A Royall Juggle

It might seem a bit shallow to end my blog this semester with a post about boy bands, but I couldn’t resist responding to the big news. My two favorite boy bands, Backstreet Boys (BSB) and New Kids on the Block (NKOTB) are teaming up on one stage for a tour in 2011 that will be a 20 something’s dream come true. The two groups made the announcement that they will be joining forces on Ryan Seacrest’s radio show on November 8th and the excitement has been buzzing through celebrity blogs ever since.

I was only about four when NKOTB were in their prime – I had the sleeping bag, the giant pins, the Barbie dolls and the video and cassette tapes. My sister and her friends introduced me to the band, but I was “too young” to join them at the concert (I had to settle for Chuck E. Cheese’s instead). My parents promised me and my friends that they’d take us to the next concert so we made puffy paint poster signs to prep for the big day. Unfortunately, the band split up and that “big day” didn’t come until 20 years later. I went to the NKOTB reunion tour when they came to the Verizon Center and it was worth the wait – hearing Joey sing “Please Don’t Go Girl” still had the same affect on me as it did in grade school and I came home wearing a fluorescent “You Got the Right Stuff” t-shirt with two giant pins attached.

Although I continued dancing around to my NKOTB greatest hits CD, I added another boy band to the mix in middle school, the infamous Backstreet Boys. This time I was “old enough” to actually go to a concert so my dad took me and my friends to their Millennium tour as a birthday present one year. I didn’t want the fun to stop so I kept going back for more – I went to five more BSB concerts over the course of just a few years. I have many fond memories that come back to me every time I hear their songs like cruising with the windows rolled down on my way to volleyball practices with my friend Stef, and waking up early to stand in line and master the lottery drawings at our local Ticketmaster sales office (that was before you could buy concert tickets online and trust me, making fun of the chaotic crying fans in line was much more fun than hitting the “refresh” button on a computer screen).

My Backstreet Boys close encounter at Clarendon Ballroom

Similar to NKOTB, some of the Backstreet Boys tried a short-lived solo career, but they kept their promise “as long as there is music, we’ll be coming back again” and so did we. My friend Stef visited me in DC a few years ago so that we could relive our carefree high school days when the Backstreet Boys came to Clarendon Ballroom to promote their comeback CD, Never Gone. It was quite a change from the huge coliseums we were used to, but we were ecstatic to be in arms reach of them right next to the stage (my boyfriend joked that they’ll be performing at the local Burger King next… boy was he wrong). Since then, I’ve seen them perform at Wolftrap and have shared my passion for their music by singing my own rendition of “Larger than Life” at my favorite karaoke bar, RockIt Grill.

Given my past history, I jumped out of my office chair when I heard the news that the two bands were uniting as NKOTBSB in 2011. They sure do know their fans well – I’ve already signed up for the email alerts and have been following them on Twitter. Their first hyped-up performance on the American Music Awards seemed a bit forced, but I’ll definitely be buying tickets to their DC show when they go on sale this Friday. I think some members of NSYNC are feeling  a little left out :).

During introductions on the first day of this class, I expressed my hesitance with social media and digital connectedness because I recognized its negative impact. I’d seen friends at dinner checking their BlackBerrys instead of enjoying each other’s company, I’d noticed its affect on me at work when I stared at a screen all day and felt unfulfilled, and I’d even heard it from my mom when she told me she was stressed after joining Facebook because replying to her long lost friends’ messages added more things to her “to do list.” I’m definitely a believer in balancing old tools with the new to “ease the overload” – I still haven’t upgraded my basic flip phone, I keep a daily planner notebook with me at all times, and I print and store all of my photos in albums.

As I read Hamlet’s Blackberry over the Thanksgiving holiday, it was comforting to realize I’m not alone – lots of other really smart people think “being connected to the crowd” 24/7 isn’t the best way to live regardless of the constant new cool new gadgets, apps and sites are introduced. Although I thoroughly enjoyed reading the book offline (reading has been one of my favorite activities this semester because I cherish every minute I can get away from my computer), I find it ironic that now I have to go back online to blog about why I think spending too much time in front of a screen is unhealthy. BUT I’ll try not to be too bitter :).

The book examines the importance of balancing connectedness by exploring ways in which great philosophers, writers and inventors reacted to the “new technology” of their age, from the written word to the printing press. Each new advancement threw people’s life off balance for a while until they figured out the best way to integrate it while maintaining their overall happiness. An important lesson these great thinkers reminded me of:

Gaps and distance are essential to adding depth in life – the author of this book, William Powers, mentions how he enjoys the involuntary disconnectedness of flying. I couldn’t agree more. Once you get on an airplane, one of the first things you must do is turn off all electronic devices  — finally some time to unwind without feeling guilty that you aren’t responding to someone online  (I think it’s unfortunate that many airlines have wireless internet now). Since I’m pretty terrified of flying, I always take my journal along for the ride to get my mind off the turbulence. During one of my latest flights, I jotted down this thought, “Flying keeps me grounded.” I use the time I’m 30,000 feet in the air to focus inwardly, gain perspective on my life and the important people in it. There is something about writing all my thoughts down with pen and paper and not being able to wordsmith and edit that is exhilarating. I typically end each flight by writing down a few things I want to change or some goals that I want to focus on in the future. It’s my time to reevaluate priorities — somthing that can only occur when I take a break from the constant flow of digital information.

Flying is just one example of how I use distance and gaps to add depth to my life and relationships. With all the information overload you experience day-to-day, it’s important to take breaks from clicking and typing and the crowd that follows you online. It’s so easy to get distracted by what everyone else is doing and thinking because it’s easily accessible through social tools like Twitter, Facebook, etc.   The result is hours lost in your day that could be spend fostering the meaningful relationships. Life isn’t measured by the number of connections you have on a social network or amount of “likes” or comments you have on an online post (despite what Mark Zuckerberg might think); in the end it’s those deep conversations you have with people and the time spent, between connectedness, reflecting on those human experiences that give you true satisfaction.

That being said, I did thoroughly enjoy learning about all the social media tools this semester and think it’s extremely valuable to understand the purpose of the tools, why people use them, and how they can be used in moderation to enhance your personal and professional life. It’s undeniable that the field social media is fast-paced and changing the way the world works.  I plan to use the valuable takeaways from this class to encourage others to use social media, focusing on quality rather than quantity, to contribute to their overall happiness and success. As this article about the future of social media suggests, we are approaching a saturation point, and now it’s time to figure out the best way to filter through the clutter and help others do the same. This girl is doing a great job of proving the harm of social media and connectedness when taken to the extreme.

The first post I wrote on this blog, I talked about juggling all the different aspects of my life and learning how to use social media to help me do those things more productively. After taking this course, I realize it’s also about when NOT to use social media because it can also cause people to be overwhelmed, scattered and unproductive. Since I spent most of this week at work in front of a computer screen during the day and at home in front of a computer screen working on final assignments for school at night, I am honestly thrilled to have a break from the screen over the holidays. I will enjoy keeping up with the trends in social media through all the RSS feeds I’ve added to my iGoogle page throughout the semester and may start blogging again when I begin Advanced Digital Strategy in January, but until then you can count on me being disconnected – using the gap between semesters to reflect on what I learned.

Photo taken from flickr.com by ztephen used under Creative Commons license

When I found out we’re exploring how social media and other web 2.0 technologies have influenced the War on Terror in class this week and our instructions for this blog post, “to explore the blogosphere of a country that begins with the same letter as your name;” the first country that came to mind was Afghanistan. This country has been on my mind a lot lately because my brother-in-law is deployed there as a medic in the Army. He is looking forward to a brief trip home to the US this month for the birth of his first child — my first niece.

After browsing through the Afghanistan section of Global Voices Online, an international community of bloggers who report on blogs and citizen media from around the world, this blog caught my eye:

Circling the Lions Den: A Glance at the Conflict in Afghanistan
The blog is written by Nick Fielding, a citizen of the United Kingdom. His passion for Afghanistan began when he visited the country in the 1970s before violence invaded and it became a country at war. Reading about this blog reminded me of one of my favorite books, The Kite Runner. The plot of the book begins during a time of peace and happiness in Afghanistan and it follows two childhood friends through the many tragedies the country has experienced over the last few decades, from the Soviet invasion to the rise of the Taliban regime. I read this book just a few months before my brother-in-law was deployed this summer. The novel helped educate me on the brutal realities of Afghanistan today, painted a moving picture of the country’s tragic history and still somehow told an inspiring and uplifting story that left a glimmer of hope for the future. That’s what it seems like Nick Fielding is aiming to do in his blog.

“I first visited Afghanistan in the 1970s and was entranced by this remarkable country during what proved to be a short period of peace and calm. No matter what has happened since then, I continue to believe that Afghanistan and its people will have a bright and dignified future. This blog aims to highlight issues and information that don’t always make it into the mainstream media.”

In one of his recent posts, “Afghanistan moving in right direction,” he highlights the Asia Foundation’s Afghanistan in 2010: A survey of the Afghan People , which shows an upward trend in the percent of Afghan people who believe the country is moving in the right direction from 2008 to 2010. During one of my sister’s Skype calls with her husband (my brother-in-law), he had to leave the call to treat injured Afghan civilians – it’s soldiers like him that continue to keep that glimmer of hope alive for the Afghan people.

An influential military blog Cathy pointed out in her community snapshot for class, Bouhammer’s Afghanistan and Military Blog, also had some inspiring posts that I enjoyed perusing. One of the pictures of the day was of an Army medic treating the wounds of an Afghan child and Bouhammer shares that one of his sons served as a medic in the Army in his post, “The Military is in my DNA.”

I’ll leave you with my favorite country music tribute to all the soldiers who have fought for our country, “Courtesy of the Red, White and Blue,” by Toby Keith.

Just a few pieces of my family's pug collection

The title of my post was taken from a quote on my monthly pug calendar, just one of the many pug accessories my family has purchased over the years. We’ve had three family pugs, all of which were full of personality yet very unique. Our family pug tradition began during parent’s honeymoon, or lack thereof. Their honeymoon was cut short because they spent all their money on a pug puppy they couldn’t resist. They brought him home to start their life together. Soon after, my sister and I joined the family and grew up alongside their pug, Butchie (the strong-willed adventurer). From the day I was born, I was raised to view animals as an important part of family. Yes, my sister and I came before the pug, but Butchie was a close third. He taught us important life lessons growing up including perseverance – he spent the last few years of his life blind and deaf but always managed to sniff his way around and find his way back home. I still remember the day we got the phone call from my grandparents who were keeping him at the time to let us know Butchie had passed away – I was on my way to the pool but spent most of the afternoon in bed crying instead. It was only the second time I’ve had to deal with death as a child (the first being my grandpa when I was only two).

Millie was the best tailgating buddy even in her final years

Our second dog came as a Christmas gift when I was in middle school; ever since Butchie died, my sister and I had bugged our parents for another pug and we finally got our wish. Our second pug, Millie (the wise and loyal companion), helped me get through my awkward and rebellious teenage years. She could always sense when I was upset and stayed by my side through all the dramatic break-ups. Even though I have a wonderful family and friends, there is something about a dog’s enduring love and loyalty that is comforting. Millie also added lots of humor to my life – I remember laughing hysterically every time she welcomed someone to our house with a song (she had a funny howl and would sit on the steps and “sing” for each person that came into our home). She also loved to take road trips to our grandmother’s house, turn “gremlin” on my dad when he played just a little too rough and burrow every time she found something to crawl under. Once I headed off to college, I always looked forward to my welcome home song from Millie – I didn’t feel home until I heard it.  

Daisy Mae's first trip to the beach

After nine wonderful years with Millie, she passed away at an early age with pneumonia due to a misdiagnosis from a vet. This time I was an adult, and my poor boyfriend had to sit by my side and watch me cry for hours. My family had it even worse than me. They had to come home to an empty house, and my dad struggled to even walk through the door knowing that Millie wasn’t waiting for him on the other side. We didn’t wait as long this time to start looking for our third family pug. Just about a month after Millie died, my family brought home a little angel from Serenity Haven Kennel, Daisy Mae (the bubbly socialite). Daisy was tougher to raise than the first two; I had the luxury of just visiting her on my trips home from Northern Virginia. My sister was living at home at the time, and had to switch between “Daisy duty” with my parents because Daisy was always getting into something. Every time I called home during that first year, I was interrupted by someone screaming “DAISY NO” on the other line. Daisy has calmed down some since then, but still loves to get out and really enjoys the company of other people and dogs. She made it on the Serenity Haven website with her first fall calendar shot playing in the leaves in our backyard and took her first trip to the beach with us this year in which she loved all the attention she got from the beach bums (they all got out of their chairs to greet her). Now that my sister also has a dog, they have many play dates.

I’m definitely not alone in my love for dogs. There are many other families and pet owners out there that treat their dogs like family. In class, we took a peak at a couple of the social media sites for pet lovers, Dogster and Catster. In Dogster there is even a section dedicated to avid pug lovers like me. I should mention that we also had two cats growing up, one that was born in our closet when I was four and lived to be 20 years old (I’m a cat lover as well and animal lover in general). I usually can’t control my “dog talk” every time I see a cute dog on the street, and I speak to anyone I pass who is walking a pug because I feel an automatic connection. According to many studies, 60% of Americans own pets and those people are more likely to live longer than the other 40%. Why? Pets are good for your heart, motivate you to be more active and get outside, boost your immune system and reduce stress levels, among many other things. The love and laughter they bring into your life is irreplaceable. Unfortunately the apartment I live in now doesn’t allow pets, but I always look forward to my trips home to reunite with Daisy Mae, and I plan to convince my boyfriend that one day we should have a pug family as well :).

Our blog topic this week is appropriate for the day – what website are you most thankful for and why? Although I visit a decent amount of websites just about every day including Google, Facebook, LinkedIn, CNN and now Twitter thanks to this class, the one that beats them all is WMZQ.com powered by iheartradio.com, the online version of DC’s only country radio station. Yea, I know… shocker.

I remember the first time I heard WMZQ – I was sitting in a hotel room in Fairfax, VA while I was visiting the area for one of my first job interviews. I remember thinking, it’s bad enough that I may have to move north for a job, but I definitely can’t move somewhere that doesn’t have a country radio station. So I started flipping through the stations and came across 98.7 WMZQ. Although I realized it was nothing like where I grew up with at least four country stations to choose from, I was thankful to have one (technically there are two in the DC metro area, but the Fredericksburg station 93.3 WFLS has bad reception in most places).

When I moved to the area, one of the first things I did was program WMZQ into the radio pre-set in my car. And I’ve been listening to the station on my computer at work ever since I found out you can also stream it online. At my current job, I sit alone at my desk for about 80% of the time so online radio really does have a positive impact on my day. I can’t start working without my breakfast bread, coffee and visiting the WMZQ website to listen online. Unfortunately, the best morning show ended about a year after I moved to the area, “Ben and Brian in the Morning.” Ben was my favorite and literally made me laugh out loud regardless as to what kind of day I was having. He ended up moving from the area to be closer to his family, but his legend lives on at YouTube. Here is one of his classic voice impersonation bits that I highly recommend watching – “Feliz Navidad.”

When the “Ben and Brian” show was on air, I kept tuning in online to add humor to my work days, but now the morning radio personality is Boxer. And although he’s definitely not as entertaining as Ben, I still return to WMZQ streaming online everyday for a few reasons: 1) Country music comforts me – it’s a piece of home I can listen to wherever I am 2) It’s interactive – I enjoy the two-way communication between the DJs and the listeners (although I’ve tried calling for many contests and still haven’t won anything yet!) 3) The DJs discuss topics that are important to me – I can hear interviews with my favorite artists, local concert announcements and news from one source. 4) And finally, because it’s convenient and free – if I actually had to buy a radio and bring it to work with me to tune in, I’m not sure I would. But because it’s on my computer and saved to my favorites, it becomes part of my daily routine.

As I sit here at my sister’s house in North Carolina on Thanksgiving Day, I also have to remember what I’m thankful for offline and all the wonderful blessings God has given me today – time with family and our dogs, Cowboys football, lots of great food and the new edition to our family who will be joining us soon; my niece, Savannah Grace. I’m also thankful for my sister’s husband and all of the soldiers overseas who don’t have the day off today. We are hoping to get to speak to him on Skype later today – the website my sister is most thankful for. Happy Thanksgiving to all!

Kate’s tweet about crowdsourcing weather research grabbed my attention so I decided to delve deeper into the topic. I’ve been fascinated with extreme weather, more specifically tornadoes, since I was young and am still usually the first to know about the latest warnings wherever I am.  Looking back, I think my fear and fascination began during an eventful day at the babysitter’s house. I remember watching the Weather Channel report a tornado warning for our area and ducking in a hallway in the middle of the house with all the other kids. We stayed there and prayed for what seemed to be an extremely long time. Although a tornado didn’t hit the house I was in, the event definitely had an impact on me. Since then, I’ve had a few more close encounters; a tornado hit a neighborhood nearby my house, I’ve been stuck in a traffic jam during a hurricane evacuation with tornadoes touching down way too close for comfort, and experienced some nasty storms during my summers as a lifeguard. Some of my friends tell me I missed my calling as a weather girl :). I also love watching TV specials and films about tornadoes; Night of the Twisters or Twister anyone?

I think the lack of control and predictability is what intrigues me the most and also contributes to my extreme paranoia. You typically have enough time to prepare, pack up your stuff and get out-of-town when there is a flood, blizzard or hurricane warning. But a tornado can come with little to no warning, destroying everything in its path along the way. The article Kate shared examines the UK project, weatherathome.net – a part of the world’s largest climate forecasting experiment, climateprediction.net, which is performing research to determine how climate change will affect local weather patterns and extreme weather conditions over time. The experts behind the project at the University of Oxford have decided to crowdsource part of the project to anyone who has a computer and Internet connection. They are doing this by providing a module that can be downloaded and ran while your computer is idle. Crowdsourcing data analysis for this project is not only environmentally friendly (you’re recycling spare capacity on your computer), but it also enables powerful research and results that the project leaders couldn’t obtain on their own.

“With the help of the public, we can run the model many more times than we could possibly do even with a supercomputer, so we can literally count one-in-100-year weather events to see how climate change is affecting weather risks,” said Dr Myles Allen, head of the climate dynamics group at the University of Oxford and principal investigator for climateprediction.net.

This is a great example of lowering the Coasean floor — the point below which the transaction costs of a particular type of activity, no matter how valuable to someone, are too high for a standard institutional form to pursue. Clay Shirky discusses this theory in detail in Chapter Two of Here Comes Everybody. Before people had the ability to download this robust data analysis module and send the data they collect back to the climateprediction.net project, this research simply couldn’t be done. But now thanks to technology and the ability to crowdsource part of the research, significant strides are being made to improve regional weather predictions. Thankfully, downloading a module and sending back the data you collect is a little less risky than chasing tornadoes, but collectively, it could be just as impactful.

If this research helps uncover some of the mystery behind extreme weather events, maybe my fear of tornadoes will be alleviated. Things always seem to be a little less terrifying when you understand them better. Just for fun, here’s the classic 90’s country video by Tracy Lawrence, “Texas Tornado.”

I have to admit, my favorite part of this week’s blog topic was “Googling” some of the video games of my past to find out what’s out there about them today. If you asked me about 15 years ago “What is social gaming?” I would probably respond by saying something like, “It’s when you go to your friend’s house to race them in Mario Kart.”

One of my first memories of video games was playing Paperboy on the first Nintendo with my sister and yelling at the TV screen at the dog that always ended my paper route (yes, you can still buy it). In fact, I still have my Super Nintendo in my closet and went through a stage after college where I would buy used games from Amazon and invite people over for Nintendo and wine nights J Back in the 90’s, I thought I was pretty cool because I knew the password to skip to “Genie World” in Aladdin — “Genie, Jafar, Aladdin, Abu.” Today, all kids have to do is search online and it comes up on the first page of search results.

In lieu of my country video of the week, I had to bring back Paperboy to prove how much gaming has changed since then (whoever created this YouTube video was a pro compared to me and figured out how to dodge the dog).

Back then, I would have laughed if you said that FedEx and UPS were battling it out for advertising sponsorships on Paperboy, but today many big advertisers are doing just that. They are using games to build their brands in virtual worlds such as Second Life, World of Warcraft and the many games for XBOX.  

According to our guest speaker this semester, Michael Slaby, former CTO of the Obama campaign, once all the traditional media space was taken the days leading up to the election, the Obama campaign team purchased advertising for XBOX games. Some examples of corporate use: Toyota used an online game to introduce a new car model, Coke sponsored a concert that took place in the Second Life virtual world and T-Mobile built a party island for Second Life “residents” to explore. If I ever spent time on Second Life, I’d rather check out Dry Gulch Saloon, a popular country music spot destination complete with themed events, line dancing, DJ performances, bull-riding, and other Western-themed fun. I wonder if CMT or popular country singers have ever thought to add that to their marketing mix…

According to the interesting podcast about the Business Week cover story: “Virtual World, Real Money,” you can actually make a decent living developing and selling virtual property online and converting virtual bucks into real money in your pockets. Similarly, businesses have also used virtual worlds to design and test out products, saving significant amounts in research and development costs before bringing their product to the real world.

Bottom line: social gaming today isn’t your typical paper route. Many games and/or virtual worlds have complex storylines and are extremely influential within their community of dedicated users. If Paperboy was a social game today, I would definitely have the ability to install invisible fences in the yards to keep the dogs away from my bike. How would you change your favorite games from the 80’s and 90’s using the technology of today?

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