Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Does Entertainment Distract Us from the Important Issues?

Since I've been reading the Postman text I've thought a lot about contemporary news. For a college student, I watch a fair amount of news and for the most part I agree with the discussions we have had in class. Majority of the news programming on contemporary television just skims the surface of it's content - the news coverage of the opposing opinions towards gun violence is a great example of insufficient information. However, I think that there are some news programs that dive into subject matters through debates and discussions. The CNN morning program "Starting Point" is more debate centered than news coverage centered and the individuals on the NBC Sunday morning program "Meet the Press" debate significant political issues. The point I'm trying to make is that there is some quality news coverage on television (news coverage that doesn't just gloss over the issues), but I wonder if anyone actually watches these programs anymore. In other words, I think some quality public discourse exists on television, but the majority of the nation does not watch these programs because more entertaining and less intellectually demanding options are available. Thus maybe instead of questioning the quality of news, we should think about the large amount of leisure/entertainment options that are available to us and consider how much the plethora of entertainment distracts us from caring about more important issues.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Literacy: Shifts Over Time

Comparing how we use information and reading today versus how they used in the 1600s and on had a sad reflection. Did anyone else feel instantly lazier for seeing such statistics (which are debatable, I suppose) of how literate the colonial community was back then? Now our generation has been pressured to go to school, get an education, learn these skills in order to prosper in the workforce. But wait! That was a phrase my mother would say. In her time as a student, as a young lady she had those expectations drilled into her head. Naturally, she started puncturing me with those tid bits of advice/aggressive parenting over the last few decades. They did have different inclinations, but soon it became a value among the whole culture. It wasn't just a fear by some religious entity anymore. My question here that I'm curious to see some response to is what are the expectations of our student community? What does our parents want us the accomplish and how we achieve those goals? Is being educated, having the ability to read and write well still a strong overcast from when we could walk or has it faded? Do we still appreciate literary content in the same way or differently? I look forward to these rather vague questions. Thank you!

Monday, January 28, 2013

Singularity is coming...?

So we've been in class for almost a month now, and during that time we've had some solid discussion. A good portion of this discussion has been dedicated to technology and it's affect on our society, and during these conversations, one name has come up constantly; Ray Kurzweil.

Last semester, I took Webster Newbold's English Intro to Digital Literacy Class and we learned aboutRay Kurzweil and his crazy idea of "singularity." Basically, this mad scientist believes that if technology continues to advance at the rate it has been, eventually man and machine will become one. This will eventually lead to human flesh, blood, and brain becoming obsolete in a new, completely artificial world. 

I'm paraphrasing, and a little biased (because I think Kurzweil is completely off his nut), but I'm curious as to what my classmates think about Kurzweil and his plans for the future of mankind? If my (poor) description of singularity didn't do the job for you, here's a few videos featuring Kurzweil himself explaining it. 

Will your attention span allow you to finish reading this?

Since last class, I have really been thinking about how we are a visual based generation. Almost everything we do is through visuals, such as social media, television, everything on the internet, and even speeches/presentations. There always seem to be pictures or videos involved. One of the first programs I learned how to use was power point which incorporated text with pictures and videos. I was taught visuals were necessary in order to give an effective presentation, because you are incorporating more than one sense-auditory and visual senses. The more senses you could connect to your presentation, the better your audience would remember it. However, is your audience really remembering anything at all since it is all written down and spelled out for them perfectly? I somewhat feel that if the auditory sense was the only target, the audience would work harder to process what was being addressed. Since we have been so spoiled by unlimited graphics and visuals, our attention spans have suffered greatly. I also think our imaginations have suffered, because the pictures are already laid out for us.

According to Neil Postman, as technology increases, our attention span decreases. In chapter 4 of Amusing Ourselves to Death, Postman talks about how in 1858, Lincoln and Douglas had debates lasting up to 7 hours (45). Audiences would simply sit, listen, and encourage the speakers for hours on end. I can barely sit through a 75 minute lecture without wanting to get on my phone, tablet, or computer. Postman even addresses the question of, "Is there any audience of Americans today who could endure seven hours of talk?" (45). I am going to go ahead and say probably not.

This also raises the question of are we less capable of breaking down complicated sentences? Do we need visual aids in order to understand concepts effectively? And since so much emphasis was placed on speaking then with it being the primary discourse, are our political speakers less eloquent now? It seems majority of our political leaders read speeches that were written for them from a teleprompter and often get flustered during debates (possibly because they have to come up with their thoughts on their own). Does attention span reflect intelligence or rather our preferred form of discourse?

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Is Honey Boo Boo Hazardous?

This NPR piece discusses the dangers associated with reality television. What do you think? Does reality TV really affect the way that people think?

So Many Channels but Nothing to Watch

In today's world we have many different channels to choose from on the TV. Cable and satellite providers offer packages with hundreds of stations, each with different content and different opinions. So many channels to flip through, and so little time.

However, the idea that we have so many different choices when it comes to television is an illusion. When it comes to media, the majority of what seems like many independent channels are in fact owned by only a handful of mega corporations.

This image from shows the channels that just one company, News Corporation, owns. News Corp is the largest of the media empires, and owns a wide variety of channels, from Fox News to National Geographic Channel.

What does ESPN and Mickey Mouse have in common? They are both owned by the Walt Disney Company. While the first thing that may come to mind when you hear the word "Disney" may be Disney World, child friendly cruises, and Snow White, the company has quite the sports lineup with all of the ESPN channels and also owns ABC.

General Electric takes the word "general" pretty seriously. Besides light bulbs and power strips, the company is also a major player in the media market. They've got all the bases covered, from the news junkie to the nerd to the emotional part in all of us, since they own NBC, SciFi, and Oxygen, among others.

When a few companies own so many different channels which provide different public discourses, how do we know what's behind these discourses? Why are some topics addressed and others are not? Who decides what is relevant, what is popular, and what product is placed so carefully in your favorite show? It is important for consumers of media to be ever critical and always thinking about what they're watching.

If you'd like to know more about who owns what, here is a nice interactive chart from

Monday, January 21, 2013

Changing Mediums and Signatures

The most important thing I took away from the Postman reading is the idea that we are in a time of change, moving from a print culture to a digitized culture. This change isn’t necessarily bad, but it means that as the medium we use to communicate changes, so too do we.

This change reminds me of an ongoing argument I’ve had with my grandmother concerning our local elementary school, which has dropped cursive writing from its curriculum. My grandmother is convinced that the lack of connected letters will lead to the downfall of the youth, explaining that without cursive, how will they sign their name? This is usually followed up by my trying to explain just how useless signatures are in the first place, or how rarely they’re actually used for identification.

David Wheeler writes about this very topic in his article, “Signing Off: The Slow Death of the Signature in a PIN-Code World,” in The Atlantic. He explains that a consulting firm found in 2005 that “signature-based debit card fraud rates were 15 times higher than PIN-based fraud rates.” He then asks the question, “If PIN codes work better, why are we still using signatures?”

One of the people he consults in the article is Marcel Danesi, a professor of semiotics and anthropology at the University of Toronto. Danesi answers this question by saying, “In this electronic tribal world, as Marshall McLuhan called it, we're losing our individuality…The signature, to me and to many others in my field, was the epitome of individuality: 'Here I am. This is me. I am more than my DNA.'”

On the one hand, I agree with Danesi. Losing our signature is losing something very distinctly “us.” However, at the same time, this feels too much like clutching onto something “outdated” for the sake of nostalgia. If the world is evolving into a place where signatures are a hindrance to privacy or security, why should we continue to use them?

What do you think? Would losing our signatures be a bad thing? Or are we heading towards a more secure world of PIN-Code based access?

The media's 'junk'

The media's 'junk'

Neil Postman starts off chapter two discussing junk we have found in the media. He begins by mentioning how junk was in print-oriented medias for years before the birth of the internet or television. Postman also mentions how old-cultures thrived on the media’s junk. However, even the old-cultures found value within their media’s junk.

Today, we have junk on the internet, the television, and in gossip magazines everywhere. Neil Postman says, “And so I hold no objection to television’s junk. In fact, some of the best things on television are its junk, and no one or nothing is seriously threatened by it. Besides, we do not measure a culture based on its output of undisguised trivialities, but what it claims as significant. (pg. 16)”

Postman eventually ends the chapter by mentioning that the history of communicate is littered with changes. However, there are tradeoffs. With each new change, whereas things become easier to access, junk material becomes easier to access as well. Today, our access to media is greater then ever with our new technologies. Unfortunately, college kids usually hold the internet, television, books, and magazines as strictly entertainment purposes. However, do we value the entertainment aspect higher than the scholarly academic purposes? I hear Postman’s echo, “Besides, we do not measure a culture based on its output of undisguised trivialities, but what it claims as significant.”

If a person’s value on junk material is higher than an academic purpose when it comes to a specific media, does this have to be a negative feature to our nation’s society?

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Google: Put a Ring on It

Google has just declared war.

Their opponent isn't Facebook, Microsoft, or Apple. They're not fighting a person or organization. They're not engaging in a litigious battle. Rather, their beef with a practice older than the Internet itself.

Google has made a stand against passwords.

2012 marked a rough year for Internet security. Popular sites such as Gmail, Yahoo, LinkedIn, and many others have experienced password breaches of thousands of user accounts.

Too many people are falling victim to online scams and phishing attempts. Too many people create overly simple passwords. Too many people reuse the same password for multiple accounts.

As a result, hackers are able to harvest user accounts like beets on a beet farm.

Google no longer believes that passwords are effective to keep users safe. One solution they offer is 2-step Verification for their accounts. Users who opt into this protection will receive verification codes on their phone via text message if they log into an unfamiliar computer.

This type of security is like locking an already locked door with a deadbolt. It won't protect you from highly skilled hackers, but it can protect you from phishers, keyloggers, and anybody who cracks your password. If you have a Google account, I would highly suggest activating this feature.

Eventually, Google wants users to unlock their accounts with a key. Literally.

Google's security team discusses a new form of web authentication involving a physical key in an upcoming volume of engineering journal IEEE Security & Privacy Magazine. This key will actually be a ring for users to wear on their finger. It will function as a transmitter to automatically send your login credentials to the computer when you touch the keyboard.

And we shall call it our precious...

While technological advances are exciting, we should still think critically about this revelation. Are passwords really a security measure of the past? What are the implications of a carrying piece of ID that can be scanned without our consent? What if we lose our ring? Is this a step away from Internet anonymity?

I've always been careful with my passwords and I've never dealt with a compromised account. Another security measure just adds an extra step between me and my account. Is more security worth my convenience?

I like Google, but I'm not sure if I want to put a ring on it yet.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Internet Responsibility

Carr's opening had me hooked in less than two paragraphs before I could even try to figure out what exactly his point was. "I can feel it, too. Over the past few years I’ve had an uncomfortable sense that someone, or something, has been tinkering with my brain, remapping the neural circuitry, reprogramming the memory." These sentences alone describe exactly what it is I've been paranoid about, yet scared to admit to anyone. My mind is rapidly changing without my consent. My attention span is 60 seconds at best with hardly any motivation to keep it past that marker. I'm only interested in the first few paragraphs of any piece I read, scholarly or not. And Nicholas Carr finally understands my dilemma.

I'm sure we have all experienced this. Maybe most of us are experiencing it, but just too hesitant to admit it to ourselves. Even now, I can slowly feel my attention deviating towards the guitar sitting two feet away from me. I start to think about all the songs I can play, all the notes that are contained in those songs, and how they lay out. Then I start to think about a particular song, the artist who plays that song, and then their entire discography starts to creep into my mind. Before I know it, I'm neck deep in information about information completely useless to what I was trying to focus on in the first place.

In reflecting on that last digression, I can thank the internet. All of its intelligence floating around has given me the opportunity to not only help me study for my future profession, but it's also given me a wealth of knowledge about cats and how well they can play the piano. It's given me knowledge about the Paul McCartney conspiracy I wasted my last two weeks of freshman year of college on. It's shown me great heaps of news on the banking crisis, and hourly updates on the royal baby due in July (fingers crossed).

Basically, the internet has done its job. It has filled my brain with knowledge of wondrous facts that I could use at parties to wow all my friends! But that's exactly what I don't need out of it. I need to reach in, grab the right information, and use that information to better myself in my upcoming profession. And that's exactly my point. As much as I liked Carr's article, I have to slightly disagree. Google isn't making us stupid. Our irresponsibility is making us stupid. It's a responsibility we have yet to grasp as the internet is still teething.

From Dependence on the Internet to Artificial Intelligence

I really wanted to focus on an idea mentioned in the Carr article, “Is Google Making Us Stupid,” the idea that in the future our brains could be supplemented or replaced by artificial intelligence. In the article, Sergey Brin is quoted as saying, “Certainly if you had all the world’s information directly attached to your brain, or an artificial brain that was smarter than your brain, you’d be better off.”  This is completely terrifying to me, but it is something we have to consider as the human race keeps making technological advances.

Could we come to that point as humans where we would be choosing or even forced to supplement our brains? If all that knowledge was at our fingertips at a moment’s notice, would we stop learning or at least making an effort to learn? It suggests that the mind is only useful for the information that it holds and all knowledge is easily quantifiable.  This seems to suggest a future like Anderson’s Feed ( where creativity has been completely wiped out and we are constantly receiving advertisements directly to our brains.

As pointed out in the article, the same things were said at the advent of other technologies like writing and the printing press. Is that comparable to the coming age of artificial intelligence? Perhaps, I am just worrying too much and the human race can adapt to that sort of change as easily as we have adapted to having technologies like the printing press and being able to write things down, but I live in fear of a society where humans stop learning and innovating because all that they need is right at their fingertips. 

Transparency...Is it a problem?

In the Warnick reading the author claims that one of the most problematic aspects of our pro-technology culture is the phenomenon of taking the medium for granted. Warnick labels this phenomenon 'transparency:' "A condition in which the user forgets or is unaware of the presence of the medium." When consumers ignore the medium itself, they often overlook the content's implied messages. For example, a news broadcast of school shootings on Fox News will have a different agenda than a news broadcast of the same subject matter on MSNBC. In other words, one cannot accurately criticize content without taking the medium into consideration.

Many examples of medium-content relationships will not be as obvious as news stories of Fox or MSNBC. Take scripted television programs for example. I think it is safe to say that the media conglomerates in this country use their sitcoms and dramas to promote ideologies that benefit themselves. The classic example of this process is when ABC sitcoms will base some of their episodes in Disney World (the network ABC is owned by Disney). So promoting Disney World may not be the most dangerous thing in the world, but what happens when sitcom narratives focus on the presidential election or the economy. My point being, that as critical citizen we must always keep the medium in mind. And if Warnick is correct in claiming that the rapid growth of technology leads to transparency, then the media conglomerates will enjoy more ideological power in this country. So do you think the phenomenon of transparency is occurring, or even an issue that deserves attention?  

How the Digital Age is Changing Public Discourse

The topics of literacy, rhetoric and public discourse have been the beginning points for several of my classes this semester.  The following discussion came from the first chapter of Understanding Digital Literacies by Rodney H. Jones and Christoph A. Hafner.
I wanted to delve into a discussion focused in our generation – the age of technology.  There are multiple arguments as to how digital media will change the way people interact in the future, along with how it has already changed the fundamentals of relationships presently.  Public discourse, defined as a communication or debate on topics to persuade, should offer individuals a way to connect and have a better understanding of one another.  Is gaining information from websites, constructed of hypertext, video and audio challenging the benefit of higher education for students?
In an article by the Dartmouth Institute for Writing and Rhetoric, Karen Gocsik discusses the effect media will have on literacies, composition, and public discourse.  She states that new media is creating a new definition of writing; a technology-driven environment that enables interaction with readers and authors.  She goes on with the idea that:
“New media composition encourages writers to move their attention from their own writing practices and to their audiences’ reading practices.  To compose with media, writers must consider what audiences expect from a particular medium genre and craft their arguments accordingly.  They must study the various media with which they are trying to compose and learn to operate within them.”
Students in this age tend to feel that composing with multimedia matters, and that the composition has power that others do not.  The audience is more interested, and the arguments presented in a multimedia manner are more likely to gain attention.  Jones and Hafner reason that “one of the most powerful new affordances of digital media is that they make written language more interactive so that writing of all kinds has become more and more like having a conversation,” (13).
I feel that our generation will and needs to continue embracing media, enabling discussion on a grander scale, and captivating our audience through new and perhaps even more effective means.
In your opinion has media helped or hindered public discourse? What effects do you see occurring the future?

Wednesday, January 9, 2013


 Welcome to our Class Blog on Public Discourse. To get us started, I'm going ask a series of questions. In responding to this post, you do not need to answer each and every question that follows. The questions are intended only to get you thinking about the subject of this course. You may respond to any one or more of them, or even none of them specifically (taken together, what do these questions make you think about?), or even ask your own questions. Also feel free to respond instead to other people's comments.

This course "draws on different rhetorical perspectives to read, analyze, and produce public discourse in diverse media for a variety of audiences and purposes." So my first question is: What IS "rhetoric"? or What would a "rhetorical perspective" be?

What constitutes “public” discourse? What is its purpose(s) and how does it actually function in different contexts? (What does it or should it DO or accomplish?)

One way of approaching these questions is to consider a specific example. One of the specific examples (which I'll call "Case Studies") we'll look at is what is typically referred to as "Gun Control." We'll consider a cultural and historical context that includes Columbine, Virginia Tech, and the 2011 shooting in Tuscon, as well as the recent shooting in Connecticut. For the moment, consider this: "NRA Clear on Gun Debate Stance." 

The important thing to remember with this (and any) example is that we (in this course) are not concerned with the issue itself; in other words, we are not concerned with the question "should we have stricter gun control laws?" or "should teachers be armed?" Instead, we are concerned with public discourse about the issue; how do different people talk about the issue? what are the different arguments they make, and how do they make them? What can we say about the language they use? And what perspectives are absent or missing?

What other examples of public discourse about a specific issue are you interested in discussing, and why?