Neal Stephenson said that we’ve now got “350 years of perspective” on the scientific process, and that he is interested in “the attention span of our society” (p. 269, Some Remarks).

Me too.

Twiliocon-developer renaissance 2013-09-19 at 7.41.52 PMLong dialogues are challenging for many reasons. They require perseverance, for one thing, and humility too – because if you stick around long enough you’re bound to encounter perspectives and learn things that cause you to realize some of your own failings and limitations. Thus, long dialogues require courage of a very particular kind. Inspired by some teenagers a few years ago, I began calling this kind of courage “character.” (Specifically #KRKTR, but I will not elaborate upon that digression here.)

Climate disruption and it’s characters

The 2013 scientific report on climate change reiterates  that the “debate on science is over, [the] time to act is now” and another study on the timing of climate change reveals shocking results: ”Regardless of the scenario, changes will be coming soon,” said lead author Camilo Mora. “Within my generation, whatever climate we were used to will be a thing of the past.”

DGR quote from Arundhati Roy  2013-05-08 at 10.00.29 AMDeniers are caught up in the zeitgeist, playing the political and social drama. The Doomers have already given up. Guy McPherson leads the charge, passionately arguing that hope is dead and only love remains. Avowed Doomers have a head start on the rest of us, because they believed the science from the beginning and have been preparing for the collapse of industrial society. Those Who’ve Given Up more quietly immerse themselves in the immediate concerns of self-gratification and accommodating friends, family and coworkers. Cultural creatives are exercising a different kind of imagination, proposing a mythological kind of speculative living that holds out the promise of transformation.

“When we realize we are the planet,
we’ll be more inclined to do what’s necessary to save it.”

 ~ Christian Williams
reviewing Journey of the Universe for Utne Reader.

12% of the Solution: Biochar

Twelve percent is not enough, of course, to reverse the damage to the atmosphere. Taken in conjunction with other large-scale initiatives (whether these are led by government or quarterbacked by leaders in localized communities), restoring the soil of the planet—the earth of the earth—is essential. Using principles of holistic design based in geographical features and natural processes, there is no reason why human ingenuity cannot be turned to the creation and implementation of a greenprint for the planet. The only obstacle is us getting in our own way.

Biochar: For the Roots is the first in a projected series of Greenprint videos. A captioned version is available here. The series premieres at the North American Biochar Symposium: Harvesting Hope hosted at UMass Amherst from Oct 13-16, 2013.

Use google to search for #demx and use Twitter to participate in spreading information about the professionalization of a new subfield in emergency management interpreting.

Introduction to the Incident Command System and Interpreter Strike Teams

FireTracker2 RT Pope quote

Discussion during this introductory module demonstrated the importance of interpreters taking four of the FEMA courses offered free online before attending ASL Interpreter Strike Team training, including NIMS 100.B, Introduction to the Incident Command System, and NIMS 700.a, National Incident Management System. Two additional NIMS courses are also recommended as the minimal requirement for preparing to become an emergency management interpreter – IS 800.B, Introduction to the National Response Framework and IS 7, A Citizen’s Guide To Disaster Assistance. Additional recommended coursework is listed at the Florida Interpreter Strike Team’s webpage.


Self-Care and Trauma Mitigation

toys and self-care EMI trainingIdentifying the behaviors that indicate depression or other responses to trauma are crucial to maintaining emotional and cognitive balance before, during, and after interpreting in emergency management contexts.

“Are you going to blog about this movie?”
“Absolutely not!”

Yet here I am.

Drive is disturbing.  We debated afterwards: is the hyperviolence unnecessary? Should such depictions be censored to ward off further glorification of violence? Is the film art? What are the ethics of recommendation? Whose responsibility is it to consider the possible effects of viewing this film?

Scenes are consistently overdone. The musical score is outrageously sappy, underscoring the impossible juxtaposition of living a decently social life in the maw of the machine. The un-named principal character combines two extreme masculine ideals: he is both extraordinarily moral and primally violent – a classic hero stripped to the essence, a man of few words and stark actions.

The anonymity of the principal character represents everyone; even the innocent among us could become implicated in one way or another with the criminality of today’s society. At each and every moment we are at risk of being pulled in, taken down, consumed or killed by the impersonal clash of animalistic jockeying for position, power, status in whatever currency holds forth in the immediate situation. What can we do, mere individuals in a vast churning system of impersonalized rules, but drive by our own code?

The film presents no antedote, offers no salve or suggestion of change. The only response is to be driven to beat the course, to instinctively react in the instant, make the right move, face the consequences, turn and turn and turn again, speed up slow down nail the precise pace and time lane selection to come out – how? Victorious yet irreparably damaged. “I’m going somewhere… I won’t be able to come back.”

I am reminded of a scene in Control Room, a short while after the US Central Command’s Press Officer, Lieutenant Josh Rushing, realizes the humanity of Iraqis – the families and friends and compatriots of the enemy combatants – those people on the other side of the war. Lt Rushing muses that, unfortunately, we don’t yet live in a world that can do without war. Drive depicts war at the civilian level. Drive celebrates violence by suggesting its inevitability, and glorifies the performance of violence by cloaking it in a noble character.


Humanity can do better than be driven by the machine. We built this system; we can re-engineer it.

a Communication course on Media and Culture
UMass Amherst

Facebook commentary after viewing the video

Facebook commentary after viewing the video

The unreality of DayGlow’s Escape Reality tour provides reprieve to the 24/7 demands of the socially-wired digital world. Some of my students think I would enjoy the concert. It seems possible, although the behavior required to secure tickets does not appeal. Descriptions of the emotions raised by the keyboard-and-mouse competition carefully calibrated to the timing of a ticket release has all the characteristics of addiction. A fan, however, might just call it passion. To be sprayed with paint while mass dancing to great music at eardrum-blasting decibels: you’ve always dreamed of it, right? Most of the young adults taking this class could hardly imagine anything better. The encompassing sensory experience fundamentally connects them with their bodies and each other in a shared physical space and time: it is as far from online social interaction as you can get. I suppose DayGlowers may text or Tweet or update their Facebook statuses just to tweak their friends – haha, I’m here and you’re not! - but the point of DayGlow is to experience an entirely different way of being together.

It’s about Identity, Stupid!

In the final small group discussion with the teacher, one of the students in class made an identity claim about technology that encompassed everyone regardless of race, gender, sexual orientation, religion, and (to a lesser but still relevant extent) socioeconomic class. “Technology,” Jamar said, “is what makes us normal.” Orienting to society via the specific types of technology known as social media defines the digital native and simultaneously signals a potent site of contest over the future. What kind of person do you want to be? What kind of person are you now? Although these questions were not asked overtly, they underscored the Red Pill/Blue Pill debate over the prominence of technology in student’s lives. While embracing what they like and accommodating to what they must, many members of this first generation of digital natives are also deeply concerned about what it all means.

Doing Collective Intelligence

In an example of what I call social metonymy, the students’ final team video projects expose individual ambiguity about their personal responsibility for choosing the reality that will define their lives. At the same time the two videos serve to represent this choice as an either/or dichotomy between the Blue Pill and the Red Pill.  In “DayGlow Makes Us Normal,” students blend a sharp knowledge of context with an unapologetic stance in support of ‘the blue pill’ – meaning an uncritical embrace of technology, particularly in terms of how it can be used to serve the needs of the self. These young people show us that they are doing their best to deal with everything; however surviving means sometimes choosing not to know in order to have the ‘escape’ that recharges them to be able to carry on. Dfoley explains:

…when Steph approached us and asked us to research deeper into DAYGLOW, ask questions and look into the three social relations, we as a class became defensive and responded first with a stern “NO!” and then eased out of the conversation with “What if we learn bad things?” We didn’t want to know how they targeted their audiences, what producers or distributors they went through, if they were in fact illegally using music or did they work with certain music industries and is the paint made in an un-ethical environment? At this moment, we didn’t want to know any of these answers; we didn’t want to know if the three social relations that applied to DAYGLOW were good or bad. Because the truth is, DAYGLOW was and is are [sic] escape, we leave all of our troubles at the door and it facilitates an environment that is blind to color or cultural difference but sees the common ground of the human race as a whole and understands that when we enter we all are in an agreement that we simply want to be. And enjoy the overpowering feeling of the love for life you feel as you live the music.

The other video is less ambiguous, showing more of the Red Pill approach through some critical juxtapositions that seem to ask  ”Do We Have to Be This Way?” If you enlarge the Facebook commentary photograph, you’ll see a student’s explanation about the DayGlow footage being replaced by activism by teenagers in Arizona regarding changes to the curriculum there. Taken as a package, the two videos provide a fairly transparent perspective on a particular demographic subset of the Millennial Generation. What isn’t necessarily evident in the videos is learning some students described about ethnic components of their identities:

Steph talked about the fact that many of us saw things in a “white way”. We never thought about seeing things this way but it was seemingly apparent that we did. Seeing in a “white way” is similar to the idea of heteronormativity. Heterosexuality is unconsciously perceived as the correct way to live and therefore heterosexual individuals are unfairly privileged in the same way that white individuals are solely because of their race. As Sgershlak said, many white college students do not think about the opportunities they are presented with because they have always been there. Many of them have not faced much adversity if any at all and this has influenced their perspective on the world. (Kim Delehanty)

Until I was 10 years old, I lived in Boston, where the lifestyle was much laid back. Many of my friends parents would often stay home, either unemployed, laid-off, or fired. There was never a real need to have a intellectual conversation with anyone, mainly because people around you did not complete much schooling. However upon moving to the suburbs, my identity changed in order to fit in with my surrounding environment. Conversations now stemmed to “what do you want to be when you grow up”, “what colleges do you plan on applying to”. Coming from a schooling system which did not produce many graduates, to one which produced more college graduates than Boston did high-school graduates, I would say my identity changed dramatically and maybe for the best. Being the most Americanized Hispanic, also meant when it came time to identify with relatives and family, my identity would also have to change, to incorporate an Hispanic culture which has not been present for several years. (Steve Baez)

Cultivating a Growth Mindset

I assigned the students in this 100-level course a nearly impossible task – to complete team video projects representing their understanding of how media and culture combine in their personally lived experience of college today. I wanted them to demonstrate to me that they understood the concept of articulation as it is used in communication theory.

With inadequate tools, little-to-no experience, and minimal guidance, they exceeded my expectations. We all wish the production values were higher but the meaning of these videos is the thoughtfulness with which these young people have illustrated the incredible tensions of being among the first human beings to live immersed in the digital age.

The intellectual prompt provided as an anchor for the course was obscure at first: “Digital Realities and Analog Living.” We also viewed the 1999 movie, The Matrix, for use as a guiding metaphor as well as an example of transmedia storytelling. The students composed individual videos for their midterm projects, absorbed my critique, and went to work to show me how it really is.

a triangulation of thoughts from two recent conferences

and one book:
Thinking Dangerously about Communication, Disaster and Risk
Integrating Research on Climate Change & Hazards
My Life as a Quant: Reflections on Physics and Finance

Risk Management and Risk Perception

It’s a classic chicken-and-egg problem: which comes first? The perception of risk, or attempts to manage it?  Don’t attempts to manage risk teach us how to perceive it? How can those who are tasked with managing risk (in whatever flavor) incorporate the range of human variability in perception to inform quality decision-making and effective system design? The dynamic of perception and management plays out in nested fashion from individual emotion & cognition to social interaction to the institutional mechanisms intended to regulate social relations which, in turn, shapes the boundaries of how a person is or isn’t supposed to behave in terms of expressing their emotions. If you’re a researcher, detachment is de rigueur.  I’m wondering how much of this subjectification comes from professionalizing the scientific method, and how much comes psychologically – as a protective buffer against the ramifications of what we know?

Emanual Derman published his autobiography in 2004, well before the mortgage-banking crash, and long before the BP-Gulf disaster. Derman’s work in financial engineering for Goldman-Sachs put him in league with the top echelon of traders and financial managers for nearly twenty years. When he writes, “The development of new options structures resembled an arms race” (p. 223), one understands that he is reflecting the violent realities at the core of economic risk. Indeed, he opens the book with a comparison and contrast between the culture of quantitative engineers (trained in theoretical physics & focused on current value) and financial risk managers & traders (thinking about the future). “The guts to lose a lot of money,” Derman asserts, “carries its own aura,” and “the capacity to wreak havoc with your models provides the ultimate respectability” (p. 12-13)

Respecting Collaboration regarding Slow Onset Hazards

The pressure to live fast-forward has contributed to deep, infrastructural level risks that require a new style of collaboration. I think incisive insiders like Derman, geographers exploring how (and why) to

  1. facilitate adaptation to slow-onset hazards,
  2. build local resilience,
  3. map local knowledge into policy and practice, and
  4. understand the relationship between land use, climate change, and hazards.

along with crisis communication researchers who are asking, “How do we develop communities who can talk with each other about:

  • local and federal tensions in crisis planning, emergency management, and disaster recovery?
  • normative questions concerning the role of experts, particularly in relation with regular people?
  • distributive justice questions of who shoulders what kinds and amounts of societal-level risk?”

Shared references more effective than “a common language”

My primary career of the last fifteen years has been as a sign language interpreter.  I’ve witnessed (one could even say “participated”) in interactions where people misunderstand each other using the same words  (to mean different things), as well as using different words (to mean the same thing). No doubt there are many instances in which the same words do mean the same things (or similar enough), as well as those moments when people become aware that they are using different words to mean different things (usually called a communication breakdown).  Granted, there is tremendous comfort in being able to take words at face value and move ahead on the assumption that you are being understood as you desire and understanding others as they intend. In fact, this is part of the emotional experience of belonging, of feeling home, of being with one’s own kind.

The thing is, we’re rarely lucky enough to be only with our own kind, and there are paltry few problems facing us today that can be solved by sticking exclusively to our own kind. What we need is the perception to recognize when we’re missing each other and the perseverance to figure out the meaningfulness of these gaps. We need a few targets: conceptual reference points that we hash out and define together to use as guideposts and landmarks for collaboration that not only presumes difference, but actually values and wants to preserve it.

Passions: Promises and Perils
Communication Department Conference
UMass Amherst

The phrase was posed by Dr Lisa Henderson (Chair of the Communication Department) in the Q-and-A following Dr Rey Chow’s keynote address. Lisa was musing out loud about (what I am describing as) a mapping of cinematic representations designed to invoke fear/horror and the possible range of affective responses called into subjective possibility by a film’s staging. I thought Lisa’s formulation suggested a label for a puzzle emergent in the cumulative discourse of the first day’s worth of conference workshops.

My ‘map’ of the flow of the “Passions” conference discourse traces only my own path through the set of concurrent workshops, so it can hardly be considered complete. However, I wager that it has potential to serve as an adequate preliminary structuring for other conference participants to amend. [The conference forum remains available for de-briefing, networking, further development, etc.] Dr Chow traced a complicated path from a theory of “rupture” by Bertolt Brecht and Walter Benjamin to contemporary pornographic and obscene exposures that no longer generate the ruptures that Brecht (and many others) argue spark heightened consciousness.

The problem of rupture failure is acute when theory is challenged to demonstrate its relevance in the face of practice, such as when analysis of film’s effect as a media is confronted with real life effects. This occurred in two instances during the post-keynote Q & A, when cinematic depictions of violence are cast against documentaries of actual violence, and when extradiagetic factors are included as relevant to the understanding of a story.

It is given in many fields that growth often comes from contact with something new, unfamiliar, even strange. Brecht used art to try and inspire people’s conscious perception and applied intelligence. Chow’s idea that “reflexivity becomes increasingly inseparable from a self-conscious type of performativity” obviously brought my own blog to mind, but her analysis is to the ways in which extreme applications (especially in film) tend “more and more…toward violence.” Part of the performativity that I cultivate with my self-conscious ‘thinking out loud’ is the challenge of finding moves through everyday interactions and conversations that veer away from violence without flinching from confronting the violent – even (or perhaps especially?) at the level of the mundane. For instance, the ways in which we academics do our work that results in collusion with the larger infrastructures that we explicitly aim to change.

Later that evening, I relaxed by reading a bit of science fiction.

“No alarming art here, thank you. Nothing ‘disturbing’ was even allowed in public places … the Imperium achieved its final state, the terminally bland.

Yet to Hari, the reaction against blandness was worse…a style based solely on rejection. Particularly among those Hari termed ‘chaos worlds,’ a smug avant-garde fumbled for the sublime by substituting for beauty a love of terror, shock, and the sickeningly grotesque. They used enormous scale, or acute disproportion, or scatology, or discord and irrational disjunction.

Both approaches were boring. Neither had any airy joy.”

Gregory Benford, Foundation’s Fear
p. 17-18, 1997

The beauty and the bane of science fiction is that it generally presupposes no evolution for homo sapiens. In order to remain sensible to readers in the present, people in the imagined future act out trends of behavior palpable in the present and the past. The downside of ensuring recognition (at the level of familiarity, if none other) is that it can feed a kind of fatalistic predetermination about the human condition: always and forever (it seems) we are destined (however one locates the source) to play out the same dynamics, even to be channeled into a limited number of roles, as if identities are possible only in finite quantity.

I anticipated the second day of the “Passions” conference, wondering what the discourse would bring. Everyone acknowledged that the conference was smaller than desired, yet many expressed satisfaction at what the size enabled. Being steeped (this semester) in a course on media historiography, I was attuned to the valorization of experience that permeated many of the presentations (ref Joan Scott, “The Evidence of Experience”). Experience seemed to justify a need and drive to create safety, as many (but not all) panelists focused on the “promises” of passion instead of on its “perils.”

Maybe (I muse), the graduate students in the Communication Department dealt with peril in the 2006 CommGrad Conference, “Communication in Crisis“? To imagine such a thing, however, means conceiving of some kind of group cohesion over time – a mode of thinking not much in style. Even if at some levels most of us know there is something credible about group dynamics and the enactment of identities and roles…i.e., of the socially-constructed basis of individual experience, it is really, really hard to step back and try to perceive how anything that feels so intimately like my own experience is a reflection of what society allows/determines that experience to be. Just because we get reflexive doesn’t mean we move beyond category! (Dammit.)

So I was absolutely fascinated in the closing de-briefing session at the response from conference planners when a UMass CommGrad requested that the “race” and “objective” panels (her terms) should have been mixed up more, because then she could have gotten some of both. The conference planners had not realized the thematic separation. Several people (planners and participants) had been questioning the presence of dichotomies in the conference throughout, but this one seemed to have slipped past everyone’s radar until the very end. The conversation at this point was intriguing, including logistical reasoning (e.g., ‘we can only group by what seems similar in the abstracts’) and matter-of-fact avowals from some who chose to follow the “race” track: ‘this is me, I didn’t even think about the other choice’ (both are rough paraphrases, just to show the sense).

What does this have to do with rupture?
Maybe nothing. :-)
Or – perhaps – everything, or at least a lot!
A critique could be leveled that the conference was “too” this, or “too” that, but it is probably more constructive to imagine that the conference was just what it was – an interactive, group-level gathering of academics with common (or at least overlapping) interests, which happened to enact an unplanned division between matters primarily concerning race, and other, shall I say, non-race-based issues. In other words (one could imagine), a mirror representation of a society that wants to treat race as a separate concern for those who are interested in it by dint of personal experience.
During one of the panels during the second day, I suggested that – in light of contemporarily inured subjectivities – maybe we need to develop our communicative skills for generating ruptures in and among, with and for each other. This is not necessarily safe! Yet doing so, I suspect, might enable us to expand tolerances for handling radical contingency – the ever-present chance that, at any moment, things might go or be understood differently than we expect.

Martha provided these resources on Information and Communication Technologies for her course on Social Inequality, Technology, and Public Policy.

  • United Nations Development Program: UNDP is the UN’s global development network, an organization advocating for change and connecting countries to knowledge, experience and resources to help people build a better life.
  • UNDP Human Development Reports: The 2007-08 report focuses on Human development and Climate Change. Although the last world report on ICT and human development was published in 2001, the UNDP has published a number of regional and national reports on the issue in the last couple of years. Check them out searching by “themes” through their search engine.
  • World Summit on Information Technology: The UN General Assembly Resolution 56/183 (21 December 2001) endorsed the holding of the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) in two phases. The first phase took place in Geneva from 10 to 12 December 2003 and the second phase took place in Tunis, from 16 to 18 November 2005. This website archives original documents of both rounds and follow-up meetings.
  • Center for Social Media: The Center for Social Media showcases and analyzes strategies to use media as creative tools for public knowledge and action. It focuses on social documentaries for civil society and democracy, and on the public media environment that supports them. The Center is part of the School of Communication at American University.
  • Development as Freedom (an ebook): “Development as Freedom” is a popular summary of economist Amartya Sen’s work on development. In it he explores the relationship between freedom and development, the ways in which freedom is both a basic constituent of development in itself and an enabling key to other aspects.

  • Telecommunication Policy Research Center: TPRC is an annual conference on communications, information, and Internet policy that brings a diverse, international group of researchers from academia, industry, government, and nonprofit organizations together with policy makers. It serves two primary goals: (1) dissemination of current research relevant to current communications policy issues around the world; and (2) promotion of new research on emerging issues.
  • The Communication Initiative: The CI network is an online space for sharing the experiences of, and building bridges between, the people and organizations engaged in or supporting communication as a fundamental strategy for economic and social development and change.
  • Free Press: Free Press is a national, nonpartisan organization working to reform the media. Through education, organizing and advocacy, we promote diverse and independent media ownership, strong public media, and universal access to communications.
  • SSRC Media Research Hub: The Media Research Hub is part of the SSRC’s Necessary Knowledge for a Democratic Public Sphere program, which works to ensure that debates about media and communications technologies are shaped by high-quality research and a rich understanding of the public interest.
  • Readings: Yochai Benkler’s book, The Wealth of Networks: How Social Production Transforms Markets and Freedom.