Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Skype Video Chat and People: Video meets humanity

"So I agreed to give video chat a try. We downloaded Skype and set a time to connect. They rang. I answered. My daughter waved. And then... we stared at each other. Short silences that seem natural on the phone become terribly awkward on video. Suddenly I understood why slumber-party confessions always came after lights were out, why children tend to admit the juicy stuff to the back of your head while you're driving, why psychoanalysts stay out of a patient's sightline. There is something exquisitely intimate about the disembodied voice" (Orenstein, 2009, P. 9).

I have friends who use Skype to video chat and I remember their realization that they needed to "dress" for the computer and that this was an inconvenience at 7 a.m. on a Sunday to talk to Ireland at 8 hours ahead. The ideas of new technology might seem great on first learning of the potential but as the quote above says, the romantic notions get destroyed fairly quickly.

Back in 1998 I was on line doing video chatting. The image was o.k. but the quality of the motion aesthetic was stunted and slow. However, it did serve a purpose. My 2 year old daughter was living 7,000 miles away from me and through this new technology we got to see each other more often than we would have without it. Also, she wasn't talking yet so the telephone was not the best medium for communication. So video chat allowed us to "be together" without the need to chat. It was useful at the time but our interactions (outside of visits) gravitated to the old telephone as she got a vocabulary together.

It seems that Orenstein's parents had a similar experience. They wanted to see their grandchild in real time on the screen. It seemed to be a great idea. It was suggested even to leave it on all the time so the grandparents could watch their grandchild grow up! She, Peggy Orenstein, on the other hand, was wary, "I did not, however, spend the bulk of my adult life perfecting the fine art of establishing boundaries only to have them toppled by the click of a mouse." Her parents while being optimistic about the possibilities of Skype for themselves and their grandchild were unaware of the impending awkward silences that are so easy on the telephone and so difficult when on video (Orenstein, 2009).

On returning to email and electronic photos the status quo was resumed. These individuals could once again finger through a magazine while listening on the phone, they could have moments of silence without worrying if they looked bored, etc. And they can always log on to Skype for the big occasions like birthdays, etc.

If there is one thing about new technology and new media that I believe in it is caution. I believe in the positive power of media - all of it. I also believe that media is not being used close to its positive potential. So many jump on the bandwagon of each new development and think it will change the world. It might but it probably won't.

Keeping it all in perspective is prudent. Pasting pieces of ourselves all over the web in places like LinkedIn, Facebook, Myspace, Twitter, Blogs, and where ever else will have implications going forward. We know now that potential employers are doing electronic (re)searches on potential employees. It is important to be aware of this notion.

It is important to represent yourself accurately and (hopefully) honestly. After all, if I am looking to employ someone to work in my family business I do want to know what you post on your Facebook page, I want to see your YouTube videos, I want to see your LinkedIn profile, and I want to know where and how your name comes up in the electronic world that is our "extended family... bringing us together or destroying boundaries" (Orenstein, 2009, p. 9).

Source for this blog:

Orenstein, P. (2009, June 28). The way we live now: The overextended family. Is Skype bringing us together or destroying boundaries. The New York Times Magazine, pp. 9-11.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Reality Television: The Good in America's Got Talent

I spoke today with a very good friend and we discussed the possibilities of Reality Television. I mentioned that America's Got Talent has a new presenter, Nick Cannon, an African American Male. Then I got home at approximately 2 p.m. California time and called my brother-in-law. By coincidence, he was watching America's Got Talent at 10 p.m. Irish time in a remote rural area in the West of Ireland. Reality TV is very popular and it penetrates the world.

It is very easy to criticize (negatively) reality TV. We can discount the whole genre with little effort which, btw, is one of the oldest genres known to TV. Variety shows were at the start of television.

There is more of a challenge in finding some positive social elements in reality television. I suggest that there are some positives available in this genre. This is not by way of saying that reality TV is the best thing ever - it is not - but why do we have to point out the uselessness of the most popular genre continuously without at least attempting to see some positive social developments through reality television?

The new presenter, Nick Cannon, who replaces Jerry Springer is a member of an ethnic minority which is under represented on TV. Surely we can muster the energy to acknowledge this move towards equality. Again, this is not life changing but it is a move in the right direction. We know that the judge panel is 66% White Male, 66% British and 100% white but at least the presenter brings some level of attempting equality?

In the show last night, a group of three siblings came on and sang God Bless America. Let's not dwell on the assertion of patriotic values blatantly at a time of war, but rather let us see again this increased representation of an ethnic minority family. Let us not criticize for the lop-sided representation of gender on stage with 2 males and 1 female. Just for a moment let us appreciate that on prime time television on a Tuesday night in June, 2009, a trio of siblings from an African American family took the stage on America's Got Talent. (If you have not seen the video please follow the link)

We could find other negative criticisms if we wanted to, but slow down and just let the piece sink in: A story about three siblings whose mother's 8 month coma brought out in them a desire to sing for their mother's life. Beautiful singing, heart warming story with a happy ending - the mother came out on stage too.

We could voice concerns about the exploitation of a personal family story for commercial gain, we could wonder if this experience will have dire consequences for the stability of the siblings - And these are all valid concerns.

But for now let us just appreciate that Reality Television has brought into our lives a great American story of resolve, strong will, joy, love, music, ethnic representation, lime-light, innocence, humans at their best, and talent.

Whether for good or for bad, America does have talent. To quote Nick Cannon as he addressed the family "Whatever happens, you guys know there was something powerful here today."

Yes there was.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Thomas-Rasset Versus RIAA

Why should I be allowed to break the law? Why is the law the law? In what circumstances do we have the right to challenge the law by breaking it rather than setting about getting the law changed by using legal channels?

Creative Commons is great, sharing all information is great AND it is great to be able to get paid for your work. Many "students" in school and life are strong proponents of free and easy access to everything until, one day, they are the owners of "everything."

Jammie Thomas-Rasset is obviously getting used by lawyers and the recording industry for media attention. She seems to be a normal "getting on with life" woman. (A single mother of 4, as iterated by many media outlets which, I say, has absolutely no relevance to the story but gets pointed out over and over again). The issue is "breaking the law."

She took something which did not belong to her and posted it on Kazaa, a file sharing site.

This activity of sharing files without the permission of the owner or without paying for the file is not uncommon in the era of computer technology and new media. The relative newness of the technology seems to instill in "savvy" (usually youthful) users the desire to explore, challenge, test and create ways of using the technology.

This is clearly a case of a lawyer taking advantage of a situation. Yes, the decision asks Rasset to pay almost 2,000,000 dollars but she doesn't have that kind of money. The recording industry have proven their point twice, in this case, and now should give it up and stop the spectacle.

K.A.D. Camara, lawyer for Thomas-Rasset (it is worth reading a little about Camara), has said that he wants to turn this into a trial against the RIAA (Karnowski). Of course he does. Much media attention and therefore status and business for him is what is at stake here. For Thomas-Rasset, loss of privacy and years of nuisance, not to mention having Camara in her life!

Why doesn't she just admit wrong-doing, ask the recording industry to lay off her, and get back to her normal life? They are not going to get 2 million, she is not going to pay what she has not, she was wrong to take music and share it.

Her lawyer added that the decision was wrong saying that the original cost of the itunes which she did not pay was approximately $1.99 per file. What a pathetic argument. So, if the judge ordered her to pay $1.99 per song that she tried to not pay in the first place, this lawyer would be happy? And every other case against illegal file sharers could be satisfied by paying the $1.99 per file after trying to avoid it?

The fact is that if you break the law you must pay. And to be penalized the exact amount you tried to avoid is not fitting. Rasset has gone through enough and the case is public enough to warrant a slap on the wrist. The public have been made aware that there are consequences to sharing creative property that is not yours to share. Mission accomplished.

Karnowski, S. (June 14th, 2009). Legal showdown set in music-share case. Associated Press

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Iran and the Media: Twitter, Blogger, YouTube

Twitter, Blog, YouTube - Where would we be without you?

Nico Pitney, speaking on The Rachel Maddow Show, got his 15 seconds of TV fame when he was interviewed about his blogging on the situation in Iran. Pitney blogs at Huffingtonpost.com. Rachel Maddow, said she uses his blog as a source for her own stories and insights into the Iran story.

This may seem fine on the surface but the hype that is surrounding the uses of "new media" for divulging information about Iran recently should be taken seriously. Call me a skeptic but any media tools that generate hype must be viewed soberly to get them in perspective.

Chris Matthews and Rachel Maddow are singing the praises of new media for it's part in this Iranian "show of the people." But what is it that is so great about this media over the traditional media? The story becomes the instantaneousness of the new media. Pitney is blogging continuously (he says that he will be sleeping tonight) and is also claiming to confirm all his sources. "Or at least make sure that the information is from multiple sources."

How can instant media coverage be confirmed? How can any traditional media source be confirmed? Do you know what is not shown on the camera footage from YouTube and Blogger? These are the same questions that we ask of the traditional media. These questions should not disappear just because the footage is "obviously" amateur or because it is footage that happened seconds ago, or it is "forbidden" (by the Iranian authorities).

The State Department, according to many sources today, asked Twitter to postpone their scheduled maintenance shut-down so that the people in Iran could communicate with each other presumably to organize demonstrations. Could we interpret this meddling in the dealings of a media/social network as meddling in the fate of Iran? That is not to say that communication is a bad thing. It is a good thing to communicate.

But perhaps the US is assuming that Twitter had more to do with these democratic demonstrations than it did. Reports indicate that this kind of "revolutionary gathering of hundreds of thousands Iranians" has not happened since 1979. I assume that it did not take Twitter to make it happen in '79. Is the hype about "new media's" part in this all because the US is having difficulties with the Iranian administration?

Let us keep things in perspective. Yes I will view the amateur footage and be happy to see footage from Iran, but I will be aware that I am getting a particular opinion/view of the events. Yes I will watch and listen to Rachel Maddow but I am disappointed that she is using a blogger as a source. Yes I will listen and view many different media but I will never feel that I have the whole story. Yes I will watch Fox too (I did not manage to see their coverage of 'the new media and Iran' - I presume that they have covered it- although I did tune into Reilly and Hannity).

Lets not get carried away with the Twitterization of the world. Remember Twitter is trying to figure out a way to monetize their product. We are informed that media persons are not allowed free access to the inside of Iran. But the story will get out in the end. Twitter and Blogger and YouTube might be great instruments of the democratization of the media.

Let new media grow up and mature before we start expecting it to be the instrument of world change.

Let us calm down and get it all in perspective.