Memories of 3.11 – Episode 2

As I posted episode 1 last week, I keep writing story series of how Japanese people used social networks at the time of disaster. Today’s story will show how mass media used social media to broadcast news at the time of power cut and the network was down.

Soon after disaster came, everything in Tohoku area was shut down, and even people in Tokyo couldn’t watch TV or get newspaper as well as they were unable to use mobile networks. There was also power cut due to all nuclear power plant was closed the accident at the Fukushima nuclear power plant for roughly two month after disaster. So information from mass media was quite restricted.

On the other hand, internet network (including mobile internet) was quite stabilised at that time, therefore gathering information by internet was the most crucial way. I found research data by Twitter Japan and Yahoo! Japan that a number of hit on Twitter and Yahoo! was significantly increased, and especially access from smartphone in central Tokyo area was marked highest hit. Institutions including government, local government and mass media company opened Twitter account soon after disaster, and tweets that it seems important information retweeted a lot. Thus, social networks was undoubtedly crucial tool to gather news, albit Twitter time line was fully filled by huge number of information tweet including both truth and rumour.

SNS were not only crucial tool at that time, but it was also clear that mass media convergence was actively pursued. The most significant example is ‘One Seg’ television on mobile phone. One-Seg is a mobile terrestrial broadcasting service: all television channels (including satellite channels) in Japan are available to watch on mobile phone, handheld game console (PlayStation Portable and Nintendo DS), car navigation system, portable audio players (SONY’s Walkman), and even electronic dictionary. People were able to watch television news on mobile phone even they are not in front of television. Another interesting case is that 13 key territorial television and radio stations (including public service broadcasting, NHK) broadcasted through the online live streaming web service called Ustream. Tomotaka Nakagawa, the CEO of Ustream Asia, explains that,

I found that a junior high school student in Hiroshima (region in western Japan) started to re-broadcast NHK news programme on Ustream by his smartphone just 17 minutes after earthquake happened. It was obviously illegal, yet I also found that many audiences wrote comments that it helps them who could not watch television or gather any information. I immediately sent an e-mail to NHK to request allow illegal broadcasting or start online broadcast officially. NHK sent back an e-mail in 15 minutes that they allow to open official account and broadcast their programme, and then other broadcasters such as JNN, FNN and TVK, also started to broadcast on Ustream in six hours. (translation)

Official twitter account of NHK (@nhk_pr) then tweeted and shared the link of Ustream page to promote people who could not watch television, and number of viewers was recorded over 600 million including approximately 26 per cent users in overseas. Media convergence and providing several outlets was undoubtedly important at the time of emergency due to the fact that the device citizen can use is limited and different depends on each own situations.

This is the story that how mass media used social media to broadcast news and information at the time of disaster. Next episode 3 will be a story of the problems that became a big issue.


Memories of 3.11 – Episode 1

What a lovely day today, spring is now come!? Yes, it’s already March, time really flies…! Spring is one of my favourite seasons, and I’m sure everyone has a great memory of this season. Spring in Japan is quite good too, you can see lots of cherry trees in full bloom everywhere, and we usually have a party under the cherry blossoms! On the other hand, whenever this season comes we always remember a certain incident in 2011. As you might remember, the catastrophic earthquake and tsunami hit Tohoku area (east part of Japan) on March 11, then…the accident at the Fukushima nuclear power plant. I’d like to post some stories of how Japanese people used SNS at the time of disaster as a series post until the end of term. Please allow me that posts in this series may contain a bit ugly expression or serious content.

First of a series is a general description of how Japanese people used SNS to contact with their friends, and a small introduction of SNS landscape in Japan before the time of disaster. Oh, I should mention before start that I was actually here in London at that time.

Social networks was undoubtedly crucial tool for both sufferers and non-sufferers at the time of disaster. It was mentioned in the Telegraph; ‘within an hour, more than 1,200 tweets were coming from Tokyo. By the end of Friday [11 March 2011], American time, a total of 246,075 Twitter posts using the term “earthquake” had been posted’. The another data I found also shows that number of twitter users in Japan in March 2011 was 17,571 thousands which is a 37 percent rise over the preceding month. Number of users of Facebook and domestic SNS called Mixi were also recorded high rates compared with previous month. They used SNS in several ways; some people accessed website by mobile phone to gather information because they were not able to use other devices due to power cut; some users collect the confirmation of survives by using hashtag; yet the most posted/shared tweets were information about the place where they could refuge; where foods or drinks were provided; and where buildings were demolished.

Tell you one of the most interesting true story. A old women in Kesen-numa (where huge tsunami hit) worked at facilities for the disabled children. When tsunami came, she sought refuge in tall building nearby their place with her co-workers and disabled students (aged 0-5). But, tsunami attacked the building where they were refuge in, and around the building was demolished. So, they are isolated. Soon after, somehow the area turned into a sea of fire. They wanted to call emergency call, yet telephone network was down… But, a old women was fortunately able to send only one email to her son that ‘I’m in a sea of fire, no way to escape, may die’. Her son was not in the disaster area, so he tweetes ‘Please retweet! There is over 400 people of refuge in XXX building. If someone around, please go to help’. This tweet was retweeted hugely, and once, the deputy mayor of Tokyo found this tweet, and he immediately contact with the Fire and Disaster Management Agency to fly helicopters for rescue them. As a result of this, all people in that building was rescued before worst-case situation.

Likewise, lots of refuges who were unable to call emergency call tweeted like ‘I’m here XXX, help’ with hashtag, or some people who were unable to contact with their friends or family posted on facebook as ‘I’m alive!, escaped in XXX’. That kinda phenomena was huge impact not only in Tohoku area but also in Tokyo, and helped them many ways.

There was another highly praised function that showed the strength of social media; Japanese users posted about how serious the situation it was, along with uploads of mobile videos on Youtube that they had recorded. These videos watched and shared by hundreds of thousands of people on several digital devices before the mass media had picked up on them and rebroadcast the footage. It was impossible to cover and record footage of disaster by mass media due to the fact that afflicted area was huge (half part of Japan), it never happened for breaking news in the past era! I myself was watching/checking these videos all that time to know what’s happened in Japan..

For example, this video below uploaded just a few hours after the earthquake happened and spread out to all over the globe.

And like this. This documentary on Channel4 contained many footage uploaded on youtube.

After 11th of March 2011, the number of twitter and smart phone users was significantly increased. Because, everyone realised how social networkings could be crucial tool at the time of emergency. So, this is a general introduction of how Japanese people used SNS at the time of disaster. Next post will be a story of how mass media used social media to broadcast news at the time of power cut and the network was down.

Blogs in Education

Pedagogical practices are obviously transformed by new technology options. Educational blogging could be an opportunity to make deep learning to students, and this makes children seek out connections between concepts, and contextualise meaning (Rosie, 2000, in Barlett-Bragg, 2004: 3). The functions that Ann Bartlett-Bragg (2004) points out might work in educational field. For example, the use of group blogs may encourage students’ discussion by providing discussion forums or bulletin boards. Moreover, posting/sharing ideas on blogs and gathering others’ responses as an informal way could enhance a range of research questions for individual academic papers. Indeed, this is what I have been doing on this blog, and I believe it works so far.

Thus, Bartlett-Bragg’s claim of interactivity might be an opportunity to encourage students’ ability to contextualise and deep learning. He goes on to state that ‘the students may start to read each others’ blogs and make comments in construct or agreement- intentionally providing their experience and opinions as an opportunity for others to learn, so creating knowledge artefacts. The students are […] not only as authors but also as readers. Their writing can be strongly opinionated, however, it may also display critical thinking and deep reflective qualities of learning’ (ibid.: 8).

However, Bartlett-Bragg’s argument which is typically claimed as in favour of web2.0 seems too idealistic, and as Neil Selwyn (2009: 80) claims ‘the educational application of the social web is rather more complex, constrained and compromised than prevailing description of “education 2.0” and “school 2.0” would suggest’.

The criticism of expectations of the social web that Selwyn points out in his paper characterise essential features of web2.0 in education. This is because, in terms of participation, the reality on the web is inequity as he describes ’90-9-1 rule’ (ibid.: 75). The majority of users is passive consumers, and only 1 percent of them are willing to be create original content on a regular basis (Nielsen, 2006, cited in Selwyn, 2009: 76). Likewise, this might relate with twitter phenomenon that I posted on first blog. Although twitter is often described as building twitter-sphere as well as blog-o-sphere, the majority of users are not willing to be pass-along, only tweeting conversational pointless tweets.

In addition, term of ‘second order’ digital divides (Hargittai, 2002, cited in Selwyn, 2009: 77) was new to me, and makes me think that one of the most crucial points. Although enhancing equality of opportunity for young generations is often argued by several theorists such as John Thompson (1995) or Howard Rheingold (2012), there still remain problem of digital divides. It is pointed out that individuals preference for particular web applications is differentiated depends on socio-economic status and social class, as well as race, gender, geography age and educational background.

To conclude, there is a possibility that education 2.0 encourage students to enhance their opportunity for study online as Bartlett-Bragg and Downes point out, and it could be changed and more adopted when young generation that Marc Prensky called ‘digital natives’ are more growing up. Yet, as far as contemporary landscape of web 2.0 in education is concerned, there still remain problems that we need to reconsider, and develop more realistic applications on the web.

  • Bartlett-Bragg Anne (2004) Blogging to Learn Flexible Learning, 2004 edition, University of Technology, Sydney, Australia
  • Downes, S (2004) Educational Blogging, EDUCAUSE Review, vol. 39, no. 5 (September/October 2004): 14–26
  • Selwyn, N (2009) Challenging educational expectations of the social web: a web 2.0 far? Digital Kompetanse Vol 4: 72-85

Response to Identity Articles

David Buckingham and Guy Merchant provide frameworks for thinking about identity of young generation who have been able to use and communicate by new technology. Both of them mainly indicate that their identity have been constructed in different way from old generation. Thomas (2004, cited in Merchant, 2006: 235) points out ‘new technology undoubtedly provides us with a range of tools which enable us interact in different ways within more diverse and dispersed networks than previously imaginable… [N]ew tools for communication provide a context for new kinds of identity performance… have helped to create a new kind of person’.

While considering young generations’ identity, one of the most crucial points is that ‘identity is not about being myself’. Buckingham (2008: 1) indicates that identity is about ‘identification with others whom we assume are similar to us (if not exactly the same), at least in some significant ways’. As Buckingham also mentions in section about the psychology of adolescence, identity is a matter of “becoming” rather than “being”, so it has to be recognised and confirmed by others (ibid: 3).

The notions of Prensky’s “digital natives” and Tapscott’s “net generation” is also important point for thinking about identity of young generation. It suggests that they have totally different brain structure from old generation, and identities of them are “more open, more democratic, more creative, and more innovative than their parents’ generation’ (Buckingham, 2008: 13). In fact, their definitions are often criticised as blur, especially Prensky’s digital natives and digital immigrants is only distinguished by ages (born before 1985 and after 1985). Yet, it is obvious that young generations learn interactively and actively access information to develop themselves. Moreover, the important point Prensky mentions is their features that ‘they value graphics before words, they want random access,… they are dissatisfied with old styles of instruction, based on exposition and step-by-step logic (ibid.: 13)’.

In terms of writing on blogs or social networks, Wellman’s notion of “globalised networks” and “networked individualism” (2005, cited in Merchant, 2006: 240) is provide interesting and crucial point to think about online constructed identity. Because ‘in globalised networks, blog can serve the purpose of providing communicative links, and a degree of interactively between local and dispersed individuals who have common interests, constitute a community of practice (Wenger, 1998) or operate in an affinity space (Gee, 2003)’ (Merchant, 2006: 241). It implies that blogging is an opportunity to build different identity, and connect to people who might be un-known with non-face-to-face communication. Also, Merchant (2006) mentions that the blog provide a space for authoring social identities. It is indicated that the slide bar, widgets, favourite web-links, or link to photo-sharing site helps to provide what author is currently consuming (ibid.). Therefore, the appearance and format of blog page is tool for showcase of both anchored and transient identities.

Those argument by Wellman could be related with Giddens’s argument about identity that ‘many of the beliefs and customary practices that used to define identities in traditional societies are now less and less influential’ (cited in Buckingham, 2008: 9). Identities of young generations could be described as democratised, yet ‘the self becomes a kind of “project” that individuals have to work on: they have to create biological “narratives” that will explain themselves to themselves, and hence sustain a coherent and consistent identity’. Therefore, ‘individual multiple possibilities to construct and fashion their own identities, and they are now able to do this in increasingly creative and diverse ways’ (ibid.).

So, as far as sharing activities by young generation on social networks are concerned here, it could be argued that young generations construct their identity while they are gathering information from others and post/share those collection, to identify themselves with others who is similar with them as Buckingham’s term. Moreover, although Erving Goffman’s notion of “front-stage” and “back-stage” behaviour (cited in Buckingham, 2008: 6) imply that online identities are more authentic and closer to the truth of the individual’s real identity, I would argue in the end online identities are less honest and truthful than offline ones, because online space also allow users to easily build superficial identity through collecting contents from others.

  • Buckingham, D. (2008) “Introducing Identity.” Youth, Identity, and Digital Media. Edited by David Buckingham. The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation Series on Digital Media and Learning. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 2008. 1–24.
  • Merchant, G. (2006) Identity, Social Networks and Online Communication, E–Learning, Volume 3, Number 2, 2006