Saturday, April 11, 2009

Why does Google remind me of beer?

Mmmm, I cannot lie, I imbibe quite flexibly and eagerly when it comes to beer. Instant gratification in the form of a nice, cold beer. You don't have to over think it, you can keep going back for more, and it lulls you into a sense of ease and well-being. That is until you over do it, then it's look out below and 'thar she blows!' Yes, beer can also knock you out cold. Comatose city.

Surely, I am not implying that Google is that pernicious and sneaky. And maybe I'm being way too glib (?), and yet reading Carr's piece prodded me into thinking about my own Google, computer, internet, iphone, TV using/watching habits. (Not to mention my beer guzzling habits). I am not going to stop using Google any time soon, but maybe I'll begin to examine the ways in which I might be impacted. I might ask myself "What exactly am I gaining/losing from culling my information via internet versus hunting and gathering text/print/non-print sources in a non-virtual way?" Ultimately, are my information seeking-and-understanding skills/habits being compromised in some way by depending so much on search engines?

What of my "knee-jerk" reaction of going right away to Google when I have a question or have a search need? (Just as I would yen for an ice cold india pale ale on a hot summer night.) But, of course, I must point out that the Google search method is often a starting point to a much more in-depth searching process. Google cannot be the end all of your research methods because it will not necessarily yield the multi-layered, complex, and integrated results that you may get from seeking out various information sources.

[disclaimer: no beer was imbibed during the creation of this post.]

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Wikis = Freedom of speech?

In this doctored video, Nixon and Kennedy debate the issue of whether wikis are better than blogs. Blogs usually highlight one voice and one viewpoint, that of the creator versus the wiki which can be a combined effort of voices and perspectives. Both, of course, are mediums of expression and promote free speech, but whether one is better than the other I think is a moot point. I think the better question is "which medium carries your message most effectively?"

A blog is obviously more one-sided and guided by the person(s) posting whereas the wiki invites a variety of perspectives and can be as interactive as you make it. Although a blog is not entirely one-sided as it does give opportunity for repartee via the "comments" feature where visitors to the blog can respond to postings. However the wiki does not rely so much on comments as its structure relies on the scaffolding of ideas through constant discussion based on the premise that all parties have equal footing in said discussion.

In that sense, the wiki has a more social feel to it which may be interpreted as being more flexible and equitable.

Monday, March 23, 2009

My Friends on Facebook

Having a relationship with people over the internet is not new. From chat rooms to message boards to dating sites, people have used these mediums to construct a variety of social interactions that suit their needs. Being social online may appeal to those who don't necessarily want to engage in real physical contact or those who are trying to simulate contact with friends who are far away. The growing popularity of social network sites (SNS) e.g. Facebook, MySpace is symbolic of people's desires to personalize the abstract space that is the world wide web.

There are opportunities within these SNS's to express oneself and fashion an identity through various applications and features e.g. photo albums, group affiliations, song lists, to name a few for the benefit of one's targeted audience. In essence, this is your chance to tell a story about yourself and your life using customized details to connect to your imagined audience.

Being friends with people who did not live in the same city or even country used to mean that your modes of connecting with them were usually letter writing and/or long distance phone calls, but with the advent of SNS's we are able to take our communique to the next level: sharing info online gives us quicker gratification and, more importantly, a forum for interactive communication. On Facebook where we can comment on our friends photos or status, we are creating a sense of closeness and intimacy that is harder to conjure via just letters. When I am able to make a comment to my friend Brigit who lives in Sydney, Australia about something we've done in the past or read about current events in her life, I'm validating and continuing our friendship despite our living on separate continents. I can remain an active part of her life and vice versa even from afar. Or my friend, Clare, a South African who made her way to Williamsburg, Bklyn.

As members of a SNS community, we all, if only informally, agree to follow the presets and rules of posting, sharing, and participating within that community. We also understand that some of the terms and ideas that may mean something in the physical world takes on a different flavor in the virtual, a good example is the word "friend". In the real world, we all have a definitive understanding of what that means based on our past and current experiences, but in the world of Facebook, we have to make some adjustments of understanding on the idea of "friend". Not only are our best friends our friends on Facebook, but so are the friends of our friends whom we might have met just a few times or someone with whom you were friendly in college, but haven't seen in over ten years, and don't forget about the mother of a former student. These people can all be considered your friends in a virtual community.

You learn to be more flexible about these seemingly finite terms.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Information, civic engagement, and the library

What sort of information do people need to stay connected to their world? And once they have it, what do they do with it? These two questions whirl about in my head from my initial readings from Henry Jenkins' CONVERGENCE CULTURE and lead me to wonder: Information as commodity or catalyst?

We have seen information taken at face value in a passive manner à la Paulo Freire's "banking system" where the student is the receptacle for status quo concepts and bits of "knowledge". This dynamic relies solely on the assumption that the receptacles will remain forever content with absorbing information that is neither relevant nor beneficial to bettering their lives, creating a static relationship with information as commodity rather than catalyst.

But we know that information, when harnessed to be informative and relevant, does move people to action--from grassroots organizing to stop destructive real estate developments in one neighborhood to gathering en masse in Washington to protest a presidential inauguration, information and civic engagement are natural companions.

In the 21st century, some have taken to proclaiming the death of books-in-print, crushed in the giant footprint of the internet, while others remain strong in their conviction that the book will outlast any technological trend that rear its slick and monolithic head. While questions of which output method will prove the more pertinent and viable plod on, libraries are fighting to keep their footing in their respective communities in the face of budget cuts and economic crisis. Philadelphia's Free Library branches are under fire from that city's mayor who views them as expendable in his quest to balance the city's budget and libraries in the New York City public school system are being used as staff lunch rooms and storage spaces.

One way to stop the library from being viewed as excess weight to be cut when balancing city budgets is to highlight how indispensable it is in the lives of everyday people. Why not promote the idea of the library as accessible in cyberspace just as it is in person? For those of us who are attracted to hunting and gathering information (or knowledge) via the Internet, library databases are an excellent place to begin. And for those of us who crave the heft of ink and pages upon pages, our nearest branch awaits us.

Next month National Library Week (April 12-18) is celebrating its 50th birthday. An opportunity for all of us to think about how we can make sure it's not its last.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

The Unreal of Real

Being (visual) media literate in the 21st century will mean having to tackle the unreality of "reality" shows. I never thought much about these shows or their snowball effect trendiness until very recently. Both cable and network TV offer a plethora of shows dedicated to showcasing the "reality" of people's lives, impacting the way we feel and view reality. This dissection of reality gives us a surreal vision of what we are supposedly thinking, feeling, doing, and saying, thereby creating a detachment (maybe even confusion) from what is real.

Sure, I *heart* PROJECT RUNWAY & TOP CHEF as much as the next viewer, even letting a part of me believe in the "realness" of them, but at the end of the day I hope that the ECONOMIST reading, foreign & independent film watching, undying skeptic part of me (call it my discerning, rational side) understands that the only real thing about these shows is how good they are at marketing themselves and garnering large fan bases.

And not only do we have to be aware of this irony/paradox when watching shows/movies, we also have to be aware of how advertising and marketing affect our thoughts and actions. Yes, we are consumers and we buy things, a lot of things, and, yes, we become loyal to brands as much as to the thing itself--thus our role in the cat and mouse scenario of "branding": companies want us to feel a certain way about their products so we will remain loyal to it forever and so they try to find out why and how we buy what we do e.g. Jiwon buys Tom's of Maine toothpaste because it's not too sweet and she remembers her Mom used to buy Tom's of Maine products growing up...

I think there is such a thing as manufactured authenticity and it's okay to be suspicious of it.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

From the depths of the medium!

Okay, I am willing to concede the melodramatic tinge in my urge to reference the Golem in this dialogue on the "medium" (and at some point, "media literacy") but maybe there are one or two common themes(?):

both are human creations

both can get out of control

both are fueled by human will

Well, so I can envision three...

I suppose I have a habit of relating in figurative terms and cannot always produce literal meanings or translations of things. If I acknowledge (and I do) that I exist within the parameters of the "medium" I am speaking more figuratively, but if I can acknowledge that I utilize tools of the "medium" to communicate and for self-expression, then I am speaking in more concrete terms. You can easily parse the difference between being and using in context of passive and active, but I digress...

I recently recalled the popularity of John Edward, psychic, some years back and his claim that he could communicate with your loved ones who had "passed on". He was proclaiming that he could cross over (and that was the name of his show, CROSSING OVER) from this world into the spirit world and put you in touch with the dead, essentially navigating one medium into the next. He refers to himself as the "psychic medium" and on his website there is info on how to receive "mediumship" readings. I knew someone whose family went on this show in hopes of connecting with a young family member killed in a car crash. I watched the clip where John Edward is "crossing over" to seek out this dead young man, and the one thing that emerged as true from this dog and pony show was that people have a heartrending desire to believe.

And I digress again...

To be in or not to be in the medium...

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Monday Night, Medium (Rare)

In having the opportunity to talk with fellow education/library professionals on ideas instigated from Postman et al, I am glad to be able to have a sounding board for my own musings, as well as to hear others' point of views. Our dialogue encompassed everything from first time blogging to dilemmas of how much to reveal or discuss on our blogs to high school musical to cheetahs to marketing insinuating its tentacles into different aspects of our lives.

Through our verbal interchanges, we revealed just how quirky our thinking is and how most of us are still working out our theories and evolving our beliefs on the order of things. And of course we do so not in a vacuum, but in the world. We do so in the medium of our modern times.

The process of integrating Postman's themes into my own daily thinking/living takes some doing. For example, when he writes that new mediums "changes the structure of discourse", I don't disagree, but I do wonder how this impacts upon my own experience and history. Then I have to ask myself "Have I already been acted upon by the "new medium" without my knowing because I take it for granted and cannot view it with objectivity?" So is it me thinking what I think, or is it the new medium telling me what to think?

Or maybe the new medium is like the Golem. The Golem, a creature conjured by a rabbi to protect his people in a Prague ghetto, becomes increasingly uncontrollable, goes on rampages as the rabbi loses control over it.

Okay, maybe that's too melodramatic...