The Transformation of the Internet

In our second Intro to Digital Communications class, we went into small breakout groups to discuss the meaning and function of the Internet. The Internet was originally established to allow individuals in the military and academia world to collect and share information from a distributed network, which, in simpler terms, means that if any connection breaks, information can be rerouted and transferred to where it needs to go with zero interruption in the network. With that crash course of a history lesson aside, one of the key themes in my group discussion was the social impact of the Internet. In answer to “What are the functions of the Internet as a communication tool [today]?,” my group agreed that we can now connect with anyone from anywhere in the world at any time via audio and video conferencing tools such as Google Hangouts and Skype; we can entertain ourselves and share it with our network (think cat videos and funny memes); and we’re able to multi-task—talk to friends, keep tabs on people we know, browse news and gossip columns—with ease and flexibility.

While the Internet has transformed from an information-sharing system to a powerful communication tool, there still exists disadvantages—one being the way in which the Internet eliminates in-person interactions. In our four-person group alone, three out of four students say they rely on Internet apps and instant messaging clients (like Google chat) to talk to co-workers and managers instead of talking to them in person. One of my peers said many employees at her company hide behind their computers, which may contribute to the reason why they struggle with face-to-face communication and socializing. This small observation signifies the shift in our current needs and values. Ten years ago, virtual meetings were uncommon and frequently frowned upon, but now, virtual meetings taking place more frequently in the workplace (in Forbes’ “Telecommuting is the Future of Work” article, writer Meghan Biro says 30 to 45 percent of the company employees she partners with work remotely). In addition, world-class educational institutions are leveraging the Internet’s function as a communication tool to offer students an education that mirrors the brick-and-mortar classroom curriculum. U.S. News & World Report launched its first set of online education program rankings in 2012, for example, due to the more than 5 million online students that existed during that time. And that number continues to grow.

When thinking about how the Internet has changed since its inception in the late 1960s, I can’t help but notice one glaring (and relatively new) Internet feature that has sparked progressive change in business, education, science, and entertainment: the social component. The Internet is no longer just a primary resource where we collect and search for information. The Internet is now a platform for us to connect, communicate, live update and socialize. Facebook connects 1.3 billion people in more than 70 languages and crowdfunding site Kickstarter has funded more than 60,000 creative projects and users have pledged $1 billion dollars (and counting!) since it was established in 2009. Amazon started out as an online book store in 1995. Fast forward 20 years later, Amazon is the leading e-commerce site, surpassing Walmart in both profit and popularity.

So, whats ahead? We discussed Web 3.0 also known as the “Semantic Web,” which is the concept of all online information being part of a database where everything is connected and categorized in ways that are meaningful to us. As explained in the 10th edition of Media & Culture: Mass Communication in a Digital Age text, “Search engines of today generate relevant Web pages for us to read, [but] the software of the Semantic Web will make our lives even easier as it places the basic information…into meaningful categories—family, friends, calendars, mutual interests, location—and makes significant connections for us. The text provides more concrete examples: Think Siri on Apple devices and the Siemens refrigerator that takes a snapshot of the inside of the fridge each time you close the door. Web 3.0 is the current Internet—updated. Web 3.0 will be more personalized, maybe even grossly convenient. 20 years from now, I anticipate we’ll be so incredibly reliant on the Internet and electronic functionalities (yes, even moreso than we are now), that no one will think of the Internet as a separate entity in any way. It’ll be so intertwined with our way of life—it’ll become our life, our air, our only way to function in society.

Some may argue it’s for the best and these changes will lead to a smarter, more innovative world population, while others will look back with nostalgia and wish there was a way to turn off the Internet for just a day. Which group will you be part of when the Internet goes through another transformation?

BONUS: Throwback!

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Media: What’s Credible, What’s Not?

Today marks my first day as a Newhouse graduate student. Over the next 18 months, I’ll be sharing my experiences after every live class on the virtual platform and adding my thoughts on what I learned and what piqued my interest the most. Tonight’s class focused on media: “How does it impact society?,” “Can we keep up with media convergence and technology?,” and “How do you know if a source or site is credible?”

Media impacts society today by shaping our views, regurgitating current cultural values and (hopefully) making us sharply question what we know. There are pros and cons to media today. Pros include our ability to personalize our media consumption experience. There are so many channels on TV, so many resources to look through when performing research and so many different personas and experts on social media weighing in on important topics — and we can access all of it with a click of a button. The cons, however, raise key questions in thinking about media: Is there too much misinformation out there and how can we resolve the problem of homogenous thinking? In my experience, I see friends and family only watching one news channel (e.g., CNN, FOX, ABC) and the fact is each news network presents information from one specific angle because they have one specific agenda: to tell their audience what they want to know the way they want to know it. Why? For profit. To stay relevant in this fast-changing media industry where someone can get famous from a 30-second Vine video — which takes me to the subject of credibility in the media.

Professor Strahler asked us: “What’s considered credible?” “How do you know if it’s credible?” When I conduct research for an article or source content, I always consider the following factors:

  • Where did the source come from? Take Wikipedia for example. Wikipedia is not considered a credible source because the information comes from a variety of people who may or may not have expertise in a specific area. In other words, a 10-year-old can easily contribute to a Wikipedia page in the same way a veteran journalist can contribute to a Wikipedia page. No one is filtering the information or fact-checking it. Since the information is coming from unreliable sources, the entire site itself is not considered credible.
  • Who shares, contributes or supports the source? I posted Social Media Examiner as a great resource for our #DigCommSU class because well-respected people in the journalism and marketing field use it. Additionally, the resource features articles written by social media experts and is currently promoting a summit where influential leaders in the space will share their insight. Leaders include co-founder of Orbit Media and award-winning authors. When people with a bit of clout support and are involved with certain brands, resources, etc., that elevates credibility. In addition, I also look at how strong of a following or reach the site/source has. It’s important to note, however, that the more followers a source has, doesn’t necessarily mean the better it is. You’ll have to dig in and do a little research to find out who those followers are and what their background looks like. (What’s their area of expertise?)
  • Is the content well written, spelled correctly, and consistent in voice and tone? While this may seem very basic, it is a highly important step in assessing a site or source’s credibility. I always look at the way a site presents information. A credible source should always have a consistent voice and tone with high-quality material and that means having content that is accurate and well-written. If a site has several spelling errors and constantly contradicts information on the site, then I would question its credibility.

Lastly, one of my peers Washington Post Live! General Manager Bob Bierman made an interesting observation about credibility in the media: “Erasability of things, the fact that people can delete things makes people question what’s real and what’s not … unless people [lead] their mistakes just as much as they [lead] perfect things.”

I couldn’t agree more. As media viewers and content creators (not just consumers, anymore), we have the power to push out high-quality content and help other consumers block out all the extra noise. In order to do so, we need to be willing to own up to any errors we make. Credibility is hard to come by these days, but with careful steps, we can contribute to the digital space in a positive way.

BONUS: Here’s a fun shot of our class ending on a high note!

(NOTE: I made sure to ask if anyone objected to this screenshot. I didn’t see anyone say yes, so I’ll leave this here for your viewing pleasure. Overall, a successful class!)

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