Expanding Our World, Limiting Our Experiences?

If you ask me what I want to do with my life, I will say that I want to be in a position where I am lucky enough to be able to spend a lot of time traveling. Travel has been a part of my life for as long as I can remember, and I believe that it has been the single most important thing that has shaped who I am today. Travel makes me happy, as it is both a way that I inject change into my life and a reminder of something bigger than myself, both key aspects of happiness that were discussed in the movie “Happy” (1). That being said, travel, and the way that I experience it, has changed as dramatically as I have. For example, I remember when I was around eight or ten, I would take stacks of books on family road trips out West. Even more recently during high school, I went on two service trips during which I did not have access to the internet for two weeks. These experiences are completely unimaginable today. During the most recent spring break, I went to Madrid, Spain. I had several movies downloaded onto my iPad, and rarely was without Facebook at my fingertips. Even on the eight hour plane ride, I didn’t read, like I would have done in the past. Instead, I watched movies. Furthermore, while I was in Madrid, I was lucky enough to experience many aspects of a different culture, from things as simple as eating lunch at three in the afternoon, to bigger things such as a different language. (Which, luckily, I spoke.) However, my culture that I had left an ocean away was never truly more than a few taps away on my iPhone. I believe that technology has had an irrevocable effect on travel, and though many of its effects are positive, there are many negative aspects what we may tend to ignore. These negative aspects are something that we need to have more awareness of, in order to truly appreciate our surroundings.

When I talk about technology and its effect on travel, I wish to refer to its ability to affect the way that we experience a place. Of course, to analyze this, it is important to consider what it means to experience while traveling. Does it mean interacting with those who live there, making an impact, leaving a footprint? Or, does it mean keeping our distance, taking photos, looking through museums and leaving without a trace? I tend to lean towards the first option. Travel is a way through which we access new perspectives and expand our horizons, something that can even be scary at times, perhaps because “in our culture of simulation, the notion of authenticity is for us what sex was for the Victorians – thread and obsession, taboo and fascination. (2) However, as I (and I am sure many others) travel in search of connection despite our initial reservations, I cannot forget the ways in which we are already connected through technology. After all, it may even be possible to say that “what people mostly want from public space is to be alone with their personal networks. It is good to come together physically, but it is more important to stay tethered to our devices.” (3) This tethering from technology affects many aspects of our travel experience. After all, what do we need to do in order to fully experience a place? Do we see as much as possible? Or do we find a place where we can watch people pass by and go about their days? (In this case, I tend to split the difference and do a little of each.) Technology can help us to accomplish both of these tasks, but what effect does this have on our trip, and furthermore, ourselves?

Of course, technology is not all bad, and in many ways it is a resource as vital as oxygen when it comes to moving throughout the world. In this day and age, “the family circle has widened. The worldpool of information fathered by electric media – movies, tel-star, flight – far surpasses any possible influence mom or dad can now bring to bear.” (4) This globalization has been ushered in by technology that quickly becomes more and more advanced, and overall I view it as a privilege to have access to fast and efficient methods of movement. For example, the airplane, something that we perhaps take for granted, or even as an annoyance, is something that did not even exist one hundred years ago. Yet, this technology is indispensable when planning a vacation overseas. It enables me to travel from Ohio to Europe in less time than it takes to drive to Florida. Without the plane, the train, the car, or even the bicycle (for the more intrepid among us), travel would be dramatically different, and perhaps a foreign concept for the average individual.

It isn’t just the “vital” technology that improves the travel experience these days. There are countless new web-based technologies that allow us to tailor our vacation to our preferred specifications, and help us to simply do more, connect more, and live more. At the very basic level, wi-fi gives us internet access everywhere, which permits us to harness the internet’s many resources. (At least, it’s available in most “American” restaurants overseas -I have noticed a distinct lack of free wi-fi in Europe.) Beyond wi-fi, Websites such as Google Flights make traveling to our destination cheaper, which in turn permits us to spend maybe another night there, or take the short day trip to a little town about an hour away. Other technologies such as Airbnb and Couchsurfing combine cost savings with enhanced connections. Both provide relatively inexpensive lodging for the average traveler, while at the same time facilitating connection on both ends – the traveler is often able to stay with someone who lives in the place they are visiting, giving them deeper roots in the community, and the host is able to interact with someone from a completely different area, allowing them to see their home through different eyes. Furthermore, social media, something often decried as a destroyer of true connection, can be viewed as a technology that has had a positive impact on travel in the modern age. Instagram allows one to share photos of your experiences with those who may not have the same opportunity to travel, or those that want to see reminders of a place they have been to. People even use social media to plan vacations, getting inspiration for upcoming journeys, sharing their plans with their friends for suggestions, or using sites such as Tripadvisor to find activities (5) Facebook, Whatsapp, and other similar communication tools make it easier to stay in touch while out of the country, with 74% of Americans using social media on vacation (6), even though most cell phones do not work internationally, at least not without paying exorbitant prices. This, however, may even be changing for some – the European Union wants to end roaming charges for its citizens as they travel throughout its member countries. (7)  This change is not uncommon with travel technology. New frontiers are being explored with wearable technology and travel, automatic payments, and translation software. (8) As technology changes, travel will change with it, and in my eyes the vast majority of these developments and changes are for the better.

That being said, technology has also brought about many negative changes that take away from our experiences while traveling, either overseas or domestically. Even looking at the way we plan vacations with sites like Tripadvisor, we may put too much stock in negative or positive reviews, and forget to consider what we expect from a destination. See, for example, this one-star review of the Grand Canyon, titled “Grand Canyon is Crap!” – “I’ve been to a number of so called landmarks in my time – but what the hell was this? Just an overblown sandy ditch. Really don’t get the fascination! Took two hours to get there – should’ve stayed in my hotel and watched a DVD instead…” (9). Clearly, perception is everything, and this perception can skew experiences if we put too much weight into others’ experiences.

Photography, something generally considered as a great way to make our own mementos of our vacations, can also impact travel in a negative way. In “Alone Together”, Turkle discusses the possibility that “archiving might get in the way of living” (10). In the case of travel, photographing might get in the way of experiencing, and might even allow us to mislead those who see our archives. See once again the Grand Canyon (11):

Beautiful, right? Serene, peaceful, empty. Exactly what one might want from a National Park. However, other photographs tell a different story. (12)

There are typically many tourists at places such as the Grand Canyon, and while tourists are obviously unavoidable, people may tend to forget about their presence when they see pictures such as the one above, and be disappointed when they show up expecting solitude. Beyond the potential misleading nature of photography and post-processing (something I am admittedly guilty of myself), the entire action of viewing our surroundings through a lens, or through a phone screen, takes us out of our environments. After all, McLuhan declares that “media, by altering the environment, evoke in us unique ratios of  sense perceptions. The extension of any one sense alters the way we think and act – the way we perceive the world.” (13) It would be foolish to say that photography has no impact on our travel experience. We may spend more time searching for the perfect shot, the perfect filter to maximize likes on Instagram, instead of letting our mind be the camera, and preserving what we see in our heads for recollection on a day when we feel a little bit more wanderlust than usual. It can even be asked, “if technology remembers for us, will we remember less? Will we approach our own lives from a greater distance?” (14) Social media’s negative effects, and the way that “life in a media bubble has come to seem natural” (15) may even be considered an extension of those from photography, with archiving getting in the way of experiencing, and true face-to-face connections being rejected in favor of those that come through a screen.

It is obvious that technology has had a far-reaching effect on travel, both enabling its existence and limiting the experiences possible while on the road. For me, the important thing to remember while traveling and harnessing this technology for my own use is awareness. I believe that through being aware of our actions we will more easily be able to see their potential consequences, and make decisions based upon what our desired outcome is. Technology can be so useful while traveling, making us safer, helping us communicate, and helping us explore. In fact, it is even hard to scratch the surface of the tools we have available to us while traveling, the number of resources is so vast. However, as we have seen with new technologies in the past, there may often be outcomes from the use of technology that we don’t realize until it is too late. Therefore, when it comes to travel and technology, I preach being aware of what we use on a daily basis. Maybe, you can even put the Google Maps away for a little while and just walk and see what you find. After all, it is okay to rely on technology, in this day and age we all do to different extents. However, as in all things in life, we need to seek balance, and seek to be aware of the choices we make, even unintentionally, and their consequences.


(1) Happy. Dir. Roko Belic. Wadi Rum Productions, 2011. Netflix. Web. 28 Apr. 2016.

(2) Turkle, Sherry. Alone Together: Why We Expect More from Technology and Less from Each Other. New York: Perseus Book Group, 2011. Print. (4)

(3) Turkle, 15.

(4) McLuhan, M. (2001). The Medium is the Massage: An Inventory of Effects. Corte Madera, CA: Gingko Press. (14)

(5) “The Impact of Social Media on Travel and Vacation Planning | Vacationing the Social Media Way [Infographic].” MDG Advertising. N.p., 6 Aug. 2012. Web. 28 Apr. 2015. <http://www.mdgadvertising.com/blog/vacationing-the-social-media-way-infographic/&gt;.

(6) MDG Advertising.

(7) Strachan, Donald. “How Technology Will Change Travel in 2015.” The Telegraph. Telegraph Media Group, 29 Dec. 2014. Web. 28 Apr. 2015. <http://www.telegraph.co.uk/travel/travel-advice/11316023/How-technology-will-change-travel-in-2015.html&gt;.

(8) Strachan.

(9) H, David. “Nature Is Crap!” Rev. of The Grand Canyon. n.d.: n. pag. 8 Jan. 2015. Web. 28 Apr. 2015. <http://www.tripadvisor.com/ShowUserReviews-g143028-d103752-r248232755-Grand_Canyon-Grand_Canyon_National_Park_Arizona.html#REVIEWS&gt;.

(10) Turkle, 305.

(11) Grand Canyon Sunrise. Digital image. N.p., n.d. Web. 30 Apr. 2016. <Happy. Dir. Roko Belic. Wadi Rum Productions, 2011. Netflix. Web. 28 Apr. 2016.>.

(12) Mandel, Pam. Pictures of People Taking Pictures of People at the Grand Canyon. Digital image. Nerds Eye View. N.p., 4 June 2014. Web. 30 Apr. 2015. <https://farm4.staticflickr.com/3864/14158297779_0473c8ce5f_b.jpg&gt;.

(13) McLuhan, 41.

(14) Turkle, 300.

(15) Turkle, 16.

The Core Message: Awareness leads to Deeper Experiences

One thing I definitely struggled with during the in-class discussion on Wednesday was defining the core message of my final essay. After all, I tend to view many things in shades of gray, rather than black and white. For this reason, can I say that technology should be avoided while traveling for the sake of experience? Or should I go the opposite direction, saying that technology should be used as much as possible to facilitate the experience? Like everything else, my true beliefs lie somewhere in the middle, because there are benefits and disadvantages to both sides. For this reason, I believe that the core message for my final paper is “Awareness”. It’s okay to rely on technology for some things and eschew it for other things, but we need to be aware of the choices we make and their consequences. For example, when traveling it is very easy to take the simplest option and catch a cab from the airport to the hotel. In fact, for many people this may be the best option while burdened down with luggage. However, it may be better for others to take public transportation – it’s not quite as simple, but it gives you the first glimpse of life in the city you are in, the first hesitant steps into a new ocean of culture.

Exploring this message, for me at least, is relatively simple. I want to make the reader think about their past experiences, and to make them start asking themselves questions. For example: “What will I want 5 years from now, the picture of the whale taken with a crappy cell phone camera, or the memory of watching the animal in motion, taking in the experience of watching it thrive it its natural environment?” This was a question I asked myself when I was in Alaska, watching the hoards of people lining up with cameras off the side of the ship, hoping to get the “shot”. These questions are what help me to explore my theme, because even outside of travel, nearly everyone has experienced a situation in which either they or someone they were with was too preoccupied with documentation than with experiencing.

Of course, I want the reader to explore the positive effects of technology awareness as well. For example, I view Airbnb as a newer travel technology that is almost overwhelmingly positive. It can easily connect travelers with locals and give them a “truer” experience. In this case of technology bring positive experiences, I believe that awareness is necessary in order to find opportunities similar to Airbnb. Many people aren’t aware of its existence, and may simply “default” to choosing the hotel where you return every night to a generic experience that can be replicated in your own backyard. Along this vein, there are probably even better ways to connect with the place you are visiting that are even better than Airbnb or couchsurfing – I just haven’t had the opportunity to discover them yet.

Overall, to me my paper’s purpose is to make people question their experiences, and to make them consider how their current methods can change to experience places more deeply, and avoid the technology black hole, while still accessing its good points that can improve connection.

Personal Reflection – Traveling

“I haven’t been everywhere, but it’s on my list”

I feel that this topic, travel and technology, was an inevitable theme for my final paper. I have spent a lot of my time, especially in the past six months, either traveling, or planning my next adventure, whether it is just an hour away to Hocking Hills, or across an ocean and several continents to Paris, and then India. Travel has become such an integral part of my life that it would almost be foolish to choose a different path for my final paper – I have even incorporated it into my other classes, writing my “autorretrato” (self portrait) for my Spanish class on my identity as a traveler, and continuing the theme throughout my other compositions, focusing on interconnection and changing perspectives. For some reason, travel has been a common thread in my life for as long as I can remember, so it just feels natural to explore the topic in depth, and to approach it from a different angle.

What’s weird is that it is hard for me to specifically pick out a part of my identity that makes travel so important for me. I have always valued freedom, freedom to do what I want, freedom to follow my dreams, freedom to have room to breath, and I feel that travel follows that value. It could be a consequence of growing up in Ohio, where the cloudy skies in the winter feel like a suffocating blanket, that drives me to explore and experience more. The lack of diverse landscapes could be the driving force. My travel bug could also be a result of my parents, and their influence. I remember going with them to COSI as a kid, getting to experience a taste of the things that the world offers us. They were also the ones who took my brother and I all over the country when I was going through elementary and middle school, and it’s because of them that I have had the opportunity to go out west and hike through national parks, and experience places that I don’t have the words to describe, because they just take your breath away. I recognize how lucky I am to have had these experiences, and it is partly because of those experiences that I feel the need to continue to see more, travel more, and do more.

However, if i had to name one intrinsic part of me that makes me want to travel and explore, it would be the fact that I read constantly. (Or, at least, I did. Now, I read when I have time.) When I was younger, though, I devoured books. I knew the librarians quite well, and would go and check out stacks of books every week or so. Those books gave me so many different ideas and perspectives, and so many different pictures of the possibilities that exist in the world, that they still influence me today. I feel that this reading has taken me everywhere through the eyes of others, and now it’s time for me to visit these places and to see them through my own eyes, and to share my perspectives.

Class Archive

When looking at the archive that this class has created throughout the semester, what really strikes me is that even though we have all received the same assignments the whole year, the range of topics that were chosen for each assignment could not have been more different from each other. For example, for the final project alone, one person is talking about bees, another is talking about hip hop, and another is writing their paper on concussions. Those topics could not be more different, yet they still explore a common theme: technological progress and its impact on how we live our lives.

This common thread is what amazes me the most about our archive – it’s incredible how many different perspectives can be used to illuminate the issues we face today. One assignment that I appreciated reading different opinions on was the one that focused on the Digital Self. It was a relatively narrow topic, which is why the different perspectives really were useful for me – they forced me to reconsider my views, and expand them. Specifically within that topic, the focus on the readings from “alone together” that some people had was something that I enjoyed reading about, mostly because it’s a common feeling sometimes (the feeling of being so connected yet so disconnected at the same time), and it was nice to see that there are common experiences between all of us, even though we do all have our own opinions and perspectives and ideas. For example, the post about the differing perspectives between cultures in respect to connection really made me think. As an American, I have pretty much come to accept that my parents want me to be continually available. I don’t speak to them every day, or even every week sometimes, but if I can’t get in contact with them for some reason or another, they tend to get very worried. However, the connection between parent and child through different cultures can be very different. In the blog post that I’m referring to, the Chinese norm was addressed. It makes me wonder if I would be different in terms of my independence if my parents were less concerned about connection. As it is, I tend to do what I feel is best, regardless of their input, but I wonder what extremes my current independence (my mother might say strong-willed bullheadedness) could reach if I had even less obligation.

Another thing that I find interesting about our archive is not even the depth or breadth overall, it’s the depth that can be found with just one post. For example, the post on mummification that was read aloud gave us a huge amount of knowledge on a topic that most of us (I assume) are not familiar with – I know that I’m not. This access to new knowledge is something that I feel is prevalent throughout our archive. There are so many different topics and different passions that we have somehow come up with a fairly comprehensive look at technology throughout time and throughout society. Considering this, I kind of wonder what would happen if we had another semester to write even more.

Essay Outline: Travel and Technology

  1. Introduction: My experiences traveling, and my personal interaction with various technologies that both aid and inhibit experiencing a place.
  2. What does it mean to experience a place? Does it mean interacting with those who live there, making an impact, leaving a footprint? Or does it mean staying away, taking photos, looking through museums, and leaving without a trace, leaving no part of yourself behind?
  3. Moving beyond what experiencing a place really is, what do we need to do to achieve this? Do we hit the ground running, trying to see as many tourist sights as possible? It might be better to sit in a café somewhere, taking in the atmosphere, watching how people in this new city go about their day. It might be best to go to a place as mundane as a grocery store – you will probably learn more about daily life in Madrid from the farmacías than you will from visiting the Museo del Prado.
  4. Technologies that help make travel possible – the positive impact of technology on travel.
    1. The Basics: Planes, trains, and automobiles. These technologies have been around since before I was born, but they are vital. They are the things that enable me to go from Columbus, Ohio, to Europe in less than 12 hours (if I time the flights correctly). Without them, travel would be much more difficult, and impossible to maintain at the rate it is now, with people coming and going from all places at all times.
    2. New technologies: Airbnb, couchsurfing, Google flights, high speed trains, social media, Cameras. These are all technologies that help to facilitate the process of travel. They make lodging cheaper (or free!), make travel cheaper, and speed up the process. It makes traveling a more streamlined experience, one that is faster and more pleasant for the consumer. They also help to connect the traveler with their environment. With technologies such as airbnb, couchsurfing, and even social media to an extent, you are able to live and interact with those who are familiar with whichever city you are in, and it adds an extra dimension to the experience that would probably be lost if you had stayed in a beige box in a high rise hotel. Social media may also help you to give a window to those that would otherwise be unable to see certain places. Along with that, cameras in all their forms help you to remember the trip, and share the experience with people around the globe.
  5. Technologies that inhibit travel/interaction – negative effects of the influx of technology on our lives.
    1. Social Media – things such as facebook, instagram, twitter. Do our experiences become more about making people jealous, or gaining meaningless likes, as opposed to really seeing something and taking it in?
    2. Cameras – with a camera at our fingertips, does what we take pictures of become less significant? When we have a camera roll of 700 photos, what is worthwhile and what isn’t? Who determines this?
    3. High Speed Trains – though generally good, could it be said that they prevent one from seeing lesser-known areas, or the seedier sides of countries? Additionally, do they feed into the culture of instant gratification that we have built worldwide.
  6. Conclusion – final thoughts on the positives and negatives of technology when traveling, and ways to harness its power without negatively impacting ourselves.

Technology and Travel

If anyone has spoken to me in the past month, they probably know that I went to Spain for spring break. I went alone, to a city where I knew no one, and where they spoke a language other than English. Sure, I speak enough Spanish that I was able to talk to anyone I needed to and navigate through the country without problems, but it was still a foreign environment. (for the most part I had no problems – I did have the tendency to just choose foods at random in restaurants because the menu made no sense).

However, there was one aspect of my trip that was very prevalent: technology. Oftentimes when people talk about travel and its benefits, they talk about “disconnecting” and “getting away from it all”. For me, that feeling was very difficult to find, and apart from maybe one instance, I was probably connected for the entire week. If I needed wifi I could go to the nearest American chain restaurant, my phone still sent text messages, and it was usually either in my purse or in my hand, as I used it as my primary camera. Perhaps it was because I was in a big city, and if I were backpacking through the Alaskan wilderness things would be different, however, to me I feel that we have reached the point where connection is omnipresent – even if I were backpacking, I would probably bring something with me that had GPS. (And I would definitely not be alone).

With that experience, I want to be able to explore the connections that we have with technology and how it has affected travel for individuals. Do we even have to travel to see new places? We have instagram that gives us pictures of every place in the world. Do we even gain new experiences when we visit new places? Sure, they are new to us, but I know that I was not the first person to take a panorama of el Valle de los Caídos, and I definitely won’t be the last. Finally, is true disconnection, or at least a disconnection with our origins, even possible? I don’t know. I definitely wasn’t able to achieve it last week. Even considering the people that I met on my trip, the interaction with them was different as a result of technology. We didn’t just “meet up”, we used whatsapp (or wasap, as it is commonly referred to by Spanish-speakers) to make plans, facebook to make sure we keep “in touch” as our respective journeys end, and instagram to take pictures of the memories we were making. What happened to experiencing without recording? When we have to take a moment to take a picture of what we’re doing, it removes us from the act of eating, the act of talking, the act of seeing, the act of living. Technology has changed travel irrevocably. Sure, in some ways it facilitates exploration – 100 years ago I wouldn’t have been able to fly from Ohio to Madrid in less than 12 hours, but in other ways it hinders it. Maybe travelers would be better served by leaving the technology behind – not always, but sometimes it just might help us to access why we travel in the first place.

The Evolution of Political Music and the Protest Song

Music is a form of expression that has the potential to speak to people on a deeper level. In “The Medium is the Massage,” McLuhan discusses the evolution of communication. Though he says that media is “pervasive in their personal, political, economic, aesthetic, psychological, moral, ethical, and social consequences,” he mentions sound as being the original sense, and how man used to live in an “acoustic space”. This connection to humanity’s roots is why music has been used throughout history to attempt to influence thoughts, beliefs, and actions. Music allows the artist to exert their influence and belief over society in a different way, yet still in a manner that is easily accessible. The “protest song” is one distinctive method through which artists transmit their personal beliefs to a large audience, but this method may take several forms. Despite a statement from Phil Ochs that the protest song is “a song that’s so specific that you cannot mistake it for shit,” the protest song has in fact taken several forms throughout its evolution over the last centuries, shaping both the society that the artist wishes to influence and the political commentary being made.

McLuhan discusses how different forms of media are separate extensions, and the different ways that protest message is delivered is an extension of the direct protest song. This forces us to think about what we are hearing, and to interpret and derive the truth from our initial perceptions. Political messages through music can be transmitted in several ways. Some messages may be forthright, with a direct message that is unmistakable. For example, Edwin Starr sang “War, huh, yeah/What is it good for/Absolutely Nothing.” Messages such as this one are clear and easily identify the song as a form of protest. However, other protest songs may be more metaphorical, using different situations to convey a message. Matt Kearney has a song, “Girl America” that uses a story of a girl to talk about the plight of the United States. Some songs may be considered protest songs purely based on their situational use. The civil rights movement’s most famous song was “We Shall Overcome”, a form of an anthem for the movement. However, the song was not written specifically for civil rights, rather, it has roots in much older spirituals. Finally, it is possible to find protest songs written in code.  This was often done as a way to reach the people without putting the message’s deliverer at risk. The coded message has been employed many times throughout history, one example can be found from the Carnation Revolution in Portugal, with the song “Grândola Vila Morena” being used as a signal to start the coup.

The origin of the protest song is difficult to pinpoint. Examples can be found in nearly every society, as most societies have gone through times of unrest throughout their history. One of the earliest examples of a protest song was from the opera Nabucco, by Verdi, in which one of the choruses was used as a rallying cry for the Italians to break free from Austrian and French domination. Political music has also been visible throughout the beginnings of the United States. In fact, the United States’ national anthem was written as a response to a battle that occurred during the war of 1812, and was used throughout newspapers at the time. (Though it wasn’t officially set to music for several years.) Later on, songs were seen in Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union. However, despite the continuing prevalence of political music, the tue heyday for the protest song came quite some time later in the United States, during the 1960s and 70s.

“When these ratios [of the senses] change, men change.” (McLuhan, 41) The 1960s and 70s brought a lot of change in the United States, with changing communication dynamics and globalization, as well as civil unrest. There was a semi-rebellion from the traditional values that were prevalent in the 1950s, and the Vietnam War, a war which many considered unnecessary and illegal, stirred up many emotions. The 1960s heralded the beginning of the “hippies”, and peace and anti-war sentiment was strong. For this reason, the protest song really began to catch on. Perhaps one of the most famous songs that advocates peace was released during this time, “Imagine”, by John Lennon. This song included lyrics explicitly promoting peaceful togetherness, such as “Imagine there’s no countries, it isn’t hard to do/ Nothing to kill or die for, and no religion too.” There were also several popular anti-war songs, such as “Blowin’ in the Wind” by Bob Dylan, with lyrics like “How many times must the cannonballs fly/ Before they’re forever banned?” Some of the most famous anti-war songs come from the 1960s and 70s, yet they are still relevant to many situations unfolding in the world today, which may be a result of our Western background, our tendency to view our environment as continuous. (McLuhan, 45)

However, as the Vietnam War drew to a close and American society began to focus on different issues, the protest song in the United States changed as well. We have experienced a “step-by step linear departmentalizing process”, to borrow from McLuhan’s description of our reaction to the alphabet. (McLuhan, 45) Today we see many different viewpoints, instead of the more liberal tone that previous songs have taken. The pro-patriotism and pro-military viewpoint is mostly seen today in country music, in songs such as “Courtesy of the Red, White, and Blue” by Toby Keith, in which the artist includes pro-war lyrics such as “This big dog will fight/ When you rattle his cage/ And you’ll be sorry you messed with the U.S. of A./ ‘Cause we’ll put a boot in your ass/ It’s the American way.” American protest songs have also been more responsive to single events, rather than ongoing situations. For example, after Hurricane Katrina and 9/11, a number of songs were released that gave support or commented on the situation. Finally, social issues tend to be promoted more often. For example, a large issue seen in protests songs in the last decade has been marriage equality, with songs written both in support and against it. “Same Love” by Macklemore specifically came out in support of gay marriage, saying “A certificate on paper isn’t gonna solve it all/ But it’s a damn good place to start.” In contrast, many other hip-hop songs have contained anti-gay slurs, with Eminem receiving a lot of criticism. However, with protest songs, as society changes their prevalence changes as well. They may fall in and out of vogue as different issues take center stage. In the United States, it may even be possible to say that the true protest song no longer exists. However, this decline domestically does not translate to a decline internationally. One center of political turmoil throughout the past century has been Latin America.

The Latin American protest song has roots as deep as they are diverse, as does the protest song in the United States. However, one key difference is its continuity, without so much compartmentalization that has occurred in the United States. NPR has discussed this prevalence of political music in Latin American culture, and how it has been an art.The songs have taken new forms over the past few decades, changing themes from the civil wars and brutal dictators, to the need for more education, the prevalence of drug violence, and political status of different countries.

The deeper roots for Latin American protest music is based in the 1950s and 60s, similar to the United States. Much of the music came from Cuba and Mexico, protesting brutal regimes, and the need for revolution. In Cuba, Fidel and Guevara’s revolution didn’t end the music, rather, it helped the music to continue. With the United States’ help through initiatives such as the “War on Drugs”, civil unrest has been prolonged in those regions, and has spread to many others. Many bands today carry on the tradition of protest music; one in particular is Calle 13. A puerto rican duo, they sing about a vast variety of issues, those from the past and the present. In “Latinoamérica”, they discuss the need for unity among the South and Central American countries, and how it will be necessary to be powerful in the future. They also comment on newer problems faced in Latin America, such as the prevalence of drugs. Additionally, they sing about world issues, such as poverty and violence, as seen in their song “La Bala” (“The Bullet”) when they say “Hay poco dinero pero hay muchas balas” (“There is little money but there are a lot of bullets”). They also talk about the problems in society in general, as the talk about in “Los Idiotas”, saying “Pa’ separarnos con la arrogancia de que en el mundo somos el centro, mejor unificarnos con el idiota que todos llevamos dentro” (“In order to separate ourselves from the arrogance of that we are the center of the world, it is better to unite ourselves with the idiot we all carry inside”). Other artists attempt to appeal to the United States to deliver their messages, with Ricardo Arjona asking what life would be like if the Southern Hemisphere switched places with the United States. (Although, he comes to the conclusion that life might be pretty much the same.)

Ultimately, the protest song has been present throughout all of history, a “vagabundo”, following the changes. Wherever society is shifting, for better or worse, the protest song is present. Its presence can be explained by its primitive nature, despite its evolution. Our ears are the original sense, and those that use music as a form of politics speak to that sense, allowing us to connect with something from long ago, and adding another aspect of sensation and perception to our immediate environments.


Works Cited

Dylan, Bob. Blowin in the Wind. Columbia, 1962. MP3.

Garsd, Jasmine. “Es Un Monstruo Grande Y Pisa Fuerte: 12 Latin American Protest Songs.” NPR. NPR, 21 Dec. 2011. Web. 04 Mar. 2015. <http://www.npr.org/2011/12/21/143669266/es-un-monstruo-grande-y-pisa-fuerte-12-latin-american-protest-songs&gt;.

Keith, Toby. Courtesy of the Red, White and Blue the Angry American. DreamWorks Records Nashville, 2002. MP3.

Lennon, John. Imagine. Capitol, 1971. MP3.

Macklemore, and Mary Lambert. Same Love. Macklemore & Ryan Lewis. 2012. MP3.

McLuhan, Marshall, Quentin Fiore, and Jerome Agel. The Medium Is the Massage. New York: Bantam, 1967. Print.

Perez Joglar, René. Latinoamérica. Calle 13. 2010. MP3.

Peréz Joglar, René. La Bala. Calle 13. 2010. MP3.

Peréz Joglar, René. Los Idiotas. Calle 13. 2014. MP3.

“Revolutionary Freedom Song Interrupts Parliamentary Debate.” The Portugal News. N.p., 16 Feb. 2013. Web. 04 Mar. 2015. <http://www.theportugalnews.com/news/revolutionary-freedom-song-interrupts-parliamentary-debate/27779>.

Starr, Edwin. War. Brilliant/Digimode Entertainment, 1973. MP3.

Blog #3 – the Digital Self

We tend to think of ourselves as being one person, one identity, one personality. But these days, more and more, people are beginning to have different characters that they play in their digital lives, and as discussed by Turkle in “Alone Together”, this new character is generally a “new and improved” self, one that we aspire to be. This character has none of the worries and insecurities that run through our minds on a daily basis, and is generally tailored to appeal to as many people as possible. The new creation is, as stated by Watson, a result of us being the “creator and the user”.  As a result, we are more linked and still separated.

For me, it has been more interesting to note the “evolution” of the online life. When I first started using social media, or facebook specifically, I took part in almost everything there was to offer. There were quizzes, “flair” buttons, farmville… Yet today I barely use facebook at all. I do use it as a place to store photos so that my long-distance family and friends can easily see them, and I generally only update my status if something major has happened in my life. (For example, when I changed my major, I put it on facebook rather than text everyone directly.) And I think the same holds true for all social media – initially the new platform is highly used, but then the novelty fades and it becomes more of a chore. Another instance of this has been snapchat. At first it was fun – I can send weird pictures to my friends and let them have a clear picture of what I’m doing. But now, it’s another chore where a snap means that I’ll probably have to reply, and then it’s another conversation.

When I talk to my friends, they say the same thing. Everyone gravitates toward the new and the original, but eventually it fades and they only use the medium on occasion, or no more than they do their other social media platforms. Of course, there are some that eschew all social media – one friend only has a facebook, and only uses it to talk to friends in different countries that he can’t see on a regular basis. On the other hand, some friends are curators of their digital presence, joking that, “if you didn’t post pictures, did it actually happen?”

In the end, it’s important to remember that despite their failings. each new social media platform does end up leaving something positive. Instagram is a visual way to explore new places, facebook is an easy way to update the older relatives on your life, and so on. What’s important is to not create two separate identities, and to remember that our digital self isn’t a chance to create a new person, rather, a new way to express who we already are. To play off of Watson, our self authorship shouldn’t deform nor reform our sense of self, it should simply allow it to be present in a different arena.

Sources; Conversations with friends over how they use social media.

The Medium is the Music?

McLuhan talks about, among other things, the medium being the key of how the message is transmitted and received by its target audience. With the focus on music as the medium of transmission, desired messages can be shared in unique ways that strike close to the core of who we are as humans. As described by MIT, music is a “pervasive environmental influence” (1).  This is also in accordance with McLuhan’s thoughts on hearing being the one thing that is always present, and most importantly, the thing we tend to ignore most. Is hearing believing? If so, how does music influence our beliefs?

In my opinion, music today is one of the purest connections we have with our ancestors. According to National Geographic, music in the past may have helped to unite groups (2), and today it does the same thing, albeit in a slightly different way. That is to say, it unites us with our past. How often do you hear a song and feel the need to move in response? How can a different beat change your day? Do you feel the music, have it your head all day? I know that I experience this on a daily basis.

Because of this connection the message transmitted through music can speak to us very deeply, whether it be a political message, an emotional one, or one that simply makes us think and alter our perspective. This ability is rare in today’s world, with a media environment that is pervasive and in a constant state of flux, a constant rushing inundation of the newest, the breaking, and the trending. Yet, if we take a 3 minute respite from the flood and engage our hearing and let ourselves feel completely, our entire state of consciousness can change. Have you ever walked into a church and heard the hymns? Or heard chanting of monks? Regardless of one’s level of spirituality (I admit that mine is nonexistent) the sound can make one feel more in touch with one’s essence and direction.

This potential once again reinforces McLuhan’s claim that hearing is the one sense that is always present, and possibly his assertion that hearing is believing. We do tend to take things more seriously when said in song, do we not? There’s a reason that love songs are so popular, and that John Cusack’s character used a boom box to get the girl in the classic movie “Say Anything”. We all know that the right soundtrack can alter our beliefs and emotions, and most of the time it will strengthen them, and make us feel and believe more deeply and profoundly than before.

The medium is the music. The music transmits feeling and belief across generations that disappeared long ago, and will continue to do so in the future. It’s inherent in the way that mothers sing to their babies, and the way that we create rhythm all around us. As stated in one of my favorite movies, August Rush, “The music is all around us. All you have to do is listen”.  The omnipresence of music unites us, and despite our other media cluttering us more and more with each day, there will always be the place inside of us that connects with the past, and our true nature.

1 Minsky, Marvin. “Music, Mind, and Meaning.” Music, Mind, and Meaning. MIT, 1981. Web. 05 Feb. 2015. <https://web.media.mit.edu/~minsky/papers/MusicMindMeaning.html&gt;.

2  Silver, Marc. “Why Did Humans Invent Music?” National Geographic. National Geographic Society, 24 Aug. 2013. Web. 01 Feb. 2015. <http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2013/08/130824-invention-music-phish-stevie-wonder-blurred-lines-robin-thicke/&gt;.

Artifact Politics

In the last decades, countless numbers of new technologies have been developed – the one I would like to focus on is Duolingo, or more generally, the development of free language-learning software. For those unaware, Duolingo is a website that allows you to learn languages through various quizzes and games, and there is a progression in what you learn. There are many languages available, from the common ones such as Spanish and French, to the less well-known, such as Dutch and Swedish. Personally, I have completed both the Spanish and Portuguese programs, and am currently starting on French. While you probably won’t become fluent if exclusively using Duolingo and not supplementing your learning with other sources (I am a Spanish minor, and take Portuguese classes, so I use it as a more supplemental source), it can provide a solid base to learning a language, as well as the tools necessary to improve and apply the language to real life.(1) (There is one section of the website entirely dedicated to translating articles.)

While one may not expect language-learning software to have politics, I do believe that Duolingo, and other similar resources, does have very specific political and social implications. (And generally, I also believe that they are beneficial) Primarily, it encourages the globalization and cultural exchange that has become prevalent in the late 20th and 21st centuries, without the classist implications that are provided by other, pricer options such as Rosetta Stone. Free opportunities to learn languages encourages those who may lack other resources to gain skills that may otherwise be uncommon, and this can help to set people apart in the workforce and give them opportunities for advancement. In addition to career opportunities that Duolingo may provide, it also helps to allow for deeper cultural exchange, whether through travel to different countries, or through interaction with immigrants in one’s home country. Furthermore, through the facilitating of cultural exchange, one might say that Duolingo disrupts the traditional “tourism” mentality that some Americans may have, and encourages the sharing of knowledge and experiences globally. Finally, a key impact that duolingo has is that it doesn’t just have courses for english speakers – you can learn English from Tagalog, or French from German. This opens up opportunities worldwide, and might even help to facilitate understanding and peace.

Another social impact that Duolingo may have is that it encourages grassroots movements that could be seen as democratic. Every course on Duolingo is written by contributors – if you’re bilingual in the languages they are creating the course for, you are welcome to help. Furthermore, those that use the course to learn are able to report things that they notice are incorrect, or suggest additional translations (which can be corrected or adjusted and voted on by the community as a whole). This creates a community effort of people working toward a common goal – learning languages and broadening their horizons, so to speak.

However, there is one political aspect of Duolingo that potentially does not lead to progress – it’s Western focus. As a whole, the most resources are available for those who already speak English, and those resources are generally focused on the areas that are already developed economically. There are no opportunities for English-speakers to learn languages that don’t use our alphabet. (Though Russian is being developed.) Though this is partially expected, as Duolingo was started in the United States, the process of expansion has been quite slow. (This may also be attributed to the grassroots nature of the technology.) Additionally, as the Economist describes, it’s clientele may be limited by its style of teaching.(1) Still, despite this potential failing, the opportunities that are created through programs that help people to learn languages are innumerable. They can encourage globalization, and the sense of community on a planet of 7 billion people.

Kathryn Gasior

Image Source: http://www.duolingo.com

1. The Economist: “Review: Babbel and Duolingo.” http://www.economist.com. 13 June 2014.