Sunday, December 14, 2014

The Serial

A couple of weeks ago, my consumer seminar teacher walked in the classroom raving about a podcast called Serial that she had just started listening to. I thought it was a little odd that she was listening to one, since I couldn't remember the last time I had heard of anyone listening to a podcast. The week after, at least three students in the class mentioned that they had started listening to the podcast as well and had immediately become obsessed with it. When I researched this further, I found that each episode of Serial has over 2.2 million listeners. Now I was intrigued; what is this podcast? And why does it attract so many viewers? 

Serial is a non-fiction story that has released one episode per week since October, produced by the public radio show This American Life. The podcast follows the story of reporter Sarah Koenig's year-long investigation into a 1999 murder case of former high-schooler Hai Min Lee. Koenig revisits the case, talking to family, friends and Adnan Syed, the man found guilty of the murder (Lee's high school boyfriend). The podcast has been surprisingly successful, which brings me back to my previous question: why are Americans so obsessed with this murder case?

The article states that the podcast may have such high ratings for many reasons, but one main reason is that listeners want to know if Syed is guilty or not guilty. The story is also non-fiction, which adds to the attraction, and you can download and listen to it whenever you please. In today's world, accessibility is key. I think another main reason is the fact that it's about a murder. As Americans, we are infatuated with crime television shows. In addition to it dominating the news programs, television seems to be flooded by shows like Law & Order and too many CSI's to count. In fact, 42% of jobs on network television dramas are related to crime and punishment. Is the podcast so popular right now because of our criminal obsession? Will it be as successful next year if it's not about murder? In my opinion, I don't think it will be as popular next year if it's not about a murder. I think viewers would not be as interested in the story without knowing it involves someone dying or going to jail. 

I also wondered about the style of the storytelling, and if that had any impact on the popularity. As I mentioned before, a new episode is released once a week, and Koenig chooses to release certain information each episode. She wants to make sure viewers keep coming back to listen to her story. "Koenig is not just a journalist trying to get to the heart of a story — she is every one of us listeners at home." I find this really interesting because although I have not listened to the podcast (yet), it explains how great of a story teller she is. She is a journalist, but she appeals to viewers, and makes viewers identify with her. The more we like the storyteller, the more likely we are going to listen. 

There seems to be a combination of factors that make this podcast be the "it" show of this year. The intrigue of a non-fiction crime, the popularity and convenience of the podcast, and the exciting story telling of the narrator all make for a riveting show. However, I think our society's morbid fascination with murder is a little frightening. 

So what do you think? Will this podcast maintain its high ratings next year with a different story, possibly one not about murder?

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

The Digital Girl Scout Cookie

While babysitting over Thanksgiving break, I came across something I hadn't seen in months - Thin Mint Girl Scout cookies. I couldn't believe it; I thought Girl Scout cookies in my area were a rare sight most of the year. I only ever had the cookies when my old neighbor would ring our doorbell once a year offering us the brochure. Sometimes I would see their booth set up next to the local grocery store, but that was still fairly rare. So when I was reading The Week recently and I saw an article about Girl Scouts, I was immediately intrigued, especially when I read the title: "Why e-commerce for Girl Scout cookies is a bad idea". Girl Scout cookies have taken to the internet. 

The Girl Scouts announced that starting in January, they will begin to selling and delivering their products online, calling it a "digital cookie". The program expects to have over one million scouts using the digital cookie, instead of selling it "the old-fashioned way". The article I read argues that the digital cookie won't teach Girl Scouts the same business lessons they received by physically selling them. The Girl Scouts Corporation, "the digital program will teach scouts the value of e-commerce". The girls will have to invite and contact relatives and friends in order for them to be able to place an order on their website. Even better, there's an app for that. 

I think that there are many benefits to this, but ultimately I think there is also a big loss. I can see why Girl Scouts wants to make the switch to technology, because it's more modern and accessible, but I think it changes the image of the scouts. In the article, I think the author makes a great point when she mentions that young girls already know how to use the internet; they've grown up with it, and their arguably better than adults. So when the Girl Scouts of America say that they are trying to teach girls how to do something online, it doesn't mean much. It won't be hard for these girls, and they probably won't learn as much as they did by having to budget their time and figure out how to raise a certain amount of money. The scouts are being lazy. They have to create their own website and email their relatives, but in comparison to actually physically selling the cookies it's a lot less work.  Don't get me wrong, I'm excited to be able to order my cookies online instead of having to wait for someone to show up at my door, but I don't think this is the best idea for the scouts. 

What do you think? Does it change the scout's values by making the cookies available to buy online?

Sunday, November 23, 2014

The "Average" Doll

If you had the choice to buy your cousin a fantasy, typical Barbie doll this holiday season or an "average" doll, which would you chose to buy?

Consumers this year will be asking themselves this question when faced with the two different types of Barbie's on shelves. Nickolay Lamm created a new kind of Barbie based on "what the Barbie would look like if she actually had the measurements of an average 19-year-old woman’s body (based on CDC data)" , as stated in Time Magazine. He created this doll in 2013 as an art project, and since then the project has raised to a whole new level. Through social media, the Lammily doll reached thousands of parents and consumers, all inquiring about where and when they can buy the doll. Lamm then crowd funded money to produce the doll right in time for the holidays. In January, Lamm will be expanding on his creation, adding a sticker extension pack complete with acne, moles, freckles, the ability to blush, scrapes and bruises, scars, cellulite and stretch marks. Lamm also released a video of second-grade students reactions to the doll, shown below: (skip to 3:44 to see the kids comparison of Lammily to the typical Barbie doll)

Although Lammy has received a lot of positive feedback and support, he acknowledges and expects negative feedback as well. He "insists" all of his additions, like stretch marks and bruises, come from a good place, but knows that they will be questioned. "I hope there are enough people who believe what I believe. I think 25% to 30% will think the stickers are stupid and the rest will think it’s good." 

Don't get me wrong, I think this doll is great. I think that this is something our society needs and young girls could definitely benefit from. It could potentially raise self-confidence to girls from a young age, which is something that I think is amazing. However, it's hard to believe that this project will replace Barbie. Barbie is an icon, something that has been around for what seems like forever, and imagining a world without Barbie is almost impossible in my opinion. Unfortunately, I think this project will be a fad. I think it needs a lot more support in order to have the power it needs; it needs to be more than just a statement to society. The press that the doll has gotten has definitely helped and I hope this message reaches Barbie, hopefully helping them realize their dolls flaws. 

Sunday, November 16, 2014

What's Your Number?

If I told my parents that I wanted to apply to 29 schools, I think they would think I was crazy. I would think I was crazy too. I have no idea how many schools I will apply to, but I'm fairly certain it will be more than 5. When my mom was applying to schools, she applied to 2 and got into both; my dad applied to 3 and got into all as well. In 1990, 9% of students applied to 7 or more colleges, however in 2011, the number has risen to 29%. This leads me to question why these numbers have increased so drastically from when my parents were applying to college, which may seem ages ago, but really was not that far in the past.

In an article I read in the New York Times about college applications, I was startled at the numbers of applications to colleges some seniors will be sending out this year. Alexa Verola, an example student from the article, applied to 29 schools already. Now, that might seem like a lot, but there are students who will double her number. Students may argue that they are looking for the best fit school for them, but are they really finding it by applying to dozens of schools?

The article claims that there are multiple factors effecting why students feel they need to apply to more than a couple of schools, but the main factor is fear. For me, this was the least surprising part of the article, because I know that I will feel the same way when applying to colleges. Colleges is something exciting, but the application process (from what I hear) is terrible. There are so many colleges to attend and so much you can do at those colleges that the choices seem overwhelming. I have friends who know exactly where they want to go, and will probably still apply to more than 5 colleges "just to be safe". For the rest of us who have no idea where we want to go, or what we want to do in college, the whole process can make you feel like a deer in headlights. I think the number of seniors in our graduating class is another contributor to student's fear. With a school as big as New Trier, student's may feel like it is almost impossible to differentiate and stand out when competing with 1,000 other student's for one spot. So is the girl who applied to 29 schools in fact crazy? What do you think?

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

The Pathetic Turnout for Midterm Elections

As most Americans know, last week was midterm elections. Little did most know, however, that it was the worst voter turnout in 72 years. Yes, you read that right. America had almost the same percentage of voters in 2014 as it did in 1942, which was when the country was in the middle of World War II. The country had a total voting percent of 36.3% compared to 40.9% in 2010. In a nation that prides itself in being able to vote, why did less than half of the citizens vote? 

In an article I read in the New York Times, the reason given for this incredibly low turnout are "apathy, anger and frustration at the relentlessly negative tone of the campaigns." This article argues that neither the Republicans or Democrats gave voters a real reason to vote; Republican's campaigns strictly opposed President Obama, and Democrats didn't release any plans for the future or show the effect of their changes over Obama's presidency. However, I think the greatest reason for this extremely low turnout expressed in this article is the negative ad campaigns. The intention of a negative ad campaign is to highlight weaknesses in your opponent, but the downside of these campaigns is that generally people don't like the tone of the candidate. The result? People not voting at all. I can see how this is true because I hate ad campaigns as much as the next person. It leads me to think about the candidates themselves. Why don't candidates talk about all the things that make them qualified? I know that I would like to see the candidates accomplishments, beliefs and plans for the future. Wouldn't that be better than pointing out perceived weaknesses of your opponent? 

This article lists only a few of the reasons people didn't vote at midterm elections. As a young person who is almost eligible to vote, I'm concerned with what the other reasons are. To be honest, I don't really pay attention to politics or feel knowledgable about the subject matter. I wonder if other young people feel the same way I do; do people feel disconnected to politics? From what I understand, there are two political parties: democrats and republicans. But there are also plenty of people who are in the middle of the two (the middle ground). The gap between the two sides has widened over the past couple of years, moving further and further away from a middle ground. The extremism of both sides of the political party have made it so that politicians can't work together for the common goals of the average person. This makes politicians less relatable to the real world, potentially causing less people to vote, especially those who are caught in this middle ground. I feel like this is another major reason why people didn't vote, especially for young people. What do you think is the main reason people didn't vote in the midterm elections?

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Does Your Grocery List Include A Firearm?

What would you do if you walked into your local grocery store and spotted a hand gun holster on the shopper's belt loop next to you in the produce section? I know I would quickly put down whatever item I was holding and try to walk away without having her notice me. I would definitely feel unsafe, and frankly very scared. I imagine this is how most shoppers would react, which is why it is surprising to me that 31 states allow shoppers, or other citizens to carry firearms in public.

64% of shoppers in those 31 states feel the same as I do. Recently, I read an article in the Huffington Post about a poll and petition taken by the Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense In America. This group is trying to stop permitting open firearms in Kroger, a massive supermarket chain all across the country. This Wednesday, the members of the group plan to petition outside a Kroger annual investor's meeting with 300,000 signatures supporting their position. 

Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense In America is an extremely powerful group whose goal is to advocate for stronger gun laws. Impressively, the group has already convinced other major food chains like Chili's, Starbucks, Chipotle and Target to announce a no-guns policy in their stores. How do they accomplish this? By rallies and petitions, but especially through social media. Last month, the group started creating aggressive ad campaigns to promote their message, like the one shown below. 

The Moms Demand Action Kroger campaign
I think that the Mom's are bringing up a really important issue. Before I read this article, I didn't really think about the possibility that someone could be walking around with a gun in the local stores in my neighborhood. I realize that I live in "the bubble" therefore this is probably highly unlikely that I would see anyone with a gun in any of our stores, but this is still a little shocking to me. It immediately reminded me of another blog post I wrote about the number of handheld guns carried by woman. While I can understand that people may feel unsafe in public, I don't see why a gun is a necessary accessory while shopping at Kroger. Grocery stores are always crowded, no matter when or where you go, and they are filled with young children. What happens if a child gets access to your gun kept in your basket? 

Monday, October 27, 2014

Video Games for Grandma

Recently, I read an article in the New York Times about the positive effect video games can have on the older brain. Project: Evo is a game designed for elderly people, ages 60-85, to help improve skills that may have declined due to aging (memory, multitasking, processing speed, etc.) by the company Akili. Akili was co-founded by PureTech, and is building clinically-validated cognitive therapeutics, assessments, and diagnostics that look and feel like high-quality video games. Since neuroscientests believe that certain skills do decline as we age, a possible fix to this problem may be video games. 
However, there is minimal evidence that this game does, in fact, help improve everyday tasks; your success in the game may not measure to your improvement in life skills. To test this, Adam Gazzaley conducted an experiment with 46 elders aged 65-80 where he had them play a race car game, testing multitasking and memory skills. He split them into three groups and measured their results as to whether they played the advanced version of game avidly, the simplified version, or didn't play the game at all. He found that the group who played the advanced version of the game became extremely good at the game, and their skills improved as well. The players didn’t merely become better at NeuroRacer; they also became sharper at other things. Gazzaley admits that he needs to conduct more research and find deeper evidence that video games really do improve the brain, because brain games show different results regarding improvement of skills. 
I think that video games could potentially help sharpen the skills we tend to lose, but I think that more research needs to be conducted before every video game company starts making games for elders. I agree that many of our skills do decline with age, and if a game can improve that, then I'm all for it. My grandpa does a puzzle almost every day. He's great at puzzles, but I don't think that means anything regarding his other skills. This also made me think about children and video games. Whenever I babysit for my neighbors, they always beg me to play their favorite video games on the iPad with them. One of their favorites is a game practicing your multiplication tables. To me, this is a little shocking, because I know that most teenagers don't play video games to help them in school; they play because their fun. But could this be the new COD? Will educational video games become more popular than racing or killing games? If kids can benefit from video games, can the elderly learn from them too?  

Monday, October 20, 2014

The Well Armed Woman

There were 8 million active concealed-weapon permits in the U.S. in 2011, and state-level tallies suggest that the number has risen by at least 1 million since. In Missouri, 19 is the minimal age requirement for getting a concealed-weapon permit. More than ever before, handheld guns are being bought for protection by everyone--especially women. 

Recently, I read an article in Times magazine titled Armed America by Kate Pickert. The article discussed why the number of people with guns has increased in recent years, which I immediately found intriguing. But what I found even more interesting was that "among the newly armed, state statistics show, an increasing number are women".  In Florida, for example, the number of female concealed-weapon holders doubled in 2010-2014, while male owners only increased 59%. Why? Possibly because women feel more vulnerable, more unsafe in their own lives due to the recent occurrences that appear on the news. In 2012, Carrie Lightfoot launched a company called the Well Armed Woman which aims to educate, equip, and empower female gun owners. The website offers holsters, eye protection, handbags, even bras equipped to hold handheld guns. But is it necessary?
A "Classic Hobo Concealed Carry Purse" from the Well Armed Women website
On one hand, I can see why some women choose to carry a handheld gun for protection. I think women can feel vulnerable around men, and with many the sexual assault stories in the news I can see the desire for protection. However, I don't think this means that every woman should be carrying a gun around in their purse. Lightfoot makes an interesting point in the article by saying some of the drawbacks of carrying a gun everywhere you go is the accessibility of it to other people, especially children. If you have a gun just tucked away in your purse, many people could access it, especially in a public place, when you aren't looking. I think if a woman feels it is necessary to have a gun on her at all times, it physically has to be on her, because it can be easily used against her.

I think this also calls into question the feeling of comfort and safety that seems to be lacking in our society today. If a woman can't leave her house without feeling unsafe, doesn't that say something about our country? Why should we have to be in constant fear of being attacked or harmed? I definitely think that women should be able to protect themselves, but I question if guns are necessary. What happened to learning "old-school" self-defense?

Monday, October 13, 2014

The Right to Die with Dignity

What would you do if you found out you only had 6 months to live? How would you spend those 6 months? I don't know about you, but I wouldn't want to spend those 6 months in a hospital.

29-year old Brittany Mayer decided she didn't want to spend her last 6 months in the hospital, trying to treat her fatal brain cancer. Instead, she is choosing to die with dignity on November 1. When she received the terrifying news, the doctors prescribed a full brain radiation. The full brain radiation would have severely altered her life for the worse, causing her final days to be spent in pain. The only other option was hospice care, which would have potentially altered her personality and actions, even to loved ones. So instead of getting treatment, she decided to request for a prescription to end her life.

Death with dignity is an organization with a mission to provide an option for dying individuals and to stimulate nationwide improvements in end-of-life care, as stated on the website. If a patient meets the requirements, they can ask for a prescription to end their life. However, only 5 states permit assisted suicide (Oregon, Washington, Montana, Vermont and New Mexico). Mayer and her family, who previously resided in California, moved to Oregon so that she would be eligible for the prescription.

I support Mayer's decision. If I were in her position, I think I would feel the exact same. I wouldn't want to spend my last moments with my family and friends confined to a hospital room with them watching me suffer. I would want to spend it making memories and living my life as I wish. However, I wonder why only 5 states allow assisted-suicide. With specific requirements to request the prescription, I don't think this is dangerous to permit. I can see why states might have been hesitant when the idea was first introduced, but they don't have a reason to be anymore with the strict rules. People should be allowed to die on their own terms when the situation is terminal.

What do you think? Should people be able to plan their own death?

Sunday, September 28, 2014

To selfie or not to selfie?

Is it ever inappropriate to take a selfie? If you didn't take a picture or record it, did it even happen?

During a JetBlue Flight from California to Texas on September 18, the plane's starboard engine burst, immediately releasing smoke into the cabin and causing oxygen masks to fall from above. While other passengers were freaking out, Scott Welch had a different reaction to the crisis. Instead, Mr. Welch, a sports photographer, responded in a distinctly 2014 manner: He reached for his Samsung Galaxy Note 3 smartphone, thrust it into the murky air and pressed the record button. He even found the presence of mind to record a smiling selfie.  The plane landed safely, but the videos soon went viral with over 1 million views on YouTube. 

A snapshot from one of Welch's videos
Over the course of the past year, selfies have taken social media by storm. It seems that everyone, from celebrities to Pope Francis, has taken one. At the Oscars last year, Bradely Cooper's famous selfie became Twitter's most retweeted tweet with over 2 million retweets and a total of 32.8 million views. The phenomenon is even the basis behind a new show on ABC titled Selfie, a show about a woman who doesn't know how to interact outside of the internet world. It may seem completely ridiculous, but is it possible? Could we become so obsessed with recording our lives that we forget to live our lives? 

When I scroll down my newsfeed, whether its Instagram or Facebook, more than 50% of the photos I see are selfies. I'm not going to lie, my smartphone is filled with selfies of me and my friends. But after reading this article, I was immediately concerned with the power of a picture. Welch was in a potentially life threatening situation, and he chose to take a video recording himself. This just doesn't seem natural! In years past, I don't think this thought would have ever crossed anyone's mind. In Welch's defense, he said he took the video to show his family, in case the plane did not land, that he was smiling. Although I understand his intention, I don't think it was appropriate. I think its important to understand the gravity of a situation and react accordingly. Welch could have been in real danger, yet his main concern was not attention to his safety. The purpose of a picture is to capture the moment, cataloging memories for years to come. But lets not get carried away and remember that human interaction and appreciation of special moments can never truly be captured on film.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

The NFL: A League in Denial?

The downwards spiral for the NFL has continued in the week following the Ray Rice incident. Not one, but two more players from the NFL have been convicted of domestic abuse charges. And sadly, these NFL players aren't the only ones involved in domestic abuse cases--just ask the 4 million victims. 

Adrian Peterson, running back for the Minnesota Vikings, has been charged with child abuse for beating his son with a wooden switch in May. The four year-old was taken to the hospital by his mother after the incident occurred, with potentially scarring welts and bruises. The NFL has placed Peterson on the exempt commissioners permission list, which means he is suspended during the case. He will still receive the rest of his $11.75 million salary. In addition to Peterson, Greg Hardy has also been suspended and placed on the exempt permission list for two counts of domestic violence. 

A before (left) and after (right) image of the Ravens model
Unbelievable. After my last post, I didn't think things could get much worse for the NFL. Players are dropping like flies, finally being punished for their actions. Yet, a vast majority of players charged with domestic violence crimes, if they were disciplined by the league at all, received one-game suspensions even after pleading guilty to lesser related charges or entering pretrial intervention programs. Goodell faces pressure to resign from the NFL due to his decisions regarding the recent incidents this season. On September 14th, banners reading #GoodellMustGo flew over two stadiums from Ultra Violet, a women's activist group. This issue has outraged social media. A different activist group vandalized The CoverGirl ad campaign, Get Your Game Face On, by photo shopping a black eye onto the Ravens model. 

A woman is beaten by her husband or boyfriend every 15 seconds in the U.S. On average, between 4 and 7 children die every day from abuse at the hands of adults. Is this what America has come to? Physically abusing the ones we are supposed to love and respect? The NFL needs to use this attention for good. In addition to changing some of their laws on domestic violence, I think they should make campaigns to help stop abuse. During games, they could have commercials raising awareness to the issue, since millions of viewers tune in to watch Sunday night football (my family included). It's their duty as a profit generating organization, which entertains millions of viewers each week, to set moral standards and act accordingly. The NFL needs to uphold laws established by our government and follow rules of decent behavior. They are a voice touching millions of Americans and they have an obligation to use that power to elicit change and help.