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.

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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.