I Have A Bad Feeling About Data

I felt a great disturbance in the force….

–Obi Wan Kenobi

Finding that clip, on YouTube cost me an hour of my life thanks to the wormhole of endless Star Wars (and by Star Wars, I mean Episode 4 for you young’ins) clips, documentaries and commentaries. So much stuff to wade through, that I only found that particular clip by entering “Obi Wan Kenobi disturbance in the force” in the search field.

This brings me to the point of this week’s blog post. Data. Data-star-trek-the-next-generation-31159191-1024-768No, not that one. The information kind, like when you mindlessly agree to the terms of services to all those convenient apps on your smartphone. Your DataOr all the information (data) that is collected behind your computer screen via cookies or IP addresses. What about information that should be or supposed to be out there? The kind that helps us make decisions like whether to get the HPV vaccine for your kid or whether one car brand is better than another, or who to cast your ballot for?

Data, information and knowledge all go hand in hand. You need one for the other, right? But what if that data is disrupted, what happens to gaining the knowledge you seek by searching for that data? Enter Donald J. Trump, disruptor extraordinaire. He is the planet Alderaan to the Republican party, and it’s leadership, crying out in terror. The question remains who will be silenced.

Before all this convergence in technology, content and media, there were clear messages and information that was shared, processed and understood for the most part with little disruption. If you wanted information about a vaccine, you consulted your doctor or maybe a medical journal. Which car is better? Consult some mechanics or a Consumer Reports article. What candidate to vote for? Check out the newspaper’s in depth breakdown of candidates positions on issues or watch a debate. That was then….not too long ago, mind you, before all this data on everything became the new way of doing, well, anything. Back when election debates were substantive with effective moderators. Not promoted like a cage match.

Now, we have so much information, so much data available about everything that it defeats the purpose of getting to that educated decision. As an undergraduate communications and political science major, my big project was on media bias. That was the thing 20 years ago, all media were liberal or conservative and in order to be media literate one had to consult several media sources for the same story in order to get the best understanding of the given subject. Today, not only are the lines of bias blurred thanks to the internet, social media, re-purposed content and the personalization of an online presence but there is just so much out there now that it causes disruptions in basic reception. In the end all it becomes is noise, until Donald Trump speaks, then it’s a cacophony.

Bruce Springsteen seemed prophetic in his 1992 song 57 channels:

Well we might’ a made some friends with some billionaires
We might’ a got all nice and friendly
If we’d made it upstairs
All I got was a note that said “Bye-bye John
Our love is fifty-seven channels and nothin’ on”

He was just 300 channels off.

Privacy, Apples and President Washington

This week in media and news has been a doozy.

In class, we talked about regulations and ethical issues surrounding the internet, which we all know now, encompasses more than just a computer connected to an ISP (internet service provider).

The death of the Supreme Court justice broke online. I personally, got my good old push notification from BBC News and then shortly after, from the New York Times. Then my Twitter feed started filling up about conspiracy theories and what exactly was “a natural death.”

Then came the news that Apple CEO Tim Cook would appeal the court order issued allowing the FBI to gain access to the iPhone of terrorist Syed Farook Rizwan, citing privacy issues and setting precedence.

What timing.

It’s not enough that the most conservative justice on the Supreme Court passes away unexpectedly, let’s throw in a major controversial face off on privacy between Federal law enforcement and the maker of the most popular smartphone in the world. Cook, so far, is steadfast is his defense of privacy, but let’s be honest, he has to be…in order to save his product. Apple, and the rest of Silicon Valley for that matter, have had many opportunities to defend privacy yet did not. Most notably, when Edward Snowden leaked how U.S. citizens were under surveillance. So we have Apple set to appeal the decision of the judge issuing the court order, questioning an age old law called the All Writs Act of 1789 (a law that was passed by the very first United States Congress and signed into law by President George Washington) that could go all the way to the Supreme Court. A Court that right now is in flux, with an even number of justices and a battle royale that is shaping up between conservatives, the current president and presidential candidates publicly calling for delays in appointing a new justice to the court. Were the appeal process of Apple to get fast tracked, would the Supreme Court even hear the case, or kick it back to the appellate courts?

It’s not often that something of this magnitude comes along and brings pause to consider what exactly we use these devices for nowadays and to exactly how much privacy are we entitled.

Debates, social media and television

As I write this week’s blog reflection, I am “second screening” the Democratic Debate on PBS. Gwen Ifill and Judy Woodruff managed to incorporate questions from social media without the result looking like a circus. The graphics were a simple lower third that indicated the question to which the candidates were responding to at any given time. The stage was simple, clean lines and colors. No props needed, unlike the Republican Debate held at the Reagan Library on CNN (Reagan’s Air force One). As I watch and rewind, thanks to my TiVo, I find myself listening more attentively than I have in previous debates, Republican or Democratic, and I have come to the conclusion that presentation makes or breaks communicating a message. This is where radio and television have the advantage over social media.

Think back to the previous debates of both parties. CNN with the aforementioned Air force One, Fox News with their flashy stage mimicking their high energy newscasts, CBS with it’s Democratic debate, CNN with their second debate in Utah and finally PBS with their understated set design even keeping moderators Gwen Ifill and Judy Woodruff in subdued lighting so as to focus attention on the candidates.Fox FacebookGOPCBS Dem

CNN Tea Party/Republican Debate

PBS Dem

Taking note of this, I could not help think about how news is presented on social media and how television seems to be relinquishing it’s advantage of presentation by seeming to be taking a page from online outlets in how to present news and information—fast and furious.

Linguist and American University professor Naomi Baron makes the case that technology has changed the way humans read, write, speak and listen. She is not wrong. Busier set designs keep the short attention span of viewers, reliance on culling questions for candidates from sites such as Facebook or Twitter instead of listening and the art of follow up questions seems to be dead. These are just some examples of how traditional media (television) has adapted to the rise of social media. Instead of debates of substantive questions, answers and moderators, it is now a clash of egos and celebrity journalists akin to The Hunger Games. Oh, Stephen Colbert beat me to it!

Well, at least we still have PBS.

The Branding of YOU

Until I began graduate school, I never thought about social media. I was using it like everyone else, or because I had to for work, but I never thought about it in terms of converging media. Or user generated content. Or even considered that we now live in a digital culture. None of these ideas came to fruition for me until we discussed The Conversation Prism (TCP).

Today, at the center of our digital culture is one person: YOU

You and your own brand and how do you sell yourself to the world. And we call millennials the selfish generation!

I could take the easy way and talk about a certain reality show family that are experts at social media use and are able to consistently stay relevant, but I would rather talk about average people. If you took a look at the above link to the TCP you will now realise that social media is more than just cat videos on YouTube or your Facebook friends. From sales and marketing to human resources, social media needs one key ingredient: YOUr data. When used responsibly, this data gets mined by marketers, advertisers and businesses so they can email, post to you sites or show up in your Google searches and convince you to use them, buy them or just “like” them. Pretty innocuous, right? Like getting junk snail mail back in the day, except now it comes right into your device of choice. What happens when it’s not so innocuous? With all this information out there, much of it personal, what happens when something goes wrong?

In class, we went through not-so-heavily-used social media sites, like Quora, Yelp and  Pinterest just to name a few. Then the next day was the story of 13-year-old Nicole Lovell a user of Facebook, and Kik; a messenger app for the smartphone. After coming off of a fun class discussion of how great and informative social media is and can bring YOU to the world, this story hit me like a ton of bricks. Mostly because this 13-year-old not only had a liver transplant when she was an infant but she also survived lymphoma. I could only wonder what role social media played in the demise of this often described loving and friendly girl.

User generated content is the new commerce of today’s world. For most of us it’s too many ads or solicitations. But for a growing number of people, user generated content is the new commerce for predators, stalkers and thieves. Perhaps the next step in the convergence of media and communications is reigning in the World Wide Web.

Web 2.0 and human behavior

Indeed. Who would prefer cybersex to the real thing? Lenina Huxley would for one, the character from Demolition Man. Are we heading in that direction?

I’ll admit, I did not see the value of social media when it was first coming on the scene circa 2006/2007. My first foray was getting a Netflix account and that was largely due to my younger brother. He was talking about all these DVD movies he could get in the mail, watch them and mail them back without worrying about late fees. And here I was still using my Blockbuster card. My brother is eight years younger than me but I still felt like an old fogey, stuck in my analog ways. I did give it a shot, and once I saw TV shows were available, I was hooked.

More recently in class, we talked about an article that was originally published in Newsweek, 1995 by Clifford Stoll. He was a man after my own heart when it came to digitizing the world. I am not an early adopter and my career has been in an industry (television) where technology changes pretty quickly. I was made fun of by co-workers that had come over to my home and saw my 14″ Emerson television (pictured above) and remarked “You work at the Worldwide Leader in Sports and you have this thing as your TV??” This was 1997. Shortly thereafter, I “upgraded” to a 27″ Sony and then of course the flat screens came out right after that purchase. There is an part of Stoll’s article that really hit it out of the park when it came to the internet and it’s effects on human behavior.

What’s missing from this electronic wonderland? Human contact. Discount the fawning techno-burble about virtual communities. Computers and networks isolate us from one another. A network chat line is a limp substitute for meeting friends over coffee. No interactive multimedia display comes close to the excitement of a live concert. And who’d prefer cybersex to the real thing?

Indeed. Who would prefer cybersex to the real thing? Lenina Huxley would for one, the character from the movie Demolition Man, one movie of many (Blade Runner, Minority Report, Back to the Future II, Total Recall, The Net) that predicted the future convergence of technology and media into all aspects of life. Even Clifford Stoll’s 1995 predictions were pretty accurate.

Back to Netflix, I love Netflix circa 2007. I could share and write reviews, rate my movies, connect with friends and family that also had Netflix and send them movie suggestions. And then something happened. I started noticing that Netflix kept “suggesting” the same type of movies, even when I just wanted to browse titles, the site algorithm would show me movies based on what I had already interacted with. I missed browsing the shelves of Blockbuster or Hollywood Video and coming across an obscure title with an intriguing plot or discovering that independent film a big star decided to make. For this reason, I avoid Amazon.

Then I got a Kindle. Should I purchase books from Amazon like everyone else seems to be doing? I don’t want to be stuck with digital titles after I read them. Enter something old becoming new again. My local library! I could borrow books through my library (via Amazon) to read on my Kindle. It’s the best of both worlds. Until, while reading in bed, the kindle slips from your hands and lands on your face. Books are soft. Kindles are not. Not to mention if you forget to charge it. Or you lose your spot in the book.

All these devices bring convenience there is no doubt, what is key is to realize and decide how much of that convenience is actually needed.

Pop Culture, Values and Making A Murderer

Digital convergence. What the heck is that? I thought this was about Making A Murderer! Hopefully, I got your attention so I could share an not very sexy thing that’s been happening in media right under our noses. Media, plural of medium: an intervening agency, means, or instrument by which something is conveyed or accomplished. In most cases, this a form of communication; analog in the beginning–paper, radio, telegraph, television, and now digital–information compressed into binary 1s and 0s to be used electronically. Convergence, the merging of distinct technologies into a unified whole. 

Lame-stream media, gotcha media, liberal media, conservative media….no matter the descriptors, the subject is the same. Media, whether on paper, through radio and television signals or via the internet and social media, has seen a massive shift in how messages are given and received and how that message is then interpreted and passed on.

This convergence of digital media (digital convergence) started long before social media became the method of communication as we know it, and to illustrate this, I will use something that has currently permeated our pop culture, questioned our values and tested our media literacy: Making A Murderer. The Netflix docu-series, focuses on a wrongfully accused man that is later exonerated but then convicted of a later crime. What interested me more than the miscarriage of justice was the way in which this story was reported or, rather, presented to the public. Over the 10 episodes of this series, you can take note of the the change in media from 1985 when there was minimal convergence, through to the 90s when an online presence for news outlets became the new real-time news source. These website versions of formerly analog media sources became more interactive with the addition of “comment sections” to every story published online. With comment sections came the sharing of personal opinions and values and how the story was wrong or right regardless of the sharer’s credentials to that story.

This brings us to media in today’s world. Making A Murderer, a story that started 31 years ago has now become a part of our pop culture. Now with the release of the Netflix series, this story has touched almost every form of communication at our disposal. In it’s most recent incarnation, it is being shared via online streaming. Consumers are sharing the fact that they have watched it on social media sites, analyzing the ins and outs of the case, a petition started calling for the convicted to be released or re-tried began online, one petition called for the President to pardon both convicts. Did I mention this Netflix movie was released on Dec. 18, 2015? The petition to pardon was published two days later? What could have happened had this convergence in media happened 31 years ago?

As I mentioned early on, we often hear about the lame-stream media or the liberal media or any other expletive media. What often gets missed today, is just how much power each of us consumers have at our fingertips. Imagine if today’s journalists were able to affect things like policy or government in the same way consumers were able to start a conversation about justice reform and receive a statement from the White House. Imagine if every consumer treated everything they read or saw in the media with the same analysis they treated Making A Murderer?

What do you use that power for? What information do you spend your time on?