Selfie Scrutiny

A picture is worth a thousand words. Yes, even if that picture happens to be mostly of your arm with your pouting face taking up the rest of the shot.

The selfie is more prominent and more powerful than ever before since its empowerment came in the form of social media sites such as Facebook, Twitter and the late MySpace (RIP). With the trend has emerged new slang- ‘thirsty’- a word often used to brand girls who appear to use the selfie for the purpose of attracting compliments.

Jerry Saltz, ‘Art at Arm’s Length’, disagrees that vanity is the primary motive for the selfie. “Unlike traditional portraiture, selfies don’t make pretentious claims. They go in the other direction- or no direction at all. They’re like the cartoon dog who, when asked what time it is, always says, ‘Now! Now! Now!’”

Image

Ricki-Lee’s recent controversial selfie she posted on Instagram.

The fact that selfies are taken by the subject themselves and uploaded to sites to be viewed by the wider public opens the subject up to potential criticism and judgement. This week, well-known singer Ricki-Lee Coulter was bombarded by comments on a selfie she uploaded to Instagram- the majority of which were negative. “I’m sorry but you look like ET” said Melly1973, while Possie84 wrote “You’re in the wrong frame of mind if you think you look healthy.”

Ricki-Lee fired straight back, asking people to hold their tongues instead of letting loose with insults. “I’m fit and I’m healthy and most importantly I am happy! If you don’t like the way somebody looks- that’s fine, but keep your negative opinions to yourself.”

James Franco, in contrast, welcomes the attention he receives for his “well-stocked collection of selfies” as being “the name of the game when it comes to social networking.

Franco says, “In this age of too much information at a click of a button, the power to attract viewers amid the sea of things to read and watch is power indeed.”

References

Hernandez, Brian, ‘James Franco explains the art of selfies: Attention is Power’, 27.12.13, http://mashable.com/2013/12/26/james-franco-seflies-new-york-times-instagram/

Pierce, Jeremy, ‘Ricki-Lee Coulter fires back at online bullies after posting a photo on Instagram’, 22.3.14, http://www.couriermail.com.au/news/rickilee-coulter-fires-back-at-online-bullies-after-posting-photo-on-instagram/story-fnihsrk2-1226861965057?from=google_rss

Saltz, Jerry, ‘Art at Arm’s Length: A History of the Selfie’, 27.1.14,http://www.vulture.com/2014/01/history-of-the-selfie.html

Prison of the Press

Log on to your Twitter account and go to the Wikileaks page (you should already be following it, but I’ll give your the opportunity to do so now if you haven’t). Do you notice anything? I’m not talking about their 2.19 million followers or their 285,000 Tweets revealing information the most powerful people in the world were powerless to hide from them. Check their location: everywhere.

Ray Josen draws our attention to this in ‘The Afghanistan War Logs Released by Wikileaks’. Josen identifies Wikileaks as being “the world’s first stateless news organisation” and it’s precisely this reason which makes the capabilities of Assange and his merry hackers  virtually endless.

Although our news sources supposedly produce information which is ‘for the people’, one must realise two things: the news organisation is governed by the powerful and its primary reason for existing is, fundamentally, profit. Therefore, whether you would like to believe it or not, the news we receive meets two standards:

1. It will make the ‘big boss’ happy.

2. It will sell.

Wikileaks, in stark contrast, is a stateless and therefore lawless non-profit, unbiased entity which exists solely to produce real information about real people and real events. There is, of course, the argument that whatever we don’t know won’t hurt us. I am, however, a strong believer in a quote from Plato, “ignorance is the root and steam of all evil.” A little drastic, perhaps, but I’m surre you grasp my point.

Ask yourself the question, should Wikileaks be given the same rights as a news organisation? My first answer was yes, but it isn’t anymore. But that isn’t because I don’t believe that its’ worth is immeasurable or that it doesn’t affect society more than ‘legitimate’ news sources, it’s because these ‘rights’ we refer to news organisations as having are, I feel, more appropriately described as restrictions. Yes, Journalists working under a legal news organisation have the protection of their legal system and the promise of their job if they continue to produce stories about school fetes and dogs who have learnt to walk on their hind legs.

It is Wikileaks who obey the MEAA’s Journalist’s Code of Ethics more than any other news organisation- to report and interpret honestly, without the bias of personal interest, to disclose conflicts of interest, etc. No, Wikileaks is not your typical news organisation because it is fighting to change what we have come to consider ‘news’.

The Coffeepot

It’s no secret that our lives are networked. Everything from our morning coffee, workplace woes and evening shenanigans we broadcast across as many platforms as we can; Twitter, Facebook, Snapchat, Tinder, etc. If you don’t do it, one of your friends will probably do it for you. So connected is our world that even inanimate objects now have the power to ‘communicate’ with other objects and ourselves. How did this come about?

A coffeepot. Yes, that’s right, a coffeepot. And it couldn’t even differentiate between a short black and a Cappuccino. 

This coffeepot just happened to be in the right place at the right time- it could have happened to any old coffeepot. In 1991, it was sitting in Cambridge University. It was the only coffeepot which was shared between several floors. If you have spent any time with academics, you’ll know that coffee is more important to them than the air they breathe.

Researchers from the lower floors would make their way up the flights of stairs, sometimes several times in a day, to enjoy a warm cup of joe from that quaint little coffeepot. It’s understandable, then, that they became quite frustrated when they frequently found the coffeepot empty. Academics without coffee can hardly consider themselves academics at all.

As anyone would, they fixed a video camera on the coffeepot which broadcast an image to their desktop screens 3 times a minute. A few years later, that coffeepot had famously become one of the first web cam sensations with millions having viewed it worldwide. (And we’ll pretend that a new coffeepot wouldn’t have been as expensive as the video camera).

The coffeepot, The Hammersmith Group explains in ‘The Internet of Things‘, was more than just a coffeepot. “That coffeepot was a proof of concept or today’s networked objects and the Internet of Things.”

An object can become part of the Internet of Things in two ways:

1. Through GPS, information becomes linked with specific locations.

2. The addition of sensors/ transmitters to objects allows them to react to their environments, communicate with users and other objects as well as be accessed online.

Objects which record their status and transmit information are referred to as ‘blogjects’, as Bleecker explains in ‘A Manifesto for Networked Objects‘. The term is an amalgamation of the words ‘blogger’ and and ‘object’. Many ‘blogjects’ can assertively participate on the Internet, even sharing experiences and observations. (It’s a little disheartening to realise that there are non-sentient beings which can do with ease what takes me several hours a week).

The possibilities this network creates are practically endless.

Do you often forget to water your plants? If there was a PETA for plants, I would have been incarcerated 10 times over. A new technology has been introduced for people like us: Botanicalls. The kit includes sensors which you insert into the soil of your plant and

when the water level is getting too low, the transmitters tell you with a text or tweet.

Nike now offers an accelerometer which can be embedded into your pair of Nike sneakers and connected to your iPhone or iPod. This enables you to measure how far and fast you walk/run, create a database and even compete with other runners.

The success of these products is directly related to their functionality; they provide a service rather than being technology for the sake of technology. The Hammersmith Group cites a period in the 1980’s during which cars actually told their owners, in their car voice, that the door was open or the lights were on. “That information could be communicated just as easily with a light on a panel or a chime. One of the reasons that automation isn’t as successful as it could be is that it often doesn’t address actual problems or needs.” 

It seems that we’ve realised the potential the Network of Things holds for menial daily tasks, but surely there is a greater use than well-watered Hydrangeas. Bleecker begs the question, “Now that we’ve shown that the Internet can become a place where social formations can accrete and where worldly change has at least a hint of possibility, what can we do to move that possibility out into the worlds in which we all have to live?”

Coffee, anyone?

What’s app-ening?

Android and Apple are like two bickering siblings, albeit to different fathers. “I thought of that first!” “No, I did! And I’m going to let any manufacturer use it for free.” “I declare thermonuclear war on you.”

Whether you’re an Apple addict or an Android anthusiast (excuse the laboured alliteration) you have to agree that the companies are founded on two very different ideologies. Were they, in fact, two siblings going about their own business they would probably scarcely lock horns, if they didn’t have the same goal: market domination.

As Bajarin observes in ‘Android and iOS: The two very different philosophies‘, the different choices the companies have made with regard to their take on the smart phone comes down to the type of company they are. Google is a services company whilst Apple is a software company. Let’s explore what this means for us, the users.

The hardware and software which Google produces is simply intended as an access point for the rest of their services. The Android phone was created to enable users to browse the web on mobile, non-PC devices. When we browse the web, we Google. Google design their products to appeal to as wide an audience as possible and to hold their attention for as long as possible. Android’s gadgets such as face recognition and flexible widgets make their products “more compelling for every day people to use,” as Bajarin explains.

In contrast, we have Apple. Instead of approaching their business as a services company, they operate as a hardware and software company. Apple’s ultimate goal is to make their innovations widely accessible. The products released by Apple are not necessarily perfect, but they are practical additions to the lives of every day people and are designed to meet a need. Bajarin states, “Their desire is to provide these consumers with sophisticated solutions that are extremely simple to use.”‘

You may notice that both of these ideologies center around the accessibility of the internet through mobile devices. Roth, author of ‘Google’s Open Source Android OS will Free the Wireless Web’, explains the two anticipated the shift from PCs to smartphones: “Phones were going to replace PCs as the main gateway to the Internet, and they were going to do it soon. Why would consumers tether themselves to a PC when phones were growing more and more powerful — and were cheaper, too?”

People become quite passionate about the phone they use and many develop strong loyalties to Apple or Google. Reed illustrates the differences between the two fan bases nicely in ‘Why the iOS-Android feud is so intense: It’s about core philosophy more than products‘. iPhone users “love that their products ‘just work’ and that they don’t have to deal with any of the unpredictability and inconsistency that’s inherent in the Android experience.”These things don’t matter as much to Androidians (it’s a word now) as the plethora of devices types they have at their disposal.

Reed speculates that “preferring iOS to Android may  come down to the age-old question of how much you’re willing to sacrifice freedom for security, and vice-versa.”

The battles in history would suggest that there will one day only be one smart phone. Internet Explorer and Netscape Navigator waged their war in the 1990s, while Google eliminated Yahoo as a competitor in the 2000s. Whilst neither of these companies will be vanquished in the near future, one will emerge victorious as the primary platform which will be the receiver of the user shift from PCs to smartphones and tablets. Place your bets.

The Digital Winds of Change

Inviting guests to your next party through Facebook is probably not a great idea. Sarah Hine doesn’t think so either. Eight hundred teenagers gate-crashed her house party and caused about $50,000 worth of damage to the home. She isn’t the first and she won’t be the last. Social media has the power to take any event or person and make them (in)famous.

Certainly the example of Sarah Hine’s party is one which evidences the potential for social networking sites to result in a negative outcome. However, they also have the power to inspire social movements, topple dictators and reshape the world as we know it. Kim Garst, in Social Media as a Catalyst for Social Change, cites two prudent examples of social networking sites instigating revolutionary movements.

On the 12th of January, 2010, Haiti was crippled by a 7.0 magnitude earthquake. More than 220,000 lives were taken, 250,000 houses and 30,000 buildings destroyed. Within the hour, Facebook and Twitter launched fundraising campaigns. The Red Cross collected $7 million in the first 24 hours by allowing donations to be made through mobile phones. Less effectively, but still notably, online poker sites dedicated their online tournaments to disaster relief, all entry fees and winnings going to the cause.

When discussing social media as a catalyst for change, you can’t forget Kony 2012. The Invisible Children organization launched an online video on March 5th. The video was designed to instigate a social revolt against Joseph Kony, African cult and militia leader and also an indicted war criminal. Through YouTube, Twitter, Facebook and various other social media sites, the video acquired 100 millions views in six days.  On Facebook, Invisible Children become the most ‘liked’ non-profit organisation with 3.1 million fans. Eight days later, the Kony 2012 Resolution was launched in the US House of representatives. (If you need a refresher, the video can be viewed here). These are some facts and figures about the media movement provided by The Guardian:

Currently, social media is the most powerful tool at the disposal of social revolutionaries. It is disputed, though, whether or not it will continue to be so.

As Neal Schaffer states in Social Media as a Catalyst for Social Change, (they need to be more inventive with their titles), “As people realize that the voice of one can reach billions, social media will go on reinventing itself into a faster, smarter and sleeker mode of communication that will continue to build virtual bridges everywhere- and help societies deal with challenges in new and more communal ways.”

Evgeny Morozov, in Facebook and Twitter are just places revolutionaries go, disagrees. He explains that “the actual history of popular regime change tends to diminish the central role commonly ascribed to technology.” he argues that the leaders of the uprising in the Middle East chose Facebook simply due to its popularity and that another medium would have been chosen had it been able to achieve a greater market saturation. He also suggests that embellishing the role of social media users in such revolutions validates how much time we spend (or waste) on such sites.

Morozov goes on to say “the recent history of technology strongly suggests that today’s vogue for Facebook and Twitter will fade as online audiences migrate to new services.” In this way, social media is just another marketing avenue and organisations will take advantage of whichever site(s) has the most active users. Like advertising on the street, an effective location will be one exposed to the maximum number of views each day.

Social media is commonly branded as being one of the biggest time wasters of the 21st century, but it is capable of far more than getting you in trouble with your boss. If you need evidence of the value and power of social media, you need only look at what changes have arisen as a result of being able to communicate with those from around  the globe. And I think that justifies a few hours on Facebook here and there.

How WikiLeaks changed the World

Whether you’re young, old, an Eskimo, Saudi Arabian, cleaner or air conditioning installation expert, you have heard of WikiLeaks. This is a topic I don’t believe you can ‘fence-sit’ on; you’re for the movement or you’re against it. Personally, I believe in the free exchange of information and the availability of content to the entirety of the world’s population. If your government doesn’t think you should know something, that’s all the more reason you deserve to know. As Khatchadourian states in ‘No Secrets‘, “The Web site’s strengths- its near-total imperviousness to lawsuits and government harassment- make it an instrument for good in societies where the laws are unjust.”

But I’m not interested in debating whether the organization will reap more negative or positive outcomes. The website has stood strong for several years, despite countless threats and Assange’s imprisonment. The leaks are not slowing down. WikiLeaks is here, so how is it affecting our world?

Diplomacy has been changed forever. Governments can no longer assume that their business will remain private from public eyes. Anything they do or say has the potential to infiltrate the public sphere.

In primary or high school, did your ‘friend’ ever snatch your diary in which you’d been doodling your name with your crush’s last name on the end (decorated with little love hearts) and run across the playground to show him and his friends? No, me neither. Cough. But even if we had, that level of embarrassment we didn’t experience  does not even begin to compare to the humiliation experienced by the officials and government employees named in the leaked documents. For example, as explained by Carne Ross in ‘How WikiLeaks changes thinks for us all‘, “It [was] acutely embarrassing for Mubarak’s regime in Egypt that his intelligence chief [had] been recorded in excruciating detail plotting with Americans against Iranian cells in Egypt, and on how to defeat Hamas and Hezbollah.”

At the time of WikiLeaks’ inception, US administrators were those seen to have been the most dishonest. Though they “portrayed themselves as supporters of democracy, freedom and human rights, the telegrams tell a different story of intimate and co-dependent relationships with unpleasant and repressive regimes in Riyadh, Cairo and Rabat,” Ross explains. Ross substantiates this statement by referencing the torture and imprisonment (without trial) of thousands of Mubarak’s political opponents by the Egyptian intelligence chief.

But before you settle back and get out your finger of judgement and condemnation, take a moment to consider that the day is on the horizon when all of your ‘private’ information will be available to the public to peruse at their leisure. Such privacy breaches are already beginning to occur with inventions such as Google Glasses, through which simply looking at a person will allow you to see that they are wearing the same clothes they had on last night, but with hair a little more rumpled. Have you been sending a few too many texts to your ex’s on drunken nights? Are you a successful business woman now but once moon-lighted as a topless waitress to make your way through university? Or maybe you do a bit of work on the side which you haven’t declared on your tax. One day, all of it will be out there. It’s happened to politicians and democrats so it can most certainly happen to you.

I will say to you as I believe politicians should act: if you don’t want someone to hear it, don’t say it. If you don’t want someone to read it, don’t write it. If you don’t want someone to see it, don’t do it.

 

Reflection

Submitting personal work to the outside world is a daunting experience. Blogs are not written in an academic matter, so personal opinions and anecdotes inevitably creep in. If a writer can embrace this, though, it offers great potential for the writing to be entertaining and enlightening. This, as Bruns (2009) explains, is key to capturing an audience: “With public writing, you’re trying to lure an audience with what you’ve written, and the way you’ve written it, and you’ll need to grab their attention immediately. General audiences sometimes want to learn something new, but much of the time they just want to be entertained or casually informed.”

I allowed this personalisation to infiltrate my blog posts, thus allowing my readers to connect with me as a writer and hopefully drawing a repeat readership. For example, in my post ‘The Twilight Zone’ I begin with a personal anecdote about the addiction which gripped my early teenage years. I believe that hearing first-hand about another’s experiences mixed with analysis is much more stimulating than simply reading a summary or discussion.  In the words of Orson Welles, “I can think of nothing that an audience won’t understand. The only problem is to interest them; once they are interested, they understand anything in the world.”

The readership statistics for my blog surprised me. As you can see in the above Imagepicture, the primary country of origin for viewers is predictably Australia with 115 views in the past month, followed by the USA with 35 views. These are countries I would expect to have the highest readership numbers as the issues discussed in my blog are most prudent to Westernized cultures. Japan and Germany, however, were unexpected. Given the relatively low number of hits from these countries, it’s debateable whether or not their intent was to actually read a blog American/ Australian piracy or if they were simply lead here by the long tail of links. I hazard to guess that the single viewers from Malta, Romania, Taiwan and Ukraine, among others, stumbled upon my blog by mistake.

Search engines (Google, Google Images and AOL) proved to be the largest providers of viewers to my blog, with 68 referrals. This surprised me as I assumed the vast majority of readers would be Communications and Media students like myself. These readers comprised the second highest referral, with 45 from the WordPress reader (meaning they are subscribed to my blog) and 39 from Twitter (as I post my new blogs with the bcm240 hash tag). The link to my blog is also available on my social networking accounts, including Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest.

Blog-to-blog interaction also proved to be a successful method of drawing an increase in viewer numbers, whilst also fostering improvement in my blog. The process of giving and receiving constructive criticism is beneficial to both contributors. The act of giving helpful feedback to other writers is an art-form in itself. Simply stating “Great post, keep it up” is not going nurture the development of the author. Finding a balance between this and “the only good part was the title” is a difficult task, but is essential  for further advancement of the blogger’s writing, analytical and anecdotal skills.

Through receiving feedback from other writers, I was able to gain the perspective of my reader and cultivate my work appropriately. What is always necessary to remember is that you are writing for the public sphere rather than a personal log or academic entry. Writing must be clear, concise and well evidenced.

Over the course of the semester, my mother came to expect that every weekend is ‘blog check’ day. Being the author of a text and being somewhat emotionally involved in its content often results in the inclusion of unnecessary information (also known as waffling), grammatical errors and questionable statements. My mother is a firewall, if you will, against the worst of these reaching public eyes.

For me, sitting down to write my weekly blog was a cathartic process of self-development. Beginning to write, I never pre-meditated what conclusion I would draw. As Michelle Webb (fellow UOW student) says quite beautifully, “Writing, to me, is simply thinking through my fingers.” The process of expressing oneself through type is that you are able to witness exactly where your train of thought began and the journey you made to reach closure. “I have never started a poem yet whose end I knew. Writing a poem is discovering,” (Frost, 1955).

References

Bruns, Merry, ‘Writing for the Public’, 09/22/09, The Center for Anthropology and Science Communications, http://www.sciencesitescom.com/CASC/writing.html

Flusfeder, David, ‘Like the beam of a lighthouse’, 28/05/06, The Telegraph, http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/books/3652692/Like-the-beam-of-a-lighthouse.html

Frost, Robert, New York Times, 07/11/55, ‘Poets on Poetry’, http://www.infoplease.com/spot/pmpoetry1.html

Webb, Michelle, ‘Michelle UOW’, 2013, http://michelleewebb.wordpress.com/