It’s only Privacy, you aren’t sacrificing anything important

I never really thought about online privacy and how I felt about it until Facebook did those updates to its terms of service agree sometime last year. I can be naive at times, especially when it comes to new tech. I get blinded by the shinny newness of it and all the tricks it can do and forget about the darkness that lurks beneath the surface.  I too often give people or services the benefit of the doubt. I mean what serious uses could Facebook have for my information? Who am I, nobody too special. Then I begin to think about it in terms of appropriateness and how people should be treated and “A Bill of Privacy Rights for Social Network Users” makes too much since.

I wouldn’t say that all social networking sites are evil but it seems the bigger ones are willing to sacrifice their users for selfish reasons. Or maybe we aren’t looking at privacy in the right light anymore. It does seem more acceptable to live your life in the public sphere today. Personal conversations happen on twitter all the time and I can’t count the number of times I’ve seen arguments within comments on people’s Facebook pages. These conversations aren’t necessarily sharing personal information but five years ago it wouldn’t be something you shared with the whole world.

An example I can think of happens not too long ago on twitter. A friend of mine is a professional singer, he tours a lot and makes regular updates to his twitter account about his location, when he’s leaving his house, how his holiday was, etc. His sister also has a twitter account where she talks about her children, home schooling and how she feels about being a mother. These two comment to one another about their tweets, share pictures of their lives with their followers  and have conversations about what’s happen within each others lives. This is sharp contrast to how they grew up. Their mother is from the British Isle and she is very aware of outward appearances and perceptions.  She choose her words carefully and never shares more information than is necessary. If twitter was around twenty years ago the information her children share isn’t the same information she would share.  Their mother would perceive them as being too open, sharing too much with people, even if the only people who read the tweets are friends they know personally.  I have had this talk with my parents about what I share online and how I need to be ‘careful’.

Privacy is something that has come up in class before this weeks readings. I’m of the camp that each person has to make a decision for themselves as to how much is too much. I fully believe this should be up the person, not the social network they use to share it. If you want to see which social networking CEOs agree with me, go to their profile pages and see just how much they share with the world.

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My agenda: Unfiltered Truth

It is no secret I’m not a fan of politics. I don’t watch Bill O’Reilly or anything on Fox New really. I hear what Keith Olbermann says from time to time but I don’t make a steady diet of any one new source. I think its mostly because I’m skeptical of anything on TV. So much of what is on TV is used to sell you something why wouldn’t the news be used to coheres people into believing whatever truth you want them to believe? Megan Boler touches on this subject a little in her paper Digital media and Democracy. She quotes Mark Lipton, “One can argue that the sociability of new Web processes are producing new pathways for ‘truth’. The construction of truth, then, will probably follow two modes: ‘Truth’ as propagated as fact by corporate media and ‘truth’ as ideas that emerge from the sociability of new pathways of sharing knowledge.”

In the past, we have relied on TV news to provide us with non-biased accurate news coverage. Over the last two decades it seemed that those descriptions have been forgotten and the most important part of news is the agenda. Truth has become subjective and used to support this agenda. It’s hard to watch news coverage and not think to yourself “what are they leaving out?”

The rise of citizen journalism has been the saving grace for political news. Individuals who are first hand witness can give you the information without corporate filters. With the change in authorship being in the hands of the people, it’s harder to keep an agenda within the message of the news. The decentralization of the network that connects people together has aloud other smaller voices to be heard. Though big new is still the standard, it doesn’t have the power it once had. The best way to continue to break that power is to keep asking “What is being left out?”

Caution! Convergence Ahead, err, Around You!

One of my all time favorite pieces of media is the radio play The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. This is a story written by Douglas Adams about a series of events that happens to the last man on earth by the name of Arthur Dent. The story starts with Arthur lying in front of a bulldozer. His house is about to be destroyed so a bypass can be built. While he’s lying there arguing with the construction foreman about why a bypass has to be built, his friend Ford Prefect comes along to let him know the world is about to end and they need to get off the planet sooner than later. Just as Arthur is arguing with Ford about how silly that idea is, space ships arrive announcing that the Earth is about to be destroyed to make way for a hyperspace bypass. I won’t give it away, but what started as a six part series about the hilarious hijinks that ensue eventually became a twenty-eight part radio play, a series of books (that continue after the author’s death), a made for tv movie, a feature-length film, a stage play and a comic book. Of all the different version, I like the radio play best. You hear all the nuance that you miss in the book. One of the things the radio plays can’t do that you get in the book is some history about the characters. The same with the other versions. The way stories are told in comic books is not the same way they are told in novels or stage plays or films.

Henry Jenkins talks about this type of storytelling in his book Convergence Culture. His case study is The Matrix. In chapter three, he talks about the many aspects of the film, one point in particular was The Art of World-Making. Jenkins say, “the [Wachowski] brothers had to envision the world of The Matrix with sufficient consistency that each installment is recognizably a part of the whole.”

Each version of the The Guide gives you a new dimension of each of the unique characters within the story. In the books you sympathize with Arthur and the issues he deals with being the last human alone in the universe. In the radio play you find him irritating. I sometimes want to say,”Grow a pair man, it’s the freakin’ universe, it isn’t going to bend to you!”

Jenkins wants new story tellers to know that when creating a new story, thinking about your story line or characters isn’t enough. You now have to create a new world for your stories and characters that transcends medium. One story isn’t enough. Or one book. Or even one movie. I think this can be related to our societal shift in thinking from deep attention to hyper attention. I think in the deep attention mind-set you read the book and that’s the end of the story. You  might wonder what happens next but you wouldn’t ask the author to write you more stories just because you wanted to know what happened next. Now, because of the shift of authorship and ease of connection, fans don’t think twice about writing to an author about what happens next. Or writing their own endings to the stories.

I’ve not written any fan fiction but maybe you will after hearing the first episode of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to The Galaxy:

You have all, err, part, hmm, this piece of my attention

The video and this reading aren’t the first time I have read about this subject. I actually encounter the effects of our hypermediated society everyday when I go to work. I sub at a middle school in DISD and one of the most difficult parts of teaching is getting the children to pay attention for longer then five minutes. I hear teachers all day, “stop talking”, “look at me”, “put that phone away”, etc. I won’t generalize and say it’s all the kids but it’s probably 5 students in every class that acts as a distraction. It’s directly related to the amount of stimulation the school provide, which is minimal.

Most of the time when I sub, the teachers give the students worksheets to complete. I hate worksheets, they are the epitome of boring. If I hate them, you know the students do. The difference between me and them is I have learned to complete work even if I don’t like it, they don’t see the reason why they have to do the boring work. They are very much the M Generation as they are constantly occupied by listening to music online, searching for and playing video games, reading about their favorite singer or rapper, etc. I have yet to encountered a student reading twitter or wiki-hopping. I can honestly say I would probably not bother a student who was constantly reading Wikipedia.

I think the best way to describe the mindset is the way Linda Stone described this behavior in the video she made, May I have your attention, please? In the video she talks about the ways people pay attention and how the norm from the past was simple multitasking. This usually involved doing two tasks, one or both routine/automatic. The motivation was to be as productive as possible. Today we have replaced this with continuous partial attention, both tasks are cognitive because we don’t want to miss anything. We have to pay attention to everything and this has put us in a state of artificial constant crisis. I see this in the students I work with, they are seeking stimulation all the time, every moment of the day. What is even more scary is I have found myself being pulled into this hyper attention mentality.

I was sitting in church on Sunday and as the preacher spoke, I found myself falling asleep. I tried all the usual methods of staying awake, shifting in my seat, shaking my legs, taking deep breaths but I kept nodding off. So I pulled out my phone and started to read my email, which led to me reading my twitter, which led to web surfing and ended with me playing solitaire for twenty minutes. I felt guilty the whole time I had my phone out but I was awake and comprehended what my pastors preached about. I was kinda amazed myself at how much I retained from the sermon. I’m sure the people around me didn’t think I was paying attention but I found myself being more tuned in once my brain was awake enough to engage in another task.

The only reason I think hyper attention would be negative is because the state in which education is in. The way children our being taught today is nowhere near how they learn or retain information. If we are to prepare this generation for an uncertain future, we need to take advantage of the way they do pay attention and teach them the best way to use it. The future will be about adaptation and how well a person can do that. Teachers need to get off the soap box, stop romanticizing the past and realize that school will never be the way it used to be. Maybe novel-reading will be an elective my children will take in college, but by then paper books will be a novelty themselves.

What does playing the ‘Race’ card get you?

I started to write about Collective Intelligence. I wanted to. I found the Digital Maoism irritating and wanted to talk about the author’s lack of having anything really good to say other than the fact that he was mad he didn’t think of Wikipedia first so he has to find a way to undermined it. I was going to talk about this but then something happened today that I couldn’t ignore and it has been turning over in my mind since 4:30pm.

First a little background. While I am in school at UTD, I am also getting my teacher’s certification at Texas A & M- Commerce in Mesquite, TX. The first class I signed up for was a psychology class. I wasn’t aware it was a cultural diversity class until I received the book in the mail a week before classes started. I also had no idea what that meant until the first day class. My professor, Dr.Schroeder, told us would be talking about how a person’s culture, ethnicity, religion, socio-economic status etcetera and this relates to the psychological/ educational assessments of students. I have already had some exposure to dealing with my cultural differences compared to my classmates. I have often been the only black face or one of the only black faces I see in a classroom. I went to a majority white school. I live in a majority white neighborhood. I grew up with white friends. I have come to terms with my blackness (nigrescence) and I’m quite comfortable with who I am. In my cultural diversity class this week we talked about the dominate culture of America, The White Race. But I’m getting ahead of myself. Let’s get to 4:30pm today.

A co-worker and I where talking today and she asked me why America gets such a bad rap about slavery. “I mean Italy had slaves,” she said. I told her I think America has such a problem with slavery because we’ve never really dealt with the social consequences it has had on our country. I told her we talk about equality and equal opportunity but not everybody gets the same chances. There is no level playing field.  I could hear the question forming in her mind even though she didn’t give it voice because I could read it off her forehead. Every person of color knows what that question is, it comes in many forms. The questions is about privilege. This brings up the The White Race from before. If you ask a white person what it means to be white, what would they say? Most probably wouldn’t know what to say because it isn’t something they deal with on a daily bases. Being white doesn’t effect most white people in a negative way. Blacks, Latinos, Asians, Native Americans are reminded, sometimes daily, of their culture and how it is difference from the dominant culture in America.

I was reminded a few weeks ago.  I went to a gallery opening for a few friends of mine. Their photographs where in a show about photography done with the iPhone, I was totally excited. Geek art, what could be better? When I got to the show, the place was packed. The air didn’t work because there were so many people in the building. You had to squeeze by people, touching them in order to walk around because there was no personal space left, someone was in every space available. As I shuffled around looking at the photography, I noticed there where no artist plaques next to the photos, only numbers. I realized those numbers corresponded with a list somewhere in the room. I looked around and noticed people with a small book. I figured it was a catalog with a list of the artist and their pieces in the room. I retraced my shuffling, looking around for one of those small books. I worked my way back to the front of the gallery and then I spotted them, a stack of the catalogs. They where on the counter at the front. Next to this stack sat a sign, it read $20. Behind the counter was a lady. i assumed she was there to answer questions, but I was wrong.  I asked her if I could look at one of the catalogs. She said, “They’re $20!” as if this was some unattainable goal I couldn’t reach, actually having a whole $20 at one time. And as if reading was out of my scope as well. I picked up a catalog, found where my friends’ works where in the gallery and placed the catalog back in the stack. The time I held the book might have been a minute, maybe 90 seconds. The lady watched me the entire time I held the book. I wasn’t the only person who picked up a catalog in that 90 seconds, but I was the only person she felt is was necessary to tell the price and I was the only black person in the room. I took a few steps back, found a cool spot to stand in to people watch. I also wanted to see if this lady would be so kind as to help out anybody else she thought couldn’t read the sign. I saw other people walk by, pick up a catalog and she never made then aware of the price or asked them for the $20 she wanted me to pay for one. I left that gallery feeling very sad that in 2010 I was racially profiled.

I can’t figure out why in a time where people are more connected then ever before, the subject of race is still untouchable. You can video call me over the Internet in Japan FOR FREE but there are people who think I would steal something just because my skin is a darker color then theirs. What event has to happen for this conversation to start? When do we have this discussion without becoming defensive about the fact that a black man with a bachelor’s degree has less of a chance of being hired then a white man with a high school diploma? About the fact that African Americans make up only 13.5% of the total US population but make up some 40% of total prison populations. About how 25% of Native Americans live below the poverty line, how many live right above it and are told they make too much money for public aid? I could put more numbers up but I think that would only distract you from the fact that this conversation needs to happen and for the betterment of this country, it needs to happen soon.

Resistance Seems Futile

I decide to put all my thoughts in a short video this week. Something about copyright and patent law get’s me in a mood to defy law and make revolutionary comic books with all the Disney cartoons as the characters. It just seems so wrong that information is seen as an item used to make money instead of it leading to new innovations. I doubt any of the new forms of motion picture making would have been invented had those filmmakers not seen and copied previous ideas from other movies and books (I’m looking at you Wachowski Brother’s and James Cameron).

I’m mad as hell, and I’m not going to take it anymore!

Castells’ Why Networks Matter seems to be the laymen’s The Expliot: A Theory of Networks. Here, Castells tells you why you need to know about networks and how they work. He starts by defining what he means by a network: the organizing of the form of live, including social life. Then he goes into why networks are becoming a big deal. He explains that with the rise of electronic communication, whatever shortcoming networks had before for growing have been reduced to a point of non-importance. Though we believe we live in an information society we truly live in a network society.

What Castells means by this isn’t the information it’s self, but the origination and sharing of that information that makes us a network society. Of course this has consequences but I’m not going to list all of the ones Castells talks about. I’m really only going to talk about one, the final consequence. Power still remains the fundamental force that structures and shapes the network but power is not in the hands of the power elite but rather in the network itself. The power is in who is connected not who is in control, but networks cannot be controlled (that’s another theory and another show, er, post). The best real world example I can give is the presidential election in Iran last year.

After the results of the election where reveled, people used social networking sites like Twitter to organize and attend rallies to protest the election. People felt the results weren’t true and that Mahmoud Ahmadinejad falsified the results so he could remain in office. The state police where used to suppress the protesters both violent and peaceful. People began to share raw information, photos and videos with the world about what was going on. Ahmadinejad kept assuring the world these people where only protesting a soccer match and that only necessary force was used to control the mob. I saw on the news a video taken with a cell phone that was truly disturbing. A young women was shot by a police office. she was unarmed and a group of friends surrounded her trying to stop the bleeding. It’s an image I cannot forget as their efforts where in vain. This information wouldn’t have been known to anyone had there been no network to connect to. If the only information known about the protest was the information release by the state approved media, we would think that Iranians are very passionate about soccer.
The network the protesters had formed out weighted the limited network of the Iranian government. In Castells’ words, networks fighting networks.

Knowing how networks work is important because our society is based on them. In order to manipulate something, you have to know everything about it.

If you want to see the video I’m talking about or read more about what happen, please click on the links below
2009–2010 Iranian Election Protests
Iran Election Crisis: 10 Incredible YouTube Videos.