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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.

(Not) rushing into the urgency of now (while still arriving)

Turning the World Upside Down

Turning the World Upside Down

Every day I face the irony of needing to hurry up to slow down, or perhaps it is the other way around, of slowing down in order to speed up my alignment with lifeforce—call it chi or God or Gaia or maybe it is just with other humans in society, thinking of society as a verb—the actions of living together through culture, work and art. Read the rest of this entry »

   Life Affirming & Life Enhancing

cows save the planet

It is the stuff of Douglas Adams-style science fiction, but what if it were true? That cows could save the planet? Not by themselves, but with a little help from their biped friends–especially everyone who has ever harbored a herding fantasy or wants their children and grandchildren to enjoy special elements of the natural world.

Large-scale rotational grazing would require a massive leap of imagination and concerted effort of collective will.  Humans–lots of us–would have to decide to choose to salvage a living planet rather than continue to pretend catastrophic climate change isn’t happening. While most people delay, many people all around the world—alone and in groups—are already acting on the decision to try. Read the rest of this entry »

  1. What is the purpose of dialogue?
  2. Pre-Occupied: Narratives (told and untold) that fill us up
  3. Engaging Youth’s Multicultural Reality
  4. The Key
  5. Green and Red Lines: Asking Different Questions
  6. The Light

In his remarks opening the 6th international Dialogue Under Occupation conference, founder Larry Berlin posed the question:

“What is the purpose of dialogue?”

Closing scene, Fantasia Opus 3, the fantastic range of children's dreams.

Closing scene, Fantasia Opus 3, the fantastic range of children's dreams.

It is a question that the people attending and presenting at the DUO VI conferences did not figure out. Perhaps part of the reason for the absence of an answer is in the framing of the question. We are mostly academics, which means we usually talk abstractly about things we study rather than doing them with each other.

There is less confusion (it seems) about the other key term in the title of our conference: occupation. I did not think of “occupation” as a synonym for “career” during Sophia Mihic’s keynote presentation on the near history of neoliberalism. Now, afterwards, this strikes me as odd, since her argument about the term “human capital” relies on the difference between “labor” and “work.” I suspect this is an instance of collective repression – a de-selection of one possible meaning in favor of another, and then forgetting having made thechoice. Sophia’s thoughtful presentation and critical engagement throughout the conference helps me wonder: are DUO conference participants in the process of producing a work of critical art? Or are these conferences solely labor – the repetition of rituals that must be performed in order to satisfy and maintain professional credentials? Could we somehow manage to do both?

Pre-Occupied: Narratives (told & untold) that fill us up

In a similarly linguistic vein, Cris Toffolo asked us to consider the difference between “post-occupation” and “post-conflict” as labels describing countries like Lebanon. The main distinction between the two terms involve the presence and extent of violence as well as its duration. DUO VI conference participants were undecided whether the use of these labels matter. Instead, we talked about the actions taken “post” – specifically whether the politicians, media, and populace (all of its diverse publics) engage an open communication process designed to promote healing, or choose some other coping strategy as the means to simply and quickly move on. I was particularly struck by the critique she found of Lebanon’s political leadership (Assi Collective Memory – Lebanon, by Elsa Abou Assi) which describes the decision to absolve insiders by blaming outsiders. There had already been a couple of strong statements issued during some of the Question-and-Answer periods about (for instance), there being no one to forgive but oneself for allowing the outsiders to come in and wreck havoc. There is so much to unpack in Lebanese discourse about war and conflict, so many stories that have been told (adult-to-adult) and passed from adults (especially parents) to children who are now grown up and coping in their varied ways with the underlying, unresolved tensions: of necessity finding courage in the face of fear.

Engaging youth’s multicultural reality

View from the castle at Byblos/Jbeit, Lebanon.

View from the castle at Byblos/Jbeit, Lebanon.

The DUO VI conference attracted few of the young people at Lebanon American University, let alone activists from the broader Beirut community. Most youth were more likely to partake in cultural performance events, such as a screening of Rabat. I was lucky to meet Director Jim Taihuttu; we talked about audience reactions to the film. The cast and crew put serious effort into capturing the way youth in Holland actually talk, codeswitching among languages (e.g., Dutch, Moroccan, Surinamese) and borrowing terms back and forth in an unpredictable, dynamic flux. The dialogue is so representative and “natural” that audience members of their peer group feel as if they’re “in the car” with the protagonists. In a generous gesture of inclusion, Rabat is captioned in Dutch as well as English and Arabic so that older generations and foreigners can understand the linguistic mixing. “I disagree with people who talk about multiculturalism as something that you are either for or against, “Jim said. “It is what we are living, a multicultural reality.”

The Key

Barbara Birch’s DUO conference presentation included some guidelines that apply to teaching in general. Countering the linguistic imperialism of English, Barbara proposes the use of the English language as a source of social action that can enable transitions from current injustice to preferable futures. The critical question for teachers involves identifying the moment when you can move students from a wide focus (learning how to say things in general situations) to a narrow one: how to say things in very specific situations. This move, from the general topic to the specific sociocultural transaction, allows the exploration of different norms in the immediate moment of communication. Turning that key opens a door to learning how to navigate the emotions and colliding (complementing and contradicting) narratives involving questions of history and justice. As skills increase, students and teachers learning together can take on increasingly tricky challenges, creating new rituals of being with “Others” and living a new world into being.

Green and Red Lines: Asking Different Questions

Ending violence: domestic, national, religious

Ending violence: domestic, national, religious

I do not know how the color symbolism came about, but I noticed the label of a “Green Line” is the same for both Beirut and Israel/Palestine. In terms of traffic lights, green means “go” – maybe this is a weird way to think of it, but it seems the very label has a subtext encouraging battle. The implication struck me when Ilham Nasser presented her findings on public acts of forgiveness in Arab culture. She discovered a “red line” beyond which people would not forgive others – it could be an insult, a misunderstanding, a failure to respect religious beliefs, etc. Again, it is the symbolism that seems significant: forgiveness is RED (don’t go there!) while war is GREEN (storm ahead, boys!)

The Light

Cris’ roundtable was about the limits and possibilities of talking about human rights as a way to leverage public healing processes. In political science, there is a lot of evidence that broad political-journalistic efforts of reconciliation are functional and productive (South Africa, Ireland, and Guatemala were named as examples). The information Cris shared complemented Professor Makram Ouaiss’ opening keynote address, in which he emphasized asymmetry as the way to shift conflicts from on-going cycles of violence to non-violent methods for ending occupation and establishing civil societies. Dr Ouaiss’ point is that non-violence is understudied, proven effective, and morally legitimate.

Given the right structure and support, I hypothesize that there are enough young people in Beirut willing and capable of having this difficult conversation. Despite the horrors they’ve been through, I witnessed some amazing displays of conviction concerning the things that really matter: including peace with Palestinians and sharing joy within one’s family. As Dr Ouaiss explained, persuading people of the logic and effectiveness of non-violence takes time and repeated efforts.

Written half in Beirut, half in Amherst MA.
Link to the NYTimes Art Review:
Ecstatic Alphabets/Heaps of Language

The Ringleader got us to the Captain Cabin’s then vanished to play pool.

Celebrating a student production of collective memories from their childhoods in Lebanon..

Celebrating a student production of collective memories from their childhoods in Lebanon..

LD (the eldest) spoke for the group, “I don’t care, but I want a code name.” The youngest argued for Peter Pan. No problem.  I am a pushover as long as it works—otherwise you have to convince me (this is not impossible). Twenty-Two exclaimed, “It’s not like I’m hiding anything!” I had wanted to know the size of their ambitions. “Big questions over small glasses,” answered Small Fry, a tall guy protecting Polly Sigh. Sleepy brought Attached along for the ride. Spike agreed with OJ:

“Communication arts are the future, not politics!”

Yalla. Humans, mech maskal, will never be free of the polis. The question is whether politicians can ever again be heroes. No more the sole character forging a lonely way, from now on (in this heavily-mediated age) ‘twill be committed teams and affinity groups treading new paths together who transform the global inheritance of random torture to livable interrelations for the children and the children’s children.

Insist!
Swords no more – salvage words!
Who will rise and heal the future?

I depart Beirut as I entered, awash in serendipity. Back in whaling days, the Captain’s cabin was a private refuge. Entry by others was privileged and rare.

Yearning toward the future . . .

Yearning toward the future . . .

Generous gifts of time and talk throughout my stay dance questions among the neurons of my mind. Smoke of mixed feelings percolates in memory, stimulated by shining souls seeking solace in playful remembrance while drowning sorrow in drink and mad beats relentless rhythms demanding more faster sooner more already more tomorrow who can care much about tomorrow something happened in the north yesterday I’m glad you did not travel south today.

Old as I am my heart beats clear. Vibrant youth, what will ye choose—the stories you’ve been told or the ones you wish to author? My return, Inshallah, issues forth with your desire.

Written in flight, Beirut-Rome-New York City;
Edited and posted from Queens

Through me the afflatus surging and surging . . . . through me the current and index.

Whatever goes to the tilth of me it shall be you,
You my rich blood, your milky stream pale strippings of my life;
Breast that presses against other breasts it shall be you,
My brain it shall be your occult convolutions,
Root of washed sweet-flag, timorous pond-snipe, nest of guarded duplicate eggs, it shall be you,
Mixed tussled hay of head and beard and brawn it shall be you,
Trickling sap of maple, fibre of manly wheat, it shall be you;
Sun so generous it shall be you,
Vapors lighting and shading my face it shall be you,
You sweaty brooks and dews it shall be you,
Winds whose soft-tickling genitals rub against me it shall be you,
Broad muscular fields, branches of liveoak, loving lounger in my winding paths, it shall be you,
Hand I have taken, face I have kissed, mortal I have ever touched, it shall be you.

I hear the trained soprano . . . . she convulses me like the climax of my love-grip;
The orchestra whirls me wider than Uranus flies,
It wrenches unnamable ardors from my breast,
It throbs me to gulps of the farthest down horror,
It sails me . . . . I dab with bare feet . . . . they are licked by indolent waves,
I am exposed . . . . cut by bitter and poisoned hail,
Steeped amid honeyed morphine . . . . my windpipe squeezed in the fakes of death,
Let up again to feel the puzzle of puzzles,
And that we call Being.

Performing "I Sing the Body Electric" in the 1980 film, Fame.

Performing "I Sing the Body Electric" in the 1980 film, Fame.

Leaves of Grass

Dolphin  Books, Doubleday & Company, Inc
Garden City, New York
“…a reprint of the first edition, published in Brooklyn, New York, in 1855. The text is a faithful copy of the original, and has not been edited or abridged in any way. The typography and design…have been altered, however, to meet the requirements of [now, post-]modern production methods.”
Quotations (in sequence) from pages 55, 56, 59, and liner notes before the title page.

“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.

Zuccotti Park is now complete.

Democracy and Public Policy

“The more a source thinks like you, acts like you and looks like you, the more trusting you are, the more willing you are to accept the story you’re told.”

~ Jones (2010)

Kimmie, involved in making the acclaimed film <em>Precious</em>, came to OWS the first chance she could.

Like me, Kimmie - who was involved in making the acclaimed film Precious - came to OWS the first chance she could.

Michael R Jones is studying public policy narratives. He and his colleagues are not documenting discrimination or prejudice; they are validating common features of human behavior using quantitative scientific methods. As I think about why the Occupy movement is happening now and whether it will be able to sustain itself long enough to have effects on economic policy, one of the background, subjective elements has to involve addressing whiteness.

Saturday, I laughed with a few people I met who also found it amusing but undaunting that our first visit to Zuccotti Park coincided with snowtober. I was impressed by the gritty people (of varied ethnicities but mostly white) who gutted through the freezing wet slush of “the snowpocalypse” – thereby crossing an important hurdle for the movement overall.

That’s whiteness, not being white!

The distinctions between being a white American and the institutional structures of whiteness are important. First, the structures of whiteness are ‘in’ Americans of all ethnicities to some degree, even if only by necessity in order to survive (let alone do well) in today’s hyperdrive commercial/consumer-based society. Second: to understand the difference between the genetic-social fact of being white and the institutional structures of whiteness is to realize that the issues raised by the Occupy movement are not about white Americans trying to get over or above anybody else. Instead, this could be the historical moment when middle-class white Americans begin to demonstrate a widespread cultural awareness that whiteness  - both the personal sense of superiority, and as institutionalized in ‘the rules’ – is not fair to anyone.

Economics and History

"The sign refers to the fact that the banks, underwriters, mortgage salespeople at every point in the chain of origination knew that the deals they were doing we're likely to fail....there may not be a very sophisticated understanding of that but people know who fucked em." ~ a friend

"The sign refers to the fact that the banks, underwriters, mortgage salespeople at every point in the chain of origination knew that the deals they were doing were likely to fail....there may not be a very sophisticated understanding of that but people know who f*cked em." ~ a friend on US/domestic macroeconomics

“The guts to lose a lot of money
carries its own aura.”

~ Derman

Emanual Derman wrote about working at Goldman Sachs from 1985 into the late ’90s. “The capacity to wreak havoc with your [financial] models provides the ultimate respectability” (2004, p. 13).  Derman was simply describing the attitude of the biggest gamblers, but it could just as well have been a prediction.

Jay Smooth talks about the ringers who are now trying to justify authoritarian repression of the movement, describing their desperate attempts to distract attention. His analysis came a week before Dahlia Lithwick made similar points about “the endless loop of media bafflement … and … walloping amount of willful cluelessness.” Among Lithwick’s points:

Revolution: American Style

FACT: The Top 1% "Growth in Real After-Tax Income from 1979 to 2007" is hundreds of times more than everyone else. Chart from the Congressional Budget Office Director's Report

FACT: The Top 1% "Growth in Real After-Tax Income from 1979 to 2007" is hundreds of times more than everyone else. Chart from the Congressional Budget Office Director's Report (October 25th, 2011). NOTE: From WWII to the late seventies, people in each and every quintile moved ahead at roughly the same rate!

  1. Regulation of corporate interests is government’s most basic job.
  2. Progressive taxation is a necessary social good.
  3. Civil rights must translate into economic prosperity for everyone.

In A Letter to the Occupy Together Movement, Harsha Walia writes “we cannot under-estimate the difficult terrain ahead.”  The evidence is already plain. Caitlin Curran, photographed (above) with the sign explaining the financial sector’s bad faith, was fired from her job. NYC’s confiscation of generators occurred a day in advance of the snow storm, a selective application of law ostensibly for public safety. “Enough is enough,” the former mayor [Rudolph Giulani] said. “We can’t allow this to go on forever and ever. It sets a bad precedent … [and] diverts police resources from public safety.” Speaking of bad precedents, “Police fired pepper spray and used pepper-ball guns against demonstrators in Denver, Colorado, on Saturday.”

Jay Smooth, in his video about the ringers, talks about how the movement is both specific enough to express people’s concerns, and vague enough to allow many people to come together under a broad umbrella. Walia expands on this point:

“…Maybe this is how movements need to maintain themselves, by recognizing that political change is also fundamentally about everyday life and that everyday life needs to encompass all of this. There needs to be a space for a talent show across from anti-patriarchy meetings. There needs to be a food table, medics, and a library. Everyone needs to stop for a second and look around for someone’s phone. And that within all this we will keep talking about Troy Davis and how everyone is affected by a broken, racist, oppressive system. Maybe, maybe this is the way?”

Journalist Razvan Sibii, reporting for a Romanian national newspaper.

Journalist Razvan Sibii, reporting for a Romanian national newspaper, "Adevarul" (adevarul.ro).

The everyday must include learning in a very fundamental way. The percentage of young Americans completing college these days continues to drop, for reasons as serious as our economy is flawed. There are so many things that people just do not know, which both supports and complicates the many things that people do know – whether they have completed a college degree or not. Walia again:

“..this is what Occupy Wall Street is right now: less of a movement and more of a space. It is a space in which people who feel a similar frustration with the world as it is and as it has been are coming together and thinking about ways to recreate it. For some people this is the first time they have thought about how the world needs to be recreated. But some of us have been thinking about this for a while now. Does this mean that those of us who have been thinking about it for a while now should discredit this movement? No. It just means that there is a lot of learning going on down there.”

Scaling The Learning Curve

My favorite scene in Eight Mile is when Cheddar Bob seems to slip up before Rabbit’s rap battle against his main rival by asking isn’t Rabbit afraid of the awful things Papa Doc is going to say? Although Cheddar Bob is shushed by the rest of his friends, Rabbit takes inspiration and turns the apparent faux paux to winning strategy, saying every bad thing about himself to leave Papa Doc with an empty mouth.

Craig Schneider writes, “A movement born of anger over the gulf between the rich and the rest is only gradually attracting the very groups who have felt the brunt of economic inequality, both historically and as a result of the Great Recession.” I find it encouraging that such strong voices as Jay Smooth and Harsha Walia are doing their best to teach and guide, admonish and nourish, criticize and refuse to compromise. Regardless of what I think I know, I have to admit also how naive I still am.

For instance, how could I not have known, while growing up in the late ’60s and early ’70s, the scope of brutal violence?  The recently released Swedish film, The Black Power Mixtape, reconfigured memories of my childhood. How could I have thought all that ugly stuff ended after King and the Kennedy brothers were killed?  Details of family life, my father’s job, and drifting undirected through elementary school composed the extent of my exposure to the larger world. It was the moment of desegregating the public schools in Denver, and I heard other kids’ awful rumors that the black kids who would soon be bussed in would be “coming with knives” – obviously something not okay was going on! But the threat remained in the realm of words other people said; I made friends across the color line and, while puzzled, never gave the ugly talk much thought.

Now, looking back, I recognize the mental and emotional cushioning as another lesson in white privilege. Admitting the scope of my ignorance is not pleasant, but it is necessary.

Resisting Reduction: Whiteness remains only one facet among many

Traditional policy analysis, rooted in market models and instrumental reason, fails to accurately capture the subjective nature of political reality (Deborah Stone, 2002, cited in Michael R Jones and Mark K McBeth’s 2010 public policy research introduced at the beginning of this entry). This subjective nature – differences of knowledge, experience, history, outlook, and viewpoint – is Occupy Wall Street. Confused media ringers are sidestepping and obscuring the simple narrative structure: a clear villain, a singular hero, and a victim who inspires empathy. The villain is clear:  government’s failure to regulate. What we are witnessing and participating in is a great democratic experiment: what happens when the hero and the victim are one and the same? The American people are rising together to confront and correct great wrongs done to the American people.

North American Summit on Interpreting
Arlington, VA

“Intelligence is tactile”

Luis was describing the difference between teaching and learning. “Teaching,” he said, “is finite. Learning is infinite.”

One hundred and eighty language service providers have gathered at the 2nd North American Summit on Interpreting for the purpose of learning how to gather our collective intelligence and generate an intercultural revolution. Barry Olson calls us to engage:

Ask

Why not!

and

What if!

Most of the participants are interpreters; some are owners or representatives of businesses that provide language services, and a few are technical gurus who design the communication technologies that increasingly re-shape the limits of what interpreters can and cannot deliver. Nataly Kelly (of Common Sense Advisory), used excerpts from science fiction films to expose the confusion most people have between “translation” and “interpretation.” I reflect on these processes with an engineering analogy in a blog entry about paradigm consciousness. If you read that entry, you’ll get a taste of how I think about these things and understand that

I’m still processing yesterday’s amazing series of Summit events.

CIRCUITRY BUSY NOW

I can offer teasers, though! Over the next week or two, watch for entries on:

  • Contextualizing this moment in interpreting history, building on Nataly Kelly’s challenge: “The idea is not to resist the tools, but use them to do more.”
  • The What? Factor (independent contractor or employee model?)
  • Cheerleading for the new social movement (inspiring riffs from Barry Olson)
  • How the Deaf community might be leading the way….

Meanwhile, the interview Nataly had with Ray Kurzweil captured my imagination. I’m not sure if I got his statement verbatim, but I’m pretty sure he said:

“The most high level work one can imagine,
the epitome of human being,
is our ability to command language.”

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.

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