Writer to Writer, Friend to Friend

The person I chose to profile and interview is both somebody who I consider good friend of mine, as well as someone who I deeply admire as a writer. Katherine [Katie] Nails is a Senior Reporter for UD’s newspaper, The Review, as well as a freelance contributor to DelawareToday Magazine.

Katie is not only an immensely talented writer, but she is informative and fun to read as well. As a journalist, Katie is charged with the daunting task of keeping her text concise; providing sufficient material while keeping the reader interested and engaged. While I am personally not very adept at getting points across succinctly, the way that Katie writes makes it appear effortless. Moreover, Katie’s terse style does not detract from personal voice or style to the point of banality. Something she does exceptionally well is add flare and creativity to journalistic pieces. One of my favorite lines that she has written comes from a recently published column in The Review about her journey to her birthplace of Chicago following the Cubs 2016 World Series victory. It is the very last line of the piece.

This line epitomizes what it means to be an effective writer: It incorporates voice and creativity without drowning the reader in a sea of words. When reading this quote, I can immediately visualize the atmosphere following a World Series victory, an over joyous crowd of millions forgoing their differences in the name of love for a baseball team and a city. That being said, as a reader I don’t have to bend over backwards to understand the meaning behind the text, and it feels as though I could be having a normal conversation with Katie.

I recently sat down with the author herself for a brief interview regarding her work and the trials and tribulations of being a writer. I started our conversation asking about what appeals to her about writing, and more particularly journalism: “The job itself is like a scavenger hunt for me”, she said.  “It’s like a puzzle that has to be put together. And then the actual writing part is kind of like…I’ve always enjoyed I guess [sic] the creativity of being able to express myself. I’ve always just liked words, but then journalism kind of allows me to use them to make a difference.” Katie enjoys both the hunt for clues and answers that comes with being a reporter, as well as the creative outlet and ability to evoke ideas and change that comes from being a writer in general.

I then proceeded to inquire about who her intended audience is when she writes: “…For the Review, it’s obviously the Review’s readers, who are mostly college students and professor but then I also do…I’m also a columnist, so with my columns…they’re pretty personal to me, but I also try to sort of widen them to get anybody who reads, you know anybody who happens to get their hands on it to see something in another way.” Katie writes to inform her community, which, seeing as she is a college student, happens to be comprised mostly of fellow college students. However, she writes her columns not so much for a specific audience, but for anyone who might enjoy reading a creative piece of writing.

I decided to transition to asking about how she incorporates voice and her own unique style into her writing: “…Well you know me pretty well, I’m fairly sarcastic, I…I don’t know I kind of have like short little quips I guess. And you can definitely see that in my writing…like I said journalism is pretty hard you’re not really allowed to insert your own voice, but…you apply your style through the structure of the story.” I believe we both happened to be a bit confused about terminology here. Personally, I can clearly hear Katie’s voice in her writing, and I definitely can spot where she likes to insert witticisms. However, I think that when she discusses an inability to insert voice in a journalistic piece, that this actually refers to tone. She definitely seeks to be objective in her reporting, but I can still get sense her style, which I think is synonymous with voice, in all of her pieces. Her tone, on the other hand, must not sway one way or another in order to remain unbiased.

Finally, I asked her one last question regarding what she felt to be the most difficult part of her job as a writer: “I mean the most difficult part I think would be…as a journalist your job is to be pushy and make people uncomfortable, but make them still want to talk to you. It’s kind of like finding that line and toeing it but not jumping over it. It’s like a very fine line that we’re constantly walking…” Although I have little journalism experience, I understand this concept: you want to divulge as much valuable information from someone as possible, but you don’t want to turn them off from talking to you. It’s as if you are walking a tightrope.

This interview was very casual, yet informative, and I am happy to have been able to gain new insights into journalism and Katie’s work.

Social Action Meets Overwhelming Disinterest

For our “Writing as Social Action” assignment, I decided to share a post on Facebook from an organization that is near and dear to my heart. Recently, I participated in an alternative break program though the university. Through this program, I worked directly with the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, a large non-profit organization dedicated to mitigating pollution to the bay and advocating for sustainable fishing and aquaculture practices. I learned a lot about the economic and social importance of the bay during the program, and in turn decided that I would utilize a post from the Chesapeake Bay Foundation’s Facebook page for this assignment.

Recently, the Chesapeake Bay Foundation shared an article from the New York Times that discusses the Trump administration’s proposed budget cuts to programs like the EPA. CBF’s post in conjunction with that article read “Tell Congress to protect the Bay!”. As someone who considers himself an environmentalist and a conservationist, these recent proposals to cut funding have upset me. Furthermore, I felt even more compelled to use this post after working with CBF for a week. I decided to share this article with my friends on Facebook, and write a brief post above expressing my frustration with the cuts and the importance of the Chesapeake Bay. I wrote “The proposed cuts to government programs like the EPA will have extraordinary repercussions. More than the US’s largest estuary, the Chesapeake provides many with opportunities for marine recreation while also supporting the economies of the Mid-Atlantic States through fishing and crabbing. Cutting funds to the EPA would negate regulations and resources that are integral to keeping the bay healthy. It’s time we start putting our planet first #SaveTheBay”.

My hope in sharing this post was not only to draw attention to an issue that I feel is important, but to hopefully get a small dialogue going as well. I envisioned some comments in support of my post, as well as perhaps some that questioned the importance of funding such programs. After all, effective discourse is achieved through weighing different viewpoints. Unfortunately, in the first 24 hours after sharing this post, I had one person react to it, and zero comments. Moreover, the person that reacted to my post is a friend of mine who went on the alternative break trip with me, and she simply liked the post. Furthermore, there were zero comments posted, and thus, no discourse. After the first day, much to my disappointment, there were no subsequent changes on the post in terms of people reacting or commenting.

Where could I have gone wrong? I thought of a few possible answers. I think part of why my post did not get much attention starts with the simple idea that less and less internet users my age use Facebook with the same regularity that they did four years ago. However, this is too convenient of an excuse to make up for the entirety of why my post flopped. I believe that another explanation is that the cause that I advocated for (protecting the Chesapeake Bay) is very specific and does not concern many of my friends on Facebook (I live in New Jersey, neither near the bay, nor in its watershed). Finally, I believe that many people my age are averse to anything political posted on social media forums. While I myself do read a lot about politics, I can empathize with others, because I do not like to put my political views on the internet most of the time. In the future, I think it would be beneficial to focus on an issue that more of my friends and followers can connect with, as well as implore friends to “share, share, share”.

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A Tweet Is Worth a Thousand Lashes

After reading Ronson’s book “So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed”, I think that the angle he takes in analyzing the use of social media to shame others quite intriguing. Obviously, this kind of online shaming happens quite frequently. That being said, what I find most interesting is the idea raised by Ronson that social media shaming is a reincarnation of the public punishment that pervaded American colonial times. Diving into American history, Ronson point out that public punishment was eventually made illegal in every US state, as it was perceived as too cruel and humiliating. However, he points out that online shaming is really no different than public punishment, perhaps with the exception of a lack of physical harm. In this way, there has almost been a renaissance in public punishment. This can be seen with writer Jonah Lehrer, who after he was caught plagiarizing material in his works, sought to apologize to the public. However, his public apology was made standing next to a big screen twitter feed where people slammed his apology and tormented him in real-time. As Ronson states, “As Jonah Lehrer stood in front of that giant-screen Twitter feed on February 12, 2013, he experienced something that had been widely considered appalling in the eighteenth century” (Ronson 56). Thus, Ronson is stating that Lehrer was in this moment a victim of the modern rebirth of public punishment through online shaming.

 

Moreover, an interesting note to take away from Ronson so far is the contrast between his angle of looking at social media, and how other authors like danah boyd view its use. While Ronson sees social media through the lens of a “great renaissance of public shaming”, danah looks at the use of social media on a much broader spectrum (Ronson 10). Although danah boyd does acknowledge the use of social media as a tool for bullying, she does not mention its utilization specifically for shaming, but rather for the incitement of teenage drama. “Whereas adults might have labeled many of these practices as bullying, teens saw them as drama” (boyd 137). Here, boyd points out the fact that many teens who use social media see actions that can hurt others as drama, not bullying. Moreover, boyd mentions bullying and more specifically bullying through the guise of drama, but does not discuss bullying at all through the guise of public shaming. Furthermore, boyd goes on to discuss the positive influences of social media and looks at it through a variety of paradigms. Ronson, however, sticks to the phenomenon of shaming, which can easily be labeled negative. What’s more, while boyd and Ronson are both discussing different forms of online bullying, both of the groups doing this bullying rarely see themselves as bullies. Teens see themselves as starting drama, according to boyd. Similarly, those shaming others using the internet see themselves as vigilantes and proponents of online justice.

The Pros and Cons of Using Video

After completing the “Concept in 60” project, as well as watching the other videos posted by classmates, I feel confident in discussing both the affordances, as well as the limitations to using videos. Moreover, there are things that you can do with video that you cannot do with print. Overall, one major advantage of using video to explain a concept is that you receive both an audio, as well as an augmented visual aspect that you cannot receive while reading printed material. Speaking generally, this enables those who are better auditory or visual learners to better understand the concept being described. More specifically, an affordance of video is that one can create a photo montage where audio is overlaid on top of the pictures. In Mackenzie’s video about what it means to be an RA, for example, she utilizes a photo montage to enhance the explanation of her concept and to get her point across to the viewer. In addition, another benefit of using video instead of print is that it is easier to make a point, while also using comedy to do it. In James’s video, for example, he uses comedy to state that one’s environment and they way in which one watches a movie can change one’s viewing experience. In his video, James uses both audio, as well as props and subtle mannerisms to give his concept a comedic undertone. While reading print, it is a lot more difficult to provide the subtle sort of comedy that you can with video. As someone who loves comedy, I can tell you that sometimes what is funny is not necessarily in the joke itself, but rather it is in the delivery, or the way on which the joke is told, and also in the body language of the person telling the joke. Therefore, video allows one to more easily convey something in a comedic manner. Finally, another advantage of vide over print is that with video, you don’t necessarily have to say anything at all to get a statement across to the viewer. In Graham’s video, for example, he does not say a single word, and yet I am able to understand the point that he is trying to make. With print, something has to be said, using words on a page.

Just as there are affordances to video, there also exist limitations. One possible disadvantage of using video is that it perhaps discourages visual imagination on the part of the viewer. Again, video provides the visual for us. With print, we as readers are tasked with having to imagine what is happening, and we create our own mental image. Another limitation of using video is that it can take a lot of time and resources to create a really professional-looking video. My video would be the perfect example of what happens when one does not have the time or resources of say, someone like James Cameron or Martin Scorsese. Finally, another drawback to video is the fact that one can run into trouble with copyright when it comes to using others’ video/photographs/music. For as much content that is actually labeled for reuse, there has to be at least fifty times as much content that is not.

In conclusion, I thought of a few categories that the videos from class can be put into. One would be “How To” videos vs. simple explanation of what something is. Another would be when someone uses a voiceover vs. when someone acts in a video. Then there are videos that use stock footage or photos and those that use original footage or photos. And finally, there are videos that are montages, there are those that are live-action, and those that consist of cartoons or drawings.

The Kids Are Alright

After reading the first half of danah boyd’s “It’s Complicated”, I decided that I have been introduced to a somewhat more objective view of how and why people, particularly teens, use the internet and social media. Whereas Carr takes the position that our use of the internet is inherently negative, boyd provides a much more balanced argument and puts our use of the web and social media into a social and cultural context. Moreover, I am enjoying boyd’s work better thus far because she neither celebrates nor bashes the internet. Instead, she simply analyzes why people hold the views that they do regarding this technology.

Although boyd discusses several different topics in each chapter in the first half of the book, her analysis of teens’ perceived addiction to the internet in chapter 3 really got me to think about my own use of social media. Specifically, she says that the media becomes carried away with the idea that our use of sites like Facebook and Twitter is unhealthy, and even leads to addiction. Furthermore, boyd claims that parents and the media worrying about teens’ use of different technologies is not new. “Parents in previous generations fretted about the hours teens whiled away hanging out or chatting on the phone” (boyd 79). I found this to argument to hold merit, just from conversations with my own parents. My mom reminisces about how she used to come home from school and talk with her friends for hours on the phone, gossiping and joking and such, much to my grandmother’s dismay. In fact, the song “Hanging on the Telephone” by Blondie is a good example of how teens used to constantly call their friends using the telephone. In the song, the protagonist keeps attempting to call the guy she likes, but he won’t answer because his mother is there. While we don’t know what the intention of the call is or why the guy’s mother is discouraging the call, the song represents teens’ longing to use the telephone (long before the invention of social media–the song came out in 1978) and parents’ worries about the use of the telephone, even back in the late 1970’s. In conclusion, while my parents have never discouraged me from using social media or the internet, the number of times I’ve been told to take a break from being on the computer or on my phone is more than I can count.

As I continued to navigate through boyd’s argument in this chapter, I was also struck by one of the reasons she provides for why teens use social media so often. Using her interviews with several teenagers, she claims that the use of social media helps them unwind after a long day. “Social media introduces new opportunities for housebound teens to socialize and people-watch, but it also provides an opportunity to relax” (boyd 91). I can personally relate to this quote, as many times, when I find that I have been cooped up all day doing work for school, I enjoy scrolling through various social media feeds before bed. Although staring at my phone or computer prior to sleeping is not necessarily good for my eyes, it certainly helps take my mind off the countless hours of work or studying I had been doing for class. I would say this use of social media is far from addiction. Perhaps I use social media as a remedy to the mundane activities of homework, but this is nowhere near what could be considered a problematic degree of usage. As the band The Who sang in 1965, “The Kids Are Alright” (Though I’m certain the song has a deeper meaning).

The World Wide Web of Overthinking

After finishing Nicholas Carr’s “The Shallows”, I must confess that it opened my eyes to some of the disadvantages and downsides of our frequent use of the internet. I also think Carr makes some compelling arguments for how our brains quite literally change in response to this usage. Overall, I enjoyed the book and thought it revealed a lot about how the modern brain works. However, I felt that the arguments, though fascinating, could be redundant and I almost felt as though the book could have been half its actual length.

Nevertheless, as I pored through the second half of the book, I couldn’t help think about a point that Carr quickly touches on. He claims that the minds of those who use the web are far more prone to a chaotic series of thoughts, as opposed to the calm, rational sense of thought that one acquires from reading books. “It is the very fact that book reading ‘understimulates the senses’ that makes the activity so intellectually rewarding… The mind of the experienced book reader is a calm mind, not a buzzing one” (Carr 123). From Carr’s perspective, then, the process of reading books forges a reasonable, non-catastrophic form of thought that one cannot get from using the internet. This is because unlike the internet, there isn’t so much happening at any one time when one reads a book, as to scatter our thoughts. What I then interpret this quote to mean is that the web is generating a population of “over-thinkers”.

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A free stock image I’ve scaled down of a cursor and help icon over a keyboard from Pixabay.com (By user Geralt). This image sums up what the internet may be doing to us: coercing us to overthink and question our decisions.

I consider myself to be someone who has a chronic problem of overthinking virtually every action that I perform (including writing this post). Even the most mundane, trite, everyday decisions that I am forced to make come at the cost of me scrolling through every conceivable consequence in my head. What’s more, the vast amount of catastrophic and disproportionate thinking that I do can be exhausting and physically taxing. This all being said, Carr’s quote regarding the use of the internet and a chaotic thought process made me think (or, perhaps overthink) about my own thought process. Perhaps my propensity toward falling into a pit of destructive thinking can be attributed, at least in part, to my repeated, almost impulsive use of the internet for everything from schoolwork to entertainment.  After all, general anxiety, attention deficit disorder, and obsessive compulsive disorder have all been on the rise in the United States in recent decades. Understandably, these factors cannot be entirely accredited to the internet, as there are so many environmental and genetic factors that play into the the chemical makeup of the brain. And yet, given that Carr has said that the internet can change the way we think, perhaps it may be a contributing factor to an increased number of worried minds. Thus, my question to you, and the question that he got me to think about, is: do you think the internet had led to an increase in overthinking and anxiety?