Web Hostess Live: The latest from the Web

Mar 07, 2013

A weekly chat about the best ways to kill time online. Our Web Hostess, Monica Hesse, sifts the Internet so you don't have to, searching for meaning, manners and the next great meme.

Welcome, welcome to the very first edition of the Thursday chat. I was planning to have something very special cooked up in honor of our move. And then I got the flu. This is my first day vertical after a week out of the office. So what shall we talk about?


We'll get started a few minutes late, at 2:15. I have a deadline-related appointment at 2, but I'm all yours after that.

Okay! I have arrived. Let us start. And let us start by posting this question that someone submitted last week, and which I promised to seek an answer from Father Cupcake. The questions was:


I work at a college pushing to increase the number of online courses. Some of the tools I am being asked to use seem to fit very well, and others seem to me to be just tech for the sake of tech. The school wants us to use LOTS of the bells and whistles, but I'm reluctant to, say, embed a Twitter feed in my course when I don't see what good it will do. Assuming that there is a possibility of too many widgets in an online course, how would you decide what to include? And how heavily would you weight "students love this?"

And Father Cupcake's response (Father Cupcake, again, is currently the director of the writing program at the University of Denver; he has also presided over multiple national organizations relating to college instruction; he has also written several grammar and English textbooks; he is also my dad):


I worry about the imperative to use "lots of bells and whistles" in designing a course, for 3 reasons.  First, and least important, is the familiar "Creepy Treehouse" effect, when a technology that's cool to students outside school gets appropriated by well-meaning professors and quickly becomes uncool, the professor seeming just a little too eager to be hip.  


Second, people greatly overestimate the technical savvy of college students today.  We glibly fancy a generation of Digital Natives when what we really have are Selective Digital Savants; students know how to do what they know how to do extraordinarily well, but what they know is a surprisingly narrow band on the spectrum.  For example, I've watched several colleagues here try to migrate all of the writing in their courses into the Google Drive environment, to facilitate draft sharing, interaction, and commenting; inevitably, it takes repeated instructions and lots of fits and starts.  Students get frustrated, and they visit that frustration upon the instructor.  Now, that's worth the pain for a good technology or two, but there are decidedly diminishing returns in trying to insist on multiple new technologies—and some of them will indeed be new to most students.


 Third, and most important, a college course is but one facet of students' lives; they may, in fact, Facebook, tweet, blog, upload videos, and so on, but they do it in their own terms and on their own time.  When all of this stuff gets concentrated into a single course ("you're going to write papers, tweet, create a podcast, make a photoessay, write on each others' blogs, and contribute to a course wiki"), inevitably it has to happen through the professor's dictates—or through the constraints of whatever Course Management System the college is employing, magnifying the course's complexity. I've found that students really want to focus on the content and skills of the course.  


As for "students love this," well, they might in their native environment, but they probably won't if it's denaturalized into your course.  We live in a world of endless hubbub, and courses, by design, seek to cultivate a body of knowledge and skills within the din.  I try to protect that space as much as possible.  For each of my courses, I maintain a rich website of readings and links.  I email extensively, and I'll post comments on paper drafts in a central protected place where they can not only read other's works in progress, but my suggestions on them.  But that's about it.   



Is the original poster here? Does that answer help with your question?


So, what is our obligation with trigger warnings? I get that if somebody is going to be graphically describing something that many people would find upsetting, that it's fair to give a heads-up. But to what degree are we responsible for other people? If I were to mention being raped, or abused, or having a miscarriage, in the normal context of a conversation online, am I obligated to post a trigger warning? Or is it only if the community has a high likelihood of being affected? I don't want to be the jerk, but I also feel like the internet should kind of imitate real life (when possible) and I don't pepper my conversation with trigger warnings on a regular basis.

I really like this question, and I wish I'd seen it a little earlier so that I could have dedicated more brain and thought space to it.


In general, I think it's fair and right to give a "trigger warning" -- or simply to say, "Warning: graphic" if whatever you are about to discuss would result in the movie version of the event getting an R-rating.


That won't be enough for some people. I've have readers send me angry emails because my pieces "triggered" bad memories for them. But I don't think they would have triggered similarly negative reactions for the general population. You can, and must, account for the general population. You sometimes can, and should, account for subsets of the population that have experienced traumatic events in their past -- it's the kind thing to do. But you cannot, and should not, have to account for every person's particular triggers.


And now I'll through this out there for discussion.

So I watched the first three episodes of the first season Homeland, and it was fine. People LOVE it though, it seems, and I just want to know from other folks who have watched it (I trust the chatters' opinions) if it's just a little slow at the beginning, or if I just am not into it?

Homeland's first three episodes are its strongest, in my opinion. If you're not into it now, it might just not be for you. Alas.

I have not had the flu in years. An old wives tale was passed down to me and either through luck or reality, this bit of advice seems to work. I have passed it along to others who also inform me that either by luck or reality, it seems to work. Eventually I searched some medical sites on this Internet fad that seem to also basically concur that this old wives tale might in fact have something to it. Here is our secret: Elderberries. So, stock out on elderberries next flu season and if you do, let us know what happens.

I had not had the flu in years, either. My theory is that all of the flus I did not have over many years suddenly banded together and visited me at once.

How much I love Father gCupcake.

He is a most excellect patron of the chat and of pastries.

Isn't the purpose of an online course to learn? Why would a college want to add all of those extra things to distract a student? I'm confused. IF I was a student - there were no online courses when I was in school - I'd want the information I need. Nothing more. Nothing less.

Yes. Bells and whistles just get loud and noisy, really.

My friend posted a link to this Daily Dot article that argues, among other things, that Buffy-speak is the source of most current meme syntax. I like Buffy as much as (maybe more than) the next girl, but this seems a bit grandiose, no? Has anyone spent time researching this? I still don't know where "...said no one ever" came from before it launched a thousand ecards.

Excellent question. "Buffy" is a missing hole in my nerd knowledge. I've only seen three or four episodes, ever. Is anyone out there more equipped to deal with this question than I?

Monica: Please do not read this. It is a private message to your father. It is not for your eyes. (As if I'll believe you won't read it.) Dead Poppa Cupcake: Sorry, sir, I don't know your real name, otherwise I would call you by it. What we readers want to know is what Ms. Hesse was like as a child. Was she really the nerd and geek (which now are good things, we geeks and nerds are taking over) she claims? Did she play any athletics? Whose posters were on her walls? What was she reading? You may go ahead and tell us. It will just be between us readers and you. We won't tell anyone what you tell us.

I don't think Father Cupcake is present today. But if any of you would like to pretend to be my parent, we can see how close you are to guessing any of this correctly. Or we can see whether I'm able to discern my true father from the imposters. Or we can do something actually useful, which this would not be.

Yay! So glad you're here for us today, Cupcake!

I'm afraid we've lost a few regulars, but I dearly hope we pick up some more. I will have to get used to no longer having free chocolate accompany the chat. (We have Chocolate Wednesdays here. But not Chocolate Thursdays).

My Nook Simple Touch seems to have gone to e-reader heaven. I think the battery may have exploded because there is swelling near the recharge port. It was a gift. I have used it mostly for free stuff including the library, self published, geeky pdfs from think tanks, etc. so I don't have a financial reason to stay with Nook. Can anyone recommend which e-whatevers they think are best and why? I could get another cheap Nook, though it is pretty terrible at the geeky pdfs because it can't display charts and graphs. I could upgrade to a better Nook. I could go to Kindle or Kindle Fire or something like that. I suppose I could also upgrade all the way to an ipad, ipad mini, or other tablet. I have the money, but I want it to be worth it. Would prefer not to get a data plan, so wifi it is. How good is the wifi coverage in DC? Would I have to find a starbucks to ever do anything outside the house? I like being able to have a choice of reading material anywhere I am, but I can see the appeal of being able to do a lot more, too. And no, I am not currently using a smart phone. I just haven't seen the need for it yet.

What do you want to use the new one for? Just reading, as you did with the first? Or movies/videos/internet, etc?

I own both an old-fashioned Kindle and a Kindle Fire. I love my Kindle and would recommend it to anyone. The Kindle Fire has its uses, but it's too heavy for extended reading, and I'm not such a fan of the backlighting, which tends to feel as if you're reading a screen instead of a page (The original Kindle's ability to replicate print is, I think, one of its strongest points).


And yes. Whatever you get, you are going to end up ducking into endless cafes/libraries/etc in order to get Wifi.

I happen to be sensitive about my eyes. Irrational, I know, but it exists. I have, on occasion, had to leave when people started discussing eye operations, etc. There was nothing inherently graphic in what they were saying. I know it was just me and I saw no need to take them to task for it.

This seems reasonable. It's a trigger for you, but you know that it's a trigger for -you- and not for the general population.

As someone who works only Tuesdays and Thursdays, may I welcome you to Thursday! I am so excited to read and participate live. It will be the first thing I report at the family dinner table tonight.

Just so long as you occasionally report about family dinner here at the chat. Tell us if you're eating anything good.

The university I work for is also adding online courses (mostly graduate programs). The reasoning being that we need more tuition dollars, but we can't accommodate more bodies on our tiny campus. I'm not entirely sure this is the right way to go for our "brand," but I know that they can't raise tuition any higher and still have enough students be able to afford it all.

I think we have no idea what college is going to look like in 50 years.

I think you should learn something when you need it. If you need a bell or whistle, seek out how to do it; otherwise, don't clutter things up learning how to do because you may never need it. I for example are active on the Internet but I don't use Facebook, or twitter or text, know how to download videos (but I'm going to teach myself that tomorrow) or how to send attachments to an e-mail. All unnecessary bells/whistles.

I am amazed and impressed that you are on this chat.

Well, in law there's the "reasonable person" standard, by which an overly sensitive person doesn't necessarily have an expectation (or right) to have everyone cater to his/her sensitivities.

Yes. I was going to use the phrase "reasonable person" in my original answer, but that's such a subjective term. That's why I went with the R-rated movie definition. We all pretty much know what those look like.

"[P]eople greatly overestimate the technical savvy of college students today. We glibly fancy a generation of Digital Natives when what we really have are Selective Digital Savants .... " Just want to affirm your father's statement here. In our office, we usually have two or sometimes three college students as interns, and really, at least one of them is a Luddite. It's sort of shocking, to hear a 19 year old say something like, "yeah, I don't really get Twitter. Never do it." Which is what our current intern said about a week or two ago. It sort of warms my 45-year old heart.

Secret: Twitter is populated by as many middle-aged people trying to get down with the teens as much as it is populated by teens.

This push to incorporate technology invades all levels of education. Even in the lowest elementary levels, teachers are pressured to utilize technology just for the sake of technology. There is never any mention of selecting an instructional objective, examining an array of instructional strategies, and selecting the strategy/ies most suited to the objective.

Truly, the only technology-related course I have ever taken that I'm grateful for on a daily basis is the typing class we were required in fourth grade. 100 words a minute and never an iota of carpal tunnel.

On Chocolate Wednesday, take some extra chocolate and hide it away. Discover said chocolate on Thursday. Bingo, Chocolate Thursdays as well as Chocolate Wednesdays.

Genius. Except that Dan Zak and I have usually eaten all of the chocolate and would not have any self control to hide it away.

I'm not the original OP, but your father's answer is incredibly helpful to me. I work in online education and will attend a conference in June on, among other things, the use of technology bells and whistles in online courses. I like the idea of protecting the space where learning occurs. Thanks much.

You're welcome!

THIS is worth a read. Relevant line-"Because increasingly the world does not care what you know. Everything is on Google. The world only cares, and will only pay for, what you can do with what you know"

Excellent -- I can't wait to read.

To the poster noting that they do not use facebook, twitter etc, but also do not know how to send an attachment or download a video, how old are you? What do you do? Is this a personal stand? I am simply sooo curious about this for some reason. I too find it amazing that they read this chat.

I dunno. OP, are you still here?


FWIW, I wouldn't be surprised if they were 22 or 80. Some people are just not into technology. (But I'm very flattered that such a person would come and talk to us every week in an online chat.)

That's unnecessary bells and whistle?! Wow. I don't know how I or most other people I know would be able to do their job without knowing that. I guess that goes to show how much one person's bell is another person's, er, not bell.

Or how much one person's whistle is another person's...dog whistle?

I just have to say I love mine, but all I do is read books (and lots and lots of them), mostly from the public library. Personally, I don't like the backlight on an iPad or other tablets because it's really harsh on the eyes (sorry to the person with the eye issues, I should have warned you I'd be alluding to that). It's definitely something to consider if you want to read WORDS for any period of time. I do wish, however, that I'd gotten the Simple Touch with Glow Light so that I could read in the dark.

Oh my goodness. From now on in this chat, I think I'll just write, "eye issues," whenever we're about to talk about anything gross, of any genre.

Monica was a cheerleader in junior high, and used to walk around the dining room table balancing books on her head so she could one day be Miss America.



Without embarrassing Monica or myself, I'll share a couple images of her back in her wee years. A jock? You might be surprised to learn that she was a swimming nerd, competing at the state and regional levels, especially in the breast stroke. You might be less surprised to know that she was (and is) a splendid actress, from character roles like the Witch in Oz or the gangster's moll in Anything Goes to dramatic roles like the Girl in The Fantastics or that tragically-dying-Daryl Hannah-character in Steel Magnolias. You won't be suprised at all that were stacks of books marked wherever she went or that as a middle schooler she wrote long and intricate stories, with pages of dialogue. Or that, when she was 2, she explained to her grandfather that she "only drank sweet acidophilous milk." --Vater Cupcake.


There's a book "Slayer Slang" that looks into just this topic. Really interesting, and not just for Buffy fans. I'm not sure that Buffyspeak is the source of current meme speak, but it certainly surfed the leading edge of how the English language is changing. Joss (yes, I'm one of those people) warps language through the characters he writes - he did it with Buffy, (though not with Angel, which I think was a deliberate choice). He did it with Firefly, but in a totally different way. He chooses to use certain words and phrases to build a character or a world, and it resonates. We believe the characters so we believe the language. And you should watch Buffy. At least seasons 3-5.

Nothing has ever made me want to watch Buffy more than this question, right here.

Born on the 4th of July. Finished "Little House on the Prairie" in Pre-K. Broke the gender barrier on the local Pop Warner team, then described it in a poem, then quit the team. Voted "Coolest Nerd" in 8th grade. Perfect PSAT scores, but had her only other flu during the SATs and tanked. Graduated highschool with a 3.8 GPA, would have been higher, but the B- in HomeEc for lack of effort brought her down.

NOT MY DAD. (Except oddly, oddly close in some ways.)

Can you pick up a little extra on Wednesday, and save it for Thursday? Also, now I want some chocolate.

Somebody needs to start bringing it on Thursdays.

So it is everywhere today that Facebook will have another redesign of it's newsfeed coming out soon......the news almost makes me want to avoid FB altogether until it is all complete so I can miss all the angst this will cause everyone when things all of a sudden LOOK DIFFERENT!

Really, we can't be expected to handle another trauma level similar to the angst of the the dreaded Timeline shift.

Let me guess, you were basically a good kid that got really good grades, but was socially awkward and liked to spend time alone to read, etc. During your alone times, you secretly wished you were destined for a great adventure, like being abducted by aliens and going on a galactic quest, or walking through a magic closet. Oh wait, nevermind, that was my childhood.

Oh wait, nevermind, that was everyone who participates in this chat.

I just turned 66. I was an immigration officer at NHQ, writing responses to letters. I just don't "need" to do those things I listed, so I don't do them. My best friend in in her 70s. She doesn't have a computer - I have to print out the TV listings for her favourite channel for her every month. Really, the Internet thing is very new. We managed very well without it for many years. And can manage very well without for the next many years.

Thank you so much for writing back!

What am I supposed to be doing with these elderberries?

Ooh, make pancake syrup of them. It's delicious.

A couple of years ago, I was talking to a younger cousin (early college-age), and offered to send her something and asked for her email address. She said "Um...I don't really use email." I was too embarrassed about my obvious decrepitude to ask how she communicated, but I wondered. Facebook? Texting? how could you avoid email altogether?

Texting, I bet. Or, if it was a couple of years ago, she might have been in the phase where she accomplished all of her communications through Facebook. (That phase is pretty over, I think).

Are gifs uncool now? Used to be you couldn't open the interwebs without seeing 10 of them, but I really never see them anymore. If so, things sure move fast in this new world!

Dan and I declared them OUT a full year ago on the OUT/In List. But really, I think that we were premature. They got huge in 2012. Maybe they're dying down in 2013.

About two years ago, I told you in this chat that I use(d) Facebook as my news aggregator. Now there gonna give it a "newspaper" like feed. I'm a genius. BTW, we're Facebook friends so I'm sure you're well away of genius like qualities.

Oh Facebook. Coming after journalist's jobs. As if we don't have enough problems in this free-information world.

This discussion reminds me of how, when I was in college (so many years ago), Powerpoint was the big thing and professors (especially in business schools) rushed to do everything on PP and make the students present everything with PP. Now, PP can be used well, but a lot of times then it was ... not. It was just "We have this fancy tech, so let's use it!" I'm now in grad school, and I see this with the same things with the internet and it just flashes me back to those college profs and their PPs and how I wouldn't have fallen asleep in class if they hadn't felt the need to put PPs up when they could have just talked! I guess I'm saying, fancy things just for fancy things' sake doesn't help - there has to be a real reason behind it.


I've been visiting Mommyish.com for a daily reading fix in the intersection of current events, childrearing, and family trends. I find myself wishing Mommyish had less celebrity gossip and more reflective/less self-indulgent bloggers. Can anyone point me toward some other options? Not looking for online community, just reading. Ta ever so much.

Just saw this -- I'm posting now, but have to sign off in a few. Maybe everyone can come armed with their suggestions next week?

I have ordered your book "Stray" from the British Amazon site where I have no idea what pounds convert into but I suspect I have just paid several hundred dollars in shipping costs. That, though, is not my fear. My fear is you will do a book signing at Barnes and Noble and their security will seek me holding a British Amazon copy and they will seize me and send me to Guantanamo and I will never be heard from again. If you ever do a book signing, will you please sign for those of us with British copies of your book?

Oh right! You can pre-order my book online now, but only on British Amazon. And yes, I will personally sign it for you. Actually, I'll probably invite you all to a book party, or something else fun, but I haven't figured out what that is yet.

I had to laugh at the statement from person asking about replacing his or her Nook, the line about not seeing the need for a smartphone. This was my husband (who is a writer and works at home) until the beginning of the year, when I finally hounded him into joining me in iPhoneland. Well, now he understands why he needs one, for everything from navigation to killing time while waiting at the doctor's office. He held onto his LG flipphone way too long!

Necessary bells and whistles.


More questions in the queue, but deadlines call. Come back next Thursday!

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Monica Hesse
Monica Hesse is a staff writer for the Post Style section. She frequently writes about culture, the Web and the intersection of the two.

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