Internet and Literacy

I have Dyslexia. I have specific problems decoding words and reading. This could have negatively impacted my experience at school, but it didn’t. Having a learning difference and an IEP, literacy and the internet have a great connection that has helped me learn and grow in school.

The internet has helped me find and use audio books. Being able to follow along with a hard copy of a book has really increased my absorption and comprehension of reading material. This has helped me improve my reading skills which has  greatly boosted my confidence in reading. The advancement in internet and software technology providing the ability to have text to voice, is helping  me and a lot of other students improve the understanding of written material. The internet also has the possibility to do the reverse, with voice to text. This is extremely helpful, as many people with Dyslexia and other learning differences can articulate things very well, but translating ideas to written form can be difficult. Being able to look up words for spelling and meaning on the internet is very efficient and important. There are sites like Sparknotes, that have notes on significant readings to help steer students on the right paths for their writing assignments or to make things more comprehensible. Many students have a difficult time, while reading, to also write down notes, I know I do. If I am trying to understand what I am reading, it is very hard for me to interrupt reading with writing notes because then my flow of the story is broken. Being able to refer to internet summaries and explanations is very helpful if my notes are sparse.

For visual learners the internet has a great range of sites that have many informational videos along with many diagrams in all subjects. To understand complicated subjects like biology  and chemistry videos are a great help. There is a site that offers great courses with amazing videos to help teach subjects with very detailed processes. In addition, being able to search for diagrams and labeled pictures online, is a great tool for visual learners. My learning disability blocks me from getting all the details I need from reading from a textbook. When students with learning disabilities like me, see a ton of textbook pages with small text  and crowded pages being assigned, we get discouraged and this forms a mental block of understanding the concepts being explained in the book. It also can cause some anxiety. Since I got all this support from the internet I have started to do much better in subjects like the sciences. The Mcluhanism, we shape our tools and thereafter our tools shape us, is applicable here. Without the internet I would not be nearly as good a reader or even interested in reading as I am.

Many critics of my generation say that we do not read or know how to appreciate and enjoy reading. It is not that our generation does not read, it is just a change in the medium. We read different material that captivates us online. It is almost like scanning a newspaper for a section that one may be interested in, but we surf the web and find stories and captions that get our attention. Having access to the internet actually makes reading more accessible for teenagers in ways that we will actually use. It is true that my generation is plugged in. Another McLuhanism is, The new environment of siultaneous and diversified information, creates acoustic man. He is surrounded by sound-from behind, from the side , from above. His environment is made up of information in all kinds of simultaneous forms, and he puts on this electrical environment as we put on our clothes, or as the fish puts on water. My generation is constantly stimulated by technology and bombarded with media from the internet. I feel we are tuned in not tuned out. We become literate in navigating the messages of the medium of the internet able to discern what is important and recognize what is manipulative.

MedicalDaily says that human attention span shortens to eight seconds due to digital technology. Digital technology is very fast pace. When on the internet our interests change quickly based on the many links and hashtags that are available to learn further about. We don’t stay on one site for long. There is also a criticism that the internet contributes to exacerbating and mimicing  disorders like ADHD. Not being able to sit still can affect literacy and there are some apps to help people with ADHD focus and improve reading skills.

Literacy and the internet can also be discussed as actual internet literacy. This is how to use the internet in knowledgeable and safe ways being able to discern all different aspects of it. If you are able to be literate in navigating the internet then it can help you increase your literacy.

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Our Digital Lives

There is no question that our lives have changed in the recent past due to digital technology. We are constantly plugged in spending a large part of everyday on our devices. Are we using our time well or wasting it and being distracted? Has digital technology made our lives better? There is a lot of evidence that suggests that it has. With the advancement of technology everything is available to us all the time. We literally have the world at our fingertips! We can find information on anything, get directions to anywhere, order anything we want to buy including food, clothes, furniture, tickets to entertainment, vacations and flights, call a cab, pay for parking, and perhaps most importantly, present ourselves however we want, and gather “friends”. However there are some serious downsides that we need to be aware of so that our use of digital technology is healthy and controlled and not that it controls us.

Social interactions have been completely changed due to the use of technology. Applicable here is the key concept of media that, form and content are closely related in media messages. Texting has become the tool of choice for communication. Whole new texting language has developed, BTW :). The aim of this seems to be that life can become simplified. Texts are quick and minimal. It is a completely accessible and efficient mode of getting a message across. But is this really good communication?

The art of conversation is becoming lost according to psychologist, Sherry Turkle. The skills of communicating, articulating our thoughts and feelings, and being good listeners are not being developed. When you are texting you do not have to make or maintain eye contact. This is an important social skill and way of connecting. These days many families spend time together but they individually are engaged with their digital lives rather than interacting. We can always be distracted by our devices, not paying attention to what is happening in real time. My mother thinks there should be an etiquette for texting. She would include these rules:

  • No texting someone else while you are in a conversation with someone in person
  • No texting during mealtimes
  • No texting while walking outside
  • No making your mother wait to talk to you while you are finishing up your texts!
  • No making your mother repeat herself because in fact you really weren’t listening because you were texting!

Once my best friend and I were in the backseat of the car while my mother was driving us somewhere. We were both on our phones texting. My mother said, “girls stop texting while you are together. It’s RUDE!” I answered her back, “It’s okay mom. We are texting each other”. We all broke out laughing. Now I’m laughing while writing!

My head is always full as I attempt to split my attention between what I’m doing and the multiple notifications from my devices demanding my attention. I can be studying and involved in many different conversations at the same time. It can be difficult to keep track of everything and stay focussed. I am constantly interrupted.

By constantly being plugged in, not only are our interactions with others impacted, but so is the way we relate with ourselves. There is a loss of knowing how to be alone and the richness of solitude is not experienced and can even be feared. Turkle speaks about time for self reflection being so important for our maturation and development.

Not only has our psychological health been affected but so has our physical health. Spending hours per day on the internet has affected the obesity rate in the population and specifically causing an increase in the rate of childhood obesity. Computer use and mobile devices have negative affects on our posture which can cause all sorts of symptoms from neck and back pain, to headaches, and repetitive strain syndromes. The fact that bones in the spine are not fully ossified until the age of 23-25, also makes this important. Bones form by responding to pressure, so if you are always slouched in front of your computer more pressure is going on certain vertebras and you can form curves and blockages that are not healthy. (My parents are both chiropractors.) There was a study that showed that use of digital technology alters the actual wiring of children brains. Another study showed the use of technology caused children to loose empathy. There is also evidence that use of cell phones may be linked to brain tumour growth. Poor sleep is a problem in many people’s lives. It is recommended that turning off all devices, and in fact not having them in the room you sleep in, is best.

This being said, digital technology has definitely made our lives on the whole much better in obvious ways. Information can be exchanged very quickly. This has had great impact on the business world. Marketing can have broader reach. There are online businesses as a whole new way of doing business. Through the internet, the world has become more of a global economy and we are able to think of ourselves as global citizens.

Thinking about this topic makes me broaden my view of daily life not just to include the privileged life we live, but to look at others with disabilities, whose daily lives have been made radically better. The use of portable and affordable tablets helps with speech. Voice controlled technology to navigate smartphones is helpful for people with learning differences as well as people who are visually impaired. There is assistive touch technology for deaf people. Many other applications are available to help people with brain and physical issues.

To summarize let’s look at this issue from the perspective of McLuhan’s tetrad.

The medium of digital technology enhances our daily lives with its applications in many aspects impacting communication, learning, business, health, art, and lifestyle in positives way. It makes life convenient, easy, and accessible. These enhancements, some of which were discussed above, can in fact connect us to the broader world and to each other in interactive ways.

According to the tetrad, the original intentions of the medium can be reversed. This is seen in that the intention of digital technology to connect us also has the reverse effect of disconnecting us from one another by creating isolation, and distractions. People can have closer relationships with their digital devices than with other people.

Digital technology brings back lost senses to those that are disabled. It retrieves them or makes them possible for people to experience richer lives. Social media can retrieve lost connections with people from the past. Skype provides the opportunity to retrieve and maintain communication and closeness with people far away. Keeping family and friends close.

What is pushed aside and made obsolete unfortunately are the skills and art of personal communication and social interaction in the present moment. These include eye contact, listening, manners, empathy, and giving someone your full and undivided attention.

Life is better due to digital technology but, as Turkle comments, as we expect more from technology we expect less from each other. This affects our human interactions with serious consequences.

 

 

 

Internet and Dating

Is the internet bringing us together, or driving us apart? This question makes it necessary for us to look at the general phenomenon of online dating and its pros and cons.

Online dating is a $700 million dollar industry. According to the article Online Dating and Relationships, one in ten Americans have used online dating sites or mobile apps,  and many know someone who has used it and met a significant other. Attitudes towards online dating have been changing. It used to be thought that it was just for ‘losers’, but now it is becoming more socially accepted as a legitimate way to meet people to date, have relationships with or simply to ‘hook up’.

The rise of this phenomenon in our society makes us look at the causes. Why are there so many lonely people? Why is it hard to meet a potential date or partner? Life is busy, we are so work oriented that there is little time for relaxation and socializing. It seems demographically that there are more women than available men. The nature of relationships is changing, as family values change. People have more freedom to explore what they want, but they often don’t know what that is. In this way the Internet is shaping expectations, boundaries, and kinds of relationships. This is an example of the key concept of media, that The Media Construct Reality. The landscape of dating and its parameters and possibilities are essentially created by the internet.

A good way to look at the question whether or not the internet is bringing us together, is to apply McLuhan’s tetrad. Internet dating enhances the opportunity for people to connect and meet potentially like minded matches for the possibility of relationships of various kinds. Given that there can be little time or energy to invest in meeting and dating the old fashioned way due to the demands of every day life, internet dating provides a great service. It is convenient, easy, cheap and can bring people together in a positive way.

Using the internet for dating can eliminate the awkwardness of meeting and going through anxiety of first dates, due to its ability to allow you to screen and sort of get to know the person before you step outside your door.

Internet dating reverses the actual spontaneous acts of meeting people by chance and the excitement that can bring. Love at first sight is not a strong instant but on the internet meeting is dragged out and you are really dealing with someone sight unseen. With Internet dating as a new norm, energy, money, time are not spent on going out and engaging in group activities or pursuing interests that would put us in contact with like minded people that have date potential. Which I think is a much healthier way to meet people. People can become less socially skilled and the art of relating can be lost.

One could argue that what is retrieved is the slow art of romance since things develop over time on the internet. With our lifestyles it is easier to flirt, talk, engage online at any hour of the day. Online dating does retrieve the concept and practice of dating as opposed to just one night stands.

Ironically what is made obsolete, is the act of engaging physically and personally in real time in a natural way. Communicating can be digital making the art of talking intimately a thing of the past. This is not a good thing as people can get away with being irresponsible in how they handle things that need to be spoken about. Breakups by text are not cool! Internet dating is trying to achieve bringing people together but its very nature can mean that people are driven apart as they never really have to meet or enter into any meaningful relationships. The connections can stay virtual and may never be realized. Which means the whole thing can be an avoidance of the very thing it is intended to enhance.

I personally wouldn’t feel comfortable meeting anyone on the internet and social media. A lot of my friends use Tinder. It’s an app that teens use to be matched with people they find attractive. This can lead to a chat that may or may not end up in meeting in person. It’s not a site to look for a relationship or even a date. I think its mostly used for quick hook up connections mostly just for sexual activity.2

 

There are a lot of concerns and potential risks of danger involved with using internet dating. Many women have been victimized emotionally, financially, and sexually due to dating sites. Lonely people driven by the need to connect are easy prey. You really don’t know who you are dealing with. Many people misrepresent themselves. Married people surf the sites saying they are single. False information is given in profiles. Even photos may be misleading. These negative features of online dating support the argument that it can create more separation and is driving us apart. Women who have been taken advantage of can be very damaged psychologically and this separating from themselves is a sad effect. People using dating sites and apps should be cautious.

1There are some tips for playing it safe. For example if a date is set up, arrive separately and meet in public places. Always tell a friend where and when the date is set and check in when it is over. It is good advice also to let relationships grow slowly and most importantly always trust your instincts no matter what!

To deal with the potential risks some dating sites have security tools. True.com is the only site that gives criminal and marital background checks. Match.com allows you to keep your real phone number secret by giving you a temporary dating number.

Being connected to whoever you are in a relationship with online is a way for power politics to be played out without direct communication. Knowing that I have a ‘friend’ on social media, I post things with caution. I check if he is online when I go on Facebook and then get anxious if I see he is and hasn’t messaged me. When my friends send me pictures that involve him it can create distance and anxiety if there is something that I wish I hadn’t seen. On the good side it makes me have to be mature and handle it within myself or find a way to communicate it that makes sure both our needs are met.

There are many pros and cons about internet dating. It can both bring people together and drive people apart. I know a couple who met online, didn’t really hit it off on the first date, gave it a chance and now are married. I also know a couple who had been married a long time with three children and full family life who broke up because the husband was discovered to be on an online dating site. It all depends on the intention of how you want to use the sites, as well as your awareness and attitude.

 

Internet for the Artist

The internet can be a fantastic and empowering tool for artists. It can help artists build communities and networks with patrons through all sorts of social media use. The internet can be an inexpensive, accessible, and an effective marketing tool. It can put the business of managing art careers back in the hands of the artists themselves with no need for middle management taking a percentage. Artists often are focussed on the creation of work and not necessarily on the business of managing their careers, selling, promotion, and financing projects. Many feel uneducated in the world of business and also have some negative attitudes towards it. Many devalue their creations and this makes them vulnerable to corporations, managers or even the public exploiting them. However finances and running the business of an art career are important realities. The internet provides excellent resources on how to understand and navigate the world of finances specific to artists, for example the book, The Profitable Artist. The internet also provides the medium for them to do it.

Boyd Neil, a digital strategist recently spoke at the Canadian Senior Artists Resource Network Conference at the Toronto Western Hospital on the topic of Social media for Artists. He spoke about how to increase one’s impact by building and reaching  community. He gave a lot of advise on how to make the best use of social media for artists. He encouraged intercommunication and relationship building by thanking for receiving ‘likes’ and liking others frequently. His advice to an artist for a successful Facebook page is to:

  • Be professional
  • Be personable
  • Share regularly
  • Share a lot of images
  • Share videos
  • Interact with audience
  • Take good selfies
  • Post a proper bio
  • Post your awards
  • Link to your website

For an effective profile he suggested making sure that your photo expresses your art and that you have an impactful background that you change frequently to announce performances, art exhibits and happenings. Someone should look at your page and instantly know something about you and your art. For a Twitter profile he suggests that artists show themselves doing something active which makes the viewer engage. Your art should also be expressed in your photo or background. Images communicate powerfully. Twitter kicks things up a notch. Neil recommends building connection between your twitter and Facebook accounts. He warns that you have to stay active on all social media and especially with Twitter by retweeting frequently. His advise for Artist’s being successful on Twitter is:

  • Interact with audience
  • Be a fan of others
  • Post links to your materials, images
  • Add value to discussions
  • Make your Twitter home page awesome
  • Announce appearances
  • Keep in touch with industry
  • Use the perfect profile pic
  • Demonstrate your personality
  • Don’t be bitter

A basic and important message is that artists can use the internet to promote themselves, building interest and business, but that the artists have to reach out. Much of Neil’s advice on profile page construction and social media presence, demonstrates the key concept of media that, Each medium has a unique aesthetic form. By presenting artists and their artwork in pleasing and artistic ways the form and content become aligned.

Neil promotes the use of Pinterest and Instagram especially for visual artists. I have personally posted my photography on Instagram without intending to promote myself but have been encouraged by seeing that I have gained followers and by their comments on my work. This helps my confidence as an artist. I also follow others and learn about their work. Pinterest is a very effective way to spread work. Although the average person isn’t sharing artwork on it, they are pinning and liking which shares the work and sends it out to a broader audience.

Funding for artists is limited. Government grants are competitive and funding is not what it should be to support the arts. The internet provides an opportunity for some independence and financial support of projects through crowdfunding on sites like Kickstarter. It is a great way to connect with fans, and fund art. In 2013 The Academy Award for best documentary short, Innocente, was originated on Kickstarter. Art Market Canada is an online funding resource for artists and patrons to connect.

Media messages have commercial implications, this speaks to the ownership and control of information on the media. This means that artists can be exploited by others but more importantly, that media can make us all broadcasters. This can allow artists to exploit the media to their advantage. It can free them from being bound to corporations and managers and gives power and control back to the artists. An important issue arises about ownership of created works, intellectual property, and copyright, that has great impact on artists finances and the protection of their work. Artists need to educate themselves and be conscious of how to maintain control of their work. There are specific intellectual property lawyers that can educate, advocate, and yes, be employed by artists.

Using social media and the internet cuts out the need for middle management, cuts promotional costs and positions artists and their work in the public eye.

 

The Internet and Political Change

Is the internet a tool for social justice? I believe the answer is a strong YES.

There are a lot of websites that help social justice issues by campaigning for their causes, fundraising, and educating and spreading information to a broad audience. Awareness is spread on issues that people may not know about through major media outlets like the news. If something shows up on twitter it can reach a broad audience in seconds. You can look up the hashtags and find out more about what the hashtag is supporting. There are trending hashtags that spread awareness and allow people to give their support this is powerful because you can participate, you are involved in the cause and feel part of the event. When something happens in the world, like the the terrorists attacks in France, there is trending, immediate support can be sent and this brings the world closer. When people share videos and events are live streamed through applications like Periscope, the visual images make strong impact. Seeing events allows them to become real to us so far away. Events touch us and they become our problem in a global village. We are more likely to care, and hopefully take some kind of action. The internet makes it easy to become involved giving opportunities to have virtual protest sit ins, sign petitions, use e-transfers to send money, send gifts and other aid online. Films that form parts of campaigns for social justice causes appear regularly online. This greatly increases the reach and impact of these campaigns.

The impact of the internet on progressive activism as a forum for spreading information and organization has become a global phenomenon. Applications such as website, email, and internet relay make this possible. Cyberactivism (taking political action online) has become an important tool for social justice. The development of this kind of technological activism has affected the technology of the internet itself. Tech activists are computer programmers that write and develop software for social justice projects. They recode it in a way that anticipates the goal of social change the project is trying to create. They are trying to create an alternate version of society based on technology being accessible, participatory, non-heirarchial, and democratic.

One of the key concepts of media literacy is, the media construct reality. The use of the internet for political change as a social justice tool, is a way of constructing a different reality from that of main stream use of the media. It allows us access to see things that affect our world that we might not otherwise be aware of and gives us some sense of power that we can be part of change. The internet used in this way, broadens the impact of this key concept and allows information coming to us on the internet not be one sided. Social activists and organizations use both oppositional reading and contextual reading. By deliberately opposing mainstream commercial imbalance use of cyberspace. They point out the way the internet technology is used in hierarchical, inaccessible ways to present a version of society that we are all fed. This is oppositional reading, an interpretation not intended by the creators of the image. Tech activists address power inequality by creating public and democratic space for online collaboration. This is an example of contextual reading, where the interpretation of the information presented is  bound up in the context in which the image is presented.

Another key concept of media is, media messages contain social and political implications. The events in Egypt in 2011 and 2013 are a clear examples of this. The Egyptian government tried to censor the use of Facebook, and shut down the internet as government protestors used all forms of social media. The shut down was unsuccessful. Protestors said that the internet gave them safe spaces to organize, voice concerns, and debate issues without fear of meetings being broken up by police.

The internet campaigns for social justice have been instrumental in freeing political prisoners, and bringing attention to atrocities happening in the world. This encourages us to take action and not just idley watch while people suffer. The internet has been instrumental in gathering support for Syrian refugees mobilizing funds and solutions.

Internet technology makes it very easy to get involved in issues that we care about. I have joined personal online campaigning with the Stephen Lewis Foundation. I was provided with a campaign page where I set a goal for something that I wanted to achieve and then was able to be sponsored for this by raising financial support for the Foundation, by sharing on Facebook. This raises awareness and money and a feeling that I am contributing to the greater good. I also found out about gift giving campaigns online and now give donations as gifts to my friends and family. For example through Plan Canada you can spend money on a gift in someone’s name that gives a goat to a family in Kenya, sends a girl to school and many other helpful things.

The internet can be a powerful tool for social justice and I encourage everyone to get involved.

 

Internet and Your Parental Units

The internet is not something my parents grew up with and it is something certainly new for my grandparents. The internet has always been part of my life and my mother often marvels saying “how do you know that?” I guess I taught myself by freely navigating from one site to the next. I have never been afraid to experiment and push buttons to figure things out. This is something that is a major block for my parent’s generation. There was no internet or even use of computers for word processing when my parents were in University. Computers began to be used after they graduated. My mother remembers horror stories of friends working on theses and pressing the wrong button having their computers crash and their work disappear. To this day my mother is afraid to press the wrong button which affects her confidence navigating the internet.

Looking at this topic using McLuhan’s tetrad, what is enhanced is my relationship with my mother and ultimately her knowledge and use of the internet. I am respected as my mother’s teacher. I have to have patience and respect for her as she is dealing with something new, which can be difficult at times! I have also been able to help my grandparents overcome their fears of using the internet. I found that this fear is not an uncommon problem for seniors. This is discussed in the article, Have no fear: Internet Basics for Seniors.

The internet has been life enhancing making things simpler like banking, travel arrangements, looking up information for services, and entertainment. This is certainly been a help for older adults. Different age groups tend to use the internet differently to enhance their lives as talked about in an article by Marketing Charts Staff.

Another example of Enhancement is that I don’t read newspapers but I do read the news on the internet. As a result, our family discussions are enhanced because I can stay current and I can contribute.

My first experience with socializing on the internet was at the age of nine when I wanted a Facebook account. My mother didn’t know much about it and was concerned with my security. She educated herself and that’s how we got started. In addition to using it for their own socializing, many parents wanted to keep an eye on their kids by also friending them on Facebook. Rather than enhance relationships, this drove teenagers to other social media options. Facebook is no longer seen as ‘cool’. This is shown in a video from Sky News. Now Facebook is becoming  more of an older person’s social media format and since parents and businesses have been getting involved after learning about it from their kids, I think my generation has looked for other outlets like Instagram, and tumblr. This is a way that I see the reverse, according to McLuhan’s tetrad, playing out. When Facebook became so popular as a way for people to communicate as was its intention, young people moved away from using it so that they would not be able to be monitored by their parents. Even though communication between the generations can be enhanced, the internet can also lead to the reverse, kids trying to hide things from their parents with their use of social media, as well as the separation of people as we can become isolated and absorbed in our use of the medium.

What is retrieved by the media in terms of the internet and parental units is opportunities for learning together, information sharing, social interacting, and connecting. For example shopping online together can be fun and efficient. It’s a new way of doing an old behaviour.

At the same time things like oral tradition story times, letter writing, and newspaper reading sharing sections, hearing the turning of the pages and getting the ink on our hands are things that are obsolesced by the internet and experiences that are important for families to share. Family time for kids, teens, and their parents to share in meaningful activities can become pushed aside and reduced to everyone being busy on their devices and busy focussing on their individual internet engagements and entertainment. Happily, at my house, games night (not digital) is not obsolete but something we all look forward to.