RPCC - Brick from the outside, teeming with tech on the inside
I remember walking around RPCC as a freshman for the first time, and one of the first things that I noticed, right away, were all of the display screens splayed out in front of me in a pastiche of sorts. These screens, glowing colorfully with their messages (some displaying the same, others different) really caught my attention, particularly the area that I dubbed the “Media Tower” in the very center which spanned two floors and had a multitude of screens (seemed almost unnecessary, but it certainly accomplished its goal of grabbing my attention). As a fledgling in the whole college experience, I was new to all of this and awe-inspired by the amount of money an upper echelon university was able to throw around. I mean, just one of those 30 in (I’m assuming the size, regardless of accuracy they were fairly large) LCD or HD screens cost upwards of $300 or more, depending on the company. And there were so many of them!
Although an unassuming building from the outside, RPCC is truly loaded with the latest in information technology (at least it was the last time I went there, to be honest I haven’t stepped foot in there for almost a year now). Other things that completely blew my mind were the ubiquitous availability of wireless covering almost every square foott of RPCC (the wireless routers positioned uniformly throughout the building), a large computer lab with about 20 or more computers, a TV lounge with a large screen, multiple vending, fax and copy machines (the vending machines themselves utilized a card swipe system that was integrated with our Big Red Bucks ), and the list just went on and on. I might have been overwhelmed at first (mostly just impressed) but quickly learned to take advantage of all of the new media technologies: I used the display screens to keep up with whatever events were going on around campus; watched numerous shows in the common lounge on the large TV (some hooked up directly to a computer); printed out countless assignments from the computer lab; and went to the vending machines one too many times. RPCC quickly became a focal point of social interaction, and my life became augmented for the better with the proliferation of new media, and I can’t imagine it without now.
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For my blog post I chose a Wikipedia article on Wikipedia itself (why not?). This article was first written on September 24, 2001, whereas Wikipedia itself was founded January 15, 2001. It was written by a number of contributors (exceeding 500). As far as content goes, the article is broken-up into various sections regarding its History, the Nature of Wikipedia, Operation, License and Language Editions, Cultural Significance, etc. The reason I selected this article was, aside from the obvious reasons of our class talking about it, what better way to critique new social media phenomena, and an online collaborative experiment such as Wikipedia, than an article written about itself? In regards to bias, the firsts Discussion topic can be quoted as “I notice that the page on Wikipedia is not editable. I think this is an outrage, and a repression of free speech. Fix this now.” I find it quite interesting (if not ironic) that the page on itself is not editable, whereas it promotes itself as a bastion of collaboration. However, despite a few controversies, Wikipedia is at the vanguard of social media phenomena which is upheaving the way we as users interact with, and now create, media in an online environment.
Anyone can edit
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As journalism attempts to find its niche in the online environment, so must we as news-consumers adopt to this new form. A similar argument to Larnier’s can be made that pertinent news might be lost amidst the rabble, or what he so affectionately dubbed as a “sea of mush.” I feel as if the internet and new media technologies have forced corporate news broadcast companies (such as Fox, CNN, Msnbc, etc.) into 24 hour broadcasting (both on the air and online), where they must continuously either broadcast and publish, or face perdition. We’ve all seen the news headlines or featured stories that make us wonder why they’re even given the time of day, but it is our very own continual consumption and multi-tasking culture that has resulted in news stories that lack any substance. This spreading too thin of news companies panders to our desire to hear minute-by-minute breaking headlines, yet most of which are hardly of any consequence. Just drawing from personal experiences, one day over Spring Break I was watching CNN in the mid-afternoon, and the latest story they were covering was over some controversy where spectators at a hockey game in the midwest were clapping during the national anthem. All lack of respect and dishonor arguments aside, my opinion: I don’t rightly care. Seriously, there are more stories which need to be broadcasted (or blogged about on their websites) in regards to the earthquake pandemic we seem to have been struck by recently, the escalating conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, or anything else that is actually of some merit.
Unfortunately, I feel that media and news networks (journalism now in particular) are, in reality, nothing more than entertainment conglomerates that do their best to keep the masses enthralled. So when it comes to the bottom-line, they’re far more likely to air or publish something that appeals to our primal instincts of curiosity (something with a bit of “excitement”), and through fear-mongering preying on these innate attributes to garner the largest audience and highest viewer ratings, all in some demented competition that the news companies have amongst one another. At the end of the day, they’re unfortunately much more akin to the entertainment industry than they are of anything substantial. To be fair, however, if “news” (in my opinion defined by information regarding recent and important events) was the only thing that was aired, many journalists and news companies would die off almost instantly. I mean, let’s face it: tons of history is made which is really not all that interesting, despite wide-spread ramifications. Case in point: how many people watched C-SPAN when the health care bill was on the floor? Did you? Nope. And neither did I. QED.
And yet, despite the obvious shortcomings that have persisted since almost the inception of reporting (and only exacerbated by the internet), my personal experience tells me that there is yet still some hope. Due to the sheer number of news articles, stories, blogs, videos, etc. that myself and my internet-using peers are persistently bombarded by on a daily basis, yes we are much more apt to be exposed to a wider-array of junk and shoddy broadcasting; or news articles that are of little to no merit on a larger scale (such as sites which feature these types of articles such as Digg and Reddit, or online journalism ventures such as The Huffington Post). However, by the same token, I’d say that my generation, strictly by virtue of our constant exposure and utter volume of news we are inundated by at an alarming rate, we have the capability and potential of being more informed than previous generations if we so choose to sift through the data. If utilized and perused properly, instant knowledge (even amongst “garbage” news stories) is not something to complain about and one that can be used to make us more informed and active members of society and interacting with the public sphere. That, at least, gives me hope.
Us...We've Caused This
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Widely recognizable logo
The Sierra Club is the oldest and largest grassroots environmental organization in the United States. On their website, their self-proclaimed mission is to explore, enjoy, and protect the wild places of the earth; to practice and promote the responsible use of the earth’s ecosystems and resources; to educate and enlist humanity to protect and restore the quality of the natural and human environment; and to use all lawful means to carry out these objectives. Since its inception in 1892, the Sierra Club has gone to great lengths involving itself in politics and has been working to protect communities, wild places, and the planet itself.
Not only is it the oldest, largest, and most influential grassroots environmental organization in the United States, but so influential that its founder, John Muir, appears on the back of the California quarter. Over the years, the Sierra Club has found itself at the forefront of an assortment of controversial political issues, including but not necessarily limited to: conservation policies, land management, nuclear issues, coal and energy efficiency. Other issues of political activism include protecting our nation’s fresh water rivers,population control and immigration.
The website itself is abound with opportunities for individuals to take part in fulfilling the NGO’s mission. There are numerous ways to stay connected and informed, such as a forum, a blog, an e-mail newsletter that one can register for, as well as a Twitter account that can be followed and which is updated frequently. Clearly, this NGO is utilizing various forms of technology at its disposal to reach the greatest audience possible. Moreover, on their homepage itself, the Sierra Club reaches out to everyone and makes a call-to-action with a very clear link to register and join the organization that is already comprised of over 1,300,000 members! As an NGO, its strength is derived from its members, and it certainly makes an effort to make the voices heard as its website is user-friendly and presents many an opportunity to become involved.
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An important and integral aspect of this first key principle is also the second half: communal evaluation. This is particularly useful in the sense that “being subject to evaluation by potentially anyone of their fellow participants encourages them to be particularly careful and diligent in their contributions if they wish to retain their status in the community.” A main argument against open participation is that it might encourage lower standards where anyone can post anything – and that certainly may be the case for the most part. However, due to communal evaluation, the cream will literally rise to the top, and the rest of the detritus will sink to the bottom. Take Digg.com for example, a popular social media site where users (myself included) discover and share content on the Internet in a single space, allowing other users to vote on the submissions and which the most popular links are seen by more users. The digging and burying functions, a great example of communal evaluation, makes the most popular well-known (a small percentage of the total submitted stories) and the rest, either garbage or unpopular, is not seen by the majority of users – thus potentially allowing for a maximization of time spent online enjoying higher quality material.
Bruns, Alex. “Blogs, Wikipedia, Second Life, and Beyond.” From Production to Produsage.
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Connected by a Flow of Information
In recognition of the profound implications the internet and moden technologies have on society, the World Summit on the Information Society convened in Geneva in 2003 and drafted a Declaration of Principles that would lay the foundation for achieving an information society accessible to all and based on shared knowledge.
I believe that access to information and knowledge, as well as international and regional cooperation are two of the most important aspects of the Declaration of Principles. Open and public access to disseminated information, and a lack of restrictions, will promote the advancement of knowledge and reach the greatest amount of people possible – one of the biggest benefits that computers have given us.
Moreover, in today’s globalized world and increased interdependence (where state actors no longer play a central role), international and regional cooperation is of the utmost imperative. In order to not impede the natural progression and constant evolution of information technologies countries must work together on a systemic level – thus further strengthening our integration with one another. Information transcends all boundaries, natural or man-made, so why should we attempt to impose regional restrictions that would only be at odds with our inquisitive nature and desire to increase knowledge? In light of the trend of rising interconnectivity over the past few centuries, this would be tantamount to a giant leap backwards.
One of the biggest obstacles to achieving the utopian global information society will inevitably come down to states jousting over supremacy and dominance of the internet. Currently, the majority of web sites (or the internet in general) is in English. Also, the United States owns a substantial portion of the internet due to the fact that it was developed in the U.S. for military applications in the first place. Rising powers such as China, India, Brazil, Russia, and others vying for a stake of our once hegemonic position will certainly make Internet governance and ownership a significant hurdle to overcome.
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Twitter may be a relatively new blip on the networking radar yet it has & will revolutionize trans-national advocacy and social mobilization
Character count (verified by Twitter): ZERO. Boo yah!
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What with all the hype that has surrounded Twitter lately, I’m not ashamed to admit that I’m not exactly an avid user just yet, and judging by the looks of things that probably won’t change very soon either (I created an account in 2007 and have tweeted only a handful of times since then). Friend me if you’d like though, just don’t count on me posting anything witty, or even anything at all, in the near future – but then again, who knows? I mostly just used it to harass my roommate despite the fact that he was maybe five feet away from me, (you can check the slightly NSFW Twitter-feed here). This could change, however, if maybe my Twitter account approached the number of friends (or “followers” in Twitter-speak) that I have on Facebook, perhaps pushing me to be more engaging.
Yet despite my lack of usage thereof, Twitter has gained tremendous notoriety – with almost a cult following – and firmly positioned itself in the social networking world. In testament to the rapidity with which the public is adopting Twitter with fervor, a whole slew of comics have popped up recently regarding Twitter, such as the Foxtrot one I posted above and this one from the comic xkcd (always good for intelligent humor). It points out how Twitter can have a large impact on public perception, and might actually possess the ability to incite fear amongst thousands of users causing a panic attack amongst the populace (as indicated by poking fun at the hilarity that ensued from the swine flu epidemic).
Twitter's iconic Fail Whale
Mobile usage makes Twitter especially prominent, and is becoming an integral part of some people’s lives since most carry their cell phone around with them constantly. Many use it to tweet the most inane things, however there are commercial and social implications that have wide-reaching ramifications. The current set of “Popular Topics,” broken down by minute, day and week respectively that I can peruse includes the following: Joannie Rochette and Canadian (for minute); Justin Bieber, Health Care Summit, GOP and Americal Idol (for day); and finally Tiger Woods and Shutter Island (for week). This list of popular, or mainstream trends, is indicative of what topics are most frequently tweeted by users and gives almost a public “pulse.” For the most part, they’re either of little interest to me, such as Tiger Woods (which I’m only assuming has to do with his “encounters” with members of the opposite sex that, namely, aren’t Elin Nordegren – his wife). Why he would ever want to cheat on someone as beautiful as her is beyond me, yet as shocked and appalled as I initially was at his transgressions, I was pretty much over it and moving on with my life about 5 minutes after I first heard (let alone still tweeting about it a few months later). I’m sure for some people it’s fascinating to feel like they’re somehow involved with a celebrity’s life, but for me popular topics such as this on Twitter make it feel a lot like People Magazine (still full of all of the garbage, just without the pages and pages of ads for things I can only hope that I’ll never succumb to buying).
Enough of my diatribe, though. Alongside topics such as American Idol were ones more relevant to me as a Government major, and thus more political in nature, such as those of the GOP and the Health Care Summit. After clicking on their links and heading to their respective Twitter feeds they actually appeared to contain a worthwhile discourse between members, and they seemed to be almost synonymous topics as tweets about the GOP tended to include the health care summit, and vice-versa. It is evident that as a relatively nascent social phenomena (only really picking up significant momentum in the past year and a half), Twitter has inserted itself into the political realm and has found a nice niche for itself. Twitter is utilized by both the Senate and House alike (with members from both parties, but predominantly Republican), as well as other representatives at state and local levels. It’ll be interesting to see in what new ways Twitter can be employed in the future by tech-savvy politicians (and by politically inclined citizens-turned-tweeters), especially considering its wide-reaching implications during the Iranian protests over the elections during the summer of 2009.
There’s no getting around the 140 character limit, which can severely hamper any proper communication, however it also forces people to be as succinct as possible, thus getting to the point without all of the garbage. I actually find the limit to be an important aspect of Twitter, and if it were expanded (or God forbid, abolished) the boundary between tweeting and blogging would be blurred, and Twitter would have lost all of its unique allure. Of course, there does exist a way to maximize the amount of space given for a tweet, such as the brilliant and always hilarious Neil Patrick Harris demonstrates here:
NPH at his finest
Throughout the process of me writing this post and checking Twitter out more in-depth, I find myself becoming a bigger fan and curious as to the direction Twitter will take in the future. Although initially a skeptic (I joined way back during its infancy in early 2007, and wasn’t instantly won over), I believe I am slowly transforming into a Twitter fan and just might have to see what this social networking platform has to offer me; as well as to what ways it will continue to transform itself and the social media environment. If you’re a fellow Twitter-user, friend (or rather, “follow” in proper Twitter-speak) me if you’d like, and perhaps that will be all the impetus I need to start posting daily mundanity interspersed with the occasional gem.
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Tux: the Linux Penguin
The advent of user-generated content has marked a controversial shift amongst professional media organizations from creating online content to providing facilities for amateurs to publish their own. Examples are abound, and the various ways in which user-generated content (UGC) is produced has been on the rise, with future forms probably unrecognizable from today’s standards. Those from the younger generations who grew up with the internet (such as myself) can scarcely envision a world without UGC as our lives have become intertwined, and in some cases even defined, by it. In a typical day, your average college student will use one or more of the following UGC repositories: blogs (we’re doing it right now!); photo dumps such as Flickr; social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter; customizable online radio services from Pandora to Last.fm; aggregate sites such as Digg and Reddit; and of course Wikipedia, the mother of all UGC sites. Just looking at the list above, if not anything else, Web 2.0 has certainly encouraged the publishing of one’s own content and consuming of other people’s.
In the midst of all of this UGC, which unfortunately the majority of which is asinine and of low quality or completely irrelevant to me, I can certainly understand Jaron Larier’s sentiment in his article “World Wide Mush.” He argues that the idea of a world where everybody has a say and nobody goes unheard is deeply appealing. He believes, however, that this appealing collectivity will result in all of the voices that are piling on ending up drowning one another out.
As the self-proclaimed father of virtual reality, he certainly has some clout from which he can assert himself. And though people might feel lost amidst all of the rabble on “teh interwebs,” generally speaking internet users frequent sites that they are familiar with, and will only search out information that is relevant to them – thus limiting the potential drowning in what Larien deems as the “mush.” Sites that I peruse on an almost daily basis (either Digg during study breaks for a quick laugh, or Pandora while in the library or typing up a blog) definitely fall prey to the collective trap. I may be less in control and largely influenced by the masses as my screen and mind is inundated by a whole slew of UGC; however, I am 100% aware of this fact when I visit these sites. Yet I feel no less of a sense of individual identity while using them, and in fact it is quite thrilling to see what everyone else is into music-wise, or what the most recent “hot topic” is – in this sense I feel as if I am actually broadening my experiences by tapping into the eclectic collective. More often than not I have discovered a song that I really like from Pandora, or found an article on Digg that really appealed to me. So, drowning in the mush? I think not. More like reveling in it.
Thus, it is more with Caterina Fake, co-founder of Flickr, that I can relate to. Whereas Larien is focused on the economic impact, Fake, on the other hand, talks about individuals producing and consuming (“prosuming” as Bruns would call it) UGC just for the sake of enjoyment. As with Lake, this spirit of openness compels every individual to feel that he or she has the power to contribute, which has resulted in a pooling of talent and knowledge, and fosters an outcome the likes of which would hardly be possible otherwise. Take Wikipedia for example: a polarizing website within university circles (between professors who scoff at it and students who rely on it) and most likely the largest repository of worthless and random knowledge human beings have ever compiled – but no less fun to learn, such as this article! A huge collaborative project such as Wikipedia is not detracting from anybody, but is actually adding greater value to our collective wealth of knowledge. And although there have been disputes as to the reliability of the information that you can obtain from Wikipedia, there have been studies which have shown that for the most part – when compared to Encyclopedia Britannica (the quintessential “standard”) – there is only approximately one more error per article. Its saving grace, however, is that once this error is found Wikipedia can be updated; whereas once printed, Britannica is already out of date!
This ability to adapt is one of UGC’s strong points, and one which can be utilized to update and redistribute knowledge at lightning speed. Take Linux for example, an increasingly popular underdog operating system. It’s free, and its code is open-source which essentially means that it can be freely modified and redistributed. Only if you know how to, of course…personally I just like to stick to thinking of it as a black-box and just downloading and using it as is when I need to (but hey, to each his own, right?).
One would think that, as a free distro, Linux wouldn’t be considered to be a reputable and reliable operating system; that talented software engineers and programmers wouldn’t join in on the fray as it could potentially get lost amongst the giants known as Apple and Microsoft (Larien’s argument that it all comes down to economics and profit). But this is actually opposite of the reality, as Linux – specifically Ubuntu – is gaining traction in the market share and utilized on various platforms such as mobile devices and versatile netbooks. Linux is so popular that it practically has a cult following (even I will use Ubuntu on occasion), and a large number of countries around the world are defaulting to Linux as their preferred operating system.
Aside from Linux and Wikipedia, two rather important but not entirely all-inclusive examples, there seems to be an increasing acceptance of open-source software and its applications. It would seem that the majority who oppose this nascent trend are those who are stuck in the old ways (*cough* *cough* Larien). The ones who have grown up with it however, and in the last several years have had their lives at least in part shaped by it, are more readily receptive. To get an idea of just how popular and widespread it is becoming in general just check out this infographic I found on Digg!
In conclusion, it would seem that open-source and UGC are here to stay (or at least I sincerely hope so as otherwise it would stymie progress). Humans are social creatures and it seems inevitable that we would create an online space that reflects our very nature of collaborating, sharing, and achieving a common good. Just as the industrial revolution completely revolutionized the way work was done and was met with resistance at its onset, so too do I predict that user-generated content will shape the way we live and interact in our world; with surprises around every corner, and from every corner of the world nonetheless.
Also, in honor of Professor Gillespie and his reference to “watching cute kitten videos on YouTube,” check-out this video: Ninja Cat!
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We all know it. And for those of us who use it, we all love it. I’m talking about Hulu: a website which offers FREE and instant streaming video at your disposal – with very few catches. The company’s mantra “Anytime, Anywhere” resonates within those of us who are no longer able to maintain the patience to sit through 60 minutes of television for 40 minutes of actual viewing time (the 20 minute discrepancy can be attributed to the inane commercials which are well-below Super Bowl quality, which nowadays is even becoming sub-par). In today’s society where a whole generation has thrived off of free entertainment (think: DC++ and BitTorrent), Hulu isn’t too shabby of a compromise. For just a few 15-30 second commercial “shorts” by the sponsors at regular intervals, we’re able to sit through virtually uninterrupted shows. I can’t even begin to tell you the number of episodes I’ve watched of LOST, The Office, and Family Guy myself over the years through Hulu. Moreover, aside from usurping the dominant seat of power from television – the once-king of media entertainment – Hulu is truly for the masses; its interface is simple and user-friendly. And the majority of the populace is unable to properly use (or is even aware of) other ways of “attaining” (downloading) movies and shows through torrent clients and IRC channels. This is all well and good, however, due to the fact that Hulu streams directly through your browser which allows you to avoid problems such as disk-space usage, potential viruses, or even tracking companies which pose as fake seeders for a torrent file. Just check out the legal ramifications, and the whole slew of trouble The Pirate Bay (a torrent host site) has gotten into recently – although thankfully, due to their filing of an appeal, the final verdict is on hold and the site is still up and running.
Aside from the general Hulu propaganda I’m sure you’ve all heard, some background info that you might not be all that aware of: Hulu was founded in March of 2007 by a joint venture between NBC Universal, Fox Entertainment Group, and ABC Inc. – three powerhouses in the world of media. Hulu maintains a fair share of the online media viewing community, with similar competition from sites such as YouTube, MegaVideo, and Veoh. Their profit comes predominantly from advertising at the moment, however in the near future Hulu plans to start charging for a premium service. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, however in light of my generation’s assumption that media was unequivocally heading towards “free” it may seem like a step-backwards. Yet it makes perfect business-sense, and for the opportunity to watch movies and television shows on demand it’s a small price to pay to avoid the now seemingly antiquated television (and even with TiVo you have to wait until your show comes on to record it). An interesting development to follow in the near future will also be Hulu transcending multiple platforms. Imagine a world where you can stream Hulu videos directly to your mobile device (and one where Apple actually makes iPhones and iPads with flash support, a critical component to view Hulu videos). Sure, the Apple dream might be a stretch, but a portable Hulu is a media viewer’s dream and the plan for implementing it is already in the works.
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