Discovery in a World of Data

Today I had a revelation: the way in which I use social media has changed. This change is recent, very recent. The past six weeks have involved great discipline, searching, and attention to detail: discipline in tracking and taking notes on something I once deemed arbitrary, searching for what my media use means to me, and paying close attention to any patterns in my behavior. I feel that through this process I have become much more aware of who I am on the internet. From class discussions, the new media diet, and online readings I was able to make connections to my own behavior when using new media technology. I noticed elements of dualism and community, themes from class, pop up in my research. I was struck by class conversations about online reading and the internet as a privilege.

I’ve always known that sharing personal information on the internet should be done at your own risk. It was not until recently that I became aware that I am not immune from this. It is alarming how easily we can make our personal information readily available to virtually anyone without even realizing it. Not that I have anything to hide, but still I have become hyper aware of every little thing I post and interact with. I know I cannot be the only one who feels that how they present themselves on the internet needs to be the squeakiest-cleanest version of themselves. So many times I have been told that future employers do not like personal things on pages. The media project has lead me to become much more aware of my online presence and actions. I also feel that my behavior as a whole has changed. I have become much more tactful, and organized with my actions. I even updated my linked-in for the first time in over a year. With the twitter exercise and article I felt compelled to explore other forms of social media. However, none of these explorations stuck, but I still found twitter to be quite amusing. I also noticed an increase of use on Pinterest and Instagram, while my Facebook use seemed to decline. I actually completely redid my Pinterest page. I was feeling like my pin-boards were lacking cohesion. I wanted my Pinterest to be a reflection of who I am (or possibly even aspire to be), so I changed everything. I consolidated pins and renamed all the boards so that there was a general theme to my page. After stepping back from this project I realized that I did this because my attitude of how I view my image on the internet has changed. Before I was posting arbitrarily, but now I post with purpose. I think this change is because I realize that the internet is an extremely powerful and influential tool that I am lucky enough to have the privilege of accessing.

When you share things you are projecting a sliver of yourself out into the world. Of course you can decide to remove things, but with sharing on the internet do things every truly go away or do they forever remain a part of you and your online image? Nicholas Carr brings up the idea of dualism on his blog, and that as users of the internet we have two identities both online and offline. I would have to agree with this to some extent, but I lean more towards the contradiction of Vial in Digital Dualism and Everyday Experience. Vial uses the term digital monism to express his disagreement that we exist in two different worlds. As I was posting to the internet, all of my content was occurring in real time. Everything was an extension of myself: things occurring in reality. All my captions were thoughts occurring in my head before they were translated into text. My pins are reflective of my likes, interests, and aspirations. I’m not lying about who I am on the internet. It’s all me. I agree with Vial that there is but one world that we exist in and the internet is an element of it.

The media diet asked us to closely monitor a platform of social media we favored. I decided on logging all of my Instagram use. I monitored the times I was posting content, the likes I was receiving, and I even asked for feedback on why people were liking my pictures. I monitored myself on the app, as well, paying close attention to whose pictures I was liking and the genre of content I was liking. I found that the longer I was on the app, the more arbitrary my double taps (likes) became. The initial liking of photos fell into similar categories, but the more and more I scrolled the less I cared about the content I was looking at. Over one weekend, which was actually a very busy weekend for me, an out of town friend was visiting, I liked over 80 pictures and posted three of my own. 80 pictures is a lot of content to process! If asked to remember what I liked or whose pictures I liked, I would not be able to recall a single piece of information. On the contrary, I would be able to recant details of all the posts I made, as well as roughly how many likes and several of the people who liked them. This is because social media is very self involved. I came to the conclusion that a lot of social media is based on self promotion. In other words, lot of what we post is of ourselves. This does not have to be a negative thing. Even though, in posting, a lot of content is self interested, I still enjoy being able to keep up with friends from around the world in a concise format. Using Instagram or Facebook I can easily scroll and find out what everyone in my life is doing in 30 seconds flat. If they were not making posts about themselves, how would I know how they were doing? Because of this easy accessibility we have to other people, our friend groups have become incredibly vast.

The test also provided me with information on who was liking my pictures and why. I had never given too much thought on why people liked me pictures until now. When I asked for feedback, an overwhelming amount of friends said that they thought my posts were well crafted and witty. For logging who was liking my pictures I devised a spread sheet with several categories of people. Three of those categories were close friends, aquatinted friends, and people I just know. I always had a disproportionate amount of acquainted friends to close friends. Initially I felt a little hurt by this. How could my close friends care so little, while people I am merely acquainted with seemed to give out likes so freely? Then I realized that despite my friendly interactions with these people, our relationships are mostly based off of what I know about them from their online presence. It is almost scary how much I know about people based on the things that they post online. Through this I realized that my close friends already know what I am up to, however, these other aquatinted friends do not necessarily always know what is going on in my life. Social media allows me to share things that in the end help to strengthen the ties between me and other people that I want to be friends with, forming a vast but closely knit online community.

The internet is another great tool for sharing things that lead to a better more informed society. There were many times during the social media project that I engaged in the reading and watching and sharing of pro-feminism related content. If it was not for using Camtasia and capturing my walk through, I would not have noticed this pattern. There are so many communities on the internet that preach negativity and hate, but the online community of feminists is something I am happy to get behind. It is a community where people can be free to speak their minds about a topic that is has become so prevalent in our lives. Some articles are light hearted, while others take on a more serious tone. Almost all the feminist articles and content I came across during the new media diet were found on the internet. Unfortunately, I discovered that this community is not free of hate. There is so much trolling that occurs on the internet, and it really breaks my heart. There are people who are trying to get serious social messages, not just about feminism, across using social platforms as a means to reach a large and diverse amount of people. One can only hope that the way in which some people decide to behave online is not reflective of how they behave offline. I have come across far too many articles promoting a positive message only to find the comments riddled with hate and negativity. Freedom of speech has been taken to a far extreme, and I really do not know what can be done to stop this.

The free internet is something that I never realized should be seen as a huge privilege. Being able to at any given moment find the answer to any questions in mere seconds is  pretty amazing. In class we discussed this privilege and how it relates to our own lives. we also watched several old videos which introduced the internet as being something open to everyone: a place where no classes, races, ages, or genders, exist. The internet may have started this way, but has since evolved into a very dialectical world in which only privileged people can access. The internet, which serves to connects us, at times acts as a barrier. It was not until this month, when I was talking with my Chinese host student about using Facebook, that I found out Facebook is blocked in China. She is my first Chinese friend who actually lives in China so it makes sense that this revelation never occurred until now. It makes me feel as if the internet is a little bit of a lie. A lie controlled by the government. It is not always the free space that it claims to be. E-waste was another class topic that really struck me. Trash is such a magical thing. You put something you do not want anymore out to the curb and the next day, by some miracle, it has completely disappeared. I wish getting rid of old electronics could be this magical, the reality is quite the opposite. It makes me sick to see how sick outsourced e-waste centers are making people. It makes me even more sick knowing that I am a contributor. However, I was comforted when I recently found my parents’ ancient Macintosh Classic II tucked away in the garage, thankfully not in a tangle of discarded other computers in a far away country!

Towards the end of the new media diet project I picked up an actual book for the first time all semester. This was not a text book, but an actual leisurely paper back. I feel that I am constantly flirting with the idea of being a reader, but I find it difficult to commit when there are so many other distractions that I could be reading online. In one of the readings from this semester, Literacy Debate: Online R U Really Reading, by New York Times writer Motoko Rich, children are asked whether they prefer to read online or physical books. Most of these children preferred reading online: favoring concise and easy to access content. During my Camtasia research I read several lengthy articles. Watching myself, I looked incredibly bored and unengaged. Conversely, when I picked up the book, something I found unassumingly laying around my apartment, I felt my face light up as I read. I noticed myself laughing and repeating lines that I felt were worthy of sharing with the people around me. Reading online feels so cursory in comparison. There is just so much content out there that most of what I come in contact with seems to wash over me. I think it is very curious that the internet is meant to engage us, and that it is the new form of reading, when there is still nothing more sensuous and captivating than sinking into a tangible paper book. I am happy that sitting down with a good read is still able to put a smile on my face and I have not crossed over completely to the dark side of internet reading.

I can confidently say that all my attention payed towards new media has led me to conclude that media is a very intrinsic part of my life. It has truly infiltrated all aspects of my life, from social justice to a platform to jump start my career. Media does not have to be viewed as a necessary evil that separates the online world from the offline world, but rather a powerful tool that is helping to propel us forwards at speeds faster than any other generation has experienced, and for this I realize that I am very privileged. It is important for us to become more aware of this privilege, while at the same time continuing to value older forms of media that still hold merit in society.

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