Media Diary: Day 7, Final Thoughts

FINAL THOUGHTS

This media diary assignment has certainly been an illuminating opportunity to critically engage with my media consumption tendencies and habits. Self-monitoring my media intake this week has certainly been an interesting task, and it has really forced me to take a closer look both at my media habits and also the relationship of my habits with some of the theories we frequently invoke as students of mass communications.

I was first of all struck by how difficult the demarcation of media consumption from other facets of daily life has become.  I’m a product of the “rabbit-ears” pre-Nintendo generation, so I still have strong memories of growing up in a house where the TV had its own room you had to visit for your media consumption.  Setting times for video media consumption (or limits, in the case of my parents) was facilitated by its distinct separation from the rest of daily life.  Now, though… An individual can scarcely function today without access to a personal computer, and on the laptop, live, new, media feeds aren’t an issue of heading back to the TV room, but of sliding the cursor a few inches down and clicking on that shiny orange-and-blue Firefox icon.  It makes it so hard to differentiate “media” time from “non-media” time.  It’s all sort of become one amorphous blob of existence, the only dividing line is no longer physical space but simply self-control.

I also noticed a nuance of the “parasocial interaction” concept I’d never noticed before.  Parasocial interaction is typically formalized as the use of pseudo-relationships with media characters to encourage behavior change, but I’d never really thought about just how the principle works.  Traditionally, I feel like the parasocial relationship component has been characterized as kind of a long-term commitment by the audience to consume a certain media text. Strangely, though, this week, when I was sick and stuck at home, I was also very lonely (OK, maybe that part isn’t so strange).  What was strange was my tendency to turn on the Netflix not so much for deliberate media consumption, but rather just for the sense of human voices in my daily life. I wasn’t experiencing deep connections with the characters of these programs, but at the same time, just the sound of their voices echoing in the living room while I wallowed in my disease was strangely comforting.  It filled the void left by failure to attend class or engage in other social pursuits.  I’m still struggling with what this means, exactly, but I can’t shake the thought that it must be significant.

Third, I also noticed the media’s obsession with itself. I’ve read about the phenomenon in the past, this kind of fundamentally narcissistic, yet simultaneously self-deprecating introspection in the mass-media (in case you’re wondering what I mean, just try an episode of NBC’s “30 Rock”). There were a few moments this week where it was really laid bare for me.  I mentioned that I spent some time in the videogame world of Sony’s “Playstation Home.” What I neglected to discuss at the time is that in “Playstation Home” it is possible to visit movie theaters or to purchase a TV. Theaters and televisions that work. Theaters and televisions that actually deliver on-demand content. At one point this week, I realized that I was actually watching my avatar watching a real-life movie (“Resident Evil”) on a TV on my TV. (It was pretty Inceptiony.) Truthfully, it was reminiscent of the old idea of life imitating art. I also sort of complained about this dynamic in discussing news stories about Obama’s “Costanza” moment. The media commenting on real-life imitating media which itself was an attempt to imitate life. Some of the critical-cultural literature touches on this, this sort of cycle of cultural repetition in which media content tries to replicate what it sees in real-life, but in turn is imitated by its audience trying to replicate what they’ve seen on TV. While reading it in the literature is always tantalizing, suddenly observing myself in just such a cycle was unsettling, to say the least.

For that matter, I also think that this dovetails into the pressure on the modern media to “sell itself.” In the Fuchs piece we read for last week, Fuchs cited the classic Smythe observations on the economics of media “the audience commodity hypothesis” (2012,  p 145). While Smythe’s analysis suggests a startling crassness in a media system willing to turn it’s audiences into commodities to be sold, the truth is that it does so (sometimes clumsily) with itself, as well. The obsession with “franchises” in Hollywood cinema today, for example, is dangerously dependent on the notion that it will be easier for the media to sell itself as a repackaged version of the same product over and over, rather than as something innovative or new.  Disney’s “Pirates of the Caribbean” franchise is a great example.  The first film in the series was fantastic.  The second, though, was horrific. Literally a giant circuit of plot, despite the trials and tribulations of the characters involved, the film ended EXACTLY where it began, and it ended quite (and no, I’m not making this up) in the middle of a scene.  There was no resolution, no end to the action, the entire film was just a giant, two-and-a-half hour commercial for the next installment in the series: completely without merit as a standalone text… Lame…

I should be careful, though. There were some pretty amazing moments in my media experience this week, as well, some of which I didn’t document as well as I ought to have.

Without doubt, my favorite media moment of this week was one that I didn’t even enter into my diary, as at the time I didn’t think too much of it, but looking back, was actually pretty special. Thursday of this week, my girlfriend excitedly called me from the dining room.  “Jon, Jon! You’ve got to see this!” She began.

She began playing a clip on her Weibo account.

It was Psy’s “Gangnam Style,” the ridiculous viral hit from a Korean pseudo-pop star mocking life in Gangnam, an affluent neighborhood in Seoul. (I actually lived near Gangnam for over a year, and I can testify that although hyperbolic, the clip is actually a pretty good mockery of the lifestyles there.) If your Facebook feed is anything like mine, though, you’ve already heard “Gangnam Style” eleventy-billion times, and although it is certainly catchy, you don’t particularly care if you ever hear it again.

Because of my burnout with the song itself, I didn’t pay too much attention to it, and as it wasn’t media I’d self-selected (nor did I sit through the entire clip) I didn’t bother to enter it into my diary.  Looking back, though, that was a mistake.

These days, hit pop songs are invariably treated to a million different revisions.  I’ve seen a dozen different remixes of the “Gangnam Style” video. I’ve seen at least a dozen different reshoots of the video with individuals emulating Psy’s signature “galloping horse” style dance move (it’s even more ridiculous than it sounds). I’ve seen the song reproduced by the marching band of the Ohio University. I’ve even seen an “Angry-Hitler” (itself an internet meme) remix of the video.  The clip my girlfriend had found was a reshoot of the original song made by students (cadets? ) at the United States Naval Academy in Annapolis.  While the video was cute, there wasn’t anything particularly special about the video, and so I didn’t really think about it at the time.

Looking back, though… holy crap…

I was seeing a U.S. military cover of a Korean pop-song being hosted on a Chinese social media website. (Even thinking about it now sends a shiver down my spine. So I’m going to retype that sentence, as much for my own edification as for yours, dear reader.) I was seeing a video of U.S. military personnel covering a Korean pop-song on a Chinese social media site…

Despite the fact that my media journal has been pretty cynical over the last week (I’m a fairly jaded consumer), just thinking again about that little two-minute clip inspires in me a sense of awe and wonder about the modern state of media.  Maybe I complain too often about the commodification of consumers, about the death of privacy in the emergence of social media, about the hegemonic implications of arguing for U.S.-centric media policies as a tenet of social media.  Once you push past the mechanics of the media as an institution or the theories surrounding media as an object of study, digital clips of smiling U.S. sailors galloping around the docks of the USNA while singing songs in a language they don’t understand subtitled in a language that I’m pretty sure nobody understands become a pretty amazing summation of the contemporary social media experience.

What an amazing time to be alive.

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Media Diary Day 6:

This morning dawned with me heading online to check my Facebook at around 7:00. I casually browsed the site as I waited for my coffee to brew. I was sort of cruising various news websites when I realized, to my horror, that it was 8:45 and I hadn’t written my Media Diary yet.  I frantically jumped over to my wordpress page and began writing frenetically.  I submitted the diary entry at almost exactly the 9:00, but I realized that my diary entry was full of grammatical errors.  Following a rather lengthy edit, I was finally ready to resubmit.

The night before I had stayed awake rather late working on thesis issues, and so I was feeling quite exhausted following my media diary resubmit (coffee doesn’t even really make a dent these days). So rather embarrassingly, I decided to take a nap. On a weekday. At 9:30 in the morning…

I woke up from my nap at about 10:30, with my girlfriend arriving shortly after an exam she had that morning. We had a few errands to run, so we hopped in her car and headed out.  We picked Magic 101.3 for the drive, but when I noticed the engine sounded like it was running rough, we opted to turn off the radio and listen for any trouble. When we stopped for gas, I decided to check things out under the hood and realized that we had an oil leak that had left the car very low. Plans suddenly changed, I found myself spending the afternoon in a Jiffy Lube waiting room. Bizarrely enough, apparently Jiffy Lube has their own closed-circuit TV channel where I got to learn all sorts of things that I should give them money to fix, as well as (weirdly) what happens when you toss a Macbook Air into a tub of water (the simple answer is, just don’t throw it in a tub of water).

The experience really set me to thinking about the ubiquity of media today. Even the old oil and lube service station now feels the need, not only to provide media content to users in its waiting room, but to provide tailored content to try to drive further purchasing behaviors.  This week we read about how content providers online use cookies and tracking software to “spy” on their users and to provide advertising and links more likely to appeal to potential customers.  Really, though, despite the tech-savvy nature of the system, now, is it any different than the traditional models of mass media?  We see tons of advertisements for power wheelchairs and pet medication delivery services on Fox News channel because advertisers know that that’s where OLD PEOPLE get their news. Aren’t cookies and trackers essentially the same principle, just updated?

At any rate, following the unscheduled outing to the mechanics, that storm was rolling in yesterday afternoon, and so we decided to return back to the house. Once there I did some work on my school stuff, and then, amazingly, actually played a VIDEO GAME on my PS3 (it was the first time I’d done so in nearly a week). Playstation has an application linked to their PS3s now called “Playstation Home” which feels very similar to Second Life.  In it, users can build an avatar, are rewarded with a small house, and can then traipse around the online world of the Home community.

I spent a few hours running around the Home area, and then it was decided that we should watch some Netflix instead. After a bit of a debate about what to watch, my gf and I finally compromised and settled on a handful of old episodes of the Discovery Channel’s “Mythbusters.”  I enjoy the show, but just like every other time I try to watch Mythbusters, I fell asleep halfway through the first episode… Ah well…

Media Diary Day 5: I’m nearly done!

This morning started with my traditional ring around the media sites I typically start my days with. 30 minutes on Facebook over my morning coffee, followed by a trip into the pundit analyses of the preceding evening’s debates on The Atlantic and CNN.  There were a few interesting themes I noticed when I stitched the two experiences together.  According to what seemed to be a majority of the professional punditry, Romney had “won” the debate (whatever that means).   Intriguingly, though, the way this victory was framed was fascinating. For many pundits, this debate performance (and Obama’s seeming lethargy simultaneously) seemed to suggest some sort of watershed moment in the campaign, as though the debate performance was a sign of things to come.  This frame, of course, was amazingly provocative for many supporters of the incumbent president, and so the activity in the message boards was ferocious.

One page on The Atlantic argued that Obama’s lethargic performance evidenced a “lack-of-heart,” as though the president weren’t interested in winning the re-election. I wasn’t particularly interested in the debate outcome, I couldn’t help but post a comment on the piece. A comment I thought was relatively moderate. (If you’re curious, the comment can be found here). Interestingly, although intended to be moderate, the feedback on the comment was amazingly inflammatory. For Democrats, I was an idiot because I was totally wrong in believing that Obama might be exhausted from four-year stint in literally the hardest job on the planet earth. For Republicans, I was an idiot because Obama can’t just be tired, the problem was clearly his staggering incompetence and inability to do said job. Thus began the flame-war on The Atlantic message boards…

While at first I was tempted to dismiss these reactions as simply symptomatic of the polarizing nature of political debate, particularly in a charged, public forum such as that on The Atlantic, I had to update my assessment when a similar dynamic began to unfold on my Facebook wall. For my friends whose “profile pictures” are now pro-Obama campaign messages, the day was one of forwarding links claiming that Romney won the debate because he lied and because Jim Lehrer (the debate moderator) is an idiot. For my friends whose “profile pictures” are now pro-Romney campaign posters, the day was one of forwarding links claiming that the debate was the campaign watershed, and that now that the Romney camp has found its “center” the election is an assured Republican victory.  Fascinatingly, for both groups of friends, the claim was invariably that they “weren’t looking for a fight” and just wanted to “share information.” Both groups were absolutely convinced that the information they were spreading was some sort of public service announcement, rather than an extension of the campaigning.  Both were also convinced that sharing polarizing information in a public forum isn’t controversial because they “weren’t looking for a fight.”
It felt vaguely like when a guest at a dinner party starts an observation by saying, “I don’t mean to sound racist, but…”  The second somebody says those words, “racist” is exactly what they’re about to sound. Similarly, if somebody isn’t “looking for a fight” then why are they posting politically polarized information among a massive group of friends, many of whom may not share a political ideology with themselves? Just saying the words doesn’t make it true, anymore than not wanting to sound racist will make an individual actually not sound racist…

Throughout the day, I couldn’t help but keep an eye on the evolution of debate about the debate, and I noticed a few other emergent themes as well.  In particular, I noticed how ridiculous political commentary is these days. Later in the day, the new story became one of President Obama’s “George Costanza” moment. Essentially, at a rally yesterday, the president delivered all of the pithy one-liners that supporters were hoping to hear at the debate. The “George Costanza” moment is a reference to the sit-com “Seinfeld” (which has been off air for about a million years), it refers to an episode where one character (the eponymous “George Costanza”) is insulted by another character, but fails to come up with a “comeback” on time.  The rest of the episode is the story of how Costanza desperately tries to artificially inspire the insulting character to use the same insult again, so that he can finally retaliate.

While I love Seinfeld, I can’t help but point out that we actually already have a word to describe that moment: l’esprit de l’escalier. From the French for “staircase wit,” the term refers to when an individual comes up with an appropriate counter-insult a moment too late, when they are already “on the stairs” or leaving the scene of the insult.  While Seinfeld is (was?) a great show, have we really reached a point in public discourse where our only frame of reference for situations such as that faced by President Obama is a reference to a singular episode about an ancillary character which aired 14 years ago?  Is this what we have become?

I couldn’t help but notice, as well, that as the day wore on, the news stories became the publication of polls revealing that most Americans felt “Romney” had “won the debate.”  You know, a story about how most Americans were coming to believe the headlines that news agencies had been running for the last 24 hours… Have news groups really become so self-congratulatory?  Run the same headline for an entire news cycle, and then publish a story about how shocking it is that people believe the conclusions you’ve been broadcasting for hours? Really!? Is this what passes for journalism today?

Media Diary Day 4

Although I had been feeling much better yesterday, I realized this morning that (alarmingly) the flu I’d been experiencing had spent the past few hours marshaling its forces and plotting a vicious counter-attack. Awaking at around 7:00 I began to prepare for my day, visiting my standard morning websites (Facebook, CNN, The Atlantic) when I suddenly experienced a wave of related, yet new, flu symptoms.

Realizing my immune system was still reeling, I decided to head back to bed. Unlike my typical pattern of nap-type activity wherein I head to the couch and find some Netflix program to distract me, I actually headed back to bed, and turned on Pandora from my Kindle Fire to provide a soundtrack to my return to sleep. I quickly nodded off, and amazingly (alarmingly?) slept from around 7:30 until 4:30 yesterday afternoon.
As I staggered to my feet and returned to my laptop and my various internet news sources, it seemed as though preparation for the evening’s impending debate between the Democratic and Republic presidential candidates had officially taken over the internet… Amazingly, despite all of the excitement and commotion about the live political showdown, I noticed that almost none of the coverage included the controversy about the decision on whom to include in this cycle’s debates.  In particular, John Nichols’ article on “The Nation” website raised the question about the inclusion of third-party candidates such as Green Party candidate Jill Stein and Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson, and it was one of the few editorials that did.

The vast majority of the content seemed happy to plow headlong into the debate coverage as though Obama and Romney were the only candidates on the table this cycle. As Nichols argues, though, both Stein (statistically on enough ballots to win the electoral vote) and Johnson (on the ballot in all 50 states) are technically capable of winning the election, so why aren’t they included in the debates?
This led me to a closer examination of the history of presidential debates in the United States, and some of the controversies of how debates are conducted here.

However, as this is a “media” diary and not a “Rail against a morally bankrupt but socially entrenched system of political hegemony perpetrated by a corrupt system of ostensibly oppositional but truthfully interdependent entitites feigning to represent the whole of the American political spectrum” diary, this isn’t an appropriate place to delve too deeply into the intricacies of American electioneering (although if you’re interested in learning a little more Wikipedia isn’t a terrible place to start). As a media diary, though, I think that my experience yesterday is pretty inextricably linked with the (positive) power of the internet as a source of information.

It is amazing to me how powerful the internet is as a facilitator of the natural flow of information seeking behaviors…

It’s become something of a punchline, afternoons wasted on IMDB, because once you find such and such an actor from such and such a TV show, you immediately notice a dozen other links to a dozen other shows or actors or topics which fascinate you, and boom: your entire afternoon is gone… It’s a little reminiscent of the game “6 Degrees of Kevin Bacon” (Or “6 Degrees of Michael Caine,” if you prefer). One piece of information seamlessly transitions to another, to another, and another. The colossal amount of available information facilitates this natural flow of investigation and discovery, without ever truly inconveniencing the searcher.  It’s an amazingly powerful thing…

As for the debates themselves, no, I did not choose to watch them.  No disrespect to Jim Lehrer (whom I endlessly admire) but I truly feel that debates in America are a farce for several reasons.  First, it should be considered that the debates are in-fact run by the Commission on Presidential Debates which is, in turn, run by the Democrat and Republican parties.  Until 1987 it was conducted by the non-partisan League of Women Voters, but they pulled out their sponsorship in frustration of the bi-partisan tone the debates were taking.  Two, the candidates themselves are primed and trained for the questions they will face in the primaries (yes, they get to study up before hand). Third, as the commission is owned by the two main parties, it should come as little surprise that they also set the rules for the exclusion of smaller parties.  In between mainstream media sources invariably covering the two prime candidates, and the debates only hosting the leading two candidates (although Texan billionaire Ross Perot did manage to sneak in in 1992 on the leverage of colossal campaign spending), is it any wonder that third-party voices, the subaltern of American politics, are so rarely heard?

Besides, in the follow-up coverage I learned that Mitt Romney won, based on the fact that he smiled better, had better body-language, didn’t seem tired, and didn’t snap at Jim Lehrer… REALLY? I understand that Kennedy won the debates in part because he was better on camera than Nixon, but has it ever occurred to anybody that it may have been based on his policies, as well?  Have U.S. politics really become so vapid as to credit one candidate as “better” because he looks less-tired than the man with the most exhausting job in the world?

Those questions aren’t rhetorical, I’m going to Wikipedia right now to learn more…

Media Diary: Day 3 (10/2)

Back on my feet today, I spent most of the morning catching up on the social news sites that I’d missed out on over the last few days.  This involved me slapping a few snarky replies up on political articles on The Atlantic and CNN. I also dove into my Facebook for a half-an-hour or so over my morning coffee.  After lunch, I sat down to work on my thesis, but almost instantaneously found myself getting super frustrated over the ridiculous feedback I’m getting from my chair lately, and so I escaped my anger by mindlessly surfing the internet for most of the afternoon, as well.

 

At some point in the afternoon I went back to my Netflix in the hopes of finding something to distract me while I worked. I shuffled through a few shows before settling on “Life On Mars” (a show about an NYPD detective who gets sent back in time to 1973.  The title is cleverly justified by inexplicably shooting everything through a red filter lens…Was everything in the 70s really coated in polyester and Carbondale clay dust?) A few minutes into the show I found myself thinking of the protagonist, “Wow, this guy’s kind of a tool…” And yet, I continued to watch…

Truthfully, I’ve been finding this more and more frequently in my viewing as of late: I’m just tremendously dissatisfied with everything I see, and only pull out meager enjoyment by critiquing it as negatively as humanly possible.

I’m not entirely sure what is happening with my TV viewing as of late, but I have a few hypotheses.  I either:

A) Am stuck with a limited set of shows that didn’t make the final cut due to lack of quality and thus are now on Netflix as a means of pseudo-syndication.

B) Deliberately pick television shows that I know I won’t like, and so I can entertain myself by thinking of all the ways that I could’ve done it better.

C) Am finally hitting the age where my border Gen-X cynicism is finally hitting, and I am therefore completely unable to be pleased by entertainment options.

D) Am transferring my frustration in other areas into excessively critical TV viewing.

I’m really not sure which, but I have noticed that I can’t help but pick media apart bit by bit, instead of suspending my disbelief (or cynicism, whichever you prefer) and simply enjoying the mediocre ride.  Was television always this bad?  “Saved by the Bell” was good, right?  “Family Matters?”  Is this growing dissatisfaction with mainstream media just what happens when one gets old?  (That would certainly explain why my parents spend so much time not watching their brand-new flatscreen TV…)

Following a few irritating episodes of “Life On Mars,” I finally surrendered to my baser instincts and fired up a David Attenborough nature documentary… (Heaven help me, his face looks like an albino prune, but his narration is the best!)

After Attenborough, my girlfriend arrived and opted to change the channel to her favorite documentary series, “Man vs. Wild.”  There is something about watching Bear Grylls tear living things apart with his teeth that really seems to work on the ladies, I suppose… I tried to return to my work while Bear was trying to decide how to escape the Sahara Desert, but there’s something about watching a human being puzzle out how to collect his own urine into a drinking container for no reason other than to earn a paycheck (I mean, c’mon, Bear, do you expect me to believe the entire camera crew is surviving on sand lizards and reconstituted waste as well? Don’t tell me there aren’t perfectly drinkable sources of water in your immediate vicinity…) that one can’t help but find horrifying yet mesmerizing…  Is this the sort of morbid pleasure viewers get from “The Jersey Shore” or “Keeping up with the Kardashians”?  At least I sort of understand those programs now…

I really ought to return to yet another futile rewrite of my thesis introduction (this will be number 4), but there’s a man on my television about to jump naked into a raging alpine river, for money! I’d better check in and see how my Facebook friends feel about this…

Media Diary Day 2 : Diseased Boy

Unfortunately, this morning started with me waking and realizing I was extremely sick. I got out of bed and made my typical website stops: Facebook, CNN, The Atlantic, and The Gainesville Sun.  I realized off-hand how narcissistic my Facebook use is, really, when after I didn’t see any red tags on my “Notifications” icon, I simply leave the site.  If people aren’t talking to/about me, why would I want to participate? :p

As I mentioned, I was feeling very unwell, so after I ran a few morning errands (and enjoying the Ricky Smiley morning show on Magic 101.3 during the drive) I arrived at home. Usually at this point in my day I open up my Word software and start editing my thesis, but today I was feeling so unwell I grabbed a blanket and laid down on the couch.  Looking to take a nap, I went through the same PS3-Netflix cycle that I did yesterday, perusing the Netflix content to find something that would facilitate a quick nap. I settled on reruns of the NBC sitcom, 30Rock.

It’s funny, I guess in a way, I’m not sure if it is the absence of commercial breaks (which make me crazy) or the fact that I can watch entire show seasons from start to finish, but access to On-demand entertainment options like Netflix (and to a lesser extent, Hulu) has really rendered live-TV obsolete, for me.  The only time I’ll choose a live option over an on-demand option is for sports, where yelling at the TV (para-participating with the crowd, perhaps?) and avoiding the inconvenience of “spoilers” (being accidentally told the surprise ending of a program) are really critical to enjoyment of the content itself.

I made it perhaps a half-episode in before I fell asleep and slept until about 1:30 in the afternoon.  When I awoke, Netflix was prompting me with the question of whether or not I was still watching. I wasn’t, but I still clicked “YES” for the background noise.  During this brief interlude, I revisited my Facebook, where several pictures of the party the night before had been uploaded (approximately 10 minutes here).  I also spent a bit of time perusing The Atlantic (perhaps 15 minutes spent here). There were a few other sites I visited from links on the first two, but altogether, things took perhaps 25 minutes, as at 2:00 I lay back down and returned my attention to 30Rock.

After perhaps half-an-episode I had fallen back to sleep and slept until around 8:30p.m.

When I awoke at 8:30 I watched about 1 dance routine on the program “Dancing With The Stars” with my girlfriend.  I wasn’t really “tuned in” to the program, but amazingly after only a few minutes, I found myself getting frustrated with the commercial breaks.

Despite the fact that I’ve already slept for about a million hours today, I’m actually ready for bed again.  Although it’s early, I decided to use this time to write my second Media Diary entry before turning on some more filler noise to help get to sleep.  30Rock, here we come!

Media Diary, Day 1 (Sunday, September 30th, 2012)

I was up today a little on the early side at around 5:30.  I wanted to get some sleep, but was having a hard time going back, so I headed to my office and fired up my laptop.  I zoomed through a few of my favorite websites: Facebook, CNN, The Gainesville Sun, The Chive, and The Atlantic, before I decided I was ready for some more sleep.

To get some more sleep, I headed to the living room and turned on my PS3 and Netflix, and turned on a sleepy looking documentary called “The Gospel of Judas.” The documentary knocked me out nicely, and when I reawoke at noon, it was time to do some cleaning, so I changed over to Pandora while I cleaned.  After cleaning, I needed to work on my thesis, and I always enjoy some background noise during my paperwork, so I returned to my Netflix to watch some biographies.
OK, fine, I watched some old pro-wrestling compilations… (I’d forgotten I’d have to admit to people what I watched…) After a biography about the Macho Man Randy Savage and a collection of extreme wrestling action, I wrapped up my edit of my introduction, and was informed people would be arriving at the house shortly.

I’d totally forgotten that there was a Harvest or Autumn Moon Festival Party (IDK, it’s something Chinese for the Fall Full Moon) at the house, and guests would be arriving in an hour and I’d promised to help prepare food.  I turned on Pandora again to keep us company while I chopped vegetables for home-made dumplings. While guests were at the house, the Pandora stayed on, and when you have nothing but communications majors at the house, conversation tends to fixate on media topics (I’m not quite sure if this counts or not).  At any rate, when the guests left, it was back to Netflix as I’d noticed they recently added the movie “Team America: World Police” to the playlist.  With Team America playing in the background I got the house cleaned up, and then focused my attention on my blog post and media diary entry for class.

:EDIT:  Truthfully, I must’ve also visited a few dozen websites at various points during the day, and I know that I visited Facebook, Cracked.com, The Atlantic, and CNN way more than once today… I probably hit facebook 20 times, were I to guess.  Tomorrow, I’m going to try to get exact counts to accompany website visitations…

Privacy and online media: Are we fresh out of Fuchs to give?

The boom in social media has increased the importance of online media for advertisers, and has introduced a complex series of questions regarding the privacy of user information.  Particularly interesting to me in the readings was Fuch’s “The Political Economy of Privacy on Facebook” which applied a socialist reading of class-based exploitation to the dilemma of information privacy in the social media realm. For this post, I chose to take Fuch’s assessment and turn his analysis towards the privacy policy here on WordPress  (http://automattic.com/privacy/) to better understand the relationship of abstract Marxist political economy to my relationship with my class blog.

                Fuch’s deconstruction of Facebook’s business model through the lens of Marxism provides parallels with WordPress, and its parent organization, Automattic. Particularly striking was how Automattic’s business model essentially sends Facebook’s reliance on (or perhaps what Fuch’s would call ‘exploitation of’) content generated by its “prosumers,” or individuals who both produce and consume content, into overdrive. On Automattic’s “Work With Us” page (which in-and-of itself provides a telling preposition), it is illustrates that within the US alone, Facebook enjoys 141M unique monthly hits with 3,539 employees.  Conversely, WordPress experiences 121M unique monthly hits with only 124 employees. Every month WordPress generates roughly 25 times more unique traffic per-employee than does Facebook. 

This illustrates the significantly better return-on-investment organizations can enjoy through an increased reliance on “prosumers” and decreased reliance on traditional employees. And if you’re wondering if this model is successful, just look at CNN, where scores of traditional journalists were fired when the company launched its “iReport” system.  Marx could’ve rested his case on such a callous use of one division of the proletariat to exploit another.

                A further element of Automattic’s privacy policy that I found somewhat disturbing, is the language. Although the simple language provided by Automattic is much more accessible than the typical legalese boiler plate found at many websites, it is also breathtakingly porous.  In particular, promises to protect user privacy are made “unless we truly need it,” “except to…develop our products,” or “unless required [for] ongoing operation” and leave tremendous gaps in privacy protection. Similar caveats allow for the disclosure of user information to “affiliated organizations” but never define who these organizations are. 

                Intriguingly, Automattic also concedes that were it to go under, user-information would be considered “one of the assets that is … acquired by a third party,” clearly illustrating that although the policy language is coy, the group knows well that user information has monetary value.  Furthermore, “ad-network” cookies, hosted on, but not created by Automattic sites, aren’t subject to the rules and conditions set out in the Privacy Policy at all, which leaves you totally exposed.

                Truthfully, though, I found it difficult to sympathize with Fuch’s claim that the system is exploitative.  Do users think that content is magically free? Although the system is ethically dubious, isn’t it the responsibility of the individual to educate themselves about the systems in which they participate? Do we even care enough to do so?

Foreign Policy and the Internet:

The debates presented in this week’s readings, although cloaked in the lingo of contemporary communications theory and social media, in many ways reflect the dueling visions of international relations that have driven the field since its inception.

Particularly interesting, from my perspective, were the quotes from government officials cited in Comor & Bean regarding the nature and the potential of “engagement” in the digital sphere. 

Although couched in modern terminology, the positions being argued for regarding the potential of “engagement” to manufacture peace were strongly reminiscent to me of a nearly forgotten text by British philosopher Norman Angell called, “The Great Illusion.”  For Angell, the normalization of economic relations would become the stabilizing force necessary for a Kantian perpetual peace in Europe.  Increased codependence due to economic factors, an increased sense of community due to the cross-pollination of ideas and beliefs resulting from trade, and other factors would, according to Angell, emerge to stabilize and cement a lasting peace in the Europe.  Unfortunately for Angell, although many of his arguments regarding economic interdependence held true, the book was also published in 1910, and then republished in 1913 on the eve of World War I.  Despite the destruction of Angell’s heady optimism on the ghastly battlefields of the western front, and the post-war emergence of realism as oppositional to the idealism of Angell, the thread of idealism still holds in international relations, most notably in the United States.

Angell’s optimism is particularly reflected in Shirky’s “Technology, the Public Sphere, and Political Change” wherein social media is seen as an inevitable driver of pro-democratic revolution, and that the only statistical outliers to this process (namely Belarus, Iran, and Thailand) are examples where brutal government crackdowns utilized violence to disperse protests.  Intriguingly, quotes from government officials, both within Comor & Bean and around the net, reflect some of this heady optimism

Fascinating to me, also though, was some of the evidence of duplicity that quickly emerges.  In particular, Shirky’s discussion of the “instrumental approach” to internet freedom, namely a call from the U.S government for nations to cease censorship activities of existing sites falls conspicuously flat (much as the author observes).  In particular, it is difficult to take at face value the idea that access to online information is a necessary human freedom, when evidence also shows that internet technology is being tooled into a weapon of war. The Stuxnet computer virus, for example, deliberately tailored to derail Iran’s nuclear program, certainly doesn’t encourage the breakdown of digital borders.

This duplicity makes calls for removal of Iran’s “electronic curtain” somewhat difficult to accept at face value.

Furthermore, I find it hard to believe calls from the U.S. government for nations to repeal internet censorship when we, in fact, engage in more or less the same practices (albeit generally more subtly) when we feel our political (i.e Wikileaks) or economic interests are being threatened by online content.  Isn’t this sort of double-standard exactly the sort of thing that makes others so frustrated with us?

 

 

 

 

 

(This blog post is exactly at 500 words, with hyperlinks embedded in the text.  In the interest of making all content accessible, however, I feel it would be appropriate to relist the linked pages here for simplicity’s sake.)

-Comments by Secretary of State Clinton @ the 2012 Social Good Summit http://mashable.com/2012/09/22/social-media-diplomacy/

– Comments by U.S. Ambassador to the UN Susan Rice regarding Twitter use by the DeptState @ the 2012 Social Good Summit http://mashable.com/2012/09/23/us-ambassador-susan-rice/

– Comments by President Obama regarding Iran’s “Electronic Curtain” http://mashable.com/2012/03/20/iran-electronic-curtain/

– Accusations that a US/Israeli collaboration led to the Stuxnet virus which crippled Iran’s nuclear program http://arstechnica.com/tech-policy/2012/06/confirmed-us-israel-created-stuxnet-lost-control-of-it/

– An Example of a web domain seized by the U.S. government, copyright protection or censorship? http://www.megaupload.com/

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