Weekly Reading Ramblings – Week 1

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Robin Rambling on Week 1 Readings

What can I say about this weeks readings other than WOW…just wow…some of it, in my opinion of course, is utter drivel – well maybe that is a bit harsh, but i’ll explain what I mean by that in a minute – and the other articles – well they made some good points or were at least, an interesting read.

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Let’s begin with the one article that I felt was basically worthless.  Maybe it isn’t worthless drivel to other people but maybe there are those out there who feel the same as I did, either way – I was instructed to write about my feelings and I’m nothing if not honest.

I felt this article started out great – Seth Ashley was expressing his excitement about hearing Richard Gingras, Google’s head of news products, at the then upcoming Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication conference in Chicago.  Ashely spoke about Gingras’ viewpoints of “rethink everything” and create “constant innovation” through digital media technology.  Gingras’ works for GOOGLE and of course would be an expert on this topic among others, I’m sure.  As for Ashley, this is where we began to part ways.

Ashley was disconcerted that Gingras dare say that there were no more gatekeepers in regards to the internet and publishing.  Gingras, among others in his field, see how the barriers have been broken down and the “public” has great access to speak their mind and have others read it.  I’m sure you’re asking “what’s wrong with that?” and that is exactly what I was asking.  Don’t worry – Ashley goes on to tell you.

Ashley believes that Google itself is a gatekeeper – a barrier – to “who has access to information, who can actually produce content, and how content is consumed,” by tailoring searches and through its “dominance of the digital media landscape.”  WHAT?  Okay – yes…Google is quickly becoming a monopoly but that doesn’t hinder a citizen’s access to information or to producing information.  Ashley goes on to explain that he feels this way because these types of statements show a person’s unawareness to the “digital divide and the knowledge gap.”  Ah…now I see where this professor is going.  The place that should’ve been so obvious to me.

Now, I know I’m about to receive a ton of flack for this viewpoint and what for what i’m going to say next but as mentioned earlier – I’m nothing, if not honest.  Ashley is perpetuating a problem and one that academics have focused on for way too long.  He is creating an artificial barrier for the sole purpose of then bridging this nonexistent divide. Don’t get me wrong – I’m not blind.  I’ve seen a divide and I understand that this divide was once a significant problem that plagued this country.  But in this case – there is no divide – no knowledge gap.  Unless he is speaking about the divide between the internet know-how of the elderly and that of the youth – but alas, he isn’t talking about THAT “divide”.

Let’s move on and I’ll continue to explain what i’m saying as Ashley continues to explain his divide and how we should correct it.

Ashley holds contempt for the great media giants of Google, Amazon, Facebook, and Apple because they represent the “commercial media structures and power relations that have prioritized profit over the public at least since the arrival of commercial broadcasting in the 1920s” and have the “immense power to create the social world as we experience.”  Are they media giants?  Yes.  But have they given us some wonderful technology that we, as inventive American citizens, can then use to express our personalities, share our voice, and change our lives and the lives of others? Hell yes!  Why hold contempt for capitalism and creative innovation?  Ashley explains that Pew’s 2012 State of the Media reports shows that most online traffic is still confined to a handful of sites and those are mostly controlled by “legacy new organizations and content aggregators”.  I agree.  The New York Times is still the New York Times and they distribute some quality news, that citizens can collect and alter, mash-up, meme-out, and redistribute.  That is the point that Ashley seems to be missing in this article and I’m sure its because his glasses are stained with the barriers of the past.

Moving forward, Ashely and I disagree about the democratizing force of the internet and how mobile grassroots Twitter revolutions are overblown.  I have seen the studies and have experienced the great power that the internet provides in terms of political organization.  But – we’re not going to stop here – on this topic – at this time.

Ashley and I then begin to agree on some things that Gingras believes – one being that journalists need to evolve our craft in order to regain trust in journalism and “restore some semblance of cognitive-reasoning.”  That statement is true – 100% and it’s pertinent to the times we are experiencing – where CNN is broadcasting incorrect information, news sources are ignoring blatantly obvious information because it might upset the powers that be, and Miley Cyrus’ tweaking takes a breaking news spot.  We must regain trust in journalism and as the watchdogs of the government.

But – as expected – Ashley and I part ways again. His first suggestion – to get broadband internet in every home.  Now, i’m sure that he is simply restating the old “not everyone can afford the internet and thus it creates a knowledge gap and a divide” adage that so many studies have before him have beaten into the ground.  At one time – that adage may have been true but no longer.  The internet is affordable and for those in dire straits – there are tons of public libraries and nonprofit organizations that offer free internet for all.  But bigger than that – smartphones.  Everyone has a smartphone these days – and no, i’m not being blind again.  I’ve been to the grocery store – i’ve seen the patrons who are accepting SNAP benefit scrolling through Facebook while waiting in the checkout line.  I’ve been to the unemployment office and seen the masses entrenched in the happenings on the internet – Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, etc.  People were taking selfies and posting them from the Unemployment office.  Interesting.  So – i’m not begrudging these people the internet or a phone from this time period – before anyone jumps on that bandwagon.  I’m simply stating that most people are connected to the net in one way or another.

Also, I feel strongly about the knowledge gap issue – and what i’m about to say applies to so much in life.  If a person wants something bad enough, they usually find a way to make it happen.  I’m not saying that by wiggling my nose, a magic fairy shows up and voila – my house is clean or i’m suddenly the owner of a 10,000 sq. ft mansion – just because I want it that badly.  I’m saying that if a person has something they want to say, something they want to express, a song they want to sing and have an audience hear – they usually find a way to make that happen.  In today’s world – that happens more times than not, through the internet.  A person wants to be heard so they figure out how to shoot a video on their cell phone and edit it immediately and post it to YouTube or they believe they have a career in music – so they figure out how to make that happen via the internet.  Not everyone succeeds but it isn’t the lack of opportunity that causes the “failure”.

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Moving right along through the readings – and promising that I will not rant at length on any other articles this week – we come to the second article:

I found this article to make a lot of sense. Carr writes about a growing body of scientific evidence that suggests the internet is turning us into scattered and superficial thinkers because of its constant distractions and interruptions.  This makes complete sense to me.  *checks Facebook*

Now – where was I?  Oh yeah.  Distractions.  Superficial thinking.  Got it.  Carr notes a study that found that people who read text studded with links, comprehend less than those who read linear text.  That’s no good for you who are reading this blog but pay no attention.  Check your email and come back .  The study also found that people who watch multimedia presentations remember less than those who focus in a more sedated manner and those who are continually distracted by emails, alerts, and other messages understand less than those who are able to concentrate.  The dog just barked like mad at the front door…I wonder what it was.  Sometimes it is her telling me that a leaf moved and others – it’s a strange man wanting to rake my leaves.  You never know.  Maybe I should check that.  *goes away*

*returns*  Okay so distractions and memory.    Carr notes that the “richness of our thoughts, our memories, and even our personalities hinges on our ability to focus the mind and sustain concentration” and when we are constantly distracted and interrupted as we are online, our brains are unable to forge the connections that give “depth” to our thinking.  I couldn’t agree more as I have seen this happen myself.  Before beginning grad school, I was very much in the habit of reading everything online because I wasn’t reading it in order to gather a deep understanding.  I wasn’t going to have to ever really think about the information that I was receiving. unless I really wanted to, so that I could “school” some unsuspecting libertarian college student in the days to come on a random political issue.  When I entered grad school, at first i tired to read the articles online – I mean that was the point right – it saved the students money by not having to purchase a book and it was up to the date pertinent information for our lives.  I quickly realized that the Facebook flashing, the email chirping, and the millions of links that could easily sidetrack a sidetrack-able knowledge whore, were going to be a problem.  I began to print all the articles for class as I still do today.  I close my laptop and put my smartphone in another room – and then, I begin to read.

Carr notes that the use of screen based media isn’t all bad thought – numerous studies have concluded that every medium develops some cognitive skills (usually at the expense of others) and that the internet has strengthened our visual-spatial intelligence.  But – it comes with its weaknesses that include “higher-order cognitive processes” like mindfulness, abstract vocabulary, reflection, problem-solving, critical thinning, and imagination.  Well – that’s not good.  We just gained one important function at the expense of more than 6 others.  Carr also noted that those that who believe that they are fabulous multi-taskers aren’t even good at it – as studies have shown.

My suggestion for avoiding the loss of any of the aforementioned processes and strengthening our visual-spatial thinking is to make sure that you take time to close the computer and pick up the written word.  Turn off the radio and shut out the world.  Sit quietly reflecting on life after you contemplated the words on that page.  And no…20 minutes is not long enough.

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Up next, we have the alternative article:

Like the previous article – this one also makes fabulous points and provides the interesting “deep thought” moments for which Shirky has become known.  Shirky acknowledges the internet critics fears that the internet will make you dumber – but not in the scientific way that Carr explored but in the  – “look at all the mediocrity out there – our society is stupid” kind of way.  And i’ll admit it – I think there are many reasons why our society is less educated and less intelligent than previous generations but we also have accomplished some amazing things so that is not to be discounted.  Shirky uses Wikipedia as an example of how Americans seemingly waste time but in reality have reapportioned those hours of time into doing something productive.  Wikipedia took almost 100 million hours of human thought but that exact amount of time is spent by Americans, every weekend, watching ads on television.  PatientsLikeMe, a website designed to accelerate medical research, has assembled the largest group of Lou Gehrig’s disease sufferers, by appealing to human’s shared desire to achieve medical progress.  Shirky notes that not everything we humans do is amazing and a “high-minded project,” but “we got erotic novels 100 years before we got scientific journals” so there is hope for us yet.

My favorite quote of the article is what I consider Shirky’s basic point: “the issue isn’t whether there’s lots of dumb stuff online – there is, just as there is lots of dumb stuff in bookstores.  The issue is whether there are any ideas so good today that they will survive into the future.”

And to sum it all up, Shirky points out that increased freedom to create certainly means there will be an increase in junk material, but it should also be noted that increase in experimentation is what eventually provides us with the ideas worth keeping.  He explains that internet is “a medium that changes the landscape by distributing freedom of the press and freedom of assembly as widely as freedom of speech” and I love him for that statement alone.

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Continuing through the list, we have:

This article is quite simple but makes a standout point in my opinion.  First, I want to start by saying that Derek Willis’ 4 Points hit home with me – I have sometimes been known to say things like “in my day, we earned it!” and that “youth is wasted on the young.”

Derek Willis is as tired as I am of hearing all the millennials refer to themselves as “digitally savvy” or “digital natives” – In fact – I never even hear them use words as intelligent as these.  They typically grumble something or other and it comes off as arrogant and I begin to tune them out.  However, Willis has written an article about how these “digitally savvy” are more “flash than substance” and how the best journalists push themselves out of their comfort zones and dig for information and figure things out for themselves even at the risk of failure.  I couldn’t agree more with this article. I, too, am tired of hearing someone say “How can we learn how to teach if someone doesn’t teach me?”  I can’t imagine being a person who doesn’t try something because it looks hard.  When something looks hard – it makes it more desirable to me.  I want to conquer that mountain. Do the un-doable.  See the unseen….and live to tell all about it.

Willis gives some advice at the end of the article about how we can truly become doers and not just observers.  I feel there are some other options that may be a little bit easier of a starting point for many people but the theory behind what he is asking holds true.  If you want to be digitally savvy, then know something impressive – do something useful.  I’ve tried 1, 3, 4, 5, and 6 over the past two years along with learning how to convert video to different formats and extract sound, create a website, and various other “doer” things.  I recommend it because the feeling you have when you are finished investigating, researching, and trying is usually that of accomplishment.  Swing that billy badass bat people – give it a try.

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The nest article – well – it was semi-interesting.  A quick read – for me at least.  I suppose that is because for the past two years i have spent a ton of time learning and hearing about how Social Media is changing the way companies and organizations do things and how they view things.

My favorite part of the article was how Solis explained that businesses were “given the gift of feedback.”  I was glad that someone else viewed it as a gift because i can remember trying to explain it to my staff a couple of years ago at Equestria Restaurant.  They believed that I was a little too focused on the customer review sites such as OpenTable, UrbanSpoon, Yelp, and even Google.  Upon taking over as General Manager, I began to check these sites every day.  It got to the point where I was able to tell which table from the night before wrote the review.  Now, to the credit of my staff – most reviews were phenomenal.  Service was one of our new big selling points.  However, I felt that knowing what each of our customers were “saying” was extremely important and a gift given to us – a measurement of how we were doing – right there in type – for the world to see.  How could we NOT pay attention?  And how could I ignore a disgruntled customer?  I knew the importance of making a phone call to settle any issues that I had not been aware of before the guest had left for the evening.  I am glad other businesses now have a guidebook to understanding how to harness this “gift”.

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Finally, a super cool article that was a fun and interesting read.

Reading about how a group of concerned citizens were able to save their friend from the tyrannical government in Egypt through the social network Twitter, was inspiring and extremely informative for those who have not yet learned about the power of social media.

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  • Here Comes Everybody:  The Power of Organizing without Organization by Clay Shirky

Chapters 1 & 2

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One thought on “Weekly Reading Ramblings – Week 1

  1. Carrie Brown

    Haha, Robin, excellent, although of course you are above and beyond the call of duty here. Fair enough on Ashley, although I think to some degree you may be over-interpreting him a little bit – I don’t think it’s entirely that he has pure and utter disgust for Google et. al. I saw him more just sounding a note of caution about seeing the Internet as a utopia. Google does have tremendous power over what we see – entire news organizations that I have studied basically live and die by its algorithm. Is that bad? Not necessarily, but it is something to think about.

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