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Since 1999, writers from all across the globe have gathered together in a virtual clubhouse each November.  For thirty days, each writer attempts to conquer one of the marathons of writing—the novel.  Some have notebooks filled with plans and outlines to guide their storytelling; others fly by the seat of their pants.  They talk about word counts and word wars.  They discuss character names and plot twists.  More than anything, they offer support to each other—word by word, line by line, and chapter by chapter, reaching for the 50,000-word goal.

Once Upon a Time…

National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) is the brainchild of Chris Baty, a twenty-something without “anything better to do” (Baty).  It took place in July 1999 near the San Francisco Bay Area.  It was a challenge that he created for himself and his group of twenty friends.  For a month, they sat around, eating junk food and consuming large amounts of caffeine.  He admits that the novels weren’t great, but he had a blast writing.  Moreover, Baty maintains that his sense of what was possible had been changed forever—“if my friends and I could write passable novels in a month, I knew, anyone could do it” (Baty).  It was only the beginning.

“Writing a novel in a month is both exhilarating and stupid, and we would all do well to invite a little more spontaneous stupidity into our lives.”–the creators of NaNoWriMo (Writing)

2014 NaNoWriMo by the Numbers


Rules?  What Rules?

The organizers of NaNoWriMo believe that 50,000 is a “difficult but doable” goal—one that can be reached by people who have other obligations during the month as well.  The rules get a little fuzzier at this point.  Some participants might write novels.  Others may write poems or screenplays.  Some even venture into the world of fanfiction for their favorite movies or television shows.  And still others write nonfiction–histories, theses, and dissertations.  More than anything, it’s about putting words on the page.  Basically, if you think you’re writing something novel-like, they’ll not disagree with you.

Simply put, participants are allowed to plan their novels in advance but cannot write a single word until 12:00am on November 1.  They have until 11:59pm on November 30 to submit their completed works to the NaNoWriMo word validation program.  If they meet the word count, they win.  There is no limit to the number of winners allowed.  Winners receive a certificate and the satisfaction of a job well done.


NaNoWriMo Winners Have Become Traditionally Published Authors

  • Sara Gruen – Water for Elephants
  • Erin Morgenstern – The Night Circus
  • Hugh Howey – Wool
  • Rainbow Rowell – Fangirl
  • Jason Hough – The Darwin Elevator
  • Marissa Meyer – Cinder

Source –

It Was a Dark and Stormy Night…

Ok, that might be one of the worst opening lines ever, but don’t worry. Part of what makes NaNoWriMo successful is the supportive online community.  They’ll help you navigate the writing waters.

The life of a writer can be quite solitary, and alleviating that is one of NaNoWriMo’s strengths.  No matter where our heads take us, we’re still alone with a keyboard or a pen.  However, during the month of November, more than 300,000 writers are joining you on this journey.  These writers will support, encourage, socialize, and compete in order to push everyone closer to the goal.

The NaNoWriMo staff communicates with participants throughout the month of November, offering pep talks from published authors such as Stephanie Perkins, Diana Gabaldon, Charlaine Harris, N. K. Jemisin, and Gene Luen Yang.

However, the support doesn’t end there.  The main website supports a forum where participants can interact with each other.  You can step into a forum for help with plot holes, character names, locations–if you need help with your story, there’s likely someone willing to help.

Participants also interact outside of the official site, frequently communicating with each other through social media like Twitter and Facebook (Harris 123).

One of the more traveled areas of the NaNoWriMo site is the forum dedicated to “Word Wars.”  Posters will indicate a start time and end time, letting others respond if they plan to participate.  The writer with the highest word count (as indicated by their own admission) wins the competition.  As Sarah E. Harris, assistant professor of English at Indiana University East, states, “while each writer is composing, or inventing, in isolation, the interactive nature of the game creates motivation to continue, as participants encourage one another to keep writing using textual markers of enthusiasm and support” (124).

And don’t be discouraged if you don’t hit the 50,000 word goal.  Take heart from the tweet of the official NaNoWriMo Twitter account in November 2012: “As we enter the final minutes and hours of NaNo 2012, remember that it’s not always finishing that inspiring. Sometimes it’s starting” (Harris 125).


Additional Programs

  • The Young Writers Program promotes writing fluency, creative education, and the sheer joy of novel-writing in K-12 classrooms. We provide free classroom kits, writing workbooks, Common Core-aligned curricula, and virtual class management tools to more than 2,000 educators from Dubai to Boston.
  • The Come Write In program provides free resources to libraries, community centers, and local bookstores to build writing havens in your neighborhood.
  • Camp NaNoWriMo is a virtual writing retreat, designed to provide the community, resources, and tools needed to complete any writing project, novel or not.


In conclusion…

NaNoWriMo is only one of many online writing communities that have popped up online since the development of the Internet.  It continues to grow as a community of support for both experienced and fledgling writers throughout the world, offering support word by word, line by line, and chapter by chapter each November.  Until next year, NaNoWriMo!

Works Cited

Baty, Chris. “National Novel Writing Month.” National Novel Writing Month. Web. 17 Sept. 2015.

“Can You Nanowrimo?.” Writing 28.6 (2006): 13. Web. 17 Sept. 2015.

Harris, Sarah E. “From the Fictional to the Real: Creative Writing and the Reading Public.” The University of Arizona (2013). Web. 10 Oct. 2015.

Shame on You: The Phenomenon of Public Shaming on the Internet


Wooden pillories from the colonial era — Photo Credit: Pinch of Salt

“It was, in short, the platform of the pillory; and above it rose the framework of that instrument of discipline, so fashioned as to confine the human head in its tight grasp, and thus hold it up to the public gaze. The very idea of ignominy was embodied and made manifest in this contrivance of wood and iron. There can be no outrage, methinks, against our common nature—whatever be the delinquencies of the individual,—no outrage more flagrant than to forbid the culprit to hide his face for shame; as it was the essence of this punishment to do.”

— Nathaniel Hawthorne, The Scarlet Letter

Public Shaming in the United States can be traced back to the colonial era, a time when the stocks and pillories were routinely used as punishment by governmental and church authorities. Little evidence explains why punitive shaming fell out of favor.  It’s likely that public outcry “bemoaning the outsize cruelty” made continuing the practice untenable, particularly when “well-meaning people, in a crowd, often take punishment too far” (Ronson par. 44).

In this new digital age, we no longer require the government or church agents to rule on a person’s guilt or innocence.  We judge our neighbors, our co-workers, and even people that we’ve never met–and we do it from the privacy and comfort of our homes and offices.  We decide who deserves public humiliation for some behavior that has offended us.  We are the judge and jury, and we use the Internet as a virtual pillory.

When did public shaming make the jump to the Internet?

It’s hard to say when the first byte of ridicule made its way across the networks of World Wide Web.  It might be easier to make a case that the first person to really feel the collective wrath of the Internet was Monica Lewinsky.

Monica Lewinsky’s private life and personal relationships became collateral damage in the war between President Bill Clinton and Independent Prosecutor Kenneth Starr.  At the time, she was a 22-year-old White House intern whose only crime was “fall[ing] in love with [her] boss” (Lewinsky).  After a whirlwind romance, she was “swept up into the eye of a political, legal, and media maelstrom”—the likes of which had never before been seen (Lewinsky).

Unfortunately for Lewinsky, her scandal and subsequent shame took place at the beginning of the digital revolution.  Even a few years earlier, this scandal would have been exposed in any of three traditional media outlets: newspapers or magazines, radio, and television.  However, in this new digital age, her scandal could be reviewed at all hours of the day by any person in the world with an Internet connection. Websites provided audio copies of evidence subpoenaed as part of the Starr investigation, including “Linda Tripp’s wiring and taping, Lewinsky’s taped telephone conversations with both Tripp and Clinton, and Lewinsky’s titillating narratives for her trusted friends and relatives” (Glenn 96).  In fact, this scandal was initially exposed on the Internet—the first time that the traditional news media was “usurped by the Internet for a major news story” (Lewinsky).

In an instant, she gained worldwide infamy and became a target of public ridicule.  Lewinsky states that “technology led to mobs of virtual stone-throwers” (Lewinsky).  In this time before Facebook and Twitter, people could let their personal judgements flow in the comment sections of news sites or through their emails.  She couldn’t turn on a television without seeing her face plastered all over “to sell newspapers, banner ads online, and to keep people tuned to the TV,” being branded “a tramp, tart, slut, whore, bimbo, and, of course, that woman” (Lewinsky).  During this time, Lewinsky wasn’t even allowed to defend herself publicly as she was held under a gag order by Starr (Glenn 96).

Lewinsky has admitted that the pressures of her ordeal nearly lead her to suicide.

How has online public shaming evolved?

Clay Shirky, a consultant on the effects of the internet on society, writes that “the ways in which the information we give off about ourselves, in photos and e-mails and MySpace pages and all the rest of it, has dramatically increased our social visibility and made it easier for us to find each other but also to be scrutinized in public” (11-12).

Lewinsky became an internet sensation through no fault of her own.  While some may take exception to her actions, she did not seek out the attention of others online.  But what can happen when we upset the internet through our own actions on social media?

Public relations specialist, Justine Sacco was on a business trip when she brought down the wrath of the Internet.  She’d been telling a few jokes to her 170 Twitter followers when she posted a comment that she considered witty at the time.

Sacco's infamous tweet

Sacco’s infamous tweet — Photo credit: The Guardian

She pressed send and boarded her plane to South Africa.  When she arrived eleven hours later, she had received a message from a friend that said only “I am so sorry to see what’s happening” (Ronson par. 5).  Her next message was from her best friend; it said that she needed to call right away—“You are the worldwide number one trending topic on Twitter” (Ronson par. 6).  What Sacco didn’t know was that one of her Twitter followers had forwarded her tweet to a Gawker journalist who then retweeted it to his 15,000 followers.

Jon Ronson, journalist and author of So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed, describes Sacco’s experience as a “horror show” (Ronson par. 7).  Initially, responses to her tweet suggested activism with multiple people suggesting donations to African charities.  Then, public pressure on her employer required the company to respond via Twitter as well, calling her tweet “an outrageous, offensive comment” (Ronson par. 7).

However, as time passed, activism had become entertainment.  People were fascinated by her complete ignorance over the furor she had created.  The hashtag #HasJustineLandedYet began trending worldwide.  Twitter users were encouraging people to head to the Cape Town airport in order to catch a glimpse of Sacco as she exited the plane.

Everyone seemed to forget that this wasn’t scripted entertainment.  It was a real-life situation with real-life consequences.  Sacco lost her job and had to relocate in the aftermath of her tweet.

Initially, Sacco attempted to explain her situation—explain what she considered a poorly worded joke.  Since then she has since refused to comment on the event, stating that she’s trying to concentrate on her present and future (Ronson par. 57-58).

Real People Become Virtual Targets

  • Lindsay Stone – a thirty-something-year-old woman who mocked a sign at Arlington National Cemetery.  Stone stood between the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and a sign that asked for “Silence and Respect.”  She posed for a photograph, pretending to scream and flashing her middle finger.  A friend posted the picture on Facebook.  Four weeks later, she discovered the existence of a Facebook page named “Fire Lindsay Stone” and fell under a barrage of press coverage.  She was fired from her job working with developmentally disabled adults.  Since her ordeal, she has been diagnosed with PTSD, depression, and insomnia.  She rarely leaves her home (Ronson par. 15-16).
  • Alicia Ann Lynch – a twenty-something-year-old woman who dressed a Boston Marathon bombing survivor for Halloween.  She posted a picture of herself – wearing running gear and splattered with fake blood – to Twitter.  Threats and harassment began almost instantly.  Her personal information was discovered, and threats began to arrive at the homes of her friends and relatives.  She was fired from her job as well (Ronson par. 17).
  • Tyler Clementi – an eighteen-year-old gay man who was publicly outed by his roommate.  His roommate used a webcam to record Clementi while being intimate with another man.  The video was posted on the internet.  Within days, Clementi was being harassed and ridiculed by dozens of online individuals.  To end the torment, Clementi jumped from the George Washington Bridge in New York City.  He died on impact (Lewinsky).

Final Thoughts

Unfortunately, cruelty to others is not a new phenomenon.  However, public shaming has become technologically amplified and permanently accessible.  It extends farther than your hometown, your family, or your community—the entire world can watch you stumble and fall.  Virtual strangers can place you in a online pillory and shower you with hateful words.

It seems that “our social tools are not an improvement to modern society; they are a challenge to it” (Shirky 107).

Works Cited

Glenn, Cheryl. Unspoken: A Rhetoric of Silence. Carbondale: Southern Illinois UP, 2004. Print.


Lewinsky, Monica. “The Price of Shame.” TED. Web. 17 Sept. 2015. <>.


Ronson, Jon. “Feed Frenzy: How One Stupid Tweet Blew Up Justine Sacco’s Life.” New York Times Magazine 12 Feb. 2015. Print.


Shirky, Clay. Here Comes Everybody: The Power of Organizing without Organizations. New York: Penguin, 2008. Print.

Social Media: What Parents Need to Know

If you wonder…

Social Media header

Q. Exactly, what is Social Media?

Today, we live in a digital world! Social media involvement is a prominent activity among children and adolescents – they are being introduced to technology and the internet as early as age 3. Any website that that allows social interaction, including gaming sites and virtual worlds is considered a social media site. There are benefits to this interaction, but as with all good things there are also major concerns when parents are unaware of the nature of social media since not all sites are healthy environments.

 Q. What’s out there, in this social media -so to speak- world?

      Simple. Everything is out there! All the more reason, parents should be aware! Most all that’s in a child’s physical world- friends, fun, learning, and influence for an example- is also present in their virtual world and it plays an important role in the lives of many young people. Some of the top Social media sites include Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, MySpace,, Snapchat, ooVoo and even video sites like YouTube, Vine, and this list seems to continuously grow daily.

The American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry found that sixty percent of children between the ages of 13 and 17 have at least one profile on a social media networking site and many spend at least two hours per day on the site. Children are visiting these sites to socialize with their friends and family, make new friends, to connect with classmates, share music, share videos, and stay “in the know”. Their online life seems to have become just as important as their offline life. Media sites are places where many who are unpopular at school are accepted online; a place where each child has their own “space”, “page”, or individual identity and is able to freely express themselves and their feelings through online methods such as blogging; connect with others, and support one another by building online communities.

Social media can also pose a risk, particularly when parents are uninformed or do not understand the possible hazards.  It is important to be aware of other possibilities that youth may face when utilizing social media- for an example, exposure to cyber-bullying, inappropriate advertisement which are not age appropriate, privacy issues, and vulnerability to predatory adults to name a few.

Then, you feel…

Okay, I’m starting to understand! Tell me more…

social media BodyIn the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA), it prohibits websites from collecting information from children younger than 13 years of age without parental permission. For this reason many sites mirror COPPA in their terms and conditions, and youth must be at least age 13 in order to setup a social media account. In the event you give approval, be sure to look over and become familiar with the sites before giving your approval and most importantly, be sure that your adolescent is mature enough to handle the web content.

A part of teen development includes gradually beginning to become more independent, self-sufficient, and attempting to find their way or where they fit into the world. In doing this, teens seek to gain acceptance from their peers. Social media is a platform for children to do this, but you must be aware that your child can also be rejected, or “de-friended” on social media sites which could be very hurtful and harmful to their self-esteems, ego, and cause them to suffer from symptoms of depression- researchers are calling it Facebook depression. Because peer interaction and acceptance is important to youth, and even necessary, this sort of depression can lead youth to becoming socially isolated and cause them to seek solace in other sites that may promote unhealthy or self-destructive behaviors.

I am not saying that social media is bad; however, I am saying that it has the potential to have a negative impact when utilized by youth without proper parental guidance and knowledge. Understand that your youth’s online life is an extension of their off-line lives. It is essential that you participate in both their worlds –online, and off. To do this, you must make certain that there is no knowledge or technical gap between you and your child. If you are going to allow your child to become involved in social media, acquire the knowledge and technical skills necessary to help make social media a positive experience.

Now, you ask…

Q. So, what do I need to do? And, where do I start?

Three Easy steps:

ONE.      Become technologically knowledgeable, so that you can then educate your child and ensure that they are properly using social media.

TWO.    Talk to your child prior to allowing them to begin using social media- discuss what can be done and what cannot be done. Take this opportunity to set expectations, to establish ground rules for using it, to be sure your child understands what to/what not to post. Also, explain the necessary privacy measures that are to be taken to ensure safety.

THREE.  Be an online friend to your child so that you can monitor her postings, friends, and activity. Remember, you are the parent and your online relationship with your child is just as important as your offline relationship.

Works Cited

Gwenn schurgin O’Keefe, Kathleen Clarke-Pearson and Council on Communicationis and Media. “The Impact of Social Media on Children, Adolescents, and Families.” PEDIATRICS, Official Journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics, 2011: 800-803.

Stewart, Rebecca F. WebMD, Health & Parenting, Social Media: What Parents Must Know. December 19, 2012. (accessed November 01, 2015).

Everyone has to eat

Everyone has to eat!

The impact of online food communities

Online food communities are built groupeateryby people who share a common interest – the love of food!

Every culture has its own cuisine, ways or styles of cooking, seasoning, and ingredients. Online food communities help us to share our cultures and to learn more about one another as our cooking tells a lot about who we are. They are also a way to educate, socialize, and to support one another. Members of the communities communicate virtually online and build strong ties based around their appreciation for cooking and eating.

Food sites offer information on the best places to buy food (raw materials for cooking), how to cook food (recipes and methods), and where to eat food (best restaurants and locations)! There are literally thousands of food sites, and among them, some of the most popular by category are:


Buy food: Foodzie, Foodoro, Amazon (gourmet food section), Local Harvest, and the Locavore iPhone app to name a few.

These sites aim to connect producers to consumers. They help consumers find locally grown food markets and function as an online marketplace for locally grown, handmade, and/or artisan foods, some even offer a way to receive the food by mail in an effort to reach more people!


Cook food: AllRecipes, Epicurious, Rouxbe, Foodista, Nibbledish, foodnetwork, and though not mentioned on the Mashable website, we cannot forget about Pinterest.

These sites are built to inspire, share and discuss recipes. They give recipes for healthy, soul food, quick cook, and other delicious foods.

yelpEat food: Yelp, Urban Spoon, Chow, The Ghetto Gormet, and Friends Eat.

On these sites, advice is given as to the best places to eat in your city of choice, according to popular vote and reviews. The sites are also used Pinterest-for-food-bloggers-and-food-loversto unite friends and strangers together; here, places and times are arranged at various food locations where groups meet to eat. In this way, the sites are also being used to socialize and build stronger connections beyond the web with others who take great pleasure in partaking in prepared foods.

For online food communities, the internet, then, has broadened the reach of both its users, consumers, and producers like never before! It allows us all to connect, share, and acquire supplies, knowledge, and build relationships that were previously unattainable.

Not only do online food communities collaborate to make decisions on where and what to eat or how to find producers for fresh foods, they also offer other interesting things such as online cooking classes where they teach viewers how to cook or make recipes. The internet has changed the food industry from a niche market to an all-embraced demographic that has brought consumers closer to the industry, helping them to become more knowledgeable, and to create online families who appreciate and value the art of cooking and the food that is being served. (Black, 2013)


Works Cited

Black, B. (2013, January 27). Preview: Eating to Live Online: Virtual Food and Real Life. Retrieved from SXTX State:

Catone, J. (2009, July 30). Top 15 Social Media Resources for Foodies. Retrieved from Mashable:







A few years ago whilst perusing Adrienne Rich texts on, I came across a pamphlet she wrote titled “The Meaning of Our Love for Women Is What We Have Constantly to Expand.” It was for the New York Rich PamphletLesbian Pride Rally dated June 26, 1977. I immediately purchased it, excited that at least one of these pamphlets still existed so I could read it–– and even more excited that it wouldn’t kill my bank account’s soul. When I received it in the mail about two weeks later, I marveled at the paper upon which it was written— yellowed with age, thick-stock cardish with bold print— an ironically simple design with not-so-simple text.

Bonus: It still had a faded, hand-written address on the front cover.

I couldn’t help thinking that this pamphlet should be in one of Buzzfeed’s myriad “35 Things You Will Never See Again in Your Life” articles that either make one feel nostalgic or old. Pamphlets like this are extinct now, replaced with calls-to-action via Facebook and Twitter that take less time and energy to create and disseminate information, less time and energy, it seems, to “rally the troops.”

The expediency with which activists have embraced technology is astounding, and now, one would be hard-pressed to not see posts about various issues on one’s Facebook page or Twitter account for “Save the Whales,” “Rally for Veteran’s Rights,” “Keep G-d in Schools,” “Planned Parenthood Rally at X time,” “Second Amendment Rally at the Capitol,” and “Sign this Petition to Get Rid of Student Loan Debt” (this is one I would happily sign–– mad props to Senator Warren). While the inundation of these petitions and invites may be annoying to many social media users, they are integral for advocacy groups to get messages out quickly to a wide audience. As an added reward, social media platforms also provide a free(ish) alternative to printing and mailing hundreds of postcards, fliers, and pamphlets for activists pressed for time and money to make things happen that will advance their cause. Social media has also been a way for like-minded folks to keep in touch, to share ideas, and to plan national rallies and campaigns that would be virtually impossible otherwise.

Last year when the Little Rock School District Board of Directors was ousted by the Arkansas State Board of Education (ASBE), many educators, myself included, felt it necessary to voice our opinions— both for and against— the takeover. Those of us who felt the ASBE’s decision was wrong also felt powerless to fight the same people who dictate educational policy and practices (along with the Arkansas House of Representatives and Arkansas LRSDSASenate). Many students who spoke out against the takeover planned a vigil for the District at the state capitol in downtown Little Rock in an attempt to show support for the ousted Board. I assumed that would be the only thing planned, but several of my students approached me about starting a student association so they could ensure every student had a chance to voice their opinions about his/her own education, and we worked with another advocacy group called “Our Community, Our Schools” in order OurCommunitymake this happen.

I had been a spectator at a few rallies here and there for education issues and LGBTQIA rights in the state, but I’d never been involved in helping a group organize, and I had definitely never worked with students organizing around a protest. Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram became integral avenues for the students to get messages out to the 25,000+ students around the District about events and actions that needed to be taken in order to have their voices heard by the higher-ups.

I’ll be the first person to admit that quite a bit of my education policy reading comes from twitterverse and blogs, namely education historian Diane Ravitch (@DianeRavitch) and  education journalist and blogger “Edushyster” (@edushyster). All one has to do is click “Follow” on Twitter or “Like” on Facebook, and 💣💥🔥 ,instant updates fill the screen in real time. Most of these messages are links to blog posts with links to other articles and pages and blogs and when you finally look up, three hours have passed and you’re ready to take on the world. “Sharing” on the Facebook and “retweeting” on Twitter for advocacy issues are at an all-time high––and  so is trolling those people or pages opposing viewpoints who are working to circumvent these issues, as we’ve seen in many cases recently with American presidential campaigns, local political and education issues, and hashtag movements concerning rampant police brutality that have been reappropriated by various communities and circumvented by political opposition.

That said, what social media is really good at is giving a voice to youth desperate for change in a world that silences them by relegating their advocacy, assuming it is merely the  exuberance of youth that compels them, without taking a deeper, more objective look at the issues or movements. Recently, university students across the nation have come together in order to show solidarity with black Mizzou (University of Missouri) students who have been targeted on campus because of their race and the protest was in direct response to what the protesters felt was a lackluster response to such racism.Mizzou twitter

The football team, with full support of the Mizzou coaching staff, refused to play a game until racism on campus was addressed by police and administration, with one student even using taking part in a hunger strike to bring attention and understanding to the issue. Many of the Mizzou students, and even the head football coach, Gary Pinkel, took to Twitter and used hashtag activism to plan protests and give information to the community and world at large, and it worked.

Many of the protesters called for the resignation of Mizzou President Tim Wolfe and Chancellor R. Bowden Loftin, who both resigned under the pressure of the student movement (CNN). President Obama got in the mix, stating, “I want an activist student body just like I want an activist citizenry. I’d rather see them err on the side of activism than being passive” (Youtube via ABC News). President Obama does, however, remind us that we should seek to understand the views of those with whom we disagree in order to enact change, and he gives a history lesson and discusses argumentation without shutting the opposing side down. Along with standing up, listening is key.

And speaking of POTUS…


Hope. Change. Really awesome poster. Young folks canvassing and using, the National Education Association, and “grassroots movements.” All of these were prevalent in 2008’s “hashtag candidacy,” as voters worked hard to get their candidate elected.

Hip, cool, and charismatic, Senator Barack Obama took advantage of his young voter base, and they responded in droves–– retweeting his message in videos, Hope posters, Rachel Maddow’s undying love and sheer giddiness that he could, in fact, be the next President of the United States–– creating what Integrated Brands aptly noted about Obama’s meteoric rise from junior Senator to Arsenio Hall- guest-saxophone playin’-badass Bill Clinton status.
Obama’s 2008 campaign will likely go down in history as the first wide-scale politically integrated branding campaign. From sending out voting reminders via Twitter to interacting with people on his official Facebook page, the soon-to-be world leader earned the digital hearts of the previously untapped social media-engaged millennial electorate. Not bad considering Twitter had just started picking up momentum in 2007 and the iPhone hadn’t even been released yet. (Integrated Brands)

Similarly, President Obama and Vice-President Biden have helped create buzz through their “bromance,” which has been documented widely on social media and news sites, creating positive press for various policies, such as healthcare.

Hashtag activism definitely works, and although it can create spaces in which people on the opposing side can voice their opinion, it will, hopefully, create meaningful dialogue for the betterment of the world.



Has The Internet Made Us Dumber?


When was the last time you searched the Internet for something? I’m willing to bet you recently did a search from that computer you carry in your pocket: your “phone.”  I am willing to admit that I love to search the internet for answers I just can’t figure out, whether to help me solve a difficult problem or just to satisfy my own curiosity. I’m also willing to bet most people did their last internet search on that computer they carry in their pocket and call a “phone.”

Our phones have come a long way in a few decades, serving more purposes than we knew we needed. They hold our news, address books, books, cameras, maps, shopping catalogs, and so much more. With smartphone internet capabilities approaching those of regular PCs, our ability to connect with global communities and information expands each moment. However, many worry that having a world of information literally at our fingertips saps our intelligence, bit by bit.

Imagine you needed to find out how many miles you had to drive to get to Mount Rushmore. Before the internet, this was a puzzle that required some critical thinking. You could get out a paper map, measure the distance between the two, and do the math, but that could be a rough estimate. You could go to the library and try to look up the information, but that required its own knowledge: knowing where and how to look in a library. easy buttonWith the current technology, I only need to get out my phone, type in my destination, and a robotic voice will give me step-by-step directions with exact distances and travel times—traffic included!

What on Earth could be wrong with this change? The old way sounds tedious, right? Well, though much time and energy is saved in travel planning, we are letting our phones do that bit of critical thinking for us. Web apps and websites give us all kinds of answers we would have had to think critically for otherwise.

There is very little research on the subject given the relative newness of smartphones and the widespread mobility of the Internet. Nonetheless, some research shows how smartphones might affect attention span and ability to focus. Participants in one study lost focus just having a smartphone visible. In all tests, controlled measures showed that attention span and focus levels are about the same as in the 1950s. Basically, people are less willing to focus thanks to smartphones, but their ability to do so is unchanged. Similarly, we are less willing to think critically because the easy solution is only a few thumb-taps away.

Let’s go back to your imaginary trip Mount Rushmore. Beyond the distance to travel, you have a lot of variables to consider. Will you drive, or fly? Where will you stay? Travel planningHow much is all this going to cost?
Before internet ubiquity, you would have gone to the library and make dozens of phone calls to get so much information.

In contrast, you probably imagine checking an app for the best hotel reviews, using a travel website to compare ticket prices instantly, maybe even plotting your whole vacation in an all-inclusive app. Though by using those tools you have clearly saved time and energy, you gained no experience. You did not get to interact with people, benefit from a public service, gather and sort pertinent data about your trip, or even remember any facts or figures. With apps like TripHobo, you can plug in what you want and the work is done for you, and you can fine-tune the decisions or simply go with what computer programming has found for you, barely having even lifted a finger.

Travel plan online

But these apps give us time to worry about other things, and no one I have met seems any worse off for access to the internet. So, has our constant internet access made us dumber? It appears the answer is both yes and no. Having the internet has not decreased overall focus and attention, and intelligence quotients (IQ scores) continue to rise. Nevertheless, we consistently brush aside opportunities to flex our mental muscles and increase mental agility.

The internet provides us with a choice: Signpostmake our brains work, earning the satisfaction of accomplishment, or enjoy the immediate reward and inherent risks of letting a program take control. As it turns out, the real choice we are making is between inward and outward thought. When we think inwardly, we plan and imagine, using the critical and creative parts of our brains to seek sources of information, consider variables, and decide. Conversely, smartphone or computer use often requires only outward thought, which is considerably more passive.

The effect the ever-present internet has on our intelligence is actually well within our control. When presented with a problem, our choices of how to proceed are our own. A great deal has already been done or answered for us, and when time is tight we will certainly make every use of the convenience at our fingertips. However, we should take whatever time we can to puzzle out some answers on our own. After all, you never know what you might learn when you challenge yourself to think.


The Dark Web: Should You Access It?

Since the Edward Snowden revelations about the NSA Surveillance Program , in 2013, many are concerned about their anonymity online. As a result, the Dark Web has become a major part of the mainstream. Even Bitcoin, a popular online crypto= currency, has been used in Dark Web.  Exactly what is the dark web, how to access it, and what are the pros/cons of accessing the Dark Web?

What is the Dark Web?

The Dark Web is a “collection of websites that are publicly visible, yet hide the IP addresses of the servers that run them. That means anyone can visit a Dark Web site, but it can be very difficult to figure out where they’re hosted—or by whom.”(Greenberg).  The Dark Web, which is legal, is not accessible or indexed by popular search engines such as Google or Mozilla Firefox.  The Dark Web is a part of the Deep Web, where you can access certain information, such as scientific reports, in various levels (see fig. 1).


Fig. 1. Katzman, Darcy. Deep Web for Enterprisers-What you can learn about competitors and customers (and vice versa). 16 Sept. 2015. Deep Web Technologies. Digital Image. Web. 13 Nov. 2015.

Accessing the Dark Web: The Tor Browser

The Tor browser, known as the Onion Router, was initially “a worldwide network of servers developed with the U.S. Navy that enabled people to browse the internet anonymously. Now, it’s a non-profit organization whose main purpose is the research and development of online privacy tools.”(Thorsin). The Tor network “disguises your identity by moving your traffic across different Tor servers, and encrypting that traffic so it isn’t traced back to you. Anyone who tries would see traffic coming from random nodes on the Tor network, rather than your computer.”(Thorsin). In other words, you will be able to surf the Dark Web privately and anonymously.

 Pros and Cons of the Dark Web

The obvious advantage is that you will have anonymity and privacy-no advertisements. But there are drawbacks.  The Dark Web is a “censorship-free world visited by anonymous users…you will find whistle-blower sites, The New Yorker. You will find political activism blogs. You will find libraries of pirated books. But you’ll also find the drugs markets, illegal pornography, commercial hacking services, and much more besides.”(Bartlett).

Also, the U.S. government is increasingly expanding ways to access who is on and who isn’t on the Deep Web. The U.S. government is “increasing their capability to monitor the hidden network, mainly trying to infiltrating them with spying services… several U.S. cyber units totally dedicated to the monitoring of the Deep Web.” (Paganini). As a result, there is a small possibility that the government can monitor people who use the Dark Web in the future.


You must determine for yourself how important anonymity and privacy is to you in your life and then decide whether or not to surf the Dark Web knowing the risks and rewards involved. Regardless, the Dark Web is in the present and will be a relevant part of the future of the internet.


Bartlett, Jamie. “How the Mysterious Dark Net is Going Mainstream.” TED.Sept.2015. Lecture.

Greenberg, Andy. “Hacker Lexicon: What is the Dark Web? Wired. Wired., 19 Nov. 2014. Web. 13 Nov. 2015.

Klasowski, Thorsin.  “What is Tor and Should You Use It?”.Lifehacker.  Lifehacker., 21 Feb. 2014. Web. 13 Nov.2015.

Paganini, Pierluigi. “The Good and the Bad of the Deep Web.” Security Affairs. Security Affairs., 17 Sept. 2012. Web. 13 Nov. 2015.