Europe: Amazing and Disturbing

One of the miracles of Europe is the amazing way communication is made possible among users of different languages in the European Parliament. While I do critique some of the outcomes of the transmission model of interpreting, particularly how the success of simultaneous interpretation generates the illusion of speaking in one shared language (which means erasing the differences of separate and unique languages and the worldviews they inspire), the fact that the system works is testimony to what humans can achieve with intercultural cooperation.

“Disturbing and Amazing”

Marsi’s words describe the effect of exhibits at the Museum of Young Art in Prague. Many of the works depict violence: relentless, remorseless, pervasive, and essentially without purpose. In retrospect, the small shock of David Cerny’s “Guns” became prelude to an increasing turmoil of viscera.

The rainbow ghouls in this painting, "Object III" by Jiri Petrbok, depict the irony of celebrating destruction.
The rainbow ghouls in this painting, "Object III" by Jiri Petrbok, depict the irony of celebrating destruction.

The horror of these exhibits was a rude intrusion into our twenty hours of reunion. Delicious food and delightful conversation affirmed the solid bedrock of unquestioned friendship. Our joy in play was a dreamy reprieve from the backdrop of ruthless reality.

Language Policy? “It’s a trick.”

My return to Belgium is fraught with contradictions. I have friends here who belong distinctly to different classes: the disparity of their experiences is distressing. The evidence of an interaction taboo moves from the theoretical realm of European Union language policy to practical lived experience. Fluency in Nederlands (for instance) is used as a bulwark to prevent immigrants from getting a legitimate job within the European Union’s economy – a job that qualifies for government benefits.  Hiring and paying workers “in black” is talked about as openly and casually as slavery in the antebellum south of the United States. The implications may be muted in genteel company but the structure is hierarchically racist. Notice the linguistic marking: no one names “the white economy” as the given standard. I understand better, now, the range of reactions to my poster, Beyond Homolingualism, which depicts two different systems of simultaneous interpretation.

Some of the participants at the EU’s Committee of Region’s conference on the European Public Sphere (mostly academics), were intrigued and asked many questions about my poster. A few also expressed feeling unease and discomfort, admitting that the implications to language policy and sociocultural life are unsettling. In one case, an argument lead to the accusation that I clearly had no concept of poverty – because, if I did, it would be patently obvious to me why all immigrants must learn the official EU language of their country of residence in order to work. Of course I understand this logic: not only a logic of language hierarchy and power, it stems from a simple human desire to “speak the same language” for purposes of connection and understanding. While both systems of simultaneous interpretation work functionally in their respective settings, there are – in my view – unintended consequences of the European Parliament’s model that warrant consideration.

Courage

Talking with those who “speak the same language” is comfortable and nurturing. Whether English, Hindi, American Sign Language, or a technical jargon common to a field of academic study or professional practice, excitement and entertainment are experienced more easily when the symbol system is already shared in common.

Albert Einstein's call for peace through understanding is a popular graffiti in Antwerp..
Albert Einstein's call for peace through understanding is a popular graffiti in Antwerp..

One of the miracles of Europe is the amazing way communication is made possible among users of different languages in the European Parliament. While I do critique some of the outcomes of the transmission model of interpreting, particularly how the success of simultaneous interpretation generates the illusion of speaking in one shared language (which means erasing the differences of separate and unique languages and the worldviews they inspire), the fact that the system works is testimony to what humans can achieve with intercultural cooperation.

Now, if language policy makers in the European Union and elsewhere could take some lessons from professional community interpreting (particularly as modeled with Deaf people), this would allow members of minority language groups to leverage their difference into the political-economic systems, with terrific gains in democracy and life chances. My hypothesis is that the institutionalization of live language interpreting could generate a field of equality by protecting diversity and promoting systemic resilience.

The European Public Sphere: From critical thinking to responsible action

The European Public Sphere: From critical thinking to responsible action

Committee of the Regions
Brussels. February 2012.

Beyond Homolingualism: A Participatory Model of Simultaneous Interpretation.

The strategy to communicate Europe is guided by an emphasis on information and technology that neglects social interaction. Discourse among the EU institutions in official documents about Plan-D, the White Paper, and multilingualism perpetuate an interaction taboo in which “the tricky question” of an exclusionary language policy is avoided, minimized, or preemptively defended. This is particularly evident in regard to simultaneous interpretation. In the European Parliament, the regime of “controlled multilingualism” has resulted in a communication system that is perceived as most successful when it provides Members with an illusion of communicating in the same language. As in the policy discourse, the measures of evaluation are based in a separation of meaning (in language) from use (by people). The desire to control meaning plays out in contested relationships as Members manipulate the human bias for homolingualism as a tool for individual voice, dis-preferring the cooperative mediation of power implied by participating in simultaneous interpretation. An alternative construction of simultaneous interpretation in community interpreting for the Deaf illustrates another regime in which generating equal voice is the task of the interpreter and language difference (heteroglossia) is preserved and embraced as the goal of the social interaction. Ritualizing community-based simultaneous interpretation as an intracultural social activity is proposed as a means to communicate a new European imagined community.

“Oh god! Oh god!”

“My mother didn’t teach me to cook or sew or to do my hair or how to talk to boys. She was more interested in reading difficult books and thinking. As a homemaker, she unworked.

And she pushed me into the world neither a girl or a boy, just a big, awkward, ignorant thing, forcing me to invent myself as I went along.

I am deeply grateful for that.”

~ Gabrielle Bell, Manifestion

More blog victims.  Hehehe.

After calling on higher powers, Knightly said it was “like reading my Miranda rights.” Yossarian, Eureko and The Cat in the Hat laughed at Knightly. Welcome to the club!

“My mother didn’t teach me to cook or sew or to do my hair or how to talk to boys. She was more interested in reading difficult books and thinking. As a homemaker, she unworked.

And she pushed me into the world neither a girl or a boy, just a big, awkward, ignorant thing, forcing me to invent myself as I went along.

I am deeply grateful for that.”

~ Gabrielle Bell, Manifestion

Transitionings

We were marking the end of a life phase, the beginning of another; for one of us in particular, and — perhaps — for each of us generally.

a healthy breakfast
a healthy breakfast

Meanwhile, I am receiving splendid treatment in the care of PomoCommie. It feels great to be back in Belgium; Antwerp gives me smiles.

Emergency Warning and Community Response: The Edge of Technology and Culture

It was a tiny pop quiz in the midst of a comprehensive examination.

First Responders do reach out to the Deaf community
First Responders reaching to the Deaf community

During last November’s nationwide test of FEMA’s public warning system, an action research study (#DEMX) was conducted to assess the communication potential of social media. The goal was to find a way to bridge the longstanding divide between “people of the eye” who use American Sign Language and emergency responders who rely on their ears. From the Deaf point-of-view, these “hearing people” are dependent on sound.

A dedicated group of social media pioneers keeps pushing the envelope of public communication within the field of emergency management. Meanwhile, the American Deaf community remains essentially neglected despite generations of struggle and decades-old accessibility rights legislation.

in all of the years of researching and taking courses / training in crisis communications – one group has not been mentioned as much as others.  This audience group is the deaf community. ~ Karen Freberg

Tweeting against Historical Trends

One popular social media tool for emergency warnings is Twitter. It is unclear how many Deaf people know about this timely and current source of information about emergencies of all kinds. Meteorologists are using Twitter to warn populations in their local media markets about serious weather events, and some emergency responders are using Twitter as part of crisis communication and disaster response. Figures 1 &  2 show a key result from the #DEMX experiment run during the November 2011 national “Emergency Alert System” test. Overall, although information about the Twitter-based #DEMX test spread, there was very little crossover between the two groups: Deaf citizens shared information within the Deaf community, and emergency management planners and responders shared the information within their community. This leads to a conclusion regarding how hard it is to stimulate conversation between communities who have an (apparently entrenched) history of ineffective communication.

However, in the course of a short campaign, the #DEMX Tweetstream garnered 163 unique users, and the Prezi explaining the idea (in English and ASL) got 1,500 hits! The information spread, but it was decontextualized from the relationships that need to be built among First Responders and members of the signing Deaf community.

Strategy (Action Research Methodology)

Few Deaf Tweeters "cross over" to the First Responder tweetstream
Few Deaf Tweeters "cross over" to the First Responder tweetstream

An already existing Twitter community using the hashtag, #SMEM (for social media emergency management), was introduced to a new hashtag, #DEMX (for deaf emergency management of variable “x”). The #DEMX hashtag was invented for this experiment, so it had no pre-existing user base. A late-deafened blogger and tweeter, Joyce Edmiston (@expressivehandz), spearheaded spreading the #DEMX hashtag among her followers. Using a text analysis software tool, we were able to track the spread of news about this social media experiment in both communities and break down the results.

Findings: A small but dedicated leading edge

In the nine days of monitoring (from November 2-11, 2011, with the test day on November 9), the 163 users in the #DEMX tweetstream gathered 765 tweets, while the #SMEM tweetstream garnered 5,759 tweets, generated by  1,135 unique users. We were interested in the tweets that included both hashtags. Barely 1/2 of 1% of #DEMX tweets included the #SMEM hashtag; and only .01% of #SMEM tweets included the #DEMX hashtag. Research team member Joe Delfino of DiscoverText writes, “Unfortunately, the mass crossover of Tweets that we had envisioned did not occur.” By “drilling down” into the data, however, we were able to generate some findings that, combined with knowledge of the historical basis of the overall challenge, confirms hypotheses worth testing in another round of Twitter-based action research.

4:1 Ratio Hearing to Deaf

In the #DEMX tweetstream, there were 26 unique users who included the #SMEM hashtag. After eliminating tweets from members of the research team there were a total of 28 tweets from 23 unique users. Of these 23 unique users, 20 are not deaf – they are hearing people associated in one way or another with emergency management.  Only three deaf tweeters “crossed over” to the emergency management community tweetstream. Some reasons for this terribly low percentage are explored below.

In the #SMEM tweetstream, there were 17 unique users who included the #DEMX hashtag, again, after eliminating tweets by research team members,  tweets including both hashtags were sent by 13 unique users: 9 hearing and 4 deaf, repeating the pattern in which more hearing people reached out toward the Deaf community than Deaf people reached back to the “Hearing” world of emergency management.

Concerning? Yes. Disheartening? No!

Obviously these sample sizes are too small for statistical significance. However, they do suggest some generalizations that could be formulated into concrete hypotheses and studied on a more robust scale. One issue involves whether the Deaf American linguistic minority of American Deaf Culture can be convinced that the dominant culture actually cares. In promoting this action research project, I created an online presentation, Deaf Eye on Emergency!, which describes the context of the national emergency alert system test using visual imagery, written English and several videoclips of commentary using American Sign Language. The presentation garnered over 1500 views during the nine-day research window and 1,846 as of this posting. English translations of the ASL clips are available now so that non-signers can know and respond to the explanations and ideas expressed in the video clips.

Creating New Relationships

Although good efforts and success stories do circulate, there is no commonly-recognized and widely-used medium of communication (yet) that satisfactorily mediates the sight-sound perceptual distinction between “People of the Eye” and “Hearing” people.  Written English and spreading more information are perceived as “the answer.” While both of these strategies are necessary, without an interaction strategy to cultivate and redefine the inherited perception of neglect, systemic improvements in Deaf preparedness and contribution to emergency response efforts cannot occur.

An Interaction Strategy for Emergency Preparedness

Individual Deaf people often experience being told to wait while someone tries to figure out how to communicate with them, and then (usually) delivered sub-par and minimal information rather than being fully engaged as intelligent and competent human beings who can help resolve aspects of the situation, whatever it is. Historically, the legacies of discrimination and prejudice have convinced many members of Deaf culture that Hearing people really do not care about them. Serious effort needs to be strategically planned and exercised in order to overcome this unfortunate dynamic. It can be done, and if done well, crucial skills, knowledge, and benefits of resilience will flow from the Deaf community into the larger fabric of American society.

Infinitely Tender

Most of my lessons the past year have involved living with uncertainty. Against the desire for permanence Andrea Fella reminds us, “Things are ending all the time.” Too often my sentiment has been one of ‘always saying goodbye’ – as expressed in Rilke’s 8th Duino Elegy. This is, ironically, quite the opposite of the attitude I prefer: “I don’t care if I am possible . . . ” (Ursula LeGuin, “Newton Did Not Sleep Here”).

Farewell 2011, full of unclear memories yet infinitely tender. No clinging to reflections in the mirror; all things change – are always, forever, changing. “Impermanence . . . is the one thing really worth seeing, for one who fully sees it in himself is Free” (Phra Khantipalo).

I am listening to Andrea Fella on death and impermanence.

Feline state of post-bellyrubbing bliss.
Feline state of post-bellyrubbing bliss.

“It’s not a depressing thing, actually.”

Most of my lessons the past year have involved living with uncertainty. How can a person root when reality requires constant adaptation?

Fella describes the lesson of physics that tells us everything is always changing, everything is made of atoms – and they aren’t even atoms – they are particles in constant flux. “It’s hard to be in touch with this kind of change,” she says. Generally, Fella continues, people tend to stay at the surface – dealing with change only when it rocks assumed solidities – the World Trade Center is attacked, earthquakes and hurricanes happen . . . however, if we notice the subtleties occurring all around us: “Things are ending all the time.”

Snuggling.
Snuggling.

Quoting* The 8th Duino Elegy from Rainer Maria Rilke (who inspired me, most deeply, many years ago), Fella wants to spin grief on its head:

Who formed us thus:
that always, despite
our aspirations, we wave
as though departing?
Like one lingering to look,
from a high final hill,
out over the valley he
intends to leave forever,
we spend our lives saying
goodbye.


Too often (dwelling in insecurity), my sentiment has been one of “always saying goodbye” – which is ironically so much the opposite of the attitude I prefer:  “I don’t care if I am possible . . . We must learn to trust thin air” (Ursula LeGuin, “Newton Did Not Sleep Here“).

One of Fella’s antidotes is to adopt the stance of Don Juan (at 18:22):

Laps are for crossing over.
Laps are for crossing over...

… The thing to do when you’re impatient is to turn to your left and ask advice from your death. An immense amount of pettiness is dropped if your death makes a gesture to you, or if you catch a glimpse of it, or if you just have the feeling that your companion is there watching you. Death is … a wise adviser that we have. Whenever you feel, as you always do, that everything is going wrong and you’re about to be annihilated, turn to your death and ask if that is so. Your death will tell you that you’re wrong; that nothing really matters outside its touch. (You) have to ask death’s advice and drop the cursed pettiness that belongs to men that live their lives as if death will never tap them.

“A Strange Consuming Happiness”

...sometimes with a pause for kneading.
...sometimes with a pause to knead.

Fella says joy comes from contemplating death, from living as if each act in the world — no matter what it is — might be one’s last. This attitude increases care and ethical action. I suppose one might call it mindfulness, or perhaps grace.

Working with “Broken Bits of Information”

Broken bits of perception are “the base level of our experience,” Fella explains, describing how our mind uses vision to perceive and make sense of light. Referring to a particular experiment she adds, “if you’re moving your eyes at the right speed.” Always, then (I extrapolate), there is coordination (or lack thereof), whether it is the eye-mind or some other sensory perception with consciousness, or two people having a conversation. Coordination is the essence of communication. “When we cling to what we construct in our minds through this perceptual process,” Fella warns, “we suffer.”  Off I go again – “understanding,” “meaning,” the abstract subtle and relational ‘things’ we believe we have communicated or comprehended – these too pass into impermanence.

Farewell, 2011.

[The animal] is not exempt from an unclear
memory-which subdues us as well:
the notion that what we seek was once
closer and truer by far than now…
and infinitely tender.

No clinging to reflections in the mirror; all things change – are always, forever, changing. Fella completes her talk with a quote from “A Walk in the Woods” by Phra Khantipalo:

Everything and everybody — that includes you and me — deteriorates, ages, decays, breaks up, and passes away. And we, living in the forest of desires, are entirely composed of the impermanent. Yet our desire impels us not to see this, though impermanence stares us in the face from every single thing around. And it confronts us when we look within — mind and body, arising and passing away.

So don’t turn on the TV, go to the pictures, read a book, seize some food, or a hundred other distractions just to avoid seeing this. This is the one thing really worth seeing, for one who fully sees it in himself is Free.

______________
* Andrea Fella reads the last two stanzas of Rilke’s 8th Duino Elegy (at 13:24) from a different translation than the one I found online. The comparisons are interesting – I prefer certain phrases from each version. My curiosity about synchrony is piqued by the fact that the poem, overall, compares the animal and human gaze upon death and things (“objects”). Mei Mei remains among the living as I type, an acupuncture treatment granting yet another temporary reprieve.

Composting Steph

I sucker guests who come to a Solstice or Equinox dinner into making a pledge: “What I will do for the planet this season.” This year I’ll begin supporting the Luna Ring

When the time comes, I will recycle Steph.
She will become a lovely basket
for African violets.

(Fall Equinox, 2010)

Play along?

Winter Solstice Sunrise over the UMass Sunwheel
Winter Solstice Sunrise over the UMass Sunwheel

When the time comes, I will recycle Steph.
She will become a lovely basket
for African violets.

(Fall Equinox, 2010)

Background

I sucker guests who come to a Solstice or Equinox dinner into pledging to do something for climate recovery: “What I will do for the planet this season.”

Their ideas range from the mundane (and highly practical) to the outrageous (contributing to the maintenance of fellowship over time).

My pledge this year is to support the Luna Ring.

Selected Other Pledges

Astronomy lessons for every season
Astronomy lessons for every season
Here’s a sampling of what some people have pledged:

“My aim is to respect food and waste less of it in the next 3 months.” (Spring Equinox, 2010)


“I’m gonna take the bus more often and use my car only when it’s needed.” (Fall Equinox, 2010)


“This 2011AD, I will live 5 minutes from an organic market (and I think organic farm as well), and I will 1) volunteer, 2) organize to improve the recycling system in the neighborhood (the next neighborhood over is seen as a ‘problem’ area & receives less city support).” (Winter Solstice, 2010)


“Environmental goal: recycle Steph and re-create her into [deleted]’s star student. Lacking that, I will save [cat] poop and mix it up with gluten-free dough. And then give it to that star student.” (Spring Equinox, 2011)

Jackshit Rainbow

At the grocery store, I had just snatched up a bunch of bananas when someone said, “Hi.” (Yes, Lucasz started it.) He was stocking in the produce section. I was surprised by how happy he seemed. I had felt assailed when we entered the store – the smell was incredible – like someone had sprayed powdered sugar in the air. I remembered someone in Antwerp telling me a story about an immigrant who, after years of labor had finally earned enough to bring his mother over. When she arrived, he took her to the weekend market, where she burst into tears, inconsolable at the sight of so much excess when she had scrabbled along her entire life on so much less.

“I was busy trying to change the future!

Do you know how lonely that is?!”

I didn’t say that, but I had just been describing my experience growing up. Paraphrasing is an excellent interpersonal response!  Roomie and I were arguing over who had paid the most attention. She could not deny that she was into all kinds of things always, noticing and learning. In the end, we credited my survival with Star Trek, blogging and seltzer.

1

At the grocery store, I had just snatched up a bunch of bananas when someone said, “Hi.”  (Yes, Lucasz started it.)  He was stocking in the produce section. I was surprised by how happy he seemed. I had felt assailed when we entered the store – the smell was incredible – like someone had sprayed powdered sugar in the air. I remembered someone in Antwerp telling me a story about an immigrant who, after years of labor had finally earned enough to bring his mother over. When she arrived, he took her to the weekend market, where she burst into tears, inconsolable at the sight of so much excess when she had scrabbled along her entire life on so much less.

I responded to Lucasz, commenting that it seemed kindof slow.  “No, it’s busy,” he said.

“Really?”

“Yes, it will get busier around six.”

“Is it slower in the morning, then?” He hesitated.

Maybe he said it depends, or something else to indicate it wasn’t necessarily so.

“Is there no predictable time when it’s quiet?”

Another noncommittal gesture, apparently not  . . . “You’re not from around here?” he half-asked me.

“I am! I’m just not always paying attention.”

“It’s because the music is off.”

Aha! Is that why the atmosphere felt different than usual, I wondered to myself. And, he’s really paying attention!

“Always at this time?” I asked.

He shrugged.

“Oh, something’s broken then.”

He might have agreed.

“Where are you from?” I asked him.

“Poland.” He grinned.

“A student,” He added.

“At UMass?”

“Yes. One more semester.”

“You’re almost done!”

Big smile.

“What will you do next?”

“Go home.” Another grin.

“Oh right, the immigration law. You can’t stay.”

“I could stay!” He insisted.

“But you want to go home?!” His certainty surprised me.

“Yes.” He explained he has family here, as well as back home. But also the buddies he grew up with: “half of them are there.”

“You wanna hang with them!” He nodded. Grinning.

“Is it a pack thing? Testosterone?” The question blurted out before I thought to censor it. “Sorry.”

“I don’t know.” He grinned again.

Turns out he’s been studying architecture.

“Oh, you have a better chance of a job there?”

He didn’t say, but probably.

Hmmm, I thought to myself. Europe is good.

2

The sensory shopping assault continued as I strolled the aisles, considering what’s actually seasonal now, wondering about fruits and vegetables being so large and uniformly shaped, considering that globalization has made it so we can pretty much buy anything anytime (if you can afford it), and the products scream for attention in a cascade of color, as if trying to out-brilliance each other.

I examined the rice, a staple: what brand? I have no idea what mom used to buy. Or anyone else. I’m familiar with Goya; I kindof like the idea of challenging protectionism. Then I think, yea, but its carbon footprint sucks as bad as everybody else’s, doesn’t it? The right kind of solution would be to shop local. Not ‘buy American’ – no implication of ‘buying white’ or ‘from citizens only.’ But to shop and by from the people who live here. Whoever they are. Wherever they’re from.

3

Fellow shoppers pass, intent on lists, scouring the shelves for desired items. We do not speak or make eye contact with one another. Without background music to mask the shuffle of carts and cartons it is less easy to ignore each other but we manage to do so. The smell of sweet vanishes under a boosting-disambiguationchemical barrage – should have held my breath and dashed past the cleaning aisle, ignoring it as firmly as the health and beauty products, the HBP as Beh told me later, teaching me about boosting as she checked my groceries out.

I believed her but wondered if I’m the only one out of touch enough not to know what it is so maybe I should put in a link. …. Yea, wikipedia’s disambiguation entry on boosting is enough.

Beh is a sharp cookie. Not only did she tell me about the theft economy working right under our noses at the Amherst Stop and Shop (they’ve got a detective on it) she’s pretty sure the cash from street sales goes to drug cartels. Who would guess amidst the massive glut of bootie that the underground economy is occupying the self-same space?

4

Roomie was taking her sweet day-dreaming time. I re-entered the store with the remaining empty shopping bags, curious about the guy still by the front door who I had overheard talking into his phone like a walkie-talkie when I had exited moments before. “Are you the detective?” I asked when we walked out again a few minutes later. “Oh yeah,” he joked, saying he was the Chief. Now I notice the Salvation Army sign. Reaching into my pocket, I commented that I had never contributed in this way before.

“They helped me out a lot,” he said.

“They helped my brother for awhile, too.”

“For awhile. Something happened.” He asked without asking.

“Things happen.” I replied. “Take care of yourself.”

“You too,” he said. And wished me blessings.

“Jackshit happens.” Roomie repeated.

What inflection is that, I wondered.  “Nonsense,” she said. Light, like teasing. Except sometimes it can be harsh, “I guess it’s in the tone?” I mused out loud.  “There’s a whole range,” she offered, “It can mean anything, a whole jackshit rainbow of meanings.”

Can Twitter help build programs not prisons?

Kalle Lasn, one of the creators of the Occupy Wall Street meme (and founder of the Canadian magazine, Adbusters) has described the police raid to clear Zuccotti Park as “the latest in a series of crisis-driven opportunities.” In his interview with Mattathias Schwartz, Lasn asserts, “World wars, revolutions—from time to time, big things actually happen . . . When the moment is right, all it takes is a spark.” Lasn is calling the evictions the end of Phase I and is now calling for Phase II… What if the focus group dimension of Twitter described by Adam Green could be extended as a platform for aggregating collective intelligence? #KeepSpreadingTheMeme

Intriguing things are happening with Twitter these days.

  • #HAILSTATE appears in the endzone of an annual football rivalry yesterday (Saturday, Nov 26)
  • “Using a hashtag is [among other things] a way for someone to convey that they’re part of a certain scene.”
  • In electoral politics, hashtags are becoming “an ideal way to snark.”
  • Earlier in November: “‘#HashtagsArentAJobsBill.’ Oh, snap.
  • The GOP got 20% more positive reactions [on Twitter] than Obama” on jobs (see chart)
  • The #OWS presence on Twitter is more diffuse and widespread than the closed #teaparty network (see visualization)
  • Campaign monitoring of Tweets for the 2012 election generates a tagcloud of top words in Tweets about the candidates and a column ranking of quantity of Tweets/candidate in real time (watch the data change)
  • The overall rate of tweeting with the tags #ows, #occupy, and #occupywallstreet has been declining over the last 30 days (as of Nov 24) while the overall reach of tweeting with #ows has spread, globally

Today

“Twitter is the world’s largest focus group,” asserts Adam Green of 140elect.  Twitter is now being picked up and used by the political class (see “History” below). “The thing is,” explains Nancy Scola, “it’s not just the political class, traditionally defined. For every #FlipFlopMitt, a hashtag pushed by Perry’s presidential campaign, there’s an organic one started by some random person on the Internet.”  She continues, “Anyone with a free minute and a Twitter account can join in and, for better or for worse, find themselves part of a national media messaging battle.”

Since the police broke up Occupy Wall Street’s peaceful protests, maintaining momentum for #ows via social media may take on increasing importance. Meanwhile, Yochai Benkler at Harvard cautions that

“a complete retreat to an online-only form would be a mistake.

“The ability to focus on a national agenda will depend on actual, on-the-ground, face-to-face actions, laying your body down for your principles – with the ability to capture the images and project them to the world,” Mr. Benkler said, pointing to the outrage over the use of pepper spray at the University of California, Davis, last weekend [Nov 17-18] as an example of an encounter that ratcheted up the online conversation.

History

Internet Relay Chat (IRC) is a clear forerunner of Twitter in requiring users to compose short and clear messages, as well as providing precedent for the Twitter symbols of @ (for author identification) and # (for organizing content): IRC channel names require the first character to be either ‘&’, ‘#’, ‘+’ or ‘!‘ (“hereafter called “channel prefix“). In addition to inspiring the hashtag and address tag, just as Twitter contributes to the circulation of protest and repression that corporate-owned media chooses not to give much airtime, the IRC provided a communication route for news and information when mainstream media were being censored.

Writing for The Atlantic, Nancy Scola reports:

“Observers cite the 2009 Iranian elections (#IranElection) as the moment the tool really took hold in the political realm. Closer to home, the taxonomic application found high-profile usage when the White House encouraged people to use #immigration to discuss a major Obama immigration speech and #AskObama to group together questions for the president for an online forum hosted by Twitter’s Jack Dorsey.”

Then, a mere year ago, came the Arab Spring, fueled by social media – namely Facebook and Twitter.  These movements continue: #Jan25, #Egypt, #Tahrir, and #Syria. Protest spread from the Middle East to Spain in May: Take The Square.

And now, right here in the United States, #OWS.

This is how Occupy Wall Street began: as one of many half-formed plans circulating through conversations between [Kalle] Lasn and [Micah] White, who lives in Berkeley and has not seen Lasn in person for more than four years. Neither can recall who first had the idea of trying to take over lower Manhattan. In early June, Adbusters sent an e-mail to subscribers stating that “America needs its own Tahrir.” The next day, White wrote to Lasn that he was “very excited about the Occupy Wall Street meme. . . . I think we should make this happen.” He proposed three possible Web sites: OccupyWallStreet.org, AcampadaWallStreet.org, and TakeWallStreet.org.

“No. 1 is best,” Lasn replied, on June 9th. That evening, he registered OccupyWallStreet.org.

Orienting toward the Future

No one person creates a meme. Memes are articulations of a common consciousness, the expression of a deep and widely-shared intuition about lived experience at the frontiers of knowledge. Memes propagate because they resonate and are echoed by individual persons who recognize and act on an affinity with the images or sentiments the language evokes. Viewed historically, memes reflect the zeitgeist of an era; viewed contemporaneously – memes are best explained by the communication concept of interpellation. In plain language, interpellation is about being hailed, being called by persons, things, ideas, etc., into being “this way” or “that way,” into our individual/cultural/social identities: you and I are drawn to the things (objects, ideas) and people that each of us likes; why we like some things more than others has to do with exposure (familiarity) and difference (unfamiliarity). The important point is that being hailed is an interactive process, a dynamic exchange between those “things” (objects, ideas, other persons) and our selves (consciously and unconsciously).

For a meme to take off and become a meme, it has to get traction – the traction comes from the hailing process. The meme hollers “Yo! I’m here! Whatcha think?” If it catches your attention, this provides some ground. If you engage it – in any kind of way, through agreement or disagreement or mocking or celebration or whatever – this starts the foundation. If few others engage, too bad – no co-construction, no interaction = no meme. But if others also engage – whether in a similar or distinctive way than you – a potential starts to build. The process can happen quick or begin slowly; usually there is a spurt when the sucker simply takes off. Spurting remains unpredictable. The best science cannot guarantee when a meme will burst into public consciousness; art may fare slightly better but most memes become obvious in retrospect rather than prediction.

"No one gets rich on their own."
"No one gets rich on their own."

One of the early contributions to the momentum of Occupy Wall Street is the clarity with which Elizabeth Warren explains the economic situation. The 2 minute youtube video pictured above was made prior to OWS.  an interview with Elizabeth Warren on CNBC’s Squawk Box about “the moment” being offered by an upcoming Economic Stress Test. On youtube, that video slides into “Elizabeth Warren Makes Timmy Geithner Squirm Over AIG and Goldman Sachs Bailouts,” and then into “WHY OCCUPY WALL ST?,WHY,WHY,WHY? (MUST SEE!),” which splices an incredible range of news footage together, including Alan Greenspan’s confession to Henry Waxman that the idea he believed in for forty years about free markets’ ability to self-regulate turned out to be completely wrong.

A Revolutionary Moment?

Kalle Lasn, one of the creators of the Occupy Wall Street meme (founder of the Canadian magazine, Adbusters) has described the police raid to clear Zuccotti Park as “the latest in a series of crisis-driven opportunities.” In his interview with Mattathias Schwartz, Lasn asserts, “World wars, revolutions—from time to time, big things actually happen . . . When the moment is right, all it takes is a spark.”  Lasn is calling the evictions the end of Phase I and calling for Phase II… Originally,  “Adbusters invited readers to “zero in on what our one demand will be.” The suggested ideas included a Presidential commission charged with ending the influence of money in politics, and a one-per-cent “Robin Hood tax” on all financial transactions.” Instead, the movement chose the anarchist path, and has refused to coalesce around any one demand.

#BuildProgramsNotPrisons

The question is both literal and figurative. Occupy Wall Street is resistance to the “prison” of the financial game created by financiers and other high stakes gamblers. Likewise, profiting from the penal system encourages profiling and other forms of social injustice. As a result, too many prisoners are Americans that we need contributing actively to the economy, supporting their families and improving their communities.

What if the focus group dimension of Twitter described by Adam Green could be extended as a platform for aggregating collective intelligence? Could crowd-sourcing the issues and ideas allow “the solutions” of Occupy Wall Street to take organic form as dictated by all of its advocates – perhaps even in a kind of competition-based collaboration with its detractors?

Has Twitter become a sufficiently strong medium for asserting political will? Can codes, programs, and applications be written to assess the dynamics of issues vis-a-vis events? Or must we continue to leave the direction of the country up to the closed decision-making of extreme pundits and politicians, as vetted by the corporately-owned mainstream media?

Benkler and Lasn are pointing the way – more physical gatherings, people massing in public spaces. There will continue to be violence from the establishment against the resistance. I confess that I am not sure if I have the guts to put my body on the line in the way so many already have. What I can do, at least for now, is try to design and advocate for non-violent means to #keepspreadingthememe.

Day 72, Occupy Wall Street
27 November 02011

Engaging Preoccupation

A friend working on some Twitter research has created a visualization of Tweets containing the word “occupy.” Watching the barrage of names, emotions, attitudes, accusations, reports, insults could seep in like a bad dream, the social miasma of our times unfolding in real time. I find articulate voices making sense of what’s happening now among hip hop artists who are using their art to engage issues of social justice. At AJstream, Derrick Ashong asks Lupe Fiasco why the clear point of the Occupy Wall Street movement – ECONOMIC JUSTICE – is not translating to mainstream media.

Testing tolerance and endurance in Amherst, MA
Testing tolerance and endurance in Amherst, MA

Half a dozen tents were visible as I gazed out the third-floor window of Bartlett while waiting for discussion to begin in a course on postcolonial literature. My view of the tents was shrouded by pale yellow and brown autumn leaves that refuse to fall, despite the devastating snowstorm that recently wreaked havoc to the trees and, collaterally, the power grid. Or is it the other way around?

Occupy.

Occupation.

. . . “have sexual intercourse with” . . .

Gazing out the window this morning, I marveled at the surreality of the moment: students busily focused on an in-class writing assignment while elsewhere police chase protesters from city squares to college campuses and off of them, too. I wonder what mixture of fear and hope inspires the activists, considering ways I can provide support. My curiosity includes the mindset of bystanders and critics: those who cannot be bothered or see no point, and those who have a problem with the demonstrations of collective action, the insistence on public participation in the guts of democracy.

I remembered that there was something reassuring about people resuming normal routines as soon as possible after snowtober, even though it was also unsettling that most people’s response to disaster seems to be to continue going on in the way one always has.

Life and Debt with No Telephone to Heaven

“That was the worst of being a servant. The waiting around for cuffy-pretend-backra or backra-fe-true while your life passed, the people in the house assuming your time was worthless.”

Michelle Cliff 1987:  19

It is a random synchronicity that I am interpreting an undergraduate course in postcolonial literature while Occupy Wall Street unfolds in biographical and historical time. Nonetheless, I am struck (again) that the descendents of former colonizers are discovering major faults in the system. Now, many white middle-class lives are passing in thrall to a financial engine that eats culture, discarding and replacing human cogs at whim.

OWS: The Defining Symbol of this Generation?

“[Occupy] is bigger than the 2012 elections…this is something that’s going to grow and grow and grow. This is America, this is America bubbling up to the surface… This is something… that is earthquake…you know – seismic.”

Lupe Fiasco on The Stream

A friend working on some Twitter research has created a visualization of  Tweets containing the word “occupy.” Watching the barrage of names, emotions, attitudes, accusations, reports, insults could seep in like a bad dream, the social miasma of our times unfolding in real time. It is too easy to get lost in the public sphere as an impenetrable discussion zone of colliding billiard balls. A privileged few political themes crash and spin off each other in crazy, chaotic directions. I find articulate voices making sense of what’s happening among hip hop artists who are using their art to engage issues of social justice. At AJstream, Derrick Ashong asks Lupe Fiasco and Basim Usmani why the clear point of the Occupy movement – ECONOMIC JUSTICE – is not translating to mainstream media.

“This new generation that’s at Occupy Wall Street . . . coming out of high school now, they’ve got the Arab Spring, they’ve got, seen the election of Obama, people power, I think that my generation could learn a lot from the one that’s coming up, that I see out at the Occupies, I think that those people actually believe earnestly that they can change things.”

Basim Usmani, The Kominas

Navigating through the inertia of the force of old ideas requires calm thinking and the ability to reflect on multiple and diverse perspectives. I take heart from the intelligence displayed both by this hopeful generation coming up now and the results of last week’s elections, which the New York Times opined as

“…an overdue return of common sense to government policy in many states. Many voters are tired of legislation driven more by ideology than practicality, of measures that impoverish the middle class or deprive people of basic rights in order to prove some discredited economic theory or cultural belief . . . . It is not clear that [November 9th’s] votes add up to a national trend that will have an effect on 2012 or even the deadlock in Congress. But they do offer a ray of hope to any candidate who runs on pragmatic solutions, not magical realism, to create jobs and reduce the pressures of inequality on the middle class and the poor.”

Kick and Push (a.k.a. Muslim Skateboarding – Building Skateastan! Check out The Stream)

The challenge of this age is whether we – homo sapiens – can harness conversation about the many challenges, obstacles, and perspectives on these matters and turn our talk to collaborative, productive problem-solving. Rather than hard military aggression and police deployment, perhaps it is not too soon to be soft and yielding in order to cultivate collaboration.

Emergency Communication and the Deaf

In all of the years of researching and taking courses / training in crisis communications – one group has not been mentioned as much as others.  This audience group is the deaf community.  How do we go about in making sure that this audience group gets the same information about an emergency or crisis like all of our other audiences?

~ Karen Freberg, Ph.D.
Assistant Professor in Strategic Communication at the University of Louisville

Does the Deaf Community need sign language interpretation for emergencies?
Does the Deaf Community Need ASL Interpretation for Emergencies?

Long before today’s nationwide test of the Emergency Alert System, the National Association of the Deaf (NAD) advocated for improved accessibility to emergency warnings with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). In response, FEMA made a video with American Sign Language explaining that old technology prevents full communication access to the Deaf and asking Deaf and Hard-of-Hearing people not to worry because, “this is only a test.”

Exclusive design?

However this is not “just” any old test. According to the Chief of the FCC’s Public Safety and Homeland Security Bureau, “This test is vital to ensuring that the EAS, the primary alerting system available to the American public, works as designed” (emphasis added).  Chief James A Barnett explains, “the EAS is a media communications-based alerting system designed to transmit emergency alerts and warnings to the American public . . . providing vital information in crises, and the system is designed to work when nothing else does” (emphasis added).

Only One Way of Communicating?

My career as an American Sign Language/English interpreter, along with graduate study in the field of Communication, gives me reason to wonder at the insistence on a one-size-fits-all method of communicating emergency warnings.  Of course this makes sense from the topmost levels of the communication hierarchy, but at some point the local takes over.  Is text enough?  Are captions (assuming they are even provided!) adequate for catching the attention of a Deaf person in order to warn them of an impending crisis? Why not supplement outdated technology with live interpretation?

Getting Real – or Postponing It?

The national Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf (RID) has a Working Group developing a Standard Practice Paper on Emergency Interpreting. While the draft is under administrative review, efforts to properly train interpreters for integration into emergency planning and response were begun at a Florida State RID workshop in October. Meanwhile, information to guide Emergency Managers and First Responders in working with Sign Language Interpreter strike teams was presented in September at Getting Real II: Promising Practices in Inclusive Emergency Management for the Whole Community.

Deaf Tweet-In to Teach about communication access!

“One final note, for the communities that are deaf or hard of hearing, there is a special evaluation of how emergency alert information is transmitted to these communities. Emergency agencies are being encouraged to use the hashtag #demx during this EAS test so that social media can be evaluated for its effectiveness in reaching populations which may not hear the emergency alert.” ~ Clark Regional Emergency Services Agency

#demx introduced a few days before the test
#demx introduced a few days before the test

Why do Deaf Americans have to keep waiting for the majority to decide to protect everyone?  Why are Deaf Americans being told – yet again – to wait until … when?  The obvious, logical, and easy solution to inadequate captioning technology is to have sign language interpreters on contract for emergency interpreting. Despite years of advocacy from Deaf individuals within their communities and organizations, as well as at the institutional level by the National Association of the Deaf, provision of communication access is apparently such a low priority that the first national test is going to happen without any backup plan.

What are Deaf people to do if (when) there is a real emergency?

Where’s the ASL?

But maybe I assume sign language interpretation is the answer.  I designed an action research study to learn what the Deaf community needs.  The lead time has been extremely short, and the Deaf community may be experiencing “EAS fatigue”, however some traction on Twitter from social media users in emergency management and a loose network of deaf and hard-of-hearing individuals suggests that a useful conversation may occur today about creating a warning system that effectively includes this neglected population.

Please read the Guidelines for Tweeting to #demx and follow @Deaf_Emergency, @stephjoke and @XpressiveHandz