I’m 42 and an Internet scholar. I feel like the oldest of fogies when I begin talking to young people about how “the Internet is changing everything.” Yesterday I felt a hind of old timer solidarity listending to a podcast converstaion between two of my favorite comedians. Tom Scharpling, host of The Best Show on WFMU (my favorite podcast) was a guest on comedian Mark Maron’s WTF show (my other favorite podcast) and the conversation turned to the Internet. I’m paraphrasing here a bit:

Scharpling: It is a very bad thing to have a 4(?) on your age… you’ve seen three lifetimes worth of changes in 20 years, and it’s the wrong 20 years to grow up in….

Maron: The world was analog and now it’s digital

Scharpling: a kid whose growing up with these things now, it just informs the world and that’s it. You can’t be 20 and writing a letter to somebody and then 20 years later the whole world is turned upside down…

Maron: now there’s 100 letters you have to process every day. Part of your daily routine is like half a year!

The truth is that the information deluge they discuss is the tip of the iceberg. Take the idea of the social graph, or a global mapping of relationships. In Internet terms, a map of relationships is invaluable for targeting advertising. The Pinboard blog has a perfect description of it:

Imagine the U.S. Census as conducted by direct marketers – that’s the social graph.

Social networks exist to sell you crap. The icky feeling you get when your friend starts to talk to you about Amway, or when you spot someone passing out business cards at a birthday party, is the entire driving force behind a site like Facebook.

Here’s how Facebook intends to use the social graph…

Zuckerberg imagines Facebook as, eventually, a layer underneath almost every electronic device. You’ll turn on your TV, and you’ll see that fourteen of your Facebook friends are watching “Entourage,” and that your parents taped “60 Minutes” for you. You’ll buy a brand-new phone, and you’ll just enter your credentials. All your friends—and perhaps directions to all the places you and they have visited recently—will be right there.

For a 40 something like me, this is jarring. The amount of data collected on me through my Internet activity gets process through my formative experiences. For for today’s students, this is water to fish. This example creeps me out:

Austrian law student Max Schrems, because European law states that citizens can do this, requested all the data Facebook had about him. He got back a CD with 1,222 PDF files

I don’t know if it creeps out 20 somethings. I’m not even sure if it should?

Edit: My original post on this topic was too glib, hurried and as a result poorly presented.  I appreciate commenter thatsnotcanon for taking me to task on the tone and content of my original post and helping me vet my thinking on this.  I am duly chastened and I apologize to anyone I offended with the content of my original posting.  I have revised the post in the hopes that it makes my points more clearly and thoughtfully.

according to the Catholic Church . According to Pope Benedict, the Internet has a numbing effect on users and creates an “educational emergency – a challenge that we can and must respond to with creative intelligence.”

While responsible internet use is an important goal, it is not altogether settled in the research literature that the Internet “numbs” people or that it creates solitude.  I think Pope Benedict’s position is in keeping with a belief he has previously espoused that modernity in itself is isolating and numbing and that the church has a necessary role as a stalwart against the more egoistic and isolating aspects of a reason based culture.

While the Internet may not isolate or numb us, it does  promote is instantaneousness.   I imagine the Pope is concerned that having everything we want online when we want it might further lock us into a sense of the “good life” based on Benthamite notions of pain, pleasure and utility.  The “numbing” might serve to steer Catholics away from tradition, community and hierarchy…things to which the liberal enlightenment project has an uneasy relationship.  However, we’re not sure this is happening.  Research on Facebook users find that they are more likely to engage in off-line contact with friends when compared with non-Facebook users.

I think the Pope’s issue is with modernity, not with the Internet.  The Internet speeds up communication, but whether that communication is inherently numbing or anti-social is up to the content of the communication and the orientation and skill-set of the communicator. Karen Armstrong’s Charter for Compassion comes to mind as a form of communication that seeks to push back against the “hardening of the heart.”  Indeed a commenter to my original post notes that the Catholic Church has its own active web presence.

I would hope the Pope turns from this initial critique of the Internet towards guiding Catholics and others towards ways in which the Internet can be used in ways that build community….ostensibly this is what he means by “creative intelligence.”  But we need more scholarship to gauge whether this is indeed a problem unique to the Internet.

I have been bad about posting…I will now be good. Thanks to Ken for holding down the fort!

I really think that on some level our students don’t understand plagiarism the way we do/did.  But you can’t have this conversation with most faculty who view plagiarism as if it were a capital crime.  It is a grave offense that undermines the work of the academy, but saying it’s really bad doesn’t change the culture our 18 year olds bring to the university.   Trip Gabriel has an interesting piece in the New York Times on the rise in plagiarism.  This passage, really stood out to me:

Now we have a whole generation of students who’ve grown up with information that just seems to be hanging out there in cyberspace and doesn’t seem to have an author,” said Teresa Fishman, director of the Center for Academic Integrity at Clemson University. “It’s possible to believe this information is just out there for anyone to take.

Do you think this argument excuses plagiarism among our students?  How do you address it at your institutions?

via Matt Yglesias.

“There is ONE medium.”

Will that be the forthcoming declarative utterance to end all utterances?  If so, let me be one of the first few to coin it.

There has been a lot of buzz on web versus print with Clay Shirky  (Shoutout to Temporaryversion) discussing the business implications of old models struggling to deal with new ones.  (Here’s an example by Shirky on why newspapers cannot adopt a iTunes-like model).  I see one of the key challenges as culture, in that (North)American culture is one of what I call “quick cuts and remix.”  You see this in talk of convergence culture and Jenkins’s book, which describes instances of the modalities and materialities (Pfeiffer) of media combining.  We see in our everyday lives the Internet is taking over TV viewing time and also offering up viewing of broadcast TV/radio shows.  We can read books online or on handheld devices like Kindle hooked to databases.  Advertising and product placement are becoming more and more ubiquitous, so that this will be not so far-fetched.  [ThickCulture is brought to you by Contexts.  Cutting-edge content provided free of charge by the American Sociological Association]

We “scan” and read “at” things.  If we (or our attention spans) are pinched for time, we get information by reading the Yahoo headlines, not the article.  We are promiscuous in our media habits and don’t want to pay for things we don’t feel we should pay for.

Enter Walter Benjamin & Roger Chartier.  Benjamin’s The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction   (full text here) in my opinion is central to understanding what’s going on.  If we look at media content as “art,” a pattern emerges:

“An analysis of art in the age of mechanical reproduction must do justice to these relationships, for they lead us to an all-important insight: for the first time in world history, mechanical reproduction emancipates the work of art from its parasitical dependence on ritual. To an ever greater degree the work of art reproduced becomes the work of art designed for reproducibility. From a photographic negative, for example, one can make any number of prints; to ask for the “authentic” print makes no sense. But the instant the criterion of authenticity ceases to be applicable to artistic production, the total function of art is reversed. Instead of being based on ritual, it begins to be based on another practice – politics.”

Two things.  I think that content isn’t emancipated from ritual, but rather that new rituals and culturally-driven patterns of praxis (i.e., drivers of meaning) are created, often in unpredictable ways.  Media content can now be taken and repurposed.  The mashup is a perfect example, along with user-driven meanings in Web 2.0.  The reference to politics as a basis is a nod to Benjamin’s Marxism.  I believe that media content and art now are squarely in the realm, not of politics, but of the political economy, specifically in terms of inter/actions in markets.  

Roger Chartier in The Order of Books notes that in studying print capitalism, in order to understand it within a cultural context, we need to address (1) the text (content), (2) the book (media), and (3) reading practices.  There has been a lot of attention on the first two, but less solid understanding on the reading of media.  What Jenkins teaches us through his thick description of the current media milieu is that the lines between media are blurring.  We see it in the modes and materialities, but also in the economics.  I feel we are moving towards a singularity of media.  For example, some will say print and broadcast TV are both dead, as both will soon be killed by the web.  That’s the wrong way of thinking.  This assumes a linearity akin to upshifting a manual transmission.

"Valentine: Lindsay's Adventures in Wonderland" (2007) --14
"Valentine: Lindsay's Adventures in Wonderland" (2007) --14

In terms of media praxis, success will often be about creating models of how media can be intertwined to create value.  Take any pop culture figure, such as Lindsay Lohan.  She’s in film, she’s a singer, a celebrity newsmaker and tabloid fodder, and the butt of the satirists’ joke (see left).  The Internet is moving towards collapsing all paths to Lindsay into a single LindsayÜberstraße, a vertitable autobahn of linked Web 2.0 content.

I think it is telling that the Journalism School at CUNY, which is earning a reputation for being on the leading edge, is no longer requiring students to commit to a media track.  Additionally, with integrated market communications (IMC), there will be increasing market-based pressures to view media as one.  A future post will grapple with the Deleuzean idea of singularity and how it applies to media.  I think we need to address how people are “reading” all media in this Web 2.0 age.  Why?  We finally might get a handle on figuring out how the new technologies will specifically transform culture, economics, and society.

Is print dead?  What about the demise of the Fourth estate, perhaps a linchpin of democracy?  Well, someone else said this, not me, but I’m more interested in good journalism than newspapers.  The problem is that newspapers and the  news media are often tied to economic imperatives, which is (in my opinion) a historical trajectory that is by no means set.  We need to think about content in the age of infinite replication, which makes Benjamin such an important figure.

My friend Mimi Zeiger at Loudpaper blogged about the state of print.  I think it’s important to think about the implications of the functions of journalism and publishing and how these will be manifested, as media goes singular.  I personally feel a certain fondness for actual printed work.  It may have more to do with the specific æsthetics of the medium than anything and possibly the tactile experience.

  • Do you think it’s useful to think of media as singular?
  • What is the future of print?

For those who feel they have something important to say, I’ll leave you with the following, a portrait of Miranda July.

"Portrait of Miranda July" (2008) Ed Templeton

Winter illness has impeded my blog posting for the past few days….

For anyone who’s interested in what I actually do for a paycheck, here’s my Internet and Politics syllabus for the fall (feel free to pick apart).  As befits a political scientist who blogs for a Sociology journal, the syllabus has a decidedly interdiscipinary bent.   If anyone has some reading suggestions…serve ’em up.

My hope is to incorporate the blog into the course discussion and vice versa.  I welcome the community to take part in our ongoing conversations.  I’ve used blogs in the classroom the past two semesters and I’ve found that the students learn a great deal from comments posted by faculty or students from other institutions.  It’s a great way to extend the conversation beyond the walls of the classroom.

New Year, New Feature 🙂  An assortment of things that pop up on my Google Reader feeds that I’d like to read or listen to or would like people to think I’d like to read or listen to (my new year’s resolution is to appear more learned than I actually am).

From Flowing Data: Nine Ways to Visualize Consumer Spending

From KCRW To The Point: Is the Internet Speeding us Up by Slowing us Down?

From Slate: Can cities save the planet?

From IT Conversations: A Talk on Human Centered Design

From Psychology Today via Bookforum — Men do everything they do in order to get laid