Monday, September 21, 2020

My Social Dilemma

This past week I watched the Netflix documentary, /the social dilemma_ that I recommend you watch. If you are a parent with children at home, I'll add that I highly recommend you watch this documentary.

Here's the trailer that explains the purpose of the film.



This documentary catches me at an interesting time because as a music blogger I completely depend on social media to write and promote this blog. Now a blog by definition expresses a perspective, opinion, or bias by a writer of any post that is published on the Internet. My blog is no exception, you basically come here to read and listen to my personal taste in music.

From the middle 1990's through 2010, I was an educational technology resource teacher in San Diego Unified School District. My colleagues and I had the overarching goal to integrate educational technologies into the K-12 curriculum for students and teachers. This integration was based in our practice that technology was an essential tool for both learning and teaching. In 2006, our personal and professional world changed with the development of cloud computing. Along with colleagues Mary Lange and Mary Vieira, we started teaching teachers how to use Google Docs, a free web-based sharing word processor. As teachers, we felt the possibilities were endless for teachers and students. I'm a bit embarrassed to admit this, but in the early 2000's I believed that free cloud-based applications would actually help the world connect together and digitally realize John Lennon's dream in his song, Imagine. I laugh at that thought today, and boy was that a stretch of my utopian view of technology back then. 

In 2006, several important free cloud-based apps received public access including, Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube. In 2007, I began using Blogger, and in 2015 I chose Blogger as my tool to write this blog simply for the fact that it was owned by Google and maybe from a search standpoint, clicks and hits could magically come my way.

By 2015 and leading to the presidential election in 2016, my thoughts on technology have completely swung from utopian to an imbalance toward a dystopian use of social media technology. The thought of 'technology as tools' has been overshadowed by social media companies competing for our attention through their social media apps. My colleagues and I used to champion 'content creation tools' for students to create and express themselves. In my opinion, these tools have now been run over by social 'content consumption apps' designed to keep you looking at your digital screen to generate advertising dollars for these companies, and taking the definition of consumer to a completely different level.

Skinner Box, Source - Simply Psychology
It's like Psychology 101 and B.F Skinner with his positive reinforcement experiments with rats in his 'Skinner Box.' In the 21st century, I'll say the new Skinner Box is the smartphone, where Notifications are the signal lights and speaker designed for you to push/touch the lever/screen to get your positive food pellet/information reward that keeps your attention on the money-ticking screen.

The trouble with today's food pellet of information is that it is often programmed through artificial intelligence (AI) to give one a steady diet of chocolate and candy, rather than a balanced diet of literate nourishment found in books, magazines, newspapers, TV, radio and the Internet.

Remember when MySpace was king around 2006 as the most visited website in the United States. I loved the name 'MySpace' because it told consumers here is what you are getting- a space in the cloud you can call your own.

Facebook overtook MySpace in 2008 with Twitter not far behind. Facebook and Twitter were terrible names but actually perfect, one could look at picture books of people for hours in a day, or twitter their day away reading or texting quick short-term memory messages. YouTube, purchased by Google again in the transformative year of 2006, covered the area of video and now we could watch searchable free videos as the new and improved 'boob tube.'

My Dilemma
Now if you can feel my angst in 2020, you know our political climate since 2015 and leading up to the election this November. The ongoing "hands off policy" by the social media giants to monitor fake news and hate speak sums up their total lack of responsibility and accountability. It is so evident that their social conscience has been trumped by their ever expanding profit margins. These companies run big businesses but yet demonstrate their inability to monitor their vast social networks  and are clearly way in over their heads.

Here, I'm going to focus on the two fat cats I use to promote this blog: Facebook which I and many now call, "Fakebook" and Twitter, which I'm sure I'm not the first, but a leading practitioner in now calling it, "Spitter." Both Mark Zuckerberg, CEO of Facebook and Jack Dorsey, CEO of Twitter have both lost control of their social media babies as they have grown into two-faced teenage werewolves.

As the reader you might be saying to yourself, "Well if Doug feels so strongly about these horrible social media apps, why doesn't he stand on his principles and DELETE his Facebook and Twitter accounts?" I'm the first one to say that I would agree with this assessment.

Now wait for it... here comes the BUT- Facebook and Twitter combine to bring in 95% of my readers to this blog. In the past couple of months, I've grown my audience by now averaging about 130 hits a week as 'The little music blog that could.' Without Facebook and Twitter to promote the weekly blog (often twice daily), I would probably get about 15-20 hits a week which is basically my family and friends.

So the dilemma, to write a blog for myself and handful of faithful readers, or try to promote it using Fakebook and Spitter to increase my readership slowly over time? Call me a hypocrite, but right now I'm going to continue to use my social media accounts to increase my readership.

Back in the day around the Ed Tech staff table, we used to talk about technology as the 'two-edged sword' for 'good uses' and 'bad behavior.' Remember the 'Arab Spring' in the early 2010s where citizens in several Arab countries rose in protest against their repressive regimes. In the news, social media has been heralded as the driving force behind the swift spread of revolution throughout the world, as new protests appear in response to success stories shared from those taking place in other countries. Wikipedia

Arab Spring was an example of how technology could help the human condition around the world and mobilize people against authoritarianism and ruling monarchies toward democracy. That shining example is now well sullied with the daily shit show in social media 'bubble politics' from a barrage of domestic and foreign citizens and organized groups.

YouTube
YouTube is the app I use to find and create my weekly playlists. YouTube is owned by Google and is no saint either as I'm sure you can easily find hate speech and other offensive things in seconds. For the time being, I'll give them a slightly better nod here as offensive stuff seems to quickly come down by Google itself, rather than pressure from the outside in, as Facebook and Twitter seem to defensively react before acting. Don't you just want to throw your flip flops at the TV when Zuckerberg appears before congress?

For the most part, I use YouTube exclusively for music because it is such a huge music machine. Their AI algorithms never sleep as I now call them, "SuggestTube." Why? Because when you search for a video the right linear part of your screen is literally AI SCREAMING, "Come on watch me too!"

In the past couple of years, YouTube's AI algorithms are getting so much better in getting to know my musical tastes and it's a little creepy how the Americana genre music suggestions keep coming up on my right as I watch a music video. In fact, my #NewMusicMonday playlists are increasingly getting easier to make as Google's suggestion engines are hard at work to feed me stuff I may like, while they feed themselves on the advertising dollars based on my next clicks.

So my point in all this? I just need to remind myself that my attention is being manipulated by social media on a daily basis and my addiction to it just needs to be constantly brought to my conscious brain's attention.

I'll end this with a YouTube event with my grandson this past weekend. I asked him a question about LEGO Star Wars spaceship models and he quickly got out an iPad and started to show me the many varieties of LEGO sets. He suddenly gets distracted by a video that pops up on his right linear screen and immediately clicks on it to watch it. I had to repeat my original question and steer him back to the Star War LEGO models video. This got me thinking, how many times have I done the same thing myself watching music videos? Squirrel!

Last night my daughter Katie told me she recently deleted her Facebook account as she just got tired of having to deal with all the BS that it brought to her. Maybe someday, I have that resolve to do the same.

Again, I recommend the Netflix documentary, /the social dilemma_ to help keep you on your toes, and as the film points out, technology companies and drug dealers are the only two that call their clients, "users."

 Okay, let's finish this with John Lennon's utopian vision of peace and unity through Imagine. 

You may say I'm a dreamer
But I'm not the only one
I hope some day you'll join us
And the world will be as one



Oh, and how about some Gimme Some Truth.



(Note- Starting this week, I have now turned off the Comments section at the bottom of each post. Why? Because I'm tired of people often using broken English to misuse the comments section by praising the post while they embed a link to advertise their commercial web site, causing me to have to go back and manually delete the advertisement.)

Monday, September 14, 2020

50 Years of Music • After The Gold Rush

Inside jacket

Album cover
September 19, 1970 is the 50 year anniversary of After the Gold Rush by Neil Young and is often ranked as one of the best albums of all-time. In my recent blog - List Your FAV FIVE Albums, I ranked it #2.

1. The White Album, The Beatles
2. After the Gold Rush, Neil Young
3. Who's Next, The Who
4. Late For The Sky, Jackson Browne
5. Buffalo Springfield Again, Buffalo Springfield

Album back cover
In that FAV FIVE Albums blog, I didn't give a back story for any of my above selections and thought I'd share a couple of thoughts here about After the Gold Rush

In September, 2015 I wrote a blog, The songs playing in our heads this week where I said this, "Next up and in my head this past week, a couple of songs from Neil Young's 1970, After the Gold Rush. I absolutely wore this vinyl record out on my bedroom record player. It is a classic with Tell Me Why and Only Love Can Break Your Heart as two more favorites of mine since I was a sophomore in high school. I remember once writing my first girl friend a letter (whom I had broken up with as a freshman) and included the lyrics to Tell Me Why. She wrote back and said she didn't understand what the hell I was trying to say to her. Well, being a 15 year old kid, I probably didn't know what I was trying to say either. So who better for me to quote than the brilliant and often abstract Neil Young."

The part above where I say I wore the album out in my bedroom is actually the part that I was reflecting on this past week. I'm sure you have heard Brian Wilson's In My Room,

There's a world where I can go and tell my secrets to
In my room, in my room
In this world I lock out all my worries and my fears
In my room, in my room

Do my dreaming and my scheming
Lie awake and pray
Do my crying and my sighing
Laugh at yesterday

Now it's dark and I'm alone
But I won't be afraid
In my room, in my room
In my room, in my room
In my room, in my room

In My Room has always touched me deeply. I think as a young person when you're still living at home, your bedroom is your retreat, the place where you can sit still, think, and try to make sense of your world.



As a fifteen-sixteen year old, listening to After The Gold Rush was my go to 'in my room' album to listen to by myself. Most of the songs on After The Gold Rush would simply thrust me into a state of introspection that as I look back, was self-therapy.

Several weeks ago, I asked and got back many of my original vinyl albums from my youth from my ex-wife Pam, who happened to have them. She also gave me our old turntable that I connected to my current bedroom stereo system. Thank you Pam! It's kind of cool after all these years to have my old vinyl record collection back in my room.

Last Friday, I pulled out After the Gold Rush from the collection and listened to it while lying on my bed. It was very relaxing. My back-to-the-future therapy.

So my suggestion, make some time this week to listen to After The Gold Rush in a quiet space, by yourself.

Stay well my friends.


Monday, September 7, 2020

#NewMusicMonday • July-August • 2020

The Listener
Recently, I've had a couple of people ask me what my blog is about. The short answer is I write about rock 'n' roll. Since 2015, it's a passion where I developed a process over time that I compare to fishing. I cast my digital fishing pole into the river of musical streams.

To create a blog, I always start at the end. The end is the playlist, the second part of the blog. I spend the most time on any blog making the playlist because it's the heartbeat, the music itself that motivates me to organize a group of songs and then write about them.

The actual first part of the blog, the writing is always the hardest part. Sometimes like this week, I don't have much to say about the songs because it's new music that I don't have experiences to tie them to, other than I like the songs I've caught. Sometimes, I wonder how many people actually listen to an entire playlist that I've created? I'm guessing a handful. I like to think my playlists communicate a message- the songs selected and their linear order, an iteration with its own rhythm and if explored, probably reveals more about me than the writing of the blog.

I have two kinds of playlists. One, songs compiled from my youth in long-term memory, and two, songs compiled from recent times and often experienced as fun short-term memories.

The long-term playlists are often like fishing in a familiar fishing hole, you just cast your line with bait and wait, and then you catch that big song from long ago and just slowly reel it in.

The new songs have an exciting element of the unknown, you're fishing with a lure, casting out and quickly reeling it in with only your shiny lure staring back at you. But every now and then you catch a fresh new song, a keeper for a week, or one that actually becomes a long-term favorite.

In this metaphor, the bait or lure is my musical sense, my personal preferences to beat, rhythm, melody, vocals, lyrics, and the musical instruments used, and then categorized as an artist's musical sound, style, and/or genre.

In the past several weeks of putting this #NewMusic playlist together, I have been examining my musical taste in both my old and new likes, and my recent dislikes that stereotype most pop music today by assuming every young person must have an electronic pulse sound in the song in order for them to buy it.

Now, take my 'digital lure fishing' method to catching songs and it's something like 'speed dating' where couples sit for a minute, talk, the bell sounds, and then you move onto the next table. I cast my 30 second lure- listen to the intro, does it grab me, or skip to the second quarter, continue to listen or skip to the third quarter, continue to listen, or it's one and done with that song. This may sound cold, but my method gives a lot of artists and bands I have never heard of a fighting chance with my musical 'Crap-O-Meter.'

So, it's a lot like fishing, mostly misses but a few wonderful hits too. This week I discovered new favs for the first time- Josh Ritter, Kathleen Edwards and the band, Travis as well as new material from recent favorites as The Killers, Black Pumas, and The Lemon Twigs. Also, a couple of new old songs from The Rolling Stones, Green Day, and Prince.

My hope is that you're saying, "Cool thanks for sharing this new music." Or,
"Seriously Doug, you mean you have never heard of Travis until last week, and you call yourself a music blogger?"

Enjoy my friends and stay well out there.