Tagged: marybetholiver

in medias res: bridging the “time sap” gap, DIY politics, Google thinks you’re stupid, and more

  • When researchers started using the term “digital divide” in the 1990s they were referring to an inequality of access to the Internet and other ICTs. Over time the issue shifted from unequal access to emphasizing disparities of technological competency across socioeconomic sectors. The new manifestation of the digital divide, according to a New York Times article, is reflected in whether time on the Internet is spent being productive, or wasting time:

As access to devices has spread, children in poorer families are spending considerably more time than children from more well-off families using their television and gadgets to watch shows and videos, play games and connect on social networking sites, studies show.

The new divide is such a cause of concern for the Federal Communications Commission that it is considering a proposal to spend $200 million to create a digital literacy corps. This group of hundreds, even thousands, of trainers would fan out to schools and libraries to teach productive uses of computers for parents, students and job seekers.

A study published in 2010 by the Kaiser Family Foundation found that children and teenagers whose parents do not have a college degree spent 90 minutes more per day exposed to media than children from higher socioeconomic families. In 1999, the difference was just 16 minutes.

  • In an op-ed for the LA Times Neal Gabler writes that Obama’s legacy may be disillusionment with partisan politics and a shift toward do-it-yourself democracy:

Disillusionment with partisan politics is certainly nothing new. Obama’s fall from grace, however, may look like a bigger belly flop because his young supporters saw him standing so much higher than typical politicians. Yet by dashing their hopes, Obama may actually have accomplished something so remarkable that it could turn out to be his legacy: He has redirected young people’s energies away from conventional electoral politics and into a different, grass-roots kind of activism. Call it DIY politics.

We got a taste of DIY politics last fall with the Occupy Wall Street sit-ins, which were a reaction to government inaction on financial abuses, and we got another taste when the 99% Spring campaign mobilized tens of thousands against economic inequality. OWS and its tangential offshoots may seem political, but it is important to note that OWS emphatically isn’t politics as usual. It isn’t even a traditional movement.

  • In a piece on The Daily Beast Andrew Blum, author of a new net-centric book titled The Tubes: A Journey to the Center of the Internet, details the condescension and furtiveness he encountered while researching Google for his book:

Walking past a large data center building, painted yellow like a penitentiary, I asked what went on inside. Did this building contain the computers that crawl through the Web for the search index? Did it process search queries? Did it store email? “You mean what The Dalles does?” my guide responded. “That’s not something that we probably discuss. But I’m sure that data is available internally.” (I bet.) It was a scripted non-answer, however awkwardly expressed. And it might have been excusable, if the contrast weren’t so stark with the dozens of other pieces of the Internet that I visited. Google was the outlier—not only for being the most secretive but the most disingenuous about that secrecy.

After my tour of Google’s parking lot, I joined a hand-picked group of Googlers for lunch in their cafeteria overlooking the Columbia River. The conversation consisted of a PR handler prompting each of them to say a few words about how much they liked living in The Dalles and working at Google. (It was some consolation that they were treated like children, too.) I considered expressing my frustration at the kabuki going on, but I decided it wasn’t their choice. It was bigger than them. Eventually, emboldened by my peanut-butter cups, I said only that I was disappointed not to have the opportunity to go inside a data center and learn more. My PR handler’s response was immediate: “Senators and governors have been disappointed too!”

When news reports focus on individuals and their stories, rather than simply facts or policy, readers experience greater feelings of compassion, said Penn State Distinguished Professor Mary Beth Oliver, co-director of the Media Effects Research Laboratory and a member of the Department of Film-Video and Media Studies. This compassion also extends to feelings about social groups in general, including groups that are often stigmatized.

“Issues such as health care, poverty and discrimination all should elicit compassion,” Oliver said. “But presenting these issues as personalized stories more effectively evokes emotions that lead to greater caring, willingness to help and interest in obtaining more information.”

The emphasis on “personalized stories” reminds me of Zillmann’s exemplification theory, though the article makes no mention of exemplification.

The problem with living through a revolution is that you’ve no idea how things will turn out. So it is with the revolutionary transformation of our communications environment driven by the internet and mobile phone technology. Strangely, our problem is not that we are short of data about what’s going on; on the contrary we are awash with the stuff. This is what led Manuel Castells, the great scholar of cyberspace, to describe our current mental state as one of “informed bewilderment”: we have lots of information, but not much of a clue about what it means.

If, however, you’re concerned about things such as freedom, control and innovation, then the prospect of a world in which most people access the internet via smartphones and other cloud devices is a troubling one. Why? Because smartphones (and tablets) are tightly controlled, “tethered” appliances. You may think that you own your shiny new iPhone or iPad, for example. But in fact an invisible chain stretches from it all the way back to Apple’s corporate HQ in California. Nothing, but nothing, goes on your iDevice that hasn’t been approved by Apple.

Media Coverage: Turkle talk, more Debord, learning to code and more…

  • A couple of weeks back I linked to the Guardian’s discussion of Debord’s Society of the Spectacle, and I just came across another article from their site that I had overlooked: “What Debord can teach us about protest”:

The danger with this reading – the spectacle as a retroactive name for the social alienation of modern media culture – is that it turns Debord into a prophet who simply confirms everything we already know and further cements its inevitability. In other words, it is to make The Society of the Spectacle into precisely the kind of spectacle that Debord warns us of in thesis five, where he insists that the spectacle is not a simple product of mass media, but “a weltanschauung that has been actualised, translated into the material realm – a world view transformed into an objective force”.

The author, Meghan Sutherland, comments on the diminishing funding for humanities departments in her discussion of resistance to the spectacle:

It will also require that we redouble our efforts to challenge the systematic elimination of philosophy departments and humanities funding from university programmes all over the world – a project of austerity economics that deems the study of ideas simultaneously elitist, irrelevant to the “real” world and without market value. For as Debord makes clear, when we allow the pleasures of living and acting to become severed from the pleasures of thinking and looking, The Society of the Spectacle can mean only one thing. And it will do so until we learn to reconnect them.

  • An Atlantic article by Scott Meslow titled “Boys can love ‘Titanic,’ too” quotes an older interview with media effects researcher Mary Beth Oliver discussing sex differences in responses to sad film:

“There are certain arenas where male crying is deemed appropriate, like the loss of a favorite sporting team, the death of a parent, or war,” said Mary Beth Oliver, a media professor at Penn State, in 2010 interview with the BBC about the tear-jerking effects of a different film. “For many men, there is a great deal of pressure to avoid expression of ‘female’ emotions like sadness and fear. From a very young age, males are taught that it is inappropriate to cry, and these lessons are often accompanied by a great deal of ridicule when the lessons aren’t followed.”

Every generation uses the technology of its time as a metaphor to better understand itself, and in the zeitgeist-examining docu-essay “Welcome to the Machine,” director Avi Zev Weider ponders the degree to which man’s present and future are dominated by his inventions. Philosophically speaking, it’s fascinating stuff, though film hardly seems the most conducive way for Weider to present his arguments, with an overreliance on baby photos and the failure to deliver a key interview making the whole inquiry feel smaller than it is.

  • Co. Create published an interview with Douglas Rushkoff in advance of an upcoming keynote address in NYC. His comments on the function of the artist echo McLuhan:

I think the artist, even more than government, has become the one who is doing long-term thinking about what’s happening, what are the implications, what are we doing to ourselves? And they’re some of the only ones, really. An artist’s job is to sit outside what’s happening and reflect back to us where the human is in this. I think it’s a very valuable exercise. It’s just the opposite exercise of what most people probably think it is. It’s not for technologists to realize the visions of artists. It feels much more like it’s for artists to contextualize the visions of technologists.

  • One of my goals for summer 2012 is to learn a programming language. Multiple factors motivated this decision, one of them being Rushkoff’s articles on coding and his recent book “Program or be programmed”. Turns out I wasn’t the only one: I learned about web site Codeacademy from a post by Juliet Waters titled “My code year, so far“:

I was hooked by the headline of an article by Douglas Rushkoff on CNN.com. “Learn to Code, Get a Job!”  Coding, he argued, was a skill that not enough people had,  and companies were paying big money to find people who were “code literate.”