Debate blog post: comments sections friend or foe?

The motion proposed in class was, “comments sections do more harm than good.” I oppose this motion for two main reasons:

  1. Comments sections provide an essential forum for public discussion, which enhances democratic discourse
  2. Allowing comments assists bloggers and organizations who produce the content to improve their profiles and build networks

According to Stanford professor and political scientist, Shanto Iyengar, one of the primary responsibilities of the media in a democratic society is provide a forum for the public to discuss occurrences. Comment sections create an essential avenue for people to express their opinions and respond to others. Encouraging citizens to express their ideals may stimulate public discourse. This discourse could mobilize citizens to express their opinions and act on them when they would not consider doing so otherwise because their opinions were strengthened by engaging in discourse. Moreover, comments sections allow citizens to engage in critical conversations and express their opinions, which is beneficial for democracy.

In terms of assisting online content producers, comments allow them to create a network, receive and respond to feedback. Comments allow users to interact with content and its creators. In the modern technological age where interactivity has become an expectation, disengaging that may strike readers as limiting or even suspicious. Allowing users to give feedback to the content producers and creating an avenue for the producer to respond can benefit the creators’ content and the user experience. Improving the content, in turn, also benefits the readers by reading enhanced content and giving them satisfaction from participating with the content.

It is important to acknowledge, however, comments sections can bring about incivility but this should not justify removing comments sections. People have a choice whether or not to look at the comments section of an article. If incivility comes about in the comments section, the reader can choose to ignore it and it is not the content creator’s responsibility to censor comments. Shielding sensitive people from comments (excluding those of explicit safety threats) do a disservice to the community. It is important for people to recognize opposing opinions and learn to defend their own. Comments sections facilitate  this development of these skills. Of course, if someone chooses to avoid these interactions, they can do so by not posting their opinions online or reading spiteful comments from others.

Ultimately allowing blog comments assist the bloggers and democracy. Through creating a platform to give and receive feedback, facilitating conversations, and creating networks, comments sections are beneficial.

Technology: a bridge or blockade to the arts

Art is an all-encompassing spectrum of understanding--organizing space to elicit emotions.
Image via pexels.com; original graphic and quote.

Art encompasses a large spectrum of activities, creations, and ways of expression, including: writing, music, film, photography, and paintings. This spectrum provides a wide variety of platforms through which people can create and experience art.

Megan Fogel, a Junior at the University of Michigan, creates art through many platforms including piano, photography, print, and digital. See and hear examples of her art below.

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For other students like Melanie Boskovich, Managing Editor at the Michigan Review, and Kate Toporski, Content Development Intern at the Center for Entrepreneurship, writing is their artistic outlet.

With the increasing technology, more and more platforms are being developed that allow for anyone to create and distribute art. The rising prevalence of digital art–artwork that utilizes digital technology as a crucial component of the creative presentation–indicates how the increasing variety of platforms can be harnessed to stimulate artistic innovation.

Instagram can turn anyone into a photographer with stellar editing skills. WordPress and twitter allow anyone to create journalism. Websites like Canva and Piktochart can turn even me into a pseudo-graphic designer when my office needed some quick graphics.

Even with the accessibility of these platforms, creating artwork is time consuming. Budgeting time to create artwork for fun in a packed student schedule, this is not easy. Megan Fogel (a student who enjoys many art forms but is studying Kinesiology)and Kate Toporski (Content Development Intern at the Center for Entrepreneurship) can attest to that. See an except of my interview with Toporski about benefits and challenges of technological innovations below.

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Even for famous creative people, art work and creative activities monopolized their time–this infographic emphasizes that.

While the increased technological innovations create many platforms for creating and distributing art, it drastically alters the performance landscape, expectations, and makes getting people to attend shows more difficult.

Joe Levickas, Program Director for Arts at Michigan, discusses how technology provides a platform to spread awareness of events to students and simultaneously imposes challenging expectations. Levickas explained, “some of the most difficult challenges” deal with consistently updating “content on our website.” Arts at Michigan relies heavily on the website to connect students to the arts.

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Full email interview with Joe Levickas, Program Director for Arts at Michigan.

With the constantly changing technological landscape, innovation and collaboration are essential. Arts at Michigan relies on three main strategies:

  1. Website
    • Linking to other sources
    • Linking their online events calendar to many other calendars.
  2. Blog
    • Engage students: get them thinking and communicating.
  3. Engagement initiatives like “share your genius”
    • Online voting for art projects like Haiku of the week
  4. Social media
    • Promote programs to make students aware and remove barriers for participating by responding to their concerns.

The challenges affect more than promotions.The very same technological innovations that permit me to post a sound clip of Fogel playing piano, allow readers to hear an interview without being there, and display a digital gallery of artwork can (ironically) hinder engagement with the arts. Megan Fogel explains how her friends, more often than she’d like, opt out of seeing her performances live for catching her photos and videos online afterward.

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Megan Fogel preparing for a show.

This trend stretches far beyond Fogel’s experience. Attendance at the Met Opera is declining, summer concert sales are dwindling, movie theater box office ticket sales are at their lowest in five years. This could, presumably, be attributed to the the convenience of streaming music, shows, performances, and movies online through programs like Netflix, whose revenue happens to be at its highest ever.

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Yearly Netflix sales via statista.com

On the surface, technological innovations seem to operate as a springboard for artistic creation. Ironically, as illustrated through Arts at Michigan, these innovations are often barriers from truly engaging in art and live performance.

This double-edged sword leaves arts department professionals and students alike wondering which is the lesser of two evils: technology saturated world where creation is easy but captivating an audience is hard or the minimal technologies of yesteryear where live performance and in-person, interpersonal interactions thrive. Based on the declining sales of live shows and rising sales of streaming programs, like Netflix, the future is looking more digital. As Amy Poehler predicts, “the robots will kill us all.”

Final Project Outline

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My story will discuss how technology has transformed performance: how has it affected ticket sales, show promotion techniques, and online presence demands.

I will use data visualization (ticket sales number of movie musicals over time, depending on the availability of data this may evolve). I will also use infographics to showcase this data as well as the ways students use art to cope with academic stress.

I will utilize the audio interview with Megan Fogel (student artist at University of Michigan), Melanie Boskovich (of the Michigan Review), and Joe Levickas (Program Director for Arts at Michigan).

Some key questions I will ask include:

  • How do you integrate technology into their reporting/promotions?
    • Use social media?
  • How do technological changes impact how you write, what you choose to talk about, how you promote shows?
  • Challenges integrating art into busy student life?
    • Methods of promoting Arts at Michigan blog?
  • How have technological changes impacted ticket sales? Has this impacted marketing tactics?

The background on this issue is technological advancements discourage people from attending live shows. The demands on making websites/online presence more vibrant and visual drive people to see (parts of) the performance online instead of attending. Here are some links to useful data:

 

Project topic announcement

barry manilow theatre
via giphy.com

The topic for my final project will be how technology has been disrupting performing arts. I will be examining this topic in 2 primary ways:

  1. How technological innovations demand different techniques for promoting performances (website demands, online ticket sales, social media promotion, etc.)
  2. Barrier technological innovations have become that prevent people from seeing performances live (examine ticket sale data, Netflix/movie musicals, survey performers).

 

applause followers clap clap grazie gente
via giphy.com

 

 

Disruption of smartphones: watch wherever, whenever, whatever.

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While there are many applications that contribute to the digital disruption interfering with students’ desire to attend arts performances, it all stems from the introduction of one device: the smartphone. Smartphones provide an avenue for students to view (often) crystal-clear videos of a musical, theatrical, or arts performances without having to leave their current location. Not to mention, access to these videos is typically free!

Whether you’re a local politician, rising tech company, or theatre group, a strong presence on social media and a clear website is almost essential these days. This often requires many visuals like vivid photos and videos. The problem with this increasing demand for arts groups is this means posting just what their audience members to come and see. If their audience members can see pictures and highlights from a show (usually for free) by pulling out their smartphone whenever is convenient for them, why would they shell out the cash and bother going to see it live? 

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Megan Fogel, a student at the University of Michigan, discusses her difficulty with this. She mentions how her friends will often opt out of seeing her performances live for watching the promotional video clips and looking at the photos of her shows online. When asked why she thinks her friends do this, she reported convenience as the root.

Even if they are short clips of a performance, USA Today indicates the convenience is most important to viewers. That being said, smartphones allow for that convenience. Similar to Sarah Marshall’s “News in your pocket,” wherever a consumer may find themselves, they can watch videos of performances, look through art galleries, and read poetry. This convenience paired with the growing necessity of a strong visual website, minimizes incentives for people to abandon their schedules to see a performance live. All of this disruption the result of smartphones: a world of art and information literally at consumers’ fingertips.

Minority Enrollment at the University of Michigan: Lego Edition

The University of Michigan is notorious for branding itself as an institution with a diverse population of students. The data over the years say otherwise.

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Despite promises from the University, Black student enrollment has dropped by a third in the past 7 years.

The white legos represent white enrollment in each respective year. The black legos represent black enrollment.
The white legos represent white enrollment in each respective year. The black legos represent black enrollment.

In 2006, Black enrollment at the University of Michigan was 7.2% of the total student enrollment across the University (graduate students, undergraduates, etc.). While White enrollment remains relatively stable across the years (68.9% in 2006 and 65.6% in 2015), Black student enrollment has dropped by one third from 2006 (7.2%) to 2015 (4.8%).

As the photo below indicates, the gap between white and minority enrollment goes beyond the comparison of white students to black students:

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Data from the University of Michigan’s Office of the Registrar 2015 enrollment.

The White legos represent percentage of White students enrolled in 2015 across the University (65.6%). The colorful legos represent percentage of ALL OTHER Non-White students enrolled in 2015 across the University COMBINED (34.4%). Each horizontal row represents about 10%. The colors in the Non-White tower represent:

Black legos: Black students enrolled in 2015 (4.8%)

Brown legos: Hispanic students enrolled in 2015 (5.4%)

Green legos: Native American students enrolled in 2015 (0.2%)

Red legos: “Two or more” students enrolled in 2015 (5.4%)

Blue legos: “Unknown” students enrolled in 2015 (18.6%)

Orange legos: Hawaiian students enrolled in 2015 (0%; so there is no orange lego)

In response, University of Michigan’s President, Mark Schlissel, is hosting a community-wide assembly to assess these disparities and partake in finding remedies. Be there. Be Heard.

Where has the time gone? How famous creatives spend their days

Similar to my topic of how students can integrate arts into their busy lives, this data visualization depicts how some famous artists, writers, and musicians did just that.

This graphic effectively places information in an easy-to-understand and visually appealing package. As this article from Source explains, visualization graphics need to “fulfill a purpose,” make information easy for the audience to consume and omit excess data that are not relevant for the intended purpose. Podio’s visualization did this very well. Their goal is to show the audience how famous creatives spent their days. While they could have included tons of biographical information about each famous person, they omitted data not necessary to tell their story making a much simpler, concise visualization.

Similar to John Snow’s effective data mapping to emphasize the location of cholera outbreaks, Podio’s “The Daily Routines of Famous Creative People” clearly maps out the day of each individual.The creators illustrated this using a timeline spanning a single day, included the person’s name right on the line, and colored the hours on each person’s day with activities. The color-coding tool pairs well with the timeline feature. It also includes an interactive tool that allows users to hover their mouse over the different activities in a person’s day and a blurb with more detail will appear—it’s pretty cool. All these features work together to present the information in a way easily “accessible” to the audience like Source recommends.

Data visualization is different from traditional journalism as it is heavily influenced by other disciplines like statistics, computer science and mathematics. This can be problematic if the data become to complex for the audience to grasp. As the Source article emphasizes, this may lead creators to get wrapped up in the technological possibilities and lose sight of their audience’s “visual literacy.”