So much net, so little time.

We can’t live without the Internet. It’s on phones, on laptops and, if you’re lucky enough, on your fridge. But how much net is too much? And what are we really using it for?

At the moment I, like thousands of Uni students around the state, am on SWOTVAC. That’s “Study With Out Teachers VACation” for those playing at home. I had big plans, in fact since week 3 I’ve been putting aside stuff to do, just waiting for one glorious week of 24/7 study …. that’s so far just turned out to be a three day YouTube and “Damn You Auto Correct” binge. Drat.

As my wrists begin to burn from my (apparently poorly ventilated) keyboard, I thought it best to consider what I was actually doing. After all, my excuse of Net Comm research can only last for so long.

The Internet has evolved from its original, and arguably more important and useful, purpose as a decentralized communications network capable of surviving a nuclear attack, into an online library of time wasting videos and blogs. Oh, and porn. Delightful.

Media scholars have long touted, and probably will continue to for a while, the potential of the Internet as the new public sphere. Promoting its ability to facilitate instant, international and truly democratic discussion; benefiting society through the development of brilliant ideas. With its lack of censorship, ease of use and global access, expectations of the Internet are by no means too lofty, and yet they have no where near been realised.

Is it the fault of society? It can hardly be the technology, since computers are just a bunch of circuits and ones & zeros at the end of the day. So it must be us, the users. With such a great tool at our disposal, why are we wasting it on “Keyboard Cat” and Perez Hilton. In this image conscious age, does anyone really care about democracy, the public sphere, or intellectual debate anymore? It would seem not. You only need to pick up a mainstream newspaper to see that sex and crime sell, that politics is only popular when it involves sex and crime, and that the only social issues discussed are, well, sex and crime. While revolutions and uprisings spring up trying to achieve democracy overseas, it seems that western democracies just want to read gossip on their iPads.

And the real question is how will we ever become interested in the more important things, when we’re too busy watching stupid (but brilliant) stuff like this?

(The first and one of the best videos from The Lonely Island. First aired on SNL.

HINT: It’s mirrored to avoid copyright infringement. Sneaky.)

Liberal democracy is resting on its laurels, we’re in a perpetual Lazy Sunday. Yet, ultimately it’s up to us. With so much to solve and so much at our disposal, maybe it’s time to log off YouTube and get back to work. A digital detox. For Uni and the world. For ourselves, and for our futures.

(But hey, while you’re here, check out this from the same guys. One of my favourites. Over 100 millions views. Well done democracy!)

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Blogging for who? Sorry, not you.

Week 7:

B) Lovink also argues that: “No matter how much talk there is of community and mobs, the fact remains that blogs are primarily used as a tool to manage the self” (Reader, page 222).

Discuss this argument, giving an example of a blog.

I’ve never understood the thinking behind a blog. I’m neither that interesting, nor that selfish (I hope). Not to be rude, but it’s true, blogs are inherently personal. They’re a means to rant, to complain, and to comment without restraint. They provide a voice, in a world where less and less voices are heard.

The argument that the blogosphere is the ultimate democratic tool of the 21st century is a highly contested one. Rather, I agree with Lovink’s argument that for all the talk of communities and mobs, “blogs are primarily used as a tool to manage the self” (2008: 28). Lovink argues that “blogs are part of a wider culture that fabricates celebrity on every possible level” (2008: 28), and that ultimately blogs just “perform the introspective duty of the online diary” (2008: 29). Arguably, the majority of blogs are “too personal, even egocentric” (Lovink, 2008: 28). West raises the interesting notion that blogs are simply “media influenced modes of escapism” (2004: 176) and indeed, many people I know write blogs because it’s therapeutic. I disagree, however, that this is fuelled only by “personal depression” and “loneliness” (West, 2004: 176). Sometimes it’s just healthy to get things off your chest.

Interestingly Shirky defines blogs as “social software”—that which “supports social interaction” (Quoted in Lovink, 2008: 29)—and yet “most sites either have ‘no comments’ or [have] closed down the possibility of responding altogether” (Lovink, 2008: 28). Extending this, Trueman argues that “when everyone in general thinks they have a right to be heard…nobody in particular is listened to” (Quoted in Lovink, 2008: 27). So if bloggers are neither listening to nor commenting on other blogs, then clearly, as Claire E. Write argues, “the essence of a blog is not the interactivity of the media: it is the sharing of the thoughts and opinions of the blogger.” (Quoted in Loving, 2008: 28) Thus, regardless of any community involvement, blogging is always fundamentally a personal endeavour.

Let’s look at a real life blog. It took me three seconds to find this one, conveniently promoted on the WordPress.com homepage.

Stevil (http://stevebetz.wordpress.com/) is the personal blog of Steve Betz. Steve is your average protein chemist-cum-structural biologist-cum-endocrinologist drug discoverer. He’s in his mid-40s (guessing from his pictures) and lives in San Diego with his wife and beloved dog (who features in the majority of these pictures).

Steve seems like a smart guy. Yet he posts stuff like:

“Boys will be boys”: An insightful post about two elephants urinating and rolling in their own faeces during his recent trip to the San Diego Zoo. In case you still don’t get it, there are 6 action shots, in glorious colour.

And “Rise and Shine”: A photo of a snail with the reminder “Time to get moving this morning”. (Source: Stevil)

Now forgive me for being harsh. But the fact that a grown man woke up and felt the need to post, in public, on the Interweb, that it was “time to get moving” — and then illustrate it with a picture of a snail — is, frankly, ridiculous. (It’s also contradictory. If you need to get moving, why are you blogging?) The elephant story isn’t much better. Nevertheless, whether or not I find Steve’s posts interesting, or read them at all, is irrelevant. That’s the beauty of a blog: it’s written fundamentally for oneself.

(Still not convinced? While explaining blogs, this video highlights their personal and often trivial nature.)

And, yes. I do realise the irony of writing this on a blog…

Words: 551

References:

Lovink, G. (2008) Zero Comments: Blogging and Critical Internet Culture, London, UK: Routledge. pp 1-38

Stevil – Blog: (http://stevebetz.wordpress.com/) [date accessed: 24 April 2011]

West, C. (2004) Democracy Matters: winning the fight against imperialism, New York: The Penguin Press. pp 176

Citizen journalism: can journalism by anyone be trusted by everyone?

Week 4:

Russell (et al.) compares elite media and institutions with bloggers and ponders the following question: “Do bloggers, with their editorial independence, collaborative structure and merit-based popularity more effectively inform the public?” (Reader, page 136). Do you agree? Use examples to illustrate your point of view.

Thanks to the Internet, anyone and everyone is now a journalist. Stories are breaking in real time as people share what they see. In fact, the Internet is “dissolving the boundaries between professional journalists and amateurs” (Solove, 2007: 23) so thoroughly, that the mainstream media increasingly relies on its readers for content.

Debating whether citizen journalism more effectively informs the public has arguments for both sides. Russel et al. argue that bloggers have “editorial independence, collaborative structure[s] and merit-based popularity” (Russell et al., 2008: 67). They can operate much faster than the mass media (often in real time) and usually have first hand information. Furthermore, while the mass media has long been preferred for factual credibility and objectivity, the more cynical observer knows that, in the modern age, news is just another commodity. Stories are slanted and certain issues are covered specifically to maximise profits. In such an environment, citizen journalism does appear an enticing alternative.

Yet for all its potential, it would be premature to say that citizen journalism is more effective at informing the public than the mass media. At least not yet.

Firstly, the majority of citizen produced content is actually poached from the mass media itself. Bloggers simply use the “mainstream media as a springboard for critique and discussion” (Russel et al. 2008: 70). Furthermore, there are far too many voices to create an effective, coherent news service. While this “wider range of opinions” (Sonwalkar, 2009: 77) is often touted as a positive of alternative media, in practice it is impractical. Russel et al. suggest that “all voices can be heard, but not all voices attract equal amounts of attention” (2008: 67), however, I agree more with Trueman’s assessment that “where everyone has a right to speak….nobody in particular is listened to” (Quoted in Lovink, 2008: 27).

The two biggest issues, however, are obviously: credibility and objectivity.

While you should by no means take everything you read in the newspaper as gospel, you can usually trust that the facts are correct. Why? Because someone will be held accountable if they are not. A key difference of citizen journalism is that no-one is accountable. If I write something false on my blog, and you read it and believe it… Well, who cares? I won’t go to jail. I won’t get fired. I’m going to bed. In fact, efforts to improve editorial content quality have often “discouraged potential contributors” (Robinson et al., 2010: 170). Thus, even if the vast majority of bloggers strive to be factual and honest, there will always be those who won’t let the truth get in the way of a good story. How will you know who’s right?

Secondly, professional journalists are trained to put aside their prejudices and report in an objective manner. While it’s certainly not bulletproof, it is better than nothing. Yet, as Dheere writes, bloggers “often see themselves as taking a more active role in the news than simply reporting it. They are often instigators of change in the first place” (Dheere, 2008). In light of this, how can the public reasonably expect objectivity over an issue the journalist was involved in? It’s one thing to write a story, it’s another to be the story.

The shift from mainstream media, as the primary source of news, towards social media (Facebook, Twitter, blogs) is undoubtedly underway. But it’s not there just yet. The Age website might have to be my homepage a little while longer.

(Still doubtful? This video cleverly summarises Citizen vs Mainstream Journalism. Using Lego!)

Words: 556

References:

Dheere, J. (2008) ‘Arab bloggers meet to discuss free speech, reject ‘journalist’ label’, PBS MediaShift. http://www.pbs.org/mediashift/2008/09/arab-bloggers-meet-to-discuss-free-speech-reject-journalist-label256.html, 12 September, [accessed 11 April]

Lovink, G. (2008) Zero Comments: Blogging and Critical Internet Culture, London, UK: Routledge. pp 1-38

Robinson, S., DeShano, C., Nakho, K. and L. A. Friedland (2010) ‘Madison Commons 2.0: A platform for tomorrow’s civic and citizen journalism’ pp. 162-172 in Rosenberry, J. and  J. Burton St. (eds) Public journalism 2.0: the promise and reality of a citizen-engaged press. New York: Routledge.

Russell, A., Ito, M., Richmond, T., & Tuters, M. (2008). Culture: Media Convergence and Networked Participation. pp 43-76 in K. Varnelis (ed.) Networked Publics. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press

Solove, Daniel. J. (2007) The future of reputation: gossip, rumor and privacy on the Internet. New Haven: Yale University Press, pp. 23

Sonwalkar, P. (2009) ‘Citizen journalism in India: the politics of recognition’ pp 75-84 in S. Allan and E. Thorsen (eds.) Citizen journalism: global perspectives. New York: Peter Lang Publishing