Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Lesson #1 in Good Judgment: Use It!

It wasn’t easy coming up with a topic to blog about this week. Having had a prescribed subject to discuss thus far, the freedom to blog about anything was both exciting and constraining at the same time. I knew I wanted to stay on the topic of social networking, but couldn’t seem to pull my thoughts together…until I saw this news story (video below) Monday morning that got my fingers itching to type.

Carmen Kontur-Gronquist served as mayor of Arlington, Oregon until some photos of questionable taste were discovered on her personal MySpace page. The pictures were apparently posted prior to her mayoral run in 2005, but townspeople got worked up anyways and ousted her. We can all guess what followed: mental distress, a circuit on the morning news shows, and a book deal (well not yet, but give it time). As I listened to her story, it seemed like the former mayor’s mishap occurred precisely so I’d have something to blog about! I jest, of course. But it really did shed light on some of the larger issues posed in our class.

Throughout the semester, we’ve discussed the role of social networking through the internet. People choose to share personal details for a number of reasons. For some, blogs are a platform to vent frustrations. For others, Facebook is the site of choice to stay connected and provide updates about their lives. But the bigger question is, do we consider the consequence of the information we put out there? In at least two prior posts, I’ve mentioned that as graduate students, we’re likely to exercise greater judgment in our internet revelations than our younger peers. However, the story about the former mayor completely contradicts the notion that wisdom comes with age. To be honest, I didn’t find her MySpace photo particularly “racy” – greater beings have been known to do worse. However, regardless of the reasoning behind posting the photos (by many accounts to a) meet a man and b) promote fitness), I can’t fathom why she didn’t think to delete the photos, or the entire page for that matter, once she decided to run for mayor.

As we discussed last week in class, people google everyone and everything; this holds true for celebrities, politicians, or your average Joe applying for a job. Clearly the former mayor was internet savvy enough to create her own MySpace page. Yet, she didn’t seem to understand that as a public figure, she’d become “google-worthy” and that her site could be used to destroy her reputation and career. She, like countless others before her, is likely to rebound from all this and move on to bigger and better things. But Kontur-Gronquist’s story is a great example of the power of social networking sites; they can make or break you, but the scales often seem tipped towards the latter...

On a personal note, I won’t be able to attend our last class since I’m heading to Ecuador on Tuesday. I really enjoyed this course, and it’s been fun reading everyone’s posts each week. Good luck with the rest of the semester!

Monday, February 25, 2008

See My Blog For References

Over the last few weeks of this course, we’ve picked up some snazzy lingo about social networking: crowd-sourcing, communities of practice, conversational marketing, and so on. But are you familiar with the term “dooced?” Apparently, the dangers of blogging on the job have warranted the creation of a whole new word:

Dooced: To lose one’s job because of one’s website.

The origin of the term is somewhat convoluted, but the basic idea is that a woman got fired from her job for writing stories about coworkers on her blog, http://www.dooce.com/. We’re all familiar with this phenomenon (think Jessica Cutler of Washingtonienne fame, or Mark Jen’s Google scandal), so it makes sense to have a word describing it. But what about blogging even before you’ve secured the job? Could it win you gold stars in a fiercely competitive job market? Or could it become the barrier between you and that coveted corner office?

According to Joshua Porter, “the blog is the new resume.” Advocates claim that given two identical candidates, the one who includes a blog address on his resume is more likely to win the position. I can see how this could work. Employers receive hundreds of resumes for various positions, so any means to stand out from the crowd should be utilized. However, considering the questionable quality of many blogs, I wonder if this is in fact an appropriate strategy. As graduate students who may not have grown up using the internet from a young age, we’re probably a bit more cognizant of what is and isn’t appropriate – and thus more reticent about what we post online – than the high school/college crowd. For example, teenagers accustomed to using the internet from the age of three tend to be more comfortable posting intimate, personal information on photo-sharing sites, Facebook, Myspace, and the like. In fact, the issue of unrestrained internet-use by teens has received considerable media attention in recent years. In a perfect world, teens and tweens would curb their virtual showboating, or at least step up efforts to delineate public vs. private information. However, how many 14 year olds really think about future career prospects beyond vague notions of wanting to be a doctor or lawyer? I would venture to say that very few consider the day when a hiring decision might rest on information gathered from a Google search or Facebook profile. And unless great pains are taken to delete or privatize blog posts, those diary-like entries could come back to haunt them.

Even for those of us who do practice caution, what exactly do blogs tell an employer about a person? Mine would inform someone of my status as a grad student, the fact that I took a course on social networking, and that I’m able to string words into sentences. But my writing here is hardly exemplary; I’d much rather submit a formal paper as a writing sample. If your blog highlights quantifiable skills and is somehow directly related to the position you seek, I would certainly consider it a resume-boosting tactic. But if your employable “skills” resemble that of Joey’s, blog with care…

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Cyber-Twins: Like You, Only Better

If you were offered the opportunity to start all over and begin a new life – including a new job, new location, perhaps even a new look – would you take it? I think I would. That’s not to say I don’t enjoy my life right now. I like grad school, love DC, and pretty much have come to terms with the fact that I won’t grow any taller. But every once in a while (usually around finals or when the red line runs on single tracks), I can’t help but wonder how cool it’d be to just pick up and leave – perhaps become an architect in Dubai. Apparently, the desire to start from scratch and recreate ourselves is actually quite common. Consider the recent story about John Darwin, who committed “pseudocide” in order to lead a new life in Panama.

The good news, however, is that you don’t need to go to such lengths to start over. You can create a whole new you right from the comfort of your home through computer programs like Second Life. I had heard and read about the program before; but as someone who spends only a requisite amount of time in front of the computer (Email? Check. Read the news? Check. Write a paper? Check.), I’d never been compelled to actually enter Second Life. However, this week’s readings (and our pending lab) got me interested. The level of complexity to this so-called game is really quite fascinating. You can create an avatar to look and dress any way you like, buy and sell property, start a business, or make and spend money. You can even be Michael Jackson and re-create the famous Thriller video. The possibilities, it seems, are endless. However, what’s even more interesting about the program is what it says about human nature.

In real life, you often hear people griping about social inequalities, income disparities, and the like. But apparently, we carry the same baggage into our virtual worlds:

“When people are given the opportunity to create a fantasy world, they can and do defy the laws of gravity (you can fly in Second Life), but not of economics or human nature. Players in this digital, global game don’t have to work, but many do. They don’t need to change clothes, fix their hair, or buy and furnish a home, but many do."

It’s incredible to think that given the option to look like anyone, or anything for that matter, most choose to conform and look “normal.” So essentially, it seems we don’t want to create some magical fantasy land where everyone frolics with wild virtual abandon. Instead, we choose to create the second life we wish we’d had in real life, and in this life, everyone is beautiful, fit, and rich. However, it’s nice to know that the Dwight Schrutes out there are so thrilled with their real life that they choose to live the same one in Second Life (without giving a thought to the irony of selling paper in a virtual world). Though it does raise the question – given our increasing dependence on technology and a declining preference for human interaction, could we see the day when most opt to check out of real life and live exclusively through their virtual alter egos?

Image from: http://4.bp.blogspot.com/_6mly2CH6NSc/R7rQHkIRyjI/AAAAAAAAABU/QLg2EE4MXDQ/s1600-h/cyber+twin.gif

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

The Internet: Killing Brain Cells Since 1974

Al Gore invented the internet. Or so the story goes. It’s hardly true, of course, but while he may not have invented the internet, he did support the development of the internet as a Congressman from 1977 – 1985. More recently, Gore has been involved in an internet venture called Current that hopes to “transform television by plugging it into the internet.” What’s interesting about this is that Gore also won a Nobel Peace Prize in 2007 for his work on climate change. The fact that he served 8 years each as U.S. Vice President, Representative of the House, and Senator already says a lot about his capabilities as a government official. Add to that a Nobel Prize, and there’s no doubt we’re dealing with an intelligent person. Yet fellow Nobel laureate Doris Lessing firmly believes that “the internet makes us dumb.” If Gore managed to remain intelligent enough to win a Nobel Prize despite years of internet use and development, how do we come to terms with Lessing’s claim?

According to the TechCrunch article, Lessing’s primary complaint seems to be that people “read nothing and know nothing of the world.” She’s not alone – fellow sympathizer Andrew Keen believes that the internet is killing our culture since "without professional fact checkers, grammarians, and publishers,” internet sources are “by definition less accurate, reliable, and honest than professionally edited newspapers, encyclopedias, or books.” However, in light of recent scandals involving plagiarism by journalists, how can we be so sure of the sanctity of the printed word?

I’m not about to jump on my pro-internet soapbox and denounce the ideas put forth by Lessing or Keen. A lot of what is available on the internet is unfortunate – from mindless YouTube videos to pornography to trite blog posts about nothing, the internet can become a digital dumping ground for mediocrity. However, the key word here is can. The internet is a tool, and as such, it can be used for a number of inane/silly/stupid reasons. But that doesn’t mean it has to be. Think about the volumes of academic journals made available to students and teachers through resources such as Aladin. Or the countless newspapers that have created equivalent websites, including the Washington Post and the New York Times. Or how about Google’s initiative to digitize books through its Google Books Library Project? The internet is an amazing resource – it simply depends on what sites you visit and what you search for. Which makes me wonder – if Doris Lessing did use the internet even once, what exactly did she see to make her hate it so much? Oh if her search history could talk…

Image from: http://1.bp.blogspot.com/_6mly2CH6NSc/R7GXQEIRyeI/AAAAAAAAAAs/ty-MSt9eZuE/s1600-h/successoryinternet400.jpg

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Another test...

This is just a temporary post for course purposes. A few of us have experienced difficulties with customer service lately (I have my own problems with Comcast). For more on one classmate's difficulties with Verizon, visit Hugh's page.