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Internet = Rear Window?

16 Mar

I recently watched Alfred Hitchcock’s “Rear Window” and the opening dialogue between Stella and Jeff produced an “ah-ha” moment. Stella noted that “We’ve become a race of Peeping Toms. What people ought to do is get out of their own house and look in for a change.” As a communications major, we are obviously studying technology and its effects on the communication process. Where people once gossiped over tea on front porches and monitored the world through fragments of imagined realities gathered from overheard conversations, what role does technology play in changing the way we communicate and obtain information? While many studies have been conducted on emerging technology, such as the Twittersphere and Facebook, no finite conclusions have been drawn. All we know is that it’s changing the way the communicate and obtain information.

As the automobile once “served as a vehicle of innovation, as it communicated an ideology-a prescription of how people should live-of limitless horizons and tamed frontiers,” can we now say the same about the Internet and emerging technologies (Wood and Smith, 2005, p.156)? Where the automobile once shaped American culture and the T-Bird was once the iconic symbol of the rebel, what role is modern technology playing on American ideologies?

While one extreme makes me think that technology is slowly transforming our culture into a synthesized and experimental hybrid of human interaction, I would also like to believe that it also connects us and deepens our intrinsic need for human connection. I’m really not a cynical person, but everyone should question the new and unidentified. The Internet is a place where the insecure teen can connect with others and build self-esteem, where mothers find outlets in mommy blogs and those of us with opinions have the means by which to share them with the world. With the ease and accessibility of online communication and increased “memberships” to virtual communities, what are the effects on our relationships-and not the online ones?

I’m not entirely sure. Is that ok to say? I mean, with the wealth of information available at my fingertips, is it still ok not to know? Sure, I follow those purveyors of innovation and knowledge of technology; and yes, of course I follow their blogs. I read scholarly journals and listen as my professors debate the changing role technology plays on communication. But even they don’t know the full or lasting effects yet. I think it’s ok not to know. It lends an air of mystery, and after all, who likes being predictable?

Wood, A. F., & Smith, M. J. (2005). Online Communication. Muhwah, New Jersey: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

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Gutenberg’s ‘old-intimacy-reading culture’ versus Web 2.0’s ‘Cognitive Entanglement’

23 Feb

            How does the web get inside of us? This question is posed in Adam Gopnik’s “The Internet” article published in The New Yorker (2011). In the electronic age of Google and e-books, one can’t help but to question the effects with which the human psyche undergoes. As children, we grew up outdoors. Our imaginations led us to the far reaches of the world-when in actuality, it was the point that one’s parents had designated as the “do not cross this line when playing outside or bad things will happen”- far reaches of the backyard.  We turned mud into delicious cakes, and rainy days warranted bare feet and messy clothes. But with the advent of these new mediums, is harm being done to our cultural frames? Gropnik (2011) argues that “the digital world is new, and the real gains and losses of the Internet era are to be found not in altered neurons or empathy tests but in the small changes in mood, life, manners, feelings it creates-in the texture of the age” (p. 8). So what is the so called “texture of the age?” To answer this question, Gropnik (2011) discusses three schools of thought: the Ever-Wasers, Never-Betters, and the Better-Evers -try saying that three times fast (p. 2). These three schools of thought, regarding the effects of the Internet, relate to Marshall McLuhan’s Technical Determinism.

             McLuhan’s Technological Determinism is defined as “the perspective that our growing ability to alter or replace nature provides a central reason for most personal and social trends” (Wood and Smith, 2005, p. 30). The Ever-Wasers school of thought, briefly stated, is that there has always been a machine, but it has evolved as humans deemed necessary to fulfill cultural and spiritual needs. This can be explained with McLuhan’s four epochs: Tribal Age, Literate Age, Print Age, and Electronic Age (Reardon notes, 7 February 2011).  As each epoch gave way to the next, new ways of orating and relating emerged.  The Ever-Wasers perspective believed that “in any moment in modernity [there is] something like this going on, and a new way of organizing data and connecting users is always thrilling to some and chilling to others” (Gropnik, 2011, p.2). As Gutenberg’s printing press allowed for the spread of secular and religious material, it also caused a fragmentation in society.

            As the Ever-Wasers saw the Internet as a “sense of vertiginous overload,” “The Better-Nevers think that we would have been better off if the whole thing had never happened, that the world that is coming to an end is superior to the one that is taking its place, and that, at a minimum, books and magazines create private space for minds in ways that twenty-second bursts of information don’t” (Gropnik, 2011, p. 6, 2). As McLuhan argued that the Print Age was the forerunner to the Industrial Age, and gave way to a new fragmented society that glorified individualism, Nicholas Carr would agree with this school of thought (Reardon notes, 7 February 2011).  Carr “is most concerned about the way the Internet breaks down our capacity for reflective thought” (Gropnik, 2011, p. 5). The Electronic Age, with its hypertexts, asynchronous communication styles, and multimedia has given rise to the 21 Century tech-zombie. As Sherry Turkle argued in “Alone Together,” “the old intimacy-reading culture” has been destroyed by the “new remote-connection-Internet culture” that John Brockman relates to John Keats’s “waking dream” (Gropnik, 2011, p. 5-6). The zeitgeist of this school of thought is one of “disassociation and fragmentation…[where] Life was once whole, continuous, stable; now it is fragmented, multi-part…impossible to fix” (Gropnik, 2011, p. 6).  But can the zeitgeist ever really be destroyed, or is it a malleable interpretation and reflection of the socio-economic and cultural values of the time?  Gropnik (2011) makes an excellent point when he states, “Thoughts are bigger than the things that deliver them. Our contraptions may shape our consciousness, but it is our consciousness that makes our credos” (p. 9).

            Finally, the Never-Betters ideology is comparable to the 1960’s mentality of peace, love and happiness. They “believe that we’re on the brink of a new utopia, where information will be free and democratic, news will be made from the bottom up, love will reign, and cookies will bake themselves” (Gropnik, 2011,p.2). Does Wiki-leaks come to mind? Of the three schools of thought, this is the hardest one to buy into. Gropnik (2011) states “the new connective technology, by joining people together in new communities and in new ways, is bound to make for more freedom” (p. 2). Really? Can we discuss Egypt for a moment? Yes, the Internet provides the forum for free speech and the freedom of expression, but freedom becomes just an empty concept in the face of the words, oh, regulation and censorship. There will always be the so called innovators for radical change; the ones, such as the Egyptian populous, who challenge the safe or the undemocratic or the corrupt. So to say that “the Internet produces the global psyche” and “Contraptions don’t change consciousness; contraptions are part of consciousness,” while somewhat accurate, aren’t entirely true and seems to be a horribly creative way to restate McLuhan’s saying “we shape our tools and they in turn shape us” (Gropnik, 2011, p. 4).

As the Internet has the capacity to turn the human population into tech-zombies, each person has unique tools to fight against such a transformation. As stated above, the Internet ‘contraption’ has had enumerable effects on the human populous and not all has been bad.  As Wood and Smith (2005) state “even reality becomes subject to manipulation” (p. 8). Are we entering into a zeitgeist categorized by fragmentation and disassociation, the inverted self, or a new era of “peace, love and happiness?” To borrow a quote from Sir Walter Scott, “What a tangled web we weave, When first we practice to…”.

Works used:

Gropnik, “The Internet”. Published in The New Yorker, February 14, 2011

Wood, A. F., & Smith, M. J. (2005). Online Communication. Muhwah, New Jersey: Lawrence Erlbaum     Associates.

Spinning Social and Web 2.0

21 Jan

I often find myself questioning how we begin to define “social” in the 24 hr technological cycle. With the advent of social media and trends of tweeting, posting, liking, commenting and retweeting, has it become a social norm for people to forgo face-to-face communication for a hybrid form of computer mediated communication? Has social media forced us into an anti-social pattern of granting virtual space the new top priority in our interactions, and if so, what are the consequences to our interactions? Sure, the web allows us to reach out to people living in different time zones and places we could only imagine of going, but are these actual meaningful relationships, or is it just a way to further our egotistical selves.

I’m part of the Millennial generation. I began using the computer in elementary school and have had one hand connected to it ever since.  By 2006, I had made the switch from MySpace to Facebook and I can confidently say that is when my addiction started. It is also the year I began my undergraduate journey in the hopes of a job offer at the completion of it. As a corporate communications major, every facet of the new web 2.0 craze was exciting and a little overwhelming. Ok, very overwhelming. Now fast forward to present day. I fought becoming a tweeter as long as I could because of the social stigma associated to the term, and the SNL skits didn’t help ease that fear either. But with a new internship opportunity, I figured I would join the bandwagon, and I have been very impressed thus far.

As a social person, it is becoming more and more difficult to leave the iPad at home for fear of missing out on the latest information made available by twitter. Even with a Blackberry in hand, I feel a slight anxiety about missing out on the 24 hour news cycle. Now, back to the question posed above. It is going to be interesting to see how our human connections are maintained and cultivated in the age when CMC (computer mediated communication) is being increasingly popular.

Social in Every Sense

17 Jan

     There’s a great article that I recently read for my Marketing class. I found it on Bloomberg Businessweek, www.businessweek.com. The article, Marketing to Millennials is very insightful into the generation who holds the trump cards in many areas in the economic sectors. While I fall into the millennial category, as a soon-to-be College of Charleston graduate, looking to enter the field of public relations and marketing, any information regarding social media, generational tendencies and media trends is a welcome read. I recently obtained an internship with Charleston After Dark and CHS365. The company helps local businesses, designers and the Charleston social scene in networking their expertise to the public. We plan parties for great causes, help market great events and attempt to figure out the true capacities of social media. Through my internship with C.A.D., i’ve met influential people in the Charleston networking realm and gained innumerable real world experiences. This blog is an attempt to share some of my findings from people and businesses that I follow on Twitter and upcoming events in Charleston.