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.

Endnotes:

(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 Evolution of Video Gaming

Video Games and consoles have expanded greatly in the last few decades. They have brought e  ndless hours of entertainment to millions of people all over the world, myself included. The evolution of video gaming has changed our world in a variety of ways. No longer do people view video gaming the same way. To many people, video gaming is much more than just something done to have fun and waste some time. It is a gateway for advanced communication and technology.

I have played video games since as long as I can remember. It started when I was very young. My neighbor had the Nintendo-64 and I would go to his house almost every day and play games for hours. It was the first gaming system that I was fortunate enough to play, and it truly inspired my future connections with video gaming. It wasn’t until my parents said I was playing video games too much that my playtime decreased. However, a few years later my parents bought me the Nintendo GameCube, and this was the first time I experienced some of the changes of an upgraded video game system. The first apparent change was that I had a larger selection of games to play. It seemed like what used to be only Mario games expanded to a much larger variety. Some of my favorite games were Super Mario Sunshine, Pikmin and NFL Blitz; all were much different but equally fun. Many years later, I was lucky enough to get the Microsoft Xbox 360 for Christmas. I remember the first time I played on it. It seemed completely foreign to me, as the capabilities of the Xbox 360 were something I had never seen before. First off, the graphics were much better. Everything seemed much more life-like and this was one of the main attractions compared to older systems. One of my favorite games was Guitar Hero, which was a game where you had a fake guitar with 5 buttons on it and you could strum along to real songs. This later made me believe I was good at playing the guitar, so I purchased a real guitar awhile later and tried to play, but the hobby didn’t stick. Another great feature of the Xbox 360 was the online capability. You could connect with players all around the world to challenge and communicate with them. It was very fun because it gave you the opportunity to test your skills against the best players in the world.

Now that I have talked a bit on my experience with video games, and the evolutions that I have seen first hand, I will focus on the evolutions throughout the entire life of the video gaming industry- one of the biggest changes is the variety of games. When consoles were just being made they would simply be a single game, or only have the capability to play a few different games. In today’s world, however, there are hundreds of games on a variety of different gaming systems that we can choose from. If you do not like action games, you can play sports games. If you do not like sports games, you can play adventure games, and so on. The opportunities now seem to be endless. Another huge part of the industry’s evolution has been the changes in graphics, as discussed earlier. Video games now almost give you a feeling of real life, as if you are really there in the action. This has really expanded the user base because people feel like they’re actually a part of the game. Another way consoles have expanded is in their capabilities. Consoles can now do much more than play games. They can connect to the Internet and play movies. You can use them to watch Netflix, or even connect to your favorite social media websites. It really is mind-blowing to think about all the capabilities that some of the modern consoles have, and I can’t wait to see how they continue to expand in the future.

As people experience the changes in video gaming technology, they are changing with them. As stated earlier, one evolution of the video gaming industry is online play. This allows people from all over the world to connect and challenge each other at their favorite games. It brings in new competitive and social aspects to video gaming. You can challenge the best players in a certain game, and instantly talk to people from anywhere in the world with a headset. This is a very enjoyable aspect of video gaming in the modern age, and one of the reasons for the large increase in the number of video gamers.

Alone Together by Sherry Turkle takes an interesting viewpoint that allows us to look at the evolution of video gaming in a different way. The book explores the idea that as technology expands, there are more ways to be connected, networked and to be together. However, while video games may connect us in many ways, they may actually make us more physically alone. As discussed earlier, the new generation of gaming consoles allows for greater connection and communication through online play. We hop on our favorite video games and we’re able to talk to people all around the globe and even become friends with them. But we are not with them, and we will most likely never see them. This is a problem that affects people, mostly children and teenagers, from all around the world. People lack the desire for true friendship because they think the people they talk to online are their friends. Even though this can be true and some people do make good friends online, this is a very unhealthy concept that has adverse affects on people. It will often cause people to be unsociable in real life. It is very interesting to think about the ways that video games connect us in many ways, but make us more disconnected in other ways.

Another interesting change in video gaming is the shift to more female gamers.

Video games are often seen as being mainly used by males, whom are usually stereotyped as teenagers. This is far from the truth. It really boils down to the type of game being played; for example, you are more likely to see a male playing a first-person shooter than you are to see a female. This is because video games are marketed to their respective audiences, and there has been a recent rise in marketing to females. One game series that is marketed towards females is Sims, which is a game where people can create a home and family, and really make their own fictional world. While many games like this target a female audience, gaming on home consoles isn’t the preferred method by females. The majority of female gamers are actually playing games on their mobile devices. The marketing of games on phones is much less gender-based, which is a reason for the large number of females playing them. Another method of gaming that has appealed to females is the Nintendo Wii. The Wii can be seen as a fitness device and has a large appeal to females because it is more active. With these new marketing techniques and gaming methods, the population of female gamers has been rapidly increasing.

Besides the enjoyment that video games bring, why do we really care about how video games evolve? Well, there are many positive and negative affects that video gaming has on people, and many of these affects are due to the advances within the industry. Lets first look at some of the negatives. One of the biggest arguments against the playing of video games is the possibility of negatively affecting one’s health. This is usually only seen in people who play excessively, to the point where it keeps them from doing other activities. For example, a teenager that’s playing video games for 8 hours every day may not get the exercise that they should, or may even divert their attention from school and start to get bad grades. These are some of the reasons why people may stereotype video gamers as obese teenagers who are wasting their lives sitting on the couch all day. However, this is obviously an extreme case, and far from true for all people that play video games. Another negative is the possibility for video games to cause aggression, which is often seen when people are playing violent games. Some of the most popular games are violent, and children who play these games often display aggressive behaviors. There have been cases where kids have actually killed others because of there experiences with these games. This is why it’s very important for video game usage in children to be monitored, either by limiting the type of games played, or by limiting the time playing violent games.

While most people are able to point out some of these negative impacts, they often fail to see some of the positives of video games. One of these includes the fact that video games may improve computer literacy and coordination, which is mostly seen in children. (1) This may allow them to be able to perform computer tasks more efficiently or even enhance performance in sports. There are also video games specifically designed for educational purposes and these are great learning techniques for children.

There are many ways that video gaming has evolved since the first years that the industry was introduced. This was made possible by the great advances in technology and intellect. The evolution of video gaming has allowed for millions of people to be thoroughly entertained and there are many good and bad impacts stemming from these changes. It’s important to realize potential risks and benefits of playing video games, and to monitor the usage amongst children. Video games affect people in more ways than most people think. They evoke emotions and they change personalities, and these changes are only getting more common as technology in video games advance. I can’t wait to see what the future of this technology has in store for us, as well as how these technological advances will continue to shape human behavior.

Work Cited

1.) “The Impact of Video Games.” The Impact of Video Games. N.p., n.d.

Web. 27 Apr. 2015. <http://www.pamf.org/parenting-teens/general/media-web/videogames.html&gt;.

2.) “Female Gamers On The Rise.” Forbes. Forbes Magazine, n.d. Web. 15

Apr. 2015. <http://www.forbes.com/2009/07/06/video-games-girls-markets-equities-technology.html&gt;.

3.) “The Art of Video Games.” Smithsonian. N.p., n.d. Web. 15 Apr. 2015.

<http://www.smithsonianmag.com/arts-culture/the-art-of-video-

4.) Turkle, Sherry. Alone Together: Why We Expect More from Technology and Less

from Each Other. Basic, 2011. Print.

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.

Ring ring…. anyone there?

evolution-of-cell-phones-technology

What comes to your mind when you think of cellphones? Do you think about the usefulness of it? The appearance? Cellphones have a long history that goes back to the 1940s. The main purpose of the earlier cellphones were a more convenient way of communication. Some were fortunate enough to have phones at home but there was a need to be able to communicate to others when they weren’t home.

1949 was the very beginning of cellphones. It started with Mobile Telephone Service which were not at all like the cellphones we have now a days. It was set up by an operator and it was like a big box. By 1965, the Mobile Telephone Service was improvised by having the customer dial, instead of an operator. This still needed much more improvement because it wasn’t very “mobile”. Most cellphones were more like car phones because of the size. The phones were in the cars.

On 1983, Motorola introduced the DynaTAC 8000x. This created the first handheld mobile phone. That model is very similar to the phones we might have seen our parents have or seen on movies and television. Many shows such as Saved by the Bell and Wall Street show those legendary cellphones that looked like a brick. Being expensive, most couldn’t afford to buy it for personal use. People that used it and had it were in the business and sales world. Dr. Cooper had finally made the first handheld mobile phone. His purpose behind it was to make a mobile phone for people to communicate.

Cellphones after the DynaTAC 8000x became smaller, cooler, and better. For me, the first phone I used was a Nokia 3210. Yes, those phones that kids see as a brick now a days. As cellphones improved, the purpose of cellphones started to change. The very first cellphones had one purpose, talking. As more technological advances were created and discovered, more features were able to be incorporated into cellphones. Features such as voicemail, contacts, and games were added. Talking was still the main purpose.

Then cellphones had a big enough memory that people could add music and take pictures with it. With new features like this, the purpose of a cellphone started to shift. Although talking was and is still the main purpose. Cellphones nowadays are used for more than just talking. People can listen to music, take pictures, browse the web, text, and play games. The purpose of talking shift to communicate. With different apps and features we can still stay in contact and communicate with other without “talking”. We can communicate with other by texting them or using social media.

Many of this generation rarely make a phone call on their cellphone. They can spend hours on the phone to communicate with others through social media and browse the web but on very rare occasions, they will call someone. I only call people when it is urgent or emergency. I rarely call a person to catch up with them. I would much rather send them a text in that situation. Even when I talk to my parents, I don’t call any more like I used to a couple years ago. I use different apps and social media to contact them. I skype them more that I call them.

As cellphones keep improving to adjust our lives. We will see different features added to complement our lives. So for now, my opinion on the purpose of cellphones are for people to communicate and make peoples’ lives easier and more convenient.

Footnote

1. http://new.artinstitutes.edu/Blog/the-history-and-evolution-of-cell-phones

2. Image: http://yourfirstsmartphone.com/evolution-of-cell-phones-technology/

Video Game Consoles

Video Games and consoles have expanded greatly in the last few decades. They have brought endless hours of entertainment to millions of people all over the world, myself included. It is very interesting to think about how they have changed our world, which has come mainly in the form of communication.

Let’s first look at some of the video game consoles we have seen over the last few decades. Think back to the first gaming system you can think of, or maybe the first one you played on. For me, it was the Nintendo 64. I would spend hours everyday with my friend next door playing Mario Kart. But even before the Nintendo 64, there were consoles such as the Atari and the Odyssey. There were also handheld video game systems such as the Gameboy and the PlayStation Portable, which came much later. Two of the biggest home video game console makers are Sony, who created the PlayStation line, and Microsoft, with the creation of the Xbox line. Within the last two decades we have seen three different Xbox consoles, and four different PlayStation consoles. Video Gaming is an extremely large industry, and one in which won’t go away anytime in the near future.

So how exactly have these consoles evolved? One of the biggest things that has changed is the variety of games. When consoles were just being made they would simply be a single game, or only have the capability to play a few different games. In today’s world, however, there are hundreds of games on a variety of different gaming systems that we can choose from. If you don’t like action games, you can play sports games. If you don’t like sports games, you can play adventure games, and so on. The opportunities now seem to be endless. Another huge part of the industries evolution has been the changes in graphics. Video games now almost give you a feeling of real life, as if you are really there in the action. This has really expanded the user base because people feel like they’re actually a part of the game. Another way consoles have expanded is in their capabilities. Consoles can now do much more than play games. They can connect to the Internet and play movies. You can use them to watch Netflix, or even connect to your favorite social media websites. It really is crazy to think about all the capabilities that some of the modern consoles have, and I can’t wait to see where they go in the future.

The numbers are staggering. According to an online study, over 700 million people are playing games online. Another study shows that over 34 million people, in the United States alone, play video games for at least 22 hours a week. This is more than half of the time it would take to work a full time job! Whether this time is well spent or wasted is an argument left for other people, but I do know that video games give people joy all around the world.

Works Cited

“Study: 1.2 Billion People Are Playing Games Worldwide; 700M of Them Are Online – GeekWire.” GeekWire. N.p., 25 Nov. 2013. Web. 26 Mar. 2015. <http://www.geekwire.com/2013/gaming-report-12-billion-people-playing-games-worldwide/&gt;.

“Study: 1.2 Billion People Are Playing Games Worldwide; 700M of Them Are Online – GeekWire.” GeekWire. N.p., 25 Nov. 2013. Web. 26 Mar. 2015. <http://www.geekwire.com/2013/gaming-report-12-billion-people-playing-games-worldwide/&gt;.

Social Media Privacy

Ariel Flasterstein

Comparative Studies 2367.02

Prof. Seth Josephson

March 11, 2015

The Internet completely changed human interaction and the way the society communicates as a whole. I like to think that everything that gets out on the Internet becomes a tiny archive folder in a sea of folders, all neatly organized for us to access in the simplest of ways. When we search or “google” any word we instantly get hundreds of thousands of matching results. Not only are you getting an immense amount of information from the website but also that same search engine will remember what you just searched for and gather information about you. On most cases with good intentions this information is sold as data for marketing strategies and targeted advertisements.

Sherry Turkle wrote on her book Alone Together about how we expect more and more from machines and technology, and less from other human beings. She believes “…we are changed as technology offers us substitutes for connecting with each other face-to-face. We are offered robots and a whole world of machine-mediated relationships on networked devices. As we instant-message, e-mail, text, and Twitter, technology redraws the boundaries between intimacy and solitude.” We might confuse the Internet and social networks as an intimate private space where we can connect with other people; instead we are opening up and “making public” our information. This sense of privacy given by the anonymity of the Internet is nothing more than an illusion as everything, or at least most interactions, we have with the web are recorded and could be accessed by the companies owners, random individuals and even the government.

As written by Langdon Winner in his first line of Do artifacts have politics?: “No idea is more provocative in controversies about technology and society than the notion that technical things have political qualities.” We cannot excuse the Internet and social media from their political realities. There is a lot of power behind controlling or monitoring the Internet therefore there are big interests involved around it. The Internet was created for very political motives, the need of a communications network for the use of the U.S. Department of Defense, but now with the participation of large corporations and the general public in this same network not only countries have political interest but companies and individuals as well. Social networks became a platform for political candidates to address the public and spread their ideological agendas. Winner explained, to be fair with technology, that “Hence, the stern advice commonly given those who flirt with the notion that technical artifacts have political qualities: What matters is not technology itself, but the social or economic system in which it is embedded”. Therefore we cannot blame either the Internet or social networks for its political inherence but on the specific companies and individuals that want the power behind controlling the millions of data stored on the web.

Today most information is kept online, making it harder and harder to safeguard, so the future of social media is linked to the amount of security and privacy these social media companies provide. How much “stalking” or research on one’s social media is considered invasion of privacy? These relatively new ethical questions have been growing quickly as the public has become more aware of their privacy loss. The way companies deal with the legal liabilities, involved with saving and utilizing your information, is through privacy statements.

A communications professor, Joseph Turow, offers some great insight about privacy statements. His research focuses on digital culture and he points out that the general understanding of a privacy policy is that it protects our privacy, which is erroneous. He defines privacy policies simply as the legal documents that explain how customer data will be managed and used by that company. Not only does his research showed that more than half of the “digitally active” Americans do not know what a privacy policy is, but even the ones that try to read them and understand them find themselves delved in a long, tedious and confusing document. Turow said: “These misperceptions are enhanced by privacy policies that are often difficult to interpret, even to the small number of consumers who do try to read them (…) researchers have found that people do not read privacy policies — they’re unreadable. They are filled with jargon that is meant to be understandable only to the people writing them, or to people who work in the advertising industry today.” We assume that any legal document, in this case privacy statements, will protect our interests and privacy but that is not the example on most of these documents but as we normally do not read them we will never know.

There is a similar issue happening between governments and their populations. Under the idea and promise to ensure the safety of its people the governments have both explicit and implicit permission to “stalk” over social media and other social communications platforms such as phones. This particular issue was brought to the public eye most recently by the famous WikiLeaks, disclosing over a million of documents from different governments and their intelligence agencies. In this incident people became aware of the global mass surveillance existing in this world, and although it can be legal it is pretty disturbing.

On a different setting, it has become harder and harder to separate your professional life from your social life. Social networks are a double-edged sword, having your profile out on the Internet can help companies find you as a potential employee and connect you with other professionals to build a business network. On the other edge of the sword universities can quickly judge you through your social persona and an employer’s perception of you might be affected by your online behavior. Even though your social media account might not be completely accurate or a true reflection of yourself, judging a book by its cover is still a strong tendency. This loss of privacy can cause predetermined judgments on other people; at the same time it dehumanizes the hiring processes, as you become your digital self. You become a compilation of pictures and posts that have no context or tone.

These kinds of breaches to our privacy will eventually lead users of the Internet to be afraid of sharing information about them our about any other subject. This would case problems for a lot of companies that their main product is public information and data. Right now there is a lawsuit going on between the NSA and a group of plaintiffs that include the Wikimedia Foundation, who is the company in charge of the Encyclopedia Wikipedia. The journalist David Ingram wrote about the lawsuit and said these breaches “reduces the likelihood that clients, journalists, foreign government officials, victims of human rights abuses and other individuals will share sensitive information with them”. The lack on transparency and anonymity that is embedded on the Internet culture make it very tricky and complicated to regulate theses issues as the amount of information available to everyone is massive and tracking everyone’s interaction with the web is absurdly impossible. This field is largely unregulated and it will only continue to stumble upon more legal, ethical and moral issues, so policymakers should be aware and address these before some irreversible damage has been done to society and the Internet.

Being extremely optimistic and naïve the best solution to these problems come within the companies that gather your information. The more companies know about you the more they should value and take care of that information, in the end it’s the public who has the power to generate the information for these companies or in other words, the “ultimate” client.

In some cases I would not mind to know that the companies are using my information to improve their service or even to offer me merchandise, as long as they were honest on their privacy policies and I know specifically how my information is used. It is the not knowing and that paranoid feeling that someone or something is out to get you that generate the most of the insecurities about the Internet. Companies should try to balance or outweigh their use of our information with the service they provide or by giving us something “valuable” in exchange instead of hiding what they are doing. This “perfect” balance could satisfy both of the parts involved, where individuals would still want to use these social networks and input their information and companies would still be able to make profits out of the data they recollect.

Drawing this ethical line is very complicated and although I do not have an immediate answer I do believe there is a process in which all the involved parties should work on in order to convert this still blurry boundaries into clear rules for the game of social networks. A process where individuals demand their privacy rights, companies make strategies to have both their and our interests as the objective and governments being honest and truthful as to what extent they invade our privacy to ensure our safety. Hopefully the next coming years will clear out the unknowns and shape digital social communications for the better.

References:

Ingram, David. “ACLU, Wikimedia File Lawsuit Challenging NSA Mass Surveillance.” Reuters. Thomson Reuters, 10 Mar. 2015. Web. 3 Mar. 2015. <http://www.reuters.com/article/2015/03/10/us-usa-nsa-wikipedia-idUSKBN0M60YA20150310&gt;.

Smith, Aaron. “Half of Online Americans Don’t Know What a Privacy Policy Is.” Pew Research Center RSS. 4 Dec. 2014. Web. 2 Mar. 2015. <http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2014/12/04/half-of-americans-dont-know-what-a-privacy-policy-is/&gt;.

Turkle, Sherry. Alone Together: Why We Expect More from Technology and Less from Each Other. Basic, 2011. Print.

Winner, Langdon. “Do Artifacts Have Politics?” The Whale and the Reactor a Search for Limits in an Age of High Technology. Pbk. ed. Chicago: U of Chicago, 1989. Print.

Social Media as a Medium

Social media can be understood as a medium. A medium is a system that engages our senses. From the information gathered from it, our emotions and feelings can be developed. According to Merriam Webster, social media is a form of electronic communication (as Web sites for social networking and microblogging) through which users create online communities to share information, ideas, personal messages, and other content (Merriam Webster). Because social media is able to transmit information by sharing ideas, emotions, and sentiments through content and message in online communities it is understood as a medium.

The beginning of social media started with BBS (Bulletin Board System). A BBS is an online board where users can share files and games. Before wireless connection, users had to use telephone lines to connect to a BBS. BBS and CompuServe (the first commercial online service) aren’t exactly what we think of when we think of social media. AOL (America Online) is similar to current social media. AOL, similar to current social media, had users create a “Member Profile” in which it would list details about the users. Social media started to grow with sites such as Classmate.com and SixDegrees.com. Sites like that allowed users to connect with other users such as classmates and the start of making groups and creating online profiles (Digital Trends).

By 2002, social media sites such as Friendster (similar to SixDegrees) created communities by having a concept of “Circle of Friends” that let users with common bonds to connect. Because the success of Friendster only lasted for a little especially in countries such as Indonesia and the Philippines, Friendster decided to abandon social networking and become only an online gaming site.

In 2003, LinkedIn and Myspace were launched. Although both social media were very different, both became very successful. LinkedIn was a more professional social networking site that enable professionals to connect and network with other professionals. LinkedIn is also known as a professional social media. It is one of the largest and most well-known professional social network that started in the USA. It is used to connect and expand professional networks by showing skills, career information, and academic background. LinkedIn can help users explore opportunities, network, and look for careers.

On the other hand, Myspace started as a popular social media in which users could customize their page, add pictures, profile, friends, music, and etc. Myspace was popular among celebrities and musicians as they shared their music and projects on it. Myspace was created by people in the entertainment industry and not by technology gurus. Because of that, it couldn’t make advances and changes as fast as Facebook. That caused the failure of Myspace and allowed for the popularity of Facebook to increase. Facebook started as a college site by Mark Zuckerberg. Facebook was only for Harvard students but slowly expanded into other colleges and finally becoming open to the public. Facebook was similar to Myspace. Users could post pictures, videos, notes, and etc. The main difference was that when Facebook came into the social media world, it didn’t have many competitors. It only had Myspace and also it was exclusive to college students.

With Facebook already becoming so popular, other social media such as YouTube, Twitter, and Pinterest started to become part of people’s daily life. Every different social medium offered something different to the users. Video bloggers, musicians, and actors would use YouTube to show trailers of movies, songs, tutorials, and etc. Photographers and artists would show their work through Instagram. Businesses try to use most social media such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and etc. They would keep their social media updated by posting something about a new product or promotion. Celebrities would incorporate all social media to become more well-known in the industry. They would tweet new projects, their opinion, post trailers of their movies on YouTube, post pictures on Instagram.

YouTube is a video sharing website that was created in 2005 by three PayPal employees. YouTube allows users to upload, view, and share videos. The content on YouTube includes video clips, TV clips, movie trailers, video blogging, music videos, and etc. The idea behind YouTube came from Janet Jackson’s incident in the 2004 Super Bowl and the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami. The three PayPal employees wanted to create a social media in which people could share videos of topics being talked about. YouTube success wouldn’t have happened if it was limited to the United States. Being a social medium, YouTube could reach other countries. Currently YouTube is located in 53 countries with 61 languages. About 70% of the traffic comes from outside of the United States.

YouTube was able to change the way many different things work. It has changed education and knowledge by having videos of tutorials of “how-to” and with Khan’s Academy’s channel. Tutorials and educational channels have allow users to learn something new or get help on homework and projects. It has sparked innovation and creativity in users by creating new products and new projects and sharing them on YouTube. It created awareness on social issues such as Ice Bucket Challenge and Kony 2012. The Ice Bucket Challenge was a challenge in which people would raise awareness for ALS. Kony 2012 was a movement to capture Joseph Kony.

There aren’t solid ideas of the future of YouTube. Some social media are able to succeed but some aren’t. Although YouTube is very successful right now, that can change with the creation of a better and newer social medium that can replace YouTube. As of now, with the help of other technology and website such as Netflix, Hulu Plus, Smart TVs, YouTube can replace the way we watch television. Although televisions might not vanish in the near future, the way we watch TV has changed a lot. Many have Smart TVs that have YouTube, Netflix, Hulu Plus connected to it. This has decreased the number of households that will get cable to watch television.

Social media is a medium that is used to connect, interact, and meet other users. Social media has changed the way we communicate and interact with others. Not only are we able to reach a greater community through social media but with social media we can personalize and custom the way we want to be seen. Many celebrities, like Justin Bieber, became famous because of social media like YouTube by showcasing his talent. Like Smith and Watson says, we are able to brand ourselves on social media. We can put ourselves out there like a product. Making ourselves look the best way possible. Users can alter their identity and no one would know. Overall, social media is able to help and make human life more convenient but at the same time, has caused privacy issues and other problems. Social media can be used for our advantages such as promoting a business, getting help from friends, communicating with others. (Smith & Watson, “Studying the Digital Self”)

On the other hand, it can cause problems such as privacy, identity theft, and cyberbullying. How much of ourselves are we willing to put out to the public? Social media makes money by collecting your information and selling it to marketing sites. They customize your ads, to items you have searched or liked in the past. They are able to track what we are doing without being obvious. A new problem caused by social media is cyberbullying. According to Merriam Webster, cyberbullying is the electronic posting of mean-spirited messages about a person often done anonymously. Because of social media, cyberbullying has become a problem because we think that we can criticize and say mean comments online because no one will know who posted it. One can create a fake profile just to cyberbully others. Cyberbullying has become a big problem that has causes some users to commit suicide.

Although we use social media to connect with others, in the end is it really for that reason? Do we use social media to our advantage and use it as a way to make communication easier or is it pulling us apart? Turkle mentioned how even though it seems like we use social media to keep each other updated and communicate with each other through social media, we are actually alone. We are alone together. Turkle explains the impacts of social media using different examples of how people use it and change because of it. She says that technology and social media is able to meet our human vulnerabilities because we are alone but at the same time we are fearful of intimacy. Technology such as social media is able to offer the illusion of a friendship and companionship without demands (Turkle, 1). When we are online, we can ignore others because we can pretend we weren’t online or we didn’t see the message. When we are communicating face to face we aren’t able to hide and ignore others. Talking requires an immediate response while texting and using social media does not require an immediate response.

Another great point that Turkle mentions is the anxiety from social media. As mentioned earlier, people can lie when they set up their profile on social media. No one is checking so one can easily lie. This causes deception in social media. Social media is there for us to represent ourselves in a simple way but knowing that there is an audience, we tend to feel pressured to conform the simplifications. An example Turkle uses is Brad. He makes sure that through Facebook he is seems as “Mr. Cool”. He would omit different likes such as Harry Potter because it isn’t cool (Turkle, 185). Trying to perfect a social media profile and knowing that colleges and work places search for your social media profile had cause a lot of anxiety in humans. We believe that social media is supposed to be there to make ourselves look better but, we know that there is an audience, we spend a lot of time trying to perfect it and because of it, people are stressed.

The online world and social networks makes it seem like we are supposed to share everything on our mind. It doesn’t matter whether those thoughts are ignorant, ill considered, informative, or funny. We should all share our thoughts to broadcast it to the widest possible audience. (Turkle, 276) Sometimes the thought we have can become helpful to spread awareness on certain topics such as the ASL Ice Bucket Challenge. People would share videos of having ice buckets dump on them to spread awareness to educate and support ALS Association. Because of how popular the challenge was, more than $115 million have been donated to support people with ALS (“The ALS Ice Bucket Challenge”). Another popular event was Kony 2012. Kony 2012 is a short film produced by Invisible Children, Inc to promote and spread education on who Kony was and how he recruited child soldiers. The video was uploaded to YouTube and got a lot of attention. Users would share the video on other social media, tweet about it, and it even got celebrities such as Rihanna and Bill Gates talking about it. The video became viral really fast that within days of the video being posted, it got national and global media attention (Sanders).

Social media has not only created a digital self but it is also an archive of feeling. Even though social media is digital, our feelings and emotions are invested into social media. As Cvetkovich says that peoples’ personal lives were deeply entangled with their intellectual lives. (Cvetkovich, 2) Social media has become an archive of feeling for many because people have feelings and emotions towards them. Technology and social media has become a big part of our lives that a study from IDC Research found out that about 80% of smartphone users will check their phone within 15 minutes of waking up. People wake up to check what was posted on social media, check their emails, and etc. (Pinkham).

This shows that social media has its advantages and disadvantages and the way we use it to create our digital self can be positive or negative. Some will use it to create a digital timeline, advertise, and communicate while others will use it to hurt others and lie to others by pretending to be someone else. Social media can be good to spread awareness but some people abuse that power and are able to post other things.

The future of social media is unknown but with a lot of speculations. YouTube and other video based social media can replace televisions. Other social medias such as Twitter, Facebook, YouTube is already a new form of medium in which news are spread. As print media starts to decrease, digital media will increase. New social media will be created to adjust humans’ lives.

Whether one sees social media as a good thing or bad thing. It is here to stay. Some social media might become less popular over time but because we are moving towards a more advanced and more technological world, other social media and technology will be created with the goal of making human life easier. All social media and technology will have its advantages and disadvantages. Some will use to make their lives easier while others might abuse that power and use it to harm others. At the end of the day, will all the technological advances and new social media, it is a medium whether that is used in a good or bad way. Social media was created to become a medium in which engages the senses and information, emotions, and sentiments will be developed and transferred.  It requires our senses to work. We use our sight, touch, and hearing to interact with social media.

Reference

Cvetkovich, Ann. An Archive of Feelings. Duke University Press. 2003. Web

“cyberbullying.” Merriam-Webster.com. Merriam-Webster, 2015. Web. 3 March 2015. <http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/cyberbullying&gt;

Digital Trends Staff, “The History of Social Networking” Digital Trends. Digital Trends 5 August 2014. Web. 3 March 3, 2015. <http://www.digitaltrends.com/features/the-history-of-social-networking/&gt;

Pinkharm, Ryan. “80% of Smartphones Users Check Their Phones Before Brushing Their Teeth… And Other Hot Topics” Constant Contact. Constant Contact. 5 April 2013. Web. 3 March 2015. <http://blogs.constantcontact.com/smartphone-usage-statistics/&gt;

Sanders, Sam. “The “Kony 2012” Effect: Recovering From a Viral Sensation”. NPR.org. NPR. 14 July 2014. Web. 3 March 2015. <http://www.npr.org/2014/06/14/321853244/the-kony-2012-effect-recovering-from-a-viral-sensation&gt;

Smith, Sidonie and Watson, Julia. “Studying the Digital Self.” The Chronicle of Higher Education. N.p. 21 April 2014. Web. 3 March 2015. <http://chronicle.com/article/Studying-the-Digital-Self/145971/&gt;

“social media.” Merriam-Webster.com. Merriam-Webster, 2015. Web. 3 March 2015. <http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/social%20media&gt;

“The ALS Ice Bucket Challenge.” ALS Association. ALS Association. N.d. Web. 3 March 2015. <http://www.alsa.org/fight-als/ice-bucket-challenge.html&gt;

Turkle, Sherry. Alone Together. New York. BASIC BOOKS. 2011. Web