My Favorite

There are so many great writers in this class and each one has had a unique post for every assignment. I have enjoyed a lot of these pieces but I have been really struck by Mackenzie’s piece “Messages” from the Writing as Social Action assignment. Her topic here is one that most students are aware of as likely most students have heard Kirkbride Jesus preach at one point or another, and there are probably many of us who have also contributed to the online response to Mark at one point or another making her post extremely relatable. Her post here was extremely well written and I really liked how she introduced the topic with a very descriptive opening and a quote by Mark: “But in the heard of people moving to the same places, once you go under the overpass and can see Trabant, the calling begins. ‘God is watching you right now.’.”

Specifically, I thought her incorporation of quotes throughout her piece was very different from what other people posted about for this assignment. She focused her post on the general reaction from the populace and her own feelings about it, highlighting her involvement in the response with a few tweets. But she didn’t focus her entire piece around the tweets she had written, she only used them to emphasize her purpose and, to me, it had a very interesting effect that worked really well. And definitely, I thought her closing paragraph had some thoughtful insights. I tend to tune out the Kirkbride Jesus when I walk by while he’s there, but I never considered it to be similar to advertising from big name companies in a way: “Companies share messages too. We pass by them as consumers and can choose to listen and learn or can choose to pass by.” It’s interesting to think how they throw out messages about their products and even if no one responds directly, they are still getting their word out and perhaps, just like with Kirkbride Jesus, there is a response to it in an online community.

A New Digital Writer

The person I have chosen to write about is my sister, Elaina Strong, who is fairly new to the idea of “digital writer” as she has recently started a new public Instagram account under the name “minimalistwithkids” where she posts pictures of her minimalistic lifestyle with 3 children as well as a score of DIY crafts, chemical free products, eco friendly habits and gardening and nature hobbies. I thought she would be interesting to interview considering how she created this account about 3 weeks ago and has already seen an influx of followers from people who share her interests. It’s unique to see the difference between her usage of her private Instagram account and her new public one and how it has influenced her as a new digital writer.

I start by asking her what inspired her to create this new, minimalist account:

Elaina: “Honestly, I’m a stay at home mom. Everything I do is for my kids and I’m also a minimalist, I needed something for myself. I do a lot of DIY and crafts, I know a lot about de-cluttering and simplifying your life and I wanted to broadcast, not necessarily my ways, but show people how I live and how simplifying helps you live a happier life.”

So this simplistic lifestyle, this is the story and the message that you want this account to emphasize to your followers?

Elaina: “Yes, I actually, I have a lot of nature on my account. I take the kids on a lot of nature walks, I try to teach people that being outside is good for your health and your body and to also be very eco-friendly.”

Would you say that, compared to your private account, you take more time to plan these pictures or to choose what to post or what to say?

Elaina: “Absolutely, I do take more time to plan out what I’m going to post to write about it, some of the posts take a lot of thought and time, sometimes they, you know, are DIY, they’re crafting. I teach people how to make things like deodorant, and I’m actually coming up with a post on how to make a lice spray. I have children in preschool and elementary school and sometimes we get letters that lice has gone around, so I’ve made a lice repellant with essential oils.”

So, how do you think your use of hash tags has changed since you started this account and what kind of response have you experienced because of it?

Elaina: “I’ve become more detailed with my hash tags. I have to think of everything so that I get more views, I usually go a little crazy with the hash tags and if I use more hash tags I actually get a lot more people looking at my Instagram page.”

I took this time to notice that she has received comments on several of her pictures by Instagram users with similar public accounts, some of whom have thousands of followers. I asked Elaina how this kind of reaction effected her

Elaina: “A lot of them are moms, and I feel a huge support network. We’re all moms or we’re all minimalists or, you know, zero waste or eco friendly users so I feel a huge support.  I feel like I’ve got so many people backing me up and I’m backing up a lot of people and we all have bad days, you know, we try to build each other up. Bad days with the kids or bad days just in general or someone just forgot their coffee, we’re cheering people on so they can make it through the rest of their day.”

My last question for her was then: What would you do differently to relate this story through other mediums if you had chosen something other than Instagram, like an online blog or twitter of Facebook?

Elaina: “Yeah, I think I would have a blog, but I think a blog is a lot of work so that’s why I felt an Instagram was a little easier for me. I feel like, with a blog I would be sitting in front of the computer a lot and would be typing a lot and I wouldn’t have a lot of time. Instagram is a lot easier for me. I snap a picture and I type it up real quick and I use the hash tags and people see it a lot easier. Also moms are super busy, I personally don’t have a lot of time to read blogs, but I do have time to read a quick little Instagram paragraph.”

Here are some examples from her Instagram

No Response to Outside Issues

As a person who rarely posts on social media, especially about anything topics intensely debated, I was not sure I was well prepared for this kind of assignment. To scroll through the issues of today plastered all over social media feeds and read the comments of passionate people is entirely different from being the one to make those posts. The issue I decided to post about for my social action assignment is considerably tamer than most posts I come across, but it is something important to myself that I decided I would attempt to inform others about. I chose to write about the abandonment of rabbits around the Easter holiday and how this degree of animal cruelty is incredibly overlooked against the stream of political debates, global worries and even issues of animal cruelty surrounding more popular species. It seemed a trivial topic, but something I wanted to attempt to bring to light and hoped would spark some kind of debate. The internet is a place for all sorts of discussions to happen despite whether they have a heavy relevance to the times and I considered this post as a kind of test to see if anyone would react. I received no likes or shares on my post and only a single comment from a family member. The video I used in my post was from a very renowned magazine, the National Geographic, which I had hoped would inspire more conversation. Knowing the Easter holiday has since passed, I still hoped to grab the attention of those who might understand that the issue of rabbit abandonment is still high at this time. Perhaps with more time might come more interaction with my post from the public.

Here is a link to the Facebook post I made.

The Internet is a Dangerous Place

I found it interesting that there was a similar stance of technology as dangerous in all three books that we have read so far this semester. Each book has made a stance on the pulpit of technology and the pros and cons of these advances as they continue to develop and intertwine with our evolving society. But especially when it came to Ronson and Boyd since there was a hint of these authors leaning more towards pro technology only to outline some key dangers of it. Boyd implies it is a means of communication that we never had access to before. Ronson points out how it can give a voice to justice and gives power to people who would otherwise have no means of making themselves heard. In each case, however, there is an underlying concern of technology as a dangerous thing when mismanaged and misused.

Ronson and Boyd both seemed to have strong feelings of technology as a way of communication and interaction with people. In Boyd’s case, she emphasized this idea that younger generations have more restrictions when it comes to interacting with people out in society than what the older generations once had, there’s less available space for these kids to be themselves with other young people. Thus the incorporation of social media opens up a gateway for youth to interact with like-minded people, creating a new space for them to open up. However, this also opens the door to things such as cyber bullying, hackers and access to inappropriate content that would otherwise be unavailable to them and so on. Ronson too starts his book with the same ideals of technology as a beacon for something  good, like justice. He begins with an example of how his identity over twitter was stolen and used as an “infomorph” by a team of academics who only took it down after a barrage of internet shaming. Ronson illustrates how even if something is askew in the internet world, if someone misuses the channels of technology in a heinous way, it could be righted by the mass voice of the people. Here too, we see as the book progresses, there is an underside to this method of justice he once admired. Innocent lives were ruined forever by this mass voice, but whether the sentence was truly deserved or not, one thing was clear, there was no forgiveness or redemption for these people who were publicly shamed.

It can be said that any new advancement or step forward, no matter how well intended, can be misused and thus become a hazard. I think throughout these books, we see that despite how well intentioned the use of technology can be, there is always going to be someone to misuse it, creating a sense of danger in the online world entirely unique from ones in reality. Even if Ronson and Boyd want to point out and emphasize just how much good can come from technology, they cannot avoid the fact that there is so much bad tied along with it, and I think that, despite how positive the tone of these books may seem at first, it elicits a deep cynicism towards technology and how helpful it actually is.

Rohnson and Carr: Maybe Not So Different After All

When comparing Jon Rohnson’s perspective on digital culture in So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed to Nicholas Carr’s in The Shadows, it is evident that they have very different stances on the topic of social media. It is clearly to any user of social media that it can be dangerous, we just have to make sure users are educated enough to avoid the mistakes that can be easily made. Carr has an overall negative standpoint on social media, while Johnson is more realistic on the topic. Johnson believes that as long as users understand the effects of social media and the proper etiquette of using it, then there should not be any major issues.

One woman in particular was unaware of proper social media etiquette, and allowed one series of tweets give her a horrible reputation not only on twitter, but in her job field and in society in general. In December of 2013, Justine Sacco made the mistake of tweeting about her travels in a distasteful, ignorant manner that gave her possibly the worst reputation on social media at the time. After receiving no responses to her online actions in the beginning, she assumed people did not think much of her tweets. By the time her next flight landed, she quickly learned that was incorrect. She checked her phone to see a message from an old friend reading “I’m so sorry to see what’s happening” (Rohnson 67). Without even thinking twice about what she was tweeting within each of the 140 character tweets, Sacco fell into the category of being publicly shamed, for the entire world of social media to see. She did not truly have bad intentions, but this just proves that things can be misinterpreted once they are posted online and it is definitely better to be safe than sorry.

Although Johnson does not have as negative of a viewpoint on digital culture as Carr does, his story about Sacco is definitely an example of social media gone wrong. Carr is right in situations like these; one may not know the negative impacts of social media and could potentially ruin an aspect of his or her life with it. Carr continues to explain how technology is impacting our brains, not necessarily in a positive manner. “What’s been harder to discern is the influence of technologies, particularly intellectual technologies, on the functioning of people’s brains (Carr 48). People commonly assume that it is more acceptable to say things on social media than in person since it is not said directly to a person’s face. In Johnson’s view of needing to be educated on how to properly conduct social media, he and Carr are most definitely on the same page in regards to Sacco, since she let the internet take over her actions.

Affordances and Public Shaming on the Internet

When looking for connections or contrasts between Danah Boyd’s “It’s Complicated” and Ronson’s “So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed”, I found that the affordances of technology, specifically social media, Boyd describes enables the public internet shaming Ronson talks about. Boyd discusses four aspects of these affordances, which are “persistence: the durability of online expressions and content, visibility: the potential audience who can bear witness, spreadability,: the ease with which content can be shared and searchability: the ability to find content.” (Boyd 11).

These four contributing factors of affordance make it possible for us to shame one another on a larger public scale than ever before. Due to the durability of online expressions and content, people find trouble retracting statements they mistakenly make, because even when their presence is deleted, the tweet or post lives on. The visibility aspect of affordances is immense; millions of people have access to your personal social media platform with just a click. I also want to pause and raise the question: what does this mean for us as people? I can convey ideas about myself and life easily through social media, and none of them are reflections of my truest self. Can we access depictions of one another so easily that we’re numb to the actual human behind the screen? Completely.

The spreadability social media holds is immense, the websites we actively go on make it incredibly easy for us to “retweet” “share” and “like” things. So when one person finds another’s actions indisputable, and expresses so through social media, it is extremely easy for others to hop on without fully forming their own opinions. This is what enables such public shaming to take place.

All of these affordances contribute to the power of social media, but they not only enable public shaming, but through “liking” and “retweeting”, they almost encourage it.

It’s difficult to pick a Ronson quote that completely conveys the power of the internet, and in turn the ability it gives us to shame one another. The best way to connect to Boyd’s idea of affordances is when Ronson says, “On the Internet we have power in situations where we would otherwise be powerless.” (Ronson 123). It’s anxiety-inducing to think we hold access to the world in the palm of our hand, and I don’t find that to be an exaggeration. The public shaming Ronson describes in his book is the perfect depiction of it. You screw up once, and people will hold it against you forever. But technology is getting in the way of our basic human sympathies. I am not for racist remarks, or plagiarism, but I know people make mistakes and misjudgments. It’s how we grow and understand what’s acceptable and what’s not. Online bullying is a huge thing teenagers face today. It’s difficult to see adults participate just as easily, just because they can. 

Internet Etiquette: Put Down Your (Pitch) Fork

The differences in the discussions of Ronson and Boyd focus on different aspects of a larger problem. They contrast in their focus, however: they both write about a common issue. The internet is an almost unavoidable, all encompassing aspect of our society today. While perhaps not fully ingrained yet, based on its evolution over the course of the 21st century, within the span of a decade, social media has changed the world wide web from a fringe destination into a hotbed of social communication and forum.

Boyd sought to discover how social media and networks were affecting teens. Certainly my generation was trained in offline social behavior and real-life social situations, as were those before me. But to expect that we know how to act on this new plane of existence and to think the internet is anything more than a wild, lawless Serengeti is a stretch. Boyd discovered that teens found identity and social groups through social media: they could express and live parts of themselves through the online space that they were barred from doing offline: this is new explorable territory. But it isn’t like there was some in depth walkthrough of the technology and applications they were using. The internet has many hidden challenges and aspects that if more people considered, especially in terms of social media, they might find disturbing. Teens and the rest of us face the challenges of social media, many of which are in our face such as hiding private information from parents, as well as more nuanced concepts: understanding that future employers may be interested in our internet history or our tweets. Boyd warns that the internet and social media may be more troublesome and complex than we make it out to be.

“The issues of persistence, visibility, spreadability, and search-ability…fundamentally affect their experiences in networked publics. They must negotiate invisible audiences and the collapsing of contexts (Boyd 203).”

The internet and social media provide us with challenges similar to real life but with certain twists. Knowing when to speak, what to say, understanding who my audience is: these are common skills in social etiquette. But when on the internet, its a whole new ball game. I think most young people now are extraordinarily cautious of what they post on the internet. I myself have been hugely reluctant to bite on social media for many reasons, but notably for fear that I might ‘mess up’ and cause a problem. It honestly boggles my mind that spokespeople for certain companies, or people affiliated with spotlight job positions think they can use a media platform so freely. How can they not understand the outcomes of their words in their position that POTENTIALLY could be created (even if it is a ‘harmless’ joke/tweet/post). People need to understand the realities of the internet. Sure, ideally, people don’t take things out of context, or journalists don’t post snippets of tweets or posts to paint a defamatory picture of someone: but this will and DOES happen. Boyd focuses on the challenges of social media and how teens interact with their peers through this means of communication. But she still focuses very much on the problems of etiquette, similar to Ronson.

Ronson focuses his work on public shaming through digital media. He sees that the affordances and constraints of the internet allow for a skewing of context and information, and for a shaming that would be otherwise impossible in this society. This skewing creates the destruction of people’s lives as it did in the case of Justine Sacco. Even when context is correctly established, such as in the Lehrer case, he still sees Draconian like responses to individuals from the mouths of the masses. Ronson calls for the horde, the sweltering masses of angry, pitchfork and torch wielding conformists to find another means of expression.

“How come people can come together, often spontaneously, often without leadership, and act together in ideologically intelligible ways? If you can answer that, you get a long way toward understanding human sociality. That is why, instead of being an aberration, crowds are so important and so fascinating (Ronson 105).”

Both writers seem hopeful that someday we will reach as a collective society an understanding of proper internet etiquette. If real life is any indication of internet society there is definitely potential that we may eventually get it right: no more public shaming, people free to act, no misinterpretations of context. Civil rights development and even political development took and is still taking quite a while to develop: so do your best to make the web a better place but don’t be a lofty idealist.