Week 8

One of the themes of this weeks material was cognitive surplus, or how given the communication platform, we can all influence each other by contributing our time to projects. These can be for fun, for profit, or to help people out.

One example of a civic project that benefits from collective effort is Wikipedia. Wikipedia is the online encyclopedia that is created in people spare time through various edits. People from all walks of life can create or edit pages on any (and almost all) topics that exist. The result is a comprehensive, easy to use, easy to navigate, free encyclopedia that is accessible to anyone with an internet connection. What started as a project where only specific users could edit it was transformed into the world’s largest encyclopedia when they decided to let the whole world at it.

If you’re interested in contributing your time and effort to cognitive surplus projects, a good place to look for them might be Reddit. The so called ‘front page of the internet’ can be used as a stepping stone for collaborative projects. I once found a subreddit of musicians who were trying to create a battle of the bands environment. They formed smaller groups, and each recording their tracks and sent them to another group member for editing and mixing. The result was, over the course of a few weeks, some pretty entertaining music from people who had never even met. Reddit does also have an overzealous tendency when it comes to surplus projects. After the Boston Marathon bombings, redditors took it upon themselves to try and track down the culprits. A subreddit called /r/findbostonbombers was formed (it has since been deleted), and these internet super sleuths took to analyzing the pictures that were released on Flickr, looking at people standing near the finish line around the time of the explosions. They discovered a missing Brown University student named Sunil Tripathi, and incorrectly thought he was the bomber. To cut a long story short, it wasn’t him, and Reddit had spent countless man-hours tracking down the wrong man. I think it is important to note that even thought they had good intentions in trying to help capture a terrorist, sometimes this many people trying to help can be a bad thing.

That being said, if the goal of the project was something I either believed in or felt was worth the effort, I would gladly participate and contribute my talents to a group effort of these magnitudes. I feel it’s a way to really affect the world, even it’s a small amount. So if I see breaking news somewhere, I will tweet it, I will Instagram it, and I will post it on my blog. I will do my part in collaborating on a global scale, hopefully to the benefit of society. Because honestly, how could you pass up doing something on such an enormous scale?

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Week 7

This week, our readings had a lot to do with social media and how it affects our society, and more specifically, how it affects interactions between consumers and corporations. I saw a rather interesting statistic today that may help put into perspective how easy it is for corporations, or anyone really, to reach the masses. It took the radio 38 years to reach 50 million people. 20 for the telephone, 13 for television, 3.6 for Facebook. When Google Plus launched in 2011, it took just 88 days.  We as a population are at an all-time high in terms of communication connectivity. Corporation’s have Twitter, Facebook, and Youtube channels all aimed at you, all trying to sell you something, all the time. But these corporations are doing it in ways meant to get consumers involved. It’s all an advertising ploy, and damn good one at that. Every time someone retweets one of Taco Bells hilarious tweets, that’s free advertisement for Taco Bell. Those tweets can now reach people who don’t even follow Taco Bell. Meant to be a social media platform, Twitter is accidentally becoming an advertising juggernaut.

It has gotten to the point where everyone is their own brand. At the start of “Generation Like” there is a scene where the kids give one of their friends a “Facebook makeover”, to try and get his page to show more of his personality, or brand. That’s all a brand is, the personality you present to others, and want them to believe is you. Taco Bell tries to be funny, All-State cares, and Axe Body Spray will get you girls. Never mind what the companies are actually doing. “Generation Like” showed us a company that helps people manage their online content, from when to release it and what other people or companies would be releasing it. As the social media tools develop, so too does society. McLuhan wrote about how advances in communication technologies influence society, and I think we are witnessing the effects. As we move towards a global community (or village as McLuhan puts it), society is posting more and more kinds information online. I think that because we are now given the opportunity to share our lives with the world, more can be done to foster understanding between peoples of different cultures and nationalities. With more information available to the public, we are empowering citizens to make changes in their community. We can organize protests faster than ever, we can create discussion groups in seconds. And from what I see on Reddit, more and more older adults are finding their way online, and not just using Facebook and Email, but getting involved in the discussions, getting involved in the changes that we can make.

Week 6

In this weeks readings, we dived into the many “probes” of Marshall McLuhan. Personally, I fell that McLuhan’s views are spot on. With every significant advancement in communication technology, society undergoes a mass cultural transformation, and the internet and social media will be no different. I think McLuhan would categorize the Internet as a sort of warm medium. A medium medium if you will. While its great for just watching and or listening to content, it is also a place where discussion takes place. And that, I feel, is the true value of the internet. It is a place where every discussion can take place, regardless of the value or merit of the discussion. If you want to go have political or philosophical discussions online, you can hop on /r/philosophy and spark up a discussion. If you want to talk about which Scooby Doo villain was the best, you can do that too, because the platform is there, and freely available. Mobile devices fall into the medium medium realm as well.

 

In Chapter 7 brings up a plethora of protests that were organized via new information technologies. Livejournal, Flickr, Twitter, all of these are tools that can be used to rapidly organize groups of people. In Belarus, peaceful protests were assembled using social media tools. A LiveJournal blogger by name of by_mob started these protesting, by suggesting that they should form a flash mob of people simply eating ice cream in a public square. Many people were promptly arrested for eating ice cream, but this was all documented on Flickr and Livejournal. No longer can a brutal leader oppress his people without being found out about it.

McLuhan uses the term “Global Village”, and I think he really hit the nail on the head with this one. In CPG Gray’s video “What is Reddit?”, he talks about Reddit making you feel like a ‘citizen of the internet’ rather than one of your own country. With the internet, anyone can make a post about their story of hardship. Injustice in the world is pointed out, and disavowed, and hopefully dealt with (this is the part the internet as a whole has a problem with the most; the follow through.). McLuhan says that advances in communication technologies can and will change the culture of the world, and that’s what I think is happening. We want to help others, because we see their plight. It’s posted on Facebook, blogged about on Livejournal, uploaded on Youtube and sent straight to our pockets. We are entering an era of unprecedented connectivity and transparency (or at least the possibility of transparency), and this could spawn an era of reform. In the US, citizens are getting fed up with corporations gaming the system, paying for votes and lobbying for tax loopholes. I foresee a future where the Internet acts as the 4th estate, holding the government accountable for it’s actions. The news corporations which formerly held this position are failing at it. They are lying to us, treating their viewership like idiots. My question is this: why do we still need them?

Week 5

Net Neutrality is quite possibly the biggest issue of the day. Comcast and Time Warner Cable are lobbying to have the law changed, so that they may start creating “internet fast lanes” which will slow down the internet for all of us, and stymie the free flow of ideas online. If Comcast starts charging companies more to not throttle their data, it will un-level the playing field, making it difficult for start-ups to compete. But John Oliver explains this better than I ever could, so just listen to him. The discussion this week is about how this would trickle down and affect me, the average American internet user. Because that is who this effects the most.

Comcast wants you to think that this isn’t going to affect your everyday life. They are lying. Competition creates fair pricing, and they want to take that away. There is already a shockingly limited number of Internet Service Providers (ISP) available in most areas, because Comcast signs deals with local municipalities saying they can’t have other ISP’s in the area. That’s the first cause of price increase to the consumers, no competition. If I’m in an area of Comcast monopoly, and I want internet, I’m going to have to pay their exorbitant prices. With no alternatives, they can shoot their prices up whenever they want, and when I try to cancel it, they’ll filibuster me into submission.

They also want to start throttling companies like Netflix’s data. Now, you may ask “Matt, why should I care if Comcast wants to force Netflix to pay more for their data?” This is a reasonable question fictional person, let me explain. If Netflix has to pay more to provide you their service, how do you think they are going to pay for that? By charging more for their service. So now, my ISP is charging me more because they can, and Netflix is charging me more to cover their costs. At what point to I unplug you ask?

Bundling. If it comes to this, I’m out. I’m fleeing the country, willing to become an expatriate for the sake of reasonably priced internet and internet services. Comcast currently bundles television channels together, making you pay for all of them even if you only want one. Want to watch sports on ESPN? That’s a bundle. Want to watch Game of Thrones on HBO? That’s a bundle. Want to just pay for what you watch, and nothing else? Take your business elsewhere. If they started doing this for websites or games, I’m out. To be fair, they may never do this, even if net neutrality is dissolved. A slippery slope argument like this one is useful though, in the sense that it helps portray what is happening here. Comcast is trying to change the nature of the entire internet to generate more money for them. They are the only ones who benefit from this. In a perfect world, the FCC would shoot this down in a heartbeat. They’ve had a massive response in opposition of Comcast, and if they truly acted in accordance of what the people wanted, we’d be in the clear. Unfortunately, we’re dealing with a dingo.

Week 3

For this weeks readings, we focused a lot on the phrase “User-Generated Content”. User-generated content can be defined simply as content made by non-professionals, and it is changing the way we view media. We’ve never had a period in history where so much has been created by so many. The chapter in Here Comes Everybody talks about how pre-internet, all content had to be reviewed by someone to make sure is good. A prospective author would send his manuscript to a publishing company, and they would decide whether or not the novel was good enough to sell. The internet has a created a platform where creators can post their content whenever or however they want, and this has changed everything. Think you’re funny? Record some skits and upload them to your Youtube Channel. Fancy yourself a writer? Start a blog and get crackin. Your content doesn’t even have to be good, all you need is a desire to start sharing it.

Personally, I don’t have a major presence in social media. I have a Facebook and a Twitter, but these are more to interact with people I already know. I have thought of starting a Youtube channel for my music, or a webcomic to try and make people laugh, but I haven’t yet. But I have a platform, and the option to if I ever want to. And I think that is the most important part; I, and anyone like me with internet access, have the ability to have my content seen on a global platform. I couldn’t just walk onto the Tonight Show and hope to be the musical guest that night. But I can upload a video, share it to Facebook, Twitter, Reddit, Youtube, and a plethora of others, and potentially reach a much larger audience. It doesn’t matter if I have connections, or an agent, or anything like that; all that matters it the merit of my content. I feel this is important, as we have to deal with a lot of bullsh*t from mass media. The news shoves fear and filler stories down our throats, but on the internet (see: Reddit) I can find newsworthy stories and brilliant content. On Reddit, I can find news that has been vetted. I can go to the comments, and find both sides of an argument, usually with sources to back them up. Ever since I started reading Reddit for more than the funny stuff, I’ve noticed myself become considerably more well informed. But I can gush more about Reddit as a learning tool some other time.

My Internet media diet is a huge part of my life. My day starts with a quick email check, followed by Facebook, Twitter, Reddit, Youtube, and then back to my email. I stay away from the sensationalist fact lists that get shared all over social media with the tag #SooooTrueeee (14 amazing but useless facts about your dog that you’ll never believe! Seriously, why do people read this crap? It makes society as a whole less intelligent every day. All it is is clickbait, sensationalism, and outright lies. But I digress.). You get what you take out of the Internet. If you want to go looking for cute cats, more power to you. If you want serious, thought-provoking discussion and content, we have that too. It’s all about tailoring your internet usage to the things that interest you.

Week 2

This weeks readings seemed to be all about how people communicate and collaborate, and how the Internet is making drastic changes to these process. I really liked the story at the start of the of Here Comes Everybody chapter 1, the case of the missing Sidekick. By simply creating a website and passing it around to his friends, Evan guttman was able to help his friend find the person who stole her phone, and to get it back! He was able to access resources that were beyond his own capabilities, like the inside information from the New York Police department. All of this possible from a simple message board. Because of the Internet, we have access to so many tools that can help anyone from organizations or corporations to everyday people like myself. I remember a few years ago, I had an idea to try and get some of my friends together over the summer to play baseball. I made a post on Facebook about it, asking if anyone was interested in playing. The response was enormous, and a week later we had started the McHenry Baseball Summer League; four full teams playing against each other. The interest was so large that we also started an eight team Wiffleball league too! From a single facebook post I had reached over 100 people who were willing to participate, and I had a wonderful summer playing baseball.

In our readings, we also focused a lot on the various communication inventions that have led to the Internet, and the state of our society today. One thing that they all had in common is their desire to help people communicate better. As early as Gutenberg’s printing press, we have been creating new technologies that help people spread their ideas. After the printing press, advances like the telephone, radio, and television all had the goal of reaching more people, and spreading ideas even further. Then the internet came, and in my opinion, rendered all of them obsolete. I can watch TV programs, listen to radio, and even talk to my friends all on the internet. I don’t need three separate devices, I can do it all on my smartphone. And with my phone and the internet, I can keep up with my local community using Facebook, my favorite sporting teams with the ESPN app, I can follow local or global politics on Reddit. We are moving towards a centralization of media and communication, all of it being put in the palm of my hand. And that is incredibly exciting. When you think that just 10 to 15 years ago, my baseball league could not have been formed. But because we live in a new era of connectivity and collaboration, we have the opportunity to mobilize and organize and speeds that were unheard of. I think a lot of my generation takes for granted the power and magnitude of the phone sitting in their pocket.

Week 4, Give or Take.

The first part of this weeks discussion is about weighing the value of domestic spying programs against the individual privacies of the citizens. There is merit on both sides of this debate, but I find myself being on the side of individual privacies. I feel like domestic spying is the first step in a slippery slope that ends in the US turning into a totalitarian oligarchy. The NSA has said that it does not spy on Americans, but the PBS video we watched showed that they disabled the privacy protection features in “The Program”, so clearly they have no problem lying to us. There’s also that factor of the legality of the spying, which is questionable at best.  In the short-term, after the events of 9/11, I understand the need to make sure that the nation was safe, and nothing like that would ever happen again, but now we need have some questions that we need to answer. Are these powers we want a government agency to have? Are these powers that we can expect people not to abuse?

The second part of the discussion is about cyber-weaponry. Personally I find this terrifying. The Stuxnet videos were really eye-opening for me. There is a quote by Einstein that I find especially applicable to this debate; “I do not know how the Third World War will be fought, but I can tell you what they will use in the Fourth — rocks!” Cyber-warfare mixed with nuclear weapons is a disaster waiting to happen. These are the sort of things science fiction comes from. I understand the desire to want to fight our battles with as little loss to human life (read American, we don’t care what happens to others), but I feel the risk far outweighs the reward. The stuxnet virus has a highly specific target, Programmable Logic Controllers, but the source code is now available online. This could be adapted to attack a variety of different targets, ranging from traffic lights to nuclear reactors. And I could find it in minutes, and begin working my malice into the code (seriously, it’s right here) and none would be the wiser. It’s the Pandora’s box effect on these types of attacks far outweigh any benefit. No matter how well meaning, these attacks will always open us up to more attacks. 

Week 1 Post: The Dawn of the Internet Era

Remember Tom?

Remember Tom?

Well, my name is Matt Rex, and I’m from McHenry, IL. I’m a 23 year old Communications Major. I spend the majority of my time either working, playing music, watching some Netflix or Hulu, playing games online, browsing through my various sub-reddits. The internet plays a huge role in my daily life, especially social media and games. I spend a lot of my time online; playing games, talking to my friends on Facebook, watching movies on Netflix. The internet had become a social hub where I can interact with my friends, various communities on Reddit (being a lonely Detroit Lions fan, reddit.com/r/detroitlions is a godsend), and keep up to date on the news.  It’s become one of my largest habits/routines, surfing the internet to stay connected to the world. I don’t think a day has gone by where I haven’t at least checked my Facebook five times. It’s just part of my routine. I wake up in the morning, and run through my sites. Facebook, email, Reddit, Twitter, rinse, repeat. And of course while I’m doing this, Spotify is playing, and I’m looking through my Netflix queue for something to watch (dual monitors are a blessing).

I am part of one of the luckiest generations, because I have been able to witness the dawning of the Internet Era. I first started using the internet when I was kid. I remember the day my father brought home our very first computer. From that day on, I’ve been captivated with the progression of the World Wide Web. I’ve seen it grow from its fledgling days. When I first started using the internet, it was not the online utopia that it is today. Dial-up was the bane of my existence, and the phrase “get off the internet, I need to use the phone” haunts me to this day. But even then, the internet was an amazing place. I consider myself an early adopter, and I was right there at the beginning of many of the earliest innovations. MySpace, AIM, eBay, Napster, Youtube, I was a part of all of these in their early days. I remember when MySpace was overtaken by Facebook, and turned into a graveyard of the embarrassing past.

One form of technology that I am not using is a smartphone. I feel like the last of a dying breed, a cell phone moped in a sea on smartphone ferraris. I almost feel like a second class citizen when one of my friends will mention a new amazing app that I can’t relate to. As smartphones become more and more prevalent in our society, people like me are becoming all the more rare. I mean, my grandparents have smartphones! If that’s not lagging behind the times than I don’t know what is. Ideally this summer I plan to upgrade, and I fully expect my quality of life to improve. The ability to have a calendar in my pocket alone is enough for me to be excited (I am a notorious slacker).

Imagine paying for Internet bundles just to go to the sites you want.

Because of how much I rely on the internet, the issue of Net Neutrality really strikes home with me. Data needs to be treating equally, or else the ISP’s will be able to destroy all that makes the internet what it is. Imagine a world where instead of paying for just your internet service, you have to buy packages of websites in bundles. John Oliver does it best in this segment from Last Week Tonight (Disclaimer: This show airs on HBO, there is some strong language.) The FCC is trying to pull a fast one over the people, and this cannot be allowed. Here is a link (there is some strong language here as well) for you to write to the FCC and tell them you support Net Neutrality. I plan on ending all of my posts with a segment on Net Neutrality.