University of Delaware | Spring 2017 | Professor Joe Harris
Author: Sara Reuschling
I am an English major with a minor in Sociology at the University of Delaware. The aim of this account is to learn as much as possible about the ever-growing changes in the world with an open mind and connect the information to my life experiences, especially regarding technology and digital rhetoric.
The person that I chose to interview is my friend Jordan Johnson (he asked for further info not to be given out). He does not write professionally, but frequently and on platforms that have been growing increasingly the last few years: social media. When this assignment was introduced to us, it was his posts that came to mind. He has an account on most forms: Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Tumblr, Snapchat… and I’m sure the list goes on. Jordan and I have been friends since we were little and I know he enjoys social media as a way of connecting with others, both people he knows and does not know. I have always been struck by his outgoing character that isn’t afraid to say what he wants regardless of the topic. He talks about things that range from comical videos or tweets to serious issues such as race and violence. My goal for the interview was to see if he had any intentions when he posted, and even if he didn’t, to see his process before posting on social media.
Which social media platform do you receive the most attention, and why do you think that is?
Jordan: Probably my twitter account. I’ve had the same one since I started in middle school and it’s where I have the most followers. I also do a lot of promotions for EDM shows which has gotten me a lot of followers. That’s not what all my tweets are about though.
What makes you post what you post? Is it just what comes to mind or is there deep thought before posting?
Jordan: Sometimes I will just think of something to write because I find it funny or just want to say it out loud for some reason. Other times there will be an issue going on and I hear a lot of people talking about it. For the most part I try to avoid posting about my opinions at least on Facebook where I have a lot of family members and older followers that might disagree. I do post my opinion about issues more on Twitter and Instagram than I do anywhere else because my followers are more accepting and less judgmental on those sites; I don’t know if it’s because they’re younger or if there is just a lot of people I don’t actually know that happen to like the things I write.
Do you think you have an impact and/or could have a larger impact somehow? If so, how would you go about this?
Jordan: When I post about things I don’t really post to make a big reaction. I post things that I want to talk about or that pop into my head. I haven’t really thought about whether or not I could make an impact on people’s lives. I’m not sure I would want that weight on my shoulders. I don’t know, I just like having the freedom to post whatever I want and if people agree then cool but if not then they don’t have to read what I write. I guess if I tried to make a bigger impact I would talk to some of my connections and see what they could do. I’m friends with a handful of people that are famous on social media that could help get my word out about something it’s just never been something I thought a lot about.
Jordan’s answers remind me a lot of what I feel like mine would be if I was in a similar situation. I wanted to see what it would be like to get in the mind of someone who doesn’t write professionally or with any intentions of writing professionally and I definitely think his responses show the freedom that social media allows us to have. He brings up the fact that not everyone posts just to try and get feedback. I am however interested to see that if by bringing up these questions,he will change the way in which/what Jordan posts in the future and maybe he will consider what he can do with his words.
When encountering this assignment, for a long time I was unsure what to post. There was no social action I could think of that would make a difference or be successful, and the social media accounts I have don’t necessarily have a lot of followers. I decided because of this, the best thing to do was post on twitter using a hashtag since that is an easy way for people who don’t even follow me to see certain key terms. A social issue that really interested me stems around gender equality, but the more subtle things that go on, often unnoticed, as opposed to the issues we hear about every day such as equal pay. I focused on women in the work force and used two key terms: the glass ceiling and the motherhood penalty. The glass ceiling refers to the invisible barrier women often face when it comes to receiving a promotion in a job; studies have been done that proves this to be true whether we realize it or not. The motherhood penalty revolves around the idea that mothers have a more difficult time trying to find jobs because they are considered to be less incapable or committed to their job since they have children, studies were done on this where fake resumes were sent out and the number of mothers that got called back were extremely lower than non-mothers and fathers. I posted a picture with words written on it and highlighted then I used the hashtags: gender equality, glass ceiling, motherhood penalty, and I threw in gender pay gap too since this plays a role and is a more popular issue. Unfortunately, I received no responses but I hope that eventually someone can see it and become informed on something that they never realized because I never would have either. Here is a link to my tweet.
In both Jon Ronson’s So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed and Danah Boyd’s It’s Complicated, there are endless discussions regarding social media and the impact it has on society. At one point in Boyd’s book she discusses bullying, and although she focuses on an examples with participants a lot younger than Ronson’s example of Justine Sacco, they both highlight some of the ways social media can seep into all parts of our world. When talking to two sisters, Abigail and Ashley, it eventually became evident that Abigail regarded her sister as a bully, recounting endless stories to Boyd. She first discusses an IM incident where Ashley and her friends would say mean things about another girl in their 4th grade class, eventually spreading to the little girl, then came parental involvement, and eventually what Ashley could and couldn’t do was all based around this one incident. Although it is pretty obvious that what Ashely was doing would never have positive effects, she didn’t intentionally mean for it to grow to the proportion it did. Even Abigail noticed, “…Ashley didn’t seem to understand that she hurt people whenever she lashed out” (129). The power of social media doesn’t stop as you get older either, as we see in Ronson’s book.
Justine Sacco made a huge mistake by making her acerbic joke about not getting AIDS in Africa because she’s white to the public on such a sensitive issue. As Ronson spoke with her, Justine obviously didn’t intend for the wrath she ignited, but in an instant (a plane ride), her entire career, social life, and life in general were flipped upside down. All day she had been making crass tweets that got little, if any, attention from her followers and the bad wording of one tweet sent the media into a frenzy. To most people, this was not a joke, it was just a privileged, white woman being oblivious to the struggles of others and reveling in their misfortune. But Justine never really received the chance to explain her intentions, her life had already changed before she even turned her phone back on. Justine had a different perspective when viewing her tweet, “to me, it was so insane a comment for an American to make I thought there was no way that anyone could possibly think it was a literal statement” (73). Although I don’t agree this justifies her actions, I think it is a bit extreme that her entire life got derailed by us, other people spending our free time on social media. Ronson pointed out, “Justine Sacco felt like the first person I had ever interviewed who had been destroyed by us” (71). I think in both of these books we can see that as the people behind the screens, we have the power to decide the content that we upload and indulge in, but it all comes down to a choice.
Out of all of our assignments I have never been worried or nervous about one but when we received the video assignment, my anxiety latched on tight until it was finished. We all use our phones and other devices every day for almost everything we do, and it’s always with us when we’re not actually on it. I hardly ever take videos unless it’s on Snapchat or at a concert, so I was especially nervous when I found out we had to edit it. Long story short, it ended up not being as bad as I thought it would be and I picked up on some differences between video and text.
When writing in text it is difficult to get your exact emphasis, feelings, and tone into what you’re writing because there’s always the possibility someone isn’t going to read it in the same way you intended. With video, you can change your voice, use mannerisms, facial expressions, etc. to more specifically portray what you mean/want to say. However, along with using your face I can see the possibility of some people limiting themselves to what they post. I know when trying to think of an idea one of the questions in my head was, “what can I do that won’t look stupid or make me look stupid?” When you’re writing behind a screen I think it can be a little easier to express yourself and feelings in the sense that people aren’t actually watching your face.
But then there were the videos that people just did a voice over and didn’t have their face in it at all, which I honestly never thought about but was a good idea. For these videos instead of just writing about a point, you can share pictures, videos, etc. from other people so you’re not just saying but showing the point you are trying to make. The combination of music, voice, and visuals forces you to view the information differently than when reading words inside your head. Overall, I think it depends on the topic and what the author is comfortable with doing in order to get the best post because they both have positive and negative qualities.
In the second chapter of Danah Boyd’s It’s Complicated, there are many things discussed revolving around the privacy of teens when participating in social media. She speaks of two things that seem to go hand in hand in many cases: social steganography and the surveillance of parents. As she mentions, it has always been common that teens want privacy from their parents in certain aspects of their lives. The parents of teens today did not grow up with technology the same way that our generation has, usually causing them to want to be ever-present and all-knowing in their child’s life. Teens on the other hand don’t always want their judging, rule-implementing, and lecture-ready parents tracking their every move regarding social interactions. To combat this Boyd mentions, “many of the privacy strategies that teens implement are intended to counter the power dynamic that emerges when parents and other adults feel as though they have the right to watch and listen” (70). From this stems steganography where teens tend to code their messages by posting lyrics, sub-tweeting, etc. This made me think about when I was younger and in middle school or early high school and how my mom would look me up on social media to see what I was doing. I remember feeling frustrated not only because it was my page that I didn’t ask her to view but because there was no reason for her not to trust what I was doing. I was always safe, didn’t talk to strangers, or post things that could be deemed as unacceptable or inappropriate.
Parents seem to think that we don’t care about our privacy to the outside world or understand the dangers, but at what point can they trust that the way they raised us is enough and we will share what we want when we want? I found an interesting video in which Kelly Wallace from CNN discusses that her biggest fear is her children becoming involved with social media. This video was striking because she says at one point, “how will I possibly keep tabs on everything they’re doing?” as if in order to be a good parent she must know every single detail of her child’s life. She goes on to say that in reality parents might not even have a clue because of the ways teens have chosen to encrypt their messages. She gives an example about how someone might post a group photo but intentionally not tag someone as an act of aggression, something that would easily slip by parents viewing the picture. Her solution is to sign up for the social networks that the teens are on and befriend them. However, if teens go through such lengths to keep their parents from knowing what is happening on their social networks, where is the line to be drawn for privacy between teen and parent?
Regardless of the subject being discussed, there are many noticeable differences between writing platforms. Many of these differences center around the idea that the Net/modern technology can change not only our thoughts but the way we think, process information, and the speed at which we receive this material. Carr gives a metaphor using water, a bath tub, a thimble, and faucets to symbolize how we tend to retain the information we are fed. His belief is that filling a bathtub with a thimble is equivalent to transferring our working memory into our long-term memory. He follows this example with, “when we read a book, the information faucet provides a steady drip, which we can control by the pace of our reading” (124). He follows by saying that when on the internet, “with the Net, we face many information faucets, all going full blast” (125). Although this is true, a book provides only what is permanently stained with ink while the Net contains a plethora of options, does that mean that we are actually trying to process every single bit of information at once?
It is possible to read an article or even multiple articles online at a pace that we choose. It is even possible to revisit online articles, posts, etc. multiple times just as we would with a tangible book. For example, when I do research on a topic I still narrow my search. Regardless of if I receive my data from a book or the internet I am still specifying what I am looking for and specifying even further by choosing which of those links I read and/or use. I don’t try to click on every single link that might have to do with what I’m looking for, I only choose the ones that seem the most relevant. In that sense, I have multiple faucets running but I still choose which faucets to fill my thimble and later bathtub. When I look up a specific topic and I find the same fact in a book and on a webpage, it’s the fact that matters not the platform in which I got it. I am not saying that there is no difference between the different mediums of written works, I am simply saying that it is possible to limit what faucets are running when searching on the Net. I don’t feel as if my ability to learn about a subject is suffering because it came from online, just coming from a different platform than a written text.
This image I found interesting because it portrays the opposite of what Carr is saying, that ebooks and Net learning are better pathways than resources made with ink and paper. But if the information is the same, could it just be a personal preference on which style of learning suits the individual best?
A quote that stood out for me in Carr came in the beginning of The Shallows when he stated, “…media aren’t just channels of information. They supply the stuff of thought but they also shape the process of thought. And what the Net seems to be doing is chipping away my capacity for concentration and contemplation” (6). Prior to reading this book I never thought about, or considered, the fact that technology as a medium such as the internet, may in fact be the cause for the way I think today. Carr notices that before the Net became such a staple in his life his concentration on paper and reading in general was a lot greater. It made me begin to wonder, as someone who grew up with technology at the tip of my fingers for the majority of my life, has it effected my focus too? I began to think about when I was younger and if my ability to concentrate for long periods of time was stronger than it is now. But as I think about it, it’s harder to draw up answers. I can’t say that this has affected me in the same way as Carr. I wonder, do I lose concentration and check my phone now simply because I have the freedom to do so whereas the younger version of me did not? Do I only lose focus when it is a subject that doesn’t interest me? By growing up in the world of technology I realized it’s harder to decipher the effect it has had on my life, my brain, and my way of thinking but the idea is intriguing and something I will not be able to avoid thinking about from now on when using the internet as opposed to a book.
This article discusses a study by a neurology professor, Adam Gazzaley, who agrees that technology changes our ability for cognitive thinking. Our cognitive abilities coincide with our ability to focus, accomplish, and complete tasks. However, the article goes on to talk about multi-tasking and how we need to limit our distractions. I found it interesting that it doesn’t expand down the same path as Carr, most articles claim we need less distractions to concentrate better. To me, that just seems to be common knowledge since you cannot focus on one thing while fidgeting with multiple other tasks. The article then speaks about why we procrastinate and the thought is similar to Carr’s; we would rather enjoy a little snippet of information, or a fun tweets/posts rather than sift through an entire piece. Our bodies have grown used to processing information quickly and concisely by contacting so much stimuli at once that our brain finds it more difficult to concentrate on specific, longer writings. The article ends with saying we need to find a balance between our use of technology, but Carr has opened my mind to a deeper possibility- that our entire way of thinking has changed and the internet is the cause.