Sep 14

EPIC 2015. Welcome to the Future.

I started teaching Internet Marketing in Y2K. Yep, I’ve been teaching this topic since:

  1. Google was a fledgling little company — they filed for incorporation in 1998.
  2. Before Facebook existed — they launched in 2004, and opened up to more than .edu in 2006.
  3. Before Twitter came on the scene — they started gaining popularity with a launch at SxSW in 2007
  4. Prior to YouTube — which had it’s first video uploaded in 2005
  5. Amazon started selling things other than books — which began in 2000 when they opened their kitchen store

I’ve been around long enough to see many things come and go, and to build curriculum that I believe will help my students to leverage the good side of all of this tech.  I’ve also been around this stuff long enough to see the dark side. To watch, and wonder, and worry about where it all taking us.

Like many people I watched Minority Report which came out in 2002 with fascination and thought…there is our future.


But perhaps most prophetic of all was a little film created in 2004 by Robin Sloan and Matt Thompson as part of a presentation they gave that year as they considered the future of journalism. They released a second version in 2005.

I began showing this video in my classes as soon as it came out. It sparked a great deal of conversation because it was future looking. Students were often skeptical of the concepts raised and didn’t really see the issues with a network that is built to show just those things that are relevant to someone based on their browsing and reading history.  The history of the early start of social networking sites, Google, Amazon, and RSS feeds is fascinating. And then somewhere in there…they move from what they know…to what they envision.

You can watch EPIC2105 here:

And so here we are. 2014.

We have Facebook which serves up maybe 10% of the content an individual is subscribed to. We have retargeting of advertising. We have Twitter which is rumored to be planning an algorithmic timeline approach based on individual interests. We have Amazon which feeds us up recommendations and content based on what we’ve searched for both in Amazon and on the web. Google results are personalized to location and ads are served up to us based on our browsing history. We have multiple “Buzzfeed” type sites that serve up snippets of information that we share to our friend networks, influencing what they see. News items come through our Facebook feed, or on Twitter. Our newspapers are getting smaller, many of us use the Daily Show and Colbert Report to get our news.

We are tracked, data mined, and put into content buckets. We are segmented. We are wearing technology that monitors our every move, and Apple has provided us with an Apple Watch that will make our days more convenient and will make sure our heart still beats.

So you tell me? Are Minority Report and EPIC 2015 just works of fiction or are they prophetic works that envision our world today?

Judge for yourself.  I already know what I think.

Apr 13

The Brave New World of Communication in a Digital Age

Twitter Is Serious Business LOLCatThis week we learned just how serious Twitter is. In the midst of tragedy, horror, anger, pain, and fear we saw just how much this digital communication tool, and a host of other almost “instant” communication channels have changed the way we look for, engage with, and participate in information dissemination and sharing.

I know I don’t need to recap the events, nor provide timelines. Nor will I post pictures here.  There are plenty of those all over the internet at sites including the Boston Globe, and Mashable.

I would like to address something different. Something that has been on my mind as I have been working on my book this year. And that is the impact that real time communication, and the need we humans have to participate, share, and engage to feel part of community is having on two very important areas of our lives:  Journalism and Law enforcement.

First I’d like you to think back.

Think back to 1986 (if you were alive then). I was a sophomore in college. I was in my biology lab when someone ran into our classroom and shouted: The Challenger just exploded! (That’s a link to the live feed from CNN). We had no Twitter. We had no Facebook. I had a computer, but it certainly didn’t talk to anything. We had no cell phones. Challenger_explosionWe all just got up, and headed down to the student union and watched CNN, talked to each other in hushed tones, cried, and took it all in. Over the days that followed the news media were our source for information via newspaper, radio, and TV. As a community at my college, we talked, we shared, we commented. Face to face. We looked to our journalists to provide us with facts and information, which we took in, and for the most part, trusted. Through all of this, investigators controlled the message. Journalists speculated and dug, but information was not easy to come by unless released by NASA. Some video camera footage from individuals was used.

Now to that fateful day in September of 2001. I received news of the plane hitting one of the Twin Towers from a phone call (on my land line)  from my ex. I tried to get online to see what was going on, but CNN wouldn’t load. 9-1122I then went downstairs and put on the TV. I got on the land line to try to reach friends in DC (because by that point one of the planes had hit the Pentagon, and we had close friends who worked there).  I won’t go into much detail here as we all an remember it. But I will say that I got my news from CNN. I listened to NPR. I read several different newspapers.  I went online when able to (CNN had to drastically change their design to cope with the traffic to their site). Again, there was no Facebook. There was no Twitter. We got on the phone, we emailed, we talked in person, we gathered around the TV. We looked to our journalists to provide use with facts and information, which we also started to verify and explore on the internet, but we still, for the most part trusted those journalists.  Through all of this, messaging was controlled by investigators and law enforcement, but we started to see that control slip as theories and other information popped up on the internet weeks afterwards. But control of the information and “leaks” were the word of the day.

Now to Boston. And this week. What did we experience as a nation and a world?

  • Investigators CROWDSOURCING data from all the individuals who took pictures and video, tweeted, blogged, facebooked and added information to Reddit.  Each individual who created content based on their experience added to a pool of data for investigators to comb through: Read recaps from Bloomberg and US News.
  • The loss of respect for news media including the NY Post and CNN (not that they had much more to lose, really, but just take a look at this scathing take down from Jon Stewart if you haven’t already) for their rush to break news that was false.
  • Law Enforcement having to use social media to keep people informed, refute wrongful media reports, and try to manage the chaos of a “lock down” situation throughout the streets of Boston. Just look at the Twitter feed from the Boston Police Department.  And some of these notable tweets:



  • Birth of the new journalist. If you didn’t pay attention or know @taylordobbs before this, you should. A journalism student, a Vermonter in Boston. He started covering the MIT shooting via Twitter. Factual. Real Time. Excellent coverage. Main stream media trying to figure out the new way to report should take lessons from this man. Here’s a recap from the Burlington Free Press.
  • Individuals participating all over the social sphere. Sharing, supporting, commenting, getting in the way, compromising safety, creating fake accounts — in other words human beings being human beings. It’s a brave new world and when the police first ask for information from everyone to get as much data as possible,  but then during a chase and hunt, expect people to stop participiating, it’s just not going to work.  When you broadcast via a scanner, people are going to then turn around and share that information — they aren’t going to just sit there and listen.  (Honestly, it is beyond me WHY police scanners are now broadcast via the internet. There is such a thing as too much information!)

So what does this leave us with?  Well in my opinion as an educator there are a few things we now need to do, and I’m not convinced these things are happening.

  • Law Enforcement officials need social media and digitial communication training. Not just on how to utilize it to gather data, but how to manage it on a day to day basis as well as during a crisis.
  • Journalists need to take a hard look at their profession. Hopefully J-schools are educating their students on how to report in a crisis using these tools. All current journalists need to go back to school to relearn their craft.
  • K-12 education has to change curriculum in order to accomodate an “always on” practice — etiquitte, privacy, personal responsibility — all key in the digital age.

Human nature is not going to change. We share, come together,  prank,  cry, yell.  But now we do it in multiple channels, multiple ways and those young people coming after the so-called millenialls (those 18 and younger) see no difference between face to face communication and digital communication. If you think managing all of this now is hard. Just wait for it.

The events of this week were just a look at what is to come. What comes next is up to all of us and what we have learned from experiencing all that we have experienced this week.


Oct 12

The Rise of the Social Media Mob: Social Media Gives New Life to an Ugly Practice

It’s been an interesting week in social media. A week that’s got me thinking a great deal about the ways in which we communicate in a digital age. So many like to say things have changed. That digital tools have changed the way we act, communicate, converse, share.  And yet, every day there is evidence that this is a lie.

Yes, I said it.

Digital tools have NOT changed the way people behave.  They’ve just given us more ways in which to communicate.  Tools like Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram, Path — all let us share our feelings faster and farther — but they have NOT fundamentally changed how we, as humans, behave.  Really.  Humans are inherently social. (Yes even introverts are social.) We like to gather with our friends, we like to share our experiences, we rally to our friends to help them in times of need, we group together to fight a common foe, we unfriend each other, then become friends again later on. We find common cause, we get righteous together, we get mad together  Social media just lets us do all of that faster with a bigger reach —  but face it, if we weren’t already craving social connection as part of our DNA, these tools wouldn’t work.

So now to the point of all of this. The simple fact is that just because  humans crave coming together to right wrongs, to protect the innocent, to see justice done, at what point does the righteous turn ugly? at what point does the protection of the innocent create even more victims? at what point is justice not actually being served, and we enter into the scary world of vigilantes, mob mentality, and retaliation so memorialized in films like Death Wish?

Stick with me here.

Remember my main points:

  1. Social media has NOT changed human behavior
  2. Social media has created a faster way to reach more people

This week is a case in point.

Two things happened which on the surface are black and white. Clear right and wrong. Easy to judge. Easy to rally to both causes. Easy to like. To share. To retweet. To hashtag. To do good while causing the “bad guy” (which coincidentally in both of these examples the “bad guys” really are guys) to scurry for cover.

One happened to a news woman in Wisconsin. One happened to a group of women right here in Burlington, VT. The stories are both inspiring in how the women rose up against adversity, found their voices and stood up for themselves. As a woman myself and one who has, in her lifetime, felt and dealt with situations similar to both of these, I cannot say enough how proud I am of them and their strength to face the people who would tear them down and make them “less than”.

I”m sure you’ve all heard the story by now. Jennifer Livingston, a news anchor in Wisconsin on WKBT News received an email from a sometimes viewer basically telling her that she was a poor role model for young girls because she was obese and had let herself go.  Jennifer’s husband posted the text of the letter on the stations FB page, and then she responded publicly on air. Here’s an article from the HuffPo to give you the details.  Her response was strong, passionate, and highlighted why she is a PERFECT role model for young girls everywhere.

Just a few days ago, a new hashtag in Burlington was born. #btvhickscam. The cliff notes version revolves around a man (aka Stephen Churchill, aka @thevermonthick, aka co-founder of 30inThirty.com, aka Kurt Wright’s Communication Director), how he exploited women in the community both professionally AND personally, alleged misuse of funds, and overall douchbaggery. One woman in particular, a former student of mine, reached her breaking point and took to Twitter to air her frustration and to “out” this person so others would not suffer the same way she had.

Right on ladies. Go. Get. ‘Em.

So there we have it. A wrong done. Women stood up for themselves. And of course people rallied to their causes.

And, this my friends is when it starts to become something we should all take a pause and think about.

Let’s start with the person who sent the letter to Ms. Livingston.  So he had a point of view. Whether you agree with it is not the point. He said what he had to say.  He did not, however say what he had to say in a public forum did he? He sent an email. I’m going to assume he didn’t intentionally think this would go viral. But as soon as it was posted on social media…it was out. He was “outed”. This article over at Jezebel is an interesting example of how people have rallied to Jennifer’s cause. As is this one.  Read the comments.  Here’s a few choice ones:

Anyone want to take bets on what he calls his dick? The Mighty Conquerer? Lance Dickstrong?

I will send 5 internet dollars to the person who walks up to this tremendous, teetering, wobbling jello casserole of asshattedness, and flatly informs him that his body is wrong. The way that it is, is wrong. His body is wrong, and it is a terrible choice that he is making for it to be the way that it is, and also, what will the children think.

Over here in #btvhickscam land, there was a similar flurry on Twitter. First of all, in this particular case, this guy is what I will call an “operator”. It really was just a matter of time for all of this to come out. Vermont is small and many of the women he exploited actually know one another.

Notes are compared, conversations are had, and bang. Done. It just takes one person to let the cat out of the bag as it were.

It’s 10pm. Do you know where your children are? Probably on a date & working free for #BTVHickScam

this is embarrassing but @TheVermontHick also slept with me. Also: I have a penis. Also: I have the herp. #BTVHickScam

So here we have it.

In the conversations on both of these you have people rallying to defend, but you also have a lot of anger and frustration that comes out in not such a good way.  Some of the comments actually start asking the right questions and is what this post is all about. From the Jezebel article about the news anchor:

So, let me get this straight: Calling someone out for being fat is wrong, because we shouldn’t judge people and make assumptions about them based on how they look because people who do that are jerk faces, right? Got it.  So what, then, is this thread about? I am so confused here..

From our #btvhickscam:

I agree with the sentiment (have known this for a LONG time), but is there a solution-based discussion we can have here? #btvhickscam

We remember it as kids (or at least I do) — do two wrongs make a right? Is it ok to attack others just because your cause may be just? At what point is the line crossed from “outing” something/someone who is hurting others, to creating a feeding frenzy and group think that is just as dangerous?

I ask the question because social media does make it super easy to share our first thought. Our first reaction. We don’t need “courage in a bottle” to shore ourselves up before we storm the jail (a little cowboy/western reference there for y’all — I do hail from New Mexico in my past!).  We also have a bit of an echo chamber that makes it easy to feel that there are more people rallying to our cause than actually might be.

Human nature. It hasn’t changed. People get fired up. The question is, when it comes to social media, how do you temper that fire so you can make constructive change instead of becoming destructive. The mob mentality is even more insidious online. So as you all read these stories and consider posting your reactions, take a minute, breath and consider what are you contributing to the conversation.

For our guy in Wisconsin, as a woman who has been moo’d at and who has struggled her whole life with weight, I’d say, “Ken, it’s clear you are a fit, healthy guy who cares about the community. I don’t know you, and you don’t know me.  I don’t know your history, your story, your baggage.  You don’t know mine. You are entitled to your opinion.  Now take a minute and think…really think…about how your words made this woman feel.  Is that what you wanted? You thought you would help her “get healthy” by telling her she’s a poor role model? That guilt would do it? As you think about that, perhaps you could consider a different approach — how about a health challenge for the news room to support activity — a wellness initiative? We are doing that at Champlain College where I work and it’s pretty amazing to watch each person start where they are and improve their strength and health one step at a time. It’s empowering.  Behavior change in anything requires small, measurable actions. Little steps that build and build to the change. Guilt doesn’t work. Hurting someone doesn’t work. Build them up. Don’t take them down.

And to Stephen or Winston or Tim (whoever you are today) right here in VT. As a professional woman who sees former students who have been hurt by you, and small businesses who have been duped by you, I am hopeful that the light that has been shed on your activities will shine bright enough to put an end to your shenanigans. I encourage all the freelance professionals who had dealings with you to contact the BPD, because in the end the more complaints that come in the harder it will be for you to conduct business in our small, very connected state.  I encourage the women who you have hurt to connect with each other, share your stories and be strong. Ladies, I also suggest taking your stories OFF of social media and getting back to basics, meeting in person and helping each other move on. There is, unfortunately a tipping point with this sort of thing, that can quickly bleed into the rest of your life, and this man has done enough damage.

There is so much I love about social media and the ability to connect easily with people I know and care about. However, the dark side of all of this is the dark side in all of us. Quick rushes to judgement, righteous indignation, anger, frustration. It’s a small step to go from support and defense to a social media mob feeding frenzy that has no good outcome.  So stand up for those who need it. Come to the defense and support of those you feel have been wronged. But just remember that social media can make it bigger, faster, meaner, and more serious than you intended. As with most things, we all need to temper ourselves and think carefully about how we use social media when our emotions are high because in the end when you support someone you want to help make a difference and see a positive outcome, not cause even more hurt.