Crane Talk

Must one inquire into the issues that delay or block resolution? Love must be learned, and learned again and again; there is no end to it…Cranes dance in southwestern petroglyphs. Old Crane Man taught the Tewa how to dance.

”        ”

Graham started this with an empty quotation: he did not even include a period. The rest of him was right out of a Marvel comic – muscles on muscles. “Hey!” someone shouted from a hospital bed, interrupting the researcher who insisted on summarizing the findings eloquently and thoroughly, armed with a gun and a knife and some matches. “Two out of three. You’re doing fantastic.”

On the surface, both “Buying My Condo” and “Living Fully” are fairly straightforward, one point following another just like in sign language interpreting, where everything referring to the present is signed just in front of the body. Indicating sequences into the future, however, requires other maneuvers: how then, quickly, could Sylvester McMonkey McBean put together a very peculiar machine?

Must one inquire into the issues that delay or block resolution? Love must be learned, and learned again and again; there is no end to it. The tofu gains much flavor this way, despite those who mock it as an “open -and- shut case.”  I believe, asserted Fletcher, this is a result of suppressing and ignoring – if I am honest, of actively rejecting – my natural psychic ability to ‘see” beyond the physical world.

“We’ll talk later,” Jack said. “We need to get back to the car before the storm pours buckets on us.” There were students finishing at the school for the deaf who wanted vocational training. Many are capable, of course, of comprehending that conservation of energy does not contradict Newton’s laws, and in fact, is derivable from them, and so from a strictly mathematical point of view it adds nothing to Newtonian physics. The Deaf also know about communication.

When animals and humans still shared the same language, the Cree recount, Rabbit wanted to go to the moon. Rabbit asked the strongest birds to take him, but Eagle was busy and Hawk couldn’t fly so high. Crane said he would help. He told Rabbit to hold onto his legs. Then he went for the moon. The journey was long and Rabbit was heavy. Rabbit’s weight stretched out Crane’s legs and bloodied Rabbit’s paws. but Crane reached the moon, with Rabbit hanging onto him. Rabbit patted Crane in thanks, his hands still bleeding. So Crane got his long legs and blood-red head.

Back then, too, a Cherokee woman was courted by both Hummingbird and Crane. She wanted to marry Hummingbird, because of his great beauty. But Crane proposed a race around the world. The woman agreed, knowing Hummingbird’s speed. She didn’t remember that Crane could fly at night. And, unlike Hummingbird, Crane never tired. Crane flew in straight lines, where Hummingbird flew in every direction. Crane won the race with ease, but the woman still rejected him.

All the humans revered Crane, the great Orator. Where cranes gathered, their speech carried miles. The Aztecs call themselves the Crane People. One of the Anishinaabe clans was named the Cranes—Ajijak or Businassee— the Echo Makers. The Cranes were leaders, voices that called all people together. Crow and Cheyenne carved cranes’  leg bones into hollow flutes, echoing the echo maker.

Latin grus, too, echoed that groan. In Africa, the crowned crane ruled words and thought. The Greek Palamedes invented the letters of the alphabet by watching noisy cranes in flight. In Persian, kurti, in Arabiac, ghurnuq: birds that awaken before the rest of creation, to say their dawn prayers. The Chinese xian-he, the birds of heaven, carried messages on their backs between the sky worlds.

Cranes dance in southwestern petroglyphs. Old Crane Man taught the Tewa how to dance. Australian aborigines tell of a beautiful and aloof woman, the perfect dancer, turned by a sorcerer into a crane.

Apollo came and went in crane form, when visiting the world.The poet Ibycus, in the sixth century B.C., beaten senseless and left for dead, called out to a passing flock of cranes, who followed the assailant to a theatre and hovered over him until he confessed to the astonished crowd.

In Ovid’s Metamorphoses, Hera and Artemis turn Gerania into a crane, to punish the Pygmy queen for her vanity. The Irish hero Finn fell off a cliff and was caught in the air by his grandmother, when she changed into a crane. If cranes circled overhead above American slaves, someone would die. The First Warrior who fought to create ancient Japan took the form of a crane at death and flew away.

Tecumseh tried to unite the scattered nations under the banner of Crane Power, but the Hopi mark for the crane’s foot became the world’s peace symbol. The crane’s foot—pie de gruebecame that genealogist’s mark of branching descent, pedigree.

To make a wish come true, the Japanese must fold a thousand paper cranes. Twelve-year-old Sadako Sasaki, stricken with “atom bomb sickness,” made it to 644. Children worldwide send her thousands, every year.

Cranes help carry a soul to paradise. Pictures of cranes line the windows of mourning houses, and crane-shaped jewelry adorns the dead. Cranes are souls that once were humans and might be again, many lives from now. Or humans are souls that once were cranes and will be again, when the flock is rejoined.

Something in the crane is trapped halfway, in the middle between now and when. A fourteenth-century Vietnamese poet sets the birds forever in the air:

Clouds drift as days pass; Cypress trees are green beside the altar, The heart, a chilly pond under moonlight. Night rain drops tears of flowers. Below the pagoda, grass traces a path. Among the pine trees, cranes remember The music and songs of years ago. In the immensity of sky and sea, How to relive the dream before the lamp of that night?

When animals and people all spoke the same language, crane calls said exactly what they meant. Now we live in unclear echoes. The turtledove, swallow, and crane keep the time of their coming, says Jeremiah. Only people fail to recall the order of the Lord.

They arrived at nightfall, just as lanterns were being lit in the grounds to illuminate the driveway. “We can make this the ‘summer only’ lunch table,” she said, adapting to the circumstances. I am not allowed to have tattoos yet–which is unfair–so for now, I just draw things on my arms so I don’t forget them. Meanwhile, the fairy king took one last look at his daughter and returned to his kingdom beneath the water, knowing he’d better hang up and start reading.

Stitched together from quotes shared on Facebook for International Book Week.
Some are modified, most are not.
FYI: This event seems to have spawned from the Edinburgh International Book Festival:
Bully for them!


I know I am Connected

I know I am connected because I understand the volatility of this spring is evidence…because my life’s work is relevant…when someone mistakes me for a nurse…birdsong wakes me…patience permeates my senses and expands my pores…when I tell people what I do and they continue to talk…I am connected even when I am unable to discern the connection. I am connected.

Putting words out there is how I learn – the learning comes by the way people respond (or react), if they do at all. I rarely put words out in a devil’s advocate kind of way; that seems insincere. I write what I believe during the moment of writing. I express myself with conviction but am open, eager even, for responses that help me change and grow.

I know I am connected because I understand the volatility of this spring is evidence of climate change, of the planet’s pain, of the illness of the human species’ addiction to speed and power, which are really only symptoms of the deeper addiction to the illusion of control. Continue reading “I know I am Connected”

A Temporal Turn?

“What is the purpose of dialogue?” Are Dialogue Under Occupation 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? Examples include the film Rabat, asking questions about symbolism entailed in labels such as the Green Line, and exploring Dr Makram Ouaiss’ point that non-violence is understudied, proven effective, and morally legitimate.

  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

Presupposing Salmon: Ready DUO Players?

…what happened in the roundtable on Future Change at the Dialogue under Occupation conference hosted at Lebanon-American University in Beirut. The group was game to engage the quest, at least for the duration of the session. A pluck lot…If dialogue is to make a difference in the world, it must be sustained. As academics, we know the theory! But can we do it? Maybe this year will be different…

Action Researchredirecting phenomenological reduction
redirecting phenomenological reduction

Details, Description, Context, Bleh

It is impossible to say what happened in the roundtable on Future Change at the Dialogue under Occupation conference hosted at Lebanon-American University in Beirut. We have video, which will allow description and documentation. But so what? The important matter is what our time together comes to mean, and that depends. Determining what the meaningfulness of our gathering might become was not possible even before that Romanian dude added stuff to the white board. During the session, Sophia challenged the authority of the interpreter; Raz claimed arguments have limits; Ibrahim asked about the irony of Occupy Wall Street; Barbara was misinterpreted; Woyciech offered hope; and Stephanie [from Brazil] talked about brackets. Anne was quiet. Larry did not want me to forget presuppositions. Niam (operating the camcorder) conversed with herself 😉

Fishing for a Future (Warning: Academic Jargon Ahead)

talking about time
talking about time

The topic was (sortof) about time – as in, how to find one’s placement in a diverse group based upon language use and dynamics of interaction so as to (attempt) to aim in the direction of a desirable future with meta-awareness of entailments (or entrailments, if you prefer the post-workshop revision). I am always wondering if it can be done, what it would look like if we tried, and how control &/or the desire for control is involved. Specifically, I asked this group if we could de-link discourses of occupation from physical places in space to temporal enactments in time by transforming our own discourse? Would it be desirable to do so? I am not sure anyone was convinced! It is hard to draw coherence from loose collections of phrases, concepts, and fragments of comments snatched from sound and written down. “Peace is hard.” “History is big.”  [(Name ye well the limits of argument!) Stop thee not the pursuit of amity!]

The Circle: A symbol of wholeness
The Circle: A symbol of wholeness

The group was game to engage the quest, at least for the duration of the session. A pluck lot, these academics, simultaneously kind and critical. Serious and generous. Diverse yet dialogic: no problematic moments (of the theoretical kind) – although desire to rename – enunciative (cf Hannah Arendt), aha, a collective break in phenomenological flow when we all notice – for an instant – what we’re doing. I barely mentioned simultaneity as counterpart and tied few knots with identity. Nonetheless I quoted Ilham (with her permission!), however that conversation slides into remission, suspended, distended, perhaps beyond local use but could it grow wings to give flight elsewhere?

Creating our own origami unicorn

Playing with jargon: indexicality can be defined but entailments may be inexplicable
Playing with jargon: indexicality can be defined but entailments may be inexplicable

At the end of the second day of workshop sessions, a bunch of us began impromptu planning for growing the conference. If dialogue is to make a difference in the world, it must be sustained. As academics, we know the theory! But can we do it? Participants in the six conferences held to date have not yet managed to move beyond the typical monologic structure: schedule, attend, present, participate in a few interesting conversations, go home. Perhaps maintain a new collegial relationship or two. Maybe this year will be different?

I linked (above) to an essay describing the history of “Common Read” programs. It may seem like a non sequitor, but the simultaneity is that I just finished reading Ready Player One, the book selected for the University of Massachusetts Amherst’s First Year Experience Program. The (2011) book by Ernest Cline projects a future in which people escape and avoid dealing with reality by playing in a global virtual simulation, a web-based interactive game called OASIS. The immersive environment of OASIS is imaginable because it extrapolates from today’s use of social media. DUO Dialoguer, are you thinking WTF? Or is a little bell going off? Connect the dots! Traverse mediums, here’s a clue – this conversation moves!

Beirut, Lebanon

…an ever-expanding Problematic Moment?

This is the second ‘report’ on a possible problematic moment at the mini-Bakhtinian conference on education hosted by the University of Delaware in March (ending on April Fool’s Day, a co-incidence of no note, unless we decide it helps the heuristic!).  Contents of this blog entry are:

  1. Perils in the Foreground
  2. Promises in the Background
  3. Possibilities of Dialogue: Repressed or Just Damn Hard?

Perils in the Foreground

We are grateful for Eugene’s engagement with our first “report” on a possible problematic moment at the mini-Bakhtinian conference on education. At a later point we hope to respond to his What Do You Think (WDYT) query, for now we are framing our second report in response to his assertion that we are privileging form over content. (Our claim is to draw attention to process — what we sometimes call “the social” — which could be understood as a succession of forms, and is typically under-emphasized in academic contexts.) In fact, James’ comment to the first report anticipates Eugene’s criticism!  James wrote:

We missed out on presenting our content.

From our vantage point, then, Eugene and we are ‘on the same page’ or ‘looking in the same direction’ or otherwise ‘united’ in gazing upon an object/subject of relevance.

James and Steph pinpointed our self-critique on James’ admission, during the fishbowl, that “my mind is a complete blank.” That was a facilitation issue – Steph was juggling a dual recognition: that the small group work intended to preceed and thereby inform the fishbowl task had been subverted by several conference participants, and that James – who was supposed to lead the fishbowl – had been silenced. In retrospect, the facilitation move Steph prefers she had made (and hopes she recalls if such an event arises again) would have been to hold the space for James to articulate his experience. Instead, she moved on, contributing to the miniaturization of James’ complex identities and intelligences.

The silencing of James (a co-facilitator and the originator of the Problematic Theory) is the most blatant example we have yet experienced of simultaneity at work. We find ourselves still somewhat floundering – especially in the ‘silence’ (non-response) of other individuals who were in the room during the fishbowl activity which was designed as the centerpiece of our workshop, Bringing Simultaneity to Dialogic Pedagogy.

Promises in the Background

We are delighted that (from our perspective!) we accomplished everything we hoped to and learned more than we could have imagined.

Denigrated identities.

Did we recreate the dynamics of the PM-the group stuck.
Liesl photo. Do we know any symbolic interactionists who could help us do a spiel on her possible significance? Any juice in the youngest/eldest daughter issue? Nazi context for Sound of Music. Time Nazi comment by Eugene.

Possibilities of Dialogue: Repressed or Just Damn Hard?

responsive workshop design and the necessity of participation from others in handling the emergent dynamics

No overt norms but many covert norms some of which became manifest.
Problem of trying to get academics to reflect and apply their theories in practice. Application or implication?

Hierarchy of chronotypes. Most locked in individual chronotype.
Bring in differand work.
Follow up work to conference we are doing.

Is Dialogue Possible?

Promises & Perils of Dialogic Pedagogy

Promises and Perils of Dialogic Pedagogy

It certainly wasn’t boring.

At least not after the slow start! But maybe the start wasn’t actually that slow . . . here I am re-thinking the beginning after the end.

We did not rush back from lunch, so the first set of presentations did not begin on time. Actually, time boundary-keeping was broken earlier, when Eugene and Ana asked James and me to say something during the opening/welcome talk about our action research project. We wanted to keep it brief. I did not think to record the time we actually took nor how long beyond the time allotted in the schedule, but it seems likely that we were already over time before we had practically begun.


Lunch was leisurely yet animated. I was twice called over to the other table in the aftermath of a so-called problematic moment, not to mention finding myself in wild debate with an Israeli over the title of a conference that I am attending in May. We were late getting back to the conference venue – how late past the scheduled start I have no idea. Did the first presenter go way over his designated time? I held up until the third or fourth presentation and then I could not remain alert. I don’t think I actually fell asleep, just dozed but still – enough to feel a little embarrassed.

Tweet activity was okay – we had active tweeters right away and some persisted throughout. You can watch a video of the Tidepool visualization of tweet activity from the first 36 hours of the conference here: #Bakhtin tweets in Tidepool.  Also, you might be interested to know that, at the very end of the conference, @nafoolah tweets from far outside-the-room: “does this hashtag come from nothing to help in my studying about Mikhail Bakhtin” and @antoesp shares Cresswell and Hawn (2012), with dual hashtags for #bakhtin and #epistemology.


Two tweets on the same topic, posted simultaneously.
Two tweets on the same topic, posted simultaneously.

Thankfully the energy shifted during the last presentation of Day 1 when Ana presented her struggle to maintain balance within the tension of being drawn, simultaneously, to two opposed chronotopes: sticking with the standard curriculum or shifting to the Live Event. Her presentation generated the first simultaneous tweets, as well as the first animated Question and Answer period of the conference. Then we were off to dinner. Did anyone sense conflict percolating around the edges, in the hallways, offline? I was unaware.

The First Tsunami was covert

Neither my colleague, who discovered a theory of problematic moments, nor myself recognized the possible problematic moment when it occurred during the second day’s first session. I rejected the idea when it was first presented to me, but once past my initial gut reaction I had to admit that I had felt an emptiness open up, a silence deep enough that wonder regarding what would happen next began to grow. Perhaps I sensed others’ emotions begin to fill the void….but the facilitator re-covered the breach for us; we all went along with her move. I forgot about it. At break however, a participant and one of the organizers approached me with the claim that they had caused a problematic moment.

Pinpointing a possible problematic moment
Pinpointing a possible problematic moment

I rejected this instantly because James and I are pretty sure group-level problematic moments cannot be caused by individual action. This theoretically-descriptive aspect, combined with my previous experiences with problematic moments, led to my out-of-hand rejection. But Kathy was persistent, and her language described my embodied perception perfectly, a silence after a silence. Nearly 24 hours later, when we were able to ask conference participants about their experience of/in that moment, many of the participants who had been present were not able to distinguish the second silence from the first: either they sensed one stable pause; noticed no pause; noticed but deemed it unremarkable, perhaps cultural but nothing more); or was already experiencing an encompassing state-of-being which consumed the distinctiveness all particular moments during that timespan. Such nuances of intrapersonal response detail incredible subtleties of simultaneity and are a significant finding of this action research project.

Control: Fight or Flight?

Based on everything we learned afterward (and, may I just say, we learned a helluva lot!), I can imagine that the instigators of the planned disruption might not have felt the shift from the first to the second silence because they were enjoying the carnivalesque pleasure of rebellion. As it happened, the presenter quickly picked a possible response and pursued it. And, as noted above, none of the rest of us intervened in the tension between pursuing/resuming a standard chronotope or shifting to the chronotope of engaging with Here-and-Now live events. During an interview, the presenter explained, with a touch of regret, that she had not acted as usual in that kind of situation because the group had not yet established a communal sensibility.

Normally we would have captured the PM on video and been able to show it back to the group for interrogation, but unexpected requests for copies of presentations had thrown us for a loop. We missed recording a few presentations while grappling to absorb the ramifications of distributing copies of video obtained under conditions of informed consent. Without the PM to replay, we were left with only the principals’ reports of their respective experiences of the moment. These proved insufficient inspiration for a collective exploration of whether or not a PM had occurred. Instead, we found ourselves in a swirl of debate trying to teach the relevance of differences between interpersonal (individual) and group-level dynamics. In retrospect, we realized that it would have been helpful to articulate the theoretical frameworks that guide our analytical gaze and generation of hypotheses.

Norming: Academic, not Innovative

Probably it could not have been any other way. Despite the encouragement we took from pre-conference email communication describing, for instance, how “Our mini-Bakhtinian conference is not the same as every other conference you have attended,” the rituals of social interaction were not significantly affected. The change in form, “that we don’t have parallel sessions, but the whole conference takes place in only one track” may not have implied as much willingness to explore the stages of group development as we optimistically interpreted. After the possible problematic moment, James and I became absorbed with preparing for our scheduled workshop slot: we were generating hypotheses about the possible problematic moment and imagining how to design the session in order to maximize engagement with the data. As far as I can recall, the presentations continued along the rest of Day 2. Presumedly most of the conference participants again enjoyed a meal together; we huddled in our hotel room, parsing video and strategizing how best to maximize the learning opportunity.


For this first blog entry (the project proposal specified two or three), I’m working from memory and also trying to cast as wide and broad an overview as I can, while remaining tight on the emergent data that we selected for qualitative analysis. The foursome who appeared to give the first presentation on Day 3 had not been previously present; from my point-of-view they caught a huge thrust of energy as the group initiated a Q&A only a few minutes into their presentation. I was quite impressed with how they handled the feedback, apparently unruffled they took it all down and hung in there for the rest of the morning (but that’s all). It seemed that conference participants who had remained since the start were hitting stride. Then came our workshop and it proceeded as if grudgingly. Although no carnivalesque actions were performed, two of the small groups overtly chose not to conduct the structured “now what” task but instead opted to talk about something else that they wanted to talk about with each other. We left to debrief and, upon return some 90 minutes later, were informed that we had missed a(nother possible) problematic moment.

The Second (possible) Problematic Moment was Overt

A conference participant who had left remains in conversation via Twitter
A conference participant who had left remains in conversation via Twitter

We were not there and did not leave the camcorder running, so we have paltry data to work with. Eugene told me they have faced such disagreement before, that it has to do with (according to some) “application,” and (according to him), “implication” regarding his dialogic pedagogy philosophy (?) of teaching. Yifat said, “Oh you really missed something,” and James was told that there was a din, an outburst of many talking at the same time. It sure sounds like a group-level event. I mused about it on twitter, getting responses from Eugene and also Mara – who had been able to attend (along with several others) only the first two days of the conference.


"love" was tweeted at least 16 times in 30 minutes
"love" was tweeted at least 16 times in 30 minutes

We were only able to stay for the first presentation of the last, fourth day of the conference.  It would be cool if some quantitative analyst would run the tweet data (as captured in Tidepool tweet counts) and correlate word frequency with the topics of each workshop. As with the National Science Foundation tweet data (Idiographic Case #1) from their Workshop on Transformative Research, the tweets that Tidepool captures represent only a partial perspective on the conference-as-a-whole. For what it’s worth, the word with the highest count within the time boundary of a single presentation was brought to us by Jayne.

Why Millennials Need DayGlow

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….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?”

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.

Implementing an Organizational Vision through Thinking In Time

Science of Team Science
1st annual conference

A vision is a product of imagination

By definition,  a vision is not the physical sense of sight by which we perceive shapes, colors, distance, and relative positions of objects in our immediate environment. We use the sensory perception of vision as a metaphor for the amorphous sensation of possibility that arises with certain synergies of thought. Possibilities may or may not be creative: likewise every possibility has some ratio of probability. A feature of good management is the skill of ascertaining the probability of achieving any particular possibility and taking action accordingly within a specific zone of risk. Drawing upon Dr John Kounios’ definition of creativity, cited in this New York Times article Charting Creativity: Signposts of a Hazy Territory, creative possibilities are those that involve an insight about how to restructure a situation in a non-obvious way. Organizationally speaking, these are the kinds of visions that earn the label, visionary.

Twin problems: expressing and placing the vision

As amorphous products of imagination, it can be challenging to craft language for expressing a visionary vision. To use a sailing metaphor, one has to tack against the wind toward a destination that is essentially mythical: the island isn’t there until you arrive on its shores and set foot on the ground, confirming its existence. The goal is regularly obscured by weather (fog, storms) and the route affected by the environment (tides, pirates). In order to navigate effectively in murky circumstances, there must be a clear reference point: for enterprises of human organization, providing this clarity is the job of language.

Communicating with language is not a linear process. Misunderstandings, for instance, provide empirical evidence of the non-linearity of language.  In every situation, in any culture, language use is transactional. Although it may seem like picking at hairs, there is a subtle difference between an “interaction” and a “transaction.”[1] Both terms refer to some kind of relationship, but interactions occur between entities that remain fixed and unchanging, whereas in a transaction all entities are affected and changed (to lesser or greater degrees, but always in some way). The precise effects on individuals engaging in transactionally-based vision planning cannot be predicted. This uncertainty can undermine or motivate the group’s dynamic processes.

Thinking in time: operationalizing a vision as an encounter with history

“Most people find it harder to
think about institutions than to think about individuals.”

~ Richard E. Neustadt and Ernest R May (1986, p. 239)
Thinking in Time: The Uses of History for Decision Makers

“Placing the organization,” suggest Neustadt & May, “partly because it is the least natural of the various steps we suggest, may yield a high return in terms of questions that might otherwise be left unasked or answers left unexamined” (p. 240). It may be counterintuitive to draw upon their “mini-methods” for political crisis resolution as a guide for organizational vision design and implementation, but bear with me for a moment. The practice of thinking in time is a strategy for design. Conceiving of time as a stream frames a dialogue for collaborative teams to “get forward, as soon as possible, the questions that ought to be asked before anyone says, ‘This is what we should do,’ or ‘Here’s how to do it'” (p. 240).

“…visualizing issues in timestreams. To link conventional wisdoms of the present with past counterparts and future possibilities; to link interpretations of the past with the experiences of their interpreters, and both with their prescriptions; to link proposals for the future with the inhibitions of the present and inheritances of the past – all these mean to think relatively and in terms of time, opening one’s mind to possibilities as far back as the story’s start and to potentialities as far ahead as relevant (judged, of course, from now, hence subject to revision later). That entails seeing time as a stream. It calls for thinking of the future as emergent from the past and of the present as a channel that perhaps conveys, perhaps deflects, but cannot stop the flow. (Conveys? Deflects? In what degree? A critical concern!) Perception of time-in-flow cannot help but be encouraged by purposeful study of stretches of history, regardless of whose it is or what the focus.” (p. 246)

There are intriguing parallels among Neustadt and May’s recommendations for working with time and those of Peter Block (Flawless Consulting)[2] and Marvin Weisbord & Sandra Janoff (Keeping Difficult Situations from Becoming Difficult Groups).[3]

Neustadt & May’s mini-methods:

  1. Get the story, build timelines (when & what), ask journalist questions (where, who, how, why)
  2. Identify options for action (defined by current conditions & capabilities), consider marketing (is it preferable to return to what was before or reach to a new, more satisfactory situation?) Principally, what can be done, now? In other words, make “…judgments of the future as a product of the past affected by presumptions about the present. This playing off of future, past, and present is important work” (emphasis added, p. 237).
  3. Test/pre-evaluate: “What expectations about causes and effects makes certain options preferable to others?” (p. 238) Play “bets and odds” in terms of your own money, what would you bet on (chances to win) and what avoid (risks of losing)? Explore what would change if new evidence comes to light.
  4. Placement (still before deciding on a choice of action!): “…probing presumptions about relevant people and organizations on whose active aid success depends” (p. 238).

Flawless Consulting

Peter Block distinguishes between the manager who has direct control, and the consultant who can achieve only influence. While Newstadt and May’s model assumes several people already working collaboratively on a major issue, Block focuses on the interpersonal, professional client-consultant relationship. “Sometimes,” he explains, “it is not until after some implementation occurs that a clear picture of the real problem emerges” (p. 8). Block is assuming transactionalism and time-in-flow even though he does not state this directly.

The presumption of timeflow is more apparent in Block’s assertion that competence in the preliminary phases of planning “create the foundation for successful outcomes in the implementation stage” (p. 10). Following a path represents movement in time. “Each act that expresses trust in ourselves and belief in the validity of our own experience is always the right path to follow. Each act that is manipulative or filled with pretense is always self-destructive” (p. 11). Block emphasizes the interplay of present and future: if one behaves like this in the present, one can expect that in the future; whereas if one behaves as if then events will likely work out in such and so a manner.

Focus on structural issues that you can control

“To the extent that we treat differences as a problem to be solved rather than a reality to be managed,” explains Weisbord & Janoff, “we set ourselves up for endless diagnosis and intervention at the expense of doing the work” (p. 2). They draw upon Solomon Asch’s (1952) discovery that for one person to maintain a perception of reality which differs from the rest of the group, that individual must have a known ally. Yvonne Agazarian’s (1997) research demonstrated that one can keep a group on task by finding that ally whenever a dynamic emerges that could take a group off-course.

In Weisbord & Janoff’s experience, “…when differences cause frustration, fear, or anger, people will keep working on the task to the extent that they view the situation as normal” (p. 3).  Weisbord & Janoff learned to normalize the emotion, not the difference. Recall the adage teachers use with students: if one person has the question, others have the question. In a task-oriented group, if one person feels the feeling, other people are feeling the feeling. Shared feelings generate natural allies and healthy subgroups. Normalizing the emotional life of a group enables the exploration of a full, wholistic range of questions and concerns – and answers! – available to a group, particularly a group that wants to act as a team.

The four conditions named by Weisbord & Janoff frame their philosophy of knowing “when to just stand there.” The crucial, transactional point of oscillation is between trusting the group to work through whatever dynamics are present toward task accomplishment, and intervening because of a risk to single member whose opinion or experience is dangling in solitary space.  In Weisbord & Janoff’s experience, diverse groups are most likely to accomplish their tasks when:

(1) people are well-matched to the task,
(2) enough time is allowed for each phase,
(3) everybody really knows the group’s goal, and
(4) potential conflict which might result in flight from the task is headed off by making differences and sub-grouping functional, i.e., as ‘‘contributing to growth’ (p 8).

The need to address and re-direct dysfunctional dynamics of fight or flight from the task is an acknowledgment of the streaming flow of time. What happens in the present affects the future, just as much as what is possible in the present has been significantly pre-figured by the past.

Notice group processes: when to slow down and give attention to small details

All of us are under a lot of pressure to move quickly.  The speed of today’s society is more than inertia, there is what appears to be an inexorable acceleration. The challenge is that the balance of time is held disproportionately between individuals and institutions. Institutionalized bureaucracies remain mired in slow time while individuals increase our frenzied activity as if to compensate for the plodding wheels of systemic change. Intriguingly, in the Charting Creativity article cited above, Dr Rex Jung of The Mind Research Network explains how creativity differs from intelligence. Creativity moves more slowly through the brain, wandering along “lots of little side roads with interesting detours, and meandering little byways.” This difference in pace is a remarkable finding that distinguishes “creative thinking” from the lightning-fast-firing of neurons venerated by popular culture. Slowing down, Dr Jung suggests, “might allow for the linkage of more disparate ideas, more novelty and more creativity.”

This is the kind of creativity needed for implementing visionary visions, whether for business or for science. We need to understand, better, how teams promote creativity among each other. Building teams who know how to notice and respond to the dynamics of language use is one powerful way to harness the essential transactionalism of communication so that, together, we can learn to recognize and make conscious choices between dead-end tangents that distract us from the organizational vision and growth-enhancing sidestreams that act back to concentrate intentionality in the flow of time toward achievement.

Constant Calibrating

All along the way, the image of the vision must be kept in mind like a target in timespace. Its necessary conditions, and the steps required to achieve those conditions, must also be envisioned. These are also products of imagination – the steps have not yet been accomplished, the conditions do not yet exist. What one holds in mind – and talks about with collaborators, team-members, friends, and advisors – is the degree of fit between the current situation (as a snapshot of time-in-flow) with any of the previously-conceived steps and conditions (as the destination of time’s flow). Probably the trickiest part is maintaining equilibrium between management and control.

Management is your ability to direct the timestream of changing conditions and changeable steps along channels you anticipate will move you closer to the target. Control is the amount of force you exert against the nature of the conditions and the step tendencies of people in your system. The most effective and enjoyable teams are those in which all members contribute consciously to the transactional balancing act of management without control. A balanced team is alert to information and dynamics that effect the timeflow of implementation. Members of a balanced team share data, thoughts, and impressions openly; confirm differences that challenge previously accepted strategy; and maintain focus on a future timespace in which the organizational vision has been made real.

[1] See Mustafa Emirbayer, Manifesto for a Relational Sociology, American Journal of Sociology Vol 103, No 2, September 1997, pp. 281-317 for a detailed discussion of the differences between “substantialism” and “relationalism.”

[2] 2nd Edition, Flawless Consulting by Peter Block. 1981/2000.

[3] This article is adapted from “Principle 6: Master the Art of Subgrouping,” in Weisbord & Janoff, Don’t Just Do Something, Stand There! Ten Principles for Leading Meetings that Matter. 2007.

Make NERDAs the linguistic minority (proposal)

the future

Building on the potential for a paradigm shift is matter of recognition, marketing, and design. These processes can proactively influence each other, interacting and changing through the development of a project. All are contained within the conception and application of strategic planning.
Strategy has to involve conceptualizing the outcome in two different yet complementary ways. First, you must imagine what you want in terms of place. In the case of the next national conference of the Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf (RID, US-based), the physical location will be some hotel in Atlanta, GA, but the more important issue is how the space of the place will be designed and implemented in order to generate the desired kinds of intercultural interaction. The second dimension that must be considered is time. By time, I do not mean the logistics of scheduling or considerations about the length of the event or even its parts. These are obviously important logistical factors that require detailed attention. However, the most important temporal factor to consider is how the conference contributes to long-term patterning of habits and attitudes for engaging in intercultural social interaction.

Not Even Related to a Deaf Adult: Buffered by Monolingualism
That would be me, and we NERDAs compose the largest percentage of the membership of RID. Most of us do not understand what it means to be Deaf. We want to understand, and we sure try hard, but our reality as native, hearing speakers of English in the United States is one of extreme linguistic privilege. No matter what other oppressions we may experience, we communicate with the same language as nearly everyone one else around us. NERDAs need to understand that we are affected by living in a society that has done more, historically, than any other country to enforce monolingualism. Unless you live or work in a dense urban city, it is quite possible that you never hear another language spoken in day-to-day living. Most Americans are protected from exposure to even tasting what it might be like to not know the language that would enable you to talk with your neighbor, your child’s teacher, shopkeepers and salespeople, peers in your classroom or a club, not to mention the doctor, police officer, realtor, banker, or the waitstaff at a restaurant where you must guarantee that there are no nuts or shellfish in the dish you want because you don’t want to risk anaphylactic shock.
NERDAs certainly cannot conceive of the intrapersonal, deliberate, conscious planning necessary to predict when and where and for how long we’ll need an interpreter, do not know the calculus of deciding why and for what reasons we’ll need an interpreter, and never have to weigh the costs – time, focused mental energy, unpredictable emotional surges – that come along with deciding, “Yes, in this situation I do need an interpreter,” or “No, in this situation I can manage without an interpreter.” Nor do we have to deal with the fallout from misjudging any of these factors: such as discovering an interpreter is necessary when it had not seemed so, or that the need is much longer/shorter than anticipated, or that the whole effort was a complete waste of time.

Atlanta 2011: Experimenting with New Norms
National conferences of professional associations occur for very specific reasons:

  • to further the organization’s business and
  • to provide members with professional development opportunities that are not available at home.

A critique offered by one of the other participants in the small group DEAF-FRIENDLY brainstorming sessions (described in the August 9 entry, “Embrace Change, Honor Tradition (RID 2009)” was that the conference focuses too much on training. In the immediate moment, I was most aware of the turn-taking dynamic – how her comment did not have any relation to mine – but I soon realized that her observation is significant. Why are we designing the national conference like an extension of an interpreter training program? Granted, many RID members are still in the early phases of their professional careers, but if we design the conference with students in mind, we generate a comfortable and familiar container for learning as usual.

No wonder, then, that many interpreters arrive and proceed to engage in comfortable, familiar, and usual ways! An alternative would be to take MJ Bienvenu’s deconstruction by reversal to the extreme. This would create a professional development experience that would use the capacities of our national organization to the fullest potential. We already have the technology:

  • knowledge of Deaf culture
  • linguistic fluency in ASL and English
  • professionally trained ASL-English interpreters
  • extensive experience with interpreter request systems and accommodation services…

What we need is the will to apply the tools in an altered configuration, and a rationale to convince people to come.

A one-time experiment of mutual discovery
Instead of following the dominant, inherently oppressive model (accessibility provided for the Deaf), we reverse it (accessibility provided for the Hearing). This would generate an experience like none other. In some respects it would resemble an ASL Immersion retreat, and in some respects it would resemble the environment at residential schools for the Deaf. What it would offer is the intellectual and empathy-building experience of being the one who has to ask.
There would not need to be any commitment or promise to continue: we can see what happens, evaluate it, and then decide. If the storming phase re-emerges – so be it, that will be an honest, deep indicator of the organization’s developmental status. If we do establish a foundation for new norms, well, that will be incredibly exciting and everyone who attends will have bragging rights for the rest of their life:

“I was there when…!”

Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf
Anaphylactic shock (Embrace Change, Honor Tradition (RID 2009), Reflexivity

expressing the inexpressible

Trevize is grumpy as hell that he’s chosen Gaia – a superorganism – instead of either the technologically-superior First Foundation or the “mentalic” (psychosocial scientifically advanced) Second Foundation as the future of humankind.

The moment of coincidence took my breath away. I opened Isaac Asimov’s fifth book in The Foundation Series, thinking I would start to read it for a few minutes to shift my mind toward sleep, having just finished watching Maya’s extraordinary documentary on Toekomsten 02068. A futurologist, Maya interviewed people who attended the 01958 World’s Fair in Brussels, inquiring as to their experiences then, their reflections on how society has changed – or not – since then, and their projections another fifty years into the future. Jose interpreted the Flemish for me, gesturing occasionally to supplement the English.

The film confirms and goes beyond the fiftieth anniversary retrospective exhibition at The Atomium, Between Utopia and Reality. I spent an afternoon there last week: incredible. Honestly, walking out of the tram station and catching my first full view of this massive structure was awe-inspiring; it felt alien. As I approached, that impression only intensified. This architectural wonder representing an iron crystal looms into the atmosphere. I wondered if my fear of heights would hamper exploration.

I detailed my enthusiasm about the exhibit to a gang of potential troublemakers, carrying on about how well the exhibit presented the spirit of achievement and optimism of attendees while posing the critical questions indicated by evident contradictions in design and implementation. Specifically, how the constructed sensibility of a joined and shared humanness across fifty-two countries and widely-disparate cultures highlighted the public demise of colonialism and the threatening battle between the Soviet Union and the U.S. The witnesses/participants in Maya’s film confirm the dominance of the Fair’s spectacle over its overt theme,”A World View, A New Humanism,” critiquing the Fair’s overt display of technological prowess and power. Mirroring the implicit message of the Fair itself, the insidious face of nationalism remains largely unnamed by the film’s participants although it is clearly recognized. One man laughs as he recalls the positioning of the U.S. and U.S.S.R.’s pavilions with the Church in-between. The visual production of the film is superb: the subjects speak conversationally in 02008 against backdrops of scenes from the Fair in 01958. The imagery is fantastic: a science fiction tableau that, while sometimes quaint, in other respects still appears futuristic today.

k the arrow.JPG.jpg

Listening to the film’s participants muse about what has changed or not over the last half-century is sobering. Almost universally, the bouyant hope that they experienced at the World’s Fair has faded to a grim concern. The most poignant evidence for me involved language. Many of the participants described worsening conditions of today’s society, or at least that there have been no substantive changes, certainly no improvement, since 01958. While recognizing achievements and differences between these two times, the underlying international dynamics remain essentially the same. A man who worked as a translator at the 01958 Fair spoke of how the speed of communication would increase because of all the innovations (e.g., the telephone); while telecommunications may indeed be the single driving factor in the vast transformations of globalization, the apparent need for speed unifies the present with the past.

The impetus for acceleration is accompanied with a selfishness that was variously described by participants in terms of money (for us)/peanuts (for them), abundance/lack, even suggesting hoarding/poverty. A young person of today wondered why we – who have so much – cannot share more with those who have so little? I felt the most telling clue to these dynamics was an instance when a participant shifted from Dutch to English. He was describing the insistent accumulation of “us” (he may have meant Belgians specifically but my sense was the broader white west) in contrast with inequities in Africa (in particular, although again he may have meant the broader underdeveloped world). In the midst of his impassioned speech he described what he perceives as the dominant, individual attitude, abruptly codeswitching to English:

“I don’t care!”

Admittedly, it is a challenge to care about people and places removed from one’s intimate, social, and professional circles. Sometimes it is difficult to care even within these microcosms. I am not sure when, during viewing, that I began thinking of Gaia. Probably at the point of temporal shift in focus, as participants shifted their gaze from reflecting on the past to imagining the future. I recalled the lecture at the University of Massachusetts last year by Dr. Lynn Margulis concerning her theory of endosymbiosis, a variation of the Gaia hypothesis. There is a commonsense-ness to this concept that adheres to the basic scientific principle of simplicity; I am astonished at the resistance in the scientific community to grant much credibility to the hypothesis. Indeed, at the lecture I attended there was not a single question from the audience – a phenomena which occurred only this one time during an entire year’s series of lectures. Of course, the common sense can be wrong, but often intellectual absolutisms are also proven false, or at least contingent. For instance, this incredible notion of “being an individual” as if no interdependence facilitates existence.

m2 looking down.jpg
Jose summarized the overall gist of people’s articulations in the film. The older people, she explained, can attribute some meaning, some vision to the future, while the young people in the film are at a loss. Perhaps, she mused, when you are young you have not yet accumulated enough experience to be able to project ahead. Reflecting on her own life, she said the hype and hope of the 01958 World’s Fair lasted until 1965, and then something changed. “You could feel it in the air,” she said. “Maybe things were not going to be ok.

Returning to Asimov, Trevize has decided he must re-discover Earth. Twenty thousand years into the future, Asimov imagines a universe in which the planetary origin of humanity has become lost in antiquity. “How is it possible,” Trevize wonders, “that we have all forgotten?

Memory depends on what we say and don’t say, which stories we tell, and how we tell them. Perhaps the future does, too.

Near the end of the 02068 documentary, reflecting on its message and projecting its potential meaningfulness, is a quote by Fred Polak about an emerging sustainable vision for the future. He qualifies: “our images of this future are still very fuzzy, very poorly defined” (translated into English, 1961, The image of the future). I found info on Polak from Merrill Findlay, On the fluttering of butterfly wings, a member of an organization called Imagine the Future Inc.

Findlay describes Polak as

“a Dutch sociologist who, in the late ’40s, wrote a book about how we humans simultaneously live in the present and that Other place, the future. About how we imagine that mythic Other Place to explain our present and how our images of that place, the future, then ‘act as magnets on our behaviour in the present’ to precipitate social change.”

I’ll adapt Findlay’s question (posed in 1994) to the narratives in Maya’s film, encompassing the challenges left by the shifts in attitude from a pervasive belief, a mere five decades ago, that ‘things will get better’ to today’s stark pessimism that ‘we may not even make it.’

What sort of future are these words and images drawing us toward?

The thing is, we can use language to remember what we need – not just what we want. We can use words and stories to motivate and propel trajectories that lead us to the sustainable future so many of us believe is possible.
j2 understand belgian history.jpg