Michael hourigan

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Technology applications have never been my strong suit. For this reason, when I first encountered the Cyber One course description, it did not seem particularly appealing. After examining it more closely, however, I discovered that the course focused on something that has been fascinating me for years: the ability of people to spread ideas via the Internet and other non-traditional media.

The ability to do this successfully is quite valuable. In my recent memory one example of this would be Howard Dean raising record-setting amounts of money in his 2004 Democratic primary, largely by mobilizing support nationwide through the Internet. His effort included organization of fundraising events through mailing lists, networking of supporters by promoting social events via e-mail, and solicitation of donations through his campaign web site. Most notably his donations were remarkably small in size but large in number, which reflected the true grass-roots nature of his web-based campaign. His supporters nationwide used the Internet as a way for their candidate to “catch fire” and gain momentum. Despite Dean’s eventual demise, the story of his rise was captivating.

The notion of asserting persuasive arguments in new integrated media spaces is quickly gaining popularity. In my view the transition from old media to new is two-tiered. First, the traditional media is made available online in such a way as to be more attractive: it is cheaper, more accessible, more easily navigable or more easily concealable (for instance, reading a newspaper or magazine article at work or during class is less detectable than flipping through a paper version). This first wave of migration from old media to new has been ongoing for years and is far past its inflection point.

More relevant to Cyber One, the second wave of transition has its foundation in the first. Now that people routinely turn online first to receive information from the morphed old-media sources, this creates an online audience in which well-designed and well-placed new forms of media can capture people’s attention and gather momentum. For instance, news stories are now commonly linked to various blogs which comment on the news items; videos relating to a story are posted; podcasts are often linked from blogs; and in each facet of cyber media, connectivity among audience members is increased and the experience becomes more interactive.

The Cyber One course offering piqued my interest because it seemed to focus on this second-level migration to new media and allow students to study ways in which to leverage new tools to launch persuasive arguments in cyberspace. Based on my view outlined above, the ability to do this effectively has become quite valuable and will become increasingly important as this second phase of media migration progresses.

A recognizable example of this two-tiered evolution from old media to new is Google. Most people, even casual Internet users like my parents, are familiar with Google’s basic search function and find it to be a useful tool for locating information. This is the first phase: rather than thumbing through the newspaper or the Dewey Decimal System in the public library, search terms can be typed into Google and results appear instantly.

What most people do not realize, however, is that Google’s mastery of the second phase of migration to new media is what has allowed it to become a multi-billion dollar company. Google’s financial success is due largely to its ability to place ads and provide the most appropriate links next to web pages, news stories, and e-mails. The relevance of these links makes it more likely for a user to click on them, which generates revenue for Google.

From this framework of understanding, the course for me was fascinating. The most interesting topics of discussion, given my interests, were those that focused on public citizen discourse, news from the people/ citizen journalism, and wiki’s. Since the first day I discovered the site, I have been fascinated by Wikipedia, and it is my first source for information on any topic which stirs my curiosity. In that regard, the development of our course wiki as well as the classroom discussions of wiki’s as a cyber medium were enlightening and enjoyable.

Upon reflection, the whole course was enjoyable. The atmosphere was relaxed and this allowed students to express their opinions freely. Moreover, the party hosted at professor Nesson’s home allowed me to get to know my classmates better, and the closeness that developed at the party seemed to carry over into the classroom as the course progressed. As a third-year student, a primary enemy is boredom, and many of my 3L classmates seem quite disengaged in their studies. In that respect Cyber One has been very refreshing because it is unique and seemed to focus on learning for the sake of genuine educational yearning rather than for the sake of grades or as a means to an end.

Along those lines the virtual appearance of Professor Zittrain was a welcome sight, as he was one of my favorite professors during my first year. That he was able to be integrated so seamlessly into our classroom discussion despite being across the Atlantic was delightful.

Once my attention turned to working on my project, I chose to focus on a topic that was genuinely interesting to me, something about which I was truly passionate: Philadelphia sports. I quickly ran into some hurdles regarding copyrighted videos that I had planned to incorporate into the site, but was able to circumvent that problem by finding some excellent video montages on YouTube that captured the essence of what I was hoping to express.

Along with those videos and a few web links, I shared my assessment of each professional sports team in Philadelphia and offered persuasive evidence that the city is indeed cursed. Having won no championships in 23 years, it is time for fans to accept that the city is cursed. Only by doing so can they focus their energy appropriately on breaking it, just as Boston fans did with the Red Sox. By doing this, and trying to be more positive, a championship parade down Broad Street may finally occur.

The response to my blog has been very encouraging. A number of posters have migrated to the blog and made comments, and the reaction from my friends and family members has been very positive. I have created something in cyberspace of which I am proud and which, I hope, can effectively persuade viewers to see things my way.

Trying to get people to see things the way one would like, whether through a blog, a podcast, a wiki, a video, or an Avatar, is an age-old challenge, but it has new rules and new tools, and this course was a very fun and interesting way to learn about the new world of expression in cyberspace.