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.
I was listening this week to the Mason and Ireland talk show on ESPN/L.A., and was struck by how upset the duo was about NBC’s decision to air tape-delayed programming of the different Olympic events unfolding in London.
With London time running eight hours ahead of L.A., tape delays make sense unless one naively
assumes fans of swimming or gymnastics are going to be in front of their TV at 4 a.m., watching an event occurring live at noon London time.
And the gripe about the false suspense created by the NBC anchors who treat the events as if they haven’t happened yet is also a mystery. Do you really want to have the drama of an event spoiled by first knowing who won or lost?
It seems the Mason and Ireland criticism is more a comment on our times where we expect to know everything we want to know immediately. We’ve become accustomed to just that, thanks to the Internet and the social media.
Sign of the times
It’s a news-now environment that has made it nearly impossible for traditional media to break any significant news that others haven’t already heard about through the online grapevine.
Of course it is easy to find out, in real time, whether Michael Phelps or Missy Franklin has just won another gold. Twitter and Facebook take care of that, as do online sports sites like espn.com or si.com. Right now, for example, I’m looking at live results for women’s individual archery on espn.com.
Can TV be Twitter?
So it seems what critics like Mason and Ireland are actually bemoaning is that traditional media like NBC-TV can’t be more like Twitter. Of course they could if they wouldn’t mind trading their prime-time audience for a handful of stalwart fans in the wee small hours of the morning.
That’s not likely to happen, however, and if I were with NBC, I’d think it would be lunacy to do it. Let television be television.
Even though NBC-TV delays coverage of events, however, the network does offer up an online alternative that streams live coverage. That is found, of course, on nbcolympics.com.In addition to offering a plethora of videos, interviews, analyses, and features about the games and the athletes, the site features a “Live Extra” window that allows viewers to see what is going on right now. This feature is available free for anyone with a cable or satellite subscription that includes NBC or MSNBC.
So again, I’m somewhat baffled by those who seem to think we have to wait for 8 p.m. to roll around each night before we can find out what happened earlier that day in Olympic competition.
What I do find fascinating about these Olympics, however, is the way online and social media coverage has been enhanced since the last games.
A couple years ago, during the Winter Olympics in Vancouver, I wrote a post called, “Canada’s One-on-One Olympics,” noting the ways television had embraced the social media to connect fans with the athletes. We’ve seen that TV/online enhanced coverage blossom during the London Summer Olympics.
Franklin and Bieber
For example, when Justin Bieber tweeted he was so pleased by Missy Franklin’s gold medal win because he is such a fan of hers, Franklin tweeted back, “I just died! Thank you!”
Fans seem to like all this. Here are a couple comments from graduate students in journalism and public relations about the current enhanced coverage of the London Olympics:
The personal side
Kathelin Buxton writes, “I absolutely believe that NBC’s tactic (in the Vancouver Olympics) to share the personal side of the athletes with the audience and extend the viewing experience of the TV screen onto the web, was effective. On the eve of the 2012 London Olympics NBC is employing this same tactic, but has continued to expand the depth of the story for each athlete and to cultivate the relationships, and it has absolutely worked to lure me in. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t follow more than a few athletes on Twitter, or that I didn’ t get sucked into some of the online videos and in depth coverage of these remarkable individuals provided by the network.
The “mom” campaign
“What’s more intriguing is seeing how the Olympic partners and sponsors or getting into this tactic as well, the advertisers have taken notice of the broadcast networks success and are using it to their advantage. P&G’s mom’s campaign showcasing the woman behind the athlete is one of the adverts running and really taps into the personal connection, showing that these individuals are attainable and not behind human reality, but people just like you and I. This helps instill a sense of fandom in the individuals who represent our country. I know I’ll be rooting for Team USA.”
Knowing the athletes
Debbie Kearns observes, “I think viewers feel a more personal connection to the Olympics when they feel like they know the athletes better. NBC, taking a page from popular shows like “American Idol” and “Survivor,” is giving us an up-close-and-personal look at the athletes’ lives and accomplishments – in addition to the pulse-pounding coverage of the Games.
“I think this connects to viewers in a human way, particularly when it’s supplanted with social media interaction and glimpses into what the athletes are experiencing and most of us only dream about. The Olympics is a brand unto itself, and any athlete associated with the Games attracts attention.
A nice escape
“Even if you’re not an avid sports fan (I’m definitely not), the associated advertising and personal athlete stories have a profound and moving impact on viewers. For just a few weeks, we can put the doomsday headlines, personal stress and other negativity aside to admire the determination, sportsmanship and grit displayed by the world’s best athletes. In short, watching the Olympics on TV reminds us all, at least for those few weeks, that we’re all connected as one race: the human race.”
If this last observation is correct, score one more positive impact for the Internet.
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.
Try this analogy on for size.
You board a full airplane and it taxis out onto the apron of a crowded runway in the midst of strong winds.
There you sit. A half-hour passes, and the pilot remembers you guys are in the cabin. He announces he is awaiting clearance for takeoff. Another hour passes and you get the feeling this plane is going nowhere.
Add a wrinkle
Then another announcement is made, this time by the lowest-paid airline employee on the plane, the flight attendant. She informs you that the airline needs more background information from you if you are going to fly on this plane at all. She will be handing out a detailed checklist for you to complete as you sit there longer, wondering whether you are going anywhere.
I probably shouldn’t be writing about this issue – which actually has nothing to do with airlines – because the focus of this blog is on how new communication technologies are impacting our everyday lives.
I probably shouldn’t be writing about how today’s large banks are putting home loan applicants into the same scenario as the airline above.
I probably shouldn’t be writing it, but I will anyway.
The tech connection
There is a link to this blog’s focus, after all. The same technology that gives us the ability to communicate in a virtual world, makes it easier for bankers — many of whom are behaving in strange ways toward their customers – to isolate themselves from us.
If a banker wants to treat a home applicant as more of a threat or nuisance than a customer, it’s much easier to do that if that customer will never be able confront that banker face to face. The bank will simply delegate a low-echelon loan processor to deal with the exasperated applicants.
And even that exchange will likely happen via e-mail or text.
Of course, that loan processor has no power to solve the problem frustrating the customer, and it wasn’t his or her decision to treat the customer with such disdain in the first place.
This all may sound abstract to anyone who hasn’t applied for a home mortgage recently. But to those who have – especially those who have nasty memories of last-minute conditions the bank layers on — these thoughts need no clarification.
A personal saga
My wife and I applied last February for a mortgage on a home under construction in a 120-home development in Southern California. We were told by the builder – a national company – that we should use their preferred lender if we wanted to get an extra incentive being offered.
The lender is also a national bank (I’m tempted to say it goes by B of A, but why get personal). It was represented by a helpful loan originator who later disappeared from the bank. Why have customer-oriented people working for you?
I was now told to deal by e-mail, text, phone, and e-fax with a loan processor 1,500 miles away in Plano, Texas.
All through the four-month process, as the home went up, we were assured that our loan would sail through.
Then came the week from hell.
That was, of course, the week before closing. That’s when the bank turned seriously anal and wanted quick responses to a laundry list of some 26 detailed queries requiring research tantamount to a master’s thesis. A half-dozen of these came the night before close of escrow. That was last night. Another two came this morning.
Years ago when I entered the Navy, I underwent an FBI background check. That was child’s play compared to what B of A (oops, wasn’t going to use it again) has put me through in scouring my past just to approve a mortgage for which I am well-qualified.
Part of the problem is the banks must get approval from their auditors and, to be sure, some tightening in the underwriting practices have been overdue. But now the pendulum has swung 180 degrees to where even qualified lenders are having trouble getting home loans.
I suppose, to bank executives, the mental torture they dispense falls under the heading of “tightening our risk-management position.”
To the home applicant, it simply reeks of having to prove our integrity to the bankers whose own integrity has been a matter of discussion for some time. Let’s see now, wasn’t it the banks’ wrong-headed loan practices that took us into this housing mess in the first place?
Plan for time off
If you are planning on applying for a home loan through a bank, consider taking a week’s vacation during the week before closing. You’ll need it to assemble all the last-minute paperwork the bank will require.
In my own case, it amounted to collecting more than 100 pages of documents from various sources and faxing them – sometimes twice – to the beleaguered loan processor working overtime down in Plano. And that doesn’t count the 60 pages submitted to the bank earlier in the process.
The banks will not tell you this when you apply, but be prepared to document the source of every single deposit – no matter how small – made to any of your bank accounts. That time period ranges from two months before you even take out the loan, right down to the day of closing.
As I write this, today is supposed to be our day to close escrow. But this morning I still do not know for certain whether I even have the mortgage, which the bank has said, for months, is “looking fine.” BTW, the last thing they did — an hour ago — was to confuse my wife’s W2 form with mine and wondered why my income had changed.
Meanwhile, I look down what should be our new street and see the 19 other homes that have just been built. Half of the homes were supposed to have closed escrow earlier this month, and the rest by next week. Yet only one home is occupied, and closing has occurred on only three others.
So my wife and I know we are not alone in our frustrations. We’ve heard enough stories to know this is happening to nearly everyone who is buying in this housing development. And if it’s happening here, it’s happening elsewhere.
Probably all over the country.
Life has changed
The same technology that has brought us closer together with long-lost friends via Facebook, has also added to the impersonality of our country’s banks. Nothing is done face-to-face anymore, and the ability to strike a deal – and seal it – with a local banker is gone forever.
Numbers and algorithms have replaced names, faces and relationships in today’s self-serving corporate world as the fortress walls are reinforced with more concrete. Customers become potential threats. Barbarians at the gate.
No scoop here
Meanwhile, The New York Times reported yesterday that Bank of America and several other large banks are in trouble, and that their credit rating has been down rated by Moody’s Investor Service.
To a frustrated banking customer, no surprise there.
New communication technologies do create some problems. Two years ago, in the midst of applying for an earlier mortgage, I was suddenly declared dead by Capital One, a premature assessment to say the least. It took me a month to convince the Capital One computer I was alive. Only then was my credit history unlocked so I could close on that mortgage.
I was actually told by a Capital One officer, “I believe you are alive, but our computer thinks you’re dead, and it has 30 days to update its file.”
No progress here
This time it’s another headache, and the technology again doesn’t help in face-to-face contact with the lender.It only add to the ability of the lenders to isolate themselves from the customers who are frustrated – and frankly offended – by their way of conducting business.
I feel for that loan processor down in Plano. The grief she is getting should be going upstairs where it belongs.
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.
I remember when a million dollars was a lot of money.
So much so that CBS rose to the top of the ratings on the nights it aired the hit series, “The Millionaire,” from 1955-1960. This was a show where a guy named Michael Anthony would travel the globe bestowing the golden sum on anyone his boss, John Beresford Tipton, deemed worthy of it.
If a network were to resurrect that series today, however, they would have to call it, “The Multimillionaire,” since that million would be worth just over $10 million in 2012 dollars.
Money and media
But you may be wondering, since this blog is about the digital media, what does money have to do with the price of pixels?
A lot, as it turns out. And for starters, $10 million is a vastly outdated sum of cash in the game of buying and selling social media sites.
Billion Dollar Baby
I’m talking about the $1 billion (yes, with a “b”) that Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg just paid this week for another social network – Instagram – that wasn’t even around two years ago.
Instagram was launched way, way back in 2010 by Kevin Systrom and Mike Krieger as a free photo-sharing application. To access it, all users have to do is shoot a digital picture, add on a filter, and then share it on several social networking sites include the Instagram site. The photos appear in squares, harkening back to earlier-day Kodak Instamatic cameras.
According to an article today in the online site, TechCrunch, Instagram was starting to be too much of a rival for Facebook to ignore.
“At 27 million registered users on iOS alone, Instagram was increasingly positioning itself as a social network in its own right — not just a photo-sharing app,” writes Josh Costine and Kim-Mai Cutler.
“And it was clear that some users were doing more of the daily sharing actvities on Instagram rather than Facebook’s all-in-one mobile apps, which had to be cluttered with nearly every feature of the desktop site.”
Instagram has just launched an app for Android phones and was on track to pick up as many as 50 million new users. According to TechCrunch, it had already picked up one million in the first week of the Android launch.
Under the terms of the deal, Instagram will remain a stand-alone app under its own name, but there will be increased ties and crossover possibilities with Facebook for users of both networks.
Here’s the kicker
But it was the writers’ next observation that shows – let’s see, how shall I put this – that smoke and mirrors only have value in the world of interactive digital media.
“Whatever you think of the price given the fact that Instagram had no revenues, the reality is it was going to be worth whatever Mark Zuckerberg felt like paying for it,” the TechCrunch writers say.
Keep in mind that we’re talking about a two-year-old company that – as Costine and Cutler say – has no revenues. Like other social media sites, the value of Instagram lies in the fact it draws such a huge critical mass of eyeballs to its site.
Visions of sugar plums
As we’ve seen with other sites – most notably the Facebook phenomenon – that is a scenario that makes advertisers salivate as they contemplate the exposure for their client companies.
As for Zuckerberg himself, here is his take on what the acquisition means:
“For years, we’ve focused on building the best experience for sharing photos with your friends and family. Now, we’ll be able to work even more closely with the Instagram team to also offer the best experiences for sharing beautiful mobile photos with people based on your interests.”
And if you’re still trying to wrap your mind around how much a billion dollars is, it is $344 million more than last month’s Mega Million jackpot of $656 million, which was the largest payout in lottery history.
And, once again, this billion dollars went for a company that made how much money?