A final post.

04.3.09

My final post has gradually been working up to a post about myself. Sort of. Specifically, social media and me. Might as well break the rules at the last moment!

Throughout the class, as we went through, there were so many things that I thought were interesting. As a person who’s been part of the internet sphere for so many years, it was refreshing to be part of a discussion with people who dealt with the internet differently; who didn’t live on the internet as I do. And, often, I wanted to share something, but not quite enough to actually say it. So – I decided to say what I wanted to say at the last possible moment.

I love the internet. The internet resonates with me. Social networks are part of me. My blog is part of my life. The internet is part of my life. And some people would say that it isn’t real, that it doesn’t actually exist. But it definitely does. It exists, somewhere.

When I was 13, I joined my first chat room and developed friendships there. It’s been years and years and years since the chatroom disappeared, but a month or so ago, a friend from those days found me on facebook. We caught each other up on our lives, reminisced about the good ol’ days, and it was nice. There’s someone else on my livejournal friends list from that same chat room. I’ve e-known him for 8 years, and to me, it feels as real as any friendship that I’ve ever had. I may not never have seen him before, but when the great blackout happened years ago and there wasn’t any power.. you know – anywhere around here… he was the person I called (he was outside of the grid) and he told me what was going on. (and I told my mom, who told her friends, etc. etc.)

Although it isn’t exactly tangible.. what friendship really is?

Spending money for virtual things sounds silly… but isn’t spending money on most things kind of silly? There are so many things that we own that don’t have any value. And sure – being able to hold it in your hand makes it feel real, makes it feel as if it’s something that you own, but really – it doesn’t mean anything. A person can buy a television for $1000, or buy a similar one for $2000 – they’re the same thing. A person may pay $30 dollars for a pair of jeans, or $300 for a pair of jeans. The brand name costs a lot of money – and, that’s pretty intangible.

We’re surrounded by things that are frivolous, useless, things we didn’t need to buy, but that we wanted. And I think that the same can be said for the internet.

I’m not saying it’s right, but I’m saying that there are things in the real world that are equally as silly, equally as intangible. Although it feels satisfying to be able to hold something, that shouldn’t be a defining quality of whether or not something is worth something. Because, at the end of the day, most of the things we own are things that make us happy, and nothing more. So, who’s to say that buying an online plot of land isn’t a proper way to spend ones money?

Citizen media is real. It’s real people dealing with real things. Social networks are real, even though they’re on the internet. Everything that happens on the internet happens in real life – in a different way. We know it happens, and knowing – to me, makes it real.

I’ll avoid an epistimological debate on existence (although I can’t help but ask – how do we know anything exists?) and leave it at that. But, I think it’s important to consider that the internet world as a real world, that things happening on the internet happen there – as if it’s a place. It isn’t – I know that. And I know it can disappear at any moment. But I have faith in the gods of the internet (and capitalism) that it will stay, and we will continue to integrate our lives with it. (and, that it’ll probably become more and more real as the world get smaller and smaller.)

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I originally thought I was somewhat immune to the smartphone craze, regarding the whole “always connected” thing. I am rarely connected when I’m out and about, and I like it that way.

And then I started tweeting from bed.

The internet has infiltrated my pre-sleep routine. I used to read before bed, and that was nice. I liked it. And then I aquired a partner and suddenly – lights cannot be on. So, with the introduction of what is essentially a backlit book (my iPod), the internet invaded my routine. Now, I can’t really fall asleep without it.

The lights are out, and I check my e-mail. I’ll think, in those dark moments before sleep, “hey – I haven’t talked to so and so..” and I’ll send off a quick e-mail. The facebook app is wonderfully distracting, twitter is there…. I’ve got a free book app, and other various things. All of it, keeping me connected in those hours before bed. I’ve been toying with the idea of downloading an irc app, so that I can spend even more time watching various channels…

And all of this is because I really, really dislike waiting for sleep.

So – it brings me to the idea that has come up a number of times in class – that is, whatever happened to our attention spans? I must constantly be entertained, apparently, and sleep is not excluded from that. I can’t wait for anything – I must know what is in my inbox at all times, I must know so many things.

Constant Constant Constant Constant. I am watching my iPod charge now, as it waits for it’s nightly routine of keeping me amused until sleep finally takes over my brain. And I can’t help but wonder – what will I be in three years?

I’ve seen a number of blog posts on fandom, so – after pondering fandom extensively for my project, I thought I’d write about it.

I like fandom. No – scratch that. I love fandom. I think it’s the most incredible thing I’ve ever discovered. If I find something phenomenal that somebody has created, I sit in amazement. Both at the sheer excellence of said thing, but also at the amount of time and effort (and passion!) that must have gone into it.

Fandom, unfortunately, has a bad image. It’s either completely ignored by mainstream culture, or if it is known about, is often cast in shadows and perceived as strange. And I suppose that really, the idea of people (most in their 20’s and older, I’d say) sitting at home, obsessing over fictional things (usually fictional, anyway) and writing stories…. may sound a little strange.

But! It isn’t. Not to the people involved. The creativity that can be found in fandom is staggering, and the collaborative nature of the community is astounding. Talented people come together and create fantastic and wonderful things.

I think that’s what social media is all about. After a semester of talking about social networks and blogging and citizen media, I think what I’ve gotten from it all is that the community is key, and if there’s one thing that fandom has, it’s community.

In class, we’ve talked about things like Second Life and our identities.. specifically, those people that spend plenty of time on the internet.

I’d like to address the idea that I’ve seen in a few blogs on our disassociation with the real world, and the impact that social media has on it.

I think that it’s safe to say that any time a person becomes highly involved in something, they’re not doing a good thing for themselves. Whether that thing is a book, a video game, or knitting – spending all of your time on it is isolating yourself from the rest of the world.

The idea that Second Life takes a person away from the real world is true to some extent, but I don’t believe it’s any different from anything else. A benefit to Second Life is that it still involves some form of human interaction. And, despite the fact that those humans are not in front of us, they’re still human, and we’re still communicating with them.

The same can be said for blogging and journals and chatting and text messages. We’re communicating with people constantly.

The internet offers opportunities for people to connect with each other based on their interests. Second Life allows for people to wander around, in world, and go to areas that are relevant to them. If I’m interested in a certain TV show, and if that TV show has a presence on Second Life, if you go to that area, you know that all of the people there have at least one thing in common with you.

In a more general sense, away from MMORPG’s, if you’re interested in things that are different from the majority of people around you (such as obscure Turkish movies, ancient Sumerian history, or Vulcan rituals), you can be sure to find people online that share those interests.

If you’re interested in sports, music, or popular television, for the most part you can easily find people around you that are interested in the samethings. The same cannot be said for a passion of vellum-crafting.

So – I say that the internet opens doors for people, and allows for people to engage with others in productive ways, and that it isn’t so bad.

Be gone with stereotypes of awkard people in dark basements! Most people on the internet (even people who spend large amounts of time on it) are not socially inept!

A blogger, whose name I believe is Matt, posted this article today: How I Duped The Sun. For those of you that don’t know, The Sun is a paper in the UK that is tabloidesque, and their wacky stories often find their way to social news sites like Fark and Digg.

Basically, this blogger took advantage of Google Street View being a popular news topic in the UK right now and e-mailed The Sun fake information about a wife using Street View to catch her husband cheating.

The Sun picked up the story (and seems to have expanded upon the “tip” they received), and then, CNET wrote a story about it. So – not only did a major publication write a fake news story, a major website picked it up and wrote about it.

Although The Sun isn’t exactly an example of high quality journalism, it’s still appears (at first glance) to be more legitimate than a blog. It’s a publication, with writers and editors – far more than most blogs have. Right?

Apparently, fact checking isn’t a huge priority when it comes to a juicy story.

CNET picking the article up shows a major weakness in blogs – if things appear elsewhere and appear to be official (like coming from a credible source), blogs all around the blogosphere will share the info, assuming it’s legitimate. And, in cases where it’s not – suddenly, you have any number of smaller websites sharing wrong material, and that isn’t a good thing either.

But, I don’t really blame the blogs. People who are being paid to write news stories should earn their keep and check their sources.

Today, I woke up to the news that the Sci Fi network in the US was being rebranded.

To SyFy.

The news was announced yesterday, and today the internet has been abuzz. When I found out from a small blog, I checked the date, wondering if April Fools had come early. It hadn’t, and a quick search revealed a number of blogs and news outlets speaking of the change. I saw a number of articles about it in many places, from the New York Times to TV Week.

My favourite article, by far, was a blog on The National Post. The blog’s title, Sci Fi Channel rebrands as SyFy; angers Twitter users everywhere sums up the post. Other than the basic info about the rebranding, the post is about twitter users and their response to the news. The author quotes a number of tweets, my personal favourite being:

LennyPost: SyFy — Really? It isn’t April 1st yet. Ick! In Canada maybe they should consider a name change too! Space could become ” “. Arrgh!

Not only was I amused to see other people thinking it was a trick, the ” ” joke made my afternoon.

I’ve found particular pleasure in the mass-rejection of SyFy, and have therefore been going to blogs and other e-places where I think the new name will be discussed. A much enjoyed Sci Fi news source of mine, io9, made a post about it (titled Sci Fi Channel Changes Its Name To A Typo), and tagged it with the tags terrible ideas and please god no. (the latter which had a surprising number of posts to it’s name!) I spent many random bits of today crusing around the internet, looking for others who were joining the SyFy discourse.

I often turn to twitter to see what the masses are thinking about a certain topic… say, a television show after it aired a new episode, or if a popular site seems to be down. And although those uses of the site are helpful and enjoyable, I’ve found the SyFy rebranding has been the most pleasant. So many people tweeting and sharing their distaste (well, usually) is interesting – it feels as if I’m tapping into the hive mind.

Because so many people are talking about it, (and because I abhor the new name) it’s been an extremely gratifying day of observing the public sphere. Although the internet is often a lonely place, I can’t help but feel connected to thousands and thousands of people.

I think that this experience has been a perfect example of social media at its most ethereal state. Although blogging and other types of social networking are generally intangible, there is usually something to link back to. This experience, although involving thousands of people banding together in disagreement, will quietly disappear and it will be as if it never happened.

hacktivism

03.2.09

Hacktivism is the activism of the future. It’s new and it’s important, and I think that it is an idea that should be considered by every person that engages with technology in some form or another. We, as people in a wealthy nation, have access to great and varied technologies, and most haven’t hesitated to integrate those technologies into our lives. Freedom, a concept that is most important in our physical lives, is often forgotten in the anonymous ocean of the internet.

Hacktivism is something that considers these freedoms that we have, or do not have, and aims to investigate and change that which is considered unjust.

The website, hackblog.org, was most interesting because I found that it encouraged people to ponder what technologies we use and how we use them. The blog features entries that assist the budding hacktivist and relevant news. There’s a link on the side that promotes their favourite Linux distro’s, which can be helpful to people who are new to the world of open source software (although a notable lack of an explanation as to why linux is an important part of the movement). The site has a zine that it publishes for free, and a number of projects related to sharing information with fellow hacktivists. Overall, I think that it gives a good overview to Hacktivism, and would be a place for new people to learn about the cause.

Hacktivism is most interesting to me because it explores ideas of technology that many people, including myself, do not think about. Ideas about surveillance and the importance of open source software, security on the internet, and much more. When considering social media and the public sphere, I think that it’s important to consider these ideas because digital freedoms are often unconsidered and neglected. The recent facebook kafuffle can be attributed to hacktivists – people that shared their discomfort with the new Terms of Service and lobbied for change. I think this is a perfect example of problems that can rise on popular websites that affect us, and that most rarely pay attention to.

Hello, my name is Jack and I like country music, playing basketball, and deep sea diving suits.

Is this true?

Perhaps. Perhaps not.

More truthfully, I’m a not-so-closet geek and internet addict who’s been blogging for almost 9 years. I wear this number like a badge of honour – it’s part of my e-street cred (this may or may not be a term I’ve made up). My blog is much like an extra appendage… say – an arm, or an eye, or an ear, or possible all three.  Taking this into consideration, one question that often pops into my head is a question of my digital identity. Who am I? Or, more specifically, who am I in the public sphere? What part of me does my text based self represent?

To interact in nearly any form on the internet, we must create an identity for ourselves. Creating one is usually voluntary, and we create one without much hesitation. But, what information do we share? Do we construct an identity that is as true to ourselves as we can be? Do we selectively choose aspects of ourselves to portray to others? Are we honest at all? Do we hide behind pseudonyms and avatars of our current celebrity crush? Are we disconnected from our technological selves, or are they complex extensions of our own “real life” identities. Is there even a distinction anymore?

Who are these actors within our communities? Are they people? Are they creations? Are they us?

Does your facebook profile represent you as you see yourself, or is it a version of you that you wish you could be? (and please excuse my assumption that everyone has facebook.) Do you leave out your incredible love for stuffed rabbits or MacGyver marathons (or MacGyver marathons surrounded by stuffed rabbits), or do you happily share these quirky bits of yourself in online profiles? Does it even matter?

I think it’s interesting, and important, to consider the ways in which we choose to represent ourselves. I leave you with these questions and hope that you will ponder them, and ponder what effect it can have on our interpretation of people and content in the blogosphere.