Is Big Brother Watching You?

Imagine that it is always possible that you are being monitored, but you have no way of determining whether you actually are being watched or not. This is the premise behind the Panopticon, a building designed to keep inmates in line. The building consists of rooms located in a circle around a single watchtower, from which a guard can keep an eye on everyone in each of the rooms around him. A light shining on the prisoners illuminates their figures, so the watchman can see them, but they cannot see him. This is how the few watch the many.

Can you imagine the psychological torment of living with the fear that someone can see your every move? Just the thought is enough to keep many people from misbehaving. Even if there is only a small chance of being watched at a certain time, the possibility alone keeps behavior in check.

Supervision such as this may seem cruel and a bit archaic, but doesn’t this parallel what is happening now online?

Let’s look at how the few watch the many online by using an example: Google. Virtually everyone uses Google on a regular basis, as it’s one of the primary ways we now gather information. However, Google has recently come under fire by the EU for infringing on peoples’ privacy. Google does not delete peoples’ search results, and this understandably angers many people.

Now, Google is producing prototypes for a new piece of technology called Google Glass. Google Glass is a pair of glasses that users wear that brings information right in front of their faces. Essentially, it’s like having a computer screen fixed to your eyes at all times. Watch the new promo video here.

Some people are concerned about the new threats to privacy that these glasses pose. If Google can already find out so much about people through saving their search histories and web activities, can you imagine what would happen if Google knew were people were at all times, and could actually manipulate what they saw?

This scenario isn’t dramatic; it’s realistic. People eagerly grab onto new technology without considering any negative implications. I guess that if you don’t care about “the few” (Google in the example) watching “the many” (you, and others, in this case), then it doesn’t really matter that Google could potentially track your every move. But if you are a bit creeped out by this, as I am, then the future with augmented reality seems a little too 1984. When someone can always be watching us, are we really still free?

Internet Ghosts: Online Privacy & Information

Did you know that you can easily generate a fake identity? I went to Fake Name Generator to create my alter ego this morning, just to see what it would give me…

I filled in my gender as female, my name set as American, and my country as the U.S. The site spit back all kinds of information about my false identity. Name: Lisa J. Wagner. Address: 1057 Poe Lane, Kansas City. Email: LisaJWagner@armyspy.com. Mother’s maiden name: Law. Age: 32. Occupation: Shampooer. Blood Type: O+. Height: 5’1. And on and on… the site also gives a fake social security number and a Visa card, complete with expiration date and security code.

So why would I ever want to create another identity? Well, personally, I don’t, but some people do. Some people are so paranoid about the idea of the Internet having access to all their personal information that they go so far as to use a website like Fake Name Generator to craft new information so they don’t have to share anything real about themselves online.

Websites like Facebook make money off your information by selling it to companies that can use it for marketing and other related purposes. Honestly, I don’t have a problem with advertisements targeted at me based on my interests. Yes, it got really annoying this fall when Facebook kept suggesting that just because a few of my friends liked Mitt Romney, I should like his page as well, but most of their suggestions I can put up with.

The one thing that worries me is that even though I am fine with putting things about myself online now, someday I may not want all that information out there. I don’t really post that much on Facebook, and I haven’t published a new Tweet in months, but what if? If I did want to delete my Facebook one day, they would keep all my information, just not in such a public profile. That’s a little creepy. Even if my online presence is erased, it’s only superficially.

I believe in the right to vanish, in the right to delete online profiles. If I am actively using my Facebook account, as I now am, then sure, Facebook can use my information to sell to companies. Selling information is how Facebook generates profits and is able to keep offering their product for free. Also, I don’t put anything online that I want to keep private, so I’m not worried. However, I think that if I decided to delete my Facebook, my information should be deleted from the Internet archives and from Facebook’s large data archives. Instead, though, I would leave an online ghost of information that I am powerless to completely erase. I don’t like this, but it’s the current state of things. The ultimate question in this debate is: Do we own our personal information, or do we lose all right to privacy and oversight once we put it online?

14 Scandinavian Bands/Artists You Can’t Miss

It’s no secret to my family and friends that I love music. In fact, music is my biggest hobby and one of my main interests. Therefore, in honor of living in Scandinavia, I’ve compiled a list of 14 of my favorite Scandinavian bands and artists (in no particular order)… Enjoy!

1. Figurines (Aalborg, Denmark)

2. First Aid Kit (Stockholm, Sweden)

3. ABBA (Stockholm, Sweden)

4. Sondre Lerche (Bergen, Norway)

5. Raveonettes (Copenhagen, Denmark)

6. Urban Cone (Stockholm, Sweden)

7. The Rumour Said Fire (Copenhagen, Denmark)

8. Swedish House Mafia (Stockholm, Sweden)

9. The Royal Concept (Stockholm, Sweden)

10. The Tallest Man on Earth (Leksand, Sweden)

11. Miike Snow (Stockholm, Sweden)

12. Junior Senior (Thisted, Denmark)

13. Donkeyboy (Drammen, Norway)

14. Choir of Young Believers (Copenhagen, Denmark)

And just for fun, this video is always a classic…

A-Ha (Oslo, Norway)

Vi Ses Copenhagen, Hej Berlin

This weekend my friend Lizzy and I decided to pretend like we weren’t poor college students and take a trip to Berlin! It was a much needed break from some drama that was going on in both of our lives.

I have been to Germany before, but never to Berlin. Before I left, word was that Berlin is a magical place full of all the things a student in her early 20s could desire. While the reality is much cloudier and colder, Berlin was still pretty fun.

Our trip got off to a pretty stressful start. Late Friday afternoon, we got messages saying our flight had been cancelled. No Berlin? No way! We had to find a way to get there! So, Lizzy’s kind host father found us some new seats on a Norwegian flight, so we ended up being able to go. After a stressful couple of hours wondering whether or not we would make it, we relaxed with a couple of mojitos in the airport.

After one of the shortest flights of my life (think Des Moines to Chicago, around 45 minutes), we had arrived in Germany! Lizzy and I figured out how to take the train to an apartment where we had rented a room on Airbnb, one of the greatest things of all time… even cheaper than a hostel, and much nicer too!

We met our hosts and their adorably droopy basset hound, settled in, got ready, and went out. We were both starving, so our first stop was to a traditional German restaurant to get some Mexican food. Although it was almost midnight, it was happy hour. Apparently happy hour in Germany is a lot later than in America. At our restaurant, happy hour was 11 pm until midnight. So, we got mojitos and then another drink. My second drink was the strongest margarita ever–it was basically all tequila. Lizzy got a veggie quesadilla and I got chicken nachos. So delicious. I’ve miss eating Mexican food regularly since I’ve been in Europe.

We asked our waitress for some recommendations on where to go out. She recommended this area nearby with a bunch of electronic dance clubs. Before we entered the club, we were approached by a man wanting to sell us, um… stuff. We said no, because it wasn’t sketchy at all.

In the club, people were seriously crazy. It was really hot, the DJ was really good, there were lots of colored lights, and the entire place was just one big dance floor. We danced for a couple hours until this guy started stalking me so Lizzy pretending she was having a medical emergency and we left.

Lizzy’s brother’s friend DJs at this club close to our apartment in Berlin, Salon – Zur Wilden Renate. It. Was. Awesome. There was a huge line to get in, but we skipped the whole line because we knew the DJ. I don’t know how to describe the club except to say it was like a huge house party. There were lots of different rooms with different musicians and people dancing. The only bad parts were that it was so hot and so many people were smoking (and possibly doing other things) so it was hard to breathe. It was also very late by this point, so we didn’t last too long before going home.

On Saturday, we slept in a little bit and then went out into the city. We stopped at a sushi place, since we’d both been craving sushi for a while, and marveled at how inexpensive everything was when compared to Copenhagen.

Then, we walked over the Reichstag building, which houses the German parliament. We wanted to go in, but we needed a reservation. Instead, we walked over to the nearby Brandenburg Gate and watched the people and some street performers. We didn’t know where to go next, so we went into a Starbucks to grab some coffee and Google some museums. We decided on the Jewish Museum, so we hopped on a train and then walked there.

The Jewish Museum was a mix of a Holocaust museum and a museum on Jewish history and culture. The Holocaust part was housed in a section of the building with slanted floors, so I was constantly feeling like I was about to fall over. The museum had a lot of pictures and artifacts left by Holocaust victims, and it was a little overwhelming. Lizzy is Jewish, so I think she felt a personal connection to the exhibition.

The museum also contained at least one open space in the building, called a “Void”. This was meant to represent the void left in the world by the murdered Jews, and the floor was filled with thousands of metal faces with all kinds of expressions. People were allowed to walk over the faces, but I didn’t feel comfortable doing so.

After the museum, we were pretty tired, so we walked back to the train station. Along the way, we stopped at a Netto, and it was shocking how little everything costed there. For example, you could buy a bottle of wine for 2 euros. So much less expensive than Copenhagen.

On Sunday, we went to the Topography of Terror museum. The museum is located on the site of the former SS/SA headquarters, and now houses exhibits on the police and their involvement in the Holocaust. This museum was also pretty overwhelming.

We hadn’t eaten yet, so we went for a late lunch at Chipps, a delicious vegan/vegetarian restaurant. We both got the same meal with fried eggs, salad, tomato & cucumber, and toast.

When we finished our lunch, we walked a roundabout way to the train station so we could wander through a very charming part of the city. I also stopped to get a couple of souvenirs–a postcard and, of course, a shot glass (if you know me well, you know that I collect these).

Back at the apartment, we packed and lounged around until it was time to leave for our flight. At the airport, the stress commenced. We were flying back on Easy Jet, which apparently has very strict luggage requirements. As in, one piece of carry-on that must fit into the size box… or else you have to pay a lot of money. I couldn’t even bring my small purse on board; I had to stuff that into my suitcase along with my backpack. I just hoped for the best, and luckily my bag fit! Whew. Thankfully I’m not planning on flying Easy Jet again, though.

Lizzy and I had a couple of beers as we waited at the airport and then we were off! It feels good to be home 🙂

Whose News?

Everything these days is about accessibility and personalization. People, especially young people, want information handed to them, and they want the information to be relevant to them. We are bombarded with a constant stream of media, to the point where news doesn’t spark a reaction unless it directly affects us. I don’t remember a time when I could not hear about so many disasters and atrocities occurring thousands of miles away, but yet I generally don’t feel much towards these stories other than a slight twinge of empathy. How can I be completely devastated by a murder or bombing when I hear about them daily?

Journalism and newscasting has certainly changed in recent years. I am certainly not waiting to get my news from the TV at a certain hour, or from the newspaper at the beginning of the day. Instead, I am on Twitter, where I follow major news sources for a continuously updated news feed. My homepage is The Washington Post, and I have The Atlantic, BBC, Business Insider, CNN, Huffington Post, Forbes, Mashable, NPR, Politico, the Wall Street Journal, and Wired (and okay, yes, The Onion) bookmarked on my web browsers so I can easily open up the current events in new tabs on Safari.

While this always-ready way of getting the news definitely has its upsides, it can feel like a bit much at times. I believe that because young people like myself have grown up in an age where we are overwhelmed by the amount of news we receive, many of us stop feeling anything towards most of the stories we hear. We don’t know how to react to journalism because we can’t sort through the sea of information that threatens to drown us.

Already, news providers are changing to make finding interesting and relevant news easier. For instance, The Washington Post recommends articles to me based on what I’ve read in the past, which is helpful in pursuing the news in politics and other areas of interest.

By joining Twitter, individual journalists, as well as the companies they work for, can directly connect with people who seek them out. As a Twitter user, I can say that the most important things in a news Tweet are that the post is very brief, the post grabs my attention, and the link to the main article is included. Using Twitter, people take the responsibility to personalize their own news feeds by following newspapers and individuals of interest.

Young people such as myself do care about the news, but we sometimes feel so overwhelmed about what is going on in the world that we become numb to it. Therefore, the future necessitates that people are able to streamline their news. There are many tools available to personalize news, but not many people know about them. For example, I have Pulse, an iPhone app that allows me to choose which news providers and which topics to follow. Using this app, it is easy to sort through the jumble of news to find stories that I care about.

It is easy for people to view the younger generations as apathetic to current events, when the truth is that we receive so much information on a daily basis that we have never learned how to process it. The future of journalism needs to focus on delivering the news in more digestible portions, or most young people will be unable to find what they want.

One Month In…

And I am so European already 😉 I’ve been living here in Copenhagen for over a month now, and I can’t believe it! Time is going by so quickly.

Last week, I had my short study tour for my Climate Change in a Historical Perspective Class. We traveled to Møn, which is still part of Zealand, where Copenhagen is, but is on its own little island. We met at 9:00 am on Monday morning and returned to Copenhagen around 5:00 pm on Wednesday.

Our class gathered at the Geological Museum and listened to a talk given by a University of Copenhagen professor. Apparently his son had a baby the previous day, so the talk was a little boring… but we got through it.

Finally, it was time to leave for our adventure! Along the way we made a couple of stops. One of our stops was at the KT boundary. The KT boundary is a visible line in the rock that marks the separation of the Cretaceous and Tertiary periods. The line is made of iridium, a kind of metal that could only have come from outer space, and the boundary is used as evidence in the argument for the theory that an asteroid caused the extinction of the dinosaurs. After looking at the rocks and enjoying some cake, we drove to a Cold War museum. We got to go inside of a tank and walk around in an underground bunker. It was definitely interesting, but it was so cold that it was hard to focus on everything our guide was saying.

When we got to Stege, the town we would spend the next two nights in, we had about an hour before a class dinner at one of the only two restaurants in the tiny town. Most of us took that time to go to Netto (the main grocery store here in Denmark) to purchase supplies for the night’s festivities.

At the restaurant, we had a family-style meal of chicken, potatoes, cabbage, and beets, followed by the most delicious chocolate creme brûlée and chocolate cake ever. Seriously, the desert in Denmark is so much better than in America.

We had to do some group presentations of climate proxies after dinner, and then we headed back to the motel and congregated in the common room to drink beer, talk, and play games. Our professors were there as well, which was cool at first, but eventually became slightly awkward.

The next day was literally the muddiest day in my life. And I use the word “muddiest” literally. We went walking along the beach at Møns Klint, known for the chalk sea and slate cliffs. I will try to paint a picture of how miserable these three hours were. Our professors had told us to wear good walking shoes… as in, good tennis shoes so we could hike. However, they did not anticipate the level of muddiness of the beach. It was like quicksand: you would step in and sink until the mud was to your knees, sometimes past your knees. And there was no getting around the mud, either, it was just a matter of choosing the path of least muddiness. I made it through only getting mud up to the top of my Hunter rain boots, but some other poor souls sunk into the mud past their knees and had to actually be pulled out by our teachers. To add to the discomfort factor, it was snowing miserable, wet snow. Then, after we finally finished our “walk along the beach”, we had to walk up 500 steps to get to a museum where we were going to eat lunch and watch a movie.

After that trek, we were all so exhausted that all we wanted to do was go back to the hotel, take a nap, and eat. However, we had to stop at a church along the way. Although our teachers promised it would be a twenty-minute stop, things got a little out of hand when our guide proceeded to explain the ceiling paintings to us. Every. Single. Scene.

Finally, we got back to the motel. I went to dinner with a few new friends and then went back to hang out in the common room with everyone again.

On Wednesday, we had a tour of the area with a local guide. All of the time on the bus driving from site to site was spent sound asleep. I’m sorry, but I was so tired. I learned to sleep through the voices of my professors very well over the duration of the trip.

After our tour, it was time for the stop everyone had been waiting for: Babette. Babette is a restaurant run by the man who founded NOMA, a restaurant that has been named the best restaurant in the world multiple times over the past several years and is known for its New Nordic cuisine.

We had lunch there, and it was one of the most delicious meals I have eaten in my life. Lunch consisted of multiple small dishes, usually containing fish, and the best bread I have ever had. After lunch, we got a tour of the kitchen and then headed out back to Copenhagen.

On Friday night, my host parents were out of town, so I went over to Lizzy’s new host family’s house, where I made and ate dinner with her and her new 19-year-old host brother, Sebastian. Sebastian then took us out to one of his favorite bars, The Moose, and a disco club called Night Fever, after Saturday Night Fever.

I am spending this week in anticipation of the weekend, when Lizzy and I will be traveling to Berlin! I’m so excited! It will be good for me to step away from any drama that’s been going on so far, and to see another great European city. Also, speaking of travel plans, I am officially going to Barcelona with a couple other friends in March! Finding tickets was the most awful and stressful process ever, because it was hard to find affordable tickets and all the websites we tried would not accept our credit cards… so frustrating!

I’ll post another update after this weekend… hopefully it will be one of the best weekends ever! Also, Happy Valentine’s Day!

A Minority Report Future: Good or Bad?

Years ago, I saw the movie Minority Report for the first time. I enjoy science fiction and action movies, so I really liked the movie, although I’m not the biggest Tom Cruise fan.

I was struck by the way the movie portrayed the future. The Minority Report future is one in which everyone’s decisions and interactions are recorded and utilized to tailor advertisements and other marketing. It’s been a while since I’ve seen the film, but I remember a scene where Tom Cruise’s character walks into a Gap store and is greeted by a hologram that carried information on his previous purchases and recommendations for his future purchases.

I often love tailored suggestions… Amazon, for example, does a great job of sending me emails with products I may be interested in based on my search history. Listening to artists similar to bands I already enjoy has introduced me to some great new music. However, I feel like while this style of marketing is usually helpful and efficient, it has some potentially detrimental consequences.

Extreme personalization looks at each person as only the sum of their past actions. Therefore, it kind of places each person in a box and fails to acknowledge that he or she may be interested in goods or services outside of previous tastes and interests. With such tailored marketing, we could miss out on a lot.

Also, with a system that collects so much information on people, it is difficult to be anonymous. The technology required to log peoples’ purchasing habits could also track other information that may be more personal. While I don’t necessarily have a problem with being targeting for certain products, I do find issue in companies having access to more personal information. It’s not that I have anything to hide, but I feel entitled to a certain level of privacy. I know that any information I put on Facebook can be sold, I don’t believe that other things, like my email messages and Internet history, should be available to others. Just as the police couldn’t go through someone’s house without a search warrant, I don’t think access to certain information should be granted without cause.

Technology is great, but with the introduction of new tools and the increased dependence, the future can appear a little scary. I think the key is in finding a happy medium where people’s private information is kept safe, but companies are able to provide personalized suggestions… For now, though, I don’t know where that balance is.

Who Am I? Questions of Identity Abroad

Identity is such a fascinating thing. My identity is constantly changing, no matter how subtly, in response to my life experiences. This time abroad has the potential to be one of the biggest times of change for my personal identity, as being in such a foreign place encourages me to be more aware of who I am.

Already, I find my world lens widening as I am exposed to Danish culture and have the opportunity to examine my own life in America from another perspective. For example, long conversations with a 18-year old boy and a 24-year-old boy have pointed out cultural differences in areas such as the drinking culture, high school and college social scene, religion, parenting style, and law enforcement in Denmark and the United States. Of course, I have always held my own opinions on the things I’ve encountered in my life in the United States, but it’s hard to not find my viewpoint changed after talking with people from another country and such a different background.

I am also realizing that the way I present myself to most Danes here is different than I would present myself to Americans. For instance, because there is such a language barrier, I can only talk to Danes up to a certain level. Because of this, I am only showing a part of who I am. I am altering the way I behave and what I talk about around others so that we are able to understand each other. While the limits on communication can make life a bit lonely sometimes, I have luckily met some Danes who speak English very well and have also made some American friends.

This blog is also an extension of my identity. Unless someone already knows me well, readers of this blog will only know me from the information I share. I am controlling my own identity, and only exposing the experiences I deem relevant or appropriate for a class blog.

This blog will serve to immortalize a part of my identity while I am here in Denmark. Even long after I am gone from this country, I will be able to look back on my posts here and see who I was when I was 21 years old and living in Europe. I will be able to see how I changed from the beginning of my time here to when I leave to go back to the United States. Now, my only question is, how will I be different when I leave?

My Accidental Toast

I am not used to being surrounded by people with whom I cannot easily converse. In social situations, I pride myself on my ability to carry on a conversation with almost anyone, no matter how uninteresting he or she may be.

This skill serves me well… until the people I am with do not speak my language. I found myself in this awkward situation on my second night in Denmark, when my host parents took me to a family dinner to celebrate their twin granddaughters’ 10th birthdays.

I was all excited and ready to meet some Danes and talk to them in English, because of course they would all switch from their native language just to include me, right? Wrong. Sitting in a room with almost fifteen Danes, I was at a loss for words and very uncomfortable.

Luckily, children do not require as many words as do adults. Therefore, I found myself sitting at the kid’s table with my young Danish companions: three 10-year-old girls and two boys, ages 12 and 14. We had a good time, talking about all things American, which to young Danes means Justin Bieber and One Direction, topics I unfortunately know next to nothing about.

I took the opportunity to use their limited English to drop some knowledge. I described to them how Denmark is different than America, and talked about the places they had visited in the USA, like Los Angeles and New York. When one of the girls started absentmindedly clinking her glass, I decided it was time to teach them a little more about American culture. I started to explain how, in America, when two people were having their wedding and their guests clinked their glasses, the couple had to kiss. The kids looked confused, so I decided to act it out.

I overeagerly banged my knife against my empty beer glass, unintentionally producing a clear ringing sound that was much louder than I intended it to be. I looked up to see fifteen Danes staring back at me, looking like they were waiting for a toast. I now had to explain my reasoning to my newly enlarged audience, and suffice it to say, I don’t think they understood that I had called so much attention to myself purely by accident.

For the rest of night, I kept as quiet as possible, and restricted myself to speaking with the children. I was glad I could make such a good impression on my host family’s extended family, and was also able to perpetuate the stereotype of the loud, obnoxious American.

The 5 Ws

Who? What? When? Where? Why? I’m sure that you are wondering what my answers are to all of these questions right now. Oh, you’re not? Well, that’s unfortunate, because I’m about to break it down for you anyway. Here are the 5 Ws for Copenhagen Cool.

Who (am I)? My name is Katrina. I am a 21-year-old college student who, as a lifelong American, is quite the fish out of water here in Copenhagen.

What (will I be talking about)? Honestly, I will be talking about pretty much whatever I want to talk about. In general, though, given my location, I will probably be focusing on my adventures in Europe and how cool Copenhagen is, and I’m not just talking about the weather. Get it? Now the blog title suddenly makes sense, doesn’t it?

When (will I be posting)? I will be posting on a regular basis. I’m guessing that will amount to one or more posts per week, depending on how inspired I am. And FYI, Copenhagen is a very inspiring place for an American to be keeping a blog. The subject matter is endless: Bikes! Scarves! Nightlife! Weather! Food! and on and on…

Where (am I)? Uh, Copenhagen, obviously. If I am posting from another country, I will be sure to specify.

Why (am I blogging)? Disclaimer: this blog is required for a class. However, during my time in D.C. this fall, I kept a blog, fromdmtodc.wordpress.com, so I have come to enjoy the process of blogging. It’s also nice that my family doesn’t need to ask me quite so many questions about what I’m up to! More importantly, though, this blog will serve as a journal and commentary on my time here in Denmark. After all, I’ll only study abroad once, and I want to make sure my thoughts and travels are well documented!