Jim Fehrer will never be President

Tonight was our first Presidential Debate. I entered this debate with the mindset that no matter what was said, nothing would sway my vote from Obama. Although I feel that Romney objectively won the debate, this is still the case. Obama is my dude. #2012Forward.

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But according to Twitter, you know who actually won the debate? Big Bird.

And the biggest loser? Jim Fehrer.

This is the first major Presidential Debate that has occurred during the prime of Twitter. In 2008, during our last election, Twitter resembled LeBron James at the same time period: extremely effective in its methods and unquestionably gaining steam, but it was no Kobe Bryant (Facebook).

This is no longer the case. Twitter is the go-to social media platform for media based on its ability to be act as both a top-down distributor and a social media platform. So tonight, October 3, 2012, we had our first ever Twitter-centric debate. And unsurprisingly, the actual issues were discussed even less than they were within the context of the actual debate.

Yes, there were many people within the trending topics of #debate and #DenverDebate that actually quoted and discussed the issues being levied by President Obama and Governor Romney. But the two topics that rose quickly to the top of the “Trending Topics” area were Jim Fehrer, the overmatched moderator of the debate, and Big Bird, a muppet bird who lives on Sesame Street.

Huh? Is this where citizen journalism has brought us?

According to the Lilleker & Jackson article, citizen journalism is supposed to act as an independent moderator on the area of politicians as brands. So is it a win for citizen journalism that the two biggest social media phenomenons from Wednesday’s debate boiled down to a.) Jim Fehrer is kinda a moron and b.) Did Mitt Romney seriously crap on Big Bird?!!?!!??!!

ImageI think yes, this is a win for citizen journalism, because I feel that any representation of citizen journalism is inherently good. The fact that political awareness is being raised on a broad spectrum raises awareness of the process and furthers democracy in some way. Not everybody can be hyper-focused on the campaign. There will always be people who simply don’t care as much about the election. In 2008, a little over 125 million voters turned out for the election. As recently as February of 2012, there were 500 million Twitter users. Regardless of how many of these 500 million can vote/are real people, that is a massive audience that is inherently subjected to political discourse during this particular evening. The Presidential Debate was a worldwide trending topic. If you were tuned into Twitter on October 3, there was a strong chance you saw something about the 2012 American Presidential election.

This is what citizen journalism is best at. It will never be comprehensive. It will never be detail-oriented. But what it does well is raise awareness. If previously uninformed prospective voters came out of tonight knowing that Mitt Romney hates Big Bird and that the moderator for the Presidential Debate did a bad job, then that is two more tidbits of information than they would of known otherwise. There are still two Presidential debates and one Vice-Presidential debate left. All things considered, I think Twitter hit this debate out of the park.

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Yeah, but still.

My argument against Jaron Lanier can be summed up in three words:

Yeah.

But.

Still.

First, I give him credit for actually standing up to the internet. He makes a terrific point about how corporations are basically taking advantage of us, at the expense of us losing our individuality, and we’re not really gaining anything from the process. If we buy into his point, creativity in the internet era has peaked, information sharing is damaging capitalism to a brutal level, and the only ones who can earn money from the internet are a select few. We’re basically in a 1 percent vs. 99 percent showdown, only we don’t realize it because the internet is so convenient.

Yeah, but still.

My biggest concern with Lanier is how easily he disregards all the good that can come from this technology that we have. Information, in my opinion, is meant to be shared. The more ideas that are shared, the better ideas we can form. From there, individual innovation can occur on a micro level, but a group pushing towards one thing as a starter doesn’t hurt. Hiding capitalistic ideals of profit over fair use seems like Lanier is frightened more than he is concerned. Are we in a better place now that we have Wikipedia? It’s debatable. Are we worse off? Definitely not. The same can be said for any open source software that, as Lanier believes, places the human below the machine. These are all things we don’t really need as a society. But the fact that we have them takes nothing away from the table.

Let’s take his example of the mashup. Yes, it is extremely referential, and doesn’t provide anything technically new. But can’t we say that about basically anything ever? To some level? Didn’t The Beatles break it big by covering old rock-and-roll hits coming up in Germany? Isn’t Warhol’s best work basically augmentations of famous pictures? Claiming that creativity doesn’t exist on the internet is blatantly ignorant. It’s a lot easier to get lost in the reposts of the internet, but things created from old things are still new things. And entirely new things are being created and shared every day. I find artists and writers and information from this state alone that I would never find out about without the internet. And it’s all free. And if it wasn’t free, I wouldn’t ever access it.

For somebody who plays a lot on capitalism and how free information devastates the middle class,  he certainly takes a 1 percent view on how information should be shared. Lanier greatly undersells exposure, which is a crucial aspect to success. Clearly exposure does not equal monetary success, but limiting content to those who can afford it undermines the medium of the internet entirely.

I bet Lanier would vote for SOPA.

If Shirky and Benkler  takes things too far in the liberal direction, then Lanier takes it way too far in the conservative direction. Wikipedia, Facebook and the internet in general are all tools. And over time, our culture will learn how to adapt these tools to our best use, and not let them take advantage of us. Lanier is right, we are not a gadget. But that doesn’t mean that if we have gadgets, we are controlled by them. The longer things will be around, the better versed in controlling them we will be. In the early days of the printing press, the information was still concentrated in the higher classes due to literacy issues. It wasn’t until well after that “mass media” started being a thing, and the common man had any input into the medium. Maybe the masses just haven’t reached internet literacy yet, just as the masses hadn’t reached regular literacy in Gutenberg gimes.

Yes, things move faster in today’s technological climate, but the internet is still in its teenage years. It still has room to grow and has shown so much promise. No medium is without great fault. The internet’s faults are just waay different than anything we’ve ever experienced ever in the history of communication. I mean, what was movable type’s biggest fault? That you had to mail it and couldn’t change the page after it was produced and sent? The internet is so different because the standard ways of dealing with mediums does not apply to it at all.

I know Lanier understands that, but I think he’s afraid more than he is embracing it. He argues often that MIDI killed the theoretical note. It defined it with code, rather than having the note live in the mind. This is his greatest example of the internet killing individuality. And he’s right in that sense. But you know what people did instead of backlashing against the internet entirely? They innovated on top of it. And guess what? The note isn’t dead. They still play orchestras with real instruments, not keyboards with programs. The music note just has two definitions now.

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Citizen journalism in the house!

That is what I thought about 83 percent of the time while listening (yeah, listening!) to Shirky’s book. I downloaded the audio book, and took breaks from the annotated bib by listening to this book. It helps that my annotated bib subject is about many things Clay talks about. 

First, I must say, my favorite thing ever was listening to the guy reading the book read aloud the blog posts and Twitter posts of the “inane” users that Shirky picks out as examples. Completely priceless. 

But this was my favorite thing I have absorbed in my time here. 

The primary thing he seems to discuss is openness. That is the one word I would describe this book with. The aspect of open networks, open conversation and open information is essential to Shirky’s argument. His examples of how networks just seem to pop up, and then snowball into something massive would not be possible without the openness of communication. 

What really shook me was the basic structure of a network. It is such an easily replicable method, and when we look around, we see networks everywhere. Interpersonal networks. Facebook groups. Message boards. And the same structure applies to each one. This was a “hold on, I need to collect the pieces of my blown mind” type moment. I just had never thought about communication in that way in an in-depth way. It was something I had acknowledged, but never studied. 

So where does that leave us, the 21st century grad student? Well, we know how basic group organization works and how it relates to our potential field. But this isn’t enough. We not only have to understand how users and potential customers will react to the platforms we create, but we have to fully expect them to take the most advantage of what we make. But here’s the twist. Probably only 10 percent of these users will interact openly with us. But that doesn’t mean they’re the only important ones. In my time as a journalist, I learned that those who speak the loudest at us aren’t those who represent our entire readership. And Shirky helps structure that with his theory. Networks are always there, and they will adapt to their mediums. And we have to be ready. 

 

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Free the information!

Benkler’s writings are some of my favorite that I’ve done so far early in this young semester. First of all, not only is he drastically ahead of his time, clearly seeing the writing on the wall from the Napster cases, but he so eloquently brings up points that I have been echoing for the last three years about government restrictions on information and media. 

First, we have to accurately define “media”. It is the plural of “medium” which basically means the middle point between two points in a flow of information. However, over the last decade or so, the definition has changed in the land of public policy. Technically media are our televisions, our radios and our computers. The things that flow through them are nothing more than information or entertainment. However, due to copyright laws, this information has been restricted from an open flow by means of the government, in no small part due to lobbyists from corporations like Disney and Sony. 

Benkler would argue that these restrictions on information were never intended in society. I agree with him. But I want to take it a step further. The reason that these restrictions are in place is to protect the interests of people who are selling things that were never meant to be sold in the first place. Twenty years ago, the only way to access music and movies was through purchasing tangible goods that contained the things we wanted. Like records, VHS tapes and CDs. Now, information has flowed back into its non-physical form thanks to the internet and computers. Suddenly corporations that made their fortunes off of producing things that exist best in a non-physical form. For example, iTunes and the distribution of MP3s from a platform for pay. Unfortunately, when free versions of the same product exist on the internet, you’re stuck with a failing business model, and suddenly the government is asked to help save corporations from the people. 

It seems that no matter what restrictions are created, information will always find a way to present itself in a free form through the medium on the internet. My question is this. When will media producers change their model, as opposed to undercutting their customers? 

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What do you call games when everything is a game?

Don’t get me wrong, I love video games. After I write this post, I’m probably going to sneak in two games of “Madden ’13” before going to bed. That being said, how much of our life needs to be augmented in order to generate motivation and happiness? According to Jane McGonigal, a lot, apparently. 

First of all, the title of my post is tongue-in-cheek. McGonigal does go out to state early in the book that we can’t consistently live in a game state, because it’s impossible to be stimulated constantly. It would probably drive us crazy. That being said, she certainly offers a lot of reasons why reality IS broken and why we need to overhaul our basic interaction with our day-to-day lives. 

I agree that, in theory, these all seem like great ideas to make going to school, working out or healing from injury a more enjoyable and therefore more productive process. However, where do we draw the line between actual intrinsic motivation and intrinsic motivation created by a game system?  I define actual intrinsic motivation as motivation to simply complete a task, with or without feedback from a motivating system. 

How much motivation do we need to complete tasks? I get it that the point is to make completing tasks better, making us a happier society, but at what point do we start to lose grips on the fundamental aspects of reality? Of course, these are questions I’m not smart enough to understand yet– I need to finish the book. 

I will not criticize McGonigal for her attempts to make us happier through more recreational games. The “Hacking Happiness” section was touching and stimulating. There is serious weight to the “acting happy therefore you’ll be happy,” mentality. And each one comes with positive effects for the community.  

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How did I get here again?

Let’s just say that the interesting parts of my life don’t come from where I’ve lived. I’m 22. 18 of those years I’ve lived in Greensboro, N.C. And counting! Apart from my four years of undergraduate education at Appalachian State, my roots have been pretty firmly planted in North Carolina.

So there’s that.

Let’s also just say that my upbringing wasn’t filled with struggle or wonder. Just you’re typical slightly upper-middle class upbringing with two parents and a younger sister who’s still in high school. The same one I went to, mind you.

I haven’t even wavered on what I’ve wanted to do since I was basically a sophomore in high school. I picked “writing” in general at 15, and eventually settled on journalism when I was a high school senior. I then narrowed that down to sports journalism when I was a sophomore in college.

However, I’ve tried to supplement my basic mundane upbringing in other ways. I’ve gotten really good at consuming media. Especially sports. I challenge that I know more about sports than just about anybody I meet. I’m not bragging. It’s just like in Avon Barksdale said in “The Wire,” you’ve got to protect your corners. Sports are my corner.

But let’s talk about media. I come from a journalism background, so I’m extremely interested in the ongoing battle that is Print v. Web. Actually, can we even call it a fight anymore? If online versus print journalism were a boxing match, the ref would of called the fight two years ago. It’s over. The Internet won.

And that’s mainly why I’m here. I know I need to learn these skills to get to where I want to be. In  1983, I’d probably be good to go with my Journalism/Political Science degree from App State. Unfortunately, it’s 2012, and well, here we are.

I want to learn how to make mobile phone apps, and learn more about how TV and the Internet can be improved by them. I want to know where social media is going, and how things rank on Google.  I want to learn how to make good documentaries and how to do creative things with editing. Hell, I even want to make a simple flash or mobile game just to do it. I also want to know why these things are so compelling to us. The more I think about it, the more I realize that we’ve tried to get as much interaction out of our media as was physically allowed for a long time. Radio shows had call in sections. Television game shows allowed people to play at home. And we LOVED that back when it was the only option. I want to know why.

Basically, I’m Jake Amberg. I’m pretty into interactive media. We all are. I’m just determined to study it, learn about it and produce it.

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