“Social Dinners” and Laptops in Classes: Turkle and Wesch’s Surprisingly Accurate Representations

Throughout engaging with all the course material this week, I was reminded of an experience that reflects the social interactions of many students. My group of friends, about 4 to 5 of us, were all eating dinner together and we had begun winding down somewhat, having finished most of what we were all planning on eating for the night. Unsurprisingly, out came the phones and each of us began engaging with something that had absolutely nothing to do with any of the people around us. It was at this time that one of my friends looked up from his food, looked around and said, “Boy, I sure do love social dinners,” his sarcasm evident. The rest of us then looked up from our phones, realized that he very much had a point, and then attempted to actually carry on some conversation for the rest of our time at the table that night.

This wasn’t the only time this happened, and it’s not necessarily representative of every group dinner for students at colleges, but it reminded me a lot of Sherry Turkle’s points in Stop Googling. Let’s Talk. Often, when analysts use college students as their prime example of certain trends, they have a tendency to exaggerate or misrepresent the actual behaviors of the students or the reasons behind their behavior. What stood out to me about both Turkle and Michael Wesch’s representations in their talks was the startlingly high level of accuracy and fairness.

Turkle’s discussion about how students feel like they can do things on their phones and still carry on a good conversation at the same time without any loss between either activity really struck true. I catch myself doing this sometimes and it’s definitely something that I’ve noticed my friends and acquaintances doing as well. The reason I say that I catch myself is that in truth, I do actually know that I’m neglecting one of the two tasks that I’m trying to do simultaneously when I engage in this practice, but a lot of the time I’m willing to lie to myself about the ability in this area that I don’t actually possess until someone calls me out on it. It’s partially due to this fact that most of the groups that I’ve worked with for group projects have a rule of no looking at our phones when we’re meeting together.

In the same vein, the “rule of three”  that “in a conversation among five or six people at dinner, you have to check that three people are paying attention — heads up — before you give yourself permission to look down at your phone” (Turkle, 1), is one that my friend group followed all the time in past semesters, often without actively realizing that we were following it. When I have dinners with my Frisbee team, or “Frinners” as we call them, I also see this rule in play. Overall, Turkle had a really balanced and well-reasoned representation of college students and the way that technology influences their social interactions with each other negatively a lot of the time.

Wesch followed the same trend. This might be due to the fact that he sampled the college students that he had the best access to in such a collaborative manner, but I felt that his discussion of how students behave in classes when they have access to their laptops was very accurate. In my Media Theory & Methods and Play & Interactive Media classes, laptops are allowed in class with no restrictions and I’ve seen all the things that Wesch pointed out and more. Not just playing around on Facebook, but in other cases, I’ve seen laptops engaged in online shopping, flash games and on one occasion, a full on Netflix show with subtitles on. I’ve obtained this collection of distraction examples across multiple years of classes, but I still feel like it makes a good point about how we’re brought up to view entertainment.

It’s almost impossible, no matter how excellent or engaging a teacher might be as they move through the material, to keep everyone in class’s attention at all times. As Turkle and Wesch point out, accurately I feel, we are taught by our connection to a constant stream of information that we should always be doing something to stay entertained. So when the class material shifts to something that doesn’t hold the students interest fully, in a lecture format especially, it seems completely natural to us to switch over to something else that will hold our attention for that time instead.

So what’s the solution? Well, some professors take the approach that students aren’t allowed to have laptops without an accommodation request from the Office of Disability Services. I’ve had several professors who use this method and overall I’d say that it’s fairly effective but may miss out on dealing with the actual issue itself. The other main strategy I’ve seen is to integrate as much varied multimedia content and relevant asides into the lecture classes as possible and make as much of the class as possible either group discussion or lab type activities. This is certainly more engaging, but for some classes or teachers, this strategy might be difficult to incorporate into their material.

In the end, just as technology is constantly evolving, so is education, both higher and lower. Perhaps the answer is a mix of currently existing methods, perhaps it is something that we haven’t thought of yet or perhaps phrasing it in terms of problem and solution is the wrong way to go about it, only the innovation of education and the passage of time will tell.

Militarized Trolling and the Media’s Weakness Against Trolls

When reading the Data and Society report on Media Manipulation, one particular case study stood out to me. The description of how the Daily Stormer managed to exploit the media to accomplish several of its goals was quite worrying and did a really good job of emphasizing the inherent vulnerabilities that the American media has because of how it has built up its business model.

The questions of what is “true” and what is a “fact” are a lot more difficult sometimes than people would like them to be. After all, so much of what we experience is based on our perceptions of the world around us. The declared goal of the media is to present the facts, but that’s not the whole story. Yes, they present facts, but as other Media and Communications classes that I’ve taken have discussed, they specifically present only the “interesting” facts.

What makes a fact interesting or not is debatable, of course, but this desire to have more and more eyes on what they’re producing ends up leading the media to present stories that are often about things that aren’t normal. After all, which of these sounds like a headline you’d be more likely to read, “Local man does Taxes for the 20th year in a row” or “Local man saves baby from burning building”? For most people, they would be more interested in the second option.

This is an inherent vulnerability when it comes to the media’s interactions with openly racist groups. This is a horrifying perspective to most Americans and therefore a very attention-grabbing news story.  In the case of the Daily Stormer, their fake story about White Student Unions exploited these vulnerabilities. The only way that media will be able to defend itself against this kind of assault on its credibility and the ability for groups like this to get easy free publicity is to move away from the sensationalistic perspective that they’ve embraced for so long.  It won’t be an easy road, but it will definitely be a worthwhile one.

Memes as a Force for Social Change or Just Empty Jokes?

The experience of creating a meme was an interesting one.  I had never created a meme before but I found the template to be fairly intuitive and easy to use, which explains why these memes that have an easy template and great potential for variety become so popular and omnipresent in many internet communities.

My meme didn’t really gain any traction and only two academic figures, Professor Taub included, liked it on Twitter. This doesn’t surprise me, however, as I don’t use my Twitter for anything except academic work and therefore I don’t have many followers nor am I following many people.

In regards to different variations, I feel like if I had posted it on my Facebook, it would have gathered a lot of engagement as I am fairly active on that platform. From what I saw, pretty much everyone in the class didn’t get a huge amount of engagement, but I could be missing some that did, in fact, take off.

I feel like certain memes lend themselves better to conveying serious social commentary than others. Serious may be the wrong word, however, as the goal of memes is to make people laugh and therefore it seems like the goal of social commentary memes would be to make people both laugh and think, or laugh while learning, much like a lot of political comedy.

Overall, the platform of memes being used in an attempt to create social change seems like one that can be successful. One website where this is particularly prevalent is Imgur, an image sharing site.

When I was active on there, I saw a lot of memes that actually conveyed an interesting and noteworthy message being the ones that got upvoted the most. The platform has promise, but it won’t work with every meme and picking and choosing which should be used well is going to be key to its success.

Privacy, Facebook and Generational Differing Opinions

These past two weeks were a unique opportunity to be at the head of a developing, major story in Media & Communications. Seeing the head of Facebook himself, Mark Zuckerberg, sitting in front of Congress and attempting to justify it all was truly incredible to witness. Our class and the interviews that we produced felt like real qualitative interview type research, albeit on a very personal level.

In a way though, the fact that they were highly personal was one of the strongest aspects of the interviews that were collected. You could tell from listening that the interviewees felt they could really speak their minds. This led to a wide variety of perspectives on the subjects of Cambridge Analytica, privacy and lack of privacy on Facebook and to a lesser degree, other social media platforms as well, in which I saw a generational divide to some extent.

From the people who felt that Facebook was completely overstepping their bounds and something needs to be done to prevent them from completely taking over our data online, to the people who were less worried because they either didn’t keep anything they felt was in any way private information online, or they just didn’t care who got what they did decide to share, within these two weeks I learned a lot about how people view Facebook and their privacy online who haven’t taken a class like bergNIT.

Tim Clarke, @floatingtim on Twitter,  really opened my eyes to some of the serious forms of harm that could come from having no privacy on sites like Facebook.  The idea that we could be taken advantage of by predatory advertising based on our current life situation is stunning and deserves serious consideration by any user of social media. This course has been eye-opening in general, but these two weeks in particular, perhaps because of the immediacy, have been deeply influential in my view of the internet and I’m definitely going to keep an eye on these issues moving foward.