Posts Tagged ‘Internet’

Last year I wrote a piece entitled, “Is Stupid the New Black?” which attracted quite a bit of attention, due in part to its provocative title. Unfortunately,some missed the fashion reference (“Grey is the new black”) and thought I was engaged in racial stereotyping (whoa). Most readers shared my concern about the deliberate promotion of “stupid”, i.e. regressive, reactionary or irrational ideas, especially in times of unease.

Now I’m wondering: Is it time for “Is Stupid the New Black, Part II”?

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Yes, I have a Facebook page. Call it cultural anthropology but it’s an interesting place to hang out, swinging as it does between highbrow (a group supporting books in print) and lowbrow (a campaign to dump your friends for a free burger at Burger King). After a fast start in a  college dorm it’s a world-wide phenomena available to both the young and the young at heart, which is to say we baby-boomers who just have to get in on everything. I’ve connected with a number of writer friends I like and admire, I located a college roommate and an old boyfriend, and I can finally get a clue as to what my nieces and nephews are up to. Lately, more of my friends are joining, especially those with teenagers. I’m kind of a slacker when it comes to posting, linking, poking, tagging, reminding and joining. And why do my friends all seem to have many more friends than I do? Makes me feel like I’m not getting out enough, cyberspace-wise.

I like to try and come up with clever posts under the “what are you doing right now” section although I tend to fall short. My friend Steve Clemons, who writes a well-regarded Washington political blog, is always dropping impressive tidbits like “[Steve is] having lunch with the Saudi foreign minister” or “…talking about a new approach to Mid-East policy with Rachael Maddow on MSNBC tonight.” Steve has more than 3,000 friends. Most of the posts tend towards “[Joe is] feeling better about work” or “[Jane is] wondering if winter will ever end.” I have six or eight pictures posted but nothing I worry about strangers viewing. When Facebook altered its Terms of Service TOS) agreement, appearing to retain ownership of user information even if the user quit Facebook, the outcry was fierce. The company has temporarily reverted to the old TOS language while it seeks to clarify its intentions (i.e.,w e would NEVER sell your information). Whatever. I’m kind of surprised at people’s expectation of confidentiality when it comes to the Web. I figure all bets are off when you log on. Security is one thing; I support and encourage any and all protections possible when it comes to online commerce or anything relating to children. But the rest of us must know that the information, the images, specifics about who you are and yes, where you live, the asinine thing you wrote to a co-worker or the tasteless joke you sent around – it’s all out there and sooner or later, someone will get to it.

Of course people are free to reveal as much as they like when they like, which is why we’ve progressed from IMs to texting to Twitter, which allows  you to let your friends know exactly what you’re doing at any given moment. Apparently, celebrities, not to mention some politicians and media personalities are all a-twitter over the thought they can fill their fans in on their most minute, not to mention mundane activities. I don’t have a twittering device, at least not yet. I can’t get my head around the idea that I might one day receive a Tweet from someone I like and admire that says: “Had xistential thot b4 heading to men’s rm. It passed.”

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When it appeared that there were now two presumptive nominees for President, I went trolling the Internet for reaction. I sought not the reputable sites or or quasi-reputable bloggers, but instead the chat rooms on places like MSN, Yahoo and AOL. I wanted to read what “regular” people were thinking. I mean, these are voters, right, so how are they engaging their thought processes?

Disappointing news from that front, I’d have to report. There do seem to be an awful lot of people with axes to grind and time on their hands. I guess the crap that passes for dialogue in some of these so-called political forums represents democracy’s ugly underbelly. I tripped upon lots of stale theories about Obama’s “Muslim” agenda, naturally. There are some wacko things being written about McCain as well, by the way; the paranoia that drives these respondents isn’t left or right, liberal or conservative, Democrat or Republican.

It would be laughable if it weren’t so disturbing to imagine that many people may place value on this kind of “information” or that they might use it as a basis for making decisions. The beauty of Internet news and Internet reporting and Internet information is supposed to be that it uncovers anything and everything. There has been no whispered aside, no private conversation, no intemperate moment possible in the Presidential race thus far, nor will there be. It’s all up for discussion, dissection and subsequent distribution. Great, no more secrets. But no filter either. It’s all so IMPORTANT (caps deliberate).

The filter is supposed to be ours. It’s our job to sort through what’s important and what’s not, where we have to focus and what we have to dismiss when evaluating the candidates. We’re supposed to know that what the candidates think about or plan to do about issues such as health care, the economy or our country’s foreign policy conduct is more pressing than what their spouses might have said privately. Maybe it’s fun to catch people in unguarded moments or to read personal letters they wrote twenty years ago and then obsess endlessly about them. It’s the ultimate Facebook-type gossip session, at least until the obsession or the rumor or the half-truth becomes cruel or dangerous or much more relevant than it deserves to be.

More of us than ever seem to know that this upcoming election is an important one, which means that perhaps more of us than ever will vote. That’s a big plus. We have more access to information on which to base our decision than ever before and that’s an even bigger plus. But not all information is equal, not to mention true.

Okay, so here’s your assignment in terms of preparing yourself to vote. There are no excuses (“They’re all the same”) and no passes (“I’ve already chosen a candidate”). This is what you do: Listen, read, think, ask, listen, read and do some more thinking. Access your own experience, your own common sense, your own conscience and your own moral compass. Weed out the excess, focus on the big picture, keep yourself informed, keep the gossip to a minimum and keep the rumors off the table. Feel free to yell, scream or flood your local stations with e-mails if you see any nasty, negative, fear-based or generally bottom-feeding commericals directed against any candidate, including local or Congressional representatives we’ll also be voting for. Be prepared, if you so choose, to discuss your choice with others. You don’t have to, of course; I just happen to be a big fan of dialogue, as long as it’s reasoned and reasonable and we need more of it to counteract the nastiness around us.

No slacking off now. The information (and misinfomration and disinformation) is coming at you fast and furious Get ready, get set and…FILTER!


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I love to read – always have – and so my eye was caught by the announcement of a recent study about Americans and reading. The report, issued by the National Endowment for the Arts, found that young Americans are not reading for fun as much as they used to. The study, ominously if cleverly entitled “To Read or Not To Read” is a followup to one in 2004 which discovered that more than half of all Americans don’t read novels, short stories, plays or poetry. Fearing perhaps that focusing on such effete intellectual pastimes as literary reading would draw further ire from Congressmen who have no use for the endowment, the NEA expanded its scope to include all reading, including nonfiction. What the research indicates is that there is an link between falling test scores and less recreational or “voluntary” reading among middle school and high school students (frequent readers do better on tests, obviously).

What occured to me to ask (and many others, according to an article in the paper) is whether either the researchers or the respondants are factoring in online reading.  True, the democracy of the Internet guarantees a high amount of purile drivel, particularly if you are driven to read the rant that passes for dialogue on most discussion boards. But there’s a surprising amount of decent reading available – original fiction from unpublished writers, online magazines with articles by thoughtful scribes, websites that bring together relevant articles from print magazines you might have forgotten to buy. I’m discomforted by the idea that reading comprehension scores have dropped and I hope educators can come up with creative ways to address that problem.  Most important to me, however, is not what people read or in what form they read it but that they are able to get beyond reading words to understanding fully how – and why – those words are being used.

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As everyone knows, news is not really new. That is to say, in our 24/7 environment, we get information immediately, which is then overtaken by other information even more immediate. Not only are stories instantly distributed, they are also instantly dissected, analyzed, reworked and commented upon, all of which impact how we receive the news or perhaps even what we consider to be newsworthy.

With so many things happening in the world and so many outlets competing for attention and market share, it’s distressing to find that the most lead Internet news sites appear to run virtually identical stories hour after hour. That strikes me as singularly lacking in creativity; I’m not even sure it’s smart marketing.  Why wouldn’t MSN offer a different take on what is newsworthy (okay, beyond certain monumentous events) than, say, Yahoo? Do they assume the same customer demographic? And if so, why? The short answer is that the outlets are all interdependant, what with this network owning that cable company or this conglomerate producing that news show. Nevertheless, it’s boring to see the same things repeated over and over again.  But then, on a rainy, gloomy day, comparing top stories becomes the Internet equivalent of a parlor game for the temporarily uninspired scribe. To spot a unique story is to imagine some likewise uninspired drone sitting at his or her cubicle and deciding which stories we millions will read.  Of course, it’s probably all electronic and random at that, but it’s fun to think about the possibility of a deviant human touch. Herewith, a list of top stories spotted on various sites at around 1 PM:

MSN listed the Chilean earthquake, a story about foreclosures, the FBI report on Blackwater’s role in Iraq, NY Governor Elliot Spitzer’s dropping of the controversial immigrant drivers’ licensing plan and Pakistan President Mushariff’s alleged intention to resign as army chief at the end of this month. 

Yahoo featured  the Mushariff and Chilean earthquake stories as well as one on Catholic Bishops instructing voters to follow church doctrine, and Chevron’s being required to pay for its part in the Iraq oil-for-food scheme. You gotta love Yahoo for  highlighting a study on why some species eat their newborn – I might need that information – and for considering the upcoming nuptials of Google co-founder Larry Page a top story.

Google has quite a comprehensive news site but the earthquake in Chile and the FBI report on Blackwater dominated.  Surprisingly, no mention of Larry Page’s engagement.

Comcast led with the Mushariff, Spitzer and earthquake stories also seemed to find Matt’s ascention important, along with some news about Microsoft fixing a bug (yawn), President Bush promising to rebuild the Justice Department (yawn), the possibility that O.J. Simpson hearing may end today (thank god!) and that Matt Damon was named People Magazine’s “Sexiest Man Alive” (well good for him!)

And AOL, home of the free, the brave and some of the nuttiest, looniest and downright most insane posts I’ve ever seen, pretty much went its own way with its top stories.  ·   Texas Border Mayors Want Wider, Deeper River ·   Democrats’ Report Details ‘Hidden’ War Costs ·   Four Get AIDS Virus From Organ Donor ·   Georgia’s Governor Leads Prayer for Rain ·   Alligator Kills Fleeing Burglary Suspect .

Now this is what I’m talking about!

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