Week 10: A Final Reflection

Well, here we are at the end of another blogging task. Hooray!

I will say that non-scholarly blogging, where interconnection to other sources is more important than reference points, is easier than scholarly blogging (with cites and all). I’m not completely sold on those things, though, because while it’s good to show you’re engaged with reading and you can back up your thoughts with research, sometimes that research doesn’t exist.

Both are good, but I feel that the blogging subject, as a regular feature, would want to show us internalising and expanding on the subject matter of lectures, week to week. If it was say, bi-weekly, maybe, compacting together two related subjects with third-party readings I’d feel more comfortable pushing together a more deliberate scholarly position.

I think the first challenge of blogging effectively is internalising the idea that your thoughts, and the words associated with them, are worth recording and pinning down. Expressing yourself regularly, and releasing words onto the internet – feels more terrifying than it is. For the most part, while you do have to keep in mind the potential of vast observation of your work, that doesn’t mean it’ll happen.

This is actually a source of frustration for me – since alongside my university work, I am trying to make online writing work for me. I’ve been writing non-stop for two years, and I have maybe… twenty, thirty readers.

Blogging is hard if you want attention or feedback. It can ache at the soul to put thoughts out in a public space in the hope of struggling with ideas, only to hear nothing but silence echoing back.

The internet tells us we are in a vast, interconnected web, and that we are part of the producing class, but that myth is not about being a producer building an audience as much as they are about joining up in a vast lottery. Some peoples’ writing will catch on – they have niches or interconnected audiences that can drive them onwards – but they have to catch.

That’s not to say skill isn’t important in blogging – but damn is luck involved too.

Still, blogging is a good task and I like it. I like that it’s a university project that rewards us for being engaged and doing some work every week. I like that it’s classwork that doesn’t demand a large, dense work at the end of the semester. And I particularly like that it can, hypothetically, be presented to employers to show our familiarity with blogging.

I think the part of this event that causes me the most problem is commentary. I think the reason I feel strange about commenting on other students’ blogs is actually a function of media in space.

The nature of online spaces is one of remote distance, where a person’s words are almost all we have to identify them. Most of the conversation with online experiences is remote and operated through identities we choose. This can give online spaces a certain forgiving nature, where if you say something wrong or silly, you don’t have to follow it up. You can just excuse yourself and that’s that. You can leave those spaces.

Last semester, I objected to a poorly designed test (that I had passed) in another one of my subjects. I used the term pedagogically useless when addressing the test, which was open-book and online with three hours of time to complete. The next tutorial I did, I walked into class a moment late, and another student yelled my name, and followed that up with how dare you-.

She became very angry, and after the tutorial was over I found out why. She was mad at me because she felt that I was saying anyone who did not finish the test and pass was stupid.

I hadn’t said that – but it was an example of an online miscommunication. She was so angry with me that, when the class was over, she fired off more anger at me, insisted I was wrong, then stormed out of the class when I tried to discuss it with her.

That kind of thing won’t happen with most online interactions, but it only has to happen once for me to be cautious. Interestingly, by drawing students together into our common space, these kind of online interactions are filtered through the knowledge that we will deal with these people in person.

By removing the distance of the internet, I feel the comment sections become instead spaces for friends to provide each other commentary that facilitates classwork. Small groups of blogs that mostly have anodyne ‘I saw that too!’ comments in them, between the same four or five people, for example.

I’m not sure if this is bad or not, but I do think that it’s very, very hard to moderate an online space like this to a proper level of safety, especially when there are followup exposures to one another in person.

Still, this subject has been about the logistics of spaces, and about the careful interrelationship between spaces, audiences, and the media consumed. As has been an eternal cycle in BCM subjects, I return to my point that everything an interrelated system of systems. Audienceship isn’t a binary state, either; it’s a spectrum. Some people join an audience through the act of observing that audience – such as us, observing Australian cinemagoers, have to look upon the trailers they’re considering and what they’re disregarding, putting us as part of that audience. Similarly, there are spaces that do not host media, that are still influenced by, and part of a media space. The space that is primarily about transition from place to place, enabling media experiences, are part of that same existence. Highway billboards turn people who flicker past them into audiences, turn stretches of road into media spaces, even for a few moments.

Blogging is just like this; it’s turning a little page on the internet into a media space. It’s media we shape, and building the audience for it is one of the hardest things we can do, without larger, louder, distribution vectors.

Week 9: A Research Brief, As Asked

Gosh, it’s hard when you have a research question about which you have big opinions, isn’t it? You sit there looking at it wondering how you can possibly remove your current biases, and try to sift through things you can prove and things you can test. I mean, I have an answer for this. I get asked about this, by American friends, by people interested in Australian media.

So how would I address the question Why don’t Australians go to see Australian films?

It depends on who’s asking, of course. Without getting super cute about it, here are the people I expect to ask this question:

  • The government, as an investor in cinema
  • A movie creator, looking to maximise their opportunity
  • A movie distributor, wanting to decide whether to base out of Australia

Fortunately, for most of these people, there’s a lot of common information that benefits both. I’m not going to go do that research at this moment, just outline what information I’d want. The questions I know I need to answer:

  • Just how do we define successful films in Australia?
  • How many Australians have disposable income?
  • How are Australians partaking in film?
  • What form does film consumption take in Australia?

And, most crucially:

  • What competes with Australian media?

This isn’t a vacuum. With any research project, what you want is to come up with the context, you want to inform the decision your stakeholder makes. Oh, sure, you may have ideas and opinions on this – and hey, I’m keeping a lid on that right now – but what we’re looking for is something that research methods can help.

Okay, so what about these questions? Fortunately, a few of them are reasonably easy to look at. There’s statistical information that you can shake out, already obtained, about the first few questions. Particularly, that last question – about competition – is one we can dig into with qualitive questions.

Fact is, you can talk to anyone who watches films and talk to them about the films they like. And that’s where I’d want to go with this research once I’ve got sufficient data. When I know how much we spent on cinema, when I can do things like juxtapose our consumption on Australian films versus consumption of non-Australian film. Things like the commonality of film visits. Things like the how many people just watch youtube instead?

I’m honestly not sure I want this to be my research question. It’s an interesting question to talk about, but I’m not sure if this is the sort of space my interests lie. Still, the question was to draft a proposal around this specific question, so there we go.

The Revolution Will Be Tweeted

Oh hey, it’s this conversation, again!

I’m not being dismissive. But if you’re doing a Journalism subject, you can’t act like you haven’t spoken about this already. If you’ve done three or four journalism subjects, you just might have talked about this four or five times.

The Arab Spring is an example of a revolution where we have a nice, clear narrative. People were able to ‘get’ it, where people in a particular location with a commonality had this narrative point where the internet was able to make a revolution happen.

Of course, it’s not always that simple. Consider that in Egypt, one of the great fears of external observers was that if the military sided with Mubarik, his power would be nearly absolute. But the military didn’t – they refused to open fire, even as they moved around the city in tanks. Tanks were returning to their depots with anti-Mubarik graffiti scrawled on their sides. Military forces were pushed back by people on bikes. Why? Did social media do that?

The military in Egypt were a byproduct of national service; every Egyptian male of a certain age bracket had to serve in the military. When put to it, military servicepeople were not a remote, external power system in the nation, they were considered part of the nation. They were brothers, uncles, fathers. Social media didn’t preserve the people of Egypt from military wrath; the connection between people’s families and the military did.

Similarly, some people point to the fomenting of trouble in Syria through online media as an enabler of the conflict there. Chances are it is; but so too are things like economic oppression, power disparity, international influence and even climate change.

There is a very tempting narrative to say that the social media has done something new and magical. It has certainly allowed people to help one another in different and surprising ways. But consider just how events in Ferguson, Missouri have been influenced on social media, where there’s a war over the information that’s being distributed. Darren Wilson was moved after he’d shed his social media links. GoFundMe, the crowdfunding website, was host to racist rhetoric praising the actions of a cop who killed a child. Twitter itself was washed with outright falsehoods and fake quotes from fake relatives of Ferguson citizens. If you can’t stop the claims, you can add to the noise; you can generate lies and false support – or hell, just enable horrible people.

I suppose the most chilling of these, though, is the moment of watching Palestinian citizens sharing advice to citizens of Ferguson for what to do when a police state throws tear gas at your children.

These systems are part of large, complicated, interrelated systems – but they are still only part of them. People can get drunk on participation – but then they get hung over.

They get bored.

They stop.

Social media is an agent for speeding social action – but it sure seems to speed up how quickly people run out of stamina, too.

Week 8: The Demons Outside

Listing everything in my life that’s been the byproduct of a rule or regulation about the use of media would take thousands of pages and probably be a very depressing book. Social pressure pulls me away from expressing my feelings in a variety of venues, even including things like private diaries. In some cases it’s extreme social anxiety from friends – a person who could literally not bear the idea of being maligned, at all, who extracted a promise I never so much as write down how I felt about them in a private diary. In other cases, it’s been a clear tool of culture control.

Talking about things like kindness and emotional proximity are hard and there aren’t many good references, though. So let’s talk about the creepy religious bit.

At my church growing up, there was a strict rule against many things in the media. No rock music; no brand names on clothes; no satanically-influenced products like Dungeons and Dragons or Cabbage Patch Kids. Mostly, these bans were through social pressure; everyone else would disapprove, or talk to a parent, and a parent would quietly take the offending produce away.

One form of media control enforcement that became common as we grew older was the idea of media displacement. This happens in groups that feel a mainstream option doesn’t serve their needs – you find a specific replacement media form. For example, in the mid-90s there was a resurgence of ska music on the radio. You might have heard this:

Of course, listening to this sort of stuff on the radio wasn’t allowed! But there was clearly a media trend – people wanted ska music. What did Christian fundamentalists do about that? Well, check this action out!

They called themselves Bunch of Believers and their songs included Mission Trip To Mexico and this piece here, I’m Gunna Wait. Not really as meaningful or as deep – in my mind –as the nervous self-assessment of The Impression That I Get or the historical curiosity of Rascal King, but whatever.

This form of Media Displacement is not new but it’s also not going away. Did you hear about Reaganbook, the Conservative Answer to Facebook? What about Conservapedia, a version of Wikipedia that reflects a Young-Earth Creationist, Homeschooled view of the world? That’s not even to say Media Displacement is a fundamental evil – specialised media spaces for smaller audiences can be useful for marginalised groups!

The moral issue the church was trying to address, almost universally, was an unspoken contamination. A very tightly controlled worldview, the church taught a worldview where sin was everywhere, and literally magical forces could manipulate you through things you observed or heard. When you literally believe that a pop song can transform the soul, of course you’re going to be scared of them. The control was a clamp, it had to be as close to absolute as possible.

It’s a pretty fearful, strange world.

As for spaces… consider how ubiquitous media is, casually. Riding the bus? You hear the radio. Head to the supermarket and you’ll see all sorts of brands. Watch the news, and what’s that in the advertisements?

By making the common trappings of uncontrolled spaces dangerous and sinful, the church made every uncontrolled space into a place of literal existential threat.

We didn’t leave the house much.

No Gods, No Kings, No Gatekeepers?

Last year in Journalism class, we were posited the question What is Journalism, and how is it changing? The question came at the end of a semester of discussion of aggregation of data, of wikileaks and twitter.

The conclusion I reached in my essay was that Journalism was barely changing at all. Journalism, I argued – and I passed, so hey, here’s hoping the lecturers didn’t think me full of crap – was the process of turning data into information and information into narrative.

People like narrative, but more than that, narrative is one of the fundamental ways our minds store information. Basically, we all tell stories to store information. Consider the way our lecture turned the events in Bangkok into a narrative – it was to store in our memory that story, which in turn, made the point.

The lecture called this aggregating. By this definition, journalism is aggregation – just the aggregation process is done to different standards. Journalism’s gatekeepers and aggregators’ gatewatchers don’t seem to be fundamentally or structurally different.

Multiple times in the lectures we returned to the idea of the non-internet media as absolutely without user control, and decentralised online spaces like Reddit and 4chan and Slashdot as without central control.

Thing is, Moot can pull the plug on 4chan any time he wants. The Fappening most recently shows that Reddit can close the door on anyone any time it wants, along with their bannings, shadow bannings, and ip blocking. These systems are not without control – they’re just very permissive.

What we’re seeing here is a change in grip, a shift in tone, that’s being referred to as a revolution. The idea that Reddit can’t control itself defies the very basic point that Reddit is one singular website, which has an owner who controls it. It’s not only one website, but it’s one website that’s trying to exist in a marketplace and an economy that isn’t actually profitable. If Reddit shut down, would there be other Reddits? Probably. But Reddit itself, as recently as 2013, was admitting that it wasn’t profitable. The ultimate aggregator in a data-rich environment wasn’t able to make money for many years. The attention of its 70 million+ consumers wasn’t valuable enough to guarantee its existence. Hey, maybe it will be by the end of this year. Maybe being the front page of the internet for nine years solid can eventually generate enough attention in the free-data no-source information economy to be able to keep going.

We have come around a great circle. Once, you could control the media coming at you by turning it off; now, we pretend we couldn’t back then, and pretend we can’t turn things off any more.

Pure Idealism Or Pragmatic Identity

I feel a little bit like this week’s subject is background radiation. I know it’s there, and I’ve known it for years; it’s just been something I’ve watched happen in time. I remember the original clash between Adobe and Apple about whether or not Flash should run on smartphones, the explosion of technology from 2004 to 2014. I live with a web designer – listening to her dealing with the rise of smartphone browsing and reactive web design was a festival of outrage.

Normally when it’s something like this I reach back into older ideas and try to find a related piece of subject matter that’s undergone a similar experience. After all, my thesis is that the internet has mostly just expanded existing human structures – the message of our media is just bigger, not unheard of. Can I think of something in history which was both widely successful, well distributed, and created through a system of multiple competing authors trying to pull a coherent whole together to meet shifting goals and needs? From the needs of a small interconnected population to a large, widespread one, possibly while involving other, third-party material to make the whole thing stronger?

 

bible

Okay, maybe I shouldn’t talk about that.

It’s very easy to think of this lecture as being Apple vs Android, which may be the point but I feel like the aim was instead to examine ideologies.

Hypothetically, both approaches have their merits. Consider that Linux was available, and free, when Windows 95 launched, and when the iMac launched, and probably wasn’t meaningfully worse than either. Despite the massive surge in both the Apple and Microsoft OSes, though, Linux didn’t go away. It just kept going, growing and expanding, behind the scenes. It did what open source projects do – It responded to its consumers, and it grew and spread.

People like to evoke the walled garden as a descriptor of centrally-controlled markets with captive audiences, and sometimes you’ll hear the rest of the world described as open source jungle. This description cuts a clean, hard line between the two; there’s safety and the wilderness; there’s freedom and there’s fascism.

Not super helpful.

games banner

Thing is, there are hybrid models. There are forms of software development and exploration that have some central control source providing a baseline of performance, and consumers and contributors altering the core. Consider videogames.

Editing videogames to add or include content is not new – modding has been around almost as long as videogames have been themselves. With the rise of the internet in the 90s, though, a conscious effort was made to tap and interconnect user creativity. The game formed a sort of cathedral design, but videogames were designed to have easily accessible, influenced code, forming a trend that continued all the way to today – but you could distribute your mods without any influence from the creator of the games.

It’s a walled garden, but it’s a low wall.

Week 7: Read This Post In A Funny Accent

I legitimately worry that the idea people will most internalise about this talk is that memory is enabled by accents.

Your memory does not work particularly well. For the most part, your ability to estimate mathematical odds is linked to your ability to recall something easily. An example Dan Gilbert used was asking whether or not there are more four-letter words structured r_ _ _ or _ _ r _. Since most people find it easy to think of words that start with r, they typically answer the first, when the second type of word structure is much more common.

This isn’t anyone’s fault, but it’s generally been a problem with education that our ability to recall things is a little haphazard, and a large part of education has been through the population of memory. Rote learning, it’s typically called; you do a sum, and then you do a dozen more, similar sums, hoping to internalise how those sums interact. Research has an echo to this; you usually have to look at numerous examples of a thing before you can reasonably call them data.

Multitasking as outlined in class is indicated by the texts we saw as an ill to education. It diminishes our ability to retain information, it pulls our focus away from the education, and oh, won’t someone think of the children. I thought it was quite interesting the way the sources referred to people’s perceptions of their skill at multitasking, saying that people are, generally worse than they think they are. This is probably true, but meaninglessly so – because people are almost always bad at self-assessment.

When researching, though, you will bring your own biases into the exchange, deeper and more foundational assumptions than you may necessarily have recognised. In the case of this multitasking-and-memory input subject, for example, we’ve been looking at the way memories are formed and the ease with which that creates actionable data, but, isn’t that assuming that recall of facts is education? Susan Greenfield dismissed the idea of fact recall as education, which seems strange to me, since memorising a list of facts was very much in the older, pre-computive model of education.

In our research, we may find our questions are malformed; we started by asking Is multitasking bad for education?, and after sifting, we find ourselves with the more specific Multitasking is bad for factual retention, but is that good or bad for education. Can we consider that?

Digging underneath our research assumptions is very important. You do need to be able to show a point where you’re willing to stop, but sometimes if your approach has a faulty assumption in it, you should be willing to overturn that, and sift downwards.

In the case of multitasking, what if multitasking is bad for factual retention, but the practice of calling and recognising external information has other, more useful effects for our educational models? What if what’s failing right now isn’t education, but the ending of the need for rote memorisation in education? What if multitasking as part of an interconnected society reflects an intuitive connection to large, external data structures, part of our extelligence?

Try to check your assumptions. The nature of the media landscape is one where models crafted in the 1900s are trying – awkwardly – to apply to experiences in the 21st century, and not always are those attempts elegant.

Week 6: Public And Private Mobile Experiences

Remember last week?

I went to a cinema, and sat down in a quiet space, and waited for a few hours. It wasn’t a particularly interesting experience, you know. I don’t think I quiet conveyed correctly what it was like to sit in one space, and do nothing beyond what I could do on my phone.

Coincidentally, it was perfect time to ruminate on the observations of other people observing me on my phone. I saw a pair of older people, with some kids, who walked past me, and I overheard a complaint about ‘glued to their phones,’ which I suppose I deserved, considering the oddness of what I was doing. The funny thing was, this is a fine hallmark of something people think of as public – it was a moment when people felt they had the right to judge what I was doing and comment on it. Haven’t we all done that? Look at someone, and then snidely tell someone else we’re with what we think of them?

This contrasted with the last time I spent a large part of the day looking at my phone. I worked a table at SMASH!Con 2014, the anime and manga convention in Randwick racecourse. In this space, I had to stay in one spot, a public space, and seeking mementos, called people over to the table so I could take a photograph of them and share it.

When I did this, as a matter of principle I always asked:

Can I take your photo?

Is it okay if I share it online?

Do you want the twitter account where they’re being shared?

In every case, I made absolutely certain I had all three of those questions answered. When I encountered an Arietty cosplayer, who was herself, maybe six or five years old? I asked her father’s permission to ask her. Then, when I took the picture, I provided the father with the twitter account so he could follow up on the photo if he or she had a problem with it.

The strangest thing about this, for now, is that these phones create the potential for surveillance from a personal level. This is typically referred to sousveillaince. This lets us bring to bear our views of accountability on other people – but it also diminishes feelings of personal agency in public spaces. While sousveillance has a value when dealing with power structures – such as police, in Ferguson, Missouri – it still represents to other people a potential loss of implied privacy in public spaces.

Really, we rely on public spaces to forget.

Intellectual Tombs

Lots of subjects this time. Thanks to the current news, it’s very hard for me to talk about things like local and political control, or deregulated spaces on the internet. It’s very hard for me to feel comfortable discussing ideals that say everything would be better if there were fewer rules. So instead, I’m going to burrow down deep into a phenomenon on Wikipedia.

*

In architecture, it is possible during changes to rooms after their building, to craft spaces between walls that are large enough to be rooms, but are sealed. There’s tales told by system administrators of accidentally sealed up servers, lost machines, that remain on the network, even as the physical space the servers occupy is no longer accessable. These spaces are known, casually, as tombs.

*

“Ever edited Wikipedia?” the teacher asks.

Ever been quoted on Wikipedia? the teacher doesn’t ask.

tism quote

Sometime around 2007 I was quoted in a Wikipedia article quoting from a book. That’s two steps removed from a primary source, sure, and the source quote was just a sweary bit of vituperation that I liked about music.

The problem with this is that it’s material I first gleaned off Wikipedia itself. The original source for the quote had fallen away, and an editor, helpfully, had sought for a source for the quote online, found my blog – quoting Wikpiedia – and linked it back.

There was clearly knowledge of the words; they had not come from nowhere. But now, as far as the internet, with its links from point to point, knew, there was no source for this content. It was a thing that was known, but it was known how it was known. Information without a source, a little intellectual tomb.

*

 Wikipedia has strangely shot from irrelevant (there’s nothing there) to useful (there’s everything there) to dismissed (there’s too much stuff there). Sometimes, net citizens like Neil DeGrasse Tyson and Adam Savage have run into complications offering corrections. On the Skeptic’s Guide To The Universe, Adam Savage explained that Wikipedia had an incorrect middle name for him, but that he could not correct it – because he was the subject of the page. By telling the podcast about it, though, he provided a source, and Wikipedians could address it. Neil DeGrasse Tyson had a similar problem, too.

Of course, in the example I gave, all it would take is someone with the book finding their copy, and uploading a verifiable quote from the book to a website, any website, that Wikipedia could then reference. After all, Wikipedia was referencing my blog, it wasn’t like my source was amazing in the first place.

Strangely, I think the best way for systems to cope with this never-ending dance of information being retrieved, then lost, is exactly what Wikpedia is doing. The strangeness of Wikipedia collecting information it could not ‘prove,’ but which it could ever strive to prove leads to an accumulation of these tombs, these little mental spaces of unproven, but eventually provable ideas. As long as the Wikipedia system, decentralised and driven, tries to prove the things it knows, it will eventually be able to say how it knows them.