Thinking about/Reflecting on Trends in Digital Media

Important Trends and Issues

Considering current trends in digital media and their rapid change, I am struck by the mostly unquestioned ubiquity of the word “connect.” People, especially trend-setters such as Mark Zuckerberg, throw the word around as if it means one thing all the time, as if it does not house myriad levels of intimacy. How fruitful are our online connections, those things we call friendships? With enhancements in technology, how fruitful can they become? Where do and can they stand in relation to traditional social relations(hips) and networks? Of course, I still believe in traditional relations(hips) and networks, but I never want to get condescending about it. I believe that the gap is getting smaller. How it can shrink even more, though (if at all), might be one of the most interesting developments going forward.

New Social Media Exercise

For my new social media activity, I used SlideShare, a cool network affiliated with LinkedIn. SlideShare is a network where someone with a LinkedIn profile (and I assume someone without one, too) can share a slideshow in a public venue, where it is categorized with other slideshows that share its topic(s). Since LinkedIn is one of SlideShare’s main partners, the categories mainly involve professional development. What is especially cool is that heavy-hitters such as Arianna Huffington have contributed slideshows, giving users a sense of tried-and-true knowledge.

For my entry, I heavily revised a slideshow on a literary journal I edited as an undergrad. Unlike most undergrad literary journals, which are often funded by English departments, this one, The Aletheia, was funded by the Honors College at my institution, the University of Houston. The purpose of my slideshow is to sketch out how other Honors Colleges might recreate something like The Aletheia on their own, taking into account matters such as funding and staffing. My slideshow gives a brief, helpful outline of my thoughts on such a project, which can considerably enhance the arts culture of a campus.

As for the actual experience of using SlideShare, it was pretty straightforward. Due to the wide range of slideshows meant for the general reader, I felt compelled to make mine accessible to everyone, as well as useful in a bite-size way. I also felt, though, that SlideShare is still an emerging tool, so it would seem key for anyone using it to share their slideshow’s link on more widely used platforms. Nonetheless, SlideShare is definitely a good place to host the work itself.

The Most Important Thing I Learned This Semester

As for the most important thing I learned this semester, it is hard to pick one item, of course. But I will pick something that is slick, instructive, and all-encompassing: Marshall McLuhan’s declaration that “The medium is the message.” For me this sentence has many professional implications, but its personal ones are just as strong. I think, for example, of the various media I use to communicate with the people in my life, and what the media themselves suggest about my relationships with them. Indeed, you could say we have not only Facebook friends, but also text-message friends, phone-call friends, and face-to-face friends. The media we use for these interactions tells both our friends and us where we stand in relation to each other, how invested we are in each other (e.g., acquaintances, friends, close friends, etc.). McLuhan’s idea sheds a light on this dimension of my life, helping me to more effectively/honestly communicate with those I share it with.

Thinking about/Reflecting on Trends in Digital Media

Thinking about Legal/Policy Issues Online

Legal/Policy Issues in the Future

For the Internet, I think the most vital legal/policy issue going forward is maintaining net neutrality. As various materials in this module show, especially John Oliver’s brutally hilarious segment, the telecom giants have been dogged (and equally sly) in their pursuit of what would be a boon to their profits. Though this past February’s decision in Congress was a defeat for them, one has to believe they are far from done fighting. So, here is to the continued neutrality of the Internet, a part of its very soul.

Girl Talk

While many folks in the public sphere attack the way Girl Talk creates his music, I would argue that what he does is unequivocally art, and that what he ends up creating is his own work. Yes, the building blocks of his songs are taken from previously released tracks, but the synthesis of their beats, the essence of Girl Talk’s work, forms new songs entirely. Indeed, it requires creativity and originality to take three, four songs across various genres (regardless of whether those songs have already been released by others) and blend them into a single, cohesive, catchy hybrid. This type of brilliance seems lost on some of the interviewees in the documentary RiP!

What is especially interesting to me is how, beyond legal matters, the argument surrounding Girl Talk reveals some people’s bias and elitism when it comes to experimentation in art. By this I mean that, whereas similar experimentation has been celebrated in other forms—e.g., James Joyce’s reimagining of Homer’s Odyssey in his novel Ulysses and the film Clueless‘s reworking of Jane Austen’s Emma—Girl Talk’s innovations have been cast as purely derivative, even immoral. As we see in RiP!‘s example of Muddy Waters, though, this type of creativity is nothing new in art. It seems that a lot of folks are eager to write Girl Talk off as some scraggly, no-good hipster whose talent does not merit his following. Good thing their opinions have not shaken the culture that has given rise to him, and good thing their opinions have not led to his imprisonment.

I think it is apt, then, to include the following video here. It is a recording of a TED talk, “How sampling transformed music,” by the British musician/producer Mark Ronson, In it Ronson defends the art of sampling, drawing on both his and others’ work in the process. I first watched this video after the release of Bruno Mars‘s mega-hit “Uptown Funk,” which Ronson produced. (He even appears prominently in the music video.) Especially cool are the video’s first few minutes, in which Ronson mixes some sampled beats on the spot.

Thinking about Legal/Policy Issues Online

Thinking about Business and Entrepreneurship: The Long Tail and Free

The Long Tail

The concept of The Long Tail puts a name to a phenomenon I (as well as most people who use the Internet, I am sure) have noticed online. As I have learned from this module’s readings, the Internet seems to more and more resemble this early image from the Hubble telescope:

stars

Like this haphazard collection of stars and galaxies, the Internet lacks an explicit center and is instead home to an infinite number of groupings. It all strikes me as rather postmodern, this decentering, this unsettling of Culture™ as we have known it. (Some might even say “democratic.”) The phenomenon is definitely something I like and am excited by, since it upends (at least to an extent) the usual elites who have curated our collective culture(s). As Chris Anderson asserts in “The Long Tail,” the benefits are even more sprawling than that:

For the entertainment industry itself, recommendations are a remarkably efficient form of marketing, allowing smaller films and less-mainstream music to find an audience. For consumers, the improved signal-to-noise ratio that comes from following a good recommendation encourages exploration and can reawaken a passion for music and film, potentially creating a far larger entertainment market overall. (The average Netflix customer rents seven DVDs a month, three times the rate at brick-and-mortar stores.) And the cultural benefit of all of this is much more diversity, reversing the blanding effects of a century of distribution scarcity and ending the tyranny of the hit.

Free

Likewise, I am encouraged to see tools such as data storage and processing become “freer” on the Internet. I myself, for example, get a lot of use out of resources such as Dropbox, where I can keep extra copies of everything I write and publish, copies I can access and share anywhere there is an Internet connection.

If I were to express a doubt about the future of “Free,” though, I would question whether organizations will continue to rely on services that are, as Chris Anderson writes in “Free! Why $0.00 Is the Future of Business,” “too cheap to meter.” I am curious as to how they will innovate new ways of creating profits, and what the consequences will be for their consumers.

Thinking about Business and Entrepreneurship: The Long Tail and Free

Thinking about Mobile and Big Data: My Baseball App

I love baseball, so for this week’s special assignment I envisioned a more focused yet comprehensive sports app for fans of individual teams. Whereas MLB’s At Bat app offers fans the chance to follow their favorite major-league team(s) with targeted headlines, stories, and box scores, my app (for now nameless) allows fans to get an even more concentrated, in-depth look at their favorite organization(s), from the major-league roster all the way down through its minor-league affiliates. (Minor League Baseball (MiLB) also has its own app, but, unsurprisingly, it leaves out major-league news and scores.) This top-to-bottom experience would enable users to keep up with their organization of choice much like a general manager would, seeing the franchise’s positions of strength as well as which players are rising and falling within it.

astros aaa

(411: Each team in Major League Baseball has at minimum four levels of minor-league rosters that feed into it: AAA (the highest), AA, A+ (full-season A-ball), and A- (short-season A-ball, reserved for players who require more development). Together, these levels form an MLB organization’s “farm system,” from which it should get a steady flow of players for its major-league roster, replacements for veterans whose contracts expire, get traded, or play themselves off the team. The players in an ideal farm system are not there because they lack the potential to play in the majors, but rather because they are simply less developed than most major leaguers and, for this reason, require more seasoning. Such players, almost always twenty-four years old or younger, are referred to as “prospects,” since it is assumed they are still improving or can do so. (It follows, then, that a thirty-year-old minor-leaguer is almost never a prospect, since he has already passed his baseball peak of ages twenty-five through twenty-nine.))

It would start simply with tracking the nightly scores of the entire organization. As far as I know, and I devour baseball news, no other app puts the scores from throughout a franchise on the same screen. For my favorite team, the Houston Astros, such a screen would resemble this:

photo 1 (1)

Here a fan could quickly check the scores for every team in the organization. Moreover, he or she could peak at any game’s box score, summary of plays, and, soon after the game is over, a few-hundred-word article on it. (If you have any questions about the signs or abbreviations on the “page,” let me know below in the “Comments” section.)

The heightened level of access would also apply to checking up on individual players. In my vision for the app, a user can sort through all of an organization’s players according to their primary positions (i.e., the ones they play the most). Doing so offers a view of both the position’s present status and future potential:

photo 2

This page would feature up-to-the-minute numbers and can be scrolled sideways for glimpses of more new-age stats, not just those that have appeared on baseball cards. A future version would include a headshot of each player, as well as a link to a stat-page devoted only to his playing history. Again, I know of no other app that offers this type of multi-level information all hosted in one spot.

Feel free to write with any questions or comments below. I appreciate you reading about my idea!

Thinking about Mobile and Big Data: My Baseball App

Thinking about Online Journalism

As we learn this week in “Analysing data is the future for journalists, says Tim Berners-Lee,” data looks primed to drive journalism in both the immediate and long-term futures. The author of the article, Charles Arthur, puts it thusly:

In [Berners-Lee’s] view, [the future] lies with journalists who know their CSV [per Arthur, comma-separated value files, a form that any database or spreadsheet program] from their RDF [Resource Description Framework, a way of linking different data sets, also per Arthur], can throw together some quick MySQL queries for a PHP or Python output … and discover the story lurking in datasets released by governments, local authorities, agencies, or any combination of them—even across national borders.

The game is changing, for sure. Journalism’s very sites of analysis are shifting, and, thanks to Arthur’s story, I am understanding more how journalists must change with them.

However, as a journalist myself, I would push the writers, editors, and developers in this industry-wide conversation to really understand what they mean by “data” as the hallmark of our work. This is because I would argue that “data” has always been at the core of journalism. The thing is that folks today are increasingly focusing on quantitative data as the brave new world of reportage and commentary, privileging it over the qualitative data—by which I primarily mean substantial, nuanced interviews, not the results of short-answer surveys—that has long been its backbone. (Shame on whoever taught their “Research Methods” classes for not clarifying that “data” means a whole swath of stuff.) In short, I am cool with the rise of numerical data in journalism, but I also hope that statistical skills do not come at the expense of people skills, the kind that make interviewees comfortable and open. I admire, for example, Nate Silver (whom Dr. Royal mentions in “Are journalism schools teaching their students the right skills?”) as much as anyone, and I passionately believe in the work of him and his staff at FiveThirtyEight. But I do not want the overwhelming majority of our news outlets to take on FiveThirtyEight‘s methodologies or perform poor imitations of them. It would be nice, instead, to see a journalism industry that truly embraces mixed methods.

Besides, what is great about technology is its malleability, which is why I fully buy into a tech-centric education for aspiring journalists. Even for those who want to focus on “long-form” stories, be they in prose or video, a literacy with technology can definitely skyrocket their ability to promote their work and, thus, themselves. As we learn in Joshua Benton‘s article, “Facebook’s Instant Articles are live: Either a shrewd mobile move by publishers—or feeding the Borg,” the ways articles and images are shared are changing. New technology such as Instant Articles is giving us a way to promote content without traditional linkage, emails, or newsletters. Indeed, such news should be exciting for those producing work yet who are still searching for a career in journalism. They just have to acquire the requisite literacy to, as Dr. Royal puts it in her article, harness the platforms that will carry their work.

Thinking about Online Journalism

Thinking about Cyberculture, Gender, and Diversity Online

Diversity and Equality Online

Thinking about diversity online, particularly with regard to equality, I am rather floored by the Pew Research Center’s study “African Americans and Technology Use.” While the Internet is indeed home to a unique set of problems when it comes to diversity and equality, I see it also as a continuation of issues plaguing the United States in general, such as unequal access to educational and professional resources. As Aaron Smith of the Pew Center puts it:

African Americans have long been less likely than whites to use the internet and to have high speed broadband access at home, and that continues to be the case. Today, African Americans trail whites by seven percentage points when it comes to overall internet use (87% of whites and 80% of blacks are internet users), and by twelve percentage points when it comes to home broadband adoption (74% of whites and 62% of blacks have some sort of broadband connection at home).

Though, as we also learn from the Center, accessibility is more equalized across mobile platforms, statistics such as these should remind us that the Internet is still a commodity in the literal sense, one subject to the inequalities present in any capitalistic society. I fear that, as long as the Internet remains an oligopoly—consider, for example, the collective might of Time Warner and Comcast—these issues of access will persist, and any government action on behalf of the underprivileged (e.g., offering free basic Internet access to select citizens) will be dismissed as socialism. Even if we accomplish the Herculean task of outfitting every American school with a quality computer lab, what do we do about the digital gap at home?

Gender and Race

Moreover, this week’s materials on gender in the tech workforce, specifically the TED talks by Megan Kamerick and Sheryl Sandberg, get me thinking about how the burgeoning, necessary literature on women in tech not only helps us understand issues of gender, but can also help us understand issues of race in the workforce. When someone from an underrepresented group (e.g., women, African Americans, Latin@s) “makes it” in his or her industry, what does that person owe to the other members of that group? As Sandberg suggests with her refrain of “lean in,” it is not nearly enough to just go about your business and be a silent role model to those from your underrepresented group. While there is value in being a role model, I get the sense from Sandberg that those who succeed against the odds must continue their work by sharing opportunities with those of their group—if not use their newfound influence to create them. As a Latin@ in the liberal arts, I will definitely remember this wisdom.

(Also, kudos to Dr. Royal for her shout-out in Kamerick’s video!)

Thinking about Cyberculture, Gender, and Diversity Online