This Sh$t Cray: I Need Your Help

This is not about the 2011 song by Kanye West and Jay-Z and their romantic trip to Paris, but I figured the use of an increasingly popular lyric from the song would result in more people clicking on this. I really need your help, because my sh$t is reasonably “cray” this week.

One of the fascinating things about communication is we study the abstract and socially constructed nature of words, so we have an excuse to use words that might be seen as taboo by other disciplines (i.e. sh$t) because we can say we are merely demonstrating the abstract nature of language. For an example see this scholarly article [pdf], called “ShitText”, by Dr. Joshua Gunn.

Sh$t could also refer to the final stage of my graduate capstone project (this blog); the stage that decides whether or not my committee believes this fourteen-month project has been good enough to allow me to earn a master’s degree in a few weeks. I don’t want you to assume I think this whole experience has been sh$t, in the negative sense of the word. It’s actually been amazing, and I plan to keep this going as long as I have new sh$t to write about.

But I’m just bullsh$ting, here’s how you can help me to finish this project in two ways :).


Provide some general feedback about this website as a whole by commenting on the bottom of the “Wanted: Feedback” page. Please, please, if you have anything to say about the website as a whole and have read a few of my posts, tell me something about it, because this sh$t is real. I need feedback from audience members (you), so that I can analyze what people think about the website as I reflect on the past fourteen months.


When I present this project to my amazing committee next Monday, I will be using six specific blog posts as examples of everything I will talk about. Three of these posts were selected because they are the most popular based on view counts, and the other three were selected because they were among my favorites. If you’ve read one of them in the past, please go back and skim over it and then add a comment to the bottom of the post, responding to it in someway. If you have not read any of them (they’re not bad), please read at least one of them and comment somehow. Again, all sh$t is hitting the fan for me next week, in the academic sense, so the more comments I have as I prepare for this presentation this week, the better. Thank you in advance, for keeping sh$t real.


 Why Newspapers are Still Worthwhile (August, 2011) : Why, in this age of digital media,  are newspapers still a worthy investment of your time? Three reasons for why they are still worthwhile are suggested: increased concentration, nostalgia, and higher quality of writing.

Internet Literacy: The Solution to the Digital Divide? (June, 2011) : An increased focus on teaching Internet literacy to the public is advocated for, because it could help to alleviate problems associated with the digital divide.

The Virtual Public Sphere (April, 2011) : A brief summary of Public Sphere theory as perceived by Jürgen Habermas is presented, followed by discussion of how the Internet is creating a virtual public sphere.


American Media Portrayals of the Israeli-Palestenian Conflict: Analyzed Through a Spielberg Film (July, 2011) :  American media is criticized for biased coverage of the long-lasting conflict, and a Steven Spielberg film (Munich) is used as a positive exemplar of different portrayals of the conflict.

Getting a Second Opinion From News Sources (September, 2011) : Using conclusions of an extensive mass media study about international news coverage of the Darfur genocide in the early 2000s, the impact national interest has on how a media organization chooses to cover a news story is investigated. A recommendation is made that to get the most accurate news, one must check as many sources, from as many countries, as possible.

D(r)eactivating Facebook: Taking Back Control (October, 2011) : Results of an individual experiment with deactivating Facebook are shared. Journal entries during the Facebook-away time are explored, assumptions are made about why certain feelings existed, an attachment to psychological theory is added, and future implications are discussed.

Friday Free Write: What I’ve Learned in Cleveland

Did you ever get “free write” assignments in class?

These are usually assigned in English classes and the point is to allow the student to write about whatever they want to without the pressure of being graded. For this Friday “fun post”, I will do just that; a “free write” to share with you what I’ve learned thus far at this conference in Cleveland [pdf].

The hard thing with blog posts, at least for me, has been the fact that they require so much attention to detail. If we want to be successful, bloggers must be careful with our grammar, our sentence structure, our word counts, our content, our word choices, our tags, our headlines, our templates, our photo arrangements, and a number of other factors, all of which usually leads to me spending several hours on a post that is only a few paragraphs long.

Right now, as I listen to my playlist on Spotify and sit in a beautiful hotel lobby that makes me a feel a little guilty because I know many people on earth will never get to enjoy such luxury, I will list, by “free writing”, a few lessons I’ve learned at this conference thus far. Instead of outlining this post in detail and thinking of references, I will just go by what’s on my mind at the moment. Since I listened to music when I wrote this, you should listen to music as you read it. If you are not currently doing so, I recommend the below, a classic by Beethoven and one of the most popular songs in the history of songs.

What I Learned

  • The use of social networking sites (SNS) for educational purposes seems to be a very salient topic based on the sessions I’ve attended and the conversations I’ve heard and been a part of. Communication scholars are recognizing the embarrassing lack of engagement many American college students exhibit these days, and we are realizing this lack of engagement cannot just be blamed on the students (i.e. “They are lazy”) but that we play a tantamount role in it as well. Among other things, instructors today absolutely must meet their students half-way—-if the students are comfortable sharing information on Facebook (FB) and Twitter, for example, then we must take advantage of those platforms to engage them there.

  • In order for engagement in our universities to improve, the students must also play a role. There’s a lot of passion among most educators here in Cleveland, even the “old ones”, for using new technology and SNS to improve the learning environment. Teachers LOVE to teach, it’s what they do and who they are. Thus, most are willing to experiment with SNS in the classroom if they know it will help students. However, many seem hesitant because they are not sure how the students will react. Will it be seen as an extra burden by them? Will they see it as waste of time? Will they use SNS to trash talk the class online? If you’re a student, this is up to you.
  • Students must accept the notion that their spaces online were always meant to be public, always meant to be shared. This sharing extends to their education. If you have a FB profile, for example, you should expect to have FB pages devoted just to specific courses you might be taking right now. A friend sent me a FB message the other day and started an insightful conversation about something she is passionate about. I loved this. This is what FB should be used for. The connectivity we have on FB and other SNS is far too great for us not to take advantage of it for purposes of increasing our knowledge about the world. Students, if your teachers try to use SNS in the classroom, just go with it, it’s likely to be a cool experience that will help you be more involved in your studies.
  • Another item I’ve learned about FB at this conference that is not related to education is just how much strategy goes into our status updates and comments. While you may not admit to this right away, if you sit down and ask yourself, “Why did I create that status?” or “Why did I comment in that way?”, you will probably figure out you did it as a result of specific motives. For instance, many of us create status updates in an attempt to ask for social support in a non-direct way. Most of us would not create updates if we knew nobody would see them. However, we know many of our FB friends will see them, so we post updates strategically. For example, if you received a parking ticket today (which happened to one of our friends), you might post a status such as “Got a parking ticket! $#$#!!!”. Social support is the idea that our social networks support us when we need it. On FB, in the above example, this would include people commenting on your status to affirm your anger, to tell you it’s okay to be mad, to share with you the time that also happened to them, and to give you reassurances that it could be worse. In addition,  the fact that these specific people chose to comment was another intentional move–there’s all kinds of possibilities for why they chose to comment on your status, for instance, and not on another’s. Perhaps you two share a close relationship in the offline world, so they would naturally support you on FB too. Or perhaps they are a co-worker, they want your friends to know they are there for you, or they have a romantic crush on you.

In summary, my conference experience thus far has focused heavily on SNS and how we use it both in educational and interpersonal relationship contexts. If anyone out there is trying to decide if they want to go to graduate school or pursue a job in academia, I highly recommend going to a conference such as this one; these conference experiences are such great ones for those of us who are absolute nerds in our fields, that you will know after a few days if pursuing that higher degree is what you’re meant to do.

Funny Facebook Video

Starting this week, Friday will be the time for a “fun” post, which relates to the weekly theme. On Monday I wrote about the tendency for some university students to manage their Facebook (FB) identities by working hard to make it look as if they drink a lot of alcohol, because being a drinker is thought to be socially desirable. On Wednesday, I delved into the Communication concept of Identity Management and explained what it meant, because I discussed it during Monday’s post.

If your spring break was this week, I am sorry that it is ending, but I hope that the below FB parody video gives you some laughs, while also making you think seriously about this week’s theme again. If your spring break is just beginning, congratulations! I encourage you to read through all the posts so that you learn what you should not do on FB during your spring break, and during the rest of your college career as well.

Happy Friday, and enjoy the video! Next week, I will be writing about the Kony YouTube campaign.

All The World’s a Stage: Identity Management

Monday I wrote about spring break, consumption of alcohol among some university students, and Facebook (FB); I discussed how a good number of university students seem to purposefully construct their identity on FB in a way that makes them look like they drink a lot of alcohol. According to the research I cited in Monday’s post, they do this because they think presenting themselves as big drinkers is socially desirable.

One big Communication concept discussed on Monday was identity management on FB, and today I elaborate a bit more on this specific concept and some related concepts.


Identity Management Theory (IMT) was first described by professors William Cupach and the late Todd Imahori in the early 1990s when they used it to describe how people from different cultures communicate with each other; they based their interpretations on the “self-presenting” work of sociologist Erving Goffman during the the 1960s.

Lee (2008), in summarizing the IMT findings of Cupach and Imahori, states that they “argued that one’s identity  can be revealed and recognized through face, an individuals presented social identity” and that “positive face” deals with an individuals desire to be approved by others whereas “negative face” describes our needs to be free and independent from the influence of others (p. 54). This is an intercultural communication theory because the assumption was that people from different cultures would not be aware of what specific items the opposite culture perceived as “positive” or “negative” representations of face. On this note, Lee states, “during an intercultural encounter, interactants could threaten the other’s face due to a lack of knowledge concerning the other’s cultural rules and differences within cultural identity” (p. 54).

While Monday’s post was not about communication between two different cultures, the need for many university students to present a “positive face” to their peers via FB by making it look as if they drank a lot of alcohol definitely aligns with the above theory. As human beings, we are always “performing” certain identities to certain people because we wish to present ourselves positively to them; this might just be the reason Shakespeare said “All the world’s a stage” so many years ago. University students have a belief that being an alcohol drinker is socially desirable, so they manage their FB identities in such a way to make it appear as if they drink all the time.

Other theories that relate to this concept are Impression Management Theory and Face Negotiation Theory.

We all perform our identities to different audiences throughout the day.

These theories all explain, describe, and predict our efforts to “manage” how people we interact with on a daily basis perceive us, and by doing so, we are essentially “managing” the identity we want that person to attach to us. We do this by controlling what we say, how we say it, who we say it to, what we wear, how we wear it, the tone in our voices, the FB profile picture we choose, our voicemail message, our ringtone, and a plethora of other factors.

Since we want different people in our lives to perceive us differently, we present different “faces” to different people. You most likely act very differently in front of your professors than you do in front of the person you are dating, for example, because you want your professor to think of you in one way and your romantic partner to think of you in another way. In the same way, you might be more willing to reveal your vulnerabilities to people who are close to you, while you may always present a strong assured self to people who might look up to you as a role model (if you are a teacher, parent, or a leader in an organization, for example).

There is nothing essentially wrong with presenting different faces to different people, as long as they are authentic. We are all complex individuals with several different identities, which change a bit based on who we interact with. Being aware of this fact will hopefully help you think about all the different faces your present, and might make you aware of which faces are more authentic to who you are and which are just influenced by what you think other people want to see (peer pressure).

Note: I link to the Wikipedia entries for the above theories only to give you an idea of what they are, not to encourage you to use that as a primary source (see my Wikipedia philosophy here).

Alcohol, Spring Break, and Facebook:

What Could Possibly Go Wrong? 

I consider myself a professional college student (in year six and counting) and feel comfortable addressing some reoccurring patters.

One such pattern inevitably comes every spring semester during the event usually referred to by students with some sort of acronym, such as “sb2k10Panama”, and some sort of phrase, such as “What happens in Cancun, stays in Cancun!”

Yes, I’m talking about Spring Break.

Northern Kentucky University is currently on spring break (I’m writing this from Hawaii), and your university might be on break this week as well or will be soon.

While spring break is an excellent time for students (and their teachers!) to relax and take a breather from school for a bit, there is a more negative pattern associated with the week for those students who consume mass amounts of alcohol while simultaneously thinking it’s a good idea to share their booze consumption statistics with the world via the Internet. While these students may not realize right now why sharing such information online is bad, they will later.

So what’s going on here? This week’s focus is on the apparent romanticization of alcohol consumption on Facebook (FB) among college students.

I’m assuming a good number of college students will see people in their FB network posting about alcohol in a positive light over spring break and that, perhaps, they also will or have already done so as well. While posting about alcohol in a positive light is not necessarily bad or damaging, it becomes potentially bad and damaging if students post about activities related to mass consumption of alcohol and binge drinking (i.e. keggers and wet t-shirt contests).

When students post something on FB, they are literally giving information to a massive company that can share it with anyone. Facebook is free, which means the company has little obligation to the millions of students who use it because those students do not pay for their service; and this means the student information could at some point in the future be shared without consent.

Of course, most students are not stupid, and posting about alcohol is not as bad a problem as the media might make it out to be, but even one “in-the moment” FB status such as “Shots! Shots! Cancun! SB12! Margaritaville!” might come back to haunt a student in the future. As you will see below, it might also contribute to an existing trend that makes binge drinking look normal on FB.

So why do so many college students feel an urge to post about their mass consumption of alcohol on FB when this could come back and hurt their credibility in the future?

                                                  The Short Answer: 

Because social networking websites (SNS) such as FB allow them to manage their online identities very easily, and having an identity associated with drinking seems to be socially desirable among the college crowd. They want to be accepted, and they know their peers see drinking as cool and “grown up”, so they manage their FB identities accordingly.

                                       The Long Answer (The Research):

An Australian study by Ridout, Campbell, and Ellis that was published in January 2012 asked a similar question, and I believe their results can speak for American students as well because the two cultures actually seem to have a lot in common based on my experience (I’ve visited Sydney).

Ridout et al. had about 160 university students participate in their study and found that 96.4% of them reported consuming alcohol in the past year (p. 24). They also found that these students purposefully managed their FB profiles in a way to make them appear as if they drank a lot of alcohol. The interesting part is most of the alcohol related content was not created by the students themselves, but by their FB friends.

For example, a FB friend might have tagged a student in a photo with alcohol. However, since the students have control of which photos remain tagged and 82% of them untag photos they don’t want to be associated with (p. 21), the fact that they left these photos with alcohol tagged represents “an implicit sanctioning of alcohol related identity placements” and supports the idea that these students used the FB material generated by their friends to construct identities of themselves that included “a strong self-as-drinker component (p. 24).

Don't be them. (

Furthermore, this study found almost half of the students who were included “had utilized one alcohol-related photo as their profile image” and that some of them also joined groups such as “I’m not an alcoholic, I just like to drink!” and became fans of alcohol related FB pages such as “Stupid things you say and do when drunk”. Ridout et al., citing another study, add that

teenagers openly present themselves as ‘drunks’ on SNS, indicating they like to be thought of as at least capable of binge drinking behavior (p. 24).

They also found that males seemed to spend more time on trying to create an “alcohol identity” on FB, and this is consistent with another study published in the American Journal of Men’s Health. The study, described in this article, found that 85% of the sample male FB profiles contained at least one reference to alcohol and that males who posted about alcohol seemed to have more FB friends.

Ridout et al. conclude their study by echoing the sentiment that peer pressure seems to play a big role in why university students put so much effort into presenting themselves as professional drinkers on FB:

Identity formation is a multi-dimensional process, and the current results suggest that portraying oneself as a drinker on SNS is an important and socially desirable component for many university students, contributing to the normalization of binge drinking among young people (p. 25).

While it appears peer pressure is a big reason students feel like they need to present themselves as mass consumers of alcohol, it is not the only one. The personality type of the student might also have an impact on how much they post about their life on FB. Moore and McElroy (2012), citing Wehrli (2008), state that

individuals low in emotional stability tend to spend more time on social networking sites because they may try to make themselves look as attractive as possible (p. 269).

If they think attraction equates to drinking alcohol, they might make more of an effort to present themselves as drinkers on FB, in an effort to deal with their emotional instability.

If people react this way to your FB profile, you need to change some things. (

Many Western college students might have a few days during their collegiate careers during which they experiment with how much alcohol they can consume before they pass out. If you do this, I urge you to give your car keys to a friend and to be safe. There is nothing essentially wrong with this (it would be silly of me to tell you to not do it because I know many people will), as long as you are not putting yourself and others in danger.

However, this becomes very dangerous when students use alcohol as a treatment for life anxieties and when they trick themselves into believing that drinking mass amounts of alcohol is the cool and normal thing to do. The only people who consistently binge drink are alcoholics, but because so many university students talk about it on FB and other online channels, it may seem as if many students binge drink all the time as well.

An addiction to alcohol can easily develop during the college years if students do not learn how to drink responsibly, so it is essential for us to fight against the culture of romanticizing binge drinking as the “cool” and normal thing to do by constantly referring to it positively over the Internet. Furthermore, if you do not share your drinking activities online, the chances that your future employers will find out about it and consequently get a very bad impression of you will be much, much, less.

Alcohol and spring break seems to be a part of the American collegiate experience for many, but I urge you to take FB and other SNS out of that equation so that you do not contribute to the romanticization of binge drinking as “cool” and “normal”  and so that you can get a job in the future!

I’m Back on Facebook: Charles Dickens Explains

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. It was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us…(Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities, 1859).

Charles Dickens

The above quote from A Tale of Two Cities is timeless because the contradictions Dickens so splendidly employs, while using ridiculously effective repetition techniques, embodies not only London and Paris during the French Revolution, but also many other situations in all of our lives.

One of those situations for me has been the seemingly endless flip-flopping fight I’ve had with Facebook (FB). I deactivated my account for a week in September, wrote a passion filled piece a week a later about how I would change my habits, but then fell into the same patterns again. I re-downloaded the iPhone application, although I said I would not, and ended up wasting a lot of time on it again, even though I said I would not.

This failure to follow through, in addition to inspiration from some friends talking about how they deactivated their accounts and some family members who have never been on FB at all, inspired me to deactivate again. I deactivated my account for 23 days and was so committed this time that I was telling people I would delete the account. I was also going around telling all my friends why they should also delete their accounts. I actually convinced my friend Chris to deactivate his as well!

Yesterday, however, I once again reactivated. I did not plan on doing this, but did it because I was asked to by a future employer. I am working at a Space Camp in Turkey this summer, and they created a FB group for all of the English-speaking counselors to get to know each other. Thus, I somewhat reluctantly reactivated my account. The funny thing is, despite my passionate appeals opposing the very existence of FB just a few days before, I secretly kind of liked it.

So what is going on with me and FB? Am I for it or against it? What kind of social media scholar am I when I can’t even figure this out for myself?

I turn to the above Dickens quote to help explain this, and hope my narrative helps you think about your FB and other social media use as well.


It Was the Best of Times…

I joined FB on July 11th, 2006 (I know this because of the Timeline), two months after graduating high school and realizing a high percentage of my friends would not go to Northern Kentucky University with me. I was skeptical at first (my profile picture was an image that said “Censored”), but soon I got into it.

I loved keeping up with high school friends during that first summer and I loved “friend requesting” new people once I started my career at NKU. Over the next few years my FB profile only grew as I used it more and more. I worked as a DJ for the student radio station and promoted my show primarily via FB. I ran for student senate, so I made a FB group to promote my case. I became way too involved with student life, so FB became my way to keep up with all the organizations and people. I studied abroad twice and used the site as the primary source of information about the trips with people back home. As I met more people abroad and more of my family abroad joined FB, I also used it to stay in touch across big geographic and time distances. And of course, I used FB to stalk my latest crushes and to see whether or not they were single!

Times were good.

It was the Worst of Times…

I don’t know when it happened, but FB eventually became “life spam” instead of a productive tool. I would look at my friend list and have no idea how I knew the people, would look at my newsfeed like a brainless zombie who needed to be fed with irrelevant information about what my friends were having for dinner, and would become a borderline stalker by looking at more photos of my friends than should ever be allowed in history, by anyone, alive. The FB “events” became primarily pointless and unrelated to my life, the birthdays I didn’t care about because I didn’t even know the people, and the FB groups seemed to get more useless every semester (join this group if you like bread with no crusts!).

FB became clutter, it became a waste of life. It felt addictive. I had urges to log on, I got  excited when I saw a new notification; I learned to depend on it like addicts depend on drugs. It became the worst of times.

It was the Age of Wisdom…

FB was ideal for sharing information with people who were interested in the same things. As I focused in on what I loved to study and became friends with like-minded people, they started to send me relevant links and videos they knew I would love. Inspirational articles, amazing YouTube videos, and really cool campus and community events; I learned about all of these things because of FB. I also had exciting and productive debates about different issues with these people, all via FB. It increased my wisdom.

It was the Age of Foolishness…

At some point, the productive academic debates turned into polarizing political bullshit (excuse my language, but it’s so bad that a strong word is required here). Lively debates turned into pointless insults, in which people would post articles they barely even read and adamantly defend their own position without ever considering the other side. These debates were silly, childlike, and pointlessly polarizing. At some point FB games became popular as well. Apparently, if I didn’t buy my friends’ virtual cows or visit their fake and nonexistent farms, I was being a bad person. Status updates also went from being interesting and fun, to repetitive and boring. FB was foolish.

It Was the Epoch of Belief…

Going along with the “wisdom” described above, FB allowed people to share their beliefs with each other in a non-awkward way. Perhaps people were afraid to ask each other about their religious or political beliefs, but now they could check out each others’ FB profiles and learn about their beliefs (assuming they had posted this information). Is he an atheist? Was she talking about her Jewish family? Do you think she’s a Democrat? Is he a Nader supporter? FB was not just about labels. When a big news event occurred, people would inevitably respond to it via FB status (i.e. the 2008 Presidential election). FB helped us to share our beliefs.

It Was the Epoch of Incredulity…

However, FB did as much to annoy us with others’ beliefs as it did to help us learn about them. You’re a Christian, congratulations, now please calm down and don’t spam my newsfeed with Bible verses. I’m a Christian too, but I don’t need you to be my virtual priest. Same thing goes for Muslims and the Koran, for Jews and the Torah, Atheists and quotes from famous Atheists, and for every other belief. Sharing your beliefs is one thing, but spamming FB with them is another. When you annoy people with your beliefs, they experience incredulity and become even less likely to see the merit of them.

It Was the Season of Light / It Was the Spring of Hope…

FB allowed me to share in the moments of happiness of my friends. They have a new baby! They are engaged! He just graduated from college! She got a new job! These days people will post a FB status before they inform others about good news in their lives, so oftentimes it is the first source of information about exciting life events. It’s always nice to see good things happening to your friends, because it makes you feel happy and gives you hope.

 It Was the Season of Darkness / It was the Winter of Despair…

The pictures of new babies quickly went from being cute to obnoxious. In fact, many of the updates became aggravating. Oh, look, the baby is now their profile picture! Oh, the baby just puked, for the third time today, and it’s the third FB status about it. Oh look, another 35 photos of their engagement night, that makes about 300 in two days. People also began to use FB for sharing pointless bad news. There’s nothing wrong with sharing bad news with a community of friends to get support from them, but there is something wrong with complaining EVERYDAY about everything: “Just got out of bed, it’s 9AM and I have a headache. FML!” Nobody wants to see that status, and hundreds of FB friends don’t really care about your morning headache and how your life sucks because of it. Seeing newsfeeds full of people complaining about normal, everyday issues we all have would oftentimes turn them into dark places full of silly despair.

We Had Everything Before Us…

More than any social media website before it, and arguably more than any site since it (up to this point), FB allowed us to peek into our social networks through the Internet in a complete way. Photos, videos, messages, likes, dislikes, new life events, etc. The one thing distinguishing FB from all of other websites was not that we had the ability to share all this information, but that we chose to share this information on this specific website. FB is only as strong its users, and Mark Zuckerberg and company know this. The good news for them is that more than 800 million people are using FB in someway today. It has taken years to build such a huge user base, and it is the reason many people are still on FB today. Goggle+ and Path may be a lot better in many ways, but they do not have the users. If your friends are not using these websites, they become pointless, no matter how much better than FB they might be. FB places the majority of our social networks at our fingertips, it places “everything” before us.

We Had Nothing Before Us…

As alluded to earlier in this post, pretty soon this amazing database of information about our social networks became clutter, spam, and straight up obnoxious. We overdid it. Most of us friended people we didn’t know, and chose to become annoyed by their posts, which were irrelevant to our lives. When we have hundreds (or even thousands) of FB friends, the information we might care about usually gets lost in the “nothingness” of the information we don’t care about. Thus, although we had everything before us, we really had nothing.

FB; Egypt.


Last September I said we never realize how important something is in our life until we no longer have it. I want to add to that statement: sometimes we don’t realize how important something is in our life until we have lost it and then gotten it back. When I travel I often learn my biggest lessons when I come back home; when I have had time to “lose” my life at home and to find it again. That’s what happened yesterday with FB.

I reactivated FB and realized, despite all of my trash talking over the past few weeks, I really enjoy some of the services it provides. I feel way more “in touch” with my closest friends, I feel exponentially more in touch with my family in Europe, and I feel more connected to the world. Also, I can now meet my future co-workers (they seem awesome!), will know when people in my department get promotions, and will know when things change for meetings/organizations (these are all things I’ve missed).

The best of times, the age of wisdom, the epoch of belief, the season of light, the spring of hope, and having everything before me are all good enough reasons to learn to live with the worst of times, the age of foolishness, the epoch of incredulity, seasons of darkness, winters of despair, and having nothing before me. The positives outweigh the negatives, and that’s good enough for me.

I don’t feel bad for completely flip-flopping my position on FB yet again. It’s human nature to change our minds, to realize things, and to change our behaviors as a result. I am choosing to embrace my personal life contradictions and the contradictions of FB as well because the services the website offers are too useful to completely let go of just yet.

Furthermore, I’ve realized most of the things that annoy me about FB have nothing to do with FB, but with how I chose to use it. I can delete people who I’m not really friends with, I can limit my weekly log ins, I can force myself to not mindlessly watch the newsfeeds, and I can just choose to not become angry by the annoying status updates. I plan on doing all of this. I will never replace better forms of communication with FB (see below) and do not think I will use the website forever, I just realize that currently it is still one of the best forms of online communication with our social networks.

As I said last year, I will once again work to make sure that FB does not take over my life and does not become a mindless habit, but a useful tool instead. Also, I will make sure to always remember that good face-to-face conversations are pretty much always better than Internet conversations. FB will not become my primary source of daily communication.

Finish it up on that note, Mr. Dickens.

“Electric communication will never be a substitute for the face of someone who with their soul encourages another person to be brave and true” (Charles Dickens, The Wreck of the Golden Mary, 1856).

What Happens in New Orleans Should Not Stay There

In last week’s post I alluded to an upcoming academic convention (NCA) in New Orleans. This week I’ll share some of what I learned at that convention. Thousands of communication scholars attended it and each person had a different experience based on which sessions and panels they decided to attend. I share some of what I learned today with hopes of inspiring other attendees to share what they learned as well. After all, what happens at these conventions should never just stay at the conventions, it should be shared and used to inspire future work.

While I considerably enjoyed the touristy aspects of this resilient city (Bourbon Street, Café du Monde, etc.), I was far more impressed by the dialogue that was going on inside the convention hotels. The National Communication Association is made up of about 8,000 professors, practitioners, and students from twenty countries who all love the communication discipline. A sizable percentage of those members were present at this convention and came to share what they have been working on (both academic research and nonacademic projects). This resulted in a compelling lineup of panels and sessions over the four days of the convention covering an academically delicious multitude of communication sub-disciplines (interpersonal, organizational, performance, mass media, political, rhetorical, international, crisis, critical/cultural, health, family, nonverbal, non-Western, feminist, etc.).

I typed up about ten pages and 3,500 words of notes during the different sessions/panels I attended. Note that during each time slot there were about forty different presentations going on so every convention participant had to be extremely picky with what sessions they chose to attend. I focused primarily on sessions related to mass media, new media, and international/intercultural communication.

I will now share with you some bullet points of what I learned from some of those sessions based on the notes I took. While I give credit to most of the individual presenters based on the topic they talked about, note that the information below is based on my personal notes and thus on how I perceived the presentations and does not necessarily reflect the main themes that the original authors might have had when presenting their research.

As stated above, I hope that these limited examples of my notes inspire others to also share their notes so that we can take advantage of the Internet to share important information and think about potential areas for new research! I also hope that these notes serve to show people who might dismiss academic conferences as pointless that this is not true and that important information is shared. 

November 17th, 930 AM

“Communication Technologies and Personal Relationship Types: Who Uses What Media, For What Functions, With What Effects?” 

  • The asynchronous nature of online dating (communication that is not simultaneous) allows people to spend more time on their interactions and on their responses. In face-to-face communication people feel a pressure to respond instantly, but they can spend more time crafting their response in online communication and thus can “sound better” to a potential romantic partner; this makes them feel more comfortable. However, if people have a lengthy courtship based on CMC (computer mediated communication) and then start a more traditional face-to-face relationship they might realize that they have idealized each other too much and have formed exaggerated perceptions of the other person. Researchers Joshua Hillyer (University of Kentucky) & Rebecca Gray (Michigan State University).

  • Both doctors and patients show a willingness to communicate more via computer mediated channels such as email but the numbers show that email, while prevalent in many other fields, has yet to be adopted as a regular form of communication between doctors and their patients. Reasons for this include liability and credibility issues (the patient does not know if their personal doctor is actually sending the messages to them) and doctor workloads (doctors are not sure about consulting over email because they are not sure if they would get paid for such services). Researchers Robert Zuercher (University of Kentucky) and Austin Lee (Michigan State University).
  • Computer mediated communication is primarily used to maintain interpersonal relationships (as opposed to initiating and terminating relationships). Thus chances are that you become friends with people on Facebook because you want to maintain that relationship over the Internet, not because you saw an interesting profile and wanted to initiate a new relationship with a stranger. Speaking of Facebook, there is a curvilinear effect with your perceived popularity and the number of Facebook friends you have. This means that while having more friends will make you appear more popular to your peers, having an excessive amount of Facebook friends will make you appear disingenuous and fake. Researchers Kelley Cowden (University of Kentucky) and Pamela Pommerenke (Michigan State University). 

November 18th, 8AM

“And Now the News: A Look at News Production and Consumption”

  • The focus of news coverage of the 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil spill differed depending on the geographic area (thus leading to the audiences having different perceptions of the spill). The most common storyline in the national news focused on the environmental impact of the oil spill, while the most common local storyline was on how industry was being negatively affected as a result of the spill. News channels in Florida and Alabama focused on how tourism was being affected by the spill because their economies depend heavily on tourism, while news channels in Mississippi and Louisiana focused on how the shrimp industry was being affected because their economies depend more on shrimp. Researchers from Louisiana State University (Ashley Kirzinger, Kirby Goidel, Johanna Dunaway).          

November 18th, 930AM

“The Promise and Politics of Engaged Scholarship”

  • This was a fascinating and inspiring panel of scholars who are passionate about using communication theory and academic research for practical purposes by applying their research to the world outside of academia; thus the “engaged scholarship” title. The panel and the audience had a lively discussion about how community-based participatory communication research can help people in tangible ways. The discussion then turned to the dilemma that professors have because they want to help their communities while also being under pressure to publish in scholarly journals and to show results of their research to their employers in more traditional ways.

  • I could write a whole blog entry on just this panel (and perhaps will in the future) but will repeat only one specific item here. Professor Maggie Quinlan from the University of North Carolina (Charlotte) explained that if scholars are not doing any community engagement they are missing out and are ‘in the wrong’ because they are failing to share the results of their research with the public outside of academia and to use it for practical change. I wholeheartedly agree with that statement.

November 18th, 11AM

 “Voices of the 2011 Revolutions: The Impact of Communication Technology in Tunisia, Egypt and Elsewhere in the Middle East and North Africa” 

  • Al-Jazeera played an extremely important role in the Egyptian revolution because they were the only global news source that covered Islamists and allowed them to have a voice. Al-Jazeera also tapped into common frames of injustice among Islamic cultures that were not covered by other news channels. Information about the different Arab Spring revolutions has been spread via the Internet, but not necessarily because many people in those areas of the world have access to the Internet. Those individuals who do have the Internet post information on the social media websites (such as Facebook) but the mass news media then picks that information up and reports it to millions of people who don’t have access to the Internet but have access to television news (such as Al-Jazeera). While new media has played a big role in the protests, it would be an oversimplification to call these the “Facebook/Twitter revolutions” because the reasons for the revolutions have little to do with the channels used during them and are actually rooted in years of oppression. Presentation by Orayb Najjar from Northern Illinois University.

November 19th, 11AM

” Advertising, Capitalism, and Consumption”

  • Over the past few decades a few trends have changed when it comes to how women are portrayed in Vogue advertisements. Women used to be presented as very submissive, sexualized, and alone (with no males) before the 21st century. During the 2000s, with an increased acceptance of feminist principles of equality, the portrayals have been less submissive (women are portrayed as having more power) and more equal (more ads with women and men together). However, the sexualization of women has only increased, and so has the pressure on women to purchase certain products for their beauty. Researchers Jessia Ruggles and Mala Matacin from the University of Hartford.

November 19th, 330PM

 “A Tribute to Japanese Disaster Victims: Cross-Cultural Voices of Crisis Management of the 2011 Great Eastern Japan Earthquake, Tsunami, and Radiation Leak”

  • During this panel Japanese mass media was criticized because of their failure to call the Japanese government out on obvious gaps in information after the horrific earthquake of 2011. The government attempted to downplay the significance of a radiation leak that was caused by the earthquake and the media failed to question the government, which potentially led to people putting themselves in danger of radiation poisoning because they were not properly informed. Specific criticism of Japanese media included:
    • Lack of training for Japanese newspaper reporters; they are trained for general skills only, so there were no specialized or investigative reporters to send to the scene.
    • Japanese news is “announcement news” because they simply report what they hear during official press conferences and do not question the sources.
  • Although many more people died during the initial earthquake and tsunami, the news media focused more on the nuclear reactor storyline because there were few images of destruction to show and the media depends a lot on images. Most people who died and most of the damage was swept away, thus leaving few dramatic scenes for the media to focus on. However they could continually focus on the dramatic images of the nuclear power plant and the smoke coming out of it. Furthermore, the nuclear power plant was a more interesting story because it was the result of human error, while the earthquake was something that the humans could not have stopped.
  • Although America and Japan are different culturally, the failures in crisis communication (communication during times of crisis) are the same in both countries. Among the biggest problems related to crisis communication include lack of effective inter-agency communication (such as FEMA and the National Hurricane Center during Hurricane Katrina) and regulatory issues.
*I did not attach the above information to specific people when I took the notes during this session (it was the last one I attended and I was tired!) so I cannot say for certain who said what. If you would like a list of all the speakers during this session let me know and I’ll send it to you.
**I am happy to share all of my original notes if anybody out there is interested. Just let me know.