Monthly Archives: March 2015

Connected But Alone

Yesterday in our Social Media Class, we had a student presenter Khaled share with us Sherry Turkle’s TED Talk on being Connected But Alone. I had read her book Alone Together, but had not yet viewed the TED talk in its entirety. If you aren’t familiar with her work, and are concerned about how technology is changing us, you don’t want to miss it:

After viewing the video, we had a good discussion in class about several of Turkle’s key ideas. This was one:

We’re letting technology take us places we don’t want to go

How is technology changing us, and are we even conscious about it? Are we losing our ability to connect with one another in real life? Are we never truly present to one another in our state of constant electronic distraction?

I was reminded of something Brené Brown wrote some time ago that struck a nerve with me back then: They don’t need us to be sorry, just present. Brown, at the time, was experiencing a meteoric rise in recognition, from giving her own TED talks to appearing on Oprah, and I’m sure things in her house were thrilling but chaotic.

I could totally relate when Brené wrote:

I don’t want my kids to feel like they’re competing with my computer for my time or attention. I’ll NEVER forget when Charlie was about 2 years old and he said, “You play with Chawlie or you play with com-poo-der?” Crushing.

But also this:

I do want to model the importance of hard work and persistence. These are two of my core beliefs and also my strengths – I want to hand them down. In my work I see how privilege and entitlement eventually crush a child’s self-worth. I don’t want my kids to be afraid of disappointment and work. My work is demanding and I want to model rising to the challenge.

All too often, I am guilty of giving only cursory attention to those around me. Family, friends, colleagues, students, everyone really. Like Brené, I am insanely busy at this point in my life. This should change somewhat after I finish my Ph.D. but right now there simply aren’t enough hours in the day.

Yet Brené offers some solid advice towards moving in a positive direction addressing Sherry Turkle’s concerns about how we use technology.

I’m employing the Nordstrom method of engaging. The salespeople at Nordstrom always walk around to the front of the register table to hand you your bag. They never reach over the counter. I’m trying to do the same thing. I’m trying to never talk to my kids over the top of my laptop or while I’m staring at the screen.

Have you ever been on the receiving end of that? Someone giving you half (or less) of their attention while peering over the top of a computer monitor? It is unsettling, even insulting. Like Brené’s little Charlie, it feels like they love the computer more. When I remember the feeling, it is a lot easier to be mindful of when I’m doing it to others as well.

As a college professor I see many young students who struggle to connect – to look people in the eye, to carry on a conversation without checking their phones, to walk across campus without talking, texting or listening to music. It’s a problem.

Ask anyone working with young adults, they will agree. Heck, this often comes up in our class discussions. As Sherry Turkle reminds us, we are letting technology take us places we don’t want to go, but it doesn’t have to be so. We just need to be a little more aware of what is happening, and then put our foot down when we don’t like how things are. Like taking time to look people in the eye, to have actual, attentive conversations with one another. To respect and to value one another.

But it doesn’t come automatically. As Sherry Turkle says in her TED talk, technology plays to our weaknesses. It is always easier to send a text than to look someone in the eye. When you have a live, face to face conversation you cannot edit and perfect your words. You are there, warts and all; you are vulnerable. But that is part of being human, and part of being alive. Those who start to figure this out and make conscious choices in how they conduct their lives with regards to technology will be living as the best version of themselves.


My True Friend – Talky Tina

Last night, on DS 106 Radio, my daughter & I listened to a program hosted by the notorious femme fatale, Talky Tina. After chatting with her on Twitter, we were invited to apply for “True Friend” status, which we have done straight away, because you don’t diss Talky Tina.

We even created an animated gif for our potential True Friend badge, and are anxiously awaiting to learn if we have met her stringent requirements. We’re keeping our fingers crossed.

gif or jif?



WE’RE IN!!!!

I’m so thrilled that we have been accepted as Talky Tina’s True Friends. I will now display this badge of honor forever!

We are friends Talky Tina Says So

Much Needed Encouragement

Anyone who has ever worked on a Ph.D. knows that it is really hard. The closest thing to it I think I’ve experienced in my life was the Shellback initiation I went through when crossing the Equator for the first time. (If you have a strong stomach, then do a Google search for wog day and you’ll know what I’m talking about.) But the thing about crossing the Equator is it only lasts for a day, doctoral dissertations can take years, especially if you can only work on them part-time.

The work is exhausting and few folks around me really understand what it entails. Just as when I talk with fellow sailors who have endured “crossing the line,” only those who are working on or have completed doctorates can fully appreciate where I am right now. There was a recent article on the Chronicle website about running your own race at your own pace that resonated with me, especially the bit about giving up imposter syndrome. The family can always come up with something more appealing to do than doing dissertation work. There is always something at school that demands priority attention. In fact, I’ve been derailed by more than a year simply because I redirected my attention to developing a new digital media degree for undergrad students instead of focusing on my own priority of finishing this thing.

That is why every little bit of encouragement means so much to me. This little note is the most recent, delightful example.  Bill: Your boundary crossing identity as a vet, a tech guy, media literacy guy and teacher are just what the field needs right now. Keep me posted on the dissertation results!

For those who don’t know her, Renee Hobbs is one of the world’s foremost authorities on media literacy education. Her work is foundational to my research project, and getting a message like this just made my day.

Now that I have a much needed boost, I guess it is time for me to get back to work. It won’t be long now until I find out where I stand. Wish me luck!


Social Media Midterm Exam

Photo by Kevin Chang on Flickr.

This semester marks the first time I have taught an undergraduate course in Social Media Technology. Throughout the semester we have been reading and discussing various aspects of social media. We started the semester off reading the incredible story of Danielle Smith’s stolen family photograph. We read about Oreo Cookie’s marketing coup during the Super Bowl. We learned about Kathy Sierra and the Internet Trolls and we discussed the Like a Girl viral video. We learned about the new realities of marketing on Facebook, and we also saw the power of Facebook as a tool for reconnecting a former teacher with a student who helped to get him fired. (We actually had a conference call between our class and the teacher and his student.) We read about how one person was fired over one stupid tweet and the whole world knew about it before she did. We had a guest speaker come visit our class, Mr. Grant Griffiths of Headway Themes. In short, we have covered a lot of ground so far this semester.

Then, to gauge our progress, we borrowed a page out of Howard Rheingold‘s playbook and the students wrote essay questions to be used on their mid-term exam. I have never really tried having students write their own exam before, but I really like the philosophy of sharing control with students like this. Students were asked to write three questions and we pooled them together. Then from that list, I chose the following questions to help narrow things down, and added some additional thoughts from me on certain questions in italics. Students are to respond to four questions, three from my list and one more question of their choice from the original, longer list.

  • What is social media?
  • Social media can be used more than just professionally socially. How? (I really liked this question, but the default for social media would seem to be social rather than professional. In other words, please discuss how social media has evolved beyond how the original designers might have envisioned it to be used.)
  • Why do you, or do you not use social media? (what are some of the benefits and pitfalls of making this personal choice?)
  • How does social media affect us and our identities?
  • Explain how someone has used social media to make their career. (While it would be perfectly acceptable to describe an example from class, describing something new we haven’t already discussed would be really impressive.)
  • What is considered proper etiquette when using social media in your working environment? (In what ways can we we make distinctions between our professional and personal online identities? Is it a good idea to do this? Why or why not?)

I am really looking forward to seeing how they respond to these writing prompt questions. I also would enjoy hearing from other educators seeing this. By adding my own commentary, and even modifying one question, did I violate the spirit of having them write the questions? Have you ever had students write their own exam  questions before, and if so how did it work? In what other ways do you share control with students in your classes?

Selfie Analysis

As an homage to the George et Jon show at the Salina Art Center, here are three selfies I found on my social network Facebook, with many thanks to the contributors! I have obtained permission from each person to share them with you here as described in my previous post, and will answer for you the Five Key Questions of Media Literacy. Normally, when viewing media you don’t usually know the creator, but in some of these, I do. I will try to answer as if I don’t know them, but instead try to “read” the photo as my students & I did recently the Salina Art Center exhibit.

Photo #1.



  • Who created this message?

A young  woman. There is not much in the photo’s background to give us a hint about who she is. That was part of the fun at the Salina Art Center show, trying to make up a story about the people we saw there. Since I know this person, I’ll leave it to you to decide who she is and what she is about. I’ll just say she is a private citizen from Facebook.

  • What creative techniques are used to attract my attention?

She has a bit of a smirk, and one of her eyes is partially covered, which adds to the mystery of this photo. It is a close-up portrait, and these are always dramatic. It’s a selfie photo created so others can see her, but to me, I see a hint of discomfort, perhaps a wondering in her mind of how people will react to seeing this. But I also see authenticity here, something real and trustworthy.

  • How might different people understand this message differently than me?

I think this picture was made primarily for friends and family. My putting it on this blog invites a variety of other interpretations. She is a fair-haired, white American lady. People from other ethnicities or cultures may see her entirely different from me. Some people might see her a person of great privilege, having many advantages that most people in the world do not have, including wealth, youth, and beauty. Do some people believe the stereotype about blondes having more fun, but not being too bright? I suppose some might think that way too.

  • What lifestyles, values and points of view are represented in; or omitted from, this message?

The point of view represented seems to be one of typical middle class America. I think there are many people in this country who live with much less, and also some people who have a great deal more when it comes to material possessions. She’s not a showy person in this photo, but doesn’t seem to be suffering either.

  • Why is this message being sent?

I think she made it for a boyfriend, or just friends in general. Unlike many media messages, she doesn’t seem to be trying to gain followers, or influence by sharing this. It’s just a slice of her life she’s sharing with others, I think.

Photo #2.



  • Who created this message?

Another young woman making a selfie photo.

  • What creative techniques are used to attract my attention?

Youth and beauty, once again get our attention, along with a big grin and sort of an amazed expression. Selfies are tricky because the camera lens is offset from the viewing screen. It looks like she’s looking at herself, because she’s not looking directly into the camera. It also looks like this was taken in bed, which suggests vulnerability. Her bubbly personality shines through, and it looks as though she is probably great fun to be around.

  • How might different people understand this message differently than me?

Some people might think this picture was made to draw attention to herself. She’s actually a beautiful young woman, but I think some people in our superficial culture might be cruel to her because she doesn’t have the anorexic body of a runway model. Again, people of other ethnicities and cultures might see things quite differently.

  • What lifestyles, values and points of view are represented in; or omitted from, this message?

I’m a dad of a young daughter, and I wonder what her dad would say about this photo. There’s nothing particularly revealing going on, but it’s a picture from bed (and maybe wearing pj’s?) so it could be interpreted as a suggestive photo by some.

  • Why is this message being sent?

I think she’s just having fun. It is intended to make others smile, and perhaps remind people who know her why they love her so much.

Photo #3.


  • Who created this message?

This looks like the photo of a woman who has been through hell, and lived to tell about it.

  • What creative techniques are used to attract my attention?

The first time I saw a woman wearing this hairstyle was in Star Trek – The Motion Picture. It was so unusual to see a lady with no hair, but I was only about eleven years old at the time. I was transfixed. Now I know there is probably more to the story of why she looks like she does. Her smile says that she knows she looks different, but she doesn’t really care what others think. She’s too busy enjoying life to be self-conscious. The photo makes me smile. It shows dogged determination and a will to get better.

  • How might different people understand this message differently than me?

Certainly those who have endured life-threatening illnesses would interpret this message differently than I do. They might know exactly how she feels, when I can only guess. Also, it might be that someone might think that she’s shaved her head on purpose to show solidarity with someone who is ill, but is not actually ill herself. Others might even suspect she’s one of those people who fakes an illness to gain attention and sympathy, but I would hope that most people wouldn’t think that.

  • What lifestyles, values and points of view are represented in; or omitted from, this message?

I think that cancer-survivor is the point of view that is represented. A point of view that is omitted is that of her family. Does she have a spouse or kids going through this with her? How long has she been like this? Is this a recent picture, or is this something that happened a while ago?

  • Why is this message being sent?

I think this is mostly an invitation for the viewer to celebrate life with her. I don’t see it as an appeal for sympathy. It might be to get attention, but only in a positive way, such as to raise awareness about people who are quietly suffering through life-threatening illnesses every day.

So how did I do? Am I way off with this analysis? Do you see things another way? I invite you to share your thoughtful ideas in the comments below.

The Art of the Selfie

Dark haired woman selfieRetro sailor girl selfie

This week my students and I visited the Salina Art Center to see an exhibit on the Selfie.

The show featured very large prints of selfie photographs of real people from the Salina community found on social media websites. With the consent of the people being featured in the photos, the artists printed the photos out in a very large format, some were perhaps six or eight feet across, so it was a very different experience from viewing them on Facebook.

The students really began thinking about the constructed nature of the selfie photograph, and social media in general. They had some strong opinions about the people in the photos, as well as the artists who put the show together. One digital media student was really upset by the pixelation visible in the photographs. I’m glad that this is becoming a point of irritation, because it usually bothers me too, and I want students to notice and fix it when it appears in their work. However, the pixels were so large that the artists obviously intended for us to see them, which is an idea I always want my students to consider.

When understand the media, we become media literate by asking five key questions.

  1. Who created this message?
  2. What creative techniques are used to attract my attention?
  3. How might different people understand this message differently than me?
  4. What lifestyles, values and points of view are represented in; or omitted from, this message?
  5. Why is this message being sent?

While we touched upon the point of view of the artist, much of our discussion centered around these questions from the perspective of the original creator of the selfie photos. For an interesting riff on this art exhibit, find three selfies from your own social networks. Obtain permission from the creator to post them on your blog, then post them and answer the five key questions. You could even take it a step further and modify them as the artists George & Jon did in the show we saw. You could make them bigger, intentionally making them become pixelated. You could crop or otherwise edit them. Have fun with it. Then, comment on this post so I can see what you came up with.


Cyberbullies and the Baseball Player

mlb pitcher curt schilling

(Warning: this post contains links to language that isn’t work or family friendly and have been marked NSFW. It would be a good idea for young kids to cover this topic with a grown up.)

This morning before work, I happened to catch former MLB all star & world series champion pitcher Curt Schilling on CNN discussing his dealings with internet trolls who thought it would be great fun to post vile remarks about his daughter on Twitter. Because I am teaching a course on social media, and because my own daughter is a ball player, this sort of thing grabs my attention. Apparently, he tracked down the trolls and they received the real life sanctions of getting kicked out of college and losing a job for their online actions. Wanting to learn more, I read Curt’s (NSFW) blog about what happened.  What I read sounded really familiar because we’ve been talking about these things in my class this semester.

In my class, we talked about Kathy Sierra’s decade long experience of troll torment, leading her to conclude that the (NSFW) Trolls Will Always Win. It turns out, she’s not alone and this phenomenon of threatening physical violence happens with all too much regularity. Amanda Hess wrote about her own and others’ experience in (NSFW) Why Women Aren’t Welcome on the Internet. She was so frightened when this happened to her, she called the police to report the threats. But the investigating officer replied with the question,

What is Twitter?

The World Wide Web is a couple of decades old now, and the read/write web has been around for about half of that time. Because the read/write web and its child social media require no special skills to use, anyone with an Internet connection can use them. This unfortunately includes people with nothing better to do but to make life miserable for others.

That is why it was so refreshing to see someone of Curt Schilling’s stature and influence speaking out and actually doing something. He writes in a follow up post,

You have a son, daughter, sister or brother? Niece, nephew, cousin? One that you would go to the ends of the earth for? Think about it for a second. Phone rings and that person has died, hung themselves because they were bullied. How are you doing? What’s your reaction?

I don’t know Curt Schilling. I didn’t even really follow baseball until the past few years when my kids got into it and the Royals started winning.  I don’t know his past history, what he’s said that offends people, or anything really. All I know is I see a daddy sticking up for his little girl. He asks,

I grew up in a world where women were treated with respect and dignity. When did that become out of date? Obsolete? How? Why?

and opines,

I promise you even the baddest and toughest, meanest and strongest man reading this sees zero honor in belittling a minor, zero. Zero honor in sexually harassing a woman.

Curt Schilling, I’m sorry your daughter went through this mess, but I’m glad to see you are bringing attention to this problem. You are so right, we are losing kids all of the time because of their quiet suffering of these attacks. I know as a father, I would do all I could to protect my kids too. But most parents aren’t in the public eye, and I’m afraid that many are completely unaware that this even goes on with their kids every day. That’s why even though I made this video several years ago, I still say kids shouldn’t drive alone on the internet.

So what is the right thing to do? Do you call 911 when you are threatened online? Do local law enforcement agencies have the resources to investigate and prosecute when this happens? I don’t think they currently do. I don’t think we have an infrastructure in place to deal with this growing problem. And is Curt is right? Is the best approach to dealing with cyberbullies to pursue them and make an example of them? If you do, you’d better have a really thick skin like Curt Schilling does, because people have an insane habit of victim blaming and try to convince you that whatever bad thing happened did so because you brought it on yourself.

One thing I know for certain is that parents and educators need to be involved with what their kids are doing online in social media. This stuff is real. These attacks are real and the hurt is real. When a kid is on the receiving end, there is nothing quite like knowing that a caring and loving adult is in their corner. But they can’t know that if we aren’t aware of what is going on in their online lives.

Good for you Curt Schilling. Keep fighting the good fight and setting the example for dads everywhere!

The Robot Revolution


When I was a kid, I thought when I grew up I might have a robot maid, just like Rosie on the Jetsons. But I am still waiting on that one. However, for a while now, I have been paying attention to how robots are changing our lives. As new technologies become smaller and more affordable, these machines are moving from the factory floor to our homes and communities.


For a long time, most robots were big and expensive. They did the tasks that are boring or dangerous for humans to do. A robot welder in a factory never gets tired or makes mistakes like a human welder does.

Now, robots are everywhere it seems. Where I live, agriculture is big business, and I expect that robots will soon transform the lives of the world’s farmers. This robot, being built in Australia, knows how to herd cows.

If you’ve ever tried to move cattle around, you know it is hard, and sometimes even dangerous work.

Another robot I really like is the robotic telepresence. This kind lets people visit another place seeing and moving through space such as a museum or school by using the robot.

Do you like 3-D printers? This is really a type of small robot that knows how to manufacture items through an additive process.

How about those cool quadcopters? Yep. Robot. Here’s a video a neighbor took of the town where I live.

My question to you is, if you could have any kind of robot in the world to help improve your life, what kind of robot would you get, and why? I can’t wait to hear about your dream robot!

(By the way, mine is a driverless car robot so I could sleep or do work during my morning commute!)