Ralph Broke the Internet; You Should, Too

I took my youngest son to see the movie Ralph Breaks the Internet yesterday and it was enjoyable entertainment with an Internet theme. Not as good as Wreck-It Ralph, the original that surprised with its knowing insider’s look at video game culture, but still, the new movie is plenty of fun with lots of inside cultural jokes.

I was struck by one particular poignant scene, where Ralph is trying to save his friend, Venelope, by making stupid/dumb/viral videos for a YouTube clone in order to generate “likes” that become “money” he can use to replace something broken on Venelope’s racing game  (the movie conveniently skirts the issue of how this connection is made — through targeted advertising of viewers). Ralph wanders into a corporate back room, where a global video comment feed is scrolling.

As he reads the feeds, Ralph slowly realizes just how terrible and how awful and how mean these people are being to each other through veiled usernames. The vitriol and the anger and the meanness of the comments deflates our hero, who thought the Internet was for the good of its users. The algorithm character in charge of the video system comes in, sees what Ralph is seeing, and sort of shakes her head, and then suggests to Ralph that he just “never read the comments.” She turns her head to the problem, just like YouTube and others have consistently done.

In the movie, Ralph “breaks” the Internet by letting loose a virus that seeks out vulnerabilities as a way to protect a friendship, and the results are haywire craziness. I won’t give the story away.

But listen, our real Internet is broken, too, and maybe we need to get a little Ralph on it. Not with malware and viruses, which are part of the problem, but with a new vision for what the Internet might be.

This topic of where we are and where we might need to go has been on my mind a lot lately, with inquiry through E-learning 3.0 and Equity Unbound courses, both of which have examined the weaknesses of our current Internet and Web systems through the lens of identity, data, algorithms, and more.

Here’s a sort of ‘wish list’ of how we might fix this broken system:

  • Stronger filters for hate speech and trolls and bots and more
  • More accountability for corporations setting up shop on the Web and its various connected places
  • A reporting system that actually works, and not just via algorithms and keywords, either
  • More tools in the hands of users to create on the Internet, like building smaller networks within the larger ones (the notion behind the Distributed Web)
  • Stronger privacy controls and fewer Facebooks
  • Less advertising through creepy data collection
  • Better access for all (including rural users often left out)

It may be that the way we “break” the Internet is by leaving it completely and starting over somewhere else. Or maybe we realize it’s a big ship, this Internet, but perhaps, working together, we can still turn it around. There’s a lot of good out there. We can build off that.

Peace (on the screen),
Kevin

PS — So, I noticed a ton of named Internet companies mentioned in this movie and what I could not help wonder as I was watching the movie was this: Did all of these companies pay for product placement? I did some cursory searching this morning but found nothing much about this topic (this article mentions the movie but doesn’t answer my question). Given the push into paid placements of products in movies and television, it’s a valid question, right? To wonder if eBay, Google, Pinterest, Instagram, Snapchat, and others paid to gain access to our eyeballs in the theater? I am particularly alarmed for the young viewers that this movie is aiming at. And if these companies did not pay for access, why didn’t the movie makers change the names to spoof and poke fun at the giants?

So add another bullet to my list:

  • No paid Internet products in movies aimed at kids/future users

To Friends in Many Spaces: Thankful, Appreciative, Optimistic

Book Turkey(My wife brought home this book turkey she made with an old textbook and I love the way a book was remixed into art.)

Dear friends in many spaces,

Thank you. Thank you for, first, for even being here at my blog at all. I know fewer and fewer people read blogs, preferring sound bite analysis and catchy headlines on social media. I do that, too, at times. As such, I am always appreciative when anyone takes the time to jump from a tweet or a shared link or maybe even RSS reader to come and spend a few minutes with my writing or my songs, and maybe even write a comment. Thank you for your conversations in the comment bin, when you have time and inclination to do so.

I am also deeply appreciative of the fact that while I read about and know about the thorny, messy elements of the Web — the way trolls play out on Twitter, the way algorithmic bots target us on Facebook (well, not me, but maybe you), the way we are the product for marketing, the way dark corners of the Net are home to anger and conspiracy and such — I have mostly avoided those elements.  I know others have not been so lucky, targeted because they speak out and have strong views.

I think my positive bubble — which is not the kind of bubble that walls me off from the world and not the kind that stops me from expressing my own strong opinions nor engaging in debates — has been mostly due to you.

You have helped me stay positive and engaged in thinking forward. I ask you questions, and you answer. I remix your resources, and honor your work. You do the same, with mine. I write in your margins, to better understand. I write my way forward. Sometimes, I read what you share and let it sink in, letting time follow me until I realize that what you shared with me is now the thing I need right now. You knew that all along.

This is not, alas, unbridled optimism without worry, of course, worries about the many obstacles still there when it comes to learning and teaching and writing and sharing and connecting, and the myriad of troubles that come with this digital world. For sure, there are unsettling problems, made worse by our digital connections with the world. I find myself agreeing with the analysis by many that the promise of the Web, as we know it today, is not what we thought it might be.

Still, it might yet still become something else altogether, something better.

We collectively push forward by pushing forward, we do by doing, we make by making, and we can do this together. No one person can be on this journey alone. We make this path, together.

Whenever I think, this is a perfect opportunity for a collaboration and let’s get an invite out into the networks, that impulse to work with others in technology and writing and making is based on hope in the possible. It’s why I remain part of CLMOOC, and why offshoots of connected communities intrigue me. It’s why others in the National Writing Project seem like friends, even when we only just meet. It’s why I found a new-ish home on Mastodon, settling into small stories and small poems and small sharing. This is why regular activities like Slice of Life remain a draw for me. It’s why I don’t worry too much about leaving one place to go to another, to meet new people, to learn from others. I dip my toes, for a reason. There are more people out there who want the same than we realize. It’s sometimes just a matter of finding us.

I am thankful there are such opportunities. Thank you.

Peace (a few words and such),
Kevin

 

August Rest: A Poem Unfolds 31

All month, as part of my break from blogging and other technology, I have been releasing a poem, one word a day starting on August 1 and ending yesterday, August 30. If you have been a casual visitor at all during that time, you no doubt thought something had gone haywire here. Mostly, I suspect, no one stayed long enough to care about what I was doing. Here, though, is the whole poem in its entirety. — Kevin

Some
things
take
time
to
wander;

they
unfold
by
dawn
and
huddle
by
night.

A
reader
showing
patience –
refraining
from
running —
might
yet
rediscover
words
strung
together
into
a
poem.

 

Away On a Short Blog Vacation

I am away for a few days with friends and I could use a little blogging downtime, so I won’t be doing any writing here for a few days.  I’ll probably be poking around the Interwebz here and there (getting ready for Write Out project), but only sporadically. Thanks for visiting.

Peace (and rest and rejuvenation),
Kevin

Heading South/Running Fast

I am off to North Carolina today, with my middle son, who is competing in the Track Nationals for high school students. It’s a weekend visit, sure to be hot and humid, and his team is prepared to run. I’m prepared to watch, and find ways to stay cool.

Peace (in flight),
Kevin

A Song for My Son and Friends (Children of the 21st Century)

Some of the references here are local (in that the lyrics are aimed at individuals you don’t know), but this song is one I wrote and performed with family and friends for my son and his friends at our party for their high school graduation this weekend.

I started the dang thing too fast on my guitar (that’s me in my Why I Write shirt!), and the drums are a bit too loud (even with brushes, but my dad didn’t realize it at the time because we were all acoustic, playing outside), but it was a way to show love and appreciation for the kid upon completing high school.

Peace (singing it),
Kevin

In the House With a Pulitzer-Prize Winner

Kendrick Lamar live

This Pulitzer-prize winning writer gets loud and indignant with his words, and pushes the envelope on what it means to be a young black artist in the world of Trump, and Black Lives Matter, and frustration over inequities. This writer uses black history as cultural reference points, and brings in the urban experience as a narrative frame. His words resonate with a large, and growing, audience.

This is Kendrick Lamar.

I was thinking of this whole Pulitzer Prize last night as my son and I, and thousands of other fans, rapped along with Kendrick during a concert in Connecticut. (Let me revise: I danced my white man’s dance to the beat, but I didn’t know the lyrics well enough to rap along with him with any coherence … I was surprised how many times the audience took the ‘mic’ from Kendrick during songs, on his invitation, and easily knew the words, the whole stadium in tandem, one voice.)

I remembered, and agreed, with something that commentator Clay Cane wrote in CNN when Lamar’s Pulitzer Prize for Music award was announced:

Like Nina Simone, Lamar isn’t a passive, woe-is-me voice; he is equally outraged and inspired, unapologetically angry but ready to create change. — https://www.cnn.com/2018/04/16/opinions/kendrick-lamar-pulitzer-cane/index.html

So true, and it was clear, this audience was with him.

Kendrick even poked fun at the award itself at one point last night, using a “Pulitzer Kenny” sign on the backdrop as he showed off his verbal dexterity with words, creating rhythms that, even if difficult to hear the lyrics in this live setting, impressed the ears. He can spin rhymes, and those rhymes tell stories, and those stories resonate with his audience.

That’s what writers do.

One more note: The last time I took my 13 year old son to a hip hop show (it was Future as the main act), I was disappointed (but not surprised) that the entire music element was tracked songs. No live musicians.

Not for Kendrick (who has worked with some pretty impressive musicians on his albums). Lamar had an amazing backing band — bass, guitar, drums, keys — that kept the groove kicking it all night long. The drummer, in particular, was incredible, powering the songs with a beat you could feel in your chest.

Peace (inside the beat),
Kevin

Slice of Life: The Fleet-Footed Kid and The Bad Track Parent

(This is for the Slice of Life challenge, hosted by Two Writing Teachers. We write on Tuesdays about the small moments in the larger perspective … or is that the larger perspective in the smaller moments? You write, too.)

My wife and I joke that we are bad high school track parents. My son, a senior, is a captain of the spring track team, and is an amazingly fast runner in the 200m and 400m and the relay teams.

I grew up playing baseball and lacrosse. I didn’t know much about track when he started. I’ve learned as much as I can and follow the events with a muted interest. When he switched to track two years ago, we wholeheartedly supported him, but the track meets I have gone to have given me a few seconds of thrills and excitement — that burst of speed and athleticism —  and lots and lots of waiting-around time for something to happen.

I never complain to him, yet he tells us again and again that he does not expect us to watch him at every meet. We’re not sure to be grateful that he doesn’t expect us there all the time or sad that he doesn’t expect us there all the time. It’s complicated.

Last night, as I was at my younger son’s baseball game (they won), the high school running man was apparently ripping up a track event with high speeds, and helped bring his team to a season title yesterday. I know this because I opened up the website of our local paper and there is video of him barreling down the track, and an article focused mostly on him and his endeavors, and an interview with him as he celebrates his teammates.

What a kid!

Boys Track

from The Daily Hampshire Gazette

He got home late, so I didn’t even have a chance to ask him, How did it go? I think he would have downplayed it but now I know. I’ll be congratulating him this morning. Still, not being there to see him run and compete live and to not have been yelling support from the stands?

Yeah, I’m a bad track parent.

Peace (goes fast so catch it while you can),
Kevin