Sunday, 20 November 2011

The Social Experiment

This week my housemate, who studies Media, Culture and Society, asked if we could take part in a four day ‘social experiment’ for her dissertation. She requested that the whole house (five of us, all girls) would cut ourselves off entirely from all forms of social networking, emailing and ways of communicating technologically. That’s right…four days with no twitter, facebook, my.bham, gmail, Hotmail or the like. At first we were slightly outraged by this request, all complaining that it seemed somewhat demanding; after all we are final year students, and in the words of one of my housemates ‘need to check our emails’. However, we reluctantly agreed to take part. On the first day I continuously forgot that I was supposed to be ‘cut off’, and as if by some primitive reflex of social survival, automatically hit facebook every time I loaded my internet explorer. However, after a couple of days I managed to force myself to adjust, ‘proud’ on the Saturday when I’d only cheated the ‘experiment’ once. By the Sunday the experiment was over, and my housemate asked me to write a paragraph reflecting on my experience. What did I learn from these four days? That our need for the technology of communication has become so great that it is, indeed, now a need. The reaction of one of my housemates on being asked to take part was that she simply ‘wouldn’t’…indeed it was too difficult for her to cut herself off in this way for a few days. It has made me wonder, at what point did we become so technologically dependant? When did our need for constant social interaction become so prevalent? Indeed there was a time when, if information needed to be relayed it would happen over the course of a longer period of time through written forms, and when we needed to socialise with friends it would be over lunch once a week. One thing I did realise though was that I seemed to get a lot more work done during the days of the social experiment, and the other elements of my life have not fallen apart at the seams, just because I couldn’t check what my friends were thinking every hour on facebook. Perhaps the need for technology is not as great as we think.

Friday, 18 November 2011

Too Much of a Good Thing?

Some of you may have noticed the news apps that are popular on Facebook at the moment, laid on by the likes of The Guardian and The Independent where you can see what online newspaper articles your friends have read and then if you sign up to the app, you can read them as well. Unfortunately some of these, after reading, I've looked at the date and realised they were written in 2005 or earlier, I even read an Independent one the other day which was written in 1999, but I've seen a more recent one which I thought brought up quite an interesting but serious and relevant danger of the internet. It was written in 2010 and was about a Korean couple who allegedly let their own baby starve to death while they were obsessively raising  a 'virtual baby' on the internet. (1) The article mentions at the end how there are thought to be links between depression and internet addiction.

This got me thinking about  how the internet has such a moreish appeal. This story is definitely not the first one circulating about the consequences of internet addiction, and definitely not the first time that it has actually proved fatal.  I wonder what it is about the internet which is so appealing? No one seems to be addicted to reading novels or watching TV, and I think this is because these things only really serve a single function, where as the internet can cater to all sorts of different needs. In a way it is a kind of umbrella device which cannot be singularly defined. Its breadth seems to exacerbate addictions that are already present , perhaps to gambling, gaming, shopping or pornography, and as using computers can be quite a solitary activity, I can see how excessive use  is linked to depression.

I think again this related back to our discussions earlier in the term about social networking websites like Facebook, where you can create your own persona and can hide behind a computer and not have to face up to reality. Similarly perhaps, with something  like online gambling, you do not have to be seen walking into a bookies or a casino. I think some of the appeal of the internet that is at the same time a large risk, is the veil it casts over reality, which seems to place people a step back from what they are doing. The news story referenced really shows the power of internet addiction and how it is a complex psychological disorder. Similarly, the statistics mentioned in the middle part of this Guardian article (2) are quite shocking. If you're worried you about being a internet addict, there are plenty of online tests you can do to find out (3). A bit ironic don't you think?

(All accessed 18th November 2011)

Thursday, 17 November 2011

The Information

For those of you who are interested in the concept of information and how it is defined, stored, transmitted, there is a good popular science book on the topic: The Information: A History, a Theory, a Flood by James Gleick. Quite fittingly I read the eBook version, and here I got confused by the difference in medium.

The Kindle app on my phone (where I was reading the book in spare moments when waiting for the kids or other opportunities) told me that I was about 60% into the book - obviously there are no page numbers, as it is just a stream of text... and suddenly there was a chapter titled "Epilogue". This I found weird - why is the epilogue in the middle of the book? Was the book split into two parts with their own, independent structure?

Wrong. It was indeed the final chapter of the book. And the remaining 40% were notes, references, and the index. This is something you easily forget when dealing with a paper book, as you can identify where the book 'really' ends, and you have a much better idea of your position within it. The 60% mark offered by the e-reader gave me a false sense of accuracy, as you don't normally consider those appendages as part of the book proper.

Anyway, I guess this is something we need to get used to in the future, unless e-readers do the sensible thing and exclude references etc from the progress indication.

The book is easy to read, and contains a lot of interesting, erm, information. Ever wondered how those 'talking drums' work? Or what entropy has got to do with information? And you don't need a PhD in computer science to understand it!

Wednesday, 16 November 2011

We've come so far...

I was watching Friends today, which I am ashamed to say I do too much. Series Two, first broadcast in 1995 I believe was the one I was watching, and I couldn't help but laugh at the opening line after the credits of Chandler boasting about his new high-tech laptop computer:

"All right, check out this bad boy.", he says in a proud and gloating manner, "12 megabytes of ram. 500 megabyte hard drive. Built-in spreadsheet capabilities and a modem that transmits at over 28,000 b.p.s."

Now you don't have to be a computer-whizz to see that if someone came and boasted about that today, you'd think they had something wrong with them. Were computers ever like that?? When you consider that that was sixteen years ago, while it may seem not so very long ago for us, I can guarantee the older generations will think differently and maintain that sixteen years is not such a very long time at all. I remain as ever baffled by the speed at which our technology is improving.

I remember not so long ago when I got my first mp3 player, holding about 17 songs. And that was only maybe seven years ago when I think about it. Now we have ipods that can hold an insane amount of tunes, more than your battery power can even last for. And it isn't just memory, it is all of our technology. For my Twenty-first birthday two weeks ago, one of the things my mother gave me was an original paper from the day I was born. Seeing a cassette player on sale for about ninety quid certainly made me chuckle! But again: I'm not really very old!

My theory is that the technology of today is going through a phase of rapid expansion. In history, there's the agricultural revolution, the industrial revolution... Are we currently in the middle of the technological revolution? Computer revolution? I don't know quite what to call it, but when it is the title of a chapter in the history textbooks of the future, then we'll know.

Tuesday, 15 November 2011

Cont:Facebook: Satisfying our Desire for Permanence?

It seems I could not post as a comment on campus so here is what was meant to be a comment on the earlier thread:

Lucy's comment caught my eye and reminded me of how damaging a frape can be.

A flat mate of mine had his relationship ruined by a frape. The initial false posting was on his (then) long-term girlfriends' wall. asking her to marry him. He had no such intentions. She thought that it was a genuine question and answered positively. Once it was established that it had been a frape, both parties knew that the other had entirely different ideas about the future of their relationship, and it soon broke down.

Whilst typing this I was reflecting the meaning of the term 'Frape' i.e 'Facebook Rape.' I wont go into the psychoanalysis details but to tell the truth I don't think that the phrase is all that hyperbolic.

Social Media and Politics

In the current THES is a comment article on the use of social media in politics - this seems to happen mainly in non-Western countries, for whatever reasons. Maybe lack of trust in traditional broadcasting media? Would Twitter be more relevant in the UK if the BBC didn't exist? Or are people using Twitter but it is just not reported as journalists don't notice it? With the more limited and controlled flow of information coming out of other countries one has to look out for alternative sources.

And the interesting bit is at the end of the article: a call by a professor from Delhi to study social media in university seminars, rather than just films and literature. Good to know we're early adopters in HtB!

Wednesday, 9 November 2011


I’ve been pondering the idea of self-branding on social networking sites: of creating – through selectivity or outright lying – an idea of oneself different from reality. I’ve always said I’m uncomfortable with the self-branding aspect of Facebook (although I do untag unflattering photos posted by friends). But I’ve apparently got no problem with it on Deviant Art, giving myself a name – The Dandy Highwayman – that comes with a whole set of associations and implications: I’m a rake; a libertine; I like Adam Ant etc. Am I creating a persona to “live” through?

I think for me it feels different than concerted self-branding on Facebook because on Deviant Art my profile represents me as an ‘artist’, so it’s a persona to work through rather than live through, kind of like Banksy or Plan B’s Strickland Banks. Of course, the danger (or for some, perhaps, the desired effect) of any kind of self-branding is that the persona you create comes to eclipse you as an actual person. Ben Drew has announced that he won’t be playing Strickland Banks again, because he’s tired of people assuming the stage-persona to be him, but he still goes by ‘Plan B’ which is itself, presumably, a stage-persona.

How do others feel about the whole self-branding issue?

Tuesday, 8 November 2011

Facebook: Satisfying our Desire for Permanence?

All activity on social networking sites is deceivingly permanent. Every 'like'; every comment; every interaction is noted and recorded somewhere (the cloud.) It may only be a matter of minutes before a top story falls from everyone's news feed but the data still remains. A ghost of the comment, or expression lurks behind, to be collected and harvested just like any other source of data.

Our blogs and posts will outlast us. Putting aside a possible huge server fail or Facebook being shut down entirely our day to day narration of our social lives will live on long after the friendships or even people continue to exist. This is appeals to a desire many of us have, to go down in history, to create or to do something that will be permanently recorded. For the non-religious this idea soothes fears that death really is the end, that although we wont be able to sense or enjoy it, we still may 'live on' in some way as a citation.

However, it's not like our best moments are being recorded permanently. At best what will be 'attributed' to me (not that anyone will 'read' this data, it will be processed automatically) will be a collection of interactions I made (Liking stuff, attending events) at worst it will 'read' like a diary. I used to keep a diary, that's not how I want to live on after death.

After coming to this conclusion my online habits changed a lot. Even if what I post on the internet wont necessarily be attributed back to me, the fact that it will last as a record of what a human did with his leisure time makes me think twice before posting

Groupon the Band-Wagon

This post, in a way, is a response to deliberations we had in last week's seminar about how certain websites, despite competition, become the obvious point of reference for a particular realm. I thought about how Groupon, like Facebook as a social-networking site and Google as a search engine, completely monopolizes a certain market.

Before Groupon, there was not such a common port of call for online discount. Competitors such as or have never taken-off in the same, international way as Groupon has over the past three years; it now serves 44 countries. (Wikipedia) I read a Guardian article last Friday which released figures that highlight the success of the site. Its shares have soared to 55% above their initial cost and 'At $13bn, Groupon has a price tag worth double the amount Google reportedly offered for the discount firm last year.' (Josh Holiday,, 2011)

After witnessing the success of this online-voucher site, both Google (with the rejection of their offer) and Facebook have had plans this year to launch similar social-buying programmes. Just like these other two monopolies, Groupon has it's own smartphone app to suit you. Whether you're hungry ('I'm Hungry') or bored ('I'm Bored'), the app can track your whereabouts and find deals for establishments near you.

Is there any competition I'm unaware of? Also, is there much room for Groupon to grow without collaborating with either of the mentioned companies?

Link to article about Groupon's IPO:

Hoaxing for History

In 2008 Mills Kelly, a lecturer at George Mason University, crated a hoax historical figure called Edward Owens as part of his class 'Lying About the Past'. This figure - a fictional late nineteenth-century pirate - went on to have a rich digital life, spawning articles, Wikipedia entries and the like. When Kelly revealed the hoax at the end of his class, he caused quite a controversy, with even Wikipedia's founder, Jimmy Wales, taking notice.

Recently, Mills Kelly has announced that he intends to do the same again. What do you think of these deliberate hoaxes? Are they ever acceptable? And do they have a pedagogical value?

Further reading:

Thursday, 3 November 2011

Was shown this video during the week, it's one of the most visible appearances of Anonymous yet and a sign of a growing internet force figuring out how to implement its power in the real world. The idea of a Guy Fawkes mask at first detracted from the impact for me, all I could think was 'Well, this guy likes V for Vendetta.' but it does work and, though you can tell from the contrived hand movements that the guy doesn't act for a living, the video creates a real and impressive impact. I guess Anonymous got style.
Apparently the cartel has already responded to the internet group by allegedly killing people in Mexico thought to be associated with the group.
Sometimes you just have to sit back and appreciate the little things, like a ramshackle collective of precocious internet hackers donning Guy Fawkes masks after reading too much Alan Moore and picking fights with a Mexican drug cartel hellbent on fighting hyperlinks with guns.

Tuesday, 1 November 2011

Privacy is Dead

"People have really gotten comfortable not only sharing more information and different kinds, but more openly and with more people," he said. "That social norm is just something that has evolved over time." (2010 Zuckerberg)

In the UK, under the Human Rights act, ever citizen in the UK, has enshrined in law a right to a private life, however has the idea of privacy changed the the advent of mass social networks sites like twitter and Facebook. Mark Zuckerberg declared that the socially accepted view of privacy is dead, and the younger generation have different view of privacy than the older generation. Some have put this down to the fact that unlike adults, younger people have less control over other aspects of their lives and the internet is a place where they feel that they have control over the content that they give out. I would go with this argument however there are dubious grey ares surrounding privacy, when it comes to advertising. Social network users might have control of what they place on a Facebook page for example, but then they do not have any control over what then is done with that information. Social networks sell the information to companied which then can use the information, to create targeted market strategies for individual users, even a small piece of information like gender, or relationship status can heavily change the way you are targeted. For example, I single on my Facebook and on the advert bar, there is adverts for dating websites, which changed to other websites, if I changed that status to being in a relationship/married. To a certain extent we have to put up with this because we accept that we live in a consumerist/capitalist society, however it is taken to far then you could end up with something out of a science fiction film such as Minority Report, like the clip below. As a society we have to be careful about such ends and this probably requires some kind of global regulation to make sure that social networks have to work in a ethical way to protect peoples privacy, or people will leave the website in their masses I suspect. Accessed 01/11/2011 Accessed 01/11/2011