Archive for the ‘Culture’ Category

Google to China: Don’t Be an Evil Empire

Well this one seemed inevitable. As technology companies continue to strike deals with centralized governments, the main compromise often involves censorship. Google is now facing the stark realities of its relationship with the Chinese government and the resulting frictions are sure to be closely monitored by corporations around the globe. Here’s an article from The Economist that concisely details the situation.

This also brings to mind a book recently co-written by Born Digital author John Palfrey entitled: Access Controlled: The Shaping of Power, Rights, and Rules in Cyberspace. I have been meaning to read this one for some time and will hopefully have an entry about it in the near future.

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Indian Summer Beach Reading

With the summer having passed, I wanted to take the opportunity to focus on an online book publicity campaign that I found extremely interesting. Media shy author Thomas Pynchon engaged in an innovative Internet campaign to help promote his latest book, Inherent Vice.A somewhat traditional detective novel about Larry “Doc” Sportello, a drug-addled private eye (or as Thomas Magnum would prefer me say: private investigator), the novel is set around 1970 in the fictional California town of Gordita Beach.

Pynchon decided to narrate a clever online trailer for the book which was subsequently posted on YouTube and even posted a song list on that compromises some of the 60’s artists and music mentioned throughout his book. For an author who has a track record of avoid traditional media, it really is noteworthy that he decided to use these 21st century methods of communication with potential readers. (Also, if you plan on reading on of his work, I can’t recommend the Thomas Pynchon Wiki highly enough. The exhaustive research and detailed constributions from readers are truly astounding.)

Overall, it looks like online communication could change the traditional standby description of the “reclusive author.” Who knows, maybe right now JD Salinger is in the middle of an adventure on World of Warcraft

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Is Facebook Getting Some Wrinkles?

Come on, you knew this was going to happen. The Guardian UK newspaper reporting a new survey from The Office of Communications (“Ofcom”) that reveals younger people are starting to turn away from Facebook and other social networking sites. Here’s the article.


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The Google of Newsrooms Past

Several of the latest entries have focused on social media, so I thought that I would change things up a bit and spotlight a nice nostalgic article about a classic print newsroom in Ohio. While debate rages on whether or not Google represents a digital vampire, as Dow Jones Chief Executive Les Hinton has so dramatically proclaimed, the fact remains that the online behemoth’s News section offers the ability to find locally written gems like this one. Penned by Mansfield News Journal reporter Ron Simon about a retiring colleague, his article also serves as a tribute to the way newspaper newsrooms used to be. Here is the Google cached link
If you enjoyed this article as much as I did, I would also recommend checking out old time reporter Jack Germond’s book, Fat Man in a Middle Seat. In addition to providing interesting anecdotes about his time on the McLaughlin Group, Germond also paints a nice picture of the typical local newspaper newsrooms of the past. Especially highlighting the time early in his career when he covered state politics in New York, before working his way into covering national politics with a number of DC-area newspapers.


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And Iran, Iran and Tweeted Away…

Just came across this insightful piece from discussing how social media is overcoming the restrictions that the Iranian government has placed on traditional media. Even with a concerted news black-out, the world at large can now read first person accounts from unfiltered online sources.

These latest developments are really thrusting Twitter into center stage. In some ways, it parallels the first Gulf War when George H.W. Bush Administration officials admitted that they were watching CNN to keep up with war developments, creating a de facto endorsement of the network’s news gathering capabilities.
Still, even with the advent of blogs and varying social media voices, there remains a need for an responsible editor and news gathering organization to help present all this material forward in an clear and thoughtful way. While old media (newspapers, etc.) obviously face an ongoing decline, social media commentary and information can often be far too unwieldy and disorganized. That’s why the newspaper model will not really die, its just that staying so committed to paper and ink has been its undoing. Very similar to the music industry and its addiction to physical CDs. That one’s a long story for a completely different entry though.

Narcissus and FaceBook

This is a bold article from that I was meaning to cover for a while. In a gutsy move, PR practitioner Daniel Collins slams social networkers as a collection of narcissistic know-it-alls and egomaniacs.
In building his case against social media he offers an insightful checklist of all its limitations, but he does overlook a big aspect of this new world that was discussed in Born Digital. Basically, social media itself is a youth movement. It was started by teens who found that they liked texting and instant messaging each other more than using the telephone.
This then gave way to MySpace and FaceBook. The former being populated by adolescents who then started growing up and attending college, which gave way to the founding and popular explosion of the latter. Collins really should separate the users of these sites from the overall potential of the medium itself. For the most part, adolescents and young adults are going to be self-centered and self-absorbed because of limited life experiences. Yet, just as MySpace has grown into FaceBook, so will FaceBook now mature since it is increasingly being used by thirty forty fifty and older-somethings.
(Also, I would recommend checking out the source of this article, It’s one of the latest organizations that attempts to harness the power of citizen journalists. Read more about it at Wikipedia. Once someone gets this model right we will probably be looking at the future of the newspaper industry.)

Thus Spoke Wailin Wong…

After highlighting her article in the previous post, Wailin Wong at the Chicago Tribune was gracious enough to answer a few follow-up questions. As mentioned, her recent piece about participating in a panel at a local high school tied in nicely to some of the similarly insightful themes from Born Digital. If you haven’t read Wailin’s original article about this, please do. Without further ado, here is our Q&A:
BD: During the event you participated in, what seemed to biggest the biggest disconnect between the kids and the parents? What don’t the older generations get about social media?

WW: The biggest disconnect seemed to be parents not seeing what their children find so appealing and fun about social media sites. Some parents, of course, are members of Facebook and said they enjoyed connecting with old school friends and relatives. But many others seemed mystified at how exchanging messages via a website for hours could be fun, and worried that social media was not a productive use of their children’s time.
BD: You cite one of the kids mentioning electronic communication as being “less demanding” than in-person communication. Do you see a possible downside to this?

WW: The ability to multi-task in communication is a good skill to have in the workplace. But some parents were concerned, and rightfully so, that the adoption of text-messaging speak and instant electronic communication could erode their children’s spelling skills and ability to write longer-form prose.

BD: Was there anything said at the event that surprised you about how social media is viewed?

WW: One parent said she was worried that the heavy use of social media would re-wire future generations’ brains and fundamentally change their physiology. I was surprised to hear that concern, as it’s one I haven’t thought of before.

BD: What are the biggest ways in which social media and/or online technology has impacted your job as a columnist and reporter at the Chicago Tribune?

WW: The entire newspaper industry is adapting to the digital age (with varying degrees of success). Like other papers, we have to put a high priority on delivering news quickly to online readers. That’s reoriented the way many of us organize our time and beat coverage. We’re also wading into social media, trying to see if tools such as Twitter are effective ways of reaching our audience. Many other journalists are doing this as well, whether it’s linking to stories they’ve written or looking for new sources.
Hope you enjoyed that. I really appreciate Wailin taking the time to respond to these questions, and as previously mentioned, I highly recommend that you check out her regular columns at the Chicago Tribune.

Interesting Article by Chicago Tribune Columnist

After the previous entry about Born Digital, thought I would spotlight this really interesting article from Wailin Wong at the Chicago Tribune.

The article centers around a panel that Wong participated in at a local high school in which she helped to explain social media and its youth appeal to parents in the audience.

One of the most insightful parts of Wong’s article occurs when she writes:

“For many teens, a Facebook or MySpace profile is a vehicle for self-expression. The student on the panel said it’s like getting a page to decorate with music, photos and personal information. Social media help fulfill a desire for attention and expression. This need doesn’t go away in adulthood. The “25 Random Things” chain letter that recently invaded Facebook shows that older folks still want to appear interesting to their peers.”

This is a fascinating observation that strongly echoes points made in the book, Born Digital. The key to understanding social media is to think of it as a way in which younger generations shape their own identities.

Wailin Wong’s articles are very fascinating and I highly recommend that you check her column out on a regular basis.

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Born Digital: Understanding the First Generation of Digital Natives

As previously mentioned, this is a great place to start understanding the world of Web 2.0 and social media, especially if you were born before 1980. Authors John Palfrey and Urs Gasser chronicle and interview members of the generation born after that year to effectively demonstrate not only how they grew up with the Internet and helped change it, but also how it changed them.For the older generations: remember going to the mall, video arcade, or even to drive-ins in order to socialize? Well, this group went somewhere called the Internet to not only meet friends, but also establish their own identities. The online world is one of the places where they truly grew up and that is an important distinction that the authors really bring to life with first hand comments from these individuals themselves.
Overall, Born Digital is divided into easily organized sections, under headings such as: Identities, Privacy, Safety, Activism, Synthesis, etc. I felt that the book started off extremely strong by tackling how this generation shaped and was shaped by the Internet. This is really the key to understanding how the Internet evolved into its modern Web 2.0 form. It’s all about participation and direct communication. This movement really spred from kids and teenagers who grew up IM’ing and texting each other, and progressed to the point of managing personal profiles on Facebook and MySpace.
Also, I give the authors a great deal of credit for pointing out some of the dangers and limitations of a life online. While the obvious subject here is Safety (predators and cyber bullies receive some important discussion time), the all too often areas of information overload and the “Daily Me” are also covered in length.
These are two topics that many other Web 2.0 observers seem to regularly ignore and I was pleased to see the authors tackle them. Information overload is a pretty obvious concept to grasp, but the ramifications need to be addressed, which the authors do. What good is having nearly unlimited information at your fingertips if there is no surefire way to categorize it? Well it begins to overtake you and pretty soon you feel burned out to a point of not being able to process anything clearly. The authors warn users and those watching over them to guard against this condition and be vigilant about its signs.
In addition, concept of the Daily Me is effectively discussed. For a quick definition, here’s an excerpt from the Wikipedia entry:
The term has also been associated with the phenomenon of individuals customising and personalising their news feeds, resulting in their being exposed only to content they are already inclined to agree with. The daily me can thus be a critical component of the “Echo Chamber” effect, defined in an article in Salon by David Weinberger “those Internet spaces where like-minded people listen only to those people who already agree with them.”
This is an idea that should concern everyone online. As old/traditional media wanes in influence, individual news consumers really need to guard against merely having their views be constantly reinforced by like-minded bloggers, columnists and news sources. Providing a bulwark against the Daily Me can also present a powerful opportunity for these traditional media outlets as they attempt to cross the digital threshold and offer relevant content and services to an Internet savvy generation.
As a final thought, I would have liked to have seen the authors of Born Digital break down the generation born after 1980 into more detail. There is undoubtedly a difference between someone born in 1981, who probably did not start using the Internet until their mid-late teens, versus an Internet user born in 1991. This would have provided an extremely fascinating window into how the stunning rate of technological change is even impacting those very people classified as Born Digital.

The Born (Digital) Identity

The first book that I plan to discuss next week is…

Born Digital: Understanding the First Generation of Digital Natives
by John Palfrey and Urs Gasser

The reason is simple. To better understand the rapidly changing communications world that we now live in the first very step should be to study the first generation raised on the Internet.

This is exactly what authors John Palfrey and Urs Gasser do. By interviewing and studying people born after 1980 they illustrate the fascinating ways in which the Internet has shaped the way these individuals have grown up, identify themselves, and communicate.

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