Anthropomorphism in Children’s Media

Animals encompass a large portion of our everyday lives. They are our companions, our fears, our sustenance, our transportation, our entertainment and even our representatives for countries and sports teams. However, more and more we see animals disappearing from our physical realities only to become more visible within our popular culture, and not always in their ‘true form’. As Berger states, ‘widespread commercial diffusion of animal imagery all began as animals started to be withdrawn from daily life’ (Berger, p. 26, 2009)

“For most people, animals are symbolic: their significance lies not in what they are, but in what we think they are. We ascribe meanings and values to their existence and behaviors in ways that usually have little to do with their biological and social realities” – Bruce Bagemihl (Marshal et. al, 2012)

Anthropomorphism is the common theme used within media that encourages this ‘disappearance’ of animals from our everyday lives and is defined as the attribution of human characteristics and traits to an animal or other non-human objects (Burke, et. al, 2014).

Think about some of your favourite movies, television shows and literature and the way animals are represented. Especially those targeting children. Using anthropomorphic to humanise animals in children’s media is thought to be a way of helping children understand the natural world (Goldman, 2014), however this statement has caused continual conflict between researchers who dispute whether anthropomorphism helps or hinders children’s knowledge of real animals.

So let’s look at some examples of anthropomorphism in practice:

Movie: ‘Finding Nemo’ (2003)

  • This popular Pixar animation illustrates anthropomorphic characters living in their natural habit, an environment that you would expect a particular animal to live in in

    reality. In this instance, fish living in the ocean.

  • Through their animation, these characters are morphed to better reflect humans in the way that their facial features, such as eyes and mouth, are distinctly similar to that of humans. They are also given personalities that allow them to convey emotion in the way humans do.
  • Therefore, while their physical features and environment are only marginally adjusted, the biggest difference is the ‘attribution of human abilities such as talking, thinking, dreaming and creating their own philosophies’  (Jardim, 2013)

TV Show: ‘Arthur’ (1996)

  • This animated American children’s series illustrates anthropomorphism in a different way to ‘Finding Nemo’ in that these animals live in environments that they don’t belong to.

  • The animals presented in this show including: aardvarks, rabbits, monkeys, moose etc, are depicted living in furnished brick houses, bipedal, wearing clothes, going to school/work, eating human food, and experiencing human relationships and activities.
  • They are living in a world were humans are seemingly non-existent and, instead, these animals are living their lives in replacement of humans, modelling our own societies (Jardim, 2013).

Literature: ‘Winnie the Pooh’ (1926)

  • Before it’s success as a television show, Winne the Pooh originated as a children’s

    novel. It illustrates a fusion of both examples of anthropomorphism that was previously stated.

  • The animals featured, such as: bears, piglets, donkeys, rabbits and kangaroos are living in outside environments, giving the impression that they are in their natural environments. However, they live in a place called ‘Hundred-Acre-Wood’, in tree-houses that are furnished on the inside. This is definitely not the natural habitat for piglets or donkeys, and even bears and kangaroos don’t live inside trees.
  • Some of these animals are also partially clothed, wearing t-shirts and ribbons suggesting small traces of human characteristics.

Some criticisms of anthropomorphism suggest that its existence decreases factual learning about real animals, causing children to incorrectly associate them with human properties during their vulnerable development stage (Melson, 2001). Similar views are expressed by Goldman through the research of Patricia Ganea and Simon Marshall. I can understand this point of view to a degree as I spent most of my childhood believing that bears exclusively ate honey right out of the jar thanks to Winnie the Pooh. However, the work of (Geerdts, et. al, 2015)  believes that by using anthropomorphism as a novelty, it can ‘support children’s learning about animals and their biological processes’ and in fact doesn’t impede factual recall at all. Through their random selection of pre-school aged children, they tested story recall, biological generalisations and  animal/human property attributions within anthropomorphic media with the results showing little to no effect on a child’s perception on animals. Concluding that anthropomorphism ‘doesn’t lead children to hold unrealistic beliefs about the the psychological properties of real animals’ (Geerdts, et. al, 2015).

Despite these conflicting views on how anthropomorphism impacts the child mind, it is still a crucial factor affecting the representation of animals within the media, promoting humans to view animals through their own contrived lenses.

References:
Berger, J 2009, ‘Why Look at Animals’, About Looking, Penguin, p. 26, viewed: March 31st 2016, <http://artsites.ucsc.edu/faculty/gustafson/FILM%20161.F08/readings/berger.animals%202.pdf&gt;
Burke, C. L, Copenhaver, J. G & Captenter M 2004, ‘Animals as People in Children’s Literature’, ProQuest, uow.edu.au, viewed: March 31st 2016, <http://search.proquest.com.ezproxy.uow.edu.au/docview/196883233?pq-origsite=360link&gt;

Geerdts, M, Van de Walle, G & LoBlue, V 2015, ‘Learning About Real Animals From Anthropomorphic Media’, Imagination, Cognition and Personality: Consciousness in Theory, Research, and Clinical Practice , Sage Publications, academia.edu, viewed: March 31st 2016, <https://www.academia.edu/9096893/Learning_About_Real_Animals_from_Anthropomorphic_Media>Goldman, J. G 2014, ‘When Animals Act Like People in Stories, Kids Can’t Learn’, Scientific American, scientificamerican.com, viewed: April 1st 2016, <http://blogs.scientificamerican.com/thoughtful-animal/when-animals-act-like-people-in-stories-kids-cane28099t-learn/&gt;

Jardim, T 2013, ‘Animals as character: Anthropomorphism as personality in animation‘, academia.edu, viewed: March 31st 2016, <https://www.academia.edu/4090243/Animals_as_character_Anthropomorphism_as_personality_in_animation&gt;

Marshall, S & Schneider, B 2012, ‘Animal Sapiens: The Consequences of Anthropomorphism in Popular Media’, Montana, montana.edu, viewed: March 30th 2016, <http://scholarworks.montana.edu/xmlui/bitstream/handle/1/2207/SchneiderS0512.pdf?sequence=1&isAllowed=y&gt;

Melson, G. F, 2001, ‘Why the wild things are: Animals in the lives of children’, Cambridge, MA, US, Harvard University Press

Orientalism: ‘A Whole New World’

For myself and many others, Disney’s ‘Aladdin’ (1992) is one of the most celebrated animated films of all time. As a child, I would fantasise about it’s story lines to the point of even re-enacting particular scenes. It seemed the perfect fairytale. However, the minds of children are naive and it’s not until 20 years later that I’ve realised how much this film has actively portrayed the Arab culture in a negative light as a result of the orientalist view of the West.

The term ‘Orientalism’ was first coined by Edward Said who suggested that it is ‘the basic distinction between East and West as the starting point for elaborate theories, epics, novels, social descriptions, and political accounts concerning the Orient’ (Said, 1978). It is the exaggerated and distorted representation of Eastern cultures as defined by the West within films, books, music, photography, paintings etc. (AANM, 2011). The term highlights irreconcilable differences between the East and the West, illustrating the Orients as inferior in comparison with desperate need for Western intervention (Mudambi, 2013). Orientalism is ultimately the lens by which Western audiences view the East by unjustly projecting the unwanted characteristics of the West onto the East to emphasise them as ‘the other’.

So what examples of orientalism can we find within ‘Aladdin’?

Song Lyrics
Unfortunately we don’t have to dig very deep into the film to find it’s first trace of Arabian injustice. In fact, we only have to arrive to the second sentence of the opening song. This opening scene illustrates a bearded Arabian with an oversized turban riding a camel across the desert singing:
Originally, the peddler who introduces the movie would be revealed to be the Genie at the end - hence the fact that Robin Williams voiced him, too. Notice the similarities in the design of the two, especially the eyebrows, the beard and the four-fingered hands. (All the other human characters have five fingers.) Also, he&rsquo;s got the same color scheme, blue with a red belt. 

Oh I come from a land, from a faraway place where the caravan camels roam.
Where they cut off your ear If they don’t like your face. It’s barbaric, but hey, it’s home”

Arab-American complaints forced the writers to alter these slanderous lyrics, completely changing the second sentence as it promoted a disturbing and harshly stereotypical description of the East which, conveniently, projects the Western culture as the civilised superior. However, even the changed lyric stresses the country’s inhabitable condition: Where it’s flat and immense and the heat is intense”, with the land’s ‘barbaric’ description remaining, highlighting it’s savage, diabolical state (Mara, 2011). Also, take note of the ‘far-away place’ reference, reiterating the East’s ‘other’ status.

ALSO ON @GMA: The voices of Aladdin, Jasmine, & Jafar are on in an #Aladdin tribute and reunion!

Physical Characteristics
Orientalism is also evident within the film through the description of it’s characters. The villains, for example, are the only characters who seem to illustrate the traditional Arabian characteristics, such as: dark skin, facial hair, caftans, turbans and strong Arabic accents however, this is also accompanied with other exaggerated negative features such as missing teeth, large noses and dirty attire. At the other end of the scale, the protagonist Aladdin bears a stronger resemblance to a Western character with his lighter complexion, clean-cut appearance with no turban or tunic, and American accent (Mott, 2015). In fact, Ziauddin Sardar, author of the novel ‘Orientalism’, agrees that ‘the only thing that separates Aladdin from a normal, mid-western Caucasian boy is his slight brown colouring‘ (Sardar, 1999, p. 103). This suggests that the West want to associate the Eastern culture with negative characteristics to stress their own positive ones, and by only attributing traditional Arabian characteristics to the villainous characters, the audiences are subconsciously branding the Eastern culture unfavourably.

Disney's Aladdin gave a different twist on the harem fantasy. While it certainly perpetuated the stereotype of scantily clad, veil-twirling, dancing harem girls (dancing harem girls existed in the Ottoman Empire but nobody ever saw what they looked like), Princess Jasmine, a "modern" woman, struggled and ultimately triumphed against it.:

Depiction of Women
Perhaps one of the most controversial depictions of orientalism within Aladdin is its representation of women. Within the streets, household harems, fantasies and palace walls, young women appear to be nothing more but objects of desire. These women are barely clothed in exotic, translucent fabrics offering seductive gestures. Princess Jasmine herself is illustrated in a tight, revealing mid-drift highlighting her stick-thin torso and shoulders. Later in the film, she is even portrayed as a ‘sexual temptress’ whose role is to serve the Arab male, emphasising the argument that ‘the men are sexually depraved and the women are sexually available’ (Scurry, 2010, p.37). This interpretation further emphasises orientalism as it demonstrates very little truth or awareness of Islamic reality. Particularly today, the modesty of women in the East is of the utmost importance, and so as a result, most of their features are covered and hidden, especially if the woman is of royal calibre (Mara, 2011). Once again, we are seeing Eastern women through a degrading Western gaze of  eroticism and over-sexualisation, suggesting that the more Westernised they are, the more attractive they are.

This orientalist representation of Arabs within Disney’s Aladdin,  are encouraging Western audiences, specifically the  vulnerable minds of children, to believe in oriental stereotypes. Stereotypes that have been manipulated and made false. Subconsciously, the audience are being persuaded to reject the East while appreciating the West.

References:

– Arab American National Museum 2011, ‘What is Orientalism’, Reclaiming Identity: Dismantling Arab Stereotypes, arabstereotypes.org, viewed 22nd March 2016, <http://www.arabstereotypes.org/why-stereotypes/what-orientalism&gt;

– Mara, 2011, ‘Orientalism in Aladdin’, Colloquium Blog, maralaporte.blogspot.com.au, viewed 22nd March 2016, <http://maralaporte.blogspot.com.au/2011/05/final-paper-orientalism-in-aladdin.html&gt;

– Mott, M 2015, ‘Aladdin’s Orientalism and its Effects on Children’, melissamott.com, viewed 24th March 2016, <http://melissamott.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/02/Aladdins-Orientalism.pdf&gt;

– Mudambi, A 2013, ‘Another Look At Orientalism: (An)Othering in Slumdog Millionaire’, Howard Journal of Communications, Routledge, Vol.24, No.3, pp. 275-292, tandfonline.com, viewed 21st March 2016, <http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/pdf/10.1080/10646175.2013.805990&gt;

– Said, E 2001, ‘From Orientalism’, in V Leitch (ed.), The Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism, W.W. Norton, New York, pp. 1991-2012

– Sardar, Z 1999, ‘The Contemporary Practice’, Orientalism, McGraw-Hill Education, Open University Press, Philadelphia, p. 103

– Scurry, S 2010, ‘BAGHDAD IN AMERICAN FILM: FROM FLYING CARPETS TO IEDS’, Orientalism in American Cinema: Providing a Historical and Geographical Context for Post-Colonial Theory, Tiger Prints, All Theses, Clemson University, clemson.edu, viewed 23rd March 2016, <http://tigerprints.clemson.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1789&context=all_theses&gt;

The Parallels Between Morse Code and HTML Code

The telegraph was undeniably a revolutionary movement during the Victorian era but fast forward over a century later and I invite you to play a game of spot-the-difference, or more appropriately spot-the-similarities between the telegraph and it’s successor, digital media. Now I won’t waste your time with semantics. The very fact that you’re here means you’re fully aware of what the internet is and it’s potential. It’s very ability to store and provide us with large masses of information in a matter of seconds, illustrates an intense technological advancement that has allowed society to develop and grow throughout time. However, let me educate you on the history of the telegraph.

The 1830’s saw Samuel Morse introduce the world to the very first telegraph instrument. An idea stimulated after it took 4 days for him to be notified of his wife’s death involving a repetitive electrical sequence of code over a transmitting wire (Evans, 2016). As a result, this allowed instant communication over vast distances without the need for physical exchange,  which soon became the most heavily depended on telecommunication system in the 20th century (Freeman, 2012, p.17).

Apart from the fact that they are both critical technological advancements that have allowed society to develop and grow, the telegraph and the internet parallel in more ways then one.

INSTANT COMMUNICATION AND ACCESSING INFORMATION
The first transatlantic cable allowed people to communicate instantaneously across large distances and annihilated the space between countries. The Crimean War (1853-56)  saw french and Britain governments communicating directly with commanders on the battlefield. More controversially, reporter William Howard Russell alerted the public of the unethical actions on the battlefield in real time, such as lack of medical support and inadequately equipped front-line soldiers (Standage, 1998). Similarly, instant communication can be experienced within the internet through Facebook, Skype, Twitter etc. in order to relay and exchange information to individuals or groups from across rooms, cities and the world.

SOCIAL CONCERNS

While both cases experienced alot of hype and excitement, they also triggered skepticism throughout the public with concerns that the telegraph would hinder social interaction and personal relations (Standage, 1998). They feared participants would be too occupied with their devices that they would disregard physical interaction. Sound familiar? This mirrors today’s society as people fear that the internet is absorbing our lives and damaging our relationships, which sparks the question, if relationships weren’t destroyed by the telegraph, then why would the internet?

MONOPOLY POWER
The telegraph was responsible for  creating one of the first great monopolies in U.S history the Western Union. After establishing a transcontinental system, the Western union suppressed their competition through tactics of ‘buying up bankrupt lines, absorbing competitors with new issues of stock and contracting with the railroads’ (Phillips, 2000, p.276). Consider today’s monopolies of the internet. Google dominates the market over Bing and Yahoo in regards to the most popular internet search engine, aiming to create the most efficient experience possible when searching for information.

PRIVACY ISSUES
The telegraph experienced an array of privacy issues as messages were sent and received via telegraph operators who acted as third parties in personal conversations. Furthermore, ‘scam artists found crooked ways to make money by manipulating the transmission of stock prices and the results of horse races using the telegraph’ (Standage, 2015). Similarly, today the internet has to manage the threats of hackers and identity thieves who target credit card details to scam people of their money. As resolutions, codes were applied through telegraphs and passwords (a similar form of code) are implemented through the internet.

ONLINE RELATIONSHIPS

On a light-hearted note, romance is also a common factor between the telegraph and the internet. Women occupied the majority in the occupation of telegraph operators (Jepsen, 2000). With this they had the advantage of talking to men of all distances and meeting new people everyday. The use of the telegraph also initiated the first online marriage over the wires. (Evans, 2016). This occurred long before today’s romance methods of online chat-rooms, applications such as Tinder and social media that often replace physical communication.

References:
Evans, N 2016, ‘Week 2: Global Village, Global Empire’, BCM232, Lecture Notes, The University of Wollongong, Australia

Freeman, E 2012, ‘The Telegraph and Personal Privacy: A Historical and Legal Perspective’, EDPACS: The EDP Audit, Control and Security Newsletter, Taylor & Francis Online, Vol. 46, Issue 6, <http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/pdf/10.1080/07366981.2012.750531&gt;

Jepsen, T 2000, ‘Women in the Telegraph Industry’, My Sisters Telegraphic: Women in the Telegraph Office 1846-1950, Ohio University Press, viewed 16th March 2016, <https://books.google.com.au/books?hl=en&lr=&id=bcBUk9LPR0sC&oi=fnd&pg=PR5&dq=women+and+the+telegraph+morse&ots=2tXQvAxwWl&sig=wh1K12nrfM4f65ki5878W298I5Y#v=onepage&q&f=false&gt;

Phillips, R. J 2000, ‘Digital Technology and Institutional Change from the Gilded Age to Modern Times: The Impact of the Telegraph and the Internet’, Journal of Economic Issues, Routledge Group, Vol. 34, No. 2, pp. 267-289, tandfonline, <http://eds.a.ebscohost.com/eds/pdfviewer/pdfviewer?sid=27c44e33-04e3-47df-a1d6-84d74c63859f%40sessionmgr4001&vid=1&hid=4202&gt;

Standage, T 2015, ‘The Victorian Internet’, southeastern.edu, viewed 15th March 2016, <http://www2.southeastern.edu/Academics/Faculty/scraig/standage.html&gt;

Standage, T 1998, ‘War and Peace In the Global Village’, The Victorian Internet, Bloomsbury, USA, pp. 136-153

Why So Full of Your Self-ie?

Let it be known that not only is ‘selfie’ an official word in the dictionary, but in 2013, it was dubbed word of the year by the Oxford dictionary (BBC, 2013). Such a title can only be a true testament to how selfies have become an integral part of our everyday lives. If that’s not enough validation for you, why don’t you stroll over to Instagram yourself and look at the 272 million hashtags that fall under the same category. Selfies have become a social phenomenon, being utilised not just by the everyday person but celebrities, politicians and even astronauts. However, there are concerns that the selfie movement has also arisen a narcissistic movement amongst those who participate.

It seems that those who protest the idea, argue that the selfie is merely a means for insecure, self-centered and shallow women to seek the attention and gratification of others. Some critics believe “We are living in a culture of people who are very much involved in themselves… When they turn that camera on themselves they believe they are so important and so interesting…” (Farah, 2014). However what they are lacking to observe are the undeniable positives t0 the selfie revolution.

Selfies shouldn’t purely be seen as stimulants for the vain and shallow, they should be considered as powerful tools of creative expression and communication. Jerry Saltz goes as far as to even say that selfies should be considered as a new genre of art, ‘a type of self-portraiture formally distinct from all others in history…something like art.’ (Saltz, 2014) And like art, everyone perceives something different from it.

I think it is important to note that selfies can be used as a tool to control an individual’s image and the only way that it could possibly be narcissistic is because we don’t always document the mundane moments of our lives such as the 5 hour Netflix bender we’re currently in the middle of.
I believe selfies are a powerful way for someone to shape their identity online, giving them the right to decide exactly how they want to be viewed by the world.  Selfies allow people the option to completely re-define how they portray themselves in a technique Nicola Evans calls ‘seizing the gaze’ (Evans, 2016). For years, women in particular, have been the objects of this gaze, but now they can chose whether they want to post that perfect photo that took lots of preparation or that cheeky double chin with a mate for a laugh.

This kind of control generates a power that has the ability to not only empower ones self, but greatly influence others. Senft, defines empowerment as ‘the capacity to make meaningful choices, act on those choices when interacting with others and…draw on resources that allow us to enforce those actions’ and I believe that is exactly what happened in the the 2014 #nomakeupselfie campaign. (Tiidenberg & Cruz, p. 83, 2015)

Screen Shot 2016-03-14 at 1.43.32 PM.png

Beyonce: Source

#nomakeupselfie Campaign

This online movement aimed to help raise awareness for breast cancer research in the UK by taking a selfie of yourself without makeup accompanied with the hashtag #nomakeupselfie, making a donation and tagging several friends to do the same. In a time where selfies were on the incline and narcissistic claims were surfacing, the #nomakeupselfie campaign aimed to challenge the stereotypical image of females wearing makeup in order to encourage them to feel comfortable in their own skin.

Screen Shot 2016-03-14 at 1.45.57 PM.png

Gwyneth Paltrow: Source

 

The campaign was said to have been sparked by Fiona Cunningham who was the first to post her #nomakeupselfie in support of Kim Novak who was ridiculed for her appearance at the Oscars the month prior (Duffin, 2014). While you may be wondering what on earth that has  do with cancer, the answer is nothing, but if this trend had the ability to encourage women to break away from their comfort-zones and challenge social expectations while raising 8 million pounds for breast cancer at the same time, how could that possibly be a negative?

Overall, in a world where there are regulations, rules and standards all around us, it can be liberating to have the freedom be able to control our image, our identity and how we wish to portray ourselves to the big bad world, so no more hesitating over the shutter button!

References:
BBC, 2013, ”Selfie’ named by Oxford Dictionaries as word of 2013′, BBC News, bbc.com, viewed 12th March 2016, <http://www.bbc.com/news/uk-24992393&gt;

Duffin, C 2014, ‘#nomakeupselfie campaign started by teenage mum from Stoke raises 8 million for Cancer Research’, The Telegraph, telegraph.co.uk, viewed 14th March 2016, <http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/10722672/nomakeupselfie-campaign-started-by-teenage-mum-from-Stoke-raises-8m-for-Cancer-Research.html&gt;

Evans, N 2016, ‘Week 2: Looking at Ourselves’, BCM232, Lecture notes, University of Wollongong, Australia.

Farrah, J 2014, ‘The Selfie Craze: Are We Becoming a Narcissistic Nation?’, The Huffington Post Australia, huffingtonpost.com, viewed 13th March 2016, <http://www.huffingtonpost.com/judy-farah/selfie-craze_b_4983014.html?ir=Australia&gt;

Saltz, J 2014, ‘Art at Arm’s Length: A History of the Selfie’, New York Magazine, vulture.com, viewed 12th March 2016, <http://www.vulture.com/2014/01/history-of-the-selfie.html?mid=twitter_nymag&utm_content=buffer18f61&utm_medium=scoial&utm_source=twitter.com&utm_campaign=buffer#&gt;

Tiidenberg, K, Cruz, E. D 2015, ‘Selfies, Image and Re-making of the Body’, Body & Society, Sage Publications, Vol. 21, No. 4, pp. 77-102, uowplatform.edu.au, viewed March 13th 2016, <https://moodle.uowplatform.edu.au/pluginfile.php/607709/mod_resource/content/1/SelfiesImageandtheBody.pdf&gt;

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Thinking Thoughts: Digital Storytelling

And so it continues…
With the end of one assignment starts the beginning of another. For our digital storytelling project, we have been asked to communicate how media practice is spatial in nature using a particular media platform.

you will design, implement and evaluate a small qualitative digital storytelling project that looks at media audience practices from the perspective of a specific person and/or place – Kate Bowles

To be honest, when I first read this assignment, it worried me. In fact, I’m still worried. Not only was I unsure about what topic to research but I was also anxious about the medium to choose. For instance I have no experience in making videos or making websites but I also didn’t want to stick with something too simple, like my blog.

In my research, I came across an article that talks about an experiment conducted by artist, Ivan Cash. Within San Francisco, he politely asks people to show him the last picture taken on their mobile phones accompanied with a backstory describing the image to showcase the unique stories and lives of the city’s residents.

The work of Cash gave me the inspiration to similarly replicate this experiment but to twist it in favour of media, audience and place. I wish to question what the public captures on their mobile cameras and why. I am interested in how individuals use their mobile cameras to take photos of almost anything and everything including food, people, places and even objects that many others would consider meaningless and unusual to capture and keep. How do people determine what deserves to be captured? What do they do with the image afterwards? How long have they kept it for? Who have they shared it with? These are all questions I wish to answer and analyse to make sense of how we use our technology.

How does this relate to Media, Audience and Place? Glad you asked!

  • Audience? People with photos on their phones
  • Media? Mobile phones
  • Place? Where I go to ask people, plus the ‘space’ of the mobile phone and the photos themselves

I would love some feedback as I am still a little unsure but this is definitely something i would like to research!

What are your thoughts?

Time to Reflect

After 2 years, blogging as usually been a chore. An academic duty of sorts. However throughout these 10 weeks of blogging, BCM240 has been a game changer. Not only do I believe that my quality of writing had improved, but so has my overall growth as a researcher in the field of media. Despite my previous experience with blogging in four other university subjects, it has not been until this semester that I have truly evolved the most in the blogosphere and found genuine enjoyment in writing and researching weekly topics.

APPEARANCE / FUNCTIONALITY

Before BCM240, my blog theme was pretty standard, incorporating a nice shade of default. Default theme, default images and default widgets. But I’m proud to say that I’m a changed woman. I took the time to personalise my blog through a new theme, with my own photo as the header image and adding widgets such as a twitter feed and blog roll to increase reader engagement. In fact, I got a bit carried away with my widgets in the beginning and ended up having several placed in my footer that I had no idea about. That is, until my tutor Travis set me straight with his feedback and now I know what a footer actually is!
I’ve also added the convenience of ‘categories’ on my main navigation bar. This allowed me to segregate the blogs I have written for other subjects by their subject name. Undoubtedly, this made my blog much more organised for effective blog structure and quicker user access to build reader engagement.

A further improvement to my blog can be seen through my ‘about me’ page. Previously, if anyone wanted to know anything about me, they would’ve seen a nice blank page. Although I covered the basics, a big part of what defines me is music, so I liked the idea of using lyrics as a strategy to describe myself. In saying that, I decided to use the underrated words of Ringo Starr from one of my most beloved bands, The Beatles. I like to think that it highlights my somewhat ‘unconventional’ side while also emphasising a more serious, metaphorical meaning of escaping the daily grind.

READER ENGAGEMENT

Another goal within BCM240 was to stimulate reader engagement. While it may seem obvious that this should be a high priority, before this subject I never considered anyone else reading my posts apart from my tutors and myself. However, after observing my WordPress statistics, I was pleasantly shocked to find that my work had been viewed internationally within over 15 different countries this year alone!
Screen Shot 2015-09-29 at 12.29.30 pm

To encourage further reader engagement, I decided gain the assistance of social media. After creating my very first Twitter account, I made it my mission to follow as many BCM240 students as possible purely to get my name out there and noticed. This was a success to a degree as some of those I followed also followed me back, gradually building my audience. After every published blog, I tweeted about it with a link providing direct access. Not only did I tweet about my blog, but I tweeted about the blogs of others that I found interesting in order to create a rapport with them. Another successful Twitter strategy was the use of hashtags. Every one of my tweets contained the hashtag #BCM240 which allowed everyone in the subject to see them including lecturers and tutors. Perhaps my most successful number of views was the result of a retweet from my lecturer and tutor. On that day alone, I received 35 views of my blog, which contributed to 74 views for the month!
Heidi Cohen suggests that an effective way to increase the productivity of social media sharing is to clearly understand the interests, wants and needs of your audience using ‘killer titles’ to help hook readers in which I have attempted to do to the best of my ability.
Funnily enough though, Twitter wasn’t my main blog referrer. That title is given to the WordPress website itself with search engines coming a close second. Again, I adopted the use of tagging ‘BCM240’ within WordPress to increase the possibility of my blog showing up in searches.

To keep readers engaged, I ensured I broke up long paragraphs of content by inserting graphics and videos where appropriate. Eve Haugen encourages the use of visuals throughout blogs to increase traffic. She suggests that image-to-word ratios have a strong impact on attracting audiences and keeping them.

It was also suggested by Adam Connell to mention other bloggers in your content. Not only can this increase traffic and engagement, but it can also help build relationships with other bloggers. However, he gave caution not to mention anyone if they don’t actually help your audience, which lead me to look back over my blogs to rethink my blogger suggestions. I also used a general blogroll to recommend similar bloggers to my audience to further increase their understanding of media, audience and place.

The use of open-ended questions was a further attempt to increase audience engagement however what was disappointing this semester was the lack of comments. Despite the quantity of views, comments remained low, which leads me to believe that perhaps my readers aren’t reaching to the very end of my blog. Through this revelation, I’ve concluded that although I may have attracted readers to my blog, I need to improve my methods of keeping them there and staying motivated to read it. This may mean I have to perfect the art communicating my message effectively through reduced word limits.

RESEARCH / WRITING

In regards to my research methods, I feel as if my writing has become more analytical while still maintaining a somewhat colloquial voice and style. Throughout this blogging experience I have learnt firsthand the advantages of using ethnography research methods to gather data and the importance of finding additional research to help support personal claims and views.

A further improvement I would like to reflect on includes my referencing of opposing views. Including arguments of both for and against helped strengthen my knowledge of the topic at hand as well as strengthening my opinion by disputing opposing perspectives. Granted, haven’t adopted this approach in all of my posts, however I now feel confident enough to do so more in future.

One last element of improvement involves my use of block quotes. In previous blogs, I never used block quotes, which resulted in the direct words of others being lost in a sea of my own. When writing, I am now more aware of how I cite the work of others, ensuring that that the work of others are clearly distinct and detached from my own work, giving them the credit they deserve. I’ve also found that block quotes are useful for separating words and highlighting key information within my blogs.

Needless to say, there is always room for improvement, and despite my growth as a result of this subject, I’ve still got a long way to go. I’d like to thank all of my readers and everyone involved in making this the most enjoyable blogging experience yet! I strongly encourage others to also take the plunge and discover the self-satisfaction that comes from public writing.

Testing… Testing… 1, 2, 3… Is this thing on??

… Is what goes through my mind when I talk to someone but they seem a bit more pre-occupied with something else. Or as I like to call it, the ‘I’m-100%-certain-that-whatever-you’re-yapping-about-is-less-important-than-this‘ response.
 
This is ultimately a result of reduced attention. With help from the evolution of technology, attention has become more and more difficult to capture, reducing an individual’s need to be actively attentive (Bowles, 2015)

Sometimes it amazes me how many screens we need in front of us to be satisfied at any one time. It’s no longer enough just to have a TV in front of us. We now need laptops in our laps and phones in our hands. This, my friends, is what we call media multi-tasking. The true test of our cognitive capacity. For example, I can tell you now that in the process of writing this post, I have two separate browser windows open, each with over 7 tabs that separate business from leisure. I’ve also got ‘Game of Thrones’ playing on the TV for some background sound, messaging friends on my phone and playing the occasional Candy Crush game on my iPod. Clearly, I am a very busy woman whose mind is the equivalent of a Beatles concert at Shea Stadium.

Despite all of this activity, am I actually doing anything productive? A recent study suggests that the average attention span of an individual has deceased to 8.25 seconds without being distracted… less than that of a goldfish (Weinreich, 2015). What is more worrisome however, is when we bring that statistic into a classroom. Faria Sana and her colleagues conducted experiments to support their claim that, as a result of media multi-tasking, laptops hinder classroom learning. The results concluded that those exposed to multitasking on a laptop received lower marks than those who weren’t, therefore discouraging the use of laptops in the education environment.

Multitasking on a laptop is a distraction to both users and fellow students and can be detrimental to learning of classroom materials.      – Sana et al.

Personally, due to my own personal experience, I argue this viewpoint to a degree as I have found that where usage is used appropriately, laptops have the potential to be more beneficial than detrimental. Sana suggests laptops should be discouraged from classrooms where information is already presented in slides and textbooks (Sana, 2014). I however, find peace of mind in having the lecture slides on the laptop in front of me in order to go back if I’m falling behind in note-taking. I also find that I type faster than I write, and therefore would prefer the use of a laptop in the classroom. A further benefit includes quick research at your fingertips for any terms that require more understanding for comprehension purposes.

Additionally, research conducted by the perspective of students also contradicts Sana’s work as they believe that high media multi-taskers perform better while working with distractions (Reddy, 2014)

Our brains as adolescents and digital natives have adapted to this media influence and because we’ve grown up with it we’re able to cope with all these different stimuli                           – Alexandra Ulmer

Leaving the educational environment, I took it upon myself to observe my mum’s attention span for the day. In particular, she is a big fan of digitally recording television shows. She will often sit down after work and watch one of her pre-recorded programs, however I have noticed that she can never watch the entire program for more than 15 minutes without doing something else. After 10 minutes in the lounge-room, she then tries to watch it from the kitchen as she prepares dinner. Then she is interrupted by the telephone ringing, continuing to talk over the top of the program. After that, she then prepares a cup of tea and continues to watch the show in the lounge-room while waiting for the kettle to boil – but of course, she forgets about it and now the kettle is cold again. Within an hour, she had to rewind the show 5 times to re-watch particular scenes she had missed.
Her response to my observations hit her with a bit of a reality shock but overall she agreed with me that multi-tasking did not work for her in this instance.

It is important to note however, that our attention (or lack of) is not merely defined by our media use. Have you ever walked into a supermarket for a particular item only to walk out with 50 other items EXCEPT the one you went in for in the first place? Or left a drink in the freezer thinking ‘this way it will get cold quicker!’ only to come back hours later to a completely frozen bottle?
We can all thank our short attention spans for that. Check out this quick video below and see how much you can relate to short attention spans!