The power of cyberspace

I’m partial to British films and television. Maybe it’s the accent, but I’ve always enjoyed watching what they put out. Recently, a three-part mini-series called “Black Mirror” aired with the first chapter titled “The National Anthem.” It’s a black comedy written by Charlie Brooker about the power of social media.

SPOILER ALERT: For those who wish to watch the episode, here’s the link.

The story revolves around the British Prime Minister Michael Callow who finds himself at the center of a ransom plot involving England’s Princess Susannah. A video is uploaded anonymously to Youtube showing the princess held hostage. In order for her to be released, the Prime Minister is told that he must have sex with a pig, live on television in a certain time frame. The government tries to stop the release of the tape, but since it’s online, their attempt is futile. Meanwhile Twitter, Facebook, and other social networks are ablaze with comments and links to the video. In turn it creates a paralysis of the news industry, and diminishes the power of the government. Overall, the episode covers a lot of aspects of our digital culture and how it translates in modern life. I thought the tone of the episode was true to the nature of our society, in that it showed feasible perspectives of how people would react in that situation. Although the premise of the story seems ridiculous (I found myself laughing at times, some people forget that it‘s a comedy) I think it’s actually plausible in a scary way.

 

Commenting online…

The Internet has made it possible for everyone to be a critic. Countless websites feature comment sections that encourage feedback. In turn, people have been able to pass judgment at their discretion. Although having a “secret identity” online has it’s perks, anonymity in the virtual world has made it easier for people to leave hateful, negative comments. In a place where anonymity is supposed to make it easier to roam, the Internet has now become another medium for dispensing derogatory remarks that reflect issues prevalent in society like race, sexuality, gender and violence.

Trolling on the web has become common. There’s even a website dedicated to it. There are different forms of trolling, from the sarcastic remarks to the just plain mean comments left by people. Most of the comments I see are humorous. But there are times when I don’t understand how people get so upset by negative comments and take it personal, especially when the comment is directed towards someone else, like a favorite band or something. For the most part, you can just turn off the computer and walk away…

Occupy movement

The Occupy Wall Street movement’s roots are in the digital sphere, where social networks are utilized to organize and assemble groups and spread information. Because of it, other “occupy” groups have formed throughout the country to rally for changes in the American political system. Participants in the movement have formed a sort of subculture and have garnered international attention.

A recent occupy movement involved a group of college students at UC Davis. Video footage of their protest has become viral showing students being pepper sprayed by police officer John Pike. As a result, Pike’s image has now become an Internet meme and Megyn Kelly’s remark about pepper spray has become Internet fodder.

The incident also caught the attention of the hacker group Anonymous, who disclosed Pike’s personal information online. Here’s the article. Although some people believe the overall occupy movement lacks a clear motive, this one in particular had a legit reason for protesting; administrators’ salaries go up, while students suffer tuition hikes. Mark G. Yudof, the university system president and a regent, said “the raises were necessary to attract and retain talented employees.” -Right, it’s just a coincidence that both increases are 20%. Their protests were peaceful too, and yet they got pepper sprayed for their efforts in addressing the issue.

Despite Angry Protests, UC Regents Raise Administrators’ Salaries

Crawling the deep web

The other day I was watching “Horrible Bosses” and thought “can you actually search for an assassin online?” The movie revolves around three guys who hate their bosses and decide to kill them. One of the characters actually tries to find someone online to do it (through craigslist) but of course that doesn’t work. However that idea stuck with me and I was curious if one could actually solicit that kind of service online. And I found out you can, by searching the deep web.

The deep web also known as “the new underground” serves as a virtual black market where almost anything can be bought, sold, or traded. All the sites are hidden and are non indexed by common search engines like Google and Yahoo. For a user to access the deep web, a proxy site/server needs to be in place. Software like Tor is used and provides Internet users anonymity. Although proxy servers serve as a layer of anonymity, with programs and better understanding of the web, tracing online activity with them can still be done. These websites don’t carry the usual domains of “.com” or “.org” but use the extension of “.onion.” So once you connect to it, you can find links to drugs, hitmen, child pornography, music downloads, anything illegal basically. Currency in the deep web comes in the form of bitcoins. Here’s a video that explains how they work:

Keep in mind that this dark side of the web is populated with people from all over. From the FBI to hackers, crime syndicates, and scientists, it’s a place where people should be very careful.  I’m not very Internet savvy so I personally didn’t delve into it. But just learning about it through others is enough for me to know I don’t want to be rolling in the deep… web.

Going viral

*Here’s an article I wrote last semester for J302.

Video sharing has become commonplace in the digital universe. From Twitter to Facebook, videos from around the world can be seen and have found a place in pop culture.

Like most high school students, Tayler Fuata spends her free time surfing the Internet. One of her favorite things to do is watch videos that amuse and entertain. “Usually I stumble across stuff on Youtube says Fuata. Youtube, a video sharing network is a part of the many social networking sites that serve as a platform for viral videos.

From people pulling pranks to others doing song parodies, the web offers an array of videos that brings laughter, shock, disgust, and confusion to viewers. Nonetheless, video sharing has increased in popularity and has made a social impact on society.

The good

Laughter is the best medicine to counteracting boredom and stress. So it should be no surprise that taking pleasure in another’s pain or embarrassment can be used as entertainment. Here, a prank known as “invisible rope” has lead to a slew of imitators and recreations. It usually involves two people on opposite sides playing some form of tug-of-war. Even so, this simple prank has become a source of amusement for all.

Funny videos from other websites like Funny Or Die, The Lonely Island, and Break, are just some of the many sites people can go to, to have a laugh. From skits featuring celebrities, to satires and people getting hurt on accident, they all amuse in their own way.

The bad

Videos taken by citizens have also made it possible for others to witness events around the world. For example, after the earthquake and tsunami that had occurred in Japan, many news networks were able to get footage taken by Japanese residents. This is just one of the many videos to show an eyewitness account of how terrifying it can be to be in such a predicament.

The story of Casey Heynes would have been obscured had it not been for a classmate filming an incident that showed Heynes being bullied and retaliating because of it. The viral video has made Heynes a hero in the eyes of many, for it shows him standing his ground and defending himself. Since then, both boys have been suspended and have had their sides of the story told by A Current Affair, an Australian news outlet.

And the ugly…

There are also videos online that have sparked controversy and have gained attention for all the wrong reasons. Case in point, a video has been circulating and shows a female college student giving a rant on the big Asian population on the UCLA campus.  After the video went viral, it led to video responses by people expressing their feelings on the whole situation. Many people of Asian descent were offended by her remarks and took to Youtube to vent and address the issue.  One included a video uploaded by a young man giving his opinion.

Black’s viral video “Friday” has spawned countless memes using quotes from her song.

What’s more, there has been a lot of attention following Rebecca Black and her auto-tuned song “Friday.” The song itself leaves listeners thinking, “Is this a joke?” At one point, the music video shows Black being approached by a car with her friends and contemplating where to sit, in the back or in the front, while it clearly shows that the front is taken.

*Youtube actually took the original music video down. However, here’s a mash up of Black’s song edited with footage from the movie “Friday.”

“It’s a really bad song,” Fuata says. “And it gets stuck in your head. There’s a part where she [Black] says the days of the week, it’s pretty funny.” The song may have the caliber of being in the company of song parodies, but because it wasn’t intended to be a joke, it just makes the song and music video awkward.

“Viral videos in general are fun to watch, but they can also shed light on events and issues that provoke strong feelings,” said Kim Nguyen, an education/history major at UH Manoa. Currently, Nguyen is teaching ninth-grade history at Waipahu High School as part of her internship. As a way for her to relate to her students, she implements multimedia and pop culture as teaching methods.

“In today’s society, the younger generation is very visual. So I try to use movies and videos as a means to generate feedback from the class and just to make them remember more, because they’re [students] able to retain information better that way,” said Nguyen. In return, Nguyen’s students have shown a better understanding of the topics she teaches through their writing.  “The students are able to put two-and-two together and can explain thoroughly the cause and effect of an event.”  Learning about World War II can be stressful to students, but with the use of multimedia in general, it can be beneficial to them and teachers.  “I want them [students] to be able to comprehend the subject before we move on to the next, that way they’ll be able to connect the dots in history’s timeline,” Nguyen said.

Fuata also sees the use of multimedia as a good way to help students learn. “Reading textbooks can be boring, so having documentaries and movies shown in class helps me concentrate [on the subject] and learn more.” Current events that happened in Egypt, Libya and Japan have been topics of discussion in Fuata’s classes. So having her teachers show viral videos and news clips about what has occurred around the world has left an impression.

“It’s sad to see what’s going on overseas,” Fuata shares. “It makes me grateful for not being in that situation.” But to see the events from the perspective of a person who has witnessed it, makes her as well as others empathize and sympathize with the people affected.

In the era of digital technology, multimedia has made a profound impact on society by providing ways for regular folks to share and broadcast things/events that matter to them. In return, it has brought awareness to others and gives new perspectives on different issues. Going viral has enabled people to “show-and-tell” on a bigger scope, all the while giving the public something to talk about.

Second life

Second Life (SL) is a multiplayer online virtual environment where people have avatars and can participate in a virtual economy that has features that range from currency exchange to virtual property. Unlike other MMORPG (Massively multiplayer online role-playing games) like World of Warcraft, SL doesn’t have missions to complete or a goal objective; there’s no winning or losing.

When signing up for Second Life, a user is prompted to choose an avatar.

I actually did a school assignment on how UH Manoa’s educational technology department utilizes SL in teaching their distant courses online. I learned that those using the program enjoyed it and found that it enhanced their understanding and knowledge of their subject. SL is not supposed to replace traditional learning (in a classroom), but be an alternative to learning in a different way. One student I interviewed actually used SL for his senior project to construct a video game that incorporated elements of Hawaiian mythology. By doing so, he and those who played his game had fun because it incorporated learning a topic in a setting that young people are familiar with.

I think the reason why everyone likes programs like SL is because it gives them another way to be social with other people. Many can argue that it’s used to escape reality, but I think people use it as a tool to engage with others in a way they couldn’t do in real life; whether it’s because of distance or awkwardness. Overall, I think SL enables people to explore different venues and experience a life that has a different set of rules than those in the real world.

10 Ways to Use Avatars in Education

Unplugged

Annecy is known for it's lake, which is one of the cleanest lakes in the world.

This past summer I took part in UH Manoa’s study abroad program in Annecy, France. I stayed there for the whole month of July. Aside from learning more about the language and culture there, at the beginning of the trip I felt very isolated because the host family (an elderly couple) I stayed with didn’t have any Internet connection. I even used a basic analog cell phone to call home. The only time I could go online was when I was in school and even then I didn’t stay on for a long time because I wanted to use that time to explore the country and hang out with friends.

But this experience showed how dependent I had become on technology. I’m on the computer everyday, whether it’s for school, work or my free-time. So adjusting to life without it was a little difficult. Thankfully I had my music to listen to because I know I would have experienced withdrawal symptoms like a drug addict. Instead of relying on gadgets to get a hold of people to communicate with, I had to physically find them and vise versa. But by the end of my trip, I got used to life without the Internet and actually appreciated the time I had spent without it.

This blog about media addiction tells of how college students were affected by going without media for 24 hours.

Self-expression through social media

The way people express themselves in the digital world has always interested me because it‘s where people can show their true colors, so to speak. On the Internet people can be anonymous without fear of judgment, and it’s another medium for self-expression. In my opinion it’s important to have anonymity on the web and personal information should be disclosed at one’s discretion. It’s all about choice.

Christopher Poole, the founder of websites 4chan and Canvas, gave a talk about online identity and how social networks like Facebook and Google+ have marketed to people the idea that who they are in real life is who they are online, leaving no room for anonymity. However, Poole argued that people should have the choice of being anonymous or disclosing their real identities online because “its not who you share with, it’s who you share as . . . Identity is prismatic . . . We are all multi-faceted people, we are more like diamonds, you can look at people from any angle and see something different and yet they are still the same.”

Respect my authority

Before reality television became a common fixture in pop culture, Internet pioneer Josh Harris headed an experiment that showed people who willingly gave up their privacy for personal recognition. Harris’ exploits were followed in a documentary titled “We Live in Public.” After watching the film I learned that when some people are given the power to do as they please and are absolved from responsibility, they are unable to handle that freedom.  At first, the participants in the Quiet experiment seemed happy with the arrangements, but as time passed, they became restless and had trouble disclosing their privacy.  People started to become violent because of their tight living conditions.  Even at the end of the experiment, many of the guests had difficulties adjusting to the real world.  It showed how living in a place with little restrictions can have a negative impact on a person’s psyche.

I watched a movie titled “The Experiment” which reminded me of the documentary. A group of men were selected to participate in a behavioral experiment set in prison, where half of the group would be guards and the other half would be prisoners. It’s a disturbing film and watching it I wondered how people could behave that way. Yet it makes you think that if you were put in that situation, would you change your attitude based on the role you had in that environment? Little did I know that it was based on a true story of the Stanford prison experiment and was a remake of a German film that is said to be better. But the premise of the film reiterates how some people are unable to handle the power of freedom responsibly.

Express yourself

“How can you express yourself by wearing what everyone else is wearing, and by wearing a label that expresses the designer or the company that produced it?”

-Barbara Adams

It’s a quote I had read about self-expression and individuality, it pertained more to teenagers and their need to have name brand apparel.  But this type of mentality still resonates with people today.  For example, I remember when ipods were released and became popular, the main reason I bought one was because everyone else had one.  It’s a stupid reason, but I figured it must be good because people were happy with it.  To me, this supports the theory of social proof, that others can influence individual choices.  Furthermore, it correlates with Facebook and how the social network serves as a guise of self-expression, but in reality is a system of conformity and control. Don’t get me wrong, I think Facebook is a great way for people to connect, but when people do so just to fit in, it shows a lack of individuality.

http://www.uncommon-knowledge.co.uk/social/social-proof.html

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