Always On: Language in an Online and Mobile World – by Naomi Baron

 

41WTZysn0YL._SX329_BO1,204,203,200_

BOOK REVIEW

Baron’s book, Always On: Language in an Online and Mobile World, examines various computer mediated communication (CMC) platforms and the effects that use of those platforms are having on spoken and written language, as well as addresses the ways that those platforms are changing the way people communicate with and relate to one another. She cites three major social and cultural transformations brought about by CMC: volume control, effects of increasing writing volume, and the end of anticipation (Baron, 2008, p. 6-7). First, she discusses the idea of the receiver’s ability to “control the volume” of information received by determining when to sign on to electronic media and deciding who to respond to and when, as well as the ability of the sender and receiver to multi-task when communicating electronically. Next, she examines the massive amount of writing that is now being produced through emails, texts, blogs, and other electronic media, as well as the profound way language rules and conventions are being challenged and how long-established communication practices and culture are being changed as a result. Lastly, as CMC allows everyone to be kept up to date about all major and minor events and happenings, she discusses “end of anticipation” in relationships and how that concept is changing the way relationships are constructed.

From email to instant messaging, mobile phones to Facebook, Baron examines how CMC is affecting both language and society. Chapter three deals with strategies used to control the volume of communication, including checking messages when the receiver is ready and multitasking when engaging in CMC. Chapter four discusses instant messaging (IM) and, as in other chapters, breaks down sample messages, by gender, into smaller units and compares that communication to speech and the written word. (Interestingly gender does make a difference as males tend to IM in speech patterns while females tend to IM in written patterns.) Chapter five discusses Facebook and IM, and the importance of online face management in both media.

Chapter six moves from one-to-one synchronous communication to one-to-many asynchronous communication and the challenges it presents to both sender and receiver. It raises such questions as who will read the message, is the information accurate, and can the sources be trusted? Chapter seven discusses cell phones and the issues that arise when one can be reached by voice in any location at any time of the day or night. Chapter eight switches focus, moving from specific CMC platforms to a discussion of online language rules (hint – those rules were few and far between in 2008), and the ease in which traditional language rules and conventions are violated with CMC. In chapter nine, Baron discusses the move from a written culture based on carefully curated thoughts painstakingly written by hand, to a written culture where a plethora of text is written in record time without the traditional thought and care normally associated with more formal writing. Chapter ten provides a brief overview of the issues brought about by CMC including unintentional plagiarism, virtual customer service, communication exhaustion, and a sense of loneliness.

Though the book was published almost a decade ago, when many CMC platforms were still in their infancy, the issues Baron examines are still valid today. Her discussion of employing CMC for self-expression was prophetic as the world of blogging has exploded, YouTube is worth more than $70 billion (Gerber, 2015), and the comment section of many online news articles gets more attention than the articles themselves. CMC has leveled the playing field and now allows anyone with a computer and access to Wifi to broadcast their thoughts and opinions to the world. Baron’s research on talk radio is as relevant today as it was when the book was first published, as people still use that medium as “a form of entertainment, a medium for education, and a way to perpetuate the idea of free speech” (Baron, 2008, p. 103). Even ten years ago, Baron was emphasizing the importance of not believing everything that is read online without double-checking the legitimacy of the source and the validity of the information presented.

Baron’s observations on language and grammar use in CMC are still relevant as well. Because of the rapid pace and sheer volume of writing made possible by CMC, many times words and phrases are abbreviated, punctuation is ignored, spellcheck replaces an offline dictionary, and sentences are fragmented or poorly constructed. But, she cautions, CMC isn’t the only culprit. The relaxing of linguistic rules can be interpreted as “a natural reflection of changing educational policies, shifts in social agendas, a move in academia toward philosophical relativism, and a commitment to life on the clock” (Baron, 2008, p, 169). She theorizes that a more liberal “linguistic whateverism” (Baron, 2008, p. 169) attitude is also at fault.

Ten years have passed since Baron’s book was published – practically a century or more in technology time – rendering some of the research dated (at that time, Facebook had just made its way off college campuses and was being adopted by the general public (Baron, 2008, 84)), and rendering some of the references obsolete (folks referred to their Blackberrys as Crackberrys (Baron, 2008, p. 229) and the iPhone was not on anyone’s radar.) A revised edition would be welcome, including platforms such as Instagram and YouTube. Updated research would also be valuable as many younger CMC participants have used social media platforms for most of their lives, and most older participants now boast a decade or more experience online. But even though much of the hardware and software Baron refers to in the book is no longer in use, many of the issues she discusses are still of concern and being debated in 2017.

This book would be a welcomed read for older CMC participants who are concerned about what they perceive is a decline in language as a result of social media platforms. Baron offers a bit of consolation that society will acclimate and language will remain intact despite the challenges of online communication. The book is also recommended for younger CMC participants as it provides historical background for the online world they take for granted, as well as a thoughtful discussion of why the integrity of language is important. Most importantly, the book urges a reader to take a step back from the online world, and think about how society is allowing technology to change our world in ways both good and bad.

As Baron says, “technology has always been Janus-faced. Automobiles are convenient modes of transportation but consume vast quantities of fossil fuel and kill more than 43,000 people a year in the United States alone. Refrigeration eliminated the need to go to the market each day but also meant that the food we eat now is less fresh,” (Baron, 2008, p. 213), and her examples continue. Always On serves as a reminder that the viability of language, the integrity of the written word, and how we communicate with one another – both online and off – is the responsibility of each of us, individually and collectively.

References:

Baron, N. (2008). Always on: language in an online and mobile world. Oxford, New York. Oxford University Press.

Gelen, B. (2015, May 27). Here’s how much YouTube is worth. Fortune. Retrieved from http://fortune.com/2015/05/27/youtube-google-value/

Goffman’s Impression Analysis: Four Steps to a Successful Marketing Video

My communications uh-oh moment originated in the Rhode Island state tourism office and their desire for a professional tourism video. Despite signing a detailed contract with a professional marketing firm, the organization ended up with a video touting the wonder and uniqueness of Rhode Island that included a scene from another country. Unfortunately, the tourism staff did not catch the foreign scene, and were caught by surprise when a well-traveled citizen recognized the Reykjavik’s Harpa concert hall located in Reykjavik, Iceland. The mistake was posted on social media, the video went viral, and all involved were humiliated. The marketing firm shot another video for free, but the damage was already done. The head of the tourism department resigned because of the debacle. In this multi-media presentation, I introduce the uh-oh moment to a client interested in producing a video to promote their town. Then, using Goffman’s theory of Impression Analysis, I take the client step by step through the planning process of the project to hopefully prevent the same sort of mistakes from happening to them. If the Rhode Island folks had followed Goffman’s theory and analyzed their video during each step of the production process, they would have discovered the mistake before it was ever recorded and the whole uh-oh moment would not have happened. Take a look at video production, Goffman style:

 

 

Making the multi-media presentation posed a number of challenges. I tried using Prezi, but then realized that because I am such a linear thinker, it was too much of a struggle to learn the software. I resorted back to PowerPoint where I could move from A to Z in an orderly fashion. (Eventually I will go back and tackle Prezi, but those few hours with the product made me realize I would not be able to become proficient enough in two weeks to complete this project.) I recorded the PowerPoint presentation with Screencast-O-Matic. For my on-screen shots, I had my daughter record me with my Sony Alpha 6300 camera and pulled those videos as well as the Screencast-O-Matic files into iMovie. I also pulled in the Rhode Island You Tube video and copied a few seconds of bumper music from GarageBand. Somehow, with a fair amount of assistance from my daughter, I managed to piece it all together in a logical way. Am I happy with the outcome? Yes and no. I am not happy about the difference in my voice from my computer narration to the camera narration. I am not happy about the way my eyes shift when I follow my carefully printed cue cards. And I am not terribly happy with the casual porch-swing background, but the rain started just as we were ready to film and that was the best we could do without filming inside with screaming grandchildren running about. I am pleased that I was able to write the script, incorporate several different platforms, and pull it all together into an acceptable presentation.

 

As I mentioned before, this process confirmed that I am definitely a linear thinker. I am a mathematician/computer scientist by education, so it stands to reason that I am more comfortable with software that moves in a linear fashion rather than in random, unfettered ways (think Prezi!) By the same token, it also taught me that, no matter how good you are, you can still fail to communicate. The business of communication is tricky. Whether you insult your state by using another country’s background in the official state video, or simply send a poorly worded email that is misinterpreted, communication is hard. And as if graduate school isn’t humbling enough, this project definitely impressed upon me just how much I don’t know, and how much there is to learn – and keep learning. Just when I get used to one program, or way of communicating, another demands my attention and the learning process starts all over again. Being in front of the camera instead of behind it as I usually am when writing stories, I gained a new appreciation for the subjects that I photograph and film. They always complain about having their picture taken and now I know why! There’s something about a camera in your face that is intimidating, and makes me wish for a personal stylist . . . In all seriousness, through this project and the podcast I completed a few weeks ago, I have learned just how difficult navigating the maze of all the social media platforms can be. But I’ve also learned that if I take them a little at a time, learning only what I need to know for a particular project instead of all the intricacies of each product at one time, then they aren’t impossible. In fact, if I’m not careful, I may actually become proficient at a few of them!

 

 

 

 

That’s a Fact!

My oral presentation examines the current federal administration’s idea of “alternative facts” using Michael Foucault’s discourse archeology as mapped out in Dr. McArthur’s book “Planning for Strategic Communication.” By using the technologies of production, sign systems, power and self to parse an actual communication problem, I was better able to understand what Foucault was trying to say, as well as understand the communication issue and what could be done to prevent such an occurrence in the future.

Since my subject dealt with “alternative facts” as proposed by the government, it was also interesting to reread Foucault’s section on governmentality in our text and see how it applied to the Trump administration. Our text states that “As part of his interest in power, Foucault also fixed his attention on what he termed governmentality . . .referring to the complex institutionalization of government power over populations and the formation of specific government apparatuses and knowledges” (Ihlen, van Ruler, Fredriksson, 2009, p. 89). Since the new administration has taken over, Foucault’s theories on power/knowledge are becoming even more relevant as a number of factions, both in and outside of the president’s party, are struggling for power. In light of the recent “stretching” of the truth, it is more important then ever for citizens to work to discern whether the knowledge disseminated by the government is fact, or “alternative fact.”

To record my presentation, I originally used a digital recording device and planned to edit the file using iMovie, but when I played it back, there was an echo that I couldn’t edit out. I relocated to a smaller room for better acoustics and recorded the presentation again using Garageband on my Macbook Pro. With help, I inserted music loops at the beginning and the end of the file, fading out and in where appropriate. The music loops were a part of the Garageband software, and one of the most entertaining parts of the project was sampling the many different loops searching for the appropriate one. Once I completed the edits, I exported the file as an MP3 to post online through Soundcloud.

In the process of this project, I learned about audio production. In previous classes I used Screen-castomatic to narrate and record PowerPoint presentations to post to YouTube, but had never created just an audio presentation. Even though it sounded easier than a multimedia presentation, it was actually more difficult as I had to figure out how to make a presentation interesting to an audience that would be receiving it only through listening, without the benefit of visual aids. Those logistics were challenging, but learning to use Garageband was even more difficult. I had never used the software before and was struggling. I finally, thankfully, found myself under the tutelage of my two grown daughters. It was a humbling experience as I am a computer programmer by education and journalist by occupation, but am far behind in social media and presentation platforms. It is incredibly frustrating as I understand bits and bytes and can even read hexadecimal code, but my six year old granddaughter understands Facebook better than I. I’ve got a long way to go, but I’m getting there bit by bit (see what I did there?!?), and am incredibly thankful for this opportunity to learn.

That’s a Fact!       Click here for podcast