So there you are, sitting alone in the late-night hours of your home where the silence may be deafening if you’re living alone or your spouse has long since gone to bed.
It’s been awhile since you’ve heard from anyone via e-mail or phone call, and the thought occurs to you: Does anyone still know I exist?
- Turn on the radio, the thing that’s been collecting dust ever since the computer came to live with you, and call in to a late-night talk show. At least that guy/woman may listen to you, and you can have at least the appearance of interacting with another human being.
- Log on to your computer and head to Facebook (everyone has at least a few friends active, even though most of the chatter is people talking about themselves), or head to a chatroom. Maybe even give the new and daring Chatroulette a try. Randomness dictates you will find chat partners there.
- You can go wake up your spouse, if you have one, or your kid, if you have one, and demand they engage you in conversation over hot chocolate. Good luck with that.
As an absolute last resort, you can call the person who absolutely has to talk with you, and that would be your mother. When a woman gives birth to a new kid, there’s a contract that comes attached like a toe tag to the baby: You must love this person at all times, and listen when it calls you out of loneliness at 3 a.m.
And that shows … what?
But what does it prove that your mom loves you? Is that a big surprise?
So most of us choose Option No. 2 these days because of its ease and because there is a ready supply of people out there like us doing the same thing, even at 3 a.m. All time zones are not created equal, especially when you toss in the hundreds of millions who live beyond American borders. And, you fantasize, there’s always that lonely girl or guy over in Uzbekistan who may be Webbing tonight.
The question is this: How many of us are taking that practice and moving it into daytime hours and prime-time evening hours as well?
How many of us are opting out of interacting with real flesh-and-blood people – who can sometimes be prickly and tough to interact with – and choosing instead to take ourselves into the world of the virtual unknown?
An isolating experience?
Conventional wisdom suggests that the Internet is, in fact, causing such isolation and withdrawal. There are also some studies that have suggested this, but then they have been contradicted by other studies.
Isn’t research great?
For example, a CNN.com health report from a decade ago noted, “A growing body of research suggests that excessive Internet use carries some of the same risks as gambling: It can lead to social isolation, depression and failure at work or school.”
The article, by Barbara Jamison of WebMD, continues, “Some people – particularly those who were isolated to begin with – have forged healthy friendships by meeting kindred souls online. But using the Internet too much can hurt face-to-face relationships. And psychologists say an increasing number of people are using the Internet so obsessively that they are ruining their marriages and careers.”
A kind of addiction
The data comes from a 1999 survey of 1,700 Internet users which was presented at a meeting of the American Psychological Association. Six percent of those surveyed met the criteria for addiction, Jamison said. “They felt a building tension before the act, a rush of relief afterwards, and distorting of mood and bingeing.”
The heavy use of the Web has even spawned a cottage industry within psychology: the Internet addiction specialist, a therapist who often prescribes antidepressant medication and putting your computer out on the curb for the trash haulers to pick up.
More recently, however, a 2009 study by the Pew Internet & American Life Project reported somewhat the opposite of the 1999 survey, although it included mobile phone use as well as Internet use. The study was carried out by researchers at the University of Pennsylvania’s Annenberg School of Communication.
“People who use modern information and communication technologies have larger and more diverse social networks, according to new national survey findings,” the Pew press release states. “These new findings challenge fears that use of new technologies has contributed to a long-term increase in social isolation in the United States.”
Among this study’s findings:
- On average, the size of people’s discussion networks is 12 percent larger among mobile phone users, 9 percent larger for those who share photos online, and 9 percent bigger for those who use instant messaging.
- The diversity of people’s core networks – their closest and most significant confidants – tends to be 25 percent larger for mobile phone users, 15 percent larger for basic Internet users, and even larger for frequent Internet users, those who use instant messaging, and those who share digital photos online.
- Americans are not as isolated as has been previously reported and social isolation has hardly changed since 1985. Only 6 percent of the adult population has no one with whom they can discuss important matters or who they consider to be “especially significant” in their life.
Two different studies, a decade apart, reporting two different sets of results. Don’t be surprised if the study done in 2019 reverses the data from the 2009 survey.
Ultimately, each of us has to decide for ourselves how much to immerse ourselves in virtual relationships on the Web as opposed to real ones in-person. Communication being what it is, we have fewer chances to detect all-important nonverbal cues from chatrooms and cell phones than from sitting down and chatting with a friend face to face.
It’s called interpersonal communication, and it can’t be done on Facebook.
Generally the word virus conjures up only nasty images.
In medicine it comes from the Latin word of the same name meaning toxin or poison and is a small infectious agent that can wreak havoc on our bodies.
A computer virus, as we know only too well, is a program that can copy itself and infect everything you have stored in your laptop as well as the workings of the computer itself.
Yet when it is used as the adjective viral and is harnessed by an organization wishing
to spread its message to as many people as possible on the Web, it can be a very useful thing. Because when a message goes viral, it assumes a life of its own and literally can spread itself to millions of Internet users.
And it can do it at a fraction of the cost it would otherwise cause a company or nonprofit group to buy via more traditional distribution methods such as advertising.
Good news, bad news
That’s good news for these organizations, but not so great news for the traditional news media. Why? Because it can represent a hit to a newspaper’s or television station’s already hard-hit advertising revenue profile. It also is another challenge for the online media’s advertising, like the one discussed a few weeks ago in this blog’s post called “The Flash and the Cash.”
Many traditional media companies are realizing this and are finding ways of transitioning to this new reality, while still touting the obvious benefits of advertising in the only print daily newspaper in town. After all, if advertisers think they can automatically garner customers on the Web, possibly they’ve forgotten about the hundreds of thousands of competitors out there.
Viral campaigns underway
Viral marketing campaigns have caught on big-time in the public relations industry, largely as a result of the track record of past viral successes.
A classic example of what some believe to still be the best viral marketing campaign was also the simplest to develop. The story belongs to the marketing people behind the e-mail service Hotmail.
When Hotmail began, it faced the challenge of getting enough traffic to become successful. Its growth rate just wasn’t fast enough to meet the demands of the company. Many believe this gave rise to the first mass viral marketing campaign over the Web. To its advantage, Hotmail realized it could control the format of all its outbound e-mails that each Hotmail user sent. So Hotmail created a footer at the end of each outgoing message in which they attached their own message that read: “To get your FREE email account, go to www.hotmail.com.” Anytime a Hotmail user sent an e-mail, that message was getting out to the spider web of users on the Internet.
Bottom line: traffic soared; goal reached. Hotmail became a great success. Cash outlay? Virtually nothing.
Not magic, but helpful
Another example: Six Flags Magic Mountain produced a VNR (video news release) about a new ride, but it also digitized the video B-roll of the actual ride and distributed it via its Web site and put it up on YouTube. Visitors to either site could experience the ride from their own PC screen in full motion and in full sound, and send the video to their friends, who sent it to their friends, yadayadayada.
In essence, viral marketing takes a different approach to reaching people with news about services and products. Before the popularity of the Web became so immense, organizations and companies targeted their messages and advertisements to the news media, which in turn would deliver those messages to the target audiences. Some media do a great job in reaching target audiences; others not so great.
Can you spell community?
Viral marketing goes online to directly reach the networked communities that make up the Web. The marketing campaign can target any one or more of those thousands of networked communities, each of which resembles (again the metaphor) a giant spider web.
In fact, many say online marketing is all about community.
Online marketing allows organizations and companies to listen to what their audiences are saying, getting involved in that conversation directly, providing quality content relevant to those specific conversations, and building relationships.
The company RealWire (www.realwire.com) which is one of a growing number of online consultants offering services to clients, uses the analogy of the Web as a large party. You are invited but don’t know many people, so you wander around the room listening in on conversations until you find one or more that is relevant to you and your interests. Then you stop and engage in the chat. That’s what online marketers do. If your conversations are interesting, some of the people at that party may invite you to their parties where you can share your stories with others. That’s the role that bloggers play in all of this and, in fact, it is what I’m doing right now: sharing a story from RealWire that I heard at another online “party.”
So, if you’re reading this, that company’s story has been moved along one more link in the chain of Web users.
RealWire’s subsidiary, WebitPR, recently conducted a survey of how important viral marketing is to businesses and organizations, and discovered that 99 percent of all respondents said online coverage is important to their organization or clients. The reason? Most saw the archived nature of coverage and the Web’s global reach as vital. And 90 percent said that kind of online coverage has become even more important over the past 12 months.
Traditional news media understand what is going on, and many of them have long ago extended their services into the Web and are taking advantage of its viral possibilities. The Oklahoman, for example, has established a presence on three of the most viral Web sites: Facebook, MySpace, and YouTube. A story from www.newsok.com gets shared on Facebook with a group of friends, who in turn share it with other friends and other “parties.”
Before long, the word gets out and it gets out big time.
One of those surprises is the innovative multimedia collaboration that is Newsok.com, found right here in Oklahoma City. This online newspaper is creatively miles ahead of my other hometown paper, The Los Angeles Times, or any other metro online daily for that matter.
But a real shocker is the groundbreaking work being done in creating new media models at Ball State University in the somewhat obscure town of Muncie, Indiana. Much of the funding for this venture comes from a not-so-obscure guy with a very familiar face.
The hub of activity is the state-of-the art, three-building complex housing the College of Communication, Information and Media, overseen by Dean Roger Lavery, a former advertising agency executive.
If you have any interest in the media, or in what it might look like in the future, you should find time to get over and see this place, anchored by the new David Letterman Communication and Media Building. It is funded by, and named for, you guessed it: the Indiana-raised late-night talk show host, himself a grad of Ball State. In many ways, it reminds you of the beautiful Gaylord Journalism and Mass Communication Building at OU, with an even broader focus.
Three in One
But the Letterman Building is only one of three huge structures designed and crafted in the recent past and joined together under one gigantic roof with plenty of glass and skylights that serve as a metaphor for bringing light to the world through more creative and transparent communications.
The other two buildings are the innovative Ball Communication Building (the genesis of this complex) and the equally impressive, and as-yet unnamed, Arts and Journalism Building. Each structure houses cutting-edge classrooms, labs, and student media operations that rival many (and surpass some) professional media facilities.
Best and Brightest
This innovative college is staffed by some of the best and the brightest academics and professional media people who believe in taking their students on a journey of immersive learning through the various media labs, programs, and publications available to them. And some 2,000 students — undergrads and grads — take advantage of this, making BSU’s communication college the seventh largest in the country.
Among the innovations taking place here: One of the first — if not the first — fully integrated print, online, and broadcast news curriculums in the world. It’s a product of three years of collaboration between faculty of the Journalism and Telecommunications Departments, two divisions normally entrenched in turf battles at other universities.
As Ball State promoters say, “To create the best, you need the best. Our college has some of the most high-tech equipment to help you with your many projects.”
Some of the creative and cutting-edge facilities and equipment housed in the three buildings are:
* Five surround-sound editing suites and two surround-sound recording studios for digital cinema and video sound as well as music acquisition and mixing.
* WCRD-FM, a student-run radio station, and IPR (Indiana Public Radio), an NPR affiliate.
* The Center for Information and Communication Sciences, partnering with communication companies to carry out applied research.
* The Center for Media Design (CMD), a research and development facility focused on the creation, testing and practical application of digital technologies for business, classroom, home, and community.
* Two Sony 900 HD cameras—the same kind used by George Lucas and major movie studios—and the same Sony PD-150 camcorders used on the Discovery Channel’s Deadliest Catch and in the field by A&E and CNN.
* The Ball State Daily News newsroom which houses both the print and online edition of the 14,000-circulation campus daily, and even has a platform studio reserved just for podcasts, and an area for its Newslink Indiana operation that provides online and video news feeds for Central Indiana.
* A newsroom and production studio for a full-color print and online magazine dubbed expo and Ball Bearings.
* A suite of offices for Cardinal Communication, the student-run public relations agency which takes on campus and professional clients.
* Offices for the American Advertising Federation, also student-run, in which students compete in national advertising competitions.
* Offices for J-Ideas that recruit and train aspiring high school journalists and which is part of a large, ongoing interaction the Journalism Department has with high school students nationwide.
* Photographic studios, digital graphics labs, and cabinets full of cameras and lenses.
* Eye-Track labs in which regular research studies are conducted on how readers and viewers process print and online pages.
* A visual animation lab, equipped with software and hardware to give students full access to the new field of interactivity.
* An array of audio and video editing software and equipment, including 30 Mac G5 work stations, each featuring Final Cut Pro and Adobe software products such as InDesign, Illustrator, and PhotoShop; three private post production suites; and one voice-over lab for additional/advanced dialogue replacement (ADR).
Following — and Setting — Trends
Much like the famed MIT Media Lab, the Ball State College of Communication, Information, and Media not only monitors and follows the trends in the various media; they are also setting trends and working on applied-research projects that produce demonstrative results. In the world of a media landscape that changes almost every week, facilities like these are needed to help shine a light through the chaos that often accompanies creativity.
The news and entertainment media are all asking the same kind of questions in today’s age of the virtual unknown. These questions come in different forms and may relate differrently to each media sector, but essentially they are the same: What are the killer applications that will make my media product so essential to the reader or viewer that they will choose it from the competition and support it through reading the ads as well as the editorial and entertainment content?
At a growing number of universities and research centers around the country, that question is being taken very seriously, and are the focus of much experimentation. Ball State University is one of the newest and most impressive of these centers.
And you thought Hoosiers cared only about basketball.
Question: If you were going to challenge Facebook for dominance in the social network world, who would you like to be?
Two months ago, this is the fight that began when the search engine giant launched Google Buzz, a social network addition to its popular Gmail e-mail which millions of us use. According to Google, Buzz is “a new way to share updates, photos, videos and more, and start conversations about things you find interesting.”
It utilizes the built-in base that Gmail users have of people they regularly correspond with, and it allows them to expand their offerings to the world if they like. Since it’s built into the existing Gmail home page, users have nothing new to set up ,nor new usernames or passwords to create, nor a new list of friends to create.
Google promotes features that go beyond Facebook’s status updates, including the ability of Buzz to pull images directly from links (doesn’t Facebook already do that?) and to play videos “in-line” as well as galleries of still photos. Users can also link their Buzz to other social network sites like Flickr, Picasa, Google Reader, and Twitter. Oops — no Facebook. Understandable since that’s the service Buzz is dueling.
Buzz delivers responses to comments right to the user’s Gmail inbox, meaning that your mailbbox can fill up fast if you use Buzz as much as most people use Facebook. You also respond to the responders right from your Gmail box. So, as yet, there is no separate Buzz site; your Gmail inbox is it.
Buzz also sends “recommended” posts and updates and users can select them if they like.
Like Facebook, Buzz users can access the feature from their mobile phones. That application, however, has become the focus of a new lawsuit for both Google and Facebook.
Last month, Bloomberg.com reported Wireless Ink Corp. filed a suit seeking cash compensation and a court order to prevent Facebook and Google from allowing users to join the sites from their cell phones, according to an article by David Glovin and Susan Decker.
A Patented Fight
Wireless Ink, which owns the Winksite service, claims it has an exclusive patent linking cell phones to social network sites, and that the patent was issued them last October. The New York software firm has created Web sites that can be accessed from users mobile wireless devices such as cell phones. Wireless Ink. claims it has 75,000 registered users already. The company said it first made the application public in 2004, so Facebook and Google knew of its existence when they began linking their sites to mobile devices.
Like every other new Web 2.0 creation, time will tell if Google Buzz is superfluous or offers enough uniqueness to interest large numbers of users. Some are skeptical, however. Writing in Laptopmag.com, for example, Dana Wollman says the following:
“Personally, the idea of having my updates indexed in my Google Profile is oddly scary to me, even though my tweets are all public as well. I think the difference, for me, is that someone has to be on Twitter, seeing my tweets in their timeline, to become aware of me. My Google Profile appears every time someone searches for me on Google.”
Method to Madness?
Others note there is a method to the seeming madness of adding yet another social networking site. Chris Foresman writes on arstechnia.com that, “Buzz is designed to bring the fire hose of social media and status updates down to a useful trickle of the most ‘interesting’ bits.”
And Google’s Todd Jackson calls it “a Google approach to sharing.”
Whether you like the idea or not, betting against Google and its resources is not the safest way to go either in this world or in the virtual unknown.