transmission.

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“Man’s culture depends for its transmission in time upon the permanent record: the building, the monument, the inscribed word.” – Lewis Mumford, Technics and Civilization

This reading was part of this week’s material for my Media and Culture course. Though it is a minor passage and in no way summarizes this particular reading or section, I highlighted it and jotted down a note nonetheless. My thought was this: with the exponential increase in information output and obvious structural changes that have come with our shift to a networked society, how will our generation be defined on the future? This thought had two threads: personal and societal transmission.

First, I’m curious how a networked structure and digital media will allow the passing down of family stories, baby books, photographs and the like. Will these continue to take print form? Will they transform to digital? I can’t imagine that handing your great grandchildren a USB drive of your family’s visual and textual history will have the same emotion tied to it.

Second, my larger question was how our generation will be remembered amidst the overwhelming influx of digital information. With media of the past, the means available restricted who and how many voices of a particular generation were read or heard. Though mass media offered much greater capabilities than known before, the digital revolution has not only exponentially increased reach but has also opened an unlimited number of doors for content creators. Anyone with access is able to publish online. Though I’ve previously wondered how “the classics” and other chosen memorabilia were designated as such, I’m even more curious how profound thoughts of our time will be amplified and preserved amidst the din.

media effects research: media and youth literacy

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So I’m co-authoring a literature review with one of my professors that will analyze the state of media ecology literature that details the effects of digital media and technology. I’m waiting to solidify my abstract after completing  my initial research, but I thought this would be an excellent forum for expounding my ideas. I’ll begin the title of every relevant post with “Media Effects Research” and group them in a category.

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The first article I read is titled Media, Information Communication Technologies, and Youth Literacies, and though the author largely reviews the impact of new media on classroom settings, she also makes some interesting clarifications and poses a few questions I’d like to research further someday (though not in the aforementioned paper I’m constructing). Also note that the article was written in 2004, so I think some of the author’s postulations are slightly less relevant.

On page 79, Alvermann defines the term hypermedia as referring to “the links available to readers as they move between computer windows and a mix of media texts, such as sounds, images, words, movies and the like” and references literacy expert Jay Bolter’s thought that this new environment is challenging “the notion that any single text represents an author’s complete, separate, or unique expression” (p 79). On first read, this sentence’s phrasing confused me as I would imagine a given text would most likely represent an author’s complete analysis; however, I think what Alvermann is trying to say is that a given text doesn’t (and likely can’t) represent all knowledge on the subject matter, hence the desire to link other resources for a theoretically complete and thorough explanation. Though I agree that it’s virtually impossible for one author to explain all of the angles on a subject matter, I think we are overlooking a few important follow-up questions:

  1. Why is it so important to converge all relevant sources and have all of the knowledge on a given topic at our nimble fingertips? (Obviously, we think the more informed we are the better, but why do we believe that to be true?)
  2. What ramifications result from this convergence? Does it hinder our ability to process information? Does it lead to clarification, or confusion? (I have read other resources that document findings relating to these questions, like The Winter of Our Disconnect and The Shallows)(<– ironic that I’m adding to my point with in-text citations!)

The article goes on to point out the importance of using or at least analyzing media use in youth to glean possible applications for learning environments. The author poses two groups of questions that teachers could pose to students, which I would like to incorporate into future studies of my own:

  • “Are hypertext readings privileged in ways that traditional (linear) readings are not? For example, do hypertexts allow readers to make multiple interpretations of what they read with greater ease than do traditional texts? If so, what might be the consequences of this privileging? What kind of reader would stand to benefit? Who might fail to benefit?
  • How does hypertext create opportunities for readers to manipulate information in ways that are unavailable to them in print-based media? What are the trade-offs in working within such an environment?” (p 81)

That basically summarizes my takeaways from this article. It was brief, but certainly inspired additional questions. Alvermann ends with a statement about the existence of “promising evidence of the effectiveness of literacy instruction” that integrates different media, so I’m interested in looking into her cited sources and discovering said evidence and determining whether or not it is still applicable.

the winter of our disconnect: chapter 4

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“Once untethered, I experienced such a heady lightness of being. There really was nothing to crave… as much as I loved the sensation of carrying the world around in my pocket, I’d forgotten how heavy it could get.” – Susan Maushart, The Winter of Our Disconnect

In this chapter, Maushart talks about her obsession with her iPhone and with constant connectedness. She quotes Tony Norman from the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette: “If you ever want to know what was going through Frodo Baggins’ mind as he stood clutching the evil ring over the lava pit of Mt. Doom in The Return of the King, buy an iPhone.” Maushart’s personal account of her iPhone addiction is hilarious, but she relates her experiences to our culture’s increased need to be connected. We respond to message dings and email notifications as if we were Pavlov’s dog; that’s probably an exaggeration, but we have been conditioned to find these cues fairly unignorable. It’s always hilarious to me when I call my mother and she answers (after presumably searching frantically for her phone) in the middle of the checkout, proceeding to tell me in a stressed, slightly-elevated tone that she’ll “have to call me back!” (and yes, I’ve done it, too). Why do we feel compelled to answer? There’s this crazy invention called voicemail that can help us in situations such as these. I imagine many factors, including our conditioning, are at play; I also suspect it has something to do with the instant gratification we’ve come to know and love.

The chapter also briefly delves into the subject of how technology affects us. “So many of our standards–of normalcy, of effectiveness, of propriety, of safety–are consequences of our technologies.” Maushart supports this statement with examples like “the yearning to produce whiter-than-white cuffs and collars” because the latest clothes-washing technology makes it possible (therefore, it becomes the new standard). If you think about it, this applies to virtually all of our  conveniences.

She also describes in her own words the common notion of viewing our phones (and other media) as extensions of ourselves. We personalize them by giving them names (her iPhone was deemed iNez), buying them jewelry (which I still don’t understand) and accessorizing them with wallpapers and ringtones. Maushart had a friend who was still toting around a phone from the nineties, saying that he “doesn’t care”. This claim serves to reaffirm what Maushart is trying to say – we use these devices to, among other things, send a message about the kind of people we are.

This chapter also has some interesting commentary on parenting in the current technological environment. I won’t get into this topic now, especially since I’m not a parent and can’t truly relate, but she definitely makes some interesting points about the benefits and downfalls of increased connectivity in relation to parent/child relationships.

the winter of our disconnect: chapter 2

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“The stillness was good–now that I’d experienced perhaps twenty minutes of it–but it was also, frankly, just a tiny bit spooky.” – Susan Maushart, The Winter of Our Disconnect

In this chapter, Maushart discusses the harsh realities of being without modern technological conveniences. Battling her teens disbelief, Maushart made the choice to disconnect largely for her children: “I wanted my kids to experience this… to enlarge themselves. To discover themselves. To become human beings more fully alive, in the Waldenesque words of Saint Irenaeus.” The current generation of children are the first to grow up truly surround by the buzz and glow of technology. Though TVs and radios have been around awhile, home computers and cell phones (especially for children’s use) weren’t popularized until the mid-nineties. Even these technological advancements were confined; internet use was restricted to a hardline connection and mobile phones allowed us to talk more conveniently, but that was about it. Total connectivity at all times was not an option, but it is now. Kids today don’t know anything else; most of them can’t comprehend true silence because they’ve never heard it.

Maushart references the book Born Digital, which uses the term “Digital Native” to describe “the first generation born and raised completely wired” (I don’t know about you, but this phrase stirs illusions of some disturbing science fiction thriller in my mind). This generation is “no more frightened by new media than they are by a new pair of running shoes. They just jump right in and start sprinting.” But they’ve known nothing else, so why would they act any differently? Why would they question a world without technology when they have only been swaddled in its comforting embrace?

the winter of our disconnect: chapter 1

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“Ultimately, the answer is not to take away the hammer, but to see that it is used for more than bashing away at things. To ensure our children free their hands–and their heads– to take up other tools, too.” – Susan Maushart, The Winter of Our Disconnect

I recently started reading this book (I’ll spare you the full subtitle – you can click on the link above to see the listing on Amazon) and am enjoying it even more than expected. Aside from writing about a topic in which I’m extremely interested, Maushart has a light-hearted, satirical writing style that makes the book thought-provoking and hilarious.

The introduction and first chapter discuss, in essence, the author’s family and what led her to disconnect them. “At ages fourteen, fifteen and eighteen, my daughters and my son don’t use media. They inhabit media. And they do so exactly as fish in a pond. Gracefully. Unblinkingly. And utterly without consciousness or curiosity as to how they got there.” Maushart ruminates over the vast differences between her generation and her children’s when interacting with technology. She paints a picture of what her family was becoming: a room full of detached individuals illuminated by screens. Though she had considered a “full-scale digital detox” before, rereading Thoreau’s Walden seemed to push her over the edge.

Maushart discusses how technology is affecting our lives, most specifically the lives of younger generations like her children who’ve known nothing else. “Children of all ages cross boundaries into adult territory like never before, and they do so because their parents have invited them to, whether consciously or not… But more subversive than any of their incursions into adult time or space, I would argue, is our children’s heightened sense of entitlement to information–promoted and protected by a Digital Bill of Rights under whose binding authority family life is being radically rewired.”

The book isn’t solely narrative; it also includes numerous facts about media use. “Today, the average American child spends almost as much time online as he or she does sleeping.” I would probably have guessed as much, but this statistic is still staggering.

So far I’ve found The Winter of Our Disconnect to be a nice blend of personal experience and substantiated facts. I can’t say enough good things about Maushart’s eloquent yet hilarious account of her family’s adventure into a technology-free home, and I’m excited to continue reading.

pick up a book (and read it).

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I’ve love to read since I was a toddler. When I was in school, people joked that reading was nerdy, but as I’ve grown I’ve discovered that fewer and fewer people seem to enjoy reading. It seems to be a leisure activity of the past; no one has time to sit down and enjoy a good book, and frankly few seem to want to.

In his book The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains, Nicholas Carr points out that information has become incredibly more accessible to the masses. “Research that once required days in the stacks or periodical rooms of libraries can now be done in minutes.” As a student and advertising professional, I can appreciate the ease of online catalog searches and Google to complete even the simplest tasks. Our society has become so focused on gathering information and increasing productivity that reading lengthy text, especially for pleasure, has become a lost art. Carr quotes Joe O’Shea, a former student body president at Florida State University and 2008 Rhodes recipient. He says, “Sitting down and going through a book cover to cover doesn’t make sense. It’s not a good use of my time, as I can get the information I need faster through the web.” When Postman first wrote “Amusing Ourselves to Death”, television was the latest medium, but his references are just as applicable, if not more so, to the internet. Postman points out that “television does not ban books, it displaces them”. I found this to be incredibly poignant and meaningful. With the advent and increased use of visual, faster media, reading lengthy material is no longer desirable.

The lack of reading interest, especially in our youth, has caused me concern for a few years. I wrote my undergraduate thesis about the concept of a nonprofit organization hoping to reverse the process, especially in younger generations. Though I’ve barely begun reading Carr’s book, he has already made some interesting observations about how technology has changed our culture. I’m excited to continue progressing with this topic!