Tag Archives: USA

Do online communities pretend to care?

I am fortunate enough to have been invited to attend IMSI, the Invitational Masters Student Invitational, to be held at Rutgers University in New Brunswick, the weekend of October 16-18. Given Rutgers received over 100 applications, to be one of the 25 students invited to discuss their current research and proposed dissertation topic with Rutgers faculty, existing doctoral candidates, and other invitees is a privelege and real highlight of my academic career.

In my application I had to submit an existing paper to demonstrate my research. The paper I chose to submit was on identity work performed on twitter through the use of language and sentence structure. This paper looked at how people create and present an identity of themselves on Twitter, primarily through the use of @ replies, hashtags and retweets. While it’s a decent paper, for Rutgers I’d like to extend it to look at this identity work, and how the Twitter community sees its need to create an identity of concern in crisis and tragedy. This is where I’m headed.

Online communities and crisis

We’ve all seen media stories of tragic events, and how people are affected by them – and how they’ve gathered together online as a result. While sites exist to create online memorials, sometimes it crosses over and a personal fun page is morphed into a place for others to gather when they’ve passed on. On Twitter, I have personally witnessed multiple occasions where someone has ended up tweeting their own tragic events. The death of a wife. The death of a child. I wonder what would have happened if Twitter had been so commonplace during larger tragedies such as the Virginia Tech shootings.

I have watched the online community gather to provide concern and support to individuals directly affected by tragedy. It is this kind of resonance that led me to undertake a small content analysis on the tweets associated with the Australian bushfires last year. I wanted to find out who was tweeting about it? How were they involved? What were they saying and why?

The paper was a very small, very specific analysis in which I was surprised to discover that two thirds of people who twittered during the high point of the bushfire-related tweets were located nowhere near the tragedy. In fact, they were overseas. None of them knew people directly affected. And what were they saying?

Apart from retweeting basic information, the majority of people wanted to know how could they help?

Seeking triangulation? I’m not quite there yet…

Last week I attended the presentation of Leysia Palen’s to-date work in crisis informatics at CU. And the data appears to be reflected in her unit’s research (in particular, on the American-located Red River floods) as well. Exactly the same percentage – two thirds of people tweeting during a disaster are not directly involved.

So, is this real?

I hear a lot of people who doubt the friendships experienced in online communities. They say “how do you know they’re real?”

Now, of course they’re not doubting that the person tweeting is human (sometimes now, however, that presents an entirely different issue), but they are definitely doubting their authenticity. How do you know someone is really concerned about you if you’ve never met them face to face before? And it’s a really good question.

The Karen Walker factor

Karen Walker was a special character who found life, and resonance with many in the hit sitcom, Will and Grace.  While the show has had its day, there are many Walker moments that still hit the nail on the head.It is what is swimming in my head as I plan my paper for the Rutgers Invitational.will and grace

One of these is in an episode when Will and Grace are not talking (after a massive argument in which Will tells Grace to move out, which I swear was one of the strongest bits of acting on television I’ve seen). In chatting with Jack about how to get Will and Grace to talk again, she firstly says, “pretend to think, pretend to think.” She then follows it with “Pretend to care, pretend to care.” Of course Karen does care. She’s just conscious of the need to appear to care as well. Plus it’s funny.

So here I am:

* Are people who offer support in online communities ‘pretending to care’?

* Is the expressed concern a demonstration of identity work that gains them favour and positions them as caring individuals you’d want to have as a friend?

* How does the caring from the community affect the person experiencing tragedy?

Do you have any experience of this? Would you be willing to undergo an interview for my research? What do you believe is true?

My sincere thanks goes to the SJMC at CU, without the support of which I wouldn’t be able to conduct any of my research and also in particular to Dean Paul Voakes who saw fit to support my application with a letter of recommendation that I never saw, but am convinced was highly influential in my acceptance.

Airlines don’t understand mums and marketing

There’s something magical about arriving at the airport with all your luggage and just two of your kids for the upcoming 28 hours of travel between countries, and reaching the check-in counter to find out every bag comes in just under the 23kg weight limit. Score.

And there’s something even more special about being handed your boarding passes and passports, turning around and seeing the 11yr old has just decked the 9yr old, and he is laying on the floor groaning loudly, holding one leg to an audience of passengers who are surely thinking ‘Oh My God, I hope they’re not sitting next to us.’

5 minutes in, 27 hours, 55 minutes to go.

How to make a flight a dreaded experience

We flew back to the US yesterday on United Airlines. Apart from the following treasured moments, we arrived safely:

a. Wholly inedible ‘food’ which really was probably the worst I’ve ever had on the long haul part, and food that’s more expensive than eating at Spago for the domestic route. (And far less tasty. Yes, I’ve eaten at Spago. Once. It was wonderful. I’m classy. I am. Stop laughing.)

b. Lack of in-seat entertainment which is very entertaining for my spoilt kids who were expecting personal movies and tv, yet had to watch tv shows like Desperate Housewives on the screens in the aisles instead. (I do remember my own childhood flights to the UK when there was just one movie for the whole flight, and the headphones never worked. I tried telling them that but they didn’t care and then they got more annoyed. They did manage very well in the end. But I digress).

c. Being checked into three seats on the US domestic part of the journey which were single seats in equidistant, very distant seats which I find very difficult to believe was accidental because we checked into the domestic flight, getting boarding passes an entire day before (see earlier part about children punching each other). There is no way there weren’t three seats together when I checked in. Mind you, I was easily trumped by a poor woman with five kids under five, who had all been seated all over the plane. That’s just completely stupid. I was momentarily tempted to tell the attendant not to bother reseating the kids, but just to reseat this other mother and myself somewhere and bring us a bottle of bubbly.

d. The lack of real assistance for a woman with four children travelling alone, whose 3yr old would NOT stop screaming for about 3 hours in the last quarter of the long haul flight. She was forced to stay in her seat with that kid because she couldn’t leave the others. I knew that. I’ve got lots of kids and have usually travelled alone with them. One kid will cry, or take a particular liking to the novelty of the plane’s bathroom and insist they have to go constantly, or need something from the one bag in the overhead bin. It’s a drama. Something simple could have made her journey easier. Such as a flight attendant saying, “what can I do to help?” instead of ignoring her.

Sidebar: I’ll never forget the Qantas flight Jed and I took while I was still nursing Charlie, about 6 years ago. The dinner came, and there was no way I could cut it up – my arm was indisposed with nursing child. I said to leave it with Jed and I’d get to it later. The Qantas attendant decided that was okay and she’d do it if I preferred, but how about if she cut the dinner up, and just left the dinner and a fork (rather than the whole tray), and then I could manage it while it was still hot? She was awesome. I remember that still. Six years later. I even remember what the flight attendant looked like. That’s good branding.

Market your flights to mums

This is a trip that costs about $US1000 a seat return – minimum. There are a couple of hundred people on the plane, who’ve all paid at least that amount. This is not a bus. People are tired, stressed and emotional. Being an attendant on these flights is hard work. But it’s been a long time since I’ve seen a flight attendant go beyond the most basic of service effort and everyone’s flight would have been better if that kid had stopped screaming.

On our trip over another woman was left standing in the queue with her three kids. The flight had been delayed. It was 2am. The smallest kid was asleep. She had carry-on luggage. She was really struggling. And the attendants all ignored her.

Yes, I helped her as I could, and Charlie even offered too. If an 9yr old gets it, why don’t the airlines?

When we finally boarded that flight, the ground staff said the standard “how are you?” I said “good, and you?” His reply was “tired.”

Well stuff you.

My reply? “At least you’re getting paid.” I should have added ‘and don’t have to sit on the plane for the next 16 hours with kids, and haven’t just had a 3 hours flight to get here, and then waited 9 hours for this delayed one.’

Sheesh. I wonder who’s more precious? My kids completely expecting video on demand in their seats, or these airline staff who seem to think we owe them something more than the price of a ticket.

Instead of focusing on leg room, loyalty programs and discount prices, it would be great to see an airline focus on really going beyond the call of duty to make your flight the best you’ve ever had. If an airline marketed to mothers, they’d see these women are the decision makers, who travel with their families (more ticket sales), and to be honest, it’s the simple things like offering a pair of hands when needed that will make a mother like you more.

Or maybe that’s just too hard. Too much to ask.

The chick flick of startup founders

Sometimes I get reminded why I’m doing this.dreamstime_2419283

There’s so much going on right now. I’m exhausted a lot of the time. I have no idea how Jed keeps this relentless pace up. No wonder I’ve called him robot boy for so long.

Today I managed to squeeze in coffee with my good friend, Mark (@soctechnologist) after my first meeting for the day, and before I came home to hit more screen time. During our chat, we talked about something that happened in my TheFunded class last night. One of the mentors asked who planned on building the next billion dollar company. Many hands went in the air.

But I hesitated.

Why? As a startup founder, I run across lots of other startups whose focus is on the dollar. That’s what they’re interested in. That’s what lots of people create their lives around. For many people, being involved in a startup is kinda like taking an entry in the lottery – it’s that kind of gamble. For some it’s that gambling addiction that keeps them in there. It’s all about the payout. Money is the focus. Startups for them are like a drug.

But not me.

As I said to Mark today, heck, if money was my focus I’d still be living in Sydney, in my house with my secure job (that I loved), our two cars. My family. My friends. My dogs. I wouldn’t have packed it all up and moved here. I didn’t do it for a gamble. While I enjoy the odd flutter, I don’t buy lottery tickets.

I explained, looking around the enormous room we were in at all the people sitting with their coffee and lunch, that if we asked everyone in that room who had used a search engine on their computer the last time they were on it, I’ll bet every hand in the room would go into the air (and in fact, I bet all of them would have said Google was the search they had chosen). People are automatically going to look for stuff online. They do it automatically. That’s what the internet is for, right?

I then said if we asked all those same people who created content at any point in the last week, a minimal number of hands would go up. And I’m talking about any kind of content. Video, audio, text. A reply or comment on someone else’s creation, even.

Everyone looks for stuff, but a tiny percentage actually create it. And that’s bad.

StatementThe democratization of media – the real power of the internet – happens when people create content, not just when they search and read other peoples’ stuff. Democracy is not just about the infrastructure being there, it’s about people using it to interact and get involved.

I am jumping into this startup because my focus is on making creating content easier – for everyone. The internet won’t be fully democratized until everyone has a real voice, and the barriers to using it are minimized. Scribetribe.us will provide the whole world with that opportunity. From a small perspective, right here in America, I want to empower that homeless guy brandishing a cardboard sign outside the supermarket who has access to the internet at the local library for free, to have his presence felt. I want him to be able to more easily build his own blog, interact with others, get onto Twitter. Have a voice.

Imagine what an impact that would have.

And then take it across the world. That’s what I’m a part of. That’s the vision.

As I said to both my team last night and to Mark this morning, I’m probably best described as the chick flick of startup founders. I’d really like to be able to stop scrounging for quarters, but that’s not why I’m doing this. While others in startup land might be chasing the big money payout, my focus is elsewhere. And you know what? I’m more than happy with that.

The Startup Kid

Running a startup isn’t easy on anyone.

The glorious trails of successful entrepreneurs are littered with the scars of broken relationships and bitter resentment of cold dinners and missed birthday parties.

It takes a special kind of relationship to weather the storms of startup life.

At Darling Harbour, Sydney.

At Darling Harbour, Sydney.

It takes a special kind of kid too. A kid who will understand that daddy or mummy can’t make it to every school function. That we can’t afford summer camp.

It takes a special kid who will say okay through his tears as he’s torn from his Australian home, his dogs, his school friends, because he knows that what we’re working on isn’t a normal sort of job like his friends’ parents have.

This week we have begun graduation celebrations for Harry as he completes year 5. I got to make a dedication to him the other day at school, as did all the other parents in his class to their kids.In typical startup style, I did this one alone because Jed’s in Silicon Valley at the moment. The Kleenex was really getting passed around that circle.

Why so much Kleenex? It was his teacher’s fault really. She got us to close our eyes and think of when we were having our child, their infancy, and years in elementary school. And then open our eyes and take our turns to speak from the heart to our child in front of everyone (you could pass if you wanted to, but nobody did – this is Boulder, after all ;)).

Now, I cry at the drop of a hat. I can’t walk into that darned school without automatically tearing up it seems (sigh). But for this dedication, while others were a bit of a mess, I hardly cried at all.

And while it surprised me at the time, I know why.

Harry is an incredible kid. He was made for the startup life. I won’t be a bit surprised if he ends up living it himself. (Good grief, I hope he scores a partner as well as his dad did ;)). Harry’s adaptability is remarkable. Many kids would have resented the move to the US, and that would have been understandable. Not Harry, even though he misses Australia very much.

Harry's idea of cleaning up his room

Harry's idea of cleaning up his room

He’s no angel though. He has a cheeky side and he’s a daredevil. I was told of his decision to ride a waterfall while hiking, stopping just short of a massive drop – nearly giving everyone watching a heart attack. And we will never forget him barrelling down Eldora mountain on a snowboard without a single turn and nearly hitting a bus in the car park – grinning afterwards.

Everyone who knows us as a family will agree that Harry is the one who most wears his heart on his sleeve. He hugs everyone. Repeatedly.

He is honest and open. But he can’t sleep if he’s feeling bad about something – he has to get up and talk it through. And he has a strength of character and self-belief which overcomes every obstacle. He’s never said “I’ve had enough.”¬† He just keeps going. It’s that tenacity that is so inspiring and awesome.

And I can’t cry about that. I can’t cry about changes at all – for Harry the world is his oyster, and he’s loving the adventure. He doesn’t care that much about stuff he hasn’t accomplished yet – he’s just going to keep trying. And he’s not concerned about being the best at everything. He just wants to give it a go.

Last week his performance on drums at the big 5th grade concert that combined musicians from 3 schools was incredible. He was on time with every beat. He enjoyed it. And he’s such an individual, he wore his lucky hat too ūüėČ

I can’t wait to see what he tries his hand at, and surprises us with, in Middle School. They’re gonna be lucky to have him. As are we.

Congratulations, Harry. We’re so proud of you, and grateful for all you give back to us every single day.

Why my family loves Boulder

I never dreamed I’d live anywhere other than Sydney, Australia.

When you’ve got a good job, a house you’re constantly doing ‘something’ to, kids, dogs, routine… the last thing you think of is moving. Anywhere. Least of all to a country you’ve never been to before. But then I came home from work one day and Jed told me his start-up dreams weren’t done with itechne. He had a bigger one. To go to the US and launch what was to become scribetribe.us.

And I said okay, we’ll Skype and email.

But he had a different plan. He convinced me to take (another) chance.

We packed up and moved to Boulder, Colorado in August 2008.

Now, lots of people have written about the great things Boulder has to offer in terms of nightlife, culture, the outdoors and the tech scene. And it’s all true and fantastic. I am loving being a part of all of those things. But above everything else, I’m a *proud* mum. And Boulder is an amazing place to raise kids.

Harry and Charlie are aged 8 and 11 and have come to Boulder with us. They have swapped their Sydney private school blazers and ties, frenetic life-by-the-clock, mum out teaching three nights a week, no friends within walking distance, and a home where they weren’t allowed to play out the front due to the traffic – for this:

september-2008-002 A lifestyle that is similar to that I remember as a kid. One I thought you couldn’t give your kids any more, because “times have changed.”

They’d never seen snow before we moved to Boulder. Here they love it. december-2008-004

On top of all that, the (public) school they go to has the best educators I’ve ever had the pleasure of meeting. They have been wonderful in helping my kids move to not only a new home, but a place where feet and inches, and American history are completely different for them. They’ve made the transtition incredibly smoothly – and it’s largely due to the school. (I’ve already celebrated Bear Creek Elementary in an earlier post.)

For me? The start-up widow? I’ve swapped a lifestyle where the drive to work each day took an hour of fume-laden highways, teaching in this college at Granville:

granville-tafe-007

For being a part of the University of Colorado, which is slightly more attractive.

uni-of-colorado1

And on top of everything else, my husband is throwing himself into his life’s dream. He’s happily working on seemingly endless adrenaline, at all hours. But he tries to take a run each day and instead of it being beside a road where it’s simply not safe after a certain hour, it’s up around NCAR where deer graze.

So I guess the thing is, when you think you’re settled and couldn’t think of moving, think again. A bit of unsettling could be the best thing you do for your family. Especially if Boulder is where you end up. If you’re in tech and thinking about moving to Boulder, get in touch with the guys at Boulder.me.

ncar1

The importance of teaching

In Australia I spent a heck of a lot of money on educating my four fantastic children. It won’t surprise many that as an educator, and someone who got her post-secondary education ‘the freaking toughest way you’d ever decide to’, education is my priority. It’s what I do. It’s really my life.

As a full-time teacher at Granville TAFE, my favourite times have been at TAFE graduations, watching refugee immigrants to Australia graduating with a TAFE qualification, and the pride they have with even the youngest of¬†their families in suits, to see dad or mum graduate with their diploma. It’s about so much more than the qualification – for the parents as well as the kids. And I sincerely miss it more than I can say.

In Australia we live in a lovely semi-rural environment. To¬†get access to the education I wanted for our children I made sacrifices. I’m not just talking about not¬†taking holidays. I mean taking my own cut lunches to work, not buying coffees at cafes, working outside of the home even though¬†caring for¬†four children is more than a full-time job in itself –¬†real middle class stuff that means giving my kids an education I wanted them to have. Even then, however, I had issues. Teachers cutting corners. Not doing the job I wanted. A few times I was forced into a dialogue with the principal about issues that never should have arisen.

So we moved to Boulder. I have been asked a few times how I started with making such a big move. Well, the first thing I did was check out the schools.

Before anything else, I checked out how the school system worked and found the best school for our children. THEN when that was decided, I looked for the house. (Which is basically next door to the school – WIN).

And after nearly a school year at Bear Creek Elementary, I have to say I have never, ever seen educators like this – even through paying an exorbitant amount in Australia. Literally.

Our children are thriving in an environment which is supportive, works with families and absolutely and unequivocally wants kids to succeed. When I meet with my kids’ teachers, I am regularly brought to an emotional state (insert *embarrassing¬† try-to-hold-back-tears-moments here). Their care and concern¬†for my children is so touching it makes me want to be a better parent every single time – to keep track with their own concern. (And hey, I’m already a pretty awesome mum.)¬†

And it makes me want to be a better educator at college level too. I want to help other people reach beyond their comfort zone. To find their feet. To get confident. To look at their futures with anticipation Рnot trepidation.

I want to be the teacher that my kids have here in the US.¬†Bear Creek Elementary in South Boulder is an incredible foundation of learning for children that¬†I am so grateful for. My kids are thriving in the US – not¬†thinking of¬†academically, (although that’s¬†fine too)¬†but in confidence and strength of personality. Bear Creek’s teachers and principal and support staff¬†are incredible. My family has benefitted directly from everything you do. And I learn from you. And even I gain confidence from you. Thank you so much.

Breastfeeding in America

Recently many Twitterers (and their associates) contributed to¬†my survey on American women’s attitudes to breastfeeding and its representation in the media. I promised to share the outcomes of my research and¬†the survey, which this post seeks to do. For those interested, the entire paper (30 pages plus 15 page complete survey result¬†appendix) is available by emailing me or asking on Twitter and I’ll get it to you straight away. If you’d like to see the summary of survey responses, this link takes you to the final Survey Monkey summary.

American Breastfeeding Rates

America¬†has a dismal breastfeeding rate. The World Health Organization and the US’s own CDC recommend babies be exclusively breastfed for the first¬†six months of their lives, and then breastfed with additional food until they are two years old and beyond. The¬†American Government then worked with the CDC in 2000 to develop the Healthy People 2010 initiative. It includes breastfeeding goals which fall short of the WHO and CDC’s own recommendations – that rates of breastfeeding be targeted to 75% initiating breastfeeding at birth, with 50% at six months and just 25% at one year.

Each year since 2000, American media has been fed press release diatribe on how successfully this plan is being implemented. And¬†mainstream media have unquestioningly¬†spurted it back at the general public. Headlines like “Breastfeeding rate soars” (USA Today¬†2002) and Reuters 2007 story headlined “US¬†breastfeeding rates rise to record high”¬†disguise the real issue – that even after 8 years of a government promotion to increase breastfeeding in America, 25% of women never even¬†try.¬†In 2005 only 11%¬†of American women exclusively¬†breastfed for 6 months (as opposed to the WHO recommendation of 100%) and¬†in 2007 a quarter of women who initiate breastfeeding at birth have introduced formula within the first week of their child’s life.

So what’s the problem?

Media loves boorolling-stone-janet-jackson-coverbs – as long as they’re shown in a sexual way. We’re all familiar with advertising and other images of breasts. For example,¬†this 1993 cover image of Janet Jackson on Rolling Stone won critical acclaim. The story focuses on Jackson and her embracing of her sexuality. The focal point is her breasts.

But a full 13 years later, BabyTalk magazine’s cover created outrage. No less than 700 complaints were sent to the editor¬†over a cover promoting breastfeeding. So getting it straight, a magazine committed to mothering and babies, getting flak over a cover which promoted – mothering and babies.

babytalk_cover_2006-08

 

 

 

 

 

 

In my paper I explain how I believe this has occurred.¬†The movement of women into the public sphere has seen them embrace their femininity in a¬†new way. There’s¬†a whole “look, I’m in the boardroom and I have breasts”¬†ferocity which has been associated with feminism. Women don’t like being confronted with images which remind them of the roles their mothers had. Feminism’s abject failure through the 1980s and 1990s was¬†its devaluation and disempowerment of the importance¬†of nursing.

Yes, I argue that the feminist movement has contributed to a sociey where even women more readily accept images of breasts that celebrate them on a sexual rather than a mothering level. This is reflected in media too. TV programs such as Sex and the City, Desperate Housewives and Ally McBeal feature women who embrace their sexuality and power as successful. Women who hold traditional mothering roles are less successful, frustrated, angry or just plain stupid.

And then to have the audacity to bring those breasts, feeding infants, into the general public? No wonder women in general lead the call for ‘discretion’ and ‘hooter hiders’.

The survey

I hoped to get about 30 responses. The survey went viral and in three days I received 128 responses. More than a third of respondents added extra information to each of the basic four questions asked. Women have strong views. In my paper I relate this passion to religiosity. The religion of breastfeeding meets all the academic standards of definition. No longer is breastfeeding normal, usual practice. And I find that distressing.

While 95% of respondents did not believe media has any influence over their own ideas about breastfeeding, more than half believe media should show it more often. Clearly, women believe media has an influence over someone (if not themselves). One key response was along the lines of “media doesn’t influence my ideas about breastfeeding because it’s not shown in media.” My assertion is that this absence has just as much influence as if it were shown.

Moving forward

So what does this mean for feminists who embraced the bottle as their key to freedom from the ugliness and backward past? It means that the general public can look at American women and say “hey, are you¬†women so stupid that you need to be told to breastfeed? And after eight years, you still aren’t getting the message?” It means that heck, if you’re an educated woman you need to recognise everything about you that’s powerful, not just breaking through the glass ceiling.

 

If media showed breastfeeding as part of normal life on television¬†and other media. If it¬†made it present and normal – not a focus of a storyline, but just part of the everyday life of families with babies on tv, then could we begin to see this overtly sexual obsession with breasts change? Could we begin to see women being more accepting of their breasts as being a¬†special part of a relationship with their child, not just as part of the relationship with their sexuality? If, in¬†a similar¬†way to Hollywood¬†reducing smoking¬†in movies, we began to¬†insert breastfeeding into them… what would happen? And what about the international impact this could have? Hollywood movies are seen worldwide.

Certainly our only hope can be to improve on dismal American breastfeeding rates – and who knows where it could end.