Viewfinders: Digital Natives and the Documentation Impulse

Last week, Sarah wrote about experiencing President Obama’s inauguration online. “I wasn’t standing in the middle of an animated crowd,” she wrote, “but watching a stream of my friend’s statuses placed me amidst an equally excited digital crowd.” For Sarah, watching the inauguration online was a fitting end to an ambitiously digital presidential campaign and transition; a way to experience a historic moment in the digital company of friends. The screengrab she posted, of CNN’s live stream of the inauguration buffeted by friends’ Facebook status updates, tells one side of the story—the side where college students sit in their dorm rooms, watching up-to-the-minute footage; absorbing history as it happens, in a strange combination of visceral and vicarious experience.

But what about the digital natives who were “really” there? How did they traverse the liminal zone between their screens and the scenes around them?

Two indelible images from Inauguration Day involved young people with cameras, capturing history for instant posterity. It’s no surprise that digital natives would use technology to mediate their experiences, but seeing the mediation in action is confronting, inspiring, and somewhat curious.

As President Obama took the oath slightly after noon on January 20, cameras were evident everywhere in the audience. But right there, at the very front, Malia Obama foreshadowed what it will be like to have two have two tech-savvy young girls in the White House. Even as her father was making history, Malia was focused on her tiny pastel camera, documenting the moment for herself.

Incidentally, the photograph comes from an article on GearLive, in which the reporter revealed that Malia had been using a Kodak EasyShare M893 IS 8.1MP digital camera. Within minutes of Malia taking her own photographs, photographs of her with her camera were showing up on gadget blogs, complete with exorbitantly specific model information. A blog post from ABC News noted that “the first daughter is certainly not the first to document her experience at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave”; other White House residents have also followed the impulse. But the instantaneity of the Inauguration photography cycle served underlined the ubiquity of the impulse, and, more importantly, its ubiquitous expression. When even the president’s daughter experiences her father’s inauguration “through the viewfinder,” this perspective transcends lark and becomes a force in its own right.

That force was in action again that evening, at a series of presidential balls. The Youth Ball saw the First Couple dancing “old school” to an instrumental version of “At Last”, but the crowd seemed not to see it at all. Unlike the sweet promise of Malia’s individual documenting impulse, there starts to be something almost sinister about the sea of outstretched camera phones that greeted the couple.

The Obamas at the Youth Ball

When I mentioned this curiosity to a friend this past weekend, he pointed me toward a blog post by Joanne McNeil over at Tomorrow Museum, exploring the meaning of this impenetrable mass of lenses and light. At one point, she asks “But what kinds of things don’t we photograph?” and suggests that

“You probably didn’t take a photo (you forgot to, didn’t think of it) during nearly all of your happiest memories. Why would you want to interrupt a blissful moment? Distancing yourself from the action taking place and denying yourself the opportunity to experience it with your full attention?”

No matter the meaning of the scene, though, the fact of it is remarkable enough. While millions of people were at home watching history happen on their screens, thousands of digital natives were right there, in the moment—watching history through their screens, too.

Lan Houses and Internet access!

The last time I traveled to Boston, I decided to leave my laptop in Montreal as 1. I was only visiting the city for three days and 2. I expected there to be Internet access at every corner. This proved to be an unwise decision as Boston, unlike Brazil, does not have what we call “Lan Houses” or cyber cafes which provide Internet services on an hourly basis. Under the assumption that I would find access to the Internet at every corner the same way I do in Brazil, I traveled to Boston without worrying about carrying a computer with me. However, this proved to be an unwise decision. I walked several blocks only to discover that the way for me to have access to the Internet would be by going to a public library.
When I finally arrived, there was a long waiting list on which I had to sign up. As it was almost closing time, I was warned that I would probably not get online that day.

This raised some questions in my mind, questions that have already been present in my previous posts. Although Digital Natives live in a world characterized by ubiquitous computing, there is a whole other universe that is characterized by the absence of technological tools that will enable them to reach the world in a deeper way. Therefore, it seems imperative to think of mechanisms that will enable all Digital Natives to be digitally included, otherwise the gap between these two realities will only grow wider.

In Brazil, there are various initiativeswhich have been implemented to investigate how cities can create Internet access points on a low budget. A person can access the Internet in São Paulo through either Lan Houses, the state program Acessa São Paulo (which offers computer access for free), or even through McDonald’s restaurants which also offer access to computers for a low price.

When I was in Boston and in Montreal, I always had the impression that everyone was wired. Computers of any sort could be seen anywhere. My question is: Is it difficult to access computers and the Internet in your country? If so, how is this issue being solved?

– andre valle

Inauguration Day Online

On Tuesday morning at 11:45, I ran out of my last final exam and plopped myself down in front of the nearest screen, determined not to miss a moment of Barack Obama’s inauguration. Televisions are harder to find around campus these days, but all I needed was a laptop with Internet access, and nearly everyone in the dining hall was congregated around one or another.

I was only one of millions who found themselves in front of a computer rather than a TV (or in DC in person.) According to Akamai, who handles one-fifth of the world’s Internet traffic, Obama’s inauguration set a new record in the number of simultaneous data streams, which mostly carry live video: seven million data streams with a max of 2 terabits per second. (via xconomy and VentureBeat)

The Google Blog looks as some search data from this and previous inaugurations tell a story of how far the Internet has evolved in the past 8 years:

During the last nine years, the growth of the Internet has changed the way the world seeks information. From President Bush’s first inaugural address in 2001 to his second in 2005, the number of inauguration-related searches increased by more than a factor of ten. From 2005 to today’s address, the number grew even more. Few of the 2001 queries requested “video,” and none requested streaming. By 2005, a few queries such as inauguration audio and streaming video of inauguration appeared. Today, technology has become so prevalant that queries such as YouTube live inauguration, live blogging inauguration, inaugural podcast, and Obama inaugural speech mp3 formed one-third of all inauguration-related queries.

And if the overall query volume at Google is any indication of online activity, there is also has a fascinating graph on search patterns during Obama’s speech. It seems like as Obama was giving his speech, people on the Internet actually stopped to listen and watch:

It’s more than fitting that Obama’s inauguration would make waves around the Internet, as a kind of capstone to how well his campaign had leveraged the power of the Internet during the election. But watching the inauguration wasn’t all that we were doing. I was impressed by how many websites had pulled out the stops for their inauguration coverage. Bits at the New York Times had list of the digital spaces the inauguration would watched and discussed. I watched the speech on CNN’s website, and when the video site first popped up, I was surprised to see not just a live stream from DC, but my Facebook friends smiling at me too:

I wasn’t standing in the middle of an animated crowd, but watching a stream of my friend’s statuses placed me amidst an equally excited digital crowd. It reminded me of watching the debates while perusing the streams on election.twitter, and unsurprisingly, Twitter too was a flurry of activity on Tuesday.

What do these changes mean for the Obama administration? For digital natives who are participating in this new world of politics? I don’t have any solid answers – if you have any insights, share in the comments! — but I would like to point to one thing: all the chatter surrounding the new White House website and blog. The simple fact that we care about is amazing enough. I can’t think of the last time I went the site before Tuesday’s redesign, and now we’re even analyzing the website’s robot.txt file. “Change has come to America” announces the White House website banner – true, where change will lead us remains to be seen.
-Sarah Zhang

Unfriending, Pt. 2: Social Networks vs. Real Life

A few weeks ago, before winter break and also before certain unfortunate events took place, I wrote a post about “unfriending.” To my delight, this post elicited a number of extremely thoughtful comments. Since I think these comments touch on a lot of wider issues, I wanted to take a moment to address some common themes.

Reactions ranged from “social networks are too different from real life” to “social networks are too similar to real life” to “people should just get real lives.” The funny part is, each of those reactions has some element of truth. Taking them one by one:

1) Social networks are too different from real life.

The first comment came from Ben Turner, who noted that “It seems as though social networking sites shy away from providing real approximations of people’s real relationships with each other.” He then proposed two possible axes along which social networks deviated from the way real life works. The first was the idea that social networks establish strong binary labels, and in fact require them to organize their databases, in a way that real life just doesn’t. You’re not required to “confirm Jacob as a friend” before you can approach Jacob on a street corner to say hello. On some social networks, though, that’s exactly what happens. Likewise, the way you feel about someone changes dynamically over time; on a social network, you make a decision once (“I will let this person into my information sphere”) and then to change that decision requires a radical act. Ben’s suggestion was that, if we saw such simplistic binary representations of relationships and acquaintanceships in real life, things would get ugly very quickly. Somehow, social networks manage to get away with it…but that’s not to say that things don’t sometimes get ugly.

The second axis identified by Ben was the idea that social networks are actually invested in discouraging negative experiences, because negative social experiences cast a pall over the social network itself. (If a messy fight with one of my friends plays out over, say, Twitter, I might be disinclined to use Twitter for a while.) Especially for sites that use your friends’ updates to provide a constant stream of information (see: Facebook’s news feed, Twitter’s home page), the more “friends” the sites can draw from the more information they can stream. And the more a site updates, the more people click “refresh,” with the nice side effect that the ads reload too, and oh! There’s another ad impression, which is definitely good for the bottom line of the social network. This leads to social networks being motivated to establish a low barrier to entry for “friendship,” leading to superficial “friending” and a loose net of online “friends” that may have little to no correlation with any real-world “friends.” For the same reason, most sites don’t notify you when you’ve been unfriended…you just have to go searching for clues yourself. The problem is that, even if the site doesn’t notify you, the concept of “friendship” is so embedded in the way a site works that the fact of unfriendship can’t easily be hidden. Social networks, according to Ben’s analysis, frustrate us because they seem to claim to approximate real life, and yet miss it by a long shot because of the way they’re structured.

2) Social networks are too similar to real life.

In the second comment, Britta Bohlinger suggested that “Now, what we seem to witness online in these days is perhaps nothing more dramatic than what happens offline…And yes, no matter how old you are: if things go wrong or you want to move on, unfriending might be a very healthy thing to do. It implies a moment of thinking, a rather conscious decision.” I definitely agree with this. Maybe what hurts about unfriending on social networks is that it so often does mirror what happens in real life. In the recent Whopper Sacrifice shenanigan on Facebook, where users could unfriend 10 friends (who would then be notified accordingly) and earn a Whopper, the ploy worked precisely because it dealt playfully with traditional expectations. If one of your friends got notice that she had been sacrificed for a Whopper, any sort of grave emotional reaction on her part would probably seem outsized. And likely, you’d add her back at the first opportunity.

In some ways, it’s the fact that these sites don’t notify you when you’re unfriended that makes the practice of unfriending so hurtful. Unfriending is a form of non-communication, which kind of precludes the possibility that it would be done playfully. Since it’s so secretive by design, any discovery of an unfriending has the attendant string of betrayal. “You mean they didn’t even talk to me about it?” With the Sacrifice scheme, since the program let your friend know she’d been unfriended—in a somewhat ludicrous way—it became just another form of communication, out of the realm of passive aggression and betrayal and into the realm of teasing. In real life, people’s intentions and decisions aren’t always on constant display the way they are online, manifested in the user interfaces of social networks. But it wouldn’t hurt to be unfriended on social networks if it didn’t hurt to lose a friendship in real life.

3) People should just get real lives.

A little while later, b cut to the chase. “Being unfriended is like being dropped after having sex on the first date. What were you thinking in the first place? Post less and grow up more.” To which Ryan responded “I agree that removing a friend can be touchy and a sensitive thing, but its necessary sometimes. I had to cancel my time on twitter because of the time I was wasting following people’s tweets. I think that an occasional text message or phone call, or simply catching up with someone when I see them around, is the only way to really go for me. Too much to do.”

Are kids (and adults) overly obsessed with social networks to the detriment of their real-world social lives? This is a question I get asked a lot. Usually, my answer is “in some cases yes, but basically no.”

It’s definitely possible to become too preoccupied with the minute vagaries of friendships and acquaintanceships as represented on social networks. But in the end, they’re just communication mediums like any other. Text messages, phone calls, and Facebook messages are all ways of getting information across distance. And while each has its nuances, no one of them is inherently superior to the others. The difference with social networks might be primarily that they so transparently reveal the social graph, and your place within it. Seeing a visual representation of where you stand in relation to other people can spark our desire to be genuinely recognized, sought-after, admired, or just paid-attention-to. I strongly believe in the importance of facetime. But I also believe that vilifying one medium and elevating another might ultimately distract from the real issue. So many of my online friendships have transitioned into some of my richest real-life friendships; the challenge lies in making the transition from one realm to the other, safely and thoughtfully.

Because here’s the secret: there’s not “fake life” and “real life.” There’s just real life, running through multiple channels. We can switch between them to accomplish different things, but they’re all part of the same whole. Balancing kindness to others with the imperative for self-preservation is hard no matter what, and the answers are never easy. Understanding the ways that all these channels collide and collude is one of the great challenges of the digital age. Fortunately, the same truth that makes social networks compelling and frustrating is the truth that will save us from them and save them for us: as social creatures, we’re all obsessed with our social networks—online or off. It’s how we deal with that obsession, and integrate it into our lives in healthy ways, that matters.

Laptopless, or: Adventures Without Milo

On Sunday morning, I woke up, blinked blearily, and opened my laptop. Milo—a 12″ PowerBook G4, from way back in mid-2005—has been known to be ornery, but he usually gets his act together after a few minutes of beach-ball death-spinning. Sunday, though, he hung for even longer than usual; impatiently and trustingly, I pressed the power button to turn the computer off, then pressed to turn it on again. And that is when my computer finally bit the dust.

There’s nothing like becoming laptopless during Paper-Writing Season. With a term paper due on Tuesday and no computer on which to write it, I felt bewildered and bereft. Even my well-intentioned plans to cheer myself up hit a series of formidable dead ends. Download an episode of Gossip Girl on iTunes and watch it in my dorm room? Can’t, need a computer. Listen to some music on Can’t, need a computer. I spent most of Sunday trying to offload files from my ailing laptop and wondering what to do next. After a few rounds of increasingly drastic salvage attempts, I determined that Milo was really, truly a goner.

Over the next 48 hours, I would realize two things. One: I’m pretty dependent on computers. Two: computers are everywhere.

My dependence on computers is not particularly unusual, at least for a college student. As my failed cheer-up ideas demonstrate, I depend on my laptop because it’s my primary conduit to both work and entertainment. Though I spent plenty of time offline (though the definition of “plenty” is, perhaps, up for grabs), most of my activities depend on a computer, or the internet, at least peripherally. When I realized that I would have to write my paper on litigious women in colonial Latin America, laptop or not, it wasn’t just word processing I knew I’d miss. Most of my readings for the class were in PDF form, scattered across my hard drive. Though I was able to recover them in time to finish up my research for the paper, doing so involved lugging a gigantic external hard drive from library to computer lab to dorm room, and back again. I probably could have used a thumb drive, it’s true. But it didn’t occur to me in time, because that’s just not a situation I ever face—a disconnect between my place of work and my source of information.

In the library and computer lab, though, I acquainted myself with a fact of college life: because we depend so heavily on computers, there have to be contingency plans. Computers break all the time. Working in the personal computer clinic at school over the past year and a half, failed hard drives and corrupt software have become part of the regular pulse of my daily life. So there are computers everywhere, because no one can do their work if they don’t have their tools. I camped out in a miniature computer lab on the fourth floor of my dorm for, by my count, 7 hours on Tuesday morning. The night before, I’d settled down in the library with a loaner laptop for no less than 8 hours; the library keeps them in metal file drawers behind the front desk, ready to be loaned out for library use to temporarily laptopless students. Since I could only borrow the laptop for three hours at a time, I’d trundle down the stairs every few hours, a mess of documents still open on the desktop, and lift up the laptop so its bar code could be scanned again.

In the past year, I’ve thought a lot about computer dependence. I even gave a presentation this summer—stick figures drawn in autoshapes—regarding the pervasive role of computing in the lives of college students. We use our cell phones as alarm clocks; we get out our laptops even before we get out of bed in the morning. I knew all of this, in large part because I experience it every day. Even yet, I’ve never understood the pervasive role of computing in my life better than when, all of a sudden, it stopped pervading.

Yesterday, I got a new laptop. Milo is gone for good; I think it was probably his time. Part of me already misses him. He was a big part of my life.

Happy Holidays!

Hello everyone!

Digital Natives will be taking a blogging break for the holidays. We’ll be back with more exciting posts beginning January 5th, 2009.

From all of us at the Digital Natives Project: Happy Holidays!! 🙂

Digital natives: digital renegades or digital captives?

[Cross-posted on Corinna di Gennaro‘s blog and Internet and Democracy blog]

A few days ago in the IHT Evgeny Morozov, a Fellow at the Open Society Institute in New York, has published an interesting op-ed entitled: “Digital renegades, or captives?” where he analyzes the role of the Internet in promoting civic engagement in authoritarian regimes. Evgeny asks: “What if the original premise was wrong and the Internet is not a great force for democratic change but rather the clay that keeps authoritarian regimes together?” Evgeny alerts us to the dangers of seeing the Internet as a magic wand, which will necessarily promote democratic change and warns us about the importance of context (America vs. non-Western European countries) when analyzing the role of the Internet in aiding political change and political participation.

Evgeny goes on to argue (and I quote his words, again): “We have to be aware of the fact that the Internet has given the youth living in controlled societies infinite venues for digital entertainment – without any religious or social censorship – that may not necessarily be enhancing their digital sense of citizenship and civic engagement. Risking the comfort of their bedrooms – with their hard-drives full of digital goodies – for the gloom of a prison cell does not appeal to many of them. The governments are all too happy to promote this new cult of ‘cyber-hedonism’.”

In other words, the Internet is just a tool – we must avoid technologically deterministic arguments which stress the effects of technology by taking it out of context, and by devoiding it of social agency. Evgeny suggests two ideal types (a la Weber): ‘digital renegades’ vs. ‘captives’ which I think are much more than just another trendy name, but they are two categories which may well turn out to be a really useful analytical tool in studying young people’s civic engagement.

“Unfriending”: Stealth Tactics and Sensible Responses

Unfriending may not be the most dramatic of online offenses. But it is among the most hurtful—in large part because it’s so stealthy.

Let’s say you’ve been dating a guy for a few months. After a messy breakup, you both change your relationship status to “Single” on Facebook, which shows up in all of your friends’ News Feeds. That’s bad enough. But a few weeks later, you go to look at the ex’s profile, just to see what he’s been up to…and notice that you’re locked out! The two of you belong to different networks (meaning the default is that you can’t see each other’s information), and so the truth comes out: you’ve been unfriended. The breakup was a big deal, but being unfriended stings in a totally new way. It feels like you’ve been cut out of someone’s life completely. Not only does he not want to date you: he doesn’t even want to be friends with you.

What’s wrong with this picture? Let’s look at this from the other person’s perspective for a moment. It’s possible that he really doesn’t want to be “friends” anymore…though communicating that through the interface of Facebook seems aggressively passive-aggressive. Far more likely: he’s just trying to take his mind off the drama for a little while.

The issue with online social networks is that they conflate “I like you as a person” with “I want to read constant updates about your life.” Sometimes—as in the case of a recent breakup—you don’t want to cut someone out of your life forever; it just hurts to read a play-by-play version of that someone’s life. Especially when you’re on the outs with someone, the intrusion of their updates into an otherwise innocuous News Feed can feel like a slap in the face.

A lot of people respond to that slap by “unfriending” the problematic person in question. This definitely excises the person from your News Feed. And if you pay any attention at all to your News Feed, this can feel like a good way to get your mind off the social drama; your stream of consciousness isn’t constantly being interrupted by reminders of the person you’re trying not to think about.

The problem, of course, is that when you unfriend someone, you show your hand. Facebook might not notify those whom you unfriend, but they’re quite likely to discover the unfriending eventually. Everything in the interface of Facebook, especially, implicitly reveals the presence or absence of an official connection—right down to the encouraging “add to friend” text under a person’s picture in their profile.

Removing a friendship on Facebook is often just a way to remove someone’s updates from your News Feed—it’s not always as dramatic as “I never want to speak to this person, ever again.” And, since people use their News Feeds in so many different ways, it’s almost impossible to figure out why someone removed you as a friend without just asking the other person.

So, should you ask? It depends. If the worry is consuming you, then just asking might be the best response. But a better first response might just be to interpret positively, and give the other person the benefit of the doubt. Real-world confrontations about Facebook friendships can start to feel deeply recursive: if you’re talking, then isn’t there something there? Friendships, relationships, and acquaintanceships are complicated: the single binary of “friend/unfriend” can’t possibly capture all the nuances. If you choose to interpret someone else’s action in the least offensive way possible, you’re not only likely to feel better; you’re also pretty likely to get close to the truth.

And if you’re on the other side? As it turns out, “unfriending” isn’t the only course of action you can take if you want to remove someone’s updates from your News Feed. If you scroll down to the very bottom of the feed, you can click on a small link that reads “Options for News Feed.” This link will take you to a page with the “Less About These Friends” dialog:

If you’re on the outs with someone, it’s easy to add them to the list for a while, and then take them off of it later—all without the public drama of “unfriending.”

Being “unfriended” can be very bewildering. Fortunately, it’s just that—a made-up word, couched in quotation marks. Understanding the way Facebook works can help illuminate the weird phenomenon of unfriendship, and with any luck, offer strategies for dealing with the complications of real-world friendships transposed into online streams of consciousness.

Digital Natives as Political Renegades or Captives?

“Are they the “digital renegades,” ready to leverage the power of social networking and text messaging to topple their undemocratic governments? Or are they “digital captives,” whose political and social dissent has been significantly neutered by the Internet, turning them into happy consumers of Hollywood’s digital marginalia?”

Evgeny Morozov has a thought-provoking editorial in yesterday’s International Herald Tribune entitled, “Digital renegades, or captives?” While we have been celebrating Obama’s victory as a symbol of Digital Natives’ influence on American politics, Morozov urges us to look beyond our borders to examine the Internet’s role in politics outside of Western democracies. The picture he paints is not so optimistic.

We have to be aware of the fact that the Internet has given the youth living in controlled societies infinite venues for digital entertainment – without any religious or social censorship – that may not necessarily be enhancing their digital sense of citizenship and civic engagement. Risking the comfort of their bedrooms – with their hard-drives full of digital goodies – for the gloom of a prison cell does not appeal to many of them. The governments are all too happy to promote this new cult of “cyber-hedonism.” Whatever keeps these troubled youths from the streets is inherently a good thing. Digital captives are, after all, cheaper to sustain than the real ones.

What Morozov argues – that the Internet provides infinite venues of entertainment – is essentially true for American teens as well. The Internet is primarily a social and entertainment space, and civic engagement is only a very small niche that exists within that. So why should it be more troublesome under authoritative regimes? The difference is in the stakes – political protest in an undemocratic country can result in jail time or worse. But this is true regardless of whether teens are going online or not, so how does the other side of the equation – this opening up of the entertainment world – change the balance?

There’s an interesting line of argument here that authoritative governments are encouraging this consumption of digital entertainment. These same regimes are also likely to be blocking websites and censoring their own entertainment industries, but for the web-savvy, the Internet is a space for taboos to be broken and censorship to be circumvented. Morozov cites a 2007 survey where 32 percent of Chinese youth said that the Internet broadens their sex life (compared to only 11 percent of Americans). Isn’t this consumption of Western media already a form of protest – if not expressly political? Or is this consumption of illicit content just rebellious enough to satisfy youth without bringing about real change? It seems like government using this method to keep their Digital Natives “captive” have to walk a fine line on censorship.

Morozoc concludes with some thoughts on what could motivate Digital Natives into political action:

In the absence of the local Obama in Russia, China or Iran, young people would continue worshiping Jerry Seinfeld and Paris Hilton (or their local alternatives), leaving the local democratic forces to themselves.

Implicit in his argument is the fact that we, America, needed our Obama too. Political change doesn’t come about in a vacuum. A year ago, there was still rampant skepticism about the Obama’s campaign and whether the mobilization of Internet-savvy youth can be effectively translated into votes. Books such as The Dumbest Generation argued that this generation was increasingly narcissistic and self-centered. In the afterglow of Obama’s victory, it’s easy to celebrate the power of the Internet, but it wasn’t always so clear.

Of course it’s naive to map the trajectory of American politics onto the world, but Digital Natives will surely have a role to play in world politics. It seems unfair to claim that these youth living under authoritative governments are any more easily distracted by Hollywood than American teens. The Internet alone of course cannot be a driving force of political change, but it is a platform that can be utilized for political protest.

Morozov does acknowledge the success of Facebook and other social networking sites in organizing protests in Ukraine and Saudi Arabia. Just last week, anti-government protests in Croatia emerged from a couple Facebook groups against Prime Minister Ivo Sanader on Facebook: “I bet I can find 5,000 people that hate the Prime Minister” and “Tighten your own belt, you gang of knaves.” Niksa Klecak, the creator of the first group, was actually taken captive for real The protest (photos here) drew roughly 3500 people last Friday. Certainly these protesters were not too busy distracted by Hollywood to protest.

I have one last idea to ponder that emerges from Morozov’s question, “Is the Tiananmen Square even possible in the age of Twitter, YouTube, and MySpace?” I don’t think this is the original intent of the question, but it got me wondering how widely distributed photos and videos of protesters online make it easy for governments identify and possibly prosecute protesters. Should protesters worry about this before leaving their homes? The identity of the man standing defiant in front on the tanks at Tiananmen Square is a still a mystery, but if the same thing happened today, wouldn’t someone snapped another photo of him on a camera phone?
-Sarah Zhang

Guest Post: A Call to Action That Was Answered

Continuing last week’s theme of digital activism, we’re starting this week off with a guest post from Rob Longert of Peppercom on the success of Blog Action Day and the future of digital publishing platforms. –Diana Kimball, DN intern

On October 15, 2008, 12,800 bloggers came together for Blog Action Day and helped spread the word about the issue of global poverty. From a social media measurement perspective, the day was a success, with blogs ranging from personal journals to big-name news sites such as The Huffington Post, TechCrunch and other members of the Technorati’s top 100 blogs posting on the subject. According to the Blog Action Day website, the message reached 13,498,280 “readers” on the internet.

Over at PepperDigital, we decided to post for Blog Action Day because it was for a good cause which allowed us to be part of a community working toward a common goal. I shared my view on creating an online homeless database in the United States, while other blogs made additional suggestions and observations such as Teen Ink Magazine’s post about Poverty Awareness Week and children who live in poverty around the world. Blog Action Day gave all its participants a chance to voice their views on global poverty, pose solutions, and push out a common message.

Blog Action Day put the power of mass communication in the hands of the blogosphere, harnessing the power of digital natives who possess the tools and know-how of communication via social networking, video, mobile, micro-blogging, and other digital tools to implement solutions to the problems of today and the future.

The new media environment offers us the potential to transform “existing structures of knowledge and power,” and harness the “collective intelligence” and “ability of the net and the web to facilitate rapid many-to-many communication,” as stated by Henry Jenkins, co-Director of the MIT Program in Comparative Media Studies, in his writing on the topic of “the collective intelligence of media fans.”

From telemedicine projects in Africa such as the Harvard Initiative for Global Health to helping political candidates stay on top of digital tools, we digital natives have a bright future ahead of us filled with opportunity, but communication is the key. We have our traditional forms of media and dialogue like word of mouth, television, phone (dare I say fax?) and the printed word, as well as newer forms of communication like mobile and online video, the 24-hour news cycle, text messaging, IM, e-mail and microblogging. It is our responsibility to channel and grasp these formats so our messaging and calls to action are heard by the right audiences.

My question to you is which medium will reign supreme? Will blogging stay alive and will we still have the success of Blog Action Day 2008 in 2009 and beyond, or will we be broadcasting our thoughts through a different medium that gets our message across just as well? How can we continue to make calls to action such as Blog Action Day successful, and what mediums will be used?


Rob Longert is an account executive at Peppercom, a mid size PR firm with offices in New York, San Francisco, and London. Check out the PepperDigital blog for more commentary from Rob and the PepperDigital team on the current digital landscape.