The Winter of Our Disconnect: Chapter 8

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“Let’s face it. From a Digital Native’s perspective, pulling the plug on a person’s screens is pretty much pulling the plug on life itself.” – Susan Maushart, The Winter of Our Disconnect

The final chapter of Maushart’s book is aptly titled “The Return or the Digital Native,” focusing on the family’s return to their beloved media. But I think I disagree with the quote I pulled out above—even Maushart admits to having unhealthy dependencies on technology, and I’d argue that many jobs and industries (as well as many adults in their personal lives) would also claim such life-threatening ramifications of unplugging.

However, I get her point—those born into and immersed in it have a more challenging time separating from it; likely because they’ve known (and therefore had no reason to desire) anything different. It seems, then, this tight grip some of us have on “the good old days” is the key force behind our discontent with the present state of (and exponentially changing) media landscape. I held tightly to this torch of discontent when I first ventured into the unknown depths of media ecology. In my Media and Culture course we learned of technology such as Google Glass, at which I balked. Other types of media were trash, and books should always prevail! And I meant real books; ad-filled and link-laden e-books or online reading would always pale in comparison! But as I’ve opened my mind (yes, I can occasionally be stubborn) and my brain, I’ve learned that *gasp* not all media are bad! And P.S., self—books are media, too.

Anyway. Overall, I like the idea behind this family’s great disconnect. Though I’m typically not one for dramatic alterations in behavior, I think in this instance it worked well. Completely unplugging from everything long-term is not very realistic in our world, but for a certain amount of time could serve to shine a spotlight on just how strong our dependencies are. The drama could be exactly what we need to truly see what we are doing. Especially since so much time online is non-purposeful, I think it is easier to blur our perception of our behavior.

But as Maushart points out, “Even Thoreau left the woods eventually.”

I think this circles all the way back to the name of this blog. The way we analyze media use shouldn’t be driven by a desire for the days of old, it should be driven by a desire to simply question our advancements with a skeptical lens and think about how we use them.

The Winter of Our Disconnect: Chapter 7

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“The low-level gratification of binge snacking was clearly the perfect accompaniment to the low-level gratification of binge connectivity.” – Susan Maushart, The Winter of Our Disconnect

Despite being near the end of the book, this chapter focuses on how connectivity affects the arguably most important habits of our lives: eating and sleeping. Maushart begins her query by analyzing her children’s grazing habits. She notes that the demand-feeding that was popular during their infancies has persisted. Instead of eating scheduled, balanced meals, they snack and graze throughout the day. Her daughter even noted, “I’ve never actually been hungry.”

But statistics show that family meals matter: they are “consistently correlated with positive outcomes for children.” Maushart cites all of the examples of the benefits–and there are many! Among them is the fact that demographics do not matter when it comes to the importance of breaking bread together: “Rich or poor, middle class or underclass, highly educated or barely educated, families that eat meals together are dishing up a smorgasbord of advantages for their kids.” And even more interesting is the fact that the meal itself isn’t a make-it-or-break-it factor; whether it’s a homemade meal or fast food, the togetherness is what matters. And many experts (apparently) say, it’s the opportunity to “visually assess” kids that is the real secret sauce to the family meal’s acclaim.

Maushart’s thoughts made me think back to our meals growing up. Almost every dinner with my mother and brother that I can remember was spent watching Wheel of Fortune (I’m the reigning champ!… though my mom beat me recently and will never let me live it down) and Friends (we’ve seen every episode. Twice. At least.) Home-cooked or fast food, we almost always shared dinner time together. But though we spent some time catching up on our days’ happenings, a majority of dinner was spent furiously yelling out Before & Afters or laughing at Joey. And I may be biased, but we turned out pretty freaking awesome. Just saying, there’s some anecdotal evidence for you.

Maushart goes on to address the facts around kids having TVs in their rooms and how it affects their lives. It’s fascinating!… but a lot of factoids for one blog post 🙂 She also talks about the effects on sleep <insert more interesting factoids>, but I liked her anecdotal summary best: “… it soon became apparent that the less we used our technology to ‘chill,’ the more rest and sleep we enjoyed.”

But my favorite analogy was the term “blobbiness,” meant to describe our increasing shift toward having no boundaries. Maushart likens this to entropy, or a tendency to move toward randomness and the decrease of differentiating parts. Basically, our sleep patterns, time management, moods and more become fluid and less defined. And, I’d add, that we become less defined in the process. Akin to the pancake concept from last chapter and Carr of spreading ourselves too thin, I think the danger lies in losing ourselves without even realizing it. I know that sounds dramatic, and I do love a good hyperbole, but think about it.

The Winter of Our Disconnect: Chapter 6

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“The information paradox–that the more data we have, the stupider we become–has a social corollary, too: that the more frantically we connect, one to another, the more disconnected our relationships become.” – Susan Maushart, The Winter of Our Disconnect

I took a Media and Culture class a few years ago (I’ve mentioned it here before, including a showcase of my final project) that completely opened my eyes to major media shifts over the years. I don’t know why, but I had never really thought about it before. From one-to-one and one-to-few, to one-to-many, to many-to-many… I had never really considered how a networked communication structure opened up so very many lines of conversation. It just… happened.

I had email and AIM relatively early and used both frequently, but I remember when I first heard about Facebook, the networking holy grail and game-changing way for young people to interact (let’s pause for a second and mourn my apparent passing from that category, as noted by my use of the term “young people”. Woooow, Abby.) A boy I was pining for asked if I had heard of it. “You haven’t heard of Facebook?!” he asked incredulously. Yeah, I get it. I’m out of the loop. Please, continue… “I’ll send you and invite. Just wait; you’ll see. It’s awesome.”

Fast forward a few years, and after Facebook and I have had some ups and downs in our one-sided and occasionally obsessive relationship, I now use it as free, scrolly entertainment between tasks. And intermittent vacation picture posts. And a few conversations with long-lost or long-distance friends.

But I digress. Maushart spends this chapter alternating anecdotes about her children’s connections and modern research on the subject. The theme is the similar to one of Carr’s that I noted in this post: our transformation into “pancake people” who are spread wide and thin (the term first used by Richard Foreman). We seem to be trading connection depth for connection breadth. But the strange thing is that most of the people in our “network” are not in our actual network. Let me explain. An Oxford University anthropologist named Robin Dunbar found that our capacity for a circle of “friends” is about 150. This includes all levels of friendship, and applies to other primates, too. Cameron Marlow, Facebook’s resident sociologist (at least at the time this book was written), found that our Facebook core network tends to be smaller still. Though an average user might have about 120 friends, he or she only communicates with about 7. And for users with more friends, such as 500, they tend to only interact with about 16. But we still push out pictures, articles, likes, and comments to our circle of acquaintances. And the News Feed structure continues to widen the circle of what we see, like friends of friends’ activity.

I have a few friends who’ve dropped their accounts and don’t seem to miss them much. One such friend finally rationalized that any true friendships could (and would) be maintained offline, and everyone else fell off the radar. I’ve dreamed about cutting the social cord myself, and about the time I would get back each day, but in the end I haven’t done it. I guess I always come back to this: is it better to completely disengage, or to knowingly participate while exercising some self-control and self-awareness?

For me, I always end up at the latter. Whether it’s because I’m in the advertising field and feel like I should be constantly immersed in social media, or because I’m a small business owner who needs all the leverage she can get, or simply because I’m a glutton for spying on people’s lives… I’m not sure. All I know is I have a couple notifications and messages to go attend to.

My “Brief” Hiatus

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Well. Back in 2012, I decided to take a break from the blog. I was lucky enough to get the chance through a work program to volunteer in an out-of-town NPO for three months (I helped First Book start a chapter in Denver. Check them out; they are an amazing organization getting brand new books to kids in need!). It was a great experience, but I fully intended to pick this up when I got back.

And now… fast-forward to 2014. Whoops.

That said, I’m back in action and really excited about a bunch of things I have up my sleeve. I’m going to finish my chapter-by-chapter review of The Winter of Our Disconnect before moving on to the next book, Moonwalking with Einstein. I have a bunch of books, articles, images and such ready and waiting.

The point is, I’m back at it and I’m excited 🙂

disconnect/ reconnect: my comm project.

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For my Spring COMM project, I wanted to look into the idea of disconnecting from the network: how network disconnection is different from mass media disconnection, why we desire to disconnect, if it’s a feasible option in today’s world and what other solutions can mitigate this need.

I changed direction about two weeks ago, but am very pleased with how this turned out. I developed a multimedia project in the form of a website I coded. It contains references, text, comics, images and graphics I’ve made as well as three stop-motion videos I created (I was the most excited about these). Hopefully it presents an interesting and visually compelling argument on disconnection. I’m thinking about going in this direction for doctoral research (if and when I get into a program) because, as I propose, I think more work needs to be done on why we feel the need to disconnect and if there are larger societal solutions that can address it.

Disconnect/Reconnect Project

Disconnect/Reconnect Project

long-form journalism: a thing of the past?

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A friend shared this link with me and it is very relevant to topics currently discussed in my communications class.

This group is setting out to reinstate long-form journalism, and I think it’s fantastic. They make some really valid points about news today… rapid-fire bits of information that pepper our senses, reaching us through a haze of advertisements that are trying to compete with the news. (Side note: There’s some irony there, I think… advertisers might like to think they are piggy-backing off of a news site’s reach and simply giving people access to information they probably already want, but they are also doing everything they can to distract from the main news. And news sources eat it up for the revenue–plus almost all sites have ads above content.)

Personally, I champion long-form literature and journalism, and you can basically read any previous post about Carr to garner my thoughts about reading online:) I’m interested in doing doctoral research in this area and I’d love to start a nonprofit someday or work with an organization already attempting to change the ever-decreasing interest in long-form reading, especially in youth. Relating to articles we read this week for class, I think dedicating this time is becoming increasingly difficult. “Choosing the Focused Life” talked about essentially working out our brains to be able to focus better, which is great, but I think that will only get more difficult as the media environment continues to develop. In Nick Carr’s “The Shallows”, one prominent graduate from Florida said something to the affect of this: “Why would I ever read a book again when I can just Google it?”

Is long-form reading a lost cause? I see benefits, and research has proved them, but is there any chance of making people (especially youth) see that? And is it something developing cultures should think about as the skip the print era and go straight to digital? How will their individual development differ?