CNN/YouTube Democratic Debate

Reflections Comments Off on CNN/YouTube Democratic Debate

8 democratic candidates face a new kind of questioning with queries straight from america’s living rooms


This has been a defining moment in political and New Media history, and I’m glad I could experience it in an academic environment. CNN and YouTube held a two hour debate on television for the Democratic presidential primary candidates. For the first time, webcam wielding citizens have been able to publicly question politicians on television.

What this at first means, of course, is that American citizens have gained a new political power through the Internet. Given weeks of preparation, citizens had time to organize and refine their questions, and practice and edit their questions. Not only is this is especially important for the less communicatively savvy citizens who have less of a voice in politics, it gives citizens an edge in the debates by thinking through exactly what they want to say while the candidates must respond spontaneously. True, all the videos were publicly available and could have been studied and prepared for, but the number of questions was massive and most addressed the big, expectable issues.

But it’s not perfect yet, because the news media decided which of the videos made the cut. Of the thousands of user submitted YouTube videos, 37 were selected by CNN for the debate. So the news media was still capable of tweaking the event as they see fitting to their agenda. Indeed, the candidates were given unfair amounts of speaking time. When Obama is allowed to speak four times longer than Gravel, there is obvious favoritism at play that is not necessarily of the people. Though I am not a fan of Gravel or some of the other less popularized candidates, they still deserve equal opportunity in the debate.

Were this a truly democratic event, the YouTube users would have been able to select which of the videos would be presented to the candidates. There would be bias, but it would be of the people. And the bias could have been controlled by including a tag comparison algorithm to ensure that various issues were covered and all the candidates were equally addressed. Just let the people choose. This was supposed to be a chance for citizens, not the news media, to publicize their voices in politics.

In any case, we are stepping in a new and good direction. What’s highly significant of the YouTube debate concept is that people from around the world, let alone from across America, could participate in the event. In essence, it is an international town hall meeting with internationalized personal messages. Sick and disabled people can stay home and still have a say. People with complicated questions can draft them multiple times. In an hour one can virtually travel to the fifty states, talk with people and return home. The spectrum of our nation comes together at a common point, aggregated into a single discussion. That is democracy at its best.

Internet culture brings another new facet into the political picture, because these videos and responses are crystallized and available to the public. This means that an Internet user can see see all the questions, selected or not, and answers at any time they want. They can also mash up and remix the videos in a creative way to form their own message, whether serious or satiric or just plain hilarious. This is the voice of the people murmuring behind the scenes of the television screen.

The YouTube debate also marks a generational shift of power. Much of the Internet is dominated by the youth, which have had a history of apathy towards politics. With politics entering the blogospheres, the youth may actually become interested in their country an even vote. I have personally seen a lot of political activity on Facebook and Newsvine, including simulated elections with hundreds of thousands of simulated votes. Candidates have set up profiles and have the support of tens of thousands of Internet users, many of whom are between the ages of 18-24 or even younger.

I’ll end with one final point. When you factor in all the socioeconomic levels and so forth, television is still the most commonly used means of information gathering among citizens. With the YouTube debate, we see the Internet fusing with television. Really what that means is the most expressive and democratized medium is speaking through the most public medium. Just think of the potential of that combination!


Concepts, Quicks, Reflections Comments Off on Curricula

Curriculum based education was a hot topic Thursday night. Should schools adhere to a curriculum or should they turn laissez-faire and let the students frolic? I have some personal insights to throw out. But first let’s whip out the dictionary. There are two etymological roots for “curriculum” listed at

  • Origin: 1625–35; < L: action of running, course of action, race, chariot, equiv. to curr(ere) to run + -i- -i- + -culum -cule2
  • Latin, course, from currere, to run; see current

Our two common denominators here are “course” and “running” as in a track course that one would run on. Reconnect this with curriculum based education. Should we systematically train students on a track course or should we let them run free on the open terrain? If the conceit of running to learning is accurate, let the student run in every way. Train it on the track and follow it through the field.

The track and the open terrain are different environment and each serve a difference purpose. The track is measurable, level, optimized and monotonous. On it a runner can easily set a goal and measure its progress. The open terrain is less predictable and poses more of a challenge with the wind, rain, sun, and bumpy grounds. It can definitely be more exciting than a track and makes a runner more adaptable as opposed to optimized.

This is basically a parallel for conservative education vs. liberal education. Each has its advantages, but determining which is better for you depends on your goals. For me, both are necessary. I have a destination both as a runner and as a student, but I also want to see what else is out there. I have goals that I reach and raise both as a runner and as a student, but I also want to round my body and mind in other ways, too. I try both to be a quick sprinter and a strong jogger and to be a logician and an innovator.

Be all. That’s the surest way to know all.

Was language the Big Bang of our demise?

Reflections Comments Off on Was language the Big Bang of our demise?

The suspicion came to me today during Sociology, shortly after having been asked what was the biggest cause in environmental destruction. The burning of non-renewable fossil fuels, my group and I first thought; more than just the pollution that emits from them are the dangers of ozone depletion, which theoretically fuels Global Warming, and wars over obtaining every last drop of oil. Apathy, another group thought, because we don’t care to stop the destruction of the environment. Government and corporations, said the third group, because they are the only people with significant power to the end environmental destruction they cause (which would ultimately be a suicide).

I’m not sure that any of these get to the heart of the problem, though. The genealogy digs much deeper into the ground. We burn fuel for energy. We use energy to build and to mend, weave, harvest, transport, illuminate, communicate, i.e. produce. We progress in our production to make our lives all the more convenient. Because in the beginning our lives were not convenient. In the beginning there were no computers, light bulbs, markets, houses, cars or clothes. It’s a miracle we humans even exist, because evolution seems to have dealt us a bad hand. But we had two trumps. One was the opposable thumb. The other, with immeasurable potency, was language.

Language is what makes us uniquely human, and it gives the illusion that we are the only animals to use reason. But language is no more than the expression of thoughts. What makes human communication so powerful is that it can share, with a fine articulation, abstract thoughts. A human could describe an elephant to another human who has never seen an elephant, and that human would conceptualize an elephant even if the schema is not entirely accurate. Every utterance is an education of a thought.

Language is naturally educational, and it is education that saved the human species from extinction. With language, we could teach ourselves to build shelters, prepare food, or cooperate. Each successful generation would bequeath its archive of knowledge, so that generation would build upon generation and the efficiency of humans would boost exponentially. This correlates with the exponential growth of human population. As humans create new and better means of survival, we increase longevity and the opportunity for birth.

Hence overpopulation. A greater mass of people demands more resources. It seems to be in the over-efficient nature of humans to suck the marrow of one area and migrate to the next. To quote The Matrix,

Every mammal on this planet instinctively develops a natural equilibrium with the surrounding environment, but you humans do not. You move to an area and you multiply until every natural resource is consumed and the only way you can survive is to spread to another area. There is another organism on this planet that follows the same pattern. Do you know what it is? A virus.

Humans have become over-efficient, and this over-efficiency scourges the Earth as well as ourselves. Unbalanced, we overglut our resources and end up fighting for the final tidbits—in vain, of course, because the spoils of the victor would be consumed just the same.

Let’s take a moment to recap. Language involved education, education fostered overpopulation, overpopulation gluts the Earth’s resources, and the lack of resources will lead either to death for all or to war and death for some. With this trend, though, the population simply must collapse at some point.

Was this all inevitable? That depends if language was inevitable. Perhaps language was the effect of an even more ancient cause, but tracing that genealogy any further becomes difficult. Certainly the desire for survival couples with language, but to blame survival as the Big Bang of our species’ demise would be inaccurate. We see all other species struggle for survival while maintaining a balance in the ecosystem, which humans have not and probably cannot do.

But here comes the ironic twist. We use language and education to try to fix the problems that were originally caused by language and education. Is this possible? Do language and education function like the brain that can reach into itself to solve problems? Or will we ultimately worsen our greater situation by fixing one of its smaller building blocks?

Let’s consider some things. If language is an expression of thought, and if language is congruent to education, then education naturally involves thought. If the brain uses thought to solve its own problems, then, like the brain, language and education could indeed be used to solve its own problems. The only difference is that, unlike the brain which solves problems internally, language and education solves problems socially.

It’s hard to come to a conclusion after all this. It’s possible that the computer will either be the most important or the most destructive medium for solving the world’s problems. An instrument of cultural diffusion, it can bequeath knowledge unlike any other tool humankind has ever experienced. The computer is the culmination of past technology, the zenith of progression. But is that good?

No sacrilege here. Just questioning.

An inspiration

Reflections Comments Off on An inspiration

Today I walked out of a movie theater, having just seen Michael Moore’s SiCKO, with a renewed political and humanistic vigor. It might sound odd, but I had a New Media epiphany shortly after watching that documentary on corrupt American health care. It happened while I was standing in line at Potbelly’s, waiting to order a sandwich. I saw the people around me, without that tense shouldered social anxiety I normally might have felt. I thought about their lives. I picked up my sandwich and I smiled fluently at the cashier.

A man in the film said that putting your life in danger was living, and the rest was television. He was referring of course to putting your own life on the line in hopes of saving another, as with a firefighter. Interesting, I thought. It was then, thinking about that quote while eating my food, that I remembered Walter Benjamin’s concept of the “aura.” Things in the material world have an aura that is lost through duplication. The Mona Lisa has an aura that you can only experience at the Louvre; all photocopies or images on the Internet lack this unique aura. I believe this aura exists and applies to people and social interactions. There is a richness in face-to-face conversation that disappears even in webcam communication. Maybe it’s that third dimension, or the natural lighting, or the smell of hair.

Something, something special in the real world, disappears in the artificial world and can never be fully reproduced. While I must say I am sparkling at the neurons here studying the hyperbolic advancement of social networking and computer technology, I admit that I feel we’re in danger of slighting something even more valuable: real human interaction.

Risking our lives for others is living, and the rest is television. Television as escapism? It’s true, more or less, that we on the higher end of the socioeconomic spectrum strive for safety and self-actualization. We have the means, the time and money and spirit, to fulfill our desires. We can spare an hour for YouTube or social networking. We can work towards a new degree of hyper-creativity and expression. But grokking at my heart is an uncertainty. I feel it every time I see the dejected men and women who I know could never spare a buck or an hour to tantalize themselves on the web.

Maybe I’m confusing unrelated issues. But this, fleeting though it may be, is my concern today.

Web 2.0: mindless vaccum? I think not.

Quicks, Reflections Comments Off on Web 2.0: mindless vaccum? I think not.

I’ve been perusing Newsvine. The “Leaderboard” seemed to be a good place to see what other Newsviners like to read. One particular opinional, The Revolution Will Not Be Socialized — The Homogenization of Social Media by Killfile, caught my full attention.

Some see Web 2.0 socialization as nothing but a mindless faux pas, a metropolis for the masses to win their fifteen kilobytes of fame. Killfile makes a cogent argument for the case with a powerful clinch.

In seeking to be truly democratic, these networks relegate themselves to a perpetuity of side-line status, never serious or significant enough to eclipse edited, moderated, and regimented media for more than a fleeting moment.

This is precisely the reason why it is so important to develop a new system of online communication. In its present stage, the internet nearly in anarchy. Anything is utterable. One could even get away with libel in most situations. Don’t get me wrong, though; the nature of open online socialization allows for boundless expression. This is good. But some other issues to consider are productivity, informative accuracy and depth. For instance, it pains me to see such valuable social systems like commenting be reduced to a conduit for depthless, fallacious attacks against other users when the discussion is controversial.

No, Killfile. There is still hope for the internet, even in its current condition, to exist as a means for people to share rich information. And we are headed in the right direction. Newsvine is but a step closer to the ideal intellectual forum. The Urbis economic concept would be a critical addition. Once we can piece together exactly what system would foster intelligent conversation, whether it is controlling how user reputation is portrayed or what rewards are given to quality contributions, the internet culture will evolve into a swifter, more perceptive beast.

New Media empowering the silenced

Reflections Comments Off on New Media empowering the silenced

A article, Giving Voice to Chinese, explains how Chinese environmentalists were able to muster people together to protest the construction of a new factory by communicating with cell phones.

It was a dramatic illustration of the potential of technology — particularly cellphones and the Internet — to challenge the rigorous censorship and political controls…

That is awesome. The Chinese government has earned itself a bad reputation for censorship. For a thorough exampe, read this excerpt from Esse est indicato in Google on the Chinese internet censorship:

Email appears to be filtered at the service provider level, not at the backbone level, and increasingly sophisticated anti-spam filtering software can also be modified for use in political filtering. Blog provides are carefully monitored through keyword filtering, and politically incorrect bloggers are typically removed quickly from the servers. Within China, when one looks for Google, one often reaches alternative search engines such as Openfind, Globepage,,, and These search engines are easily manipulated to carry out the kind of filtering that the Chinese government mandates.

And now, in China, technology is being used to hurdle itself. Cellphones are being used to contact, not only each other, but bloggers, dodging censorship to rally against injustice. Simply amazing!

I think Twitter has found its niche.

Social networking class divisions

Reflections Comments Off on Social networking class divisions

Two days ago, an interesting article caught my eye on BBC News. Reference is made to ethnographer Danah Boyd, PhD, who makes many observations in a non-scholarly blog essay regarding a social schism between Facebook and MySpace. Already, the blog post has received feedback from over 200 people. Essentially, Boyd argues that there is a strongly visible trend for the elite, educated, “hegemonic” teenagers to flock to Facebook while the socially ostracized teenagers swarm to MySpace.

Indeed many experienced social networkers, including myself, have commented on the apparent superiority of Facebook to MySpace. To many Facebookers, there seems to be this upper class prestige that comes with the Facebook network. This probably has to do with its history. Facebook was once restricted only to college students. Then the site gradually opened itself fully to the public, which perturbed a great deal of Facebook veterans who preferred the more intimate environment.

Still, the sleek look of Facebook, among other things, gives it an aesthetic that the liberally customizable MySpace lacks. Facebook limits expression mostly to language, encouraging (or so it seems) more refined articulation. MySpace encourages expression more through visuals and music, many times through others artists and icons; and somehow this is perceived to be inferior by the more upper-class Facebookers. Boyd’s assumption appears to be spot-on.

Her post can be read in full-text here:

Boyd is careful to remind us that her essay is personal, not academic. Often the essay shifts focus between observations and ethics. But I find the essay to be a fruit of insight for the public. For the purposes of this blog, I would like to quote a few tidbits that pertain to the state of New Media:

The division around MySpace and Facebook is just another way in which technology is mirroring societal values.

…when orkut grew popular in India, the caste system was formalized within the system by the users.

…what does it mean in a digital world where no one’s supposed to know you’re a dog, we can guess your class background based on the tools you use?

Clearly the “metaverse” we call the internet transcends virtuality. People put forth their identities, their consciousness and thus their existence, into the internet. More than just words or pictures are the minds of people linking to this convoluted web. An utterance in the metaverse is truly an utterance in the universe. Our interactions online persist offline.

Boyd deserves some consideration when she says

When it comes to ostracized teens, I’m worried about the reasons why society has ostracized them and how they will react to ongoing criticism from hegemonic peers. I cringe every time I hear of another Columbine, another Virgina Tech, another site of horror when an outcast teen lashes back at the hegemonic values of society.

Consider the power that our online socialization has to affect our offline socialization. The metaverse and the universe, though fundamentally separate, are one and the same in consciousness. Consider, in the age of New Media, the social dynamics that siphon between these two states of reality.

WordPress Theme & Icons by N.Design Studio
Entries RSS Comments RSS Log in