The Animal Crisis

I remember the first time I stepped foot in Seaworld.

It was new and exciting- an experience I had been looking forward to for weeks, as preconceived ideas constantly filled my 10 year old head in the lead up.

Walking through the steel park gates, the white walls looming over me, I was astounded by the size of the place. There were gift stores to the left, food vendors to the right, and the much anticipated enclosures right in front.

Peering into the enclosures, with greasy palms fixed firmly on the glass and our eager eyes darting left and right at any signs of movement, this was a place that created and fulfilled a lot of our childlike desires. We were children standing face-to-face with polar bears, seals, dolphins, and the widest array of fish you had ever seen. This truly was a world filled with every wonder of the sea, but this issue is, this isn’t their world.

The name ‘Seaworld’ given to the park highlights a real, and ever-growing issue among the public and its perceptions toward the animal kingdom. We all know that this constructed building built for audience consumption is in no way a substitute or resemblance of the ocean, but we a lead to believe that it is through marketing, language and, shock horror, the media.

When we look at the evolution of animals with regard to the way they appear in human history, their references are vast. Through language, cultural products and childhood imagery, the use of the animal as a service tool for the human existence is profound and pervasive.

However, our fascination with animals as extending beyond sentient lifeforms that we co-exist with in the world isn’t a new phenomenon. Researcher John Berger believes that looking at animals, and incorporating them into our culture is only a recent activity, with the earliest signs only being documented in the early 19th century.

Unsurprisingly, this transition has had unhealthy, and unsustainable impacts on the animal. the animals in question are marginalised and collectively removed from the publics thinking. This can be explicitly seen through animal food products wherein they are not even thought of with reference to their animal origins. The worst steak used to replace the words cow meat, the word bacon used to replace the words pig meat. But this is also seen through the images presented on the animal products, which generally depict pastoral, happy images and neglect to reveal to the audience the true origins and processes behind the packaging and sale of their product.

Is suffering creating a passive culture?

Lying in my bed, with my fresh linen sheets draped over me, I’m awoken by the dull buzzing of my phone on the wooden floor of my bedroom.

It’s my twitter account, and it was going crazy.

Squinty-eyed and still more asleep than I am awake, I fumble for the phone and unlock the screen. Clothed in a bright red shirt, Aylan Kurdi laid lifeless, face down in the sand on a Turkish beach in September 2015. The image was everywhere, and all major news outlets were like a horse-out-of-the-gates, documenting what little was known. In a country not plagued by the horrors of war, genocide or daily life-threatening decisions, this image of a child’s lifeless body had everyone talking, and rightly so. We often glaze over, or even become desensitised to the vivid imagery we see in our media. However, among the cacophony of pain and warfare sprayed across our screams, a singular photograph is often taken, and used as an icon of this suffering- and little Aylan brought much needed attention to a crisis that lacked a lot of coverage in our mainstream media.

Sitting upright, emotionless and confronted by the image before me, I was hypnotized by the little red shirt that was filling my timeline. Nestled in my bed, as the sun creeping through my blind onto my eyes became the only present disturbance in my room, I was confronted with a sickening realisation of the dichotomy presented to me. Peering into the lives of people and worlds far beyond our reach, images like this present questions and issues that are important for us as a society to discuss.

unknown.jpg

Rusty boat carrying refugees 

Firstly, why did this image take centre stage, showcasing an issue the media has been following for decades? Since the genesis of the Arab Spring, thousands of photos have entered our mainstream media, documenting the refugee crisis that was born from this conflict. Images, such as the one displayed above, have been used countless times by publications such as Time and NYTimes to both sensationalise, and passively dehumanise the ‘faceless’ faces staring back at us. But the image of Aylan in particular evoked a mass response by the public worldwide, and although it may have not been at the right time, or for the right reason, there was an immediate horror presented to them that they could not turn a blind eye to. (Sontag, 2003)

But who has the authority, or right to look upon these images? Or should it even be shown at all because of its graphic content?

These were the questions asked by a lot of mainstream media offices and audiences.

The night I first witnessed the image, Channel 10’s The Project ran a segment dedicated solely to the discussion of this image, its effect, and by virtue of this, the refugee crisis. A disclaimer though was rained out among the audience- the image will not be shown as it was considered as ‘too distressing for viewers’ (Ting, 2015). The segment was filled with astute dissection of the issue by the routine panel, and on-air tears by co-host Carrie Bickmore.

The concern however was oddly inversed, and the audiences emotional wellbeing was held above the pressing matters occurring across the ocean. Unlike Aylan’s family’s inability to be censored from the cruelty of their lived experiences and environment, the audiences of this program were given a hall pass to evade the true questions that the image poses.

The issue with the mainstream media is that the images displayed on our phones, in our papers, and our televisions become a commodity. The audience views this suffering, they ponder on it for a little bit, and in most cases, move on with their lives in blissful ignorance a week later. It generates a spectator culture, that Richard suggests can coax people into believing that there is ‘no real suffering in the world’ (Richard, 2010).

This is a view that Sontag further explores, problematizing the placement of the viewer as a mere global spectator who utilises media sources as a lens to peer into, and to discuss the experiences of those around the world.

‘Perhaps the only people with the right to look at images of suffering, are those who could do something to alleviate it.’ (Sontag, 2003, pp. 37).

aylan-kurdi1.jpg

The cover of The Independent showing Aylan’s lifeless body

However, with one argument, there is always a counter. Leading the charge was The Independent, which placed the pervasive image in question on its front cover. Without uttering a word, the paper indirectly took a stance on this debate, by being a brute force on the perpetuation of discussions surrounding this issue. This move was seen by many as a battle cry, evoking an emotional uproar by audience members in an attempt to push them toward change and effective conversation.

But the question still reigns- why did this image take centre stage and not the others? Laurent argues that the ethnicity of the person in question plays a strong role in the reception of an image. Through problemtising the wide-spectrum of images present within our media, he states that ‘dozens of African kids have been washed up on the beaches of Libya and were photographed and it didn’t have the same impact’ (Laurent, 2015). This argument can be supported during the segment of The Project mentioned beforehand. Host Carrie Bickmore exclaims ‘that could be my child’, mimicking the sentiments of many parents within Australia. This notion of ethnocentrism isn’t a new phenomenon, and is a startling crisis that subconsciously compels audience members to differentiate between the various forms of suffering and poverty they witness, placing it on a spectrum of importance.

Considering all above, we are presented with two courses of action as global citizens. One, we can sit idly by and continue to consume the images suffering and poverty we see within our media. Or two, we can use these images as tinder, to fuel the fires within us for political and social reforms. Always remember, just like with the selfie, start small and the ripples will surely spread out.

References:

Laurent, O 2015, ‘What the image of Aylan Kurdi says about the power of photography’, Time, 4 September, viewed 17 March 2016, http://time.com/4022765/aylan-kurdi-photo/

Richard, F 2010, ‘The Thin Artefact: On Photography and Suffering’, The Nation, 23 November, viewed 17 March 2016, http://www.thenation.com/article/thin-artifact-photography-and-suffering/

Sontag, S 2003, Regarding the Pain of Others, Chapter 3, Hamish Hamilton, London, England, pp. 36-52

Ting, I 2015, ‘The Project’s Carrie Bickmore breaks down over image of drowned Syrian toddler’, The Sydney Morning Herald, 4 September, viewed 19 March 2016, http://www.smh.com.au/entertainment/tv-and-radio/the-projects-carrie-bickmore-breaks-down-over-image-of-drowned-syrian-toddler-20150904-gjetma.html

Selfies, Politics, & Activism?

Sitting at my desk, head weighing down on my upward-bent arm, I aimlessly scroll my Instagram feed. The procrastination practically dripping from my finger-tip, I direct the page upward, and upward, displaying an exorbitant amount of ‘selfies’. They are pervasive, well-lit, and in some cases, worthy of that double-tap. But like the centuries old adage, a picture tells a thousand words, selfies reveal, and in some cases, create a narrative for the audience to involve themselves in.

Although selfie’s can often be done on a whim, in an attempt to indulge in one’s vanity, in most cases they reveal routine, and are a product of that routine. As a medium, the selfie captures the everyday ‘real-life’ of the photographer, placing the audience in the viewing chair that peers into a brief moment of their day. It exposes a particular hobby, a mundane task, a routine location. Due to this fundamental characteristic, the selfie is often argued to be juvenile and lighthearted in both its intent, and portrayal. This dialogue often presupposes that the selfie is arbitrary and a means to perpetuate ones own narcissistic tendencies. This is aptly viewed with the media frenzy surrounding Obama’s ‘Nelson Mandela Memorial’ selfie.

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Obama takes a selfie with British and Denmark Prime Minister.

This selfie in particular was argued by many, both in the media and in the general public, to be immature, disrespectful and unbecoming of someone in the position of presidency. The issue did not fall on the fact that a photo was taken at a memorial, but that the camera was inversed and a photo was taken of the photographer, by the photographer. This public reaction speaks to the climate of contempt surrounding the practice of selfies, and the disregard of their power.

What many tend to discount, often clouded by the narcissist claims flooded by the media, is the transformative capabilities of the selfie. When the selfie is coupled with objects and dialogues that are imbued with authority, such as the hashtag, it has the ability to challenge particular notions of power, like capital and control (Hirsh, 2016). The argument that the selfie is ‘hyper-ordinary’ is not entirely false, as it is because of its alignment with the ‘everyday’ body that the selfie is able to enact particular influences over these notions of power. The selfie is accessible, and easy to capture, hence making it an extremely viable vehicle of reform for many in the public.

https://www.facebook.com/plugins/post.php?href=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.facebook.com%2FStealthyFreedom%2Fposts%2F1455418324472257&width=500

Take for instance the selfie phenomenon ‘Men in Hijabs’ that was plastered all over news outlets around the middle of 2016. In essence, men in Iran were wearing hijabs and posting it to their respective social media accounts in a display of solidarity with woman across the country who are forced to cover their hair when they are in public. Wearing a headscarf, also known as a hijab, is systemically enforced within the country by ‘morality police’. If deemed unacceptable, punishment can range from fines to imprisonment. The genesis of this social media movement comes from Masih Alinejad, an Iranian activist and journalist based in New York. Using the hashtag #meninhijabs, Ms. Alinejad urges Iranian men to post these selfies on their social media accounts. The selfie in itself is not an inherently political medium, however in this case, it was able to lend itself to political purposes. Through the utilization of the selfie, men all around Iran were able to challenge particular notions that are considered by the general public as normal and mandatory, however wrong it is. The men, through their postings of the selfie and the aggregation of it via a hashtag, were able to hold government officials and political/legal policies to account for their actions.

It must however be noted, that in order for a selfie to be seen with power, it must stand for something new or have be supported by a large following. It is because of this that in most cases, the polticised selfie is closely associated with the networked term, ‘the people’. Through the use of the hashtag, the selfie is able to transition from a state of immobilization, to a collective life online that is able to spread the message being communicated. Mottahedah supports this notion, further explaining that is its ‘little wonder then that political figures co-opt the selfie when they attempt to align their voices with the voice of the people. As part flesh and part data, the selfie embodies the virality of the people’s networked presence both online and off’ (Mottahedah, 2015).

As a frequent user of social media, I think it is outmoded to cast selfies off as nothing more than a narcissists drug so to speak. Although it can be used as a means to update your social media following, when imbued with objects of power, the selfies capability at enacting particular social and political reforms can be seen.

So next time you mock the use of selfies in activism, just think that maybe it could change the world.

References:

Hirsh, S 2016, ‘Why Iranian men are sharing photos of themselves wearing hijab’, Mashable, July 30 2016, viewed 5 March 2017, http://mashable.com/2016/07/29/iranian-men-wearing-hijabs/#RqW5W2Uk85qw

Mottahedeh, N 2015, ‘The Political Consciousness of the Selfie’, Standford Press, July 28 2015viewed 4 March 2017, http://stanfordpress.typepad.com/blog/2015/07/the-political-consciousness-of-the-selfie.html 

Saul, H 2016, ‘Men in Iran are wearing hijab in solidarity with their wives who are forced to cover their hair, The Independent, July 28 2016, viewed 5 March 2017, http://www.independent.co.uk/news/people/men-in-iran-are-wearing-hijabs-in-solidarity-with-their-wives-a7160146.html 

 

The Battle between David and Goliath- Or is it?

The other day I found out that one of my friends works at a video store. This shocked me, because to my knowledge, they had all but shut down. I thought everything was either online, or on the television screen. Although this may seem adverse, media industries are infinitely evolving and expanding to further appeal to audience. A case which the streaming service Netflix has taken as its motto.

Traditionally speaking, the television and film business has been considered as a relatively unpredictable environment regarding audience viewership. “Nobody knows” was coined as a maxim of the media industry, referencing the uncertainty of audience behaviour. This trend is evident almost every year, with television shows cancelled after just one season and highly anticipated films flopping at the box office *cough cough* We Are Your Friends.

The genesis of Netflix in 1997 however revolutionised the way in which media is consumed by the audience, vastly altering how the media industry operates and understands audience viewership (McDonald, 2013).

The process of show analysis was primarily established as a means to measure commercial viewing, with key revenue demands motivating and influencing what was presented on the screen. However, as the understanding of audiences exponentially inclines, large implications are being observed about the relationship between creative industries, and the effect that this has on the audience (Lotz, 2014).

With a focus on data-driven analysis, compared to the emphasis placed on originality enforced by other creative industries, Netflix is able to separate itself from its competitors by having access to data that the other industries lack. Now of course, you are all probably thinking ‘what about ratings?’. Sure, traditional media industries receive ratings about the demographics of their viewership, but this is incomparable to the data received by Netflix. Netflix is fully aware of who their customers are. They know when they are watching, what and how much they watched, on what device it was viewed on, the sequences of their selections, and so on. What this data reveals to me, and a lot of media researchers, is that Netflix places emphasis on creating value for its customers.

netflix.tablet

http://www.digitaltrends.com/home-theater/netflix-original-programming-2016/ 

Through characteristics such as the recommendation system, low subscription fees, high-resolution viewing, immense variety and ease of access, Netflix ensures customer retention. Through this, the reliance that traditional creative industries have on advertising, Netflix has no need for. This move toward online, subscription-based services although seems highly advantageous for the public, especially considering the avoidance of advertising, one must question the effects that this revolution is implicating on the media culture, especially within the context of Australia.

On the Australian version of the network, an ‘Australian Movies’ section has been established. The category contains exclusively Australian produced films, such as Muriel’s Wedding, in a possible attempt to combat anxieties surrounding the shift toward overseas media sources.

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http://www.digitaltrends.com/home-theater/netflix-original-programming-2016/

Although this inclusion is a great asset to the service with regard to the preservation and maintenance of Australia cultural elements, the range is still remarkably small by comparison to the rest of the choices.

Although free-to-air television in Australia has a requirement to broadcast at least 55% of Australian content on its screens, effective by the Broadcasting Services Act 1992, aiding in the perpetuation of cultural interest, it unfortunately does not stack-up to the free-reign of Netflix (Evans, 2016). Having to meet no quota, Netflix is able to ever-expand its content based purely on what audience’s love.

Netflix in and of itself is a vast improvement in our media industry, speaking from an audience perspective. It increases accessibility, and ensures audience retention by allowing choice unseen by previous creative industries. However, speaking from a cultural perspective, I can understand the concerns for the general public. But, in saying that, I feel that they may be misguided. Australian cultural elements are uniquely iconic, accumulating an audience due to their Australian heritage. Take for instance the arguably horrid American version of ‘Kath and Kim’, which because of its cultural context, did not succeed.

Netflix provides a complement to our viewing experience, and the audience is greatly relishing in its treasures.

References:

Broadcasting Services Act 1992 (Cth).

Evans, N 2016, ‘Week 6 Lecture’, lecture, BCM232, University of Wollongong, delivered 4 April 2016.

Lotz, A 2014, ‘The Television Will Be Revolutionised’, edition 2, New York, pp. 228-232.

McDonald, K 2013, ‘Digital dreams in a material world: the rise of Netflix and its impact on changing distribution and exhibition patterns’, Jump Cut: A Review of Contemporary Media, no. 55.

2015, ‘Netflix: Bringing Data Analytics to a Creative Industry’, Harvard Business School, viewed 5th April 2016, <https://digit.hbs.org/submission/netflix-bringing-data-analytics-to-a-creative-industry/&gt;

A Map is Controlling You

Parked on the side of the road, vehicles rushing by and plastering our faces with a cruel reminder of the temperature of the day, we raise our phone’s sky high in an attempt to attain just one single bar on our mobile phone signal.

We are lost, and Google Maps serves as the answer to our problem.

We want to get from point A to B, and we want the quickest route possible. Without a second thought, due in part to our predicament, we follow the recommended route and reach our destination.  This reliance on the maps as an objective truth, without thought, proposes the question; What power does it have over our reality?

For many, myself previously included, Google Maps is considered as a purely accurate guide on how to travel between two given points in the world. However, contrary to popular belief, maps implicate change, and aid the motives of those in control of its construction. In his study, Rethinking the Power of Maps (Wood, 2010), cartographer Denis Wood broadly claims “Maps propose the existence of things”. The word ‘propose’ here denotes the uncertainty of maps in determining an accurate representation of our reality, irrespective of the publics acceptance of this ‘neutrality’ and reality. This inaccuracy can often have wide-sweeping consequences.

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http://searchengineland.com/google-maps-rolls-out-upgrades-for-ios-gas-prices-busy-times-offline-navigation-238462 

This is highlighted quite clearly through the ‘disappearance’ of the Chiswick Bridge in West London in 2015. Due to a glitch in the software, Google Maps completely erased the bridge that ran over the River Thames. This malfunction resulted in the rerouting of traffic to a course eight kilometres farther, and 18 minutes longer, regardless of the bridge still existing (BBC 2015). The map was able to control not only the behaviours of a mass of people, but also altered the public’s graphic understanding of their surroundings. For many, the absence of a bridge was interpreted as a reality, which directly impeded upon their daily behaviour.

But the power of maps extends beyond just the control of human behaviour, but utilises this control to promote the interests of those who created them. Director of Google Maps, John Hanke, was quoted as saying that he views “location-targeted ads as a very large business opportunity…” (Strom, 2013). Within Google Maps, every business owner is allowed to list their business as a ‘Google Place’, which consists of a small, generic symbol on the map. For a price, advertisers are able to upgrade from this generic, and highly-used symbol, to their own logo. Through this, Google Maps is actively facilitating the prioritisation and hierarchical ordering of businesses based on capital wealth. This power over the visibility of businesses is unsettling, as it furthers the divide between business competition and makes an attempt at aiding in the construction of mega-industries, whether intentionally or not, by virtue of public access and prominence. The main interests that this map underwrote, and penned graphically, was evidently of those in capital power, which by virtue of using this method of organisation laid claim to Google Maps main value; money. This is clearly expressed through a research task conducted in Kentucky, 2005. Researchers entered the word ‘pizza’ into Google Maps search results, and were presented with a wide array of local pizzeria’s, including only one Pizza Hut. Exactly a year later, the search was replicated but the results revealed now 3/4 of pizza businesses advertised were Pizza Hut. The company was argued to have “exercised financial pressure onto Google as to what it records as ‘nearby’” (Evans, 2016).

pizza-hut-logo

http://www.adweek.com/prnewser/pizza-hut-totally-steals-agencys-joke/108860 

This example, and examples previously stated, explicitly emphasise the almost life-like capabilities of maps in altering human behaviour. Although these modes of power, such as advertising and route selection can prove to be daunting, it must not be forgotten that autonomy is still a quality that we posses. Although Pizza Hut may have the money to expand their advertising reach, I personally hate their pizza and will always eat somewhere else, irrespective of what Google Maps tells me.

References:

BBC 2015, Chiswick Bridge ‘vanishes’ from Google Maps, BBC News, viewed 4th April 2016, <http://www.bbc.com/news/uk-england-london-31914175>.

Evans, N 2016, ‘Mapping the Planet’, lecture, BCM232, University of Wollongong, delivered 14 March 2016.

Strom, T 2011, ‘Space, Cyberspace and Interface: The Trouble with Google Maps’, M/C Journal, vol. 14, no. 3, pp. 1-6.

Wood, D 2010, ‘Rethinking the Power of Maps’, New York, pp. 39-42.

All Work and No Play- A Study into the Effects of Part-time Work on Academic Performance.

Student funding has always been a point of contention among university students and researchers. Funding by the government was made available to university students aged 17-21 in July 1998, specifically targeting those with a lower source of income either from external or family sources. The implementation of these policies was strongly motivated by the financial barriers to Higher Education faced by many students originating from lower socio-economic backgrounds. Over the next decade, numerous changes and provisions were made to increase the quantity of financial loans offered to students in Australia, even though the quality has slowly eroded. This increase in demand highlights the underlying need of university students to acquire supplementary means of income. This requirement for income underlines the struggle of many university students in participating in part-time work, whilst simultaneously aiming to achieve their academic requirements. This relationship between student finance and academic achievement has become a frequent topic of debate among many academics and researchers, with more than two thirds of university students undertaking part-time work. A recent study showed that the percentage of the population with a bachelors degree or higher in 2011 was 18.8%, nine times over the percentage in 1970 (2%). With nearly 56% of younger university students (18-25) dependent on part-time work as a form of income to accommodate for the rising costs of university expenses, it has come as no shock that attitudes toward the university experience of students has changed drastically.

MOST COMMON OCCUPATIONS, HIGHER EDUCATION STUDENTS – 2011
Younger students(a)
Older students(b)
%
%
Sales Assistants (General)
20.8
Registered Nurses
4.8
Waiters
7.6
University Lectures and Tutors
3.3
Checkout Operators and Office Cashiers
5.9
Sales Assistants (General)
3.1
Bar Attendants and Baristas
4.7
Accountants
2.7
Receptionists
2.9
General Clerks
2.0
Kitchenhands
2.6
Secondary School Teachers
2.0
Child Carers
2.4
Contract, Program and Project Administrators
2.0
Sports Coaches, Instructors and Officials
2.2
Primary School Teacher
1.6
General Clerks
2.1
Nursing Support and Personal Care Workers
1.4
Shelf Fillers
1.9
Child Carers
1.4
(a) Aged 15-24 years.
(b) Aged 25-64 years.
Source: ABS 2011 Census of Population and Housing

With that being said, tertiary level students are currently being viewed as individuals who have to contend with varying forces that could impact upon their own academic performance. This view adoption has come as a direct result of students having to cope with the realities of finance and debt both before and during their involvement with Higher Education. Recent findings revealed that almost two-thirds of university students are living below the poverty line, with many requiring financial assistance beyond their part-time work commitments. Part-time work has been shown to impact on the academic performance of university students. More recently, a study by BYU Employment services stated the part-time employment had an adverse effect on the academic performance of students with regard to missed classes, and study opportunities. The report found that due to the finite state of resources such as time and energy, these were being spent more on part-time work to compete with the rising costs of living and tuition, rather than study (Hammond, 2006).

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www.abc.net.au

The purpose of this study is to examine the possible destabilising relationship between part-time work and academic performance among cross-disciplinary students at university. The study will aim to analyse the concepts of time management and causal stress with relation to the costs of living and study. The student sample will be separated based on factors such as living conditions, whether the student lives with a parent/guardian or on their own. It will also take into account the presence of students loans such a university grants and Centrelink payments, and how this can affect the students’ incentive and demand to work. The aims of the project are to determine the standard and level of student employment, to determine the financial liability of the students, and to determine whether the interplay of these two factors adversely affect academic performance.

The study will be comprised of both primary and secondary research.   The primary research will take the form of a cross-degree, randomised survey conducted at the University of Wollongong. The survey will take influence from previous works by Smith and Taylor (1999), who conducted research at an ancient Scottish University. Smith and Taylor were however more interested in investigating the quality and quantity of student part-time work, and primarily did so by postal-service. Due to both question variations, as well as financial and time constraints, particular amendments will be made to the structure. Furthermore, due to ethical constraints of the task, direct discussion of mental health by virtue of the questionnaire will be omitted.

Within the questionnaire, I will record the following information:

  • Demographic Information (faculty information, living standards, expenses etc)
  • Financial Information.
  • Employment information.
  • The reasons for working.
  • And whether working is perceived to have any affects on academic performance, either positive or negative.

This information will be pertinent in profiling the participants, that way any trends or correlations can be brought forth for further investigation.

References:

Hammond, S 2006, ‘Effects of Employment on Student Academic Success’, BYU Employment Services, viewed 19 March 2016, <http://www.byu.edu/hr/sites/default/files/effects_of_student_employment.pdf>

Smith, N. & Taylor, P. 1999, ‘Not for lipstick and lager’. Students and part time work, Scottish Affairs, vol. 28, pp. 147–164.

Growing Old in the Technological Age.

It is no argument that technology has altered the way in which people interact and communicate with one another on a daily basis. What once was considered as a personable and authentic interaction, has ultimately transformed into an interaction that is digitally enabled, in the absence of direct human contact.

The question remains though; are these new forms of human interaction acting to the detriment of meaningful communication within our world?

I would like to argue no, and I would like to use my Nan as an example to do so.

Say hello to Susana Raquel Isern.

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Susana’s experiences with the evolving nature of media landscapes and practices are quite extensive, to say the least.

Throughout her life experiences, Susana has had to adapt to the varying media advances as not only a result of the place in which she found herself in, but also the time in which these media interactions occurred.

There is a distinct interplay between these two factors when it comes to one’s experiences with the media, the way they interact with it, and the way this media influences the way in which people interact with one another in that given context.

It has been 45 years since Susana moved to Australia from Uruguay, and at the age of 23, life in Australia was a stark contrast to the humble upbringing that she had experienced in Uruguay.

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Asking my Nan if she would like to be interviewed for this task with regard to her experiences with the media, her response was “how long do we have?”

Growing up in rural Uruguay, Susana’s experiences with the media at the time were limited. Her house, with its three bedrooms and thatched roof, was not privy to the expanding media landscape occurring in the cities of the world. Her family owned one radio, and received the newspaper every morning.

At this point in Susana’s life, the media was ineffectual in facilitating or forming interactions among individuals. Its sole purpose, especially in Susana’s household, was to inform and entertain its audience.

Reminiscing on a time long gone, Susana begins to detail her family’s daily collective interaction with the radio, her eagerness evident even through the audible hum of the telephone in which we speak through.

“There was this one show that my mother especially liked to listen to” she stated. “It only ran for half an hour, but as soon as it was time for the show to start, it was proclaimed throughout the house so that everyone could sit around the dining table and tune in together”.

The audio of the show was laced with the hushes and responses of the household as they all sat attentively around the table, consuming the cake and biscuits that Susana’s mother had prepared. “It was a daily ritual, and brought the whole family together” she stated.

In a community where traditional and personal interactions were exceedingly more common, Susana’s recollection about her family’s relationship with their radio reveals the evolving technological climate and the way in which it was beginning to alter the interactions that people were having.

(An example of trying individuals experiences and interactions with the radio)

The radio became a point of focus in Susana’s household, being the source of both the daily news and the comedy shows of the night. However, the silence that spread among the household whenever the radio was turned on is actually an apt example of the way in which the media at this point in time was altering human interactions. Due to the one-way flow of content, and the audiences lack of opportunity and capability to effectively answer back, the media promoted passivity and silence among its audience members. This is a key idea that C. Wright Mills discusses in his book entitled ‘The Power Elite’ (Mills, 1956), in which he highlights the implicit power that new media technologies can impose upon an audience, altering the landscape in which it is placed.

In this case, the landscape was Susana’s living room.

Although, the emergence, and purchase of the radio, altered Susana’s home environment, it ceased to have any real effect on her social interactions, and media interactions, within the wider community.

“Moving to Australia changed everything” Susana stated.

The rural town that Susana grew up in, an hours drive from Uruguay’s capital Montevideo, was a stark contrast to the modern, media dominated city of Sydney which she now lived. “Even contacting home was extremely difficult at the time”

Due to the lack of media development within Australia at the time, Susana would have to travel over an hour into the city in order to contact her family members.

“I would have to use an old phone booth in order to call an operator, who would then get in contact with the Uruguayan operator, who would then get in contact with my family. My family on the other end would then do the exact same. Sometimes I would have to wait hours before they replied.”

The same can be said with the other option of contact at the time; letters.

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“Sometimes they would get lost, sometimes they wouldn’t reply, and if they did reply, it was a two-week turnaround. It became frustrating and a lot of effort” she said.

Due to the differences in time, location, and the current media available for contact, Susana would sometimes go for months between contact with her family back in Uruguay.

As a result of the year and Susana’s location and financial status, her interactions with the media, and thus with her family members, were vastly different to others. This phenomenon is aptly problematized by early studies conducted by Lasswell and Paul Lazarsfield who revealed that communication and interaction with the media is mediated in complex ways based on factors such as social context, class and geographical context. As a result of Susana’s location, and financial status, she was unable to interact with particular media forms which were essential to the maintenance of her relationships in Uruguay, which proved to be increasingly problematic.

However, 1997 changed everything for Susana when she received her first mobile phone.

Although quite a large device, that didn’t allow interaction past the permissible dialled phone calls, the mobile enabled Susana to interact with her family whenever she wanted, and most importantly, wherever she wanted.

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(statistics sourced from http://www.infoplease.com/ipa/A0933563.html)

This increased access to family members and friends, beyond those who were in your immediate presence, as a result of the mobile phone helped colonise Susana’s communicatory abilities beyond which was previously impossible. This also sparked an increased dependence on these new media technologies, due to their ability to unite Susana’s family regardless of their geographic location.

Over the years, Susana has increased her arsenal of technological devices, all in the name of staying connected to those she loves without physically having to travel.
“It’s a lot easier this way, and a lot cheaper obviously than travelling to Uruguay, or New Zealand to see my grandchildren and son.”

Susana now has accounts on Instagram, Facebook and Skype, which has allowed her to establish a ‘telepresence’ (Martin & Rizvi, 2014). A ‘telepresence’ is a feeling of being present within two places at the one time through the use of technology. This ‘telepresence’ is extremely evident through Susana’s extensive use of Facebook and Skype, which she uses to contact both her partner and family daily.

Over the years, there has been a lot of debate surrounding the use of media and its possible detrimental effects with regard to human interaction. Although this may be the case in some instances, in the context of Susana and her experiences over the past 60 years, the media has not only facilitated, but sustained relationships which would not have been possible otherwise. Susana’s use of media technologies, and the practices associated with them, has been a direct product of the social context and location of the interaction. And that right there is truly amazing.

Bibliography:

Buchanan, I 2010, Dictionary of Critical Theory, Oxford University Press, New York.

Martin, F, & Rizvi, F 2014, ‘Making Melbourne: digital connectivity and international students’ experience of locality’, Media, Culture & Society, 36, 7, pp. 1016-1031, viewed 31 October 2015, http://japanfocus.org/-Audrey-Yue/4268/article.html

Mills, C W 1956, ‘The Higher Circles’, The Power Elite, Oxford University Press, New York, pp. 3-29.

Beyond the Muslim Stereotype.

For many reasons and for as many decades, the distinction between Muslims and people of Middle Eastern origin has become blurred, and a homogenised ‘Muslim’ identity has been cemented within Australia. This identity is often perceived as a threat to the national ideals of culture and security established within Australia over the past few decades. The media is often considered as the breeding ground of these inherently harmful stereotypes, and is in many cases the vessel through which these views become embedded within social discourses. Although the Muslim community are often considered as a homogenised and monolithic population, The Australian Bureau of Statistics indicates that Australian Muslims have origins in over 70 different countries around the world and occupy only 1.5% of the Australian population. As an accurately identified minority group with Australia, the public portrayal of Muslim woman has pushed adherents of the Islamic faith toward the fringes of society, as the solidification of pervasive stereotypes and accompanying public reactions remain a reality.
Media representation and coverage of the Muslim woman is not particularly balanced, especially with regard to their clothing. The hijab in particular is often seen as the catalyst for heated debates within society. Contrary to popular belief, a Muslim woman’s choice not to wear the Hijab does not make her any less of a Muslim, nor does it stand as a symbol of her oppression and passivity.
9-11 is often argued as the event which initiated the on-going political debates on terrorism and oppression, ushering in the pervasive narrative of Muslims as the dangerous and mysterious ‘other’ into the public sphere. These debates have intensified pre-existing allegations of misogyny, fanaticism, violence and illiberalism embedded within the community. Muslims, in many cases, experience high levels of discrimination, violence and institutionalised racism within Australia as a result of the divisive rhetoric of media outlets preserving these dominant stereotypes.
The audio-visual piece provides an exploration into the recurring effects of anti-Islam and homogenising stereotypes upon the Muslim woman. The notion that Muslim woman within Australia are oppressed is not only wrong, but inherently harmful and is aptly problematized within the piece. Behind the video is a black and white photo narrative, providing a platform for the interviewees to acknowledge the pervasive stereotypes within the Australian community, and expose their fundamental flaws.“A Muslim is someone who, plain and simple, follows Islam”

Get Your Popcorn and Soda Ready!

When I think of a weekly task set by my tutor, images of countless hours sat behind a computer screen come to mind.

So you can imagine my shock when I was explicitly told that my task for the week was to go to my local cinema and watch a film.

I hope you can also imagine my face when I realised that a slew of factors were actively working against me performing this task.

Unbeknownst to me, these factors are quite commonplace and were covered quite thoroughly by Torsten Hagerstrand. Hagerstrand outlines three temporal limitations that can govern an autonomous individual’s activities in a spatial context.

The first ‘constraint’ I encountered is referred to as ‘Authority’.

Two authoritative domains were actively working against the possibility of participating in this week’s task. The University of Wollongong, of which I am a student, was restraining my space-time path as a result of the number of assessments it had given me. Due to the institutions authority in conferring upon me these assessments, and their authority in failing me as a result of incompletion, the university was effective in limiting my activities for the week. The second authoritative domain working to the detriment of my autonomous nature was the cost of cinema attendance. This limitation, enforced by the cinema, limited my ability to access this cinema’s services, thus discouraging me from completing this weeks task.

I also encountered issues with regard to time, which is identified by Hagerstrand as ‘capability’.

I could not be in two places at the one time (although this would prove to be a highly advantageous talent).

I had a plethora of assignments to complete, and physically no time to attend a cinema. University commitments, as well as my commitment to work, had placed distinct and unwavering limitations upon my movement. Although a film, generally speaking, runs for an approximated time of about 100 minutes, factors such as travel also added additional time extensions that I could not accommodate into my busy schedule.

Instantaneous travel would be a sure-fire away to amend this issue, but unfortunately I am limited to my feet and public transport as my only form of transportation, adding an additional time and spatial disadvantage compared to those who have access to their own cars.

If having a lack of time was a strong enough excuse not to go to the movies, then the fact that I couldn’t find anyone to attend the movies with me completely terminated the possibility. Unfortunately, not without quite a struggle might I add, I was not able to synch my busy schedule with regard to both place and time with that of my close social circle. Although, if all other factors allowed, I could attend the movies by myself, the thought of being in a given space for a duration of time without immediate social interaction is not the most appealing thought to me. In order for me to complete this weekly task, my space-time path had to link up with another person’s schedule, in which it didn’t. Hagerstrand identifies this constraint as ‘coupling’.

Looking back, and reflecting on all of the limitations stacked up against me, it was no shock to me that cinema attendance has experienced a fluctuating existence with regard to attendance since 1982 in Australia. The introduction of the VHS saw an initial decline in cinema attendance due to the ability to watch film in the comfort of ones home. However, in saying so, although cinema did experience an initial decline of almost 20% in the few years following, the attendance numbers slowly increased yet again. Cinema is still ranked as the highest attending venue/event within Australia, and are actually on the increase once again from 65% in 2005 to 68% in 2014. Although cinema is up against the sweeping influx of Netflix and Foxtel subscribers, the culture around cinema attendance has not changed. Young Australian’s definitely view a trip to the cinema as a luxury, due to the activities positioning outside the realm of ‘normal’ with regard to schedules. This is supported by the fact that 93% of 15-17 years olds had attended a cinema at least once in the past 12 months.

So, although this week the possibility of attending a cinema was at almost 0%, this is not a ‘normal’ week for me. Schedules change, and the hype around attending the cinema on a Saturday night with your friends followed by a Gloria Jeans visit has still not lost its appeal just quite yet.

Pay Attention Ya’ll!

Attention is a concept I struggle with.

Not that I struggle to understand the concept, for it is actually quite simple.

I struggle with its application.

Even now I am sitting on my laptop, furiously trying to write this blog post before I head to work in 3 hours, with 3 tabs open to unrelated topics and my phone open to Instagram.

As you can rightfully agree, I am no savant on finding ways to improve my attention span. But attention goes a lot deeper than we tend to give it credit for.

Attention refers to your brains capacity to enhance particular information whilst inhibiting other ‘distractions’. This can be both an autonomous or conscious decision, and plays a crucial role in the way an individual lives both with regard to direction and even safety.

Within any given day, we are bombarded with an overwhelming number of perceptual information. Our brain cannot humanly process all of this information at once, and so allocates precedence to particular information deemed as either consciously important or a deviance from the regular perceptual environment in which you generally find yourself in.

Think of a large party filled with music and shouting. This is quite commonplace, and perceptually overwhelming. However, you are still able to hear your name called across the room because your brain has prioritised this information as both important and unique.

So I decided to explore this with my sister.

As a person growing up in a society overly saturated by technology, I gathered with quite a bit of confidence that my sister would allocate the buzzing of her phone as an important piece of perceptual information.

And so, without acting like I was studying her every move, even though I totally was, we set up to watch 40 minutes of our favourite television show. (If you were wondering, it is Orange Is The New Black).

It didn’t take long for the phone to be picked up, and all attention to be diverted away from the television screen. A total of 23 times the phone was picked up, and not all for a quick glance either.

It was evident, both before and after we spoke about the observations that I made, that the buzzing of her phone called for immediate attention.

The quick, sharp vibrations were an obvious contrast to the still and largely quiet leather lounge that the phone was placed on.

The significance my sister placed on the alerts received from her phone, coupled with her upbringing in a society that showcases extreme reliance on their mobile phones, proved to me that her mind had prioritised the mobile phone over the task at hand (television watching) for further processing.

The Stanford Psychology Department have explored this phenomenon in a study on the causes and implications of attention.  To truly understand attention though, and the factors shaping attention especially with regard to my sister, I think it is appropriate to explore why her attention to the television failed. In the instance of the mobile phone vibrations, it was providing a quick stream of new information to my sister. So in order for my sister to process this new information, she had to ignore the information that she was already processing at the time of interruption (the television). The reason this ‘selective attention’ occurs is so that the brain avoids being overwhelmed with information, because not only would that be painful, but also a living nightmare! In my opinion, the television in this case is symbolic of any task, which practically becomes obsolete as a result of our dependence on our mobile phones. The mobile phone, because of its ability to gain the complete and undivided attention of its owner by virtue of its alerts and appeal, is in my opinion causing a decrease in productivity and attention capacity due to the constant expectation of distraction.

This sounds like a big claim, but I feel it is aptly supported by Anne Treisman’s research (1960). In her study, she provided two separate messages to each ear. After the message was played, she asked the subject to state the message in the right ear. She then, unbeknownst to the subject, switched the messages and asked the same question but received the same answer. This is because, subconsciously, the brain had favoured and prioritised a particular set of incoming information due to the brains ability to focus on one word. Although not an identical observation, but one that is similar, my sister was only able to focus on one set of incoming information and that just happened to be the mobile phone due to its alert function.

Contrary to popular belief, the concept of attention goes a lot deeper than people tend to give it credit for. But it is only through these investigations, similar to the one that I had conducted, that we truly understand the way in which our mind prioritises information based on the environment in which we are placed.

Now that is remarkable.