A quick post on 9/11, killing Bin Laden, and the Internets

On the morning of September 11, 2001, I was at home not feeling particularly well– a cold or something.  I mowed the lawn, and then came in and just happened to turn on the TV and saw a story about a plane crashing into one of the World Trade Center towers, a crash that network news first reported as an accident.  Until the next plane hit, and then the Pentagon, and then a field in Pennsylvania. I think it’s fair to say that pretty much everyone in the U.S. (maybe the western world) who had a television (especially with cable) spent the next 72 hours or so watching the news, with breaks to nap, go to the bathroom, and drink.

Ten years passed and many many things happened.

Then, Sunday night (which, oddly enough, was the eighth anniversary of Bush’s infamous “mission accomplished” speech) I was getting into bed with my iPad at 10 pm or so, planning to read a bit on the kindle app before getting to sleep and ready for the beginning of the spring term.  I checked Facebook first and saw someone (I can’t remember who) in my feed had posted that Obama was giving a previously unannounced speech at 10:30.  Uh-oh, I thought, and got out of bed to turn on the TV, my iPad (with Twitter and Facebook) by my side.

You know the rest, and I am sure there will be many more examples of this sort of piece that is running on The Atlantic’s web site.

Anyway, that makes me think of at least two things:

  • 9/11 was a very clear “exigency” in that it was obviously the beginning of a new situation, although arguably from the point of view of Bin Laden, Al Qaeda, and related groups, 9/11 was merely the middle of a fight that began much much earlier– CIA involvement in Afghanistan,  The 1998 bombings of the US embassies in Africa, etc.  On the other hand, the death of Bin Laden doesn’t seem like an “ending” or a “decay” of this situation.
  • I’m not quite sure what it means that I have heard about this (and nearly all other “breaking news” in the last year or so) first via Facebook and/or Twitter, and then I follow it up with live coverage on TV, and then still later, with writings published on the web or even on paper.  But it means something for sure, something about what “main stream media” is and is not still  capable of doing well.

Misc. Browser Links

I’ll post sooner than later (yet this weekend, certainly) about Thanksgiving at home this year, but in the meantime, it’s time once again to post a ton of links to stuff open in my browser that I want to and/or need to come back to sooner than later.  In no particular order here:

And in more link catching up news

Again, in no particular order– just things I want to keep track of that I have left open in my browser for a while now:

  • “Reading in a Whole New Way,” which is a very readable/accessible piece about how technology has altered the sense of “book,” from Smithsonian.com. And this is a link to the article itself, where there is worry about the iPad.
  • Speaking of which:  “Revisualizing Composition:  Mapping the Writing Lives of First-Year College Students” is a WIDE whitepaper/study about the way that students use writing technologies to write in different aspects of their lives.  There’s a lot here, but I was struck by the idea that students write as often for “personal fulfillment” (with Facebook, texting, etc.) than for school.
  • “Nine Important Trends in the Evolution of Digital Textbooks and E-learning Content,” from something called “xplana.”  I think these trends are debatable at best, but I like things that speculate about the future of publishing, especially when they are horribly wrong.
  • I really liked this cbd post “Taking Notes,” and I wanted to keep a link– a note?– of it for future reference.  Lots of good stuff here.
  • To be honest, I don’t know if this is worth passing on, but I will anyway:  From Inside Higher Ed, “An Adjunct’s Novel,” which in some ways seems amusing but in many ways seems rather predictable to me.
  • Here’s a link to an iPhone app I might try out later, something called the Sleep Cycle alarm clock. Though the whole thing seems a bit problematic to me.  First off, I set an alarm for a particular time not because it is the “best time” for me to necessarily wake up, but because it is the time that I logistically need to wake up to go on with my day.  Second, I don’t get how this app could possibly work, and I guess what bothers me most is that the reviews suggest that it does indeed work.
  • I might get this book called The Whuffie Factor:  Using the Power of Social Networks to Build Your Business because it does sound pretty interesting.  But to be honest, between stuff I’m reading for school and for fun right now, this is going to have to go down the list a bit. Still, for the Kindle (iPad, of course) edition, it might be worth it for the next time I’m on a plane.
  • What’s the point of an iPad?  How might it be used in the “real world?”  Here’s a link from Apple to tell us. I’ve pulled my iPad out a couple of times in my first year composition class and what I think is interesting is that my students in that class seem pretty dismissive of its usefulness.  So much for “digital natives” understanding this stuff so much better.
  • Speaking (again and again!) of the iPad:  I recently won an iShine give-away from PadGadget by being early enough on Twitter to retreat an article from the site PadGadget.  Here’s a review of the iShine, which I mostly agree with.  I prefer to have my iPad in its Apple case because it’s easier to prop it up and such, but the iShine bag is handy and easy too.
  • Finally, this is something I really ought to do with my laptop:  from Lifehacker comes “Starting from Scratch:  A Step-by-Step Guide to Reinstalling Your OS.”

Just a couple Facebook Privacy thoughts I’m willing to share…

I’ve come across a lot of stuff about Facebook Privacy lately– for example, there’s this piece from Read Write Web, “More Web Industry Leaders Quit Facebook, Call for Open Alternative,” which has a ton of links both in the article and in the comments on the “quitting Facebook” trend, and then there’s the often reposted “Top Ten Reasons You Should Quit Facebook.” In no particular order, I had a couple of thoughts:

  • There’s something interesting? odd? ironic? well, maybe just something– about how people seem to be rediscovering the privacy issues here a couple of years after the conventional wisdom for sites like Facebook and MySpace is that “kids” were being pretty stupid by putting up stuff that will come back to haunt them later. I realize that part of this new wave is a result of Facebook’s increasingly squishy privacy issues, but some of it also has to be because the fastest growing demographic on Facebook is “grown-ups” who supposedly know better.  And who don’t.
  • The concept/definition of “privacy” is not exactly stable, and this is by far from the first time that it’s been a contentious and potentially interesting issue. Remember Jennicam? Interestingly enough, the Wikipedia page I am linking to here says that Jennifer Ringley, who once pretty much broadcast “everything” out to the web, says she is now “enjoying her privacy.”  And maybe that’s part of what the deal is here too:  a lot of people kind of went a little over-board on the whole Facebook thing and now want to scale back a bit.
  • A lot of the complaints about Facebook seem to forget that it is not a “public space” or a completely free “community asset.”  Sure, they might be kind of asshole-ish as of late with various policies (not to mention just kind of tone-deaf to public critique), but they are a business that is trying to make money.  Part of the way they do that is by using your content; if you don’t like that, then don’t put up your content.
  • On the one hand, I don’t really care that much.  I mean, I’ve already got over 1600 pictures on Flickr all pretty much share-and-share-alike and there’s this and previous blogs; it’s not as if I’m leading that super-private of a life as it is.  And given that folks are okay with Amazon and Netflix making “choices” for you based on stuff you’ve browsed before, I don’t see exactly what is so wrong with Facebook targeting ads at you and treating your pages as if they are not completely private.  On the other hand, all of this dust-up is a reminder that Facebook is a public space, that those updates and pictures and stuff you post really can/will be seen by lots of people.
  • 16 or 15 years ago, I remember going to a talk at BGSU where someone was talking about this newfangled “email” system that was going on campus, and the presenter warned people then of their privacy:  don’t email anything you wouldn’t want to see showing up on a billboard or in the New York Times. That’s probably a little extreme for email nowadays, but words to live by on the book o’ face.

BlackCT and Social Media

There’s a blurb article in Inside Higher Ed that kind struck me, mainly because I’m starting to work on an article/chapter about using WordPress as a content(learning) management system, “Blackboard to Unveil New Learning Suite.” Here’s a quote, with my emphasis added:

Blackboard plans to announce today the release of a new version of its widely used e-learning suite, with an emphasis on incorporating social networking tools such as wikis, YouTube, Flickr, and Slideshare. “We provided a very intuitive process to search for and add content from YouTube, Flickr and Slideshare to a course without ever having to leave the LMS,” said Stacey Fontenot, a Blackboard vice president, in an e-mail.

So, why is this a plus? What is the problem with having students experience the internets the way that they experience it in every other way? As far as I can tell, the answer is teacherly control, surveillance, and grading. I don’t completely dismiss the value of such things, but is it really a selling point to anyone who uses stuff like Blackboard that you never have to leave the comfort/control of the course shell?

… why just Twitter?

I saw a couple of interesting and thought-provoking presentations at ATTW today, some of which I might blog about later, but for the time-being, the one on my mind is one done by some folks at Old Dominion University (Liza Potts, Kathie Gossett, and Vincent Rhodes) called “Tweetagogy: Building Community in 140 Characters or Less.” The short version is they were discussing how they used Twitter as a community building tool with students in their PhD program, which is an especially important task since their PhD program includes a lot of students who are some form of “distance learners.”  Check out the Prezi presentation for the full details.

It’s not that I disagree with them– at least not exactly.  I think there’s a lot of potential for Twitter like they are talking about, forming community around a topic/affinity of some sort is one of those ways.  They had a lot of great ideas and suggestions for some software tools to make Twitter work better for this.

Still, why just Twitter?  The responses they are giving me when I asked this question on the ATTW twitter feed were that things like blogs weren’t as successful, that Twitter was easier/blogs were harder, etc., etc.

I dunno.

Like I said, I like Twitter quite a bit, but I also like blogs and facebook and all kinds of stuff.  I think most of our students are the same way.  So it seems to me that these tools can play off of each other quite well, as I’m trying to do here.

And this is more than 140 characters.

Oh yeah? I planned it so I wouldn’t have so many readers/friends!

From a couple of different places, I came across this Mashable article, “Your Brain Can’t Handle Your Facebook Friends,” suggests that according to Dunbar’s number, the number of people you can really be “friends” with is 150.  This reminds me of article by Clive Thompson in the current issue of WIRED, “In Praise of Obscurity,” in which he talks about how when an audience becomes too large, it no longer is “social.”  He uses the example of a popular Twitter-er (???) named Maureen Evans who started tweeting recipes, became hugely popular (13,000 followers), and said the conversation between users just stopped. I’ll post a link once WIRED puts one up, probably when the next issue comes out.

First off, I blogged about this very phenomenon back in 2007 here, in talking about both Facebook and also EMUTalk.org and my struggling (dying?) “Blogs as Writerly Spaces” project.  (Perhaps I can count this post as something that will allow me to check off “worked on scholarship today” from my to do list.)  As I noted back then, since I think the readership of this blog is generally pretty small, I don’t need a lot of rules; on the other hand, with EMUTalk.org, especially when it was routinely getting 600-1000 hits a day (that’s fallen off to about half of that now), I did indeed need to set up rules.  In that sense, the Dunbar number seems to be about a threshold for organization as much as anything else.  If you have a group of people who like to play ultimate frisbee or pick-up basketball or softball every Friday night at a particular park and that group is less than 150 or so people, then you probably don’t need much in the ways of “rules.”  But if that group gets above 150, then I suspect you need to start forming a “league” with organized teams, schedules, etc.

Second, this all begs once again the definition of “friend,” something that has been a little easier to sort out with Facebook as of late thanks to its new “list” feature.  I think in the context of Facebook, people have basically over-valued and/or misinterpreted the word “friend.” In “real life,” I think of a friend as someone I either know quite well and engage in activities with on a regular basis (e.g., family friends, golfing friends, people I invite to my house for a party or something, etc.), people I know pretty well but only catch up with once in a while (e.g., many/most people at work, friends who live some distance away, etc.), or people I still know but are from a more distant past and who I haven’t necessarily even spoken with in some time.  This last category is a big one on Facebook:  we all have “friended” people from high school or college who we haven’t seen or spoken with in decades and who we aren’t especially interested in reconnecting with in “real life” again now, but who are still a kind of friend.

I have “real life” friends on Facebook, but besides “real” friends, most of my Facebook friends fall into the categories of “colleagues in my field,” people at EMU, and/or students.  No offense to any of these folks, but that y’all aren’t really my friends in the real world friend sense, right?

Third, I guess the other thing that comes up especially in the Thompson article is my concept/understanding of who I am “speaking” with when I post online, be that space on Facebook, Twitter, this or some other blog.  This may be kind of “old skool,” but I still work from the assumption that anything I post online has the potential to be read by anyone on the planet; therefore, I would never post any sort of personal thing which I would be concerned about some stranger reading.  You’re not going to get any “weird rash on my hands not going away” posts from me (btw, I have no rashes).  And if I post something like “ate tuna sandwich,” it is only because I don’t really care if anyone knows that I ate a tuna sandwich.

The tricky thing about this is trying to figure out those borders between the actually personal, the things you really would only tell to close friends, and everything else.  This is nothing new, of course; what makes it a little different now is that the sheer volume of people on networks like Facebook means that there is inevitably a learning curve for both writers and readers about the shifting definition of “Too Much Information.”  I mean, I have FB “friends” who do seem to think that posting about that mysterious rash is fair game; conversely, I also have FB “friends” who would comment on my lunch selection “Ew, TMI.”  So it goes with emerging medias, right?

BTW, today I’m going to have left-over pork loin for lunch.  If it isn’t too freezer-burned.

“Facebook, MySpace Divide Along Social Lines”

In sort of a danah boyd postscript, I heard on NPR this morning the story “Facebook, Myspace Divide Along Social Lines.” A lot of this is the same old “white and rich people use Facebook, brown and poor people use MySpace,” though it is a little more nuanced than that in this story. The story did remind me of one of my early experiences with MySpace and part of a talk I gave at Creighton University back in 2006. To quote from the NPR story:

MySpace pages do look busier than Facebook; on MySpace you can customize graphics and music while Facebook is limited to one spare blue-and-white design. The MySpace clutter seems to symbolize something more to these kids. Sixteen-year-old Nico Kurt lays out his view of the MySpace users this way: “It seems trashy to me. The only people who use it are trashy people.”

The “trashy thing” rang true for me, at least what I remember.  Back in 2006, it was impossible for me to chose a profession like “Professor,” “Teacher,” or even “Student,” but it was very possible to chose the profession “Go Go Dancer,” and it was easy to join professional networks having to do with nightlife, fashion, modeling, gaming, and television. Now, I am assuming that things have changed on MySpace a bit in these regards, I don’t know.  The only time I visit MySpace nowadays is when I click on a link for some indie band that has a site there.  But “trashy” and “cluttered” are both good adjectives for MySpace, IMO.

Oh, and I think I trust Nico Kurt’s judgment in a couple of other ways:  Facebook is likely to be replaced by something else coming along before too long, and Twitter is for old people.

danah boyd at U of M

I’m at danah boyd’s talk at the John Seely Brown Symposium at the University of Michigan this afternoon.  There was a pretty productive and interesting twitter feed on all this:  see http://wthashtag.com/Danahjsb A few thoughts as it went on and now slightly edited over coffee at the Food Whole (which explains some of the mixing of tenses and other mixes between notes at the moment and something slightly more thought out):

  • This is in the Ross School of Business.  Whoa, you talk about seeing how the other half lives.  I came from cramped and smelly Pray-Harrold where I was showing a movie to my 121 students with a laptop and a projector with crappy sound.  And then I walk into this place.  This auditorium (I’m sitting in the balcony) had freakin’ leather seats.  They probably spent more money on this room than EMU is going to spend on the interior fixtures in the Pray-Harrold remodeling.  I think they spent more money on the lobby of this building than they are going to spend on the entire project.  There was some group talking with students in the lobby about tailored suits.  The ten miles between EMU’s campus and U of M’s campus is long indeed.
  • I showed up kind of late, but I don’t feel like I’ve missed much.  A lot of stuff I’ve heard before– I like the idea of “collapsed contexts” (which is also what Wesch talks about with YouTube)  as being like a wedding:  a bunch of people come together who normally wouldn’t and the situation is more or less mediated by alcohol.  The problem is there is no alcohol like that online (says her…).
  • Now she’s talking about her argument/blog argument about her MySpace being “ghetto,” which was indeed problematic, as I recall.  Here she seems to be talking about the experience of writing in public a bit, but I think she is going back to defend her claim.  I think my problem is that all of her evidence seems to be based on the sort of unsubstantiated claims of her teens, and I don’t think cherry picking the gut feelings of teenagers really represents “evidence.”  In other words, I suppose it’s fine to say that teens perceive this to be the case, but it’d be a lot more interesting to me if she tried to peel away at that to figure out why they think this.
  • Or thought this– the split between Facebook and Myspace in terms of class I think used to be true, but probably not anymore.  As someone said in the twitter discussion, MySpace has kind of become the defacto place for indie bands.  Or I guess to the extent that this split is still true, it is perhaps less so than it used to be.   Or maybe just another way of putting it:  online spaces tend to replicate face to face world interactions, which is certainly something people have talked about for a long time.
  • How do we teach this stuff?  How does this work for learning?  boyd argues that one of the best uses of this media is for various “flex time” to help students learn about learning– I guess to make those connections beyond the classroom experience?  She sorta skips that there has always been lots of technology, but she’s right that a lot of students don’t know about technologies like delicious and a lot of students don’t seem to think about a lot about wikipedia.  They aren’t critical users.  Of course, most of what she seems to mean by students/young people is high school kids.
  • She makes also a reference to mashup culture and how a lot of students don’t seem to know much about that either– also true, I think.  I just came from teaching my 121 class (why I was late), where I am showing them the first part of RIP: A Remix Manifesto, and while it’s difficult for me to get a clear sense about what they thought about it today (didn’t have time to talk about it yet), I could tell that it was something different to them.  This “youth culture” of raves, remixes, mashups, internet culture, copyleft, etc. is probably a lot more tied to class and race than the proponents would like to admit and/or recognize.
  • “Is it the technology you’re against, or is it the things you are seeing that you are against?”  I agree with that too….
  • She told a story at the end that I thought was kind of interesting about how one group of Christian students she interviewed who thought that MySpace was a Christian web site.  boyd, obviously confused, asked why they thought that, and the students showed her that everyone they know had Christian stuff on their web site. That seems to me to undercut part of her argument a bit in that what it suggests it that users can take this giant world like MySpace and completely misinterpret it to match up with their own world views.
  • Cliff Lampe offered a pretty good response to a lot of boyd’s points; I’ll need to look him up on this.  Lampe suggests that students are using Facebook to collaborate a lot, while professors are not a part of that.  I think it’s not so much that professors are not involved in student collaboration as much as they are left out.  Or maybe a better way of putting it is students and professors both kind of need their own space, so if my students are using Facebook to collaborate with each other and are leaving me out of it, I think that’s awesome.
  • Libby Hemphill talked mostly about the problems of getting data on this, which I think is very true….
  • Ed  Vielmenti Vielmetti talked a bit about the way that the migration from one service to another is often a lot more about particular histories (a server broke, etc.) personalities (people have fights and split up groups), a whole group just moves from a mailing list, etc.  I don’t disagree with this, but that doesn’t discount completely boyd’s argument either.
  • To be honest, I got sort of distracted during John Seely Brown’s remarks by a really useful twitter post with this:  “@misterkrot: Interesting that the panel on youth use of social media has nobody under 30 on it.”

And then they kinda chatted.  One thing that I thought was interesting at the end:  boyd talked about how she started blogging because she wanted to take an independent study from a Religion professor who moved away and she wanted to post those texts online.

All in all, a pretty good talk and event.  I do think though that it is weird to have a talk about youth, class and social networks in this very fancy palace of an ivory tower and with (mostly) kind of old, rich, white people.

Dimdim: Web conferencing

This is one of those things I need to think about playing with for my online teaching:  Dimdim.com seems to be pretty interesting software for collaborative video conferencing online, and there’s even an education/virtual classroom option. Now, it might not be all that smart/great; for example, I am concerned that the educational option promotes the fact that classroom size has now been increased from 40 to 50 (um, hurray?).  But to help with my own online teaching and/or to help my students collaborate on projects, it seems to me this might be a pretty handy tool for 328, 516, 444, or just about anything else I teach online.