Aaron brooks

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The process of creating a website was an incredibly rewarding endeavor. I came across a diverse set of opinions, greatly improved my ability to empathize, and reoriented myself in response to new ideas and viewpoints. I drastically improved my technological skills, progressing from hopelessly inept to solidly below-average. And most excitingly, I feel like my project has been successful in creating the kind of conversation and awareness I was aiming for.

I. The Project:

After deciding to focus my project on the legal battles surrounding Internet copyright infringement, I debated which of the cyber mediums discussed in class best fit my project. Gradually, I saw the benefits of utilizing several different methods of expression, all of which present the possibility of connecting with my audience in different ways. Videos can generate interest and excitement about the project, podcasts allow me to create a meaningful personal connection with my audience, and a wiki provides an outlet for expanding on the dialogue that I hope to facilitate. By creating a website, I was able to incorporate all of these mechanisms into my final project.

After deciding on the website as my cyber medium of choice, I began reflecting on what its purpose would be. Did I want to attempt to connect with legislators, stir up passion among fellow music-lovers, or pursue some other objective? My ultimate goal is finding a practical compromise with regards to online file sharing that will allow consumers inexpensive access to downloads without threatening the music industry’s financial viability. Before this objective can be realized, though, there must be a place where diverging viewpoints (recording labels, artists, fans, etc.) can come together and explain their positions to each other – after all, the odds of a solution increase as opposing sides come to understand each other. Simply put, empathic argument must take place.

Building on this realization, the goal of my project became creating a space for candid, empathic dialogue about music downloading. Such a site clearly had to be interactive; to that end, I employed several distributional tactics to ensure that my project was both well-publicized and self-contained. I began by mass-emailing my network and encouraging them to engage with the website in some way, whether it be editing the wiki, suggesting content, or some other means (the results have been encouraging, with over 25 people editing the wiki so far). Secondly, I plan on emailing various bloggers strategically placed within the online music community, in hopes of generating some buzz about the site. Finally, I will attempt to communicate directly with the music labels themselves via email or phone call. Ultimately, the record labels are the audience that must be convinced, and there are only two possible ways to do it: (1) by directly persuading them of the inevitability of the new music industry, or (2) through creating such a groundswell of support that the labels are forced to respond. My distributional tactics were focused on pursuing those two ends.

II. What I Learned:

Looking back, there are three major things that I learned through the process of creating this site. Interestingly, those three things mirror my major takeaways from the course in general.

First (and most practically), I learned a ton about web-site design. A very intimidating prospect for someone who one month ago thought Dreamweaver was a video game, the challenge and excitement of FINALLY succeeding ranked among my most satisfying experiences in a long time. Even though it took me longer to just get the website up and running than it did to create it, I eventually learned a new language that gave me access to a new community.

Throughout the course, similar technical tutorials were extraordinarily helpful. I am the type of student who enrolled in CyberOne in no small part because of the “no technical knowledge required” caveat. By the time the final project rolled around, I had learned how to create a wiki, a podcast, a video, and a Scratch program, how to navigate Second Life, and how to speak in cyberspace more effectively and efficiently. All of the substantive material that we discussed in the course was worthless without the practical skills required to explore and apply it online; through the course, I gained those tools.

Secondly, I came to better understand the contours of the cyberworld. In my opinion, the biggest barrier to arguing effectively in the court of public opinion is “learning the language;” almost like the experience of an immigrant (though much less intense), I felt constrained by my inability to make the website look and read as it did in my imagination. Not to over-generalize, but empathic argument hinges upon an ability to connect with our audience, and just as an attorney who speaks with an impenetrable accent faces an uphill battle in getting the court to subconsciously identify with him, an elementary-looking website erects some of the same obstacles with the tech-savvy community. I hope to continue improving this skill set, as the ability to navigate the cyberworld becomes more and more important.

This connects with one of the major themes of CyberOne: analyzing the cyberworld as a parallel to “reality.” It was fascinating to see the various ways this argument appeared throughout the semester – I really enjoyed thinking through the implications. As a result of these course discussions, I came to view the cyberworld not as a separate entity, but rather as an extension of the world that we tangibly experience daily. As we become more dependent on the Internet, it seems that the two spaces will eventually merge into a single, integrated space that incorporates the (hopefully) best features of each.

Finally, through both my project and the course itself, I learned that empathic argument actually works – people really are open to be persuaded, provided that they are sufficiently disarmed by the tone and style of the persuader. In creating my project, I spoke with people from several different fields: music industry employees, both “independent” and “label” musicians, and fans who came in with every differing opinions on file sharing. When communicating my proposed solution, I never had a negative experience. Some people ultimately disagreed with me, but I got the sense that all of them were more open to the idea after our discussion. This effectiveness of “empathic disarming” holds out enormous implications in an era of political polarization, instant pleasures like YouTube, and an “us vs. them” mentality that impacts the world in every way, from the way I behave in class all the way to how we think about the Iraq war. The most important thing, and the most valuable lesson that I learned from this project, is that we will only succeed in changing things in the world (big or small) insofar as we recognize, accept, and incorporate the perspective of the other. The court of public opinion must become the court of respected opinions.