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.

Sunday, February 8, 2009


I admit that I was not familiar with Yochai Benkler of Harvard Law School until I began taking my digital communications course. While I am really quite impressed by his writing, taking special care to make it particularly dense, he does have some great stuff to say. Especially with respect to the subject of this blog. In his book The Wealth of Networks, Benkler says that, given the new media and outlets provided us by technology:

"Individuals become less passive, and thus more engaged observers of social spaces that could potentially become subjects for political conversation; they become more engaged particularly in the debates about their observations. The various formats of the networked public sphere provide anyone with an outlet to speak, to inquire, to investigate, without need to access the resources of a major media organization."

Certainly the 2008 Presidential election showed us what wise use of the internet, blogs, social networking and the like can accomplish. As these lessons become applied to other spheres, we may well see the rise of a new wave of social action. I am just unconvinced that this is going to happen. Being able to speak one's mind to a larger audience is terrific in concept, but there are a lot of obnoxious people out there. You know? Is it really that great that they can broadcast themselves now? And are people really going to become more involved in their communities just because it is available? You can lead a horse to water...

Thursday, February 5, 2009


So anyone reading this post knows how to use a computer. The mere fact that you are here means that you are among the growing ranks of the privileged few (or many, depending on your vantage point) that can communicate across borders and directly to your fellow humans. Congratulations. But what are you doing with this power?

Are you spending your time in places like this , or are you finding yourself somewhere else, like here?

I don't know why, but I find that guy hilarious. There is more John Roberts where that came from :) Anyway, there is so much good stuff out there, and so much crap, that I am looking forward to checking it out and seeing what people think. Is it changing us for the better, or are we just more distracted?