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.

Twitter in the Classroom: Marketing Case Study

Monday I introduced the idea of using Twitter in the classroom and shared a video of a “Twitter experiment” conducted at a university in Texas. Students these days are not being engaged by their teachers as well as they could be because they are used to sharing information via social networking sites (SNS) and educational institutions have been slow to embrace SNSs (such as Twitter). To elaborate further on this specific topic, today I briefly summarize the results of a recent study by University of Kent marketing professors Ben Lowe and Des Laffey. They developed their own Twitter experiment in a graduate-level marketing course. Long story short, they found that Twitter does indeed have a positive impact on the classroom, while not being as interactive as they thought it would be.

The Lit Review

Like all proper research articles, Lowe and Laffey (2011) begin with a concise yet detailed review of past research about Twitter as it applies to pedagogy and learning. Summarizing the results of another study, they begin by stating,

With rapid adoption of Web 2.0 technologies among the student population and a gap between student take up and academic take up of Web 2.0 technologies, it would seem pertinent to evaluate the learning benefits to students of using these new technologies within the classroom (p. 183).

They then provide detailed information about Twitter and it’s growth, including the fact that in 2009, there was a 1,000% increase in the number of visits to the site (p. 184). After the introduction to Twitter, they list a few specific benefits, all based on previous research, of the website in term’s of its education use. Four of them are:

  • Conciseness: Tweets being limed to 140 characters provides a number of benefits for the academic setting. The students are more likely to read the short messages (just like a text message) when compared to longer e-mails. Thus, tweets might gain more of their attention. Furthermore, writing tweets to communicate with students is much less burdensome for the instructor, since the website was designed to be extremely user-friendly.
  • Robustness: Twitter is very powerful when it comes to its capability to quickly facilitate the sharing of information that is related to the specific class.
  • Convenience: Users (both students and teachers) can tweet wherever and whenever they want, including from cell phones via either text messaging, the Internet, or applications (the latter two being only on smartphones).
  • Nonintrusive: While it is a SNS, Twitter is not as intrusive into the personal lives of students as some social sites. Students may just choose to follow the class tweets without participating or sharing a lot of information. This is important because many students need to know their privacy is secure before choosing to interact with a teacher over SNS.

Lowe and Laffey predict their Twitter experiment will succeed in (1) sharing with the class “real-world” marketing concepts in a timely fashion (Twitter is used by marketers in the world outside the classroom) and (2) leading to a more up-to-date course with “better linking between theory and practice in a contemporary manner” (p. 185).

The Experiment

There were 123 students in the course the authors worked with, and 80 of them voluntarily chose to participate. These students were introduced to Twitter (if they didn’t know it already) and were asked to follow the tweets of the class. After eight weeks, interviews were conduced to get a feel for student perceptions of Twitter in the classroom. The data from the interviews, along with some previously established information, was used to construct a quantitative likert-type survey. The survey was then given to the participants as well.

Results and Implications

According to the authors,

The results of the Twitter project provide strong evidence that Twitter enhanced a variety of learning outcomes in the course for Twitter followers (p. 190).

Even though this project was voluntary and students did not receive a grade for it, more than 65% chose to follow the course’s tweets and, as the authors note, the benefits of using Twitter included,

…enhanced learning about the subject of marketing, a more enjoyable module, concise and useful communication, timeliness, greater realism, great application of marketing theory to real-world examples, and career skills in the use of new technology (p. 187).

While some students did not like the idea because they saw it as an extra burden in their lives (p. 186), a significant number did seem to enjoy the experiment and to benefit from it positively. One finding that surprised the researchers was that Twitter did not increase student interactivity. While it did increase the amount of information they learned about the specific class concept, it did not seem to encourage the students to interact more with each other and their teacher (p. 187). This might be due to the big class size, and the authors assume interactivity (such as tweeting back) would increase in a smaller class because there would be more time for discussion (p. 189).

Finally, just as I said on Monday, the authors here do not propose for Twitter to replace more traditional communication tools for the classroom, they just see it as a great add-on:

[Twitter] should be viewed not as a substitute for other learning technologies but as an easy to use complement to integrate with existing learning technologies (p. 190).

Twitter in the Classroom

This week I am attending the annual Central States Communication Association (CSCA) convention in Cleveland. I love academic conventions because I end up learning something new every time, while meeting fellow communication nerds and participating in a great academic feast, during which every plate is served with delicious communication topics.

One of the entrée items for me this week will be an exploration into the use of computer-mediated communication (CMC) in the classroom.  Not only am I presenting on the topic as part of an awesome panel from Northern Kentucky University, I am also participating in a special “short course” led by experts in the field.

As I demonstrated when sharing these videos last August, students today are not being properly engaged. While they are used to living in a digital world (Internet, smart phones, Facebook, etc.), much of their classroom experience is outdated and not effective (chalkboard, anyone?) Students are very good at receiving, interpreting, and sharing information, and this is an important aspect of learning. However, the channels they use for much of their personal information sharing (Internet, social media) are often actively discouraged in the classroom because they are seen as distractions. This has to change. If students are not being properly engaged, they will not learn, and if they don’t learn, our society is in trouble.

Improving Class Discussions

As teachers, it is often our goal to encourage conversation, discussion, and debate because students are much more likely to learn a key concept or idea if they talk about it, as opposed to just reading it in the textbook and trying to memorize it. Despite these efforts, only a few students actively engage in dialogue with the teacher and each other, while the rest merely observe.

The reasons students don’t speak out include their concerns of not sounding smart and hesitations about speaking out in groups. Quieter students might be afraid of sounding unintelligent when compared to the students who always contribute. Even if they are interested in the subject, they may not be confident enough to ask questions because they fear other students might judge them negatively. Furthermore, many students might not be comfortable speaking out in large groups and may need a nudge in the right direction. When considering that many university classes these days are made up of hundreds of students, it comes as no surprise that encouraging dialogue and interaction has been such a big challenge for teachers. A solution to this problem is to take advantage of tools most students are very familiar with; technology and the Internet.

The survey I used

By connecting the technology they most likely already have (cell phones and laptops) with Internet websites that allow for instant and anonymous feedback, we can significantly increase the number of students who participate in class discussions. A few weeks ago I created a quick survey for my students as an example of interactive communication and had them respond to it with their cell phones. I had the website pulled up and projected the survey results onto the classroom wall. As the students responded, the chart instantly updated and the students saw how their votes affected the results. While this specific survey was only used as a quick example during my lecture, it exemplifies the great possibilities that exist for increasing student engagement by using new technologies.

Teachers can create surveys about any topic (I used this website to do so) and can guarantee that students who usually only observe in the classroom actually get to share their opinion via the Internet. Sharing something online is much less threatening to students because they can choose to do it anonymously, which alleviates the aforementioned fear of not sounding smart. Additionally, students who might be too timid to speak out in large groups will be more likely to interact with the rest of the class through technology. While surveys allow the students to pick a side during a class debate, they do not necessarily allow them to make their own original comments. This is where Twitter comes in.

Twitter as Teaching Tool

A few years ago, history professor Monica Rankin made headlines across the nation for her “Twitter experiment”, in which she encouraged students to tweet their comments and observations about the current class topic and then instantly displayed all the tweets to the class via Tweetdeck. While there were some growing pains with this experiment (see this), Rankin notes that

Overall, I think the twitter experiment was successful primarily because it encouraged students to engage who otherwise would not.

This is an excellent example of incorporating technology the students are comfortable with into the classroom in order to improve on their educational experience and to connect the classroom to their world outside of the academy. Here, Rankin gives a detailed account of the specifics behind her Twitter experiment. While technology in the classroom will never replace traditional styles of learning completely, it can certainly help to improve the experience for the students and might even be the factor that inspires them to begin contributing to class discussions face-to-face. Twitter and other social websites are not going away, and it is time for educators across the world to take advantage of these channels to improve upon the learning experiences of their students.

I end the post with a great five-minute video depicting the Twitter experiment mentioned here.

Use of Social Networking to Plan British Riots Raises Questions

Yesterday The Guardian reported on a recent survey which shows that 70% of United Kingdom adults who were surveyed said they would support a shutdown of social networks in order to control social unrest, such as the deadly British riots that happened in August 2011.

The riots started after London police shot and killed Mark Duggan, a 29-year-old father of four. Questions were raised instantly about whether or not police had sufficient rationale for opening fire on the black male or if other motives were involved. The parallels to the 2001 Cincinnati riots and the 1992 Los Angeles riots, both of which occurred after American police were accused of excessive force against black men, are very disconcerting indeed.

However today I focus on the social media aspect of this debate.

Riots in north London. Courtesy of The Guardian.

Yesterday’s report (alluded to above) has potentially added new fuel to an ongoing debate about social media in the United Kingdom that was inspired by the August riots. This is a worthy topic because the United Kingdom is one of the world’s leading democracies and most powerful economies; what happens there can easily influence what happens in many other democracies, such as the United States.

One side of this debate originally advocated for government control over social media networks during times of unrest because the likes of Facebook (FB), Twitter, and BlackBerry Messenger (BBM) can be used to organize violent crimes and were in fact used in such a manner by some people during the British riots. BBM was especially effective for this purpose because it creates messages on a secure network that police can’t track as easily as they can FB and Twitter. For example, this August 8th Guardian article shared one of the BBM messages that was spread amongst the organizers to start one of the riots.

Everyone from all sides of London meet up at the heart of London (central) OXFORD CIRCUS!!, Bare SHOPS are gonna get smashed up so come get some (free stuff!!!) fuck the feds we will send them back with OUR riot! >:O Dead the ends and colour war for now so if you see a brother… SALUT! if you see a fed… SHOOT!”

The social networking debate began on August 11th, 2011 when British Prime Minister David Cameron said,

Free flow of information can be used for good. But it can also be used for ill, and when people are using social media for violence we need to stop them. So we are working with the police, the intelligence services and industry to look at whether it would be right to stop people communicating via these websites and services when we know they are plotting violence, disorder and criminality.

Mr. Cameron also urged Facebook and Twitter to remove content that could incite further violence in the streets of England.

Prime Minister David Cameron. Courtesy

The other side of this debate has been vehemently opposed to such measures because they see this potential government ability to shut down social networks and even to prohibit specific people from using them as a blatant attack on the freedoms of speech long guaranteed in the UK.

While the above steps mentioned by Mr. Cameron might have seemed like a logical deterrence to the organization of illegal activities on social networking platforms at the time, opponents were quick to point out that such measures would open up a proverbial can of worms, undermining the long established legal systems and encouraging George Orwell 1984-esque censorship of communication by the powers to be.

The opposing viewpoint was also presented by the August 11th Guardian article. Jim Killock, director of an advocacy organization, questioned,

How do people ‘know’ when someone is planning to riot? Who makes that judgment? The only realistic answer is the courts must judge. If court procedures are not used, then we will quickly see abuses by private companies and police. Companies like RIM [Research In Motion; maker of the BlackBerry] must insist on court processes. Citizens also have the right to secure communications. Business, politics and free speech relies on security and privacy. David Cameron must be careful not to attack these fundamental needs because of concerns about the actions of a small minority.

The British government actually summoned representatives of Facebook, Twitter, and Research In Motion (BlackBerry creators) and met with them on August 25th, 2011 about this issue. After this meeting the government backed down from their plans amid overwhelming criticism from human rights groups and the social networking websites. The evidence proved that social networking sites had actually been used for more good than bad during the protests. I found a very good summary of the debate that was published yesterday as well in which journalist Anthony Dhanendran discusses the many exemplars of positive social networking use during the riots, including these two:

  • However, social networks were also used for good causes: the Twitter account ‘@riotcleanup’, which helped to organise clean-up crews, quickly gained over 70,000 followers.
  • A press officer from Sussex Police pointed out that police forces had been using Twitter to dispel rumours during the riots, and former Deputy Prime Minister Lord Prescott highlighted Twitter users who had used the service to contact friends and family or avoid problem areas.

Journalist and criminologists Zach Whittaker echoed the same sentiments in an article back in August by making the argument that the use of these social communication tools did more good than bad during the riots.

Despite the social networking being blamed for helping the organization of riots — remembering that these tools are impartial, and it is the person using them in the wrong — Facebook and Twitter were used to organize the clean-up operation after nights of rioting. Loosely organised off the foot of the previous night’s rioting, many took to the streets after seeing a Facebook group or retweet with gloves, garbage sacks and brooms to help in the effort to clean up their streets.While social media can be loosely ‘blamed’ for rioting — whether or not it did, it can be attributed to the clean-up operation, organized by ordinary citizens with an extraordinary passion for the city they live in.

This debate was settled when the British government backed down and luckily freedom of speech won out in the end.

I bring it up today, however, on account of yesterday’s study, which showed that a majority of UK adults would still support a shutdown of social networking sites during times of crisis. This information has inevitably resulted in increased Internet chatter about this topic (this article, this article, this one, and this fourth one were all posted yesterday-I’ve already cited some of these in this piece). Below is a screenshot of the Twitter hashtag #readingtheriots, which refers to an ongoing and extensive quantitative and qualitative study  by the London School of Economics and The Guardian on the causes of the riots. As you can see, I am not the only one responding today to the study that was released yesterday.

The tweeters above have a right to be upset about the results of the study yesterday. Even though the study points out that (see the first hyperlink of this post for the original),

Support for action against social networks was strongest among over-65s and weakest among 18 to 24-year-olds

it is still upsetting to see so many people are okay with the idea of shutting down a communication tool simply because a small minority used it to organize illegal activity.

Following this logic we should also be okay with the shut down of telephone lines, of all e-mail, and of all post offices during times of crises because criminals have used such media to organize their activities in the past as well.

In the context of crime prevention, it is absolutely ludicrous to blame the medium for the message that individuals and groups choose to send over that medium. Allowing authority forces to shut down entire communication networks or even individual social media accounts of people that are suspects (but still innocent until proven guilty in a court of law) would put our so called “free” and “Western” societies (UK, USA, etc.) on the same level as authoritarian regimes who limit use of communication networks and punish people before they are proven guilty (Iran, China, etc.).

As a student of social media and media convergence, I am fascinated by the amount of good that this new kind of communication can do for the world. If we permit censorship of these new communication channels due to the small minority who uses them for illegal activity then we also censor the majority who use social media and media convergence for good. Instead of thinking about shutting down entire networks, we should (as some of the articles I have given you links to also suggest) focus on training our current police and security forces to more effectively monitor these public channels of communication and to be prepared for potential organized riots ahead of time.

Thus I will go on record and will add my opinion to the online chatter about this debate as well:

I do NOT support any government mandated shutdowns of social communication channels during times of crisis because it goes against the fundamental rights to freedom of speech on which modern democracies are based on, and neither should you.

Twitter & Turkey: Using New Media to do Good

This past weekend I attended one of the coolest conferences that I’ve been lucky enough to attend so far in my relatively young “conference career”; the social media focused PodCamp Cincinnati which, conveniently enough for me, was held on a Saturday morning in the building I work in!

When I woke up that morning, I had second thoughts about going because I didn’t really feel like being in my place of work on a weekend morning. But I decided to suck it up (nice academic term, I know) and go.

I could not be happier about that decision to go; it turned out to be a great, great day. It seems as if this attendee thought the same. While the dominant focus of the conference was social media in the context of business (i.e. marketing) and my personal focus is more on social media and the news and also social media and communication theory, I still took a lot of cool ideas away.

I won’t discuss the details of the conference here, but I mention it because the passion of the people there (who were all social media nerds) and a current event combined to inspire today’s blog entry.

This is Not Your Grandfather’s Farm

At the above conference, I attended a lecture entitled “Advocacy + Agriculture + Social/New Media = Agvocacy 2.0″ by John Blue of Truffle Media. During this presentation, Mr. Blue showed us a few different examples of how people from the agricultural sector are using new media to spread awareness about the importance of farming to the United States economy and lifestyle. For example, he mentioned @zweberfarms, which is the Twitter account of a fourth generation American dairy farm. Most of the tweets consist of the farmers sharing with the world their daily routines and lives. For example, below is a screenshot of some of the images that @zweberfarms shares with the world.

I absolutely love the fact that American famers are beginning to use social media to teach the rest of us lazy bums about the importance of the work they do for us on a daily basis. This is a great example of using new media for the greater good. Below is another, and arguably more serious, example and it is related to the recent earthquake in eastern Turkey.

Twitter & Turkey: Using New Media to do Good

A few days ago a strong earthquake struck far eastern Turkey in the city of Van and the surrounding area. The latest news on the matter is reporting that more than 400 are dead and more than 1,300 injured, and this number is unfortunately expected to rise as rescue operations continue. The potential of new media, especially Twitter in this case, to do good in the world has been displayed in the aftermath of this earthquake.

Today’s Zaman, an English-language daily Turkish news source, reported how journalist Ahmet Tezcan started a Twitter campaign for those who had lost their homes in the earthquake. You can check out the original article here. Mr. Tezcan started the hashtag #EvimEvindirVan, which means “My home is your home, Van” because he had extra space and he offered it to those who had been left homeless after the quake.

For those of you who have not converted to Twitter yet, the hashtag (the “#” in front of a word) means that the phrase is automatically grouped with all the other mentions of that phrase by any other Twitter user in the world. This allows certain words to “trend”, or to become instantly popular as millions of Twitter users add the hashtag to the same phrase. The more people use the phrase, the more popular it becomes, and thus the louder and more far reaching the message can become. Check out this post if you want to read some more about hashtags.

#EvimEvindirVan is still trending; if you search for the phrase on Twitter you will see that people are mentioning it every few minutes.

A CNN guest article written by TIME magazine’s Pelin Turgut does a nice job of summarizing what effect the above Twitter hashtag is having on the post-earthuake recovery.

Ahmet Tezcan, a Turkish reporter with close to 16,000 followers, posted a tweet offering his spare flat to a family in need and suggesting others do the same. Within hours, 20,000 people had emailed the ‘My house is your house’ (#EvimEvindirVan) campaign, offering their homes or spare rooms. The campaign’s success has been such that the Istanbul governor’s office has taken charge. There is now a 24-hour hotline where people can apply to stay or host.

It is amazing how quickly this idea spread, and how many people have potentially found a place to sleep only because of a Twitter hashtag. The same article discusses other ways in which Twitter has been used to help the recovery effort in Turkey.

The sheer number of people with their eyes on the wire creates pressure on companies to respond –and quickly. ‘Van needs drinking water. Still waiting for a water company to step up!’ read one tweet on the #van page. Shortly afterwards three water firms announced pledges of shipments to the region.

At the risk of giving you too many quotes, I will share a final one from the same article. Ms. Turgut discusses the Turkish earthquake of 1999, which killed tens of thousands of people, and talks about how media as we know it today did not yet exist (in the olden days of 1999!) She mentions how email was still the new thing in 1999 and that the inventor of Facebook, Mark Zuckerberg, was only in high school. She then compares this to the media response after the earthquake a few days ago.

Contrast that to yesterday’s disaster. Hours after a 7.2 earthquake struck Van, in eastern Turkey, technologies whirred into motion that would have been unimaginable back then. Google has already reconfigured the person-finding tool it used in Haiti and Chile, allowing people to both request and post information about the safety of loved ones missing in the rubble. (Their system is currently tracking some 2,000 records.) Hashtags like #van, #deprem (earthquake in Turkish) trended instantly, and are being tweeted hundreds of times per second as people share information on how to help and what to donate. Groups like the Red Crescent (the Turkish equivalent of the Red Cross) and AKUT, a search-and-rescue organization have enabled one-click SMS donation services. On Facebook, users share updated information on aid requests – winter clothing, insulin, diapers — as filed by people on the ground in Van and have started pages listing bus and freight companies that are delivering aid packages free of charge.

It is not uncommon for people who study communication or social media (such as yours truly) to be asked about the merits of studying such topics instead of focusing on business management, psychology, engineering, chemistry, etc. I have written twice about what I study and why I think it’s important (here and here) and I continue to religiously defend communication as a discipline. It often helps to use practical examples of how communicative phenomena play a role in our world. New media tools such as Twitter can be really fun ways to communicate with our social circles. But communication through media is so much more than that, it can affect real change in our world.

New media can be used for tasks as simple as an American farmer tweeting about their daily routine to make sure that the rest of us support agriculture in this country to something as complex as organizing relief efforts after a humanitarian disaster. The main point is, new media (such as Twitter) is not just a fun and new tool for us to communicate with, but a potentially great improvement on how we can communicate with each other to do good things in the world.

D(r)eactivating Facebook: Taking Back Control

Last Tuesday I deactivated my Facebook (FB) account for one week as part of an experiment to see just how big a part of my life it has become.  As I said last week,

Often times we do not realize what role something plays in our life until we are forced to no longer have that in our life (this works with people too). Thus, I have decided to proactively eliminate Facebook from my life in order to analyze the role it plays in my daily routine.

For more information and background on my rationale for this experiment, read last week’s entry.

In this follow-up to the experiment I will discuss three items: A.) how it felt to be off FB, B.) three things I learned about FB and social media habits, and C.) how this will (hopefully) affect my future use of FB.

A.) How it Felt

They say “a picture is worth a thousand words” and since today’s entry is already long enough, here is a picture from our Australia trip last March that exemplifies how I’ve felt over the past week without FB in my life.




Dramatic words, I know, but that is exactly how this FB-less week has felt.

I have tried many times before to limit my FB logins but it has failed because there always remained a FB profile to log into. By deactivating my account, however, this urge to log in substantially decreased because there was nothing left to be missed; no messages, no event invites, no wall posts, and no photo tags because it became impossible for people to interact with my FB profile.

I mentioned last week that I would keep a daily journal of sorts to document how the experiment was going. While I did not write everyday (graduate school schedule of death), I still ended up with a total of four “journal entries”. Below is a quote from the first entry discussing how the initial action of disabling FB felt.

Wednesday September 28th 5:21PM

It felt very good to disable Facebook.  I think I got an adrenaline rush just doing it, and felt more ‘in control’ of my world! It’s funny that such a simple thing felt so good.

FB presented by Comedy Central's South Park.

As noted last week, I had made it a habit to log into FB a lot and to make it a part of my daily routine. I also mentioned that I did not hate FB but that I hated my FB habits instead because I was wasting a lot of time on the website. I would not just log in, check my messages and posts, and then log out (as many of my much stronger willed friends successfully do). I would log in, check my messages and posts, and spend the other time mindlessly browsing FB and clicking other people’s profiles to “stalk” them (we all do it, some people just don’t like to admit it).

After I deactivated my account and stopped logging in on a daily basis, I realized just how silly this waste of time really was. Instead of mindlessly browsing other people’s self-created online identities, I could now do more productive things, such as classwork.

It felt really good to not know what hundreds of my acquaintances, excuse me, my “friends”, were doing every second of the day.

Believe it or not, it was still possible for me to have an enjoyable day even when I didn’t find out what hundreds of people thought about the weather or the latest football scores.

B.) Three things I Learned About Facebook and Social Media Habits

1. Facebook as a communication tool. I realized over the past week just how much my friends and I use FB as a tool for everyday communication that has nothing to do with the aforementioned mindless browsing of profiles. I learned this by finding myself in situations in which the other people wanted to use FB to communicate but could not since my profile was gone.

  • I got the following text message from a friend who wanted to send me a question about an upcoming trip to Chicago via FB just a few hours after “the deed” of deactivating it: “Did you get rid of Facebook?!” We ended up talking about the trip through text messaging instead.

  • Last Wednesday a friend from New York sent me an article link via email because she could not do so over FB and we had a back and forth email conversation about the article. Usually this would have happened through FB. Appropriately enough, the article was about FB!

  • Last Friday I asked a friend to send me a text message of his address so that I could enter it into my GPS. He told me he would send an address to me via FB because he had limited text messaging. He had to send the address via email instead.

  • Yesterday I got another text which said, “OMG ARE YOU NOT ON FACEBOOK ANYMORE!?!” from a friend I had seen the night before but didn’t tell about the experiment.

Obviously, all of these interactions were casual and not serious, thus it was not a big deal that I had to use email and text messaging instead of FB. Despite the lack of “seriousness” in these messages, an important point can still be taken away from my experiences with them. Facebook was seen as the first option to communicate; the other forms of communication were only used as “Plan B” after my friends found out that FB was not an option. This tells me that we have made FB an important communication tool for our daily lives.

2. The “urge” to know. As the FB-less week wore on, the initial feelings of freedom were accompanied by feelings of being out of the loop; I actually wanted to know what my closest friends were up to. Some more quotes from the journal entries are warranted here:

Thursday September 29th 1:17AM

I am actually still happy to be away from the ‘traffic jam’ of FB. I will admit though that I had urges to check up on friends and to log in when I was browsing the web, which tells me that I have formed somewhat of a habit on checking it.

Saturday October 1st 2:00AM

I do feel a little “out of touch” with a few people that I feel that I am usually more “in touch” with.

I have “urges” to share information with the world, and have been doing so more with Twitter and Google lately.

I had developed tendencies to check up on what my friends were doing on a daily basis. While I enjoyed not following hundreds of acquaintances on a daily basis, I began to miss “being in the loop” of my closest friends.

3. Other social media. The third thing I learned during the FB-less week was that FB is not the only social medium allowing us to effectively communicate and share information with our friends online. My usage of Twitter and Goolge + increased over the past week. The former was awesome, the latter not so much.

I’ve had a total of 48 tweets since deactivating my FB, which is an increase from the 40 tweets I had the week prior. For those who have not joined the awesome world of Twitter, a “tweet” is the equivalent of a FB status update.

I spent a lot more time in the past week checking my Twitter feed because the FB feed was not an option. Twitter was a much smaller time investment than FB because there were no extensive profiles to “stalk”; just 140 character statuses to read. These Twitter statuses were often links to interesting articles with brief commentary, so it felt like a more productive use of my time. These feelings led me to post the below “tweet” a few days ago:

I also spent more time on Google +, but it was not as good a replacement for FB as Twitter. Putting on my communication theory “thinking cap” while writing in the journal, I pondered about why Google + might be less exiting than FB and Twitter:

The “newsfeed” of FB and of other similar social media websites has created in us a need to be constantly updated. Even if these updates are absolutely pointless, its not about the content of the updates anyway, its about the updates themselves. We feel more connected if we see that other people are doing stuff, even if that “stuff” consists of “liking” an obscure comment from a friend we never know or commenting on a random photo. Google + also has a stream, but so few people are on this stream that it updates only about every half an hour. On FB, however, there are updates nearly every minute! So I feel that Google + is less exciting because I do not see the constant updates!

Psychologist William Schutz (1976) (as quoted by Pearson et al. (2011)) found that human beings have three basic interpersonal needs: inclusion, affection, and control.

It seems that social media websites such as FB have become popular in part because they satisfy these basic human needs. Particularly relevant for this topic are the constant status updates on our respective social media home pages.

It may not matter that these updates are pointless. What matters is that us seeing these updates everyday might lead to a feeling of being included in our social circles.

Assuming this educated assumption is true, I might have perceived Google+ as less exciting than FB and Twitter because there were no continuous updates from the social circles on Google+ and I felt less “included” in the overall discourse as a result.

Being away from FB definitely helped me to learn and realize a lot. It has also inspired me to take some practical actions related to my FB use from now on.

C.) How This Will (Hopefully) Affect my Future Use of FB.

Last week I said,

I want to use Facebook as a tool and I want to control Facebook. I do not want Facebook to use me as a tool and to control me.

As mentioned above by Schutz (1976), a sense of control is one of the basic interpersonal needs for humans. Using FB as a communication tool loses a lot of its luster when that tool takes control of our lives. When we feel “urges” and “needs” to log into FB and to mindlessly stalk others and endlessly update our own profiles, I believe that we have let FB take control.

However, if we use FB as a communication tool (as the first point above under the things I learned exemplifies), I believe it can still be very beneficial for our lives. It still does the best job of keeping us “in the loop” with what our friends/family from all over the world are up to.

In May I wrote about the predictable fear of new communication technologies. There have always been people who assert that technology is taking over our lives and that we have no control over it; examples include the people who feared the invention of the printing press in the 15th century and people who blame television (instead of social, economical, and familial factors) for increases in violence on American streets.

Deleting FB without critically thinking about how to improve our experiences of it by changing how we use it would just be a continuation of the centuries old fear of new technologies. Instead of fighting against these new trends, we should embrace them (with a caution).

I encourage the reader to become more consciously aware of how they use FB on a daily basis and to take back control if they have given that control up, like I had.

I plan to dramatically reduce the amount of time I spend on FB. I will use it as a communication tool but I do not want it to become a time consuming daily routine. I have learned about my FB habits and will work on changing them.

Among the specific things that I will change include not re-downloading the iPhone application (for me, FB on the phone leads to over involvement) and forcing myself to not spend more than a few minutes a day logged into FB unless I am chatting with someone.

Hey, Facebook User…This post is not just about the author.  It’s about YOU. 

This experiment was not done just for my personal insights. I hope that these insights will inspire others out there to consciously evaluate their own uses of FB and other social media websites and to conduct “experiments” of their own. Many people have done what I have done (check out this ABC article) and I am certainly not the first to blog about deactivating FB: this person did it, this person talked about doing it, and I am sure there are countless more related articles on the Internet about this issue (I would die if I tried to give you all the links).

For some people doing what they are already doing is working just fine. My brother, for example, has never had a FB account and is completely content with life!  For many others, however, FB has taken control over your daily routines and you need to take that control back!

I encourage you to do so in whichever way is best for you. When it’s all said and done, FB and other social media are just accessories to communication, while the best form of communication is still good old face-to-face! The Internet has forever changed how we communicate, but we have a say in this change because we can (as of now) choose to take advantage of FB and to not let FB take advantage of us.

Follow up: Hurricane Irene Trending no More

A few days ago, I wrote about the @HurriicaneIrene Twitter account. I wrote the post just as the story was at it’s most salient in our mass media. The coverage on the twenty-four hour cable news outlets was ridiculous, as is exemplified by the fact that a discussion has formed on whether or not the hurricane was over-hyped.

I was fascinated by how fast this particular Twitter account, which was using a lot of humor that soon got old, grew in followers. By humor that quickly got old I mean jokes that used puns such as “I will blow all of New York”.  The tweets quickly went from being humorous to just plain annoying. Nonetheless, by the time I finished my post a few days ago the account had over 29,000 followers.

I noticed that this had become a trending topic and decided to do a simple experiment in which I would write about the hurricane, tag a few key words, and see if my blog traffic would go up. If you want more background on why I chose to do this experiment, read the original post (first hyperlink above).

For this post, I will just list what my unofficial hypothesis was and then come to a conclusion based on the data WordPress provides for website traffic.

My hypothesis was:

H1: The traffic of will increase to higher than average daily hit levels (as calculated by as a result of a timely post about a trending Internet topic (Hurricane Irene).

The Results

My website traffic was above the daily average after I published the Hurricane Irene post, but not nearly as much as I had anticipated. Furthermore, the correlation of daily traffic being above average after I posted about Hurricane Irene cannot be proven as a causation. This is because the traffic for this blog has been on a steady increase this month and this increase started before the post about Hurricane Irene. While the daily hits did increase, it cannot be proven that the primary reason for this increase is the post about Hurricane Irene.

Other factors were involved. Today, for example, somebody shared one of my older posts via Facebook. As of this writing my blog has 94 views today, which makes it the second most popular day (based on traffic) for this blog since I started it in February. This development probably has nothing to do with the Hurricane Irene post, but it will still affect my daily hits. I am also assuming that my blog has increased in hits this month because school is back in session and many students who are in media classes throughout the country are beginning to Google topics for class projects.

Why did it fail?

Two reasons that my experiment did not provide as many hits as I thought it would might be that A.) the hurricane story lost its Internet ‘buzz’ so quickly after it passed New York City and B.) it was a domestic story only. Note that there are probably more factors at play than these two reasons, but I don’t have time right now to analyze this further :).

A.) While the hurricane is still getting media attention because of the tragic flooding and deaths that are associated with it, there is no reason for tens of thousands of Internet users from across the country to be tweeting about it anymore. The aforementioned Twitter account had tens of thousands of followers just a few days ago, and today it is down to 886. This is just one example of the ‘buzz’ of this story being long gone.

B.) In my original post, I stated that the my highest traffic day so far came when I blogged about Osama Bin Laden’s death in May. This was an obvious case in which correlation could be proven as having caused causation because the Bin Laden article was viewed 188 times in one day, and this was significantly above the daily average at the time. I figured that if I blogged about another trending topic (the hurricane) that my hits would go up exponentially again. I realize now that the Bin Laden story gained instant international attention and had much more Internet interest than the Hurricane Irene story, and this is partly the reason why that blog post gained more hits than the one about the hurricane (which was just a domestic American story).

I am still interested in learning more about the Internet phenomenon of ‘trending’ topics (as I said in the original hurricane post) and these results only increase my interest because I have proven that trending topics are not as simple a concept as they originally might have seemed.

The Data

As you can see in the first image, my daily average for August thus far is 23, and my overall daily average is 19.

When I posted the hurricane article it received 17 hits and the total hits on that day were 40  (above average).

In contrast, when I posted about Osama Bin Laden in May that article received 188 hits in one day.

Furthermore, the month of August has already been higher in traffic than the previous months, so the increased daily views could easily be a continuation of this trend and not a direct result of the post about the hurricane. As you can see in the final image, the hurricane article quickly lost popularity. Thus, I cannot prove that any post about any topic on that day would not have gotten just as many hits.

As for Hurricane Irene (the Internet topic and weather event); she is trending no more.