Archive for

January, 2012


Our Digital Selves

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The other day while I was in the self-checkout line of my local grocery store, a curious thing happened: a man asked if he could borrow my shopper card.  Now, this seems normal enough.  He forgot his card and was hoping to receive some discounts on his items.  But, arguably because I am a bit crazy, I went into panic mode.  I immediately looked into his cart and saw some calorie-ridden, weird flavor of ice cream and a huge bag of dog food.  (I of course was most likely buying organic fruits and vegetables . . . ok probably not but I like to pretend I’m healthy.) The first thought that came to my mind was: now my account will think of me as a buyer of ice cream and dog food.  (Yes I just said that my account can “think.”)  What if on my subsequent visits the coupon machine shoots out annoying coupons for frozen dairy products and pet items?!

But it didn’t stop there.  I realized there was much more to be worried about than how the system at the grocery store identified me.  What if this identity was linked to my digital identity in general?  The store has my name, phone number and home address.  What if my savings card is linked to my Facebook and LinkedIn page?!  What if online I forever become known as the girl who sits at home with her many dogs and eats ice cream all day?!

After the many minutes of me looking terrified and staring at the poor guy and his cart contents, I let him borrow the damn card.  I went home, still feeling a little paranoid about the scar I may have just left on my digital self and thinking about how much we are changing as a society when we not only to have to worry about offline identity management, but online too.

Yes, my story about the ice cream and dog food is crazy.   But, you have to admit it does open up an interesting area of discourse regarding online identity.  To be honest, I was a little disappointed in myself for getting so worked up about something so ridiculous.  I thought that I was more media literate than that!  But it goes to show that we are living in a new frontier that can affect anyone.  And, don’t forget, if the media can make us believe that digital and online worlds are scary places, they will have a much easier time selling us books, TV shows, movies and news stories.

Being smart online is always valid.  Making sure that you aren’t giving your credit card number to a shady site or replying to a random email with your social security number are important things to remember.  But these rules make sense in the offline world too.  Would you try to use your credit card at a shady store?  Would you ever give your social security number to a guy walking down the street who randomly asks for it?  These are the offline equivalents to the online examples I have provided, yet for some reason people act as though online it’s different.

In my mind, the real concept to discuss regarding the digital world, that is a new concept, is that you are visible to more people than ever before.  Therefore, it is important to create an online identity that authentically embodies the best you that you can be.  The Internet allows for so many possibilities that it really doesn’t make sense that more people are not online acting as critical producers of media content.  No matter what you enjoy doing or what message you want to broadcast, the Internet provides you with opportunities like no other medium.  Maybe you enjoy writing poetry.  Maybe you want to create videos to speak out about poverty in your community.  Maybe you want to blog about someone who is doing great things at your school.  Maybe you want to critique an episode of a TV show that you found to be particularly racist.

Media constantly talk about the p-word – PRIVACY.  We become so consumed with making aspects of our digital selves hidden, that we forget about the many possibilities awaiting us.  We forget about the things that we should want to publicly and proudly display.  Instead of teaching our kids how to hide, we should be teaching them how to create a safe, online space that leads them to become engaged and informed citizens.

I don’t want to give off the misconception that I don’t think of online safety as an important issue.  I certainly do.  But I hate how the discussion is always so one-sided.  Teaching people the right things to do online makes more sense than scaring them into not using the Internet at all.

By the way,  I haven’t received any weird coupons yet.  I will keep you updated.


Everyone loves an American Idol reference

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Recently there was an interesting addition to an Obama speech.  While I don’t pretend to be a political communication expert, I would like to think that I know a thing or two about celebrity culture.  This moment  made me think about what our obsession with celebrities means and how it is affecting all aspects of our culture.  Looking up to celebrities isn’t necessarily a new thing, but the US’s current obsession with celebrities and obtaining celebrity status is interesting, considering we often aren’t sure why people are famous in the first place.  (I don’t want to give Kim K. more publicity, but you must admit she’s a darn good example.)

I don’t think that Obama turning a portion of his speech into an American Idol audition is weird.  It is incredibly smart on his part.  Along with his appearances on late night talk shows and Saturday Night Live, this snippet of an Al Green cover shows the president’s awesome ability to connect with a large portion of our population.  What I do think is that this performance demonstrates the fact that our celebrity obsession has grown so much that we not only accept this behavior, but we welcome it with open arms.  In my mind, this only provides more evidence to our loss of objective standards on all fronts.  Does Obama being a good singer make him a better president?  I highly doubt it.  But, does his singing make people like him more, feel more connected to him and therefore be more likely to vote for him in the upcoming election?  I think so.

But now I find myself in a catch 22.  If Obama’s singing leads to him to be reelected, then logically couldn’t we say it did make him a better president?  If the man relates to his constituents and gets them to vote for him, thus staying in the White House for another four years, I guess people could argue that his singing has made him better.  This is where the danger lies for me.  If people find themselves relating to the President of the United States because he can sing well, true political platforms begin to become moot.  “What did he talk about in that speech?”  “I don’t know, but he can really sing, huh?”

Once again, I don’t intend to make this idea of building a parasocial relationship a new one.  We all know about the JFK/Nixon TV/radio story.  Maybe this is simply a changing of the times, just as converting from radio to television was.  Yet, instead of TV, our new technology is social media.  Facebook allows us to at least pretend we have reached some kind of celebrity status.  We can take pictures of ourselves and write about our “interesting” lives, acting like our own paparazzi.  (Yes, I did just give a shameless plug to my own academic work.)  We can build a fan base and anxiously await the moments that we can count our “likes” and comments.  We see the ease with which some “stars” reach celebrity status and truly believe we will “make it” one day, whatever that means.

I suppose that I could be extreme now and suggest that in the future we may have Britney Spears as president.  Oh wait, she can’t sing.  (Yea, I went there).  But, that’s not really my point.  I am more interested in what kind of insight we can gain from Obama’s serenading.  What will our basis for presidential candidates be in 10 years?  20 years?  What will our expectations for ourselves be in 10 years?  20 years?  I know what you are thinking.  But, I am not that naive.  I understand that seemingly irrelevant characteristics such as physical appearance and “niceness” will forever guide our decision making process when electing a new president.  However, I am trying to stress our growing inability to realize how obsessed our society is with celebrity culture.  And, how media are using it as much and as often as they can to exploit our ignorance.

With all other things aside, I admit it; I’d put him through to Hollywood.

Why not?

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I have decided to start my own blog.  Maybe you have realized that since you have been sucked into reading this first post.  Everyone is doing it, and I figured, “Eh, I have some stuff I like to talk about sometimes.”  Here are some things that you may need to know about me:


I am a Ph.D. student studying Mass Media and Communication

I am an adjunct professor

I research the effects of social media usage on identity formation and perceptions of reality

I am interested in media literacy as it applies to the general public

Yes my blog title is a play on a Baudrillard book title

Facebook, video games and the many similarities between the two interest me to no end; most likely because I am obsessed with both


I intend for this blog to be a random collection of (what I think are) interesting effects that media technologies have on my life and on society.  If nothing else, I hope that my small contributions help people look at media in a new way that allows for them to become critical consumers and producers of media.