No Place Like Home

The readings from this week have really made me start to question what I have been accepting at face value in the past. I see the web and the way it has evolved as an inevitable process, but I haven’t stopped to truly consider the effects that technological evolutions are having on my life and the lives of those around me, despite the fact that the web is something that most of us use every day and is rapidly shaping our societies right before our eyes.

The metaphor of the web as a place we live in such as a library as described by Frank Chimero in “The Good Room” doesn’t quite resonate with. Maybe it’s because of nostalgia I’m still hanging onto about my identity as a ‘print person’. I prefer reading on paper and getting my content and entertainment face-to-face/in person, which I attribute to the inundation of digital devices that I have to use in order to stay up to date and hold a job in society. Since I’m constantly glued to a screen for work, I want to be off of a screen for play. The web is a powerful tool, but as I use it now, it isn’t a place I feel at home in. Though it’s not a strong metaphor for me, it could be a trigger for the nostalgia some of the authors express in our readings including Hossein Derakhshan in “The Web We Have to Save”. Derakhshan misses the blogging communities of the past where he didn’t need to have a huge social media following to have his content read. Blogs to him were special diverse ‘places’ where unique thoughts and ideas flourished. I wonder if he would agree with Chimero that we should be purposefully shaping the web into places where everyone feels welcome, adding that a little piece of how things were before, should be preserved as the web evolves.

Echo made an interesting point on the Elizabeth Kolbert article, “Who Owns the Internet?” about Google being a digital colonizer. I found this quite compelling, because it is in direct opposition of Chimero’s concept of a “good room” for everyone on the web. “The Weird Thing About Today’s Internet” by Alexis C. Madrigal shows us how tech giants like Google and Facebook are, “the most powerful companies the world has ever known…” and they are absolutely taking over. They are the digital versions of the ancient empires trying to overtake as much land as they can, and make all people who operate on that land, follow their rules. Maybe that’s another reason why I don’t feel at home anywhere on the internet.

As the “Google and advertising” reading from week five by Richard Graham will also demonstrate that Google is discouraging diversity in languages on the web (perhaps inadvertently but it is an incredibly important consequence to consider). When creating for the web, this is something we need to keep in mind to make sure minority or ‘less profitable’ languages are not wiped off of the digital world. To be purposeful in the design of our spaces on the web, inclusivity plays an important role.

When we are purposeful with what we do with the web, we also need to make sure that we are not just labouring and producing content for other companies to profit. Google is determining what content is worth and not worthy of promotion and whether that content is a compelling factual essay on today’s political climate or an alt-right promotional video is of no consequence to them. We’re renting land from Google for the convenience of using their multitude of services, but we aren’t careful in considering what this transaction truly means for how content is disseminated.

I appreciate the opportunities that the web affords us and the excitement of seemingly infinite possibilities for its use. I believe there is so much good that it offers including bringing communities together, teaching people new information that they wouldn’t have access to otherwise, reaching out to people in rural areas, and developing products and services that truly do help humanity, but in order to ensure there isn’t some looming tech giant, twisting the underpinnings of those great services for its own needs, we need to be creating purposeful work and consider other possibilities that could allow us to operate outside the traditional capitalist focused models. This is a plug for the week four readings coming up on peer-to-peer services and platform cooperativism. Just because I believe what’s taken shape was inevitable, doesn’t mean I should accept it, and I am thankful to be learning about people who are shaking things up. We can be part of this change for the better!

Introducing My Virtual Good Room

From last week’s reading The Good Room, Frank Chimero claimed that “in the last decade, technology has transformed from a tool that we use to a place where we live.” I was intrigued by this place metaphor. He also mentioned that “the web is a marketplace and a commonwealth, so we have both commerce and culture”. It reminded of an online “good room” I feel belonged to and I would like to introduce it to you because I think it is an interesting example where culture and commerce have been married successfully.

As we all know, Facebook, Twitter and a lot of other social media platforms have been banned in mainland China but the Chinese created (or shall I say “copied”?) its own version of social media such as Renren mimicking Facebook or Weibo mimicking Twitter. Among all the social media platforms, one of them is an original platform that I cannot think of a Western equivalent so far. It is called “Douban” which means “bean paste” in Mandarin. It has multiple functions: rating and reviewing books, movies and music; socializing with people who share the same interests on in the same city; providing FM broadcasting services and podcasts; providing self-publishing services; selling their self-designed items such as cups, calendars or clothing. Generally speaking, it is a comprehensive website including the features of Goodreads, Rotten Tomatoes, social media, podcasts, self-publishing services and markets.

The logo of Douban

 

After moving to Vancouver, lacking meaningful, long-lasting friendship has been a problem for me for a long time. I found it was very hard to find people who share the same interests as me. However, since I became a frequent user of Douban from 2015, I met other Chinese living in Vancouver who also like reading, writing or watching films (as I mentioned last week, I had known my best friend through this website!). And now it has become part of my identity. I pictured this website as a virtual street in a quiet neighbourhood where there are bookstores, theatres, coffee shops and markets alongside.

Culture is the core theme for Douban as it has been trying to connect people through books, movies and music. Its slogan can be roughly translated as “Douban, a corner for your mind”. Comparing to other Chinese social media platforms, Douban is a slow-growing company. However, as the young generation in the Western society moving from Facebook to Instagram, its Chinese equivalent also gradually moved from Renren to Weibo or WeChat. But Douban has always been there no matter what the trend is. I am curious about how Douban makes its profit and maintains its status in the furious competition.

According to my research, it has several revenue strategies. First, Douban profits from redirecting its users to Dangdang, JD.com or Amazon to purchase books or to buy movie tickets from online ticket sellers. Second, it gains income from ads. Douban values the users’ experience so they strictly select ads that fit its target users (young urban white collars or college students). Recently, Douban also launched a variety of paid online classes which covered topics like creative writing, calligraphy, photography, design and philosophy. Overall, these are some of its revenue strategies.

In my opinion, I enjoyed my experiences with Douban so far and I don’t mind seeing ads on the website as long as it still provides high-quality content. I found the users on Douban also tend to tolerate some of the commercialized steps that Douban had taken recently. For example, they would mock at the badly self-designed hoodies or socks that Douban was selling but still continued to be frequent users thereafter.

The socks mocked by most Douban users

I think it could be an example of the “lively and nourishing digital environments” that Chimero was talking about.

 

References

The Good Room

6 Chinese Social Media Sites You Should Know About

Decrypting China’s most wonderful website: What is Douban thinking? 

Patreon Doesn’t Need to be Life or Death to Contribute to Life

Asking the question “Are these business models inherently detrimental to the publishing business?” is a leading question layered with bias. We—MPub students—are here because we want to be publishers or work in the publishing industry in some way, so of course we’re biased to want things to be easier for publishers. We want higher prices so we can better meet our bottom line, but we also want more readers so we can sell more books. Unfortunately, the two do not often come hand-in-hand. We have to find that delicate balance between price (and other forms of accessibility, such as format and availability) and number of sales.

I’ve focused most of my reading responses this semester on the publisher’s perspective—again, because I’m here to become a publisher. However, this week I would like to focus on the individual creator’s perspective (which, honestly, is kind of the same thing from the point of view of my future business). Specifically, I want to talk about the subscription model and the use of platforms such as Patreon.

In December, Brent Knepper wrote an article called “No One Makes a Living on Patreon,” and while his facts may be right and his argument in the right place, I disagree with his fundamental point that people should be able to make a living full-time from Patreon or other platforms like Patreon. The tone of his article appears to say that if you can’t make a full-time living wage on Patreon, what’s the point? It seems to say that Patreon is falsely advertising how creators use its platform to make money from their art (whatever form that art might take). He states that only 2% of creators on Patreon are making over minimum wage on a calculation of full-time hours, which is likely true, but this is not the only number that should be taken into account.

He brings up an example of a creator who works in retail part-time and spends about 20-25 hours a week working on her Patreon creations and earns about $200 a month from patrons. That $200 is not enough to live on, and it’s unfortunate that she only makes $8-10 per hour for her art, but there are two points that Knepper seems to be missing in his own example: you have to start from somewhere and this is not her only form of income.

While she may only be making $200 per month right now, Knepper doesn’t tell us how long her Patreon account has been active or how much work she puts into marketing her account. It takes work to build and maintain a subscriber base, so if her account is relatively new she hasn’t had the time to build a larger subscriber base yet and she might get there. (I’d also like to note that while Knepper has a link on this creator’s name in the article, it leads to her Twitter account not her Patreon account.)

Knepper mentions that this creator also works part-time, but he seems to dismiss that as irrelevant to the topic at hand. It’s not irrelevant. Most creators on Patreon are not working on their Patreon content full-time. They have other projects, jobs, and sources of income. They might sell their prints at conventions or work a part-time (or full-time) job in something unrelated to their art. Regardless of what their other source of income is, it is income, and their Patreon account is meant to supplement that income and provide a venue to share and promote their art. Most creators have their lowest subscriber levels at $1-5, which is definitely affordable for anybody who wishes to subscribe, and they (generally) get access to most of the work the creator posts even at that low level. This subscriber model shows that making money is not the main goal for the creator, but it’s nice to “tip the artist”—a phrase that many creators use for their lowest subscriber level.

We don’t know if this artist has other sources of income based on her art. She could be selling her comics at conventions or on another platform like Etsy. Of course, I wish that every creator on Patreon was making more than $200 per month, but the creator will only get so much for what they put into it and we can’t blame Patreon as a platform for creators not making a full-time living wage.

May The Force Be With You, Mr. Publisher

I grew up in a small town in Northern India, where bookstores were a rare sight. Academic reading was very much encouraged, but the concept of reading for leisure was foreign to majority of folks. I come from a family of non-readers. Since I turned out to be the book-sheep of the family, I had to find my own ways to secure reading material. Beg & borrow aside, I used to walk couple of kilometers, twice a week, to visit the only library in our locality. Calling it library would be stretching it. It was just a hole in the wall, lined with a couple of hundred books. But to my book starved eyes, the place was salvation.

A couple of decades later the picture is quite different. Today, I have access to almost every book that gets published worldwide. I can read anything, anytime, in any format, without moving an inch.

With internet business models taking more and more concrete shape, publishing industry, as we know it, is undergoing a sea of change. Access to publishing platforms and access to content are two extreme ends of the traditional publisher’s role – to decide who gets published and how their books get distributed. Publishers have, in a way, acted as a Chinese wall between the reader and the author. That wall is crumbling as we speak.

Some believe that the role of publisher as the middleman is becoming increasingly redundant as self-publishing gains ground. With traditional distribution stuck in a rut, the readers are getting click-happy. The authors are discontent because traditional publishing methods don’t payout for majority of them. The readers are loyal to the author alone, so they don’t really care how the books are reaching them. So where does that leave the publishers?

As the part of this industry, we understand the value a publisher adds to the process of making a book. But an average reader is often unaware of the role the publisher plays in the making of the book. Most readers don’t spare much thought to the process of building a book. And as convenient as internet publishing models are, abundance isn’t always a good thing. We’re moving away from a streamlined dissemination of content to indiscriminate publishing, creating less value and more noise in the process. Yes, eBooks are cheaper and easier to find, but it also means chaos as every book fends for itself on an algorithm driven website. Most books run a hundred meters sprint and die. Suddenly, the derelict library from my childhood is looking so much better.

To survive this era of digital transformation, the publishers need to pivot and regroup. They need to rethink their ‘behind-the-scenes’ approach and start marketing, not just the books, but themselves as well. Readers need to understand the value publishers add to their favorite books. That is the only way to preserve the sanctity of this profession. Publishers need to bring the fight where their strengths are—print books. Readers are still loyal to the printed book, and that’s something publishers have an upper hand at. The digital model of publishing completely sidelines the ‘form’ of the book. No eBook or print-on-demand copy can compete with a lovingly reproduced book through the hands of an experienced publisher. The publishers need to re-calibrate their strategy to give the readers a reason to buy more books or return to the print format. The digital distribution battle belongs to Amazon, because they got there first. But publishing business as a whole is teetering on precipice of big change. The publishers need to up their game, because this can go either way.

Anumeha Gokhale

 

Fifty Shades Of Copyright Law

As I sat down to contemplate the future of copyright law, I felt the need to cue Fifty Shade of Grey OST in the backdrop. It’s ironical that the said work is also an example of copyright infringement (or not, it’s debatable). The Fifty Shades Trilogy was originally written as a Twilight fan-fiction.  Fan-fiction stories are written by fans of the original story, using various story lines, characters and settings. Even though clear parallels can be drawn between the two books, the copyright law holds in James’ favour, calling it a ‘Derivative work’ rather than outright copyright infringement. See, that’s the nature of copyright—it is fifty kinds of gray.

Before anyone takes a stance on copyright law, it’s prudent to not only look at the things as they are now, but to also examine why this law came into existence.  When the Statute of Anne was passed in 1710, it was concerned with the reading public, the continued production of useful literature, and the advancement and spread of education. It was all about text. Until a few decades later it was modified to cover works, independent of any medium— cinema, gramophone, radio, and so forth. A few decades on and the copyright was steered in a completely new direction–the Internet—for regulating access to tools in a way much more arbitrary than anyone in the pre-digital age could have imagined.

This change is the result of the fast changing scenario where previously tangible mediums of delivery have merged in to one singular intangible medium of the Internet. This is a classic case of ‘one size doesn’t fit all’. It is simpler to establish copyright laws when dealing with ideas in conjunction with physical forms—a book, or a CD, or a piece of art. Copyright infringement or the act of ‘copying’ is easier to establish when dealing with identifiable mediums. This differentiation becomes more and more obscure when the very idea of using a networked computer is based on creating copies, lots and lots of them.

So where is copyright law headed? Copyright law, right now, is a simple idea that is ambiguous in application. It needs to be the other way around. The law needs to be far reaching in its coverage but easier in application. The line, between what is infringement and what is not, should be explicit. That’s just one aspect of it. There’s more.

We live in a digital age where we’re more or less getting conditioned to having instant gratification. The world has shrunk to the size of your computer screen and anything that you may ever want is available for a price on the Internet. We want things fast and we want them now. The entire premise behind Google Books was to make the collective knowledge base searchable and readable within minutes, or at least that’s what they told us. But Google’s intentions are non-issue here. We need to self-examine ourselves and the way we consume information today.

Extensive piracy of copyrighted material not only throws light on the inherent problems of the copyright law, but also our psychology, where we seemed to have developed a sense of entitlement. We expect more and more things to be free—books, music, movies, research, software, etc. We are caught in the web of conspicuous consumerism without having to risk anything in return. Sometimes we do it knowingly (See Oatmeal’s comic strip), sometimes unknowingly, and sometimes under pretext of ‘fair use’. There is more than one way to skin a fish. Sigh.

On the other side, it’s true that piracy hurts the content creators, but not entirely. Singers, authors, artists have been known to use the free-for-all Internet to promote their works. ‘Go viral’ is the motto in the age where eyeballs mean everything. The bone of contention here seems to be money.

Yes, the relationship between creativity and commerce is tenuous, but not mutually exclusive. As things stand right now, consumers and creativity are in a meeting place. But the commerce is missing. There is no use yelling at the pirates and freeloaders, because the need and the means to fill that need already exist. If a viable platform to access these works doesn’t show up, people have no qualms about turning to a bit of a pirate themselves, because the manifestation of stealing a real object is categorically missing here. Yes, it’s stealing, but you’ll forgive yourself.

It’s hard to imagine a world without intellectual property protection. Having said that, there is a clear need to evolve into something more flexible, agile and enforceable, considering how people consume information and pay it forward. Shifting the focus from pirates, I feel even the publishers need to re-evaluate their approach and work towards creating a more meaningful user experience to gain competitive edge, making the copyright redundant anyway. The resulting experience will leverage on content quality, open partnerships and co-op arrangements across various platforms to offer the end-user a product that they will be compelled to buy, rather than use illegally. In the fast evolving digital age, we need to channel the flow of information, not create more boundaries.

Taking a leaf out of Rumi’s books, copyright law needs to go beyond the antiquated idea of right and wrong and meet the consumers in a place where knowledge meets economy, for the betterment of the world as a whole.

Anumeha Gokhale

Ageism in Gopnik’s Technologist Labels

I read Adam Gopnik’s article, “The Information: How the Internet gets inside us”, multiple times before I was able to, I think, fully understand the concept of the Never-Betters, Better-Nevers, and Ever-Wasers. I’m not sure if it was his made-up labels that confused me, the concepts themselves, or if I was just so stuck in my own thinking that I assumed it was the correct way of thinking or that everybody of course thought that way.

I asked my significant other to read the article so we could talk about it and discuss the differences between the three types of people Gopnik talks about, and in this conversation we discussed the ageism of his labels. The Never-Better is the young, hip 20-something to 40-something that understands and uses technology on a daily basis. They believe that technology and communication is the best it has ever been, and “how did people even get by without all these modern conveniences?” Whereas the Better-Never is the elderly person that doesn’t like modern technology because they don’t understand it and are stuck in the ways of their youth—they prefer the technology they grew up with when they were in their Never-Better phase of life.

A recent example came to mind. Last week, I was having dinner with my grandparents and my 60-something grandma mentioned that she got a new cell phone, another relative’s old smart phone they didn’t use anymore. I told my grandma how excited I was by this, because now we could text and I can check in on her via text whenever I want, quickly. The look on her face was a combination of bafflement and disgust. “If you want to talk to me, you can call me,” she says. I went on to explain to her the advantages of sending a “quick text message” as opposed to calling someone—it’s quicker, easier, and more convenient for both parties because they can respond when they’re available and don’t have to stop what they’re doing to answer the phone in that moment. Grandma was having no part of it and told me that if I ever texted her, she would simply respond, “call me.”

My grandma is clearly a Better-Never. She understands the use of a phone as only meant for verbal communication, because that’s what it was used for when she was growing up.

According to this ageism theory, I would then be a Better-Never, as I am a 20-something that uses new technology every day to communicate with a large number of people from around the world—I am especially thankful for the international editors groups on Facebook. However, the ageism theory does not account for the Ever-Waser.

An Ever-Waser can be of any age and use any type or generation of technology. The Ever-Waser is not pigeon-holed into always wanting to update to the newest technology because of course new is better, or refuting all new technology and insisting on doing things “the old way.” The Ever-Waser has the ability to pick and choose what technology works for them, and ignore some pieces of new technology because it doesn’t suit their lifestyle. The Ever-Waser admits that a lot of new technology is useful for people in many different ways, but also accepts that new is not always better. An Ever-Waser knows that people were scared radio would kill the newspaper, TV would kill radio, the internet would kill magazines, and the eBook would kill print books. And the Ever-Waser knows that all of these technologies still exist today and work to complement each other, not kill.

In our discussion about this article, my significant other insisted that he is a Never-Better. He works in a tech-focused industry (video games) and every new advancement in technology means his job is easier and the products he can produce are better. I sat there and listened to his argument and acknowledged that everything he said is true and applicable, but I couldn’t help but disagree with the general premise that the Never-Better believes—new is always better. Only after discussing and agreeing with the details of a Never-Better, but rejecting the principle as a whole, did I realize that I am the ageless Ever-Waser.

Humanity will continue to develop new technology and new ways of doing things. Some of these advancements are purely for convenience, and some are necessary for the longevity of humanity as a race on Earth. But I’ll never replace my print books with eBooks. I will continue to buy and play CDs in my car, and listen to my parents’ vinyl records at home. I’ll use my laptop for work and school, and be thankful for the convenience of having a super computer in my pocket (my phone) and in my bag (my laptop) at all times. As an Ever-Waser, I will take each new technological advancement with a grain of salt and determine if that advancement will improve my life, or if it is just a new version of something that already works perfectly in my life. Reviewing this article and Gopnik’s theory of Never-Betters, Better-Nevers, and Ever-Wasers has made me adopt more closely a saying that I’ve always admired—don’t fix what ain’t broke.

Never-Betters Need to Calm Down

As Gopnik says, “One’s hopes rest with the Never-Betters; one’s head with the Ever-Wasers; and one’s heart? Well, twenty or so books in, one’s heart tends to move toward the Better-Nevers, and then bounce back toward someplace that looks more like home.” By definition, “hope” is that feeling we get that everything is going to turn out for the best, and therefore I think we are all, at least aspirationally, Never-Betters. We are always excited to read of new discoveries being made and progress in dark places. And what a wonderful world it would be if we could sustain ourselves on these utopian thoughts forever. Unfortunately for everyone who cannot stand by and let ignorance be bliss, we all inevitably fall to the Never-Betters’ side where we second guess new development. I was getting by just fine before this new thing, why do I have to change? It is easy to point out flaws in something that is new, and equally as easy to find others who share such an opinion. This is how innovation gets interrupted and change is abated. Before it happens we are excited Never-Betters, when it happens we are outraged Better-Nevers, and down the road, when it has settled comfortably into society and, we are contented Ever-Wasers. Our heads win out in the end.

http://www.todayonline.com/technology-0/tech-throwback-weird-things-we-used-do-msn-messenger

My personal example is MSN Messenger. This service was a constant in my elementary and early highschool days. Every day I would leave my friends after school and go home, only to strike up a new conversation with them immediately upon reaching my computer. Technologies change, and I used MSN Messenger less and less. When Microsoft announced in 2012 that it would be discontinuing the service, I was shocked and outraged. How were kids of the next generation going to keep in touch with their friends? How would they tell their crush they liked them only to say “sry that was my friend” when the crush didn’t reply? How would they nonchalantly let everyone know how edgy and sexy their lives were if not by setting their screen names to alternative rock lyrics? How could Microsoft do this to today’s youth? This was anarchy! Sure, I no longer used the service myself, but it was still anarchy! Time moved on, and apparently so did I (although a Google search to find the picture I posted along with this post brought up some emotional memories) and I have come out the other side relatively unscathed.

The lesson here is that the Never-Betters would be better off giving up their backlashing tendencies. Change is going to happen, whether we like it or not. It is up to us to decide how it will affect us. I am going to feel personally attacked every time Apple decides to release a new iOS update, but if past experience is anything to go by, we will make it through with little to no casualties. If only we could move gracefully between being Never-Betters and Ever-Wasers, perhaps change would progress a little more easily, and society would be a little better off because of it.

Never-Betters, Better-Nevers, and Ever-Wasers

When I was young, Walmart opened in my town of 8000. I refused to go. We’d just read a short story in school about the Confederation Bridge, and how when it opened the ferries shuttling people from the mainland to PEI and back were losing all of their business and were going to have to close down. I’d never been on a ferry, and I thought that now I was never going to have the chance. If I went to PEI I’d have to drive. So I was not going to support Walmart. What if it meant the end of the rest of the stores in town?

Back then, I was a Better-Never. I wanted to go back in time to when things were whole and happy; to the places in my favourite historical fiction novels and to the time before my parents got divorced.  But as I grew I realized that the past is not as cheery as we would like to believe, and that there is a lot of important information that has been left out of history. I took an undergrad psychology class where we talked about our tendency to give the past glowing reviews, which as Google reminded me is known as “rosy retrospection.” And I realized that the future has its perks, like how time-saving a 10-minute drive is compared to a 75-minute ferry ride (and yes, they are still operating the ferry).

So it’s true what Adam Gopnik says in “The Information: How the Internet gets inside us”: the more you read, the more your “heart tends to move toward the Better-Nevers, and then bounce back toward someplace that looks more like home.” I read and read and continue to read, and although talk of Artificial Intelligence sometimes makes me want to run right back to the Better-Never camp, I tend to spend most of my time with the Ever-Wasers.

For the most part I am logical and contemplative (or so I like to believe). Of course it makes sense that something is always going on, and that that something will have its pros and cons. The world is not stagnant, stuck between the past and the future. We are in the present, and things are happening all around us. And because of that, it’s hard to take a step back and try and pinpoint where our society as a whole is at.

I’m not sure that we can classify our entire society as either Never-Betters, Better-Nevers, or Ever-Wasers. As Gopnik points out, all three kinds tend to show up at every discussion regarding new technologies. To pick just one to be a snapshot of our time would be to leave many other important voices out of the conversation. For example, just because Donald Trump takes up an enormous space chanting about how America needs to me made great again does not negate the other half of the population championing LGBT rights, women’s rights, and other liberal values. There will always be people on both sides of issues and innovation, and multi-sided discussions, however wild and inaccurate they may be, are a cornerstone of democracy. We need to have space to discuss changes and innovations as a society, lest we fall victim to confirmation bias or worse.

As history and the Better-Nevers know, innovation intended to better our lives often has unintended negative consequences. We need the Never-Betters to push us towards innovation, but we also need people with foresight to consider repercussions of innovations (and these are often the people who study the past) to offer criticism and feedback. Depending on how you define our society, there will always be hundreds of thousands, if not millions (or even billions), of people with their own opinions and ideas. All types of people play a role in the pace we evolve at and the decisions we make. We are never just one thing.

A Read About Online Reading

Hopefully, this article will live a long, healthy life on the Internet; it will begin to garner some reactions in the form of comments, annotations, etc. from my peers, and possibly future cohorts (or not). This article will discuss how putting writing on the Internet invites the public to engage with it deeper than if it were to be in print. However, I will also acknowledge how this can be difficult to accept given online reading behaviours.

Continue reading “A Read About Online Reading”

Ah, Internet writing. What does one call thee?

What does it mean “to publish”? The Oxford English Dictionary defines it as when one makes information available to the public. In A Writing Revolution Seed Magazine written by Denis Pelli and Charles Bigelow at Seed Magazine, the two make claims around what publishing means today. Yes, what they consider as contemporary publishing is supported with graphs and statistics, conveying that the Internet is making it even easier for anyone to essentially publish (make things public); however, I’m not so entirely on board that what they are describing is called “publishing”.

Continue reading “Ah, Internet writing. What does one call thee?”

Participating On The Internet: The Most Unfair Playground In The World

Just about anyone can create and share content on the Internet nowadays. And for the average millennial (lurker and/or troll) who engages with the Internet, who does not give a second thought about it, it begs the question: should we be more conscious of what information we are consuming, and whom it is being put out by? Continue reading “Participating On The Internet: The Most Unfair Playground In The World”

Information Sharing Online and in Coffeehouses: Gatekeepers and Social Discourse

Information Sharing Online and in Coffeehouses:
Gatekeepers and Social Discourse

Information sharing today has reached a peak that is unprecedented. Higher literacy rates, the accessibility of the Internet, and the availability of pages online, inclusive of blogs, comments, and profile pages, contribute to a endless stream of information that must be sorted through in order to be understood. Furthermore, what are the side effects of the ways users are sorting through content? By examining the social changes in regard to information sharing during the Age of Enlightenment and comparing them to the challenges of sharing knowledge on a website such as Facebook, this essay will argue that while using algorithms is beneficial for the expansive amount of information on the web, it ultimately leads to a less knowledgeable, less informed online community. It will examine how the Age of Enlightenment thrived where the Internet is failing despite the possibility for progressiveness and innovation.

The Age of Enlightenment was a period in eighteenth-century Europe in which there was a movement against the then-current state of society, inclusive of church and government. In pre-Enlightenment Europe, “individual dignity and liberty, privacy, and human and civic rights… [were] virtually nonexistent… ‘burned and buried’ in medieval society and pre-Enlightenment traditionalism” (Zafirovski 9). This illustrates the church and state’s role as gatekeepers of knowledge, allowing only what they deemed as appropriate to be accessed by society. Zafirovski states that during the Enlightenment, “Descartes, Voltaire, Diderot, Kant, Hume, Condorcet, and others emphasized overcoming ignorance and intellectual immaturity, including religious and other superstition and prejudice” (4). He is referring to the major thinkers of this time, those who wrote public essays on the tenets of enlightenment and reason. It was the age where past ideals were rejected in order to champion the concept of individual thought and voice. It was not a period of “anti-” religion or state, but of individual liberty and of pushing against absolutism. During this time, the Encyclopédie was published, which disseminated the thoughts of the Enlightenment. Diderot, the editor of the project, is quoted to have said that the goal of the Encyclopédie was to “change the way people think” (“Encyclopédie”). During the Enlightenment, the opinions of those who wanted to remain within the norms of pre-Enlightenment society existed alongside the dissertations of those who proclaimed it was time for change: “The inner logic, essential process, and ultimate outcome of the Enlightenment are the destruction of old oppressive, theocratic, irrational, and inhuman social values and institutions, and the creation of new democratic, secular, rational, and humane ones through human reason” (Zafirovski 7). The thinking that existed pre-Enlightenment had to occur; the prominent thinkers emerged from a society of rules they did not relate to. In other words, they had to know the culture they were living in very deeply in order to argue strongly against it.

As stated previously in regards to the Encyclopédie, the dissemination of knowledge was paramount during the Enlightenment. For the sake of this paper, the major sources of knowledge-spread are deduced to be of two origins: book publishing and the salons and coffeehouses. As illustrated much earlier through Martin Luther’s Ninety-Five Theses, the ability to spread printed information became much simpler and more efficient with the invention of the moveable type by Johannes Gutenberg. Previous to this invention, religious scribes hand wrote all of the books that were available. Because this was such an intensive process and paper was handmade, books were very expensive. Yet, as time went on, the efficiency of the printing press grew, especially with the beginning of the Industrial Revolution. This meant lower prices and therefore more availability. In turn, literacy grew. Furthermore, the inexpensive cost allowed the increased spread of journals, books, newspapers, and pamphlets (“Age of Enlightenment”). More people could engage with texts because of higher literacy rates and the growing number of texts that were now available. Once articles, essays, and books were read, they were also discussed in places such as coffeehouses and salons where both men and women could meet to debate and discuss the ideas of the time. This created a social environment that was a catalyst for new philosophies. In fact, the idea for the Encyclopédie was conceptualized at the Café Procope in Paris, one of the coffeehouses of Paris that is still maintained (“Age of Enlightenment”). Furthermore, because anyone could come to discuss politics and philosophy, it undermined the existing class structure, thus allowing for multiple perspectives in one place.

At the time of its introduction, the possibility of how an open public internet would become so ingrained in human society and culture could not have been predicted. The rapid growth of the Internet is considered by Douglas Comer to be a result of its decentralization and the “non-proprietary nature of internet-protocols” (qtd. in “Internet”). During the time in which the Internet became popular, the speed of information growth was unprecedented. New websites with personalized homepages and links emerged as people began to explore the World Wide Web. Today, sites such as Facebook act as home websites replacing the “homepages” of before. This, as shown in “The Rise of Homeless Media,” is beginning to replace the old ways of the web. Facebook is becoming a much bigger entity than the developers imagined at its conception. While this change may mean that the web is becoming streamlined, it comes at a cost of control to these site users. In the ‘90s and early 2000s, the popular free web hosting services provided a very personalized experience. Sites such as Angelfire, Freewebs, LiveJournal, and DiaryLand relied on subscribers and ads in order to allow their sites to run freely and in a way that allowed users to personalize their content, with the exception of ad placement for non-subscribers. Personalization occurred through writing code such as HTML. Furthermore, serious bloggers acted as a catalyst for other voices, creating a community where readers were linked to other bloggers and informative sites of related ideologies and/or topics. For instance, Mike Shatzkin’s  The Shatzkin Files hyperlinks to other sites that may be of interest to a reader of that particular subject. Though it is a fairly recent blog, it is basic in its design, reminiscent of much earlier blogging interfaces. Today, blogs are increasingly popular and come with pre-made themes, making coding unnecessary although still possible on platforms such as WordPress. On Facebook however, users cannot change the style of their page. This control of style is one way the web is becoming more streamlined. The primary benefit to living on a home website such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or LinkedIn is accessibility. Each site has their own niche purpose and learning to code is not a necessity to run these pages. One simply needs to know how to link the various pages properly to allow for an integrated movement across platforms. Because users do not need to understand code in order to have a profile on these websites, their user base is much larger. This is comparable to the accessibility to literature in the eighteenth century which made reading a pastime for more than just an educated elite.

This ease-of-use has led to a global reach of perspectives. In this sense, the age of the Internet can be correlated with the Age of Enlightenment in that the proliferation of knowledge is now much easier than it was in the past. Today, over one billion pages exist on the web (Woollaston). The billions of people using the web are provided access to a multitude of differing perspectives and insights (“Internet Usage on the Web by Regions”). Though this has the potential for tension, it has been proven to help develop critical thinking and empathy. In the article, “How Diversity Makes Us Smarter,” Edel Rodriguez states, “social diversity… can cause discomfort, rougher interactions, a lack of trust, greater perceived interpersonal conflict, lower communication, less cohesion, more concern about disrespect, and other problems.” However, being confronted with these problems and having to mediate around diversity enhances creativity, “leading to better decision making and problem solving” (Rodriguez). Thus, diversity creates adversity, but provides good results when people are encouraged to consider other people’s perspectives. Our minds are prompted to work harder when disagreement arises as a result of social differences. Thus, a difference in perspective “[encourages] the consideration of alternatives” (Rodriguez). This article, published by Scientific American, puts words to this phenomenon being studied by a multitude of people, including “organizational scientists, psychologists, sociologists, economists and demographers” (Rodriguez). It illustrates why salons and coffeehouses were so important as places to spark conversation. They were hubs of discourse that generated innovative ideas and ideologies, sometimes for pleasure, but other times to create planned social movements such as those that led to the French Revolution. Similarly, the web provides an outlet for people to create discourse. Though not a physical space like salons, the web allows for a greater global discourse to occur; it should be the perfect platform for our globally-social world.

The most popular social network today is Facebook (“Leading Social Networks Worldwide as of January 2016, Ranked by Number of Active Users [in millions]”) with approximately 1.59 billion active monthly users (“Number of Monthly Active Facebook Users Worldwide as of 4th Quarter 2015 [in millions]”). Facebook is a platform for users to create profiles for personal or business use in order to connect with others. Facebook also doubles as a publication platform, though Facebook would argue against this (Kiss and Arthur). Publishing is defined by the Oxford English Dictionary (OED) as, “the act of making something publicly known” (“Publishing”). Users on Facebook create posts and share them with both strangers and friends, thus creating a public publishing platform. These posts and comments are as much a public form as blog posts or online fan fiction. It is documented proof of what has been said by whom; in fact, it is now possible to see the editing history on a single post or comment. Even if a post or comment is deleted, Facebook retains access to that content. Their Help Centre website states, “When you choose to delete something you shared on Facebook, we remove it from the site. Some of this information is permanently deleted from our servers; however, some things can only be deleted when you permanently delete your account.” Thus, content considered “deleted” exists past the time the creator removes it; it is still available to some, remaining “published” on Facebook’s servers.

Facebook is a platform where unique content is created in addition to a site where users “share” and “like” content they deem relevant. This can result in a lively discourse of back-and-forth commenting, especially with the new option for users to “reply” to previous comments. However, in order to find content that is in opposition to one’s currently held views, one must often purposely seek it out themselves. This is due to Facebook’s algorithms, largely invisible and secret to Facebook users. Facebook created algorithms that filter its seemingly-endless content into curated, personalized “news feeds” for its users. An algorithm, defined by the OED, is “a precisely defined set of mathematical or logical operations for the performance of a particular task” (“Algorithm”). As a business, Facebook succeeds in the task of retaining consumers; they are able to deliver an appropriate amount of content to their consumers. Where Facebook’s algorithms fail is in giving users unique content, not only based on their specific “likes” but on their broader general interests. Furthermore, they are unsuccessful at providing “readers” with interesting and challenging content that is oppositional to their currently held views. They are unable to show a snapshot of the multitude of voices that exist on this platform; instead, they proliferate a user’s preconceived views and reinforce a user’s confirmation bias. Ultimately, Facebook is a business. Their prediction algorithms that provide users with a personalized news feed are meant to generate a user-friendly experience; however, in doing this, computers become gatekeepers and users become confined to ideological bubbles.

During the Age of Enlightenment, the book trade and affordability of books allowed for the proliferation of new areas of thinking and novel philosophies. Censorship by the church and state was dying in favour of books that were engaged readers and inspired discussion and debate about their ideas. What made books and discourse interesting was not necessarily the sameness of opinion, but the diversity of opinions that were becoming louder during the eighteenth century. Facebook could have become a place of social diversity. Instead, its owners have engaged in gatekeeping and invisible editing in order to keep users returning to their site. This comes at the expense of social and intellectual growth and change. The people who manage Facebook’s algorithms generate many of them based on “likes,” hidden posts, and the amount of time spent reading an article. “[Chris] Cox [Facebook’s chief product officer] and the other humans behind Facebook’s news feed decided that their ultimate goal would be to show people all the posts that really matter to them and none of the ones that don’t,” states Will Oremus in “Who Controls Your Facebook Feed.” However, humans are not as predictable as mathematic equations; utilizing “likes” or time spent reading as a baseline of what is shown to people does not illustrate the whole complex picture of what human beings can, and should, engage in. In his TEDxTALK, Eli Pariser gives an example of algorithms attempting to understand a human being based on these baselines alone. He says that as a liberal, he engaged in more progressive content. However, he enjoys politics and likes reading about the conservative side of the political spectrum. He recognized he was engaging in right-wing content less often, but he was perceptive enough to notice when the conservative viewpoint disappeared from his feed, leaving only content from his liberal friends. Opposing content, though interesting and necessary for Pariser, was gone and he now had to seek it out. He had no active role in editing his news feed as content was disappearing, and neither do other users. Yet, most other users to not notice the content shift happening; instead, they see their own views proliferated. Previous to the Internet, the broadcast and print media were the gatekeepers of information. It is widely recognized that the media is fallible, but journalistic ethics existed in order to promote multiple perspectives. The Internet undermined this old media as it expanded. Huge companies, such as Facebook and Google, grew and computers have become the gatekeepers of information. Oremus states, “Facebook had become… the global newspaper of the 21st century: an up-to-the-minute feed of news, entertainment, and personal updates from friends and loved ones, automatically tailored to the specific interests of each individual user.” The idea of a platform presenting only one perspective to its readers without the availability of an opposing opinion at arm’s reach, as is the case with newspaper stands, is an archaic thought considering the movements that have been made to prevent censorship from occurring, especially in regards to the importance of social diversity. Oremus’ article is informative and supportive of algorithms, yet he still laments, “Drowned out were substance, nuance, sadness, and anything that provoked thought or emotions beyond a simple thumbs-up.” Ultimately, Pariser, in his TEDxTALK, recognizes the biggest issue at hand when computers control the information people see, and it is not always as simple as ideological bubbles. Ultimately, it extends into a dysfunctioning democracy, removed from a conducive and just flow of information. To have a strong conviction requires knowing and understanding all sides of an issue. As Katherine Phillips states, “We need diversity… if we are to change, grow, and innovate.” Facebook and Internet users cannot let website conglomerates be the only innovators, the only ones capable of seeing solutions from multiple angles, whether those problems involve an algorithm or differences in ideology, religion, or politics. Users cannot let computers be their personal gatekeepers, preventing them from understanding that there are other perspectives and that they are equally as valuable.

Ultimately, Facebook’s algorithms serve a vital purpose: a means of generating revenue, retaining users, and making sense of the expanse of information available on the web. However, these secret, invisible algorithms prevent Facebook’s users from being introduced to novel information or opposing viewpoints. This in turn prevents people from understanding global events, and instead creates ideological bubbles. Milan Zafirovski writes, “subjects were literally reduced to the servants of theology, religion, and church, thus subordinated and eventually sacrificed… to theocracy.” In this statement, he is referring to pre-Enlightened Europe. However, as people become more accustomed to seeing their own views proliferated on what many consider their main news source, they are becoming accepting of the idea that their view is the only one. As history shows, discourse and challenging opinions and ideas are what fuel social change. Ultimately, Facebook needs to sort through the massive amount of information on their site; however, they cannot be gatekeepers to distribute only information they deem as “important.” Facebook users need to have a voice in what is shown to them, and this needs to be bigger than a “thumbs up.”

Works Cited

“Age of Enlightenment.” Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia. Wikimedia Foundation, Inc. 30 January 2016. Web. 31 January 2016.

“algorithm, n.” OED Online. Oxford University Press, December 2015. Web. 26 January 2016.

Arthur, Charles and Jemima Kiss. “Publishers or Platforms? Media Giants May be Forced to Choose.” The Guardian. 26 July 2013. Web. 29 January 2016.

Chowdhry, Amit. “Facebook Changes News Feed Algorithm To Prioritize Content From Friends Over Pages.” Forbes. 24 April 2015. Web. 26 January 2016.

Dickey, Michael. “Philosophical Foundations of the Enlightenment.” Rebirth of Reason. Web. 26 January 2016.

“Internet.” Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia. Wikimedia Foundation, Inc. 29 January 2016. Web. 29 January 2016.

“Internet Usage in the World by Regions.” Internet World Stats. 26 January 2016. Web. 1 February 2016.

“Leading Social Networks Worldwide as of January 2016, Ranked by Number of Active Users (in Millions).” Statista. January 2016. Web. 31 January 2016.

Luckerson, Victor. “Here’s How Facebook’s News Feed Actually Works.” Time. 9 July 2015. Web. 26 January 2016.

Marconi, Francesco. “The Rise of Homeless Media.” Medium. 24 November 2015. Web. 15 January 2016.

“Number of Monthly Active Facebook Users Worldwide as of 4th Quarter 2015 (in Millions).” Statista. January 2016. Web. 26 January 2016.

Oremus, Will. “How Facebook’s News Feed Algorithm Works.” Slate. 3 January 2016. Web. 26 January 2016.

Pariser, Eli. “Beware Online ‘Filter Bubbles.’” TED. March 2011. Lecture.

Phillips, Katherine. “How Diversity Makes Us Smarter.” Scientific American. 1 October 2014. Web. 26 January 2016.

“publishing, n.” OED Online. Oxford University Press, December 2015. Web. 26 January 2016.

“What Happens to Content (Posts, Pictures) that I Delete from Facebook?” Facebook. Web. 29 January 2016.

Woollaston, Victoria. “Number of Websites Hits a Billion: Tracker Reveals a New Site is Registered Every Second.” Daily Mail Online. 17 September 2014. Web. 26 January 2016.

Zafirovski, Milan. The Enlightenment and Its Effects on Modern Society. New York: Springer. 2010. Web.

Storytelling 2.0

Bryan Alexander and Alan Levine’s article, “Storytelling: Emergence of a New Genre” favourably explains Web 2.0 storytelling — a nonlinear, interwoven type of storytelling that utilizes today’s web-based technologies. It’s an interesting examination of how storytelling is evolving. The last time storytelling modes changed as drastically as it is today, the written word had been invented. To clarify, before the written word, stories were repetitive and rhyming so that they could be remembered. Once written language was invented, these tropes were not required anymore. With that being said, it’s a fair assumption that with the advent of the web, we are living in one of human history’s greatest turning points regarding language. The morphing of storytelling in this ways still in its infancy relative to the evolution of language and narratives.

I think that the only issue with this type of storytelling is that if it’s done poorly, the narrative can become chaotic. This is possibly because human brains organize information in a linear sequence mirroring our experience of time. However, the human brain also categorizes information by creating groups made up of similar-concepts. If done well, this type of storytelling could be very effective and stimulating for a reader. There are many examples of good Web 2.0 storytelling. For instance, NPR’s project A Photo I Love combines audio, visuals, and text to promote the Chicago Tribunes book Gangsters & Grifters. The project showcases a photograph from the book while the editor explains why she loves the photo for approximately three minutes. Alternately, Pitchfork utilizes audio, gifs, photos, text, and flash for their cover stories, making their articles multi-sensory. An online music magazine where readers can listen to the music they’re reading about is an incredibly effective and satisfying experience.

I liked this article because it stood in contrast to previous readings, such as “The Web We Lost” and “The Web We Have to Save.” It discusses one of the innovations of the web and how this is both entertaining and educational. This form of storytelling also offers an alternative mode to a genre such as memoirs. I believe that Web 2.0 storytelling can be considered an accurate depiction of our daily lives, which are often experienced in small snippets of information and feelings that we ultimately make sense of. On the other hand, memoirs attempt to help a reader understand a person’s everyday life in a cohesive, often linear format. For this reason, Dani Shapiro’s article “A Memoir is Not a Status Update” was a really interesting comparison to have this week, as a person who finds value in both forms. Ultimately, this reading put words to the phenomenon that we are all witnessing in 2016. I just wish that the authors had utilized their own advice and made the article less like a language arts textbook and more like a piece of Web 2.0 storytelling.

Next Big Thing?: Next Issue and the Future of Magazines

Over 83% of Canada’s population is active online. According to Maclean’s Magazine, along with this, as of November 2013 a strong majority of Canadians use the internet for more than just browsing Facebook or checking the weather—they use it to spend money.

Even though huge amounts of money are being poured into the online marketplace, publishers are still struggling with how to monetize their content online. There does not yet seem to be a best practice for this, thus there is an opening for innovation as publishers struggle to keep up with changing technologies and declining subscription and revenue.

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When truth is truly irrelevant

Samsung paid $1 billion in nickels to Apple.
A linebacker defends a gay classmate against a bully.
And when the superstar American basketball player LeBron James was still in high school, he met his idol Michael Jordan.

Events or news can be condensed to the size of a meme and spread quickly through social networks. Does it still matter if the story is true? Yes. And no.

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The Unexplored Potential of the Internet as Art Medium

marcel duchamp fountain

Oh, Fountain. Go to any first-year art history course and Duchamp’s urinal-turned-art-piece will be one of the most debated topics of the term. There are always those students who insist the merit of any work of art is in the skill of the execution, of which Duchamp demonstrates none. But the concept—a critique of the posh High Art world—always prevails and Fountain is hailed as one of the strongest works of the European avant-garde.

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