Considered Replies 1

Lindsey Macdonald - October 24, 2010

I want to write about a topic that was brought up during my group’s discussion: learning through technology. Caty Gordon said that she had read about an eBook reader specifically for children. This made me wonder a few things: 1) Is this good for children? And 2) Can parents control it?

The blog Next in Learning is entirely devoted to digital learning and basically praises everything about eBooks for children. In one post titled “7 reasons I love digital books for children” they comment on how they love that story itself can read aloud to children. In another blog, eBooks Just Published, a post titled “Designing an eBook Reader for Children,” they list this as a negative, saying that built-in narration means that parents won’t have to read to their children, which could weaken that bond between parent and child. When I was little, I loved when my mom would read to me, and I think that it both strengthened my love for reading as well as the bond I have with my mother. Learning to read is like a rite of passage into education, and parents should have an active role in this.

Next in Learning also praises children’s eBooks for their animated illustrations and describes them as “just magical.” They do admit that as they listen to a story they may not pay attention, so they suggest a comprehension/memory quiz. I fee like having a quiz at the end of every book would take the fun away from reading. eBooks Just Published also refutes the idea of animated illustrations and quizzes within eBooks saying that every book will become like a game and will no longer be focused on the words or the story. In addition, constantly reading from a screen could cause strain to a child’s developing eyes. This could cause a higher instance of eye problems with the next generation.

So if eBooks become the norm for learning, will parents be able to choose whether they want their children to learn this way or the “old-fashioned” way? According to Ray Kurzweil, they won’t because technology is deterministic and we have no control over its evolution. But parents can control what their children are exposed to. They may not have control over this in the classroom, if this is the method that teachers choose to use, but they can keep their own copies of books at home and read out loud with their children.

Ryan Molitor- 10/25/10

I wasn’t sure how to start this, so I thought I would go with the general idea of the group project I was in. Reading through The Singularity is Near got me thinking how that situation would unfold. If all the people of the world were to be engineered to be a perpetuating cyborg, I’m not so sure individuality would still exist. It seems as though we would be become one homogenized single-gendered species of a machine.
Eliminating intimacy and emotion from the equation would be a feasible outcome of the singularity, and it struck me that maybe if no one dies, and reproduction isn’t quite authentic in the future, then would there just be the same group of people running around till this planet comes to an end? It seems the singularity is more of an advancement for machine than for man. Theoretically, we would become machines in some respects, as we wouldn’t have the raw emotion that spawns from thinking for ourselves, nor would we share the emotions of love and pain with a significant other (assuming we can still call someone a significant other in the future).
Kurzweil says the singularity is near whether we like it or not. Well, I don’t like it. I don’t believe there should any immortality or convergence between man and machine that could possibly alter the ways humans interact with each other. I don’t want to see a world like in the movie Wall-E where all the traditions of today have ceased to exist.

Casey Whitehead October 26, 2010
In Response to “Lindsey Macdonald – October 24, 2010”

I think eBook technology is a very interesting thing. I enjoy using the iPad and reading from the Kindle; however not all the time. I enjoy a physical book. I can’t imagine what it would be like to grow up with no “real” books. As a child I had an enormous amount of books, picture books, Dr. Seuss, Berenstain Bear, Winnie the Pooh etc. I loved that time before bed when my sister and my parents and I just read books. Road trip consisted of reading books. Days at the beach were spent reading books. I want my child to grow up that way as well. I agree with Lindsey in that the eBooks are losing the essential “soul” if you will of a story. THey are turning it into games. These technologies are basically forcing the children to learn. This isn’t a bad thing at all but when I was young, I really wasn’t aware of the morals and values my stories were teaching me. I don’t want kids to go home from school and not want to read for fun. I understand that the quizzes are meant to help the child remember and learn but did we need them when we were young? No. I use to read the same books over and over again. This is how we learned. I baby-sit for a 5 year old back home and she can tell me everything that happens on each page of her books and she can barely even read. I agree that this is a wonderful technology and can lead to many great things in many different areas; I just hope that children of the newer generations aren’t losing anything from it.

Katie Stitt 10/26

I want to tackle a concern I have regarding memory and technology. Our discussions and readings seem to suggest that technology is replacing our need to store information. We can unload an infinite number of photos on an online album, we can instantly delete pictures from digital cameras, and can find almost any fact through a search engine. But while these conveniences cut our time in half, I have to wonder if there are consequences in allowing so many external devices and programs to hold our information. If so many of our memories are now so easily stored, what do we organically hold on to? Which memories do we keep with us and how do we pick which ones stick in our minds?

I obviously don’t remember every second of Christmas last year, but if I want to remember, I can playback the video my dad took of us opening gifts, refer to my online photo album, or email a friend or family member for the website they bought my gift from. Despite this, the memories I can recall the most are not “big picture” memories, but the details. Like how my grandfather fumbled with his silverware at dinner or how my dad insisted on wrapping every item – whether it was a pair of socks or a single stick of lip balm — in my mother’s stocking at midnight on Christmas Eve. I remember the way my brother tackled every dessert and which Christmas song played in the car on the way to church. Heck, I even remember what color socks I wore that day – they were red.

Why do I remember the details? If we rely on technology to preserve our dearest memories, what do we risk giving up? It kind of scares me that while we seem to want more ways of keeping track of our lives, we actually begin to forget the little details that make each day special. I think of Ray Kurzweil, who threatens to take our humanistic nature away once the ticking time bomb of exponential progress reaches its deadline. I have to resist. While I hold on to my electronic habits – surfing the internet, watching my favorite shows, exploring the features on my smartphone — I have to say I cherish my imperfect memory that recalls the useless details of my existence. To me, those details define my relationships, give me a sense of humor, and reaffirm that I’m not perfect. That I’m human. And I kind of like it that way.

April Baker - October, 27

"How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.” -Annie Dilliard

I really like reading Shirky’s book, especially in comparison to the last text. It’s a quick read, it’s witty and funny, and it uses real examples and evidence that I can understand; he is, overall, very persuasive. After the class discussion, however, I am having a small problem with Shirky.

So Shirky argues that the plus of something as dumb as lolcats or as seemingly antisocial as World of Warcraft, is that “at least they’re doing something.” He says that instead of wasting brainpower watching tv, where we can essentially zone out, we should be participating in more activities that require human brainpower, which generally means turning to the computer.

My problem with Shirky is that he never really gets Americans off the couch, just moves them into the computer chair. Granted, the DBSK website unintentionally organized teenage girls, who then left their homes to protest. But a working definition of “productive,” in Shirky’s opinion, seems to only involve brainpower and how much we can create or contribute collectively.

I find it interesting that we could have an entire class discussion and only once barely touch the idea of going outside (Blacksburg elementary after school exercise program). When I think about Shirky’s definition, I’m not sure that physical activity necessarily correspond with productivity, but it’s still something that we are choosing to value more and more as a culture.

I just think that if we were to maximize productivity according to Shirky, we would [still] never have to leave the couch. For a lot of people, that means eight hours at a desk job, eight hours sleeping, and eight hours split between mindless tv and productivity on the computer. Where do we fit in the time for actually getting out and doing something, even if it means wasting away some brainpower?

Annabeth Wonch Oct. 27

After reading and discussing Ray Kurzweil, I just kept wondering in my head if this “singularity” would essentially render humans obsolete. If in the future, humans were able to download and upload all the information in the world, wouldn’t everyone have the same level of intelligence? If we were to merge with technology, wouldn’t everyone have the opportunity be the same? In class it was mentioned that soon we would not need doctors, teachers, or even jobs. If we don’t have any of those things, I do not think people would ever leave their houses. If there aren’t jobs, then I just don’t know what people are going to do all day long. And if there weren’t jobs, there would be no need for people to go to college and get educations. It ties into the most recent reading by Shirky on free time, but if we have the singularity, it seems that we would have nothing to do in our free time because we would already know everything (cause we downloaded it) and be in perfect health (no need for exercise or physical activity). And since we are going to live forever, that’s a lot of free time that I don’t know what people will be doing during. I wonder what Shirky and Kurzweil would discuss if they were to ever meet.

I admittedly like the Shirky book much more than Ray Kurzweil. What I was concerned with was Shirky’s attitude that everything we do should be producing something. I do agree that producing something is a good way to spend free time. But I also agree with April, we have to get off the couch. Another good way to spend free time is to go outside. Go on a hike, have a picnic. Non-productive activities that are healthier than two hours of WoW (though WoW is a lot more productive than staring at the Facebook news feed) are just overall better for you, even if nothing is being produced. Even though as a culture we wouldn’t admit it, I fear that America is spending all its free time in front of a screen, claiming productivity, even though deep down we know there are better uses of our time.

Amanda Duncan 10/27

I agree with both April and Annabeth in their critiques of Shirky, but I would even take it a little further than them. I think that a distinction needs to be made between the production of something and the consumption of something, because I personally believe that the essence of participation lies in this distinction. While I may not feel like creating a LOLCat is particularly productive or that it has tremendous social benefit, I do acknowledge that in creating one, you are an active participant in the web experience. It may not be meaningful, but you did it. But I really don’t think that commenting on something (“Hee hee. :-D” [an actual comment]) qualifies you as a meaningful participant in the forum.

I don’t mean to be obnoxious, but there are so many better forms of participation in our free time out there that you could be involved in, and not all of them have to be work-related. You could join a book club, or, if reading is not your forte, a digital manipulation class, where you can learn how to make cool digital photos. If you really love cats, and want to make some really lol, go to an animal shelter and play with them. Instead of tweeting about your political candidate, you could pick up the phone and call them or hand out flyers. Or, as Annabeth says, go outside and go for a hike. I think that pretending, as Shirky does, that you can achieve 100% of your participation on-line (as with his Wikipedia example) is ineffective and unproductive. If we stop producing tangible results, I fear that we will lose something of what makes us human, namely our ability to create something with our hands.

Caty Gordon 10/27

I have a confession to make. Two weeks ago for my 22nd birthday my boyfriend bought me a Kindle. After years of denouncing Kindles, criticizing their lack of aesthetic quality, bemoaning the impending destruction of the publishing industry due to their presence, and generally wanting to spit on anyone who owned one, I confess that I think I’m in love with it. Don’t judge me. But there’s something to be said for the convenience of such a device as an electronic reader. And though I miss running my hands along spines on a bookshelf and the smell of old library books I love that I can carry Pride and Prejudice, Little Women, Emma and Sherlock Holmes (They were all free. Another bonus!) all in a simple, lightweight device.

There are, of course, some downsides: Although there are thousands of free books on Amazon (mostly the classics), I guarantee this will be the bane of my bank account very shortly. I also don’t like that I can’t physically see how far into the book I am. Lastly, I keep running into things while reading. I don’t ever set the gadget down and that creates a spatial problem when crossing the drillfield and navigating campus. I ran into the back of someone, stepped into the street without looking, and tripped over the steps leading into Squires (no damage to the Kindle, thankfully).

It’s an adjustment. I love my new Kindle but at the same time love the colorful books that are gathering dust on my bookshelf, whose titles are all in various fonts, whose images conjure different storylines, whose unique aesthetic probably contributed to why I selected it from a used bookstore or Barnes and Noble. Is technology (ie, the Kindle) taking over our lives? Some would argue that it is. But I’m guessing that the Kindle will not replace bookstores and/or publishing because not everyone is going to be drawn to such a device. For all of its convenience and accessibility (did I mention I can navigate Facebook on the Kindle?), there are still some things to be missed – coffee stains, dog-eared pages, and funky bookmarks from grandma. But in the meantime, I love this little gadget.

Lauren Kaye October 27

Considered Response NUMBER ONE.

To take a controversial stance in the class’ collective discussion, I would agree with Carr that some technologies make us shallower thinkers, and that the phenomenon of using technologies to be in constant contact with one another is also making our relationships shallower.

In the article,"Sick of this text: 'Sorry I'm late'"Elizabeth Bernstein addresses how cell phone use, rather, text messaging , has re-wired how we think about social obligations. She asks, “Remember when we would make plans to meet someone and then actually show up on time? If you were more than a few minutes late, the other person would have visions of you lying on a gurney with a toe tag.” In short, no; I do not remember that time because I was born into the age of cell phones and plans-on-the-fly.

Bernstein argues that because cell phones keeps us constantly connected with one another, and allow us to update one another in real-time, we no longer feel obligated to plan or be punctual. Every thing that comes up can be explained almost instantaneously so we do not feel guilty for being late. The social implication is: disrespect for the people and relationships we engage in.

In Katherine Rosman’s article, "Y U Luv Texts, H8 Calls", she explains that text messaging is surpassing cell phone because we want to be uninterrupted while feeling constantly connected. I found this a great segway into Amanda’s ethnography on multi-media-tasking and being plugged-in to technologies.

Amanda found that: “…92% of those surveyed said that texting was their primary method of communicating with friends….(Among the reasons that were given as to why this was their favor means of communication, speed, convenience, and politeness were involved. (I found the politeness justification interesting, and I think that it has something to do with giving the other person the chance to text back when it is convenient for THEM.)”

The scary part is, that “A text message's content is so condensed that it routinely fails, even more than email, to convey the writer's tone and affect. The more we text, the greater the opportunity for misunderstanding.” (Rosman). So, if our constant communication is routinely being misinterpreted, what’s the value in what we’re saying?

Well, one answer is: not much. Amanda suggests that more often than not, text messaging can cover up for when“…[people] did not have enough substance to fill a conversation. A text conversation can end at any time—all you need to do is to not respond.” To end a conversation so abruptly is not polite, though it may be convenient.

If you take Nye’s perspective on how technologies matter, and we do not view technology as deterministic, we should be able to decide if this is what we want. In this case, I would call for re-evaluation—I don’t want my conversations and relationships based on shallow blips of conversation so I'm not interrupting what the person on the other line is doing—I want real, personal, in-depth conversations and relationships with real, considerate people who take the time to say goodbye.

Lenise Phillips—October 28, 2010

For a while, I’ve been on the Kindle-hating side of the spectrum, too. Like most people who love a good book, some of my favorite things about buying books is being able to dogear my pages, write in the margins, and place my book on my shelf when I’m finished—veritable proof that I’ve accomplished something great. And don’t even get me started on the smell.

My best friend’s dad bought a Kindle sometime last year, and I distinctly remember being a little annoyed by it. As someone who would love to work in publishing, the idea of an electronic book is more than a little scary—breaking into the publishing industry is daunting enough, but making many jobs obsolete seems to be the final nail in my proverbial coffin. It breaks my heart a little to know that, according to Amazon's Senior Vice President Steve Kessel, "Kindle books are also outselling print books for the top 25, 100 and 1,000 best sellers…this is remarkable when you consider that we've been selling hardcover and paperback books for 15 years, and Kindle books for just 36 months." (New "Kindle Sales Exceed Amazon's Expectations")

Despite this depressing statistic, something in me started to shift last December when I was getting ready to go to France for 4 months, and my dad kept asking me if I wanted a Kindle for Christmas. I just brushed him off because I had sworn to myself I wouldn’t conform. But when I actually got to France, armed only with 2 of my favorite books, I began to rethink my position on this whole Kindle thing. It would not have been feasible for me to have packed every single one of my favorite books—I could have surpassed my allotted weight limit in books alone had that been the case. And though I still love being able to hold a book in my hand, I couldn’t deny how convenient it would have been to have had a Kindle on which I could have downloaded any English book I wanted (finding good English books in France, while not impossible, was not convenient).

We’ve talked about this a little bit in class, but I think Kindles aren’t necessarily aimed at our particular audience—the audience of people who seem to eat and breathe the written word. So while the idea of electronic literature frightens me, I can now understand that this new technology is potentially a very good addition to the industry. For example, my mom likes to read, but she won’t go out of her way to spend an hour or two looking for a random book at Borders. She tends to let the books find her, if that makes any sense. So when she called me three days ago to tell me my dad had gotten her a Kindle for her birthday, I was surprised, yet pleased, by her excitement.

I’d never considered my mom an avid reader, but it seems that her new Kindle might be enough motivation to get her to start reading more regularly. It’s certainly better than playing Farmville. (Or would Shirky argue that even Farmville is productivity? I hope not.) The only really unfortunate aspect of a Kindle that I could foresee was the aspect of sharing books. I coerced my mom in to reading The Hunger Game book series by Suzanne Collins, and she ended up really enjoying the books. So she told me her first Kindle purchase was going to be the latest book in the series, and I immediately said, “I can’t wait to borrow it!” It was only after she hung up that I realized I wouldn’t be able to unless she let me read it off her Kindle. And that, I’m afraid, would be inconvenient. For me, at least.

Because you see, Amazon seems to have foreseen this problem, and according to many news articles appearing all over the web, the company plans to

"[introduce] lending for Kindle, a new feature that lets you loan your Kindle books to other Kindle device or Kindle app users. Each book can be lent once for a loan period of 14-days and the lender cannot read the book during the loan period. Additionally, not all e-books will be lendable - this is solely up to the publisher or rights holder, who determines which titles are enabled for lending” ("Amazon To Add E-Book Lending to the Kindle")

So it looks like Amazon already anticipated this inconvenience and is doing what it needs to in order to fix it. Unfortunately, those without Kindles are still at a loss in terms of lending, which makes plenty of sense. But with Kindle sales already surpassing expectations, do you think this upgrade will encourage those who are on the fence about Kindles to finally buy one?

Christopher Roubo—October 30, 2010

While I may never actually own a Kindle, I never actually held any animosity toward either. I agree with those that said that a parent reading to his/her child can help form a strong bond; one of my most cherished memories with my deceased grandpa was when he used to read to me as a little kid. And I don’t feel that an eBook reader can ever replace that. This reminds me of our group discussion of no matter how prevalent electronic and digital technology becomes in the future, it can never replace the connectivity that people experience between each other.

As a kid, I loved to read, though my little brother never shared the same interest. He was never interested in getting a new book unless it came with a toy of some sort (like a joke book that came with a whoopee cushion). I feel like more and more kids may becoming like my brother, in that they won’t see any point in reading unless there is some other form of entertainment that comes along with it, which electronic reading materials may provide.

However, while the idea of a electronic books feels like an inevitability at this point (like almost everything else converting to an electronic format nowadays), I don’t think that means that parents can’t continue to gain the same kind of experience with their children. Parents can probably still get the same kind of bonding with their kids by reading to them through a Kindle as well. The format may change but the connectivity will still be there.

Jay Speidell
Response to Lindsey (Kindle discussion)

I agree that using ereaders as a learning tool will take the fun out of learning. The level of interactivity of embedded quizzed is going to severely cut away fromt he interactivity of imagination.

I don't know if any of you have watched modern children's shows, like Dora the Explorer or Baby Einstein. I've seen bits and pieces, a full episode of Dora when I broke the remote, and I have to say that it is a wasteland.

Remember the children's shows of our day targeted at the same age groups? Animaniacs, Looney Tunes, or when we were a little older Dexter and the Powerpuff Girls? It was just good old fashioned fun, where the imagination could run wild.

In Dora the Explorer, toddlers and young children are condescended to by a narrator who literally talks to them like they are newborns. Instead of funny antics, children are constantly quizzed, and nothing is really fun.

"Okay kids, where is the hammer?"

Awkwardly long pause, then hammer is hilighted.

"Good job, you found it!"

I'm afraid that bringing a technological standard to books will empower douchebags like the people who make Dora the Explorer to turn the whole medium into an educational platform.

Now remember the days when you were very young and first starting to read books. Do you remember what it was like imagining a whole new world that you've never experienced before?

Now imagine books 2.0.

"To proceed to the next chapter, please answer the following question: Where did Huck Finn intend to go? A)Cairo B)Richmond C)Canada"

I don't know about you, but had I encountered that as a kid I would have set it on fire, much like I did with my first book of poetry. And if you don't believe this is the future, tune into Nickelodeon before noon.

Go ahead, do it, I can wait.

Your neighbors are probably pissed off by your swearing by now, so you can turn it off. A lot different than Rugrats, isn't it?

We as a society have a lesson to learn as we adopt new technologies. And it isn't about whether new technologies are good or bad. The real question is, when should I use these technologies?

The right answer is whenever it makes life easier. The wrong answer is whenever it lets us get out of doing something, like taking care of our kids or educating people.

A great example that is relevant to the people in the class is absentee teaching. If you are paying in state tuition, you are paying between $60 and $90 for every class you attend. Technology has done nothing to improve the value that you get from this because bad teachers, such as Richard Phillips, the Greek and Roman Mythology professor here at Virginia Tech, forgo the discussion and papers and learning to condense an entire subject subject to 16 powerpoint presentations and three scantron tests.

Think about how Richard Phillips has stolen the value of your college education. Now think about how "edutainment" companies are trying to the same things to your children first with TV, and now books.

"That won't happen, we won't ever let ourselves get stupid, society is progressive!"

I doubt James Madison
would believe you if you told him everybody in America would be fat in 200 years.

Carolyn in response to Jay

Jay, I find myself completely agreeing with you! Looking back on my childhood, I believe that the shows that I learned the most from were the one that were sneaky with their educational value. When I was watching a show such as Zoom (if anyone remembers this it was a bunch of fifth graders making toy rocketships out of rubber bands and things) and thinking that they were shoving the science down my throat. I didn’t want to be leactured and pandered to on my Saturday mornings before chores.

I know the shows that I enjoyed the absolute most had no educational value at all—I’m not quite sure even today what I was supposed to be learning from Dark Wing Duck or Tale Spin or Ahh Real Monsters.

But the shows that were in the middle for me were the ones I most remember today—scientifically that is. There was this one television show named Kratt’s Kreatures; a show about two brothers and their travels around the world looking at odd animals. They were so interested in what they were doing and what they themselves were learning as they went along their travels that I didn’t feel like I was being condescended, but that I was learning along with them. I really enjoyed feeling like an equal to grown men in the safaris of Africa :]
Another way I learned as a child through my television was through silly songs. To this day it is from Animaniacs that I can sing all the state capitols and all the presidents in order and all of the states and parts of speech. It was through this nifty little tunes that I hummed to myself after the show was finished that I could later remember what an interjection was.

I think that shows that try and teach you something in a sneaky way, songs, overt demonstrations, etc, are the ones that really stick with you later in life. If you sit in front of your television all day shouting at the screen that you FOUND THE HAMMER or know WHERE IS BACKPACK, that you will be little help to society other than in the making of I Spy puzzles and in finding Waldo.

Eric Kambach in response to Ryan Moliter

Kurzweil's Singularity "prophecy" intrigues me as well. To me, it's one of the more likely ways of how humanity will be eliminated. We should be preparing for the Singularity, not the Zombie apocalypse!!!

In all seriousness, I'm skeptical about this prophecy. I believe that the only way this can be fulfilled is through willing human influence: someone has to be going out of their way to make the Singularity happen, and I don't feel that slicing a man and a mechanism in such a way as to create a scifi-like cyborg is going to get much funding or support in this country. It's just too bizarre and their have been too many horrific science fiction stories that talk about this particular topic.

As for the decline of human emotion and interaction, we've used the image of the humans in Wall-E when talking about the heavy reliance or "connection" between humans and machines, and how "wired" humans already are. We're already there, in a way, with the internet, social networks and massive texting, where we are only left with our own interpretations as to the tone of the words on our screens. We can also reference the speculative film "Equalibrium," set in a future where man as come to a time of peace by ridding humanity of emotion and anything that can spark emotion(religion, art, etc.). Take a look at it and see what happens…

But I think Kurzweil is anticipating a more dramatic, groundbreaking event when he refers to the Singularity. In my mind, I see the movie "Terminator: Salvation," particularly the character introduced in the beginning, who becomes a subject in an experiment towards finding a way to live forever, which eventually turns to making the test subject a new weapon in the machine's fight against mankind. That's the Singularity, I believe, Kurzweil has in mind. And, in my opinion, he's definitely the one pushing to make this happen.

All this rant about an apocalyptic union of man and machine leaves me with one thing to say: Happy Halloween!

*Casey Whitehead October 31, 2010*

Thought on Ray Kurzweil and Futurists.

I wanted to share this article I read at about another futurist, Nick Bilton, author of I Live in the Future and Here's How It Works and "seasoned technologist and lead writer at The New York Times" (quoted from the wired article).

Feel free to read the article here

What I hope you all take away from the article and why I wanted to bring it to the attention of the class is that not all futurists are like Kurzweil. In fact this guy doesn't seem "crazy" in the sense that our previous author was at all.

Bilton argues that we are already living int he future. He sees where technology is headed and believes that we are partly there. The article doesn't suggest anything to the degree of Kurzweil's singularity. Bilton acknowledged that mass amount of data the world is collecting and what the world is giving back to us.

Bilton see's there world this way: “As we move to this world where we consume things on screen and the lines blur between television and radio and the printed word and every medium, everything is going to be catered to storytelling,” Bilton told

i encourage you all to read the article, they talk about everything from Tetris to the knew Kindle applications.

I think it is important to remember that Kurzweil is just one person, who wrote one book, about one topic. There are plenty more theories for our further and I like this one a lot more than Kurzweil's. They do tend to agree a some topics however Bilton's is a lot less scary, and doesn't make me see the world being overtaken by computers and AI.

Caty Gordon, Oct. 31

I recently came across an article in the New Yorker that I thought might be of interest to our class, specifically because we’ve talked about the functionality and practicality of social networking tools. In this article the author argues that despite our generation being in the midst of revolution, and despite our addiction to and frequent use of social networking mediums, they will not serve to start a revolution. At first I thought this guy had it all wrong. In 2009 after Ahmadinejad controversially was re-elected president of Iran despite the popularity of Moussavi (and let’s face it, probably ballot tampering and voter fraud), social media took people to the streets. Tweets and Facebook events organized thousands of demonstrators in the streets of Tehran. A young female protestor, Neda, was killed by the Basijj and an onlooker taped her death with a cell phone, then uploaded it to YouTube causing it to go global. Nearly every news station in the world played a portion (if not all) of that video. In short, social media gave the world an inside glimpse into the uprising in Iran that the state-run national communication would not allow.

I protested the Iranian interest buildings in Washington, D.C. along with hundreds others who demanded international intervention in Iran. Iranian-Americans told me that they relied on Twitter updates and Facebook posts to tell them if family members were still alive. Many had found out through Tweets that relatives had been jailed for protesting in Tehran. It was through the internet that I learned of this rally and others in my area. So how could Gladwell argue that social media isn’t leading a revolution when such were taking place in cities like Meldova and Tehran because of social media “word-of-mouth?”

Gladwell argues, “With Facebook and Twitter and the like, the traditional relationship between political authority and popular will has been upended, making it easier for the powerless to collaborate, coördinate, and give voice to their concerns.” However, Gladwell believes this type of collaboration is wrought with ambiguity and misguidance. “The platforms of social media are built around weak ties. Twitter is a way of following (or being followed by) people you may never have met. Facebook is a tool for efficiently managing your acquaintances, for keeping up with the people you would not otherwise be able to stay in touch with. That’s why you can have a thousand “friends” on Facebook, as you never could in real life.”

I’m beginning to think Gladwell may have a point here. Many think that Facebook and Twitter are mediums by which to reach the masses, and it’s true that they are. But for what cause? And for how much fervor? I “like” pages that support my political beliefs and uphold causes of which I consider myself passionate about. But I can show such support with the click of a button, not physical presence or an adherence to any type of conduct. “Liking” a page does not infer I’m participating in a sit-in or boycott or social uprising on the steps of the Capitol. It’s just an affiliation with a page in the bowels of cyberspace.

So to that end, how much of an impact are social networking sites like Twitter, Facebook, and blogs accomplishing? Are the rants and raves of others (or ourselves) of any real consequence today? Have 160 character Tweets usurped the power of bombastic, moving speeches like “I Have a Dream” or others? Could this be what Carr was getting it when he said the internet was melting our brainpower? Are we powerless in the age of revolution to actually mobilize beyond the movement of our mouse cursors?

Lindsey Macdonald - October 31, 2010
In response to Lauren Kaye…

I have to admit that I’m guilty of using texting as one of my primary forms of communication. For me, though, it’s a different reason than just convenience.

I have a severe case of phone phobia. Every time I have to call someone, even if it’s a good friend, I panic. The only people I can call without panicking are my parents and my boyfriend. I have a friend who prefers calling over texting and every time I miss his call, I’ll text him back instead of calling him. If I have something to say that’s too long for a text message, I’ll send a message over Facebook. I think in my case, that it really is just a weird phobia because I’ve been this way even before the texting phenomenon. But I do think that since this has happened, people have become uncomfortable with actual conversations, whether it be face-to-face or over the phone.

The article, Antisocial Networking? by Hilary Stout, talks about how researchers are concerned that children and teenagers aren’t developing deep relationships because of the rise of technologies such as texting and Facebook. Teens don’t call each other anymore because with texting, there’s just no need for it. I think that people get used to this kind of communication, so when they have to call someone or meet face-to-face they’re going out of their comfort zones. For example, “Laura Shumaker…noticed recently that her 17-year-old son, John, ‘was keeping up with his friends so much on Facebook that he has become more withdrawn and skittish about face-to-face interactions.”

On the other hand, though, this article argues that things like texting and Facebook help people who are really shy connect to others. Some may argue that this is just an excuse for shy people to remain socially awkward, but I think that shy people will always be shy people. I being one of those shy people think that texting and Facebook have helped me be able to better keep in touch with people and make plans without having a panic attack.

October 31

Lauren Kaye
Considered response NUMBER DOS.

In response to the Kurzweil discussion and the skepticism regarding his predictions:

In class last week, I mentioned that I have engaged in a discussion with one of my regular customers at Mill Mtn. regarding The Singularity. Since then, he has sent me some intriguing examples that support, rather than deny what Kurzweil says.

Kurzweil claims that once we master reverse engineering the brain, we will emerge into The Singularity through developments in GNR. In “The Singularity is Near” he emphasizes the importance of robotics developments as the most important part of The Singularity. In class, we discussed whether or not this is an appealing or favorable future. The consensus was, “no”; this imagined future is creepy and far-fetched.

It seems we’re getting there.

Hiroshi Ishiguro, a professor at Osaka University, and senior researcher at ATR Intelligent Robotics and Communication Laboratories has built a robot in his exact image that teaches his classes for him. Apparently Skype didn’t cut it for this guy. “Ishiguro said he wants the robot to have sonzai-kan, or presence,” so he made a breathing, blinking, moving robot that he controls remotely from his home in Kyoto.

video of Ishiguro's android

“It blinks and fidgets in its seat, moving its foot up and down restlessly, its shoulders rising gently as though it were breathing. These micromovements are so convincing that it's hard to believe this is a machine — it seems more like a man wearing a rubber mask. But a living, breathing man,” writes Tim Hornyak in “Meet The Remote-Control Self.”
link to "Meet the Remote-Control Self" article in Wired magazine

Hornyak asks why someone would want to build an android of them self. The answer: Ishiguro says that if he could do all of his work remotely, he could spend all day at a hot spring. Currently, he is working on getting his android to interact with students.

There are also Robot pets:
Check out these robot cats!

Cute and cuddly, and you don’t even have to clean a litter box!

And a robot baby that was built in 3 WEEKS!

As life-like as these creations are, they still do not seem to capture that humanness that we’ve been discussing all semester. No matter how much a robot cat purrs or arches its back, it will never have a free will—that thing that makes a cat, a cat. Antics. Curiosity. And even though the baby reaches its life-like hand out of that incubator just like a real infant might, the movement seems bereft.

As much as Ishiguro’s android seems creepy and remote, isn’t that kind of the direction progress is moving us towards, a world that we access remotely through our technologies?

Carolyn Erhart in response to Caty Gordon
November 1st

I would sadly say that I have to completely agree with Caty on the subject of Ebook Readers. For the longest time I would stare at advertisements of the Kindle or the Nook and think to myself: what a waste of money! Why would anyone but an electronic device to read a book that costs hundreds of dollars when one could just read it from the library?

But after a sale at Borders, my well meaning parents purchased me a Sony Ebook Reader as well as $300 in credits to purchase books at Sony’s online store. And sadly friends, I love it. My hands no longer get fatigued holding large paperbacks open one-handed. I don’t have to search for a bookmark or a receipt to hold my page place or to even risk dog earing my precious books. With my new reader all I have to do is hit a bookmark tab and this nifty device saves my place the next time I return to the book.

My first editions can now stay safely on their shelves in my bedroom, resplendent with their dust jackets and pristine pages. I bought a small neoprene case and throw this little device around like I’m juggling. In it goes into purses, backpacks, tote bags, and voila, I always have something to read at the busstop or in line at the super market.

I will say something that sounds odd, but something I found to be strangely important. My ebook reader has no smell. It smells like new plastic and metal, not the slightly musty, thick odor that my older books carry with them. I really think that this lack of smell diminishes what I get from reading a book electronically. I have discovered that I only wish to read books I already have on my ebook reader. I find that if I already own the book in a hard or paper back in my shelves, it’s nice to revisit it electronically. But if I find myself buying a new ebook from the library, I quickly lose interest, no matter how interesting the plot. I really do believe that this lack of bookishness smell makes me somewhat less connected to the book. I know smell isn’t a topic that we usually delve into, but I seem to find myself missing it.

Carolyn in response to Lindsey on November 1st

I don’t think Lindsey is alone at all with her reluctance to make phone calls. I too do not enjoy using my phone as a phone unless forced. I find that with a text message, a conversation is brief, concise and clear. If I want to go to lunch with a friend, I will send a simple text message such as “lunch at panera at 11:30? :]”.

If my friend wishes to go with me, there are numerous responses that could take our conversation a myriad of ways. She could respond “sure” or “great” or “ooh how about chipotle instead”. We could modify our plans based on a few words and then meet in person. I would say that in response to the antisocial networking article that no, text messaging does not make us more antisocial. In my example, I am merely using a text message as a means of conveyance to set up a face-to-face lunch date.

I believe that text messaging allows people who are somewhat shyer to not involve themselves so completely in a conversation. If one wishes, a conversation through a phone without speaking can be just as sincere as a spoken one.

Text messaging also gives us a sort of time that a telephone call does not. When reacting to a fight or a lunch invitation, you always have the opportunity to think before you speak. Texting allows one to choose their words carefully before a social misstep. I think that in this way, text messages make for more polite and kind conversation than sometimes cutting, spur of the moment words on the phone.

In any case, usually when people call me, I hit ignore immediately and then text “hey sorry I’m in class, what’s up?” I still communicate just as easily, and with my soon-to-be-diagnosed-carpel-tunnel haha, just as quickly, as when I speak on a telephone; I’m just nicer about it :]

Ryan Molitor-11/1/10

Response to Lenise

It seems minds have been changed when discussing the Kindle. People like the fact that you can carry as many books as you’d like, and perhaps that’s not such a bad thing when you have limited room to carry books to France.

To me it seems as though reading the printed book is my only connection to the past. It is as close as I can get to John Swift, or have the same feelings as Mark Twain when he was inspired to write. There’s some nostalgic feeling I get from reading the dull print on the page on a contrasted, smelly page. There’s some feeling I get from needing the ambience of a separate light source, and not the ambience from the Kindle’s screen. Of course, I’d be lying if I said that relying on the rooms that I like dimly lit has never presented a problem.

It also seems to me that the Kindle has several other problems. The human attention span is far too short to devote so much attention to one book, at least when you have as many books as you want at your disposal. If one starts to get boring at all, the reader will simply exercise their ability to choose a new book at will. I also have a problem with the lending aspect that Lenise had described. If the Kindle only allows a reader 14 days to complete the book lent to them, then it seems human beings of the future are just screwed. I lent a printed novel to my friend once, took him seven months to read it. And the entire time all I could think was how much I wanted to reread this book, which is a problem the Kindle does not even eliminate.

I guess my overall argument is that I would always choose printed books as oppose to any alternative, but it seems that I may not have a choice as we head into the future of the Kindle.

Jay Speidell
Cell Phone Discussion

I'm also one of those people who hates talking on the phone, especially if it's an important call. I prefer to text them and then meet up in person. And if it's an important call, like a phone meeting or an interview, I'm never able to concentrate and write things down while still keeping up with the conversation. I'd much rather meet in person, even if it means I have to dress up and go somewhere.

But I don't think this is a detachment, or a move away from interpersonal communication. I think it's exactly the opposite.

We prefer texts over phone calls not because we are avoiding human contact, it's because we reject the unnatural way of speaking over the phone. It's hard to have a conversation when you aren't looking the person in the eye and seeing their body language. Over the phone you don't know if they are showered or wearing pants. They could be pooping and you wouldn't know it.

We avoid phone conversations because we need physical interaction during phone calls. Texting is easier because it's completely detached, and texting is usually a way to set up in-person meetings.

So is avoiding phone conversations in favor of texting a sign of technology destroying our personal connections, or is it just another bullshit idea to make a couple of authors and news corporations a couple extra bucks?

I'm going with the latter.

Annabeth Wonch Nov 1
Cell phone discussion

I’m glad to see that I am not the only one who seems to dread talking on the phone. I even work at the Virginia Tech Student Calling Center, my job is to talk on the phone. Yet even after working there for a year and a half, I am still no more comfortable talking on the phone than before. It is just so easy to text. You can be texting twelve different people at once; you can only talk to one person at a time (unless it’s a conference call…but those are awkward).

Jay mentioned the lack of important communication elements like eye contact that are missing in phone conversation. Which made me think of another popular way that many people communicate these days – Skype. If there is something that I dislike as much as talking on the phone, its video chatting online. While it comes in handy to get some great face-to-face communication with people overseas, I don’t understand why people I go to the same school with want to Skype with me. When you are talking are you supposed to not do other things on the Internet? And even though people crave things like eye contact how many of us are actually looking into the camera when Skyping? I bet 90% of people are just looking at themselves in the video feed. While video chatting seems like a great idea, I personally do not like it. What does everyone else think about Skype?

Katie Stitt Nov.1

Response to Jay and eEducational tools

Last Thursday in class, we watched a YouTube video from the Funny or Die series, “Drunk History.” For anyone who has not seen the videos, the mini episodes follow a historian who drinks a bottle of some alcoholic substance and then proceeds to narrate a historical event. While this alone could be entertaining, the episode uses celebrities to act out the narration by simply mouthing the narrator’s words.

I’m not sure what the purpose of the series originally was, but it raised some controversy in our class. Some of us appreciated it for its comedic value, while others sat in horror as historical events were littered with vulgar phrases and Will Ferrell. Further still, we began to wonder what the consequences of the videos would be. Is there any educational value to them?

I began to think about my days in AP U.S. History and how many times I fought the urge to sleep in class as our teacher droned on about how crucial Fredrick Douglas was to our nation’s history. This was before YouTube became a resource (I’ve had many classes where professors use YouTube as part of their lectures). If I was bored to tears in that class four years ago, I’m sure this year’s class is just as bored – and distracted.

Carr argues that we are becoming shallower with technology’s advances. I don’t know if shallower is the correct description – I would prefer to say our attention is redistributed. While I agree with Jay’s assessment of Dora the Explorer, I do think technology could serve a vital function in the educational arena. Sure, I think books are a source of knowledge (seeing as I’m a bookworm myself), but I’m not naïve enough to believe it is now the only source. Kids younger than our age group need to feel connected even more than we do, and I can only imagine how hard it is for them to concentrate and remember material in school. Why not introduce technology into the curriculum? Wouldn’t showing an episode of “Drunk History” motivate students to learn more about Fredrick Douglas than just a chapter in a textbook?

I’m not suggesting high-schoolers be exposed to drunk historians and crude language in school. I’m also not suggesting that educators completely replace their traditional materials to accommodate technology that appeals to more current cultural standards. I think that finding a balance between the two is the next step. I see videos like “The Magic School Bus” and “Dora the Explorer” as supplements, not replacements to educational tools. Maybe a specific concept is difficult to grasp. Why not find a YouTube video that turns the process of photosynthesis into a catchy song to help jog your memory?

Carr’s notion that we are progressively losing some of our memory functions may be slightly true, but I think we can help ourselves by integrating tools into our learning practices as aids.

Amanda Duncan’s Response to Annabeth (11/1/10)

I am going to throw my name hat into the ring of people who dislike talking on the phone as well. I don’t know what it is, but it’s been that way with me for years. At my job over the summer, I would sometimes have to call clients, and let me tell you, I preferred it 100% of the time when I was able to email them instead. And I would argue that it’s the same with the people I know too. Sure, I like talking to my mom on the phone every now and again, but ask me to talk to my grandparents, and I freeze up. I just don’t know what they want to talk about.

But about the skype discussions; I have tried them, and I really do not like them. I did a skype interview last spring for an internship (to replace the fact that I couldn’t drive to Washington DC during the middle of the week), and it was almost more uncomfortable than actually going to the interview. At least with an in person conversation/interview, I would have been able to pick up on subtle cues that might not be transferred so well over the web-cam. I also felt like I was valued less, since there was less invested in the encounter. Instead of having to welcome me, shake my hand, etc., all the HR agent had to do was sign on and then sign off.

I think that this is something that is really missing in Skype communications, the time investment. And that’s why I think that its really funny that you mentioned that people who go to the same school, and who live—probably—less than 10 minutes away, want to Skype. Maybe it is a transportation thing (ie. Don’t have a car) but I’m more inclined to think that it is just an unwillingness to put yourself out there, much in the same way as a phone conversation. Just as in the old BF/GF “You hang up first!” “No, YOU hang up first”, there is that uncertainty of how to go about actually finishing the conversation. So instead of trying to learn the act, we simply decline to act in the first place. And I am not saying that it is a bad thing, or something that we must change, but it is interesting.

Anyone else have a take on Skype? Do we have any avid video-chatters out there?

Jay Speidell

I've used Skype before and I've never felt as comfortable as I am (relatively, I'm never comfortable) talking in person. I used it to talk with a friend who was doing a student exchange program in Russia and it was pretty cool, there was no other way I would be able to talk to him.

So I think Skype has value in that is uses the internet to transcend the bullshit of telecommunications pricing, allowing you to talk to anyone in the world for free. It's amazing for talking to friends in other countries, but not so much for talking to friends just a few miles away.

But I'd also like to bring up another related topic: Chatroulette.

I'm sure many of you have had mixed experiences with Chatroulette, depending on whether you went there before or after it turned into a mecca of masturbation. My friends and I went there when it first started, and it was a completely new experience.

Strangely, the mixture of face-to-face interaction combined with the anonymity of the internet made for some very engaging conversation. I found myself talking about things that I would never talk about with "real people," I shamelessly flirted with girls who flirted back, I listened to some guy bitch about how goddamn cold it is in Siberia, and I actually had a half hour conversation with nothing but hand gestures with a girl who could only speak Korean.

I'd have to say that this is one example where using technology to communicate is, in some instances, even better than the real thing. Chatroulette wasn't a way to distance us from other people, it was a way to connect on a new level with people you would never meet unless you are a globe trotting millionaire.

But this phenomena was only a small blip on the radar, Chatroulette and all of the related websites have been overtaken by lonely men (and some women) who feel that their problems will be solved by exposing themselves to the internet.

Which brings me to the first universal rule of technology: If it exists, and if it is good, it is going to employed one way or another for pornography. If you don't don't believe that resistance is futile, just ask Sony about Betamax.

Christopher Roubo- November 2

On texting and Skyping

I’m another person who usually tends to favor texting over talking on my cell phone most of the time. I never really enjoyed talking on the phone much in the first place, even before texting became popular. Most of the time I need to reach someone, it’s to ask a simple question or to let them know something that I can say in a few words. It’s simple and out of the way, unlike when I have to talk to someone over the phone and indulge in some chit-chat as well. And since my phone plan allows for unlimited texting, well, that just encourages it even more.

Oddly enough, while I have no problem talking to people in person, the idea of talking to people on Skype bugs me much more talking on the phone. I’ve never actually used Skype before, so I’ll admit that I‘m probably being unfair about Skype, but there’s just something about talking through a camera online. I think that I just don’t like the idea of putting myself on a camera through the internet. It’s why I’ll never get a webcam.

Really, though, I’m not much of a talker, in any medium really, be it on the phone or in person, but I think Amanda’s observation of how Skype takes away the factor of time investment is interesting. And it may very well be true. If I run into someone I know on campus or anywhere else, I can stop and have a quick conversation with that person. With Skype, I don’t see much a point in actively going on-line to have a conversation that’s probably going to be just as quick and then sign off because I have hard seeing myself care as much if I were to have a chat in person.

Again, maybe it’s just something going over my head because I don’t use Skype. I’m not condemning it. I’m not dreading it as the future of interpersonal communication. I’m just not interested in using it.

April Baker - November 2

Response to texting - and relationships

I was a late bloomer to the cell-phone scene. I didn’t get a cell phone until the end of 11th grade, and it took me most of my freshman year of college to come up with enough legitimate reasons to convince my parents to unblock texting on my phone. Now, I text a lot - I can’t lie. But I do think that I have a difference attitude toward texting than a lot of my friends, and I’m always wondering about their habits.

My roommate is by far the worst. Not to offend anyone, but she does some crazy things. She takes it into the bathroom with her when she showers. Sometimes I want to text her while she’s in there, just to see if she responds. She wears it in her bra when she goes to the gym, and she kept her phone in her dress during ring dance, but she still complains if people text her during the night and she can’t fall back asleep. Personally, I think that’s what they make an “alarm only” setting. Also why they still make real alarm clocks.

The biggest problem I’ve seen with her incredible need to text-or-die, is her experience with relationships - of the dating kind. On more than one occasion, she has met a guy, gotten his phone number, and attempted to experience all of the get-to-know-you steps via text. She most often finds that these guys are 1) bad at keeping up conversation 2) difficult to read, both literally and figuratively, and/or 3) nothing like they are in person. She attempts, I think, to learn a person’s likes, dislikes, personality, habits, and all of the other traits she looks for in a guy while using a medium that is totally inappropriate for conveying any of these emotionally-connected aspects of a person.

A quick Google search showed me that the internet is full of advice about how to appropriately use texting in a relationship. It’s totally changed both long and short distance relationships and what it means to connect, make plans, and get to know each other. Some people, like my roommate, are giving in to the desire to express their emotions through text, while other still seem to think that face-to-face communication is the most meaningful. Overall, people seem to think that texting should come later in the relationship, instead of earlier, and it shouldn’t be the only form of communication.

As “digital natives,” we often choose to use texts for more than an easy way to make plans, but also to have serious conversations or even arguments with friends through hundreds of characters, in place of face-to-face communication. The phone, like the computer screen, can give us a false sense of safety, because we can say what we feel without the uncomfortable confrontation, while enjoying the convenience of multi-tasking and texting. (The Washington Post) But do we let the activity that we choose to make us more connected - like texting - to become something that we need in our lives to escape actual human interaction and make us feel more comfortable or more popular?

Amanda Duncan— Response to the Cell Phone in Relationship resonse

I suppose that in comparison to other kids my age, I got a cell phone at a pretty appropriate age, in 10th grade, when I started driving. My parents didn’t what me driving on the road without a phone, and I think I understand that. My first phone was a really basic flip phone, and I don’t think that I ever even used it for texting. I know that I used my second phone for texting, but since it didn’t have a keyboard, I still wasn’t that into texting. But as soon as I got a keyboard on my phone, my texting took off.

For me, texting was an important part of communication in a relationship. While I am not quite as obsessive about my phone as April’s roommate, I do carry my phone with me at (almost) all time. And because of that, I think that it can be a really useful part of communicating. For instance, when I was working a really crappy job, having my phone, and the ability to text my boyfriend after a really bad customer was a really great thing. Even if it was just a really quick text, I felt closer to him.
When I came back to school, we started a long distance relationship, and I think that cell phones were a good way to maintain quick contact during the day. We would still talk on the phone at night, but during the day, when we were both busy, texts took the place of a lunch meeting.

Websites like Miss Your Mate say that it is a really good idea to text in relationships, but there are also websites like this blog Datingish that say that texting actually ruins relationships because there is no actual human contact. What are your ideas? Does texting make relationships better or worse?

Carolyn Erhart on Skyping

I was surprised to read how so many of my classmates dislike using Skype to talk to people. So far everyone has said that they dislike it as it seems to be impersonal and lacking in subtleties. I actually use Skpe quite often and really rather enjoy it. My boyfriend lives in Colorado where he is completing his PHD and since both of our school schedules are so wonky, we rarely get to see each other.

Because of the time difference between Virginia and Colorado, I don’t like to be on the phone too late, otherwise I fall asleep with talking and leave a big phone shaped imprint on my face. We talk on Skype quite often.

I will admit it was a little weird at first because I didn’t really know what to do with my hands and I never knew where to look (oh no do I look at Matt on the screen or at the camera hole??). After some time I finally figured it out and am comfortable having little conversations at nighttime (minds out of the gutter people) just to say hi and to see how we’re doing. I like to pan the webcam onto Akeila (my dog) and have Akeila bark at Matt’s video image on the screen so he knows she’s saying hi too. I show him changes I’ve made to my apartment and ask if he likes the new paint or towels or couch. Sometime I just stick the laptop on a shelf and pan it down so he can watch Akeila and me wrestle or throw a ball.

I guess in retrospect it seems a little weird to talk and see each other at the same time, but I quite enjoy it. Every once in a while, I have to hang up so I can pee, (something you don’t have to do on the phone lol) but all in all I like being able to sit with my dog and have a chat and just be hands free—no hot cell phone to constantly hold to hurt your shoulder.

Skype does have its ups and downs as the connection something gets a bit weird and we end up talking on top of each other or my picture will freeze on a really unattractive angle of my face, but I think it’s rather nice :]

Lenise Phillips-November 4, 2010

Considered Reply 2 on Skyping

I'm probably Skype's biggest advocate. I promise I'm not trying to beat a dead horse in talking about my time in France, but it really was my saving grace while I was overseas. Yes, my internet connection was terrible, but when I did have a good connection, Skype was the only client I used to talk to my parents. Of course video chatting is no substitute for being able to talk to someone face-to-face, but at the same time, it's the perfect alternative when meeting with a person is not an option. But maybe even more important than its free video-chatting is Skype's ridiculous inexpensive calling plans. Because my schedule was so different than my parents (6 hour time difference!), it was hard to schedule a time where we might both be at our computers to talk. But Skype let me buy a Virginia phone number for about $20, and I could call any phone in the United States for 3 months. It was perfect for when I needed to figure out my lease information for my apartment this year, or when I wanted to call my grandma in California who's knowledge of technology and Internet doesn't go much farther than tending to her crops on Farmville.

In terms of Skype being impersonal and lacking a time investment, I'm not sure how much I agree with the idea. Yes, technologies sometimes allow us to hide behind our screens and remain anonymous; they give us courage to say or do things we would not normally do. However, lately, part of me has been wondering if this is a new problem in today's society or if we are just using technology as an excuse to validate our addictive and seemingly cowardly behavior. I feel like people have found ways to be impersonal long before texting, IMing, or Skyping became a "problem."

This may sound cheesy, but I think any time investment when it comes to connecting with people is a good time investment; when a friend texts me something completely mundane or posts a silly link on my wall, it makes me happy to know that even for 5 seconds, they had been thinking about me without provocation on my part. I had a good friend in France who is absolutely terrible at keeping in touch, and even though I know it's not because she doesn't care about our friendship, the fact that she's not willing to make a 5 minute Skype call or respond to a Facebook message is frustrating.

I guess in this sense, you can compare my point to Shirky's. Though I don't always agree that any use of free-time is a good, productive use of free time, I think he's on the right track with this idea. As long as we set boundaries on what is and isn't productive or what is and isn't a good use of time, people are going to be afraid to use that time in the way they want. What I mean by that is simply that people may feel judged for choosing to call someone on Skype rather than pick up the telephone or write a letter because they may be worried that using such a technology will be considered more impersonal and thoughtless. But isn't a 5 minute Skype call better than putting off writing a 5 page email because it'll seem more thoughtful? I can assure you, it won't be thoughtful at all if you never have enough time to write it. Like I said, the fact that you even thought for 5 seconds to let someone know you cared enough to communicate with them in some way shows that you had every intention of being personal.

This is sort of irrelevant but definitely intersting; Skype is doing big things. Seriously. How cool is this? Skype may become holographic. Kind of weird, yes, but also kind of epic sounding to me. That has to be the next best thing to actually talking to someone, right?

And the second big thing? Skype now fights crime. This article talks about how a man caught a burglar while he was skyping with a cousin. It seems a little out there, but I can't tell you how many times I've been Skyping with my friend in Richmond while he's in the library, and whenever he has to leave his table for a bit, I joke with him to leave his screen open so I can yell at anyone who tries to steal his computer. Apparently not too bad of an idea after all, eh?

Casey Whitehead November 4th, 2010

In Response to Cell Phone / Texting Conversation

I love talking on my phone. I would rather have a conversation on the phone with someone rather than text. However, having said that, I do love texting. I text an obscene amount. For my ethnography I did case studies on my friends and family about the “rules” and “etiquette” of texting. To do this I changed my texting habits and the tone of my messages to see how people reacted. Sometimes I stopped texting all together and chose to email or call the person I wanted to communicate. I saw some negative feedback from this. People thought I was angry at them, or purposely ignoring them because I was upset.

I think texting is a great technology but I think people need to remember that there is more to communication then that. Talking with someone is completely different when you can hear their voice, see their face, or shake their hand. I hope our society doesn’t end up in a place where no one is able to introduce himself or herself and shake hands before a conversation. I enjoy that connection with people and hope it continues.

Ryan Molitor- Response 3- 11/5/10

A lot of people are getting into the Skype aspect of communication and, based of my experience with Skype, it’s nothing short of a good thing. Although I don’t have a Skype account myself, I have still seen that Skype is a really useful tool. As said before, it can help you to have “face-to-face” communication with someone you couldn’t actually be in the same room with.

My friend has moved to Richmond recently, which is a place I have never been and never will go unless I’m visiting her. Seeing as how my friends and I are a pretty close-knit group we spend a lot of time together, but when my friend is unable to see everyone she wants to see we sit and bask in the glow of Skype on my friend’s computer that actually has an active Skype account. Doing this we are able to catch up everything. The only problem I have with Skype is I get bored and distracted too easily. It seems after only a short time no one has anything to say, except “when are you coming home?” Skype is losing its purpose if we use it too much.

To me, Skype should be used infrequently to make each little Skype session count such as Lenise in France, or Carolyn getting a hold of her boyfriend while he’s completing his Ph.D. But there’s another evil out there, and that’s when one of my friends back home Skypes in the bathroom. At that point I feel texting would be a sufficient form of communication, and not having to know that she’s multitasking.

Overall, I just think Skype is not something to be abused. If we measure the frequency in which we use Skype I think each time there would be something new to say everytime.

Annabeth Wonch, Response 3, 11/5


I personally think any sort of eBook for children is a terrible idea. I was recently watching TV with my roommates and a commercial for the children’s eBook and before I could even say anything, my two roommates said that they would never get one for their children. I feel like adults these days are pressured to keep up with technology and forego what may be best for their children. Are parents running out of time that they can’t teach their own child how to read and have to buy a “book” with moving pictures and sound to motivate their kids to read? I hope that when I have children I will stick to what I believe in and teach them to read the “old-fashioned” way. I never thought that reading a book would ever be the “old-fashioned” way to do something, though.

I do feel like with the rapid change of technology parents are faced with numerous challenging decisions when it comes to raising their children. I did not get a cell phone until I was a junior in high school, and I was one of the first of my friends. Now there is a T-Mobile (I think) commercial that shows children that look no older than twelve talking about cell phone plans. What twelve-year-old needs a cell phone? They can’t even drive! I think its sad that children are starting to be controlled and raised by technology.

Amanda Thomas – November 5, 2010
On Skyping

I began using Skype roughly a year ago when several of my friends moves overseas—two in Macedonia and one in Serbia. I was accustomed to seeing them almost daily, and I hoped that Skype would help us to keep in touch. Looking back over the past year and my Skype interactions, I realize that I am probably much like that lame friend whom Lenise mentioned. I’ve only talked to the friend in Serbia four times, and the others, not at all—ouch. In my defense: I did chat with them via Facebook-Chat on a few occasions, but still… I probably have some apologizing to do.

Looking at my actual Skype usage, I use it mostly as a way to avoid Facebook-Chat. I chat with friends on Skype, rarely using the video option, but taking full advantage of the “away” and “invisible” settings. Why? So I do not have to talk to people. (I promise I’m not as anti-social or reclusive as I sound right now!) Have you ever had your Facebook-Chat turned on and had that kid message you? You know—the one that you really have nothing to say to, who also has nothing to say to you, but still messages every week or so? It is rude to ignore them, but to become unavailable to them means de-friending or becoming unavailable to everyone. Facebook makes it impossible to be only partially available; it’s all or nothing. Skype makes it easier for me to be selectively available. I find it interesting that social technologies make it easier for me to avoid being social…

I really do love people, though after that last two paragraphs I’m sure it does not sound like it. I see Skype as an efficient way to communicate with my friends and family who are near or far away, though admittedly I don't use it that way. I have considered moving to Zambia after college, and if I do move, one can expect that I will appreciate Skype’s ability to connect me to the people back home.


Katie Stitt 11/5

Response to Cell Phone Use

I got my first cell phone when I was a junior in high school – and I shared it with my brother. I mainly used it because I was the one with the driver’s license. When texting became the new thing to do, I was slow to catch on – probably because my parents refused to pay the bill.

When texting became part of phone packages, my brother immediately adapted to the new culture. I, on the other hand, was a lot slower. I love talking on the phone when I can’t be there in person. I hate texting. Sure, it has its practical uses, especially in situations where phone calls aren’t appropriate. But my friends are addicted to this function on their phones, and I just don’t know why.

See, I think texting is rude when you’re supposed to be engaged in something else. Yes, this includes class (though I have definitely broken my own rule a few times). Most of the time, however, I’m referring to the times where I’m out with friends and they are too busy texting their significant other or other friends to really participate with me. Nothing irritates me more than finally finding time to meet up with my friend, and the whole time I’m talking, their thumbs are moving.

It isn’t just social situations that bother me with texting. My biggest pet peeve is seeing someone trying to drive and text. I know members of our generation are supposed to be masters of multitasking, but this is where I draw the line. A lot of times, I would argue the behavior is just as dangerous as driving drunk. What would Ray Kurzweil say to this? Would he simply say that we are falling behind technology? That we can’t keep up? Would he sanction the many cars who are now integrating speakerphone into standard models? I just can’t justify progress or “singularity” in this arena when it comes down to safety. Thank goodness the Commonwealth realizes this too, and has now made it against the law to text while driving.

Lindsey Macdonald - November 5, 2010
Texting etiquette

As I said in my last post, I’m definitely more of a “texter” than a “caller,” but I don’t think I text nearly as much as others. As I look back through my inbox, I see that there are days where I go without even sending a text message. For me, texting is just a way to figure out plans with my friends or to see how my boyfriend is doing. I never try to have an actual conversation with someone through text messages.

One of my roommates is texting constantly, especially when we’re out doing stuff. It’s doesn’t really bother me in that I think it’s rude or disruptive; I just don’t understand why you would want to do that rather than pay attention to what people around you are saying or doing.

My boyfriend does the same thing except he’ll sometimes be looking things up on the Internet since he has a Droid. Most of this time though it’s to enhance the conversation by looking up a fact that someone didn’t know or to validate what he was trying to say.

I guess I can connect this to Shirky’s statement about what we consider a waste of time. I may think that my roommate spending all her time texting while in a social setting is a waste of time, but she might enjoy that conversation more than the one that’s going on in person. It goes the same with my boyfriend looking up facts. I make think it’s unnecessary, but he’s gaining knowledge by this and proving his point, and there isn’t anything wrong with that.

April Baker
Response to incessant texting

I agree with Katie that too much texting in many situations can be rude and even make me feel uncomfortable, because I don’t know if I should stop talking until the other person finishes texting or just ignore it. I think many people justify texting and multi-tasking because they think they have such excellent multi-tasking skills. Which, by the way, totally disagrees with Kurzweil’s theory that we are losing all ability to think deeply, reflect, or divide our concentration between more than one focus.

But at the same time, am I the only one that always has trouble getting anything else done if someone is texting me? If I’m trying to read or do homework, instant responses from some of my avid-texter friends can really be a distraction. It’s hard for me to go back and forth from concentrating on my work and the conversation, and I know that almost as soon as I put the phone down, I’ll be getting another message.

This article looks at incessant texting and has some pretty interesting (albeit, extreme) examples about texting, including [ ]a texting teen who fell into a manhole], a trolley driver who crashed his trolley while texting, and a stalemate in the New York Senate as a result of excessive Blackberry use.

These are obvious problems, although texting at the dinner table or in secret at work are difficult activities to monitor, and some seem more important to monitor than others. However, even our own state’s government has seen the need to monitor texting while driving, and we can’t deny the reasons why this law is in place. If we can see the problems that texting creates in our everyday lives and social situations and professional settings, why are we still so attracted to it?

Lauren Kaye

Response Numero Three.

In response to Shirky’s ideas about the commons. I thought the class discussion was really interesting in terms of how our cognitive surplus can be used for good or bad. Shirky says that because of websites like and, and, we are able to use our free time to contribute to collectively positive causes. Because they are anonymous forums, users can feel free to contribute knowledge on pages like without fear that the government will retaliate. Or, in the case of, sufferers of rare disease can connect with other patients anonymously (if they want) and get support and knowledge without having to call attention to themselves.

In particular, I thought this was positive because it provided the patients with resources that might otherwise be withheld because of medical commodification or lack of accurate information. This connects to the idea we’ve discussed in class about the privatization of medicine. Resources like gives the patient power. They can find out what has worked or has not worked for other patients in spite of the information their health care providers might want them to know. For example, they may become aware or a more cost effective treatment, or a generic that works just as well as the brand name prescription.

Recently, there was an article in the Wall Street Journal about web servers that allow citizens in countries that are restricted by their governments. These web servers allow them to access information anonymously. In this case, these web servers are exactly the kind of collective benefit Shirky talks about. This democratic version of the internet seems to be the idealized potential for the internet—a way to democratize information.

However, in class, we argued the flip side: that the anonymous forum leads to the onslaught of bullying and, potentially, suicide. Because users are anonymous, they are not worries about the consequences of their actions because they feel they won’t be identified.

Amanda Thomas – November 5, 2010
On eReader/Kindle

Almost without fail, when given the choice of a digital technology or its print counterpart, I choose print. I keep a paper journal, and have for almost 5 years now. I have a solid book collection in my apartment and another at my parents’ home. I jokingly say that I horde books; I have most of my textbooks from my former major, all but a few from my present major, and then many books for leisurely reading. I like the tactile aspects of books, paper, pens, etc. I write in my books, I dog-ear pages, and I even leave books marks in them for perpetuity (often in the form of partial post-it notes). I like that I can find my favorite quote by feel and appearance rather than page number. I like being able to measure reading progress by watching my bookmark move from place to place.

Until this semester I had only heard of these snazzy eReaders and the Kindle; I had never seen one in action. One day as I sat in Shakespeare class, I looked over at the gentleman sitting beside me, and he had that day’s play on his Kindle. I looked back at my desk and saw my MASSIVE Pelican Complete Works of William Shakespeare book. I looked back at his Kindle and back again at my MASSIVE Pelican Complete Works of William Shakespeare book. The benefit became clear: the Kindle will fit in any one of my purses, and the MASSIVE Pelican Complete Works of William Shakespeare will break every one of my purses.

My eReader/Kindle issues were these: 1- Fear or reading off of a glowing/backlit screen. (I hate reading online; it hurts my eyes. I would probably spend the money to print the book myself before staring at a bright computer screen for the time it would take to read the first chapter… I may exaggerate some, but you get the point. ) 2- If the battery runs out or the technology changes, all my books are gone! (Seriously though, if the power goes out for long enough, then it is good-bye reading to kill the time. And if technology advances past the eReader, there goes my whole library… I don’t like putting all my eggs in one technological basket.) 3- It is just not the same. (There is something that is different about a book—the way it feels and smells, the sense of accomplishment when you read from cover to cover, writing in the margins and re-reading your comments years later… Books seem to require more tactile interaction, while the digital seems to rely heavily on potentially computer game-like spatial skills.)

I’m becoming okay with the idea of the eReader, but I’m not ready to surrender my book collection. Make the eReader into a book that looks and feels and functions like a book, and I might just buy it. But until then, you will find me wandering the stacks of the Newman Library reveling in the beauty of mass collections of real books.