Coming back to writing, among other things

by Julia on January 27, 2016, no comments

Rejection and self-doubt are the workplace hazards of solitary writers and creators. Looking to others who have been through it all, and then maybe some, is a good way to come back to what made you interesting in making things in the first place. It is often the process that is most satisfying, and if we become afraid of the process, there aren’t very many places you can take your creative urges. The process means messing up. And getting messy. So I pledge to get vulnerable again.



by Julia on May 18, 2014, no comments

We all get growing pains once in awhile. When we extend ourselves beyond what we ever even imagine. If something goes wrong or we experience set backs, we are often think we can go no further forgetting it is never easy for anyone the first time around. Something worthwhile often isn’t. The experiences I have gained in videography, learning French, and adapting to new places pushes me forward. And that is invaluable.

Believing (without cringing)

by Julia on May 7, 2014, one comment

9332ecc26c6488a485c555e3d036858fComing back home from a talk on videography, one would not expect to return less cynical than before. After all, it is a tough field and it isn’t getting easier in the world of “cheaper is better”. The amount of skills that you must master ranges from sound recording to video editing, often with less equipment and expertise than an expensive film set. That’s what makes those who have made it in the field on their own so inspiring.

The guest speaker, Alyssa Kuzmarov, started Productions Oracle with her husband. It’s a non-profit that makes videos and films in partnership with youth. Knocking on doors, asking to do things for free, and branding yourself are all things many new graduates have been told to do. Perhaps we’ve heard it so often that we can’t take it seriously. This is, however, exactly what Alyssa did to get her foot in the door leading to experiences that inspired her to start her own organization.

Carving out a path tailored to your interests is possible, it may just take time and a good day job. I have been prone to assuming that if things aren’t happening right away, they never will. This has stopped me from continuing to take the next steps. And those next steps often end in discouragement. It is encouraging to hear that many have been turned down before getting that golden opportunity. What stops us so often is a fear of failure and a fear of looking like a fool.

Of course, sometimes when things go wrong that means we have to switch directions. It doesn’t have to mean that we should abandon ship completely. Gaining perspective is possibly one of the most valuable processes around. Negative emotions can sway us too far if we let them. Focusing on real, concrete goals can help. What is valuable to you and what do you want to make happen?

Network Science and Social Media

by Julia on April 5, 2014, no comments

You are your network. Or at least this is what I’ve been told.

As someone who has attended many workshops on social media, particularly Twitter and LinkedIn, I’ve heard a lot that it’s your connections to others that makes you desirable. It isn’t necessarily the quality of what you post that drives people to connect with you.

At a LinkedIn workshop, I was told to share the many articles available on my news feed regardless of whether I liked them or had read them. Sharing makes you and your network more visible and therefore valuable, or at least it should via news feeds. The circulation of stories and posts was stressed as more important than their contents. The goal is to be seen as much as possible.

If you find yourself in the position of becoming a “hub”, with multiple connections and maximum visibility, you are one of the lucky few. This kind of power in networks is rare and it has to be in order to control flows of information. In order for there to be the haves, there has to be the have nots.

The Internet itself currently operates on inequality because it is a scale-free network. It is “scale-free” because there is no middle ground. You are either a major player or behind the scenes. Barabasi, a Romanian scientist, has become a major authority on network science by elucidating this phenomenon. It is present not only online, but also in the natural world.

fig_complex_networks_powerlaw_scalefree_node_degree_distribution_largeGrowth in the number of nodes in this kind of network is possible through its power law, or the tendency for new nodes to connect to already heavily connected nodes. Already present differences are continually exacerbated, and “the rich get richer”. The dream of becoming a strong influencer can’t be realized so easily, because it is the striving for visibility that keeps the hyper-visible going.

On the micro-scale we create profiles and pages that we hope will build our network. On the macro-scale, social media, websites and databases corral these efforts and the resulting web traffic. The same inequality on the micro-scale is seen on the macro-scale. Google reaches about 85% of Internet users, Microsoft 73% of users and Facebook 60% of users. Reach drops off quite quickly down the list from these top three in the Nielsen 2013 Top Ten Websites.

To be seen on the web, we have to play by their rules and discourse is controlled.

How is the relevant? Something that isn’t shared through social media is often seen as no longer relevant. What we deem to be true and important is, for better or worse, often in the hands of a powerful few. In The New Inquiry, Rob Horning wrote a piece titled The Viral Self. He wrote,

Being true to some unchanging interior spirit, being consistent despite the demands of an audience watching — these are not such relevant concerns anymore…Social media don’t facilitate the pursuit of fame any more than any other form of media does. Fame is still reserved for the few. Still, the architecture of social media normalizes making “engagement” the unit of social recognition, just as it is for advertising efficacy.

Maybe it is more accurate to say you are the whole network. Understanding its logic and its effects on how we view ourselves and others is vital. Internet literacy regarding how social networks confine and shape our online and offline lives is more important than ever.

Unlike Us, a reader offering critical examinations of social media from the Institute of Network Cultures, elaborates on many of the points brought up in this post and is available for free.

The Mobility and Choices of a Generation

by Julia on March 29, 2014, no comments

Having encountered many young people who have moved from various places around the globe to Montreal, there must be something attractive about it. Whenever any discontent with the city arises, it is quelled with the response- well you could go anywhere! That anywhere is often suggested as Toronto, but you get the picture.

Many young people have made the assumption somewhere down the line that we are a mobile generation. That we can choose exactly where we live and exactly what we are going to be doing once we get there.

Admittedly, it works out swimmingly for some. I should add often with a strong stroke of luck.

We could look at other aspects of our lives, heavily drenched in Internet use, and say that emphasis on choice is present everywhere. And with more choice comes growing amounts of information to shift through in order to make the right one.

American wordsmith Andrei Cherny coined the term the Choice Revolution in his book The Next Deal. The Choice Revolution refers to “the growing expectation among consumers that the world be customized to fit their preferences and the growing effort among businesses to meet this expectation.”

With growing empowerment to “have it our way”, does there also come greater uncertainty and instability? And are the choices we can make just superficial mirages hiding something deeper? From the people I know around me, I can only deduce that this trend has led to a lot of frustration when we find that the life choices we need to make don’t come to us so easily.

How much control over our own personal lives do we really have? Human relationships are unpredictable. We meet someone one day in a cafe, and our lives can go down paths we never previously imagined. We can’t calculate them.

I often wonder how often we are calculating someone’s use to us preemptively in order to make the best choice on who we should be spending our time with. How often are relationships deemed useful in terms of where we think they will lead or who they can lead us to?

Certainly, our social media playgrounds have this ethos at heart. Connect or die. Social media is an important part of our media landscape and can lead to great opportunities. It is, however, now part of the foreground rather than the background of our social interactions. The medium is the massage, or so McLuhan would say, and social media “massages” our relations into its constraints.

We can look at the information trails people have blazed online and make decisions based on them. With more control over information to make increasingly more choices, is life loosing its spontaneity? And are the choices we are free to make in the consumerist realm really all that important? These are questions I believe we should be asking.

TBaer_Coupland-slogansdt550Douglas Coupland’s Twelve Slogans for the Early Twenty-First Century, 2011

Cherny wrote the Next Deal back in 2001 when he was just 25 years old. The Next Deal claimed personal choice can improve government by allowing people to decide on everything from where to invest Social Security retirement funds to how to spend job training benefits. He was observant on how the media landscape was allowing for more personalization in now nascent forms, such as Palm Pilots and custom-created CDs.

The level of personalization we experience today is dizzying, although not exactly as Cherny imagined it. All these choices seem to be coming back to an I rather than a We. When do we get to see the big picture?

In The Washington Weekly, Michael Schaffer wrote a piece called McManifesto in 2001 in response to The Next Deal.

…members of nearly every other generation born this century had an easier time opting to join labor unions, go on strike, or read about their strikes in an independent newspaper. And most of them must have recognized that those choices–determining their economic future, and the nation’s–were more significant, if not more immediately satisfying, than the consumer version of choice laid out in The Next Deal.

Today, more than ever, it is important to step back. How are we partaking in the big We decisions? We can choose where we live, what we buy, what we watch, what we listen to, and who we connect with online. At what point to they lead to a vapid circle chasing self-satisfaction? It is important not to forget the big issues that contextualize our own choices, such as internet privacy.

Although we are free to roam and play, whose playground is it and who makes the rules? Most of all, maybe it is time to go easy on ourselves and learn to support each other in a world that is as unpredictable as ever.


Facebook Pages and the drive for reach

by Julia on March 23, 2014, no comments

Are Facebook’s recent changes to a Page’s organic news feed reach good for business or for users? While Facebook is making claims for the latter, it is clear that the push towards lower organic reach and paid advertising benefits Facebook’s bottom-line.

Purchasing Facebook ads can create a continuous feedback loop where ads attract more “fake” disengaged likes, blocking reach to real users, and requiring further advertising to increase reach. Since Facebook’s EdgeRank algorithm uses the number of active and engaged users liking your page, consideration of fake likes is essential.

How do paid ads attract “fake” likes? Science video blogger Derek Muller, under the name Veritasium, explored the issue by investigating his own Facebook page and one he created called Virtual Cat. When Muller purchased official page boosting for both, he noticed that a majority of the likes were from accounts that had liked thousands of unrelated pages and that were often from countries like Egypt and Bangladesh.

He found that paying a click farm isn’t the only way to create “fake” likes.  Fake accounts from click farms like various accounts they aren’t paid to like that they see in ads. This makes them less traceable.

In an interview with the Sydney Morning Herald, Muller noted that most click farms use software on desktops. A way out of the endless cycle of fake likes that block your reach could be to target more aggressively mobile users. They are less likely to be an unengaged click farm. The answer isn’t just more advertising to access more news feeds, but targeted advertising to avoid fake likes. After all, it’s the human-to-human interaction we are all looking for.

Investigative journalism in social media, like Muller’s, is much needed these days. I’ll be keeping my eyes peeled for more insights.

En tournage

by Julia on September 18, 2013, no comments


StrawberryNice PlantsI’ve been lucky enough to begin a short documentary on the wonderful community art studio and garden (pictured above), La Ruche d’Art. I will be exploring the creation and effect of an inclusive, creative space for community members. Who is a community member? Anyone who walks through the door. In the neighborhood of St-Henri, where La Ruche is situated, I definitely feel this general philosophy every time I visit.

Network Culture

by Julia on September 1, 2013, one comment

For one of my assignments in Media and Technology I last September, I had to create a blog on media theory and terminology. I decided to focus mostly on emerging concepts that could help explain or describe some of the rapid changes brought about by social media. It seemed to me that many of the media theories that were developed in the 1960s could no longer apply fully to today’s context. Geert Lovink, a Dutch Internet scholar, satisfied my curiosity about the latest thought on media and technology. He is sometimes just as cryptic as Marshall McLuhan, but more relevant to the all-encompassing and accelerated media landscape we now experience on a daily basis. In his recent publication, The Principle of Notworking: Concepts in Critical Internet Culture, he writes:

Internet culture is in a permanent flux. There is no linear growth, neither up nor down. The only certainty is the steady rise, both in absolute and relative numbers of users outside of the West.


The following is a re-post from my assignment blog that explores the concept of network culture – in part developed by Lovink. Happy September!


Network Culture

The collective shaping of the Internet by its users has never been stronger, according to Dutch net critic Geert Lovink, who opened his latest book Networks Without A Cause with the following statement:

“Once the Internet changed the world; now the world is changing the Internet” (1)

If we are changing the Internet, by what means are we doing so and how do we understand the changes that are taking place? The relationship between online networks and us cannot be mathematically or scientifically measured according to Lovink, but rather the social, political and economic consequences and conflicts need to be reflected upon (2). According to Lovink, network culture can be understood as the relationship between our way of life, the Internet and social media, and the ways in which this relationship enables fundamental change within our society through both the use and altering of these technologies.

For scholar Tiziana Terranova, network culture signifies the “unprecedented abundance of informational output and by an acceleration of informational dynamics” (3). With the rise of network culture, the Internet’s decentralised nature allows users to produce and consume user-generated content online, while simultaneously distributing this content. In other words, the difference in our networked world is anyone can produce information and cultural content, at any time from any location, using new media. Terranova suggests that in this new world, the strange qualities of information- capacity to be copied, volatility, intangibility- have become exasperated (4). We have become immersed in an environment of ‘massless flows’ of information, which are organized, constructed and deconstructed by the Internet network. According to Terranova, the network becomes a “battlefield” where war and alliances are created based on the power of information and image flows to affect its targets.

Andy Warhol, an artist and barometer of cultural change during his lifetime, stated in 1979: My new line is ‘In 15 minutes everybody will be famous’.


With the advent of the computer and subsquently the Internet, it was poignantly stated by Adams (1997) that “…it is oneself that is consumed, as machines convert identity and ideas into information to be stored or transported at the speed of light and reconstituted in one or many distant locations” (5). With social media, we are constantly “on” because the network never turns you off- you will be tagged in Facebook photos, referenced on Twitter and commented on your blog regardless of whether you are physically at a computer. As summized by leading Internet scholars Nancy Baym and dana boyd,

“social media blur boundaries between presence and absence, time and space, control and freedom, personal and mass communication, private and public, and virtual and real, affecting how old patterns should be understood and raising new challenges and opportunities for people engaging others through new technologies” (6).

Kazys Varnelis, director of the Network Architecture Lab, describes network culture as a new “societal condition” emphasizing the power of connection (7). He describes network culture as a condition where “information is less the product of discrete processing units than of the networked relations between them, of links between people, between machines, and between machines and people”(8). Digital culture has been claimed to now be a tautological term, as digital is now out presupposed reality (9). The process of digitization within society, or “the technological process that reduces the text to something that can be easily fragmented, handled, linked and distributed” (10), has been occurring since the late 1880s with inventions such as the photographic camera and the typewriter (11).Varnelis states that “the new technological grail for industry is a universal, converged network, capable of distributing audio, video, Internet, voice, text chat, and any other conceivable networking task efficiently” (12).

Lovink suggests that in a network culture the real/virtual binary must be rejected for a vision of society now fully integrated into the infrastructure of the Internet with the colonization of our social world by technology and the lessening potential to have alternative online identities separate from real world implications (13). Social media, plays an important role in this transformation, appearing as early as 1997 with, by creating an environment in which digital identity, ideas and information can be rapidly produced, but with people we already know or are familiar with as our audience (14). Social networks demand you are yourself in relation to others who know you, and so do the companies who profit from your freely given personal information, preferences and relations.

Internet content is
User-generated —> Social Media —> Socially perpetuated

Another feature of network culture according to Terranova, is immaterial labor, as free labor continually creates ephemeral or short-lasting online commodities that the Internet needs to exist in order to become commercialized (15). Lovink is critical of the emphasis on free and open cultural production, as he states we should recognize “the actual force of the ideology of free and open as advocated by some in the “free culture” movement as a potential trap” (16). Whether our creative potentials are used for good or evil in the online networks within which we share and realise them, it is important to remain aware of the new cultural shift we are stumbling into and the continually changing rules of the game (a potent mix of mobile technology, immaterial labour, social networks, and relentless sharing). More importantly- we ourselves must play an active role in the formation of those rules.

(1) Lovink, G. (2011). Networks Without A Cause. United Kingdom: Polity Press, p.1.
(2) Ibid. p. 23
(3) Terranova, T. (2004). Network Culture: Politics for the Information Age. London, UK: Pluto Press, p. 1.
(4) Ibid.
(5) Adams, P.C. (1997). Cyberspace and Virtual Places. The Geographical Review, 87(2), p. 164.
(6) Baym, N.K. & boyd, d. (2012). Socially Mediated Publicness: An Introduction. Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media, 56(3), p. 320.
(7) Varnelis, K. (2010). The meaning of network culture. Retrieved October 1, 2012 from
(8) Ibid.
(9) Gere, C. (2008). Digital Culture. London, UK: Reaktion Books Ltd, p. 1.
(10) Scholari, A. (2009). Mapping conversations about new media: the theoretical field of digital communication. New Media Society, 11, p. 946.
(11) Gere, C. (2008). Digital Culture. London, UK: Reaktion Books Ltd.
(12) Varnelis, K. (2010). The meaning of network culture. Retrieved October 1, 2012 from
(13) Lovink, G. (2011). Networks Without A Cause. United Kingdom: Polity Press.
(14) Elliston, N.B. & boyd, d. (2008). Social Network Sites: Definition, History, and Scholarship. Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication, 13, p. 210–230.
(15) Terranova, T. (2004). Network Culture: Politics for the Information Age. London, UK: Pluto Press.
(16) Lovink, G. (2011). Networks Without A Cause. United Kingdom: Polity Press, p.168.

Growth Mindset

by Julia on August 29, 2013, no comments

Aaron Swartz, an Internet activist and scholar whose life was tragically cut short, has many wise words to say on his blog here.

His post on the growth mindset is informative of how we deal with challenges. We often feel like we need to be good at something immediately, and that we need to show off our abilities. It takes great courage to show our vulnerability and our weaknesses. Anyone looking to improve in an area that they haven’t achieved expertise in can find solace in the following quote:

In the growth mindset, success comes from growing. Effort is what it’s all about — it’s what makes you grow. When you get good at something, you put it aside and look for something harder so that you can keep growing.

Creative Generalists

by Julia on August 20, 2013, no comments

It is never easy starting off with a fresh slate. Starting at a blank screen definitely makes me nervous, as the potential for mistakes during the first impression you give is great. So is the potential for growth I choose to believe. I’ve decided to start an online home for my thoughts, creations and ideas. In doing so I hope that blogging lives up to all its claimed to be, and that I make some connections in the process to new people and ideas.

As someone who is a self-proclaimed generalist, I will be exploring topics from digital media to community development. Given that I’ve read a lot about how these days it is best to be specialized, I’m hoping these explorations will help narrow down some of my key interests. Defining yourself requires risk. Specialization is sometimes easier said than done. As someone who thinks of themselves as a broad thinker that likes to link together divergent fields, this is a challenge. There have been counter arguments against the push for specialization, and one that is particularly interesting was made by Steve Hardy of Creative Generalist. One of the interesting statements he made seem to fit me pretty well (although I’m sure there are negative points to be said about generalists as well).

Generalists are very good at introducing strangers to one another. Generalists are keen observers and natural matchmakers. They explore possibilities (in the broadest sense), connect the dots, distill complex information down to relevant summary, and remind us of context and even humanity.

Some pretty bold claims, but it is important not to ignore potential strengths. As a grad going out into the big scary job market, this is important. If all else fails, maybe I can go into matchmaking.