I'm spending the week at the Digital Pedagogy Lab, having conversations with, and being inspired by other folks committed to teaching with (and about!) technology. I've also been tweeting to the #digped hashtag all week, so I'm not sure I'll be summarizing my experiences here (yet, at least). But, I do want to share some resources, since a number of people have expressed interest in my teaching materials. In the spirit of openness, below are a couple syllabi that people may find useful, along with my typical Twitter assignment:
Twitter and Society (Capstone)
The Web in Real Life (200-level)
If you're interested in building off of what I have developed, please feel free. And please do let me know how it goes!
My short radio segment on Twitter and journalistic practice airs today on WAMC. The segment is also archived and available here: http://academicminute.org/2015/04/stephen-barnard-st-lawrence-university-social-media-and-journalism/
I must say, it's nice to see my work getting some traction. Here's a link to the (paywalled) article it's based on: http://jou.sagepub.com/conte…/…/2014/10/09/1464884914553079…
This weekend, I am presenting a paper at the Mini-Conference on Digital Sociology, in conjunction with the Eastern Sociological Society annual meeting. I'll also be attending the conference, and tweeting at #DigitalSociology. Here's a link to the paper, and the my slides and paper abstract are below.
The proliferation of digital technologies and augmented social relations offer great potential for the vocation of sociology. Although the greatest interest in the digital turn has centered on sources of data, digitality also provides many excellent methodological benefits as well as new and evolving subjects of analysis. This paper seeks to make the case for a more digitally-attuned sociology, and to forge a path in that direction. To accomplish this task, I begin with a brief history of digital sociology — in the U.S. and beyond — as well as a survey of other, related approaches that have gained greater traction in the field. Next, I examine the state of social life in the digitally networked era and make the case for sociology’s need to update its epistemological orientation to put an end to fetishisms of technology and the "real world." Finally, I outline an agenda for the future of digital sociology along with some suggestions for how it might be accomplished.
A colleague recently sent me a Guardian article entitled The smartest cities rely on citizen cunning and unglamorous technology by written Adam Greenfield as a part of the "Resilient Cities" project. It's a great read, and although it it would have been great fodder for my New Media, Conflict, and Control class this semester, I will certainly put it on the reading list next time around.
The examples are great, and the argument falls squarely in line with what many who study technology and society already know: that fetishizing the newest technologies will be more likely to reproduce than rectify social inequalities. Furthermore, techno-utopian logics are far too aligned with the interests of Silicon Valley capitalists than of average citizens. We would be much better off building things--whether they be spaces, devices, communication systems, or even social policies, for that matter--with an eye toward accessibility and inclusivity. The more I think about it, a true democratic ethos would be less “if you build it, they will come” and more “give people space, allow them access to resources, and you will see the true meaning of a ‘smart city’”…or something like that.
Well, it'll be in print soon. For now, it's available via Sage Publications' Online First program, which makes articles available online ahead of print.
After years of research and multiple drafts, I am excited to announce that I have an article published in Journalism: Theory, Practice and Criticism. The article is titled "‘Tweet or be sacked’: Twitter and the new elements of journalistic practice." Here's a link to the online version. I am also attaching a nearly identical version, since there are far too many barriers to access this and other, similar publications. Here is the abstract for the article:
Twitter has gained notoriety in the field of journalism due in part to its ubiquity and powerful interactional affordances. Through a combination of digital ethnography and content analysis, this article analyzes journalistic practice and meta-discourse on Twitter. Whereas most applications of Bourdieu’s field theory focus on macro-level dynamics, this study addresses the micro- and mezzo-level elements of journalism, including practices, capital, habitus, and doxa. Findings suggest that each of these elements is undergoing notable change as the journalistic field adapts to the networked era. Furthermore, this article constructs a typology of Twitter-journalism practices and demonstrates Twitter’s role in the transformation of journalistic norms, values, and means of distinction. It argues that these changes have contributed to new opportunities for capital exchange as well as to the emergence of a hybrid, networked habitus that integrates values and practices from the traditional journalistic field with those from digital and nonprofessional origins.
This is an interactive digital poster presentation I gave today at the 2014 Teaching and Learning Conference at the University of Denver. In it, I explain the strategies I have developed over the years for teaching with technology, which I started doing to encourage more student engagement. Now, I have an array of strategies and assignments I can draw upon, and they keep evolving every term. So, if anyone knows a good way to converge tweets and blog comments, I'd love to hear about it.
Later this week, I will be sitting on a panel at an Ethics Symposium at CU-Boulder. Here is an excerpt of what I wrote in preparation for our conversation:
Despite the powerful journalistic affordances of the Twitter and the glut of information it may contain, there are obvious reasons to question the network’s effectiveness of sorting out fact from fiction. The ‘wisdom of the crowd’ may not always be the best guide. By the same token, one must be careful not to rely too heavily upon the first wave of information coming from the mainstream media. As Anthony De Rosa pointed out earlier this week, “Twitter isn’t the problem. You are.” De Rosa’s point is that “process reporting”—the sharing of information as it comes in, prior to verification, and then correcting the record later—is irresponsible journalism. This is especially true in breaking news situations, where adrenaline is pumping the race to be firs—or, as De Rosa suggests, second—often gets in the way of what is otherwise a methodical process of gathering, verifying, and distributing information. As NPR Counterterrorism Correspondent Dina Temple-Raston put it, “the first information that you get is usually wrong….It took us [NPR] half an hour to figure out that there were two explosions, and that, in fact, they had been bombs” (2013). NPR’s verification process utilized a broad array of sources, found through both traditional and new channels.
As Adam Popescu once tweeted, “real reporting can be done via #Twitter. But not all of it.” Similarly, we are reminded that real reporting can be done by journalists, but not all of it. For example, this data visualization of tweets and retweets in the first hour after the 2011 Japan earthquake demonstrates how influential citizens can be in publishing and curating information in real-time. Of course, posting breaking information—on Twitter or elsewhere—is not the same thing as “traditional” journalism, which contains verified, contextualized (and, ideally, actionable) knowledge that is often the product of “gumshoe reporting.” Doing this kind of important yet painstaking works takes time and capital, and not just the economic kind.
Still, news consumers now have the option to ‘crash the gates’ and go straight to the source. And it’s not just average citizens who are now more accessible. Official sources are now an increasingly important part of the publishing cycle. For example, Colorado’s Jefferson County Sherriff’s office utilized employed a thorough social media strategy during the September, 2013 floods. Similarly, when the search for the Boston Marathon bombing suspect was over, Twitter users were among the first to know about it. And the tweet came straight from an official source: the Boston Police Department. Their post was retweeted nearly 140,000 times and received nearly 47,000 favorites. It read:
CAPTURED!!! The hunt is over. The search is done. The terror is over. And justice has won. Suspect in custody (Boston Police Department, 2013).
Drones and Disasters
When it comes to disaster coverage, drones provide obvious benefits. They can safely go where humans cannot, and can capture revealing (if more pixelated) images at a fraction of the cost it would take to send a full-size helicopter, camera, and reporting team. These affordances alone explain why drones may be the next frontier for disaster coverage. But, they are not without limitations.
I think the biggest issue is controlling the rare access to information about private life. The monopoly over this right is held by the State and many cooperative communication corporations (Facebook, Google, Comcast, the telecomms, etc.). Do they really want another, possibly combative, industry to have comparable access rights? It doesn’t appear so, as the regulatory process has sought to ban all “commercial” drone usage. As Lowy points out, “The FAA has identified the dividing line between a model aircraft and a small drone as more one of intent, rather than of technology. If it is used for commercial purposes, it's a drone. If it's used purely for recreational purposes, it's a model aircraft.” However, the tides appear to be turning, as a recent federal judge dismissed the Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) $10,000 fine against an aerial photographer on the grounds that “the small drone was no different than a model aircraft” (Lowy). The issue is far from settled, but this ruling paves the way for the “commercial” usage of drones, including journalism.
While there may be few ethical concerns about using drones to cover disasters—especially “natural” ones—the issue gets much thornier when people come into the equation. While the NSA now has a massive spying program built around 4th Amendment loopholes like the Patriot Act, average citizens are unlikely to be granted the right to fly and spy. Americans’ right to privacy is surely eroding, but it’s far from gone. For example, current techniques for recording in public require the use of “manned” (i.e. handheld) cameras. Thus, private life may become public, but some form of physical copresence is usually required.
Consider, for a second, what journalism and public space would be like if video-drones use became normalized. Would there be a sea of drones over Bieber’s mansion? How about flying around Boston and Watertown for days as the manhunt continued? The outcome would be even more ominous if “commercial use” included applications like Amazon’s drone delivery program. It’s obvious why the FAA is concerned about regulating drone usage. It’s also pretty clear why they’re an ethical concern for the journalism world: technological innovations have broadened journalistic toolkits, but merely possessing a tool does not dictate if or how we should use it.
This leads me to another concern about access to information and ‘convenience journalism’. As budgets get tighter and profit margins greater, and journalists are asked to ‘do more with less’, there may be even greater pressure for news teams to pick the ‘low hanging fruit’. (Citizen-run, celebrity-chasing, voyeur drones, anyone?) This kind of solutionism may be fine in certain circumstances, but the widespread implications may be more troublesome for those of us still clinging to the profession’s unwavering dedication to serving the public good. It’s much easier to print what’s coming off the wire, to air that video news release, or to stream a live-feed from an octocopter hovering over next month’s 4/20 celebration. But, what’s best and what’s easiest are rarely the same thing.
Given the instances of erroneous reporting by both citizen- and professional- journalists, I seek a departure from the endless cycle of mud-slinging at those actors (often non-professionals) charged of mucking up the journalistic process by publishing or publicizing unverified information. Besides, “professional” journalism is often the primary culprit, anyway (see Sohmer and De Rosa). Instead, we should ensure that journalistic practice remains in touch with journalistic values.
On a more abstract level, we might also ask, as medium theorists might, how certain communicative platforms help make some outcomes more likely than others. This would be a question of technological and communicative affordances and how they are leveraged in pursuit of particular goals. In other words, what tools are best for best for this particular job? Ideally, we could avoid situations where “the only tool you have is a hammer,” and “everything looks like a nail.” Inevitably, some people will keep pounding away until others come along and make us stop.
The same approach applies to the drone phenomenon. As the recent court ruling shows, the question is not so much if, drones will be used, but who will be allowed to use them, when, and to what ends? So, as drones start becoming part of the journalistic toolkit, we must keep in mind the goals and values of the profession, and be mindful of when and how we use them. If they’re abused great harm might be done, and a great privilege could be lost.
The American media market is well known for its flashy, profit-oriented approach to content production and distribution. Tactics of conglomeration (concentration of ownership by a parent company), Vertical and Horizontal Integration (shared efficiencies across commonly-owned companies) help media conglomerates accomplish a kind of synergy (inter-organizational efficiency) that companies outside the “Big 6” can hardly compete with.
As a scholar and educator focused on the field of media, I know all too well that examples of this kind of market/media logic are everywhere, just waiting to be found. Practically every program produced by a major media outlet will model parts of this logic if one looks carefully enough. There may be nothing new to see, but it’s still a useful endeavor to uncover what’s behind the veil. Still, every once and a while we’re faced with such extreme examples that they render visible what is so often hidden in today’s media environment. I recently recognized NBC’s The Voice as such a specimen. (Watch the full episode below.)
The Voice is an example of corporate media logic par excellence. During its season five finale, The Voice demonstrated just how deep the synergistic waters can run. The final episode included numerous performances by popular artists seeking exposure for their individual brands, as well as their new line of products…err, albums. More importantly, the vast majority of those artists work under popular music labels previously affiliated with the conglomerate. For example, Lady Gaga (Interscope), Ne-Yo (DefJam), One Republic (Interscope), and Aloe Blacc (Interscope) are each supporting Comcast’s bottom line in their own resounding fashions. And, of course, the season five winner (SPOILER ALERT!), Tessanne Chin, was awarded a record contract with Universal Music Group, a major label with prior ties to NBC Universal/Vivendi.
But, the story doesn’t end there. Producers of the The Voice also discovered even more synergies by partnering with Kia Motors. Not only did Kia help The Voice cross-promote by creating a special model for the show, they also helped close out the season with “a few surprises” for the season’s three finalists: a private tour of Universal Studios, a visit from the Grinch himself (yes, they’re also cross-promoting a new movie), and a new Kia. In return, Kia was able to advertise their 2014 lineup to viewers around the world.
Taken together, this is the capitalist logic on steroids: a handful of powerful media companies that are incredibly well-funded, sparsely regulated, and hardly diverse. And, like it or not, the trend keeps growing stronger. After completing their merger with NBCUniversal/GE just months ago Comcast is now looking to purchase fellow conglomerate Time Warner Cable. If the plan goes through, Comcast, which is already a juggernaut in the American media market, could become one of the largest and most powerful media companies ever.
NOTE: This analysis is far from exhaustive, as The Voice exemplifies many more trends of the new media environment than can be covered in one post. For example, The Voice has been incredibly successful at engaging its audience and leveraging them to various ends. For example, members of the fan community help boost profits by purchasing songs, voting, and cross-promoting with the help of numerous social media sites.
Today, I watched this talk by Jason Silva, titled WE ARE THE GODS NOW. In it, Silva makes a persuasive—perhaps contagious—argument, and one I hadn’t encountered to date. Basically, Silva tells a bunch of overly-excited stories about the power of technology and then invites the rest of us to jump on his bandwagon of utopian, technological optimism.
I will file Silva and his work as radical, techno-optimism. I tend to take a less romantic, more realistic viewpoint than Silva, although I do share a measure of his excitement about the potential for technology to be used for good, social change. There are many reasons why I shy away from Silva’s perspective. Most important is the way he fetishizes technology and ignores the complex array of social forces from which all these magical technologies arise. (No, they do not just pop out of the replicator from Star Trek.) The other reason is his tendency to treat decontextualized quotes from influential scientists as irrevocably convincing evidence. This, latter limitation is reminiscent of the damning problems with Malcom Gladwell’s brand of intellectualism. At its worst, I’ve come to see it as little more than “enlightened delusion.”
Ironically, just after watching the video, I stumbled across (via Twitter, of course) this short video from Barbara Ehrenreich. The argument is based off Ehrenreich’s recent book Bright-Sided, in which she warns of a society where blind optimism keeps much of the public ignorant of the real problems we are facing. Hegemonic ideological forces such as nationalism and individualism, among others, popularize cultural attitudes of optimism, even in the face of overwhelming counter-evidence.
An even more polemic counter-example can be found in Evgeny Morozov’s rabid arguments in the other direction. I disagree with Morozov for similar reasons—he overplays his argument, lacks systematic analysis, and ignores counter-evidence. He also happens to be one of the most mean-spirited intellectuals I’ve ever heard of. He hurls personal insults like it’s his job. (See, for example, his review of Jeff Jarvis’s recent book, or his debate with author Steven Johnson.) Despite his infamous lack of civility, Morozov’s recent books The Net Delusion and To Save Everything, Click Here serve as a useful counterweights in balancing out the blind optimism idealized by schlock experts like Silva. Most notably, they provide countless examples how new technologies are being used to undermine the public good.
Like Ehrenreich, I am an advocate of realism over blind forms of optimism or pessimism. For example, the hard, undeniable fact of inequality—in technological access, economics, education, etc.—that spans the globe is a HUGE barrier to the kind of utopia Silva dreams of. And technology alone cannot solve it. Moreover, if technology continues to be used to replace jobs historically done by humans, it may even increase it. These considerations do not negate the powerful, disruptive potential that new technologies may hold. But they should surely temper our hopes for their revolutionary potential.
In contrast to the polemics of techno-optimism and techno-pessimism, technorealism is a perspective that seeks to balance out both irrevocable positions with a realistic consideration of both “positive” and “negative” forces. As defined by www.technorealism.org:
Technorealism demands that we think critically about the role that tools and interfaces play in human evolution and everyday life. Integral to this perspective is our understanding that the current tide of technological transformation, while important and powerful, is actually a continuation of waves of change that have taken place throughout history. Looking, for example, at the history of the automobile, television, or the telephone -- not just the devices but the institutions they became -- we see profound benefits as well as substantial costs. Similarly, we anticipate mixed blessings from today's emerging technologies, and expect to forever be on guard for unexpected consequences -- which must be addressed by thoughtful design and appropriate use (quoted in Vo et al.).
So, what can technorealism do for sociological inquiry? Besides offering a healthy dose of reality, it can guide us beyond mere polemics and onto a plane of thought grounded in both logic and evidence. That is the direction I hope to head going forward. Here’s to hoping it doesn’t end up being the path less traveled.