Posts Tagged ‘digital divide’

I Believe in the New Media Revolution — Or Do I?

February 20, 2010

Nowadays, every company is a media company. Production and distribution tools are accessible for even the smallest organizations. Companies know that if they are not leveraging these tools to build relationships with potential partners and clients, their competitors will be. This is good news for me and my classmates as we enter the job market. Our degrees are in communications, but we can apply them in virtually any field.

I like that I have options. This safety net is one reason I enrolled. But it’s not the reason. I enrolled foremost so that I could stay in the field I love, journalism. I feel that strong, independent news media are essential to the civic health of communities and that new media can produce journalism as good as — if not better than — this country’s ever seen. To borrow one of the more successful — but still parodied — slogans of my native Baltimore, I BELIEVE. And I want others to BELIEVE. But maybe I shouldn’t. Not completely. Maybe I should embrace what media scholar Robert W. McChesney calls “healthy skepticism.”

For all the talk of the Internet as a great empowerer, as a great uniter, isn’t it equally as plausible, McChesney argues, that it will be a great marginalizer, a great isolater?

Um, sure. For all the people getting ahead with new technology there are people without access falling behind. For all the people using the Web to connect with the world around them there are people using it to shut the world out.

Good reasons for me to spit out the new media Kool-Aid. Not because technology’s leading us to some kind of hell on Earth instead of the heaven more commonly imagined. But because it’s leading us somewhere in between. And because the more heavenly people assure themselves tomorrow’s going to be the more hellish it’s going to become.

You see, it is not enough to merely believe. While a passive majority goes on believing the Internet is going to be great for the greater good an active minority will make it great for itself and bad for everybody else, all the while fanning the majority’s naivety.

True believers act on their beliefs. And routinely question them.

Photo Credit: | CC BY 2.0


Live Tweeting OneWebDay: Lessons Learned

September 22, 2009

Time seems to speed up when you’re live tweeting. Especially when you lose your Internet connection.

These were among the lessons I learned this morning from my first live tweeting experience, covering Elon University’s OneWebDay celebration.

For the international Earth Day-like event, designed to raise awareness about the Web — this year specifically about digital inclusion, my interactive media classmates and I surveyed attendees of our school’s weekly College Coffee gathering about their Web use and knowledge. Through this, we learned that less than 20 percent of them spend more than 15 minutes a day accessing the Web from a mobile device and they learned that Tim Berners-Lee proposed the World Wide Web in 1990.


Ideally, I would have done more advance promotion. Live tweeting is a great tool for interacting with your audience and building your brand, but, you need readers to do this. I did post tease tweets on my professional and personal accounts yesterday and, on my way out the door to go to the event, verbally told a couple of classmates still in the computer lab to follow suit. Even these minimal efforts produced a couple of retweets promoting my coverage. However, as I was live tweeting just to expose myself to the experience, whether my coverage bore any journalistic or marketing fruit was secondary.


This exercise was similar enough to covering events for delayed Web or print publication that I knew enough not to go into it blind. I typed up a text file containing pre-made shortened urls for content I thought I might want to link to and keywords for tweets I wanted to make sure I got in. This prepwork definitely paid off. I didn’t waste time or miss important details creating links, and my keywords led to descriptive tweets. These three were respectively based on the prompts “weather,” “shirts” and “food.”

It’s an overcast but pleasant first day of fall here in N.C.’s Piedmont Triad. A few occasional drizzles. #OWD09

iMedia students, clad in black #OWD09 T-shirts with the hashtag in teal on the back, are setting up. Students are starting to file in.

Crowds snaking around food spreads. Donuts, fruit, sweet tea &, of course, coffee. Unfortunately, tastes/smell uploads not poss. yet #OWD09

To get others’ voices in my coverage, I also made plans ahead of time to interview a few attendees (this would have been easier with a netbook instead of a laptop), asking them, “What’s your favorite thing about the Web?” Here is one resulting tweet:

Getting similar responses. Freshman Sunny likes the “Unlimited information. If you want to find something it’s out there.” #OWD09


The “#OWD09” in each post is a hashtag. Hashtags help readers find information on a specific topic. This particular hashtag is the tag OneWebDay organizers asked content creators to put on all OWD-related posts. If any of my classmates were also live tweeting today’s event, it would have made sense to add a tag specific to our school so everyone’s posts could be accessable from a common page.


Thinking of stuff to write about wasn’t an issue. Writing it quickly and maintaining a certain threshold of quality was. In hindsight, I might have put too much pressure on myself to constantly churn out content. Allowing more time to think about and edit posts might have better served readers. I did have my share of typos, which, the way I understand it at least, are tolerated in live tweeting, but only to an extent. I might have had too many.


As I mentioned farther up, the opportunity for interactivity is one of the strengths of live tweeting. A fellow user might write me, for example, “I thought government researchers invented the Internet, not Tim Berners-Lee,” and I could explain that the Internet and the World Wide Web are two different things. However, had anyone been asking me questions, since my coverage lasted only about an hour, I doubt I could have kept up with them and what was happening around me. Here, a co-tweeter would have likely been needed.


I’ll end where I started: Cumulatively, there was probably about 10 minutes where I lost my wireless connection. This can be a helpless feeling, and, toward the last quarter of the event, I thought I had lost it for good and began scanning for someone with a smart phone he or she could loan me. To avoid such panic, having a built-in backup would have been a good idea.

OneWebDay: Briefing on Broadband Mapping

September 10, 2009

This essay and accompanying video are part of Elon University’s participation in the fourth annual OneWebDay on Sept. 22. Digital inclusion is this year’s theme.

Before you can solve a problem, you have to define it. So, before you can bring broadband to unconnected homes, you have to find out where those homes are. Sounds simple. But it isn’t. And how we go about identifying these homes has great bearing on whether a key aspect of closing the digital divide is successful.

Since the U.S. government pledged $350 million for broadband mapping as part of last February’s economic recovery package, the methodology, objectivity and transparency of the nation’s largest broadband mapping organization, nonprofit Connected Nation, have come under fire from public interest groups.

Critics make the following arguments:

  • That Connected Nation’s reliance on sampling in lieu of a door-to-door census tends to overstate the degree of connectivity.
  • That the funding the nonprofit receives from large telecom companies and the strong ties between these companies and its board of directors present a conflict of interest.
  • That non-disclosure agreements with telecoms prevent stakeholders from evaluating the accuracy of its surveys and from making full use of them to expand access.

In media interviews, Connected Nation representatives have countered:

  • That it reconciles its surveys against engineers’ on-the-ground observations and with public feedback and continously
    updates its maps to reflect this new information.
  • That its board includes members of leading consumer groups and its business model depends on serving the interests of small and large telecommunications companies alike.
  • That disclosing the location of sensitive infrastructure compromises security. All other information, they say, is made public.

What this conflict reveals as much as anything is a shortage of guidance from the federal government. To its credit, the government has identified broadband connectivity as a priority and put up serious money to help accomplish it. What it hasn’t done, however, is establish standards strict enough to ensure broadband mapping is done in a consistent and reliable manner.

Furthermore, since this work in being done under the auspices of economic recovery, the primary goal is spending the money quickly, potentially to the detriment of quality. It’s great broadband mapping is being done. But, if we’re to be successful in narrowing the digital divide, it’s important that it be done right.