[F] is for a [F]inal Assignment – Reflecting on what I learned in my Advanced Media Theory seminar

The final requirement for my special topics doctoral seminar is to write a blog post which asks – and answers – the question: “What have I learned in my Advanced Media Theory seminar?”

From a technology perspective

First and foremost, I learned that the amount of time that it takes to manage and regularly – frequently! – update a blog is significant. At the beginning of the semester, I intended to update this blog on a weekly basis. While I have tons of ideas for content, actually sitting down and writing a post proved to be more difficult – and this is in spite of having access to WordPress on my iPhone. Thus, although I have had the possibility of being consistently and constantly connected to my blog, creating high-qualityinteresting content was more onerous than I originally anticipated.

Second, I (re)learned that using Twitter is as onerous as I remember it being. The effective use of Twitter, like with any social media platform, requires frequent, ongoing engagement with the larger community. It’s about creating a conversation between groups of users centered around various topics – #hashtags. This means not only pushing content (‘tweets’) into the Twitterverse, but actively engaging with others on the platform. For this reason, I continue to question the utility of Twitter as a note-taking tool in an education/classroom context.  I think that, from a pedagogical perspective, clearer more explicit guidelines centering around a common language (and consisting of more than one hashtag) might help to focus the online conversation, and would allow for the easy grouping of similar concepts. For example, it might have been useful to have guidelines which

  • Created / identified multiple hashtags for students to use
  • Developed rules for
    • Identifying Tweets related to in-class discussion vs readings
    • Citing authors
    • Citing colleagues
    • Posting pictures

Last, but not least, as epitomized by this assignment which was capped at 5,000 characters, I was reminded about the importance of and difficulty in being succinct. In law school and throughout my employment experience with the federal government, the importance of point-first writing was hammered home. Judges and Ministers, we’re told, don’t want to waste their time having to guess at what you’re getting at – they’re too busy. Be simple, be straightforward and be clear. Being concise while doing these things is another ballgame.

When you’re limited to 140 characters and 10 of them (at a minimum) are used up by identifying your Tweet with the course code and tagging your professor or classmate, how do you convey your message with brevity? Further complicating this challenge is the requirement to Tweet quickly when in class, to keep up with the presentation or in-class discussion at a real-time pace when things are moving quickly. Spend too much editing your Tweet and it’s no longer relevant; spend too little time and you risk running out of space (or potentially Tweeting a message identical to one of your classmates).

From an epistemological perspective

During the second last class of the semester I think that the purpose of this seminar finally clicked in my mind. Originally, I thought that the focus of the course was on the evolution of technology, with an emphasis on the social, cultural and economic impact of digital technologies, and on algorithms in particular. TBH, although the readings were interesting and relevant to my files at the office, I struggled to see how they were relevant to either my doctoral research project or my future as an academic. I’m going to be studying vampires, werewolves, zombies and the law – who’s going to be Tweeting about that?!

As the semester progressed, as we worked our way through Professor Levy’s forthcoming book on algorithms and our in-class presentations from the course bibliography, I started to see how all of the material was connected. The course wasn’t just about the evolution of technology, nor was it about how that evolution impacted the social, cultural and economic aspects of contemporary Western society. Rather (to me anyway) it was about how those impacts, in turn, affected the creation, accessibility, interaction and internalization of knowledge. In particular, I think that the course focused on how technology, digitization and now algorithms impact knowledge acquisition and creation in the context of education. We looked at this from both a risk and an opportunities perspective – the risks of failing to utilize such mediums in general and effectively, and the opportunities for collaboration and growth when used intentionally with a purpose.

With that said, while data curation is (likely) the next/current phase of information/knowledge management, I’m not certain that using social media to do so is the right tracking system for me. I’m not a pen and paper girl, but I prefer to keep the control of my data in my own hands.

Character count (with spaces): 4,901 *Revised 30 March 2017 – 4,904*

 

[A] is for (UO)AM17 – A mid-semester reflection on a doctoral seminar

With the second semester of my doctoral studies nearly halfway through, I thought that it might be worthwhile to take a pause and reflect one of the required courses of my Ph.D program: a special topics seminar focusing on Advanced Media – the impetus behind this blog. In particular, I’d like to use this post as an opportunity to respond to a portion of Chapter 6 : “L’apprentissage collaboratif” (“Collaborative learning”) of the draft of the book that we have been reading (albeit I’ll respond somewhat vaguely because the book is the manuscript of a forthcoming publication by the course professor, Pierre Levy (Canadian Research Chair in Collective Intelligence)).

The focus of this chapter, as mentioned above, is collaborative learning. Professor Levy begins by describing how social media can be used to contribute to (and enhance) the learning environment. He describes in detail how he uses social media as a pedagogical tool in his undergraduate and graduate seminars to emphasize skills not platforms. As an example, in his doctoral seminar, we have been asked to do the following:

  • Engage with the course material on Twitter (you can follow me at @jdeemill as well as our collective conversation using the hashtag #uoam17) by notetaking on Twitter during class and while doing readings, and by sharing related content in between classes using the hashtag;
  • Creating an academic blog (although, mine seems to be more ‘quasi-academic’);
  • Using a private Facebook group to share course material, related articles, etc (only Professor Levy and the students in the course have access to this); and 
  • Using a data curation platform like ScoopIt.

Before engaging in my reflection upon this experience to date, I would like to highlight that Professor Levy has an expertise in and understanding of social media platforms that (in my opinion) is not only rare among academics but inspirational and something to aspire to. I have come across very few professors who have harnessed technology in such a nuanced way (Michael Geist, is another one of my favourites, if you were curious).

Returning to the topic of Chapter 6 of the manuscript, Professor Levy argues that the use of Twitter and Facebook in the classroom teaches students a “cultivated” (or perhaps “cultured” is a more accurate translation) way to use the technology. This statement – in combination with the sentence that follows which lists other ‘legitimate’ uses of social media such as posting pictures of one’s breakfast, sharing memes, and advertising – actually functions to delegitimize those ‘other’ uses of social media. It creates a hierarchy of users and uses, segmenting them into classes – academic and non-academic; cultured and non-cultured; and by extension important and unimportant.

In addition, I disagree with Professor Levy’s view that using Twitter in the classroom allows students to communicate directly with other students about the course material thereby facilitating the free exchange of information and discussion without disrupting the course. I think that the use of social media platforms while physically in the classroom actually detracts from class discussion and engagement. From a user’s perspective, I find it difficult to follow and engage with class discussion (that is ask questions verbally in class) while I am trying to keep up with a parallel discussion in the Twitterverse. I’m (unintentionally) forced to choose between engaging fully in one medium or another, or engaging partially in both. In support of this position, studies on the use of technology in other public spaces suggest that what happens when such technology is introduced into a public space is the creation of a private sphere or “cocoon” of activity. Hampton & Gupta (2008) have found that such spheres of “public privatism” have a detrimental impact on interaction in a public space because they “[contradict] common expectations of public behaviour, and [divert] attention away from co-present others” (p. 835).

While digital literacy issues have the potential to impact everyone (see the ongoing discussions on the Internet and in the press surrounding the ‘fake news’ issue) and critical digital skills should be taught and updated throughout all stages of our lives, I think that the utility of social media for academics and for students in the classroom depends on their area of research. In technology law (as in the case of Michael Geist’s blog), it would certainly be important to stay apprised of developments on a day-to-day basis. Twitter, blogs, newsletter, data curation sites would therefore be of the utmost importance. A similar logic applies to the research being undertaken by Professor Levy. For someone like me, however, whose research will examine the representation of people living with HIV/AIDS in popular culture (and in particular in literature and graphic novels), I’m uncertain how useful such platforms will be.

Follow the debate as it unfolds on Twitter!

Sources:

Hampton, K.N., & Gupta, N. (2008). Community and social interaction in the wireless city: Wi-fi use in public and semi-public spaces. New Media & Society, 10(6), 831-850.

 

[V] is for Varsity – and I love it!

The indoor track and field season is quickly coming to a close! This past weekend marks a bittersweet end to the out-of-town portion of the indoor season. Although I love competing, I miss the furry guy tremendously when I’m gone (hence the bittersweet aspect of the whole thing). I’m beyond lucky to have amazing friends and roommates to check on him and keep him company in my absence!

While the season isn’t over yet – there are two meets left here in Ottawa: one on February 18th and one on March 4th – I think it’s worthwhile taking a pause to reflect on my experience so far.

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First and foremost, I’m grateful for the opportunity to train and compete as a Gee-Gee. Yes, I’ve mentioned this before, but it’s worth stating again. The varsity program is exceptionally well-run; the coaches are professional, dedicated, and supportive – they know exactly when you need to be pushed and how to do so; there is excellent communication between the coaches, the team manager and the athletes; and last but not least, my teammates are amazing – they’re positive, encouraging and inspirational.

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From a ‘pure numbers’ perspective, I’ve seen a significant improvement in my race times (Heck, I’ve even won one of my heats – a very exciting experience in and of itself!). My first 3k on the indoor track, which I ran in December of last year, I DNF’d because I lost track of the number of laps I had done and ended up shorting the thing by 200m. If I had completed it, I would have likely run a 11:45 or 11:50. Since then, I’ve managed to get down to 11:11, and now have aspirations of coming in under 11 minutes.

In addition to growth in terms of fitness, I’ve also experienced significant personal growth. I have made some wonderful new friends (Aw!) – but seriously, I have met some amazing people through track and cross-country. There are definitely too many people to name and/or post photos of (you know who you are if you’re reading this!),but you guys and gals are the best! Knowing that we get to hang out before and after practice/meets is one of the things that keeps me coming back.

I’ve also encountered – and am working on overcoming – a dimension of track and competitions that I didn’t expect: Stress and performance anxiety. These two things are closely related.

The reason that they were unexpected is because I’ve been faced with numerous stressful situations in both my professional and academic life. I’ve made it through the LSAT, law school, and countless presentations (ranging from 5-6 people to upwards of 175). I’ve organized several major events, including a 3-week orientation program for incoming law students and a multi-faculty sports tournament. I’ve been in meetings with and provided advice to senior ranking public officials. And yet, nothing has stressed me out to the degree that literally putting one foot in front of the other on a track has.

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(Photo credit: https://www.instagram.com/ashutteraway/)  

The symptoms of the stress and anxiety are a little TMI – but let’s just say that it involves extensive perspiring and an upset stomach. The result – I often end up holding back during competitions.

One of my amazing coaches provided me with some excellent advice during a recent competition, which I put into action this past weekend. I used dissociation techniques to silence my nerves. Upon arriving at the track at 9:30am, with my race scheduled to run only at 3:40pm, I took off into Ithaca, NY and walked around. I had a tea, took a yoga class and made my way back to the track for lunch. I chilled and watched some Fast & Furious 6 and then, with about 1h30 to go before my race, I got changed, put on a playlist that I use at Spin City and started my warm-up.

My warm-up is a bit atypical, but it gets my heart-pumping, my legs loose and my mind excited. I do a 15-20 jog on the track, followed by some dynamic stretching. I move into a strength and conditioning warm-up that I’ve adapted from Bodies by Phil (push-ups, bridge pulses, squats, lunges, knee highs, squat jumps, Spiderman jumps, mountain climbers, burpees) and then finish with a dance party. Once I spike up, I toss in some strides and then I’m good to go.

After all is said and done, I’m very pleased with how my race went this weekend! I had minimal race anxiety and stress, made a decent time and was happy with the result. 

I know that I have more give and that I can get faster. I’m already looking forward to the next two home meets, to outdoor track this summer, to indoor track next year, and to running generally. And that’s what it’s about. A love for a sport that I get to compete – and if I can improve at the same time, it’s an added bonus.

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[A] is for Anonymous – A paper and presentation in progress (Part I)

Last semester, in my Theories of Media Studies seminar, I prepared a paper on the subject of hacktivism. In particular, the paper explored hacktivism using Lasswell’s (1948) model of the process of communication – who says what through which channel to whom and to what effect. Using the hacktivist group Anonymous as a case study, this paper was guided by the following framework:

Lasswell’s Process of Communication

Case Study: Anonymous

Who says Who is the sender? Who is Anonymous?
What What is being sent? What messages are being sent by Anonymous?
Through which channel What medium is used? Which medium(s) are being used by Anonymous?
To whom Who is the audience/ receiver? Who is the recipient of the messages?

Who is Anonymous’ intended audience?

To what effect What is the meaning? What is the effect of the messages?

The paper drew upon news articles and scholarly works examining the membership, activities and messages of Anonymous as well as the 2012 YourAnonMedia video entitled “How to join Anonymous – A beginners guide”. In the lead up to the conference that I’ll be presenting the next iteration of this paper at, I’ll be posting the first one is several pieces – including the final table, which will be populated as we go along.

“Anonymous”: The Voluntary Faceless Other
In the Context of Hacktivism, is the Medium the Message?

Who is Anonymous?

“We come from all places of society: We are students, workers, clerks, unemployed; We are young or old, we wear smart clothes or rugs, we are hedonists, ascetics, joy riders or activists. We come from all races, countries and ethnicities. We are many. We are your neighbours, your co-workers, your hairdressers, your bus drivers and your network administrators. We are the guy on the street with the suitcase and the girl in the bar you are trying to chat up. We are Anonymous.”
– YourAnonMedia (2012)

 

The specific identity of Anonymous group members as well as the precise number of members is unknown. The group’s self-description claims that it is far-reaching and that it encompasses individuals from all professions and social classes, of all ages, races, and ethnicities. Its members and supporters claim that its ‘membership’ (for lack of a better word) has and continues to grow in numbers (Potter, 2015):

“We are more than you think. We are more than anybody thinks. We are many.”
– YourAnonMedia (2012)

However, Anonymous members come and go as they please, participating in the group’s activities as much or as little as they want:

“All we are is people who travel a short distance together — much like commuters who meet in a bus or tram: For a brief period of time we have the same route, share a common goal, purpose or dislike.”
– YourAnonMedia (2012)

Based on the foregoing, it can be concluded that the membership of Anonymous is both unstable and constantly in flux. If this is true, then Anonymous can be defined as having a collective identity, whose “whole is something greater than the sums of its parts” (Potter, 2015, p.10). Anonymous therefore “emerges from [a] collection of individuals but is not reducible to them” (ibid, emphasis in original). This means that as long as hacktivists perform acts in the name of, or on behalf of, Anonymous, Anonymous will always exist (Caldwell, 2015). Potter (2015) states that, in this context, “[t]he old adage ‘cut off the head and the body will die’ simply does not apply, because there is no head” (p.13). This proposition is supported by the Anonymous motto, featured prominently on its website:

“We are a Legion. We do not forgive. We do not forget. Expect Us.”
– Anonymous (2016)

 

Thus, when Anonymous or one of its derivatives is used in specific contexts, it signals that other like-minded individuals, that friends not foes, are abound:

“At the time of this writing, Facebook, Twitter and the IRC [AnonNet] appear to host the most active congregations [of Anonymous]. But this may change at any time. Still, these are probably the best places to get started. Look for terms like “anonymous”, “anonops” and other keywords that might be connected to our activities.”
– YourAnonMedia (2012)

Using terms like “anonymous” and “anonops”, and wearing the Guy Fawkes’ mask establishes a common language and a set of cultural practices that Anonymous members can both identify with and mobilize around. As such, it is one mechanism for unifying what would otherwise be very disparate actors (Flesher Fominaya, 2010, p.395). While the identity of individual Anonymous members is generally unknown, the social movement is identifiable by its pseudonym and derivatives and by its association with Guy Fawkes. In the absence of clear, authoritative leadership, when a social movement has a fluctuating and diverse membership that is based on anonymity and secret identities but is nevertheless identifiable, is it possible for that group to articulate a coherent message?

[To be continued…]

Conclusion (To date)

Lasswell’s Process of Communication

Case Study: Anonymous

Who says Who is the sender? Who is Anonymous? A social movement (collection of individuals) with a fluctuating and diverse membership
What What is being sent? What messages are being sent by Anonymous?
Through which channel What medium is used? Which medium(s) are being used by Anonymous?
To whom Who is the audience/ receiver? Who is the recipient of the messages?

Who is Anonymous’ intended audience?

To what effect What is the meaning? What is the effect of the messages?

In addition to the above, Anonymous uses several symbols to convey its message and to signal its presence to its targets and members – the Guy Fawkes’ mask, terms like “Anonymous” and “anonops”.

 

Sources:

Caldwell, T. (2015). Hacktivism goes hardcore. Network Security. May: 12-17.

Flesher Fominaya, C. (2010). Collective Identities in Social Movements: Central Concepts and Debates. Sociology Compass. 4(6): 393-404.

Lasswell, H. (1948). The structure and function of communication in society. In Schramm, W. & Roberts, D. (eds) The Process and Effect of Mass Communication. Urbana: University of Illinois Press.

Potter, Garry. (2015). Anonymous: A Political Ontology of Hope. Theory in Action. 8(1): 1-22.

YourAnonMedia. (2012). How to join Anonymous – a beginners guide. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZdL3aU0yZBE

[N] is for Networked – A Book Review Presented in CMN8130

My first assignment – well, technically the second or third assignment because using Twitter (@jdeemill / #uoam17) and maintaining this blog are part of the course requirements – was to read and present on a book, related to the course found in the bibliography provided by Professor Levy. I chose to read and present on Networked: The New Social Operating System, written by Lee Rainie (Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project) and Barry Wellman (NetLab, University of Toronto).

The book examined how networks have transformed the way we (as a society, as individuals) connect – in person and electronically – using data from Canada and the United States. It included real-life illustrative examples to show “the power” of networks, when harnessed efficiently and effectively.

The book was divided into three parts:

  • Part 1 of examined the actual technological changes – that is how we got to be where we are (the rise of the Internet, how adoption evolved over time, current online activities in social networks) – and also looked at the rise of mobile phones and the concept of ‘always-available’;
  • Part 2 considered the impact of the social networks, the internet and the mobile phone impact communities, families, identities, work; and
  • Part 3 suggested possible ways that technology (mobile, the Internet, and social networks).

The focus of my presentation was on Part 2 of the book. In particular, I found two sections of the book to be the most interesting and informative: How the triple revolution (mobile, Internet, and social networks) impacted the transformation of our individual networks and how it transformed the family.

Networked individualism

networked-individualism

According to Rainie and Wellman, ICTs (information communication technologies) have transformed – not destroyed – social networks. These transformations pre-date the Internet, starting post-WWII with cars, phones, and planes. This allowed personal communities to extend beyond neighbours and neighbourhoods, enabling place-to-place networks. ICTs led to the adoption of person-to-person networks, where individuals take on multiple roles. They allow people to connect in ways that provide diversity (larger networks lead to more people in a network), more choice (larger networks) and manoeuvrability between networks (based on what’s important to the individual right now.

Rainie and Wellman argue that instead of social isolation – a myth that they attempt to bust in their work – we see a shift towards ‘flexible autonomy’ when it comes to our relationships. But, what does this mean? It means that

  • The individual (not the household, the workplace, the family) is the centre of their networks
  • That people now have more freedom to choose with whom they interact; and that they can be more selective about who they choose to interact with
  • Their position in their network is strengthened by having a larger more diverse network – and knowing which network to tap into at a particular moment.

The implications of this “networked individualism” are that

  • Individuals now have to take full responsibility for maintaining their own social networks
  • That maintaining one’s network requires significant resources (including time) and skill (how to know who to connect to, through which platform – including face-to-face – and when)
  • That our identity – a “networked self” as the authors refer to it – is singular but is in constant flux – with a core nucleus – that changes and adapts with every interaction that we have in the online (and arguably, the offline) world.

 

Networked families

In this part of the book, Rainie and Wellman (attempt to) debunk the suggestion that technology has had a detrimental impact on the family – i.e. that families not sit at the dinner table on their phones rather than engaging with one another. In particular, they argue that while technology may have weakened the physical togetherness of family, it now links families by multiple communication media. They can be connected all the time, without having to be physically in the same place. Households have become networks.

This shift is important in light of changes that have occurred in the familial structure: smaller families, delayed marriage, women in the workforce, higher divorces rates, more cohabitation, dual-job households, and shifting family roles. Managing these new structures and their resulting obligations actually requires the use of one’s network (and networked technologies).

networked-families

 

Networked families use ICTs to stay connected to each other -> it allows them to communicate despite being in physically different places, with different schedules. Arguably, the bigger or more complicated the household (i.e. divorced families, with step-siblings), the more communication that is needed. Rainie and Wellman conclude that families now communicate all day (even when they are in physically separate locations), thereby eliminating the requirement of physical and temporal proximity. Thus, although families might have less “face-time”, they have more “connected time”.

 

[M] is for Minimalism; [D] is for Decluttering

In addition to working on my Ph.D and training for varsity track events, this year I’m determined to simplify my life and live mindfully. What does that mean? It means taking a look at how I’m living, what I’m doing, who I’m doing it with and making sure that my time, energy and in some cases my money is only going towards things that make me happy, keep me healthy and allow me to grow.

I had been brainstorming ways to start this decluttering process – do I pick a room, a category of possessions (books, clothes, shoes, sports stuff, etc) – and then I received an email from The Minimalists suggesting that I consider playing the 30-Day Minimalist Game as February approaches. I love this idea! I love having a program to follow, and I love that it’s simple. I plan on playing in February and repeating it in March.

Here are the rules to the Minimalism Game (although I recommend that you check out their documentary, website and e-newsletter):

Find a friend or family member: someone who’s willing to get rid of their excess stuff. This month, each of you must get rid of one thing on the first day. On the second, two things. Three items on the third. So forth, and so on. Anything can go! Clothes, furniture, electronics, tools, decorations, etc. Donate, sell, or trash. Whatever you do, each material possession must be out of your house—and out of your life—by midnight each day.

Anyone is welcome to join me in this challenge! It all starts on Wednesday, 1 February 2017.

Stay tuned – I’ll be posting my progress on Facebook and Instagram, using the hashtag #MinsGame.

I’ve taken a “before” picture of my bedroom before the Challenge gets underway (more photos and more rooms to follow) so that I can track my progress over the course of the next month.


Much love – and minimalism ❤ 

 

[R] is for Research Interests – Part II

Before finishing off my undergraduate degree, one of my favourite professors asked me if I had ever considered grad school. I had, but money was an issue. I had tapped out my OSAP funding and couldn’t even pay off my last semester of tuition. I owed the university money, which I had to pay to literally get a copy of my diploma, so that I could give my future employer (the federal government) a copy of said diploma to complete my hiring package and get a job after undergrad. I ended up taking out a loan through a private banking institution – my debt load and repayment is a topic for another day – to cross off that requirement.

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I spent about 8 months in the federal government, working first as an Executive Assistant and then as a Question Period Officer, before deciding to return to school. My work schedule and supervisor, as well as the Master of Arts program in Communication at the University of Ottawa, were flexible enough that I was able to enrol as a “Special Student” and begin graduate courses a semester early. I had been accepted to start the M.A. program in the Fall, but wanted to get a head start! The summer was a quiet time for a QP Officer, so physically going to class didn’t conflict with my work schedule.

When I applied to UOttawa, I had proposed studying the use of the television series 24 as a tool of propaganda. I had never seen a full episode, only previews for the series shown during the commercials of the shows that I watched (mostly reality television), and couldn’t get over how overtly racist it seemed. Although I’ve written several papers and even presented on the topic (i.e. the use of the ticking clock, the possibility that the portrayal of David Palmer paved the way for Barack Obama) and have some very interesting theories about the power of 24 (and television in general), I ended up switching topics following a seminar with my future supervisor.

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 To be continued…