Profiling a Digital Writer

Patricia Cason is a junior English major at James Madison University in Harrisonburg, Virginia. She writes for The Odyssey to gain experience as a published writer for her life after graduation. Her writing has always interested me, not only because she is a friend of mine, but because she doesn’t stick to just one topic. She has some articles that are in the popular list format, but she also writes about some more serious topics as well. My goal for this interview was to gain some insight about what motivates Patricia to write about what she does and to learn about what she takes from the overall experience of writing for The Odyssey.

How did you become involved in writing for the Odyssey? Was it strictly because you are an English major or was it more on your own personal interest?

Patricia: I started writing for The Odyssey because “being published” is important for anyone considering a career as a writer. Where you’re published doesn’t matter as much as the fact that you’re putting your work out into the world for people to see. The biggest reason I write for [The Odyssey] is to demonstrate interest in written communication for future employers. I chose The Odyssey because it’s a lot more relaxed than our student newspaper, The Breeze, and I didn’t want to deal with strict deadlines in addition to my academic course load.

 

How do you come up with topics for each one of your articles?

Patricia: A lot of the topics I write about come from personal experience, or are common themes I pick up on during conversation with my friends. I write down potential topics whenever they come to me, so I have a lot of article titles scrawled in my notebook and in my iPhone notes. One time I wrote almost an entire article while I was hosting during a slow day at TGI [Friday’s], which was definitely a better use of my time than actually working.

 

You seem to have a good range of topics varying from your “Society Killed the Liberal Arts Major” to a more controversial topic such as the article “All the Questions You Were Always Too Afraid to Ask” and a few light-hearted lists such as “8 Reality Checks for My Insane Expectations of Freshman Year”. Are there different approaches you take to each type of article and/or certain things you keep in mind when writing the more serious ones?

Patricia: Sometimes I choose topics because I think I’ll get a lot of social engagement, and other times I feel as if the topic itself is important, and needs to be addressed. Unfortunately, the audience I reach from Facebook and Twitter shares is primarily bored college students, so articles such as “All The Questions You Were Always Too Afraid To Ask” always get drastically more views. It’s kind of disappointing actually, because a lot of people say they care about deeper issues, but don’t engage with it in their free time when it’s offered to them.

 

After writing for an online publication, do you see any striking differences about writing online vs. for print?

Patricia: I’ve never written for a print publication, but the biggest difference that I see is the types of people you reach and the ability to measure your audience. I can see the exact number of people who read my articles, which isn’t possible for print sources. Additionally, since The Odyssey gives its creators the burden of sharing and marketing their piece for views, I really only originally reach the people I’m friends with on Twitter and Facebook. So, if I wrote an article that primarily 30 year-olds would be interested in, they’d probably never see it because my younger followers wouldn’t be interested enough to share it.

 

Overall, would you say that writing for The Odyssey has helped you grow as a writer and has prepared you for life outside school with an English degree (career wise)? If so, in what ways?

Patricia: It’s been interesting, because I have the freedom to explore pretty much anything I want and have it published. It’s also taught a bit about writing for the public vs. academic papers. Obviously, I probably shouldn’t use words like “ostensibly” in Odyssey articles, or my readers will disengage with the content. I’ve definitely learned that the general public heavily favors lighthearted “fluff” writing.

 

I found Patricia’s answers to #3 and #4 particularly interesting because they can be nicely tied to the Social Action assignment we just had. She points out how she wishes to have lots of public engagement about her posts but often gets her hopes up because of the limited audience had access to. She points out how her friends on Facebook and Twitter claim to have concern for the deeper issues but doesn’t engage with it in their free time. This is something that all of us have claimed to experience in our reflection of our social action. Additionally, this lack of sharing can impact what she chooses to write about since she must keep that audience in mind.

Social Action

I would like to discuss briefly two posts that I shared on my Facebook page- one I intended for this project and one I did not. Both posts I made relate to inequality and oppression of different groups. The first one I will talk about was made on Tuesday about Rachel Dolezal. If you have not heard of her, she was born to two white parents in Montana but claims she has felt she was African American her whole life. When she became an adult she excessively tanned, got her hair permed, and convinced everyone she met that she was really black- she even lied about who her father was. She studied African American studies at school, became a professor for the course, and held a job as part of the department for NAACP. When her parents outed her as white, she quit all jobs and underwent shaming online. I chose to blog about this because it has gained relevance again today as she will be featured on Dr. Phil. The comment that I attached to the article read:

Nicole Mason

Since racism and cultural appropriation is a topic I see pretty frequently on my Facebook feed (thanks to Trump’s election and proposed actions), I thought it would get at least a few comments. I got my first like within 2 hours, and then a couple more over the next 36 hours. I got one comment thanking me for what I said and sharing about this issue.

 

The second post I made the day before on Monday. This one I did not intend to use for my social action assignment (due to its informal structure and some inappropriate content), but it gained a larger reaction that the post I intended to use. This one centers around misogyny and unrealistic standards for girlfriends. The post is a list from “totalfratmove.com” on ways to be the “perfect college girlfriend” including things like having no insecurities, not being upset if your boyfriend ignores you, not being clingy, and keeping the guy and his fraternity brothers happy. This post got me upset because of its derogatory and degrading tone towards women, which is something I see way too often and am tired of witnessing. I had to share my thoughts with people on Facebook and said:

Nicole Mason (1).png

This post got likes immediately and received a total of 15 reactions (which may not be high for most people but is extremely rare for whenever I share something), however it got no comments. This got me thinking. Did I receive more attention because it was a shorter article (written in list form), with lighter content, and did not come from an official news website? These reasons would make sense because in my opinion people are more likely to click on and read to an article if it relates to them (college website vs. global issue), is a shorter read, and the comment the sharer made along with the article is shorter as well.

Overall, I wasn’t shocked by the amount of responses I got. I was certainly not surprised I got mainly likes, however I was expecting to get more than one comment on the article about Rachel Dolezal since it was a more official article.

Embracing one’s flaws: Ronson vs. Boyd

Boyd and Ronson take different approaches to how social media is used in today’s society, but they share some similar opinions. Both authors highlight some negative sides to social media in their work, but both also believe that social media as a whole is not negative, it is just how some people decide to use it. Social media culture is a result of how society is changing and people must accept it and learn to use it properly and effectively.

Ronson’s focus is online shaming. This is when somebody says something online that people either take out of context or view as completely unacceptable and basically destroy their lives online (and offline) by sending mean and threatening messages to/about the person. Among the people he interviewed, Max Mosely is one of interest. What makes him stand out in Ronson’s book is not only was he not shamed online, but he wouldn’t let people shame him, so to speak. As Ronson puts it, “it was simply that he has refused to feel ashamed” (Ronson 156). Mosely himself states that “as soon as the victim steps out of the pact by refusing to feel ashamed, the whole thing crumbles” (Ronson 156). Mosely embraced and owned up to the things that people were trying to shame him for and refused to feel embarrassed about them. Since Mosely wasn’t being effected by everyone’s efforts to shame him, there was no point in them trying to continue.

Let’s think about Boyd. Boyd’s primary focus is the relationship between social media and teenagers. She is concerned with how teens are using social media, how it differs/is the same from how teens from previous generations communicated, and the impact that the transition to online life is having on these kids. She briefly touches on the subject of bullying and how it can take form online. She interviews a girl who has a situation completely different than Mosley’s, but the actions and viewpoint she takes are very similar. This girl preemptively posts embarrassing pictures of herself online so her friends can’t post anything embarrassing about her, which “guarantees that others can’t control the social situation” (Boyd page 75). She told Boyd how “her apparent exhibitionism left plenty of room for people to not focus on the things that were deeply intimate in her life” (Boyd 75). By showing this embarrassing side of herself online, others cannot touch her since she embraces it and does not feel ashamed of others seeing those photos.

These are two very different situations; one is about an old man after a huge attempt from people to shame him, and the other is about a teenage girl posting things online to prevent that shaming from happening. However, Mosley and the girl use the same logic: they own up to the material that people might want to shame them for “because they do not want people to have power over them” (Boyd 75). This prompts the question from Ronson: “does a shaming only work if the shame plays his or her part in it by feeling ashamed?” (page 156).

Affordances and Constraints of using video vs. text

There are many differences between the two mediums of video and print. Making the Concept in 60 video really highlighted these affordances and constraints since we have been writing blog posts all semester and have been asked to jump into the new medium for this assignment. For the most part, relaying a concept in video format can be a lot easier since you can use different elements that you can’t in writing. The creator can speak instead of write, which makes their meaning and interpretation of what they are saying clear to the audience, which is done by tone of voice and where they place emphasis. With that being said, the use of audio is a great affordance in using videos. There can be sound effects and music which can bring out a certain mood of the viewer. Visuals are what makes a video really stand out. These can be used so the audience gets the rights images and scenery in their minds, while also bringing the whole story together. Videos tend to get a message across quicker than reading a chuck of text can, and can be more entertaining, both of which can keep the audience engaged in their work a lot longer than reading text does. Some constraints of using video vs text are that is does not leave much room for the viewer’s imagination, as everything is already laid out for the viewer. This does alter the viewer’s perception and experience of the text because it leaves less room for the viewer to really make it their own.

Graham’s video is almost a perfect example of the affordances of video that I just explained. While his video does not have any speaking, it really highlights what video can do to add effects. He uses various combos of different types of music with different filters/visual effects. Even though he is not doing anything in the video, you can still get a certain tone from it based on these effects. In text, you would have to write sentences in order to attempt for everyone to get the same intended vibes that can be effortlessly achieved through video.

Another example of great use of these affordances is Sam’s video about how to make a grand entrance. Trying to effectively turn this video into text and get the same message across is nearly impossible, or at least very difficult. Sam uses every affordance simultaneously throughout his whole video. His tone of voice and visuals form the actors clearly indicate humor, the grand entrances are nicely complimented by the sound effects, and reading the actors faces throughout the video really adds to the experience.

Will’s video is yet another great example. His video starts off with future him talking to present him. He is using a tone of voice that would be difficult to describe accurately and effectively through text, so the use of video really highlights the humor and tone of Will’s piece. The visuals and facial expressions seen that were added by the use of video makes the intended tones a lot more clear.

Are Parents Going Too Far To Check In On Their Kids?

So far, It’s Complicated by Deborah Boyd is very interesting to me because I have never read a piece of text like it before, especially written by an adult. Boyd is defending teens and appears to be battling parents who disagree with, argue, or dislike how teens in modern day society are using the internet. Many parents feel that teens are “addicted” to the internet and that they are being brainwashed and kept from seeing their friends in person. When in reality, teens would much rather see their friends in person; it is just made much more difficult today due to lack of transportation, busy schedules, parental concerns about safety, and property owners having a distaste for teenagers hanging around on their property.

One main concern among parents that Boyd brings up is that teens are now living in a whole new world that is blocked off to them. Since children are living these separate lives that are not willingly shared with adults, parents get the idea that teens are actively making efforts to hide what they are doing online and get the assumption that their children are engaging in inappropriate and dangerous acts on the internet. This causes friction and distrust between parents and their children and ultimately leads to parents snooping around, by any means possible, to find out what their child is doing online because they feel they have the right to. Boyd explains that “teens are not particularly concerned about organizational actors; rather, they wish to avoid paternalistic adults who use safety and protection as an excuse to monitor their everyday sociality” (56). There is a vicious cycle of teens using the internet to communicate with friends they cannot see in person, teens not wanting their parents to read their private conversations, parents misinterpreting this desire of privacy and interpreting it as their children putting themselves in danger, and parents snooping in their child’s personal life as a result.

Many of the teens Boyd interview expressed a huge desire for trust form their parents. Boyd brings up the important point that “there is a significant difference between having the ability to violate privacy and making the choice to do so” (74). As seen by the many examples of parents prying in on their children’s internet activity, it is very easy for a parent to see what their child is doing. But just because it is easy, doesn’t mean there is an entitled right to do so.

Teen Safe news segment (Scoundcloud)

I have pulled the audio from a clip on a news show that discusses this program called “TeenSafe” that allows parents to see all the activity on their child’s smartphone. This discussion really highlights the lengths that some parents go to in order to pry in on their kids and how they feel entitled in doing so.

Are we in control as much as we think?

Here’s a scary thought: a world in which human beings are no longer the most intelligent lifeforms, and in fact are now subservient to a new dominating “life form”- one that they invented themselves. Many of you already have an answer in your minds to the question “what is this new species that could overcome humans?” because with every new invention and improvement, that world, although still avoidable and many, many decades (or centuries) in the future if it does occur, is becoming more and more real. The answer is technology.

Nicholas Carr, in the last half of his novel The Shallows, talks more about present technology and the future. He touches upon subjects such as the dominating presence of Google, artificial intelligence, how our research and thinking patterns are affected by the Internet, and briefly looks into what the future may hold. Since technology has advanced so much and has made (arguably) the largest impact on human life and societal development, there is no going back to the time before it was invented. It has simply become too beneficial and integrated into our lives. We rely on some form on technology for almost everything we do.

Carr quotes Frederick Taylor saying “in the past the man has been first, in the future the system must be first.” Taylor is referring to his “system” he invented for increasing productivity among manufacturers, once it had been globally adopted, claiming that it would bring about a “restructuring not only of the industry but of society.” Although Taylor did not have modern day technology in mind, his words can be easily applied. Taylor quoted this over 100 years ago, and man is still in charge of technology, although technology is becoming more advanced and man is becoming more reliant on it to continue to progress at anywhere near the same level as we have been. If you take Taylor’s words in the context of modern technology, they ring quite true. It is slowly becoming more true that technology (“the system”) must come first in order for humans to continue developing at the same pace that we are.

There has even been attempts to create an artificial intelligence that has a mind that can think on its own, independently of algorithms that tell it how to process information. Some people find this close reality frightening, because what will happen once man creates something that doesn’t need man’s help to survive?