We Reap What We Sow…

meme5In the world today there are so many devastating events and disasters happening all over and of every magnitude. As a Christian I quite often hear people, of many backgrounds, question God on where He is during all these times of struggle. Or why does God allow all this evil in the world? The blame is then placed on God and His “absence”. My meme was created to bring attention to this and hopefully have people think of where the blame should really be placed, or rather where the accountability should be. We live in a society and culture that is so self centered and focused on our own personal gains like getting ahead, consuming endless resources and just living for ourselves and doing what we want, while not thinking about the future consequences or long term effects of those behaviours. Then when something huge happens in our life, or that of the world, we are so quick to question God’s role and why He allows these things to go on without anything being done about it, instead of taking accountability ourselves. With natural disasters like hurricanes that kill and devastate many, we cop out and blame the wrath of God. Well He flooded the Earth before so why not? We don’t care to look at how we have treated the environment ourselves and the damage done to the ozone. Or how it is majority of poor and impoverished people who can only afford to reside on built up wetlands that are close to these ocean lines that don’t have the same means to escape these situations as the wealthier do. God didn’t do that, we did. Relating back to our week on e-waste and the destruction of Ghana wetlands from our dumping of unrepairable technology; God didn’t do that, we did. Our need for the fastest connections and real time operating that have lead to millions of data centers around the world destroying our environment and using up our resources; God didn’t do that, we did.

The above created meme doesn’t have a specific audience. It can be interpreted by just about anyone and doesn’t need any prior specific knowledge. It makes reference again to human behaviour and also uses the image of a child, who is normally depicted by innocence. The expression on the child’s face is one of “Say what?” or giving you that look like, “Are you serious? Did you seriously just say that?” This expression kind of gives some comical relief to what is a serious issue. It can also be seen in the light of which this is only a child yet he is more aware of the fact that our behaviours and choices have consequences and that it is silly to blame something or someone for our own actions when we don’t like the outcomes.

In creating this meme I used an existing character which is the “Say what” baby. There wasn’t too much back story to him except the expression on his face and this is what I went with. My meme connects to others in the sense that this child is usually found questioning the absurdity of some concepts people have. To begin I started with a general concept of the idea I wanted to portray through the meme. I then used a meme generator (http://memegenerator.net/) and searched through its characters until I found one that I thought helped get my point across in a serious yet comical way. Then I wrote out the saying and tweaked it on paper before finalizing and creating the meme through the generator. Doing all the above on my laptop, I then saved the image to my documents where I would later upload it to this blog… and here it is!

The Importance of Change…

meme6The week I was educated on Memes I first googled the generic meme and once I understood what they were about I focused in on “Christian Memes”. The majority of them were quite hilarious and I found myself sharing them among my friends and family. I chose the above meme because I can personally relate to it and got a good chuckle reading it. My understanding of this meme can position me in ways where I can see the comical side to it and also understand that there are some underlying meanings that go along with it that I may be able to share with others who do not understand them as fully as I. Every person will interpret the same meme in different ways based on their experiences, so mine being different from others will add to that discussion. The community this meme is geared towards is the Christian community. What it is depicting is the routines we as Christians, or anyone for that matter, can get stuck in and become habituated to; and when that routine is disrupted how we can struggle trying to deal with that change and finding an alternative. By using Sheldon Cooper’s character it also shows how we can be narrow minded or reluctant to change, when as Christians that is something we should not be hesitant to do. This meme makes reference to the television show “The Big Bang Theory” and one of its characters, Sheldon Cooper, and also illustrates our human behaviour to be uncomfortable with change. Some prior knowledge of the TV show would better help in understanding this meme and Cooper’s character. There is some irony in the meme as on one side you have the behaviours of Christians and on the other hand reference is made to a show about science and a theory Christians do not believe, The Big Bang Theory. The meme demonstrates a part of culture, in a comical way, outlining the point about how we are creatures of habit and can get stuck in mundane routines that take away the importance behind one’s actions or intentions. Going to church is about fellowship with other believers, worshiping The Lord and learning from His teachings. It’s not so much important where you sit when you attend. This doesn’t have to just apply to Christians or only in the church. This idea can be taken anywhere; when you go to the movies, or attend a lecture at school we tend to sit in the same general spot, if not the same spot, as last time. We all have our comfort zones and in the context of Christians we shouldn’t be fearful of change or someone or something getting in the way of our routine; because when we become so fixated on a certain way of doing things we can become complacent and get distracted from what is really important. Change is a natural part of life that we should embrace and not hide from. Nothing grows from being stagnant.

Caught in the Web…

mick-stevens-you-re-just-another-fly-caught-in-the-world-wide-web-cartoonParticipation is the act of taking part in something. This act can be done voluntarily or unwillingly. Voluntary participation can be seen in personal use of social media like Facebook and Twitter; also the majority of people participate willingly through online banking and shopping as it’s easy and convenient. Throughout these last couple weeks it’s become obvious the daily use of our smartphones is a way of participating in media based applications such as a text message, or watching YouTube videos. Although we can say we participate in most of the above freely there are also ways in which our participation is limited; as in the character maximum on Twitter and the ability to only “like” items on Facebook. On the flip side participation can be controlled and mandatory in some ways. I say this regarding the Communications course this blog is for. Yes, I chose to take this course and can choose whether I participate in the weekly assignments, creating different social media accounts I may not have used previously, but failure to participate in this way will lead to a failing grade. So I feel the participation in this sense is more of a mandatory requirement rather than a personal willingness. Within society today we are exposed daily to advertisements through television, billboards, sides of buses and our in app advertisements through our phone or radios. In these ways we become participants whether we choose to or not. Schäfer wrote in “Bastard Culture!” that we have made the move from the industrial age to the information age, and because of this it is hard to avoid being a participant in this new media world. I would agree with him and say that I am an obvious participant in today’s digital culture. In a lot of ways my participation makes things quicker and easier for myself, like the example of online banking or shopping.

How can you measure this participation? One could personally measure their participation by how often they use digital technologies and media compared to others. They can look at the types of platforms they use to participate and measure by their usage for entertainment, communication, increase productivity, or social uses. Elizabeth Bird and James Glanz explore some numbers in each of their literatures in regards to user’s participations. Bird found that 89% of participants merely viewed online content while 10% interacted with comments online and the last 1% was the users who had become producers of content in this new media. Moreover, Glanz depicted that this 89%, or ordinary consumer, was responsible for three quarters of the data used and consumed within these large data centers across the world.

In this highly debateable question of whether participation is emancipatory, I feel it depends on the level of participation. Bird, regarding becoming “produsers”, suggests that just because we have the access to new media and the tools it provides, doesn’t mean that we’ll all become produsers. This suggests that one’s participation is up to them and they freely choose how to interact through the media. On the other hand Bird writes about the terms of service agreements and that we still have the freedom to choose but within parameters, suggesting control. In Paul Levinson’s “Chapter 4: YouTube” of “New New Media”, he discusses the presidential debate and video questions sent in by viewers and how these were likely combed through to represent an agenda set by CNN determining which questions were asked to the candidates. In the end I feel that we as consumers, or producers, are free from restriction to produce or participate in whatever we choose. However, just because we can make these choices freely, the platforms in which we do so ultimately have the final say.

Participation definitely has its trade-offs, but I believe the negative outweighs the positive here. Coming from Schäfer, Bird and Levinson participation can mean change for the world, empowerment, popularity, low costs or even free, collaboration and connectedness globally. These can be seen as positive trade-offs for participation. Opposite we see a flood of misinformation, false control, hackers, the inability to remain critical and lastly the overwhelming issue of e-waste. We need to step back and think about the future and not just the here and now. Evaluate your participation in this digital culture and ask yourself, is it really worth it? All these new technologies and advancements won’t mean anything to anyone when the world surpasses its capabilities to supply its resources.caught_shadow

They Don’t Make ‘Em Like They Used To…

This week I grasped a new understanding and perspective of the common saying, “They don’t make them like they used to.” It’s always been a general knowledge that companies do not produce their products to the best of their abilities as to profit from this, and now I have a greater understanding of where this started.

In the documentary titled, The Light Bulb Conspiracy, you gain insight into this Cartel that was created to control production of long lasting light bulbs. One may think this sounds silly but with a larger scope you can see where the idea of planned obsolescence may have started. This light bulb conspiracy came about in the 1920s after production of the light bulb. The first light bulbs were created to last many years, as the video shows a birthday party being held for a light bulb that had been working for over one hundred years and was never changed! Eventually some people became wise to the idea that with this lifespan of the light bulb no money was to be made. With that a Cartel was formed. They introduced guidelines and controlled manufacturing for light bulbs so that a bulb would not last longer than one thousand hours. Any company found to be making light bulbs that passed this lifespan were fined large amounts of money.

This light bulb conspiracy definitely relates to today’s culture. In the documentary you see many examples of this planned obsolescence, be it in the making of nylons for women, to suits for men. Engineers were told to find a way to make these products more fragile and inferior to their original designs that were of long lasting quality. The emphasis was then put on making the products more attractive to the consumer where marketing played, and plays, a huge role in what we as the consumers “need” to buy. The products being made now aren’t necessarily poorly made, but more so that with each product produced we know that soon after there will be something more beautiful or faster on the shelves. One of the men interviewed in the video does make a valid point that I agree with and have touched on in earlier posts as well; that is free will. He goes on to say that his company is not forcing anyone to go out and buy the newest products; they do that on their own. Yes we are bombarded daily with advertising in the media but it is our choice to get in that car, or go online, and make a series of our own decisions to get to the end result of that purchase.

Prior to this week’s readings I would have said that personal technologies are not political. I can honestly say I have never paid much attention to where my digital devices end up or how they could affect anyone else. I assumed they were always recycled or put to use in different ways elsewhere. Turns out they are recycled and put to use elsewhere… like taking up wetlands in third world countries, or destroying rivers and fields where children and families used to play, and recycled by the way of these people personally taking the dumped devices apart by hand or by rock and selling the scrap metals. Over eighty percent of dumped goods in Ghana are beyond repair and just sit there destroying their lands; products they didn’t even produce. The personal choices we make, I included, have a much larger consequence that goes far beyond personal use of technology. James Glanz explores data centers in his article “Power, Pollution and the Internet”. There are millions of these centers all over the world that are using up crazy amounts of energy where only six to twelve percent of that energy goes towards actual application use, the rest is just idle time. These are applications that store the data from our email accounts, online banking, searching Yelp for the nearest eatery and so much more. The upkeep of these centers uses so much energy and resources that dozens of centers have now been looked into for violations in air quality regulations. Throughout my blog I have been labelling myself in that category of users who just consume rather than produce and Glanz states that three quarters of the stored data in these centers come from the ordinary consumer! This has definitely changed my perspective on how I am contributing to this e-waste and now that I know I will not sit here idle. 

What do you Meme?

meme2

What is a “Meme”? Until this week I hadn’t a clue. I have seen these captioned photos many of times in my Facebook feed and found most of them rather funny, while some of them confused me greatly. From my experiences of memes, which I now know is pronounced “Meem”, and what I have gathered from this week’s readings are that memes are like stories. They have characters, punchlines, and different points of view from different people and sometimes there can be a plot to them, if you know the back story. These memes, like stories, are used to convey specific events in the way of words and images as a narrator does through their writing and illustrations. Stories are shared in all cultures as a means to entertain, educate, shape and instil morals and values. Likewise, memes appear to be doing the same thing today through the media.

In The Power of the Meme, Sarah Kendzior writes: “Memes create the illusion of participation in a political system from which people feel increasingly alienated, a system run on wealth that is incomprehensible to a normal person.” What I feel Kendzior is trying to say is that political issues in modern society have become so complex it is difficult for the ordinary citizen to comprehend. As so, Kendzior is suggesting that these satirical memes act as alternative avenues to have voters feel engaged in the political issues despite the fact that our knowledge is quite limited. memeMyself, not knowing all there is to know about politics, would strongly agree with this argument. The importance of politics is becoming less relevant as we are resorting to other means for discussion that are less informative and accurate. The media plays a huge role in this as it focuses on the political parties mishaps turning them into satires rather than focusing on the important issues that make a difference to the voters.

So why should we care about memes? Going off of what I gathered from Kendzior’s writings, I don’t think we should really give much thought to them. Yes certain ones can be quite innocent and provide a good chuckle, but like any other form of new media, these are being created by your average everyday person. Going back to Shafer we must remember that access and availability to all this information and ease to become producers is destroying the quality and reliability of the content we are exposed to. Kendzior describes these tactics as “distractions”. She gives us a personal example of being faced in the ballot box by this complex language and details of issues she wasn’t ready to seriously think about versus the constant fast paced slogans and propaganda she was readily exposed to within society. In this case, memes can be a distraction to the important details we need. As consumers in this new media world we really need to remain critical and in control of what we expose ourselves to or how we interpret the information, maybe not taking things at face value before further exploration.

meme3

Power to the People…

This is a slogan I can see Jay Rosen shouting as he rallies his former media audiences into an all powering army over the media. One may think using the term army is a little intense but if Rosen behaves as aggressively as he writes then army is a quite fitting choice. Rosen wrote a piece titled, The People Formerly Known as the Audience, where he identifies his stiff perspective that the power balance between the media and the audience has shifted to favour the “Former Audience”. Although Rosen can be compelling in his arguments, and rather aggressive with his in your face writing style, he may need to take a step back and really look into this power imbalance further.

Just on the topic of social media there are many ways in which we, the former audience, really have limited power in how we participate. Bird brings up a valid point on the terms of service agreement we all agree to prior to the creation of such a channel. Who actually reads through the entirety of those agreements as opposed to just hitting accept? What kind of power have we given to them right off the bat without us even knowing? Probably more than we think! Social media sites also have limits that pre-exist in which users need to abide by. This can been seen on twitter with its 140 character post limits, or through email servers which only allow you to upload images and files to a certain extent and lastly we have seen control over the “appropriateness” of photos on Instagram among other sites. Just recently a user’s Instagram account was shut down for showing a photo of a mother breast feeding, moreover for showing the naked “torso of a child which constituted child pornography” (Anderssen, 2014).

Although Rosen strongly suggests this power shift to the former audience, Bird comes in with a more widened perspective on the matter. Rosen isn’t completely wrong in saying that we now have more power in and over the media, as this can be quite true, but Bird brings in some numbers that I find much more realistic based on my own experiences. Bird suggests that only one in one-hundred people actively produce content on the web, where ten out of that one-hundred merely participate by commenting on produced content, leaving the remaining eighty-nine users on the web as viewers. I have to agree with Bird’s argument, that there are endless opportunities for us to be “produsers” and none of which, because of this access, say we will all therefore become “produsers” ourselves. This continues with my own feelings about free will which I have discussed in earlier entries. Bird also identifies this focus, in which Rosen’s piece articulates strongly, on the celebration of these online produsers or “former audiences”, saying that realistically this hype is only “masking the ever-increasing power of the media industry […which] downplays the power of the media producers” (Bird p. 507). I agree with this point as most online users are just ordinary people, as Shäfer briefly discussed, and where do we get the main ideas that our own creativity springs from? The majority of people are taking the stories and ideas that are in the mass media and trying to make them into their own. How is that the audience becoming more powerful? If anything we are just fast forwarding the set agenda of the media.

The Choice Is Yours…

As I sit back and reflect on my own digital use and practices over the years, it is interesting to see where the focus of my participatory practices were and through which forms of new media, and old, that were used. As Schäfer lays out in his book, Bastard Culture!, computers, the internet and the world wide web have each evolved over the many years and the focus has shifted from a mere access to knowledge and information, towards that of collaboration and globalization. Much like this transformation my own usage and focus through the media age has evolved. From my early years in elementary school I can remember always being excited to get that free time on the computers in the library.  I would play super awesome math games where the frog had to eat all the flies, or try to beat how many words per minute I could type on the computer; and when I got home how about some Bernstein Bears! My focus on entertainment and learning soon shifted to chat rooms and spending hours in high school on MSN or ICQ gabbing away with my friends. As I matured through high school and entered into University my media consumption grew and access to a whole new database was available. I spent a lot of time in the social and educational end of the digital world. Connecting with new and interesting people I had met through school and being able to keep in touch throughout the summer, as some were not from around the Brock University area. That brings us to the present, and although I am still currently in school, my everyday digital practices reflect the more business like focus and collaborative sharing and planning between agencies and professional groups of people, such as my full time employer and my Christian associations, among others.

Within my media and digital use today there are several channels in which I willingly participate and others that have me participating, well, rather unwillingly. I am not a huge social media buff and prefer to use as few social media outlets as possible. Having all these different accounts is just too much to worry about and look after when there are much more important things in the world to be fussing over. With that said, you will find me on Facebook almost daily along with the seldom appearance on Twitter. Through these means I can stay in touch with a number of people across the globe sharing personal information and updates as well as finding news that has gone viral and lastly have the ability to create separate groups in which planning events and collaborating ideas is done with ease. Schäfer discusses in his text about how the creation of an easy to use interface and design promotes higher usage from the normal person. I am one of those people. Even creating this blog, as easy as it may seem, there are so many different options to choose from and to learn about, I just don’t have that kind of time. Lastly I do want to add that my daily use isn’t just for social or collaborative measures but that I also use the new digital age economically in the way of online shopping. Who doesn’t like shopping from the comfort of their own home?!

Now with this new media age and the vast possibilities it gives to the everyday person, how can we remain objective and think critically to what we are exposed to? I strongly believe in the existence of free will and human agency, and with that we as individuals have the choice to choose how we think and respond in everyday situations. Being critical doesn’t mean giving up what you believe in and abandoning your own values to suit the situation at hand, but it allows you to hold onto your own perspectives while also being open to those of others. In regards to technological determinism, we don’t have to let the technologies of today’s society determine what we value or how we structure our daily lives. We can be open to what it has to offer us but at the same time we need to be cautious and think for ourselves about what we are seeing.

Technological determinism can be limiting in ways of forming complacency and naivety within our critical thinking.  What we produce through the media can lack meaning as maybe not much thought is being put into what we put out into the “Information Highway”. Schäfer identifies the problems with amateurs putting professionals out of business and destroying the quality and reliability of the media content that is being produced for the public to access. If we are not thinking critically we may easily be manipulated by these types of media displays. Other limitations of being sucked into this participatory culture are the lack of social skills that are not being developed and poor quality of face to face communication. In a recent viral video called “Look Up” demonstrates what this new media aged culture is coming to.

Although there are many drawbacks to a participatory culture, there are also some affordances as well. The World Wide Web allows us to quickly share and create an awareness of critical and important ideas on a global scale. It allows individuals to feel empowered and enabled in ways they may normally not be. The idea of being connected and supported through a number of different channels can create improved living conditions and personal life in someone. By being a producer in this culture, you could change the world. Schäfer talks about the “Human Network” and how people can be powerful together as one rather than apart. There are numerous examples of this in the media today, as lately we became aware of the hundreds of girls who were kidnapped in Nigeria and how quickly this information was available to us followed by the global response of #BringBackOurGirls.

Technological determinism exists. Schäfer said, “Technology cannot be treated as a neutral black box.” Moreover, I say, we then have the choice whether we are going to use it for the good of ourselves and the world, or for evil and selfish ways.