March 16, 2010

This week’s interactive journalism assignment was to set up a twitter, start tweeting, and get a bit of a following. All of this was very easy. Remarkably easy, actually. Finding folks to follow is pretty easy – especially with a blogroll to loot and a keen interest in the PAX writers. Followers were also pretty easy to come by – most individual tweeters that I followed, with the exception of the PAX writers and a few classmates, started following me.

The most difficult part of tweeting was coming up with something to tweet, and remembering to put in the correct hashtag (for the most part, I forgot, which resulted in a bunch of re-tweets with additional hashtags). I didn’t want to be one of those people that tweet about what they’re thinking about wearing, what they had for breakfast, whatever mundane thing they’re doing at the moment. And, being the sort of grad student that’s consumed by a constant influx of homework, I find it hard to come up with meaningful posts – I don’t get out much. But, the requirement was 10 posts over the course of 5 or 6 days, so it wasn’t that difficult. If anything, it made me think more about what I was doing, what I was thinking, and whether it might have any value to anyone else who happened across my twitter feed.

That, I suppose, is what I liked about twitter. Having to evaluate what you say, what it might mean to others, before posting it up for all to see, is never really a bad thing. Granted, not everyone does this when tweeting, but depending on who you follow, you can filter that stuff out. I’m not particularly fond of having to constantly check the site to find out what’s going on. It feels like I’m missing something if I’m not checking up on the feeds I follow, but, even with the 140 character limit and the meager collection of feeds I am following, it’s almost impossible to keep up. It’s too much information too fast. In a way, it’s a good thing to recognize right off the bat though. If I learned anything, it’s that keeping track of who you’re following, and limiting the feeds you follow to those you’re actually interested in, is key to getting what you want out of twitter.


Masticate Morgantown

March 15, 2010

For all interested parties – as part of the interactive journalism class that caused the creation of this blog in the first place, I’ve now got another blog going called Masticate Morgantown. This is a group project with five other students in my class. We’ll be covering the food in Morgantown, from critiques of the best and worst places to go, to updates on where to get the best or cheapest drinks for your weekend outings.

I’ve got one post up for China Wok (currently my go-to place for take-out chinese) right now, and more will be coming in later days. So check it out, if you feel so inclined.


taking things to the next level

March 13, 2010

Well, I’m back, I suppose. I had to take a brief un-official hiatus (if there can even be official hiatus’ on blogs…I don’t know) to get some work done on other projects. But worry not – these projects were still in line with my investigations into the blogosphere, though not so much into social media/networks as is on here.

As part of my job as a graduate assistant, I’ve been working on a research paper, looking at how commenting operates in blogs. Specifically, I’ve been studying whether comments can operate as a form of public sphere radicalization in the online public sphere, and how normative forces work to develop or hinder the discourses in the comment threads leading to the development of an online radicalized public sphere. It all sounds very technical and academic (at least that’s what my boyfriend tells me before he goes into smile-and-nod mode) but really it’s just an investigation into how people are talking with each other online, what good this talk might bring about, and what can be done to bring about this stuff from this talk faster (possibly oversimplified here, but that’s about it).

So, as part of developing and writing this research paper, I went to the AEJMC mid-winter conference to present my ideas thus far, and get feedback on what I’ve been working on. I also presented a paper I wrote for my women and minorities in the media class, on Gay blogs and the discourse occurring in the comment threads there, with specific interest in how counter-publics are developing out of minority discourses. All in all, it was a pretty good time, and I got a lot of good feedback out of it, which should help me prepare for submitting and/or presenting at the national AEJMC conference this summer.

Naturally, the trip out to the conference was fun as well. A friend from the WVU J-School, who was also presenting, and I road-tripped it out to Oklahoma City, an 18 hour drive from Morgantown. I’ve had my share of cross-country driving from my move out to Morgantown from Seattle, but I have to admit, it’s much more fun over shorter distances, and in parts of the country that are as-yet unknown. Stops along the way included St. Louis and Indianapolis, which are both lovely cities that I hope to visit again some day soon.

But anyway, getting back on track, now that the conference is over, I should have more time to devote to scouring the internet searching for new fodder for this blog site. I’ll be heading out to PAX in a couple of weeks, and hope to get lots of good info from some of the presentations there, especially the one concerning journalists versus game designers. The PAX weekend will also include a stop in New York City (another place I’ve never been) and possibly New Hampshire and Maine. Very exiting.

So, to conclude – there’ll be more to come soon. In the meantime, check out my group blog for more shenanigans from the Interactive Journalism class.


Crime and Social Media

February 21, 2010

I’ve always been a supporter of social media sites, probably ’cause I caught the myspace craze right when this whole mess started, and have been riding the wave ever since. But, I’m also a supporter of intelligence, and in the context of social media, intelligence translates to knowing how to use the site/program you are using well enough to cover your ass. I’ve found myself (nearly) ranting about this a lot lately, especially in discussions in my blogging class (there’s a lot more ranting going on in my head – I’m not much of a talker in class, but moving on).

There are a great deal of people out there (it’s becoming more and more apparent to me) that are afraid of the potential power of social media. Your facebook might be searched by a potential employer, and those pictures of your drunken shenanigans might cost you a job. Your Twitter post might get picked up by a professor, employer, family member (whoever you don’t want reading your status update). Your foursquare account might reveal your whereabouts to potential stalkers or robbers. It’s dangerous, out there on the internet – everyone is trying to take advantage of you (thanks a TON scamville). And yet, it somehow rarely occurs to these social media nay-sayers that perhaps the solution is intelligent use.

I’m bringing this up because, while on my quest for a new car in Pittsburgh this weekend, I heard an announcement on a radio station that a new site, pleaserobme.com, is posting updates about when people are away from their houses based on status updates primarily from foursquare, but possibly also from facebook and twitter. The radio announcer used this site as a warning against posting status updates to facebook, twitter, myspace, or foursquare – ’cause people can track you and rob you!
After checking into the site, though, the main point of pleaserobme.com is to raise awareness of the wrong way to use social media(what I shall henceforth call, the unintelligent use of social media).

Posting about how you feel, a project you’re working on, a cool quote you heard in a movie, etc. – while pointless to some, is intelligent use of social media. Posting your whereabouts is unintelligent, if you happen to live alone, or have a stalker (not many of us do, but some of the better narcissists made from the social media explosion would like to think they’re stalk-worthy, so I’ll leave the judgement on that one up to you individuals). Posting something like “At BAR, will be here till 3am, totally drunk, here’s some pics” is unintelligent use, and is possibly asking for it. On the one hand, the Internet is a very big place, and (despite what the social media narcissists will tell you) no one really gives a crap about anyone else. We might all just be too busy updating our status on facebook to go out in the world and rob your house. But, on the other hand… the average facebook user has 300+ (can’t remember the exact stat) friends – many have a lot more that that, to make up for losers like me who keep the friends count in the double digits. If your account is not secure and closed, anyone can follow you on twitter. Same goes for foursquare. Everyone on myspace is 14, so I’m not going to go into that one. People, it seems, do not lock down their personal pages. And if they do, they turn around and “friend” 600 random people – thus defeating the purpose of any page security in the first place. With all of those people out there, and alert to the fact that you’re away from home for x hours and sloppy drunk, there is a slight chance that you’ll get yourself robbed, attacked when you get home, killed, etc. (very slight – but let’s all be paranoid for a moment and think about this).

This becomes more of a problem when a site like pleaserobme.com shows up to show us all how stupid we’ve been acting, and provides info on our comings and goings to the general public – just like we have been doing. Some might say that the site should be shut down, that the folks at pleaserobme are promoting crime and stealing people’s information, but with that claim, we should all be shut down too. Looking at my facebook page, I can get information on my address, find out that I’m in a relationship someone and link over to his information, get my phone number, links to all the other sites I use, and information on what I’m doing at the moment via my status. That’s enough information for anyone to figure out how to rob me if I decide to post about being out of the house. HOWEVER! None of that information is available to the general public, and I’m a horrible shut-in with very few “friends” who can get to that info. This is the solution for those who fear social media related robbings, crimes, etc: get over your need for a false-sense of self importance, ditch the thousands of friends you don’t ever talk to, and learn how to use security features available to you on the social media sites you use. This will also keep your boss from finding all those embarrassing pictures of you.

Now, I understand that it’s mostly the facebook narcissists that are so afraid of someone tracking them down, and that this might end in a logic-loop, going back and forth between the need for self-affirmation through friends and the need to ditch those friends to keep your stalkers at bay. I don’t think there’s anything anyone can do for those people. But, for the rest of us – who might fall into that trap from time to time, or just might not know any better. Be smart. The whole idea of social media is creating the possibility for individuals to talk to the world – so think about what you want the world to know before you post it, and if you don’t want the world to know, and still want to post it, well – security features are there for a reason.


Car Shopping

February 21, 2010

Earlier this week, my beloved boyfriend flipped my beloved car and while the boy is okay, the car is not. The physics of the crash on their own are quite fascinating (he managed to flip an excessively lowered honda civic equipped with sway bars, a feat in itself, and did this by lifting the front of the car, engine and all, up and over the back wheels, landing it on its roof without scratching the sides of the car at all) but what I’ve been finding this week is yet another amazing application for the internet, which I have never really had to use before – shopping. This is not your mother’s internet shopping either. I’ve been doing some intense information gathering on a ton of cars I’m looking into purchasing (well… making the boyfriend purchase). It really is amazing – the amount of information out there for anyone with the ability to type the word “google” into their browser.

I remember when I went shopping for my Civic – back when I was 17, recovering from the destruction of my first car (I pretty much blew it up) and in search of the ideal car (to a 17 year old, of course). I was pouring over auto trader magazines and classified adds, hoping to find something cool. I had my poor parents driving all over western Washington and parts of Oregon for the better part of three weeks, going out on test drives, getting a feel for what was out there, and getting some sort of idea of what a “good” car was. Ultimately, I decided on the purple civic with a super loud muffler and a bunch of modifications to the engine that I didn’t know anything about (at the time). In subsequent years, and with many a google search and a tuning forum, I discovered words like “sway bars” “cold air intake” “DOHC V-Tec” “Turbocharger” and, my personal favorite “Customization”, as well as what these things meant and how they worked in my car. I learned about what my car was capable of, what else could be done to it, and how to accomplish these projects. I was hooked, and I’ve loved fast cars ever since.

I never imagined giving up my Civic – I had some idealistic dream of handing it off to my kids one day, all tuned-to-shit and awesome. But, the time has come to replace it (Everyone keeps telling me my idea of chopping the portion of the roof that is compromised and turning it into a convertible is a bad idea) and I’m finding the Internet to be a better resource than I ever imagined. Beyond finding the best deal, which is very helpful, and finding maps on how to get to where that best deal is (even more helpful – I can’t even tell north from south out here for some reason) I’m able to take my somewhat limited knowledge of what to look for in a car and run with it. I’m checking up horsepower ratings, safety ratings (mostly for the boyfriend) consumer ratings, all that stuff. I’m getting into forums for custom tuning jobs and finding out which cars can be enhanced more easily than others, and how much the parts for such enhancements cost. All in all, I’m feeling like I have a pretty good idea about what I’m doing, what I want, and what I should get (pretty much settled on a Mini Cooper S, for those interested). And as an extra bonus, I know enough about the cars I’m checking out that when some pompous, sexist car salesman tries to tell me there’s a turbocharged engine in a car that looks completely stock, I can call him on it, and get a better deal.

So that’s been my week – shopping for cars and haggling. All thanks to the internet.


I’m old…

February 13, 2010

… or at least sometimes I feel old. I was out in Pittsburgh with my friend Boya today, doing some shopping for fancy new clothes for an AEJMC conference we’re attending, and while enjoying some of the finer foods available in the food court, we noticed a group of especially young-looking kids hanging out and playing with their cell phones. All of them seemed to have one, and each had it out, and was rapidly clicking away at it. Of course, Boya and I were astonished, and reminisced about our cell-phone free youth.

This isn’t a new phenomenon, kids have been making up more and more of the cell phone market for years, but with the recent rise of the smart phone, one has to wonder what exactly a 12 year old needs with a blackberry or an iphone. I report from Mashable makes this shift in consumerism even more interesting. According the the statistics they published, 75% of teens age 12 – 17 own cell phones. The report also suggests that 93% of teens in this age group are going online, and are more active in social networking sites than in sites dedicated to content creation, like blogs. This may explain what teens are using their cell phones for. Most phones sold today come with internet capabilities, text capabilities, and cameras. Some come with sound and video recording capabilities. It’s easier than ever to take a photo, go online, post it, and post a update to your social networking site of choice all on your phone, and this is likely why teens want these phones. Plus their friends have them. Plus they’re ‘cool’.

There are two questions I have, in relation to teens and phones: 1.) Where do they get all of this money? Last time I checked, a decent smart phone plan was upwards of $100 per month. I can’t even afford that bill (granted, I’m a student, so I’m not exactly wealthy, but still). It’s safe to assume these kids aren’t paying for these phones. Which leads me to question 2.) Do kids really need this much technology? If you’re in this age group, you’re supposed to be spending most of your time in school. Having taught 7th and 8th grade for one year, I know how much of a distraction a phone can be, and how inconvenient it can be to try to take them away. Parents throw fits when a teacher locks up an iphone in their desk drawer for a week. And rightly so – it’s an expensive gadget, and it’s 25% of a monthly bill completely lost. Even more so, it makes the parent actually have to keep track of their child – they can’t just call them and track them down. But what else is there to do? You have students posting to facebook instead of paying attention.

Another thing to consider, is how this will change the way future internet users actually use the internet. One could argue that with time, with knowledge, and with developed interests, the teens today may grow up to become the next generation of content-creators and follow in our footsteps, but old habits die hard. What may develop is a very limited understanding of what the internet has to offer (limited to facebook, myspace, shopping, and the occasional google map search) as well as the death of the blogosphere and with it the potential for a new take on public sphere communication. It’s hard to understand what the internet will be treated as for the generation of users who haven’t grown up without access, but it certainly shouldn’t be treated like a toy, as it is now (well, at least not as much, the internet can be a cool toy). That will come with education, especially on the responsible use of technology. Giving kids access to this as a treat, or a reward, or a form of allowance, is not the way to teach the younger generation to use technology – they don’t get any of the educational or informative benefits from the web, and they take all of the frivolous, sometimes meaningless crap that  is making the internet seem so small.


Art Vs. Photography

February 12, 2010

As part of my job as a graduate student at West Virginia University, I teach a section of a lab class on photoshop techniques. As part of the module, I incorporate a presentation on the ethics of photography, photo-journalism, and photo manipulation. I end up asking my students about where the line between ethical manipulation and unethical manipulation is drawn, and it seems to always land near the line between informative photography and artistic photography. As an amateur photographer as well as an artist, I tend to see it a bit differently.

I have problems with the term “fine-art photography” and “artistic photography”. True photography, for me, is a way of capturing a moment, a small flash, of reality. Good photographers have enough experience with the medium, and with the capabilities of their equipment, to understand how to make the reality they’re seeing appear on film in an artistic manner. A recent collection on The Big Picture blog featuring photos from India show how with just a camera and a creative photographer, a picture can be made artistic. Some of the photos are very artistic, some less so, and some are simply photos. And this is why I separate photography from art. Art, no matter how un-artistic it is, is art (just ask Bob Ross). A photograph can be artistic, but it’s always a photograph, and it is always somehow informative.

Technology complicates the matter. We now have digital art that can be made without any physical materials, or with a collection of materials including forms traditional art, photography, and digital media. This seems to be where the line between ethical and unethical manipulations as far as photojournalism goes lies. It becomes the line between photojournalism and advertisement photography, or other informative non-photojournalistic photography. In class, I bring up the famous Kim Kardashian photographs to point this difference. I try to stress that it’s not about her cellulite – it’s about the creation of an image that no longer represents reality. Programs like photoshop are taking a medium that is supposed to be a means to preserve moments from reality, and allowing users to turn such images into pieces of art by removing the reality from them.

I guess the point here is to stress the idea that what we take for granted as true may no longer be an actual representation of reality. I wonder if there are really any ethical ways to manipulate a photograph for journalistic purposes. The technology that accompanied photography always allowed for some manipulation – cropping, dodging, burning, etc – but when you can adjust the saturation of colors, increase contrast, spot heal any flaws that showed up in the image, are you really representing reality? Some would argue yes, that this technology merely allow us better ways to adjust for flaws in the equipment used to take the photo, to correct white balance, exposure, etc and create a better representation of what the situation really looked like, but then we are relying on a person’s perception of the situation, not the actual representation of the moment, and this falls into the realm of art, and out of the realm of photography. Call me a purist, but I almost feel that digital manipulations take photography from the medium of photography to the medium of digital art. It’s concerning, also, that so many student’s don’t recognize this. It’s always interesting to hear student’s responses (those that do respond, most choose to sit quietly and wait for me to give in and give them an answer) because so many are unsure what exactly the technology they’re learning is doing to the image, and are even more unsure of the actual value of a depiction of reality versus a manipulated version of that depiction. Perhaps it’s another effect of the digital age – but it makes teaching this sort of stuff nearly impossible.