Confessions of a Gamer Hater

21 Aug

Hello. My name is Heidi and I’m a recovering video game hater. That’s right, I used to HATE video games and virtual worlds. I’ll give you a few reasons why:

1. One summer I worked at Nintendo of America in Redmond, Washington as a game tester. Sounds fun, you say? Not when your job entails, for example, spending two 40-hour weeks playing in one level of the German version of Gambeboy Pokeman looking for bugs, and being ogled by your 200-plus uber-nerdboy coworkers as you walk down the vast warehouse-like testing room during break time ala sole woman in San Quinten-style. (There were only four of us ladies in the game-testing division).  The saddest part of this job was when, after working 80-hour overtime weeks testing Nintendo’s latest games, these geeky dudes would go home to PLAY MORE VIDEO GAMES on their personal consoles. During the summer.

2. Someone very close to me is what I would consider seriously addicted to video games, especially massive multi-player role playing games like World of Warcraft. I’m pretty sure this person meets all of the DSM IV criteria for chemical dependency, if you replaced chemicals with gaming, and I fear this person’s life has been seriously altered for the worse because of their addiction.

3. I suck at playing video games. Therefore I think they’re lame. (One exception is Super Mario Bros. 3 on the original Nintendo system — especially in that level where you can hop around in that cute little green sock!)

So, when I first encountered the work of James Paul Gee, a researcher and theoretician of digital literacies who looks at the value gaming models can bring to learning and education, I was skeptical. But the more I read, the more I realized that video games actually have a lot of positive  value. And like with anything, can be abused, but it depends on how you use them.

Here is a video of Gee talking about his efforts to understand how gaming encourages new literacies and learning, and why studying gaming models is important for educators:

His 2003 book, What Video Games Have to Teach Us About Learning and Literacy, is his seminal work on how we can learn about engaging models of learning and mastering knowledge from video games.

Granted, I’m still prone to relapse. Just don’t ever hand me a German-version Gameboy …


Netvibes: I’m just not that into you

14 Aug

Until recently, I had never heard of Netvibes, an online aggregator that allows you to create a dashboard of online applications widgets you use daily. Previously I had used iGoogle, which is a similar concept but not as extensive.  I liked the idea of Netvibes and set out to create my own page, which now looks like this:

But I’m not totally satisfied with the application, and here’s why:

  • For some reason I can’t enable my main Yahoo email account. Each time I try, the widget tells me that “You need to have a POP enabled account for this. Free except for addresses :-(.”   I know I should know what a POP enabled email account is – I’ve heard the term before. But I don’t know what it is and why I don’t have one. But I do know that without the ability to feature my main email account, Netvibes loses a great deal of usability for me.
  • It seems to take too long for the site’s RSS feed function to renew. For example, my facebook page had four events I had not responded to and Netvibes let me know this by listing a little red “4” on my “General” tab. Even about 10 minutes after responding to the events, the “4” would not go away. This is annoying.
  • The background themes are ugly and garish. They have that generic windows screensaver look about them. I want to just be able to upload one of my own files, but can’t seem to do that. It appears that you can develop your own “theme” for Netvibes, but that seems fairly involved.
  • I’m not entirely sure about this, but it doesn’t look  like I can add a widget that accesses my personal Google Reader. Along with email, this is something I check daily and it would make sense to include it in a daily aggregator, but sadly I don’t think its possible.

Has anyone else experienced these problems? Am I doing something wrong or overlooking anything? Please let me know, because I want to love Netvibes, I really do…

Why Do Library Marketing Campaigns Suck So Much?

7 Aug

I have to say that while I am delighted with the concept of ALA‘s social media outreach initiative, I am slightly dismayed by its execution so far. For being an online-centered initiative, the website is drab and cluttered. And while obviously young and hip, the initiative’s spokesperson is less than articulate and struck me as having fairly banal things to say about the campaign:

As a huge proponent for pushing libraries to market themselves effectively, I am obviously in support of ALA’s effort. But a dull website and a lackluster public appearance do not an effective social media strategy make.

Also, why are parents, teens, kids and job seekers the target audiences for this social media outreach initiative? Those are already many libraries’ main users. And I don’t think these demographics are necessarily the main users of social media. It seems more logical to me to use social media to target folks that don’t necessarily already use the library regularly and who use social media a lot, like people between the ages of 18 – 60. Of course, if we did this, libraries would definitely need to think long and hard about what kinds of services we provide, or need to provide, to that demographic, which is a whole other post right there.

I guess I feel like a broken record in saying this, but I just think that libraries could do so much with savvy marketing campaigns, and so far, library marketing campaigns seem to suck. That’s right, suck.

So what do you all think? Is this initiative missing the boat a bit, or am I just crazy? And please, please let me know of any really awesome library marketing campaigns that you know of…

Empty Newspaper Boxes: The Problem With Social Media in Democracy

4 Aug

Is social media important to democracy?

Well yes, of course. But like with most issues, I would add some caveats to the idea that it is purely a positive impact.

Look at the last U.S. election, in which Barack Obama’s savvy use of social media may have won him the presidency. (Well, in addition to the advancement of Sarah Palin as the Republican VP candidate.) Take a look at the New York Times article, “How Obama Tapped Into Social Networks’ Power,” in which the reporter describes Obama’s campaign as such:

“Like a lot of Web innovators, the Obama campaign did not invent anything completely new. Instead, by bolting together social networking applications under the banner of a movement, they created an unforeseen force to raise money, organize locally, fight smear campaigns and get out the vote that helped them topple the Clinton machine and then John McCain and the Republicans.”

I think most people will agree that social media can and will be an incredibly powerful political tool in the future, however, when it comes to journalism and the institution’s role in democracy, social media may be hindering more than helping. I come from a journalism background, so I’m definitely biased when I say social media is wreaking havoc on traditional forms of democratic coverage. I won’t go into here how the journalism model is changing and how social media (aka blogs, tweets, and a lot of other amateur “journalism”) is distracting readership and advertisers away from trained professionals (aka the “fourth estate). We all know that is happening and I’m sure have some familiarization of how and why.

I’m concerned that “civic media,” while offering many positives, is taking away from the kind of journalism that once delivered such in-depth stories as the Pentagon Papers and Watergate, as well as quality local news and replacing it with editorial disguised as “news.”

One new endeavor, the Toronto-based online news source called Open File, seems to be a happy merging of civic-amateur and professionally trained journalists. It’s “About” page describes the site as this: “OpenFile is a collaborative local news site. Stories are suggested by readers, selected by editors and investigated by professional journalists. We are an independent online newsgathering organization dedicated to local journalism. OpenFile’s journalists and editors research, write, and share stories that matter to Torontonians. We embrace a collaborative approach to news by encouraging members of the community to participate in the editorial and reporting processes, thereby helping us expand the depth and breadth of the conversation.”

Check it out…I’m hoping the future of journalism can look something more like this, rather than the empty newspaper machines that dot many small communities’ streets these days.

(Image courtesy of

Can Online Collaboration Raise the Stakes?

2 Aug

“Collaboration is the process of shared creation: two or more individuals with complementary skills interacting to create a shared understanding that none had previously possessed or could have come to on their own.

Shrage, M. 1990. Shared minds: the new technologies of collaboration

I like this quote because it perfectly evokes that feeling of innovative discovery you can only get from a group process. You know what I’m talking about – you’re in a classroom discussing an issue. Everybody has a unique perspective to bring to the table. Ideas build on ideas and solutions to problems evolve exponentially.  I think the key is that everyone brings a unique perspective.

Think of Steven Soderbergh’s 2001 version of Oceans 11:

Danny (George Clooney): Ten oughta do it, don’t you think?
Rusty (Brad Pitt): [Stares of in silence, not looking at Danny]
Danny: You think we need one more?
Rusty: [Silence]
Danny: You think we need one more.
Rusty: [Silence]
Danny: All right, we’ll get one more.
Rusty: [Blinks]

Granted, in this scene, the collaboration is subtle. Rusty doesn’t even speak, but his silence says it all. Without the 11th man, would Danny Ocean’s team have been able to successfully rob Terry Benedict’s casinos? I don’t think so! Snap.

But can this type of revelatory fruit of real world collaboration transcend real-time and occur similarly online? I’m not sure. There seems to be something magical about a real-world meeting of the minds that I have yet to experience in an online collaboration. Maybe it’s the asynchronicity of most of my online collaborative efforts, but I don’t feel like I have as effective of collaborative group experience online without some sort of face-to-face interaction at some point.

Now, this may be a different story for synchronous online experience, like group chats or second life, but I have no experience, really, with either. I also believe that many online tools enhance the collaborative process that have no real-world substitutes, like wiki documents. But it’s the process of creating “a shared understanding that none had previously possessed or could have come to on their own” that I am dubious about when it comes to online collaboration.

What do you think? Is collaboration as effective online as it is in person? Maybe you think it’s more so? Why?

(Image courtesy of

Television…Gone With the Web

21 Jul

“Take a good look my dear. It’s an historic moment you can tell your grandchildren about – how you watched the Old South fall one night,” – Rhett Butler to Scarlett O’hara in Gone With the Wind.

Substitute “television” for “the Old South,”  and “night” for “decade,” and you’ve pretty much summed up what appears to be happening to the ole’ boob tube.

Remember when the big media complaint about children had to with the amount of hours watched per day, or week? We would role our eyes, and the cultural snobs among us would declare how we don’t understand the appeal of cable television among the masses (we of course didn’t own a cable box – just a widescreen TV and DVD player to watch foreign and independent cinema) and our future children would never be subjected to the likes of the Teletubbies or (shudder) Barney.

Well, I think it’s safe to say that the traditional medium of television is on its way out. I’m not saying there won’t be television shows or that kids won’t watch videos anymore. But I am saying the longtime dream of convergence is sure to take over the traditional format of TV we’ve become accustomed to.

And while many will continue to decry the amount of screen time children experience, we should keep in mind that much of this “screen time” is incredibly intellectually active, what Henry Jenkins calls “participatory culture” in his white paper, “Confronting the Challenges of Participatory Culture: Media Education for the 21st Century.

This reminds me of Don Tapscott’s book, Grown Up Digital, a hyperbolic ode to all things new media, but one that has some interesting points. He makes this observation about today’s youth versus their parents’ generation when it comes to “screen time:”

“The second critical period of brain development occurs roughly during the adolescent and teenage years. During that period the boomers as kids were watching a lot of television – between 20 and 30 hours a week. Contrast this with Net Geners, who spend an equivalent amount of time as active users of media rather than as passive viewers. It’s logical to hypothesize that this affects brain development, because how one spends one’s time during this period shapes one’s brain.”

Unfortunately, Tapscott doesn’t provide any hard evidence to prove this is so. I’m also dubious of the idea that teens are replacing TV watching with participatory social media use… I tried to find statistics on this but could not. (If anyone has any they’d like to share, please let me know).

Jenkins asserts that this participatory culture has fostered the development of new skills in this “net generation,” including play, appropriation, multitasking, distributed cognition, collective intelligence, judgement, transmedia navigation, networking and negotiation. (See page 5 of the pdf  for descriptions of these concepts). I agree with most of this, although I’d like to share some caveats.

First of all, he describes appropriation as “the ability to meaningfully sample and remix media content.” I wonder if he thinks this means legally and with an understanding of copyright issues. Now, I’m not going to pretend I don’t occasionally abuse copyright law, but at least I know what I’m doing when I do it. I fear most youth don’t have a good grasp on copyright, and therefore likely don’t know much about the current push to completely revamp it.

As for multitasking, (“the ability to scans one’s environment and shift focus as needed to salient details”). It seems we are finding more and more that “multitasking” is really just a form of distraction, and that when youth (and adults for that matter) think they are multitasking effectively, they are really working at a lower capacity. (See Frontline’s recent documentary Digital Nation).

So while we may relish the fact that our children are no longer slack-jawed zombies parked in front of a flickering traditional television screen, we need to recognize that many new issues arise with new media.

Frankly my dears, I give a damn. Do you? Are today’s youth changing the future f television? How, as information professionals, do we foster the positive skills youth are developing from the participatory culture of media that is replacing television, and curb the negative ones?

*Gone With the Wind image courtesy of Living Read Girl

“Instant gratification takes too long.”

19 Jul

The above quote is from the character of Suzanne Vale (played by Meryl Streep) in the  movie Postcards from the Edge. Filmed in 1990, the movie is based on a semi-autobiographical novel by Carrie Fisher (Princess Leia) about a woman’s struggles with drug addiction and rehab. Sometimes I feel like this quote characterizes my attitude toward social media. How many times a day do I check Facebook? Read other people’s blogs? Watch stupid youtube videos? In the parlance of addiction, the answer is sadly, “Once is too many and a thousand never enough.”

With this blog, and in LIBR 559M, “Social Media for Information Professionals,” I’m interested in exploring how social media can be used effectively and appropriately, without turning into a time-sucking addiction.