Is Google making me stupid?

When I read about New Communication Technologies, I can’t help but think about how they relate to my own habits. Two ideas that resonated with me more than any others were the multitasking and search engine stupidity articles.

I’ve always known I’m terrible at multitasking. I need to be able to focus on one thing at a time, and anything in the background fuzzes out to be insignificant. This doesn’t just involve New Communication Technologies; I cannot hold a conversation with someone while typing an email and I get lost and confused if I’m attempting to watch a Netflix drama and checking Twitter at the same time. (Although each and every time, my mind convinces itself that yes, I can perform both of those tasks simultaneously.) When it comes to Clay Shirky’s policy of having no electronic devices in the classroom, I understand his argument and am at the same time frustrated by it. Because my world as a newspaper editor requires me to be easily contactable if needed, I often despise the idea of having electronic devices turned off. However, I too tire of needing to be constantly connected all the time, and enjoy the excuse of class as a reason for not having to check text messages or Facebook chats that often leave me overwhelmed at the attention I’m expected to dedicate to them.

Where Nicholas Carr and his idea that Google is making us stupid and changing our brains, I can see some of his argument reflected in my own life. I too often scan through documents looking for keywords and have a difficult time reading long-form works such as books and documents. With that notion in mind, I always feel smarter after I take time away from social media and my electronics to read a book. It almost feels like reading off of paper instead of a back-light LED screen allows for me to set the “reset” button in my brain. Where Carr claimed that Google is making us stupid, I think his point has merit – we certainly don’t need to memorize the same way we used to – but I think that point could be made by any information organization system. I don’t remember Calculus equations, but if I really needed to relearn complex math, I could just as easily go to the library and rent a book, in the same way I could Google the quadratic formula. The only thing that changes is the immediacy of the information gathering.

Is Facebook and other social media making us lonely? Only if you let it.

A aspect of the human condition that has plagued us for centuries and quite possibly our entire existence is the idea of scapegoating, or blame-shifting as our methodology for solving our problems. With scapegoating, we are often quick to hand off the struggles in our lives to other external or third-party people or technologies, without taking a deeper look at what might be occurring within ourselves to explain our very personal phenomena. In a society that finds itself being reformed each September with the release of the newest generation of iPhone, we find ourselves often pointing a finger at social media when things in our lives are not matching up to expectations.

Published in the Atlantic, Stephen Marche makes his case for why Facebook is making us lonely, stating that often the social media app reduces our number of interpersonal, in-person interactions with one another and therefore increases loneliness and isolation. Marche says that within decades, the percentage of adults in the United States who feel like they are completely alone or have little to no confidants in which to confide in has increased, and its partially due to the rise of the internet.

Eric Klingenberg, who was cited in Marche’s article as a source to make his case for why social media has contributed to our overall loneliness, disputes Marche’s claims. He says there’s “zero evidence” that Facebook is a major contributor to our loneliness, stating that like other revolutionary forms of communication such as the printing press, the telephone and broadcast media like radio and television, social media is just a tool in which we amplify the realities of our own lives.

While I see Marche’s reasoning that social media has the ability to isolate us, I don’t think that social media is the reason for the isolation; rather, I side more with Klingenberg’s argument that online social media platforms provide us an outlet to unwittingly amplify our loneliness without anyone noticing otherwise.

While I often feel frustrated by the amount of my attention that social media often requires of me, I disagree that Facebook and other platforms are the reason for me being lonely. If I feel lonely, it is because I am personally feeling it already and social media is not working to improve that feeling. In these instances, social media only amplifies those feelings of loneliness.

I would also argue that social media does a better job of keeping me connected than I would normally have time for, given my hectic schedule full of running a newspaper and managing a full load of classes. Access to social media allows me to remain close with people who matter to me without having physical closeness. To me, that dispels the loneliness I feel, because I know they too are behind a screen feeling cared for because I’m taking the time out of my day to send a text message to them. So no, Facebook does not make me lonelier. It only serves as an outlet to either relieve or amplify my loneliness – in the end, it is my choice on what I feel.

“Twitter and Tear Gas” Chapter 1 Reflection

In the first chapter of the book “Twitter and Tear Gas,” author Zeynep Tufekci writes about how the digital revolution has changed our sense of community. She starts the chapter with a story of her grandmother, who, born in Turkey, who was exposed to a shift in community when she won a scholarship to a prestigious school for gifted girls. She had been pulled from school by her parents when she was 10 because her parents had decided she had received enough schooling, but with her attendance at the Istanbul boarding school, she was witness to an entirely new world.

This, Tufekci argues, happens as communication technology advances. A standardized, national language and access to communication – something Tufekci says we take for granted in nations with a democratic style of government – is created when our methods of communication expand to have the ability to reach greater, more populous networks outside of our immediate family and friends. Newspapers had this ability, as did the invention of the telephone, radio and television, but only to a limited population of people each time. With the rise of Facebook and Twitter as social media networks that are open to anyone and can be used with a connection to the Internet, our notions of what a community is has become more imaginary and can involve a large number of traits, like political affiliation or the attendance at the same school.

Tufekci turns to the Arab Spring protests in January 2011 as an example of how social media like Facebook and Twitter allow for changes in how social media has changed our idea of a community and bring freedom for people who are otherwise being restricted in their speech and their actions by an authoritarian regime. In creating a public sphere in the digital realm, the information about the protest, later named Arab Spring, was spread to an audience much larger and more diverse than the organizer’s own Facebook friends list. As a result, thousands of people showed up, eventually toppling the government. The prevalence of social media is a phenomenon the authoritarian government cannot tighten their grip on either, since a large number of the population uses it not for political action, but rather for contact with their loved ones who may not live within the country. For those who do use the social media sites as a vehicle for political mobilization, it gives people the ability to speak more freely online than they can in their physical communities. Pairing that with the potential for an increased audience, communication has once again transformed to bring people closer regardless of their physical location.

“It Takes a Village to Find a Phone” and “Love Online” responses

In “It Takes a Village To Find a Phone,” a woman named Ivanna loses her Sidekick cell phone in the back of a cab in New York City. She assumes it’s lost forever, until she and her friend Evan discovers that the person in possession of the device has been photographing herself and sending emails off of her phone after the information from the lost device had been transferred over to the new one. Using the internet and its ability to engage a mob mentality, the woman in possession of the phone, named Sasha, was eventually arrested for stealing the device when the public demanded justice for the theft.

In the article “Love Online” in the MIT Technology review, the author Henry Jenkins talks about his son (also named Henry) and his experience with having a girlfriend and how dating worked in an online communication format. His son Henry and his girlfriend Sarah met only after they began dating, but that didn’t prevent the feelings from being real, Jenkins writes. Jenkins also notes that the idea of long-distance relationships is not new, using his own lineage as an example. His grandparents wrote letters during war time as a way to stay in contact; Henry was doing the same thing as his grandparents, with the difference being the mode of communication used to facilitate that long-distance relationship. The only differences are the lack of paper and pen used to write the letter, and the immediacy of the message sent.

A concept I had never given much thought to before reading “It Takes a Village to Find a Phone,” group-formation is heavily integral to social media’s existence. I’d say we’ve always wanted to be categorized into groups as human beings – not only do we like being social, but we love stereotypes and common traits between people that shorten our thinking processes when it comes to knowing whether we can trust another person or not. Social media and internet usage amplifies that to where you can belong to any group, regardless of who you are or where you might be located. Group-formation can swing to be both positive and negative – in considering how Sasha felt, the group-formation against her must have been overwhelming. They definitely made her aware that she was not a part of their group. It can be positive as well, as we are better able to talk with others who are dealing with the same life pressures and issues as us, or are able to utilize better forms of communication to stay in tune with other people we already consider our “group.” This allows for not only group-forming, but “architecture if participation” – because of the diversity of the group, you likely have someone who is a professional or has the similar skill set as a professional doing the work for you, like investigating a person you find to be unsettling or discovering information on another person, as two examples.

Society has always had to adapt to changes in communication, because we are heavily social beings. Our culture changed from oral to written with the invention of the Gutenberg; as we continue to process with our technology and the modes of communication that accompany it, we will also change our own schemata around how we as a society communicate. It’s easy to say that our methods of communication changed rapidly after the first smartphone was debuted in June 2007. In reference to these two articles, communication was the leading factor in how they found the woman with the cell phone and what made it possible for Henry and Sarah to have a relationship with one another, despite being physically separated by thousands of miles. Because we have the ability to perform these kinds of communication, our society adapts to integrate them into our everyday lives.

Looking at what makes people take the risk of sharing information with the world that they can’t take back, I think the need to belong through sharing with others outweighs the idea that there is some information we wouldn’t shout to the world without the social media platform. From personal experience, I’ve tweeted a lot of jokes that I believe are funny that I would never say to a random person on the street, yet my Twitter feed is open for anyone with or without an account to view. I’ve shared photos on Instagram that I wouldn’t fame in my home, but yet want people to see so they can shape a mindset of me as a good photographer. As each of our reasons vary, I believe they all trail back to the idea of group-formation and developing relationships with other people. Like the two examples in the readings, we want to be seen as belonging to something or someone, whether it be a social movement to return a Sidekick phone or to a specific person.

I think the biggest takeaway I have from the articles, especially the one with the Sidekick phone, is that we often focus so heavily on the positives of social media interaction that often we don’t slow down and think about what negative impacts the person on the other end of the screen may be having. It especially struck a chord with me when I considered how Sasha felt in this ordeal – she had just found a phone in the back of a cab, which isn’t illegal, but she was demonized for not giving it back. While correspondence on her part could have been handled better, she also had an army of people dig into her life, which isn’t the greatest feeling. In the pursuit for the phone, there was the possibility for greater damage to be done in the name of justice that doesn’t really feel like justice at all.