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.