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OSU Professor Dr. Jesse Fox discusses how online interactions affect our lives

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Dr. Jesse Fox says she was privileged as a child. Because both her parents were teachers, she had a computer at home before most other kids her age. She started to dabble in coding, but she says growing up in that changing time, seeing both the old way and the new, kept her questioning whether these new technologies were actually beneficial to ourselves and our society. She turned her curiosity into a career as an associate professor in the School of Communication at The Ohio State University, where she studies technology, virtual spaces, social media and their impacts on our lives.

Photos: Rebecca Tien

Fox said that the accessibility that comes with technology has changed expectations for the ways we interact. “Having access to someone all the time creates a lot of different pressures for people,” she said. “It just becomes this expectation, this sort of hyper expectation of connectivity.” In addition, she said there’s a culture in some online communities that can lead to bullying and harassment; not being able to see reactions to this behavior in real time can compound the problems. At the same time, technology allows us access to information on an unprecedented scale, which can aid in understanding issues that are otherwise abstract.

(614) spoke with Fox to learn about her research on technology and our interactions, how to deal with toxic situations online, what we can learn from technology, and what constant connectivity means for us.

(614): Can you talk about the connection between gaming and gaming communities and the negative tendencies those groups are perceived to have?

JF: Most games are competitive. These are environments where people are engaging deliberately, and like aggressive behavior to each other. In that way, a lot of games are very similar to sports and trash talking and that sort of thing. Getting in your opponent’s head has been part of sports for a really long time. That’s a strategy that people use to try to win. And sometimes that can cross a line.

How is communication online related to online harassment?

People are just more likely to unleash that stuff in an environment where there are no consequences. And so, you are less likely to be identified, so you feel more anonymous.

And you also don’t have to see often how your behavior affects someone […]. When we lack those [nonverbal cues], it’s harder for people to detect where that line is, and maybe they don’t understand the consequences of their behavior, and they don’t know that someone is hurt or scared or uncomfortable when they’re saying something. And then some people are just nasty trolls. You know, they are just nasty trolls who are just out there to try to disempower people and make people feel gross or threatened or harassed. And that’s just how they get off.

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Can you talk about some of the positives that your research has unearthed about relationships in digital and gaming environments?

Online gaming can be a great shared activity for friends, couples, and family members. It can be a convenient way to spend time together and bond even if you’re in di erent states or countries. It also can be an opportunity to make new friends—people you can talk to that are outside of the sphere of your regular life.

You’ve done some research that involves creating virtual environments encouraging people to be more environmentally aware. Can you talk a little bit about what you discovered during that research?

A lot of this work is related to ideas revolving around something we call psychological distance. […] One way you can use virtual reality and virtual environments is bringing that message home to people and saying, “Hey, this is what this looks like, and this is something that you do need to be concerned about,” and try to minimize that psychological distance.

[For example, someone may say], ‘I don’t understand what a polar ice cap melting means […]. Imagine instead of seeing two dimensional pictures, you can be in the middle of it and look around and really experience that. Those can be powerful ways of seeing things, and processing that in a different fashion might […] heighten that sense that this is something that I need to be concerned about.

As online gaming and other virtual interactions continue to grow, what safeguards should be in place?

Every player should treat each other respectfully and avoid being nasty to other players; one person might think they’re engaging in normal trash talk, but the recipient might feel hurt or bullied. Players should also be brave enough to set the norm for respectful behavior and to intervene in harassing situations rather than being a bystander. All players should be aware of reporting systems within games and should use them to report bad behavior.

In general parents should be just as aware of who kids are interacting with online as they are of their friends offline. Parents should be monitoring their children’s activity in these spaces regularly and have clear conversations about what’s acceptable behavior, how to deal with bad people in the game, and how to resist peer pressure to engage in bad behavior like ganging up and harassing another player. Parents should be particularly aware of the types of sexist, racist, and homophobic language and harassment that occurs in these spaces and should prepare their kids for how to deal with it.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity. To learn more about Dr. Fox’s work, visit commfox.org

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Lend A (Washed) Hand: 5 volunteering opportunities available this week

Mitch Hooper

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It's time like these that many folks are looking to help but unsure where to start. Luckily for Columbus, the Point App is here to help.

The Columbus-based Point App is a tool that both volunteers and nonprofits can use to connect and work together on projects. It's easy-to-use interface makes signing up as a volunteer a breeze, and with its connections throughout Central Ohio, many nonprofits are utilizing the app; especially during the COVID-19 outbreak.

"We see the needs of nonprofits skyrocketing," said Madison Mikhail Bush, founder of the Point App.

The Human Service Chamber and The United Way gathered data to show what nonprofits are facing during the outbreak. The reported stats found that 24% of responding agencies have reported layoffs of employees, 41% of nonprofits are reporting financial losses of 10%, and 66% of nonprofits have canceled or postponed major fund raising events.

"Nonprofits rely on those events to function," Mikhail Bush said. "It's going to be very important that we meet the needs of nonprofits swiftly and efficiently. So when they post those needs on Point, it's because they really do need people to respond to them."

If you are healthy and able, consider donating your time, resources, or finances to one of the many nonprofits in Columbus. Point recently added a donate feature where users can donate money, rather than time, to promote social distancing. And if you are unsure if you are able to help, Point designed this handy flowchart to see if you are considered "low risk."

https://www.instagram.com/p/B91vzbngHJ-/

And to help you out, we put together five different ways you can get involved. As always, remember to wash your hands frequently, avoid touching your face, and keep a six foot distance between you and another person—even while volunteering.

1.) Drop Off Supplies For Family Care Kits to South Side Early Learning | All day | Wednesday to Friday

These supplies can include non-perishable food items, educational items, diapers, and cleaning supplies.

2.) Produce Give-A-Way with the Hilltop YMCA | 3 p.m. to 7 p.m. | Wednesday | *27 spots available

At the Hilltop YMCA, volunteers are needed for tasks such as sorting and bagging produce items, directing traffic, and assisting with clean up.

3.) Packing Food for Homebound Deliveries with the Worthington Resource Pantry | 1 p.m. to 2:15 p.m. | Thursday | *Only two spots available

Many folks during this shelter-in-place are unable to leave their homes. Here, you can help out by packing food to distribute to families in Worthington and North Columbus.

4.) Delivering Groceries to Homebound Families with the Worthington Resource Pantry | 2 p.m. to 3:30 p.m. | Thursday | *Only one spot left

If the 1 p.m. start time on Thursday doesn't fit your schedule, they will be delivering the groceries starting at 2 p.m.

5.) Donate For COVID-19 Relief For New Americans with Riverview International Center | Ends April 30

In addition to financial gifts to provide gift cards to affected new Americans in Columbus, you can donate working laptops and tablets, art supplies, and educational supplies.

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Community

Columbus Does Good: The COVID-19 edition

Linda Lee Baird

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The people of Columbus are always finding ways to up their game when it comes to giving back. We’re a city that’s continually building a virtuous cycle: a non-profit with a new idea solves a problem; a business builds the concept of social responsibility into its mission; a neighborhood bands together to accomplish a task—and then others are inspired by these efforts. The question here, to paraphrase JFK, is not what Columbus can do for you, but what you can do for Columbus.

On second thought, maybe those aren’t the right questions. A city, afterall, is nothing but buildings without the people who live there. The question, then, is what can we do for each other? And during times like this, we’re finding out.  

Following Fred Rogers’ advice to “look for the helpers,” we’ve been keeping our eyes out over the past weeks to see how the community is adapting. It turns out that even when we’re required by law to socially distance ourselves, the community is still there—maybe standing six feet away—but never far enough to forget what it means to be part of something larger. Here are just a few of the many awesome resources and examples of doing good that caught our eye. Remember, though, things are changing rapidly, so please reach out and confirm efforts are still underway before showing up to help! 

Food

One of the greatest concerns that came when Gov. DeWine closed schools was for the kids across the state who rely on daily free breakfast and lunch, including the 50,000 students in Columbus City Schools. Luckily, the school district continues to provide free breakfast and lunch to any child under the age of 18 who needs it—even those not enrolled in CCS—at 15 “grab and go” sites across the city. The Mid Ohio Foodbank and the Parks and Recreation department even teamed up with the schools one morning to offer free, pre-bagged produce at a Grab and Go site in addition to the meal. A list of the Grab and Go sites is available at ccsoh.us/Page/7560. 

Kids, of course, aren’t the only ones who need to eat. The Clintonville Beechwold Community Resources Center has partnered with the Clinton Heights Lutheran Church for a sack lunch drive offering food to all ages. The CRC has also assembled and distributed “necessity boxes” for older adults in Central Ohio. The CRC plans to keep giving, and is requesting monetary donations to support its work at this time. Visit clintonvillecrc.org/updated-crc-services-for-covid19 to learn more. 

COhatch has proven to be more than just a coworking space during this crisis. It partnered with Vaso and the Point App to make and deliver meals to those in need across the city. Reach out for help if you are in need of food or supplies to [email protected]; or contact [email protected] to support their efforts. 

Make-A-Day is seeking funding to send food trucks to low-income areas of Columbus in order to feed the homeless, children home from school, and other residents. Support their mission with a donation at makeaday.fun. 

Gear and supplies

A key ingredient in the hand sanitizer that you can’t find anywhere on shelves these days is good ol’ ethyl alcohol. Luckily, some local businesses including Middle West Spirits and Watershed Distillery have an abundance. They are making hand sanitizer to provide first responders, hospitals, and homeless shelters. The Columbus Foundation purchased the first $50,000 worth of product from Middle West, according to a report from The Dispatch

Meanwhile, Bespoke Salon Studio is collecting PPE to donate to area hospitals while the salon is closed. Send them a message on instagram at @bespoke_salon_studio_columbus to donate.

Caffeine Karma

The Roosevelt Coffeehouse is collecting donations of coffee for first responders, because, let’s face it, they’re going to need it in the coming weeks. The community can help in two ways: by purchasing $9 healthcare worker bags that the shop will give to first responders, or buy a bag of any coffee for yourself and they’ll donate another bag to a healthcare professional. You can also leave notes of encouragement on the bag. Grab your joe and help a hero at 300 E Long St.

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Arts & Culture

Virtual Experiences bring culture to our couch

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Now that we're all stuck at home for the foreseeable future, we could use some entertainment beyond hours of Netflix bingeing. And yes, Carole probably did it*

WOSU Public Media has come to the rescue by putting together a list of local, virtual experiences to enjoy from the safety and comfort of your bunker. Here's a list of just a few upcoming events ranging from music to the arts.

Sunday, March 29
Columbus Symphony’s Russian Winter Festival – The Columbus Symphony broadcasts its Russian Winter Festival ll concert, featuring masterpieces by Prokofiev, Borodin, Rimski-Korsakov, and Tchaikovsky at 1 p.m. on Classical 101.

Columbus Goes Live – The Cyber Festival –  A virtual entertainment experience streaming across different pages to support local performers who are directly impacted by the critical shutdowns of venues during the COVID-19 outbreak. Join in and make history by supporting your favorite bands, comedians and performers in the Columbus area.

Why not a virtual bar?

Brewdog is even getting in on the act with its upcoming, Brewdog Online Bar. They plan to "open" for business at 6pm on Friday, March 27th. The bar plans to feature live beer tastings with our co-founders James and Martin and other beer experts, homebrew masterclasses, live music & comedy and more.

Brewdog will be sharing further details soon and a complete schedule of the events on their Twitter and Instagram accounts.

*Carole, as in this Carole.

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