Facebook as Workbook.

I have fond memories of Facebook in 2004, when I first joined the service. My undergraduate university was in the first or second wave of non-Ivy League colleges and universities, and I was the 100th person at Purdue to create a Facebook profile, a fact memorialized in my Facebook userid number.

Facebook was crucial for helping me connect with students in my classes, especially my large lecture classes. Facebook had a Courses functionality built into the service; students would list their course names and numbers, which would be turned into clickable links by Facebook so other users could click through and see everyone enrolled in a specific course who had chosen to make this information publicly available on their profile. When I needed notes for a class or had a question about something that had happened during a missed lecture, Courses was there for me.

Back then, Facebook membership was restricted to users with verifiable .edu addresses. It took at least two years before my colleagues at the campus-wide IT group started joining Facebook in force. That was the first time I had to sanitize my Facebook profile. It happened again after I graduated from Purdue and came to Virginia Tech for graduate school. Again when people from my graduate program started to friend me on Facebook; again when I finished my MFA and went on the job market locally. And most recently, when I felt certain negative-impacting work-related situations were being fueled by information gleaned from, or even the existence of, my Facebook profile.

I even deactivated my Facebook profile for a course I took last semester; what was originally a two-week deactivation turned into several months. Other than Facebook Messenger and Events, I found I didn’t really miss Facebook after all. But eventually I caved, and I’ve been back on Facebook for almost a year now.

I find Facebook isn’t really fun anymore; sometimes it qualifies as “work” when professional colleagues contact me on the service with professional queries. I wish I could shut it off completely, but I am too addicted to the information flow that Facebook provides. Couple that with a Facebook page I help to maintain for one of my jobs, and I can’t walk away from Facebook, even if it occasionally hurts me by telling me I’ve missed a really cool party or that my ex got married (note: this really happened).

This is why I hide on Twitter. Somehow I think that’s safer than Facebook, even though I am more honest/transparent/edgy on Twitter than may be prudent.

Also: my dad is not on Twitter. Yet.

On being a weblogger.

I made this attempt to explain my weblogging on my main weblog, Girl in Black, a few weeks ago. But I’m only marginally okay with it.

I would trace my weblogging progression like so:
Girl in Black (main weblog) & 47901 (journalblog): 2000-2002
The Path of Wrong (semi-anonymous/private weblog): 2002-2004
Girl in Black (main weblog, repurposed as a photoblog/poetryblog): 2004-2007
@girlinblack on Twitter (microblog): 2006-present
Girl in Black (main weblog, resurrected): 2013-?

Running in parallel with that is my LiveJournal usage, all friends-only journals, since 2003. I am still semi-actively posting/reading on the second LJ I created, a permanent account, even though most of the people I know from LJ have moved on to other social networks. Those accounts have names which cannot be tied back to me whatsoever. I made sure of that. Very sure.

Why do I blog? First, it’s easy. Especially Twitter: sending off a text is so quick. When I spent my days and night in offices, firing up a Blogger post window was trivial. Once I figured out how to send photos from my smartphone in 2004, weblogging became fun for me again, and only when I started revving up the graduate school folly did that slow down.

Second: it’s fun to have an audience. I still have people reading me regularly who I met online in 2000. That blows my mind sometimes. The downside: I have an audience, and sometimes what I post sets them off (and not in a good way).

Third: it’s a way to keep the writing instrument fresh. Tweet composition really helped me hone my poetic line. I’m grateful for that. Ripping apart articles from my college newspaper also employed critical analysis for the lulz.

Fourth: it helps me to meet people! One guy stopped on a cross country trip from Minnesota to … somewhere, I forget, and hung out with me for a few days. That makes me smile thinking about it. I met lots of people from Purdue and Virginia Tech elsewhere thanks to my weblog and my Twitter feed. It’s like a digital calling card.

Fifth, and maybe final: I need an outlet for expression. Weblogging is one of my outlets. Sure, writing poetry is what I’m academically trained to do, but weblogging is something I trained myself to do while kicking around in academia. I can look back at my weblog/Twitter archives and remember things about my life when I was writing that I would not be able to remember otherwise. And sometimes I just need to nail down a moment in text and look at it later, with unbiased-by-time eyes.

On audience.

I will admit that having a “professional online portfolio” online makes me really nervous, as I have taken pains over the past few years to scrub as much of myself as I can from the Web for various reasons, none of which I am willing to go into here. I go through phases where I’m fine with what I have online, and then suddenly I’m less fine with it and go underground, taking down weblogs, hiding on semi-private sites, etc.

Another thing I’m prone to doing is scrubbing parts of my online self that I don’t want other people to see because it will cause RL drama. Taking down my weblogs in the early 2000s after they were found by work colleagues is one example. Restricting personal posts on a private website after someone from a previous life (mentioned in my mudder post) appeared on the site’s discussion board was another.

Here’s another from an hour ago: I have a private Twitter account with a handful of followers. Someone I know from Blacksburg who is not in town at the moment requested to follow it. Before I approved the request, I scrolled back through hundreds and hundreds of tweets to remove references to things I thought might damage his sensibilities.

I have written online for what seems like ever fully aware of the unseen “audience” and the upsides/downsides of that. I miss being able to write completely freely online. That’s one of the reasons why I keep making up new screennames completely unconnected with each other. I keep trying to get that freedom back. But it’s never coming back.

Final presentations.

I’m gonna liveblog some observations. Let’s see how this goes.

Comics presentation reminds me of a study I did over in ISE where I annotated an article in print, on a computer, and on the iPad. Maybe find that researcher’s name?

Student retention presentation suggesting using blog posts to identify at-risk students. Interesting.

Kairos presentation has some intersects with celebrity studies as well as rhetoric and performance studies.

Technical writing/LinkedIn presentation is going to be folded into thesis research.

Feminist Instagram presentation is way into visual culture & looks to find visual representations of third-wave feminism on photo-based social media. Nice.

New literacies research presentation looks at how teachers use writing instruction in the classroom. Love a Peter Elbow reference.

Veterans/PTSD social networking presentation touches on something that I never even considered.

MyFitnessPal presentation is totally relevant to my wellness interests.

Women in gaming presentation is very interesting and could easy earn its notoriety in flamewars if it gets posted online somewhere. Quote from preso after an f-bomb: “That’s not productive at all.”

Fan communities presentation is going to use Netnography to analyze some of the data. I should look into that book.

And finally, I gave a presentation about Twitter and micro-celebrity. Or something. I’m tired.

On using iPads in the classroom.

I’m a veteran of the Innovationspace’s iPad pilot program, from both the instructor and student perspective, and I’m not entirely sold on it.

After having an iPad for the better part of two years, I have to say that I love it. I love being able to call anything up immediately using the web browsers. I love being able to read and respond to email. I love the wide variety of apps. I love being able to write using my pal Justin’s Elements app.

But I don’t love the iPad enough to take it out of its case when I go home at night. My BlackBerry still rules my days and nights as my go-to communication device. Why hasn’t the iPad surplanted it? Would it have done so if I had one with always-on Internet through a wireless carrier like Verizon or AT&T?

One surprising thing I don’t love about the iPad: reading documents on it. I’ve found that I prefer reading printed matter over electronic matter (except for the BlackBerry, which I’ll get to in a second). For my IS Senior Seminar, some of the texts used in previous semesters were e-books only accessible through Scholar. Getting access to them on the iPad through Scholar was maddening. By the middle of one particular semester, PDFs of the readings were made available as a workaround (Spinuzzi term, what up fellow bus rider) for the inaccessibility of the textbook on the iPad.

One thing I’ve realized students don’t love about the iPad: typing on it. One complaint that I’ve heard repeatedly from students taking the IS Senior Seminar is that the iPad is difficult to type on. And yes, it is difficult when the iPad is in portrait mode. In landscape mode, I’ve found it to be more usable, but the lack of screen space to see what’s been typed is frustrating.

One thing everyone can agree may not be lovable about the iPad: it is a distraction device par excellence. iMessage, Twitter, Facebook, Angry Birds, you name it, there’s a distracting app for that. As someone who has both seen student distracted use of iPads and engaged in it myself, I’m not sure what can be done.

But I don’t expect iPads to disappear from classrooms because of too many people playing Candy Crush, that’s for sure.

Stalking My Former Self

Reading about social networks and online identities has gotten me curious about what insights might emerge from examining my old profiles from high school. When I was 15-18, I maintained profiles on Xanga and MySpace, which were left dormant at various points in the lonely avenues of abandoned cyberspace. Because everything online is permanent, I am able to cull through my old profiles like an architectural dig and remember what kind of online identity I was trying to shape back then (and how true it is to who I am today).

Let’s start with my MySpace profile. An important contextual element: I joined MySpace when I was 16 because the boy I liked (who would become my first boyfriend ever…and second and third, because apparently I didn’t know when enough was enough!) was on MySpace, and I wanted to flirt with him. When I first wrote my profile, I was crafting every sentence for an audience of one: I wanted that boy to like me, so I emphasized the parts of myself that I knew he would be drawn to (my sense of humor, my political savvy, and a put-on sense of ease, etc). While appealing to the tastes of a suitor is kind of Courtship 101 (at least in the mind of a high schooler who only has tv shows as a reference for how to go about these things), there is no doubt that a lot of the construction of this particular identity hinged on getting the attention of a “certain someone”. This reminds me of the  Danah Boyd, in The Networked Self, points out that many friendships that are confirmed in social networking environments are for political reasons. While an individual might rather avoid close ties with a person online, they associate with a certain person because it is the socially acceptable thing to do. Similarly, I think all content generated on profiles is, to an extent, political and filtered through the author’s perception of audience reaction. My profile being shaped to get the attention of my crush was political and calculated (or maybe just teenage desperation).

My xanga account was a collaboration between me and my best friend. We decided to make blogs to keep in touch with each other in high school (or…something….) and we made funny “About Me” sections and wrote ridiculous notes back and forth on these sites. If I remember correctly, we also desperately wanted to get the attention of a mutual crush (code named “Green Tea,” who makes star appearances in my posts…) and this was an effort to make a public but secret declaration of love. (15 year olds are weird. as. hell.) If you are curious, check it out.

I definitly think my xanga account is a representation of my relationship with my best friend, and a ridiculously fun reminder of what I was like as a freshman in high school. I’m surprised by how much I have changed (I no longer troll the local pool for cute guys), and I barely remember what half the inside jokes were between me and my friend. At the same time, I see how I reacted to problems then and now is similar, and how I wrote in journals then is surprisingly consistent with my current tendencies. This site– maybe all like it–serves as an archive of a certain moment in my development, and also an archive of how much and how little we change.

Now, I’ve made this site, a representation of my professional. academic, and sometimes personal self. I am proud of how far I have come, as a self-assured woman; as a writer; and as a savvy navigator of digital technology. This site has been cultivated intentionally, not to get a boy to like me but to share my ideas with the world.

To be continued…

 

Singularity. Closer than We Think?

Tablet Accessory? A woman wears an EEG cap for a Sandia National Laboratories experiment. To use the mind-reading tablet below, people must wear an EEG cap, though a slightly different one that doesn’t require gel on the scalp. Photo by Randy Montoya from PopSci Magazine

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

As funny as this woman looks, she taking steps towards singularity as she is using this EEG cap to control her tablet with her thoughts.  Even though this contraption is not at the level of perfection required to be on the market, Samsung and its collaborating researchers are working hard to improve this technology.

Not only would this be an amazing and liberating tool for people who struggle with motor skills, but it will also allow for more ways of multitasking that we can probably fathom at this point. Here is MIT’s Technology Review on the product and the process.

 

 

 

Graduate school of the future.

It’ll be all about the tablets. Portable computing for knowledge transfer and production. Online/distance learning. Massive supercomputers. Lots and lots of clouds, but of course there will be mounds of paper because if there’s one thing graduate students love to do, it’s print mounds of paper. The push to make graduate research accessible to the public will continue. As the professoriate ages downward, faculty will grow more comfortable using always-on methods (instant messaging, video messaging, location services) to stay in contact with students. Email will continue to be a major time suck. The physical library will not be replaced, but more materials will be made available online with 24/7 access for students, faculty, and staff. Collaborative work spaces won’t replace offices entirely, but they will continue to make inroads as on-campus space continues to be at a premium. Parking will always, always blow, so alternative forms of transportation will be encouraged. Increased promotion of wellness and sustainability (work/life balance, healthier and more sustainable food options for on-campus dining, access to fitness centers).

Hopefully there will still be time to plant trees and enjoy the outdoors as well.

How the Internet Taught Me How to Cook

The most complex thing I’d ever cooked before about two years ago was a microwave dinner. My parents never showed an interest in the culinary arts, so I’d always scoffed at the idea of spending hours in the kitchen. However, when I moved out on my own and then got married, I began to see the value of a nice, home-cooked meal. I am no Stepford Wife, but I love that a delicious meal can bring people together and make a house feel more like home. I began to research cooking, but had no idea where to start.

Then I discovered allrecipes.com, a site where recipes can be uploaded by users and reviewed by those who try the recipe. There are recipes for virtually any kind of food or preparation, and the reviews are an easy way to evaluate whether a recipe is worth trying. I have found that the user reviews and comments allow me to discover variations that others have tried (including spices to add, substitutions for ingredients that work well, and preparation variations).

As a very amateur cook, this online community has allowed me to 1) find the best recipes quickly and easily, and 2) learn from the wisdom of more advanced cooks who actually know what they are doing. I almost never make a bad meal, and while I’d like to attribute this to some kind of innate cooking talent, my prowess is mostly due to the excellent resource that is this website.

In the past, I think many people learn to cook from their parents or grandparents– recipes and tips are handed down through the generations. I think this is a wonderful practice, and I am keeping a recipe book with all my favorites (and my own spin on the recipes I find online) to give to my children when the time comes. But the internet certainly makes it easier to cook well, to use the wisdom of the crowd to figure out what recipes work best and which ones are duds.

Robots are our friends!

My initial exposure to robots and AI left me feeling nervous, skeptical, and uncomfortable. That was until I came across this adorable Beta Testing DARwIn-OP  video on YouTube. The Beta testing of DARwin, our beloved robot that we see in many of Virginia Tech’s promotional videos, provides some insight on the role robots may play in the lives of future generations.

This video shows Dr. Dennis Hong’s son playing with this cute robot. It is clear that Ethan feels some level of connection to the robot as he interacts with the robot as he would interact with a playmate.

Watching this video makes me wonder whether future generations that grow up playing with robots, that will inevitably be more sophisticated, will be more willing to accept human-like robots that people of our generation may be quick to reject.

Taking Steps Closer to Singularity

Benefits of an advanced prosthetic hand

This article on iPhone-controlled prosthetic hands caught my eye after our class conversation on singularity a couple of weeks ago. In 2008, Jason Koger ran into a downed power line and lost both his hands. Five years later, Touch Bionic’s i-limb ultra revolution has provided him with prosthetic hands that finally allow him to reclaim the use of his hands.

When accompanied by a smartphone app, this prosthetic hand can configure itself into 24 preset grip patterns that allow its owner to carry out tasks such as writing with a pen or typing on a keyboard.

Technology like this bionic hand is in sync with its users and allows them to reach beyond their human limits while using technology as a part of themselves. From this perspective, singularity does not seem as outlandish or threatening as it did in other contexts. So then, is there a way to keep technologies like this advanced prosthetic hand separate from other technologies that we are so quick to reject? And if there isn’t a way to keep them separate, is it worth sacrificing one because of the other?

LinkedIn Adopting “Mentioning” from Twitter

Renee and I are really excited to share with the class our knowledge of LinkedIn. In our attempt to prepare for our presentation, we have planned an information workshop on LinkedIn for Building Construction students. During this workshop, we will also observe how the students are successfully utilizing this tool.

While having LinkedIn on my mind, I came across this short article “LinkedIn Adds Twitter-Like Mention Feature To Boost Engagement” on FastCompany, which revealed that LinkedIn added a feature that allows users to mention connections and companies on the LinkedIn homepage. Christina Chaey, the author of the article, states that, “it’s likely the new mention feature will help LinkedIn expand its push to become the premiere content creation and sharing platform for professionals.”

This provides another example of how social networking sites are benefiting from user-generated information and publicity.

 

Twitter it up

Following professionals in our field for our Online Identity Analysis was interesting but I thought it would be cool to see the content people outside of our discipline Tweet about. Here is TIME magazine’s list of the 140 Best Twitter Feeds in 2013, which according to the article are “feeds that inspire us to laugh, learn or shake our heads in wonderment.” Enjoy!

Social Media Contributes to Work Productivity

Similar to what we discussed in class a few weeks back, here is another article that shows that using social media does not detract from people’s productivity at work. Kit Eaton’s article Tweet This: Social Media Use Improves Employee Productivity on Fast Company reports the findings of a study by Warwick University in the UK that addresses and assuages the fear that social media leads to unproductivity at work.

The study shows that, “by using social media and other online comms channels, staff were able to conclude sales more quickly and get more customer service tasks out of the way speedily.” This shows that the practice we get with Tweeting and Blogging helps build our assets and contributes to our employability upon graduation.

Here is another related article, When Social Media at Work Don’t Create Productivity-Killing Distractions, from the Bloomberg Businessweek.

Speaking of Hardware

Rachel Spilka’s Digital Literacy for Technical Communication: 21st Century Theory and Practice discusses the relationship between progress in hardware development, software development, and the changing nature of professions. Check out this latest development in fiber cables. How do you think this will change the nature of communications?

http://arstechnica.com/information-technology/2013/03/fiber-cables-made-of-air-move-data-at-99-7-percent-the-speed-of-light/

My Thoughts on the Digital Self 2013-03-25 16:44:47

Apparently, utilizing social media for civic engagement is an ongoing conversation from the past . The Walter and Leonore Annenberg Presidential Learning Center at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation reached out to high school students in May of 2011 to promote civic engagement through social media. The organization held an hour and a half long conference at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library and Museum. According to the website, “Panelists examine[d] the many positive uses of social media, especially as a tool to promote civic engagement,” and “look[ed] at the role of social media in politics, social entrepreneurship, voluntarism, and activism.”

Speakers also iterated the social media’s power to reach large audiences and provided students with insight on participating in civic engagement and becoming active members of their communities. The conference is now available on YouTube.

No Cyborgs Allowed

Google Glass, Google’s latest tech innovation, is a head-mounted, wearable computer that responds to voice commands and can do things like take photos, record video, conduct online searches, and give directions. While the gadget has drawn enthusiasm for being a leap forward in making technological resources instantly, constantly accessible, many have expressed concerns about the impact Google Glass might have on privacy rights and social dynamics. This article explains why some establishments have chosen to ban Google Glass, and why some activists are resisting its widespread adoption.

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I wonder if Google Glass is little more than a gimmick. The technology allows little functionality that smartphones don’t already have. My hope is that this will be a fad that flops, and our daily lives will be no more integrated with the digital realm than they already are through computers and cell phones. I love how technology allows me to communicate and perform productive tasks, but I don’t want technology to constantly interface with my real life; I don’t want my world to be filtered through Google-colored glasses. Despite its many successful applications, Google has developed many failed technologies, and I can only hope that Google Glass will end up in the Google Graveyard.

I agree that it’s scary to think that our physical spaces will become mediated by digital technology, and that our entire lives might be shaped by the awareness that anyone around us might be recording and posting us as we go about our lives. I also think that with Google Glass might come an increased narcissism, with people constantly aware of how to fit themselves and their technological objectives within any situation (without an awareness of how that technology is impacting others).

I hope that as technology continues to develop, more attention is paid to etiquette and proper behavior so that social and professional interactions retain or reclaim some level of focus. I also think it’s essential that individuals maintain their right to privacy. People drinking coffee at Starbucks shouldn’t need to worry about their every move being recorded by civilians (and Google) who then own the material and can post it or use it in whatever way they please. Especially when it comes to recording minors or other vulnerable groups (or taking video in public bathrooms or dressing rooms), Google Glass could violate privacy in new ways.

Brief Note on Skill Building

Back when I was taking high school algebra, I remember working on homework and studying for tests week after week, waiting for the hard part to start. Nobody I knew liked algebra– in fact, the general impression I had before starting the class was that algebra was a unique form of torture that engendered endless frustration and misunderstanding and error upon the innocent souls subjected to its miseries. In taking the class and focusing on integrating each new skill into my acquired knowledge, I realized that algebraic knowledge is cumulative, and each discrete skills is not more difficult than the last– each new skills simply relies on mastery of the previous skill. Algebra becomes more complex, but not more difficult. For this reason, algebra went from being intimidating to completely do-able for me. I stopped worrying about how intimidating the problems sets looked three chapters ahead and focused on developing continuously.

I feel that building websites– a skill I am only beginning to acquire– is similar to algebra. At first, I felt “there is no way I can do that. That’s for people with a natural aptitude, who already think a certain way, who are more interested in technology than I am.” But as my professor gave workshops in HTML, CSS, and web design software, I realized: I can do this. I just need to learn the basics and gradually accumulate more information.

By breaking down tasks and systems into smaller chunks, they are easier to understand. I’m finding that any network or system is only as complicated as the sum of its parts. It’s not necessary to understand the big picture right away, because the individual nodes and relationships between nodes will eventually inform the observer or user about how the entire system works!

I find immense comfort in the idea that I can continue to learn new skills, that something that seems puzzling at first can become demystified if I work on it long enough and hard enough. I think real creativity and innovation are unleashed when reservations are set aside and you just dive in.

And that is my call to action for the day!

Haptic technology– A Parterner for Artificial Intelligence

Along with the development of artificial intelligence is the improvement in haptic technology, or technology that registers sensory input. Not only can these mechanical devices register tactical stimuli, but they can also relay these sensory details to a person.

The article in Slate Magazine titled The Sensitive Robot: How Haptic Technology is Closing the Mechanical Gap by Erik Sofge indicates that the “promising” improvement of haptic technology with “new sensors and feedback systems” paired with the mechanical technologies of contemporary robotics will improve the usefulness and accuracy of current robots when carrying out tasks that are, or were, mostly performed by humans, such as performing complicated surgeries or detonating bombs.

Later in the article, Sofge mentions that “haptic technology may ultimately give stronger sense of “self,” which brings up the question of whether robots that contain both haptic technology and artificial intelligence could someday hold the same value we give animals, if not other humans.

FOMO (Fear of Missing Out!)

Check out this article, which discusses the tyranny of algorithms that connect consumers with suggested products based on previous browsing history. It’s just one more signal that amidst the infinite articles and products online, we may be missing out on things we might like that the algorithms can’t predict or detect.

 

On Being the Product, and Other Forms of Subtle Exploitation

In Chapter 4 of A Networked Self, Mark Andrejevic argues that there is a need for increased research into the distinction between “commercial exploitation” and “willing participation” when it comes to online users’ information being harvested to deliver targeted advertising. Andrejevic explores the nature of mutually beneficial exchanges, and the exploitation of relationships and “immaterial labor” which some employers and advertisers have been practicing. This reminded me of a video by John Green, author and community organizer, who made a video stating that if a product or service online is “free” (a la Facebook), YOU are the product. Watch the video. It is thought-provoking, and raises the excellent point that information from social networking sites is being used for various marketing purposes. Users must be aware of this and choose how to conduct their online lives accordingly.

Users need to begin informing themselves about the various ways that their information could be used, and make decisions they are comfortable with about whether and how to present personal information. It is inevitable that profile information will be sold and used to target advertising.

The prevalence of targeted advertising adds a whole new dimension to the idea of a “networked public,” because the content and networks created by users online for specific, user-generated purposes are exploited by outside groups for purposes that may or may not benefit the users and the network. By this, I mean that I might use Facebook to stay in touch with family. But marketers are tracking every input I make on Facebook so they can better understand my relationships in order to sell me and my family more things. The “cost of doing business” (or the cost of socializing) is that my relationships expressed in my networked publics will be used to sell me things. Because Facebook is designed to facilitate the generation of commercially viable information, my relationships are being mediated by corporations. Now more than ever, our public is being designed and monitored by people who want to get their hands on our money by watching how we interact with family and friends. That’s a pretty scary thought. Especially because we all buy into it.


On Being the Product, and Other Forms of Subtle Exploitation

In Chapter 4 of A Networked Self, Mark Andrejevic argues that there is a need for increased research into the distinction between “commercial exploitation” and “willing participation” when it comes to online users’ information being harvested to deliver targeted advertising. Andrejevic explores the nature of mutually beneficial exchanges, and the exploitation of relationships and “immaterial labor” which some employers and advertisers have been practicing. This reminded me of a video by John Green, author and community organizer, who made a video stating that if a product or service online is “free” (a la Facebook), YOU are the product. Watch the video. It is thought-provoking, and raises the excellent point that information from social networking sites is being used for various marketing purposes. Users must be aware of this and choose how to conduct their online lives accordingly.

Users need to begin informing themselves about the various ways that their information could be used, and make decisions they are comfortable with about whether and how to present personal information. It is inevitable that profile information will be sold and used to target advertising.

The prevalence of targeted advertising adds a whole new dimension to the idea of a “networked public,” because the content and networks created by users online for specific, user-generated purposes are exploited by outside groups for purposes that may or may not benefit the users and the network. By this, I mean that I might use Facebook to stay in touch with family. But marketers are tracking every input I make on Facebook so they can better understand my relationships in order to sell me and my family more things. The “cost of doing business” (or the cost of socializing) is that my relationships expressed in my networked publics will be used to sell me things. Because Facebook is designed to facilitate the generation of commercially viable information, my relationships are being mediated by corporations. Now more than ever, our public is being designed and monitored by people who want to get their hands on our money by watching how we interact with family and friends. That’s a pretty scary thought. Especially because we all buy into it.

What Does My Facebook Say About Me?

Recently, I read an article about a study in which 60,000 Facebook profiles were analyzed for trends linking “likes” and other profile information to demographic information. The results showed that sexual orientation, political affiliation, and religion could be predicted with 88% accuracy based on the users’ “likes.” Gender could be predicted correctly 93% of the time, and determining African American or Caucasian males was accurate 95% of the time! This makes me wonder how much online identities say about a person, even if their name is withheld.

My Facebook behavior often involves scrolling through my News Feed and checking for interesting news about friends. Sometimes, if someone I know has “liked” something, I will click the “like” button, too– it’s simple to do and literally takes no more effort than a click. But on some level, that action is putting me in a certain category. In associating myself with a certain brand of tv show or experience on Facebook, I become the “type of person who likes that thing.” Like any self-respecting angst-ridden college student, I resist the idea of being labeled and of those labels defining who I am.

Looking through my list of “likes” on Facebook (something I’ve never actually done), I found I like 54 things. In looking at the list, I wonder what conclusions a stranger would draw about me, and how much of my personality I have left in and how much I have left out.

My “liked” books are: The Book Thief, The Portable Dorothy Parker, The Gospel of John, Ender’s Game, Catcher in the Rye, Harry Potter, The Fault in Our Stars, and Fahrenheit 451. A pretty good list, I’ll admit, and certainly indicative of some of my favorite books and authors. However, a lot of these books were “liked” back when I was in high school and early college. I love these books, but they represent a slice of my reading life, with an emphasis on fiction written for young adults. There is nothing here to indicate my reading about politics, rhetoric and writing, or trashy romance novels. At the same time, I don’t use Facebook for academic networking and I don’t want the world to know every time I read about the archduke and his mistress (I’m mostly joking about the romance novel thing….mostly.)

Another example of the inadeqauacy of “likes”: Under activities, I have listed “writing.” It is true: I spend more waking hours writing than I do on almost anything else. But I also love to cook, hike, spend time with friends, travel, go to coffee shops, and a million other things. I have not cultivated a long list of activities on facebook because the things I like to do mostly seem ordinary and I don’t see the point in making them a badge on my page. I do know, however, that no list of activities I have haphazardly clicked into existence could really sum up who I am.

As for the movies I have “liked,” most of them are classic films (think: 12 Angry Men and Casablanca) that I have seen once and enjoyed. But they are not the movies I watch again and again. That being said, the list of movies probably does put me in a certain demographic in terms of education level.

It’s interesting that while my demographic info might be gleaned from my “likes,” other parts of me are not visible. I am an educated, 23-year-old Catholic employed woman who enjoys intellectual endeavors. My Facebook page would show that much to a stranger. But it would likely not capture my sense of humor, my approaches to problem-solving, or my unhealthy relationship with reality tv.

In addition, my Facebook shows that I am married, but my husband and I never interact using the site. That doesn’t mean that we don’t have a thriving relationship in “real life.” My Facebook friends list does not include my parents, but I talk to them more than 95% of my Facebook friends. Facebook is representative of a small slice of my life, but it doesn’t capture what is most ridiculous or funny or important about me.

I guess my likes on Facebook will help marketers to know me better, but not necessarily anyone else…

Blurb on ‘Using Technology and Data for Social Impact’

From crowd sourced information during natural disasters to funding direct personal loans to entrepreneurs in Kenya, people are utilizing social media and data generated from it to contribute to the good of society. Studies have also shown links between the use of social media and the likelihood of entrepreneurial success. The article Using Technology and Data for Social Impact by Amy Gallo, a contributing editor at Harvard Business Review, will be Tweeting and regularly updating her findings.

Welcome to Zur-En-Arrh

There’s something about the idea of performativity, about the capacity to reenact different versions of one’s self depending upon the demands (and opportunities) presented by a given situation, that freaks people out sometimes, because–

–they’ll say.

That is, I think many people believe that they possess a “true” self, an inner rock of being that is distinctly, unequivocally their own.

But to me, the notion of a One True Anything–much less a One True Self–is frankly terrifying.

Maybe it’s the Gorgias lover in me [yes], or the postmodernist [yup], or the wanderlust, but for me, everything is situational.

It’s like Zora Neale Hurston says in her autobiography, Dust Tracks on a Road: “Nothing that God ever made is the same thing to more than one person.  That is natural.  There is no single face in nature, because every eye that looks upon it, see it from its own angle” (45).

The cynical version of this would be it’s all relative, but that’s not quite what I mean.

I’d say: it’s all kairotic.

Toss these questions online, these musings over identity and performance, and whoa.

Who am I online? Given that there are different versions of me running around on tumblr, on twitter, on AO3, here on this blog: what control do I have over the answer to that question?

Well, as Corrine Weisgerber notes, the answer may be not a damn lot:

Interpersonal communication research tells us that on social networking sites the people in our network actually co-construct our identities.

Weisgerber uses the metaphor of the multiverse to illustrate this effect: in essence, we’re read repeatedly and from an enormous variety of perspectives by those whom we encounter online. Each of these readers constructs a slightly different version of our “online self” based both on information about us they’ve collected [and we've shared] and on the particular screen through which we’re read.

Thus, who we are online is not one being, rather a constantly evolving set of selves whose outlines we may sketch through the information that we provide but whose features and characteristics are ultimately created by each of our readers.

It’s like online: I’m Batman.

Batman-batman-4488825-1280-800

And I’m Batman from Earth 2 (who gets to marry Selina):

Batman-Catwoman-Wedding-Earth-2
And I’m Batman of Zur-En-Arrh.

batmite

The Batman of Zur-En-Ahh, as re-conceived by Grant Morrison, is a man for whom all of Batman’s other selves are real. He’s the crazed, embodied Bat whose head is drowning meta and experiences and identities that his body, his brain, can’t hope to contain.

So I am all of these selves, all at once. Along with many more versions of myself that live in the minds of my readers, as it were, that I’ll never meet, much less name.

I find this vaguely comforting, this kind of being and not-being.

As a writer, I’m always quick to dismiss the notion of authorial intent: to my mind, once I write something and put it into the world, it’s the reader’s to play with, not mine to control. I can give it all my attention in the crafting, the furious typing, the inevitable swearing. But once it’s published, out there in the ether for anyone to see, it’s not mine anymore.

Certainly, the stakes are higher in academia than in fan fiction: interpretations of my Professional Online Selves may help or hinder my ability to feed myself, for example. But the multiverse metaphor is freeing for me because it underscores the limits of control I have over this particular form of text, of Online Me(s). It doesn’t give me a free pass to openly not give a shit about what I post or who I speak to or what I choose to say–though that’s tempting, believe me–but it does take the pressure off a bit.

Because let’s face it: I think of myself of the Batman of Zurr-En-Arrh, but most folks have no idea who he is. And I’m ok with that.


Technology for more good than evil.

The Uchek app lets users take urine samples with their smartphones. (Credit: Uchek)

Here’s an interesting article I found while browsing through the news today. A urine sample app developed by a MIT entrepreneur lets users detect diseases with iPhones. Yes, it can potentially cost $20.99 but it’s saves people a trip to the doctors and lets them test for up to 25 diseases in the comforts of their homes.

In relations to the conversation from yesterday’s class, hopefully, paying the price of $29.99 will ensure users privacy and control over their information on this App.