“As someone who has dabbled in multiple social networking sites, I have to say, Facebook seems to be losing its allure, at least for me … At the moment, Instagram is my choice for social networking.”
This comment comes from Senior English major Tara Donavanik, writing in the student newspaper The Clause,at California’s Azusa Pacific University.
She is uttering what some are wondering about Facebook and Myspace: Are they losing their allure, at least to young people?
Some 2010 data from the Pew Research Center’s Internet and American Life Social Network Site Survey indicates the answer is yes. The answer seems clearer that college students have moved away from MySpace (only 12% of undergraduates and 6% of grad students use it), but the data for Facebook shows declines, too.
For a site that was started by Harvard student Mark Zuckerberg as a way for college students to connect, fewer students appear to be using Facebook.
According to the Pew results, only 1 in 5 undergrads regularly uses Facebook, while only 15% of grad students use it.
Data for both MySpace and Facebook seem stronger at the high school level, with more than 1 in 3 (35%) of high school students using MySpace, and 26% using Facebook).
A possible reason
Offering up her own take on the data, Donavanik notes, “Maybe as we get older, time becomes of essence and curiosity about an ex or an acquaintance becomes low on our priority list.”
According to the Pew data, age influences the choice of an individual’s social networking site. For example, Linkedin is a popular network site that people use to develop and maintain career connections, although it is also used to exchange social information as well. But because it is more career-oriented (and even career-enhancing), some 37% of undergrad college students and 38% of grad students were using it in 2010. One would assume those numbers are even higher today.
Twitter accounts for 21% of college student use, while other SNS sites like Instagram, account for another 14% of college usage.
Although Facebook logs a smaller percentage of college students than Linkedin, the Pew study does show FB to have the largest share of daily visits by its users, while LinkedIn users visit the site once a month or even less.
35 and older growth
Indeed, the growth among users of social network sites has been in the post-college generation of older adults. The Pew Center study summarizes this as follows:
“Internet users of all ages are more likely to use a SNS today than they were in 2008. However, the increase in SNS use has been most pronounced among those who are over the age of 35. In 2008 only 18% of internet users 36 and older used a SNS, by 2010 48% of internet users over the age of 35 were using a SNS.
“This is about twice the growth experienced by internet users 18-35; 63% of whom used a SNS in 2008 compared with 80% in 2010. Among other things, this means the average age of adult-SNS users has shifted from 33 in 2008 to 38 in 2010. Over half of all adult SNS users are now over the age of 35.”
Usage still strong
Overall, the Pew Research Center data shows the following about the demographics of all Internet users, as per its August 2011 survey:
* Percent of all adults who use the Internet: 78%.
* Men outnumber women slightly (80 to 76%).
* White, Non-Hispanics outnumber Black, Non-Hispanics, 80-71%. Some 68% of Hispanics use the Web.
* Ninety-four percent of those 18-29 use the Web; 87 percent of those 30-49; 74% of those 50-64, and 41% of those 65 and older.
* For household incomes over $75K, Internet usage is almost 100%; for household incomes less than $30K, usage is at 62%
* For those with no high school diploma, Internet use is at 43%; for high school grads, it is 71%; for college grads, usage is 94%.
The tone of comments
The Pew Center has also studied the overall “tone” or mood of comments on social networking sites (SNS) and has found the following:
* 85% of SNS-using adults say their experience on the sites is that people are mostly kind.
* 68% say they have had an SNS experience that made them feel good about themselves.
* 61% had experiences that made them feel closer to another person.
* 39% say they frequently see acts of generosity by other SNS users.
Nevertheless, Pew says that “notable proportions of SNS users do witness bad behavior on those sites and nearly a third have experienced some negative outcomes from their experiences.”
For example nearly half of SNS-using adults say they have seen mean or cruel behavior displayed by others at least occasionally.
When it comes to teenage SNS-users, Pew discovered that 95% of all teens ages 12-17 are now online, and that 80% of those online teens use social media sites.
Further, the experiences teens have concerning the tone of the comments posted on the site is different from adult experiences. For example, only 69% of teens think their peers are mostly kind to each other on social network sites. Another 20% say peers are mostly unkind. Only 5% of the adult SNS-users reported people to be mostly unkind.
Cruelties on the sites
Further, Pew says 88% of teens using social networks have seen someone be mean or cruel to another person on an SNS, and 12% reported those incidents to be “frequent.” Only 7% of adults reported seeing this kind of treatment frequently.
When it comes to the sensitive subject of bullying, nearly 1 in 5 teens (19%) said they have been bullied in the past year, often online or via text.
According to Pew, teens who use social networks say, “People most often appear to ignore the situation, with a slightly smaller number of teen saying they see others defending someone and telling others to stop their cruel behavior.”
Other Pew studies have revealed the following effects of SNS-sites on users, which go toward balancing the scales some from last week’s post on this site. That post discussed the isolating effects of the social media, but Pew data show there is also a socializing effect as well.
Some of these conclusions are:
* Facebook users are more trusting than others.
* Facebook users have more close relationships.
* Facebook users get more social support than other people.
* Facebook users are much more politically engaged than most people.
* Facebook revives “dormant” relationships. (22% of those are from high school years, in fact.)
Suppose you are one of the diehards spending a couple hours browsing through the stacks of a bookstore and come across the following titles: Life on the Screen, The Second Self, and Alone Together. You might reasonably assume that you have stumbled into a section on movies and, maybe more specifically, what it’s like to be a Hollywood actor.
In some ways, you’d be right if you consider each of us to be actors on the world’s stage as we go about living our lives, interacting with others, and trying to project a self that rings true — or not.
Yet each of these three books is not about movies, but about what has happened to our lives in the age of computers, the Internet, and the Web 2.0 media.
The books are about how we go about defining ourselves, to ourselves and others, in the age where RL meets VR in the MUD.
For the yet-uninitiated, that means Real Life meeting Virtual Reality in the Multi-User Domain.
The books are all written by Sherry Turkle, MIT Professor of Technology and Society, and they span the years of 1997-2011. Taken individually or together, they show how our current age is different from any previous era humankind has ever encountered.
A nicely written excerpt from Publisher’s Weekly presents the gist of Turkle’s latest work, Alone Together, which has the provocative subtitle, Why We Expect More from Technology and Less from Each Other.
“Turkle argues that people are increasingly functioning without face-to-face contact. For all the talk of convenience and connection derived from texting, e-mailing, and social networking, Turkle reaffirms that what humans still instinctively need is each other.
“She encounters dissatisfaction and alienation among users: teenagers whose identities are shaped not by self-exploration but by how they are perceived by the online collective, mothers who feel texting makes communicating with their children more frequent yet less substantive, Facebook users who feel shallow status updates devalue the true intimacies of friendships.”
A sobering thought
The disturbing conclusion is, “Turkle ‘s prescient book makes a strong case that what was meant to be a way to facilitate communications has pushed people closer to their machines and further away from each other.”
On several levels, that seems so. Anytime we see two people who are presumably on a date at a restaurant, yet there they sit more engaged in their I-phones or Droids, we get the picture.
Indeed one of the funnier commercials on television depicts two of these individuals. The woman is trying to have a real conversation with her date while suspecting he is more involved in checking game scores on his smart phone. And the reason it is so funny is because it is so true. We’ve all been a part of this scene, no?
Things that aren’t real
Carl Hays, a writer for Booklist, notes the following irony found in Turkle’s examination of the interface between humanity and technology:
“Turkle suggests that we seem determined to give human qualities to objects and content to treat each other as things.
“In her university-sponsored studies surveying everything from text-message usage among teens to the use of robotic baby seals in nursing homes for companionship, Turkle paints a sobering and paradoxical portrait of human disconnectedness in the face of expanding virtual connections in cell-phone, intelligent machine, and Internet usage.”
When we are in the presence of a friend or loved one yet choose to focus our attention on the machine in our hand, we are in fact treating the machine with more respect; treating it as if it is more real than the person sitting next to us.
What makes Turkle’s observation more intriguing is that she has been making them for so long. Life on the Screen was published in 1997. How computer-savvy were you fifteen years ago? Did you even have an Internet connection in your home then?
Still, in that book Turkle posited that the Internet, with its bulletin boards, games, virtual communities, and private domains where people meet, develop relationships or emulate sex, is a microcosm of an emerging “culture of simulation” that substitutes representations of reality for the real world.
What we had in 1997, Turkle said, was a new way of developing an identity. This new pathway was “de-centered and multiple,” meaning it was created outside of our beings; that we used multiple Internet means and models for creating a sense of who we are as unique individuals.
If it was true then, especially for the more malleable minds of the young, how much more true might it be today as the Web has gone through mega-changes since 1997?
As one college student put it, “RL is just one more window, and it’s usually not my best.” The haunting thing here is that he is considering the worlds he inhabits through his computer as real life. He is discussing the time he spends as four different characters – avatars – in three different MUDs. Add in the time he spends doing his homework on his computer, and he lives more of his life there than apart from it.
This kind of life requires people like this student to split themselves into different selves, turning on one self and then morphing into another, as he cycles from window to window on the screen. He believes it allows him to explore different possibilities of who he might be.
Some simply say, “The Internet lets you be who you pretend to be.”
A 2001 flashback
And, in an unsettling flashback to older generations of scenes from Stanley Kubrik’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, we seem to be losing our self-control to computers. As those space travelers did, we no longer give commands to our computers; we have dialogues with them.
And often, the computers seem to have the last word.
In another era, WWF stood for the World Wrestling Federation. Still does, I suppose, although today those initials are more commonly known by online gamers as Word with Friends.
Somewhere around Thanksgiving I got hooked into this addictive game which, along with other games like Hanging with Friends and the (non-interactive) Angry Birds are taking up a lot of people’s times these days.
With its ubiquitous accessibility, via terminal, laptop, notebook, or smart phone, Word with Friends seems, indeed, to be everywhere. And with its links to Facebook, many of the moves you make show up on your wall, thereby advertising its presence to many others and the many others who have befriended those many others.
Who wouldn’t want it known that their best achievement of the day was scoring 131 points by their adroit playing of the word “djebel?”
A domino effect
It’s the well-known domino effect, and it now has more than 3 million Facebook users “liking” this game, and probably wasting a lot of otherwise productive hours playing it.
Those prone to finding their glasses to be half-full as opposed to seriously leaking, would point out that you can increase your vocabulary with such word games as this thinly-veiled version of the classic game of Scrabble.
I suppose my reaction would be, True if you think any of the following kinds of words will be useful for you in the conversations of life:
Qi, qat, xi, vodoun, oedemas, yegg (egg with an extra-large yoke?), quin, jeux, nixe, nae, qua, tael, ratel, eclat, recta (2 rectums?) and quean.
Or how about rec, rem, urd, mae, ecu, kex, kae, and jauk?
All these and many other wonderful words are legitimate parts of the King’s speech, according to your friends at Words with Friends. And of course we use these gems all the time in our everyday chats. These are the words that come tripping off our tongue when we are confronted with six consonants and a vowel (or, worse yet, the opposite). Right?
Well, only right if we are using a handy-dandy word unscrambler. Or is that descrambler? Neither seems to find favor with the text program I’m using now.
These descramblers bring up a serious ethical issue, of course, to players of WWF: Is it cheating to
use a crutch like that? Or is a descrambler really a crutch? Might it merely help you to unclutter all the knowledge of universe you already possess so that you can get right to these words that you already knew so well?
The tree and the thud
And, like the tree no one ever saw or heard falling in the wilderness, does it matter if no one hears it? Would Aristotle or Immanuel Kant insist that you come clean and tell your opponent you’re using a descrambler before starting the match? And if BOTH of you use that aid, does that negate the ethical quandary and create an even and virtuous playing field? Or is it that you are both now cheating?
But if you’re both cheating, why play the game at all?
The game of life
The backers of WWF would say that playing this game allows each of us to come face to face with deep and important ethical principles which can only help us out in the rest of the game of life.
This all, of course, presumes that people are actually playing WWF and not just logging on to use the chat box, which is one great way of getting around paying for a text package on your cell phone, especially since you can access WWF on that very phone and text until your heart’s content — or until you run out of words — for free.
A serious side
Proving once again, however, that there is an upside to everyone wasting time on the Web, consider the following story posted just today by CBS News:
“Beth Legler, of Blue Springs, Missouri, began playing Words with Friends more than two years ago on her cell phone, reports KCTV CBS 5 in Kansas City. That’s when she met an Australian couple named Georgie and Simon Fletcher of Queensland, Australia.
“One day during a game, Georgie told Beth that Simon was feeling under the weather, so Beth asked her to describe his symptoms, since Beth’s own husband, Larry, was a doctor.
“When hearing that Simon was experiencing fatigue so severe that he couldn’t walk to his mailbox and burning in the back of his throat, reports MSNBC, Dr. Legler had some words of advice for his wife’s online friends: get to a doctor immediately.
“Legler thought Simon was experiencing angina, a condition that occurs when your heart doesn’t get enough oxygen-rich blood. That causes pressure or squeezing in the chest, but could cause pain elsewhere in the body like in the shoulders, arms, neck, or back. What usually causes angina? Heart disease.
“Simon was reluctant but went to the doctor, and as it turns out, Dr. Legler was right: Simon had a 99 percent blockage in his artery and was on death’s door.
“Simon had two stents implanted through emergency surgery, and has recovered. ‘I owe Larry everything,’ Simon told KCTV. “I’m really lucky to be here.”
“Said Beth, ‘It’s been a wonderful experience to have had made some great friends and know that Simon is well because of a word game.’”
Wow. I’m speechless. Or is that aphonic?
Leave it to a New Yorker cartoon to prod our thinking into reality, fantasy, and the online world of communication.
In this cartoon a terrier is having a conversation with another canine and says: “The thing I like about the Internet is that, online, no one knows you’re a dog.”
Wait for it.
Reality and the Web
Murray Gordon, who has merged the worlds of psychology, philosophy, and computer science in his academic and professional careers, tells us what most of us already know about how the Internet stacks up against what we normally know as reality. BTW, the latter is a fuzzy concept at times, no?
“I have found … that there is a recurrent theme which spontaneously arises concerning the body and mind when people begin reflecting on their experiences in the online world,” Murray writes. “In the everyday world, we can see each other, and make judgements and evaluations of others, consciously or unconsciously, based on their physical appearance.
” What sex are they? What clothes are worn? Neat or messy? Young or old? Am I attracted to her or him? Do I appear attractive to him or her? But online these usual evaluations and judgments are turned on their head. One young woman tells me that what she really likes about internet chat rooms Is that ‘online, you can be whomever you want to be.’”
I have discovered this to be true myself. In my single years I ventured into the world of online dating and actually found Ms. Right waiting there for me. We’ve been married 11 years now, so the experience can definitely work.
However, as most online daters have found, the search is not always an easy one. Sometimes finding your soulmate is more like navigating a maze rather than following a clearly marked trail.
A year before meeting my wife Anne, I struck up an online relationship with a nice woman, half a continent away. Our online conversations seemed to bring out the best of us both as writers. Since our “relationship” was totally text based for several weeks, that was important, plus the fact we could make each other laugh pretty easily. Everything seemed to be clicking. We were both journalists and our love of words and well-turned phrases flourished in our exchanges.
You’ve Got Mail
It was like the scenes in You’ve Got Mail when Joe and Kathleen couldn’t wait to get home to their respective computers to read the other’s e-mail. And when two people who have never met can feel that way, fantasy must be playing a role in those expectations.
Finally, we faced the moment of decision that all online daters face: whether to risk what was a pretty satisfying fantasy, made up of daily online exchanges, to meet face to face and see whether fantasy matched reality. So I hopped on a plane and she met me at her airport.
Within the first five minutes I knew it was a mistake.
The fantasy-sinker was the non-verbals ,which aren’t part of the online experience. She laughed too hard and too quickly at things I said; sometimes even before I said them. The way she physically moved seemed out of synch with the way I thought she would. Something about the eye contact wasn’t quite right. Then there was something else: she just didn’t smell right. I was back on the plane the next morning, headed home alone.
Reminds you of the nitpicking way Seinfeld evaluated his endless parade of dates, right? Maybe so, but all these nonverbals were real to me. And about the smell — what’s up with that? Not as strange as you might think, and I actually have some backup for that assertion. In addition to some recent studies done on how a person can actually sniff out a similar or opposite DNA, there is the following from Psychology Today:
“Psychologists Rachel Herz and Estelle Campenni were just getting to know each other, swapping stories about their lives over coffee, when Campenni confided something unexpected: She was living proof, she said, of love at first smell.
“‘I knew I would marry my husband the minute I smelled him,’ she told Herz. ‘I’ve always been into smell, but this was different; he really smelled good to me. His scent made me feel safe and at the same time turned on—and I’m talking about his real body smell, not cologne or soap. I’d never felt like that from a man’s smell before. We’ve been married for eight years now and have three kids, and his smell is always very sexy to me.”
And about that DNA sniffing? From Discovery Fit & Health, there is word of this study:
“In several studies, researchers have had women smell men’s used T-shirts and rank them according to how attractive the smell is. In the past, women have indicated that the most pleasurable shirts belong to men with different major histocompatibility complex (MHC) genes than they do, so scientists believe that women can subconsciously smell a man’s genes. MHC genes, which affect the immune system, have been determined to play a role in everything from sexual attraction to marital happiness.”
When’s the last time you smelled anything or anyone on the Web?
A test will follow
OK, I agree this is starting to sound weird, but my points remain:
1. Fantasy is alive and well in communication exchanges happening in the virtual world.
2. While fantasies provide a welcome escape from a harsh reality at times, they also provide a weak foundation for relationships that must enter — at some point — the world of reality.
3. Nonverbal communication often is the litmus test to measure whether fantasy matches reality for two people considering a relationship together.
And don’t forget the question inherent in that New Yorker cartoon: How do you know the person on the other end is really human at all?
Experts in intercultural communication remind us of the importance that narratives and rituals play in our lives and in orienting us to our own identities, history, the norms and expectations of our society. Each society uses rituals and narratives for this purpose, and they combine to form powerful tools to teach us.
I’m thinking of the opening scenes of the Robert Redford film, A River Runs Through It, where Norman MacLean describes beautifully how he and his brother learned at the feet of their father, a Presbyterian pastor who taught them the value of faith, fluid writing, and fly fishing, in equal measures.
As Norman said:
“We were left to assume, as my younger brother Paul and I did, that all first-class fishermen on the Sea of Galilee were fly fishermen and that John was a dry fly fisherman.”
Learning the values
Hours of painstaking practice, on a daily basis, reinforced their father’s instructions on these three values which had long been central characteristics of this Montana family of the early 20th Century. Norman and Paul learned the lessons well.
When I see that film, I can’t help but think of the times my own grandfather took me trout fishing, and of the times I took my own two sons to hunt for the big bass on Indiana lakes. Then I think about the much greater amount of time the three of us have spent apart, glued to the computers.
The stark truth
Let’s face it: You don’t get much connection to the family or your own identity from the Internet. You may learn about them, but they don’t become ingrained in your DNA as Norman’s and Paul’s lessons did.
Instead, our time spent in the virtual world of the Web provides us with narratives that are snippets or soundbites, constantly interrupted by hyperlinks to “related stories” to which we happily leap, distracting our attention from the main story or narrative that — frankly — was getting a little too long anyway for our short attention spans.
Welcome to the virtual world
And instead of the rituals of the family dinner, learning writing or fly fishing from Dad, we spend hour after hour vicariously living others’ experiences, often with a stand-in avatar for us as we get lost in some online video game or doing armchair traveling around the world.
We already know we have become more splintered as families as everyone heads off to their own laptops to explore their virtual worlds which may not be representative of the corner of the world we inhabit at all. That being so, how do we expect to understand that culture as our parents and grandparents did?
It’s not just family members going their own way, but also members of the same culture or society doing the same thing. The younger we start out exploring the world on the Web instead of the real world in front of us, the more time we spend away from the rituals and narratives that teach us about that culture.
And, since we learn a lot about our own identity from our culture, we make it harder to discover that identity.
No mall directory
Is it surprising that we wake up one day to discover that, like the first-time shopper in a huge shopping mall, we have no idea where we are in relation to the places we want to be or how to get there? There is no mall directory, because there have been no narratives and few real-life rituals to point us to our destinations.
The other day I was watching a TV commercial for one of those online services that helps you track your family tree. Something like Ancestry.com. There was this woman who was talking about her great-grandfather as if he were someone from an alien planet whom she knew absolutely nothing about until she paid this online service to discover his identity.
Then I realized, I don’t even know who my own great-grandfather was. As a child raised on television, I can tell you the name of Tonto’s horse, but not the name of my grandfather’s dad or mom.
A telling sign about how we’re losing our sense of our own culture? Wouldn’t our grandparents chide us for side-stepping the importance of knowing our own family history?
Is our time spent in the virtual world, as opposed to the real one, exacerbating that disconnect from our own culture? At best, it doesn’t help.
I say I don’t want or need love in my life. Truth is, I lie to myself because I’m afraid to end up alone. – Anonymous.
There isn’t a time of day I don’t think about killing myself … I try to be the fun-loving, lighthearted nice guy. But who is it I’m trying to deceive? – Anonymous.
Question: What might happen if we were to use the worldwide public stage of the Web, in all its openness, to expose our deepest, innermost secrets? Would anyone actually do that?
Answer: Yes Many Web users are venting their personal longings, embarrassing moments, quirkiness, complaints, fears, and angst on sites designed especially to reveal secrets. The two comments that begin this blog post are two of those actual secrets posted within the past two weeks on sites set up for this purpose.
Anonymity is key
The caveat is that they are revealed under the promise of anonymity.
It is ironic that the world’s most public forum which can and often does embarrass people by making private facts public, is also the same forum that people are relying on to keep their identity secret.
Among the web sites that are available for bean-spilling is PostSecret, which seems to have started the trend, or which as least is one of the most popular of the public secret sites. How popular? As of today, more than 1,066,000 Facebook users alone have “liked” this site.
It’s mission, simply put: “PostSecret is an ongoing community art project where people mail in their secrets anonymously on one side of a homemade postcard.”
The site administrators do the rest and post the cards.
An artistic element
Alongside the compelling lure of looking in on other people’s secret lives, the various secret-posting sites also offer the artistic element of seeing how well the secrets match the selected visual elements of the e-cards posted on the site. So these are not just secrets, but expressions of art, as well.
Among the secrets posted on this site’s e-cards are the following:
• I slept with someone so they wouldn’t commit suicide.
• I don’t know how to tell you this, but I can’t become a military wife for fear that you will die.
• I loved giving birth, but I hate being a mother.
• Every time I get into a taxi, I check to see if the driver is the man who killed you … I want to ask him how he didn’t see us.
And the secrets go on and on.
Recently, the concept of posting secrets has moved to Facebook, a site where all wall posts come with names and photos of persons posting them, right? Only partially so when it comes to special “postsecret” Facebook group pages. Like any FB page, you have to ask to become a friend and the person running that page can either accept or reject your request. In the case of a “postsecret” page, the site administrator serves as that gatekeeper.
Postsecret sites on Facebook are catching on at a number of institutions, including college campuses. Earlier this month, for example, some students at California’s Azusa Pacific University set up PostSecret Apu. Within the first two weeks, the site had accepted more than 1,750 friend requests. Some 200 secrets have been sent in already.
The administrator of the site is kept anonymous, along with those who choose to create “postcards” and send them in for posting. However, the identity of those individuals commenting on the secrets, is revealed just like on regular Facebook pages.
College students adapt it
Here is how PostSecret Apu describes itself and its mission:
“This is a student project and in no way reflects the direct values or opinions of any faculty or staff of Azusa Pacific University.
“A place to share. A place to be. A place to express the things holding you back. A place to seek help. A place to help get you to a place of freedom.
“You are invited to anonymously contribute your secrets to Azusa Pacific University’s PostSecret. Secrets can be a regret, hope, funny experience, unseen kindness, fantasy, belief, fear, betrayal, erotic desire, feeling, confession, or childhood humiliation. Reveal anything – as long as it is true and you have never shared it with anyone before. This is meant to be an outlet you might not otherwise have.”
Since Azusa Pacific University is a faith-based liberal arts university, the new site is probably more controversial than it would be on a state university campus. There have been some concerns about the kinds of expressions that might come forth and the possible impact these might have on the university and its efforts at creating a community spirit of believers.
Nevertheless, the site administrator has stated that the only caution the school has issued is to not use the APU logo or to state that this is a university-sanctioned site, which it is not. The administrator also advises users not to name any APU employees in their posted secrets.
Wide range of secrets
The secrets posted on this Postsecret Apu page, cover a wide range of personal aspirations, regrets, complaints, and revelations. Some are lighthearted and thankful like the following:
• Not a day goes by that I don’t miss calling you my best friend.
• On most days I’m too lazy to brush my teeth.
• Come friends. It’s not too late to seek a newer world.
But there are many darker secrets, too, like the two at the top of this blog post and the following:
• People assume I dress modestly just because I’m a Christian. The truth is, I’m ashamed of my body.
• I know I’m as worthy of love as anyone else. But after so many years of telling myself otherwise, I don’t know if I’ll ever really believe it.
• I lost 35 pounds in an effort to be healthy and desired. I’ve never felt worse about myself in my entire life. Life was easier when I was fat and guys left me alone. Since then I have been sexually assaulted … Being thin is not worth this hell.
• On most days I feel … so alone.
The poignancy of these secrets is enhanced by the creative visual imagery that serve as the background for these e-cards. The fact there are so many such secrets posted in such a short window of time is an indication of the private world of pain and longing that many college students carry beneath their smiling faces. Happily, others attest to the positive adjustments other students are making in the world as they grow into their early 20s.
Troubled find support
But several of the secrets are dark ones, and the darkest are those that bespeak thoughts of suicide and of those grappling with their own gender identification.
On the up side, most of these expressions garner many comments of support and offers from others to listen and to be friends with those students feeling lost in their pain and confusion.
One of the 16 people who responded to one secret confessing suicidal thoughts said this: I am so sorry you are hurting right now. I’m so sorry that you feel you have to wear a mask when you are in so much pain. Please know that you are not alone in this place, that you are not the only one who has felt this way.
The site administrator has also posted contact information for a local suicide prevention center.
Nothing is more nebulous than trying to predict the future of the media.
That has been a recurring theme in these blog posts since I began doing them about 17 months ago. Still, it is interesting to see where one concept is now, where it has been, and where it may head.
The concept is personalization.
In 1994 I wrote a book called, The Age of Multimedia and Turbonews, trying to forecast where the communication media were headed. Some of the predictions then never came true, while others that weren’t even visualized, are now reality.
Facebook, for example. Youtube, for another.
Still, there was one idea rolling around then that seems to be making a comeback. Citing from the above 17-year-old book:
“One of the products under development at the (MIT) Media Lab … is an electronic newspaper called Newspace, which could join the worlds of mass media and personal computing. Newspace would offer a broadsheet-sized electronic news presentation to the reader, complete with state-of-the-art graphics and human interaction. Much of the product would be built around individual users’ habits, interests, tastes, hobbies, and lifestyles. “
This was before the age of online newspapers obviously, and those products have underdone several evolutions trying to get to the stage that Newsok.com is now. But it’s the personalization aspect – or the so-called Daily Me aspect – that is the focus here.
Trove and Livestand
The current March/April issue of the magazine, News & Tech, features an article headlined, “Personalization making 2011 resurgence.” The article, written by editor chuck Moozakis, notes that the concept seems to have finally gotten some traction.
Moozakis focuses on Trove, a news aggregation service that will let users build their own news site from more than 10,000 news sources, and Livestand, a tablet service that funnels content to consumers based on their interests.
Trove is the brainchild of The Washington Post, which launched it in March on the Web. Livestand comes from our friends at Yahoo.
An open letter from Post CEO Donald E. Graham on Facebook explains what Trove is all about:
Reflects User Choices
“Trove harnesses smart, flexible technology that learns from the choices you make. Some have called it ‘Pandora for news,’ and the serendipity in its suggestions, pulled from around 10,000 sources, makes Trove a powerful tool for information discovery.”
Essentially, Trove users are meant to have the ability to develop their own information channels. They can then utilize those channels to follow anything, anyone, or any place that interests them. Trove uses Facebook Connect to deliver a range of possible channels to users, based on their individual interests.
A “Social Experience”
Says Graham, “Trove is … a social experience; you can share your channels with your friends, engage with fellow site users using the conversation boards featured on every channel, and interact with Trove on Facebook, Twitter, and Tumblr.”
And, since the world is moving to mobile devices, you can take Trove with you on your Android, iPhone, or BlackBerry. An iPad app is on the near horizon.
Trove and Livestand follow, by just a couple months, the launch of Ongo. This service is backed by a consortium including The Post, USA Today, and The New York Times. It is a paid service that lets subscribers select the content they want to read on their mobile devices or computer screens.
600 Daily Stories
The content comes from more than 600 top news stories daily from the above news organizations plus the Associated Press, Reuters, and Financial Times. It costs subscribers about $7 per month.
Almost two decades past the MIT Media Lab experiment in 1994, personalized news channels started making a comeback with MediaNews in 2008. This company sent up a trial balloon then in the form of an “individuated newspaper,” called I-News, which was tested in Los Angeles and Denver before being put back on the shelf.
Will the trend toward personalized publishing continue?
How can it not? We are all tailoring the Web to our individual, personal needs everyday. The direction such personalization will go, however, is open to question.
“It’s still a moving target,” says media analyst Peter Vandevanter. He sees personalized media following two different – but parallel – paths:
- Initiatives such as Trove that depend on keywords and algorithmic searching.
- So-called crowdsourcing services, of which Facebook is a prime example. Here, users read what their friends and trusted sources recommend.
Back to the Caves
I have always found it ironic that the Web is a culture of openness where anyone can find anything they want, yet so many of us only scratch the surface by going for narrow kinds of information that interest us personally.
What could be a tool for a gigantic common pool of information is, in a way, a trail that leads each of us back to our individual caves to read the paintings on the wall.
In previous posts, I’ve discussed some of the positive ways which the social media have been used to help people in need. None, however, may be as useful as what transpired after the Jan. 12, 2010, earthquake in Haiti.
Although estimates of the death toll vary to this day, more than 300,000 perished in this disaster, according to the Haitian government early in 2011.
In the days and weeks after that country’s devastating 7.0 magnitude earthquake, many people used social network sites like Facebook and Twitter to get information about the damage, try to connect with family and friends caught in the tragedy, and find the most effective charities to send money to.
Andrew Noyes, manager of public policy communications at Facebook, told PCWorld Magazine the rush to social media was immediate.
Instant FB response
“Moments after the earthquake hit, we started seeing a response on Facebook. It was very organic. People were posting status messages about Haiti at about 1,500 per minute.”
Noyes added, “The big picture here is that Facebook and other social networking sites are offering a lifeline to Haiti that the Internet has never seen before. This is the first disaster of this magnitude where the Internet has played this big of a role.”
One Facebook page in particular, was created the day of the quake by a family to find a missing relative, believed lost in the collapse of Haiti’s five-star hotel, Hotel Montana. Today the page has more than 16,000 followers, many of whom have been using it for the same purpose and others using it to show support and find out how to help.
The page states its reason for existence: “Keeping the people of Haiti, and those who lost loved ones, in our thoughts and prayers.”
A gallery of grief
In addition to the page-after-page-after-page of posts, the site contains nearly 4,000 photos, most of them of family and loved ones lost in the earthquake and the hotel’s resulting collapse.
The site also hosts 57 different topical discussion groups, ranging from “How You Can Help Haiti Now,” to “Grief,” to many discussion pages for individual families who lost loved ones in the disaster.
Hotel Montana story
An especially gripping story about that Hotel Montana online family born out of the hotel’s rubble was written by Rukmini Callimachi, West Africa correspondent for the Associated Press. Callimachi went to Haiti three months after the quake to write a story about how survivors were coping.
Last week, Callimachi won the Eugene S. Pulliam National Journalism writing Award for her article, “Haiti: Hotel Montana,” presented by the Journalism Department of Ball State University.
Writing on the wall of the “Haiti Earthquake Hotel Montana” FB page, Callimachi wrote this week:
“Hello everyone. I’m Rukmini, and for several months last year I had the honor of getting to know you. On Wednesday night, I shared your story with students at Ball State University, some of whom wiped away tears as they listened to the journey all of you endured. It was hard for me to re-read the Haiti: Hotel Montana story and to remember your enormous loss … You are not forgotten.”
Other friends felt compelled to comment on Callimachi on the same page. One wrote, “Our hero, Rukmini, made it back from the Ivory Coast and kept her appointment at Ball State after all. She’s continuing to tell the story of this amazing HM (Hotel Montana) family. Still here. Still grieving. Yet still filled with hope.”
Other posts on the Haiti Earthquake Hotel Montana page show the intensity of feelings being expressed on this social media site, well over a year after the quake. Some of them also show the power that a journalist can have in telling a story like this to the world. Among the thousands of posts:
- “Hey HM family – almost bed time for me, and all I want to do right now is find the Haitian people who helped my brother survive the earthquake over a year ago and hug them.”
- “More than writing “about” this online family, Rukmini became “part” of this online family, and many of us are honored to have met her here.”
- “Hello everyone. Just wanted to let y’all know I’m thinking about you … This family is in my blood, and I have been blessed so much by it. As always, holding you in my heart.”
- “The earthquake in Japan has brought our emotions soaring high again. We miss Jim every day, but it’s been extra tough this month watching the news and seeing the devastation. A lot of us here know somewhat of they are going through.”
- (Stopping in to let my HM family know you are never far from my thoughts. I pray each of you is doing well and remembering the good times you shared with those you love.”
- “Love and prayers to my Hotel Montana family. Still taking things one day at a time. Praying for the people of Japan and all families affected by this terrible tragedy.”
It may well be that, in times of tragedy like those experienced by Haitians in 2010 and Japanese in 2011, these are the moments when the social media plays its most positive role in the world.
For anyone with a vested interest in the Internet, these are perplexing times.
They are troubling for a lot of reasons, but many of them have to do with the culture of total openness on the World Wide Web. The idea is to allow everyone to put everything out there for everyone to see, letting that information and images do whatever good or damage they may.
But an overarching question is this: How much access do Americans need to information which – if revealed –could cause some serious problems?
Problems on the doorstep
We talking both micro-level problems as well as macro-level problems, and they range from individual humiliation to national security threats.
On one level we have teens committing suicide over unwanted personal disclosures tossed out like birdseed in the social media or via texts. On the other level we have federally classified secrets being leaked at random via a site with that word in its title: WikiLeaks.
This blog has spoken on three occasions about the micro-level problem, so let’s talk a few minutes about that other one.
From the WikiLeaks website, we get this introduction to what it is all about:
“WikiLeaks is a non-profit media organization dedicated to bringing important news and information to the public. We provide an innovative, secure and anonymous way for independent sources around the world to leak information to our journalists.
“We publish material of ethical, political and historical significance while keeping the identity of our sources anonymous, thus providing a universal way for the revealing of suppressed and censored injustices.”
Sounds pretty good, no?
Its founder is Julian Paul Assange, an Australian journalist, turned software developer, turned (according to his own site) internet activist. He created WikiLeaks in 2006 and is editor-in-chief of this whistleblower web site.
Since it began, WikiLeaks has been praised by some, deemed controversial by others, and condemned as traitorous by still others. In its short five years of existence it has published sensitive material about Guantanamo Bay practices and policies, Church of Scientology manuals, and – most recently – classified information about American involvement in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. Even more recently, it has revealed contents of secret U.S. diplomatic cables, many of which were deemed classified.
Praise and prosecution
On its home page, WikiLeaks quotes Time Magazine as saying, “(WikiLeaks) Could become as important a journalistic tool as the Freedom of Information Act.” Assange himself has been recognized for his efforts by Amnesty International and was runner-up to Time Magazine’s Person of the year in 2010.
But Assange also has some big problems. He has been charged by Swedish authorities with sexual misconduct and is being detained by British police. He is under house arrest at his estate in England, pending possible extradition to Sweden.
A couple weeks ago, he was the focus of a 60 Minutes segment, and he believes he is being targeted by governments and their prosecutors because he allows secret information to be leaked over his site.
Apart from his personal legal problems, however, is the broader issue of WikiLeaks. What it is doing, and whether that is a healthy or unhealthy thing for the world. And that is an issue that could be debated well into the next decade (and may well be so, should the U.S. decide to prosecute Assange under the almost hundred year-old Espionage Act.)
To the credit of WikiLeaks, no one doubts that people living in democracies need access to accurate and timely information if they are to play a meaningful role in the democratic process. That logic goes all the way back to Thomas Jefferson, if not before.
And no one doubts that whistleblowers who uncover dangerous, illegal, or corrupt practices should have protection from retaliation. Remember Dr. Jeffrey Wigand who exposed the practices by the big tobacco companies in the 1990s of making cigarettes more addictive through a secret ammonia-boosting process?
Further, we have seen over the past two weeks how unaware the West was about conditions that led to a people’s revolution in Egypt. One of the main reasons we didn’t know about it was that there were few foreign correspondents there to tell us about what was happening.
Why? Because media owners and managers have decimated the ranks of reporters, especially those covering international stories.
Bottom line: Without those boots on the ground discovering stories like that, how are we to know?
Okay, I’ll go ahead and say the obvious: “If a tree falls in the wilderness and no one is there to hear it, does it make a sound?”
Egypt made no sound for us, because we had no one there to hear it.
Filling a big hole
Wikileaks can also help fill the gap left by investigative reporters who have been cut from newspapers and television stations. We’ve been living in some pretty perilous times without having many of these watchdogs guarding the premises.
Without them, the climate is more open for wrongdoers in business and government to practice corruption. But knowing sites like WikiLeaks can burst their secrecy bubble might make them behave just a tad better.
These are holes that WikiLeaks can and does fill. But does it also create other holes?
National security threat?
It is punching holes in American national security? Should there be at least a few limits to the kinds of classified documents that are published? Shouldn’t we assume that the government has at least some need to guard state secrets, the revelation of which could compromise its peoples’ security?
The culture of the Internet is, again, one of openness. Very few controls exist on content published on the Web, and few leaders of governmental agencies relish the idea of being criticized for trying to establish information controls.
Deregulation is trend
Even the FCC has been in a deregulatory mode since the Reagan years, backing off on regulating television, let alone the Internet. In fact, it has no mandate to control Internet content since the Web doesn’t come to us over the public airwaves.
But a culture of total openness exists within an American society where freedoms are not absolute nor limitless. We have laws regarding invasion of privacy and we have laws regarding libel.
Wrongful death claims coming?
And it may only be a matter of time before wrongful death charges are filed against individuals who leak humiliating information about other individuals who turn around and hang themselves in their bedrooms because of it.
And, on that macro level, what happens if documents do get leaked that do have the power of compromising national security?
Against that reality stands the Internet and WikiLeaks. In a post-9/11 world, it’s not surprising that many people are now thinking some limits should exist on what shows up on the Web. As always, though, the questions are who will regulate that conent, and how do we keep politics out of it?
One of the interesting things about the site Snopes.com, those Web sleuths who uphold or debunk strange assertions, is that you discover some things you didn’t even know were open to question.
Case in point: the classic holiday carol, The Twelve Days of Christmas. This, of course, is the song that bespeaks the gifts given by a “true love” between Christmas and Epiphany (Jan. 5).
No way that song could stir up a controversy, right?
A coded catechism
According to an urban legend that began in the late 1990s, the song was created by the Catholic Church as a coded reference to important articles of the Christian faith, says Snopes.
According to this claim, The Twelve Days of Christmas was written in England during the time (1558-1829) when Catholics in that country had to step lightly or face persecution until the Catholic Emancipation Act was passed in 1829.
The song was first published in England in 1780.
A way around the law
The legend goes that Catholics were prohibited from any practice of their faith, either private or public. That is way over the top, according to most British historians who say the government’s persecution or toleration of Catholics waxed and waned during that 271-year span.
Nevertheless, the claim about The 12 Days of Christmas is that it was written as a “catechism song” to help young Catholics learn the tenets of their faith by an easy memory device, so the story continues. The gifts sung about are actually codes to the teachings of the Catholic faith.
• The “true love” refers to God.
• The “me” who receives each gift is every baptized person.
• The “partridge in a pear tree” is Jesus. “
• The “2 turtle doves” are the Old and New Testaments.
• The “3 French hens” are faith, hope, and charity.
• The “4 calling birds” are the four Gospels and/or the four evangelists.
• The “5 golden rings” are the Pentateuch, or the first five books of the Old Testament.
• The “6 geese a-laying” are the six days of creation.
• The “7 swans a-swimming” are the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit, or the seven sacraments.”
• The “8 maids a-milking” are the eight beatitudes.
• The “9 ladies dancing” are the nine fruits of the Holy Spirit.”
• The “10 lords a-leaping” are – what else – the ten commandments.
• The “11 pipers piping” are the eleven faithful apostles.
• The “12 drummers drumming” are the twelve points of doctrine in the Apostle’s Creed.
Interesting, no? Sounds plausible, yes?
Not so fast
Enter the urban legend detectives of Snopes who throw water on all this by noting, “There is absolutely no documentation or supporting evidence for this claim whatsoever, other than mere repetition of the claim itself.”
They point out the claim apparently started around 1998, “making it as likely an invention of modern-day speculation rather than historical fact.”
A key flaw in the claim/theory, according to the Snopes snoops, is that “all of the religious tenets supposedly preserved by the song (with the possible exception of the number of sacraments) were shared by Catholics and Anglicans alike.
So why code those articles of faith if all Christians in England believed in them?
Further, the song contains no mentions of the key points of differences that DID divide Catholic and Anglican England. For example, there is no coded reference for the Pope himself. And there is no hidden euphemism for the practice of Confession.
The list of problems goes on (and you can add the fact that some textual evidence indicates it was originally a French song), but you get the idea.
A high-tech spotlight
What I find fascinating is the way the Internet, which didn’t even exist for most of us 20 years ago, can be used to shed light on events, documents – and even songs – which occurred or were written hundreds of years ago.
So next time you hear The Twelve Days of Christmas, just enjoy it for what it is. And be happy for the lovers.