Monthly Archives: September 2012

Look, Mum! I’m in the paper!

Last Friday, I was interviewed by Emily Moulten from The Sunday Times for an article she wrote about mummy bloggers.

‘Mummy bloggers’ raise kids, make cash.

The full piece didn’t make it into the paper, but you can see my (not terribly wise) words at the end. I was a bit rushed & flustered so I’m not sure my point has come across as I intended it, but, there you go. My first newspaper interview, hurrah!

After Chernobyl [Michael Forster Rothbart]

You ought to have a look at Michael Forster Rothbart’s photo series on Chernobyl.

I’ve really been enjoying the simplicity of his images – true-to-life representations of a city that will wear the scars of nuclear disaster and fall out for generations to come. The above image is a crappy reproduction I found online and doesn’t even begin to do the collection justice, so check it out for yourself.

[via Global Comment]

Social media demographics: Not just loudmouth ignorant kids, after all.

Pingdom released data a month ago charting the demographics of various social media platforms, and it’s an interesting read.

There is a very real negativity when it comes to social media, with many people assuming that it’s destroying our youth and creating a generation of ignorant, anti-social zombies who have no ability to communicate face-to-face and little interest in anything other than posting endless selfies on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.

Not so, critics.

One of the most interesting things from my perspective is that this study is that more than 50% of social media users are aged between 25-44. At 28 years of age I slot in at the lower end of this age group, and I must stick up for my demographic category when I say that I’m certainly not part of a disconnection generation.

Then again, I grew up offline.

The age groups younger than mine – 0-17 and 18-24 – possibly didn’t have that luxury. Many of them don’t remember a world without the Internet, and more significantly, a world without broadband, which has allowed instant and persistent connectivity. However, I refuse to believe that lifelong Internet use has has a negative impact upon these people. In fact, I firmly believe that growing up in this era of digital ubiquity has created a generation of people who intrinsically understand technology and how to process information. They’re a generation that know more about the world than we, and those who came before us, ever did.

Sure, they sometimes post stupid things online and forget that the written word is markedly different to spoken ephemera, but I’d like to speak to the person who didn’t do something silly in their youth and have to learn a harsh lesson from their actions.

The widespread cynicism over social development amongst smartphoned young people is another thing that bothers me. Critics seem to forget something fairly major about the perma-connected youth of today: they still do things like attend school and hold down casual jobs. They still have families and friends. This means that they’re still interacting with people on a daily basis. The fact that they might seem endlessly engaged in a Facebook conversation doesn’t mean that they’re not learning to engage with others. It might just be that they’re engaging in a different way.

I refuse to believe in the myth of the selfish, distracted youth of today. Sure, sometimes you get shitty service in stores or some snot-nosed kid pushes in front of you in line, but guess what? That’s pretty much every group of teenagers, ever, since the invention of teenagers themselves. The only different is that we’re getting older and more critical, just like every other generation has done before us.

Back to the study, though. There are more people using social media between the ages of 45-54 than there are between the ages of 18-24. Think about that. Yes, it’s a bigger age group (10 versus 7 years), but it suggests that social media is far more embedded into our parents’ daily Internet use than they’d like to believe. Even sites like Facebook – long considered the bastion of youthful irresponsibility online – has far more ages in the 45-54 age bracket than it does in the 18-24.

Perhaps, just maybe, the youth of today aren’t as stupid and shallow as we like to think they are.

A fraction of Perth bloggers, in colour.

I’ve collected in excess of 300 subjects in my list of Perth bloggers, and am up to the letter ‘F’ in plotting them. I’m using Gephi for the visualisation, and despite a rocky start (i.e. me having no idea what I was doing) I’ve now got the hang of it and it’s starting to look pretty damn cool!

Probably the craziest thing is that this list just keeps on growing – I’m probably discovering 20 new blogs a day, at least, but I’m only plotting those that are active bloggers (i.e. have posted within the last year and posted regularly before that, and user another platform – Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Flickr, etc – as well as blogging). What that means is that there are potentially hundreds more.

Every dot on this graph represents a blogger, and every line is a link in or out of that blog (you might be able to see the tiny arrows pointing the direction). The dots change size as they attract more inward or outward links. The colours are significant too – the pink ones are fashion bloggers, the purple are food bloggers, pale blue are lifestyle bloggers, etc. This is going to change so there’s not too much point going in to it here; it’s just an easy way for me to keep track of what’s going on.

There are labels, too, so I know which dot represents which blogger, but I’ve kept them hidden to protect the identities of the geeky ;)

Including this data in my thesis in visual form is a bit of a gimmick – I could just provide a bunch of stats and numbers – but I feel that it’s really helpful to be able to see what networks look like. Not all blogs are equal, and not all share equal involvement in the blogging community. Of course, this data simply represents the network at this stage; it says nothing about the quality of content (not that I really get to be the judge of this!), how popular the blogs are (a blog may have few inward links but be read by a significant number of people, and certain genres are more generally popular than others), but it’s a good start. I’ll be doing the same thing with some other networks too, particularly Twitter, as Twitter has stolen a lot of blogging’s thunder in recent years.

Tim Highfield from Curtin has been a massive help with pointing me in the right direction on this one. Check out some of the stuff he’s done with visualisations – his look way cooler than mine.

Public faith.

I was reading this article earlier today, and although at the time I didn’t give it too much thought, it’s been slipping into my mind for the past few hours.

I’m so incredibly glad that I live in a society where I don’t have to “come out” about my religion – or, indeed, my lack thereof.

In fact, I’m fairly sure that the vast majority of people I know, and indeed the vast majority of people in this world, simply don’t give a shit about my religious persuasion.

It’s a peculiar thing, that one person’s beliefs should be of enough concern to those around them that they have to justify them, and risk persecution from their own family members for going against the grain. I suppose that could be said for anything, though. It’s absurd that a person risks persecution over their sexual preference. Or gender identification. Or choice of profession. Or the way they dress.

Although I attended a Catholic high school (after going to a public primary school), I don’t come from a religious family. I can probably count on one hand the number of times I’ve attended church in my 28 years for reasons other than a] school or b] official ceremony (wedding, funeral, confirmation/first communion of a family member). I am baptised Catholic but have never taken any other sacraments, and don’t identify as a Catholic, or indeed as a Christian at all.

In fact, I don’t identify as anything, including Atheist or Agnostic.

For me, religion is such a non-part of my life that it seems pointless to put a label on my lack of religious faith.

As a child I believed in god to the same extent that I believed in Santa Claus: I was taught about god in fleeting terms and assumed it was all as people said and that religion was a thing and then never really gave it any more thought. I never prayed, and to this day still don’t feel as though some element of my life is missing.

I can remember two distinct points in my life when I began to consider the notion that religion – or at least Christianity – was not for me.

The first came when I attended a school holiday day camp as a child with my younger sister. This camp, as it turned out, was run by some local Christian group. I couldn’t have been much older than 10, and here I was being told that if I didn’t confess my sins, my heart would dry up and turn black. My heart? But I need my heart to live!

It was terrifying, but not in an “I should confess my sins!” kind of way. More so it was terrifying in a “how could someone say my heart will turn black and dry up?” kind of way.

The second point came when I was in year 8, my first year of Catholic school, and I was in a religious education class where I was told (after much questioning on my part) that if a 12 year old girl, a girl my age, was raped, fell pregnant, and had an abortion, she would go to hell. For me, that was it. Christianity was no longer going to play a role in my life.

I’m not at all bitter about religion. I don’t feel as though I have been lied to, or misled, or that I have missed out on anything, because the teachings of the Christian religion just don’t make sense to me. At this point I cannot foresee that I will ever have a place in my life for religion.

I am moved by the beauty of religion and I am troubled by the hatred that is possessed by those who consider themselves most devout. If someone interprets coincidence as a sign from god and that gives them the faith they need to move on in life, then I am okay with that.

Perhaps at some point in my life, I will need religion.

Perhaps, more likely, I won’t. I find my faith in other things. I have immense faith in the power of people. I have faith in the good of others, and that everyone will get what’s theirs. I have faith in myself to sort out my problems and achieve my dreams. I know that the universe is a mysterious place of which we know only the most minuscule fraction, and I know that that’s a good thing because there are things that just shouldn’t be explained.

Maybe that’s my religion. I don’t need to put a label on what I believe, or don’t believe, and I don’t need anyone else to understand why I feel what I do, or do not.

I do need people to understand that great responsibility comes with being religious, though. It’s a powerful thing, faith, largely because it is so intangible and so irresolute. Like superheroes, the religious must promise to use their power only for good.

If only, in an ideal world.

It’s not the end of the world: Why journalism will live to fight another day.

The fear mongering has got to stop.

All over the place, people are mourning the death of an industry that, in reality, is very much still alive and kicking. Journalism is dead!, they cry. Long live journalism!

Journalism is not dead. Journalism is not even dying. Journalism is alive and well, and it will remain so for a very long time. Perhaps journalism looks a little different to what it used to, but people look a little different to what they used to. Technology looks a little different to what it used to. Jobs, cars, families, cities, the weather – it all looks a little different to what it used to.

Fact: Newspaper sales have declined. This is undoubtable. They’ve been declining for a long time; pre-Internet, pre-Web (they’re different things). Yet it seems like digital technology gets the vast majority of the blame.

Here’s a thought: it’s not all the fault of the Internet. The Internet hasn’t killed newspapers, and it certainly hasn’t killed journalism. One cannot use ‘journalism’ and ‘newspapers’ synonymously. That’s like using ‘writing’ and ‘quill’ synonymously. Did Mr Bic kill writing? No. Did computers kill writing? Gosh no! 

The Internet has not killed journalism.

There are many reasons why newspaper sales are in decline.

Perhaps it has to do with the fact that people are getting married at a later age. In 1950, the average age of women at marriage was 20.3, and males 22.8. In 1970, 20.8 and 22.3 respectively. In 1990, 23.9 and 26.1.

Working on the grounds that Australia would have similar statistics to the United States, in 2009 Australian women were getting married at an average age of 29.2, whilst men were 31.5. They were a massive 8.9 years older if female, and 9.2 years older if male. In real terms, this means an additional 9 years outside of a “traditional” family structure, wherein it might have been usual for the man of the house to purchase a newspaper on his way to or from work, and bring it home to the family. Potentially an extra nine years spent in education (which, it could be argued, results in a population that is generally better educated and more informed, and thus more selective about the news they consume – news that doesn’t necessarily come in tabloid form). Nine years spent living alone, or in shared housing, where perhaps no member of the household purchased a paper – not because they don’t care about the news, but because young people these days – particularly young unmarried people – live very different lifestyles to their ancestors. They work longer hours and travel more, for example – especially women.

The media is up in arms over declining newspaper sales because to them – the people that have always printed their news on paper – there is no alternative. The only news worth knowing is the news forged in ink and paper in grand printing presses in the basement of newspaper institutions. It’s simply not the case though.

Suggesting that declining newspaper sales means a decline in quality journalism does a massive injustice to the youngest generation in this society. Here are a group of people who probably won’t buy newspapers, because their entire lives, they have been able to get more up to date, more analytic, and more varied news online. They don’t remember a world without the Internet; many of them don’t even read from textbooks in school, instead learning on iPads and laptop computers. To suggest that this generation, somehow, is disengaged and ignorant is so completely incorrect. This is a generation that is more informed, more connected, and more bombarded with content than any group that has come before. They are selective and, dare I say it, savvy. They know what they want and they know how to get it. They understand how to sift through the immensity of junk that clogs what the traditional media would probably still want to call the information superhighway, with a snort, of course, in order to get to the best material.

They will demand quality journalism. They will demand content that informs and entertains. They will demand the ability to interact with the media, to contribute to the media, and to shape the way that news is delivered. They won’t pay, though, for access to what sits behind paywalls.

And that’s really what all this is about: media moguls flapping their arms in a state of panic because their precious news empires are at the brink of collapse.

The sooner that journalists are put back in charge, the better. Journalism isn’t a job that anyone does just for the hell of it. There are plenty of jobs that you can do with only one eye open, making it through the week just to live for the weekend. Journalism is not one of those. It’s a hard slog being a journalist; it’s really hard to be a good one. The businessmen that currently own the Fairfaxes, New Limiteds, and Dow Jones’ of the world don’t get this. They see declining profit and they fire quality journalists, because that’s the only perceived way to continue to make a living.

These journalists – the ones kicked out of the traditional newsroom and effectively onto the streets – are the future of journalism.

The sites are already out there. Huffington Post, Slate, Crikey, Gawker: all sites that offer strong, analytic news written by people who know what they’re talking about. People will invest in this kind of news, through programs like Kickstarter. If the Internet has proved absolutely nothing else, it’s that there are people who are willing to pay very good money for projects they believe in. Crowdfunding has emerged as an incredibly effective way of financing projects from films to videogames to books to technology, so why not news?

That’s the beauty of the Internet: people are willing to contribute what they can to make it (and, by proxy, the world) a better place. Look at open source software. Look at wikis. It goes against everything that capitalism has ever taught us, when people offer their skills – for free – to contribute to the greater good, be it new software, or knowledge, or whatever else.

Journalists won’t have to work for free because there will be crowdfunding. Journalists won’t have to work for free because advertisers will withdraw their money from old media and invest more in online news. The news that is produced will be high quality, because people value their reputation above all else. The argument that online news lacks quality just doesn’t fly.

Show me the quality in newspapers. Perth, Western Australia, is effectively a one paper town. The West Australian has Monday-Saturday editions, and The Sunday Times is, obviously, sold on Sundays.

Show me the hard news in The West.

Show me the hard news in The Sunday Times.

 

It’s wise in a city this small not to burn one’s bridges, but it’s laughable to look at those papers and then complain that quality journalism will die when the presses power down for the last time.

This is an exciting time to be writing. We know more about the world than ever before. We have greater opportunities for learning and connecting with people and teaching others than ever before. The youngest members of our society have been born into a world of information overload, and they’re going to want to do something to make it a better place. They’ll do that using their words.

Journalism isn’t dead. Long live journalism.

If you’ve ended up here via Twitter…

Hi everyone!

If you’ve ended up here via Twitter, there’s a fair chance you responded to my tweet for Perth bloggers, so I thought I’d write up a little bit about what I’m doing.

I’m in the final stages of my PhD, and writing up the thesis is… an adventure, to say the least.

Basically, I’ve been observing a whole heap of Perth blogs for the past four years with varying degrees of commitment (often not much), but as I’m nearing the final stages of writing up I really need some hard data to back up my ramblings.

That’s where you come in.

In the initial stages I’m going to compile a list of bloggers (which I will make available here if anyone is interested). Then, I’ll be looking at which other platforms they’re using: Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, and so on.

I’m going to use a pretty snazzy open-source software called Gephi to plot the connections that exist between the people whose blogs I’ve been following. So I’ll track links between blogs, links between Twitter feeds, links between Facebook pages, etc. until eventually I should have some pretty awesome visualisations of what Perth’s online community looks like.

I will update here over the coming weeks with what is going on, but if you would like to know anything more please feel free to email me or leave a comment here.

A note about how I am using this information

I won’t be doing anything unethical with your information. Nothing will be made public that is not already public online. If you do not use your real name online, your name won’t appear online or in my thesis. I certainly will not be publishing anything like personal contact details.

If you would prefer not to be involved, just contact me and I will take you off the public list (and remove you from my research data altogether).

Are you just a creep? (Where’s your blog, Erin?)

I’ve realised it may seen a little tiny bit creepy that I am researching blogs and other social networks for my PhD when I don’t appear to have much of a blog myself.

Well! I did. For a very long time. Eight years. It’s currently on hiatus.

It was called …and this is what i think and was hosted at this address until earlier this year. Currently it’s on vacation at an undisclosed location (i.e. a domain that I’m not making public for the time being) until I decide to revive it.

So rest assured, I am not just doing this research as an opportunity to lurk around the web spying on others. I was one of you.

Researching networked, place-based identities

(or: four years of work in a couple hundred words)

My PhD research is a complex thing. And by “complex”, I mean “super geeky”.

It started out as an exploration of place identity – that is, our sense of self that ties us to the places that we inhabit, and the places that we are from – in the context of blogging.

Over the past four years it’s changed a thousand times, but I’m now nearing the end and need the hard data to back up what I’ve been observing for the past few years.

I’m looking at the idea of re-placing the self online.

Once upon a time, in the 1990s, there was no room for place or bodies online: you sat behind your computer (no mobile Internet back then!), left your physical self behind*, and adopted a new identity. Slow connection speeds and clunky interfaces made it difficult to represent the real online, and as such the virtual world looked very, very different.

Now though, thanks to a number of factors (including mobile technology, social media platforms, and the general ubiquity of the Internet) place has begun to matter once again. When we’re online, we tend to replicate our offline selves, rather than adopting a persona. Indeed, this line between online and offline doesn’t really exist anymore. Our profiles tell other users what our name is, where we’re from, and show them what we look like.

My research looks at the way that physical place influences our online sense of self. Online, we re-place our “real world” place networks, through blogs and social media.

Through gathering information about Perth bloggers, the platforms they use, and the networks they share, I am trying to paint a picture of what Perth looks like online. I’m also interested to know how far these networks extend offline, and will be getting in touch with bloggers over the next month to see if anyone would like to participate in providing me with this information that isn’t so easily seen online.

If you have any questions, please just leave a comment or email me.

*to some degree. We never have quite reached that cyberpunk fantasy of being able to detach ourselves from our physical being and live online forever!