2.0 are such unique concepts because they focus primarily on user-generated content. While this is an undoubtedly ‘cool’ concept, it also creates a level of accountability among users that not everyone handles correctly. During class, we briefly touched upon how once a series of words reach the internet, they never really leave. Everyone has heard at least one story of someone who said something on social media they probably shouldn’t have and faced consequences at work, or school, or in their ‘real life’ because of it.

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At the same time, this focus on user-generated content is mostly responsible for the multifunctional purpose social media now serves within our lives. Look at, for example, Amazon Reviews. Product reviews on Amazon are not technically a ‘social network,’ but, rather, they are user-generated responses that in turn generate surrounding attention. They serve a dual purpose: first, serious Amazon reviews are enjoyed by other Amazon users who value the opinions of their peers and take them into account when purchasing a new product, and second, the practice of writing joke Amazon product reviews has now become a widely popularized internet forum for humor, almost on the same level as Reddit.

This idea of how one platform can have all of these nuances was what I found most intriguing about this week’s presentations. Learning about platforms I’d never heard of before was interesting because when you study a new platform, you don’t only learn about how one user can interact with the platform. You also learn the way every user interacts with one another — the social part of social networking. In some instances, I find the community aspect each social networking platform holds to be the most interesting part about the whole platform. Take, for example, the Couchsurfing platform presented. Users receive no incentive for participating, yet they couch-surf and build their profiles and interact with one another and the platform continues to thrive despite the existence of safer competitive sites.

If nothing else, it’s always good to learn the ins and outs of a new social media platform. Whether we like it or not, social media is everywhere now, and it’s not going away. So I found the material from this week incredibly useful and engaging, and believe that what we discussed in class will have legitimate real-world application moving forward. As the semester progresses, I would love to take a more in-depth look at social networking sites and the many sub-communities that exist online. This week’s snapshots barely scratched the surface of the many, many groups that reside within the vast corners of the internet.

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DigComm - Jan 2016

Week 2 Reflection: Alone Together, or Together Alone?

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When I was an undergrad, I took a class called Digital Media and Cyberculture, where we studied the ins and outs of internet communities. One of our units was titled Alone Together, or Together Alone? and focused on the two main sides of what has today become a debatable issue: does technology connect us, or force us farther apart?

This week in class we read an (admittedly outdated) article that seemed to argue in favor of the latter. Throughout the post, the author makes fairly negative and pessimistic guesses about the future of the internet. At the end, he states that the internet has created a lack of human contact that is bound to continue. This article was written over ten years ago, and I’m sure that the author, upon observing people today, has given himself a nice pat on the back for being ‘right.’

But is he right?

I was surprised how many people in class found points within the article they could agree with. The other two members of my group were willing to keep an open mind and concede to some of my points that posed an argument to the author’s claims, but for the most part, they cited examples from their everyday lives that proved his point. Alison, who works in a hospital, explained how many of the nurses are too busy typing charts on their iPads to engage with patients. Each of us could recall a time we saw a group of people at a social event staring down at their phone instead of being social.

At 21 years old, I’m probably one of the younger people in class, which might explain my aggressive disagreement to the opinion of the author. But I’ve always been of the opinion that the internet connects us more than it separates us. I grew up with the internet always there; much of my social life happened online. As soon as I would come home from middle school, I would be in an AIM chat room with my friends from school until I went to bed that night. As I grew up, I came to have Online Friends – friends I would never have met if it hadn’t been for the internet.

So when I see a group of people eating together at a restaurant, all texting instead of talking or individually Instagramming their food, I don’t blame technology. I will always think of the internet and technology for all the good it has done, rather than thinking of it as an out for people who want to avoid face-to-face communication. Because I do think that it is possible to have both; a person who loves technology and sings its praises like I do can also be outgoing and talkative in person. It is possible to be a talented communicator over more than one medium.

The asynchronous material from this week mentioned that the creation of the internet allowed for interactivity where it had never existed before. The internet opened up a feedback channel. This has become such an important, multifunctional tool. For example, I don’t know anyone who makes a big purchase without asking for someone else’s opinion first. Online product reviews allow us to consult a large, diverse group of people, rather than just blindly asking for opinions from people who may not even know the product. In this instance, everyone participating in writing and reading the product reviews becomes part of an online community. It may seem like a mundane point, but this is such an everyday way that the internet brings us together.

Interactivity and feedback are not the only doors the internet has opened. Information is accessible now where it may have never been before. Before the internet, encyclopedias were an expensive way to educate on general knowledge, now, Wikipedia is free to use. People who may have otherwise never met are able to chat every day. People around the world in different timezones can see and speak to each other when it’s midnight in one location and nine am in another. You can have just about anything in the world sent to you with free two day shipping if you want. People who feel alone in their everyday lives can come online, to a community of people who feel the same way, and have the same interests as them.

During our group discussion on what we think the internet is, I stated that I felt the internet has two main functions: social and educative. The great thing about the internet is that it has allowed for these functions to happen separately and together. Look at Communications@Syracuse, and this class, in particular. Though we’re primarily focused on education, there’s a social aspect to everything we do, including writing these blogs and tweeting them so our classmates can browse through the hashtag and read them.

Overall, I will always speak favorably about the internet and the connectivity it brings. I am very supportive of the idea of an online community or a “global village.” I truly believe that the future is headed towards an online-in person social hybrid environment. Those who fight it and argue that we are losing ourselves will simply have to learn to adapt and get with the times.

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DigComm - Jan 2016

Week 1 Reflection: Cultural Nostalgia and the Skyscraper Phenomenon

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Many of the ideas presented in this chapter were interesting, as they presented a well-rounded view of the current state of digital communication. Both sides of every issue were presented and gave me a lot to think about as I begin my first week of class. However, there were a few things in particular that stuck out to me.

The idea of high and low culture, along with the cultural skyscraper, is something that has been around for a very long time. While the cultural rankings can seem to be arbitrary at times, what I found most intriguing about this chapter were the points about nostalgia. Collectively, critics and cultural purists seem to be of the opinion that culture was better before modern-day popular culture was introduced. Things like the popularization of reality television, autotuned music, and famous celebrities without marketable talents are seen as parts of society that have “ruined” culture.

I have observed what the book calls “a call to return to ‘the good old days’” many times before, across just about every genre of books, film, television, and music there is. Even sectors of pop culture, such as rap music, that aren’t usually thought of as having a ‘good old days’ period face comments and critiques from people who thought that rap music was better ‘before.’ The book lists a few examples of this and states that they have become cultural ‘classics’ (jazz, ragtime, silent movies, and the waltz). However, while certain cultural purists may look fondly at these classics and call for a return to them, the overwhelming majority of people see no need for a return of the silent movie. For all the complaining about new films and the way they are presented, no one would go to a movie theater next week and pay twelve dollars to see a silent film.

The authors of our textbook seem to believe that cultural nostalgia comes from a place of fear by people who are uncomfortable with the changing tides of popular culture. However, this phenomena isn’t only evidenced in older generations who dislike the amount of hip hop played on the radio. Just a few years ago, the Nickelodeon network found that the 18-34 demographic was experiencing nostalgia for old, 1990s programming. After reintroducing a few ‘classics’ into the lineup, their ratings skyrocketed.

So this nostalgia isn’t something that only older generations experience. Every person seems capable of looking at current popular culture and commenting that some aspect of it was better ‘before.’ I can’t help but wonder if this is how future generations will act. Will there ever be a day when a forty- or fifty-something adult scoffs at their radio and claims that popular music was better when it was performed by artists like Katy Perry and Ke$ha?

I liked the ideas presented in this chapter a lot. I felt they laid the ground for a very interesting semester. There are many points in this chapter that I am excited to discuss with my fellow graduate students in class. As a younger person (I’m not a fan of the term ‘millennial’), I was surprised to find that the ideas about cultural nostalgia even applied to me, but they do. Things like the current state of Nickelodeon and The Disney Channel evoke a fierce nostalgia from me, and my fellow 90s kids. I’ve seen countless postings on the internet to the tune of ‘like if you remember when so-and-so was like this.’

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I guess I have the same question that the textbook poses: how can we tell what the future has in store for popular culture? With cultural values constantly changing, and things like social media, media convergence, and media multitasking changing the landscape of digital communication every day, how can someone even begin to attempt to predict where culture may be in five years, let alone ten or twenty or a hundred?

Maybe finding out why pop culture has changed in the way that it has is a good next step towards predicting these changes. Along with analyzing why people from every generation can all experience cultural nostalgia towards something, this seems like an important starting point for anyone interested in looking towards the future.

In class, we discussed what makes certain media higher or lower on the cultural skyscraper. It seems like some of the same things that we think make media seen as ‘refined’ or ‘trashy’ (thematic content, public opinion, societal values, and talent, to name a few) could also produce nostalgia in viewers. Perhaps people nostalgically long for ‘wholesome’ shows like I Love Lucy or The Brady Bunch because they also long for the cultural values of that time. Isn’t this why 90s kids miss the ‘old’ Disney channel, and why we are so fascinated whenever we see a grown-up picture of Selena Gomez or Miley Cyrus?

Part of my personal nostalgia for old media, or a return to the classics, certainly comes from a longing to return to a time that has passed. In class, we also mentioned two themes that seemed prevalent in everyone’s stories about their first interaction with media: isolation and togetherness. The experience of participating with media was something many people in class  noted as an important part of their first media experience. Is this what we’re really longing for when we participate in cultural nostalgia? It seems plausible. When I look fondly back on experiencing the Harry Potter books for the first time (my first experience with media) I always remember the experience of making friends with Harry, and ending my isolation by stepping into J.K. Rowling’s world.

Cultural nostalgia is an odd concept, because there seems to be no fix for it. If all media returned to the types of media that were popular in the 1950s and 60s tomorrow, there would undoubtedly be critics and disappointment worldwide. People long for old media while consuming new media, and thus cultural nostalgia is more of a paradox than anything else. Yet we all experience it, even if it is difficult to explain where it comes from or why. This makes it an interesting part of communication and an integral part of most discussions about popular culture – although not one that is likely to be fully understood anytime soon.

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