From Alive to Undead and Back Again

This round of Twitter vs Zombies has been different from the two previous. But then again, I reckon the second one was really different from the first.  One of the things I love about the game is that each round is unique…with emergent rules and a vastly different field of players each time, there’s really no way to predict what’s going to happen.  The first time around, I felt like the focus was really on digital literacy, the second time, I felt that the narrative really took precedence.  I think it’s too soon to tell what this round was really about, but for me it’s been endlessly interesting to watch.

I was turned very early on this round…and I was really sad about it.  In reality, I care very little for zombies or really anything supernatural.  I haven’t seen the walking dead or any of what I’m sure are dozens of zombie movies of varying quality. I’m just not interested.  But in the game, it was kind of cool to be a passive zombie.  I never bit anyone, but I was around for a lot of the game.  I would have been happy to trip up a few of my brethren to save my former comrades, but I pretty much just kept to myself.  I can definitely see the draw of being a zombie- it’s freeing in a way.  There’s no more danger, and much more room for really crafting a narrative within the game.  But the humans have done a great job this time around of utilizing the new rules to work their side in as well.  I love the idea of a #safezone roadtrip… it’s pretty clever to literally use the #safezone as a vehicle for narrative.

This time around, I think the game mechanics have been more high profile than in any previous iteration.  We enhanced the community element of the game this time around by adding the G+ space, and I find it fascinating how it turned into a forum for discussing the game.  For good or bad, players this time around have questioned each other’s interpretations of the rules and had lively debates over how best to follow them.  Rather than analyzing any particular dispute, I think the more interesting thing to consider here is what this says about game design and playing in general.

As one of the people who helped write the rules, I’ve wondered more than once this time around what is different than previous runs.  Is it the safe space provided on G+ that lets humans get in on disputes? Is it just that we have a different group playing this time? Are the rules just not written as well as they could be? It could be any one of these, or it could be a combination of all of them.  I’m sure when the game ends we’ll hash it all out, but it’s still interesting to think about in the meantime.  When we design a game, how helpful is it actually to include the players in rule decisions? How do we write rules for #TvsZ that leave room for creativity but are still clearly understood?

These are all great things to think about. But for now, I’m very excited to have a second chance at playing the game.  And I’m guaranteed human till the end, so that’s a pretty awesome feeling.  I will try to do everything I can to protect the humans that saved me and rile a few zombies while I’m at it.  I did always want to be Buffy. Anyway, it feels good to be alive.

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The Other Thing I Like about TvsZ

Yes you have to be smart to play this game, but you also have to be creative. What makes this game so much fun for those of us actually invested is the narrative.  The thing about it is, you really wouldn’t expect Twitter to be the best place to craft such a narrative. And really, it isn’t. But it’s the glue that holds the rest of the experience- the blogs, videos, storifies, you name it- together. And it’s the place where the action happens.

And even in only 140 characters, we’ve created a whole apocalypse, complete with safe houses, ruins, and plenty of corpses.  We’ve had people in cellars, barricaded in offices, at the lake, in the sewers, even on balloon rides. And we’ve done it on a micro blogging platform.  I think it’s amazing to see what people have created and how engaged in the story they are.  I even had a player ask to be included in a safezone only if it worked with the story he was creating.

People are committed to this game, zombies relish bringing down our most prominent players, and humans mourn the fallen.  But we’re also determined to survive this, and that’s why you’ll see us continue to live our story, human to the end.

Let’s Talk about Twitter

My favorite thing about Twitter vs Zombies, this time and last, is that it challenges us to think about everyday applications in new ways.  But the one I like most is Twitter, as it should be, I suppose.

In every day life, I use Twitter to get news updates, follow friends, and find interesting things to read.  There is an occasional Twitter chat thrown in, but nothing all that out of the ordinary.  During a zombie apocalypse however, Twitter becomes so much more.

It is fascinating to me that the basic functions of this application can be fashioned into tools for gameplay, and that those same tools can be manipulated to subvert the rules of that same game.  Hashtags and links are basic additions to many tweets, but in TvsZ, they can be the difference between life and undeath.  Mastering these tool and following the rules carefully is the only hope of surviving these troubling times, but new, creative uses for them are the beginning of strategy.  This time around in TvsZ, I’ve been more keen about noticing fumbles in the game.  Most of these are hashtag mistakes, broken links, or mistyped Twitter handles, but my favorite come from human (and quite often zombie) error.

My favorite of these are the zombie errors.  I like to make a sport of trying to get them to trip up (very easy, you know, on account of the shambling). First you post a safezone, and then you bury it in zombie baiting tweets.  Zombies get angry and bite you en masse, but you’re safe so they’ve all lost their bites for 30 mins.  This is strategy.  But my favorite is when the zombies get confused.  My favorite point in the game so far came at one such moment.  No less than three people had included @jaycart1 in their safezones (including herself) and I typed her Twitter handle wrong in my tweet. @allistelling picked up on my mistake, and took extreme pleasure in biting @jaycart1, only to be soundly rebuffed and mocked by the human community.

I like this game because you have to be smart to play it.  You have to pay attention when it’s so easy to lose track of things on Twitter. It challenges us during the game, but I like to think that the skill will remain useful after the game is over.  It’s a challenge to actually engage the deluge of information that confronts us on Twitter- and other social media and internet applications- rather than simply let it wash over us.  There’s so much to be gained this way.  So much great content comes from TvsZ and it’s easy to miss if you’re not careful, who knows what we’re missing in our usual Twitter feeds?

Why Is Lilly Ledbetter So Important?

Towards the end of the 2012 campaign, the candidates’ views on women’s issues became an increasingly prominent point of debate.  In an effort largely contributed to by democrats, the future of women’s rights become hotly contested.  Democrats touted Obama’s accomplishments in advocating for women’s issues while calling out Mitt Romney on his apparent lack of consideration or knowledge of them.  A significant point raised again and again by Obama’s campaign was that Romney seemed unable or unwilling to answer a simple question: Do you support equal pay for equal work?

Though this focus on women’s issues seems to have come about after the second presidential debate, this particular question has plagued Romney throughout the campaign.  When asked in April if he supported the Lilly Ledbetter act, his response was a disappointing “We’ll get back to you”.  Even after taking time to consider the question, the calculated answer to the campaign was that Romney was not looking to change the law. He didn’t answer as to whether he supports it, or if he would have signed it if he had been president, he merely said that he wasn’t interested in messing with it.

Obama, on the other hand, has never hesitated in his support of the Ledbetter act.  In his “Romnesia” speech, he went to great lengths to explain how equal pay is a no brainer and anyone with common sense should support it.  The democrats used Romney’s reticence on the topic completely against him. They painted him as a fifties era throwback who honestly believed women were happiest in the home caring for their families; that they were unconcerned with pay and grateful merely for a job.  Granted, Romney did a lot to help them create this image, but is it really an accurate picture of the candidate and his views?

In answering this question, it might be helpful to understand more about the Lilly Ledbetter Act itself.  This was the first piece of legislation signed into law by President Obama, and its biggest achievement is removing the 180 day limitation on filing complaints for pay discrimination.  Lilly Ledbetter was a supervisor at a Goodyear plant and only found out shortly before her retirement- after years of building a career at this company- that she was paid grossly less than her male counterparts.  When she sued Goodyear over this, she eventually lost her case because it had taken her so long to file her complaint.  Surely Ledbetter would have filed a complaint sooner had she known about the discrepancy, but under the law at that time, she had no case.  Her appeal went all the way to the Supreme Court, where it again lost.  In the minority of the vote was Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg, who appealed to Congress to amend the law to give women like Ledbetter better opportunity to seek compensation in situation such as this.  The democrats took the lead on this and Obama signed the law in 2009.

The vote for this law was clearly split along party lines, with almost no republicans supporting it.  Among  republican complaints was the fear that women would use the removal of limitations to wait out employers that were discriminating against them and seek justice with the next administration.  Republicans worried that employers who were not responsible for discrimination would end up paying for their predecessor’s mistakes. At one point, campaign leaders said that Romney was in the majority of republicans who opposed the bill, but later amended their statements to say that he had “never weighed in” on it.

While it was easy to demonize Romney as a bumbling neanderthal with no understanding for women or what is important to them, I think it’s important to understand that in the constraints of the campaign he was attempting to meet the expectations of a much larger group of party officials and high stakes donors and that those expectation dictated every response he made during the campaign.  “Do you support equal pay for women?” may seem like a no brainer when you are answering for yourself, but it becomes a loaded question when you put it in the context of a political campaign. A simple yes answer to this question would have been tantamount to to supporting the Lilly Ledbetter Act, which would have been directly disagreeing- in a very public way- with the majority of his party.  It was easy for Obama to be decisive on this question because his party championed the bill and was on the “no-brainer” side of the answer.  Were the roles reversed, I doubt Obama you have spoken as confidently about protecting employer rights.

I believe the problem here is not women’s rights, or equal pay, or political correctness. The vast majority of American men agree that women should be fairly compensated for their work.  Whether women should receive equal pay is a no brainer.  Obama was right in his speech at GMU, no father actually wants his daughter paid less than a man for the same work.  The problem here really comes down to a political system that is so polarized that it turns every important issue into a dichotomy.  There is a party line on every point of debate, and to stray from it is to be ostracized from the whole. We know that this cannot actually be the case.  There are far more than just two sides to any issue. It’s just as ridiculous for democrats to think that some women won’t exploit the Ledbetter act as it is for republicans to think that all women will.  Bitter party politics have made it so that little meaningful discussion can happen and that is bad for everyone, women included.

And Obama Won the Internet

I followed Barack Obama and Mitt Romney on Twitter for about a day and a half.  I unfollowed them because I didn’t really like listening to what they had to say and I definitely didin’t need it constantly pumped into my timeline.  I did gather a few things from following them however.  First, the people running Obama’s Twitter were far more prolific than those taking care of Romney’s.  Obama out-tweeted Romney by about 8-1.  His tweets were generally more conversational and Romney’s alway sounded kind of stale and scripted.  I say that’s the way they sounded because Romney promptly quit tweeting after he lost the election.  From the beginning Obama has shown a greater mastery of new technology and its potential applications in his campaign and consistently used this knowledge to his advantage over Romney.

It goes beyond Twitter.  A few day’s after the election, my younger sister, an avid Internet user, told me to go to Mitt Romney’s Facebook page and refresh it a few times for a laugh.  Sure enough, each time the page loaded the number of likes on his page had dropped.  A visit to Obama’s page showed his likes increasing.  While this was funny, it raised a few questions.  In a society where digital and social media plays an increasing role, it’s dangerous to discount the credibility of Facebook likes and Twitter followers.  As I watched Romney’s likes fall, I wondered what it was about Obama’s strategy that made him more successful online and how that contributed to the overall success of his campaign.

One thing Obama had in his favor is that he was definitely an early adopter. Obama was making successful use of Twitter in 2008, before social media use had really caught on in the political arena.  During this campaign, he built on that momentum and really built a presence for himself online- live tweeting events, updating on Facebook and even having a question and answer session on Reddit that crashed the site.  People felt like they could interact with the president, or at least his campaign, in a social way, allowing them to feel a personal, albeit virtual connection with him.  As Romney was increasingly characterized as cold and robotic, the president’s presence in social media made him that much more approachable and likable. Obama showed a clear edge over Romney is all social media aspects, and proceeded to use it to his benefit throughout the campaign.

Aside from the candidates’ use of social media, channels like Facebook and Twitter made it possible for constituents to weigh in on issues more than ever before.  Twitter played an especially crucial role in debate discussions.  Rather than having to wait until the next day to discuss the debates with colleagues, people were able to discuss them in real time with people from all over the country via tweets.  Rather than receiving and parroting commentary from pundits on cable news, people were able to create their own, and the Internet definitely felt the effects.  In the particular arena of women’s issues, this was especially clear.  After the first debate, where their issues went unmentioned, women took to social media to express their annoyance (and also their funny commentary).  Their complaints were definitely answered in the second debate, which focused heavily on women’s issues and sparked a social media blitz.

During the debate, Americans were able to critique the candidates’ positions on women’s issues as they answered questions.  The slightest wayward comment was punished immediately.  Women’s issues were the highest trending topic on Twitter at this time, mentioned over 24,000 times per minute at its peak.  Everyone on Twitter, and other social media by extension, appeared to be watching the debate.  When Romney made the now infamous ‘binders full of women’ gaffe, the backlash was instantaneous.  The comment was perhaps not as eloquent or well thought out as it should have been, but what would have been largely forgotten in debates past sparked a digital firestorm that spanned the entire Internet.  With constant access to the Internet, there is no lag time between hearing a tactless comment and unleashing a bitter tirade through numerous feeds.  A sort of hive mentality took over those participating via social media and within minutes, and to a prolific extent over the following days, memes were created, tweets fired off, Facebook pages made, and blogs written all about Romney’s inability to understand or connect with women.

A  unique quality about social media is that, when manipulated correctly, it will appear not to have been manipulated at all.  Obama barely mentioned the binders comment after the debate- he could sit back and let the Internet community tear down Romney for his fifties era ideals and appear to be focusing on the more presidential aspects of the campaign.  Romney definitely put his foot in it, but Obama had already curried favor with the Internet community, a community just looking for a reason to malign his opponent.

It is crucial for political candidates to acknowledge and understand the very real potential social media holds for both good and bad during a campaign.  A Facebook page mocking the binders comment may seem to have been designed merely to mock or insult, but Romney should have been careful not to underestimate the threat it posed.  With literally hundreds of thousands of followers, flocking to the page in little more than twenty four hours after the comment was made, this fan page was reaching a lot of people.  But it is important to remember that its reach didn’t stop with just the fans.  Their followers saw that they followed it or reposted its content and were thereby exposed to a negative view of Romney.  Curious followers may have checked it out and been swayed, following it themselves.  Then all of their followers saw it, and the digital trickle down continued.  Consider that this was only one such Facebook page, and that there were numerous Twitter accounts and other social media and Internet memes cultivating their own followers and you have a very significant number of people exposed to this negative image of Romney.  And the Democrats didn’t even have to lift a finger.

A study from the Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism found that only fourteen percent of Obama’s social media posts focused on Romney, while an entire third of Romney’s attacked Obama in some way.  Obama didn’t need to break down Romney through his social media outlets; legions of digitally active supporters were there to do it for him.  All Obama had to do was foster the Internet’s good will, and that he did.  Obama’s social media content focuses largely on communicating his message directly to voters, rather than approaching them through the tired old ads that they’re used to.  While many voters are jaded and distrustful when it comes to campaign ads, Facebook and Twitter are relatively novel, allowing followers to feel almost a personal connection with a candidate.  After all, a television ad can’t follow a person back or retweet their content, but social media allows an interactive experience with the a candidate, and that experience allows people to feel as though they are actively involved in the campaign, rather than a gallup statistic.

What’s lost in the digital shuffle is that followers on Twitter or likes on Facebook translate to living, breathing, voting people.  It is becoming increasingly important for candidates to treat the digital community with as much importance as they do primary voters in Ohio or retirees in Florida.  More and more people are choosing to bypass traditional media outlets in favor of the Internet, and candidates must recognize this.  In the 2012 election, Romney’s campaign used a very perfunctory approach to social media.  It never felt like they really embraced it or considered it an important component to the campaign.  Throughout its entirety, Romney’s attitude toward social media use seemed to be a range from your dad trying (and failing) to be hip and your granddad grudgingly forcing himself to get on the computer.  On the other hand, Obama seemed at home on the Internet, something an important core group of voters, namely young people, appreciate.  In 2008, young voters were a crucial part of Obama’s base, and he reached out to them through the channels they helped pioneer.  In 2012 the same approach proved successful again.  Obama seemed like a real person, whose mastery of social media signified an ability to cope with the changing times, while Romney’s reticence made him seem stuffy, old, and all too ready to shoo you off his lawn.

Obama clearly proved to be more proficient in his manipulation of all types of media, and that contributed significantly to his defeat of Romney.  Each campaign decision was carefully calculated in order to earn him the maximum number of votes, and that is quite obvious in his well planned approach to social media.  Obama outpaced Romney on numerous fronts when it came to using the Internet to reach voters.  Obama’s website allowed people to join specific constituency groups to receive specialized content while Romney’s did not.  Obama retweeted his followers, allowing them to feel included in the process, while Romney only retweeted one person during the time of the previously mentioned survey, and that person was his son. Obama embraced social media, posting four times as much contend and using twice as many platforms while Romney appeared to be trying to get by with doing as little with social media as possible.  In the end, Obama won the internet while Romney was sidelined by his own hesitance.

Capstone Project Reflections

What were your goals and purpose for the project? Did they change by the end?

I didn’t change the overall goals of my project, though I did have to narrow the scope.  It ended up being about composing and how much thought goes into it, and how much that process affects a listener.  I was surprised at how similar it is to writing. Before I began the project, I thought of creating music as mostly artistic expression– that a composer did it for their own benefit and other people’s enjoyment was a byproduct. After my initial research, I suspected that there might be more to it than that, and that became the focus of my project.  I wanted to see if the two composing processes were similar and if their goals regarding their audiences were alike.  As I researched and interviewed Joe, I found out that not only was that true, but that composing music takes a great deal of additional technical knowledge.  I thought this was so interesting that I ended up incorporating it into my project in addition to exploring my original topic.

What choices did you make for the audience in regards to medium, style, and content?

I thought a lot about the audience that I would be trying to reach with this audio project.  Joe makes a specific kind of music, and it isn’t to everyone’s taste (something made pretty clear in one or two of my interviews).  What I was really interested in is learning about the process, and I wanted to appeal to other people interested in the same.  To this end, I tried to focus on what Joe and others had to say about his work rather than focusing directly on his music.  Rather than spend lengths of my podcast playing Joe’s music, I opted to make the sound bed entirely from it.  The audience is constantly exposed to his music, but they only focus solely on it for a few seconds at a time.  I hoped that by doing this, the music would not turn off people who didn’t like it or distract people who were more interested in the content, but everyone listening would be able to experience Joe’s creations.

What process did you use to do the project? What went well? What was difficult?

Beginning this project was a little rocky, but once I figured out a system, it went pretty well.  I recorded all of my interviews using the Soundcloud app on the iPad. I tried recording one or two things on my phone, but that ended up being a disaster.  The quality of the recordings on the iPad turned out well, and the Soundcloud app made it ridiculously easy to access them later.  I simply recorded what I needed (Soundcloud lets you record and upload as much as you want) and then uploaded them to the site. I downloaded them to my laptop from there, and I used Adobe Audition to edit and finalize the podcast.  Joe gave me permission to use his music and he uses Soundcloud as well, so it was easy to download the tracks.  My Audition mix had three tracks, one for the interviews, one for the music and one of voiceover.  Once I chopped up the interviews and laid them over the sound the way I wanted, I went back and recorded the my voiceover and was done.  Piece of cake!

….Kidding. Audition (and the other sound editing programs we tried) had a pretty steep learning curve.  Fortunately, I got to practice with it a bit on the public event CTW and Tim’s workshops were a lifesaver.  Once I played around with the program a little, I was able to learn just enough to finish the project.

What strengths does your project have? What weaknesses?

I can’t really take credit for it, but I think the music in my project is really good.  I’m really pleased with the way everything ended up going together.  I think the music really ties the whole thing together.  I’m glad of that too, because I feel like the dialogue is kind of simple. I didn’t really want to play with sound effects and things like that too much because I wanted to highlight the music, since that is what the podcast was about.  I was worried that the voiceover and interviews would be too dry and boring, but I think the music helps to make it more dynamic.

How did you use that time to discuss your capstone project work? What changes did you make an audience, purpose, context, content, tone, style, “extras” (like visuals or Web text), arrangement, ethos, logos, pathos, rhetorical and technical software techniques? Examples, details, and explanations are good here.

I worked really ridiculously hard on the three minute section I prepared for my presentation. After talking with the class, I got a lot of great ideas and made a couple tweaks. My process involved cutting up the audio and laying it over the sound, but I found when I played it back that a lot of the different interviews could be mixed together, almost to create a new dialogue.  I played a lot with the arrangement to get the most out of the interviews in order to make my point and reach the goals of the project. I feel that paying special attention to how the words were put together and how they interact with the music made the project a lot stronger.

What is resonance? What is dissonance? How would you define each and what examples would you give now that you’ve completed this course?

I had to define these words for almost all of my interviewees.  It seemed to be difficult to pick out one section or element of a song that was either resonant or dissonant for them.  When they asked me, I told them that resonance, put simply, was whatever they really liked about the song.  Whatever stood out because it moved them to react in some positive way, whether that was bringing up a good memory or making them tap their feet.  Dissonance is more or less the opposite.  If there was something that caused them to have a bad reaction- maybe making a face, or experiencing a negative emotion- we called it dissonant.  I think being more specific, resonance and dissonance are more than what you like or don’t like about a particular thing.  I think they are both strongly connected to how you feel and your physical or emotional reactions.  I think some of the best examples of resonance and dissonance I can give we actually experienced in this class.  Sean’s comical negative reactions to almost every guitar sound played is a pretty good example of dissonance.  Cassandra had very positive feelings towards her Capoeira recordings.  Both of these examples were personal and specific to each person.

What else did you learn about sonic meaning? About how we listen? Were these new concepts for you? Do you see yourself using them elsewhere?

I learned to listen closer to the background. I think studying rhetoric and writing, I focus almost exclusively on words.  I really noticed that I had gained a new perspective on listening when I attended that country music concert on my birthday.  I’ve been to a lot of concerts, but I never really thought about them critically until I studying sonic rhetoric for this class.  I find it endlessly fascinating that you can break down a manufactured soundscape and discover what its engineer was trying to accomplish.  That’s why I chose the topic I did for my project.  Moving people with words is one thing, moving them without them is something even cooler. I think I’ll definitely keep these skills in mind and use them going forward.

What do you feel you learned the most from this project? Is there anything you wish to learn more of/about for the project?

I was really surprised at how similar creating music is to writing, given that their goals and products are so disimilar. I was also really amazed at everything I learned in my research. I wish that I had more time (and more skill) to create a really great podcast.  I would love to revisit this topic again for further study.

If I Weren’t In the Middle of a Zombie Apocalypse…

Here I sit in my abandoned library, typing away because it’s the only way to stay alive.  The zombies are too numerous for me to venture out of my safezone. And they’re getting meaner as humans grow scarce.

I’m amusing myself by imagining a different reality. One where there are no zombies and my library isn’t abandoned.  I wonder if any of my survival skills would be useful there.  I like to think they would be.

First, I could put all of my safezone writing creativity to good use.  Imagine if I wrote just to write, instead of to stay alive.  Before the twitter zombie apocalypse I didn’t really do much of that.  Sure I had this blog, but I only used it for school assignments.  Maybe if there weren’t zombies I’d try blogging for fun.

Definitely my twitter skills would come in handy.  I think the zombie apocalypse has taught me a lot about Twitter. I’ve participated in Twitter chats before, but who’d have though we could have a full fledged zombie war here? I mean, look at the way the zombies have organized themselves to systematically destroy the human race.  Even I have to admit that they’re pretty impressive.  Even if it is a zombie community, it’s a community none the less.  Imagine a world without zombies where we could build twitter communities like theirs that would foster learning, discussion, fun? What if we used twitter for more than status updates? And what if more than just nerds and professors participated? What if twitter was smart instead of just there?

Finally, in a world without Zombies, I’d still like to know people like the smart and talented ones I’ve met in the past day or so. Even during an apocalypse, these people manage to turn out smart, witty, and fun content.  Even the Zombies! Imagine if the zombies were just regular people. I’d love to see the interesting things they’d work on in another life.

All in all, this zombie apocalypse has been an enriching experience. Or it would have been if I weren’t sitting in my abandoned library hiding from the undead.  If I was say, a college student interested in digital media and its implications for learning and community, this would have been a very enriching experience indeed.