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Weekly #12: Signing Off

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The title of this post has a double meaning. The first refers to the fact that this is the final post for my Social Media class. Sigh, a baby panda is crying somewhere (see above). The second refers to William Powers’ argument in Hamlet’s Blackberry that we all need to take a break and sign off from social media to maintain our sanity.

This begs question #1: Was exploring social media worthwhile? Undoubtedly, yes. This course was not about exploring tools or technology for me. Similar to Kate, it was about discovering human behavior. As Shirky states, this whole Web 2.0 movement is not about the tools, but rather the behaviors that society adopts because of and in response to them. That’s not to say I have not found some great new tools — I have. But the concepts I’ve internalized and lessons of how they shape societies and human behavior are what made this course valuable.

Come Thursday, I’ll still be using the usual suspects that have been in my toolkit for some time now: Facebook, YouTube, Wikipedia, LinkedIn. This class has increased my Twitter activity and my appreciation of it as a news feed, so that will also continue. As for this blog, I don’t know if I’ll keep posting. It is nice to have my thoughts “published” and to have a voice recognized by friends and family. On the other hand, it takes time and energy to produce a post of any value, and given that this stuff lasts forever and Mr. Unknown Quantity is reading it, I’m a bit hesitant to continue.

Which leads to thought question #2: Does social media do more harm than good? Our last discussion on terrorists using YouTube for training and propaganda makes me want to answer in the affirmative. And after reading Hamlet’s Blackberry, there’s good reason to focus more on myself in life than myself online. However, despite his plea to disconnect from these media, Powers makes the same argument that Shirky does: “It’s easy to blame this all on tools…We’re the prime movers here. We’re always connected because we’re always connecting.” Again, one of the core concepts I’ve learned this semester is that it’s the behaviors people adopt, not the tools themselves, that truly make the difference. So yes, there will be those who publish videos on bomb-making right alongside those who post that crying baby panda in the long tail of the social web. When everyone can be a publisher, anything can show up.

The real question is, do I still find value knowing the good, the bad, and the ugly exist together out there? Throughout this semester I’ve voiced my concerns, usually in erratic fashion, about how the social web is likely to result in us living in amniotic fluid a la Matrix in the near future. My paranoia of Mr. Unknown Quantity (a.k.a. Google) taking what I search for, e-mail, and blog about and using it against me at some point is still present. And Powers’ point that our mental thoughts lie heavily with the outer world and our reactions to it makes me want to run for the hills.

Yet, despite all this, I still think social media is an overall good. Or more accurately, it has the potential for overall good. It comes down to my faith in humanity. People can find that balance between their real lives and online lives. They can also find, as I have, that the people in their real lives are able to share wisdom and insight through online media better than ever before (see comments to my posts for proof). Those who use social tools to stay in touch with loved ones, share moments of brilliance, shed light on injustice — to connect in meaningful ways — these people make me believe in the good of social media.

And with that, I thank you for your time, thoughts, and attention. Good day, I bid you adieu.

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Written by taryou

December 7, 2010 at 1:15 pm

Posted in Social Media Class

Response #3: “It’s an interesting choice.”

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This is a response not directly to but rather inspired by both Kate and Erika. Kate reminded me how much I’ve missed childhood lately, and Erika talked about her run-in with Oscar de la Renta complete with this gem of a quotation: “Never in history has there been a time when a woman has as much control over her destiny as she does today.” Thanks to their posts the wheels in my head went round and round, and now I have something to say on a topic not nearly discussed enough: women in the workplace.

Over Thanksgiving break I asked my mother to tell me stories of my childhood days. She retold what is arguably her favorite, likely because it speaks to my personality today. I was three and my mother had just been informed by the head nun at my Catholic preschool that I’d not be able to return due to behavioral issues. What was my cardinal sin? “Well, Mrs. Young, Tara had not eaten her lunch during the designated time because she was talking. When it came time to clean up and go to recess, we tried to throw out her lunch, and she responded by screaming, crying, and refusing to leave the table until she had finished eating.” Within a minute’s time my mother learned a) her only daughter could not go without a meal, and b) she was a loudmouth brat. Needless to say, Momma was mortified.

If I had the chance to go back and do it over again, I would change one thing. I’d have scrawled “FOOD” with a bright red crayon on the back of a paper plate, then stood on top of the lunch table, holding my sign high for all to see. I may have really gotten the boot then, but at least Norma Rae would have been proud.

I stand by my protest not because I’m hungry at present (I am) nor because I think an unjustified tantrum is how to win the day (I do). I stand by it because a fan of double standards I am not. Had I been a boy acting in such a fashion, I’m positive the nuns would have written it off as “boys will be boys” syndrome. But because I was a girl, my behavior was an issue, and it needed to be dealt with.

Fast forward two decades, and I find echoes of this behavioral double standard in the workplace. In my experience, albeit limited, a woman who goes against the grain is more often than not seen as a troublemaker, as emotional, as an issue. A man who fights this same battle is seen as someone with a valid concern. A woman who goes with the flow is not seen at all. Today women have more high-paying jobs and management positions than ever before. Yet at the same time, the roles of secretary and administrative assistant are still the most prevalent occupations for women. Puzzling, no? Perhaps it is because these positions allow for more time to be spent at home with the family (reasonable answer). Or perhaps it is because in these roles women find the most positive reinforcement, validation, and support in the workplace (uncomfortable answer).

In my opinion, and I’m sure to offend someone with this, women in the workplace fall into two categories: the secretaries and the ball-busters. Secretaries (a group that includes more than those in secretarial roles) are those women who play nice, defer to their bosses without hesitation, and prefer harmony over getting the job done in the most effective manner. Ball-busters (again, not in the literal sense) speak up at the risk of causing conflict, defer to reason over authority, and care about earning respect for their work vs. their kindness.

In my less than three years in the workplace, it seems I’m still that three-year-old. I stand up for myself, but oftentimes my arguments get mixed with my emotions. I’ve become a hybrid of the two categories, and it’s plain uncomfortable. My thinking tends to be black and white, and I’d rather fit into one category. I give you one guess as to which I prefer. Plus, as it turns out, if I subtract emotion from the equation, I come closer to being seen similarly to the man with a valid concern. But giving up my inner secretary and going full ball-buster is a move I’m not quite prepared for. After all, I was trained by nuns to be a kind-hearted, harmony-seeking lady. And not to use my experience as hard evidence, but I’ve seen grown men throw emotion-laden tantrums in the workplace, get their way, and still be viewed as professional. I repeatedly told my father growing up, and say again now, “If the boys get to do it, then so do I.”

Of course, feminist politics and gender relations in the workplace are much more complicated than my ramblings, and there are numerous categories of working women beyond the two I’ve concocted.

Thus, I’m crowdsourcing your wisdom, because I can’t wrap my brain around this issue. I’ve barely scratched the surface of it, and I know there are people out there who know more and come with better informed opinions than I. Here are the questions I need answered: Why is it that women who command money, power, and respect are regarded as bitchy, robotic, or masculine? Can’t they just be viewed as smart, hard-working people, much like their male counterparts? Isn’t there a way to balance harmony and ambition? Can’t women be emotional and successful?

Weekly #11: Tunisia and Citizen Media

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T is for Tunisia (oh, Sesame Street, you are handy). I first became interested in this country while studying elementary Modern Standard Arabic in college. On paper (or Wikipedia, as it were), it looks stellar at first glance. It is the northernmost country in Africa, surrounded by Algeria, Libya, and the Mediterranean, and its official state religion is Islam. Perhaps surprisingly, it is a constitutional republic with heavy influences from the French, with a great degree of religious freedom, and a close relationship with the European Union. Its government, led by President Zine el Abidine Ben Ali, has also held a moderate stance on the Israel-Palestine conflict, making it a valuable voice in MENA in the eyes of Western powers. Sounds good, right?

Guess again. Ben Ali has been around since 1987, and if Blagojevich can go bad in six years in President Obama’s sandbox, it’s easy to imagine how corrupt this guy can get in 23. Ben Ali touts freedom and democracy, all the while Amnesty International calls his messaging “lip service” and cites various human rights abuses committed by his security forces. The Economist Intelligence Unit’s Index of Democracy (2008) classified Tunisia as an authoritarian regime, ranking 141 out of 167, only four spots above Iran. Although freedom of press is officially guaranteed, in reality it is the exact opposite. No public criticism of the government is tolerated, and journalists are blocked from reporting on controversial events. Finally, Tunisia is one of the strictest countries in the world when it comes to censorship of the internet. There is only one server for the entire country, and it is controlled by (you guessed it) the government. Just this past January, Secretary Hillary Clinton named Tunisia as one of two countries with the most internet censorship in the world (China was the other).

This is all my long way of saying that Tunisian bloggers have guts. Global Voices writer Lova refers to the bloggers as the “citizen media,” which rings true. They face extreme oppression for doing what U.S. bloggers do every day: give their opinion, spread information, and tell the truth as they see it. They speak out against the government and its restriction of both quantity and quality of information. For example, as reported via Global Voices, bloggers on Nawaat revealed that photos of Ben Ali’s son were doctored by the national press to his benefit, showing the government’s influence over national media.

These bloggers are evidence of Shirky’s claim that these days everyone is a media outlet. However, their significance for Tunisia goes much further than “mass amateurization” and its effects on journalism as a profession. They are saying what the professionals cannot and taking huge risks to practice free speech in a repressive state. In April and May 2010, the government blocked hundreds of blogs, and in response bloggers protested online with videos, comments, blog posts, and screens denouncing the actions. Since this crack down, a movement has started to revamp the blogosphere by encouraging Tunisians to start new blogs.

Tunisian bloggers are not Justin Hall and they are not Robert Scoble. They are the citizen media, acting under threats to freedom and life, all for the sake of providing access to accurate and uncensored information. Sure, they blog about their personal lives too, but the overwhelming narrative is what they are compelled to tell by virtue of being a blogger on the most censored internet server in the world: information is limited and falsified, and through my blog I can tell you what is really going on.

We come from a place where the work of Woodward and Bernstein is hailed as the “single greatest reporting effort of all time.” We are that lucky. I don’t mean to diminish their hard work, but Woodward and Bernstein were backed by a hundred-year-old institution and didn’t face the certainty of being tracked and high possibility of being arrested and detained without cause that these bloggers face daily. The bloggers of Tunisia, the citizen media, are a crucial media outlet for the country. They are key to tracking human rights violations, practicing freedom of speech, and keeping democracy alive in Tunisia.

Response #2: N.Y. State of Mind

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Note to reader: Please play this music video in the background to enhance the reading experience.

Kate’s tales of tunneling provide the springboard for this post. Well done, lady, your post was hilarious and as you already know, I couldn’t agree more. The terror yet sheer magnetism of the top-deck front seat! The excitement of the city looming! The fluorescent lights, oh, the fluorescent lights!

I have been going to and from NYC at least once a month as of late, and zooming into Lincoln produces that same euphoric buzz in me. One minute I’m full speed ahead into what could end up the bad side of afterlife, and the next I’m staring gleefully at the bright red New Yorker sign. Shaboom — natural high!

This tunneling experience is only as great as the end game. I get monumentally pumped because I know I’m about to enter a concrete jungle filled with friends, artists, and really good food. Not to mention I am highly likely to encounter a flash mob and a ninja turtle there (both on my bucket list). I heart NYC, and have come to prefer it to DC for all of these reasons. Tunneling would not seem so exciting if I didn’t have those things and more waiting for me.

Take for instance that DC tunnel which shall remain nameless (mainly because I have no clue what it’s called) that leads you from the E Street exit off Teddy Roosevelt Bridge to Whitehurst Freeway. It’s shiny and well lit. There’s even a good chance I’d be killed at high speeds. But it leads to a desolate corner of K Street, save for the resident homeless man. Need I say more? Suffice it to say that when I tunnel, I want the promise of truly living, not the bleak reminder that life can be both boring and cruel.

My next tunneling adventure into NYC is only 2.5 weeks away. Kate, I’m looking to you to provide soundtrack suggestions. Something with a beat, please.

Weekly #10: Danke, YouTube!

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Although by Canadian time I am a month and change too late, I would like to give thanks to YouTube during this time of Thanksgiving. YouTube, you have become so integral to my everyday life over the past five years that I don’t remember a time before your birth. You’ve given me laughter, tears, laughter through tears and, most importantly, information of all sorts. You have done this with grace and wisdom, never charging me or making me break a sweat.

Sure, you didn’t make the billions of videos on your site, but you host them and let me find them in lightning speed. And you even let me watch them with minimal wait time. Sample me this, Batman, and feast on the harvest of videos that have made you glorious in my mind: kittens, David, the cutest laughing baby in history, Charlie’s finger biting, SFG, JK wedding dance, Antoine Dodson a.k.a. my love, and Justin Bieber. You also act as my one stop shop for movie trailers, clips, interviews, fan videos that turn me into a fan, and complete songs.

Perhaps I am most grateful to you, YouTube, because you put the power with the people. Anyone with an internet connection and camera (now already installed in laptops) can contribute to your site. You embody the central ideas that we have discussed in class this semester. You lower barriers for participation, welcome user feedback through comments, and celebrate and reward the long tail. You have become a main point of reference for all, and not a day goes by without someone saying, “Did you see that YouTube video?” This is true for videos of things as trivial as the double rainbow and as momentous as the protests of the 2009 Iranian presidential election. You hold them on equal ground, letting me find, watch, share, and discuss what I want.

In other words, YouTube is conversation. (Aw, the Cluetrain authors must be so proud!) You allow for greater connectivity and shared experiences, doing what television did for Americans in the 1950’s (and much more). Your links are ubiquitous and sharing them is a main way video gets passed along on the internet.

You may think you are just the medium, YouTube, but in your case the medium is the message. Being able to post a video of my talent, thoughts, or anything I see fit to record tells me that I’m worth just as much as footage of Princess Di’s fairytale wedding. In fact, you’ve ripped up Coase’s floorboards so much that my contribution may be worth more to the people than coverage of the People’s Princess.

The point is, YouTube, you are getting a hearty shout-out during the family prayer and share in two days. I imagine the conversation going something like this:

Mom: “I’m grateful for having my family all together in one place.” Translation: “Thank God you’re all here, I need help decorating the tree, and many of you owe me money.”

Dad: “I’m grateful for having a healthy family.” Translation: “You heard your mother. Start bringing down the ornaments.”

Brother A: “I’m grateful for the food we are about to eat.” Translation: “This is worse than torture. Just let me eat now. Tara’s about to say something stupid…”

Me: “I’m grateful for YouTube, which gives me plenty to laugh and cry at. Plus, I can learn, share, and connect on there.” Translation: “Look, family, look at what I’m teaching you!”

Brother B: “I’m grateful that Tara is leaving in three days.” Translation: None required.

Brothers C and D nod in agreement.

Weekly #9: One Life to Live

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I cannot believe that Aladdin for Sega Genesis is on YouTube! This might be the only video game that I didn’t mind playing. Of course, I was terrified the whole time. Fact: I’m terrified of video/online games (shock, I know). To be fair, I’m not a big fan of any games, including board games, trivia, Jeopardy – you name it, I have little use for it. And I have absolutely zero interest in online gaming, whether it be by desktop, console, or hand-held device.

Hear me out. I grew up with three older brothers and one younger brother. All played the various games on the popular consoles over the years (Sega Genesis, Nintendo 64, XBox, PlayStation). Oh, don’t forget Game Boy. That was the first portable item that had real value for them. I tried my hand at each game, but I was quickly killed by my opponent, or more likely took the wrong turn and got myself killed all on my own. You might be saying, “Big deal, everyone gets killed off at some point.” True, yet I managed to be killed every single time, and all within five minutes or less. There were those games where the loser wouldn’t necessarily “die,” but not being able to get the Giants quarterback on Madden NFL to even throw the ball sure felt like death.

Needless to say, I don’t have that competitive edge that makes me keep going until I win. But I wanted to fit in with the boys. So every once in a while, instead of just singing show tunes alone in my room, I would pick up the controller and dread the moment my life would come to an abrupt and seemingly unfair end in each world. The anxiety that would plague me later in life probably was born in these moments.

No game caused more angst than the GoldenEye 007 first-person shooter game. My very real and daily fear that I’m going to die by magnified gun wielded by an MI6 agent on the fourth floor of a missile silo in Russia — yea, that comes from playing this.

I literally wanted to vomit and cry, simultaneously, whenever I participated in a mission. One brother would always coax me with, “Don’t worry, I’ll help you figure it out.” False. At no point did he or the others offer any advice other than “Just push A! Not B, IDIOT, A!” Usually we played in the “Normal” mode, the goal of which was to kill your opponent as many times as possible in a set period of time. If three of us played at once, it was always 2 vs. 1, them vs. me. I quickly found out that they were excellent strategists, and they were excellent marksmen. The worst was when we played in the “You Only Live Twice” mode. It was the same deal except I was eliminated even faster (two deaths and you’re out). This swift knockout should have come as a relief, yet it only served to worsen my tachycardia.

What message did I take away from this? My brothers are trying to kill me, over and over again, and they are highly capable of doing so in a coordinated fashion. Sometimes I’d just find a cement room and stare at the wall, shooting random bullet holes in it until they found me. (I’m sure that says something about my proclivity towards learned helplessness.)

That’s all my way of saying that, no, I have not and likely will not participate in MMORPGs. I once watched someone “play” Second Life and lost interest in 30 seconds. I feel like I am already living a kind of second life via my presence on various social networking sites. I know there are benefits to using MMORPGs and many find great value in them (including being able to write your own story/narrative in real time and with others). However, this is not my preferred avenue for fictional living. My lack of experience and serious fears (see above and watch the film Gamer to understand) will prevent me from becoming a regular user of such games. That’s not to say that I don’t want to learn about them, especially how I can use them in my professional life. I do, which is why I am excited for tomorrow’s class.

At this moment, however, I can’t imagine spending my personal time or money on gaming. I only have one life to live, and this just isn’t my cup of tea.

Response #1: People as Purpose of Higher Ed

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Tiffani’s personal post “Getting Back to Me” has stuck with me ever since I read it last week. It made me question what I got out of my alma mater and what I miss about it.

I have to say that I had a relatively easy transition post-college. I had a job by the end of the summer after I graduated, and I moved to DC with two of my best friends from college. I actually sort of blossomed down here. Ha, okay, blossomed is a bit much. But it’s as if the confidence that was building inside of me by the end of my time at school suddenly came out at full capacity. DC, even with all of its overachieving and strategically-minded young pros, was the place where my self-doubt took a back seat. And I never really felt that stomach-turning longing to go back to college.

How did I get to this point? I definitely credit my education, but even more so the overall experience of university life. After being in a university setting as both a student and staff member for over six years now, I realize that what makes or breaks your experience in higher education is the people. I began working at Georgetown four days after moving to DC, and I have met some of the smartest, funniest, and overwhelmingly caring people there. They made me feel like I was coming home every day that I went into work. My colleagues allowed me to shine in the workplace and fostered a confidence that had yet to fully mature.

Even still, I often ask myself, don’t I miss my college days? Not really. For me, my college experience was great because of the people, and I have seen my best friends from school every month since we walked in May 2008. They are what defined me then, and they are what defines me now. Yes, the education was wonderful, but truth be told I could have read those books anywhere. It was the people I was surrounded by at Cornell, and the people that surround me now, that have made my higher education experiences truly unforgettable.

Written by taryou

November 16, 2010 at 1:35 pm