Closing the Digital Learning Gap

As my last assignment for a class on the Brazilian Policies of Education, I worked on a project with five other colleagues which sought to investigate how Brazil’s Internet and technology policies were being applied in real life.

As our research method, each of us spent 20 hours inside schools serving different social classes. These included: three public schools, an elite private school, and a school for the deaf. Through our conversations with students, professors, and technologists, we observed how well equipped these schools were, which in turn helped us to better understand the extent to which kids from differing social classes had access to digital technologies. Our finding were very interesting. Before starting to work on the study, we hypothesized that relative to private schools, public schools would lack basic technology equipment. However, we we were proven wrong. Although the private schools’ equipment was of a better quality and more up to date, all the schools had technology resources to work with, from computers to the Internet.

Another interesting finding was that although schools generally had the same equipement, it was the lack of trained personnel which created a participation gap between students. While private schools had well-staffed technology centers with trained professionals, the public schools had their computers locked in rooms, whcih neither students nor professors could access, because they did not know how to use them.

Given our findings, I strongly believe that workshops must be implemented to train educators not only on how to use technology, but how to teach it to their students. I have also begun to think more seriously about online learning, especially here in Brazil where there is a large participation gap between classes. Although I hail my university’s efforts to invite more students by alotting 6,000 spots by creating Distance Learning, how can we implement this new program (Online Learning) when the digital divide is still just a pervasive problem? What are some efficient methods for tackling the technology participation gap in schools?

– andré valle

In the Moment: An Analysis of the 2008 U.S. Presidential Election Based on Camphone-Video Broadcasts

This week, we are delighted to publish a guest post from Gaby David, a PhD candidate from the Lhivic (Laboratory for Contemporary Visual History) at the École des hautes études en sciences sociales in Paris. — Diana Kimball, DN Intern

Barack Obama’s presidential victory is captivating. Not only because of his personal charm, but also because of the force of hope he inspires. Being the first black president will definitely place him and his family in a special and touching place in history.


Let’s take a look at the two photographs. The first photo is from the Nov 1960 elections, when JFK was elected president. In the second one we see the democratic presidential nominee, Barack Obama and his family, on election night in Chicago, on November 4, 2008 (David Katz/Obama for America). Between the photos there are 48 years, the distance between president #35 and president #44. Differences are evident: black and white versus color film, family presence, the absence of children from one and the centrality of children to the other; the light of day versus the light of lamps.

However, in both photographs we imagine the out-of-frame object: the television! Moving images and screens have always held a hypnotic fascination…but, one of the biggest differences is that now we can see the television, and therefore know what the photographed people, in this case Obama, his family and close circle were watching at the moment the photographs were taken.


(Worth noting: in the second photograph, both Obama and the person standing are holding their cellphones.)

Each campaign has its particularities: JFK’s in 1960, Barack Obama’s in 2008. But out of all those particularities, one stands apart: the role the Internet played in this latest election. Barack Obama not only had and still has his website, both in English and Spanish, and his own YouTube channel, but also his own Facebook group and Flickr photo stream, where we can even discover with which camera these pictures were shot. The Obama presence was also on Myspace, Digg, Twitter, Eventful, LinkedIn, BlackPlanet, Faithbase, Eons, Glee, MiGente, MyBatanga, and AsianAve. To take just one example, by 11/24/08 the “Yes We Can” YouTube video had already been viewed 2,106,176 times. These various social networking and media sites served as proof of authenticity and transparency for anyone willing to connect with his campaign.

Of course, the established media channels (CNN, Fox, newspapers, etc.) did their own pertinent press coverage. But most of all, it was personal blogs and sites which contributed to this enormous flow of daily information that kept us glued to an interactive net.

Analyzing the Election Through Camphone-Video Broadcasts

Since my research at the Lhivic Lab at the École des hautes études en sciences sociales—the only Visual Studies department in Paris, and one of the best in Europe—focuses on the place of camphones in daily lives, I wanted to investigate the role that camphones played in individual voting experiences and how somebody like me, physically far from the States could follow the Election Day through the web and through “normal” people. It’s worth then looking at a few examples.

On Qik, some of the uploaded videos posted live, so that I—along with any other interested party—could watch big things happen live, and on the “small scale” intimated by the camphone.

Being able to share these anonymous people’s moments, and their feelings towards such an important day, has been both emotional and strange.

http://qik.com/video/521922

Two friends are driving in the rainy Election Day. The driver, Rhett, tells his mate and the blogosphere about his voting experience. Why had he decided to go for early voting? What happened with his son? He tells us about how he was explaining to his boy about the process of democracy and privacy. Then both, Rhett and his friend, discuss how they are going to watch or follow “the event.” His friend says he is going to watch the election results on Twitter: ‘cause “opinions are in real time!” Rhett replies: “well, not watching it, you are just seeing the feed come in…”

(Actually, this is intriguing: do we read or do we watch a text that is on a screen?)

They continue talking about how Rhett’s family used to watch the results together; a family tradition, the same as Obama’s photo stream shows. Rhett will also tune in and stay up late with his family and see the interactive map turn red or blue.

From this short video we get to know a lot of information:
– where and when the video was shot,
– what the weather was like,
– how both friends feel about Election Day,
– that one of them is married and has a four and a half year old son, etc.

At last, they are so much into the sharing and the mediation of their experience that they forget to take the highway exit they were supposed to.

Another special topic of this election was the lines. People were really surprised about the quantity of people that showed up to vote. So, many of the videos show and inform us about the waiting time or the “queue stats.” For example, Robert Stevens shows that “now” there is no one.

 http://qik.com/video/523265

Roddykat also shares with us this waiting “dead moment” and turns it into an imaging production moment. There is no real intention, he does not master the outcome, but that does not really matter. It is uploaded live, and by 11/24/2008 it had 37 views. It is more than probable that Roddykat himself did not see his own camphone video before uploading it; he was just queuing and sent it to his Qik account.

http://qik.com/video/521961

We see images switch from horizontal to vertical: a particular and specific characteristic seen in many camphone videos. It is as though the linearity of both the shooting and the viewing are no longer that important.

From Roddykat’s Qik page there is a link to his website. From his site a link to his Twitter.
On November 4th at exactly 5:49 A.M. Roddykat’s twitter is a link towards his twitterpic page. Once again, as though we were detectives, we get to know he is almost there in the voting booth.

With something like the feeling of a suspense film, this very special moment of Roddykat’s life is being shared and broadcasted live….

First it’s “the wait for the polls to open”
The wait for polls to open on TwitPic

then it’s “Inside now”
Inside now on TwitPic

then “View from inside out”
View from inside out on TwitPic

and, at last, “Almost there”:
Almost there on TwitPic

In the last photograph we see a close up of the back of the head of the person who was standing before him. The queue line disappears into a contrasted white.

At the end, we realize: whether through Twitter or Qik, every method that Roddykat used to publish his in-the-moment experiences was mediated by a camphone.

Some Final Conclusions

As with almost all Qik videos, here the chosen videos are only shot; there is no post-editing. Today, camphones are used not only as voice transmitters but also as tools for sharing images. As O. Daisuke and M. Ito said years ago, “camera phones are changing the definition of what is picture-worthy,” and as Kindberg et al. also say: “A camera phone’s value might not lie in sending images but in using the captured images for other activities.”

 http://qik.com/video/526162

References

• Borsch, Steve, “Lessons From Our First “Social Media” President”, Minnesota Innovation in Internet & Web Technology, November 5th, 2008, http://minnov8.com/2008/11/05/social-med…

• Daisuke, Okabe and Ito, Mizuko, “Camera phones changing the definition of picture-worthy”, Japan Media Review, 29th August, 2003, http://www.ojr.org/japan/wireless/106220…

• Kindberg et al, “The Ubiquitous Camera: An In-Depth Study of Camera Phone Use”, Pervasive Computing, 2nd April 2005, http://portal.acm.org/citation.cfm?id=10…

• http://www.flickr.com/photos/barackobama…

• Mclaughlin, Rhett, “untitled”, November 4th, 2008, camphone video, 6:05 minutes, http://qik.com/video/521922
• Stevens, Robert, “#votreport #10009”, November 4th, 2008, camphone video, 17 seconds, http://qik.com/video/523265
• Rodney L, “Election day 09’”, November 4th, 2008, camphone video, 35 seconds, http://qik.com/video/521961
• theuptake, “Exited Obama Supporters in Denver”, November 4th, 2008, camphone video, 31 seconds, http://qik.com/video/526162

*All links were accessed on November 24th, 2008.
* Special thanks to Diana Kimball for proof reading.

…………………

Gaby David, born in Uruguay, is a PhD candidate from the Lhivic (Laboratory for Contemporary Visual History) at the École des hautes études en sciences sociales (EHESS). At the Lhivic she co-coordinates both the Methodological workshop and the Lhivic’s students’ collective blog.

G. David holds a masters degree in Fine Arts from the University of Paris 8, Saint Denis.
A versatile scholar, her professional experience is both in the fields of arts and languages teaching. With a curious soul, she has already lived in Uruguay, in the United States and in Israel. In Nov. 2002 she moved to Paris and has been living there since.

Her actual field of research is the study of camphone videos—understanding how these images can be at the same time very intimate and publicly shared. Through her research, she is trying to decipher the intriguing part of the camphone: its familiarity. How the role of contemporary camphone visual auto-mediation of our daily lives is increasing, especially on the web. Because, contradictorily, the camphone videos that mirror us show us that familiarity never ceases to amaze us.

Email:  championnet4 at yahoo.fr
Gaby David on Facebook

Can the Internet Save the World?

Guest-blogger Tyler Goulet explores how social networking sites may be the key to increasing civic engagement among youth

The wonders of the World Wide Web have been talked about for years now. The internet has evolved from a media similar to T.V. (one way interaction) to a media where content producers can interact instantly with the audience. This type of interaction has never been made so easy. In fact, the instant interaction between people hundreds of miles away is making social networking sites like MySpace and Facebook explode in popularity. Anyone who uses the internet can see the benefits of joining social networking sites. The question must be asked. Can social networking sites be used to leverage political power?

More and more people are starting to believe in the power of social networking sites. Some would argue that our most recent President-Elect, Barack Obama, would not have been elected if it hadn’t been for his use of social networking sites.

Using social networking sites to communicate and organize has proven to be very effective in many campaigns. We at the Center for Communication and Civic Engagement (CCCE) are trying find a solution to the downward trend in youth civic engagement. We believe that social networking sites may be the key to defeating this downward trend.

Professor Lance Bennett, the director of the CCCE theorizes that there has been a fundamental generational shift in how today’s youth view civic engagement versus past generations and how they have viewed civic engagement. His paper on this topic can be found here.

In summary, he argues that today’s youth “see [his]/her political activities and commitments in highly personal terms that contribute more to enhancing the quality of personal life, social recognition, self esteem, or friendship relations, than to understanding, support, and government” which is how previous generations have viewed civic engagement (Source p. 6).

What does this mean? Well, it means we need to stop telling the youth what political issues to care about, let them choose what interests them (aka what would enhance the quality of their personal life), and teach them how to become involved. We need to give them, and teach them how to use, the tools to create and implement a plan to solve issues they care about. A little spark of confidence and help in getting the project off the ground would help too.

In order to ensure that they have social recognition from their community and to increase their friendship relations, the project they work on should be local. That would make recognition easy and simple because their impact could be seen easily. If the project they are working on is local than they can include their friends and have them help which would increase their friendship relations. A local project will also show more immediate results than a large scale project. Once a youth has complete a local project and sees positive results their self esteem will increase and they will be more likely to continue down the civically engaged path they have stumbled down so far.

Currently the CCCE is working on a project that will allow the youth in the Puget Sound area of Washington State, which includes Seattle, to do all of the above.

www.PugetSoundOff.org is a social networking site designed to connect teens with similar political passions so that they can easily organize and communicate with each other in order to solve problems they care about in their communities.

The site was recently launched at the beginning of September. We currently have about 500 members. The website is a revolutionary experiment in youth civic engagement. Stay posted for more blog posts about the future of PugetSoundOff.org and how it relates to Digital Natives.

————————————————————————————————–

Tyler is a Junior at the University of Washington, Seattle, where he is currently triple majoring in Communication, Political Science, and Community Environment and Planning. He has been a Research Assistant for the CCCE for nearly a year. For more information on Tyler Goulet check out www.tylergoulet.com.

Innovators: can we be optimistic?

Last week I visited Microsoft’s STIC (School Technology Innovation Center) here in Brazil. STIC exists in several different countries and works to stimulate research on the use of technology for educational purposes. While at the center, I attended a lecture by Professor Resnick, from MIT, who works on the Scratch project.

The Scratch project is a fascinating tool which has made programming more accessbile for Digital Natives. What I find most impressive, however, is how DNs have been working on it to develop their own animations, publish their pictures, ideas, and how they have been working collaboratively in different ways for unique results.

Born Digital states that:

Digital Natives themselves are often the innovators who develop the “next big thing” that their peers, in turn, make wildly popular. The innovative spirit of some Digital Natives, mixed with their technological acumen, represents one of the biggest areas of opportunity for societies that want to create jobs and establish growth businesses. We should find ways to tap into the upside potential of this entrepreneurial spirit to do good things for economies and society at large. To do so, we need to figure out what it is about Digital Natives that make them likely to be good innovators.

Palfrey and Gasser write with an optimistic perspective and I understand that along with the digital era, come several problems that need to be thought of – many of which have already been mentioned in this blog!

But how about being optimisic? This is an example of what a very young DN can do with the right tools. Naturally, these means will be the way through which DNs will be able to create things that will enhance our lives in society. Along with this, another aspect that enables innovation on the Internet is the possibility of working together with other youth, connecting DNs to one another in new and creative ways.

Palfrey and Gasser note that the combination of working colloboratively with others, having the tools to do various types of things in an environment that is relatively cheap, and the entrepeneurship these tools offer DNs, may result in new jobs and new activities that can, and are, changing means of production: ways people relate, consume and produce goods.

There are three types of innovation where Digital Natives can excel. First, as entrepreneurs, Digital Natives are creating new firms and new models that, in a few instances, are transforming entire industries. Second, Digital Natives innovate in their role as customers, in ways that help to improve specific products offered by firms that they have not started. Third, Digital Natives as employees of firms may help to point the way toward enhanced forms of workplace productivity.

When it comes to innovation, I believe it’s especially important to remain optimistic, as digital tools are empowering a wide range of possibilities, with new ways of thinking, and producing things. Digital tools are providing exciting opportunities for individual innovators, regardless of age.Would you have any examples of how DNs are using digital technologies in new ways to improve their society?

– andré valle

Digital Natives as Customers and Critics

Aside from being innovators themselves, Digital Natives are also forcing businesses to innovate. The entertainment industries, confronted with the breakdown of traditional distribution models for music and movies, are one particular striking example. But this is also true on a more microlevel – even for local businesses. Let’s take Yelp as an example.

A website for user-generated reviews of local businesses, Yelp started in the San Francisco area and has since spread to every major US city and dozens of smaller ones. The social networking aspects of Yelp, which allowed users to interact and essentially review the reviews, catapulted it into popularity. It currently boasts 16 million unique visitors per month and personally, Yelp has become my de facto guide to the city. When I headed to Chicago on my own for two months this summer, I didn’t buy a single guide book, confident that I could find my way around with Yelp and Google Maps.

When Yelp becomes such a popular authority on local businesses, they start paying attention. For local businesses that especially rely on word of mouth, the site is probably the best place to take the pulse of customers. For Digital Natives, Yelp provides a forum for feedback and participation. Businesses themselves would be wise to join in on this conversation.
Of course, the picture isn’t always rosy and perhaps the toughest part of Yelp is the critical reviews. So how do businesses deal with negative reviews? Certainly not by further alienating your critics with signs saying, “No Yelpers.”

The San Francisco Business Times reported on a Restaurant Bootcamp in San Francisco that focused exclusively on the question, “What is your Yelp strategy?” Various restaurateurs mentioned inviting top Yelpers to pre-opening parties, personally contacting disgruntled reviewers, and taking into consideration specific feedback from Yelp reviews. The fact of the matter is, Yelp is very much on the radar for small businesses. A presence on Yelp, along with accurate information and photos, is crucial for a business craving out an online reputation.

Innovation here isn’t just about local businesses taking advantage of digital word of mouth, but also Yelp’s savvy in building its own credibility. Many of my favorite haunts around town boast a “People Love Us on Yelp” sticker, so whenever I watch into new stores with the same sticker, I know I can rely on a trusted brand. Yelp has also been leveraging its power to make and break online reputations into partnerships with local businesses. With these strategies, it has also come under a fair amount of scrutiny lately for supposedly manipulating the placement of positive/negative reviews based paid partnerships.

Yelp is of course just one site in the larger constellation of services of which businesses can take advantage. Businesses need to adjust to an environment where the customer feedback loop is constant and accessible to everyone. The Internet has opened up all these tools for communication, but the tool needs to fit the task at hand. Simply creating a Facebook Page, a Twitter account and a profile on every social networking site is a scattershot approach. Yelp, for example, is fantastic for local businesses looking to distinguish themselves from the competition, but less useful for chain stores where the goal is, essentially, an identical experience in every chain. Innovations isn’t just jumping on the social networking bandwagon, but figuring out which tools are best.

-Sarah Zhang

Innovating Digital Scholarship and Art

My friends will be writers. They will be scholars and journalists and novelists, and they will write about what is important to them; the places they grew up.

We grew up on the internet.

I am lucky to live and learn in a city where the internet, and other digital expanses, are taken seriously. The Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard—home to the Digital Natives project—brings together cyberscholars from around the world. The Convergence Culture Consortium at MIT examines the future of entertainment and narrative in a digital world. (Incidentally, C3’s Futures of Entertainment conference is coming up this weekend, and was by far the most illuminating conference I attended in 2007.) These centers have helped to aggregate the critical mass of interest in Cambridge necessary to really start thinking about what the digital age will mean for culture, politics, and society.

But the internet is not bound by geography, and my friends are distant, too. A few weeks ago, I got an email from Gaby David, writing from France. She studies cameraphone videos—the intimacy, and the “auto-mediation of our daily lives,” constructed by the filming and sharing of grainy personal videos. She wrote to me after reading through this, the Digital Natives blog, and ever since I’ve been blown away by the depth of research she and her colleagues in Paris are embarking on. (Their collective blog is here.) Gaby and I are living through the internet. We connected through the internet. The internet is, in many ways, the substrate of our parallel—though distant—lives. But digital life is the substrate of Gaby’s research and art, too. And that’s true of so many people I know.

Christina Xu is writing her thesis about the short history of communication in the digital age. Recently, she posted to her blog a paper she wrote last year about her experience as a teenager on a GameFAQ message board. Christina’s research examines a past so recent, it’s almost present. But that’s the reality of the digital age: it’s so young, and we’re so young. For Digital Natives and those barely older, it will be more than an obvious topic for study; it will be impossible to ignore. The curve of digital innovation, the vanguard of digital innovators, will race forward. For now, Digital Natives may be the first to recognize en masse how much there is to see. How urgent it is to keep up, to try to study the future as it unfolds.

Digital innovators, after all, are hardly just the people constructing that future. They are also the scholars, journalists, and novelists who will have to figure out how to study everything that has happened in the almost-present past, and everything that will happen in the fast-approaching future—a future that is already here.

* * *

For further reading in young scholarship on convergence culture and internet & society, two more pieces from among more than I can count:

Lana Swartz on fanfic and noobdom
and
Xiaochang Li on storytelling on Twitter.

Data Privacy Day + 4 Not So Obvious Privacy Tips

Take out your calendars for the new year! Intel is sponsoring its second Data Privacy Day on January 28, 2009. Data Privacy Day, which is sponsored by a combination of tech companies, government organizations, and academic groups, aims to facilitate discussions on privacy, especially with regards to teenagers and social networking sites. The three-part framework includes educational materials, events, and government involvement. It was also nice to see the Digital Natives project, which has been active in all three of the above components, under their resources for data privacy issues.

I was most interested in the educational materials for teenagers that were presented Data Privacy Day. They bring up some important points, and I’d like to add some of my own thoughts to them here. I’ve have tried to pick out tips about privacy that may not come across as immediately obvious. None of them are myth-busting, per se, but they probably aren’t things we think about the minute we hit the tempting “Sign Up” button. Since the material on Data Privacy Day mostly focuses on privacy on social networking sites, I’ll draw on some examples with Facebook, which I have the most personal experience in.

1. Treat what you put online as permanent.
It’s easy to think of digital content as ephemeral, mutable, and easily edited, which is true except for caching. Search engines take snapshots of websites and makes these snapshots, rather than the live website, searchable. That means that anything you post that gets cached will show up in a Google search even if you later remove the content. Google caches are updated every so often – usually in a span of a few weeks – but you have limited control in the intermittent time. Even when pages and Google caches are updated, old webpages may still be archived and accessed on places like the Internet Archive. (Note: Here are Google’s policies on excluding pages from its cache and search results. Most of this information applies to other search engines as well.). Aside from automated archives, other users can of course copy and save your content to display on their own sites. The bottom line is: Once it’s online, it’s out of your hands.

2. Default settings usually allow sharing.
Privacy, as works at almost all social networking sites, is opt-in rather than opt-out process. From the point of view of a social networking site, it’s always in their advantage for their users to share as much as possible. Unfortunately, this means that people who are least aware are also the ones most at risk. Settings can be sneaky or complicated. On Facebook, you can have strong, custom privacy settings enabled, but when you join a new network – a regional network for example, which are often the largest and most open – none of those custom settings apply. It is important to be vigilant and take affirmative steps to be aware of your own privacy settings.

3. Companies usually reserve the right to change their privacy policies without notice.
Remember when Facebook came out with Newsfeed? Or ads that tied your name to online purchases on third-party sites? Facebook didn’t tell its users about the changes until they were live, and these changes were strictly opt-out only. (Not to mention that the initial privacy controls in both cases were either nonexistent or insufficient.) Facebook’s own privacy policy also says, buried in the middle of pages of text, “We reserve the right to change our Privacy Policy and our Terms of Use at any time.” and, “We encourage you to refer to this policy on an ongoing basis so that you understand our current privacy policy.”

4. A closed network is only as private as the people in it.
As I said in number 1, any content that is put online is no longer completely in your hands. To take Facebook as an example again, it’s easy to think of Facebook as semi-private because it requires a log in to access the site and is not indexed by search engines. But that doesn’t mean that photos on Facebook are strictly accessible only to friends or networks based on privacy settings. All it takes is a simple right click and “Copy Image Location,” which gets you an URL linking to a Facebook photo that can be copied and sent to anyone. Essentially, if leaked, anyone can see a Facebook photo.

This post is not supposed to come across as alarmist– it’s just crucial to think of privacy as something for which we have to be proactive. Privacy isn’t the default mode of the Internet – the Internet does, after all, serve to connect people – so it is also important to understand the privacy implications of all our actions online. Data Privacy Day does well to play a part in this educational process.

– Sarah Zhang

The Cloak of Anonymity: Trolls as Digital Aggressors

What does a “digital aggressor” look like? Unfortunately, that’s exactly the problem: it’s often hard to tell. The internet, as an environment that accepts anonymity, often plays host to anonymous interactions. Anonymity cloaks the individuals who produce and post words and images; the seeming lack of consequence for anonymous actions can be emboldening. In certain repressive states, the potential for anonymity provided by the internet can embolden individuals in positive ways: to speak out against social ills, to report on systematic cruelty. But in other cases, anonymity provides the mask for cruelty itself.

In an article titled “Malwebolence,” published in the New York Times Magazine this past August, reporter Mattathias Schwartz attacked the question of anonymity. He focused his attention on one specific facet of anonymous activity online: the advent of trolling. Schwartz describes the origins of this pursuit in Usenet forums in the early days of the internet, but then continues on to say that

“As our emotional investment in the Internet has grown, the stakes for trolling — for provoking strangers online — have risen. Trolling has evolved from ironic solo skit to vicious group hunt.”

Digital aggression, in this genre, usually takes the form of words. In fact, since the internet remains a primarily textual medium, most digital aggression remains textual as well. When combined with anonymity, this type of aggression can look suspiciously like passive aggression: idle needling performed without any expectation of responsibility.

However, trolling takes a turn when it leverages the communicative power of the internet to transmit not insults, but plans. Anonymous organizing can occasionally lead to real-world action, as in the case of protests against Scientology described by Schwartz. Fittingly, though, these protesters do so wearing signature Guy Fawkes masks—carrying the cloak of anonymity offline.

It’s tempting to be alarmist. But only in exceptional cases does the digital realm actually produce new kinds of cruelty. It makes certain expressions of aggression easier—particularly verbal/textual ones—but it also makes those expressions more public. Schwartz’s article is a fascinating tour through a troubling world. But it’s not the online universe that most digital natives live in, nor is it one they need to live in. That there is a dedicated place on the internet for trolling, perhaps, helps to protect the rest of digital realm from some of its excesses.

Information Overload: can we handle it?

Born Digital’s chapter on information overload identifies various issues that arise from the Internet. According to Palfrey and Gasser,

“the amount of digital content that was created, stored and replicated last year is hard to fathom. The answer is 1,288 x 1018 bits. That’s 161 billion gigabytes. In lay terms, that’s three million times the information in all books ever written, or twelve stacks of books reaching from the Earth to the Sun, or six tons of books for every person. It would require two billion of the highest capacity iPods to store all that information. Even more impressive than these numbers is the growth rate of information. In 2003, researchers have estimated the world’s information production to be around five billion gigabytes. Current reports predict that there will be 988 billion gigabytes of information in 2010. ”

In a learning environment, information overload results in frustration, and the reduction of the attention span. Apart from that, it also has negative effects on kid’s well-being, such as: “feelings of stress, anxiety, depression, low motivation, and sometimes even panic.”

Although computer ubiquity is generally perceived in a positive light giving students continual access to the global community, there are some disadvantages that our Digital Native generation experiences. If DNs are continually surrounded by gadgets and computers how are they going to learn the importance of reflecting on issues? How will they learn to look for information anywhere beyond regular search engines like Google? (ie: libraries, interviewing others, etc.)

If you are a writer working on a novel, it is important that you have time to reflect, and work on your project carefully. Whenever I see DNs around me, they have a gadget on them. They are listening to their ipods, playing their psps and so on. I myself feel like I am missing reflection time when I return home from university, because I am either listening to my ipod or surfing the net. Along with computer ubiquity, comes information that overloads us continuously and might bring DNs to exhaustion. But when does this ubiquity starts to affect me negatively?

Professor Small has shown evidence how our brain adapts to the new processes that take place when we are exposed to technology. According to him, “we are changing the environment. The average young person now spends nine hours a day exposing their brain to technology… the tech-savvy generation [of[ “digital natives” are always scanning for the next bit of new information which can create stress and even damage neural networks.”

Although the access to information available on the Internet is revolutionary and might be used, in many aspects, positively, it seems that getting caught into the rabbit hole too many times might result in a reverse effect. Do you feel like you can handle the information that is sent to you everyday? How do you deal with the Internet’s information overload?

Too Connected!: Social Media Overload

When I was shopping around for a new phone earlier this fall, I was tempted to make the leap. With my inbox bursting at its seams and daily texting on the rise, I needed a better way to deal with it all. I decided: it’s time to get a smartphone! I would finally join the Crackberry craze…and man, that iPhone is pretty…

But I ultimately decided against it. One look at prices did push me toward second thoughts though there also another, more important consideration: Would I just be a little too connected? Do I really need my email to follow me around on the bus? In the dining hall? On the treadmill? The nearly infinite nature of the Internet has created information overload, and the proliferation of social networking sites has also propagated a kind of social information overload.

By overload, I don’t mean the countless spam messages that get traded over social networking sites, but legitimate connections with friends and acquaintances. Now that social media has made it so easy to get in touch with one another, the communication seems almost incessant. It’s almost seems like a good problem – look at me, I’m so popular – but unread posts and unanswered messages become a source of anxiety. Does the creation of all these loose ties actually diminish the quality of our social interactions? I’ve had the experience of juggling multiple IM conversations, none of them being particularly committal. Humans are inherently social creatures, but there seems to be a point when it just becomes too much – when it becomes like work just to keep up with it all.

What makes this most interesting in the increasingly merged worlds of social and professional networking. Email, the most ubiquitous of workplace communication, is at least fairly easy to segregate – different email addresses for work and personal contact. But for professional with jobs that largely involve meeting new people or are deeply immersed in the tech industry, it becomes necessary to have an active online presence. Whereas my parents once only complained of having to power through massive chunks of email, the same type of overload now exists in messages exchanged on Facebook, Twitter, Pownce, LinkedIn, etc, etc. What are the implications of socialization overlapping with work? How to deal with it all?

I’m reminded of a Craigslist posting by Jason Kottke a few years back:

Permanent full-time position for a personal social coordinator for a New York-based web designer.
Your primary responsibility will be managing my accounts with various online social networking sites including, but not limited to, Friendster, LinkedIn, Tribe, Orkut, Ryze, Spoke, ZeroDegrees, Ecademy, RealContacts, Ringo, MySpace, Yafro, EveryonesConnected, Friendzy, FriendSurfer, Tickle, Evite, Plaxo, Squiby, and WhizSpark.

Future duties may include discouraging companies and individuals from starting new social networking sites so that additional staff won’t be necessary in the future. Past employment as a bouncer, “heavy”, or hired goon may be helpful in this regard.

Short of hiring people to deal with it for us, the trend seems to be toward meta-aggregation with services such as FriendFeed and SocialThing. These services funnel all of your activity – from Flickr to Amazon.com to Twitter to Pandora and everything in between – into one feed that your friends can follow. Still sound like massive social overload? The most compelling feature of FriendFeed is not aggregation but filtering. FriendFeed provides extremely detailed filtering options where you can hide all the updates from a specific user, from a specific service, from a specific user on a specific service, all updates without comments, etc. Very powerful when used discriminately.

What tools or strategies do you use to deal with social media overload? How do you walk the line between social and professional networking?

-Sarah Zhang