It takes a village

On the third day of class I asked Professor Robinson to change the seating of the class. The tables were lined up like this:

classroom-1

I didn’t like it. And, as the most important person in a classroom of 35 students, I decided to ask to change it to this:

ushaped

Classroom seating is something I hold very dear to my heart. I don’t like looking at the back of people’s heads when they speak and I like being able to make eye contact with people when I talk (and make sure they’re not rolling their eyes at my jokes).

There were a few grumbles at first but the seating stayed that way for the rest of the semester.

Was it because of me? Maybe.

Was it because people were too lazy to move the tables back? Probably.

In our U-shaped paradise, we had a lot of discussions about the future of mass media. They were usually insightful and sometimes redundant, but I think the U-shaped made the discussions more personal, more intimate and more open to free-flowing conversation.

When talking about the history of journalism and media, we tended to focus on the contributions of individuals. Shawn Fanning, Mark Zuckerburg, Steve Jobs, Tim Berners-Lee, etc, etc. We lauded them for their creativity and entrepreneurial spirit. We looked to them as the people we could become.

While we looked at these heroes of media and technology, we also developed a central theme (or so I think) in the course: Technology will continue to make us more interconnected and the dissemination of information and news is revolutionizing journalism and how we interact with the world around us.

So we had this funny contradiction throughout the semester: we harped on our ever-increasing interconnectedness as we looked to individuals who single-handedly changed mass media.

Professor Robinson liked to say, “Someone in this room is the next Zuckerburg, someone will come up with the next big idea.”

I would look around the room at everyone and wonder which one of us would do it. And I couldn’t narrow it down. At first I thought it was because our classroom was flooded with talent and ingenuity. I still think that, but there isn’t going to be one student who flips their tassel to the other side of their cap and skyrockets to success with the best idea ever.

The future of journalism isn’t a one-man show. The ideas that will push mass media into the future aren’t going to be lightbulb moments from one brilliant person. One person isn’t going to save journalism. If our world is more interconnected, why won’t our ideas be interconnected too?

When I was doing my final project, I was frustrated that I was supposed to write 10 pages on what I thought would happen to mass media in the future. I was writing about the future of political satire and political reporting and I knew that change was coming. But I couldn’t figure out what the change would be. Initially, I was annoyed at myself – how could someone so incredibly smart and innovative not have anything more than speculation about the future? Of course, with my face I can never be mad at myself for long; I realized it was wildly contradictory for me to think one person should be able to come up with the idea that will change mass media.

I understand that Professor Robinson wasn’t expecting our final projects to be accurate predictions of mass media in 10 years (although it would be funny to read my paper again in 2025). Yet, I felt that our  individual final projects mirrored how journalists and publications are addressing the future. They’re waiting for that one person to come up with that one idea. That’s not going to happen.

The future of journalism depends on the kind of discussions we had in class. They depend on me nodding when Hallie says something insightful and then I raise my hand and contribute, and one of the Nicoles takes it and adds something I would never think of.

Having the mentality that ideas come from one insider or a group of experts is dangerous. It’s a threat to journalism and the critical role journalism plays in society. The individualistic attitude means people try to develop solutions on their own and discourages the “outsourcing” of ideas to others who could contribute.

We’re a part of a world that sees constant interaction between people and their opinions. The entire world is a U-shaped think tank and the future depends on us understanding this. We need to tweet our budding ideas, share them on Facebook and bring them up in mass media classes.

That’s the most important thing I’ve learned this semester. It’s not that one of us will grasp the solution, it’s that we have the technology and the means to communicate in a way that encourages widespread problem-solving. And we need to embrace it.

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TV News: I’m bored

There is no story that warrants 24/7 major news coverage. No major story has shocking developments that need to be addressed and analyzed every 30 minutes for 2 weeks.

The news cycle is incessant and people don’t like it. So they don’t watch it.

Major news outlets need to create their own content and stop relying on the same cyclical coverage that just gets a different face from one program to the next.

And if there is actually breaking news, cover it.

Part 1: My Facebook Friends

Today was my birthday (did you know?) and I expected Facebook wall posts congratulating me. I got a few instagrams and an awesome Twitter shoutout, but the majority of common birthday congrats come from Facebook.

As of 10:25 p.m., I have gotten 47 birthday posts from my 1,052 friends. That means 4.5% of my Facebook friends wished me a happy birthday. Four measly percent!

Over the years I’ve gotten more and more Facebook friends, but less birthday posts. What the hell, Facebook friends? After much thought, I’ve come up with possible reasons for the sharp decline well-wishers.

1) The quality of me as a human has declined.

2) People use Facebook less.

3) I have way too many Facebook friends.

I can eliminate 1. I’m a better person than I was in high school (although I genuinely think I’m not as pretty as I was.) Then it’s 2 and 3. I’ll give 2 a little bit of credit, people use Facebook less, but people still use it a lot. At least all my friends do.

So we come to 3. I’m wildly popular – smart, funny, kind and modest – but I don’t have 1,052 friends. No one does. Sure, you can know 1,052 people and you can be connected with them on Facebook, but they aren’t your friends and they aren’t even people you care about following. And science says you can’t have that many IRL friends anyway.

I’m Facebook friends with a lot of people I don’t talk to on a regular basis, but I like to keep up with them and their lives.

Without looking at my friend list, here’s how I would break it down:

70 “close friends” – people I see often, text, go to parties with, etc

250 “friends from afar” – these are the people I was just talking about, I’m interested in keeping up with them because I may see them again/we were close in the past

10 hilariously dramatic Facebook users – just laughs

That leaves more than 700 Facebook “friends”. Who are you people?

To be continued…

Revisting StumbleUpon

This afternoon, thinking about what to write about, I rediscovered StumbleUpon, “a discovery engine that finds and recommends web content to its users.” Essentially, you sign up with Facebook, put in your interests and StumbleUpon takes you on a trip of random customization. Through Facebook it links you with friends, so you can see what your friends are stumbling upon (like I care). It also keeps track of pages you’ve “liked” to revisit them, and pages you “dislike” to improve the algorithm.

I haven’t used StumbleUpon in years, but the “discovery engine” was briefly all the rage about 5 years ago. I, along with my friends, used it almost daily. It was simple, entertaining and a great time suck. According to my StumbleUpon profile, I visited 1,677 pages and had 15 interests. My “interests” were mostly normal – pets, traveling, investing, hockey – but I also had Dating Tips in there (whatever, I’m sure someone hacked me lol).

I found interesting content through StumbleUpon, but StumbleUpon’s popularity was short-lived, people just stopped using it.

StumbleUpon died because it got boring. But the core purpose of StumbleUpon is gold – helping people discover the internet.

So here’s how we could resurrect StumbleUpon (points for an Easter reference):

1. Get a better algorithm – StumbleUpon got boring because I kept seeing the same pages, I would like a picture of a cat napping on a hippo and the next 20 pages would be animal pictures. I don’t know how algorithms work, but StumbleUpon’s sucks. Instead of discovering content I’m seeing the same content over and over again because their algorithm is only based on my pre-determined interests. Put a little elbow grease in it, StumbleUpon.

2. Use credible websites – This doesn’t mean only using the likes of the New York Times and my blog, but don’t use click bait sites. Even sites that look like click bait. Stay away.

3. Make it more social – You can see what your friends like on StumbleUpon, but you have to go to their page and click on the list of their likes. What a pain! Instead, give likes more of a timeline feel (like any successful media sharing site ever.)

4. Get better dating advice. I need a boyfriend.

Kids and Pictures

Because I’m fairly useless, I have to write 3 blogs today for class. If I had been a good student, I would’ve spread the 3 posts throughout the week.

Today is my birthday. So it’s a holy day and Easter. I’m 22 so please don’t make any lame 21 jokes. I’m a mature woman now, becoming more and more like my idol, Sonia Sotamayor. (I call myself little Sonia, or Sonia Sotamenor, if you will.)

Last night for my birthday, I went to Angus Barn, my favorite restaurant, for dinner and sat in the Wild Turkey Lounge, got a steak (I’m usually a vegetarian) and watched basketball. It was glorious. It was all very refined – meaning I paid attention to my posture and didn’t drink my Old Fashioned through the stirrer.

Friday night was a different story. My family took our neighbor’s kids to a matinee. It’s a 8-year-old boy and 4-year-old triplets (2 boys and a girl). We went to see Cinderella (it was okay) and then went to get pizza. It was hectic, we were an amoeba of chaos.  But those kids are cute, so I took pictures.

I feel fine taking pictures of them. I babysit them frequently and know the family well. I would love to show you all how cute they are, but I don’t post pictures of other people’s children online. But some people do, and posting pictures of kids is most popular on Instagram and a lot of people I follow do it. They post the kid they babysit playing in the kiddie pool or they’re camp counselor posting a pic with their favorite camper (If Instagram had been around 12 years ago, I’m sure the internet would be bursting with pictures of me.)

There’s nothing wrong with sharing a cute moment of a 5-year-old coloring, but I think you have to ask the parents. No matter what.

I’ve talked with people about this before and we’ve come to the conclusion that ethically, posting pictures of people’s children without their permission is a gray area. I don’t think it’s a gray area, but some people do.

They argue that photo uploading is so prevalent and multi-generational, that having a relationship with a child permits you to post their picture on your private account.

We share so much of ourselves on Instagram and Facebook and Twitter, that our generation has a different concept of privacy than even the generation before us, who are parents of small children. And though we might not think twice about uploading pictures of ourselves, we need to understand and respect that it may be our social media account, but it’s someone else’s child.

The Weird Underworld of Twitter’s Trial Watchers

On March 11, 2015 thesleepwalking” trial of Joseph Mitchell ended in an acquittal. Mitchell, from Durham, killed his son in 2010 during a parasomnia episode. Because it was such a bizarre case, the entire trial was live-streamed on local news websites.

I followed the case closely because my dad was Mitchell’s lawyer and the Fergusons support each other (at least until I picked up crochet and no one complimented me.)

So I followed Twitter with the #JosephMitchell hashtag. And that’s when I found them. The bizarre, baffling community of trial watchers – people who watch live streams of trials and tweet about it.

The most puzzling thing about trial watchers is that they actually watch trials. For the most part, trial proceedings are agonizingly boring – they’re full of confusing law jargon, long breaks and lame witness questions.  But these people watch them. Why? Who are you people? Why? Seriously, why?

From my research most of the trial watchers are middle-aged white women who obviously don’t work because they watch trials all day. Their bios read things like: “Mother, grandmother, wife, trial watcher. Love my two dogs!” and stupid stuff like that.

Here are a few links to some trial watchers I came across while following the Joseph Mitchell trial:

I encourage you to click on all of them to give you an idea of what the trial-watching community is like. And it is a community, they discuss trial proceedings among themselves, offering their opinions, asking where to find live streams. And that’s all they tweet about. It’s just so odd.

Following the Joseph Mitchell trial on Twitter and discovering the trial-watching cult was eye-opening, mystifying and at times disturbing.

Looking back on my teenage deliquency

When I was 6 I stole a fuzzy pen from Party City. Without a disposable income I was left to rely on my mother, who, when asked, said I could not buy the pen. Bypassing the law, I took the pink pen, ready to embark on a life of crime.

Before we left the parking lot my mom realized what I had done (it was my first heist, what can I say?) and I had to go in, give the pen back and apologize. There I was: a tiny, budding kleptomaniac.

1999 Mugshot
1999 Mugshot

It could’ve stopped there. I could’ve had my one-day crime spree and chosen a quiet life in the country. But  I discovered file-sharing websites. And the ruffian was reborn.

It all started innocently enough, with CDs shared among middle school friends and downloaded onto everyone’s desktops. Alas the CDs weren’t enough, they couldn’t satisfy my need for music (aka my need to impress other people with how much alternative music I knew.) Babysitting money and hostessing couldn’t pay the bills, so I turned to the internet and the formidable, omnipresent file-sharing websites.

I downloaded a lot of music. I downloaded individual songs, full albums, even audio books (what? never heard of a nerdy criminal?). That being said, I don’t know that my downloading was unusual. Most of my friends did it, and it was so spread out over time that I’m sure I would be shocked if I heard how much I’ve actually downloaded.

Since the rise of Spotify and Pandora, I’ve put the life of crime behind me. But our recent discussions about the future of music and how music is disseminated has made me wonder about this decade or so, in which illegal sharing dominated the music industry.

Really I’m wondering why I did it. I consider my moral compass fairly straight (sun rises in the north, sets in the south, etc), so why did I steal from people? What I’ve got is this: it’s a cost-benefit analysis in which the benefit is clear (free music) and the costs are vague and misunderstood.

The argument I had as a teenager was that I was downloading music from artists who didn’t need the money, and prosecuting downloaders was so resource-training for authorities that being fined, or even noticed, would be nearly impossible.

The first part of that argument is easy to shoot down – not all the money from music sales goes to rich people, artists work hard to create their music and deserve compensation, and most importantly – capitalism.

I’m not sure about the second part of the argument because I have no idea how illegal file-sharing is monitored or prosecuted. Is it a felony? Is there a statute of limitations? How do they find you? Could you go to jail? Does it matter how much you download? Do authorities know who offenders are but just choose not to prosecute? What happens when recording companies get involved and take matters into their own hands? Will they kill me? I have a lot of questions and no answers. And that’s a problem because when we can’t see the consequences, we assume there are none.

But I still want that pen.