Friday, May 6, 2011

Weapons again?

I find it curious that two of the five books we read this semester referred to marketing and/or persuasion as weapons. Is this how people feel about marketing in general I wonder. I know it can be irritating and only relevant when you are in the market for the specific product being advertised, but a weapon?  We do live in a capitalistic society in which anyone has the right to develop, market, and sell products. That is a reality we all must come to grips with. After all, the alternative is much less desirable.

Guerrilla Marketing for Nonprofits was, in my opinion, the least interesting of the books we read this semester. However, I did take a very important lesson from it - never stop learning about your target audience - in fact, never stop learning in general. It may seem obvious to some, but the point that a company's audience continues to evolve makes a lot of sense. Especially today when everything seems to be changing at lightning speed.

For example, a popular mode of communication can be here today and gone tomorrow. This makes it very important for the Guerrilla marketer to keep up with current trends. In fact, the book made it clear that the more the Guerrilla marketer knows, not only about h/her company, but about the target audience, the market, the economy, the political climate, h/her competitors, etc., the better. I couldn't agree more. It is difficult to deliver on-target messaging without the most current facts in hand.

Too often, however, the knowledge gathered by the marketing team ends up sitting in a 3" binder on a book shelf in the CMO's office. There's no sense in doing the research if it's only going to gather dust. Plus, the longer it sits there, the more antiquated it becomes. This information is incredibly important to the marketer, with out it s/he can only make guesstimates which may work, but only by chance.

One problem I have had over the semester as I developed the brand strategy for HELO was getting all the information I needed to make informed decisions. This proves a simple point. In all of my experience in the marketing industry, all of the different types of information the authors discuss in Guerrilla Marketing for Nonprofits have come in piece meal, if at all. So the situations the authors talk about is not fallacy, but a very common practice. I'm referring to a lack of research to create effective marketing strategies.

This brings up an additional question. Who's responsibility is it to conduct this type of research when the branding team is acting as an outside vendor? The better the research, the better the branding strategy. Should it be included in the contract? Or, should it come from the client? The best case scenario would be for the branding firm to gather as much secondary, and any primary research from the client, figure out what is lacking, and conduct the rest of the research on behalf of the client. This method would ensure that nothing has been overlooked, which in turn, will uncover the appropriate direction(s) to pursue for the best impact, which is after all, what Guerrilla marketing is all about.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Using Social Media to Ignite Social Change

I find it interesting how many humanitarian efforts have emerged since the onset of social media. Often, I wonder if they are exasperated reactions to a seemingly indifferent government, or if they are a celebration of the new reality that we, as individuals, can finally make a difference from a grassroots level. Perhaps these efforts existed all along, hidden from the global audience. Or, perhaps, they were tucked away in our hearts, just waiting for the means to act. Either way, they are springing up by the dozens, and social media is the mechanism for at least a portin of their success.

I am working with a nonprofit organization called HELO whose mission is to provide higher educational learning opportunities to inner city youth. Historically, this group has not been provided the same types of educational achievement tools as their suburban counterparts. The money is not there because of the socio-economic circumstances existing within these school districts. HELO is committed to providing these much-needed tools as a means of breaking the norms these communities are accustomed to. But like most humanitarian efforts, HELO's passion outweighs its means.

Enter social media. I have been working on this project with HELO thinking in terms of how I can build an online community that will provide the most bang for the buck. Their survival depends solely on donations. So as I read Kanter and Fine's book The Networked Nonprofit I began to visualize all kinds of possibilities, and I became excited! What I realized is that we can start building HELO's social media ecosystem now, and for free! Part of building a brand strategy for HELO is building a preliminary marketing strategy as well. All the variables accounted for, social media is definitely the way to go to start developing a strong network of peers. It will of course be a learning process but I feel like Kanter and Fines' book serves as a good jumping off point.

My outtakes from the book, pertaining to the strategic development for HELO, include starting to build a network of online hubs to use as virtual partners. Initially, I envision these partners will include organizations who support at-risk youth in any capacity, but could expand exponentially as the ecosystem grows. I also liked the tools they provided for tracking social media networks. It seems to be a great way to get a strong hold on the company's current ecosystem, as a means to develop a strategic path towards a more equitable network of allies, peers, and supporters.

The only problem I had with the book, and this may not be a problem in action, is asking people for help on specific tasks. It may be completely different for those folks who are invested in the cause, but asking for free help seems a little out there for me. It makes me nervous because there is no accountability. My main issue, which the authors discussed, is letting go of the control issue. I love what they are saying, but I can see myself worrying about consistent branding, messaging and so on. But when I step back, I realize the strength of social media is its word-of-mouth, which is the best kind of messaging a company can have.

I can certainly empathize with the hesitancy established companies have with the whole idea of social media. Companies who have experienced sustainable growth over the years using "tried and true" methods find themselves lost in the new digital age and are not sure how to respond. The newspaper industry is a prime example. Embracing new technologies which completely change the way things have operated for centuries has got to be difficult. Fortunately, I understand the benefits of social media and know, if executed properly and strategically, it can fit successfully within a company's integrated marketing program. I certainly hope it does for HELO.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

I've been hoodwinked!

When I first started “Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion” I felt a little sleazy, like I was being groomed for the fine “art” of conning. However, the further I read the more I realized what a great tool it was. Even though the cover includes a quote from Journal of Marketing Research that proclaims, “For marketers, it is among the most important books written in the last 10 years”, I feel the book is more tuned to a general consumer audience, the author serving as an ally. I clearly saw myself in many of the situations he used throughout the book and how true they are to real life.

It was however relevant to my current studies as well. All the “weapons of influence” Cialdini talks about are tactics used within the marketing industry. I just didn’t know the psychology behind them. I’m not sure if knowing this makes me like marketing more or less. The techniques Dr. C talks about are all ways of persuading people to act. I suppose if I use these proven tactics honestly in my work, I’ll still be able to sleep at night.

The main thing I took from the book was that consumers depend on shortcuts to make decisions. I’ll speak only on purchasing decisions here since it’s relevant to my field of study. Because of the rapid pace of modern life and barrage of products being marketed to consumers on a daily basis, I think two things will become increasingly important. First, branding will become more important than ever, and second, marketing will need to be even more precise and more thoughtfully targeted.

Consumers generally tend to buy brands they are familiar with. However, when it comes time for larger, high involvement purchases people spend more brainpower comparing similar products, pricing, shopping around, etc. Still, the brand(s) they are most familiar with are always in their consideration set. So for a brand they are not familiar with to “out-do” one of the brands they already have positive feelings about, the unfamiliar brand will have to offer up a far superior product at the exact moment the consumer is in the market. In order for the unfamiliar brand to increase its chances of serious consideration, it needs to do most of its image-building legwork far ahead of time. Not only do I think this will become more important as the pace of life continues to increase, but I think it will be in the best interest of companies to build even stronger brand images to accommodate for this escalation. By building stronger brand images, consumers can confidently resort to purchasing shortcuts for even higher priced items simply because they already know most everything about the product short of trying it on for size.

I propose a couple ways of doing this. First, I think companies need to focus extensively on what is unique about their product(s). I realize this is already common practice, but I'm suggesting upping the ante. The uniqueness needs to be so strong and so memorable that it will create a brand association quicker than ever before. For example, many car manufacturers have succeeded in creating single word associations with the cars they produce. For BMW the word is "performance". For Toyota, the word is "reliability". For Volvo, the word is "safety". These are very strong identifiers. If you want a performance car, you automatically think of BMW. If you are concerned with safety, the first car that comes to mind is Volvo, and so on. The more unique, strong, and memorable the brand association, the easier it is to recall.

Companies like Nike and Apple have already built the types of brand images I'm referring to. For someone looking for a pair of tennis shoes, Nike is most likely automatically in their consideration set. Highly resonant Apple users have only one decision to make, "Which model should I buy?" Other companies who don't have the brand strength to compete should rethink their branding efforts, or they could die trying.

The same applies in other industries as well. I think, for example, packaging will become more important in the future. For example, I recently realized I like What-a-Burger because of their cups. I like the texture of them. In a world that is becoming more slick and sterile as a result of the digital tools we use (constantly), I think touch will increase in importance. If we're no longer holding books in our hands as we read them, thumbing through CD inserts to figure out song lyrics, or reading the cardboard movie boxes at BlockBuster to decide which movies we want to take home and watch, the sense of touch will become more pleasurable when available. As I mentioned above, What-a-Burger is a great example. What better way to increase brand recall than by associating the cherished sense of touch with their textured styrofoam cups?

To point two above, marketing will need to be even more precise and more thoughtfully targeted. Marketing is obviously the way in which brands are created. Here however I will address the message strategy. Having a simple and precise message in your advertising and marketing will help create a precise brand image. The shorter and stronger the message, the easier it will be to understand and hopefully recall. Increased recall equals more confident shortcuts for consumers. However the visual uniqueness of the advertising or marketing piece plays an equally important role. For example, most car commercials look pretty much the same, to me anyway. In order for companies to do their due diligence in building a truly unique brand, they must pay attention to every detail both visually and textually. They must truly stand out in the minds of an increasingly busy audience. Companies must present themselves in such unique ways that the audience knows at a glance what company the ad is representing.

Zeroing in on a smaller target audience will also help gain the attention of today's on-the-go consumer. By narrowing your audience it is easier to develop creative strategies that quickly grab their attention. Like Cialdini discusses in his book, people respond better to things they are familiar with. They respond equally as well to people who seem to have similar interests, lifestyles, values, etc. The smaller the target audience, the more focused, relevant, and personal the creative strategy can be. Admittedly, target audience specialization works more cost effectively online. I'm always amazed when I'm shopping for something online and an ad appears promoting the exact type of product I'm looking for. This will only continue and I would imagine in an even more fine-tuned fashion. That is after all the beauty of the Internet for marketers.

Of course the above is all speculative. I haven't done any consumer focus groups or research to support the trends I have proposed. However, it is a fact that the pace of modern life continues to increase while the number of products entering the market each year is astounding. Factor that together and what you have is more products competing to grab the attention of an increasingly preoccupied consumer population. What this boils down to is a split-second of time to subconsciously stamp a brand impression on as many people as possible. Product placement has become popular in movies and TV shows. Jennifer Lopez sits on the judging panel of American Idol with a large cup shouting out Coca-Cola - Stamp. But not all companies have the brand recognition that Coca-Cola enjoys. However the "stamp" part is the important part, I believe. Marketers will have to become quicker and wiser in the ways they market their brands. A snapshot will have to tell the story, and using what Cialdini calls the "weapons of influence" will have to be relied upon more than ever to tell those stories...but the really short versions. The more brand stamps a consumer has on his/her subconscious mind, the more brand associations and the more likely they will rely on their preferred shortcuts toward purchase. It's all a matter of psychology.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Marketing in its Finest Moment...

Marketing 3.0 is a welcome change. Not only is it my favorite kind of advertising, but it may just do some much-needed good.

The concept of Marketing 3.0 has been around for a while, only on a smaller scale. Typically referred to as "cause marketing", it's objective is to touch the consumer on an emotional level that helps to build or improve the image of a company. If done properly, over time and in conjunction with the company's product advertising, it works wonders. It creates good faith and moves products - the end goal for any company. Philip Kotler takes the idea of "cause marketing" and applies it on a much larger scale, and for good reason. It's in very high demand.

The world has experienced much change over the last 10 years. Financial crisis, increased environmental awareness, a constantly changing digital environment have all fueled a growing state of instability. Consequently these issues have also caused shifts in consumer behavior, and when consumers change behavior, marketers must revisit their strategies. Kotler, "The concept of marketing can be seen as the balancing concept to that of macroeconomics. Whenever the macroeconomic environment changes, so will consumer behavior change, and this will lead marketing to change". In other words, major events occurring over the last 10 years have dominoed, causing a high demand for socio-economic and environmentally responsible companies - the guiding force behind Marketing 3.0.

This isn't as bad as it sounds. Granted, companies not inherently values-driven must do some major overhauls to their business models to include an altruistic initiative or two. Surely they can just pick a cause and say they support it.

Unfortunately, that's not quite the way it works. According to Kotler, the company must be knee-deep in the cause. It must be at the heart of the business. Employees must represent the cause, as must the company's channel partners and the company's spokespeople. It must be addressed on the company's website in its own special section, and any company-driven social media must present it as a key business concern. In order for Marketing 3.0 to be successful, a company's cause must be unifying and well documented as often and to as many people as possible.

A particular type of company that actively subscribes to the principles of Marketing 3.0, Kotler refers to as "The Innovator". In his book Marketing 3.0, Kotler uses DuPont as a prime example. He says, "DuPont, the science company that has existed for more than two centuries, has dramatically transformed itself from being the worst U.S. polluter to one of its greenest corporations...". Today, DuPont invents and manufacturers products that not only do not harm the environment, but have the potential of reversing the damage already done. This is a great example of a company redefining its entire mission to honor a universal human cause - not a small task. Redefining a company's business model, thereby redefining its core mission after it's been in business for awhile is quite costly. But as DuPont proved, it can be done, and successfully.

In today's socio-economic environment, companies must act responsibly. Consumers demand it and the Internet is too powerful to ignore it. Companies must leverage their online intelligence so they can discover the values that mean the most to their customers, and then honor those values as loudly and as often as they can. If they don't, they may find themselves in a state of decline. Companies have to remember that not only do their customers own their brand, their customers are also still king. Only now, their customers have friends - and lots of them.

I think the reasoning behind Marketing 3.0 is wonderful. Regardless whether a company's humanitarian efforts are sincere or not, at some point their contributions will do some good, some where. Whether they provide food and shelter to remote communities on the other side of the globe, or deliver higher education learning opportunities to inner city kids right here at home, these acts are still selfless, even if the bottom-line business objectives aren't.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Safe Cyber Space: Youth and Social Media

It is no secret the Internet can be a dangerous place, particularly when the user is unaware of its true potential. While most Internet users have acquired online best practices through their own trial and error, the many forms of social media magnify this process more intimately. Stories of teen suicide sparked by cyber bullying and other forms of virtual exploitation filled the news in 2010. While social media provides a platform for building networks of friends, it can also create a false sense of belonging for those yearning to fit in. When one or more members decide to be hurtful to another member, the damage can sometimes be irreparable.

Another form of social media that has found its way into mainstream news is “sexting.” The term “sexting” refers to sending nude, partially nude, or sexually suggestive messages using a texting device. In 2008, TRU, a global leader in research on teens and 20-somethings, conducted “the first public study of its kind to quantify the proportion of teens and young adults that are sending or posting sexually suggestive texts and images.” The study revealed that 20% of teenagers between the ages of 13 and 19 have posted “nude or semi-nude pictures or videos of themselves”, and an overwhelming 39% have posted “sexually suggestive messages.”1 These activities seem frivolous to these young mediators, but in the eyes of the law, they are felonies.

In a 2009 CBS news report, Harry Smith discusses a Pennsylvania case with CBS News legal analyst Lisa Bloom where six teens faced charges of child pornography for having nude images of each other on their mobile phones. If convicted, these children could spend years in prison and will be required to register as sex offenders, something that will follow them the rest of their lives. Although large numbers of teens are engaging in similar activities, Smith comments, “few realize they are breaking the law.”2

How can these children be held accountable if they are unaware these activities are illegal? One might argue in the traditional sense of the law, one cannot claim ignorance as a defense. However, these teenagers were given access to a global playground without proper instruction. Should this be cause for concern? Is it time to consider some sort of regulation or educational reform to ensure a safe environment for our kids’ digital activities? A fair comparison might be putting a loaded pistol in the hands of an unknowing six year old without the expectation of some sort of mechanical exploration. The underlying issue here is not that these activities are statistically overwhelming, or even that they are illegal. The real issue is the inherent dangers that accompany such activities. When the above loaded pistol goes off and kills someone because of the child’s ignorance of the mechanism, the parent becomes the responsible party simply because as an adult, certainly he or she knows the dangers of putting a loaded weapon in the hands of a child. Should the same hold true for the parent whose child cyber bullies a classmate to a suicidal-end?

Another alarming statistic the TRU study revealed was that as many as 15% of the teenagers they surveyed admitted to having posted nude or semi-nude images of themselves “to someone they only knew online.” Chat rooms are common places to meet people while surfing the Internet. Sparking a conversation with an online persona can be exciting, especially when that persona fills a void. In most cases, these types of relationships blossom into something completely innocent. However, if asked to insert nude personal photos into an online conversation, the child’s virtual pen pal may have something more sinister in mind. Sexual predators lurk in chat rooms waiting to pounce on their prey, while their child victims are none the wiser. They believe what is revealed in their instant messenger window, simply because they have no reason for doubt, if doubt is even possible in their young minds. Chat rooms are like any other form of social media for these kids. MySpace, FaceBook, and texting is all commonplace in their daily lives. Much like prior generations wrote a letter or phoned a friend, the youth of today rely on digital media as a necessary component of their social relationships.

Fortunately, law enforcement realized the dangers of online child predation and put in place systems to fight these types of crimes. In 2006, NBC Dateline commissioned The Intelligence Group to conduct a nationwide survey on “What are kids really up to on the computer?”3 Out of 500 responses from 14-18 year-olds, 58% said a person they had met online wanted to meet them in person, and 29% said that they had a “scary” online experience. The survey also revealed that around 50% of the teens, “did things online they would not want their parents to know about.” These, again, are alarming statistics. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, in 2009 there were approximately 22 million teenagers living in the U.S.4 If 23% of those teenagers chat with strangers online on a regular basis, and 58% of those same teens received requests to meet the stranger in person, the number of teenagers at risk, at any given moment, is approximately 2,934,800. That is a scary scenario that clearly illustrates the fact that a simple click of the mouse could effectively sign a child’s death warrant.

Social media is a wonderful tool for communication. It allows people to stay in touch, reconnect, make new connections, form online interest groups, quickly communicate and collaborate from afar, share ideas, images, and videos, all with minimal barriers or gate keeping. The free-flow of information runs rampant in this new age of digital technology, and since the inception of Web 2.0, the torrential outpour of creativity and expression has been both liberating and empowering. But as Jonathan Zittrain discusses in his book, The Future of the Internet and How to Stop It, the very elements that make a free-flowing system strong are also its biggest dangers.5 For example, entering a dedicated chat room looking for an innocent conversation, could instead lead to disclosing personal information to an intruder with unsavory intentions. The freedom exists at both ends of the conversation. However, the opacity of the digital screen allows for deceit at either end as well. The unsuspecting chat room visitor has no idea who he or she is really talking to, while the individual on the other end is uninhibited to be exactly who he or she wishes to be.

The Internet, one of the greatest technological advancements in the history of mankind, has literally changed the way the world operates. Gen M, the first generation fully occupied by digital pacifiers, is hard-pressed to imagine a world without iPods and DVRs. Anything less than High-Definition television with high-definition video games is considered “old school”, and having a mobile phone, a personal computer, and Internet access is the norm rather than the exception. Just as parents teach their children how to traverse the real world, they are now faced with a second, much more illusive landscape, a digital terrain that is perhaps even more complex.

Where should instruction begin? A good number of children know more about the digital landscape than their parents. Elizabeth Englander and Kristin Schank speak on this very topic at They write, “Although kids are comfortable with technology, they are not necessarily knowledgeable about it — don’t confuse the two. We all need to talk with kids about technology. Don’t worry about how much you know or don’t know. Ask kids what’s happening online with them. Ask them to tell you (or show you) what they’re up to online. And keep in mind that even if you might not know how to do a particular thing, you do know that even online they should watch what they say and be civil to others. Don’t hesitate to make that message loud and clear.”6

If teaching begins at home and enforces the same message, regardless of the medium, the result should be universal. However, if one or both parents are digitally disengaged, an entirely different scenario could materialize. This is very important. The child must be prepared for both worlds, offensively and defensively. If the parents cannot provide this kind of comprehensive guidance, the next line of defense lies within the educational system, where indeed it should. In Utopia, the two would interplay. In reality that is not always the case. This is one of those cases.

The technological shuffling of the last 10 years alone is mind-boggling. Now that it is a part of everyday life it would be irresponsible for our educational systems not to proactively address these issues as part of their everyday curriculum. The tragedies and missteps of our youth over the last two years must serve as an immediate call-to-action, and our school administrators must arm themselves for this imperative. Instructors must be prepared to teach the tools needed for personal and professional survival while simultaneously stressing the importance of safety and civility.

A Safe Cyber Space is absolutely necessary for the well being of today’s youth. Digital educational curriculum needs to begin in kindergarten and be incrementally applied through the senior year of high school. It should be integrated within the learning environment where applicable to the exercise. For example, a module on penmanship or spelling need not require the aid of a computer. However, writing a short story using the spelling words from the week would benefit from the use of the computer keyboard in a program such as MicroSoft Word, with spell checker disabled of course. The child would then print out the assignment and turn it in to the teacher.

The primary objectives for grades K-3 are learning how to use a computer as a tool for particular problem-solving tasks. Additionally, the development of a closed wiki-style class community serves as an introduction to learning about collaborative environments. Individual blogs are set up for the child to use for self-expression and for other students to comment on. As the gatekeeper, the teacher supervises the network using specific examples to discuss acceptable versus unacceptable uses of shared communities. Offline worksheets could be developed as homework assignments asking various questions about network etiquette. These types of exercises could also benefit parents who may be inept to the digital world, perhaps enabling their growth along with their child’s. Introduction of other digital devices like mobile phones provide a way of familiarizing students with their uses while also helping the child to remember his or her parent’s phone number.

By the end of third grade, having mastered the various uses of the computer while also acquiring some sense of appropriate community conduct, limited Internet access should be integrated into the fourth-grade learning environment. Again, under the watchful eye of the instructor, fourth graders will learn about the World Wide Web and its various uses as an educational tool. The application of a class wiki will continue for collaboration, creativity, and conversation, still controlled but perhaps not as closely monitored. Less gate keeping allows for the perception of increased freedom, testing previous lessons on community etiquette.

These lessons should be reinforced at every grade level, however relaxed incrementally throughout the maturation process, but always monitored to uniformly address misconduct as necessary. The point is not to punish the child. The objective is to teach respect and constraint both online and off. A good offline exercise might be to sit in a circle and say one good thing about everyone in the class. One might argue these types of activities are not part of standard educational curriculum. However, in order for a Safe Cyber Space to be realized, these types of exercises are appropriate and necessary. It starts with an understanding of what should and should not be said or done while communicating with others. By building a foundation of mutual respect, the children in these programs will be intellectually and emotionally prepared to act and react responsibly after the community controls have been lifted.

Fifth grade is usually greeted with more in depth reading and writing assignments. Armed with the knowledge that the Internet is a useful educational and research tool, fifth graders receive open access to explore the areas in which their assigned topics lead them. Restrictions still exist in the form of barriers of entry to inappropriate sites, and any type of social media is still maintained at the classroom level in the form of the closed wiki model.

Grades six through ten continue in the same fashion with open Internet access for research purposes only. The class wiki model continues, with more emphasis on writing and sharing ideas through the students’ individual blogs. Commenting is also now required in order for students to start learning about critical thinking and discussion.

At this point, perhaps even before, a good number of students will have personal mobile phones. It must be anticipated and therefore addressed early. Appropriate cell phone use should be integrated within the same curriculum as respectful online community behavior, emphasized in a way that will register once kids start using them freely. Unfortunately, educational systems have no control over when a parent decides to give their child a mobile phone. What they do have control over, however, is teaching best practices regarding its use. Again, homework assignments focusing on appropriate versus inappropriate cell phone use could be beneficial to both the child and the parent. For example, writing a short paper exploring the possible ramifications of cyber bullying or sexting would certainly get the student thinking about these things in a more pragmatic manner.

By a student’s junior year he or she will try to buck the system in any number of ways, trying to declare their own independence while simultaneously searching for their own identity. The best line of defense for this age group is providing awareness. For this reason classes focusing solely on social media should be required starting with the junior year and continuing until graduation. Acting as a mentor, the class instructor will facilitate a discussion-based environment in which the “rules” of online etiquette are openly and critically addressed. It will continue a discussion that has been under construction since their kindergarten year, in preparation for this very moment. Students will learn how to build a personal online brand through the use of social media tools. They will learn what types of images and videos are appropriate for online disclosure, as well as keys to keeping the conversation civil and respectful.

In the senior year, this conversation continues but with increased professional emphasis. These lessons are imperative as students prepare to enter college or the work force. More and more companies are using FaceBook entries to screen potential employees. Our youth must be prepared to show they have the skills to act responsibly both online and off.

The above scenario is not too different from what is being emphasized currently in our educational environments, with a few exceptions. New tools of technology must replace the traditional tools of education. Teaching the appropriate uses of these tools incrementally throughout the maturation process will prepare our youth for the more illusive world they will come to depend on and interact with the rest of their lives. The emphasis on social media is extraordinary simply because it is an uncontrolled environment with potential unseen dangers. Requiring discussion in this area, allows for all variables to be explored in an open and honest forum. These types of exercises build awareness while creating better-informed and hopefully more responsible members of society.

1 The National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy and,
“Sex and Tech,” (, 2008)
2 CBS News, Smith, Harry, “Sexting Shockingly Common Among Teens,”
(, June 15, 2009)
3 Dateline NBC, “Most teens say they’ve met strangers online,”
(, April 27, 2006)
4 U.S. Census Bureau, “American Community Survey,” (, 2009)
5 Zittrain, Jonathan, The Future of the Internet and How to Stop It, (Harrisonburg, Virginia:
R.R. Donnelley, 2008)
6 Englander, Elizabeth and Schank, Kristin, “Reducing bullying and cyber bullying,”
(, October 6,

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

The Future of the Internet and How to Stop It - Case Study Presentation

My case study focuses on generative systems, how they evolve, expand, populate the masses, and then become weakened from the very elements that make them successful.

I use the personal computer as my media object as it is a generative system which is adaptable to a great number of functions, all at the user's whim. Compared to an Information Appliance such as the typewriter or the old IBM Mainframe, designed for specific functions, not easily modified, and serviced by the vendor exclusively, the personal computer is designed with a low common denominator, making it easy to configure according to what the owner needs or wants it to do.

The Internet is also a generative system in it's current interaction with personal computers. Collaboration, innovation, ability to adapt to changing conditions are among the many advantages of the generative Web. In fact the Internet was created around the concept of letting it become what it will. The framers decisively held firm to the "procrastination principle", and didn't worry about what problems might occur, rather leaving such issues to the "end-points" to solve as the problems arose. This is what created the Internet as we know it today; a flourishing network of innovation, collaboration, communication, ideas, participation, and so on...

Unfortunately, Zittrain also talks about, (in Derrida style) the very things that make a generative system strong are also it's greatest danger. The dangers come from the exploitation of the network by amateurs and abusers. For example, amateurs unknowingly release harmful code. Contrarily, abusers very knowingly release harmful code. Either way, harmful code circulates the network waves infecting anything and everything it comes into contact with, and in an exponential fashion. So the freedoms that the Internet allows for honest people, also pathes the way for the bad guys.

In reaction and fear to this type of activity, the minds of regulatory personnel start spinning and debating solutions. Instead of applying the "procrastination principle" they will indeed be figuring out ways to stop online hackery and the threat of technological terrorism. So, in a worse case scenario the logical solution would be to disallow interaction with the Internet, relieving the threat that lies within.

I use the scenario of a "Read-Only Internet" as an extreme. There are many, many areas to explore in this discussion. One of them being freedom. Even that in itself opens many avenues of discussion.

However, if regulation deemed the Internet as "Read-Only" how would that effect us? For starters, our personal computers would become mere informational appliances. We could still create and innovate, but it would be more on a personal level. We could only use the Internet for research purposes. We would have no way of collaborating on projects or ideas with people around the world, or for that matter people in our own back yard.

I use extremes to make a point as well as hopefully creating a jumping off point for discussion. I truly, truly hope the Internet will never be "Read-Only" and honestly, I don't think it will ever be, at least in the U.S. My hope in my presentation is to get people thinking about how we as a participatory culture can prevent this from happening on a large scale.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Is privacy really that important?

My response to privacy issues was practically recited word-for-word by EFF in their article, "On Locational Privacy, and How to Avoid Losing it Forever." My stance has always been, "I'm not doing anything wrong so why worry about it". Reading those words as a "common response" definitely caught my attention. So if I'm not doing anything wrong, why should I worry about digital privacy?

As I type these words I realize I do think about it. I am cautious about what I do and say online. I'm careful about the online company I keep as well as things I search for. I have learned that once online, it stays online. It is now common practice for hiring professionals to conduct personal online inquiries in which they form "personal" judgements. Whatever happened to "What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas?" Recently, I came to the realization that my email signature may even be offensive to some. So, I removed my liberal stamp, along with my "thought-provoking" peace statement. Now, I'm nothing more than a pist off Democrat trapped in a red state with no one to talk to about it but my mom! Such is life.

What I found refreshing about this week's reading was the blog by Aspen (what a great name) Baker. She did not reveal her secret, but I would love to know what it takes to keep an online community private. Whatever she has done, I think she hit the nail on the head. We should be able to trust our online communications to the people we choose to share them with.

To that, one will most definitely argue, "What about terrorists?" I am certainly one of those. This is where I am conflicted. I am also conflicted on the many other online activities that prove as evidence in criminal wrong-doing. Where do we draw the line? Can we draw a line? I am very much on the fence on this issue. EFF made very logical assessments. Do I want someone to know my every move? The answer to that is probably "no", but like I said, safety issues aside, I'm not doing anything wrong so why should I care? My only response to these issues is, "If you don't want to be found out, don't do it digitally."

Similar case in point, the TSA security measures have recently been a hot topic of debate. If you don't want to be groped, don't fly. I would walk through an airport naked if it meant I would get to my destination safely. Yes, it's a sad day when we have to come to these measures, but it is now a fact of life, and I'm pretty sure most folks would prefer preventative measures before another 911. Privilege and freedom come with a price. I say, if you're not doing anything wrong, quit bitching about small sacrifices and think about the one's who have given the ultimate sacrifice protecting your personal freedoms.