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Filter Bubble

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”Just what I was looking for!” We have thought that many times looking for information on Google. Even if we thought that it is a strange topic, Google gave us exactly the answer we need. Is this casualty, or is there something else behind that precision?

Eli Pariser‘s TED Talk reminds me of some theories that we have studied throughout this course, concretely the Two-step flow theory and the Agenda Setting (explained previously on this blog).  Both of them have a common point: there are gatekeepers that control the information before its general diffusion. The interesting fact is that when we look for a topic on Google, peculiar gatekeepers ”help” us in order to find exactly what it is relevant for us. The peculiarity is that they are Algorithmic gatekeepers, computer programs that decide what we want to see and what we do not need to see. However, after know that fact I feel we all are manipulated by a robot, a computer program that gathers personalized information that fit to our believes and concerns, instead of showing us the objective reality.

On the other hand there are differences between ”relevant” and ”important’‘. Personally, I think that, in a democratic society, I do not really need relevant information, the information that fits to my opinion, I need the important information, the truthful and objective real information. Maybe I am disagree with that information because its ideas are against my current believes and opinions, but it is important to know about it. Additionally, being able to know about that information give us the opportunity to see, and maybe understand, another point of view, a new perspective that can change positively our current opinion, or even make our current opinion stronger. Therefore, we should have the control to decide how to set our own information filters in order to not be blind, regarding the real situation of the world.

My final thought is that, we do not need just relevant information, that will gratify us and will provide us the information we need at a specific moment, instead, we all need the same important information, even if it is uncomfortable. On the other hand, in a democratic world, we need transparency online too, all kind of information from all kind of filters that we can control. Then, the result will be more awareness about the world, more perspectives that will enrich our own point of view and, of course, a real connection to the whole world.  

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Eli Pariser – TED Talk:   http://www.ted.com/talks/eli_pariser_beware_online_filter_bubbles.html

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Social Networks

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The human being  is a social being. Since the moment we are born, we need to feel connected to someone, starting with our mothers. We are continuously developing relationships; with relatives, friends, classmates. Additionally, in this technological era, something called Social Networks Sites appeared. Through this social networks, people try to keep in touch with people that already know, they meet new people and even find romantic relationships. Hence, I will talk about Facebook, the most important social networks nowadays, among youngsters and older people. What kind of relations we can found using Facebook? What possible concerns could appear related to Facebook? Can we keep in touch with people after physical disconnection?

First, I would like to talk about Social Capital. This is, basically, the result of resources accumulated through the relationships between people. The social capital is usually treated as something positive for the society, because it means better public health, lower crime rates and trust between the members of a social group. Also, we can differentiate two kinds of social capital: bridging and bonding. In one hand, bridging social capital means ”weak ties”, through this connections, the members provide useful information and more perspective for one another, but there is not emotional support. I think this is the kind of connection and social capital that there are between most part of the ”friends” in social networks, they know information from one another and maybe share the same music tastes, but they cannot provide emotional support one another. On the other hand,  we have bonding social capital, which means emotional close relationships that we can find in our family and close friends. I believe that it is really difficult to create bonding social capital using social networks, especially when this ”friend” is someone that you have never seen in-person (online to offline).

Additionally, it is interesting the idea about ”maintained social capital”, which is the ability of Social networks to keep in touch people after physical disconnection. That usually happens when families move for job reasons, decreasing the social capital. In order to keep in touch, people rely on emails, instant messaging and social networks; they want to feel connected and maintain the social capital, rather than having offline interactions with new people in the new location. I have felt something similar when one of my best friends moved to Bulgaria last year. We said that we will always be in touch by Skype, emails and social networks, such as Facebook, and I can say that these technological tools are really useful in order to keep in touch with friends, that I am physically disconnected with, but still connected, somehow. However, I don’t think that keeping in touch with my old friends is not allowing me to create close relationships with the people nearby.

On the other hand, there could be some concerns about social networks, related to privacy. But I think that Facebook has fixed many of these problems in the last years, controlling more the privacy and allowing the users to set their own privacy. I think it is all up to the users, now; they have to decide their who are their ”friends”.

My conclusion is that we are social beings, that need to feel connected to people that share their same interests, values, attitudes, etc. Fortunately, technology allows us to reach this goal, for example, by social networks. However, it is up to us how we will use these tools, in order to avoid problems related to identity presentation or privacy. If we use these tools wisely, we will be able to increase our social capital, we will be able to keep in touch with our old friends and family, and we will be able to connect.

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Technology and Society

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During this course, we have been focused on the effects that media contents have in people’s life. We have been studying different theories that pretend to explain those effects: Mass society theories, limited effects theory, two-step flow theory, etc. All these theories were focused on how powerful are the media messages. However, now I would like to focus on the technology, that makes new media possible. And the major question about technology is: Is the technology changing the society, or the society is determining  the technology and its usage?

In order to answer this question and understand the causal flow between technology and society, some theories appeared. I would like to mention some of them, and focus on one specific that I think is the most convincing. First of all, I would like to talk about Technological determinism, that states technology is a powerful agent that directly influence the society, changing it. In my opinion, it is something like Mass Society theory, which believe that media messages directly influence people, changing their behaviors and lives, but applied to new technologies. However, there is another theory, social construction of technology, that states the opposites idea: people change both technology and society. Therefore, social factors determine the new technologies and their uses.

The theories explained before are very polarized, completely different one another. Nevertheless, I would like to stress on a third theory: Social shaping of technology. This is a theory that melt determinism and constructivism.  The result is that people, technologies and institutions have power to influence the development and the uses of technology, not just the technology has this power (determinism) neither just society has this power (constructivism). All this agents (people, technology and institutions) are interrelated and determine the forms and the uses of technology in different times, places and groups. I think this is the most convincing theory because it cannot be as easy as the determinists and constructivists state, there must be more agents that determine the causal flow between technology and society. Additionally, there are examples that prove the power that people, technology and institutions have, related to technology and society changes. For example, sometimes technology change the society introducing a new technological tool that shake a the society. However, this change might not be in the whole world, instead, the influence might occur in a specific place, time and social group. On the other hand, people could change the technology by deciding, for example, what technology is most useful for them, and how they use it. Then, the technological industries will produce technological tools that the consumers want, changing the technology. Finally, institutions can change the development and the use of technology, for example, by introducing and promoting a specific technological system in the public institutions.

After this analysis, my conclusion is that, we are living in a technological era that is continuously changing, introducing new technologies and removing the obsolete ones. In this process people can change the technology and its uses but, also, technologies have the power to change the society by intruducing new technologies. This reciprocal process is shaping the world, is shaping our lives, and it is shaping me, as member of a society and user of technology.

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Agenda setting

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Are the media able to cover all the news that might be in one day? Is the public ready to understand all this information, with the same attention? I don’t think so, and media producers neither. Therefore, they have created something called Agenda setting, in order to choose the most relevant news, remove the less relevant news, and try to measure the effects that they will have in the public.

In the conclusion of my last post, I said that we are continuously bombarded by useless media information since we are kids. However, the aim of media setting is ‘to help’ people focus their attention in concrete issues. Therefore, they don’t say people what to think or talk, but they are telling them what to talk about. The final result is that the media decide what is important for the public, so they determine the public agenda, too. For example, if I watch the news, and they only inform about the economic inflation or a scandal about a politician, when I talk with other people I will talk about this topics just because the media thought that these were the most relevant news of the day. I think that, if media is working so, we are continuously being manipulated because there are many news that we cannot know just because some people considered them boring. However, I think that we don’t have the ability to receive all the existing news every day, because we have limited attention and capacity.

On the other hand, Agenda setting reminds me of Two-step flow theory. The two-step states that there are  ‘gatekeepers’ in the society, called opinion leaders, that have the capacity to filter the information, remove the useless one and give a new interpretation of the media content to the opinion followers, influencing them. The agenda setting is based on the same process: there are also ‘gatekeepers’ that determine, very subjectively, which are the most relevant news, that have to be exposed to the public, and which are the less important news that have to ignored. Then, the public receive just that filtered information and introduce it in its conversations.

Another point in agenda setting, that I find interesting, is the ”need for orientation”. Also, I would link this idea with Limited-effects theory. One of the key ideas of limited-effects was that, if we have clearly defined choices and preferences, for example, about political orientation, media would have very low effects if it tries to change his or her mind. On the other hand, if I don’t have clear religious or political ideology, I will be influenced easier by any media message. The need for orientation say something similar. For example, if I have high interest in political issues, but I also have high uncertainty, the need for orientation will be higher because I don’t have a clear idea about the political issue and, therefore, the agenda setting will be stronger. Additionally, I think that is very important the personal experience. If I see the economic inflation in my life every day, because I see the price of the gas or the price of the food when I go to the supermarket, I am well informed about that issue and I don’t need additional information from the media. On the other hand, if I have no idea about the political situation in Palestine and I don’t have a personal experience related to Palestine, maybe I would need information provided by the media in order to satisfy my needs for orientation and  decrease the uncertainty.

My conclusion is that, indeed, we are bombed by thousands of ads and useless information every day. However, if we are talking about news, by agenda setting we are bombed by extremely concrete information, which is carefully chosen by a gatekeeper. Therefore, I think we should have clear political ideas, and we will not be manipulated. We should have our own agenda setting.

Cultural changes

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‘’Times have changed’’, said my mother, when my 7 years old nephew asked her to buy him a mobile phone. And this is true, in the last years the world and people’s behavior have changed drastically. What is the reason of these changes? Cultural theories want to answer to this, and more interesting questions.

Since we are 3, we watch curiously and attentively the television. Then, we start to learn the names of our favorite cartoon characters. I remember my nephew singing Dora the Explorer’s song since he was 4, and recognizing Spongebob perfectly. However, we shouldn’t be surprised because by the age of six, children are already watching TV 3 hours every day, and by the age of eight they spend 4 hours in front of the screen. What is the result in their lives after all this time in front of the, what people in Spain call, ‘’stupid box’’? Average teenagers spend more time using media, than being with real people, in the real world. This not only includes television, this is Internet, movies, video games, etc. I believe that there are consequences even in the family relationships. I remember Turkle’s Talk (Post 1 in this blog), and how she said that the members of the family, or members in a group of friends, ‘’are together, but not being together’’. And I think this is a real problem in this technological era.

On the other hand, this provokes problems related to face-to-face communication, because people just get used to talk using technology and is not able to develop other communication skills. I have seen that personally. For example, some days ago I have been talking with a person, that I know, long time by Whatsapp and it was a good conversation, but when I saw her two days after and I tried to have a face-to-face friendly conversation, it was quite different, a cold conversation. This is exactly what the cultural studies try to identify, how the media is used to create forms of culture that structure the everyday life. They want to know, for example, what will happen if the media is incorporated to the routines of normal people, there will be disruptions or the media will improve the people’s life styles? In my opinion, it depends how we use the media. It can be disruptive if it is destroying our face-to-face communication skills or it is destroying our family relations. But, in the other hand, if we use wisely the media, it will provide us with useful information and entertainment.

My conclusion is that, in this technological era we are continuously exposed to the media, and this is not a problem if we are able to filter the media messages that we don’t need, at all. But the problem is that since we are kids, we are bombed with uncountable useless information. Therefore, this exposure is changing our world and our behavior, is changing our culture and our habits. Also, is the reason of why my nephew wants a mobile phone after watching an advertisement.

Gratifications.

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Why we love that television program? What is the reason of our expectation  for that show, every singles week? These are the some of the questions that the Uses and Gratifications researches are raising and attempting to answer. They want to know why and how we use de media.

Last week, I finished my post saying that only we can decide how valuable is the media for us, how powerful it is for us. This week, I would like to mix this idea with the uses and gratifications approach because I found an interesting link between them. Analyzing the models to explain uses and effects, I think the most important idea is that we will pay more attention to something that gratify us. But, in the other hand, based on the audience activity model, it is very important the attitude of the viewer. Also, the more involved we are in the media, the more influence it has in our behavior. I think this approach is used continuously in marketing, for example. I am saying that because marketing’s main goal is to attract people and gratify them, in order to sell the product. On the other hand, the costumer’s attitude is crucial. If I am interested in buying a car, obviously I will pay extremely attention to the television advertisements and, therefore, some of them will have an effect on my decision.

Another point that I find interesting in use and gratification is the ‘competition and mediation‘ assumption. Basically, the idea is that if we have clear defined choices and individual initiative, we could control the media effects. I think this idea is very interesting because it reminds me of limited-effects theory. I think so because one of the ideas of limited-effects is that, we cannot be influenced directly by media when we have strongly defined ideas about something. Therefore, if we have clear choices and individual initiative, we will not be influenced by media. However, I think that, if we have so strongly defined choices, we could have problems related to prejudices. For example, I have the strong idea that Nokia is the best telephone brand in the market. And now, Samsung and Apple start to produce mobile phones that are clearly better than Nokia, but if I still have that strong idea, I will get stuck technologically, just because of my prejudice about other brands.

My conclusion is that, the effects of the media are limited, because we have clear defined ideas  and individual initiative. But also, sometimes, we respond depending on how gratifying is the media message for us. And this is the reason of why we love that song. This is why we anxiously expect the next episode of our favorite TV show every single week.

Limited Power

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During the XXth century  social researchers were obsessed with the influence that the media could have in the people’s life styles. In one hand, we can find theories that hold we are directly influenced by the media. They thought that media has devastating effects in people. But, in the other hand, we can find researches that prove the limited effects of media in our lives.

In my last post I talked about Lazarsfeld’s work and how illuminating was his work. Between 1945 and 1960 was developed the Limited-Effects Theory, out of Lazarsfeld’s work. I find it very interesting because, by this theory, researchers wanted to generalize the role of the media in the society. One of the generalization I feel engaged with, is the fact that media rarely directly influence individuals. This is because people ignore the media information that is not important for them. I can say I have felt that in my own life. I am politically apathetic, this is I do not support any political party. Therefore, when the media tries to convince me in order to make me feel involved with a political party by using advertisement, for example, I just ignore this information. I do not care about the campaign. In this case, we can appreciate how limited are the effects of the media.

Another generalization in the limited-effects theory is the idea that when people become adults, they have stronger group commitments, as religious affiliations. I think this is true, even if we are talking about a youngster. Talking based on my own experience, I can say that I have very strong religion ideology. Supporting the limited-effects theory, I would say that even if I were systematically exposed to a different religious information, I wouldn’t change my believes.

My conclusion is that, media is powerful, but  in the end, we decide how much influence it has in our lives. It depends on how valuable is the media information for us. HOW POWERFUL is the media for us.