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In this week’s symposium, our tutor referred to ‘traditional media’ as ‘heritage media’.

I’d never heard the term used in this context and it really stood out as something quite shocking. As I’ve mentioned time and time again, I’m a print girl, true and through. I read books, tangible newspapers and magazines in hand as much as possible. But I’m also a constant consumer of news and other texts online and via my phone.

We discussed the conservative argument for free market economics which might say heritage media has an inherent ‘checks and balance’ system for quality. Theoretically, this would ensure the ‘best’ stories would go to print or air. Yet what tends to happen reflects more of a populist approach as, largely, it is the content deemed to appeal to the masses that is published and produced.

Online there is (infinite) space for diversity of content, opinion, language, perspective and debate. By coincidence, in my webscrawling today I came across a 2006 publication of Harvard Law professor, Yochai BenklerThe Wealth of Networks: How Social Production Transforms Markets and Freedom.

As a side note – I love that as I’ve started formally studying more topics or subjects I am genuinely interested in, the time I spend online for pleasure is actually resonating with that guided learning.

Benkler’s work is one such example. He discusses how the internet has restructured public discourse, giving individuals greater freedom and autonomy, encouraging participation, engagement as a scale-free network. He suggests the internet provides ‘avenues of discourse around the bottle-necks of older media, whether these are held by authoritarian governments or by media owners’ (p. 271). This point is particularly pertinent in light of Prime Minister Tony Abbott and the Coalition’s latest tirade against (or ‘efficiency review’ of) the ABC and SBS. Of course, this is in addition to two publishing houses (or rather, two millionaires) dominating Australia’s print industry, providing the public with ‘news’ that is about as ‘fair and balanced’ as Fox News.

Benkler says ‘filtering, accreditation, and synthesis mechanisms [are a] part of network behavior’ (p. 271) and that peer production ‘is providing some of the most important fuctionalities of the media. These efforts provide a watchdog, a source of salient observations regarding matters of public concern, and a platform for discussing the alternatives open to a polity’ (p. 272).

‘In the networked information environment, everyone is free to observe, report, question, and debate, not only in principle, but in actual capability.’ (p. 272)

Perhaps most importantly, is that in today’s online, networked world, anyone can become what New York Univerrsity journalism professor, Jay Rosen, calls a ‘citizen journalist‘.

‘…the people formerly known as the audience employ the press tools they have in their possession to inform one another.’

Citizen journalism, the internet and networked science are shifting power away from leaders, managers and millionaires, and are democratising the media landscape and the society in which they exist. While I will hold on to heritage media, I am incredibly grateful for the proliferation of online networks that constantly offer me new pages to view, opinions to read and thoughts to think. But still, I’m pretty excited for The Saturday Paper. Aren’t you?

In yesterday’s symposium we discussed narrative structure and hypertexts.

One the whole, reading is considered to be a relaxing pastime. If I sit down with a piece of creative writing or fiction, it’s pretty likely I’m seeking out a relatively passive, pleasurable experience. Generally, I want to read these types of texts when I’m after an escape, wanting to calm down or am/want to be feeling particularly lazy/blissful/at peace. Sure, sometimes I read as a distraction or when I’m procrastinating, but if I’m really needing to actively engage with a text, I’m more likely to approach it with a different mindset and with a pen (or laptop) close by.

What came up yesterday, (and as my classmate, Daniel, expresses), is that some of the ideas proposed where the more traditional ‘reader’ is instead offered to be a ‘reader-author’ – gaining agency within the fictional context – might in some cases, disrupt that peace one feels when sitting down with a more traditional narrative. When an author gives you a beginning, middle and end, you’re provided with some certainly that a conflict will resolve, or there will be some sort of logical conclusion to the drama within. Sitting down to a text with no definitive conclusion means having to be alert enough to make decisions about which path to take, and when I’m in the mood for relaxing that’d feel overwhelming.

I also have a tendency to put off making decisions until the last possible moment. For example, I received an email just two days ago asking me to ‘Please enrol in [next semester’s] courses at your earliest convenience’ as enrolment opened last November. It’s not that I haven’t been thinking about what I’d like to/need to enrol in, quite the contrary. It’s more along the lines of ah, there are so many interesting subjects on offer how ever will I choose? 

In some circumstances restrictions are actually bloody helpful. Choosing subjects, working out what to wear, even choosing what book to read next. We’re living in a world with endless opportunities which don’t get me wrong, is great. I know how lucky I am to be in a position where I have so many educational and life possibilities and I am truly grateful to have such a privilege. I’m acutely aware of how many 20-something females around the world are deprived of all these chances, where the prospect of reading any kind of text, is simply (and sadly) just a dream.

But, for me sometimes being relieved of decision-making is just that – a relief.

So, I think on the whole I’ll be sticking to pre-prescribed texts, but perhaps when I’m feeling adventurous or so inclined, I will choose to be a reader-author. It seems like a pretty open invitation.

In our most recent symposium, Paul Graham’s ‘The Age of the Essay‘ came up for discussion.

What intrigued me most about this piece is Graham’s proposition that the disciplines of English literature and writing may not be synonymous. To be honest, prior to Graham’s Essay the thought had hardly crossed my mind. In high school, anything to do with, or concerns regarding writing, are matters for the English teacher.

Graham argues that the reason so many young people have become disinterested in writing (and subsequently produce poor quality or incoherent essays), is that instead of writing…

…about how a baseball team with a small budget might compete with the Yankees, or the role of color in fashion, or what constitutes a good dessert, [students are writing] about symbolism in Dickens.

No disrespect to Dickens, but I think Graham’s on to something.

I know very little about the International Baccalaureate® (IB) education philosophy or system, but I do know all students who take on the IB have the opportunity to research and write about an area that particularly interests them. As I’ve mentioned in a number of recent posts, education is so much more interesting when we are actively engaged, when it’s targeted towards our personal needs and passions, and when it is future-driven – namely, we can see how we’ll be able to apply what we’re learning in our future careers and to achieve life goals.

I’m lucky. As this blog makes pretty clear, I enjoy reading, writing, and interpreting. English was one of my favourite subjects at school and on the whole, I was pleased with the texts we were given to study. However, my pleasure in the subject certainly wained when we studied what to me was, a less-appealing text, and my interest in writing a chemistry report was verging on non-existent.

This holds true to Graham’s proposition that one’s ability to engage with, enjoy and actively develop their writing skill and discipline is fundamentally caught up with their interest in the(ir) subject.

Graham says:

The seeds of our miserable high school experiences were sown in 1892, when the National Education Association [of America] “formally recommended that literature and composition be unified in the high school course.”

To my knowledge, this proposition is globally transferable, and is certainly something I can relate to. If you want your students to look forward to writing, give them a choice of texts to study. Some kids might really enjoy watching and reflecting on action movies, others might enjoy drawing up and constructing analytical reports on climate change. Maybe you’ve got a student who is utterly obsessed with dogs, and wants to be a vet when he or she grows up. Why not work with this child to compose a task that satisfies the curriculum, and engages them, motivates them, and works with their personal curiosities? Surely this would only result in higher student attention, retention and participation. Ultimately, isn’t that what we want from and for our students?

As I’ve somewhat alluded to, as we progress through the education system, opportunities for such self-selected or self-directed tasks do increase. Not many people complete a PhD in an area of little personal interest. We are more likely to dedicate our time and efforts towards something we want to invest in. Right now, Christopher Pyne is striving – and striding – towards rewriting and (re)establishing a more uniform, national curriculum. Yet, isn’t this ‘one size fits all’ approach to education only going to lead to greater disengagement, sketchier attendance rates, and consequently (and what is surely one of two primary motivators for Pyne – the other being re-Westernising an increasingly multicultural society), poorer results?

Mr Pyne, teachers and educational leaders, take a leaf out of Logan LaPlante’s hackschooling ‘book’. Learn to work with your students rather than for a system. If they want to compose an audiovisual response to a Mahler symphony, instead of the standard intro-paras-one-two-three-conclusion essay to some politically-identified set text – and it just feels right – then I say, let them.

We need to keep personalising education, and writing, if we are to achieve better results.

Those who want to write about English literature will continue to write about English literature. And, the others? Well, you’ve got a much greater chance of students writing about something they’re interested in and handing that in, than you’ll ever have of them submitting an inspired essay about English literature, too.

In today’s workshop our class engaged in a symposium on the broad topic of design fiction.

It’s taken some time for me to understand how to differentiate between what might be considered or categorised as design fiction, and material that better meets the definition of science fiction.

Granted, I have had relatively little exposure to science fiction in the popular sense of the genre, as I prefer to read biographies, memoirs, and like, and watch kitsch rom-coms and dramas, rather than your Matrixs and Blade Runners. I must admit, I haven’t even seen all the Star Wars films, nor Avatar. Perhaps – in fact I’m sure – I’m missing out, but at this point in time, that’s how the grass has grown.

However, during our discussion I was reminded of a book I read and loved, in my younger years. The novel Will Buster and the Gelmet Helmet by Australian-born author Odo Hirsch, (real name David Kausman) is about a boy who’s chosen as part of an educational experiment run by Professor Alphonse Gelmet’s Academy of Leadership Excellence. The story is set in the future, where ‘the Wizard Wars of the 21st century’ are part of a ‘dull history lesson’, and Will gets around in a HoverPod, a kind of flying car (while being much more advanced than The Flying School Bus).

It turns out Will Buster is now the protagonist of a three-book series which goodreads files under the genre of ‘speculative fiction’. (As a side note, our tutor remarked that the most notable work of literature in this genre is likely to be George Orwell’s 1984.)

Hirsch is quoted to have said, ‘For me, writing is great fun. I get to make up a world and I get to look at that world with freshness and curiosity.’

In our class symposium we decided the fundamental distinction between design fiction and science fiction is this: science fiction is narrative-based. It relies on one key event or technological development that drastically changes the environment. On the other hand, design fiction’s focus is on creating a world or furthering the world through a multiplicity of developments that lead to more realistic and imaginable social changes. Design fiction is less prescriptive, and its concepts and inventions invite a variety of futures through acting on the world in a particular way.

While the Will Buster trilogy is a) a children’s series and b) could simply be dismissed as such (fiction), today’s discussion has left me wondering whether Hirsch really might be channeling something which is more intrinsically in keeping with design fiction. From memory, I recall Will living in a world where education is fed to students through digital devices, teachers are effectively defunct, and technological advances have led to greater independence and autonomy for pre-teen children.

In teachers’ notes written by Kevin Steinberger, he too suggests Will’s life ‘unfolds in a futuristic Orwellian world of social engineering, state institutions, public surveillance, robots and hover vehicles’. In its most basic sense, it is a story of good and evil and Steinberger advises teachers to ask their students to consider ‘what is life like in Will Buster’s time? What does the place look like? How different is it from the world as we know it?’ For our purposes, to this I would add; what developments or technological advances have led to this reality, and what have been their social implications?

Some may argue that many of Orwell’s portentous moralisings have evidenced themselves. If this is the case, maybe too, Hirsch’s fiction holds somewhat dim prospects for the future of our education.

So for something a bit different, here’s a kind of latest news/opinion piece I wrote for artsHub yesterday. It’s a bit tongue-in-cheek but the foundation of my arguments still stand. So, have a read and give ya mum a book this christmas – and while you’re at it, buy your brother/sister/cousin/friend one, too.

An abbreviated version is available at the artsHub website.

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With the rise of the hipster, young adults are creating a digital divide when it comes to reading – and its not what you think.

Young adult readers want a tangible bang for their buck when it comes to buying books

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Image: Books abound at The Central Library of Stuttgart
A new study has found 16 to 24 year olds prefer buying printed books to eBooks.
Recent research by British marketing group Voxburner found that 62 per cent of this demographic surveyed would rather buy a physical book than purchase a copy of the same book for a digital reading device.
As referenced in Voxburner’s Buying Digital Content Report, which sourced and surveyed 1,420 respondents in the UK between 24 September and 18 October this year, 17 per cent of respondents felt eBooks need to be 75 per cent cheaper than current market prices.
Only eight per cent of young people found eBooks to be reasonably priced and over a quarter thought the price of eBooks should be halved.
As a young woman who could comfortably locate myself within this demographic if we presume such findings are transferable across the equator, I find myself siding with the majority.
Nothing beats the smell, the weight and the wonder a physical book presents. I nurture the opportunity to flip through a book’s pages, making my own creases in the spine and being able hold it close to my heart. While I personally am not a fan of dog-earing page corners, it too, is a physical sensation unavailable to those who choose the digital path.
Voxburner found the top-rated reasons for preferring physical to digital books were ‘I like to hold the product’ (51 per cent), ‘I am not restricted to a particular device’ (20 per cent), ‘I can easily share it’ (10 per cent), ‘I like the packaging’ (9 per cent), and ‘I can sell it when used’ (6 per cent). These physical and emotional experiences are simply unavailable when it comes to eBooks.
Readers may benefit from being able to enlarge the font size of their eBooks, but with so many hipsters wearing glasses these days, that’s hardly a concern for today’s young adults.
I gain so much satisfaction from slowly lifting up the bottom corner of the right-side page whilst reading intently and swiftly through an all-enveloping story, before the climax of reaching that last visible word and slamming the page down on its head to continue without breaking rhythm.
Then there are the smells of a freshly printed page, or the history of the second-hand book purchased from a little bookstore in a country town after accidently forgetting how amazing reading can be, relishing in some free time and subsequently finishing a book faster than expected, on a weekend away.
Bookshelves are a unique window into a person’s interests, past and knowledge. If I were to store my books virtually, I’d be without the ready reminder of who I’ve become through reading, each time I pass the shelves.
In an interview with The Guardian, Voxburner spokesman, Luke Mitchell extended this sentiment, reiterating that ‘books are like status symbols, you can’t really see what someone has read on their Kindle’.
Additionally, eBooks lack character. As Gerard Ward of Voxburner notes, most eBooks use standard fonts and contain fewer images due to the lack of colour available on many devices.
I admit, I don’t own an eReader of any sort. But, I also have very little interest in doing so.
Where is the pleasure of cuddling up in front of the open fire on a wintery night but having to worry about the heat adversely affecting the electrical components of my ‘book’? I want to be able to sit as close to the heat as I want, and observe the shadows of the flames illuminate and shade different parts of my page as they flicker.
Yes, I am highly dependent on my smartphone and many other technological devices. However, as Mitchell suggested to publishers in an interview with British trade journal, The Bookseller, it might pay to reconsider their pricing hierarchy.
‘The report suggests that publishers should look at how young people download content, because although about 85 per cent have a smartphone, only 55 per cent have some kind of eReader’, Mitchell said.
So, eBooks may be convenient and available at the drop of a hat (or the tap of a screen), but isn’t the kill of the chase a significant element of the reading experience? Browsing, scouting and landing the coveted paperback only heighten my desire to jump in once the pages fill my hands.
But ultimately, what is important to me is that we just keep young people reading. So this holiday season, don’t pass up the gift of giving your loved one a whole other world they can explore in the palm of their hands, whatever your preference; print or digital.

So today I met the most amazing guy while I was out shopping. I always thought people who say everything happens for a reason were kind of crazy but my mind’s spun 360. I’d just bought a top from Sportsgirl and as I walked out of the store, I turned my head to make sure I hadn’t left anything behind. My legs didn’t quite get the message so I kept moving forward while I was looking the other way, and what do you know? I bumped straight in to McDreamy. He had brown hair with a cute little curl down by his ears and his eyes were bright blue. He wore a black jacket with burgundy jeans and a little beanie, in a deep emerald that brought out his eyes. And then he said to me, ‘You look so hot today, Esther. Like a sunrise”.

Okay, clearly the above is a total coup and while I’m hesitant to publish such utter crap, and don’t want to be labelled as the girl who cried wolf, I’m interested to know how many people will click to ‘read more’ after scanning those opening lines. Ps. I promise I’ll never do it again.

This long weekend has been a chance to rest and recuperate (from what specifically, I’m not sure, just ‘life’ I suppose). I’ve been to a photographic exhibition, seen friends, celebrated a few birthdays and spent time reading. I thought I’d post a little recap of some things that have caught my eye or ear over the past week or so. So without further ado, here’s my What’s Hot? list for the Queen’s Birthday weekend of 2013.

1. You may or may not have been aware that we were given a whole day off today to watch the incredible talent of Broadway, by way of the Tony Awards. In fear of spoiling the results for those hungover and still in bed, or studying for an exam this week, I won’t say too much. But in case you were tossing up as to whether or not to watch the awards, here’s the ceremony’s opening number from the ridiculously innovative and entertaining Neil Patrick Harris. So much love for Lin-Manuel Miranda and his ridiculous lyrics.

2. I’ve also been listening to lots of podcasts. I’ve written about podcasting before, but I want to reiterate that it’s such a good way to catch up on news and cultural debates. Podcasts also open up windows of opportunity for you to gain insight into niche fields of study and enquiry. Some of my recent favourites are as follows:

3. On Twitter I’ve (Re-)Tweeted links to Dumbo Feather’s What Does Money Mean To You?, Steve Colquhoun’s piece, Is shiny Apple rotting at its core?, this short film about Zach Sobiech who said “You don’t have to find out you’re dying to start living”, and Mental Floss’ Five Hit Songs, Translated.

4. This pin has been repinned from one of my Pinterest boards 46 times and liked seven times.

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6. Here’s a Greenhouse made of caramelised sugar.

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7. And here’s a collection of cupboards, drawers, fridges and ovens. Click on the picture for more in  Erik Klein Wolterink‘s photographic series.

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Hope you’ve relished your last long weekend until November, Melbournians.

You can follow me on Twitter @estherlf or on Pinterest here.

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Dear Fairfax Media,

Oh, what has come of this new Age?

Today marks The Age’s first edition in a new ‘compact’ format. But, unfortunately the paper I opened this morning seems to have been filled with more advertising than quality journalism one would expect from such a longstanding source of professional news reporting. I appreciate the arduous process you’ve gone through to establish, edit and produce this new Age, but the result is something much more like those trashy tabloids it sits next to in Victoria’s news agencies. The font, the increased type, the colour-coding system… they’re all lost on me, I’m afraid. And despite your claim that this evolution will make the paper ‘Easier to pick up, [and] harder to put down’, my personal track record is telling otherwise.

Maybe it was just the kind of day I’ve had: first day back at university for the year, new subjects, new people, early morning trains to catch, no seat to sit on on a peak hour train, conversations to be had, internet to distract me and breakfast to be eaten. But as I’ve mentioned I’m a loyal, daily reader of the printed news. And this paper is far from welcoming.

You say you ‘Got the answer, no questions asked’, but maybe you should have asked some questions.  You used experts (tick) to monitor readers (tick) using neurological technologies (tick) to gain insight into their unconscious (tick). It sounds impressive when you put it like that, I’ll admit. But consider this sentence – page 20, teal coloured News section of today’s edition – ‘More than 100 readers of The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald were asked to read both broadsheet and compact versions of the newspapers in real-life conditions…’. More than 100 readers of two major newspapers? That’s all you could manage? And real-life conditions? Shit, that must’ve been hard to emulate! Now tell me, Fairfax, what was the demographic of the sample you ‘asked’ to participate in your ‘research’? Were they representative of your current readership? The readership you’d like to gain? Or maybe those you’d like to lose? And you say results found compacts were ‘considerably more engaging…”obviously [with] great results for our advertisers too”‘. Well from what I can tell, the greatest advertising source in today’s paper is you, yourselves. Yes, you must have some kind of explanation as to why you’ve made this terrible decision to move to a more ‘engaging’ format but I highly doubt it warrants five pages of advertising within the first 21 pages of space used for NEWS reporting. Is this really the biggest news of the day? And if it’s not news, then your colour-coding is lying to me. On day one!

Additionally, instead of having maybe, six or seven articles to a page, we now have one, and that one report takes up half the space while the other 50% is filled with advertising (and as we established, mostly yours). Your paper is now more ads than news, and the funny thing is, on pages 20 and 21, you’re advertising your new format to those who’ve already made it that far into the paper. Chances are they’re wanting more real news and less ads at this point, yet the surprises today just keep on coming. You explain Matt Martel “spent a couple of hundred dollars buying up French newspapers, Spanish newspapers, Dutch newspapers…” to see what ‘worked’ and what didn’t. But maybe that money could have been better spent interviewing Australians, your primary readers, and you could have applied those findings to your investigation.

And the thing is, it’s not the compact format I am against. I am a frequent user of Melbourne’s public transport system. I like to read my news, in the morning, in print. The broadsheet was awkward to hold and its pages were messy to turn in such close proximity to other commuters. But what I am challenging here, is the content. The way it is presented. The news to advertising ratio. The commercial look. The cheesy use of colour. The font that reminds me of comic sans even though it’s not. The weather page is hard to understand. The ‘cheap factor’ has increased and the aesthetic appeal has been washed away with last week’s rain. And now a footy fanatic must wait until their spouse/friend/family member has finished reading about global politics before they can analyse their team’s victory from Sunday’s twilight match. Or vise-versa. And clealry, that is about as far from Melbournian as it comes.

So, Greg Hywood (CEO and MD), David Housego (CFO) and the Board of Fairfax Media, I ask you, what would the late David Syme, founder and cultivator of your fruits, say about this new Age? Or maybe you could just ask some of your loyal readers, that might be easier.

I want to coin #bringbackbroadsheet and set it off on Twitter. I want you to know how I feel, and how I’ve no doubt, many of your thousands of readers feel. Because today is no doubt, one of the Darkest Days in Australian Media. Stuff sport, politics and the ‘big banks’ lies’ you speak of. You’ve topped the lot. And prepare for the onslaught and retaliation you’ve sparked. Because you can’t change a Melbourne institution without hearing from the people. So hear you will.