Zeynep Tufekci’s article “What Happens to #Ferguson Affects Ferguson” rang a similar bell that Dr. Noble’s guest lecture did two weeks ago. When Dr. Noble came in, I was very unfamiliar with the problems of net neutrality and algorithmic filtering, but after reading this article I feel as though it is pretty clear to me that, like the real world, the Internet is not fair. As I was first beginning to understand this, I felt somewhat overwhelmed, maybe it was because of my own naivety, but thinking about Google and these other superpower cyber-entities that rule most of the Internet (Facebook, Twitter, etc.) and how powerful and manipulative they can be without consequence is quite frightening. I knew that my Facebook feed was filtered, but I haven’t noticed it much until now because I am more digitally-self-aware. Now that the problem is identified, I do not really know how to contribute to (or what exactly is) the solution. I know Dr. Noble mentioned that she stays away from Google, but after reading Tufekci’s article, are we now supposed to stay completely away from Twitter and Facebook because their algorithms aren’t as truthful as we would like them to be?
I remember when the Ferguson incident and aftermath originally happened–or actually I don’t. During the summer, I went on a retreat where I completely separated myself from social media. I stopped using Facebook, Twitter, SnapChat, and Instagram for an entire week because I was out of service, but also for meditation purposes. After this retreat, I kept up this anti-habit of not using social media very often–which was also right around when the shooting of Michael Brown occurred. I did not really understand or even hear about what happened in Ferguson until maybe a week later than when it had happened. Although this was not directly influenced by algorithmic filtering or net neutrality problems, it was a direct result from how news in this day and age travels by one route–social media and the Internet. Sure, the news still reports all the same, but it seems, at least to me, more and more people (including myself) rely on social networking for news–that’s why people follow CNN or MSNBC on Twitter. I am curious why not many people were spreading the news orally. Maybe my co-workers and friends aren’t as news-conscience. Relating this back to my original thought, it’s scary how manipulative and these powers on the Internet can be through their filtering techniques–although it is even scarier how reliant we (including myself!) are on the Internet for our facts in the first place.
Last weeks discussions, seeing that we dealt a lot with gender and race, involved the question of equality online. Although many people initially saw the Internet as a space of freedom, equality, and anonymity, as we have somewhat come a consensus, this assumption is incorrect because problems such as racialization and bias, especially when it comes to formulating algorithms and structure, continue to exist. Inequality is very visible on the Internet, and “it is necessary to promote research that grasps that not all Digital Natives are equal,” state Nishant Shah and Sunil Abraham in their survey “Digital Natives with a Cause?” This idea within Shah and Abraham’s work seems very obvious to me, maybe because I fall into the identity of Digital Native myself, or maybe because of what we have learned in this class; although, as an active and former participant on various social networks, I have noticed the inequality surfaced through artistic elitism, ethnic exceptionalism, and hierarchical systems established on or off the online space before taking this class.
Recently with my study of the online community of Letterbox’d, I have noticed certain hierarchical trends. Although this site does a good job at eliminating issues of race and gender through minimizing profile description to only one box, which most users use to describe their interest in cinema, rather than their age, gender, occupation, or other details concerning identity. Although the personal is not the focus of this site, their remains inequality through hierarchies that establish via popularity created on and off the site. Users who review on other websites are more likely to have more followers therefore more likely to have more people reading their reviews and also more likes on their reviews. The establishment of this hierarchical system is closely linked with popularity, although users who rate their films on a harder scale , rather than rate all films they watch positively, tend to also be respected more because of their esoteric taste. This means that users who rate films “easier” or that fall into the category of mainstream tend to have a small following. Despite that this hierarchy is established in more appropriate ways (rather than gender or race), it still highlights the illusion of equality online.
Gentle Reader, as I read through Senft and Noble’s essay “Race and Social Media,” I could not help but think of what W. E. B. DuBois brings up in his book The Souls of Black Folk. This resemblance was especially strong at the final section of the essay titled “Addressing the Problem” where it talks about, like in DuBois work, the problem of racial tension being placed on a group of people. Although in The Souls of Black Folk, DuBois addresses the issue of black people being blamed as the problem, and in this section of “Race and Social Media,” the finger is pointed at white people, there is still correspondence with the overall concerns of the color-line. Mixed-raced author Charles Chesnutt, who despite appearing white (much like Homer Plessy) identified himself as black, describes his writing as “not so much the elevation of the colored people as the elevation of whites.”
The problem is neither black or white, although I would argue it unfixable. I do not see how there can ever be an answer to the problem of racial tension because even the generally accepted neoliberal, color-blind view of race still holds a “cemented” and often over-emphasized view, which Galloway brings up in “Does the Whatever Speak?” I find myself somewhat unqualified arguing over topics like this though, probably due to being white myself. I can identify with the idea of whites actually being the problem, which can be highlighted in a (for some reason) uncanny way with this quote from “Race and Social Media”:
As we noted earlier, people of color have long used the Internet to gather together. Whites, too, have created spaces devoted to racial identity although as Jesse Daniels notes, at these sites tend to come with overtly racist political agendas.
I can never imagine a website created and monitored by whites for the promotion of “white” culture without it being dubbed as racist, supremacist, or at least exceptionalist. I am in no way arguing that there should be websites like this, although I am just interested in what the fuel is behind this. I understand the argument of the history of white supremacy, but will this ever go away? Is this all that is behind it? Of course, groups of white people have brought along some large problems within society, but will the times ever change that there is no line between race, or even boundaries that races have to follow? Will this only come when all people are mixed-race? I see it as a problem of coming to terms; but when the original problem that needs to find closure is simply too large, there seems to be no real answer. Or at least for now.
The story of Sabrina in chapter four of danah boyd’s book stood out compared to the other juveniles’ stories, particularly because she had the fear of predators and online dangers in common with all the parents mentioned in the chapter, while essentially all the other kids had no such fear, but rather fear of their parents’ worrying. It seems that influence from the media played a large role in this household, especially media covering the negative aspects of the Internet and social-networking sites. In the same chapter, boyd mentions a campaign that suggests that predators are entering households through computer monitors, although it seems that the intrusion of these predators is less likely than the intrusion of unwarranted fear caused by the media with regards to online dangers. The dangers caused by this media-persuading fear seem to be more serious than the actual predators hidden behind this fear; families are living behind closed doors, and from what danah boyd noticed, many kids are prevented from playing outside or interacting with others (online or offline) because of the fear of uncertainty.
The role of media in Sabrina and her families’ life reminds me of how media affected my life as I was growing up. Seeing that I was born in 1994 and I have spent most of my life in a post-9/11 world, the dangers of terrorism has been quite prevalent in the media especially in my early adolescent years. As a kid, the news seemed to always revolve around stories on terrorism or the war in Iraq, even to the point that I vividly remember one night, maybe when I was about nine years old, lying in my bed trying to fall asleep, yet unable to because of how scared I was that there would be a terrorist attack where I lived or near where I lived. Although, looking back at this fear, this seems completely irrational, it was very real in my mind due to the way media built up the threat of terrorism. In this light, I see that the problem and fear of online predators is not perpetuated by the danger, but rather by the media and how the media portrays this danger. The real danger is how intrusive the media can be within our households.
Last Saturday, I hiked up to the Hollywood sign with a group of friends. At the top, with the view of the sign as well as most of Los Angeles in sight, my friend Herman asked me, “What did people use to do at the top of hikes before cameras?” At first, I thought he asked what people did before camera-phones (probably since I have been thinking about the “selfie” so much due to this class). When I realized he just meant cameras in general, I said “just look, I guess…” Why don’t people do that anymore? Why are people not merely satisfied with just looking at the view in that moment? Instead most people feel the need to document it with taking a picture, especially with themselves in it.
This reminds me of the case study we read this week on the “infamous Auschwitz selfie.” I remember when social networking got all stirred up about it, but I kinda just turned away because even the thought of “selfie” and “concentration camp” is quite appalling. After reading the article about why the girl did it, my opinion has not really changed at all, although it does provide some insight why exactly people feel the need to take pictures, and now selfies, at famous monuments or at the top of a hike. Her intentions for the selfie were for self-documentation and as a remembrance for her father. As the writer of the article stated, these intentions do not authorize her actions as “okay.” Her selfie still, as the writer put it, minimizes what happened there into an inappropriate “personal narrative,” which reminds me of Elie Wiesel’s critique of Schindler’s List as kitsch.
When thinking back about the hike on Saturday and how nearly everyone was taking a picture of others or a selfie, I can see that it is a way of saying “I did it,” but why does that need to be shared in the “super public” that Danah Boyd coined? Why is there a need to celebrate when so many other people have accomplished the same fact? Obviously, it is more appropriate than taking a selfie at a concentration camp, but there remains a sense of minimizing in the act.
One of the focuses of chapter one–on God and relationships with God–caught me off guard somewhat, since we have not really tackled the subject within this class much as well as DH101 (except for last week when we spoke about Muslim Rage–although that still was more of a media-centered conversation). I have read a lot of Christian literature that resembles the ideas that Rettberg presented. I have often heard in order to experience growth it is necessary to reflect on the self as a whole, rather than solely the good or bad things, therefore, the concept of keeping a journal for confessional purposes rang somewhat familiar to me. One time, I heard a speaker mention that mega-church pastor Joel Osteen says that it is good to keep a diary of all the good things people say to you or about you and forget all the bad things. I understand the reasoning for something like this, although I believe we should not have these types of “filters” (like Rettberg mentioned in chapter two) on ourselves.
I found this Calvin and Hobbes comic that helps illustrate my idea further; Calvin sees himself as perfect and in no need of change. I think we can all agree that we are not perfect and that we all could improve in at least one way or another in our life. I apologize if I am sounding preachy in this post, but I believe the idea of looking at ourselves with #nofilter is very important. Most of us can probably testify that we have either taken a selfie or edited a picture of us to make us look better than we may actually appear–no one takes low angle shots for a reason. This all relates to an idea we have touched on in class discussion about how we display the best version of ourselves. But is this “best version” of ourselves truthful? Or is it no version at all?
Boyd brings up in chapter three of her book a dilemma that seems to be becoming very common in our society. She titles this section of the chapter as “Coming of Age Without Agency,” and explains the idea of youth “come of age without having to take on the full responsibilities of adulthood” (94). G. Stanley Hall believed that this was necessary in order to protect kids from their vulnerability and ensure that they fully mature before entering the real world. This adolescent stage of maturing is very liminal, seeing that youth are not looked down upon as children, although not treated as adults either. For the most part, I would agree that this stage of transformation is necessary, but the idealized thought of maturing and being able to act as adults all happening at once appeals much more to me. I understand that it may be very overwhelming and difficult for some youth to receive and handle responsibility just as they learn and grow in the life, but the idea that they lack agency bothers me. Agency should come with aging, and if not, I believe it could be very damaging for vulnerable youth.
Director Richard Linklater (right) with cast members
Last week, I talked about the movie Boyhood a little bit and how the main character deals with the advancement of technology. Although I can relate the movie to my focus this week, I will try to steer in a different, although near, direction. Not too long ago, I remember my mom sent me a link to an NPR “Fresh Air” interview with Richard Linlkater, the director of Boyhood. Terry Gross asked him various questions about the film, especially the process of filming, although Linklater focused on a particular sequence in it that he felt very important to the story. The sequence is a crucial part of the main character’s coming of age, which is the center of the entire film, although, in this case, loss of innocence is the center focus. The main character, Mason, middle school-aged, listens to a couple of upperclassmen speak poorly about women and one of his friends in a demeaning and masochistic way. It is morally clear that the high school students are wrong, although Mason is unable to confront them or oppose anything they say. Linklater highlights in his interview that most males and females probably can relate to this, and that the scene, although possibly uncomfortable is very realistic, which I myself can verify. Coming of age without agency, or simply loss of innocence without the ability to act, leaves youth unable to act accordingly and simmer in the pains of growing up. Although taking on responsibility at a young age could be more harm than good, youth should be able to act with agency in order to mature into a proper adult.
Growing up in the age of technology, I believe we really need to take a step back to take a look at how things are. Most people our age constantly forget that other generations simply did not have the resources that we have today. Technology defined many key events in the coming of age for our generation whether we acknowledged or participated in them or not. Although my mom was pretty adamant about not letting my brother and I play video games very often, and did not allow us to have Game Boys when we were young, so both of us never really developed a taste for it (yet I do speak only for myself), I still remember the nights where my friends would stay out all night waiting in line for the new Xbox, PlayStation, or Call of Duty game just so they could play it through the night and skip school the next day. Despite that I was never one for video game consoles, I spent my equal share of time on the Internet while growing up. I was a huge fan of Neopets and also created a MySpace when I was eleven (although you had to be thirteen–which resulted in the deletion of the page when my mom found out, and then later the creation of a new page on my thirteenth birthday). Although since I have gotten older, I definitely have lost that “passion” I had for the social media. I think I have kinda realized why I liked it exactly. The human connection through the websites is really what drew me in, and I guess I found that the human connection made IRL (in real life–Baym, chapter 2) is much more satisfying and real, at least in my opinion. Although this apparent distance that is apparent with human connection via the Internet is not necessarily a problem with it, but rather a problem with how people use it, like Baym mentions in book. The Internet doesn’t distance people from people, people distance people from people.
This reminded me of Richard Linklater’s film Boyhood which speaks of the advancement and prominence of technology, especially in my generation. The main character argues that Facebook, social media, and technology are turning humans into anti social robots, although I would place the blame on humans after reading Baym’s argument.