Thursday, August 17, 2017

Books and Magazines

I wish it were not so, but I have not done much pleasure reading these past few years. However, once I get down to 2014, then I start to find challenged books which I have read. From that year, I personally own Persepolis, the Bluest Eye, and the Kite Runner (though I admit I have yet to read this last one). From 2013, I no longer own any Captain Underpants, but when I was a kid you'd better believe that I read every one of those books. I also think it is mindblowing that, afterall of this time, people are still challenging classics such as To Kill a Mockingbird, Catcher in the Rye, and The Color Purple. I have not read The Color Purple, but Posessing the Secret of Joy by the same author (Alice Walker) is one of my all time favorite books. I also really loved Persepolis because it takes people (Americans) into a world with which most are unfamiliar - the sociopolitical evolution of Iran and one girl's experience within it and outside of it. It puts a human face on this middle eastern country, which I think it incredibly important in our Arab-suspicious atmosphere. It is important to know the real story, from all perspectives.

Whether libraries and schools should limit access to various materials is a tough question. My initial reaction was, "No, libraries should not limit their materials whatsoever!," but then I thought, "What if the library carried porn? Is that ok? Would it need to be in a separate room?" It's not that I think porn itself should be outlawed, it's just that I expect to see it in specialty shops, not the library. Is it unsuitable for a library or is society being too prudish by relegating explicit sexual materials to little hidey holes of town (besides, you know, all over TV and magazines, but otherwise, little hidey holes). What about highly racist materials? Most people would find it off-putting to see explicitly white supremacist materials featured in our libraries. However, there are many classic authors who have racist undertones in their books. I don't mean books which feature and then aim to combat racism (ie. To Kill A Mockingbird), but books where the authors themselves were clearly a part of their own times and harbored some racist ideas that come out in their writings. For example, I absolutely love F. Scott Fitzgerald, but I was somewhat dismayed to read some of his short stories and find stereotipified, dumbed down versions of black people as non-central characters to his stories about white people. It's not so glaring (other than some terminology) that I could even quote a particular passage, but more the overall set-up. You can read one of this short stories for an example here.

We were instructed in the beginning of this class that we had to "pick a side" and go with it, but my side of life has always been that it is counterproductive to just pick a side and argue til the death. If I have to pick a side, I'd say no, we should not censor anything because then it becomes the discretion of the people who are already in power over what the people below them have access to. I know parents are all different and strive for varying degrees of control, some of them seeking quite a bit, but they always fail. Even very sheltered kids experience the various facets of life at some point or another, though they may be overwhelmed and ill prepared for it. There are some things which are probably inappropriate for children and should not be read as part of an elementary school curriculum, but the problem is that this is almost completely subjective and culturally based. As an obvious example, many societies are far more sex-positive/open from a younger age than we are, while others find it a taboo social topic throughout the lifespan. I remember my own mother was a bit alarmed when she picked up a book I was reading in late elementary school and saw that it featured a young girl who, among other things, was starting to experiment with masturbation. It was not a book about masturbation, but a book about a girl transitioning to middle school and ended up having scoliosis and having to deal with all the social aspects of that. From my mother's viewpoint, this added element was totally inappropriate for someone of my age. From my perspective, it was interesting, informative, fitting for the story, and gave me a word to describe something which I already was doing naturally. I think it is a shame to pull these types of books from the shelves just because they are topics that make people squeamish and ashamed. No one grows without exploring things outside of their comfort zone. Also, knowledge is so important for all of us. In stark contrast to my sex education at school and reading books about masturbation, my grandmother did not know what sex was until her wedding night. Her husband got to teach her. What a frightening power dynamic for a society to perpetuate.

My shelves are full of books. I have one entire bookshelf dedicated to books about herbal medicine or environmental literature. This lets people know that I have an interest (obsession?) with herbal medicine and the natural world, and that I like to enjoy it from both a practical (reference) and literary standpoint. My second bookshelf is "everything else," and it really doesn't have a main theme. I have classics (The Once and Future King, the "A Wrinkle in Time" series, The Great Gatsby, The Scarlet Letter, A Brave New World...), feminist/anarchist literature, contemporary fiction, contemporary nonfiction, "instructional" type books (on meditation, etc), science-related, psychology-related, poetry (Howl, Diving Into the Wreck...), textbooks,...I think that a person who came into my room would likely find something which they wanted to read and also would see that I'm someone of varied interests with a heavy leaning towards the natural world. I love reading and I love gaining new perspectives.

Moving on to magazines, here are 3 I have read over the years:

1) National Geographic - I wrote my last blog on this, but honestly, it's the most relevant. It interests me because it's about the outdoors, animals, different cultures, traveling, science...all things I like. I like the attention to detail, the enriching content, and the great photos in this publication. Examples are up-close photos of tiny or quick-moving things, such as insects. The advertising within the magazine is mostly on-cue with the content, such as for cameras, Rosetta Stone, etc, but sometimes they are unrelated (medications, cars), and occasionally completely tasteless (like a diamond ring advertisement that says, "Does This Ring Make My Wallet Look Fat?") My interest in this publication says that I am interested in worldwide, real information, science-based content (as opposed to celebrity lives and quizzes about myself).

2) Yoga Journal
I subscribed to this one for a while because I like to do yoga and wanted to have continuing inspiration to push myself and try different things without having to go to classes or watch videos on a regular basis. I liked reading the different perspectives and information in the articles (though often they were a bit silly too) I liked the focus on the mind-body connection, the various "routines" you can follow, and particularly that each issue would have one particular pose to work up to. It would be something quite advanced and I'm not sure that I actually attained any of them, but it was ok because it gave you all different beginning poses to eventually get there, so you could feel yourself over time becoming stronger and stringer, getting closer to makign your way into that crazy looking pose, more focused on the journey than the pose itself (because when is it ever perfect, anyway?).These magazines are full of advertisements. Unfortunately, I think that encompasses our particular American brand of yoga - you've got to have the clothes, the right mat, all the accessories, etc. So, of course there are advertisements for all those things. Additionally, there are advertisements for various foods ("health foods," plant-based foods, organic/natural foods, smoothie-type stuff...), various trainings and therapies, natural beauty products...their advertisements stick pretty close to the subject and their audience. The fact that I subscribed to this says that I like yoga and would like to expand my practice. It doesn't say that I'm vegan or buy expensive yoga clothes.

3) ...Rolling Stone? I really don't know. I had a hard time thinking of a 3rd. Ok, let me be honest: Cosmo.
It was difficult to think of a 3rd, but I know that in the past, especially as a younger person, I would occasionally pick up a Cosmo. I'm sure reading Cosmo can mean different things for different people, but most of the time, I think it means an underlying insecurity about one's sexual know-how. Cosmo only strengthens this insecurity by perpetuating the myth that you have to be this complete freak, always bringing new exciting things into the bedroom, or your partner will lose interest. It is very heterosexual and based on women knowing how to have "good sex." Sometimes, this means having orgasms and whatnot, but more often, it means pleasing men. Younger women, such as teenagers, are too sexually inexperienced to understand all these nuances and so they fall prey and buy the magazine. I'm not sure if this is the magazine's intent or not; it may be that they find themselves very liberating and sex-positive to women. I can't say that there is no truth in this, but only that they could achieve this goal of empowerment in a much more effective way. I think that in recent years they have begun to get inklings of this and put somewhat more empowering articles in their publication. I don't have one of their magazines right now, so I had t look at their website. The advertisements are mainly make-up and fashion. This is in-line with their target audience, though I am neither much of a make-up wearer nor very fashionable. I think what this magazine says about me as a consumer is that I used to be much more insecure about living up to sexual stereotypes as a younger woman, and now that I am almost in my 30s, I'm still a young woman, but much more sure of myself and without need for all the extra input. So I haven't bought a Cosmo or any similar magazine in a few years.

Thursday, August 10, 2017

A Comparison of National Geographic Print and Online

Affluent world travelers. Poor student travelers. Tavern Trivia-Night Heroes. Passionate environmentalists. Studious biologists. "Cat people." Amateur historians. Hiking enthusiasts. People who prefer to just look at the pictures. Bored people in waiting rooms. What sort of magazine would connect all these people together? National Geographic, of course.

I chose to examine the differences between the on-line and print styles of National Geographic because it is a publication with an expressed mission. I wanted to evaluate if this mission (mainly, getting people off their asses and doing something) is still well-served during the time they spend on their asses in front of their computer. After all, is the point how many "clicks" the website gets on each article, or is it that the reader was inspired by the article(s) on which they clicked? Is it that they forward the article to their friend, or that they get together with that friend and enthusiastically share the spirit of the article through the noble oral tradition? In a digital age where we are bombarded with so much information that it is difficult for any of it to truly "reach" us, though we see all of it, it's difficult to say which is the best tactic. Has National Geographic simply settled for "clicks" as a good-enough indicator for now?

So what is the expressed mission of National Geographic? Their About Us page explains, "At National Geographic, we believe in the power of science, exploration and storytelling to change the world." To this end, they have stories on a wide variety of topics (possibly the widest of any magazine I know), but all through the lens of what can broadly fit under science and/or culture (and the exploration of the two, generally in the interest of preserving something or telling its story). From this perspective, they can explore human events (current issues, historical events, and pre-historic speculations), human cultures (the widely known and the little known), and natural environments and the creatures which live within them (if any, as they also explore the environment of outer space quite frequently - talk about some amazing photos!). An example of articles which span these categories is this "cool" one from their website. It, like many of their articles, combines several of the themes from above - the science of low-tech cooling, the culture of and issues facing rural mid-Africa (Nigeria, Eritrea, Sudan, Cameroon, and Chad, specifically. Look at a map if you are unsure. It drives me crazy when people just talk about "Africa" as some homogenous, desolate wasteland of starving people and not the enormous and diverse continent that it is), and the history of a life well-lived: one man's enduring legacy. It's enough to give anyone's inner nerd a hard on (and to include us ladies - totally swollen nerd-clit. Yeah, I said it. Deal.).

However, it might not be enough for that climactic nerd-gasm. The article illustrates one of the differences between the print and online versions of National Geographic. I subscribed to the print-version for about a year. The print version is organized in a really effective way, I believe. Either they have a few central, in-depth articles and then some smaller ones, -or- (my favorite, but obvious why they didn't do this all the time because it is dificult to coordinate) the entire issue will focus around a central topic. I think my most raging nerdgasm was when they put out an issue regarding all he different aspects and considerations surrounding Climate Change. It's been a little while now (Nov 2015), but I sill think it's one of the best examples of a themed issue.

On the other hand, the article to which I previously linked is just a little blurb. It barely touches on outcomes. It's a very cursory view of a larger issue. I got to the end and I was like, "what? that's it?" This isn't to say that the print issue doesn't have small little articles - it ha a lot of them. In fact, I'm sure that exact article probably showed up in the print version. It's just that when you have the print version, the organization of it tells you what the big articles or themes are going to be, and the rest are just little extra food for thought. Oftentimes, even if the entire issue isn't themed, they will complement the main articles in some way. For example, I have an older issue (Sept 2014) which has one of its focuses on the evolution of the human diet. It has a large in-depth article discussing the pros, cons, misconceptions, and realities of the "paleo" (and actual paleolithic) diets. It is very interesting, but it is also complemented by several smaller diet-related articles - 1) the "evolution" of the quality of the MRE, 2) the efficiency (and frequency across the globe) of eating insects for one's protein source 3) and even a tiny little blurb about how some dude made a truly repulsive product called Soylent (I can't find the original NG article, but this New Yorker article is pretty good too). They're just little spices on the main course. The website is more like a buffet, except that they only have the quantities of each item which they would have, had they put the meal together themselves. So the reader picks and chooses the articles which seem most interesting to them, but those are not always the articles which most interested the writers, so they may be very cursory and appear to be lazy or ineffective journalism, because they are out of context (or possibly because NG believes that its web readers want smaller, more digestible articles?)

So, let's look at their websites. Yes, plural - they actually have a dot com site and a dot org site (the latter specifically for the "National Geographic Society", but otherwise seems to be structured quite similarly). The print edition has always been known for its photographic excellence, but still, there is a focus on the written content. On the website, it's basically all pictures and you have to click on one if you're interested in reading anything. You can also, on the dot com site, navigate according to what topics you would like to see, the choices being Photography, Video, Science, Travel, Adventure, Animals, Environment, History, and Cultures. I appreciate that neither website is completely inundated with advertisements. The dot org has ZERO product advertisements while the dot com has just a few (though it does include an obnoxious one across the top - yours might be different, but when I visited, it was for flea products. I suppose pet lovers are going to make up a large portion of the National Geographic reader demographic). Other advertisements I found while flipping through various pages were for (nor surprisingly) REI and (more surprisingly) Coors Light (which tried to play up the whole mountain thing in their advertisement here). I find their websites to be fairly effective, but honestly a bit busy and uappealing compared to the print edition. I LOVE photography, but I don't love a collage of it all smashed together.

National Geographic has little competition for its scope. There are likely several magazines which focus on various parts of the mission, but they are not as large scale or long running. For example, Orion magazine focuses specifically on environmental issues, really a lot of the same issues as NG, but from a more literary perspective. It's a great publication as well, so if you're interested more in the literary and connecting with nature perspective, you will go with that. Or maybe you will do both, if you don't have to choose. It is difficult to think of a magazine competitor for NG, so perhaps their real competitor is pop culture and a busy world - the things which compete with people actively trying to expand their minds in their spare time. One can see how they compete with this by examining issues that may be, to varying degrees, in pop culture. For example, in their March 2017 issue, their main story covered Vikings.

National Geographic Magazine March 2017 Cover.jpg

There is (was?) a popular TV show called Vikings, plus Thor has been a beloved and dashing Avenger. So, naturally, National Geographic explores this topic. Obviously, what sets them apart from this competition is that they strive for historical accuracy and information more than entertainment. It seems that, at least in this case, National Geographic's philosophy is "if you can't beat 'em, join 'em...but stay true to yourelf while you do." So, a person can enjoy the Thor movies and the Vikings series, and additionally gain some historical perspective and insight from National Geographic to really impress all their friends at parties. Perhaps it will be a Viking themed party.

 Additionally, when one has an online presence as well, then in a sense you become your own competitor (you don't want one to take over the other; you want people to remain interested in both). I've highlighted some differences already between the two, but I will put it more succinctly here. These comparisons are between the two versions, not between NG and other publications.

Unique Attributes:
- Comes out in monthly issues which are well organized around a central theme or article
- As you flip through, you see more words than pictures (in the online, there are more pictures than words)
- Includes a lot of visual aids for its articles, such as fold out maps and posters
- As I have mentioned, it has a much better and more cohesive flow to read as a whole than the online version. It reads like a well crafted musical album, whereas the website it like a collection of single MP3s.
- The appearance is much more pleasing because they can play with space and the contrast of words and images. They can dedicate a page to an image so that you are focused only on that image. It is a much better platform from which to view both text and photos.
- Actually has MORE advertisements than the online versions, which is surprising. The website seems to have about one advert per page on the dot com website, which is technically more advertisements if you are counting article-for-article, but because many are insconspicious and easily skipped, the print version feels more advertising-heavy, as full pages are dedicated to advertisements. Things they advertise include V8, Nokia Lumia, Kia Luxury Car, Cannon camera, Dyson vaccuum cleaner, and Prudential Finaincial. That is 6 advertisements in 6 pages. Wow. Because of all these advertisements, I actually go 10 pages in before I get to anything of substance. This is somewhat to be expected, as in magazines there is often a table of contents, letter from the editor, corrections, letters from readers, etc. However, the online version allows you to jump right in so ou don't have to flip around looking for articles in the sea of advertisements
-  The crease in the middle of the magazine interrupts stunning photography, a magazine in general is a physical thing which is fragile and fades. This is a comment on all print publications, but can be a consideration for NG especially because it is such an image-focused publication which aims for an enduring legacy. People magazine may have a lot of pictures as well, but no one cares about them next week, much less 5, 50, 100 years from now. Because of this, National Geographic has compensated for this weakness (and made more revenue) by backing up their content digitally AND, more importantly, putting out hardback collectors editions of their best photography throughout the years.

Unique Attributes:
- Ability to have different pages not related to publication itself, so a person can go to their "About Me" page, a page to directly Donate, their online Store, or other things which are not explicitly journalistic
- It is updated on an ongoing basis rather than put out as regular, physical, permanent publications
- Its content can include video or otherwise move in order to either catch your attention or give you a seizure
-Fewer advertisements
- A person can choose exactly what they want to read. They can narrow search results by topic and they can, after reading an article they like, click on a suggested link to another similar article. This way, your content is not limited by what is in a physical issue, but is expanded to everything NG has ever done (or at least what they have up on their website). For example, right now, the first article which appears on the dot com site is about a 13-million year old ape skull. After reading that article, you can click a link to learn more about Orangutans, which is just a reference page they have up all the time, as they do for many animals.
- Can be instantly translated into Spanish or Arabic
- The articles you read, even if they are on the front page, can be short and cursory. It can feel like a hodge-podge of unrelated information, which doesn't have the same journalistic impact as this publication has enjoyed for its (if my math is right) nearly 130 years in print.
- The look of the website is busy and unappealing, despite the beautiful photographs it is comprised of. The whole is lesser than the sum of its parts.

National Geographic targets curious, adventurous, hopeful sorts. I believe that can encompass many demographics of people, but it can be narrowed down to some themes. Educated people are more likely to read this publication (though, I would have to say that, from my experience, people being currently educated are less likely to read this publication or any other if it isn't for school :/ ). Science, art, or environmentally geared people will be more likely to read NG. People who like to travel will more likely read NG. So if well-travelled, educated people are the most likely to read NG, then probably a good chunk of its clientele enjoys some affluence, which is lucky for them since they do quite a bit based on donations. They even have forms where you can put the National Geographic Society into your will. However, knowledge is something which is not bought, it is attained by any means necessary by those who really seek it. So I am not affluent, but still like NG. 

I can tell that they are targeting the "curious, adventurous, and hopeful sorts" because all of their articles aim to inform the reader about a variety of scientific, cultural, and environmental topics. You can learn about what's going on in Nigeria, one of the moons of Pluto, the insides of your intestines...endless topics to explore for the type of people who just want to know about everything. If you're super worried that you're going to miss something, NG is a good magazine to add to your repertoire. They cater to the adventurous side by putting a LOT of attention on culture and travel. They actually have a separate magazine line dedicated JUST to traveling. These two topics seem somewhat separated in the print editions, but in the online editions, much of the travel topics (e.g. "9 Incredible Places to Slackline in the United States," "The World's Best Paddling Trips," etc) are all put into the same space. They also host lots of trips and expeditions. It is part of their mission to actively try to get people out enjoying the natural world, because they feel that people will want to be good stewards of a land with which they connect (a sentiment with which I agree). Finally, I can tell that they are hopeful and want to inspire hope in others because that is besically at the forefront of what they do. The National Geographic Society has a focus on conservation and scientific discovery. NG has a separate magazine line for kids and even another one for little kids (yes! indoctrinate the children!) They are all about protecting the future, and leaving things better than the way we found it. Also, although I think that they are very even handed and not laying claim to a particular political side, they may have some more love with the left than the right. Although their research is not politically based, their premise is inherently based on views shared by more liberals than conservatives (ex. nature is worth protecting despite human interests, all life is important, all people in every country have valid viewpoints and lifestyles [non-ethnocentrism]). There is nothing about these views that a more conservatively-leaning person couldn't have, I'm just speaking in general trends I in our present-day culture of extreme bipartisan viewpoints, so please don't allow this to offend, I'm just trying to thoroughly answer the question.

The ads usually fit the magazine (some off ones here and there). There are camera ads for aspiring photographers, REI ads for outdoors folks, and then lots of ads for things which are unrelated but the ad is geared as though it were related (Are they trying to trick us? I don't get it.) For instance, Geico (insurance) has nothing to do with NG (cool magazine about things not related to insurance), but I guess that you do get discounts through Geico if you are an NG member. So, there is this ad which joins the two:

Image result for geico nat geo
It is a bit silly.

I don't think there is anything offensive or stereotypical about this magazine, unless I am just not catching it. I feel that they purposely try and dispel a lot of myths and stereotypes rather than perpetuate them. When some idiotic idea is trending, NG is always there to, in a distinguished and polite manner, call bullshit. I think this is partially because they do something that Lara Setrakian, from our video last week, suggested for better journalism: don't be afraid of the complex. I think NG is really amazing at this, particularly in their themed publications, because they will explore an issue from so many different angles and try to show you all the different facets that make it such a complicated or debated topic, but in a fresh rather than a stale light. Man, I'm really making myself want to actually read more of this magazine again. I love the stuff I learn in school, but I can't wait for the days of pleasure reading to return. Anyway, moving on...

I personally like the print version much more. I don't think I will spend much time on the website, unless I need to research a topic and want to see what they have to say about it (one strenght of online). However, that doesn't mean that the online version doesn't serve its audience. Online is a convenient place to go if I want to, for instance, resubscribe (yeah, not going to mail in the little postcard thing). I could also sign up to get weekly or even daily newsletters, which would show me a photo of the day and various stories. There is not, at the end of the day, a huge difference in content between the two, only in how it is arranged. People who prefer the web as a medium will go there. They won't get the same experience, but they will still find plenty of things to interest them. Online is the magazine that doesn't end. You've never turned the last page.

I don't interact with NG beyond reading, but the reading has helped me beyond just filling my head with knowlede. For example, the climate change issue was a really helpful resource when I was writing a paper about the pros and cons of a carbon tax. The article about paleolithic diets helped me get some perspective on all the hype about "paleo" diets, sorting the wisdom from the fad, during a time in my life when I was in a holistic health program and was getting a lot of these extreme messages about diet (paleo, keto, autoimmune elimination...) that I felt I could not live up to and nor could hardly any of my future clients, long term.

National Geographic also has a social media presence. On Twitter, they post little blurbs type articles (nothing big or in-depth), but I actually like the format better than their website. If I'm looking for small, digestible articles, their Twitter is easy to navigate and has a more appealing photo-to-text layout. They have made 38,000 total tweets and have 18.8 million followers. You can tell that they have a wide following internationally because well, that would be 54% of the U.S. population (though only 0.25% of the world's population, if my math is right).

National Geographic has, over the decades, taken great strides toward achieving their goals of conservation. I had never looked at their website before this assignment or noticed how many advertisements they actually have in their magazine. I'm still impressed that it is such a great publication after all these years. I think they need to "come into their own" digitally to achieve that same level of excellence there. I hope they never have to do away with the magazine itself, because there is something really special about reading something from cover to cover. Even getting something which you wanted in the mail is special. Digital has taken over our music to where we mainly just get files, losing the magic of an album. I think I enjoyed it more when I had to buy a CD and listen to it on repeat than now that I have probably thousands more songs on my computer than I'll ever actually listen to (certainly more when you consider my access to youtube) (P.S. Yes, I am aware that a CD is digital, but the format is the same. It's not about the analog, it's about the attention put into making that whole album - such as a whole magazine - then breaking it apart into little pieces so that the effect is lost, even if you really do like that one song.) Perhaps I am being nostalgic, and maybe we progress to learn new ways to organize our art forms...but if so, this seems to be an in-between period, and we ain't there yet.

Thursday, August 3, 2017

The State of Journalism

I don't stay abreast of news nearly as well as I should. I go to school, I work, and have other responsibilities and hobbies, so I guess one could say that I don't make room for or prioritize news. This is partially laziness and busy-ness; it isn't that I don't care about it, in fact, I care deeply about a lot of it. It's also just because news is so poorly and biasedly presented, that sometimes I don't know where to start to find the truth, and once I find it, what to do about it. So, I mostly stay up-to-date on current events through in person discussion with others and sometimes in the classroom. Then, I look up what has been discussed. I'm sure that Google has created quite a little liberal bubble for me by now, try as I might to look at unbiased sources.

I also rely on radio programs for news, such as NPR, KBOO, OPB, etc. I rely on magazines I've subscribed to, such as National Geographic and Orion (neither is explicitly a news source, but they certainly use their particular lens to view and present current events). Making current events a more central part of my life is an extracurricular education that I desperately need to do, not only for my personal growth, but also for my social responsibility and my future career as a social worker. I realize this. It's just difficult to find the time. Whenever I see one issue, I feel the need to dig deep to the bottom until I find all the historical and cultural sources, including the ones no one here is telling us, and it all just seems so daunting. My answer to "How do you know the news source you are using is accurate and credible" is: I don't. That might be one of the only good things about having a President with a Twittering compulsion - at least we can see exactly what he said.

I don't generally pay for news sources. I'm not willing to pay not because I don't think good journalism and active media are worthwhile, but because I am unlikely to actually read what I have subscribed to. I read my textbooks and everything else I need to for school. Despite being a voracious reader from a very young age, at this point in my life, I ain't reading jack shit else. (except the occasional book I use for reference when I'm trying to figure something out).

So, this blog having been my confession, I would say that on a scale of 1-5 I am only a 2 as far as being informed, and the only reason that I'm not a 1 rather than a 2 is because I used to be much more on top of current events and politically active, so I have a good foundation upon which to understand current events, and I also have some really amazing friends of multiple ideologies, backgrounds, and communities who give me food for thought on a regular basis so that I have to go searching for more. If it weren't for surrounding myself with engaged individuals (which I am as well, just in different areas), I'd truly have been living under a rock since 2014.

As for Mr. Trump and his "fake news," I don't know if the issue is in the definition. I think "fake news" has expanded in meaning beyond just encompassing satirical news (like the Onion). He is actually using it in the same context that most of America is using it right now, except that what he labels as "fake" is just things which he doesn't appreciate, while he spouts many "fake" things out of his mouth as well. I can agree with him that the state of journalism is poor, but honestly, it is poor in his favor. Media is difficult to trust because it is based on what is popular (he is, while maybe not popular, at least very notorious), what is simple/digestible, and what will make money. The exact same corporate-run system that he supports is the one to which modern journalism has to answer to. i.e. if it's really so bad, it's his and his cronies' faults (at least partially; journalists and consumers bear much of the responsibility as well)

If the Russia scandal is "fake news" then so is Clinton's email scandal. However, Trump seems to think that the conservative media is the one being drowned out and that that is the source of the "fake news." Excuse me, isn't Fox News one of the biggest outlets? I really think that his campaign against the media, even the crappy media we have, is ridiculous. It is also (though potentially not entirely) harmful. For instance, most of us are aware that he did not win the popular vote. However, I work with many people who supported him. One of them kept talking all about the fake news that was being put out and how Hillary Clinton had only appeared to win because of widespread voter fraud and that a "large portion" of the people who had supposedly voted for her were actually already dead, but that the liberal media was just covering up the real story. My hope is that this idiocy brings people further away from this thinking and realize that actually our media does need to be better, stronger, and more even handed, but just not in the way Trump thinks.

So, he launched his own Facebook page of supposedly "real news." Some of the news sites he has criticized has some backlash against that, such as CNN:

I'm trying to think of the right adjective to describe what exactly it means when the person in one of the highest positions of power and visibility asks you to ignore everything else and trust that you can get your news directly from them. First, "terrifying" came to mind, but fear is immobilizing and not productive. I worry about what he may do in many ways, especially things like if we'll have any environment left once he is out of office, what he will do to divide all of our communities which had just begun making so much progress in working together and accepting each other, and escalating violence in the middle east and around the world as a backlash against his message of hate and superiority. I worry about a lot of things, but I know that he is a mortal and vulnerable human like the rest of us. So no, it is not terrifying. I don't want to say that it is laughable because, even though it is, it may have some not entirely humorous effects. Potentially, it is climactic. The exact person who is talking about the fake news is the one bringing about its climax. The push to wake us up and get us to topple the whole thing and find a better way to bring information to the people; one which is not ruled by greed, but instead by passion and integrity. We have a part in it, we are the key; we are the ones who wanted raccoon cat (cat raccoon?). Well, we've got ourselves raccoon cat, and he's got a super funny hair cut.

Democracy is weakend by a weak media and even further crippled when attempts to strengthen it are met with legal action. We've seen that in this week's video, as well as stories surrounding Wikileaks and other whistleblowers or platforms for whistleblowers. Democracy is also weakened by such an exhaustingly bipartisan system which creates burnout and apathy among its participants (us), who are just tired of dealing with the machine. Binary doesn't work for much of anything in life. How could it neatly package our ideologies? The media just feeds into this because, paradoxically, as much as we all hate the binary system, we still reward the system for perpetuating it. We are as afraid to step outside of it as we are weary of being within it. We see no hope for making a change, so we gripe on the internet (somewhat like this blog here).

On that note, I'm off to go make a ruckus.

Thursday, July 27, 2017

If "Freedom" is the name of a song, who do I pay to make it the name of my blog post?


The documentary "RIP: A Remix Manifesto" is not really about freedom of expression, or even the entire First Amendment. Yes, it has a lot of undertones and elements of this, but downloading music for personal use has nothing to do with freedom of expression, nor would exactly copying and profiting from a new invention be self-expression (beyond expressing your desire to make money). RIP is really about an entirely free society in which ideas are, once released, merely a part of the "collective conscious." Anyone can tap in and make it their own.

There is bound to be backlash against this assertion. Our society doesn't exactly have a "mi casa, tu casa" mentality. We have an, "I do what I have to to get mine" mentality. Some people have gotten theirs (even if they want more). When the rules are changed halfway through and people are informed that nothing is really theirs, they are less likely to see the universal truth in that statement and more likely to get a little butthurt. Butthurt people with lots of money are a force to contend with.

The most concerning things I saw in the documentary had to do with this concept. Begrudging a woman 24 songs and charging tens of thousands of dollars in lawsuits is overboard. Telling kids they can go to jail for 5 years for downloading songs is not a great use of our energy (or already ridiculously overcrowded jail cells). I don't think even those involved in the prison-industrial complex can bullshit their way into that being logical. I remember being a 12 year old girl downloading *N Sync on Napster and making dance routines with my friends. Possibly, I could have continued these activities with the kids in juvy, had push come to shove.

Also, copyrighting Ayahuasca (or any other plant or living thing) is disgusting. To Amazonian indigenous peoples, that is sacred spirit medicine. Whether or not you agree with that philosophy, that's something capitalism shouldn't touch. Also, when patents on scientific ideas stop scientific progress, obviously our economic system has overgrown its utility. Our corporate brand of capitalism is crippling us.

Of course, this trickles down into freedom of expression, as guaranteed to us by the First Amendment. Parody, satire, and reimagingings of cultural icons is an integral part of the critical thinking process of the artist (which, by the way, is a term I believe encompasses every human being in one way or another). An engaged mind assimilates information and says, "Wait a minute. This is what you think you all see, but this is what it really looks like to me." This can range from bold political statement to funny YouTube video. On a trajectory closer to the latter, Girl Talk is a nauseatingly unoriginal and boring "musician," but still, this glorified DJ isn't claiming that he wrote these songs; he's claiming that he smashed them together into something he hopes is unexpected and ironic. On the more political tip, Dan O'Neil isn't pretending that he invented Mickey Mouse; that would totally defeat the purpose of using the character. Pop culture and advertisements surround us - of COURSE they will be subject matter for our art. The game is whether people accept it (as they usually do, as you can see from the myriad of mash-ups, sampling, silly youtube videos, etc) or if they come after you, claiming you have somehow wronged them.

Girl Talk is a very blatant example because his music is hardly changed from the originals, but sampling has been going on for a LONG time. Before even digital technology existed, people covered other people's songs, they paid homage to other musicians by using some of the lyrics or instrumentation as a small part of their own song, and they reworked other musician's songs to make something different. Once recording technology became available, the playground gates burst open. I personally LOVE a lot of music that uses sampling, which is basically the entire basis for music genres like hip-hop, drum n base, jungle, dubstep, neosoul, and pop. Where is the line when it becomes your own? In great, original works of art, the original samples give way to something completely different than the original.

Consider these examples:


It's a nice little romantic song, but do you recognize that little riff at the beginning? Of course you do! It's been in a ton of songs, none of which are even considered the same genre as this song. Like these below:

(Note: can't condone the stuff they say about women in that last one, it's just an example of the sample. Luckily, I think rap is starting to move a bit away from this mentality)

Here is another example of ways a song has been sampled to create something fairly different:

This is the original. A really nice instrumental. Some hip hop artists have used this to make some pretty nice beats:

Even more considerations are the extensive use of funk and soul samples like the "Think break" and the "Amen break" in DnB and other electronic and pop songs.

There are many reasons to sample. They include:

1) To pay homage to to original artist. In the case of hip hop, "crate digging" is a big thing. It's understood that these are samples, so digging in the crates (of records) and using cheap drum machines (like an 808 for example) was how hip hop was made possible in its beginnings.
2) To overcome social stratification. Like I said, a lot of these drum machines, turntables, etc, were pretty cheap. Way cheaper than buying traditional instruments and drumsets, and of course more convenient and portable. Sampling evened the playing field and allowed black artists to reclaim "ownership" (WITHOUT resorting to copyright laws) of music that was originally made by black artists but was being covered (for profit) by white musicians. This is an example of the system self-regulating due to creativity, rather than being regulated from overhead (of course, it's really complicated, and I like Led Zeppelin and the Beatles as much as the next person, but I'm just highlighting this little piece of that puzzle).
3) To create satire or parody of the original work or the culture which produced it...from exposing perceived evils to simply "putting them in a headlock and pouring a beer over their head"

All of these reasons seem well within the range of being reasonable, but when does it go too far? It goes to far when the origin is not transparent. Maybe not everyone knows that their favorite Dr. Dre song is extensively sampled from Parliament, but it's not something that Dr. Dre would hide or deny. Whether or not you think it is different and creative enough is something for the listener to explore. However, when Vanilla Ice was originally sued for using a David Bowie song, one could say, "Hey Bowie, don't you already have quite a bit of cash? Is it necessary to make a stink about this?" But apparently it was because Vanilla Ice denied having sampled the song...what? Anyone who tries to claim that other people's work took not part in their creative process, though it is actually the primary feature, has taken their sampling too far.


I don't have a strong opinion on Wikileaks itself because I have not spent a lot of time on the actual site. However, the concept of making available classified information, as long as it truly does go through the rigorous process he said in the video (ie. verify authenticity AND make sure it does not put anyone in harm's way), then I think it is a very good and necessary service. It is especially needed right now when our news is so skewed, our major media is so tightly controlled by a handful or corporations, and our news is often geared toward entertaining, sensational stories, rather than important ones. Julian Assage's mission to "nurture victims" (in his own combative way) is much more noble than the motives which caused the information to be classified in the first place.

For example, I believe that Wikileaks (not singlehandedly, but as a large part) was part of the reason that people became so thoroughly informed about Guananamo Bay and Abu Ghraib prisons. We also learned of various chemical warfare means which we were using in the Iraq and Afghan wars. When those wars started, it was in the wake of 9/11. Approval for the war was high and Middle Easterners were considered a derelict and backwards race (I would know - I am one). However, as more and more videos and documents were leaked which reminded people of the humanity of Arabs and the inhumanity of torture, approval began to wane. Now, I think the majority of people would have preferred we not begin the war in, at least, Iraq, as it had nothing to do with anything at the time.

Currently, I believe free speech and expression are at an all time high AND an all low, simultaneously. I say it is high because I find that the courts usually rule in favor of free speech and have not often upheld vague concepts like "obscenity" and "sedition" for a long time. This is regardless of if the speech is reprehensible or not (such as openly white supremacist symbols or even the actions of the Westboro Baptist Church). Also, the internet allows people a place to say whatever they want. However, the internet is a black hole. It doesn't accomplish much unless you apply it to the real world. I think the people's right to peaceful assembly has been called into question frequently, particularly when the Occupy Wall Street protests and the black Lives Matter protests were happening. Some of those protests got out of hand, but most were peaceful. Still, people were asked to go home and punished if they did not. Also, of course Julian Assage himself (and Chelsea Manning, still referred to as Bradley in the video) have faced consequences for their actions. I also think that media is tightly controlled, so while it is possible to independently say what you want, if you want to be a journalist or anchor for a more major news source, there are strict rules one must play by.

Overall, rabble rousers like Julian Assage are an extremely important part of society. One of my favorite quotes ever is from the author Edward Abbey. He says, "Society is like a stew. If you don't stir it up every once in a while then a layer of scum floats to the top" (and my own personal addition: and the bottom gets burned)
Society is like a stew. If you don't stir it up every once in a while then a layer of scum floats to the top.
Read more at:

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Buddha's Favorite Snack?

First, I have to own up that I didn't do proper investigative journalism for this one. I have not tried this particular snack, but its packaging caught my eye as a little off kilter.

The original organic popcorn made with himalayan pink salt 

There is not a particular ad for this product that I could find, only the marketing on the packaging and the website. For my analysis, please take a brief look at this website:

DESCRIPTION: These snacks protray a happy, serene Buddha holding a bowl of popcorn. The art and text is simple and spacious, but also prominently displays their various certifications. The website instantly reveals the demographic they are aimed towards, because the first thing it says is "Official Snack Sponsor of Wanderlust Festivals." For any who don't know, Wanderlust is a huge annual yoga festival. Although yoga isn't particularly tied to Buddhism, it isn't uncommon for many modern people with some spiritual leanings to adopt a variety of eastern ideas into their own western ones. Buddha figurines are often seen adorning people's homes, offices, massage studios, doorways of all kinds, and various works of art. The fact that now its on a bag of popcorn is really no surprise. I don't see this brand at the regular grocery stores, but it is popular enough that it is in all the major "health food" stores. 

ANALYSIS: This company would like you to believe that they are benevolent, there for you, available for personal connection. This company pushes the message "YOU CAN TRUST US." This persuasive technique is not one which is mentioned in the book, but it is quickly becoming one of the most popular strategies and is also my least favorite. It is not possible that a corporation wants to connect with you personally, beyond product assistance. Where I work does this - "emotional connection" is a marketing technique we are encouraged to use in order to keep the customer shopping at our store. Current marketing strategies are preying on our need for connection and using it in a phony way, rather than the organic way in which it is actually useful. That isn't to say that the founders of this company aren't nice, caring people, but people care for one another. A company does not care for you. 

In a less forward manner, they use (and this may sound odd) simultaneous plain folks approach AND snob appeal. That is the only way to describe it, although I don't want to imply that "plain folks" are not health conscious or that caring about what you put in your body makes you a snob (It doesn't - it makes you conscious of your health, one of the most important things you've got. Besides, I've seen just as many people be snobby about the number of burritos they can eat in one sitting as about turning up their nose at fried chicken.) I say plain folks because they emphasize that though their ingredients are better, their pricing is no higher than regular snacks of the greater evil variety (this is true - it's $1.25 per single serving bag if you order the 6 pack off the website). Besides, it is chips and popcorn. "Indulge, like everyone else!" they seem to say (bandwagon appeal), "but better!" (snob appeal). Let me add a caveat here - it isn't snobby to be health conscious, but it is a wee bit snobby that as part of their campaign, they bring in mindfulness (as in the meditation practice) as being made more possible in your eating by these snacks. I am drinking a beer exceedingly mindfully right now, thank you very much. I can experience it through all 5 senses, feel how it goes down and enters each part of my body (well, down to the digestive tract, in which I have no sensory nerves.) Having to buy a particularly snack to be mindful is missing the point.

There is some association prcinciple at play here. There is the aforementioned mindfulness (we already feel like snacks help us feel better anyway, what if we can take that a little further and say they make us feel spiritual and enlightened, like the Buddha?). Also, there is the association with Wanderlust (and thus yoga and sunny good festival times). There is no connection, other than sponsorship, between popcorn and yoga (although the website tried to draw some sparse connections by pulling the currently popular Ayurveda-card when talking about their ghee-flavored popcorn).

 I think the success of their company shows that their platform is fairly successful. They appeal to a lot of people's sensibilities. There are a confusingly large amount of people who found it worth their time to talk about them on youtube videos. Have fun with these.

Spoiler: She thinks that they are calorie free

Here's another (this woman is a proffesional):

There's about 10 minutes of your life well spent. Lots more where that came from!

Bottom line: People are impressed with the simplicity and purity of ingredients (and this seems to be the case whether or not they know what those ingredients are, so that's interesting.)

INTERPRETATION: This ad/marketing technique is not new or different as far as touting purity and quality. The reason it caught my eye is the Buddha figure paired with calling the snacks a "Lesser Evil" (value judgement paired with a religious figure) and equating healthy eating with mindfulness (which are only so tangentially related as to nt be worth mentioning when it comes to commercial snacks). They are geared toward health conscious and weight conscious westerners who still want to snack and may or may not do yoga or have some eclectic claims of spirituality. I find it silly that a Buddha would be included on the front of a bag of popcorn. It is similar to placing Muhammad or Jesus on the front of a bag of popcorn and claiming that this bag of popcorn will bring you closer to the ideals of that religion. Buddha is such a ubiquitous figure in our culture, yet with such little understanding of the history or practice of Buddhism, that this symbol, which is held dear to many people, is reduced to trinkets and a snack mascot. It made me notice it; it did not make me buy it. Buddhist imagery and concepts used for commercial gain is a shame.

EVALUATION: The strengths of this packaging and website are the simplicity and navigability of its art. Everything, from pictures to wording, is very simple, reaching a large audience. The weakness is that it perpetuates stereotypes and strips sanctity of beloved figures. I suppose that this makes it memorable, but it doesn't pop out and grab you like some showier ads. However, it seems effective. The odd thing is that, although yoga-practicing middle class urban America was who I assumed it reached out to, all the YouTube videos I saw were by southern women on restricted calorie diets. Maybe it is missing their target audience but cathcing success in another.

ENGAGEMENT: Lesser Evil uses their social media to post pretty, feel-good pictures. Take a looksie at this one:

I could not get the picture itself to embed, but seriously, it is laughable.

I found an article which is about a much wider topic, but actually, to my surprise, included the same sentiments about the chips. I highly recommend giving this short article a read. It emphasizes what I've said about these chip bags, while bringing in a much wider perspective about our culture doing this as a whole.

Culturally Appropriating Buddhism

Clearly, these snack makers didn't mean any harm. I imagine that they felt they were doing some good. Still, I would not go out of my way to buy this product, but that isn't a fair assessment on my part because I tend not to buy bagged chips or popcorn of any variety. Still, I would not recommend them to a friend. I might point them out to a friend and say my thoughts about it. Either the friend would agree with me, or I would act as an inadvertent advertisement and my friend would come back to the store to purchase every flavor later. Hard to say.

Hope you enjoyed the read! Have a wonderful weekend!

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Maybe if I'm witty enough you'll want to buy my blog?

Happy Thursday!

Using my Twitter account, I looked up a local company which I like and actually buy from fairly regularly: Herb Pharm. If anyone is not familiar with Herb Pharm, they are an herbal tincture company (ie. they make medicinal plant extracts, usually in alcohol). I have personally known people who worked there and never heard anything but amazing things about the people who run it and their processes. I thought they would be good to analyze because of three things: 1) although we view successful companies as usually having litle integrity, herb pharm appears to have a healthy dose of it but is still highly successful. There is obviously some serious marketing going on because they have outcompeted all the other tincture companies, winning the most prominent spots not only in health food stores, but even regular grocery stores like Fred Meyer. 2) I am well trained in herbalism, so am aware of its nuances. Tinctures are the most convenient and shelf-stable preparations for plants. For many plants, they are also the strongest and most effective. For other plants, they are much less effective than water extracts (or in some cases, even eating the plants). Herb Pharm still makes tinctures of many of these plants, such as nettle, reishi, and turmeric, because they are popular and convenient for the consumer. 3) regulations forbid that herbs and other supplements claim to treat, prevent, or cure any disease. The bottles only mention very vague uses (usually just a body system) rather than actually giving the user much of an inkling of what to use it for. Most products have the luxury of being able to extoll all of their supposed virtues. Herb Pharm has to cater to people who already wants their products, say "you should buy our products because you like us!," and hope that nobody kills themselves. (Not that that would be likely, but you never know)

They try to remedy some of this on their website (so not social media) by talking about plants in as much depth as they can get away with in their blog. Then they talk about all of their practices and every little detail about their business model. A place on the internet dedicated exactly to them, all about them.

Their Twitter is a little different. In fact, I didn't see a single picture of a tincture bottle there. I saw people and I saw plants. Specifically, when I saw people, they were with plants. Herb Pharm has non-descript, honestly not especially attractive, expensive little tincture bottles (if you take the herbs at their normal doses, then taken daily, you will have taken the contents of one bottle within a week or so, depending on the herb. Echinacea I've downed in a matter of days, when needed.) If you're following Herb Pharm on twitter, or any social media, they're no longer trying to convince you to buy their product - you probably already have. They are reminding you that each of those little bottles has a story - a human story, a plant story, a story of mindful harvesting, a changing the world one bottle at a time story. They're inspiring you to keep up your journey with herbs - and likely buy some of their product along the way (the fact that it's at my local grocery store here in Albany is seriously convenient if I'm ever in a pinch and really need something, even though I personally could grow/forage and make preparations I'd feel better about). But how can you not smile at the thought when you see a picture paired with the caption, "Mark gently massages the root ball of a Lavender start before tucking the plant in the soil for the growing season." Gently massages? Tucking in? What beautiful euphemisms for ripping apart the root ball of a plant before burying it.

I think this campaign is very effective because the target audience is people who are mildly interested in to even well-versed in herbal medicine. They are Oregonians (mostly - we actually even had Herb Pharm tinctures at my local co-op in Indianapolis - so 3,000 miles away) who are still part of the back to Earth movement, likely will eat food which is organic, are concerned with sustainability and other environmental issues. We want to see beautiful gardens worked by people with vision. I think the second half of the efficacy of the campaign is not just that it effectively reaches the target audience, but that is comes there from a genuine place. Coca Cola doesn't care about connection and togetherness, they care about you buying a Coke with your name on it. Dawn doesn't care about wildlife, or they wouldn't have been a dish liquid company. Honey Nut Cheerios does not care about honey bees, or they wouldn't use pesticides which harm them. Herb Pharm, on the other hand, does care about the legacy of herbal medicine, the quality of their products, and the sustainability of their operation. Their success is rooted in truth, even if that truth has a marketing division.

Here is their Twitter so you can see all the pretty pictures:

If I were the product manager, I would recommend that they market to naturopaths and, if they're feeling gutsy, MDs. They may already do so - I know that they supply herbal education programs with their tinctures, such as the one which I attended in Portland. I would recommend that their label not be such a garish mustard, though it seems to be working anyway.


Advert 1: WORKS
Ok, ok, I know, it's a little "cheesy," but you have to forgive me; I don't watch TV. Of course, I am exposed to ads, but mainly flipping as fast as I can through them to get to my youtube video or otherwise tuning them out. Nothing really came to mind, so I thought of the ads I liked back when I was a kid (you know, back when having a jingle was considered the ultimate marketing strategy).

1. In this ad, a cute little kid sings a blues song about macaroni. She says that if her dad wants to make her happy, he'd better get her Kraft mac n cheese. Of course, that is a very bratty thing to say, but her singing-dancing-smiling self and the pictures of delicious mac n cheese are enough to make any kid not really notice that. This one also mentions a new kind with ABCs. Maybe parents are supposed to think this makes it an educational food. The part which stands out of course is the jingle, which sticks in your head. I always remembered, and sometimes even would sing, the version that the dude with the saxophone and the louis armstrong type voice would do, but I couldn't find them.

2. The target audience has to somewhat be parents of younger children, since they are doing the buying, but I think more-so it is the children themselves. The image of a house made of furniture that looks like cheese wedges and the silly jingle appeals to kids. This is in line with their other commercials, which included dinosaurs, the flintstones, etc...anything which they could feasibly put in a fountain of cheese.

3. Persuasive Techniques: 
a.) Plain folks Pitch: everyday families with everyday kids on an everyday budget. You can give your kid something they will love - cheap, fast, easy! It is hard to say who that's more appealign for - the parents or the kids.
b.) irritation advertising: ok, this might be accidental, but any jingle played ad nauseum is going to get, well, irritating. That doesn't mean that it won't stay in your head though. It might not even be the TV itself, but your kids singing the jingle, irritating you all the way to the grocery store.
c.) association/stereotype: i put these together because it is a bit of a chicken or the egg thing. This is associating dads as the "fun" parent, so the kid knows that when mom is away and its just her and dad, she can get mac n cheese (maybe also implying that dad is lazy and wants to make the easy meal). Adults oten already hold some of these stereotypes, so get them strengthened when TV programs present them as universal realities. Kids make new assocations (maybe they had never thought of dad as the mac n cheese parent til now, but now they're going to try it out), so the stereotype lives on.

4.) These techniques worked because they make sense. Kraft is not trying to use snob appeal because it isn't a high quality product. I think they DO have a line of supposedly more "gourmet" products, but we all know what a block of kraft cheese looks like. None of their higher end products outsell the original thing in its little blue box (except maybe shells and cheese - I would dream about the lucky times I got to get the shells and cheese instead of the powder and noodles - what opulence!) The plain folks pitch fits the product. Jingles fit children (who rarely tire of anything, even the "song that never ends") and the era. And associations/stereotypes...well, it is hard to tell how well they work across the board, but for people who already agree with them, yes, they work.

Advert 2: DUD

Image result for tidy cats advertisement

  1. In this Tidy Cats ad, the cat is having a hard time finding his little box because he can't smell it
  2. The target audience is cat owners
  3. Persuasive techniques: 
    a.) "Famous-person testimonial" ok, this is a bit of a stretch, but in American eyes, all cats are famous people. Have you seen the internet? Portlandia had a "marketing campaign" for art of "put a bird on it." That may work for the more artistically cultured, but for the masses, put a cat on it.
    b.) Bandwagon effect: "Cats everywhere are having a hard time smelling their litter boxes" implies that many people are already on this wagon and are having...desirable?...results

    4. Ultimately, this is one of the dumbest advertisements I've seen. I am a cat owner and have lived in multicat households before. This ad gets two things very, very wrong. 1- cat's don't find their litter box by smelling it. In fact, if their litter box is full, they are more likely to go elsewhere. 2 - if they did find it by smelling it, why on earth would you want them to have a hard time with this??? The image of a cat "holding it," on the verge of letting loose on the floor, is a horrible thought which most cat owners avoid at all costs.


Friday, July 7, 2017

Living in a Digital Age

I have not taken part in social media since 2011 when I deleted my Facebook account. Now, I have a Twitter account just for this class. *sigh* Rob, I will never forgive you for this.

I went ahead and followed a whole bunch of people, organizations, musicians, publications, and breweries. Immediately, a whole bunch of uninteresting twaddle populated the screen. So, a small sample of who I followed:

First, these are 3 people I DIDN'T follow

1) Donald Trump
2) or any other politician
3) Kim Kardashian

Ok, now that that's out of the way, here are some people/entities I followed and why

1) KivaRose Bell-Hardin (@FaeryThorn) - Herbal medicine is one of my passions. Kiva is not necessarily one of the herbalists I'm most familiar with or identify with, but she seems to be one of the only well-known herbalists with an active Twitter account. Getting her "tweets" for the duration of this class will hopefully get me out and about in nature, or at least in my kitchen making concoctions, and not just totally focused on school and work all the time.
2) Warp Records - Because I have been wanting some new music lately and this is a label I've always liked. They did put out an interesting article which I read just now, while I was supposed to be finishing this blog.
3) BBC Mundo - because I do, after all, want some real form of news, but dammit I want it in Spanish and from a non-US source. It shows me what is going on in the world from a slightly different perspective and improves my Spanish-skills.

An article I liked was in Spanish, written by El Pais (the country):

Its title,"La batalla feminista en el proceso de paz en Colombia: Las mujeres que participaron en los diálogos con las FARC relatan cómo fueron relegadas" translates to "The feminist battle in the process fo peace in Columbia: Women who participated in the dialogue with the FARC tell stories of how they were marginalized." It stood out to me because I was raised in an Egyptian family and am more aware of different political and social movements happening in certain parts of the world. I want others to understand and see that social structure and feminism are fluid and dynamic cycles throughout the world. I feel like they think that women in the Middle East, Latin America, etc, are all just weak and brainwashed, but it isn't the case. They are amazing and brilliant.

I think any tool can be used to empower and strengthen if you use it well, but we don't all tend to use social media and other technologies very well. I think we CERTAINLY create our own echo chambers, probably just as much as they are created for us through algorithms. When I had a Facebook, I don't feel like it empowered me to do much of anything. I thought that I needed it at the time because I was booking concerts, but putting up a Facebook event and promoting anythign via Facebook seemed to actually have no effect whatsoever on whether people showed up or not. It was word of mouth and publications which people specifically went to in order to find out which was going on that night (such as the local zine, Do317 [Indianapolis], etc). Social media allowed people to completely ignore the event (being bombarded with other events) or confirm that they were coming, but then not show up at all. Also, while I had a Facebook, I felt like it was keeping me informed and that if I deleted my Facebook I'd miss important things. Then, I deleted it anyway due to all the other crap that goes along with social media, and found that this wasn't the case. I didn't become less informed, I just talked to people and sought things out on my own. I didn't miss Facebook at all.

Sherry Turkle's talk about us becoming more isolated through our technological connection is very true. For example, a lot of my coworkers are in their very early twenties, and they are all about their Snapchats. It seems like they are incapable of having a conversation without someone's Snap story coming into it. They also are on their phones ALL the time, and not just them, but to a certain extent everybody, including myself. I think it's because we compulsively turn to these things every time we feel the least bit awkward or bored. This is especially concerning to me because I grew up really never knowing what boredom was (except during class in middle and high school, but that's different.) I always had something I was thinking about or doing, and I never felt like there was an empty space in my life. Now that technology has become such a big part of our lives, my brain is actually wired differently. I broke my phone a while back and didn't have it for a few days. I literally remembered what boredom felt like during those two days. I don't think all this supposed "communication" is bringing us closer or empowering us at all. It's sapping our creativity, our spontaneity, and, like she said, our ability to be by ourselves and be just fine with that. During the course of writing this blog so far, I've read and responded to probably 10 texts. Why? Was it necessary? Couldn't it wait until I was done?

I have made my car a device-free zone, for obvious safety reasons. I actually feel more mindful in the car now and I notice more things. Cool, huh?

Mindfulness and practice are the steps I take t make sure I am listening to others. I usually don't have a problem listening to others because of technology and love listenting to others. This is, to be fair, partially due to some of my lifestyle choices. I have a phone, but I would never pull it out while I'm having a conversation with someone, or even out with them. However, I don't have a TV. When I'm somewhere that has a TV, I find it distracting, even if I'm not actually interested in the content on the screen. I can't help but keep glancing at it, even though it's the least important thing in the room.

I haven't downloaded any games to my devices other than just one that I did a long time ago back when I lived in the same state as my parents. It was called "Wordament." It is a simple, nerdy game where you just had to find words on a grid, but it would rank how you did compared to other people and you could have "friends" on it so you could see their scores too. My mom was a total whiz at it, so sometimes I'd play, thinking that meant I'd connect with her. I remember we were playing one time her score was probably triple mine. She, without looking up from her phone at all, says to me "You really need to get better at this" and kept playing.

I don't do gaming or social network, but I feel like texting is its own scial network which I'm very guilty of. It's easy to do because it seems to be everyone else's preferred mode of communication, even for full blown conversations. It means that I keep in touch with some of m friends who I otherwise wouldn't. I have a friend who recently moved to Washington. She and I text every single day, even though if texting didn't exist I double we would call each other hardly ever. I don't know what this means or says about relationships or texting to be honest. I think humans are hardwired to become closest to the communities immediately around them, but technology blurs those lines of who is actually "around."

Food for thought: This uncertainty is something which I think has been mirrored in the videos we watched these past 2 weeks. This week's TedTalk about connection/isolation and last week's about the Arab Spring featured speakers who had both given previous TEDTalks in which they, considering themselves quite immersed in this limitless new world, had expounded the virtues of technology. Then, they did something very, very rare in our culture. They came out publicly in another TEDTalk and said, "I was wrong." All of this technology is very new, relatively, and I think we are only just beginning to understand it. The dust has far from settled on how exactly it is going to fit into our world and culture, and we are just the guinea pigs of the digital age.