musings of a mediabot

I’ve casted conversation bait in my Intro. to Digital Age classmates that I think is worthy of expanding on here.  I wrote to my classmates via Google Groups:

What particularly interested me in Play Money was how gaming is not so different from the American sense of wealth.  “We” (I put we in quotes because we may not necessarily consider ourselves to be part of the collective “we”) believe that wealth  =  accumulation of goods.  We pass neighborhoods where homes are mansions and can accomodate 10 people.  Many Americans own more than one car per person whereas in the “good ol’ days,” one car equaled one household.

Dibbell’s points out that “in a game whose essence is accumulation, no house stays big enough for long.”  No wonder there is profit to be made in the buying and selling of virtual commodities. We as a race of people are rarely satisifed.  We need more and we need better – no matter if it affects our “real” life or our virtual life.

I’m sure it wasn’t Dibbell’s intention, but the parallel between online gaming and American consumption/consumerism is too blatant to ignore.  Dibbell says that the essence of gaming is accumulation.  The procuring and hording virtual loot for purposes of securing a status in a virtual “warzone” is quite similar to us wanting to keep up with the Joneses.

Therefore, it makes sense that in a virtual marketplace, “scarcity…is an essential variable.”  Surely, the act of accumulation is not gratifying unless the goods are sought-after, one-of-a-kind type of gems.  This is what raises my eyebrow – If virtual scarcity is the variable that either completes a sale or destroys a potential business opportunity, does scarcity also apply to our “real world” marketplace?  Do we buy things because no one else has them?  Here’s where my former statement that virtual trading = American consumption fails to make sense.

In our real world, we buy products all the time.  Constantly.  We make up reasons (ie., holidays) to buy more crap to fill our homes.  Are we more willing to buy because of an item’s rarity?  Some of us would say Yes, but I would argue that most things we accumulate are items that the Joneses already have. 

Maybe I’m wrong.  Maybe we do desire to be more unique members of a whole rather than meek sheep following the masses.   I’m willing to have my opinions shaken up.  Anyone?

America has harbored a culture of opportunity since Columbus landed on its eastern shores (or Norse explorer Leif Ericson if you will).  And from its original ideals of promise that capture the true American dream have opened endless doors to fruitful possibilities – look where we are now in our digital communities.  There is talk about Web 3.0, and now the Internet, whose environment formerly had no walls, can connect one user to another user with seamless agility, without doing anything at all.  If the machine is not closing the gaps, who or what is?  It’s you and me!

Let’s first discuss Web 2.0.  The innovative technology author Tim O’Reilly who helped coined the term describes Web 2.0 as a digital platform where various “elements” (web services, web behaviors, for example) work together in a sort of “solar system,” where everything that has ever been put on the web is now available (and discoverable!) to everyone.  O’Reilly emphasizes that in a Web 2.0 platform, there is an implicit “architecture of participation,” where users connect with each other to discover and create even more ways to connect with each other.  This fundamental theory is the start of Web 3.0.  (O’Reilly has written an article about Web 2.0 for the curious.)

So, what does this have to do with America and opportunities?  Well,  Chris Anderson explains in his book The Long Tail.  What is a long tail?  It describes a new business strategy in which companies sell few quantities of unique products in niche markets and still make a lot of profit. Netflix and Amazon are examples of long tails.  Each have a seemingly endless number of movies and other sought-after items and because of its scope of variety have seen its profits grow and grow.  Anderson attributes the success of this niche strategy to the simple fact that there is an abundant amount of “resources” to recover.  The long tail reflects the overwhelming culture of abundance that America is known for around the world.

You would think that having thousands of movies to choose from, or a type of pasta sauce, or a flavor of Jell-O is heaven.  I am thankful that music still has reached its exhaustive peak in the digital landscape for I am always itching for a new sound by a new band.  But at what point is abundance just too much?  

This brings to mind a very interesting read by Daniel Pink called A Whole New Mind: Why Right-Brainers Will Rule the Future.  In it, Pink argues that the proliferation of new technologies require a new breed of business people.  Instead of CEOs in business suits, Pink calls for the creatives to start filling board rooms and making executive decisions.  He argues that the current business models will become stale and that out-sourcing will eventually corrode business exchanges from zest and innovation and complex thinking. He attributes the corrosion to abundance, among other reasons.

What’s interesting is that Anderson, an observer and preserver of technology and innovation is for abundance (the more products are available, no matter how popular, the more profit there is to be made), while Pink, an advocate for creativity and new ideas (not to far from innovation now is it?) is against abundance.  Who is right?

I don’t think there is a clear right or wrong here.  As Rhapsody founder Rob Reid said, “In a world of infinite choice, context – not content – is king.”  It’s all in the context, I suppose.

Instant messaging exploded as hype – you either got it or you didn’t.  The trend instantly became a part of the global culture, dramatically changing the way (and how quickly) people communicated with each other.  IM has given birth to a new language, a sort of SMS “street” slang, that only the most IM-adept could understand.  Now, IM has attracted crowds other than the bubble-gum teens.  Check out the commercials.  IM is everywhere, including the workplace.  Everyone is chatting in bite-sized phrases.

I am a proud instant messenger/texter myself.  It’s convenient.  It takes only a minute, or a few if you’re involved in an actual chat.  But, in the workplace?  It is one thing to have a group chat to brainstorm new strategies, for say, starting an ad campaign.  It is another to execute a project that may have more grave consequences (such as securing a multi-million client with an out-of-the-ballpark proposal) whose members span continents and who speak many different languages and who may all have a different strategy to meet the group’s goal.  A little more complicated, right?

But it seems that IM in the workplace is no stranger.  Why is IM used by companies to encourage inter-departmental communication among employees?  Why is it not?  How many companies are using IM or video-chat tools to meet their responsibilities to international partners or to provide services to international clients?  Is IM an effective communication vehicle for multi-cultured business groups considering the different languages involved and varied comprehension levels that stem from a rainbow of cultures?  Is language even a barrier in online communication?  Has the formality of corporate communication officially dissolved?  These are the types of questions I will explore in my final paper for my Intro. to the Digital Age class.

I invite you to join in my exploration.  Does your company encourage employees to use AIM or Yahoo messenger or any other IM program to exchange ideas with each other?  Does your company offer services to international businesses, and if so, what is the preferred method of communication – IM? video chat? email? traditional in-person meeting?  What is your initial reaction to IM In the workplace?  Do you see it as a smart way for companies to communicate and strengthen relationships overseas?

Send me your thoughts, ramblings, questions on the topic.  And if you come across anything that’s interesting on my topic, send them my way!  

  • Email me: kristen.byrne@gmail.com
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I seem to keep jumping on, then jumping off this digital culture bandwagon.  I can’t keep still.

Sometimes I can’t get enough of the ride, the technological turns that make me Oooh and Aaahhh, and then other times, I feel so sickened by another ridiculous gadget that’s cluttering my digital head, that I want to say To hell with it!  I will snuggle with my book (yes, book) and be happy with the contained knowledge held within.

But then the bells of the wagon come a-ringling…and I open the pages to John Battelle‘s The Search.  I can read it, watch a video of Battelle summarizing it, join a Google Group discussion and chat about it, read others’ blogs about it, and on and on.  (If you haven’t caught the ad nauseam nature of the previous sentence, you may not get the point of this post.  Stop reading now.) 

Welcome to the Google lovefest.   Now, don’t get me wrong.  I’m all for love and all for fests, but I am not all for aimlessly jumping into the throes of a completely digital society without considering what impact it has on our souls. 

Here’s what unsettles me most about Battelle’s discussion of Google being the All-Supreme-Search-God-of-the-Americas-and-the-Land-Beyond-the-Americas:

Google may archive our intentions into one database, but do they really capture the essence of who we are as a people?  Battelle never discusses the essence of being human.  He says we all have desires and birth them by entering keywords into a search box, but this sounds like two-dimensional behavior to me.  We perform an act when searching for that perfect birthday gift, or the cheapest textbook, or that high school lover, but Google can infer no meaning from our acts.  Google cannot capture the essence of our wanting, the magical potion that makes us human.

Don’t get me wrong.  I love Google.  I love gchatting with friends; I love that gmail saves all of my emails and conversations; I love seeing that McDonald’s-esque ticker telling me how much more space I can fill with my daily banter making me feel like what I say is very important and should be preserved for all of eternity; I love Google’s seeming simplicity (even though now I know how complex the machine really is, thanks to Battelle); and I love the idea of geeks getting the credit, and filled pockets, they deserve.

But, should we really go ga-ga over Google?  What is it really doing for us?  How is it nurturing my soul?  If to nurture means to provide me more digital potholes where I am distracted by things to buy, trivial information to clutter my brain, endless banter and blog vomit to choke my precious day, then I say No thanks. 

I’m not saying that Google is a digital pothole.  But considering the dark side of a digital kingdom is all part of  wearing the crown.  If Google wants to own it, it must take some jabs.

I’ll just keep watch with my virtual trident.

I must have been a little grumpy in my last post about Scoble and Israel.  By the time I finished their book Naked Conversations, I was applauding blogs and their potential to unite this very fragmented political world.  OK, maybe that’s a little hyperbolic (and a big No-No according to the authors when it comes to blogging), but I have honestly grown fonder of blogs and the nature of the blog as a machine.

So, how has Scoble and Israel dissolved my granny perspective on blogs and blogging despite my sometimes hatred for feeling obligated to be part of a schizophrenic community of web geeks?  They made one significant point that caught my attention.  Blogging allows positive ideas to be born, to flourish and to gain an effective and powerful voice.  (And that being a web geek is a cool thing nowadays.)

Scoble and Israel’s story of Michel-Edouard Leclerc was particularly touching to me because Leclerc really seemed to get why we should communicate with others effectively, why we should attempt to connect to others, why blogging can be important.  Leclerc describes blogging as a way to be humble and to learn alongside with others without the pretense of “teacher and pupil”.   Despite his tremendous popularity, Leclerc prefers blogging as a method of service rather than succumbing to the requests of his people to lead them in political office.  Blogging as a means to serve others is a very powerful idea.

My hesitation towards accepting anything new and kitschy in digital space has grown from the fact that there is something new and kitschy offered in the global, one-stop digital shop, every single day.  If there are endless innovations to play with, how do we ever learn the whole scope of possibility that lies within each “tool”?  How can we really advance as a people when we treat digital distractions as a 5-year-old treats a brand new toy?  When can I say Enough! and be content with my Treo, MySpace, FaceBook, flickr, delicious, BeBo, lastfm, Pandora, Google Reader, LinkedIn, twitter, tagged, gchat, Yahoo messenger, and who knows how many more I’ve been invited to join by friends that I don’t even have the password to anymore.  Maybe I’m not as digitally-responsible as this one (I check  only a few sites on a daily basis and am surprised the others have not imploded from inactivity by now), but I think I make a solid effort. 

I even blog myself.  I blog because I am a writer and need to analyze happenings and the people around me to make sense of this life.  I blog to offer a perspective to others that they may not be familiar with.  Scoble and Israel would be disappointed in my blog as I rarely link and my instructor may argue the validity of it being a blog at all because of this very point, but I blog for the same reason as Leclerc.  To maintain humility.  To better understand human inconsistencies and special gifts and quirky behaviors.  I blog in the chance that I can offer something of value to anyone who will listen.

I am not a fan of trends.  If I were, what would happen if I were to miss the memo that metallic snakeskin and excessive cleavage was no longer in?  Bad news, I tell ‘ya.

Some trends are worth a nod, and for the business moguls, it can mean millions of dollars in profit.  This is good for corporations and various business entities.  When are trends good for the average Joe?

Robert Scoble and Shel Israel are adamant that the online explosion of blogging is a trend worth celebrating, particularly for business reasons.  The basic message of their book Naked Conversations is You, whoever you are.  Do Not Miss the Blogging Train.  Get on board; start writing; start exchanging stories.

Scoble and Israel challenge the idea that a formal marketing/public relations department can positively promote, disseminate information, and maintain a top-of-mind presence about a featured product or service from Company X on a consistent basis.  Instead, they argue that members of the bloggers can.   A simple exchange of dialogue can do more for a product than mistargeted direct-mail pieces or one-time ad placements in a local newspaper.   It can create buzz, start an unstoppable wave of conversation that reaches a tipping point, and make Company X the topic of the day at the water cooler.  The key is that the buzz is born from blogging.

I am not anti-blog.  I agree that the power of blogs to connect people, to strengthen relationships between consumer and company, to strip CEOs of false authority and have them talk to their customers in pajamas (and let’s not forget the dramatic potential it has for opening doorways of communication in international spheres that we would otherwise have no entry) is something to treasure and to make the most positive of changes with its use. 

When blogs serve their purpose, and stir conversation about topics like Sarah Palin’s apocalyptic worldview, then I’m all for them.  This is why we should blog about what we see or read, and start important conversations. 

My concern for Scoble and Israel’s taking the bullhorn and advising companies to blog is that it sounds like they’re pumping steroids into the art.  If every single company were to start their own blog, wouldn’t they just get lost in the already cluttered Internet?  True, there are tools we use to filter through the dense digital information highway, such as RSS, but I’m not the only one to question the authors’ overzealous love of the online pastime.

If we’re blogging simply because we have “tool lust,” penned by Yossi Vardi, then we’re no more than following a trend.  But, if we’re blogging to contribute something worthwhile, then the trend is necessary for our survival.  Yes, survival.  What are we as people if we do not communicate and that communication does not enhance our lives?

The question is What is worthwhile?  For me, some days this works.

I received the following response (via email) to my last post:

I worry that the media is stuck right now between trying to be both all-knowing professional gatekeepers as well as just folks. They are so strongly influenced by citizen journalism, they may lose their internal compasses. What do you think about that? What about the role of popularity, ratings, money, and feedback in shaping how the modern journalist works?

This introduces the inevitable twist in journalism that results from the multi-directional feeding of information into various, and sometimes overlapping, digital forums. Has the internal compass shifted direction for the traditional journalist? If we take a look at the formal Code of Ethics for journalists, we can see where exactly the rules have been challenged. Journalists, no matter which platform they choose to publish their story, want to be heard, and not only that, but heard through a bold, capital headline. In the print media industry, one or two people choose which stories appear on the front page. In the digital media industry, anyone can force a story as the headline. It depends on how loud of voice the contributor has and how large of a buzz he or she can create.

I fear it is too tempting for the modern journalist to maintain an honest internal compass. By honest I mean to report facts that are newsworthy and have the potential to better the lives of its readers. It is the “bettering” people’s lives with which the modern journalist seems to have more difficulty handling. There are countless blogs, and more created each day; there are competing online news sources, both mainstream and below the radar; and then, there are the historical challenges to face. Which story gets read? Which story gets the most web traffic? Which stirs discussion? Which makes money for the parent company? But the modern journalist need not get tangled in these superficial reasons for informing the public.

The Society of Professional Journalists’ Code of Ethics is necessary, but what about the Why? Why do we need journalists?  Interestingly enough, the New York Times devotes only one line to address this question (see section A1 of The New York Times Company Policy on Ethics in Journalism). 

We need them because we need to be held accountable for what we do, how we treat each other, how our decisions impact others. We need journalists because we need to see ourselves objectively, in black and white, and be held up to scrutiny if our actions do harm to others. We need journalists because we need others to hear and read about how generous and caring we can be to our neighbors, both local and overseas. We need journalists because we need to continue to be inspired and reminded that we are all humans, and we are all connected – in one way or another.