OFFICIAL LIVE BLOG - TRANSCRIPT - Closing Keynote
By Lori Luna on August 21, 2009
Moderator: Hi, everyone. So we are gonna get started. I know people will be trickling in as we go but we’re still trying to run that tight ship. I do have three housekeeping announcements before I bring out my wonderful closing keynote panel.
The first is the Save our Soap receptacles have still been at the registration desk, so a last ditch call if you have anything you don’t want from your hotel room. That will be donated. The second is to remind you that for the party tonight, it’s part outside on the promenade, part inside in that wide hall outside the expo hall, so you will need your badges because there’s so much – there will be people watching for that since there’s so much – other people can be walking by from outside. The third announcement is that someone lost two flip cameras that were boxed and in an orange gift bag down in the expo hall, so if anyone finds it or saw it and you can turn it in to the registration desk. As you can imagine, there’s a very, very sad person ad BlogHer right now.
And I also just want to explain the question and answer process. We have two mike wranglers, our very own Jory and our very own Lisa, and they are gonna actually stay stationary and you should go stand with them if you want to ask a question. There’s also one thing I’m gonna want to ask you and so they may just ask the people who are around them to contribute their thoughts on that. They will have to hold up for the audio guy a paddle since they’re so far away so he can turn the mike on, so do pause when you get to the mike and let the sound guy get your mike on.
And so that’s all the organizational stuff and without further ado, I’d like to introduce and bring on my panelists. First we have Microsoft researcher Ms. Dana Boyd, we have Northwestern professor Eszter Hargittai, and we have PBS Frontline senior producer Raney Aronson-Rath. So thanks for joining me and joining us.
So we’ve talked a lot today and yesterday about what the trends have been over the last year, who we were. We’ve looked at the survey data. We’ve looked at trends. We’ve talked a lot about what we do right now and how this is affecting the media business and all of our businesses really right now. And certainly the community keynote last night was we were all right there in the moment together right now.
So we thought we would close out the whole conference by looking a little bit further ahead and talking about how all of this is going to change not only us but future generations and who we will become. And that can be across many, many dimensions and these women all have been looking at these changes from an emotional, a physiological, a cultural, a social, a political, and a commercial perspective, and I just want to dig right in. They all have fantastic bios and CV’s which you can read online in our speaker list or in your conference guide, but I’m just gonna start with the first question. And again, Lisa is over here and Jory is over there. If you have questions, please join them.
So Raney, I’m gonna start with you and say we had this conversation where you were talking about your three-year-old and how he interacts with technology. And before I got too far into assuming that meant I knew something about how all of this is affecting our brains, you talked about the adult brain and how that – and how interacting with technology affects that. So could you talk a little bit about what you guys have learned while you’ve been researching this digital nation during your Digital Nation project.
Raney Aronson-Rath: Sure, so Digital Nation is a project that’s looking at how technology really affects people across the spectrum. So one of the things I’ve noticed in my own personal life, which I’m sure so many of you have, is how your children interact with technology, and mine is completely obsessed with it. So we’re looking at boundaries. What do we do with our children? How do we watch them? What do they do?
And our lead technologist just came back from Taiwan and told me this incredible story about kids overseas, in Taiwan in particular. And he said, “The kids over there expect to actually have an exchange with technology, like everything, a television, for example. They walk up to a TV and they expect to be able to touch it just like you would your iPhone.”
And I notice the more that my son, who’s three, uses technology, he assumes the same thing. Why is the TV just a static thing there that we use remote controls for? It’s completely foreign to him. And this just fascinated me ‘cause I just think our idea of what it means to be a child watching TV is very different than anybody else in any generation other than ours, essentially.
The other thing I notice which is really counterintuitive, and we always think about kids and how elastic their brains are and how they learn, but adults also learn and they adapt, as well. So there’s some really amazing research coming out from UCLA, in particular, which looks at the group of people age 55 to 76, and I found this fascinating. Those people, the more they use the Internet and the more they go online, their brains expand, as well. So we’re finding that people that are online in that age range are twice as able to do things like very complex decision making, complex thinking. And these things that I think are really fascinating about older brains, as well, is when they go online, they adapt as well, and I think that’s just amazing.
I mean I actually wonder if eventually like older people are said to use – “Make sure you do crossword puzzles. Make sure you actually use your brain the older you get. It will help you.” If eventually we’re gonna be saying, “Hey, go online” to the older generation. Use your brains. I find this stuff just amazing.
Moderator: So maybe the line isn’t digital native versus digital immigrant. It’s about usage.
Raney Aronson-Rath: It’s not. It’s about usage, how you use it. I mean critical to this is how you use digital technology and I think everyone will agree that it’s not just having it. It’s how you use it, it’s when you use it, how often you use it. And so it’s really about what you do with it.
Moderator: Well, Eszter, this totally reminds me when we were talking about the brains and you made a comment to me that made me write a note. “Oh, so teens aren’t alien multi-tasking no-focus creatures.” And that’s what your research shows, correct?
Eszter Hargittai: Yeah, so actually this is a great segue into what I look at. In fact, I like to point out to people and remind people that age is not the most helpful category when we think about Internet uses and technology uses because these assumptions we have about how young people are better and super savvy and older people are clueless, it’s just not true. I mean for one thing, look around this room. We aren’t teens. There might be some teens here but for the most part, the average age is probably above 18, and we’re quite savvy in this room.
So to assume that all young people are super savvy and all older people are clueless is just wrong and it’s not doing anyone any favors to make that assumption, frankly, in either direction. It’s not doing the younger users any favors because if they don’t know some things but we always assume that they do, then we put them in a position where they can’t really ask for help and it’s an awkward situation to teach them. And if we’re suggesting that we don’t know anything, then we put ourselves in a position where we can’t really be teaching them, so that’s not helpful either.
Moderator: Or that we’re not teachable.
Eszter Hargittai: Right, that, too. I think all across ages, so the point is it’s age isn’t the most important category. There are lots of really savvy people at all age ranges and there are lots of people who are not that clued in at all age ranges.
Moderator: So how many of you sat in the Geek Lab at any point over these two days and learned something new? See our elastic brains even in our dotage, right? So Dana, tell me, what else do we misunderstand or just not understand about teens when it comes to their behaviors online and things like privacy and the concept of false identity or deception and relationships?
Dana Boyd: Well, we have a tendency to project our own understandings of the world onto our teens and one that I’ve been spending a lot of time obsessing over right now has to do with deception and inaccurate information. We assume that when young people put inaccurate information online, they’re doing it to deceive. But most often the group that is doing that to deceive are older folks doing online dating who want to sort of reduce their age a few years, reduce the weight, add a few inches, add a few dollars to their income. Young people actually put a lot of inaccurate information online for totally different reasons. They do it ‘cause it’s funny. It’s really funny to be 69. Har har har. $250,000.00? Sweet.
They do it because they’ve been told to. They’ve been taught to lie since they were really, really young, often by law enforcement and teachers telling them this is the way to be safe. They do it because the intended audience is their friends, not the system, and so their friends know that they’re not actually 69. They know that they’re 16. And they’re much concerned about certain kinds of read information.
Another component of this is privacy. We have these mythical ideas that young people don’t care about privacy. They care deeply about privacy but what their conceptions of privacy are are different than what many adults are and so we’ve got this conflict coming into place where adults are like, “Why do you put that online?” and the young people are like, “Well, you put this online ‘cause it makes you cool but you don’t put this online because it embarrasses you.” And so they do this level of nuancing that just doesn’t look like that.
But again, to the broader point is when we have these black and white stories of young people and adults, when we project our values and our beliefs on the young people, we miss the broader picture of what’s generally changing.
Moderator: So okay, let’s get to the crux of the matter. What does this really mean? Are we talking about radical change for our future because of this or incremental change when it comes to work or politics or activism or even commercial activity, pick any one that appeals to you, but let’s start with you, Raney. Radical? Incremental? Is this the industrial revolution or is this just going on?
Raney Aronson-Rath: I think it’s both. I absolutely think it’s both.
Moderator: Okay, hedging your bets.
Raney Aronson-Rath: But I’ll start with I think an incredible story that we saw at Frontline is the coverage of Iran, so I’m sure you all were aware of the election and the incredible use of social media and the incredible amount of stuff we were getting through informal channels. So for journalists like ourselves, we really had to think how are we going to cover Iran?
And we have this incredible case study of a woman who sits in a little apartment in Boston who’s collecting all this stuff from the Internet, essentially people she “trusts” because she doesn’t actually know a lot of them, but getting images, getting stories, getting blogs. And the way that she’s collected them together on the Internet for us is radical in the sense that for Frontline to take something that’s unedited, that’s essentially from people that we don’t know and trust, who aren’t our trusted journalists, and put them in a package to tell you this is what’s going on in Iran, is to me radical.
But there’s tons of incremental changes I think that are going on, as well. I mean I think blogs are very similar to op ed columns. I don’t think there’s a great big deal of difference in the way that we’re making documentary films, although we’re needing to change, so that’s happening much more slowly.
Moderator: Eszter, what do you think?
Eszter Hargittai: Similar response. I call it, “It depends.” Right? So it really depends on the situation, on the context of a person’s use, on how much a person understands the opportunities. That’s one of the points I like to remind people of. There’s still people who are not online, right? And some people say –
Moderator: At least 30 percent of women in the U.S. are not.
Eszter Hargittai: It’s actually quite a large number, if you think about it. So we walk around thinking everyone’s online but not everyone’s online. And one response people give to that is, “Well, if they don’t want to be online, that’s their problem or that’s their choice.” But my argument there is actually a lot of these people just don’t realize what you can actually achieve by going online. So there are lots of opportunities, as everybody in this room I think understands, but if you don’t know what those opportunities are, then you might not take that step. After all, it’s not trivial, especially in this economy, to subscribe to go online. Even if there are library opportunities, it’s not that easy if you’re a full-time work – etc., etc. So a really important point is to recognize that we need to get the word out about what is possible to do.
Dana Boyd: One thing to think about is that while the underlying desires and goals of most people have not radically changed, the technology inflects those kinds of practices in really interesting and unique ways. We can think a lot about what the affordances are of these technologies, that they’ve opened up the channel, right? Blogging wasn’t really unique because of the ability to document your thoughts, document your passions. It was unique because of the ways in which it both created a different kind of distribution channel that everybody in this room could access in a really powerful way and it allowed for different kinds of community organizing around shared interests because of the technologies that came into play.
So what happened is is that the technologies introduced new opportunities, especially around taking advantage of things like distribution, things like dissemination of ideas, and the question is how do we as individuals and as communities embrace this to do really powerful and transformative acts? So the transformativeness of this is not the technology per se but the way in which the people who have gravitated to it really embrace it and do really transformative things with it. In some ways, we can see all of the new potential that can come into play but the challenge is that not everybody sees that potential.
And we have to also realize that this is all about community. Most of you probably got on to blogging because of somebody you new, because of people in your physical world or in your already existing community either online or offline, and we have to think about those networks as being really critical to all of these sort of transformations that are occurring.
Moderator: So what’s the future like for someone who doesn’t get convinced, who doesn’t learn why they belong there? What’s the ultimate ramification and do you think that population is gonna stay at say 30 percent of women in the U.S. or are we gonna be able to bring that lower and should we focus on that? Is that really important?
Eszter Hargittai: I’d be happy to –
Moderator: Yeah, Eszter.
Eszter Hargittai: Okay, so as people may or may not know, there’s quite a bit of money allocated in the stimulus package actually for getting broadband out to more and more people in the United States. What I’ve been arguing with respect to that – I mean it’s great to see an administration that’s really supportive again of technology and information technology in particular. What I’ve been arguing, though, with respect to this broadband initiative and it seems like there is definitely interest in this, is that in addition to getting the technology out there, just like Dana said, it’s not all about the technology. And something in particular that I think is really important to focus on is people’s skills and I want to get that back to the earlier comment.
So these opportunities that we have, knowing about them is a type of skill, and then even once you understand them, being able to act upon them is skill. It’s actually a myriad of skills. It’s lots of skills. And as Dana suggested, community really matters in this. How do you obtain skill where you can take a class or you can read up on it, but really we learn so much from those around us. I would love to hear how people got into blogging because that’s one of those things, how do we get more – to understand how we get more people online, to get more people excited about the opportunities, one way is to see how people who are currently online got there and how do people obtain their skills. I do a lot of studies on this but there are not a ton of people out there studying this, unfortunately, so we don’t know too much about it, yet.
Moderator: So I have a question for you guys which is how many of you find yourself evangelizing using blogging or Twitter to people who don’t get it? So maybe what I would love is if Jory and Lisa, you could go pick a few people who raise their hand and what do you say? What’s your tactic for convincing the people in your lives?
Eszter Hargittai: And do you actually manage ever to convince them, I’m also curious
Moderator: That’s a good question. Is there someone with you, Jory?
Jory: Yeah, we have two, actually.
Moderator: Paddle 3
Jory: 2, actually.
Moderator: You have a three on your card, Jory.
Jory: Two people. Sorry.
Moderator: Go for it. Please say your name and your blog and if you could stand up so we can see you, that would be awesome.
Aurelia: I’m Aurelia from “No Matter How Small” and I first found blogging after I lost my son and one of the things that I discovered was that support groups in person meet once every couple of weeks and it’s very hard to get out and find them and it’s very rare. But then if you go online, you can find a support group 24 hours around the clock, seven days a week, whenever you are at your worst, at your lowest, whenever you need the support the most. And I have to say the women I’ve met online in the pregnancy loss community and fertility community, I think they saved my life. They are the most wonderful, kindest, most generous people and I have become an evangelist for telling people that that’s where you will find the best information and the nicest people and the smartest people because they’ve been there. They’ve been through it. You don’t find that with doctors and nurses. (Applause)
Moderator: Thank you. Lisa, do you have one over there? Paddle 2.
Rebecca: I’m Rebecca and my personal blog is “Xpad Adventures with an X.” And it’s funny, because I have a Ph.D. in media studies and I was a professor of media studies, and yet the people who told me about blogging were my girlfriends when I moved. And so I was moving out of the country and I keep a blog to let my grandmother know where I am and what I’m doing and my girlfriends stay in touch. And my 93-year-old grandmother has actually started evangelizing for blogs, so her whole retirement community in Florida reads my blog to see where I am around the world. So it’s been really interesting to see who’s in the know.
Moderator: Jory, someone else?
Elizabeth Norton: Hi. I’m Elizabeth Norton and I own PartyPlanningProfessor.com but I also own CapeMayMoms.com. And I realized, ‘cause I was really sick from September to December, that like you said, it can be a great support system. So I started a local network for moms in Cape May County, New Jersey, and we have over 100 families that are a part of us and have connected moms and Cape May is very small during the winter but very crazy in traffic during the summer. So during the winter, it thrived and it’s continuing to thrive. And even when I’m not there babysitting it at home, those ladies are still talking.
Moderator: And how did you first reach out to them? By email, by a poster at a Safeway or a grocery store?
Elizabeth Norton: I actually was really embraced by my print media in my town and I started blogging for them and then I started creating playgroups and then it just turned into a Ning group.
Eszter Hargittai: Can I respond to some of those?
Moderator: Yeah, go ahead. Yeah.
Eszter Hargittai: So I’d like to respond to some of those. These are great examples. One of the things that we know from research is that people who have higher levels of education and higher income are much more likely to be online and then also to be much more engaged online, and so I think one of the challenges moving forward and answering the question of what does this bring for the future is to make sure that it’s not just those who are already privileged who continue to be privileged who get these extras that come out of being online. Because if it’s only those who are already in the more privileged positions who get all the privileges that come from being parts of these active communities online, then what we’re doing is essentially recreating all sorts of inequalities that we already have. And as a society as a whole, that’s not to anyone’s advantage.
Moderator: So is anyone out there working to evangelize this to lower income or less privileged communities, whether through schools – I see someone up front here. Oh, you have someone back there who is?
Moderator: Let’s Paddle 3.
Veronica: Hi. I’m Veronica and I blog at VivaLaFeminista.com. Hi. But I started online back in about ’95 on a listserv and so I got involved in that and helping edit the website and so blogging was a very natural progression, evolution of my online presence. And for the last year and a half to two years, I’ve been working with a local group, a leadership group, through the Chicago Abortion Fund, so we have these low income women who some of them don’t even have jobs and they are blogging at ChicagoAbortionFund.blogspot.com about their lives, their communities, why they chose what they did, and it’s so empowering to see them take to this technology. They’re doing a lot of other things but the blogging they really just took to like fish in water. It’s amazing.
Raney Aronson-Rath: We actually also have profiled a school in the South Bronx, it’s actually one of my favorite pieces on Digital Nation’s website, which essentially looks at a school which transformed itself by having access to technology. Every kid has a laptop. It’s incredible. I’ll send you the information on it. And what they noticed was this community in general really responded and the teachers were really active in how they use the technology.
So if they’re teaching Catcher in the Rye, they do this amazing role playing with the children and they’re able to add things to the characters and what kind of music Atticus would like or all these amazing things that got the kids involved and got them to actually read more. And then their math scores went up, so this was a very underperforming school. Now it’s an average performing school. It’s actually one of the most inspiring things I’ve seen looking at this territory.
The other amazing thing is you just assume the kids are snowing the teachers ‘cause they’re all completely online, right? They’ve got seven windows open and they’re all over the place. But there’s an assistant principal in the school who’s monitoring all their activity, so when it gets out of hand, he can just, click. He says, “Hey, get back to work.” And the kids totally freak out and they come right back to what they were doing. And it’s been an amazing process to watch this school in particular which the Digital Nation team has been following for quite a while now, so it’s great.
Dana Boyd: I think it’s also important to think not just about getting people aware of the particular technologies but helping people see how the different elements fit into their lives in ways that make sense. I think that to the degree we think about support, support is an absolute critical way where a lot of people actually engage in technology really early because of support as an issue. And part of it is also thinking about the ways that the particular technologies enable already existing social practices with their groups.
So an example from back when I was doing a lot of research explicitly on blogging, I met a young HIV positive man and I was asking him about why he started blogging. And he said to me, he was like he’d reached a point where when he went to his friends and was like, “So, my T cell counts are really low.” it broke any conversation they were possibly having. It was really awkward. It was really inappropriate. And in the same way, his friends didn’t feel comfortable walking up to him and asking him the details of his health when they were in a group situation.
One of the reasons he started blogging was so that he put it up there and he knew that his friends would look at it when they were comfortable, he would say things when he was not doing well, and there was an interesting buffer that was really a safe space for them. The result of which is he knew that when he wrote up a bad day, somebody would call him and invite him to dinner even though he had no idea and they would never talk about the details of it because his friends didn’t know how to interact with it.
And I use this as an example because I think that we think about how we’re already trying to negotiate information, how we’re trying to negotiate social relationships, and rather than just plopping technology in and telling people they can figure it out, give them sets of examples. Give people within their particular social worlds how it will fit in and work with people who it makes sense for them because of the different things that they’re struggling with in their lives.
Moderator: So Lisa, I think you had a person who has been working to bring this technology to –
Meghan: Hi. My name is Meghan and my business partner, Melissa, and I run ShoeStringMag.com, and we are a budget friendly lifestyle magazine. We also blog within the magazine but our focus is primarily in urban areas where typically you find people who have a lower household income and we really work to bring budget friendly tips to these people. And what you had said about implementing technology within people’s lives, that we work to promote social media, our blog, and Twitter to really give people the opportunity. We run a lot of clothing swaps so that people can get new clothes without actually having to spend money. We bring arts and entertainment to urban areas. We work a lot with urban youths. So we really try to allow everybody to get the best out of life regardless of the size of their pocketbook.
Moderator: What do you find is a good tactic for getting them interested in the technology part themselves?
Meghan: Well, typically we find people out in public. We both live in urban areas and we’ll start talking to people about the struggles that they have with being lower income and we’ll say, “Hey, we have this really great resource. We’re online right now. Have you checked out Twitter? We offer daily tips on how to lead the good life for less.” And then it’ll actually bring them to the Twitter feed. They’ll be like, “Oh, what’s Twitter?” “It’s a microblogging service,” blah, blah, blah, and then we’ve actually seen an increase in people using Twitter and it tends to be not the standard demographic.
Moderator: Cool, thanks. So bringing up Twitter reminds me of a question I wanted to ask which is how many of you feel like you actually have a little bit of a problem unplugging? I was afraid I would get no response at all. Yeah, me, too, and I just told, for the Frontline people, I told them a story about how I went to Africa and I was supposed to not be working but I went to a lot of trouble to make sure I had international data service and international phone service. And on the first day in Africa, my iPhone, the bottom part of it, the screen stopped responding so I couldn’t get to mail and I couldn’t get to Safari. And I was like, “Oh, my God!”
I mean don’t you feel strangely naked or incomplete or weird when you don’t have your device? Am I the only one?
Moderator: Okay, thank you. Thank you. But there was a computer, an old-fashioned really old computer in the lobby of this place where I stayed and there was this whole inner struggle. How many times am I going to let myself go? And I justified it to myself by saying, “Well, if I don’t I’ll just get home and have thousands of emails and that will be so overwhelming. I just want to go in and triage my email, right? Delete the deletables, file the folders. And I did it twice, once the day after the phone broke and once the day before I left, and I was pretty proud of myself, in six days that that’s all I did. I was actually very proud.
So we were talking about this and so a lot of people – how many people have had someone tell you you’re an addict, you have a problem? So my question to you all is – no? No one’s ever –
Dana Boyd: I take issue with the addict thing.
Moderator: So this is my question. Let’s talk about it. Are we addicted if we feel like I did when I was in Africa and couldn’t have access, and if we are, so what?
Dana Boyd: But what are you addicted to? Is it the technology or is it your friends and information? So I’m saying in many ways, if we’re addicted to our friends and information –
Moderator: And that doesn’t sound so bad _____.
Dana Boyd: No, but the thing is at what point are you friends – the addiction to your friends a little out of control, right, and the question is what’s it getting in the way of? In some ways, we’re deeply social creatures. We are biologically programmed to be deeply social creatures and we really like having people around us. The thing is that we are so used to, for structural reasons, having limits to that. And all of a sudden, the technology is giving us access to so many more people. Think of it as your Soylent Green, right? The technology is made of people and you’re like, “I love the technology.” And the other component to that is the information. We’re also very curious. We want to know what’s going on. Like you, I have a hard time when my technology doesn’t work when I’m abroad. A couple of weeks ago, I’m standing in front of the Pantheon in Italy and being like, “I want to know more. I want to know more. It’s $17.00 a meg. Can I justify it? No. No. Can’t justify it.” So then I’m suddenly seeking out the desperately seeking WiFi so that I can get information about the Pantheon, right? ‘Cause I go and ask the guard about the Pantheon and he’s like, “That’s not my job.”
Female: _____ tour book _____.
Dana Boyd: Oh, the tour book? What’s on the tour book?
Female: _____ paragraphs, I know. It’s _____.
Dana Boyd: But part of it is that we’re so used to at this point being constantly in touch with people, being constantly in touch with Wikipedia that we’re like totally stunned like deer in the headlights when we don’t have it. We can replace the technology but do you really want to replace the people and information?
Moderator: Well, you were telling me about working with some of your interns.
Raney Aronson-Rath: Yeah, we have a couple of really amazing interns but it’s incredible how as journalists we use phones sometimes less and less now and we use the Internet. And it was incredible when I’ve worked with a lot of younger people, especially in the sort of 20-year-old range. “God, I can’t find this person. I’m looking for this person.” I’m like, “Did you check information? Did you call? Did you use the phone?” “Whoa.” You can use anything other than Google and it’s incredible.
But on the certain issue around boundaries and technology, Rachel Dretzin, who’s the director of Digital Nation, and I, we’re both parents and we both found that it’s great to be in touch with our friends all the time but we’re both finding ourselves sort of sinking our family time. We’re both working moms. We would come home and anyone who’s a working mom knows what that’s like, right? So you have your kids coming at you and I was still looking at my iPhone constantly.
And so Rachel started to say, “I’m doing the same thing and my husband’s online and we have three laptops open during dinner.” And she said, “I’m gonna start to set some boundaries.” And she started to set some boundaries during the time she got home till when the kids went to bed and I thought that’s actually a good experiment for me and my husband. So we tried it and it’s so hard for us.
Moderator: How’d that go?
Raney Aronson-Rath: But we’re trying it and it’s better because it was taking me away from my kid. So I think it’s deeply personal. What it does to your life is so deeply personal that it’s how it affects you.
Eszter Hargittai: I see everything through this prism of skill. It’s just all I think about. I think the information overload issue, which is what we’re talking about to some extent, is a skill issue, as well. Because there are ways, for example, people find email overwhelming but there are actually ways to deal with your email. I’m not saying it’s gonna make it go away and I don’t like getting certain emails either, but through, for example, setting up filters there are all sorts of emails I don’t really ever see or I see once a week when I decide to. So I think there are ways to deal with some of this through various skills.
Dana Boyd: I think another component of it is that sometimes what we also conflate in all of this is work and responsibility. And work and responsibility or we feel as though we always have to be in touch in order to keep up with these lives. And one of the things I think that’s costing us is that we don’t know how to take a break from work in order to be refreshed.
So one of the things that I’ve been doing for a long time which people give me a lot of shit for is that I take email vacations. Email vacations are not simply that nice like, “I’m on vacation. I’ll get back to you in three weeks when I get back.” No, no, no. They are bouncing all emails. Emails simply don’t get through and they’re returned with this lovely little message being like, “I needed a break and if I come back in three weeks with the amount of email that will come in, the break will have been pointless. So I’m going to say no to all email and if it is so important to you that you have to get through, call my mother.”
Now the really interesting thing about this is the structure.
Moderator: How did your mother feel about that?
Dana Boyd: This is where my mother is useful in this. My mother loves to talk. Anybody who has called my mother knows that this is not a ten-minute proposition. This is a two to three-hour proposition. So if it is so worth it to you to talk to my mother for two to three hours in order to get a message through for me, go for it. And it’s really interesting ‘cause she loves it ‘cause she gets all these random phone calls and I’m always _____.
Moderator: So I’ll tell you my little tactic, which I’m not proud of, but it’s what I do and then let’s hear some of yours. I declare email bankruptcy on the first of every month and all that means is that I create a folder – because I’m a filer, not a piler, right, so everything in my inbox is meant to be taken action with but I was finding myself oppressed by the hundreds of emails there. So now I just fool myself. I create a folder “Action March 2009” and when it hits April 1st, I move everything left in my inbox to the folder.
And often, some of you may have seen, I blog or tweet it and say, “Oh, today’s email bankruptcy day. If you haven’t gotten an answer from me and you wanted one, better email me again.” And I’m totally not proud of it but it makes me feel so much better when I don’t – so that’s what I do.
So let’s go to Jory had someone and then Lisa. Paddle 3, sorry.
Heather Blessington: Hi. I’m Heather Blessington. My personal blog is MamaVision.com and I just recently launched a collective blog for body image bloggers called “We Are the Real Deal.” And the interesting thing about that is with blogs – this goes back to what you were saying is what’s unique and how did you get started. The freaky thing is you get so close to people that you’ve never met and the trust that comes in. All of us on the blog, we never met until we came here, and I don’t know any other circumstance where you would put that much trust in anyone else to venture into something.
Moderator: How many of you here have started a group venture like that with someone you only knew online?
Heather Blessington: Oh, not many. I’m surprised.
Moderator: _____ people. The ones wearing matching sweatshirts. Lisa, Paddle 2.
Cathy Brooks: I’m Cathy Brooks and my terribly neglected blog is OtherThanThat.com, though I write in a number of different places. About the technology break, I recently took a five-day technology-free vacation, which may not sound like a whole lot of time but for someone who’s online pretty much dawn to dusk and then into the wee hours like I am, it was a long time. And I found that I twitched for about the first couple of hours, wanting to Tweet when I saw a Golden Eagle hovering over the mountains circling and I thought, “Ooh, that’s beautiful.” But I decided to sit with it instead and I put all the technology away. I left the computer at home and I found that the experience at the end of five days was that it was a much deeper and richer experience, that I had more things to say about the things that I had seen because I had taken the time to actually sit with them.
And this is actually where the question is for the panel. With blogs, it’s one thing. Even though blogs are fairly quick, people can write a blog post and put it up, they tend to be more thought out as opposed to microblogging things like status updates on Facebook or Twitter, which is like I have a thought and it races through my mind and onto the screen. What would you say about generationally speaking as these younger generations are coming up about their thought process and their ability to really kind of sit with things and come up with quality ideas as a result of having experience as opposed to just burping every thought that pops through their mind?
Raney Aronson-Rath: You guys can speak about this maybe better, but from our reporting, I don’t think there’s any consensus on what’s happening right now with younger people on this. I think there’s some research that shows that indeed people are really distracted and they’re not able to focus as much as maybe we were at younger ages. But there’s this other really fascinating research to me that shows that kids are being challenged and older people, too. Actually, there’s an expansive thing that’s happening. People are actually adapting in a way that’s really incredible and so our brains are being challenged in a way they just never have been before. I don’t know what that means to deep thinking. That’s the other question.
Dana Boyd: We see a lot of diversity. Any type of learning or any type of thing, we see huge amounts of diversity across people and what works best for them. But there’s also something to be said about what kinds of sort of skills and thought processes do we want to go forward? In some ways, we get really obsessed with, oh, we should have more focus. We should have sort of more deep thought and that this will produce the best output we imagine. This is a model from the industrial era where you’re supposed to spend your entire day going like this. This is about patience, not necessarily deep thought.
There’s a lot to be said about the kinds of creativity that you can have when you make connections come together like this. And so what we get from some of these technologies and the kinds of engagement we have with them is a different kind of thinking, but it’s hard to argue that this is so much worse, right? When we look at a lot of the high power meetings we’re in, it’s about making these quick, cognitive connections between things. It’s about a certain kind of creativity, and in many ways, we’re pushing for that kind of economy, at least in the American society. We’re not pushing for the deep thought focus.
Now there’s of course some people and some types of jobs that need a certain kind of depth to them. I work with mathematicians and I’m in awe about how they think about math which I get to witness on a daily basis and it’s about this level of deep thought and just drawing Greek letters that I don’t understand over and over again. And that kind of task requires a different kind of thinking.
But what skills are we – or what jobs are we pushing people towards or in the kinds of things that we want to encourage and how do we actually embrace the idea that there’s gonna be a lot of diversity of what different types of people are gonna be good at and what we need from different types of people?
Eszter Hargittai: Can I just add that, again, I feel like there was this assumption about the age being the important variable and frankly, I’ve seen plenty of older people on Twitter say things that were definitely not thought out. So again, I don’t think this is necessarily an age issue.
Raney Aronson-Rath: And actually, that’s so interesting about usage. We did some reporting in South Korea where it’s one of the – if it’s not the most wired country in the world, it is probably the most. And we found that something that they do differently in the classrooms is the kids are totally wired but they actually talk about it. So they talk about things like they call it netiquette, so it’s sort of what you’re supposed to do, what you’re not supposed to do, things in terms of Internet safety. These types of issues are brought up and including that is Internet addiction or however you want to call that.
So they’re having a dialog about the technology that’s so sophisticated compared to what we do in our schools that I think it helps kids understand how much they should be using it, how they should be using it, and again, it goes back to the issue of skill. How do we teach our children and ourselves how to use this stuff?
Eszter Hargittai: I really like that point about having the conversations with the students because given that it’s a very ongoing new dynamic process, it’s naïve to think that either the teacher of the student can just walk in there and know what’s gonna be the best. I struggle with this because I do teach students all the time and I think having an open discussion is probably the best way to go right now.
Raney Aronson-Rath: They have 15 textbooks or something like that, in South Korea, which actually are teaching kids actively about what it means to be on the Internet. It’s incredible. I mean you should look at it because it’s embeddable and all that so you can go on our website and see it. It’s just amazing to see these kids and their learning.
Moderator: Do we have questions for – oh, Lisa. Paddle 2, sorry.
Nicole Brady: Hello. My name is Nicole Brady and my blog is “Sam Reviews.” I just wanted to share a recent Twitter – tweet that I read and it says, “At the closing keynote and I think they are talking about addiction to technology but I can’t listen because I’m too busy twittering.” So would the owner like to please claim this DM?
Eszter Hargittai: She wouldn’t hear you saying it ‘cause she’s too busy twittering.
Female: And as you just said to me, you were on Twitter reading it.
Moderator: Right. Jory has someone. Paddle 3.
Loolwa Khazzoom: Loolwa Khazzoom, DancingWithPain.com. I was actually from way back from a previous question but just to answer very quickly, I thought I was an email addict till I came here and now I think I’m really old school. I keep my cell phone off unless I have an emergency call and I keep my voicemail full so no one can leave me a message.
Loolwa Khazzoom: ‘Cause I want that time to myself. I was actually gonna talk about my mom, who this year went through bankruptcy, foreclosure, had a tragic accident, had to have brain surgery, had bones broken throughout her body. And I have been plugging blogging to her ‘cause she’s recovered and she’s in a position where she can really inspire people. She’s living in a home independent living center for senior citizens and she’s an amazing writer but she has severe ADD so she can’t deal with a lot of the organizational stuff about writing. And so she’s been very resistant but I think she’s breaking down now. So I’m gonna be traveling to see her next week and try to get her started on a blog.
Moderator: Cool. Lisa, do you have – or does Jory? Do you have someone else, Jory? Paddle 3, okay.
LeeAnn: Hi. I’m LeeAnn and I blog at the “Butter Compartment” and on the subject of addiction, I joke about my CrackBerry all the time but I think that the addiction is more about – says more about the relationships that we’ve developed with the people that we meet through social media. I know that I rely a lot on the people that I’ve met through my blog and through the various other diabetes blogs that I read and the diabetes communities that I participate with and they are people who I can’t really imagine not having in my life at this point because they understand the – like I went to the movies and I ran out of insulin 20 minutes into the movie. In any other circumstance, I would run home and fix that, but I was out with a group of friends and it was a very difficult situation to be in and even the friends who were with me didn’t quite understand the urgency of the situation. But when I blogged about it later, I got a lot of comments from my friends out in the Internet that understood and empathized with that particular situation.
Moderator: Paddle No. 2, Lisa.
Christy: Hi. My name is Christy and I blog at “Million Dream Mom” and “Dirty Old Moms,” and I have a question about informational accuracy. You touched briefly on the prevalence of Google and Wikipedia and sources like that in our lives and you always hear about being careful what you research on the Internet. It’s not all accurate. We all know that and you hear about the struggles that library sciences are having keeping up with technology and things like that. Where do you think that the future of information is going and how are we going to deal with the accuracy problem?
Eszter Hargittai: That’s a great question I’d love to start addressing.
Moderator: Kick it off.
Eszter Hargittai: So given things like Google or even something like Wolfram Alpha. I don’t know if people are familiar with that. It’s known more as a knowledge engine. People are starting to ask, “Well, what’s the future of universities if it’s so easy to get answers to lots of questions?” And one of the answers I like to give to that is that we still, or even more so than before, need to help people understand how to evaluate the sources of information and the content and the messages that are coming at them. So given that we don’t have the traditional gatekeepers in terms of the kind of material that gets distributed, it becomes increasingly easy to let all sorts of things out there and it’s increasingly easy for then people to stumble into that information.
So I think it is extremely important, again, part of what I consider skill, to know how to evaluate information. And I’ve now done a few studies looking specifically at 18, 19-year-olds abilities to evaluate the content of information and there are some really problematic situations that come up. There’s a ton of trust in what’s out there. One of our research findings has been that instead of looking at clues from a website as to whether people should trust the website, lots of students just trust it because it was the first hit on Google. The website could be anything. The mere fact that it was the first hit on Google is what makes them trust it and that’s really problematic given that there isn’t any quality assurance there, necessarily.
Raney Aronson-Rath: Yeah, but marketing. I mean they trust it because that’s how it’s marketed, that that authority and relevance and all of that is what Google’s whole algorithm is about, right?
Dana Boyd: This has been the danger for a long time, right? We trust the New York Times because it’s the New York Times. We trust Britannica because it’s Britannica. We’ve often put trust in entities because they are experts, right, and anybody who’s had health issues, right, we trust doctors ‘cause they know all. And we learn that a lot of medicine is more of an art than a science, that a lot of what we deal with as information is actually complicated and messy.
Look back at a Britannica from the 1950’s and spend a lot of time laughing at the inaccuracies that we now know to be there. Or let’s argue about something where we have disagreements about perspective. Think about the American Revolution, right? The British and the Americans have slightly different views on exact facts of that event in that long period.
What is really powerful about a lot of different technologies that we’re seeing, and Wikipedia is one, to me, that we should hold up as a really impressive example of this, is that we’re now making it a little more transparent about how that information is actually produced. A Wikipedia article has its history and its discussion pages and you may disagree with what the content of the Wikipedia article is and the facts there, but you can see how it was produced. And this goes to Eszter’s point. We need the literacy to actually go through and figure out what that means.
The problem is that when we get private enterprises in play here, we have a whole ‘nother iteration of the New York Times problem, right? Google has become this expert or any of these major engines have become this expert so we have people trusting them just because they do it. They’re not transparent about their algorithms. You don’t know exactly how this material has gotten to the top. That’s very different from something like Wikipedia where you can see just how biased this one author is the whole way through but you have to learn to look.
Moderator: Okay, so how many people look at the history and discussion pages? Yeah.
Dana Boyd: But the question is where do you start to make sense of it? If you’re looking at a Wikipedia entry to just get the details of the Pantheon, in some ways it doesn’t really matter how accurate or inaccurate it is. You’re just curious from little factoids. When you’re trying to do research, you’re looking for very different levels of information. And often when people are trying to do research, they start to look at the links at the bottom and the things that are being referenced and these are the skills that we need to start teaching.
Eszter Hargittai: Right, except you almost said we teach but we don’t and that’s the problem. That’s exactly the problem.
Dana Boyd: Because we’re afraid of the technology. We think the technology is automatically wrong whereas it’s giving us all of these opportunities for brilliant teaching opportunities.
Moderator: We don’t have time for much more, so this is my last question, sadly. Fear and hope. I see a lot of fear-based thinking, teaching, whatever around technology and yet we also think it’s a hope – can do so much for the future. What do you think that balance is gonna look like? Are we gonna get more hopeful, less fearful?
Raney Aronson-Rath: I think the reporting from Digital Nation has been incredible for me, personally, because it’s just so counter intuitive for me. So I was someone who was really worried, especially about my children and technology and really conservative of what I let them watch on TV certainly. And so what I’ve seen with these studies that are starting to come in is it’s creating me – it’s making me be a little bit more open minded about it. So I think in the end, it’s more about watching your children, watching their passions.
There’s this guy, Henry Jenkins, who we’ve interviewed. He’s amazing and he says when you think about your children, for example. This isn’t just about you but when you think about your children, watch where their passions are. So if they’re interacting with technology and you can tell they’re intellectually stimulated. They’re really interacting. They’re learning something. They’re telling you about something. Then that’s a good sign. If they’re looking really blasé or whatever with technology, then maybe you want to encourage them to do something else.
And again for me, it’s just about balance. My kid can use technology but he also has to go outside and that’s the kind of stuff that I’m thinking about as a parent and as a journalist.
Eszter Hargittai: So I’m concerned that there are definitely cases of fear and these – the media love to blow these up. I don’t have time to get into the role of the Titanic incident in the history of radio but you should look it up because it’s really fascinating. I have a short piece on it, actually, so you can look it up on my website.
Moderator: Okay, you can’t let it go. Just one little sentence about – I’m intrigued.
Eszter Hargittai: Basically, the radio was a much freer technology before the Titanic incident happened. There were a couple of things that where the radio was involved and then government cracked down and said, “Oh, well, we can’t have people freely use the radio as they are necessarily because look at what it results in.” It was misunderstandings, etc. I’m not doing it justice but hopefully that’s enough to maybe wet your appetites.
Where I’m going with this is I hope we won’t have an Internet Titanic, so to speak, where although we’ve certainly had incidents where there’s great fear and then we implement all sorts of laws and regulations and policies, but even if we’re not implementing these limited policies, the fear definitely limits a lot of people. Thereby people, I think, limit themselves or certainly often limit their children, and in fact do so much more with their daughters than their sons, which has a whole gender component attached to it, and then that limits people’s ability to develop skills which then limits peoples abilities to take advantage of all the opportunities. So my hope is that fear won’t get rid of them.
Dana Boyd: Well, as for me, fear and hope are both biological responses to things we don’t know. What I would like to see is more of us paying attention actually to what’s going on and making sense of things and not relying on these sort of heavy tropes in both directions ‘cause I think that they’re both counterproductive in different ways. What I mean by that is not necessarily hope but these sort of mythical like it can solve everything. It’s the panacea that often comes with that, versus the it will destroy everything that often comes with fear. I mean the challenge is that you’re often in a situation where people are trying to sort of ramp up your fear, trying to manipulate your hope, in order to go in these polar opposite extremes.
And so what I’d like to see going forward is just more and more effort to try and understand what’s going on and try to deal with this in a rational way fully cognizant of the fact that you’re gonna be fearful of the things that you don’t understand and you’re gonna get dreamy about the potentials of things that might change the future, but really move forward with some sort of grounded set of understandings both about history and about what can actually be done. Because the more we’re grounded about this, the more we will do good service by our children, the more we will do good service by the people around us, and we can start addressing some of the inequalities and the challenges and the difficulties of a lot of these different technologies.
Moderator: I hope they’re all right. That sounds like a pretty good future to me. So please join me in thanking our keynoters. I thought that was a great discussion. (Applause) Thank you so much. And if Lisa and Jory could come join me ‘cause we’re gonna kick off the party. Thanks, guys.
Female: On stage?
Moderator: Yeah, come on up. That’s yours to keep. Come on up. Come up. So we just wanted to say thank you for coming to BlogHer 2009 (applause) and join us for the party down outside on the river walk. It’s really lovely out there. Have a great night and see you in New York next year.
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