Sunday, April 26, 2009


I know that have talked about this a few times now, but given an ethics discussion had in my last Digi Comm class, I thought I needed to revisit the topic again, this time through a slightly different lens.

The recent "Craigslist Killer" case that makes headlines every day has given birth to legal issues for the site and renewed calls for Craigslist to remove its erotic services section. Craig Newmark, founder and CEO of Craigslist, however, has said that he will not remove this section. His argument is that the point of Craigslist, and indeed much of Web 2.0, is that it is what its users make it. And while it sets policies and removes illegal postings, he does not believe he should take it down, in the interest of the democratic nature of user-generated content. Many people agree, including Ken van Wyk, principal consultant at KRvW Associates LLC in Alexandria, VA. He claims that Craigslist and other sites like it are good for commerce and the open marketplace, and so long as it does not violate the law, it should be allowed to maintain its erotic services section. After all, stripping and massage are legal ventures.

Those on the other side claim that Craigslist's erotic section amounts to little more than an electronic pimp, and is the biggest prostitution ring in the country, which is definitely illegal. While it may seem very new-world in its nature, the arguments and debates raging around this are in fact quite old. It is the ageless debate of commerce vs. safely...where does one draw the line?

But I am more interested in the ethical debate that I see with respect to Craig Newmark. Should he feel ethically compelled to remove this section of Craigslist because he knows that it could be used for human sex trade, human trafficking and illegal prostitution, or is the need for an open, democratic online marketplace more important?

I am not so sure I would know what to do were I in his shoes. Adults are free to choose what they wish to do, and as the article quotes Mr. Newmark as saying, there are policies and safety tips in place to help ward off incidents like the one in Boston, which is the extreme case of wrongdoing in connection with this online service.

On the other hand, knowingly being a part of something that is illegal and has the potential to have serious collateral consequences (such as human trafficking) might be enough to push me to remove the services. It is difficult to boil down to an easy answer.

Perhaps one way Craigslist could help to cut down on the incidence of illegal activity, and keep the site and services sold there legitimate, is to mandate a registration process that is more thorough than what is currently required. Maybe for this particular section you would have to provide more information in order to ensure that the way you conduct yourself is above board. It seems to me that this would help to prevent human traffickers from using the site, and would almost certainly prevent against creeps like Mr. Markoff. Sure, this raises a more burdensome barrier to free trade for the users of this section of Craigslist, but clearly Mr. Newmark needs to do something. if not for a potentially pressing legal reason, than just for conscience sake.

Friday, April 24, 2009


So I am a bit behind on the story (from Monday), but I did want to cover this because it seems to me it is a big step in engaging this new technology to move us forward. Well, at least move Iraq forward.

This past week Hillary Clinton, our esteemed Secretary of State (yes, I am a fan) invited new media tech gurus to Iraq to advise on how these new tools could help the fledgling nation move towards a transparent and engaging reality.

These new steps towards using technology to help society with real needs is exactly the type of engagement this blog set out to find. If it works in Iraq, we may very well see it being used here. what's good for the goose, afterall. In fact, Hillary already employs some of this by writing on the State Department's blog, which I just checked out myself. Pretty cool stuff.

In any case, it is nice to see Twitter applied to something as large as foreign policy and transparent government. It gives me new faith that the technology that is developing and changing the way we live has some potential significant and positive consequences. It'll take some time to see how it really works, by it is certainly a step in the right direction.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009


It is not the first time, and I would venture to guess it will not be the last, but I spoke too soon. A couple days ago I posted a story on Craigslist, and how it can help those looking find a mate, for a night or for a lifetime. Well, over the past few days we have all come to see the darker side of this use of technology too (and I am not talking about finding someone looking much differently than you anticipated).

The story of Philip Markoff, who allegedly lured young women to hotels via their ads for massage services on Craigslist, has hit national headlines and reminds us all that as great as the Internet and services like Craigslist may be, we don't really know who we are talking to. The shocking thing about this story is that if the women Mr. Markoff supposedly attacked had known who he was, they probably wouldn't have flinched. A handsome, affluent medical student looking for a "massage." Hell, I know plenty of men that probably would have taken that job too.

A story like this one just makes me a bit hesitant to totally sing the praises of services like Craigslist, although I have to believe that this is a case of one bad apple ruining the bunch. But still, would this have happened with the technology of the past?

It seems that the immediacy of Craigslist changes things since you can hook up with the person you are seeking (or stalking) so quickly that it allows people to find immediate gratification. If whoever did this had to answer an ad in the classified section of a print publication, would it have happened, or would the urge have passed? If whoever did this had to go out and find his prey, would the victim have sensed something beforehand and not gone, as opposed to finding out in the hotel room when it was too late and the gun is already pointed at him/her? Who knows? It is just unfortunate because for all of the utility Craigslist and similar services provide us, stories like this really make a bad impression.

But there is a bright side to this story. Granted, there is the possibility that the crime may not have happened, may not have happened repeatedly or may have been more difficult to follow through with without Craigslist and the Internet. However, given that it did happen, the technology was the red herring that led to the arrest of the suspect. Police had descriptions of the perpetrator, along with other details that could help find him, but it was not until they traced the IP address for the e-mail that solicited the massage services to Mr. Markoff's apartment that they were able to connect him with the crime well enough to follow through with an indictment. And aside from crimes that have a direct connection to the Internet, this technology has given law enforcement a whole new range of tools to help track down people who are up to no good.

So in conclusion, I am still sticking with my "Craiglist-is-Good" evaluation from the last post. Just like our mother told us not to talk to strangers, and our instincts tell us when someone is bad news, we have to remember to listen to that little voice inside when it tells us that it is risky to go out and meet someone we barely know, particularly if one is to be alone with said person. Like much of the issues surrounding technology, good old fashioned sensibility and responsibility still prevail.

Sunday, April 19, 2009


In a move hailed by most as a wise choice, President Obama announced his choice of Aneesh Chopra as Federal Chief Technology Officer (CTO). Certainly an interesting sign of the times as well as a logical follow up to what Obama started on his campaign with regards to leveraging technology.

Apparently Chopra will be working with the CIO, and the official description of the work that lies ahead of him is to
"promote technological innovation to help achieve our most urgent priorities - from creating jobs and reducing health care costs to keeping our nation secure."

I personally think this is a fantastic idea - bravo Mr. President. It seems that looking at Mr. Chopra's record, and some of his accomplishments, that he will help to pull our analog government a little closer to the digital. In his post as CTO for the State of Virginia, for example, he made some quite significant strides in putting new technology to work for citizens. SOme of these accomplishments include:
All of these examples seem to be not only good ideas, but critical if the administration is serious in its promises to fundamentally transform our government. In addition, the secondary effects, like bringing every day citizens up to speed on this technology so they too can use it to their benefit, will force the education of millions, which in turn will better prepare our workforce and students for future challenges.

In all I am usually not this rosy about something, but I love the idea of a leaner, more accountable and more efficient government (who doesn't?) and I think that technology, and more over making technology a priority, is the only way we are going to get there.

For more information, this post is a good read, and you can hear from the man himself right here:

Saturday, April 18, 2009


Today's NY Times Technology section had an interesting piece on Craigslist, specifically about its "casual encounters" section. Because our class on Wednesday seemed to foray into the risque, I thought I would discuss.

Just to state up front, yours truly is not a sociopath or into risk-taking, for the most part, two of the character traits Tom Brady, chief medical officer at the CRC Health Group, an addiction treatment center, in Cupertino, CA says is among those of frequent Craigslist sex users. Maybe this is the reason I have never taken part in this behavior. But I would be lying if I said I did not have multiple friends who had.

The people I know who have used it, and those the article seems to identify as those who frequently use the feature, are pretty normal. None of them are sexual deviants (as far as I know) or into risky behavior...they just don't want the hassle of going out and having to buy drinks for people or "play the game." One friend of min who does not frequent the site himself has another friend who uses it exclusively for meeting people, even though he still goes out. He believes that it is somehow safer. I am still trying to figure that one out.

But as for the relevance of this topic to the subject of this blog, I am having a hard time deciding which side I think it falls on - engaged or (dis)engaged? I can see it both ways personally.

On the one hand, you have people being able to find sex on the web without having to talk to the other person beforehand. As efficient as it might be, this is not exactly "engaging" other, but more just cutting to the chase. I guess this is good if you know what you are looking for. But on the other hand, it seems like there is a value in forcing people to go out to a bar, or a club, or wherever. At least this keeps them in touch with the greater community, which as you all know I think is critically important. But hey, maybe they are not comfortable with this scene and prefer to stay stuck behind their computers.

There is also the side that these encounters can lead to long-term, regular relationships. One user in the article talks about how he met someone under the pretense of quick and easy sex, but ended up going on several dates with the woman without so much as a kiss. Of course there are the horror stories when someone uses a picture that is NOT their likeness, or one woman whose kids were home. But even one of the Real Housewives of New York City, Alex, met her husband this way. And if it is on that show, it must be normal (?).

I guess in the end I would have to vote engaged here. It seems that this is just a new tool that has streamlined the hook up process, helping people with an age-old need. Of course there is a dangerous side to this practice as we all witnessed in recent murders traced back to the site. But in the end, I am all for people getting some when they otherwise couldn't. After all, everyone needs their pipes cleaned from time to time.

Monday, April 13, 2009


The last post I wrote was about how Google might be the big bad wolf, and today I stumbled across another article by Rob Enderle on this very thing. I am sure these are not the only two articles to bring this to the fore, but since they were less than a week apart, I thought I could revisit the question.

This new discussion goes so far as to call Google evil, which seems quite extreme. It is also difficult to know exactly who and what the author's examples are using, which inhibits the reader's ability to make a complete decision.

I do have to say, however, that there are several good points that are made, and it has me thinking twice. It aptly makes use of the quote, "Power corrupts; absolute power corrupts absolutely." And it is true - it is hard to think of any company that might be as well-poised to cause massive harm than Google. After all, they are amassing more information in one place than any other company I can think of, and the fact that there have been scores of citizens outraged by google's actions in the past, that maybe we have good reason to take pause. But this alone is not enough to condemn them to being evil.

The article uses a few examples, that of Google's refusal to address the concerns of citizens with privacy concerns, and even a reference to an article in The New York Times on how Google raised the cost of infant care from 37K a year to 55K. This seemed shocking to me given all of the fanfare about what a great company Google is to work for, but alas the company did not reverse its decision, instead rolling back the price increase (which is substantially over market price) only moderately. And that was that. Enderle makes a good point - that money is eclipsing the widely-held belief and notion that Google cares a great deal about something bigger than money. But this seems to fly in the face of that image.

There is also the case of Google censoring information in China, and refusing to take down materials from its archives that is admittedly false and destructive towards individuals. Who knows what the real intentions of the company are? I am more likely to give people the benefit of the doubt rather than assume they are evil given some isolated incidents, and after all, Google is run by people.

But the fact that the government is supposedly going to gmail, which in itself can be a terrifying thought, and a seemingly increased incidence of this behavior, maybe we do have something to worry about. The benefit that Google has bestowed upon society is certainly vast and important, and they deserve credit for that. But we should not lose sight of the fact that the tech industry is still run by people, and as much as I believe in the good of people, these execs are subject to the same temptations and pitfalls as you or I. We should remember that being innovative and smart does not change this fact.

Sunday, April 5, 2009


Henry Porter of the UK's Guardian wrote a piece today about Google as a worldwide menace to civil society, hell bent on taking over the world and bringing us all to our knees. Really?

I admit that I have shuddered at the thought of an all-powerful storehouse of all knowledge, and the algorithm that allows us to find said knowledge. Sure, it is not hard to let our imaginations run wild and envision a future where we are all ruled by those six little rainbow-colored letters. But it is the way Porter attacks Google that puts me off.

To me our esteemed author seems to take more issue with capitalism than with Google, only finding it convenient to paint Google as a profiteering pirate because it changed the way the game was played, and more importantly I believe, the way the author's own game is played. The bulk of his complaint lies in the way that Google is destroying the newspaper model. He seems to think it is somehow wrong that Google makes advertising revenue off of search; apparently only newspapers have the right to make that money. He even goes so far as to say Google has created nothing. I for one constantly use what it has created, and by engaging this technology my life has made all the easier. Doesn't dear Henry know that he too can be Googled?

Monopolies can be scary. It is terrifying to think that one company can control so much. But I would challenge Mr. Porter to think about the sum total.

He writes about music producers who demanded more money from Google for videos streamed on YouTube, prompting Google's refusal to pay and the removal of the content. Well, what's better: not getting more money but giving people greater access to this content, which in the end arguably leads to more revenue, or not being accessible at all?

In the end the article really reads like a newspaper man bitter about how two college students (by virtue of their own creative abilities, by the way) created a better way to deliver information much to the delight of most of the public. He claims this is an amoral menace that will destroy us. Isn't discouraging innovation and progress an equally, if not infinitely worse, proposition? He reminds me of the antagonists in Ayn Rand's We the Living.

My favorite part of the piece actually has nothing to do with the content itself, and one commenter brilliantly points it out. I absolutely loved seeing the "Ads by Google" box directly following his article.


If you want to be a doctor, are curious as to what happens in the O.R., are considering/have to have a procedure or just have a sick fascination with this sort of thing, you might want to check out this article from Wired.

The magazine has gathered some of YouTube's best surgical videos, readily available along with many others. But be warned ("VERY forewarned," as Wired puts it):
this is graphic stuff, and not for the faint of heart.

Personally, seeing surgery has never really bothered me. After all, it would be weird if I got weak around blood given my job. I have been known to stop on the "surgery channel" as I affectionately call it when Discovery shows this kind of stuff on TV. I particularly like it when my brother, who can't even talk about blood, is in the room.

Maybe it is because I am really awed by some of the things doctors and surgeons can do, or maybe it is because I really want to get my muffin tops sucked out (yes, it has a lipo video). In any case, if you are into this kind of thing, it is pretty interesting, especially the sex change operation which I have always been curious about (admit it - you are too).

The larger question is whether this is a step int he right direction. I have to say that I think it is, given that more education is always preferable to ignorance. However, I can see a downside to this. One situation I can think of is perhaps someone who is considering an elective procedure that is not 100% necessary, but could be incredibly beneficial. Watching a video that shows the procedure could sway someone less naturally inclined to take an interest in this stuff to not get the surgery. But really, elective surgery is rarely "elective" to the patient, so that is really hard to envision happening.

In any case, pretty cool that you can see how surgeons do what they do, and it certainly gives me a new respect for their skills...not that I ever doubted them. After all, God bless the man that can get me back into 32-inch jeans.

Thursday, April 2, 2009


Besides the fact that the Queen doesn't look nearly as interested as the Obamas, can you guess what is wrong with this picture? It may not be obvious at first, but there is something VERY wrong with it. Give up? The problem is that it has been the dominant news story every since the G-20 summit opened!

For the past two days all I have heard about is Michelle's fashion, meeting the Queen, an apparent non-violation of royal protocol when Michelle got her hands all up in the Queen's business, and similar stories. Oh yes, and there are some pictures and videos of college-aged hooligans marching in support of a total lack of government. Great idea.

But what about what is going on INSIDE the summit? Sure, there is some discussion about this, but if you flip on a TV or look at the front page of most major publications, it is the Queen (didn't we revolt to get rid of this?).

I am not saying don't cover it, but when it becomes the headline for more than a day, and the coverage of this meeting rivals, if not exceeds, the coverage of how the leaders of the world's top 20 economies are going to help get us out of this mess, it is a sad day.

I haven't really done an in depth study as to the level of coverage, so maybe I am off here, but it seems to me that this should be the side item puff piece about how nice it is that our President is suddenly liked by Euro-land and the rest of the world. I also have not looked too deep into the coverage on blogs, but on social media, it is the Queen and Michelle, holding hands or whatever.

I usually talk about new media, and discuss how it might be aiding in a general movement to disengagement, or how it might be helping us to connect more. But forget new media for a minute in deference to my disappointment with old media. Please CNN, NY Times, and the whole lot of you - MOVE ON!

Wednesday, April 1, 2009


Here is an example of our (dis)engaged society! Today I logged on my gmail to find that there is a new feature that will save me tons of time: autopilot.

I no longer have to worry about responding to e-mail messages since google can now imitate my tone and style perfectly, with me never having to hit a button! They can even replicate my common spelling errors! They recommend that one log in once every so often, just to be safe, but imagine not having to worry about checking e-mail every day. In a world where we are constantly disengaging with each other, it is nice to know the good people at google are helping me get even further away from what's important. I don't even have to e-mail anymore for God's sake...amazing!

I already loved it when they read my e-mails and published ads above my inbox based on the content, and that they know what I am looking for before I can even think of the right search terms. But now I don't even have to pay attention to those pesky e-mails from my sick grandmother, or my parents trying to stay in contact while they are retired and have nothing to do. Who wants that? Google Autopilot will take of it all for me now. Google, is there anything you can't do???!!!

(It is nice to see that the folks at Google can still get into the spirit of things, and that I still have a sense of humor left.)

Tuesday, March 31, 2009


I have come across two articles in the past few days on CNN and the NY Times that talk about the problems that both facebook and twitter are having with growing as quickly as they both have.

The NY Times article by Brad Stone discusses facebook's growth in terms of numbers, and in terms of growing pains. It covers the recent controversies with users over advertising and terms of service, and quite aptly speaks about how users are in a unique conundrum: do they stick with the technology that they have learned to love even though they don't like it as much, or do they leqave it, causing a void in their lives that never existed before? It seems that the former is winning out.

It is also interesting when they quote a facebook executive saying facebook is, "not a democracy." I thought that was the underlying philosophy behind all of this new, user-owned media. But apparenty it is "to build an Internet medium for communication," and about the creators and keepers of the site, "we think we have enough perspective to do that and be caretakers of that vision." It is also interesting when Stone covers how facebook is breaking down traditional, sometimes arbitrary boundries, like those between parent and child, and how this may cause said kids to leave when their parents find pictures of them drinking.

The CNN article discusses a more technical aspect of Twitters explosive growth, showing how it is often overloaded with traffic and shuts down. This is a bit more straight forward with the exception of the "early adopters" angle: basically that the early adopters of Twitter are getting annoyed with new users.

It is not lost on me that both articles are published by large, traditional media outlets. Is this an underhanded attempt to chip away at facebook and twitters' collective popularity? Probably not.

It is also interesting to me how both articles cover how these technologies are changing behavior, as that is the topic of the blog. What it does not do, however, is form a value judgement on whether it is for the better or for the worse. I guess that is my job, so here it is (and it is not a new point to be made):

I think both have tremendous potential to help us along in our quest to work better and connect more deeply with our friends and one interviewee in the Twitter piece says, "we are humans, that is what we do." But I am not sure it is great if this is replacing good old face-to-face time (see my post from yesterday). What I found fascinating is at the close of the NY Times article, when one user talks about the new kind of pressure she got from friends when she quit facebook in frustration. Ms. Doherty states, "Everyone has a love-hate relationship with it. They wanted me to be wasting my time on it just like they were wasting their time on it."

Maybe that answers my question.

Monday, March 30, 2009


In this posting on the NY Time's "Bits," Jenna Wortham explains how facebook helped her make the decision not to attend her college reunion. Why would she? She has connected with all of the people that she wanted to know about, and she doesn't need to pay to go and meet them. Fair enough.

The article goes on to detail how some think facebook could strengthen these bonds and improve attendence because it can make us feel closer to our fellow alumni. I buy Jenna's explanation a bit more. This touches on a significant change that has and still is occurring - the disappearing face-to-face.

My parents used to tell me that video games were no replacement for playing outside, and I think this is the social equivalent of that notion. Facebook may be good to see baby pics and have occaisional chats with these folks, but it is no replacement for seeing how large and in charge the prom queen became, or how that cool athlete wore a purple velvet sport coat to the event (God Kelsey Engel - it made me so happy to see you look so awful) or talking with someone you thought was so smart, only to realize they

No, it is indeed a sad disengagement if facebook puts an end to college and high school reunions. One should really attend these, if only for the triumphant entrance to a party where, in one evening of cocktails, one manages to exorcise the demons of childhood. Of course I don't know Jenna - maybe she has "other" reasons for not going.

Monday, March 23, 2009


I just wanted to follow up my post from last night on the importance of professional journalism's survival in the face of the new media onslaught.

CNN online ran quite a fitting follow up piece today about the very same topic. It is a scary proposition, as some of the comments following the article express, if user-generated content becomes so dominant that the news becomes something difficult to trust and is by and large unsubstantiated opinion.

The article claims that large national newspapers like The New York Times and The Washington Post will most likely survive, and may indeed thrive under this new order. But I still think there is a danger.

It is pretty ironic that web 2.0 and the new media are promoted as handing power back into the hands of people, but at the same time manage to destroy the Fourth Estate which is arguably one of the most important checks on our democracy.

I have to think there is some sort of happy medium, but what that might be is unclear right now. It is a red flag when it becomes increasingly more difficult to find any source of news that is worth trusting, even marginally, without extensive checking. Not that one should trust everything they read, but if at any time the impetus to do the fact checking falls primarily on the shoulders of readers, the corpse of our democracy will be laid in a coffin lined with newspaper.

Sunday, March 22, 2009


I found a recent article on Real Clear Politics by Cathy Young (of Reason Magazine) on professional journalism vis-a-vis new media good fodder for (DIS)ENGAGED.

Ms. Young makes a wise statement that professional journalists and the profession are both still as important than ever, and that the new media, while a powerful tool of democracy and spreading information, is not a wise substitute. She rightly claims that both do best when acting as a check on, and complement to the other. There is some additional commentary on how Barack Obama was handled with velvet gloves and also that the media is liberal-leaning. She may be right, but that is not what I am interested in here.

The rest of the article (posted on a blog, mind you) goes on to discuss how traditional media might survive in the new media landscape, and business models that might allow these companies to make profits and survive in the face of blogs and the like. I do think this is important.

Ms. Young closes with a judgment that if Americans still respect quality journalism they will pay to keep it alive so long as the media earns that respect. I agree with this in broad terms, but I am not sure that it is entirely true.

I know more people in my hometown in Illinois that think the NY Times is liberal propaganda than those who take it as honest reporting. I see plenty of people here in the big apple who use The NY Post for one-stop news/info shopping. And I have spoken with plenty of folks who seem to put more faith in user-generated commentary disguised as news than they do in that from professional sources.

I was recently in Seattle when the Seattle P.I. folded, and it seems like each day another one bites the dust. It is sad, and scary. While our new media give us new and exciting democratic opportunities, I agree with Ms. Young. We do need to find a way to at least preserve professional journalism, if not the papers.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009


Given the public figures that too have claimed that they wanted the new President to fail, it was not so much that it surprised me when I read about this, which appears on the blog "Red State," in The Economist. It was that it struck me as a particularly difficult conundrum to confront here on (DIS)ENGAGED. I also felt really dirty just now posting a link to that site and the petition in question.

In one respect, it is definitely engaged, just not for the side that I am on. On the other hand, does engaging people in an effort to cause catastrophic failure count as "moving us forward?" No, I think not. So here in lies the issue. What qualifies as something that aids progress?

I guess to the folks that might sign on to this petition, aiding in the failure of the new administration is moving us forward by taking us back. Huh? To others like myself it just seems counter-productive and a terrible waste of time, effort and broadband. If I had to make a tally in either column, engaged or otherwise, I guess I would call it a wash. In all honesty, I should give them credit since they are promoting something they believe in, but it is my blog and much like Cartman, I do what I want.

So Red happy with the goose egg.


I recently had the opportunity of attending a seminar at Fenton Communications, a consulting firm which guides social change movements and enables the organizations that further them to gain traction and move audiences to action. Aside from the incredibly important work done at Fenton, it was inspiring to learn about what it is like to work at the firm. Not only am I grateful that such a place exists to help move the important causes of our time forward, but as a communications and corporate relations professional at NYC's biggest non-profit, I would be remiss not to mention that it sounds like a dream job.

In addition to learning about the exciting work done by the Fenton professionals, Sharene Azimi, Vice President with Fenton, offered to help me get some answers for (DIS)ENGAGED. I was fortunate enough to be able to ask some important questions relating to the topic of this blog, the answers to which came from John Gordon, Vice President of Online Services with the firm. What follows below is this question and answer session:

Could you please briefly explain the scope of Fenton’s work and your role?

Fenton provides a range of public relations, advertising, and new media services to clients that protect the environment, transform markets, improve public health, and advance human rights and social justice.

I am the Vice President of Online Services and I work with clients to develop strategies to engage their network through Web tools and social media.

Can you explain how Fenton is using Web 2.0 (social networks, blogs, or user-generated content in general) to further its work?

We believe successful campaigns require you to join a conversation before you can move people to action. These conversations are happening in traditional media, at water-coolers, and around the kitchen table. But, more and more, they are happening through social tools like Facebook, Twitter and blogs. As much as appropriate we try to integrate social media into the communications mix. The challenge is to leverage the strengths of each media to complement and support the overall goals of the client.

Now the big, general question: do you see the emergence of these technologies as engaging citizens in our political and social process to change our society for the better? If so, how?

Yes. Any tool that enables citizens to organize, inform and communicate at a higher level can only better our society.

Do you see anything as a threat to technology’s ability to help move us all forward?

Last mile restrictions and media consolidation are probably the biggest threats to the Internet’s potential. Also, investment in communications infrastructure and equitable access to technology are challenges we must meet if we want to move forward as a society.

Do you believe in the professed power of social networking sites, or could they be smoke and mirrors?

The power of social networking is real. Millions of people are using these tools to connect with others and have real conversations. That’s a powerful thing.

Do you believe blogs, sites like YouTube and social networks could actually end up being a hindrance to progress, or another distraction in a world where people can seem incredibly disengaged?

Traditional media inspired response, but the experience was mostly passive. The promise of social media is that we can engage and deliver action within the same expression. With every medium there is the opportunity to use it for less than productive means, but the overall rewards certainly will outweigh any threats.

Are there any examples that immediately come to mind that you see as a success in leveraging these new online tools to change things for the better, or at least expand engagement in the larger conversation?

The one obvious example was the Obama campaign. They were able to integrate new media in way that brought about historic change.

What specific technologies do you think hold the most promise for moving the conversation forward?

I don’t think it’s about the specific technologies so much as it is about behavior. The technology certainly enables communication, but people’s desire to connect and communicate in new and creative ways is driving the innovation.

Do you see any “dangerous” new technologies, or, ones that look like they may hold us back?

Social monitoring tools are very useful, but they are also a little frightening. I don’t think most people understand that every Tweet and post they generate is searchable and that people are actively mining and monitoring for information. The flip side of this is that younger generations do understand this and they seem okay with it. This active embrace of total information sharing could have future implications about the perception of privacy rights.

Thank you so much to the team at Fenton Communications, both for helping me, and for your work!

Saturday, March 7, 2009


While I have found myself blogging a lot about politics and social networks recently, I wanted to talk about something else that I read which I thought was pretty cool. The fine blogger over at verdantic would probably find this interesting as well.

So while it is not hard to see how communications technology is changing politics and the way we interact with each other, it is not necessarily clear how this technology can help to save the planet. At least not until I read this piece on

Here they list their 7 favorite ways that web 2.0 can help save the planet. With everything from online training to reduce fuel-wasting habits of truck drivers, to using social networks for ride sharing, the fine people over at earth2tech help to make us realize that we have more tools to clean up our environment at our disposal than we might otherwise believe.

Engaged? You betcha!!!

Monday, March 2, 2009


At the risk of seeming too mainstream-media effected, I thought that this piece by Professor of History and Public Affairs at the Woodrow Wilson School of Princeton University, Julian E. Zelizer, raised the very question that (DIS)ENGAGED is meant to explore: are facebook and its net roots cohorts really a new force to be reckoned with in our political discourse?

The good professor doesn't take any sides but does correctly state that, although Barack Obama may have been elected to the White House with a lot of help from the "roots" and facebook, it is not yet clear whether these two new players can really affect legislation or policy. As Zelizer aptly points out, the tools that raised the President so much money during his campaign and ultimately put him into 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, was not used as a means to an end during the fight over the recent stimulus bill. As the article ponders, it will be interesting to see if it can be effectively deployed to help with the upcoming budget war, or beyond that into more specific policy areas.

There is a great video from the BBC cited in the article and it is a pretty stinging (if not entertaining), yet painfully accurate, commentary on how many people actually spend their time on facebook:

Though it is unclear how likely it is to happen, Zelizer contends that the new power of citizen-generated policy could supplant the muscular "political machines" of our not-so-distant past. If this Presidency can effectively use web 2.0 to navigate the legislative and political hurdles that loom large on the horizon, we could indeed be witnessing the beginnings of a new political order. It will just take someone savvy enough to pull the networked strings of our culture to get the job done in this potentially newly-engaged world.

Sunday, March 1, 2009


So I just ran across this little tidbit of a story today about how some clown at a defense contractor apparently set up a file sharing program on a computer where the blueprints and technical specs for Marine One were stored. Brilliant.

So putting the argument about music swapping aside for a moment; come on, you would think that if someone were qualified and savvy enough to work with the specs of a military helicopter, they would understand the implications of having a FILE SHARING program installed on the same computer where those files are stored. Right? Well I guess not.

The files were discovered at an IP address in Iran, which is fabulous, and that is not all. It is also said to be common practice for foreign agencies to monitor these programs because apparently a lot of our no-bid buddies at our military's finest suppliers still don't get that you can't download from a share site to the same computer on which you store national security secrets. Maybe Marine One's plans were not that secret, and maybe it is impossible to do this at the places where our most sensitive information is stored, but this is still disturbing.

Now of course I have to bring it back home to this blog. While I do have some problems with sharing sites, mostly because I think that creative production belongs to those who produce/own it, and it is at their discretion that distribution should be left, this goes above and beyond. It is clear that what would appear to be one of the more benign technologies out their, primarily used for swapping music, can actually pose a significant risk to us all. So in summation, I actually would put a mark in "engaged" column. But I am not happy about it.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009


Last night was probably one of the best nights of homework I had recently: I watched the CNN-facebook State of the Nation event, on facebook, along with scores of other people. It was terrific to blend what I would have been doing otherwise with an obligation for class. And I did learn a few things. First, the positives.

It was pretty exciting and encouraging to see so many people becoming actively engaged in the political discourse of our time. The comments were mixed (see the end for my favorite lines from facebook comments) with those for and those against the President and his proposals. While seeing some more objectivity would have been nice, it was clear most people were tuning in with their opinions already made up. But the fact that so many viewers were able to watch, comment and have their input seen by others around the globe was thrilling. There were people from Korea, Pakistan, Europe, Buenos Aires, Canada and of course the US. I can not think of another way that so many people could share in something, in real time, that effects those very people. Certainly this made me feel that this technology was assisting us in moving forward, at least as far as getting people involved. And not just involved like they think about things sometimes. But involved because they could be part of the discussion, and more importantly, chose this forum to watch the speech precisely because they could engage in the conversation.

However, I would be remiss not to mention that it did seem a lot more like sitting around with either a group of lefty hipsters, or a group of die-hard Cheney fans (depending on the commentator) than it felt like watching "the best political team on television" as CNN claims.

While I agree - Nancy Pelosi looked a bit insane and her dress was truly tragic - I was amazed at how many comments had to do with these and other meaningless parts of the broadcast, and very little to do with the actual substance being covered in the President's address. Some were there to spew, some were there to coo and some were just there to check it out. But the vitriol with which some people engaged, and the blind following of others made me wonder whether this type of interaction was actually helping move the discussion forward. At times it seemed more like helping facebook try to become a mainstream source of information, and assist CNN attract new viewers.

In the end I would put this in the "engaged" column because so many people did sign in to take part in what is ultimately an important moment in the fate of our society. Perhaps to some, simply seeing so many others participating helped to add gravity to the importance of being involved in our nation's trajectory. However, it is clear that mob rule is a real potential dark side to this new media, and that many are not using these tools to move the conversation forward.

And now, for your viewing pleasure, some notable comments from the evening (spelling mistakes and all). If you read to the end you will be rewarded with a good chuckle, I promise:

Michael William Collins asks what each of us facebook users will do for our country.

Jordan Prok Obama's Goal: Making Americans understand the difference between neccessities and luxuries.

Chris Denslow can't wait for the Repug response about how we will tax cut our way out of the recession. I need a good laugh.

Daniel Rollings That was 80 billion for alternative energy in that stimulus bill. Finally money where it really counts.

Benjamin Souza has heard nothing but spending, spending and more spending which equals HUGE debt.

John Matthews There's more oil in the Dakotas than anywhere else on earth. Just let us drill.

Sadiya El-Nubein' facebook is sooo innovative to have this status while watching the Pres. Love it.

Chiara Di Bendetto Brown our entire corrupt government in one room, how sickening.

Shailesh Kumar How will our children repay China for all the money we are going to borrow from them.

Nicole Quick can't believe she just watched the State of the Union on Facebook.

And by far my two most favorite comments:

Chidi Afulezi just saw McCain mutter "If I have to stand again, Joe the Plumber's about to get nasty up in this piece.

Jasmaine Graves thinks Nancy P. wants Obama to take her to "Pleasure Town."

Tuesday, February 24, 2009


I have to start out by saying that I don't really drink orange juice. I am more of a grapefruit person. My parents retired to Florida and this new design looks like the local generic brand sold at Publix grocery stores (one on every corner!). Also, this piece seems like fodder for my friend and classmate Jennifer's blog, but I thought I would try to scoop her.

So as I am eating my high fiber bran cereal with banana this morning, my regular news show was covering this story about how Tropicana was switching their carton design back to the old picture of a straw coming right out the orange. I also caught the same story here.

On the outset it seems like nothing special; alright, they went back to their old what? But it is how Pepsi was forced back that is the interesting part. Apparently blogs, chatrooms, fan pages on facebook, and the whole realm of online Tropicana fans went ballistic about the packaging, flooding the internet with complaints. Well, Pepsi was listening and decided to tuck their tail and run back to the straw. Looks like Pepsi understands the Groundswell.

But I want to get back to the topic of this blog. Jennifer can cover the deeper branding implications, but is this really a step forward? On my morning program Linda Kaplan Thaler was on (and I never realized she was so...animated), and her take on the people's revolt was that:

"People can't control the state of the economy, they can't control the housing crisis, but they can control their carton of orange juice. They can go in there, blog about it, write it, and change it. They feel empowered."
OK - maybe - but since when? I have never felt like I can control what companies do with their products. When something changes for the worse, I usually just switch brands or deal with it. But now, people CAN force companies to change. However, I am not convinced that this is moving forward. Is the carton really that important, or have we become so consumerized (is that a word?) that we are getting so caught up in superficial nonsense like our orange juice packaging? It seems to me that if people want to control the economy and the housing crisis, all of the tools they just used to passionately plea for a new picture (or, rather, reverting back to the old design) on the carton of their morning juice could be used to try and sway lawmakers and the powers that be about important things.

Maybe I just don't understand because I don't drink orange juice - it's possible. But I just can't believe that getting Pepsi to change Tropicana's packaging is really engaging people over anything that meaningful. But I do concede that it does demonstrate the power of the new tools consumers and ordinary folks have available.

Monday, February 23, 2009


One might think I am posting this to talk a little trash, and that statement wouldn't be totally misguided. Or those more familiar with Columbia's Strat Comm program might wonder if I have chosen this picture deliberately to give props to a classmate of mine, which would also be accurate. But actually, I do have a relevant point.

It is a bit ironic for someone to use media, to bash media, to get their name in the media; but that is politics, right? I just wonder what "media" the distinguished Governor is talking about. I can assume she means the major networks and newspapers, but at best she is only vaguely aware of what was said about her in blogs, social networks, etc. I have to believe that if she had looked into these media (which I doubt since she couldn't answer what newspapers she reads - for God's sake LIE if you are running for VP!) as I certainly did during the election, she would be truly horrified. Which brings me back to the point of this blog: are people using new technology to become more or less engaged?

Clearly when it comes to the election of 2008, I have to put a mark in the engaged column (as opposed to disengaged). I am also curious if Gov. Palin discusses The Google or the internets in her interview. But leveraging the power of web 2.0 was key to our current President's victory, and it is quite obvious that her side of the race didn't have a keen understanding of what they could do with these tools, or how to do it.

Then again, as much as I enjoy this gun-toting Sarah, maybe photoshopping Sarah Palin's head on a truly sad and tragic bikini pic isn't necessarily the best way of engaging either (no offense Naomi - you know I love it).

Saturday, February 21, 2009


Here was an interesting piece on investigative journalism I found on Tech News World. The author, Renay San Miguel of former CNN fame, discusses new digital media vs. old school investigative journalism. The subject of the article is a veteran news personality, Robert Riggs, who has been decorated with several awards for his investigative work. After being laid off from his last broadcast media gig, Mr. Riggs found a new home on the web, which the author claims is picking up where traditional investigative journalism left off with the rise of the 24-hour news cycle and superficial, pandering reporting.

Much like the first chapter in Groundswell where a vigilant boyfriend brings those who stole his girlfriends phone to justice, San Miguel and Robert Riggs claim that the new people-powered media has offered up a new way to find justice and expose/correct wrongdoings. He cites a couple examples of sites that accomplish this, such as (currently under construction). Though both point out that this new reality does have a potential dark side:
But how do you ensure that the oft-mentioned wisdom of the crowds doesn't morph into ugly mob rule? What about accuracy, balance, protections against extreme behavior? Riggs says there will be some safeguards, but acknowledges that personal responsibility will be key. "It's still going to be the wild west of the Internet. In this day and age it's up to the citizen. We're going to put up a way so people can red-flag something and people can self-police."
While this may certainly be an area of concern, it is clear that tools previously non-existent are giving ordinary citizens a way of pursuing justice and building (if I may, Ms. Li and Mr. Bernoff) a groundswell for social action. Much like a seemingly-boundless neighborhood watch community, these new media are providing some very real and effective ways of policing our society and exposing those who intend to do, or have done, harm.

Of course, as always, there are questions associated with this as well. An example of such a problem is the right to privacy of former convicts. The website Family Watch Dog tracks ex-offenders and exposes what and where these convicted criminals (who have done the time, mind you) look like and live. Not sure if this specific site is a net positive or negative. But one thing is for sure: these new media tools are certainly empowering regular persons like myself to become active participants in helping improve our world, and I would say that on the whole this is a very good thing.

Friday, February 20, 2009


Alright, so here we go, CNN and facebook are teaming up to bring us the President's speech before Congress next Tuesday. While I certainly wish there was more to be excited about other than this pairing of media players, I do think that this is a significant step in the right direction of engagement.

I know that this topic - social networking and Obama - is a bit played out, but it can't really be overstated. If the younger generations that certainly help thrust Barack into the White House can become involved in our nation's political discourse, beyond his election and inauguration, we have some good times to look forward to. Of course facebook is not just for the young any longer (note: I am on facebook), but the web service definitely skews younger, and more active attention being paid to our political direction the more actively engaged these younger voters will become. I am of the mind that this can only good for our democracy...though sometimes I wonder when I speak with someone 23 or younger.

My only question with this situation is that the new and improved aspect of facebook is that it is not big-media driven. However, by teaming with a big media company, offering CNN's commentary exclusively on facebook, the users are really only being exposed to one angle...that of CNN. While those who are not excited about the networks coverage have a chance to speak out, it does raise the question of where facebook's power ends and users' power begins.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Tuesday, February 17, 2009


So I came across this article today during my lunch that I thought was particularly appropriate for this conversation. I know the blog started out to be about social action, and while I still hope to exlore that subject matter, this was an interesting piece on that I read today about doctors tweeting their surgery.

The purpose is to not only keep family, friends and those watching updated on what is happening, but also to demystify what is otherwise a scary operation (removing a tumor from a kidney). During the course of the surgery it came to the surgeon's attention that he may have to remove the whole kidney, which he had not intended to do and which in the end was not necessary. This, of course, raises some new questions about this practice: whether it is actually a good thing to have family get a play-by-play of a loved one's surgical procedure.

But nonetheless, I think this is an incredibly interesting, creative and progressive way of using this type of technology, and I would say a move in the right direction.


So I have since visited the blog of Maggie Jackson, author of the book featured in the article that was the subject of my initial post on the topic from February 11. Here she goes a bit more in depth as to why we multi-task, and how timely this discussion is given our current economic woes. Ms. Jackson attributes the "steep economic dive" to our shift in mind set from a focus on problem solving, to one of quick answers and split-second decisions.

She then continues to breifly detail how the influence of Frederick W. Taylor, seen widely as the first managment consultant, sentenced us to the chopped-up, chaotic workplace we find today. Furthermore, this topic was briefly covered in an excerpt from an upcoming book, Converging Media: The Changing Nature of Mass Communication, by John Pavlik and Shawn McIntosh. I would love to quote the text but I am not sure I am allowed.

In any case I am really starting to see things from this angle now, and I am even getting a little angry about it. Particularly since at work there is always talk about the need to focus and slow down, but the interruption just keeps coming. Just today, since 9:30 AM, I have been interrupted from the task at hand (not blogging - I just elected to enter this as it was fresh in my mind) at least half a dozen times. How far have I gotten on the plan I am mapping out? Not very. And I have a meeting in 15 minutes.

I really don't see a way out of this mess except for maybe more flexible work hours so that everyone is not working at the same time? Though I guess that comes along with its own challenges. OK - back to work.


OK - this has nothing to do with the topic of this blog, but I wanted to post it anyway. Well, I guess it could have something to do with this topic since I am wasting time watching this and was directed to it by a distracting e-mail, but whatever...I only wish it were true:

Monday, February 16, 2009


I came to a sudden realization this weekend, while visiting my home town for the first time in about 5 years, that maybe I am being too serious about this stuff. So what if the new world order doesn't launch on facebook?

I decided to use my recent subscription (is that what you would call it?) to yelp to explore my home town and all of its fine offerings. I live in New York and expected to find plenty on Chicago proper, but I wondered how much "yelping" people could actually do about Barrington, IL. Well apparently a lot.

Everything from the little hole-in-the-wall diner where I would indulge my teenage overeating tendencies after school, to the cracky movie theater we used to visit for a dollar (it is now five), to The Yankee Doodle Bar next to the train station, where I have been told is the place drunks go to die, was reviewed on Yelp. In fact there were more than nine pages of reviews. I am not exactly sure why I am shocked, but I just thought that nothing there was interesting enough to review, really.

So while reviewing "By the Tracks" and the quality of their Chicago dogs is not starting a revolution, it is bringing people closer together, and this in and of itself changes the world. I have not been to the town I grew up in for 5 years, but I could plan dinner with old friends by reading a review by a 21-year-old that never left (though I do feel bad for that person). So while you may be thinking, "duuuuuuuh," I am pretty excited about it, and I do think that this is a small sign of a big deal.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009


So a classmate of mine posted a great article to a group site about a new book by Maggie Jackson that sparked some interesting discussions between others in the class and our professor. I gave myself 24 hours to decide if I would co-opt it. But because it goes to the heart of this blog's focus, and because it is all about community and sharing, here goes.

From what i can surmise the article basically claims that multi-tasking has become such an engrained routine of our daily lives, with interruptions around every corner and with every phone call, that we are actually becoming less creative and less likely to problem solve to the best of our ability. I don't know about you, but Amen Maggie, Amen.

Without having read the book itself, just a short piece and interview with the author, I have to agree. I multi-task all day long and get a lot done, but many of those things are not done to the best of my ability. Maybe I am just slow (though I hope not and don't think that is the case), but I rarely get the chance to really focus on a task and figure out the best solutions to my challenges.

It is not that multi-tasking is the problem, but I think that "focused multi-tasking" is much more productive than just doing things to get them off of a never-ending "to do" list. Fascinatingly enough, the author mentions how we are actually hard wired for interruptions:

We are programmed to be interrupted. We get an adrenalin jolt when orienting to new stimuli: Our body actually rewards us for paying attention to the new. So in this very fast-paced world, it's easy and tempting to always react to the new thing. But when we live in a reactive way, we minimize our capacity to pursue goals.
But to me, while hormonally I may be rewarded with adrenaline, I generally feel like I am being pulled in several directions - something that rarely helps anyone really get down to business.

Now, that is just my experience, but there does seem to be some other corroborating evidence. In my response to the article posting I mentioned a project I once did on Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience by author Mihaly Csikszentmihaly (Mi-haley Chick-sent-mi-high-hee; it's Hungarian). Csikszentmihaly contends that when we reach a state of "flow," we are most creative, and operating most efficiently and effectively. It is his equivalent of "being in the zone," when hours pass by in what seems to be minutes, and one is totally engrossed in what they are doing (not to mention happiest). In order to reach this state, one must be just challenged enough that the task is not simple, but capable enough so as to not lose hope of successfully finishing (ACP???). Clearly we can not reach this perfect state every time we step in the office, but surely it helps to get as close as possible. With all of the constant distractions and interruptions I am just not sure anyone gets to operate in their optimal, or even partially-optimal space. Then again, I guess I could just turn off the ringer.

Monday, February 9, 2009


So my last post may have sounded a little harsh about how people use social networking, YouTube, etc. I thought in this post I would give people a little bit of credit.

A recent article on News Blaze reviews, well, promotes a book called Throwing Sheep in the Boardroom: How Online Social Networking Will Transform Your Life, Work and World by authors Matthew Fraser and Soumitra Dutta. It is unclear who wrote the article, which shamelessly plugs Fraser and Dutta's work, but does make some good points. Though I have not read it, Throwing Sheep apparently lays out in some detail just how Barack Obama leveraged Web 2.0 capabilities to win the election. They aptly claim that he was not the only one using the technology - he was just the only one to master it.

The key to Obama and other politicians' future success, claim Fraser and Dutta, is that this new technology engages everyday people that otherwise would not have been able to have their voice heard, or at least feel that their position was being taken into account. Even if they were one in 2 million followers on facebook, the feeling that they were part of a campaign was enough to turn many of these supporters into evangelists for the Obama message, which in turn created a new angle to the 2008 race which we have never seen before. Fair enough.

Among a lot of good points that the article makes about civic engagement and reinvigorating voters, all well put and valid arguments as far as I could tell, one of the most interesting, if not subtle points the article makes is about traditional media and the new media. It speaks to the cooperation between facebook and ABC News, and between YouTube and CNN. This might be an illustration of the greatest power this new technology holds: transforming other media that now have to compete with web 2.0

So much of politics is the amount, quality and substance of mass media coverage of a campaign. These decisions are of course left in a "few" hands at the major networks to decide. One point I do contend with is when the article claims that all candidates got their fair share of criticism...I am not sure I agree (I voted for Obama, so no hate messaging). However, the fact that they now have to compete not only with each other, but in many cases people sitting at their computers as I do now, is pretty intriguing.

This of course has its dark side as well since hate groups and the like can say what they would like, too. It wouldn't be the first time masses were swayed by a psychotic few, but I am not quite willing to buy into this paranoia just yet. I do have some faith in the rational nature of human beings, and would hope that the power being in everyone hands could act as its own check. Of course, not everyone owns a computer, but that is another topic for another day. My point is that one of the most significant parts of the change we are seeing take place may in fact be that mass media is being forced to be a bit more honest in its coverage so they are not scooped by Columbia students writing for a class, for example. This would truly be a win for Democracy that I can whole-heartedly endorse.