Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Where to now?

I apologise in advance if this blog post becomes long-winded and rambling.  I have learned so much over the past 12 weeks, so many thoughts swirling around in my mind, so many unanswered questions.

Each topic that we have covered has inevitably brought me back to the theorists we covered in the first couple of weeks.  Sherry Turkle's concerns about our 'connected' lives resulting in us becoming disconnected from people in our physical lives.  Is this the reality that we have to look forward to?  As we become more and more reliant on our digital devices are we becoming less able to interact with people on a face to face basis?  Are we heading towards the kind of world envisaged by Baudrillard, where our online lives become better than our real ones? 

The Daily Galaxy
We use online games like Second Life and World of Warcraft to create more interesting versions of ourselves, our avatars representing the person we would like to be.  In such worlds we can fly, teleport, become heroes, fight great battles, form relationships with other avatars, but at what cost?  Our online lives are becoming ever more real to us, and our real lives becoming like a pale, washed out reflection. 

Social media has allowed us to connect with people on a wider scale than would likely be possible in reality.  For myself, there's no way I could keep up with 200 odd people and maintain that many friendships.  I'd never get anything done!  We post tid bits on our news feeds, insights into our daily lives, and yet we are selective about what we post.  Eager to show the best side of ourselves, how many of us leave out the mundane reality that probably makes up the majority of our lives?  The cleaning, the vaccuming, fighting with the kids to get ready in the mornings, or put them to bed at nights.  Paying bills, working 9-5, none of this is interesting to anyone else?  Yet it is reality.  Are we becoming dissatisfied with our lives because we see everyone elses seemingly 'perfect' lives with their perfect homes, perfect children, perfect family holidays?

Living YOUR perfect life

We are so reliant on being connected that it can be devastating when we are not.  A couple of weeks ago, the server went down where I work.  I spent almost an entire day, sitting at my desk, completely and utterly disabled.  I couldn't check my emails, couldn't access the internet, couldn't access any of the documents I'd been working on.  My world literally fell apart.  Cyberterrorism is an ever present threat, hackers working to penetrate the servers of governments and military.  What happens when they succeed?  Where are we if they manage to infiltrate our banking systems, our tax file records, our confidential information? 

Don't get me wrong - I see a great deal of good in the technology we use today.  It's so easy now to Google an answer to a question, to find pretty much anything we want.  We can shop online, bank online, book holidays online.  Our lives are no longer lived 9-5, and we need to be able to do all these things outside of usual business hours.  In my busy life - working, studying, raising two children, there is simply never enough hours in the day to do everything.  I rely on my access to technology in order to keep my life running smoothly, well I at least try to have my life run smoothly!

So many questions, so many unknowns.  Who knows where we will be in another 10 years?  Even another 5!  Look at how popular android devices and iPhones have become.  Five years ago they didn't even exist, and now every second person seems to have one.  I don't have a crystal ball, I can't predict what the future holds.  I can only hope that our deep internal need to be connected to other people keeps us away from the dystopic world of Baudrillard, that we continue to have interactions and relationships as we have always done - in the physical world.  Because no matter how advanced our technology, no matter how 'perfect' our online lives, there will never be a substitute for the sheer and utter beauty of our unpredictable, completely flawed physical world.  The uncertainty and unpredictability of it all is what makes life exciting, it's what teaches us about who we are as people, and what I will always cherish and enjoy. 

So it's goodnight and good luck!  See you around.

Adios Amigos!

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Leave me alone!

Say No To Cyber Bullying!
Katie sits down at her desk and opens her laptop. She's in the last term of Yr.12 and has a ton of assessments on the go. There's a busy evening of studying ahead of her, but she opens her Facebook profile to check out how her friends are going, thinking perhaps she can get some help if she gets stuck on that algebra problem. As her news feed loads, she gasps. The sight on her laptop screen is too awful, too horrifying for her to take in all at once.
'You slut, I wish I'd never met you'
'Who do you think you are?'
'watch your back, we're comin for ya'
'wouldn't be at school tomoz if I waz u'
'do us a favor & go jump off a cliff!'

Tears stream down Katie's face. What had she done to deserve this? These girls were supposed to be her friends. Why were they being so horrible to her? She slams her laptop shut, and curls up in a ball on her bed, shaking with sobs.

Whilst the story above is fictitious, this is not a fictional situation. Bullying has moved from the school playground into the homes and bedrooms of children all over the world. Email, text messaging, social media and instant messaging services are the new forum for bullies. It means that for those experiencing cyber bullying, there is no escape. Not even home is a safe haven for them. It's no wonder then that the fallout from such experiences can include depression, anxiety, poor academic performance, school drop outs and in some extreme circumstances, has even led to suicide (Teach Today, 2008). This is a problem which will not be easy to address, and which requires a broad approach by many parties. Schools need to develop policies for dealing with bullying, a difficult task given that much of cyber bullying takes place outside of school grounds and school hours. It is imperative that a culture change take place, that we, as a society, stop regarding bullying as a normal part of childhood that must be lived through and endured (Campbell, 2005), and recognize the devastating impact it has on the victim, their friends, and their families.
Parents need to be more aware of what their children are doing online, and encourage open and honest communication, so that they are quickly apprised of any problems their child/ren might be experiencing. Simply taking away their access to technology is not a helpful solution. Young people are digital natives, raised on phones, internet and computer games. Taking away their technology is like cutting off a limb. Victims themselves need to find the strength within to tell somebody. As the saying goes, 'a problem shared is a problem halved'; once the victim shares their problem they are no longer alone and isolated.  Many ISP's and even Facebook and MySpace now have anti-bullying policies in place which mean that bullies can be tracked through their online presence and held accountable for their actions (Youth BeyondBlue).  This is a problem that will not easily be solved, but if all stakeholders come together with a common goal, some inroads can be made to ensure that more lives aren't lost.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Epic Fail!

I can't help it - I love a good laugh at the expense of others!  As a kid I always laughed hysterically over Funniest Home Videos, while my Mum sat, fixing me with a look of disdain, wondering what on earth I thought was so funny.  But to this day, I find endless amusement in watching people do stupid things (or trying to do cool things and coming off looking stupid).  Thank God for YouTube, as now I can feed my appetite for people failing anytime I want to.
Sometimes it's the predictability, that sense of impending failure, that amuses me.  Why would they think that was going to work?  How could they not see what was going to happen?  Some of my favourites include a guy trying to 'bomb' into a frozen pool, and landing hard on the unbroken ice.  Ouch.  Skateboarders trying to do cool tricks to impress their friends is always good too, as are the plethora of videos of people jumping off roofs into a pool (that never works either)!
The many and varied 'fail' compilation videos to be found on the Net today are a prime example of what has been termed 'produsage'.  The term refers to a shift in the method of production from traditional producer-distributor-consumer to a process where the consumer and the producer are one and the same (Produsage: towards a broader framework for user-led content creation).  The produsers of these compilation videos are exactly that - they've found short clips of people doing stupid things, and from that, edited them together into a new video; thereby turning them into producers.  Examples of produsage can be found in many other places - Wikipedia is another one of the most common forms, where various people compile entries on various topics, which are then edited and added to by others in a constantly evolving piece of work.  The process of produsage remains continually unfinished by necessity, and infinitely continuing (Produsage: key principles), so that new content is added all the time, and then picked up by someone else and used to create something else new. 
In the meantime, I'm off to laugh at some hapless individual falling off a swing, or a boat, or a bike, or face planting into their loungeroom floor after attempting a flip from standing, or smacking themselves in the face, or unintentionally knocking over or breaking something, or... well, you get the picture! 

Sunday, January 27, 2013

My first life is busy enough thanks!

I must be missing something.  This is the overriding thought I had whilst wandering through Second Life.  Maybe I just wasn't hanging out where all the 'cool kids' were.  But there was hardly anyone around where I was, and certainly nobody was talking to me.  What exactly was I doing there?  Well, in the interests of understanding why this virtual world has become so popular I thought it was only fair that I do my research.  But to be honest, I still don't get it. 

Can someone explain to me the point of Second Life?  What do people get out of it?  As far as I can make sense of it, it's either a chance to explore another identity, or to connect with others and potentially build relationships.  Can't they just do that in real life?  Well, perhaps not the exploring another identity part, but certainly meeting people and building relationships can be done in real life. Key social media theorists such as Sherry Turkle point to the fact that the more 'connected' we are becoming, the more isolated we become.  We may think we're broadening our horizons, meeting new people, trying new things, but in the meantime are we forgetting how to interact in a physical sense, on a face to face basis? 


What really scares me is some of the comments made about the potential of Second Life.  The creator, Phillip Rosedale, believes it could become the search engine of the future.  Multinational companies are rushing in to Second Life because they don't want to miss out on the next big thing.  There are already shops where you can buy things for your avatar, such as clothes, and also for your 'real' self (You Only Live Twice).  To me, this plays straight into Baudrillard's dystopic view of hyperreality - where the online world becomes more real to us than our 'real' life (Baudrillard).  Almost like the world of the Matrix - where we're all 'plugged in' living these beautiful, perfect online lives, but we've forgotten about our physical reality.  We're already swamped on a daily basis with images of beautiful people that we're supposed to look like, act like and live like.  Will we move to an online world where we can look, act and live however we want to, and yet be frustrated by and dissatisfied with our physical selves?

For myself, I can't really see that we will all end up like mindless drones,  tapping away at our computer keyboards 24/7.  I've tried Second Life, but to be honest, my first life keeps me busy enough!  Two kids, part-time job, part-time study doesn't leave much time for anything else.  I admit to loving social media as much as the next person - I don't think I would keep in touch with anywhere near as many of my friends if it weren't for Facebook.  But as to having a 'second life' online, well I can't really see how my real life is so bad or dissatisfying to me that I would really need to create another life to fill some need within me.  Because that's really the conclusion I've come to - that people who become so invested in these online worlds, to the extent that they refer to their avatar like a living, breathing person; who have relationships, sex and even get married in an online world - must feel as though something is missing from their real life.  Apart from being able to fly and  to teleport - what's on offer in these online environments that we can't get in our physical reality?  Nobody's perfect, we're not all stunningly beautiful, slim, sexy, successful, wealthy, intelligent... but isn't that what makes us so great?  We're all unique, we're all different and we all have value right here, and right now.  Second Life?  No thanks, I'm busy enough (and happy enough) with my first one!

Monday, January 21, 2013

Robin Hood - prince of leaks?


Robin Hood, everybody's favourite outlaw, robbed from the rich and powerful to give to the poor and powerless.  He saw an imbalance in society, and tried to rectify it - at great risk to himself.  He was hounded by lawmakers, and loved by the people he helped.  A character of folklore, scholars still debate whether a real Robin Hood ever existed, but his legend is still popular today - over 600 years since his name first appeared in ballads and rhymes.  Movies have been made about him, and he has variously been played by such cinema legends as Errol Flynn, Kevin Costner and Russell Crowe.  I wonder who will play Julian Assange when he is immortalised on film?

Am I getting ahead of myself?  Perhaps, but looking at the story of Julian Assange and the controversy that surrounds him and WikiLeaks, it seems highly likely that some Hollywood studio will recognise an opportunity to kill it at the box office glorifying this quietly spoken, white haired man from Brisbane.

Getting back to Robin Hood though...  He is a legend, his name known by probably millions of people around the world.  Can we draw parallels between his life and that of Julian Assange?  While Robin Hood robbed from the rich, Julian Assange 'robs' from those rich in information; mostly governments of Western countries.  Robin Hood gave the fruits of his labours to the poor, Julian Assange posts them on his website and releases them to a select number of newspapers - giving to the information poor, in an effort to "bring transparency to the duplicitous antics of the troubled and competitive world" (Truth & Consequence).  There are many powerful people who greatly dislike what Julian Assange and WikiLeaks do - Hilary Clinton believes that the publication of 250,000 diplomatic cables was a threat to national security, putting people's lives in danger and undermining the efforts of the US government to build relationships and work with other countries.  Sarah Palin went one step further - she labelled him an 'anti-American operative with blood on his hands' (Daily Mail) and called for him to be hunted down with the same urgency as al-Qaeda and the Taliban.  Hunted by many, Julian Assange now spends his time holed up in the Ecuadorian embassy in London, just as Robin Hood hid out in Sherwood Forest to avoid those in power who wanted him out of the way.

What will be the fate of this new-age rebel?  Will he eventually be captured by his enemies, locked away where he can do them no further harm?  Or will he continue to elude the authorities, and continue to bring information to the world, in his attempts to increase transparency?  Will he go down in history as a Robin Hood for the 21st Century, or will he be forgotten?  I can't say I'm a big fan of his, but I can appreciate what he is trying to do, and I hope that the history books will one day talk about him as bringing about great change in the way that governments communicate with their people.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Electioneering - advice for the PM

2013 is election year here in Australia.  The past two and a half years have certainly not been easy for our current Prime Minister, Julia Gillard.  After ousting the then PM Kevin Rudd in rather controversial fashion, she has yet to face the voting public.  But this year is decision year. 


Whether she retains leadership of the country, or is swept from power by Tony Abbott will depend a great deal on her election campaign, and how well she engages with the public.  She would do well to take some tips from the U.S Presidential campaign, and utilise the power of social media and the Internet to garner support from the Australian people.  To this end, I've put together some pointers for the PM.

  • Have an active social media profile - make use of Facebook, Twitter and YouTube to connect with the public and start a conversation with them.  Luckily for her, she already has done this - the Labor Party website has a number of options which allow you to 'Connect with Julia'. 

  • Should she wish to take this a step further, a successful tactic used by Barack Obama in his Presidential campaign was to set up his own social networking application - MyBarackObama.com.  This site served a dual purpose: target voters, and organise get-out-the-vote activities.  It enabled the Obama camp to build a database of supporters, and used them to draw in more supporters and encourage people to vote on the day.  According to the site, 2.2 million voters built the re-election campaign in local communities and neighbourhoods across the U.S

  • Simply having an Internet presence is not sufficient.  Success lies in connecting with the public on a personal level, interacting with them, responding to their questions and comments.  This is also a good way of engaging with young voters, who are traditionally not as interested in politics as their older, more educated and wealthier counterparts. 

  • Liven things up a bit, make politics fun.  More great ideas from the US presidential campaign include running competitions such as choosing a song for Hilary Clinton's campaign, paintings and web videos for Obama, and producing a video ad for Mitt Romney.  Julia could invite people to come up with a catchy campaign slogan - Kevin07 had a nice ring to it.  Unfortunately my creativity doesn't seem to stretch that far - nothing seems to rhyme with '13'!!

  • Use YouTube to release video statements about policy, and then watch the TV networks pick it up and spread it like wildfire.  Just make sure that nobody gets a video of you doing or saying something embarassing, as that could really ruin your chances.  Check out this pearler from Mitt Romney talking about his 'binders full of women':


  • Use a multi-faceted approach. The old tried & true methods of campaigning are tried & true for a reason. Don't neglect them, but integrate them with the use of social media and the Internet to develop a well-rounded approach that engages with as many people from diverse backgrounds, education and employment status and age groups as possible. At the end of the day, it all comes down to numbers. The more people you can connect with, the more likely you are to see a good result on election day.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Armchair activists?

I have to admit I initially struggled with the concept of digital activism.  As usual though, I overcomplicated it.  My basic understanding is that digital activism is any cause, social/political action or similar that makes use of the internet, and in particular, social media, to spread its message and gain support.

Rather than being a new form of activism, digital activism simply utilises the growing power of the web to add to its effectiveness.  As Allison Fine notes in her book 'Momentum: Igniting Social Change in the Connected Age', connectedness is faciliated and strengthened by technology, as opposed to coming directly from it.  We can see this in the plethora of Facebook pages set up to promote causes: Gay Marriage Rights in Australia, which promotes marriage equality, and Waterworks which promotes access to clean water are a couple of examples that pop up regularly in my Facebook feed. Although simply clicking 'Like' on one of these pages doesn't enact change, it is a starting point and provides a first point of contact.  At the very least, it gets people thinking, and hopefully some will take that thought and turn it into action.

One of the most interesting examples of digital activism I came across was The Harry Potter Alliance, set up by a group of fans of the Harry Potter books, whose mission is to use popular culture to engage and mobilize citizens around issues of equality, literacy and human rights.  What the Harry Potter Alliance has done is draw on the popularity of J.K Rowling's books, and the associated films, to bring together fans of the series in working towards a better world, just as Harry Potter and his friends did. 

On the downside, the tools used by digital activists can also be used against them.  The very tools digital activists use to change power structures, are also used by repressive governments to prevent change - through censorship, surveillance and propaganda.  In 2009, an Iranian government website posted photos of alleged protestors, and invited members of the public to identify them so they could be arrested.  In China, people are paid to post pro-government comments on websites, chatrooms and bulletin boards.

As with anything good, there will always be people who attempt to thwart positive change.  And there will always be critics, those who say that digital activism is merely creating armchair activists, who think they're making the world a better place by clicking 'Like' on a Facebook page or sharing a status update or photo.  But instead of being cynical, I prefer to see digital activism as another tool in the arsenal of those trying to enact social change and bring about equality.  The more people who are aware of what's going on in the world, and the suffering and inequality some of earth's citizens are subjected to, then maybe, just maybe, changes will begin to take place.