My initial blog post was titled “Let’s get uncomfortable”. The point of the post was that while I was a very technology-centric individual, I was also incredibly private with regards to my social media presence. I used every privacy control and tool at my disposal to protect myself from the big bad internet and the trolls who I heard dwell in its depths. So what I wanted to get out of the class was “the opportunity and ability to step out of my comfort zone”. Did I get what I was hoping for? Let me say it loudly for the people in the back: OPPORTUNITIES ABOUNDED. There were plenty of times where we debated complex issues in class, and I’m thankful for each and every one of them. However, one particular experience really stands out to me as a perfect example of why you should be careful what you wish for.
On April 5th, I saw a Twitter post (likely posted by the someone in the QAnon group that Jim taught us about) spreading misinformation. The post was about US politics, specifically American immigration policies, with a picture that I immediately recognized as a non-US border crossing. A quick reverse Google image search indicated that this photo was taken at the Greece-Macedonia border, at least according to Getty Images, who owns the rights to the photo.
I must have had a pretty salty breakfast that morning because I replied to the original poster and told them the facts: “This isn’t the Mexican border. It’s the Greece-Macedonia border and this has nothing to do with US politics.” However, wanting to dip my toes into the deeper waters of the Twitter world and see what all the hype was about, I also added “Do your homework.”
Now, I imaged that I would get a flurry of aggressive responses from far-right or alt-right individuals. I figured that calling out the photo as ‘fake news’ would result in a torrent of hate and criticism. I was prepared for a flood of direct messages, people finding out where I go to school, calling my workplace, and all other manners of internet horrors. I knew all of these things were a possibility and I was prepared to handle the backlash, delete the post, or even create a new Twitter account for class. But I should have known better – I should have known that the blowback I was expecting wouldn’t be the blowback I received.
Within the next day, three separate people (less attention than I had hoped for, but in hindsight, definitely for the best) replied to my comment. However, not a single one had any issue with the fact that I called out the photo for having nothing to do with US politics. Each reply was from a Greek, offended at the fact that I called it the Greece-Macedonia border (see below).
To me, this is a perfect microcosm of internet behavior. While I only got three comments, I understood much better how people find themselves in situations that they never could have expected due to the nature of the internet. That tweet showed me how much tunnel-vision I had when I looked at social media and how we use it. For me, those three comments were enough to show me that I understood much less of the internet than I ever believed.
But that’s just one tiny drop in an ocean of lessons learned. Through the blog posts I learned that senior citizens understand and use technology in ways, and quantities, that I never could have imaged (thank you, Caitlin). I learned to consider how technology can be designed for and used by people with intellectual disabilities (thank you, Lindsay). I learned about how AI, a technology I’m very familiar with, can be used to solve problems that I would have never applied it to (thank you, Shannon). I learned about how technology can be used to help those who need it most (thank you Mason – for both of your posts). I learned about how technology can be racist and sexist (thank you, Trevor) and how manipulative advertising can be (thank you, Cynthia). Each of these blog posts taught me so much about a world I thought I already knew everything about. I thought none of these posts would surprise me, but I found something fascinating and novel in almost every single one.
But most of all, thank you Professor Kane. This has been one of the most uniquely interesting and uniquely challenging courses I’ve ever taken. The guest speakers alone would be enough for me to recommend this class to any student who asks me for my recommendation on which classes to take. And while I liked some more than others, I think that every reading, video, and discussion (in both large and small groups) taught me something new and gave me a new perspective on a variety of issues and topics. I’m leaving this class with a much better understanding of how little I know and how much further I have to grow. This class helped me realize that I was much more set in my ways than I would have cared to admit.
It wasn’t easy, but it was definitely worth it.
So I leave my fellow students with this: Ask questions, keep learning, and please keep posting to Twitter :)