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Archive for December 2010

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.

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.