Digi Domi

Sharing my passion for technology and learning.

Dear users.

Over the course of this week I have had to send out a couple of emails to everyone who uses the virtual learning environment (VLE). Without too much thought I addressed them ‘Dear users’. This term has since caused some controversy with some arguing that it should be ‘Dear colleagues’. The arguments are that colleague is a more pleasant sounding term, and that user might have some other negative connotations as a derogatory term for drug addicts. Perhaps it just goes to show the extend to which I have a ‘techie’ brain, and live in a world of developers, testers, programmers and users.

I’m not suggesting that anyone things this is a particularly important point, but it has prompted me to think about the language that I use. Often I will assume that common terms such as ‘users’ are things that everyone will be familiar and comfortable with. Within Higher Education I have always found there to be a debate about how to refer to the individuals, or groups of individuals who utilise our e-learning services. The most contentious debate is still around the term ‘customers’, and this is both in the previously mentioned context and also as a way of referring to students. Perhaps colleagues is the best way to refer to the group of individuals who utilise our services, and perhaps I should even be thinking of the VLE platform as a ‘service’.

Perhaps this seems pernickety but I think language is important, and it is all to easy to claim ignorance when one deliberately makes another unconformable with their words. At the same  time I would like to contradict that by suggesting from time to time we do need to loosen up and focus on the real problems of language, such as casual discrimination that is part of most Western dialects. By this I mean things like unnecessarily feeling the need to gender language, when it is not required, or dismissive or offensive terms for people of different ages, abilities or cultures. Rose George discusses how we often jovially use terms such as ‘Deli belly’, and yet ignore the fact they refer to serious problems of unsafe drinking water and contaminated meats that lead to the death of children.  

It just goes to show how important and misused language can get.

 

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Tampons for men.

Tesco recently announced that they would be rolling out new advertising screens at the tills in their petrol stations. These new screens will include cameras with facial recognition technology to target adverts. Tesco claim these adverts will be targets on the base of gender and age, although I do have to question how you can target an add in such way without risking being insensitive. What if you target advert for baby care products to a woman in her early thirties (a common age for mothers of young babies) who is infertile? The firm has also admitted that it can make mistakes in identifying someones gender, so for example if a man has long hair he could be identified by the software as female. Might this lead to tampon adverts being targeted at male surfers and bikers?

Although Tesco insists none of the information gained by the new screens will be stored, it is hard to imagine that they wouldn’t use the data to tailor products sold in store. I also can see a future when they combine this information with tracking of your Club card. This would enable the supermarket conglomerate, and anyone else they share the information with to know all of your buying patterns and movements. Admittedly a lot of this information already exists, and it might be a bit late to get up in arms about it. Therefore I find myself asking the question, is the addition of facial recognition software a step too far or an inevitable progress?

Read the original BBC News article for more background information.

 

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Smile granma, it’s your funeral!

I was reading an article on the BBC News website earlier this month that asks, ‘is a selfie at a funeral a step too far?’ Although at first glance it is easy to think, ‘well of course. How inappropriate. Darn youth of today! No respect!’ However, after actually looking through the Selfies at Serious Places and Selfies at Funerals Tumblr pages the article is talking about I felt very conflicted. Although some of the people in the photos clearly do not get why they would be inappropriate, there are also plenty that I don’t think are bad.

It is unclear to me whether the sites were created as a shaming exercise or just as a social experiment, I think and hope that latter. Certainly it is interesting to look at all of these images collected together in ways they were never intended and without their original contexts. To me there are a number of factors that need to be considered before passing judgment.

Context

This is probably the most important one, and is an interesting lesson to us all, as anything we post online could easily be taken out of context and seem completely inappropriate, hurtful or possibly even illegal. Off the bat you might think that there is no way talking a ‘selfie’ at a funeral could be appropriate. This is partly because of the slang nature of the term ‘selfie’ and the images it conjures. However, after looking at the images it is clear there are cases when it has potential to be entirely appropriate, and even beautiful. For example one of the images, taken from Twitter, came from a tweet that read,

‘Took a selfie with my gran at her funeral trying to image the face she’d pull if she was there! Love you!’.

Without knowing that person I can’t be sure, but it is easy to imagine that they loved taking pictures with their gran whilst she was alive, and so this was a beautiful part of their grieving process. Indeed even if it isn’t a beautiful part of the grieving process it could still be that individual’s way of dealing with their feelings. Which brings me on to my next point, emotional processing.

Emotional processing

I recently wrote a blog post about teenagers working out who they are online, and how it is slightly unfair that this process we all go through is captured and used against them. After reading the post, a friend of mine recommended some brilliant philosophy from Loius C.K., which you can watch on YouTube. Louis talks about how we don’t like to deal with our sadness and so we will grab a cell phone and start texting/ posting to distract ourselves and get some instant gratification from communications/ interactions. This of course plays no small role when people, possibly to deal with a difficult situation (such as a funeral) grab their phone and do what comes naturally to them, take a picture of themselves.

Broadcasting our thoughts

There is also the difference in the ways people experience and engage with the world around them. Due to a near constant use of and engagement with social media, a lot of people, and in particular young people (who may not know any other way) tend to post their thoughts, almost without filter. This could be seen as positive as it means people are a lot more open and honest about what they are thinking. The reality is that most of our thought as humans are not exactly winners. Sometimes they might even be inappropriate, for example when we look at our selves in the mirror before a funeral and think, ‘this day sucks, I’m so sad…but my hair looks AMAZING today! I wish I was going somewhere fancy and not a funeral’. This is barely acceptable as an internal thought, and for me at least is normally instantly followed by guilt for thinking how great I look rather than appreciating the seriousness of the situation. It is self absorbed and most of us keep it to ourselves, so if you remove that filter and post those thoughts online, it’s not going to get a great response. However, I find myself conflicted as to whether one can categorically state this is wrong, or whether we need to accept that this is the new way society functions. With its citizens posting their every thought and learning how to cautiously take the posting of others with a pinch of salt.

Holiday snaps

I am sure there are holiday snaps of people at war memorials, sites of historic atrocities and the like in photo albums across the world. Some of these pictures will be respectfully capturing the moment, and some will be inappropriately smiley holiday snaps. Unfortunately for those who are used to sharing their lives with the world, posting these images online can make you look insensitive. Again this is not necessarily a demonstration of how insensitive and ignorant the youth of today are, it is simply a case of them doing the same thing everyone has always done, just under the spotlight and scrutiny of the world wide web.

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