Monthly Archives: July 2014

Changing the World….One LOLcat at a time!

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lolcat
Throughout the semester, we have had a common link from one week to the next: the power of numbers and networking. From the first few weeks, when we discussed the telegraph, the television and the development of the Internet, the impact technology has had on how people effectively communicate and share knowledge has been the underlying theme.

NSA lolcats?

NSA lolcats?

As often happens with inventions, there have been many uses of the Internet that were not intended by the inventors. The NSA began spying, hackers are stealing information, cyber-attacks becoming more of a threat than physical war and, then, social media has taken over our method of communication with one another, especially our youth. We have become heavily reliant on the Internet and, in doing so, have left ourselves vulnerable. A yin and yang, good and bad.

Marshall McLuhan, with his Theory of Technological Determinism, describes how these technologies have affected our interaction with one another, that as we develop these tools, the tools also develop and shape us. Although he did not live to see the dawning of this new age (the Internet Revolution), his theory can easily be applied to what we are seeing occur, as far as how we socialize.

However, of all the innovations we discussed, television has been the one that Clay Shirky really “picked on”. Where the telegraph (telephone) and the Internet encourage two-way communication, the television was designed for people to sit back, staring blankly at a screen, absorbing information with no feedback opportunity. Essentially, making us watchers of the “boob tube”.favorite show

According to Shirky, television has “absorbed the lion’s share of the free time available to citizens of the developed world.”. In the United States alone, it is estimated that we collectively watch approximately 200 billion hours of TV per year. However, the shift that is currently happening is more people are turning the television off, and the time they spend on the Internet is increasing.

With only so much free time in our days, our cognitive surplus, Shirky believes we should be using this time to be proactive in society. He estimates that Wikipedia took around 100 million hours of collective editing to create. With the amount of television we watch, in the US alone, that would create 2,000 Wikipedia sites. Using our free time to improve society is most certainly an admirable goal, so long as people are spending this excess time in positive ways.

Wikipedia reliability? Ehhh

Wikipedia reliability? Ehhh

The example of LOLcats might be seen as a waste of time to some, but it is harmless entertainment and displays the creativity that we realize when so many people come together to collectively work on a project.

There are so many examples, however, of this collaboration leading to negative effects: the collective communities that are sharing hacking secrets, encouraging hate crimes and terrorist activities. There is also the issue of reliability with sites, such as Wikipedia. For instance, did you know that the U.S. Men’s Soccer goalie, Tim Howard, was also the U.S. Secretary of Defense? 🙂

The first collective project I thought about, which uses cognitive surplus to create it, is the business review website, Angie’s List. This business was created to combine everyone’s knowledge and opinions, in order to rate and review businesses.

In the past, people had to rely on organizations, such as the Better Business Bureau, to obtain information about the businesses that they dealt with. BBB was able to let people know if the business was a member, and if there were active complaints about the company. However, people typically wouldn’t complain to the BBB that a company had done a “mediocre” job. These average companies could slide by, continuing their average work.

Angie’s List allows members to rate companies on many different aspects of their business transaction. While you may not make a formal complaint to BBB that a contractor was continuously late and took twice as long to complete a job as they initially quoted, Angie’s List is the perfect platform for such a complaint. Not only do consumers obtain more detailed information about the companies, the companies realize quickly they need to step up their game if they want to survive.

contractorlolI am not a member of Angie’s List, mainly because my husband was a contractor for many years and does the work himself. However, I can see where this would be very helpful to someone that doesn’t have a lot of background information on the work they need done. With so many stories of con artists swindling poor, unsuspecting customers, it is no wonder Angie’s List caught on so quickly.

This also ties into what we have discussed about networking. Just because I don’t have an Angie’s List account, doesn’t mean that I won’t hear about the negative, or positive, comments that are on there. Reputation travels much quicker now. Businesses that don’t operate ethically won’t be around for long.

A project that I would support, using collective cognitive surplus, would be an online tutoring community to help students in impoverished school districts. It would be simple to acquire volunteers, willing to be online to answer questions and explain things. People who were not able to donate their time to these children, due to distant location, would be able to contribute to improving these districts and, as a result, society.

However, as we learned during discussion of the topic “digital divide”, we must first provide these students with the tools they would need to get to this resource, namely a reliable Internet connection. The issue of reliable Internet connection could be solved through a program that provides low-income families with reduced or free Internet service, similar to the program that provides children with free or reduced cost meals at school. Being I have seen several articles and advertisements announcing free cell phone service for low income people, surely this isn’t too much of a stretch.bridge

I admire Shirky’s ideas on cognitive surplus and the difference we can make when we combine our efforts. I agree that we are experiencing a period in time where people are looking beyond what is right in front of their eyes and, instead, participating in advancement and change for the good of society, as a whole.

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The Art of War? Who’s the enemy?

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The Art of War

The Art of War

Something that was so telling to me, in the Frontline documentary “Generation Like”, was when the book The Art of War was shown during the Kiip section. Although this book was written on strategies during war, the business world easily adopted its theories and concepts to be applicable for business strategy. The question I have, though, is who is the enemy at Kiip?

If Marshall McLuhan had lived to see the Internet, in its current state, I don’t think it would surprise him. To have this much networking power, and it not be used to market to anyone within arm’s reach, would be foolish, from a strategic point of view. Does that mean it’s right? No.

But is it really so different than when cigarette companies were using cartoon images in their magazine advertisements in order to attract a younger consumer to their product? I think, with any new media tool, we will always have this ethical dilemma, deciding whether using it is being manipulative or not. It seems to me that the tool always ends up targeting our most vulnerable consumers: children.

Thankfully, I’m well beyond the age that I need constant approval from my peers about things I “like”. But, I do remember that age, where others’ opinions affect feelings of self-worth. I feel sorry for kids today because they seem to constantly be “on”, proving to themselves that they are popular. They can’t get a break, or vacation, from the job of people pleasing.During the video, a group of kids were sitting around a dining room table, almost as if they were in a board meeting. It’s like this has turned into their full-time job, marketing themselves to their peers.

evolutionEven worse though, it seems their popularity is now dependent on the entire country (or world, really), rather than just the kids in their school. In the Shirky chapter “Fitting our Tools to a Small World”, the concept of loose and tight-fitted groups is discussed. Social media websites, such as Facebook, relied on such groups to be successful. A witty comment, or link to a common interest, on a friend’s page may elicit friend requests from people that have never been met.

Then, a posting on that new friend’s page may elicit a request from friends of theirs’.It is the same concept as the previous Shirky chapter “It Takes a Village to Find a Phone”, where Evan Guttman tracked down his friend Ivana’s phone, except these teens and tweens are passing along the message of their “brand”, or their created identity. In fact, isn’t this the very concept that the Internet is based on?

 

The Small World Network has been equally successful on YouTube, however, the highly connected people have managed to use their connections to form a business model. While it appears that the highly connected people are gaining popularity because of their uniqueness, personality or daring behavior, I think they end up losing credibility when they “sell out” to sponsors.

The whole reason other kids, or adults, have flocked to them is lost once they start basing their content decisions on what their sponsors want, rather than their audience. Although, it seems that finding sponsors was their initial goal so, in that way, I do admire their entrepreneurial skills.

Reluctantly, I admit I am one of the “older folks”. I don’t have a Facebook or participate in social media, aside from this course. I did have a Facebook account, many years ago, and I can remember the people that really worked their accounts hard. They were constantly online, posting comments and pictures about mundane things, such as, “Look at the scrambled eggs I just made the kids for breakfast. Doesn’t it look delicious?”.edited1

These postings, from people well beyond their teenage years, is exactly why I deleted my account. And, honestly, the things I’ve learned in this course have only reconfirmed that I made a wise choice. But, as they said on Seinfeld, “not that there’s anything wrong with that”. 🙂  tumblr_static_30188hiseinfeld1

I also find that “likes” are quite misleading. So what if 10,000 people “like” a product if 20,000 dislike it? We have no way of knowing about the negative opinions. At one point, Facebook considered adding a “dislike” button, but only to certain areas. They definitely weren’t going to allow people to “dislike” a company that was paying them for advertising.

And, if a company or product is acquiring those “likes” by offering something for free, it also discredits the measurement. How do these people know if they like the product before they try it? In my opinion, “likes” is not a measurement of quality in any way, shape or form. It displays who has spent more money on marketing. These companies purchased their “likes”.

I finished the material this week and was very thankful to not have been a child during this period. These kids have to worry about their image on a much larger level than I could ever have imagined. A negative comment from a peer, which has always been devastating, is devastating multiplied by thousands. I will be holding out on allowing my children to create social media profiles for as long as I can. I want them to build their sense of self-worth based on their personality, character and skills, not on how many people approve of a single comment or picture.

Connected or Disconnected?

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I think the Internet is a combination of both a hot medium and cool medium, depending on what you are doing. There are times in which you are reading information, similar to what you would be doing with a book. Other times, listening to music. Then, there is also watching movies. What makes the Internet so different from what we have seen in the past is the ability to interact. I think this takes the Internet into an entirely new and different direction.Disconnected-from-Internet

To me, the Internet seems to have added a fifth epoch to McLuhan’s work. It is a combination of all the prior epochs, enabling oral, written, visual and, then, instant interaction with all of them. If Marshal McLuhan had lived to see this day, I’m sure he would have much to say on the subject of the Internet.

Gutenberg’s invention of the movable type print spurred the Renaissance and Industrial Revolution, through the spreading of knowledge. The Internet has begun a revolution of its own by making our world more global, rather than regional, minded.

The Ultimatum Game, that is described in Shirkys’ Cognitive Surplus, displays that, in general, people feel responsible for others and want to appear fair and just. The Internet has made issues on the other side of the world, which were once viewed as “their” problem, a global problem. Seeing and hearing the things others are experiencing, as they are experiencing it, makes “their” problems difficult for everyone else to ignore.

This is evident when you start thinking about global disasters that have happened since the dawn of the digital revolution. The tsunami in Indonesia in 2004, Hurricane Katrina, the earthquake that devastated Haiti in 2010, and the tsunami that hit Japan in 2011 received instant coverage due to the Internet. Because of this, a massive number of people donated both their time and money to help the areas. I think the ability to communicate and interact with each other, as a global society, has moved us towards a more unified planet.

I definitely see the downside to being constantly connected though. I’ve noticed, with my own children, the effects the Frontline video described. There are times that my husband, children and I are in the same room, but so very far away from one another. We maybe connecting to more people because of the Internet but, that doesn’t mean we are connecting as deeply.

And, it often seems that people have lost the concept of courtesy when they are with people. One of the students being interview for Frontline mentioned that he was not upset over his friend cutting into their conversation to answer an email or text on his phone because he said he knew he would be doing the same thing soon.

This is a birthday party my friend's son attended. How many phones do you see?

This is a birthday party my friend’s son attended. How many phones do you see? I see five.

A friend and I were recently discussing this very thing. She had recently seen a video, showing how cell phones had affected one particular restaurant. This restaurant had always received wonderful feedback, but had been declining in the past several years. Customers were complaining that their service had become very slow. They decided to investigate and their findings were evidence that our constant “connection” to one another online affects other people around us.

I know many people feel that the Internet has improved their socialization. Applications, such as Second Life, have enabled people to regularly conduct virtual meetings with co-workers thousands of miles away. Then, games have built communities of friends that meet up several times per week. One man said he didn’t have any real world friends that he spent that much time with.

Overall, I think there are both positive and negative effects from the internet. It has the ability to connect us and disconnect us from one another simultaneously. Because of this week’s material, my family and I have started a new tradition of taking a family walk every night. Without our gadgets 🙂

How much am I willing to pay? As much as I can afford!

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Bringing the aspect of price into the discussion this week has turned it into a topic of great interest to me, being a marketing major. Most purchase decisions are based on price. Consumer behavior will evolve, and become more complicated, as price increases.

On the other hand, if regulations would require providers to only offer an increased speed option, without slowing down the existing option, people could choose. For me, I would be perfectly happy with my current service. Someone that uses their computer for far more technical things, involving advanced video, audio, gaming, etc., may feel the faster speed is worth paying more.

Will some of us go backwards?

Will some of us go backwards?

What is my breaking point, when it comes to price for internet activity? That’s a really tough question. Right now, so much of my life is internet dependent. I recently had my modem struck by lightning (or it just broke) and was offline for almost a week. The impact that had on my everyday functions and tasks was a little alarming. Everything was complicated.

I have three courses online this semester so, obviously, most of the work I do for assignments is online. When I lost my internet service, I was completely lost also. I attempted to work on my iPhone, however, the tiny screen just does not make for an enjoyable viewing or reading experience.

It reminded me of the topic of the “digital divide”. The issue is for rural areas of the country, or world really, that do not have the internet connection options that urban areas have. People are being left behind because they do not have adequate service at a reasonable price.

Some friends of mine recently moved from Chatham, Illinois to a home about five miles outside town. Those five miles have made a huge impact on the quality and price of the internet service they have available to them.

The only option they have is satellite internet at their new home. There is a limit on the amount of data they can upload and download every month, and the cost far exceeds the cost they had in town. One of them works from a home office so internet is not just an option, it is a necessity.

If providers begin increasing their prices to absorb their increased costs, I believe it will immediately increase the digital divide to include even more lower-income people in urban areas. Public areas that offer free internet connection may start charging also.

Any company that we purchase a product from will have to account for an increase in cost they incur to do business. This will come from price increases on their products. So any cost increase this widespread could increase the price of every product we purchase, not just internet service.

I think my breaking point now, and in the future, is completely dependent on what I have going on in my life. While a student, the internet is worth quite a bit to me. Having service at home means not having to drag my children to McDonald’s to get work done. It means being able to cook dinner, or switch laundry around, at the same time as researching for a paper or project. At this point in my life, my time is worth far more to me than a little more money each month.

With that said, when I am working somewhere I have internet access to do my work, while I’m at work, my breaking point will decrease. However, because my children will still be students, their need for home service will make me continue to pay.

When my children are all off at college, and I live in an urban setting with many businesses that offer free internet use, I would consider that a likely substitute when pricing home service. If I’m in a more suburban setting that would require me to get in my car to get somewhere with service, I would value home service a little higher, and be willing to pay more.

My husband and I plan to retire to some tropical location in Mexico, Central or South America (don’t we all?). 🙂 At that point, I’m not sure how important home service will really be to us. I could see us simply packing our laptops up and biking to a coffee shop or restaurant for a few hours everyday. There will be no urgency or need for frequent use like we have now.

Playa Del Carmen, Mexico

Playa Del Carmen, Mexico

I really think this comes down to individual needs and what alternatives are available. For marketing purposes, you really don’t want consumers to start considering substitutes for your product. If the internet service providers increase their prices too much, I believe it will backfire on them with a loss of customers.