Revisiting technology, social media, and our department.

I am truly fascinated by technology. I own an Android phone, an Android tablet, at one point in time I owned an Android Wear watch. I have always been fascinated by various forms of technology, current as well as that which has yet to come, both in terms of hardware and software. I have also always been interested in how we use technology (including social media) as well as why. This is one of the primary reasons that I was lured into the Communication department. I took intro to media studies and immediately knew that this is what I wanted to study; that these conversations were the conversations that I wanted to have. Our most recent class period especially contained some of the most intriguing conversation for me personally, as I have always been interested in Google Glass and its future. I share many of the same concerns that many expressed, and while I don’t really think I’ll ever own a pair for interpersonal reasons (I think my phone is more than enough…) I really enjoyed the thoughtful debate and dialogue that took place.

I remember earlier on in the course, we discussed aspects of social media, specifically Facebook and Instagram, and the debates we had concerning them. Some criticized them for being media pedestals upon which people simply sought out ‘likes’, and while there is certainly truth to that, I found it interesting that these mediums cannot be summarized so easily with blanketed statements. I remember responding to this critique by pointing out that my sister (who lives in LA, about as far from here as you can get while remaining in the U.S.) shares much of her life on Facebook, and while it’s not ideal, I am still able to keep up to date with her events. While my sister is more than 3,000 miles away, she is still one of my closest friends and that is in part due to our ability to connect more easily, even if not on a tangible, physical level.

One of the parts of college that I have always resented, are people scorning me for ‘not doing anything’ in college, because I don’t exactly produce tangible or exact results, but this department has given me the skills to take something, examine it in context, take it out of context, and create a dialogue for more abstract thinking and intellectual thinking.

During my freshman year of high school (all those years ago!) I took Latin. My teacher was actually my father, who is quite an eccentric, but fun educator. During the first class period of every academic year, he walks into a classroom full of shy and quiet 14 and 15 year olds and he is dressed up as one of the Blues Brothers, with a saxophone, and he literally jumps up on desks while pretending to play and dance to Aretha Franklin’s ‘Think’. The point of this was not only to immediately grab his students’ attention, but to also impart at least one piece of knowledge: that critical thinking is one of the most important qualities one can have in life. Being a part of the communication department for these past four years, it’s certainly hard to describe what I’ve learned, beyond a lot of rhetorical and theoretical bits, but this ability to take things apart and break them down with research and intellectual conversation has most definitely been worth it.

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How to interact with the Internet…

America and (almost) more importantly, the Internet, both have free speech. This is wonderful. People are allowed to say what they want, and retort what they want when they wish to. With that in mind, there are some immediate and heavy problems: educated common sense and anonymity (both in itself and in groups). Both of these are crucial in understanding and interacting over the World Wide Web on a daily basis.

When operating online, sometimes we forget to be careful of what we post, and are somewhat careless. We forget that (pretty much) everything that is posted cannot be undone. In The New York Times article on Stormfront, Davidowitz brings up the comments from the offensive group, but they certainly seem to be more affected and bothered personally than politically: “I dislike blacks, Latinos, and sometimes Asians, especially when men find them more attractive” than “a white female.” These people spew hate, racism, and anti-Semitism specifically. The screen and group environment creates a mentality in which these people all feel unified and creates a larger sense of ‘being’. They all support each other in their collective ‘terror’.

On another end of the spectrum is an article from CNN in which Breanna Mitchel         l tweeted a photograph (selfie) of herself, smiling a little too much while in Auschwitz Concentration Camp. This began trending and was picked up by the news, criticizing her lack of respect. It is quite common to use technology to capture moments that we wish to remember and share with our friends; however in this instance she clearly did not think it through.

I agree that this photo is insensitive however does it warrant public shaming and humiliation? This made me think of an event that occurred earlier this year in February in which a communication director Justine Sacco tweeted something (a bit insensitive) which went viral in no time:

(http://www.nytimes.com/2015/02/15/magazine/how-one-stupid-tweet-ruined-justine-saccos-life.html?smid=fb-share)

I don’t condone the content of the text, but is it enough to ruin someone’s career over? I think this is where the common sense comes in to play. Both sides (the insensitive and those morally righteous) have to use common sense in their online behavior. I’m not sure how this applies to Stormfront, because this group seems to fail to grasp at the common sense bit, but the internet requires great caution. Don’t post things that might, even in the slightest, be offensive, but also don’t seek out these individuals posting such content to bring about their demise. (Justin Beiber is excluded, of course.)

Anonymous

Anonymous is a wildly recognized organization, for many things. Most particularly, for being controversial. This organization was brought to life through the website, 4Chan in 2003. This website provided a forum for online conversations, RSS feeds, and most importantly, anonymity. Anonymous began as a group on 4Chan who attempted to pull hoaxes, pick on others, and search for ‘Lulz’. They essentially aim for lulz, which represent ethical behavior as much as an objective. This group will do anything to deliver entertainment. Through the mockery of Jessi Slaughter’s home videos, to the somewhat political attack on Scientology involving Vaseline and pubic hair. Anonymous essentially performs actions that are not always quite ethical or moral, but that they deem worthy. 

This group is quite controversial because they jump full force into whatever they believe is worth attacking, but this does not always follow popular public opinion. They recognize that they are a bit absurd, and may not always do the right thing. They hide behind the Guy Fawkes mask to enforce anonymity. They have since their beginnings outlined the power and limitations of their organizations:
“it is the nameless collective and the procedures by which it is governed, which in the end prevail over the necessary biased and single-minded individual. Yet, at the same time, the individual’s ability to contribute to this communal process of the production of knowledge has never been greater.” (op-ed in The Guardian) They are able to keep Anonymous in the spotlight, being visible to all, yet maintain a very strong invisibility for the individual members.

To me, the most concerning bit is at the end of Gabriella Coleman’s piece, Our Weirdness is Free. She writes: “the international group of hackers is said to have thousands of operatives and has no set rules or membership.” They recently hacked into a database, accessing many American’s credit card information, and with that information they made donations to random charities. While the crime was done to perform good, the crime itself is not okay and does not seem to have any particular motive other than just send a somewhat vague message to America. They maintain anonymity, and essentially state and government power.

Whistleblowing

Growing up, there was a very clear, black and white line concerning right and wrong, good and bad, etc. Throughout time, and gaining greater understandings for these themes, as well as laws, I have come to realize that these matters are not so straightforward. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. has spoken about this notion of civil disobedience, and not only the significance of it, but also the time and place for it. For King, he believed that the law restraining him from enacting his and his followers’ peaceful march against segregation was restrained immorally, and that it was not just. He said in an interview that “we all have a moral obligation to obey just laws, on the other hand I think we have moral obligations to disobey unjust laws.” (MLK) As laws are manmade artifacts, they are not completely void of malice, or injustice. Therefore, King rightfully believes that in some cases, it is alright to place pressure on certain laws that are deemed unethical or immoral based on individual’s consciences, and simultaneously will not cause harm upon others.

Edward Snowden performed a ‘breach’ against the United States Government back in 2013 when working for the NSA, a controversial government group renowned for monitoring citizen’s for our own safety. The problem is that they are not very straightforward in the manners that they monitor us, therefore Snowden took it upon himself to release thousands of documents to the public, and not hiding the fact that it was he who performed this act. There are many similarities between King’s act of civil disobedience, and Snowden’s act of disobedience, however with King we do have the power of hindsight. While his persistence in carrying out the march caused a great number of severe injuries, it was on a relatively low scale compared to the effects it had on civil rights. Many arguments against Snowden argue that the information that he released could have led to terrorist attacks more powerful than that of September 11th. I believe that Snowden’s act of civil disobedience is very similar to how King defines it, however King’s description and example of his march is much more (I hate to say) black-and-white. It is clear-not only in hindsight-that the manner in which African American’s were treated was terrible, and something had to be done. It is more difficult to create an argument such as this one for Edward Snowden, as his head seems to be in the right place however this is not as clear-cut as the march in Alabama. While there are accusations of the American Government doing unethical things, and threatening our freedom, we don’t know that in the wrong hands, these documents wouldn’t be harmful to us either.

Snowden seems to be concerned for our justice, and he explained in the interview that he could have easily done a lot more damage [“by early afternoon”] if his primary goal was negative. He explained that he was looking out for American citizens. He certainly seems to have acted out of concern for our country, rather than vengeance or spite. He also could have acted anonymously, however he decided to attach his full identity to his actions, and standing behind them even though it has put his life and career in complete danger, and he can no longer ever return to the United States of America. He was very aware of these consequences when he acted, which convinces me even more of his sincerity towards his fellow Americans. I believe that King would probably stand by Snowden, as he performed them out of sincerity and concern for his country. He saw the country continuing in a negative direction and he chose to act to change the course. Whether the decision was right or wrong, I believe that King would have been supportive.a

A few months ago, I had an interesting conversation with an old boss of mine about the importance of news, and the difference between the various formats of news, as well as channels of news. Since traditional news services (newspapers, traditional 6:00 news, etc) were becoming consumed less regularly by millennials, he argued that it is having negative effects in society, and that my generation will be less educated than past generations. I am guilty of not utilizing traditional news services, as I do not always have access to newspapers, or cable television, and in general, it is far more inconvenient for me to access than more modern forms.

I have certainly watched my fair share of CNN, or Fox News, and it is for that reason that I generally watch video clips of segments from news pundits like Jon Stewart (The Daily Show, Comedy Central), Stephen Colbert (The Colbert Report, Comedy Central), or John Oliver (Last Week Tonight, HBO). I do not believe that these services should be any one person’s news intake and that in general, people should always look at various news services to search for unbiased news. One of the reasons I prefer these news pundits is because they do a decent job at offering accurate assessments of real situations from a human standpoint, rather than a conservative or liberal. I am not unaware that these shows certainly lean on the liberal side, however they do not exercise a strict liberal agenda. Don Gonyea of NPR has pointed out, and I have witnessed it personally, that Stewart has gone after both Democrats and President Barack Obama.

The primary difference between these different formats is that I trust figures like Colbert, and Stewart more than I trust figures like Bill O’Reilly, along with many of his peers at Fox News. While they are primarily comedians who relay news, they tend to be more successful at being respectful and unbiased. I have watched many interviews with hosts at Fox News, and I often times find myself embarrassed by the propaganda spewed from their station. I don’t always think that their content or arguments are invalid, however the manner in which they attempt to transmit the content is absurd; they try to put words in their interviewees’ mouths, tell guests to shut up, (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XrNl6-j9x5w) and argue even if they know they are wrong. Here’s a video of Bill O’Reilly arguing with Jon Stewart, in which he cannot find solid ground. He argues opinions, whereas Jon Stewart argues for facts, and while being unbiased is very difficult, Jon Stewart seems to be more successful.

I believe that many others like me feel the same way, and not only with these news services, but also social media. Between Facebook and hashtags, it is quite easy to share news pieces quickly and efficiently. The only danger is reading information and believing everything you see; it is important to always challenge and question articles, and find other sources that affirm information. I don’t believe that this shift is bad, or a pitfall of our generation. When discussing this with my past employer, I responded that I believe this change will simply allow for people to get news more efficiently and will create interest in keeping up with it.

Comedy and Politics

George Carlin’s classic comedy routine, Seven Dirty Words from 1972 is a tremendously powerful bit of audio that really causes one to ponder the actual significance and severity of ‘bad’ words in modern society. I’ve often thought about this, and a black comedian, Donald Glover has actually tackled this subject before in his stand-up comedy titled Weirdo. Donald Glover discusses the use of the ‘N’ word, and his goal through his show is to remove the power of the word by getting everyone to begin using it; black people and white people alike. Here is the specific excerpt from his show:

“Black people use the “n” word for everything. We use it for everything. Like mother, brother, sister, love, hate — we use it for everything. I called a seat belt a nigger earlier today. I called a seat belt the “n” word. I was putting on the seat belt, and I was like… [grunting] “Nigga, if you don’t…” It just needed a little flavor, so I gave it the “n” word. You never see any other minority — you never see white people just using it. You never see them just using it for everything. You’ll never go in IKEA and see two white undergraduates from NYU just holding up some rugs and being like, “what do you think?” “oh, stop being a nigga.” like, no. You’ll never see that. And that’s the problem. It has to become a bad word for everybody. I hate it when black leaders are just like, “oh, we’re getting rid of it. Everybody’s got to stop saying [it].” No, rappers will still say it because you told them not to. That’s what makes them badasses. Like, everybody’s got to start saying it. Everyone, like, white people, you guys have got to start saying the “n” word. You guys got to start saying it. We will lose some of you in the process. Not all of you will make it home. But you’ll be dying for a good cause. It’ll be great. (Source: Weirdo, Donald Glover, it’s at the 28-minute mark.)”

I do not know for sure, however I am sure that Donald Glover has heard Seven Dirty Words and has taken George Carlin’s words into consideration for his act. I think Carlin wanted to bring attention to these words, and the convention behind not being able to use these seven words acceptably in society. George Carlin’s brother, Patrick spoke on his brother’s defense in pointing out that “it showed the stupidity of picking seven words out of thousands (400,000 to be exact) and how they can’t be said.” It is certainly a blurred line, in that where should and should not the government have control and regulation? Who are they to define what language is acceptable and not?

I’m not sure if Carlin’s comedy bit was intended as a moral argument, however in hindsight it can certainly be used as such. In my own life, having grown up in a value-driven, Catholic family, I was raised to not speak with such language, however I have often wondered about why these words should remain unspoken. Clearly some have been infused with negative connotations over the course of history, however as Donald Glover suggests, we can substitute respective words meanings and take certain powers away from them. Subsequently, George Carlin’s bold comedy act resulted in creating a springboard for conversation concerning these words.

When asked about comedy covering serious material, and where to draw the imaginative line, Jon Stewart eloquently defends comedy: “I think I would flip the question, and say ‘is this the right time for murders and bombings and killings?’ What is a show? It’s a show! I mean, I think hopefully, what it does is establish the peramiters of what’s insane and what’s not…. Shouldn’t the question be to them (the government) where do you draw the lines? Not to Bassem!” His point is that comedy should not be at fault for pushing too far when these acts themselves, by mere definition are pushing the line, and that comedy is simply trying to bring attention to the insanity of these acts. Comedians’ goals seem to be first and foremost, entertainment. That being said, they have a really powerful pedestal upon which they reside, and many, especially those like Jon Stewart, John Oliver, and George Carlin, use these pedestals to push certain agendas forward.

Buddhism with a pinch of punk.

One of the most important concepts to grasp, according to Noah Levine, is that Buddha is not a god, and cannot be pinned down as a religion. Being a Buddhist involves a more persistent and aware mindset. I don’t know much about Buddhism therefore I cannot attest to how accurate a reflection this is in reality, however it does not seem to create any major problems as it is. One of the ways that links Levine to his relatively newfound spirituality is in fact crack cocaine, as he details. He believes that if he hadn’t been exposed to these materials from a young age that he wouldn’t have been lead down the path that he landed on.

One of the major elements of spirituality within Buddhism that Levine attempts to delineate is the connotation it has with the ‘hippie culture’. “Buddhism has always gone face-to-face with the ugly. A good deal of Buddhist practice examines the underlying ugliness, inadequacy, and foulness of the body, not to mention death, decay, and impermanence.” Again, I’m not very knowledgeable concerning Buddhism; however by his description of the purpose of Buddhism, it seems very applicable. Being brought up in a very Catholic family, I could also understand his argument. Like the Buddhist ideals, that teach to be a stronger person, I think that Christian ideals are very similar, (Christian teachings including the Sermon on the Mount) in that regardless of what you believe, the words themselves offer strong explanations and characteristics to better oneself in a moral and upstanding manner.

Levine offers some insight to the connection between Buddhism and the punk culture in an interview with Satya that clearly describes some of the core principles behind his, and the Buddha’s philosophy. “The Buddha said question everything, all the time. It’s not based on blind faith. Find out for yourself if it’s true. He was anti-racist, anti-sexist, letting women in when other spiritual traditions weren’t; breaking down the caste barrier. There were a lot of ways he was doing this revolutionary thing that punk, in its own confused way, is also trying to point towards—breaking down racism and sexism and oppression.” The primary goal, unlike almost every form of religion, is not to follow beliefs based on blind faith, but instead to better yourself and your community and your environment based on doing the right thing. It is about reaching a point of spiritual comfort, no matter where you are from, nor what you go through in life.

The combination of these two lifestyles are really unique, and at first, seemed incredibly conflicting to me, however I believe that within Noah Levine’s eyes and mind, they function simultaneously. The only question that was raised in my mind while interacting with this material is how other people ultimately view his outlook, specifically Buddhists and/or punks.