Not a single good response

Today seemed like the perfect day to post an article about the former Fox News personality Bill O’Reilly. A New York Times article detailing the millions of dollars he gave out in settlements to women alleging O’Reilly of sexual misconduct and maleficence came out a few short weeks ago, drawing feverish backlash from the social media world, media ethics organizations, and advertisers.

Together, they combined to create a persuasive argument against O’Reilly, whose alleged misconduct streamlines back to the early 2000’s and repeats over and over again.

O’Reilly has long been noted for his agitation toward left-leaning ideologues and policies as well as his occasional, but notable, combative tone used against guests. On air, O’Reilly commanded the conversation, often interjecting and cutting off guests whom he disagreed with. To many opposing his viewpoints, O’Reilly’s show didn’t present an opportunity for constructive conversation. Rather, the discussion often became fraught with O’Reilly’ s characteristically argumentative rebuttal.

Now, after 20 years of TV time and a show that garnered more viewers than any of its competitors, the show will terminate immediately. The intense pressure from advertisers – almost 50 of them pulling their ads off of O’Reilly’s show – combined with mounting evidence of continued sexual misconduct were too strong for the Fox News empire to overcome. It had been reported that in the past few weeks, upper-level executives had been hoping that this negative press would subside. But in the end, the company felt that keeping O’Reilly didn’t out way keeping him around.

So today, I wanted to post about this. It felt important. It felt timely. Bill O’Reilly getting the can? His release represented a win for many factions of people. Those who detest sexual predators anywhere near or  in the workplace won. Liberal media outlets with a strong distaste for the Fox News style won. If you didn’t like O’Reilly, you won.

The hope that many people would react, comment, or share my post bounced around in my head before anything transpired. My social media feed is filled with a plethora of voices, friends and acquaintances from across the isle, I thought. At the very least, I would get a response or two saying that my thoughts on this were justified, or my rejoice in his firing was deserved. It appeared to me that this was a good topic to knock down my ideological wall with and show my cards.

No one responded.

The article I posted was the initial NYT reporting, presumably one of the first media organizations to have something out there. A trustworthy source, no matter whether you lean left or right. Yet, the response on my feed was disappointing. A little more than 20 people actually liked the post even though hundred of people saw it. Additionally, only two of my friends provided commentary. One said “Good Riddance” and the other, who leans more conservative, happened to agree that O’Reilly’s release was a good thing.

Did I overestimate the amount of diversity in my online world?

After a few hours of needless checking and re-checking, the likes and comments fizzled out. What I was left with was a staggeringly weak pool of comments and interactions. All of those who chose to add their voice to the conversation did so in affirmation of my liberal beliefs. Even the one conservative fellow was on my side.

This was supposed to be a tumultuous occurrence. People were supposed to argue with each other.  My Facebook was supposed to light up in blue and red paint, with lines drawn firmly in the ground and the two opposing sides squaring off in political theater. It was supposed to be marvelous, until it wasn’t. I blame this on myself and my smaller-than-previous-thought bubble of like-minded friends and strangers existing in my virtual world. I blame my high expectations too, but mostly the bubble I occupy. In it, I now realize I’m far less enriched with different political perspectives. My ability to engage in debate with my liberal friends pails in grandeur and intensity to the debates I would have if I had more conservative friends. What this proved to me is that ideological lines are hard to break, in person and online. And in the hyper-polarized world of embattled, two-sided, divided avenues of thought, it will only get harder.

Social media algorithms dictate more and more of what appears in front of us, thereby enforcing the deep lines of our politics. Facebook, in a way, knows what I want to see and who I want to see posting. It computes a pragmatic guesstimation of what will appeal to me, knowing that prior visits to news outlets and blog posts would implicate me as the left-leaner I am, even if I don’t wish to have that be my only reality.

To break on through to the otherside, Facebook and social media as a whole shouldn’t let me get in the way. In return for my time spent on WashPo, I should be directed to an article on The National Review. For every article read on MotherJones, I should be reading the work of someone writing for The Weekly Standard. It is admittedly difficult to come up with these places off the top of my head. For myself and other snowflakes, a well-respected conservative publication is as rare as a Bill O’Reilly apology.

Guess that’s what I guess I get for living in the bubble.

Ronson, Boyd, & Carr

” Many teens turn to networked publics to explore a wider world, and that often includes a world that their parents want to protect them from.” (Boyd, 126)

We occupy this world with distinct regularity, tied to our inner impulses to check the world as it goes about its business. It’s no longer a placeholder, a mere paperweight, in our lives. No – the innocuous (or seemingly so) internet that fills parents with dread is now our not so virtual reality.

Dread, resentment, anger, frustration: All feelings that our parents might have felt at one point as we grew up and fixated on these brightly lit screens of ours. But as we know, in Boyd’s research on the interconnected lives teens live through this medium, it’s not all so doom and gloom. There is a lot to learn from young adults and their love of the internet.

What we do know, as Boyd tells us, is that through these links, teens rejoice in the freedom it allots and in the merriment they have. No longer waiting in anticipation for the next day of school, friends can now prolong an important conversation, or gossip about the day’s happenings, or find common ground with a stranger, all online. Boyd tells us that this time spend glued to the screen acts as a social lubricant, a moment of understanding between two parties as they navigate both the hostilities and bounties of being a social creature.

Essentially her argument, much like Carr and Ronson, is that our relationship with the online world and the outcomes emanating from such are quite complicated (hence the title of her book). Not a soul attempts to fabricate a complete, encyclopedic knowledge of the numerable connections the internet has on us and our lives. Not Ronson, not Carr, and certainly not Boyd. All attempt to give the reader an enhanced perspective of one arena, but all fail to paint the picture.

And that, I believe, is why these books have resonated with me, as well as members of this class. Each turn of the page furthers our understanding of the author’s thesis, yet denies is entry into another realm of thought. Perhaps deny is too strong a word; the author surely doesn’t leave out information maliciously. All of them have bested their story with facts and testimonials from people, real people, though Ronson gives us the darkest anecdotes from an online relationship gone wrong.

To briefly summarize, all three authors tell stories. Stories with facts, righteous, scientific investigations, and a striking tone. Excluding Ronson’s book, hope is felt upon completion of reading. With Carr and Boyd, I felt like I was handed an opportunity to check my own relationship. Whether it be reexamining my fraught relationship with the internet (one that was changing my neurophysiological ), or alleviating the stress I had with such relationship, I left feeling profoundly influenced to enact change, or at the very least, feel comfortable with my current use.

Ronson left me with none. His word renders me fearful of the unintended result, the invisible hand teasing me as I try to pleasantly skirt through my time online. But in reality, who knows what is out there on you. Who knows what the consequences of your thoughts are, projected for all the world to see. In fact, who knows what your thoughts, say from 5-6 years ago, were. Were they stupid? Immature?  Would you want the world to see? Does reading Ronson give you hope that it wouldn’t be taken the wrong way?

I imagine myself caught in a storm of my own doing. A tweet, just a tweet, the cause of this predicament. The content? Doesn’t matter. With all the autonomous voices out there, each unique in their dispositions, could you defend yourself? Ronson craves out a space in my mind and leaves it rung with fear and indecision. My already tepid relationship with the online world, now augmented.

But there no way to escape. I need this world. It’s no longer just a virtual reality.

I’m camera shy, and having the responsibility of entertaining someone with my voice and facial expressions leaves me flustered. So an assignment designed around video production was initially nerve racking for a few reasons. Of those reasons, I surmised that at the end of the day, I had no distinct talent to make a video or being the leading actor.

Then I remembered my videos from middle school, recalling how courageous a young Will was, stepping into the spotlight and sharing my thoughts on myriad of topics. For a few minutes, I went back to those videos and watched in agony as I stumbled my way through disjointed thoughts. At the the end of it all, I did come away with something about video production that I had forgotten about, something I tried to utilize in my video for this assignment. Whether the topic of discussion is serious or menial, video’s allow the creator to add a more observable flavor.

What I mean by that is this: In videos creation, there is very little defined for the user in terms of a checklist. A visual project, unlike a written document, rarely, if ever, follows a code of formatting. Of course the editing process weeds out the lesser of content, but for the most part, you are the only critic that’s needed to be kept in mind. Whether or not the viewer of your video appreciates your creative touch is unimportant. They don’t have a final say in the final product.

In writing, I often find that I have to cater to an unknown audience, as if my grammar and syntax have to be constantly monitored for error, as if my original thoughts aren’t quite good enough yet. Unlike the editing process for a video, which ends after the first go around (at least for the projects we completed), writing goes through multiple critiques, often spurred on by the writer them self. It may be the writing is more closely intertwined with the inner ruminations of the mind, more subservient to persistent critical thinking. Or rather, because a piece of writing exists only because of the thoughts we have, we may be more aware of the possible fallacies we have when we think.

That’s not to say that video production does not go through the same critical process. However, in my limited experience with the medium, I found it easier to scoff away a detail that didn’t hold a certain amount of continuity . It added flavor to my piece, something the audience could laugh at, or at the very least feel awkward enough after watching to laugh out of sheer pity.

Intention in both writing and video production are similar – they both serve the purpose of creating a piece of media for an audience’s entertainment, though I do find that writing and video differ in the kind of entertainment offered, generally speaking. On a whole, I feel as though video production is less academic than a written piece. In this project specifically, we only had a minute to spare, so of course we weren’t going to delve into a subject of grander purpose. But in my habitual watching of YouTube videos, I have consistently aligned my viewing tendencies with the click bait-y stuff the internet has to offer.

When I read online publications, my intention is to find something informative, something saturated in persuasive language and lyrical descriptions, usually of the day’s news or a topic of enhanced interest to me.

All of these thoughts are mine own, and just because I feel that writing has a greater maturity than video doesn’t mean I’m correct. In many cases I do find videos that stimulate my mind, ones that offer a dive into the subject matter with creative twists and beautiful visuals.

But the intention of a written piece is more aligned with this level of maturity and perspective.  More often than not, I find more delight in handing in a written assignment because I know how and why every word was chose, who careful I was in calculating my flow and formatting. I didn’t get the same rush from making the video.

Nevertheless, both the video project and the weekly writing we do are important to complete. Both will only benefit my creative processes and logical, systems-style thinking. In a way, I appreciate them both the same.

My Mom Warned Me

Beginning in 8th grade, I was introduced into the wondrous world of having a portable computer. That’s right: At the ripe ole’ age of 13, I received my first laptop, and thus began an unhealthy relationship with social media.

I was a socially active high-schooler. On many occasions, I found myself fighting with my parents to lengthen my curfew, allotting me more time to enjoy the destructive merriment my friend group would engage in. To me, the freedom to do as one pleased was indispensable. I craved time with my friends. I craved time away from my house. More importantly, I craved autonomy.

That’s why, on the weeknights of a school week, where work would overflow out of my binders and the weight of my backpack would bend and twist my spine, giving me scoliosis (actually happened), I rejoiced in the access of having a computer. It took one click to get to Facebook and instant messenger, all of this wrapped in the beauty of knowing my parents had little to no control over where I decided to venture.

However, they did attempt, to the best of their capabilities, to restrict my access to platforms like Facebook. In them, they saw a bedeviling force that depreciated my intellectual facilities while simultaneously driving my motivation levels 50 feet into the ground. Their understanding of my use was that the more time I spent aimlessly engaging with my friends, the less time I would give to my work, resulting in poorer grades and “a waste of my potential.”

Well, to put it frankly, I stood my ground when these discussions would arise. I remained steadfast in my notion that Facebook and messenger applications were the only way I could remain in contact with the social intricacies of school. Through my whining and moaning, I tried to use my limited view on social media to explain the benefits of it, but it hardly worked. I was greeted with disappointment whenever I refused to listen.

Looking back on it, I think my parents had a point. Much like Carr laid out in The Shallows, pervasive use of the internet was changing the nuerophysiological functions of my brain. What defined my development was an itch to click, to change websites, to stay connected online while my brain became more susceptible to distractedness.

But much like the stories of It’s Complicated, my story was indeed nuanced. As Boyd explains, the way adults view their teen’s use of social media is laced with extremities. Many times, they believe their kid is wasting their life away, or dancing in and around dangerous situations where someone online could enchant their kid into drug use, or worse. These fears drive much of a parent’s willingness to control their kid’s online presence.

What they don’t understand is what their kid is really engaging in when he/she goes on social media. Through her research, Boyd found that kids revel in the ability to stay in touch with friends. Their lives are over-saturated with work and sports and other activities, and for teens, social media is how they stay in the loop with friends and acquaintances. Moreover, Boyd’s research indicates the possible benefits of having a robustly active social media presence. She exclaims that the fears swirling around social media can be misguided; in actuality, a kid’s social media has constructive qualities.

Losing the cultural self

The books we read, the dinners we eat, the times we enjoy with our friends: Human beings are a collection of events, a collection of laughter and indecision and so much more. What all of these have in common are the influence they have over our brain’s connectivity. Every time we experience something, for better or for worse, it becomes a part of us.

But what happens when we fray the connections to the outside world? What happens when we disconnect ourselves from the culture of living, which includes the spectrum of events, emotions, and built-up associations between personal reaction and physical event? The understanding is that when we avoid the grandeur of the real world and infuse ourselves with the online world, we begin to lose something vital to who we are. On page 197, Carr uses the last sentence to tie together these thoughts:

“Outsource memory, and culture withers.”

As Carr states, we must renew culture in our lives, using the enormity of living instead of the humdrum of the online world. Surely, the internet is fraught with excitement and possibility. To use the Web is to sojourn on an endless journey, where you dictate your travels, thereby creating your online presence and your culture. You, of course, create culture by what you store in your memory and what you give attention to.

If that attention is given to a medium predicated on speed and quick-reaction, we might be unable to build up certain facilities of our mind. That includes memory, attentiveness, and culture. The web, appearing as a benevolent creature, can drastically alter the content of our lives, both present and future. The entanglement of connections can confuse us; alluring as it may be, who we are and who we will become is hastily changing.

I think Carr provides a valuable point about culture here. On many of my walks around campus, I notice a trend of students with their faces down, locked to their phone screens, walking without a clue as to what is in front of them. This indicates an increasing reliance some have to their phones and their online, connected world. But as we know from this book, the more robust an internet user is, and the more robust their dependence on the online world is, the more likely a permanent alteration to their being will occur.

I feel a complete lack of culture in my life sometimes. Too many people I know are hesitant to discuss larger issues humanity faces, endlessly wrapped up in the shallowness of social media and what not. We are scared to set up a culture of culture, instead leaning toward a culture of lies and inner-validation.

The foundations of a culture prided on this hollowness are beginning, setting up a future where our kids indeed follow suit. So while I worry myself over this reality, I do believe there is a remedy. Engaging in socially active conversations and events, making a point to seek them out in the future, and repeating might blur the necessity we have to our phones. I like to think that there is a greater culture to subscribe to out there.

 

 

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A picture from my computer (I believe it was one of my wallpaper options), signifying that through a cluster of branches lies the sun, a force of hope breaking through a filtered barrier. In this case, the loss of culture represents the branches and the sun represents a break from this disintegration. Hope.

Information Overlord

“The Net has become my all purpose medium… The advantages of having immediate access to such an incredibly rich and easily searched store of data are many…” (6)

In praise of what the internet has afforded him, Nicholas Carr can’t be too cynical when dissecting the flaws of our internet culture. Not without some self-examination, at least. The author of The Shallows set out to define one our generation’s most pressing issues in regard to the advent of this incredible technology: How our relationship with the internet is affecting us, and how the interlocking of our lives with this extraordinary access has radically shifted the human brain’s cognitive functioning.

But as he notes early in his book, Carr understands the privilege he and many others have received thanks to this immense amount of data. It is precisely how a lot of the information in the book was researched and fact-checked. Whether this truth is discernible to both Carr and the reader is menial, irrespective of the tale being told. The fact of the matter is that when you write a book about the harms of the internet and the kaleidoscopic access we have to quick snit bits of information, you end up relying on that very system you paint with caution.

So with a candid admission of his reliance, Carr then moves forward to surmise that our intake of information has always been under scrutiny. Using examples from the time of Aristotle and Plato, Carr displays the discussions of previous generations and how they might not be so different than the ones we have today. Plato’s disagreement with Socrates over the aptitude of an orator’s mind exemplifies the historical bouts between those who saw both advantages and flaws in information dissemination. In the same way that Plato argues that the writer’s mind presents the strengthening of the mind’s “logical , rigorous, [and] self reliant” facilities, we too discuss the ramifications of the internet’s affect on our mind’s mental capacities.

What hasn’t been overlooked in Carr’s tale – an aspect I find correctly prurient to any conversation we have about the internet’s range of influence – is how the neuroplasticity of the brain is altered when internet use becomes a pervasive aspect of our lives. Many report an inability to hold concentration, a loss of their patience with reading long passages, and other cognitive shortfalls, stemming from the ping-pong-like mannerisms of the internet. This, in return, fundamentally restructures the brain’s neural pathways in ways that seldom represent a positive alteration. My respect is paid to Carr for this inclusion of information, for I am student of both the literature and nueropsychological disciplines. In reading this book, I find myself in a constant state of admiration over the excellent control of language and the detailed cataloging of relevant research on the brain.

It is with great fear, sprinkled with hints of awe, that while I read this, I find myself fitting the mold of someone who should worry about their internet use and the subsequent underpinnings of such use. These worries are not exclusive to me, and I fear that while we all revel in the connectedness of our world, we may begin to forget the importance of turning away from our blue-lit screens.