Power to the People

As the semester comes to a close, I have re-read my blog posts from the semester at length, and tried to evaluate a common theme. I am still trying to wrap my brain around everything I have learned in Professor John Robinson’s JOMC 240 class, which has been an introduction into mass media that I will carry with me for the remainder of my time here at Carolina and into my career. I can’t imagine a better introduction than the one I have received in this class. I re-read my own blog posts to try and draw on what I’ve personally taken home from my class time, and what I’ve picked up on since opening my eyes to the details of mass communication in our lives.

I think it is most important to note that as we move forward into the future of mass communication and technology, we as individuals are gaining more and more power to make our mark. Technology, in specific, is giving the individual this power to communicate ideas and news, and most importantly technology gives people the power to go viral. As connectivity on a global scale continues to increase, smaller people are leaving bigger marks on the world. This blog, for example, may be mine.

The power of the individual on small scale is something that has been constantly reiterated in class. The effect on society as more people gain access to this power is also an important concern that we have discussed and that has stuck with me. Giving power to the people will affect society in ways we have never imagined. This includes an array of effects including trolls, the distribution of false information, and preventing people from “living in the moment.” Trolls and the distribution of false media is an obvious effect of giving power to the people. The individual has no promise or loyalty to readers, they simply have the same access to the internet and distribution that real journalisms and reporters do as well, so as we move forward, it is important to build trustworthy internet reputations. Just as important as it is to provide trustworthy information, it is important to make sure we receive trusted news. We need to understand that the people have this power, and that more of our news is flowing horizontally rather than vertically down from Big Media. 

The effect we may not see until it is too late is that as we receive the power to be in constant communication with the rest of the world, we may distance ourselves from the world we have in front of us. I want to end my last blog for the semester (not my last blog ever, of course) addressing this potential consequence of the redistribution of power because it something that I am most concerned about moving forward. Don’t get me wrong, I love the idea of the future, and I believe that the internet’s development in giving more power to more people will have a largely positive effect on society. I just want to leave with any one who may read this, that the physical world is of the upmost importance. And despite any societal norm deeming the digital world the end-all and be-all of communication and self worth, sometimes taking a break from it all is good for our minds, our self-confidence, and our health.

Our Earth and Our Media

I’ll start with a story:

Yesterday I went shopping. At the cash register the cashier asked if I would like my receipt e-mailed to me or printed. “E-mail it to me, please,” I said, without thinking much other than the fact that paper is bad for the environment, so why not. The cashier replied, “Go green.”

This interaction happens a lot. I choose not to receive a receipt when filling my car up with gas. I choose to complete my readings online rather than printing them out. Others, take their notes on their computers rather than in notebooks. We call and text instead of writing letters and notes. We have even moved to receive our newspapers online. Go green.

I honestly never really thought twice about what this could mean, had never really placed a word to it, until I stumbled upon this Sci-Fi short-film depicting life without paper, a life that disregards history and only looks ahead. From a history standpoint, I do wonder how a paperless society would effect our desire and ability to look back to the past and learn from it, remember it. From an environmental standpoint, I wonder whether a paperless society would actually take a greater toll on our resources. I turned to Google for answers, genuinely curious whether I was doing the right thing by turning down receipts, whether the society type we are headed towards is actually worse than I imagined. The majority of sites I stumbled across referenced the billion trees that are victim to paper waste, the environmental advantages of saving trees, and the paper industry emitting the fourth highest level of carbon dioxide among manufacturers. The fad of going green has created a heightened sense of environmental awareness in past years and essentially, societal pressures have caused us to abandon our use of paper in every way possible to help the environment, either that or we must not care about the environment at all.

After much digging, however, I found the answers I was looking for. Looking past the face of the environment as we know it, where paper=killing trees=killing animals=bad, we have entered a new world where deforestation as a result of going digital has taken on a life of it’s own. A PBS article stated:

What is less widely known is that mountaintop-removal coal mining is also a major cause of deforestation, biodiversity loss, and the pollution of over 1,200 miles of headwater streams in the United States […] It’s somewhat ironic that print media and the paper-making industry are so often targeted for “killing” trees while digital media is so often characterized as the greener “environmentally friendly” alternative. While its record is by no means perfect, the North American forest products industry has made great strides in the adoption of sustainable forestry and environmental performance certification practices. In addition, the majority of the U.S. paper industry’s power and electricity needs are derived from renewable biomass that is sourced from sustainably managed forests. On the other hand, digital information technology’s dependence on coal-powered electricity that is derived from mountaintop removal goes largely unreported.

Thus in fact, the larger issue lies within our ability to use technology sustainably. Going paperless in an ideal world would be greatly beneficial to our Earth, a place that is already subject to constant stressors as our population continues to skyrocket. However, our world is not ideal, and in fact, research shows that Information and Communication Technology networks could be 10,000 times more efficient than they are currently. Our e-mails, computer screens, and internet use emits e-waste, a pollutant just as strong as carbon dioxide release from making paper. It is not e-mail over print that will save our resources. Rather, it is the means by which we continue into the technological age. Global adoption of sustainable print and and digital media is the means that can restore our planet. As we talk about the disruption of media, I want to focus upon an environmental disruption. A change in energy sources will allow us to be more sustainable for longer. This form of disruption is crucial, and it requires us to be informed on where our print and digital media is coming from.

Side note: I highly recommend reading the PBS article in full for sources on choosing sustainable print and digital media sources.

Oculus Rift

With Facebook’s new acquisition of Oculus Rift, virtual reality has made the jump from a science fiction prediction to a present day tool. The tool has left consumers both worried and excited about its integration into society. Oculus Rift developers themselves have opened up an entire forum for the sole purpose of discussing and arguing the effect that the technology will hold on society. My classmates are concerned too. One of my classmates wondered what virtual reality would do to our friendships if rather than hanging out with them in the real world, we transitioned our time together to the virtual world. Similarly, would we explore the world and take vacations if we had the ability to do so virtually? Another classmate argued that the experience was overrated, and it’s appeal would be short-lived.

I for one am not sure where exactly virtual reality would stand in the future. A lot of this answer will depend on societal morals and ethics. I hope that most will not find this a replacement for the physical world. However, the reason I write this post, much after our class discussion of the tool, is because I came across this post that could not have highlighted a benefit of virtual reality more accurately.

The article reads:

Roberta Firstenberg had long loved walking outside and caring for her garden. However, a hard battle with cancer had weakened her so that going outside was no longer possible. In a bid to give her one more view of the outside world, Roberta’s granddaughter Priscilla, a game artist and developer, programmed an Oculus rift to give her grandmother the chance to walk again.

Virtual reality provides a means of escape for the sick, where the physical world may not be in option. I believe it holds a lot of potential as a communication device for communicating across seas and over borders, places that we are unable to access physically. This article is the first example of virtual reality I have seen that has diminished my fears of what virtual reality could do to society. Examples such as this spark hope that despite my fears of technology’s effect on society, maybe technology isn’t so bad after all.

HBD – the analysis on finding your real friends on social media

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HBD: computer type for Happy Birthday

Tomorrow is my best friend’s birthday. So tonight, while we were eating pizza on the couch and watching movies until midnight, naturally, we discussed plans for tomorrow. We had also just posted great Instagrams of our pizza (shameless plug- follow me @jamiematos), and are currently participating in a like-off to see whose pictures will get the most likes- feel free to help me win.

In the discussion of our plans, she mentioned the need to turn off her Facebook notifications that come up on her phone. One, because the plethora of meaningless happy birthday posts are annoying when they constantly make your phone ring, and two, because her real friends would text her anyway. What I find so interesting, is how one can distinguish real friends from social media friends simply by the different types of interaction you have on social media.

Facebook HBD posts are for fake friends. HBD tweets are for better friends. HBD text message? Now we’re fastly approaching best friend zone. HBD Instagram? This person cares more than anyone. The analysis is fierce, and many have differing opinions on where to draw the line on social media regarding birthdays.

Society has recreated a new norm for developing relationships. Analyzing friendship status has been this way for ages in the physical world. You analyze who gave you a present, who came to your birthday dinner, who remembered it was your birthday when you passed them on the street, and who sent you a card.

The digital world of social media has mirrored the physical world. However, this creates new social norms that we need to be just as aware of as the old ones. The friendship identifiers created by social media can not replace the ones created by real-life actions. Blogger Thomas White statedWe can be conscious of the fact that virtual-life isn’t the same as real-life. In fact, it is a sad substitute. I think that this is an important idea to remember as we read HBD on our phones and hear it from those around us.

Online Learning

In a world of continuous disruption, where we are constantly debating the internet’s new role in our lives, I wonder how our school systems and classroom environments will be altered as we progress into the future. Today’s lunchtime discussion was focused on the physics and other science departments at UNC meeting to discuss a new teaching method referred to as “flipped.” These flipped classroom settings essentially work like this: pre-recorded video lectures are uploaded for students to access beforehand, and once the students have had the time to learn the material on their own, they meet in class for the sole purpose of discussing what they have learned.

Pharmaceutical professor Russell Mumper first implemented the system into his class here at UNC and conducted a personal study on its success. The DTH reported the professor’s problems with the typical classroom setting: “They’re on their mobile phones, they’re on their laptops, and they were just not engaged. I felt somewhat unfulfilled when I realized I wasn’t being as effective as I could.” The DTH report also included the students opinions, most of which were favorable to this teaching method.

The new lecture method allows students to learn at their own pace, a communication method that I think is crucial to optimize learning. The required class time also removes the possibility for students to slack off in their learning, as they might do if they were left to learn and practice the material completely on their own, perhaps such as in a completely online class. What I fear, is the potential of this method to move one step further into complete online learning. Internet video has allowed this flipped classroom to take effect. As new technologies become available, what is next for the classroom setting? Will physical institutions become a thing of the past if it becomes possible to achieve the same level of learning you can in a classroom setting in a virtual setting?

Systems such as Coursera mark a new path into the future that leads to the dismantlement of institutional learning. I partook in this system last year, as an intern with my law professor who was teaching the same course on Coursera that I had taken that spring. Comparing the two, I found there were very few differences. The playing field is leveling out, as anyone with an internet connection was able to virtually access and complete, for free, the same course I had paid out-of-state tuition to take that spring. It allows for globalized, higher level learning, independent of economic status or physical location. If learning was un-institutionalized, would there be human incentive to complete work?

This post has branched across a large assortment of paths that the classroom setting may take as it becomes disrupted. I’m not sure where we will head but whether it be our flipped classroom lectures, an institutional online course, or a freely accessible learning system, it is without a doubt that we are entering an era of online learning.

Our Two-Faced Minds

I recently watched a TedTalk that contemplated whether you should “live for your resume or your eulogy.” To summarize, the speaker discussed how within each of us are two selves: the first self who craves success, who builds a resume, and the second self who seeks connection, community and love — the values that make for a great eulogy. While watching the TedTalk, I found myself wondering where social media plays a role in the connection or disconnect of these two selves.

Many would argue that social networking and the power of the internet enhance our ability to connect to others, and in doing so build new communities that would not exist otherwise. In this way social media empowers the second self. With this I would have to agree. Through the internet I have connected with others who share the the same interests and I have maintained friendships that otherwise would have been lost. I exemplify this through my time spent browsing environmental blogs and forums, and in the times I have reached out to those who also share these passions, to join interest-related groups of which I am a part. And others have done the same for me. There are also months where I do not partake in direct, 1:1 contact with friends from home. However, we stay up-to-date on each others lives through our social media use, and when we return it feels as though those months never existed at all. In this way social media allows this second self to prosper and develop.

However, I also find social media limited in its ability to assist this second self. The meaningfulness and validity of these internet communities and connections is bound to a smaller extent than those that exist in the physical world. These friendships and communities would only last for so long if not maintained by personal, face to face interactions as well. It is important that to seek this second self we keep up these relationships in the physical world as well.

What frightens me is social media’s role as we seek the first mentioned self, the self who craves success. Social media has grown our resumes to not only include our professional advancements, but our social advancements as well. Quality of life is now not only hindered by long work hours, but our obsession with keeping up the perfect image in all other aspects of our lives as well. As we constantly compare ourselves to the social resumes of others, their Instagram accounts of that great vacation, the tweet about the party they were at last night, and the Facebook update about another friend engaged, we constantly remind ourselves of the fissures in our own lives, and the things that aren’t perfect. And whats worse than the businessman who isn’t satisfied until he is CEO is that there is no end goal. There is always media released that will make us feel like our lives could be better.

The TedTalk speaker stated that society favors self one and often forgets self two, leaving us where we do not receive the eulogies we may want. He leaves us with the solution as one that is based on self love, forgiveness, and faith, and this holds true where the media is involved as well. Until we feel the confidence to post, blog, tweet and partake in the events of social media without feeling the personal, emotional harm that it may cause, these first selves will outcompete the second.

Social Media: the human encyclopedia

For April Fool’s of this year, this video was released demonstrating the potential for Google Glass in the dating world (Thanks, Professor Robinson, for bringing this to our attention). For those who don’t watch the video, it displays and girl and a boy wearing google glass and using facial recognition to tell them everything they want to know about the person. More pointedly, it tells them the characteristics they find important as they evaluate other as potential mates.

When I first watched the video I laughed and remarked about how weird such a thing would be to have and to use. Upon reading the video comments, however, I found that many feared the creation of such an app for Glass. Comments included:

  • “perfect tool for creepers, stalkers and rapers”
  • “the future of dating has arrived. #googleglass”
  • “Anyone who wears these is super creepy”
  • “And it begins”
  • “I will never use this”

The negative feedback to any video or advertisement of this nature is inevitable, and I completely understand and support the comments that the taste of this ad may be of poor nature, and that there may lie a sexist, racist, and shallow undertone. What I find interesting, however, is what the majority of negative commenters are concerned with: the fact that this app would provide people with the tools to evaluate a person based on their skills, attributes, and physical characteristics. But what about this is so different than what we do via social media right now? Is it honest to say that you would not Facebook stalk a potential partner for extra background information, to gain insight into a more personal part of their life you don’t know about yet? It wouldn’t be honest for me, and I think most would agree.

This network goes beyond potential partners, too. This past weekend I visited another school, where despite having never met a majority of the people, I was familiar with their friend groups, age, name, and more. I don’t consider myself a “creeper” or a “stalker,” but rather an avid social media user. And yes instinctively, what we learn via social media impacts our perceptions of those around us, even those we have never met or spoken to. This isn’t the future of dating, but rather is occurring presently. Rather than fearing it, and deeming it socially unacceptable, it’s more appropriate to admit that we all partake in it, and embrace it as a new societal norm. Social media acts a human database with information on all humans around us. If used correctly, it can be a beneficial resource rather than a basis of superficial critique.

A note to journalists

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Journalism, like most media fields, is constantly changing. Communication must adapt to how people wish to listen, especially as technologies expand to alter the mediums through which we communicate. 

Explanatory journalism is taking off more than ever, as journalists act to find the deeper story within the headline news we see everywhere we turn. Sites such as FiveThirtyEight which is owned by ESPN and Nate Silver’s work to explain sports news is a prime example of these sites. Another site of interest is Syria Deeply, which was set up to use a host of freelance writers, many of them professional journalists and Syria experts, to round out coverage of events in Syria.

So my question is, how does one become an expert journalist for a specific field? As I try to break into the field of environmental communications, it is a question I ask myself constantly. Is it really the classes you take and a cookie-cutter outline of experience, or is it simply a writing style altered specifically for what you want to communicate. Could you write for FiveThirtyEight even if you have no sports knowledge as long as you stick to a certain style of writing, use the right vocabulary and adhere to the preferences of the sports fan crowd? Or could it need to be the other way around, could you write for FiveThirtyEight with no journalism experience, just a strong knowledge and interest in sports? Part of me thinks the answer to the latter question is yes. Andy Revkin, a science reporter, made this statement regarding communicating climate science:

“Journalism is a shinking wedge of a growing pie of ways to tell stories.”

And I could not agree more. There is no right answer for how to communicate anymore. You can use video, illustration, photo, words, or audio. With a strong passion and expertise for what you’re communicating, there are enough mediums out there that in some way or another, your message will be heard. This is how journalism is developing, and in order to explain the news to the public, we need to embrace it all.

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To me, social media has always been a form of convenience. And after conferring with my some of my peers here at UNC, it seems this opinion is widespread. It is a convenient way for us to communicate our thoughts, get noticed my employers, stay in touch with family and friends from back home, and keep ourselves up-to-date on the world around us. 

Sometimes, however, social media appears more as a burden than as a convenience. Waking up to three snapchats, six e-mails, 2 facebook messages, and a Twitter notification means I have to set my alarm 10 minutes early just so that I can respond and catch up before beginning my day. Trying to do homework, a breaking news story on the CNN app will alert my phone, meaning a break in the paper I am writing and often causing even more time distracted once my attention has been refocused to the phone. The news is a broad range of personal stories to international ones, but it is constant and always easily accessible. These attributes make staying up to data a consistently high-priority item.

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What makes it such a burden however is how many places you are seeing the same story, and the need to check them all makes repeating stories a waste of time. It is for this reason that I believe social media, in order to maintain its image as a convenient tool, will eventually have to collapse into one medium. If Instagram photos automatically post to Facebook and Twitter, than why do I need three mediums to view the same photo? This occurred to me only yesterday, as I realized after catching up on all three of these sources, I had viewed some pictures three times. 

I think it’s only a matter of time until one medium emerges as the end-all, be-all newsfeed. Look at Twitter’s new interface that looks a lot like Facebook. Check out Vine Messages. It’s the direction we are ultimately headed, and it is a result of the increased burden of what we once thought of as a convenience. Start-ups will contribute features to our ultimate Newsfeed, rather than new apps we need to keep up with. Personally, I can’t wait for the day to come where I wake up only to check one medium of news. Perhaps it will give me more time, or perhaps it will just make it so that I miss out on less and can see more. Either way, I embrace the change completely.

The Inverse Proportion Between Distance and Social Networking

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The arguments are endless: social networks make us happy, social networks make us sad, social networks bring us closer to people, social networks isolate us, our digital selves are separate from our physical selves, or our digital selves and physical selves are one in the same. The only answer to these debates is science, and even science has been swinging in all directions. Social networking use has such a broad range of effects on society because no two individuals are alike in their social media use and mental state. 

A new study shows how active Twitter use could lead to divorce and infidelity. Studies of Facebook’s effect on our relationship show similar results as well, one of which is that Facebook leads to jealousy in a relationship. These damaging effects on romantic relationships are a result of social networking sites becoming problematic within the relationship. However, what about all the benefits of social media on our relationships? I’ve been in a long distance relationship for three years, something that would’ve been impossible without the help of social apps and new technologies. These arguments stands true for all relationships, not just romantic ones.

To appease these debates, I put forward an equation that seeks to identify the line at which social media begins to take it’s toll on our relationships. Social media brings us closer to those that are physically far away, but pushed us far away from those we are physically close to. This is an inverse proportional relationship between distance and our social media use. In order to maintain a relationship with those near to us, it may be key to deduce our personal social media use. In order to maintain a relationship with those far, we may have to step our social media presence up a notch. 

steady relationship = distance * social media use

I have by no means worked out the particulars of the equation. Perhaps you rate the intensity of the relationship you wish to maintain 1-100, you scale distance 1-10 by how often you are physically in each other’s presences with 10 being the most, and you rank your social media use 1-10 as well, with 10 being the most. I am no mathematician. Numerically this formula may be inapplicable. Conceptually, however, I think it is something we all should be taking into account.