Heard it through the Grapevine…or Facebook

Posted by Somebody's Mother on 7:49 p.m.

I can’t believe Michael Jackson is dead.
Michael Jackson is dead?

This snippet of dialogue did not take place in a face to face conversation. It passed over the course of a few hours on the social networking site, Facebook. Millions of people all over the world are using free web sites like MySpace, Facebook, Twitter and many others to communicate with their friends, family and with people that they may have never met. Through Facebook, I have tracked down and been tracked down by people that I knew in elementary school and high school and have renewed these friendships. Whereas Facebook used to be the exclusive domain of high school and university students, we middle aged types have invaded and we like it. Many writers say that the young will just move on to other social networking sites but one of my uses for Facebook is to stay in touch with former students and it’s working well for that.

Interestingly enough, social networking sites are now becoming a means of obtaining news and commentary and a means of mobilizing social action. In a short article on a blog for newspaper editors, Ellyn Angelotti pointed out “…that it is more likely that people would look at what their friends and social network would suggest, as opposed to editors.” I found a poignant example of that this week in relation to the way that I found out about the need to boil tap water in Lennoxville. I happened to check my work email address and found an email advising all employees that the water supply was contaminated with bacteria and that it would be necessary to boil our cooking and drinking water.

When I went on my Facebook page, I found a lively discussion going on by a few of my Lennoxville acquaintances in my newsfeed. In the case of the Lennoxville water situation, 5-7 people commented on how Lennoxville might have communicated the water situation more effectively. One person gave a brief summary of her visit to the borough office to express her concerns. In turn, others commented on this.

This is a local example of how Facebook is used the world over for discussion on the bigger issues. There are citizens’ groups, fan clubs, student organizations, etc. on Facebook who can also issue invitations to events to its members who can in turn simply click on yes-or-no buttons to indicate whether or not they will participate in these events.

While this looks very democratic, some countries - for example, Russia and China - are expressing concern at the way the Internet might be used to convey anti-government messages. There are many reports of citizens being arrested for email messages and postings that are perceived to be out of line. While no such threat appears to be apparent in Canada or the United States, North American critics of social networking sites have grave concerns about issues of privacy. Users of Facebook are no strangers to these discussions as the controversy of ownership of photos and text showed some months back.

With the advent of censorship and DDO attacks on web sites, both governments and independent groups with an axe to grind are finding ways to circumvent the democratic possibilities of the Internet. An interesting article on Internet and power in the magazine, Dissent, gave examples of government sponsorship of DDO’s in China and Russia which were able to crash web sites and private parties have been able to crash web sites published by gay organizations as well. We need to watch this situation very carefully and how North American governments will look to control the Internet.

Sites such as Facebook hold a lot of promise to help people stay in touch with another, particularly for people who are shut in due to physical disability. As baby boomers get older, Facebook will help us be in touch with the world and each other and if history is any example, we will not be silent.

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Changing the blog template: Learn and Learn fast

Posted by Somebody's Mother on 8:18 a.m.
Thanks to Sadie the Foodie,blogger extraordinaire and a former student of mine, I succeeded in finding a new template for this blog and then installing it.

This leads me to believe that messing around with technology is much like the old days of teenagers hanging out together with guitars in the 60s and 70s. You hear a wacky chord you like or discover that someone else knows how to play an approximation of Black Bird and then in today's parlance, you "copy and paste."

This kind of free association and learning is what the Internet is all about. People have a question, people Google the question and if people are the slightest bit discerning, they will find the answer from a reliable source.

I'm excited by this kind of learning. The sort that gives you the quick answer to the question and gets you running in the right direction. How much of this kind of learning is deep learning is another story. When we read news on the Internet, when we satisfy our curiosity about what's going on in the world, how much critical analysis do we actually get?

I'm not saying that it's not out there. There are many more pundits (far more learned than I am) who do provide a myriad of opinions and analyses as to what is going on in the world today on numerous websites. Do we read them? Do we take the time to go further than the one minute YouTube sound bite? Why should we when the sound bite is so much easier to digest than a 3 screen New York Times editorial?

Just today, I mentioned to my husband that I saw a headline that hog workers in Saskatchewan were coming down with a new flu virus. He was on his laptop too so while I meandered off to see who had written what on Facebook, he actually checked out the article that I referred to. This is what the first two paragraphs had to say in the article on the CBC website:
"Two workers in Saskatchewan's hog farm industry have tested positive for what health officials are calling a "novel" strain of flu virus and have fully recovered, government officials reported Tuesday.

Dr. Moira McKinnon, the province's chief medical health officer, stressed that the virus identified was "non-pandemic," adding that the two workers did not contract the H1N1 swine flu virus currently in the news."

Now if I had not bothered to read any further, I might go around spreading a nice fat juicy story that the H1N1 virus is mutating into a new form and just sharing the fear that goes with it like the gossipy Typhoid Mary that I am. Back in the 70s, without the communications technology that we have now, it was pretty easy to spread the rumour that Paul McCartney was dead. Imagine the havoc that we can wreak with the Internet.

The Internet can be used very successfully for finding out quick fix answers to why your iPod is frozen and how to find a lovely new format for that blog that you’ve been keeping but I am less confident in its ability to help us find a solution to the ongoing conflict between Israel and Palestine and what is the real answer to life, the universe and everything. Learning is more than finding out quick solutions to today’s snags. The Internet can certainly help us to communicate with others, to share serious information; we just have to be willing to take the time to do just that.

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There's No Place Like the Home Page

Posted by Somebody's Mother on 2:42 p.m. in , ,
I've recently been asked by the Sherbrooke Record to continue my columns but slanted toward older, novice users of technology. Here's my first column.

Welcome to a new and slanted toward technology version of the original Somebody’s Mother column. As a middle aged Mom type who loves gadgets, computers, the Internet, cell phones and all kinds of electronic toys, I hope to introduce you to some of the ways that technology can keep you informed, keep you connected, and yes, keep you entertained.

Since there’s no place like home, I thought it might be best to kick this series of columns off with the home page, that place that your computer goes to when you click into the Internet and get ready to dive into the cyber-universe. Many different websites will compete to get you to pick their site to be your home page. This only makes sense as the web page developers sell advertising space and they want you to get their message. While much of the Internet may be accessed free of charge (it reminds me of the old days of getting TV stations for free with bunny-eared antennas), advertising is what makes the Internet go and websites like Google, Yahoo, Facebook and My Space want you to click on their site as opposed to anybody else’s.

You can use a home page for a variety of purposes. Many people have a plain old Google search page as their home page but a home page can do a lot more for you than give you access to the world’s most popular search engine. You can get the latest news headlines, your horoscope, local weather, entertainment news, currency exchange rates, your favourite comic strip and so much more. If you have stocks and can figure out what your stock symbols are, you can have updates as soon as you turn your computer on. You can have the weather of all the cities that your family members and friends live in. As Canadians, we like to know about weather.

Putting a home page together is very easy and one of my favourite ways of procrastinating more important tasks is picking a new theme or background for my home page. Years ago, I chose Yahoo as my home page because it offered all the goodies that I just mentioned plus the possibility of picking seasonal themes. Google now offers the same possibilities at iGoogle.com. In fact with iGoogle, if you’re the kind of person who likes variety, you can have a different theme every day. There are people out there who apparently have more time for procrastinating than I do and they upload their latest designs. iGoogle allows you to pick Theme of the Day so that with little effort on your part, you get a snazzy page that someone has worked hard to produce. Once you’ve picked your content, there’s options for creating a colour scheme or if you’re an avid sports fan, you can even pick your favourite team’s colours. My own Yahoo home page sports a yellow and blue beach scene with colourful sailboats.

If you can click a box to check it off, you can make your own home page with the content that interests you. Have a look at both iGoogle and Yahoo and see which you like better. Very cleverly, iGoogle has its most popular content in a big blue box at the top of the page with boxes for you to check off. You can pick which city you want to get your weather for, and yes, Sherbrooke is one of them. If you would like to try Yahoo, you can simple Google…or Yahoo My Yahoo and if you click on “I’m New Here”, it will guide you in setting up the page.

One of the advantages of the computer and the Internet is that there are many options for setting things up in the way that it is most convenient and pleasant for you so don’t be shy. Finally, once you’ve done all the work to set up your page the way you want to, go into your browser’s menu (whether it is Explorer, Firefox or the Mac Safari) and set your new page as your home page. The easiest way to do this is to go to the Help menu and search Home Page in the help menu index. It should give you easy step by step instructions on how to make the current page that you’re working on your home page. Good luck and have fun.

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