Sunday, November 21, 2010

The Greatest Medium of All Time?

     What if I were to tell you I have found the greatest medium of all time? It uses video and sound technology to bring together people from far across the world, or just the other room. It is mindless and provocative. Its ease of use allows for people of all ages to enjoy its greatness. It was created by a Russian. It's everything the internet is about. Got it yet?

     While Chatroulette may never be praised for its academic content, it is a medium that contains the best and worst the internet has to offer while also bringing together many cultural aspects we have discussed in class. Chatroulette is able to bring together strangers through the use of webcams and can be seen as extensions of sight, sound, and social functions. The "roulette" formatting of the website allows a user to skip to a new chat partner at their leisure, which is representative of the effect the internet continues to have on its users. We discussed in class about the way the internet has changed reading in the sense that users only scan the information and aren't willing to stay on a specific page for a long period of time. Chatroulette plays off of this effect, as users are more willing to skip between chat partners at a rapid pace.

     The way Chatroulette combines technological advancements, cultural behaviors, and the wackiness that is the internet works to create a truly unique medium. Although all you'll probably stumble across is a bunch of stray weiners, go ahead and give Chatroulette a spin and experience what makes the internet awesome and terrifying at the same time. Who knows, you might even run into this guy:

Saturday, November 13, 2010

The Terminator of Free Expression

     As we discussed in class on Wednesday, violent video games are a hotly debated topic amongst lawmakers and politicians these days. Governor Schwarzenegger signed a bill in 2005 that created a ban on the sale of "violent" video games to minors and imposes fines on retailers that break the law. An appeal on the ban was recently heard by the Supreme Court,  with a ruling expected sometime next year. Although I agree that there are a host of games that young children probably shouldn't play, how can a lawmaker decide what is and what isn't violence and also penalize retailers when they aren't always the reason kids get their hands on these games.
     In the fine print of the bill, a "violent" video game is defined as game that involves "killing, maiming, dismembering, or sexually assaulting an image of a human being" with no "serious, literary, artistic, political or scientific value." While the law things it has covered the bases of defining "violence", these are just one group of people's views on violence. Perhaps what they see as a game that would have harmful effects on a child playing it may not be truly harmful to the child after all. In fact, the article by Henry Jenkins debunking video game myths cites a 2001 US Surgeon General report that states that the strongest risk factors for school shooters were mental stability and quality of home life. Although people are often quick to blame the media for society's problems, like youth violence, it is usually the case that there are many more significant factors than just a violent video game.
     Parents are one of the main ways that minors get access to these violent games, yet there are seemingly no repercussions levied against them in this bill. Just the other night, when Jeff and I went to buy the new Call of Duty at Gamestop, we had to produce identification to prove that we were 18 and able to buy the game. This practice is common throughout nearly all retailers when the sell R-rated movies or Mature-rated games. This means it would be very difficult for a minor to buy such a game on their own, so the parents are often the ones who purchase the game or allow the game to be played by the youngster. It is hard to blame or penalize retailers because often times they are not the ones placing these games in the childs hands: the parents are.
     Although this bill was passed with good intentions, I believe it is overly restrictive in terms of completely restricting the sale of violent games. There is already a sufficient ratings system in place and stores already abide by rules with regards to selling to minors, so where is the need for this law? Lawmakers might say the video game makers are driven solely by the money, but I'm sure the Governator pocketed a nice amount of money from his violent video games and movies too.


Saturday, November 6, 2010

Stumbling towards Stupidity?

     As we discussed in class on wednesday, Motoko Rich's article in the New York Times debates as to whether or not the internet as an effect on our literacy and attention span. While it is not always the case, I do believe that the internet plays a role in affecting our attention span. The ability for a reader to skim a large amount of information and quickly move to another website makes it awfully difficult to pay attention to a longer novel or textbook. Now a fairly new website, Stumbleupon, has made it even easier for a reader to move between online articles, while potentially impacting our attention spans even further.

     Once you create an account on Stumbleupon, you pick from a list of subjects that interest you, like sports, movies, or art. Once your ideal list of subjects is created, you press the "stumble" button, and the website directs you to a random website that is linked to one of the subjects you selected. This type of technology has an enormous impact as it allows a user to find interesting websites and articles they may never have found by simply surfing the internet. This website, however, does have the ability to affect a readers attention span as the New York Times article described. By allowing a reader to "stumble" to new articles at a very fast rate, it is difficult for someone truly take in the full effect of a reading when they are so eager to move to another article. Whether or not you agree with the effect Stumbleupon has on its users, its overwhelming success is representative that the way users "read" on the internet truly is changing with technology.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Do Hits Equal Success?

     The Sudanese-born/Australian rapper Bangs isn't shy about his intentions. The titles of his two hit singles, "Take U To Da Movies" and "Meet Me On Facebook" tell his audience that, well, he wants to take them to the movies and chat with them on facebook. As evidenced in his music videos below, his lackluster lyrics and subpar video effect skills don't combine to make a rapper that you would expect to have just received a record deal in Australia! Now I am in no way trying to cut Bangs down as a person, as I'm glad he is following his dreams and working to create his own success. My belief is that his musical ability is lacking in terms of what a record label should be willing to invest their money with the hopes of future success. Is Bangs the one to blame for garnering this record deal, or is he just another example of the changing strategies withing the music industry?

    We talked in class about how Chapter 4 of the textbook describes the way in which movie producers and record executives rely on their biggest stars to create successful hits. This book was written in 2003, however, before the arrival of Youtube, which has made it simple for anyone with a videocamera to upload a video of their talents (however poor they may be) to the web. If a video gets a lot of hits and views, its appeal can reach across all corners of the globe and make that person an instant celebrity. In Bangs' case, as well as others, a record company believed that the broad "success" of the Youtube video would equate to monetary success with the help of a record contract.
     This example is a true representation about the way in which media industries have focused on capitalizing on current success as opposed to building up artists for prolonged careers. Just about anyone can get a record deal because these corporations want the immediate capital gains from an artist that may have a million views on Youtube or 10,000 fans on Facebook, but lacks the true talent or staying power they need to be successful a year from now. D4L had girls shaking their laffy taffy and the Shop Boyz partied like rockstars. What do they have in common? They both lasted about 15 minutes and nobody knows who they are anymore.
     It will be interesting to see how, with the continuous influence of social media, media industries will act towards their investments in artists. Will they continue to promote artists that might sell at a high level for a short period of time, or will they revert back to strategies that create and build future stars?

Sunday, October 24, 2010

The Last Free Medium?

     It started with the radio. Then came the television. Is the internet the next medium in line to be regulated by the FCC? In class on Wednesday, we discussed the power the Federal Communications Commission demonstrates over the media industry, specifically radio and television. A main reason the FCC has to regulate these mediums is the limited availability of airwaves. If the radio and television industries were unregulated, they would be chaotic and unable to function efficiently, like a road with no rules or police. A more important function, and one that directly relates to the potential regulation of the internet, is the censorship and restriction of content.

     It's easy to make an argument that when it comes to radio and television, there is very little freedom of expression. Whether it's the regulations of the FCC or the preferences of the corporate media owners, it is hard to have true freedom of speech in these mediums. The internet, however, provides a much larger platform for users to express themselves. Just about anyone with internet access can start up a blog and write about whatever they want, granted the content isn't illegal. With this ability, the internet is seemingly the last medium that can convey free speech. With this freedom comes troubles, however. Sites such as Wikileaks that involve the posting of many confidential military files may pose large security threats. The internet has also infamously become a forum for hateful and racist speech.  While it certainly has its pros and cons, are we not far away from the FCC regulating the internet as well?

Sunday, October 17, 2010

A Delicious Medium

     When we discuss types of media in these blog posts, often the items we discuss regards technological devices that have created impacts in our lives. If we continue to view "media" as extensions of our bodies that allow for better interaction between humans, I believe that one of the most powerful mediums is food. As touched on by fellow classmates, Food can be a powerful and inventive media as it is a true extension of our creativity. When you are in control of the meal you are cooking, you are able to fully develop a sense of creativity within the food as you decide how much of one ingredient or another. This demonstrates the true freedom that food and cooking allows to the user of the medium and how liberating of an experience cooking can be.
     Another way in which food is a powerful medium is the way in which it can transcend cultural boundaries. Although all cultures have their own unique flavors and recipes, the interaction between two cooks from different cultures can be spoken and understood solely through the similarity shared in the experience of cooking. The ability of food and cooking to bring people together is prevalent in my own family. My father and his 12 brothers and sisters, all of whom are from Portugal, are tremendous cooks. This is a main factor as to why all of my relatives and I attend numerous family gatherings throughout the year. We come to see everyone and catch up on how everybody is doing, but the food is the reason we stay.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Is That Poke Safe?

   Often times in this class, we discuss the ways in which media make interactions and daily tasks quicker and easier. Take Facebook, for example. The way it simplifies communication between friends and colleagues can make keeping in touch easier and paying attention in class harder. Facebook also makes things easier for hackers that may be in search of personal information on the internet, with its constantly changing privacy settings that may be confusing for some users to keep their most sensitive information hidden from unwanted users. At what point do the risks outweigh the benefits in terms of using these forms of social media?

   Earlier this week, after being praised for new features and additions to the site, an article was written that demonstrated a bug in a Facebook application for smartphones that caused a users phone numbers and contacts to be uploaded to the Facebook website ( This development brings to light the amount of personal information some users are willing to sacrifice to be able to access social networks. Facebook has also come under fire for its sometimes confusing privacy policies and security features. While it is certainly up to the user to read and accept the terms of use, there are undoubtedly many young and novice users that simply bypass these agreements without understanding what they are accepting. These actions leave many users at risk by sharing private information that they may not have wanted to be seen. By not truly understanding the settings at which you keep your privacy on Facebook, your information may be viewable by people you don't even know.
   In a society in which social media is a dominant form of interaction and communication, users privacy and safety are becoming more of a concern. Is it possible, with all of these potential security risks arising, that users will ever shy away from social networking with the idea that the risks are greater than the rewards?

Sunday, October 3, 2010

A Medium Divided: The Television

     After a long day of classes and practice, there's nothing like coming back to my room, taking a break, and catching up on the days news stories and sports updates on my television. Sometimes, however, I like to steer clear of the world of informative and enlightening program and get lost in an episode of Jersey Shore or Family Guy.The extremes presented in television programming are an interesting representation of the way society has constructed a large gap between substantial and mindless programming.
    The television is an interesting medium because it allows for communication to an extremely wide audience due to the prevalence of televisions in the world. As discussed in one of our early sessions, we discussed a graph in the textbook that acknowledged the fact that in 2000, 98% of American households contained at least one television (Croteau, Hoynes 5).  The fact that so many people have television access allows for increased exposure of advertisements, programs, and as the book described, politics. During a presidential election, for example, the expanded television coverage allows for people all across the country to gather facts about candidates to make informed decisions regarding who the viewer would elect. The television coverage can also allow people who might not attend a local political rally for a candidate to view the highlights and learn information they would not have been able to without the use of the television. On the other hand, however, the book also references the way in which television and mass media have caused politics to "steer away from substantive policy to policies of soundbites and photo opportunities" (264). This is also representative of the way television programs have seemingly regressed over time, from sitcoms with wholesome family values to reality shows with hardly any substance or worth besides mindless entertainment.
     While it is clear that television and the mass exposure of media have diluted substantial aspects of programming with simplicity and worthlessness, there is no denying that the television is an extremely important medium with regards to the far-reaching markets it encompasses. What's most interesting to me is the way there are seemingly two extremes when it comes to television programming: mindless programming like reality television and news and current event stations that provide daily updates and informative programming. Is there a middle ground with this medium, or has society brought this divide upon itself with its desire for more entertainment and less substantial value?

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Breaking the Mold

     One of my favorite rap albums, Eastern Philosophy by Apathy, is also easily one of the most underrated projects at its time of release. In 2006, a time when Lil Jon was snapping his fingers and Dem Franchize Boyz were leaning and rocking with it, Connecticut native Apathy released his debut album which showcased lyrical talent and fluid delivery unlike many of his mainstream peers. Despite not garnering high sales results compared to mainstream artists, Eastern Philosophy breaks through stereotypes on two fronts. Apathy's lyrical potency first combats a stereotype that perceives white rappers as "corny" or "gimmicky" (see: Vanilla Ice, Marky Mark). On a more radical platform, however, Apathy dispels social stereotypes concerning his birthplace, Connecticut.
     In class last week, we discussed how stereotypes belittle and undercut a certain classification of people. Many stereotypes about people from Connecticut revolve around wealth and arrogance, due to the fact that Connecticut has the highest Per Capita Personal Income of all 50 states ( Throughout his album, Apathy uses his lyrics to display a much harsher and different lifestyle compared to how media stereotype and generalize about life and people in Connecticut.
     The idea of combating stereotypes and generalizations hits very close to me because, as like Apathy, I come from a place that media have their own stereotypes about. Many people generalize Martha's Vineyard as simply a vacation spot for President Obama and rich, preppy college kids. What most people fail to realize is that the year-round residents are the ones that keep the island running in the summer, at a large cost to themselves. The cost of living on Martha's Vineyard is almost the highest in the state, while workers and residents earn some of the lowest wages. There are problems with poverty and substance abuse, but the media only see the Vineyard as a vacation destination for social elites. The article linked here from President Obama's first visit to the island only begins to scratch the surface of life on the Vineyard ( The way Apathy crafts his lyrics on Eastern Philosophy  to combat stereotypes about his hometown and state allows me to relate to him on a higher level because of my own experiences with media generalizations and stereotypes.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Life On Crack...Berry

     When I placed the order for my Blackberry Curve, my first smartphone, I thought very little of the true significance the device would have in my everyday life. Prior to purchasing the Blackberry, I had only had a cell phone that had the bare minimum of features. As I was preparing for my Junior year at Babson, I decided I needed a phone that allowed me to receive e-mails, as nearly all business at Babson is conducted through e-mail.  What caused me to purchase a Blackberry, however, were the advertisements I saw on TV and the internet that demonstrated the capabilities of the Blackberry and how it could improve daily life.
     In the reading for tomorrow's class, the book discussed different ways advertisers convey messages to convince an audience to purchase their products. In advertisements for the different Blackberry phones, a common theme is the ability to multi-task. By showing how a Blackberry allows you to get driving directions, send pictures, and update your Facebook status, the advertisement makes the customer believe that they need these capabilities on their phone. Certainly, I was able to survive without these advanced capabilities on my previous phone, but by having the ability to check sports scores or e-mail at my disposal, I find myself constantly  exploring the features of my new phone. I now understand why the device is sometimes called a "Crackberry", due to its addicting nature. The case of the Blackberry phone and its advertisements fully demonstrate the power of messages in advertising and, just as the book states, "happiness and satisfaction can be purchased" (Croteau, Hoynes 186).

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Define Media

            In his book Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man, Marshall McLuhan describes media as “extensions of the body” (7). While I agree with this assertion, I believe in a definition of media that takes Mcluhan’s theory a few steps further. While media act as extensions of our physical body, they also act as extensions of our emotions and thoughts, therefore allowing us as humans to more effectively interact with one another.
            This definition I have proposed is similar to the ideas McLuhan states in his book. By picturing different media as extensions of the body, McLuhan is demonstrating the way a medium can allow for a message to be transmitted between a set of individuals. A telephone, for example, is a medium because it allows for an instant conversation with the person who is on the other line. The telephone is an extension of the body in this sense because it acts as a way to transmit your voice to others across long distances, which would not be possible without the device. While media can be extensions of physical functions such as speech or sight, I believe that the way certain media can act as extensions of our ideas and creativity is truly powerful.
            One of the earliest forms of media that humans used as an extension of thoughts is typographic media, or the written word. By utilizing handwriting and printed type, people were able to craft ordinary words and thoughts into mesmerizing stories and scholarly articles. The alphabet or characters of a language by themselves are seemingly plain, but when they are written down into one’s individual thoughts or ideas, they can become much more powerful and meaningful. Prior to the availability of print, people used oral speech to convey thoughts, ideas, and stories. With the technological advancement of print, however, these thoughts could be transcribed and spread amongst a wider audience. This demonstrates how technological advances can play a role in the effectiveness of new types of media.
            As new technologies are developed and types of media are enhanced, there are both positive changes and negative changes. One certain positive change is the wide array of ways a person can extend their thoughts and ideas to others. An example of this would be Film. Before the technology of cinema and cameras, people would use oral speech as a way to convey messages and evoke feelings. Now, though, a film director can make you feel happy or sad through the film they create, as opposed to someone merely telling you which way to feel. The combination of pictures and speech in the film appeal to multiple bodily senses and allow the audience member to receive the director’s message in a deeper and more connected way.
 An example of the negative impact of technology might be the emergence of social media. By using Facebook or Myspace, for example, you are able to contact almost anyone in the world without ever leaving your computer. This is certainly a medium, as McLuhan describes media as anything that “amplifies or accelerates existing processes” (8). While social media accelerate our communication, the physicality of meeting and talking to someone face to face is no longer there when sending a Facebook message. It seems to me that as technology allows new forms of media to emerge, the need for accelerated interaction trumps the interpersonal meetings that older forms of media, like oral speech, were founded upon.
When defining media, it is obvious that there are many different opinions on how to characterize this broad topic. I feel that the definition used by McLuhan that identifies media as extensions of the body is one of the most concise. Technological advances also have helped play a role in defining media, as there are now many different types of media in our day to day life. As technology continues to advance, one wonders whether or not new types of media will help or hinder the way we transfer messages and communicate with one another.