Tag Archives: works in progress

Follow Me!

20 Jan

This past week, while I was down with the flu, I decided to finally get serious with Twitter (@julianpfenn) and Reddit (sharewhatyagot).  Why did it take a guy writing a blog on new media nine months to do so?  Beats me, but I quickly realized everything I had been missing out on.

For the longest time I’ve been that guy that hates Twitter, the main reason being that I’m incredibly long winded and I didn’t see how I could effectively use something that only allows tiny little itty bitty posts. Plus, with all of my other outlets for disseminating information, why should I bother with another? At the same time I’d never even considered the power and potential of being able to ‘follow’ nearly anyone I want.  Instead of reading a feed for a few minutes I would hop around from site to site for an hour or two reading up on fresh news, various movement and org updates, and research articles.  I failed to recognize how great it is to have a centralized source for decentralized information!  Sure, I can read updates for the NYTimes and other ‘traditional’ media, but just above that on my feed I can read the same stories from other sources like Democracy Now!, various Occupy groups, and Socialist Worker–allowing me to critically examine and see the ways in which the mainstream media (as well as alt media) frames each of the issues it tackles.  It’s only been a few days, and I only have a few followers, but of them I can include several social media strategy/marketing companies, several Occupy groups (@OWSupdate, @Occupybarcelona), and some other non-profs dealing with a range of issues.  How they found me and why they decided to follow me?  No idea.  The groups, on average, only follow about 4,000 other ‘tweeters(?)’, but somehow managed to come across me within a day or two of beginning to actually use the site.  I’m sure none of this is new to others who use Twitter, but for me it has been quite the interesting wake-up call and a realization that I need to not only read about and research (from academic journals) new media and movements, but become actively involved in these communities if I hope to grasp the enormity of what they mean and what they are capable of.

Reddit is totally new to me.  I’ve known about it for a year or two now, but again did not seem to see the use of it until I was bed-ridden for the past few days.  Yesterday, though, I got a taste of how to make it work for me in terms of both getting my voice heard and, in a sense, ‘feeling the pulse’ of the various communities.  I put up a post in the ‘todayilearned’ subreddit and in six hours saw it produce over 100 comments, 220 up votes, and 50 down votes.  I was surprised to say the least.  Clearly, then, I had touched on something that people had on their minds–and that  I think is the site’s greatest attribute.  After a casual scroll through it’s various submissions one can surmise two important things.  First, there is visible evidence of which issues people are interested in and what has slipped from our minds, and second it says a great deal about the types of folks that take advantage of all that the site has to offer (i.e. a general sense of the demographics of various communities).  Both of these are interesting, and by tracking certain variables over time, I feel it may offer even more insight into trending issues (and their correlation to exposure by traditional media), and the various frameworks from which people reach their opinions on issues of politics, economics, etc. (What is the process that leads a Tea Party conservative and a Socialist to opposite conclusions on an issue and what are they citing as evidence for their position–what ideologies are prevalent?  How is their ‘evidence’ framed?  How often do people rely on personal experience, sarcasm, emotion etc. to make their point as compared to a rational approach based an said ‘evidence’? Does ‘status’ within a given community or Reddit in general affect the power of certain persons in influencing others compared to ‘new’ or ‘casual’ users?)  I feel that there is much that can be learned from a solid longitudinal analysis of selected groups or even the Reddit homepage, so I’m going take a stab at that once I find a proper methodological approach.

To sum up–I’ve expanded my primary and experiential research, and, more importantly, I want YOU to follow me on Twitter @julianpfenn so that it can be a richer and more informative experience for me, and possibly a good source for alt news for you!

Take care y’all.  It’s time to watch some hockey.

Critical Response and Clarification

26 Nov

After my last post I got an email from a reader with a number of very legitimate questions about my last post, mainly concerning social media during the Arab Spring and asking how our latest innovation in communications technology are any different from those in the past.  Here was my response, I hope this clarifies some of my ambiguities in this far flung experiment I’ve got going on here:

_______________________

Hi *****,

I agree with you about the Arab Spring.  It’s highly contested academic territory and perhaps not the best direction for me to head in.  Besides, there are other things going on in the world right now that may make even more useful case studies, like the Icelandic revolution or the massive protests seen most heavily on the peripheries of ‘modern’ Europe (Spain, Greece, etc.).
The thing I guess I didn’t quite get across was that it isn’t the fact of social media but the speed and power of it that make it unique and astonishing.  Think about how long it took for the movements you mentioned to gain traction, and think of how physically slow it was to plan, disseminate information, and so on.  The fact that I can write anything I want and send it to anyone on the planet with internet  instantly astounds me and screams for wildly new potential for the dissemination knowledge as well as alternative types of social organization.  Admittedly internet usage is fairly low in most areas but generally not among those (the upper classes) who would typically assume leadership roles in their societies, if you believe that the idea of praxis exists or that movements come largely from those in the upper echelons of society.
It’s not that I believe social media simply gives people revolutionary potential, only that for the first time in the history of humankind can we deliver information instantly and do so globally.  Riots in Portugal, for example, are filmed and up for everyone to see, if not streaming, then within hours of the event.  THAT is revolutionary.  That is the type of thing I believe can lead to changes in people’s everyday understanding of the world and a sense of solidarity for those trying to resist the status quo for one reason or another.  One could argue that the printing press was more revolutionary…but for hundreds of years it was used mostly to produce a single book with a single point of view to the very few who were actually literate.  We had to catch up with the technology of the printing press to make it a truly transformative means of communication.  The same, I think holds true for the internet, but we caught up with it after twenty years or so.  However I believe we’ve intersected with social media at just the right time in history for it to be of incredible use to an exponentially larger number of people (even if adjusted to the population of the medieval era).
Further, social media for the first time makes every person on the planet an author.  It gives each of us a global voice that costs have until now made practically impossible.  It enables so much more dialogue and makes the planet feel so much smaller, so much more like a community instead of disparate nation-states.  My blog has had hits from almost ever nation on the planet over the past six months.  Could you imagine publishing in 150 or so countries in the 70s? or even the 80s or 90s?
Thanks for the website, it has really come in handy.  Feel free to get back to me if you’d like, and again I apologize for not responding a month sooner.
Take care,
Julian

Also, here is an Infographic about the history of social media starting with email in 1971 that she gave me and is pretty awesome: http://www.mediabistro.com/alltwitter/history-of-social-media_b30226

 

Poll

23 Oct

Please help my research by answering the questions below:

All responses are completely anonymous.

Thank you.  Your time is very much appreciated.

A Dead Campaign?

9 May

Roughly two months after the release of the KONY2012 video and the tremendous uproar that followed, it is pretty safe to say that the movement is dead.  ‘Cover the Night’ seemed a bust by most accounts and for the most part the press and the public have already let Joseph Kony slip off of the main stage and back into the recesses of our collective memory.  It actually reminds me of an excerpt from a novel by Milan Kundera:

“The bloody massacre in Bangladesh quickly covered over the memory of the Russian invasion in Czechoslovakia, the assassination of Allende drowned out the groans of Banlgladesh, the war in the Sinai Desert made people forget about Allende, the Cambodian massacre made people forget about Sinai, and so on and so forth until ultimately everyone lets everything be forgotten.”  (The Book of Laughter and Forgetting)

This outcome, then, is typical in some ways while retaining a unique status in others.  From an academic perspective this a positive outcome, insofar as much can be learned from it.  When 120,000,000 people around the world watch a film with a proactive message–a film that for all of its problems (and there are many) generated a global conversation–and no more than a few thousand people actually hit the streets  for the ‘real activism’, that is sending a strong message about the way we see ourselves and others we share the planet with.  Thus in my mind, KONY2012 has already more or less reached its end point, and now one can begin to paint a picture of what all really took place, and begin to speculate about more identity based, sociological thoughts.

My first task at this point, however, is to get past all of the media sensationalism and government opacity and try to understand the history and current standing of all of the important actors in the area and concerning KONY2012.  This will cover groups like the LRA, the Museveni government, Sudanese rebels, The US armed forces, Invisible Children and a few other large NGO’s, etc etc.

So begins a fact finding mission to figure out who exactly has interactions with the LRA and what their role has been such that the actions of all the actors culminated in the mega viral KONY2012  movie and flash ‘movement’.  Then comes the fun stuff.

I have been unable to track down any reliable statistics on ‘Cover the Night’ or how much IC made from its ‘action kits’.  If anyone happens to know either of these figures please let me know as they are both very significant.

Demographics of This Site (and other various and sundry thoughts of the day), 19 April

19 Apr Map of Countries This Blog Has Been To

As of 3PM today I have had 714 visits to my blog from the countries shown above, roughly one quarter of the nations recognized by the UN.  Here is how some of that breaks down:

United States 512
United Kingdom 45
Canada 41
Australia 11
Switzerland 10
Netherlands 8
Mexico 7
Turkey 6
Japan 5
Belgium 5
Portugal 4
Ireland 4
Sweden 4
Hong Kong* 3
Singapore* 3
Denmark 3
France 3
India 2
Finland 2
Lebanon 2
Israel 2
Spain 2
Brazil 2
Romania 2
Argentina 2
Norway 2
Ecuador 1
China 1
Thailand 1
Peru 1
Puerto Rico* 1
New Zealand 1
Philippines 1
Panama 1
Pakistan 1
Honduras 1
Latvia 1
South Africa 1
Austria 1
Egypt 1
Morocco 1
Chile 1
Poland 1
Costa Rica 1

Of the total 714, seventy two percent were American, meaning twenty eight percent came from abroad.

However, if you create a subset for the “Anglo” countries (US, UK, AU, CA–which happen to be the top four on the list), we find that it makes up for eighty five percent of traffic, leaving only fifteen percent (or 105 visits) ‘foreign’ in the broader sense.  Still I am learning a great deal about the inner workings of social media and effective methods for disseminating information.  I haven’t posted much about actual events yet, as I am still waiting a bit to see how things shake out in the next thirty days or so.  I will, however, discuss ‘Cover the Night’ and the facts and opinions that derive from it.

I will also start discussing the geopolitical history and situation in Central Africa with detail, in order to understand exactly what may or may not be going on and who the beneficiaries are.

Tomorrow is ‘Cover the Night’!  Even if you didn’t buy an ‘action kit’ (which infuriates me…something for a later rant)–make a poster, picket for an hour, get attention–do something!  Prove that when 100 million people watch a video about humanitarian justice and corruption they will make some sort of effort to voice their concerns!!!

THOUGHTS, COMMENTS, AND SHARING GREATLY APPRECIATED!

Official Thesis Proposal

11 Apr

I haven’t posted in a bit.  So many things have happened since my initial post that it’s impossible to count.  I’m still making sense of it all.  The main point of my initial post is now beyond dispute, “KONY 2012” was the most viral video throughout the world since the beginning of the Internet.  Many of my other thoughts still require time to answer.  I have decided to continue to maintain this blog as a part of my thesis, “using social media to understand social media” as my header says.

This post contains my official thesis proposal, and it will be the issues and questions contained within that I will be focusing on and learning about for the next year.

Once again, any and all feedback is highly encouraged and greatly appreciated!  Once I’ve started tackling some of these questions in greater depth I will post about my findings and how this idea is shaping up, as well as sharing particularly interesting bits of information I pick up along the way.

MALS THESIS PROPOSAL: SPRING 2012

 Name: Julian Fenn

Student ID # xxxxxxx

Concentration: Globalization Studies

Independent Study title:

The Decline of the American Labor Movement

Term Completed: 11S

Independent Study Advisor: Dr. Ronald Edsforth

Title of Proposed Thesis Project: ????????????

THESIS PROPOSAL:

1.    What is the issue that your thesis will address?

 On March 5th, 2012 a humanitarian non-governmental organization named

Invisible Children released a video on various popular media sharing websites (such as Youtube) entitled “Kony 2012”.  The video is thirty minutes long, and within a few short days it had been viewed over one hundred million times, making it officially the most ‘viral’ Internet video of all time.  The video has a simple message: make African warlord Joseph Kony famous enough that citizens  (particularly in the US) put pressure on their governments to assist in tracking him down and bringing him to justice.  A noble and idealistic goal, and one that the moviemakers consciously directed not towards the ‘educated’ public, but at the youth—young adults from middle school on towards their college years—perhaps taking a cue from the largely youth driven movements of the Arab Spring of 2011.  It represented a new form of activism.  Far from the arrests and marginalization of the Occupy Wall Street movement, which has drawn largely on semi-traditional forms of physical protest (even the Occupy camps have their Hooverville precedent), “Kony 2012” threw itself into the mainstream in an instant as the baby boomer generation began to take note of ‘whatever it is’ that was stirring up so many young people who are by and large considered to be an apathetic and apolitical demographic, despite their generally progressive political and social outlook.

The backlash was intense and almost immediate.  Editorials, academics, bloggers, and news stations began to rip the movie and the organization apart for inaccuracies, oversimplification, misrepresentation, paternalism, and poorly handled finances.  Finally the arrest of the NGO’s leader for lewd behavior in public brought down a heavy hand, and the organization has been trying to re-assess and re-brand itself.

My interest in these events is largely twofold.  First, in response to film, its critics, and in the name of good social science, I want to take a step back.  I want to find out who Kony is, where his army came from, why it was formed, and other pertinent historical and political facts that will help shed some light on the ‘bigger picture’ concerning the video, movement, and the geopolitics of the region.  Second, and more importantly, I wish to address the interwoven issues of identity and youth politics in terms of social media and the potential it creates for new forms of collective action In other words, I am curious to find out if awareness and advocacy on a global scale will be the nesting place for a new form of action based on a ‘global’, rather than ‘national’ or ‘local’ identities among those who never knew the cold war or most of the actions of the twentieth century.

2.    Address the academic disciplines from which you will draw and explain which of these disciplines will inform the methodology you use.

 As an International Relations and Sociology double major for my bachelors, I

plan to draw mainly on those disciplines in order to understand both the highly complex political/military history and situation in Central Africa and the globalized movement which it has recently inspired.  In terms of politics and international relations, I intend to draw first up on American foreign policy in the region, followed up by a realist geopolitical assessment of all the actors in the region, particularly Uganan president Yoweri Museveni who first came to power in 1986 and the Lords Resistance Army precursor in Northern Uganda beginning in the 1970s.  Understanding how the US has ‘played’ Uganda and the region over time will help to reveal some of the depths to which this conflict has gone as well as suggest that historically preferential treatment of Museveni and his government may have added to the crisis, and the massacres.  A realist geopolitical perspective of the region (mainly Uganda, CAR, DRC, and Sudan) will help ‘depoliticize’ the issue and provide a factual basis from which to see the situation, free of the agendas of humanitarian groups, rebels, and governments alike.

This will serve to provide a proper contextualization for a sociological analysis and critique of “Kony 2012”, its fallout, and implications.  Essentially, I plan to use the event as a case study in new media, indentity politics among the youth, and the transference of social advocacy to social movement.  I will track the debate and any actions as it moves forward, watching events like the Kony ‘night of action’ on April 20th and seeing if the pressure created by the movie will actually influence American military operations in Central Africa.  Such an analysis may include comparisons with other ‘virtual’ movements of late—such as aspects of the Arab Spring and the Occupy Wall Street movement.  Using mainly sociological theory and older case studies from the ‘analog’ era, I will ultimately attempt to show that “Kony 2012” is a unique event worth exploring that contains within it the seeds of a great deal of sociological information on how our world and its newest generation is changing.

I also created a small ‘experiment’ of my own in which I attempted to make a blog post about this thesis in order to see how far it would spread and how long it would last.  At last count the site had 591 hits from over forty countries, peaking within four days of release and dying out completely after about ten.  This, to me, serves as a reference point for the limits of an individual attempting to disseminate original information, and I was quite surprised as to how far it went, lending small credibility to the efficacy of the Internet as a tool for sparking the mind and movements.

 3.    What is the central research question you will address?

 If I had to reduce my research down to a single question, it would be this—is

it significant that over one hundred million people (mainly youth) watched and reacted to a semi-factual, semi-political movie in the span of just one week—and what does that say about the future of collective actions by large groups?  In doing so I will address many of the issues above, such as a growing personal belief (to be explored) that youth identity has in many ways transcended the nationalism of the 20th century and become global.  In other words, are we beginning to see ourselves first as citizens of the world, and then as constituents in a given nation?

The military/political analysis of the first part of the project is meant to demystify much misinformation on behalf and against “Kony 2012” since it came out, as well as offer a chance to discuss how the movie was received in its ‘native land’.  This should help to weave through ideology and political prejudice to produce a relatively objective view on the situation—and how that compares to Invisible Children’s own assessment of the situation.  This will allow for greater penetration into the workings of the debate and movement, as inaccuracies and false claims used towards collective ends will be picked up on immediately.  As this is obviously a working issue in progress, I can only speculate as to where it will lead, though I am confident that no matter the ‘outcome’ it will say volumes about youth, identity, and the era of the digital social movement.

4.    How does this thesis project relate to your coursework in the MALS program?

 This thesis relates almost directly to much of my coursework in MALS.  My

first class with Misagh Parsa, entitled “Globalization and Economic Development” taught me a great deal about the causes of poverty among African nations, and reinforced other economic and military issues to which I had already been exposed.  My final paper for that class, “Globalization: A Critical Examination From Both Sides of the Barricades” dealt largely with military and political issues, particularly in Sub-Saharan Africa.

The class “Globalization and Its Discontents” with Ronald Edsforth was the first to introduce to me to many issues related to identity, as well as the idea of a supranational outlook on the world.  My final paper for him, “The New Global Ethic” was my first attempt at discussing how the globalization process has brought together disparate parts of the world, led to greater cosmopolitanism, and perhaps begun to forge new patterns of identity among, especially, the youth.  That class was the spark for this project.

My independent study with Ronald Edsforth entitled “The Decline of the American Labor Movement” led me partially to the conclusion that ‘analog’ movements no longer have the effect they once did, partially as a result of repressive laws, and partly due to a paradigm of skepticism towards collective action by older Americans.  Reading about the floundering of most unions, called “great dinosaurs” by one social scientist freed me up to think about other modes of protest and other forms of organization.

Finally, my last class with Ronald Edsforth and his wife Joanne Devine, “Global Media and Culture”, taught me a great deal about issues of framing and media bias which will be an inherent part of my project.  It discussed the largely centralized media structure and those forms (i.e. the internet) which have still maintained relative decentralization and ‘digital democracy’.  It forced me to view all news through a highly critical lens, looking for motive and meaning behind the words presented to me and helped me to judge ‘good’ journalism from ‘bad’ in terms beyond simple bias.  The readings and discussion from that class will be key in helping me to maintain objectivity as I piece together my thesis bit by bit as events unfold.

 5.    Tentative Bibliography

 

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