Final – iMedia Issues Symposium – What Should We Be Most Concerned About?

13 05 2010

Throughout this year, we have investigated current issues that come with new media landscape. How does the Internet work, how does it effect us, what should know, and how do we do it? We have discussed the works and ideas of four key authors that have asked those very questions. Below is the main ideas of each of these authors, and my personal response to those ideas.


It is no secret that Robert McChesney prefers the old-school methods of journalism, and frowns upon the direction that it is taking in this new digital age. Unbiased, professional journalism is giving way to untrained citizen journalism, political agendas, and mega-corporations and conglomerates, almost completely swallowing the old ways of how we share information. McChesney points out three fundamental flaws in current journalism: 1) Journalism cannot actually be neutral or objective, and unless one acknowledges that, it is impossible to detect the values at play that determines what becomes news and what doesn’t. 2) Journalism tends to avoid contextualization, but rather is a barrage of facts and official statements. 3) It is not politically neutral, but rather it smuggles in values conducive to the commercial aims of the owners and advertisers, as well as the political aims of the owning class. McChesney fears that journalism today lacks the professional stance it once fought so hard to uphold, and has come down to merely a business run by those with power and an opinion.


Ken Auletta concerns himself with the rise and extreme power of the Internet mogul Google. The company started as a mere search engine, but has since stretched its arms into almost every corner of new media and the Internet. While the services that Google provides are useful, boast unparalleled efficiency, and is predominately free (with the exception of advertisements), Auletta looks deeper to find the real price we pay for Google. We have begun to trust Google implicitly, and embraced its “Don’t be evil” motto, but Auletta has his doubts. He examines the behind-the-scenes at Google, and finds that while Google’s admission price is trust, it can be costly to our privacy. For example, Google likes to save all of our search queries, claiming it helps make their search more relevant and efficient. While this may be true, it could also be considered an invasion of privacy, to the point that, if need be, they could retrieve any former search, link it to an IP address, and follow that directly back to our personal computer. This may not be an issue if you are searching for a new baked ziti recipe, but we often assume our Internet searches are made confidentially. It’s a tricky situation that what makes Google so powerful and efficient, also violates our trust and privacy, and Auletta wants to make sure we are aware of this, and not hold Google up on a pedestal without all the facts.


In a world where anything and everything can be captured on mobile phones and pocket-sized video cameras, and instantly sent online and into millions of homes, Daniel Solove proclaims that none of us are safe, and we must all be cautious. He cites viral mishaps like “Dog Poop Girl,” and the “Star Wars Kid,” and the severe negative impact that their actions, combined with the Internet, had on their reputation and personal lives. But the blame is two-fold. As members of a digital society, we have to be careful of our actions, knowing that anything we say or do could be captured. On the other side of the camera, we also have a responsibility of whether or not to share with the rest of the world. On the Internet, reputation can make or break you. It is what separates a casual blogger from a dedicated citizen journalist. It can help create a name for yourself, or destroy any chance of being taken seriously. Solove says that the Internet is a powerful too, and with great power comes great responsibility.


The Internet and new technology is a constantly evolving “organism.” Users find new ways of sharing information, and entertaining themselves and others. This technology is fairly generative, that is, open for use beyond its original intention. While YouTube was originally built to host user videos, and has since evolved into a video mecca, housing user-generated content, music videos, sports highlights, clips from movies and TV shows, video blogs, etc. An idea is introduced, and immediately we find ways to alter and enhance it for our own purposes. Jonathan Zittrain, however, feels that the Internet, and “Generation Google” are slowly moving towards a less generative world. He suggests that new ideas are becoming so specialized and niche targeted that there is simply less room for generativity, and that it could eventually be extinguished altogether. The main features of a generative system include leverage, adaptability, ease of mastery, accessibility, and transferability. He maintains that as technology become more specialized, these features are lost, and we continue down a path that neglects generative ideas.



If the examples of “Dog Poop Girl” and “Star Wars Kid” weren’t enough, it needs to be made clear that the Internet is a powerful tool and can effect the reputation and literally everyone that uses it. In face-to-face interaction, people seem to be more reserved about their actions, because they are directly related to them. But the Internet provides a mask between actions and the person behind those actions. What we sometimes don’t realize is that even though our face is not shown, we are hardly anonymous. Usernames can be linked to e-mail accounts, and “anonymous” comments can be traced to IP addresses. There are more ways of identifying a person than a picture of their face. Therefore, we must be cautious about our online actions. There are always consequences, as invisible as they may seem. While the Internet is a great way to practice freedom of speech and press, it is extremely important to understand what our actions may yield. As Solove and Spider-Man suggested, with great power comes great responsibility. That isn’t just a catchy phrase, but should be a personal motto when we are online. We can be held accountable for our actions. There is no such thing as anonymity online. As I have said before, if only the Internet ran on Karma.


I must respectfully disagree with Zittrain’s idea that the Internet is weaning out generativity. As a matter of fact, I think it is becoming even more generative. Blog have evolved from simple online journals to (sometimes) respected sources of information (and final exam forums). Email is not just for sending electronic letters, but sharing photos, videos, and links, and is used as a marketing tool (even though we all hate spam). Facebook is no longer a digital yearbook for college students, but the largest social network for people and business alike, sharing info (videos, pictures, etc.), creating events, and meeting new people. One of the best examples I can think of is the world of video games. Let’s take World of Warcraft for example. The game is a Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Game (MMORPG), that immerses users into, literally, a whole new virtual world, and connects them via the Internet. What was originally planned to be a way to battle and quest together has turned into a virtual society, creating guilds and groups that no longer just live in the game. Friendships are made, bonds are formed, and there has even been a wedding held within the game. Another great example is machinima, or using the game and characters to create narrative videos. Users can record their characters actions and movements, and later apply a voice over and/or music to create entertaining videos, making the avatars not just surrogates of our actions, but real characters with back stories and personalities. I think that generativity is inevitable, regardless of how specialized the tool becomes. With every new idea proposed, users will find a way to alter it enough to be used for their personal agenda, and that is whole idea behind the evolving world of generative technology.




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