Everybody’s Doing It (Or Getting Others To Do It For Them)

During a recent interview with the New York Times, John McCain says the following about his use of the Internet:

I am learning to get online myself, and I will have that down fairly soon, getting on myself. I don’t expect to be a great communicator, I don’t expect to set up my own blog, but I am becoming computer literate to the point where I can get the information that I need.

It doesn’t get any better for McCain in this exchange between Mark Soohoo, one of his eCampaign directors, and Tracy Russo of the Edwards campaign about how important it is for the next president to understand the Internet:

As you can imagine, McCain’s lack of web 2.0 skills (and web 1.0 skills, come to think of it) have been the subject of abundant jokes, criticism, and general disbelief. An account of the New York Times story has received almost 1,500 diggs and the quote has spawned parody blog posts about McCain’s Internet explorations.

After learning that McCain depends on his wife and advisors to help him go online to read newspapers, the following words on McCain’s campaign site seem somewhat empty to me:

John McCain believes the Internet offers tremendous promise in terms of freedom of expression, information sharing, and the spread of knowledge and commerce. It represents the greatest innovation of the modern era in terms of the democratization of free speech and access to information. From human rights groups in China to bloggers here in the United States, the Internet has opened a global dialogue that has propelled the world into an exciting new century of connectivity and communication.

And what should we make of McCain’s Facebook page, MySpace page, and YouTube channel? When a presidential candidate who doesn’t email and can’t figure out how to go online is using social networking sites and viral videos as part of his campaign strategy, it’s clear that social media has become one of campaigning’s required tools. It’s now as obligatory as press conferences, press releases, and those annoying recorded phone calls at dinnertime. Gone are the days when we’ll marvel as a presidential candidate like Howard Dean who harnessed the power of the Internet to conduct fundraising and who benefited from his supporters’ online organizing. Now everybody’s doing it (that’s not to say they’re all doing it equally well, as ATW and Mknac point out).

In a Washington Post op-ed last winter, my instructor expressed his serious dismay at politicians’ lack of technology literacy. He asked:

…why is it that we blithely allow our leaders to be ignorant of the force that, probably more than any other, will drive and define the nation’s economic success and reshape its society over the next 20 years?

I don’t have the answer to his question, but I wonder whether time will be the main factor in ensuring that we have technologically literate politicians. We may just have to wait until our digital natives are all grown up. After all, McCain’s daughter has a blog.

July 27, 2008 at 10:52 am Leave a comment

How Much Technology is Too Much?

My classmate, Shannon, recently blogged about internet safety, including online bullying that has led to the suicides of at least three teens. Almost 30 percent of tweens and teens have reported being the victims of cyberbullying. Shannon also wrote about the growing occurrence of online gaming addictions.

This got me thinking about the other consequences of living in a time of technology saturation. When I think back to my childhood, most of my memories aren’t of me pecking away at a laptop, chatting or texting friends, or playing video games. They’re of me running around barefoot in the backyard, riding bikes with my sister through the neighborhood, playing street hockey in front of our house, reading books under (or in) a tree, and playing dress up in my mom’s old clothes.

Are kids today missing out? How much technology is too much technology?

It’s no secret that we have a childhood obesity epidemic. The rate of obesity in kids ages 6 to 19 has more than tripled over the last 25 years and one in three U.S. kids is overweight or obese. A recent study revealed that by age 15 a majority of teens are moving less than one hour each weekday. It’s so bad that the American Academy of Pediatrics has raised the possibility of drug treatment to lower cholesterol levels in kids as young as 8 years old.

I’m not pointing the finger solely at technology. I realize it’s just one of many contributing and interconnected factors that play into the childhood obesity problem. But there’s no question it’s a factor, and this dilemma is one that our society needs to solve soon.

I also wonder what other, perhaps less ominous, consequences pervasive technology might have on children and on our society in general… A website tracks some of the skills, like dialing a rotary phone, that technology has rendered obsolete. Will writing with a pen someday make it to that list? Do kids today even know what a phone booth looks like? Are kids’ diaries with those little locks and keys even made anymore? And what about books? My classmate, ATW, blogged about reading her first novel on her Kindle; she says she’s “hooked.”

What struck me was her following description:

I was sitting on the plane and struggled to resist the urge to physically turn the page. I honestly kept lifting my right hand to the top right hand corner of the device.

As weird as it may seem, I don’t know if I’m ready to give that up! I love the smell of books, turning down the page corners to mark my place, and the sight of books of all shapes and sizes lined up on my bookshelves.

Technology helps us accomplish great things, but I hope some things like books, newspapers, and kids playing outside, manage to stand the test of time.

July 27, 2008 at 8:17 am Leave a comment

Thoughts from the Top

During class a few weeks ago we took a look at a wide variety of corporate blogs. What caught my interest were the blogs by CEOs. Even at my relatively small, nonprofit organization, the majority of the employees are only exposed to our CEO’s thoughts during monthly staff meetings. And while our CEO is constantly traveling, networking, speaking at conferences, and collaborating with others in the education world, he can’t possibly reach as many people as he might through a blog.

Besides finding the time to blog, I think the challenge for CEO bloggers might be blogging with an honest voice. In Naked Conversations, Scoble and Israel write, “If you are going to blog, be authentic. Keep your conversations naked. Let people know who you are and where you are coming from.”

I think Ted’s Take, by Ted Leonsis, is a great example of a CEO blog. Leonsis is vice chairman emeritis of AOL, chairman of Revolution Money, owner of the Washington Capitals hockey team, an active philanthropist, an avid blogger…the list goes on and on. But despite all those impressive credentials, Ted blogs like an average guy. Sure – not everyone can write about their thoughts and experiences as the owner of a professional sports team. But Ted writes about these extraordinary experiences in a very down-to-earth and accessible way. In short, he blogs authentically. He also intersperses his team owner and CEO-type blog posts with random everyday thoughts on everything from the stupidity of Step Brothers to how he’s spent his summer “vacation.

Blog Maverick, by Mark Cuban, is another example of a great CEO blog. Like Leonsis, Cuban is an entrepreneur and owner of a professional sports team (the Dallas Mavericks). And like Leonsis, Cuban blogs about social media, the pro sports world, and movies, all with an authentic voice.

But not everyone’s a fan of CEO blogging. The Vancouver Sun recently published an article about corporate blogging that stated:

These [CEO blogs] seem to be the first thing marketers look at when thinking about implementing corporate blogs. Don’t fall into this trap. Unless your CEO has the passion, desire, time and dedication to commit to frequently blogging and to curate the comments, I’d avoid this at all costs.

I generally agree with this statement. I think Cuban and Leonsis are exceptions to the CEO rule because they’re passionate about blogging and willing to devote the time to it. I think their blogs also work because they function largely independently from their various business endeavors and aren’t riddled with obvious self promotion.  In short, forced blogging and self promotion kill authenticity.

July 26, 2008 at 1:21 am Leave a comment

Tough Times in Michigan

There’s been a lot of talk lately about the faltering economy, deflating real estate market, and ever-increasing gas prices. But I think the DC metro area is still a bubble of relative prosperity.

I grew up outside of Detroit and my parents still live there. Earlier this summer, my younger sister, Erin, went home for about a month and a half to visit with my parents. She knew the economy in Detroit had worsened but her time there left a lasting impression. She said houses were for sale at every turn. Garage sales were almost devoid of customers. Major layoffs were reported in the papers on an almost daily basis. And she described suburban ghost towns where construction on new neighborhoods during more prosperous times had come to an abrupt halt, leaving just a couple of houses surrounded by dirt or vacant lots overgrown with weeds. After going to Detroit for the Red Wings Stanley Cup victory parade, Erin stayed in the city for lunch. When she left the restaurant at 3:00 in the afternoon, the crowds had already completely cleared. Almost no one had stayed to celebrate, shop, or grab a bite to eat.

The presidential candidates have recently focused a lot of attention on Michigan – acknowledging the state is at the epicenter of the country’s sinking economy. I think the root of those economic woes is the state’s incredible reliance on the auto industry. In a letter to the United Auto Workers yesterday, Senator Obama said he backed proposed loans and other aid to the U.S. auto industry. But that’s just a band-aid solution. Tough times are here to stay as long as U.S. automakers continue to produce gas guzzling vehicles and Michigan fails to diversify its economy and attract industries other than those in the manufacturing realm.

My dad has worked at Ford Motor Company for almost two decades and he says things at Ford have been “going downhill” for about half that time. Ford has heavily invested in trucks and SUVs and the bottom has dropped out of those markets given rising gas prices and increased consideration for the environment. In response, the company is trying to move to smaller, fuel efficient cars. Its European factories are already producing these cars and Ford needs its U.S. factories to start producing these models too. It’s taken Ford far too long to make this shift and I wonder whether its too late.

Luckily my dad weathered today’s round of cuts so he’s in the clear for a little while. But Ford’s penny pinching culture, moratorium on anything but the most essential business travel, lack of significant raises in years, and regular, unceremonious layoffs of long-time workers can’t be doing much for workplace morale. Here’s to my dad surviving until retirement… and “surviving” truly is the right word.

July 23, 2008 at 11:33 pm Leave a comment

The Human Face of War

Last spring, my sister, Erin, was completing a five-month clinical at an optometry office in Wilmington, NC as part of her third year of optometry school. I will always remember one of our phone conversations from that time period. She told me about a patient she had recently observed – a young soldier in his mid-twenties who had returned to the U.S. after serving in Iraq. During combat, shrapnel lodged in the soldier’s brain, causing severe head trauma. Surgery to remove the shrapnel led to bleeding in his brain, which greatly decreased his visual field. This soldier was left with little peripheral vision, which affected his sense of space and prevented him from doing things most of us take for granted – like driving a car.

But the hard, cold “facts” of the soldier’s medical condition weren’t what left the greatest impression on me. Erin described how this young man was physically ruined and intensely depressed. She said his body and spirit were broken. He was like an ailing 90-year-old man, but he was only in his 20s. Erin said it was if he expected to come back to the U.S. and continue with the life he had led before he left for Iraq, but, instead, was facing the horrible realization that his life would never be the same.

Erin said the doctor who was testing his vision silently began to cry while the soldier’s eyes were looking through the binocular-like lenses of the phoropter and at the eye chart on the opposite wall.

I was reminded of Erin’s story when I read soldiers’ blogs (warblogs/milblogs) for class this weekend. Somehow these blogs capture the human face of war in a way that the mainstream media often fails to do. Sure, we hear about heroic acts, fallen heroes, and wartime controversies. But most of mainstream media’s coverage of Iraq seems to focus on the politics of war. And its coverage is always one-step removed – even an embedded journalist can’t provide the perspective of a real-life soldier. Warren Zinn, a former war photographer who took a famous photo of Joseph Dwyer, a medic carrying a wounded Iraqi boy to safety, puts it this way:

In January 2004, I was slated to return to Iraq for a third stint. But after two rotations in Afghanistan and two in Iraq, I decided that it was time to hang up my cameras. The war had taken its toll on my family, my friends and me. I couldn’t find it in me to go back to Iraq and risk my life again. That’s the difference between me and soldiers like Joseph Dwyer: I had the privilege of calling it quits whenever I wanted to. The men and women of the Armed Forces don’t have that luxury.

Blogs are one way to get the Iraq story straight from the main players – soldiers and Iraqi citizens. I’m not saying that soldier or citizen blogs do a better job of war reporting than traditional media. We can’t do without big-picture analysis. But I think the combination of mainstream media coverage with firsthand soldier and citizen accounts paints a more complete picture than we’d get from just turning on the nightly news. Would CNN ever profile a soldier in a small coastal NC town who had lost his peripheral vision? Or would NBC relay a detailed account of American soldiers detonating an IED in Baqubah?

But milblogs pose potential problems for the military. How can you be sure soldiers aren’t blogging about confidential information that could compromise everyone’s safety? In spring 2007 the army ordered that all blog postings be cleared by a superior officer before being made public. Since then, there have been reports about the shut down of various milblogs.

Despite these issues, I hope blogs from soldiers and Iraqis continue to proliferate. My understanding of this complex war is more intimate and nuanced because of them. For me, the numbers of casualities, wounded, and refugees are now accompanied by the distinct voices of Alex, Riverbend, Tommie, and Zeyad.

July 20, 2008 at 7:56 pm Leave a comment

Who Is Eduwonkette?

Education blogs have been buzzing lately over the identity of eduwonkette, an Education Week blogger who isn’t afraid to put herself in the middle of some contentious education policy and research debates. Maybe it’s her bullish nature that causes some bloggers to take issue with her anonymity. Or maybe it’s the topics she chooses to take on. After all, almost everyone excuses anonymous teacher bloggers who write about their classrooms, students, and life in the trenches. But the scope of eduwonkette’s writing isn’t as narrow as that of a teacher blogger. She analyzes and critiques prominent education research, policy decisions, and public figures. And she does this all under the very visible auspices of Education Week – the weekly newspaper in the education world.

The latest debate about her identity seems to have been fueled by an article in the New York Sun, “An Anonymous Blogger Becomes Thorn in City’s Side,” which describes eduwonkette’s influence and how she has been incredibly frank in her disagreement with some of the decisions made by Mayor Bloomberg and New York City’s Department of Education. The article says Andrew Rotherham, the man behind another prominent education blog called Eduwonk, challenged eduwonkette’s decision to write her blog anonymously.

“I don’t think this is going to be remembered as Ed Week’s finest hour,” he said. “It’s this issue of you got all this information to readers, without a vital piece of information for them to put it in context.”

Meanwhile, Jay Greene, an education researcher, disagrees with eduwonkette’s belief that it’s important to consider the source of a paper or study when determining its credibility. He challenges eduwonkette to change her viewpoint and agree with him, or reveal her true identity:

“I caught her [eduwonkette] in a glaring contradiction: she asserts that the credibility of the source of information is an important part of assessing the truth of a claim yet her anonymity prevents everyone from assessing her credibility.  I prefer that she resolve this contradiction by agreeing with my earlier defense of her anonymity that the truth of a claim is not dependent on who makes it.  But she has to resolve this one way or another — either she ends her anonymity or she drops the argument that we should assess the source when determining truth.”

Hmm…. Does this debate distill down to the fact that these education movers and shakers are unsettled by eduwonkette’s critiques and are simply taking cheap shots at her concealed identity as a result? Or is it truly irresponsible for eduwonkette to publicly criticize others behind the cartoon figure of an education superwoman?

For her part, eduwonkette writes:

“Blogging is free-form exchange, and the blogger is judged by the quality of his or her arguments and content by readers who seek out the blogger. Blogs are grassroots online communities where everyone, irrespective of their identity, is entitled to an opinion.”

One could argue that even with a concealed identity, the eduwonkette blog is still at the mercy of public scrutiny. And Alexander Russo, when he’s not “confessing” to being eduwonkette, suggests anonymous blogging can allow for complete candor.

I’m not sure what I think. I do know that I’m not changing my mind about blogging anonymously (not that I’ve tried particularly hard to keep my identity a secret). I don’t want to have to second guess whether every little thing I type will come back to haunt me, my employer, or any future employers. In other words, while I strive to write responsibly, I appreciate that I can be open and honest. Meanwhile, I like that eduwonkette’s views are promoting interesting online discourse. The edblog world is a little spicier with her in it.

July 16, 2008 at 5:55 pm Leave a comment

Blogging Across the Border

In Naked Conversations, Scoble and Israel say that Spanish is the language of only about 50,000 blogs, “fewer than probably exists on North America’s West Coast.” While that number has likely increased by quite a bit since their book was published, it’s safe to say that the Spanish-speaking world is late to blogging, particularly corporate blogging.

With that in mind, I headed to Global Voices Online to learn more about Mexico’s blogosphere.

While it’s tough for me to make any sort of generalization about blogging in Mexico based on the handful of blogs I read, my overarching impression is that many Mexican bloggers seem to be citizen journalists who report on human rights issues, environmental concerns, and troublesome acts of violence.  (I’m talking about relatively “light” citizen journalism – the Mexican blogs I read don’t seem to be exposing injustices to the extent that some blogs in Africa, the Middle East, and Asia are doing.) Posts related to business, politics, and the economy seemed to be slightly less common.

One of the most interesting posts that I read focuses on how emo youths in the country have become targets of attacks. I had heard of emo music before, but hadn’t heard of “emo youths” before reading this post. According to La Plaza, a blog of the Los Angeles Times:

emos are a category of black-clad teenager known for their marked emotionalism—thus the name—and a sexually ambiguous fashion style that combines the dark look of Goth with childlike touches of pink and other bright colors (think Tim Burton meets Hello Kitty.)

Mexican bloggers report that a popular TV personality named Kristoff made derogatory on-the-air remarks about emos that may have instigated the attacks. Emos were reportedly hunt down and beat up in Queretaro,  Mexico City, Durango, Colima, and other cities. Fortunately, emos in Mexico have organized peaceful protests and are now enjoying an outpouring of support.

Another interesting blog, Latina Lista, provides a “viewpoint on anything and eveything from a Latina perspective.” Its author is Marisa Trevino, a journalist and public radio commentator. Many of Trevino’s recent posts focus on the U.S. presidential campaign from a Latina standpoint. She writes that Obama must go cara-a-cara (face-to-face) to win the Latino vote. She elaborates by stating that he must earn respect by putting in face time, developing relationships with Latino bloggers and media, and including Latino leadership within his campaign.

Other Mexican blogs focused on the total lunar eclipse, a stampede in a nightclub, and a Mexico City campaign to dispose of cell phones and batteries. I also stumbled across expat blog, a blog website “made by expatriates, for expatriates.” It hosts a number of expat blogs by country. For example, good2go2mexico describes a United States couple’s move to a Mexican casita that lacks electricty. Meanwhile, Mexico “Way” documents a Canadian’s life in Cancun.

This little foray into international blogging has taught me that reading international blogs is a great way to quickly tap into the personal opinions, views, and emotions of the rest of the world. Sure, it’s misguided to think that any one Mexican blogger encapsulates the overall opinion of Mexican people as a whole. But reading a dozen Mexican blogs at least provided me with a better awareness of some of the top-of-mind issues and concerns facing the country than I had two hours ago.

July 14, 2008 at 2:43 am Leave a comment

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