I was talking to my college students a couple weeks ago about their favorite TV shows.
Turns out that most don’t actually watch TV but, among those who do, The Walking Dead emerged as a must-see show. And this from a couple of the brightest kids in the room.
Curious, I thought. What is there about the undead that young people today find so inviting and mesmerizing? Is it a leftover fascination spawned from reading Twilight books in middle school and high school? Is it a feeling that all zombies look like Kristen Stewart and Robert Pattinson? Is it disillusionment with the real world? Or is something else going on?
In the online world you can commune with lovers of the undead all you want. There are even index sites which take you to the Web’s best vampire sites. Of course some of these indices take you to only their affiliated sites, but that’s another matter. On one index I found, the site garnering the most votes seems to be from Transylvania (why not?), but there are plenty of ones in English. For example:
* Adrian’s Undead Diary
* Diary of a Runner
* Todd the Zombie
* Zombie Day
And the list goes on and on.
Here’s what Adrian’s Undead Diary says about itself:
“Welcome to Adrian’s Undead Diary. Adrian Ring is our intrepid hero here, having just barely survived a world consuming apocalypse of the undead. Adrian’s Diary chronicles his battles with the zombie hordes and his ongoing struggle with survival. Read and understand exactly how he completed his hero’s journey, avoiding starvation, zombies, injuries, fellow survivors, and sickness, as well as sharing in his humor and his horror.
“We are not only attempting to share some high quality zombie, undead and horror genre fiction, but also to build a friendly community of like minded folks!”
Next follows a standard online disclaimer that the site contains cussing and crude stories, always guaranteed to lure in the under-18 crowd who is “warned” stay away.
However batty it seems, zombies have made a pretty good comeback over the decades. Not surprising for the undead, though, right?
When I was a kid growing up in Midwest City, there was a late-night Saturday program called Shock Theater, and it often featured Bela Lugosi as Dracula, the best-known (before Pattinson and Stewart) zombie. Our neighborhood gang loved it, and we would hold “Shock Parties” in each other’s homes to watch the human bats suck the marrow from life. Not exactly what Robin Williams had in mind in The Dead Poet’s Society, but it worked for us.
A few years later came the classic zombie film, Night of the Living Dead, and the bats were on the wing again.
Then the bat caves turned silent for a long time, unless you count the Batman phenomenon but, again, that’s another story. A few years ago, however, the stirrings of the undead arose once again as the Twilight saga hit the big screens after a sizeable audience of teens had been primed for it through the series of book
TV finds the undead
And then AMC unleashed The Walking Dead and it found a huge audience. All of a sudden, parents were wondering what was happening to their kids and grandkids, forgetting (as grown-ups usually do) that they were fascinated by the same vampire genre when they were kids.
Actor Brad Pitt will bring even more attention to the zombie craze in the upcoming World War Z as he races to save the world from a zombie apocalypse.
Recently, Terry Mattingly who writes a religion column for Scripps-Howard News Service, took a look at the current zombie craze among young people. He quoted the editor of Good News, a Methodist magazine, as saying the following:
“It may take five minutes or it may take as long as 10, but sooner or later you’re going to run into some kind of zombie comment,” said Steve Beard. “Someone will say something like, ‘When the zombie apocalypse occurs, we need to make sure we’re all at so-and-so’s house so we can stick together.’ It’s all a wink and a nod kind of deal, but the point is that this whole zombie thing has become a part of the language of our time.”
Beard believes that the fascination is not actually about zombies at all, however, but actually points to something deeper.
“Truth is, The Walking Dead is not about zombies,” he says. “It’s a show about people who are trying to figure out the difference between mere survival and truly living. How do you decide what is right and what is wrong? How do you stay sane in a world that has gone crazy?”
So, if I’m following this logic correctly, young people may be feeling that zombies have found a way to do what many in my generation did when they decided to turn out to LSD and drop out of the establishment for awhile. Joining hands with the undead may be a way to live in the world, yet not be a part of the world. It’s another attempt at human-made spiritualism, and its results will probably be as predictable as that which came from LSD.
Or, Beard’s framing aside, perhaps the zombie craze is just another way of featuring buckets of blood and violence on the screen without having to believe real people are being hurt in the process.
Or, back to my earlier speculation, there is something to be said for feeling as if you look like Robert Pattinson or Kristen Stewart …
Tossing technology into the mix, what makes the current fascination with the undead different from previous eras, is that now young people cannot only commune with other lovers of the undead, but they can do it in the unliving world of the Web. It’s another way of living with fantasy in a place of fantasy.
Good escapism maybe, but one wonders if that’s really what the world needs more of today.
I’ve been talking with my students this week about how companies maintain or lose customer satisfaction with consumers, and the topic always brings up good and bad personal experiences.
On the negative side (and there are more of these than positive ones), I wrote in this blog two summers back about how Capital One had declared me dead, causing me all kinds of credit problems at the exact time I was trying to get a home mortgage.
Even after I finally got a human voice (albeit from a foreign call center) to admit he believed I was alive, he told me “the computers are in charge, however,” and they had from 30-45 days to investigate and resolve the problem.
On the up side — and this may sound ironic given the stereotype of this government agency — I have found the IRS to be extremely helpful over the years. It’s easier to get a human and knowledgeable voice on the other end of the line with the Internal Revenue Service than with United Airlines, even when all you’re trying to do is buy their service.
For the purposes of this blog, however, I am most interested in the intersection of communication technology and customer satisfaction. It’s no stretch to say that the inability to talk to a human being, and the dehumanizing experience of talking to a digital signal, is probably the No. 1 cause of customer dissatisfaction in America.
A popular topic
Author Laura Penny has even written a book about this, appropriately called, Your Call is Important to Us: The Truth About Bull—-.” The cover features a large shovel, and the first chapter is called, “You’re Soaking in It.”
More than any other lie that corporate America would spin onto consumers, “Your call is very important to us,” is the one that sends most consumers through the roof. We know a long delay awaits and — even then — we will be handed a digitized voice to talk to.
The dehmanizing side
This whole dehumanizing concept of requiring customers to talk to robots, or at least a voice from a call center on another continent, was dramatized in the George Clooney film, Up in the Air. In that film’s most tragic and poignant scene, we see a veteran, dedicated company employee being fired by a detached voice from a computer screen. He starts to weep; the computer is unable to mimic of even register that emotion.
We know that technology is very important to customer satisfaction. If a business doesn’t avail itself of Web 2.0 communication technology, that can — in itself — become a cause for disgruntled customers. We want multiple access points to a company we deal with, starting with Web access.
NBRI weighs in
As one of its ten tips to customer satisfaction, The National Business Research Institute (NBRI) lists the need to give customers Web access to your business and to make it easy for them to place their orders. It explains:
“Technology means more than a fancy Flash website. In order to satisfy customers, companies have to keep up with the latest technological advances or suffer the consequences. Change is never easy, but business as usual isn’t a viable alternative anymore. Technology can help small and mid-size companies look like big companies by improving the quality of the purchasing experience without adding staff to the payroll.”
Twisting its use
But taking that same technology and turning it into a demeaning obstacle to the goal of customer interaction … therein lies the rub.
Turns out, I’m far from being alone in my assessment. Wall Street Journal columnist Gary Hamel penned an entire column about this, entitled, “Your Call is Important to Us. Yeah, Sure.” He writes:
“What irks me most, though, is when companies barricade their customer support staff behind a near impenetrable wall of multi-level telephone prompts. I mean, golly, you’d think I was trying to get through the White House switchboard rather than obtain a part number for my broken dishwasher.
“I get the fact that companies are trying to keep their call center costs to a minimum—but I wish they’d at least be honest about that. (But) Instead of telling us: We are experiencing unusually heavy call volumes . . .
“They should say: Even more of our underpaid and overworked staff called in sick than usual.
“Instead of telling us: You may be able to find what you need on our Web site . . .
They should say: There are 10 people in the world who still haven’t heard about the Internet and we want to make sure you’re not one of them.”
Thanks Gary. You think the decision-makers at Capital One and United Airlines ever read columns and blogs?
One can only hope. A call from one of them, about this issue, is one I would wait for.
Every semester I face this same problem.
I am a university professor of mass media, and the challenge I face is threefold:
- Should I focus on the new media delivery systems, or on the nature, purpose, and impact of the media on news and entertainment consumers?
- If I focus on the delivery systems, how can I be sure my 20-year-old students don’t already know more than I do about them?
- Is anyone really paying attention to the kind of content we are getting from the media these days and, if not, shouldn’t I focus on that?
The challenge of time
The challenge is exacerbated by the fact that I have less than 48 total contact hours with these kids over three months time. In that time I must try and detail the traditions of the news and entertainment media since Day 1 while also going over the sea changes occurring just over the past decade alone.
Can I have a lifeline?
Speaking in tongues
Oh yeah, and add this problem to the mix: Few people have the same idea of what the following terms even mean, at least operationally, today:
- New Media
- Media Convergence
We’re not talking textbook definitions here, although even those change from generation to generation. We are talking about the nature, purpose, and impact of these terms.
Remember the old song lyric, “You say tomato, I say tomahto.” Just substitute any of the above media terms and you get the Tower of Babel scenario existing on college campuses existing between student and prof in talking about the media.
A relic from the past
A couple years ago, for example, I was talking about newspapers in a media class, and I held up an ink-on-paper copy of the Los Angeles Times.
A hand shot up in the back of the class and a student, who acted like he’d never seen one of these artifacts before asked: “Where do you get one of those things?
I’ve become used to what others might perceive as a startling phenomenon, so I suggested simply that the student walk just outside our building and buy one from the newspaper rack. I have no idea what he thought that sidewalk structure was for, since he had undoubtedly passed it several times a day.
The first chapter in the media text I’m using is called, “Media Literacy,” and I’ve come to understand why the author put that topic front and center. It simply means becoming literate about the most powerful institution in our lives today.
Not only is it important, given the huge influence the media have on how we run our daily lives, but it is also something a lot of young people have not thought much about.
Adrift at sea
Here’s what author John Vivian says about this in his book, The Media of Mass Communication.:
“We swim in an ocean of mass communication, exposes 68.8 percent of our waking hours to media messages. So immersed are we in these messages that we often are unmindful of their existence, let alone their influences.”
I mean, they know how to use the technology better than most of us. But what that technology can do for — and to – them is another matter that often escapes their attention.
A loaded weapon
In another realm, one might ask what kind of society we would have if everyone understood how to shoot a gun but gave no thought to how one should behave with that gun.
That’s not such a far-fetched analogy. Just ask the families of those young people like Rutgers freshman Tyler Clementi who committed suicide after a sensitive video of him was uploaded to the Web. Or ask the families of the 25 passengers killed on an L.A. commuter train in September, 2008. The driver of that train was texting when he crashed head-on into another one.
Thinking back to my opening dilemma, I recall a saying that suggests we should always play to our strengths. That makes sense to me.
I’ll assume the students know how to pull the trigger of their iPad.
As for me, I’ll focus on gun safety.
Last spring we all saw what can happen to a movement when a video of it goes viral on YouTube. That was the Kony 2012 video, showing the atrocities committed by the Ugandan rebel and calling world attention to the need for his capture.
About three weeks ago the world was shocked not by a mass murderer but a 22-year-old Chinese woman who was simply trying to have a second baby, only to see that 7-month fetus aborted by the Chinese government.
The video of that aborted fetus was posted, and it has ignited a firestorm protest among Chinese over the government’s one-child-only policy. The video is all over the Web and several thousand viewers have already seen it and its clones on YouTube.
In the wake of that protest, the British newspaper The Telegraph, has noted: “An influential think-tank that advises China’s cabinet, called on authorities to consider ‘adjustments’ to the law and the introduction of a two-child policy ‘as soon as possible.’”
Ms. Feng had violated the Chinese government family planning rule, but the consequence shocked and saddened her deeply, and her relatives said enough is enough and posted pictures of the fetus online.
The Economist magazine describes the photo this way:
“In the photographs the young mother lies on a clinic bed, her hair obscuring her face. She appears as inert as the baby lying beside her. But 23-year-old Feng Jianmei is still alive, whereas her baby girl is not. The baby was killed while still in the womb by an injection arranged by local family-planning officials. They restrained Ms Feng, who was seven months pregnant, and then induced her to give birth to the dead baby.
“Even three years ago, Ms Feng’s suffering might have gone unnoticed outside the remote village in the north-western province of Shaanxi where she lives—just another statistic in China’s family-planning programme. But her relatives uploaded the graphic pictures onto the internet, and soon microblogs had flashed them to millions of people across the country. Chinese citizens expressed their outrage online. It is not just the treatment of Ms Feng that they deplore. It is the one-child policy itself.”
Concern over policy
Actually, many government advisers have been worried that the policy has too many negative side-effects, not just for families but for the country as a whole. They have felt that the government should change its one-child policy to stave off an impending shortage of workers as well as avoid issues arising from an aged population.
The country’s one-child policy, begun in 1979 under Deng Xiaoping, was started after a huge baby boom in the 1950s unleashed fears of an impending demographic crisis. The brakes went on the large population growth, and Chinese officials assert that about 400 million births have been prevented over the past 30 years.
Bad side effects
But the policy brought with it a slew of negative side effects, including a rise in sex-selective abortions and even infanticide as rural families sought to have male offspring. The country’s population is now male-heavy, and CNN recently reported that some 24 million eligible grooms will find themselves without a bride by the year 2020 because there just won’t be enough women to marry.
The fact that the widespread protest in China and around the world resulted from a viral video is another example of global outrages brought to life for millions of people, courtesy of the Internet. Chalk one up for the good guys.
Picture this: Hollywood unleashes an unknown actress in a film, she becomes an international star, and it dawns on you that this woman is perfection personified.
Therein lies the rub: She is not a person. She is a digital creation of a down-and-out director who has nowhere else to turn but to fantasy.
Such is the plot of the visionary – yet largely forgotten – 2002 film from New Line Cinema called simply, Simone. As it turns out, though, it’s not so simple because this Simone stands for “Simulation One.
To be utterly clear, the movie is actually called, S1mOne, but that would be anything but clear to most moviegoers. Nevertheless, Al Pacino plays director Viktor Taransky, and Canadian model-turned-actress Rachel Roberts plays Simone.
The dramatic tension in the film arises from the thing Taransky doesn’t tell the world, or even his ex-wife studio head, about Simone: That she is not real. To make it work, Taransky uses the cover story that Simone is reclusive, prefers to act alone and have her screen parts digitally inserted into the film by Taransky.
Can we back up a sec?
Left unanswered is exactly how this would work, even in the GGI-crazed world Hollywood.
The point of dredging up a decade-old movie is that right now, in Japan, fiction has become fact. In this case, the digital phenom is a pop singer and not a film star, but that may not be far off, given the popularity of this creation.
The virtual pop star taking Japan by storm is called Aimi Eguchi. She is the latest addition to the popular all-girl band AKB48. But, in 2011, fans of the band were surprised to learn — after a week — that Aimi is not real. She is a computer-generated avatar, made for a commercial touting the band and Japanese technology in general.
And she is made up from features of six of the other 58 girls in the band that is responsible for eight chart-topping hits in Japan. Fans had become suspicious about Aimi before her management revealed she is a digital creation, because she bore such a striking resemblance to some of her band mates.
Aimi has her own web site, and in 2011 stated she was just a normal 16-year-old girl living in a town north of Tokyo and liked sports — especially track and field events. No hint that she is a digital creation.
Like Simone, Aimi is is someone her fans thought was real. The fact that she is still a phenom, after the Wizard’s curtain has been raised revealing her as fake, raised questions about whether “real” matters to fans, or what that term means today, especially to young people.
“She is real,” CNN quoted one avid fan of Aimi. “She exists in our hearts.”
The bottom line, at least to the digital masters of these stars is this: Does reality really matter if consumers are buying it?
Aimi joins Hatsune
Aimi is not the only virtual pop star in Japan. Miku Hatsune is a digital creation who performs on stage in giant hologram form at concerts that attract thousands of adoring fans.
Toronto’s Globe and Mail newspaper, wrote this about Hatsune in a March article:
“She never misses a beat, fluffs a line or messes up a step. But then she doesn’t really exist.
Hatsune Miku is computer generated, based on a voice-synthesizing program developed by the company Crypton Future Media that allows users to create their own music.
Her image was produced by the company, but her music is a creation of her fans, Her best songs – the ones headlined at her concerts – have emerged from more than 20 different people.
The fans know what the fans like.
All 10,000 tickets for the digital diva’s four shows in Tokyo – two on Thursday and two on Friday – sold out in hours despite the $76 ticket price.”
And it’s not just the pink bubble-gum groupies, for whom Miley Cyrus is over the hill, who are chewing up what Hatsune belts out. Again The Globe and Mail notes:
“Hatsune Miku (surnames are reversed in Asia) was projected onto the stage at the shows while thousands of other fans packed into 24 cinemas to watch live.
‘It was absolutely amazing, it’s like my heart is still dancing. I don’t think I’ll be able to sleep,’ 21-year-old Yuya Ofuji said as she came out of a concert.”
The lure of unreality
For those wondering how any teen or young adult could get so worked up over a CGI image who they know exists only in the virtual world, the answers lie in this strange new era we are now exploring.
Even a casual observer of the changes in Hollywood films would notice that virtuality has replaced reality on the screens, and that the biggest films are those that incorporate digital characters.
What began with the benevolent watery creature in the 1989 film, The Abyss, has morphed into standard fare in today’s films like Battleship, Prometheus, and the recent Avatar.
And then there’s Ted
And, for those grown men who find a private solace in still having a teddy bear for a nighttime pal, there is the
upcoming Mark Wahlberg film, Ted, which is about just that. Only this teddy bear has come to life. But hey, don’t they all?
What is working in digital Hollywood has not necessarily worked so well in the music industry, digital as it is as well. In the music world, some purists still exist. Several years ago, for example, critics took a music producer to task for digitally inserting the voices of pop singers to create a couple duet albums with Frank Sinatra.
Return of the king
But that wall seems to be crumbling as well, as witnessed by the recent announcement that Elvis may be returning from the dead, courtesy of Digital Domain Media Group Inc., the CGI studio that developed the visual effects for such films as Tron: Legacy, and Transformers.
That studio has inked a contract with Core Media Group to create and produce a series of virtual Elvis images for a string of different entertainment projects. Included will be Elvis “appearances” in stage shows, films, and TV specials.
As a closet Elvis fan, I have to admit I find this idea entertaining. I saw a concert in Memphis marking the 25th anniversary of the death of the king and loved it. Live members of his backup group accompanied a big-screen audio-visual image of Elvis performing, and you could swear the king had returned.
And that, plus the fact I can’t wait to see Ted, shows where my own dividing line exists between reality and the virtual unknown.
If you’ve ever visited a major indoor shopping mall, you’ve probably seen a store called, As Seen on TV. It’s a phrase that has often been a part of some print ads and suggests that, because a product has been advertised on television, it must be good.
But if philosophers are fond of hypothesizing that we are in the postmodern era of thought, mass marketers might mention that we may be nearing the post-television age of advertising.
It’s not that TV is still not a major player as an advertising venue; it’s just that the Internet is growing in influence at a much faster rate of speed.
Low cost, long reach
Here’s how Ad Age describes it:
“The theory is that wary financial investors will applaud spending on social media because of its lower cost and growing reach.”
The leading magazine on the advertising industry is quick to point out that the single largest share of advertising bucks still go to television, but that more and more advertisers are pulling dollars from print and radio to pursue social media marketing.
Not an equal playing field
But only the big players in that world are deriving the greatest benefit of the shift to social media.
Ad Age continues, “Online advertising appears vigorous but look under the hood and you’ll find it’s running largely on Google and Facebook.
‘The rich are getting richer,’ said one digital-media executive, referring to the two giants, which continue to put distance between themselves and the pack. ‘All our clients call me and ask, ‘What is our Facebook strategy?’ — despite a wide lack of agreement on the effectiveness of social-media advertising, the exec said. ‘We are seeing increases in spending motivated less by financial evidence than a belief that “they have to be there.’
“Facebook, of course, is only too happy to foster that belief, as marketers described an aggressive push by the social network as it looks to ring up ad sales before its initial public offering. Brian Weiser, analyst at Pivotal Research, estimates that Facebook grew 46% and Google 22% in online display in the first quarter.”
The Age of Google
Google outruns all other search engines in popularity. Every second, so many people visit Google that advertisers willingly pay large sums for on-screen advertising space on pages with search results. This is targeted marketing at its best.
Someone who is looking for information on vegetarian diets, for example, is a more likely customer for a store like Trader Joe’s than someone who is a meat-and potatoes customer.
The algorithms that Google’s search engine uses provide an unrivaled linkage of products and potential customers. And that is a dream come true for advertisers. It’s not a bad dream come true for Google, either, which sees much of its $23 billion income originate from advertising.
Slicing and dicing
Says media scholar John Vivian, “In effect, Google slices and dices the mass audience in ways that give advertisers unusual efficiency in reaching the people they seek. In advertising lingo, there is less wastage. Why, for example, should a marinara company buy space in a food magazine whose readers include people with tomato allergies when Google offers a targeted audience of people looking for spaghetti sauce recipes with nary a one among them who’s allergic to tomatoes?”
If Google is king or queen of the search engines, then Facebook leads all social media sites in advertising lure, according to Vivian and Ad Age.
Facebook focuses more on behavioral targeting, collecting personal information on its users who are, coincidentally, the potential buyers of advertised products. The personal data of Facebook users is organized and catalogued in ways that offer a mother lode of targeted consumer data for mass marketers.
Vivian points out in The Media of Mass Communication, that each month the 200 million+ users holding Facebook accounts post some 4 billion bits of information, 850 million photos and 8 million videos, all of which says a great deal about the behavior, likes and dislikes of these individuals.
Members offer it up
“Facebook has incredible potential to deliver customers to advertisers based on information that members submit themselves … when they communicate with friends, identify their ‘likes’ … and share their interests,” Vivian notes.
“The ‘Likebutton’ introduced in 2010, allows advertisers to shower anyone who clicks it,
as well as their Facebook friends, with messages. Within a year the button was on 2 million websites. The button is a vehicle for what’s called “referral traffic.” Advertisers and other sites report huge increase in traffic.”
Of course, many worry about the further erosion of privacy that comes from simply clicking a “Like” button, because it sends an instant message to advertisers that here is a potential target. As a result, many Facebook users are more judicious in deciding when to hit that button.
For its part, Facebook says it doesn’t pass on information to other parties without the user’s permission, although it does use the aggregated data. Few of us actually read the legal agreement which we agree to on Facebook but, if we did, we would find this: “We serve the ad to people who meet the criteria the advertiser selected but we do not tell the advertiser who any of those people are.”
Like so many other aspects of the Internet, the social media seem destined to be here for a long time to come. And anytime a couple hundred million people decide to flock to a media site, you just know the advertisers are going to be there in the midst of them.
Ever feel like you’re addicted to your cell phone?
If so, you’re not alone. A recent study shows nearly 2 million Americans find it hard to leave home without these devices; worldwide, the total leaps to more than 1.5 billion.
Quite an acceptance curve for a product that is less than three decades old.
As for me, the newest media ritual occasioned by my own Droid obsession is staying abreast of the NBA playoffs, usually at times when I should be doing something else. But hey, it’s the Thunder, right?
Still, a dinner conversation with your significant other can be undermined pretty badly by a Droid-delivered NBA game.
If you’ve seen the AT&T “romantic dinner” commercial, you know what I’m talking about. Here’s a guy with this attractive woman and he is trying to balance his interest in her and the game on his iPhone. Operating in what he thinks is a stealth mode, he shoots glances to the phone on his lap while holding hands with his date.
A state of angst
While women viewers feel for the date, male viewers identify with the guy. He’s operating in what communication researchers call “a state of cognitive dissonance” or what most of us just call tension. He wants to score, but he also wants the score.
Despite what he thinks, he’s not doing a very good job. His date is onto him, and you get the feeling the question isn’t far off: “Okay, so what’s it gonna be? Me or the game?”
And the answer, of course, is …
The great debate
On a related note, I teach a university course in interpersonal communication, and this commercial always produces a spirited debate in class about a dating scene that is obviously a common one. And, in a larger vein, it goes to the question of how much we want to commit to the virtual world of the pixels as opposed to the attractive person sitting right in front of us.
This blog has addressed this real-world/virtual-world tension before. But before, it was usually the laptop that produced the tension. Now it’s the cell phone. After all, you can’t set up a laptop in front of you when you’re out on a date. Well, you can, but good luck getting a second one.
But who needs a laptop when we have the smart phone? Remember, though: just because that device is smart in what it can do, we still have to be smart in when it should make an appearance.
Texting while what?
I mean, there are times when that preoccupation can be downright dangerous to our health, right? The big one is texting while driving. But how about texting while just plain walking?
Some of you may have seen the video of a woman falling into a mall fountain while texting as she strode along, oblivious to the watery hazard in front of her.
If you think that’s absurd, how about Bonnie Miller, from Benton Harbor, Michigan, who walked right off the pier into Lake Michigan while texting a friend on her cell phone?
According to a recent study in the journal, Gait & Posture, texting while talking has a definite disruptive effect on our gait, setting us up for similarly embarrassing, if not dangerous, moments like these. An article in Men’s Health News discusses it.
In that study, a group of 20-somethings was randomly selected to walk while texting or talking on a cell phone. Researchers discovered that these twin concurrent activities caused the subjects to stride toward a target much more slowly than normal, and that they veered off course by 61 percent. Many actually walked beyond the target without realizing it until it was too late.
Hence, Mrs. Miller, the woman who wound up needing rescue from Lake Michigan. Her 15-year-old son said she had time to utter, “Oh God!” and then he heard the splash.
A watery rescue
She was rescued by her husband, Greg, and she is now speaking out to anyone who will listen about the dangers of texting while trodding.
This crazy kind of activity is how vital we believe our cell phones to be. We will actually risk our lives to update a friend on what we’re doing right now. Like swimming in Lake Michigan.
Dare one say we’re drowning in our addiction?
The world is a dangerous place for journalists trying to get the story out about places that don’t want the story told.
Witness the dramatic story of Edith Bouvier and William Daniels, two French journalists trapped inside the besieged Syrian rebel district of Bab Amr for a harrowing week last February with two other colleagues.
An excerpt from the March 19 edition of Time Magazine depicts the problem especially for Edith. Her left leg had been broken in a rocket attack in a Syrian home where she and her colleagues sought momentary refuge from an ongoing firefight between the Syrian army and rebel forces protesting President Bashar al-Assad’s repressive regime.
“The four survivors (two other journalists were with them and managed to escape quicker) were ushered into a new hideout: a single room with one small window, surrounded by taller houses and hidden from the street. For the next four days (they) were trapped there, listening to rockets and shells exploding from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. and sometimes during the night. ‘Some days there were 300 bombs,’ Daniels says.”
The situation was dire. Two of their journalistic colleagues had been killed in the rocket attack that broke Edith’s femur. They all risked their lives to report on the conflict after being smuggled in, the government was upset about that, and military forces were hunting them down. If found, they didn’t expect to survive.
Turning to YouTube
That’s when Williams and Bouvier turned to the social media for help.
Sites like YouTube and Facebook which we take for granted and use so frivolously at times, were looking like the only chance that these refugees in a war zone had to stay alive on the night of Feb. 22.
Williams and Bouvier, who was in pain and bleeding from her wound, needed to contact the outside world to seek help. But their options were greatly limited. While they could use cell phones, those phones could be used against them as Syrian military could pinpoint their location simply by triangulating the phone signals.
Journalist Vivienne Walt writes of Daniels’ decision to try another communication platform:
“With the media center destroyed, the closest Internet connection to the new hideout was a hazardous 10-minute walk through Bab Amr, which was ringed with government snipers. The journalists recorded a video and handed it to activists who braved the route and uploaded it to YouTube.
The video runs 6 minutes and 32 seconds, is done in French, Arabic, and English, and features Bouvier speaking of her injuries and need for evacuation as she lies in bed with the fighting going on outside the walls of the hideout.
Walt explains: “Seen throughout the world, the video showed Daniels (photographer Paul Conroy) and Bouvier appealing to French authorities and the International Committee for the Red Cross to evacuate them. Terrified that Assad’s forces would find them, they lied about heir location, saying in the video that they were far from the hospital … Their living conditions, however, were growing worse.”
Courage pays off
Ultimately, it would not be YouTube that resulted in the evacuation of the small band of Williams and Bouvier; it was their own bravery and creativity in throwing in with a group of fighters from the Free Syrian Army who spirited them across the border into Lebanon on March 1.
But the notion that, given a little more time the social media exposure could have done the trick, is a fascinating one. It is only a short distance from an uploaded video on YouTube to the re-posting of it on Facebook and the tweeting of it on Twitter.
Individual stories count
The Kony 2012 video showed us all how fast this viral exposure can work in awaking the world to an issue that needs attention.
Even if that issue is just four European journalists trying to survive through another night as they try valiantly to get a story out about a rogue government trying to kill its own people.
Because, in the world of the social media, individual stories, plights, and faces can capture the world’s attention and produce action to help those in need.
Today is April 19, 2012, the 17th anniversary of the day the red earth of Oklahoma City turned a darker shade of crimson.
This, of course, was the day 168 Sooners lost their lives and some 800 others were injured in the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building bombing.
I was living in Boston at the time, teaching at Boston College, but I was home visiting my parents in
the Oklahoma City area when Timothy McVeigh lit the fuse to the rented Ryder truck filled with homemade explosives.
I spent the next two months covering the aftermath for an area daily newspaper whose town lost 26 souls in that bombing. It was a life-changing experience for all of us, and hardly a week has gone by since then that I haven’t thought about that tragic day.
I always try to relate my profession of newsgathering to the coverage of significant events, and recently I’ve been wondering how this day of April 19, 1995 might have been covered had it been April 19, 2012.
To begin with, people would have known about that event today even faster than they did in 1995, and more people would have been aware of it. In fact, it’s hard to believe anyone, anywhere would have been unaware of it by 10:30 a.m.
First word would have gone out in less than a minute over an iPhone or Droid cell phone. Live pictures would have accompanied it, and probably a video as well on many phones.
And some of these uploads would have come from surviving victims themselves, some still buried in open spaces under piles of building rubble. The videos might have been incredible. Some of these calls and uploads might have helped find buried victims quicker.
Before long, the viral nature of digital communications would have done it’s job at the grassroots level rather than waiting for people to turn on their TV sets or car radios.
Facebook a factor
The same people phoning word out to friends would have also been uploading that word and those visual images to Facebook, then Instagram, then YouTube. By nightfall, there would be at least 20 million hits on these YouTube video uploads; maybe 80 million by the end of the next day.
By that next day, someone would have set up a dedicated FB page to the Oklahoma City bombing. It would be a place of information exchange, coming-together of those in grief,
and of outpourings of support. If anyone needed help, this would be a good place to find it.
Other recent tragedies like the tsunamis of Indonesia and Japan, as well as the tragic loss of life in African countries, have shown the power that can come from such focused Facebook pages that serve as a meeting place for victims of tragedies.
What about accuracy?
As for the accuracy of the information itself, that may be another question. Whether in a digital age or not, the truth has a way of emerging slowly. Something like the blooming of a rose when exposed to the glare of sunlight.
Yes, there would have been more windows on this tragic world. There would have been more voices talking about what was happening. But solid facts about how many were killed, who they were, who survived, and who pulled the trigger igniting this misery – all these would all have to wait for journalists to do their jobs in the old-fashioned way: Asking questions of informed sources.
Life takes time
Having Facebook, Droids, or iPhones would not have enabled reporters to learn any faster who was buried under nine floors of concrete rubble. That technology wouldn’t have made finding the children in the second-floor daycare any easier. The search-and-rescue teams needed time to do their jobs, no matter how sophisticated the communication technology.
Of the many things I will always remember about April 1995, one is the way that journalists and search teams seemed to work in synch, albeit on different parts of the task at hand. The search teams would locate the bodies, the journalists would attempt to answer the myriad questions everyone had about this tragedy.
People doing their jobs
At the interface of these two groups – searchers and journalists – stood a handful of dedicated public affairs officers for the Oklahoma City Fire Department, Police Department, and FEMA. Their regular updates were helpful, and the coverage system they devised for journalists proved to be generally successful.
Nearly everyone seemed to be focused and doing their jobs in the days and weeks following that bombing, and the friends and families of the dead and survivors seemed grateful for that.
Both parts needed
Today’s interactive, digital media have shown what they can do in spreading the word to more people, faster. But the newer media forms, alone, are not enough when disaster strikes.
You have to plug in the dedication of trained responders and professional journalists, all focused on doing their jobs, for the recipe for resolution and healing to begin taking shape.
It is sad that sometimes an important story is lost in the media focus on something peripheral to it.
A case in point would be the “Tebowmania” that accompanied the feats of (now former) Denver Bronco’s on-field achievements last fall. So you get stories focusing on Tebow’s theology instead of his quarterbacking.
That’s a harmless example, but it’s easy to find others that are more significant and disturbing. A current example is the story of mass murderer Joseph Kony in Uganda and surrounding East African countries.
A history of violence
Various reliable sources have shown that, over the years, Kony and his officers have ordered the abduction of children to become child sex slaves and soldiers. An estimated 66,000 children became soldiers and two million people have been internally displaced since 1986.
In 2005, Kony was indicted for war crimes by the International Criminal Court in the Hague, Netherlands, but has evaded capture.His so-called Lord’s Resistance Army operates in Uganda, the Congo, Sudan, and other nearby areas in East Africa.
Like other international stories of genocide (Rwanda and the 800,000 deaths there in the early 1990s, for example) the atrocities of Joseph Kony have gone largely unnoticed by Americans until a group called Invisible Children decided to put his misdeeds on our radar screen.
The organization has done this in a number of ways over the past few years, but none has been as resoundingly effective as the Kony 2012 documentary that was hoisted onto Youtube a couple weeks ago and – to date – has been seen by about 85 million people.
Most of these viewers never even knew these atrocities had been occurring in Uganda for years.
The stated purpose of Kony 2012 is to bring worldwide attention to Kony – in fact to make him a household name. The goal here is obviously not to make us love him but to feel such revulsion for him that the efforts to find him and bring him to justice will succeed this year.
With the court of public opinion weighing so heavily on those who have the power to conduct that search and capture Kony, the idea is these power brokers will have to listen to the millions calling for Kony’s arrest.
Certainly the story of how the social media is being used to disseminate this message is fascinating. It provides a groundbreaking example of the pro-social value of social media outlets like Youtube and Facebook. It also shows that, while traditional media may have done stories in the past about Kony, a single Youtube video has been more effective in spreading the story than all of those network news reports and newspaper stories put together.
Therein lies the rub, however: the makers of the Kony 2012 video were so successful in reaching so many people in such a short period of time, that the focus of stories about the Kony video now is that phenomenon itself … and not Joesph Kony.
Last week, after the Kony video hit 40 million viewers, each of the networks did stories that night, and the focus of each was on the viral success of the video. Not Kony’s atrocities.
A day after the viral focus wore off, the focus turned to allegations that Invisible Children was not passing through its donations to the victims of Kony.
The problem with this focus and these allegations, of course, is that Invisible Children’s goal is to bring attention to the genocide and not to provide funding for the victims. In this regard, they are a different kind of relief agency.
Again, their goal is to bring the issue of kidnapped and murdered children to the attention of the world. And that kind of publicity costs money, which is where many of the donations go.
The next day, the focus of the story turned to something else – something more titillating and – again – off the focus of Kony. This time the focus of the media was on amateur video showing the Jason Russell, filmmaker of Kony 2012, behaving erratically in the nude on a San Diego neighborhood street.
He was taken to a hospital and was later diagnosed with a condition known as brief reactive psychosis.
“Though this is new to us, the doctors say this is a common experience given the great mental, emotional and physical shock his body has gone through in these last two weeks,” his wife Danica Russell told reporters.
Brief reactive psychosis is a condition caused by extreme stress, something which fits Russell’s experience. He will remain in the hospital for several weeks and undergo treatment for it.
3 chances, 3 misses
So, we’ve had three rounds of high-profile stories over the past two weeks on the efforts of the Invisible Children organization, but none of them has had to do with Joseph Kony, his atrocities in East Africa, or the need to find him and arrest him.
Am I missing something here?