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From Mediocrity to Semi-Mediocrity

As we near the end of our semester, I’m entering new territory when it comes to my learning style. I’m the kind of student that doesn’t get stressed, I take my time with assignments and i’m usually very content with the product that I create to the point where the grade is an after-thought. Now that Finals are approaching, a blessing and a curse, suddenly everything is coming to a head. I truly believe that some teachers just want to inflict as much pain as possible on their students by cramming tests, presentations, and finals all into a couple class sessions. I’ve entered this new territory of stress and I really despise it almost to the point where my product is slowly fading because i’m losing the joy I felt when creating something of quality.

I understand all the usual bullshit that’s spouted about “This is what it’s like to be an adult” or “You’ll have to get used to this some day”. No, f*ck that, i’ll always take my own happiness over the stress of pleasing a superior or colleague. When it comes down to it, i’m not that bummed if I struggle in Chemistry or French or some other class that isn’t a deep passion of mine but when I start to struggle in an English course, then I feel the pain.

Writing has always been a stronger skill of mine and one that I realize is in no way advanced but still above average. As we work on our stories for our Professional Writing course, i’m finding the actual writing to be the hardest part. This may not be surprising to some people but for me, I thought getting the story would be the hardest part but just writing the article would be nothing. Some writers think self-motivation or taking that first step is the hardest part but I’ve never really struggled there. Katie Tallo, a writer for writetodone.com says,

Taking that first step, not putting it off for sometime down the road is where we all tend to stumble or hesitate or get distracted. That road can be long and filled with roadblocks and detours

It’s new ground for me, one that has me stressed but I’ve been looking for something to really challenge my skills and force me to improve in some way as a writer. I don’t know the areas of writing that I’m lacking in, but when my skills are challenged, then my flaws become very obvious.

After the fact, I always enjoy a challenge, but when I’m sitting here desperately writing to keep myself on track, it’s hard to see the joy in being pushed to a new limit.

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Baby Boomers are Technically Lost

As our class really starts to gear up for our website, not only are we facing the challenges of writing stories, but also the technical aspect of the site. One classmate is creating our website through Wix and I have to say, I would be terrified. I have no problem writing and in fact I sometimes go out of my way to write essays and papers, but when it comes to the technical realm of website creation, I’ll give an emphatic “no”. Now to be clear, it’s not because I don’t have the ability to do so but because I’m tired of doing so. I still consider myself a digital native but somewhere between Baby Boomers and Gen Z’ers.

I’ve been aware the past few months of baby boomers in tech-savvy jobs such as SMWC’s marketing department or media relations, who are still learning these tools. While photography may be a strong suit for one person, creating an eye-catching video or aesthetically-pleasing collage is a completely different skill. So then it hit me, are baby boomers really struggling, still, in an increasingly tech-minded profession? Where millennials are considered digital natives, boomers are digital immigrants who have to be taught very specific apps and programs if they want to stay ahead of the curve (or even with it). Yeah some like to complain about “today’s kids” and their “technology”, but for the most part it seems that their generation is full of Grade-A hypocrites.

Priceonomics, via Nielson Surveys, found that 52% of Boomers use technology during dinner, compared to 38% for 15-20 year olds, and 40% for 21-34 year olds. What’s most important is how Boomers are using their technology compared to younger generations.

One survey has found that over 50% of employees check their company email over the weekend and before or after work. Another found that 40% of employees think it’s fine to respond to important work emails during family dinners. Yet another revealed that most workers expect responses to emails within an hour if not in minutes…nearly 60% of adults check their work email while on vacation, and 6% have checked their email while a spouse is in labor. Another 6% have checked email at a funeral, and 10% at a child’s school event.

Maybe it’s denial, maybe it’s ignorance and a wish to be separated from younger generations somehow, but the fact remains that Boomers are just as bad as everyone else when it comes to technology. I had my first eye-opening moment to this last week during Ring Day. As I’m sitting there, happy for my fellow classmates who have earned their rings, i look around and see a lot of phones and iPads out taking pictures. People getting up from their seats to scuttle around the church to get that perfect picture while blocking my limited view. The funny part was that 99% of the people staring at their phones to take pictures and then staring at them again to crop and edit those pictures were older parents. The elderly guests didn’t have their phones out and for the most part all the students maybe took a couple picture but then put their phone away and continued to enjoy the ceremony.

Maybe it’s a truth that Boomers hope to forget, but the reality is that Baby Boomers are some of the heaviest technology users today and their denial of reality just adds to a long list.

Photo Credit: Shutterstock 

Who is the King of the Trolls?

God, I love trolls.

I say that because honestly, deep down, most people love them too and not for the reason we think. It starts with the simple admission of fact that everyone has trolled before and while they may not have necessarily done so online, we’ve all messed with someone else just to get a rise out of them; just for shits and giggles. And in that moment we laugh to ourselves and are dumbfounded by the fact that this stranger online can’t figure out that you’re just screwing around and trying to upset them…until we’re on the other side of the trolling. Suddenly, we’re unable to see that someone is trolling us because we’re so emotionally attached to the story or discussion that we expect rational conversation.

I’ve always seen the relationship with trolling as the same with drivers and pedestrians. When I’m driving, every pedestrian is the slowest god damn human being on earth and when I’m just trying to walk, every car is out of Tokyo Drift and it seems like they’re actually speeding up to run me over.

More important than the relationship with, or rather our inability to distinguish, trolls online is that trolling is a needed reminder to not be such a douche. It takes one complete a-hole to help keep us all in line and that one person can make the internet both a horrible and better place.

In a recent Atlantic article, Adrienne LaFrance describes how trolling online is expected to get worse in the future.

[Pew] Researchers surveyed more than 1,500 technologists and scholars…They asked: “In the next decade, will public discourse online become more or less shaped by bad actors, harassment, trolls, and an overall tone of griping, distrust, and disgust?”…81 percent of them said they expect the tone…will either stay the same or get worse in the next decade.

Why? Why does everyone think online harassment will stay the same or get worse in the coming years? My “please everyone/don’t make waves” opinion would be something along the lines of “Well as the world becomes more connected, more opinions and ideas are spread and faster so it’s no surprise that unpleasant people will become more prevalent online” or some bullshit like that.

The real truth, is that our leaders and role models are complete trolls. We not live in the age where our President, probably the #1 role model for respect, honor, and decency in the U.S., engages in regular twitter wars and trolls the American population on a daily basis. If the President is basically condoning this sort of behavior, why wouldn’t there be more of it? Liberals love reminding Conservatives that they’re uneducated and blind to human decency and Conservatives love preaching that Liberals are free-loving wastes on society who want to smoke weed and have as much free sex as possible. In the end, we’re all terrible people but if elected leaders and role models can’t rise above it all, then yeah, we’re all screwed.

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The Need to Celebrate Terre Haute

The rest of this semester will be dedicated to a class project that, in short, will highlight to positive aspects of Terre Haute, Indiana. It seems on the surface this project is meant to not only fine tune our collective writing skills for a digital age, but it’s already taken on a different meaning for me.

I moved to Terre Haute in the Spring of 2016 since at that time it wasn’t possible for men to live on campus at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods. The lovely receptionist at Complete Landlord Solutions led my mother and I to believe that a property was available for me to live in and was a bit of a secret within the small company. In the four months that I lived there I watched the house next door burn down (the very first night I lived there), had my tires slashed because my car was mistaken for one next door and there was an active drug turf war (a situation in which the neighbors aggressively encouraged me not to involve the police but I didn’t have the heart or guts to tell them I already did), and spent most of my nights hearing the moaning and rattling of my neighbor’s bedroom (the same neighbor who blasted speed metal through the night because he was afraid of the dark). So I believe in reasonably allowed to have a more negative than positive review of Terre Haute given my initial experience with the city.

I understand that every city, even my beloved Indy, has rough areas, but even now I see Terre Haute full of more concern than celebration. The number of confederate flags (not capitalized on purpose) that I pass just leaving West Terre Haute is concerning, especially for a state that was never part of the confederacy. My opinion of Terre Haute after living in town was that this was a city past it’s prime and what was once a vibrant, bustling hub has now been replaced by meth and racism. I get it, that’s not a fair assessment but it’s one that most people outside the city and even some within the city hold. So if Terre Haute has the reputation of not only a place with nothing going on, but a dangerous meth factory, is there any redeeming quality?

Our class hosted an “I Love Terre Haute” panel of Candace Minster (White Violet Garden Manager), Richard Payonk (Executive Director of The Wabash Valley United Way), David Haynes (President of the Chamber of Commerce), and Dr. Shikha Bhattacharyya (Creator of ReTHink). All of these people provided different perspectives on what they see in Terre Haute worth celebrating. Where Dr. Bhattacharyya and Ms. Minster see recycling efforts as a step toward sustainability, Mr. Payonk and Mr. Haynes see the good that businesses are doing to help revitalize the community. Awareness and education seem to be the first step in showing outsiders and even locals that Terre Haute has more to offer. As Dr. Bhattacharyya said in an e-mail correspondence:

“We are really working hard towards getting a green rating system started for local businesses. I’m also working on a speaker series program to educate employees in bigger corporations.”

I’m always eager to work on my writing because i’m a realist; it’s good but not great. The problem is that writing can always improve but impressions begin to solidify themselves quickly and my impression of Terre Haute is not ripe for change. That’s why this website, and my specific search to find activities for college students, is more critical to changing my perception of Terre Haute than it is to improving my skills as a writer. There’s nothing worse than someone who holds an opinion without all the facts and refuses to change even when they do. If i’m going to live here for the next couple of years, I refuse to be that person.

Photo Credit: Steve Shook

Building An Online Community

Let me start by saying that I just created the absolute worst title to a blog post in the history of man. I mean, that’s incredibly un-enticing, right? Who the hell wants to read about something like “building an online community”? Honestly if it was me, I would’ve passed this post right by with an emphatic “Nah.” But here we are, and here you are you unlucky bastard.

This week we talked to Rachael Brown, who’s site Haute Happenings (and Facebook Page) is a resource for people in Terre Haute to find family-friendly activities. Rachael came to talk to us about how to both manage and engage with a community as a corner stone of your business or project. Now, while my long term plans don’t necessarily involve building an online community, the traits to building one are applicable to building relationships in general. There’s an intrinsic balance when dealing with your own community and that’s when to let them drive the conversation themselves and when to take control and refocus the topic. Rachael explained to us the difficulty when dealing with politics on her Facebook page. A simple article that was meant to discuss the city inevitably brought anger by her followers because of its political nature.

Are topics like politics and religion completely off limits? Can a community of like-minded adults not even discuss these topics without getting upset and losing their cool? The short answer is no, but the long answer is…also no. It just doesn’t work. So it’s important to retain enough control over your community before it spirals out of control and you lose the original focus.

Community can present itself in different forms however and just like Rachael’s online community is built in such a way that real world interaction is more than plausible, but almost encouraged. It seems this could potentially be the next step in building a community and one that most users already utilize. Rachael highlights events in Terre Haute with the intention that, obviously, residents will attend. In this way her community can interact with each other online and in the real world through a mutual experience. No Mean City, a site dedicated to highlighting the best parts of Indianapolis, is another example. The site hopes that interaction can take place offline as well as through a greater community on Facebook, Twitter, etc.

So the future of online community could actually be a 180 where users connect online and find ways to connect in the real world. Like I said last week, finding others with your same interests in close proximity to you can be difficult but with access to the entire world online, you can find your more-or-less twin in a matter of minutes.

Photo Credit: Rawpixel via Shutterstock

The Rise of the Online Family

There’s been one subject that’s consistently undervalued when discussing social networking sites and that’s online communities. I suspect the stigma surrounding people who make friend online plays a strong part, but it seems to me that the whole concept is tricky to understand and still evolving.

While i’m not one to develop personal relationships with others online, online communities offer a connectedness to users that would be nearly impossible to receive in real life. The user-generated content of Reddit has led to a news, entertainment, photo-sharing site that is centered around it’s community. Reddit (and it’s “little brother” Imgur) are photo-sharing sites that engage their community around shared interests. Reddit’s categories are even further specified into “sub-reddits” which allow for more intimate discussions on very specific topics. Through these specific communities, users discuss topics with large groups of people that otherwise wouldn’t be available to them in real life. These communities are so important that Reddit’s GM, and original Community Manager, Erik Martin, sees them as a home for those who otherwise would have no outlet to discuss topics that interest them. In a CMX Hub interviews Matin says he

…believes that a big part of the value that reddit offers is creating a home for people to talk about anything, no matter how weird or niche it is. ‘There’s a strong sense of belonging… Anyone can create their own community.’

So why does it feel like, to me at least, the online community gets a bad rap for making people disconnected with the real world? I think it goes back to something I wrote about a couple weeks ago. I talked about the idea of “always on” in my article “The Dangers of ‘Always On’ Are Always Wrong” and how we still perceive new technology as a threat to our way of life (at least that’s how the older generations seem to view it).

When we are able to get past the notion that our digital life is less valuable than our real life, despite the fact that we’re making real connections with real people, we can appreciate the value that it holds for those that view their communities as families.

Photo Credit: EdTechReview

Photo Credit: Reddit Inc.

Live Tweeting Super Bowl LI

This past Sunday was Super Bowl 51, and I have to say, it was a wild game. It was honestly my first time actually live tweeting an event that didn’t involve me sitting on the couch watching Space Jam and tossing handfuls of chips at my face (as awesome as that is). I’m still torn on how I feel about live tweeting events that I’m really interested in. On the one hand, it was pretty cool to follow along with others who were tweeting #SB51 and see their thoughts in real time. It was a community, rallied around what was happening who I could engage with from hundreds of miles away. My biggest problem was that I was taking away from the moment and my engagement with others in the room. Maybe since I’m new to this live tweeting thing, I’m not experienced in how I interact with others in the room while also maintaining my live tweeting. Honestly, it’s not something I’m all that concerned with but nevertheless a potentially valuable skill.

I found myself more focused on analyzing the game in my own way because in some way I thought that my tweets could potentially be seen by thousands and I wanted to provide something to the conversation. Normally I’m just sitting on the couch watching the game silently, but now I’m spreading those thoughts through Twitter in the hopes that ESPN sees my comments and invites me to host a new segment during prime time. So while my concerns about detracting from the experience for myself my dissuade me from live tweeting an event I find particularly important, by having obscene numbers of people tweeting about an event, you create a stronger community around that event for people who can’t be there physically.

I’ve compiled some tweets (mostly my own) from the night of the Super Bowl below to show the highs and lows from that night.

Photo Credit: houstonmatter.org

The Dangers of “Always On” Are Always Wrong

Alright, so it’s no surprise that we’re living in an age of rapid digital advancement, but to go so far as to say that technology is negatively affecting our real-world relationships is a bit of a stretch.

For starters, technology can take on different forms depending on your time period. For people living in the 1800’s it was railroads, for my parents in 1969 it was space travel, but now it’s smartphones. Every generation adapts to the technology of their time, while later looking at the younger generation with that classic “kids these days…” face. It’s inevitable and actually encouraged in order for us to survive to constantly be creating new forms of technology to make our live easier and better. So if connecting through online means is inevitable for us, why are we so against it? Why not utilize that technology and appreciate what it can do for us in our daily lives. Take this image below for example, it’s been circulated around before with a caption to the effect of “Look at all these antisocial people”. Funny right? It’s true though, why aren’t they interacting with each other on the bus? Why not ask your neighbor how their day is going? Because we’re naturally anti-social people. I don’t strike up a conversation with some random guy on the bus because i’m on my phone, it’s because i don’t want to strike up a conversation with some random guy on the bus.

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“Hey Bill, did you see the Mets lost last night?” “How do you know my name?”

Technology has brought us closer together, more so than ever before. The chances of me connecting with someone in my area who shares similar comedy styles, eating habits, t.v. shows, or clothing preferences is pretty slim. If, however, I express my personality online, I’m more likely to find someone who shares a lot of those interests because i’m appealing to the volume of the internet. Now i’m not saying I’m going to become best friends with that person or start some kind of relationship, but every one is looking for connections and if I’m able to balance my digital life and real life, who’s any one to judge?

Disclaimer: I met the love of my life online, but she turned out to be a Orca, and not real, and I was dreaming

The point is, we’re as social as we want to be, technology doesn’t hinder our ability to connect with others. If you were to see a group of people sitting on a bench, all on their phones, you’d think it was a little anti-social. What you may not know is that they could be FaceTiming a family member or partner, or maybe they’re watching a YouTube video on how to make “Chile en nogada.

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Illustration by Rosangela Ludovico

Smartphones and computers are a tool of communication, not isolation. While yes, there are those out there who are controlled by their devices, they represent a small part of our digital zeitgeist. For most of us, our use of social networking has expanded our network to make us more diverse, more aware of what’s happening in parts of the world to which we previously didn’t have access. A Pew Research study found that:

…Americans are not as isolated as has been previously reported.  People’s use of the mobile phone and the internet is associated with larger and more diverse discussion networks. And, when we examine people’s full personal network – their strong and weak ties – internet use in general and use of social networking services such as Facebook in particular are associated with more diverse social networks.

That diverse network has combined with another important change in our culture and that’s how internet and smartphones have become necessary tools in our lives. We’ve reached the point where internet access has become a necessity and should be a utility at this point. While a person can exist without a smartphone, they won’t be able to do very well in the world today if they’re not connected. Both in business and in your personal life, access to the internet at your fingertips is vital.

So don’t say that new technology is moving us further apart because it’s actually doing the opposite.

What ‘Free Speech’ Really Means

There’s a very frustrating idea that’s been floating around for a few years now, and by a few years I mean the past 241 years.

It’s the idea that the Constitution’s First Amendment, which enables the freedom of speech, allows citizens the freedom to speak their mind without consequence, which is just a fancy way of defending a homophobic baker or a racist zealot. I’m all for the free exchange of ideas and the ability for an individual to express their views but 99.99% of the time a person finds them self in hot water over a personal opinion because it affects their professional life. Here’s the kicker though, the First Amendment only protects you from the government, specifically Congress.

Literally, that’s it; case closed, end of discussion, next please. Unfortunately I can’t end there so congratulations, more ranting!

The founding fathers wanted to make sure that the new government wouldn’t make the same mistakes as the one they lived under in England. This was clearly so important to them that they felt it should be the very first amendment in the Constitution. That’s why the amendment says that Congress shall make no law abridging the freedom of speech. So you can’t be thrown in jail or executed because the government doesn’t like what you have to say (with some exceptions). Libel, one of a few exceptions to this rule, is defamation through print which intentionally places the affected party in danger of receiving ridicule or hatred or damages their reputation or business. In short, you can’t intentionally attack someone, damaging their reputation or trying to get others to attack them. Trolls are excellent at trying to get others riled up arguing with each other as quickly as possible. Now sometimes these trolls don’t act anonymously with one such case being Charles Johnson.

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God look at his stupid face (Photo courtesy of charlescjohnson.com)

Charles Johnson is a charming fellow who was banned from Twitter for attempting to get his followers to donate money to “take out” a civil rights activist. Johnson and his followers immediately jumped on the “free speech” train in an attempt to protect him. Besides that fact that Johnson is a well known troll, his comments are grounds for libel and put DeRay McKesson, the civil rights activist, in harm’s way. So great! This scumbag is banned from Twitter and now has to spout his hate from the back of the class now, but how do we prevent others like him from continuing to do the same thing? Short answer, we’re trying; long answer, trolls are really good at being trolls. A joint Stanford-Cornell study created an algorithm for targeting specific users and predicting whether they would be banned in the future. The algorithm is 80% accurate at predicting future banned users after analyzing the first 5-10 posts. In a BBC article, the researchers explained that their,

“…algorithm is not intended to be a computerised replacement for human moderators, which might automatically ban users based on the frequency of their first few posts. Instead, the team hopes that flagging certain individuals early on would assist human moderators in warning anti-social users to cut out bad behaviour before they assume that they can get away with it.”

The First Amendment will never protect losers sitting on their computer just trying to screw with the order of things, but it also isn’t meant to protect anyone from their employer because of their opinions. All it was ever meant to be and is is a shield against the government coming after you for your comments and let’s be honest, do you really think they care?

The Future of Business Networking

Come one, come all! Hear the wise prediction for the future of LinkedIn from a man who’s been using for just 1 week! Okay, so this won’t be that far out there, but there’s some truth there. I’m not an expert when it comes to digital networking in business, especially LinkedIn. In fact, I’m fairly biased and guilty of making assumptions and assertions about a site without giving it a fair chance to impress me, but I think that gives me a different perspective on the topic. I really want LinkedIn to be an effective tool that helps me when I graduate and the only way to do that is to play devil’s advocate a little bit and dissect the website through my own lens.

For starters, God help the little guy. For users like myself (students) who don’t have much legitimate experience in the field they want to explore, LinkedIn can make you feel inferior and helpless while you try to build up your profile. I’m a Theology major, but before I started school my experience was mainly working with children with some sprinkles of food service and retail in there just for fun. To be honest, none of that has anything to do with the study of religion or could help me pursue a position in that field. So what am I going to say? “Well yes, since I’ve worked with kindergartners, I believe that experience in invaluable as I can easily translate it to teaching college adults.” So since my work experience doesn’t exactly mesh with my future plans, I have to get creative with how I talk about my skills. Instead of writing what I actually did for an elementary after-school program, which was working with small groups of kids and making sure they don’t kill themselves, I think about that one time my boss asked me to take a parent’s payment and suddenly…voila! I’m proficient with cash transactions.

Now I understand, yes you have to play things up just a little bit in order to promote yourself, but those little fibs eventually turn into “Chad from Yale” telling you that he’s a “global incentiviser who initiates and coordinates transactions between Xylox Pharmaceuticals and potential clients” without mentioning that he’s a telemarketer who cold-calls random people to sell diet pills. Maybe my mantra should be “Don’t be a Chad” instead of “Don’t be a tool”, but then again they might just be the same thing.

Macy Dorman, a classmate, mentions this concern in a piece she wrote about LinkedIn last week.

I’m concerned that I might fall into the trap of digging out a thesaurus and making up for my lack of experience by tossing in some pompous hundred dollar words. That’s just lame.

Now while the users with very little experience attempt to build themselves up through subjective language, those with plenty of real experience are trying to take their profiles to the next level and stand out among their peers. When everyone who’s gunning for a job is pretty much equally qualified, how do you separate yourself from the pack? Well it seems like you can either take a page from our “little guy” book and try to play it up even more or you can stuff your page full of videos and media to show your work. That’s all well and dandy, but if LinkedIn is an upgraded resume, how many employers have the time to go through that much information when they could have a stack of applications to go through?

It’s not like users are even connecting with others that much. For all the talk you hear about keeping tabs on your profile because, just like a resume, you can’t just throw it out there and hope for the best, only about 1% of LinkedIn users check in 30 or more times a month compared to Facebook at 76% according to Quantcast, a site that measures web traffic. In Ashley Tate’s article, “5 Tips on How to Use LinkedIn Better“, she even says for her #4 point:

How frequently do you need to check in?

Every day for a few minutes, and once a week for about a half hour. That’s how much time you’ll need to write to a new connection and to participate in a group discussion.Keep in mind: “Hiring managers are 10 times more likely to look at your profile if you post something at least weekly,” says Williams.

Maybe I’m just looking at this through a faulty lens, like I said, I’ve known LinkedIn for a week so we just started our relationship and I may be asking about marriage a little too soon. In any case, the more I use LinkedIn, the more questions I have and hopefully those will be answered down the line when I really start to look at employers. For now, I’m content with my profile, for better or for worse.


Photo Credit: Twin Design|Shutterstock.com