Monday, November 24, 2008


I'm not worried about Luddism.  In fact, in order to be a functional Luddite, you'd have to already be pretty sophisticated in your approach to science.

What worries me more is that too often we make ourselves willfully ignorant of the science and technology that have such an immense impact on our lives and culture.  This is sometimes called a 'magical re-masking' of technology back into the wondrous.  Which is a great thing to do for children and for literary suspension of disbelief.  But when raised to a lifestyle, it becomes a dangerous philistinism.  

Carving out new alchemists, high priests and hierophants of technology lets too many people off the hook for understanding the complex and nuanced world around them.  Some people are calling for a reversal of this almost as a form of civil rights movement.

What can we do to make all citizens of a 'digital democracy' into 'media alchemists'?  Can we design a system of education to bring all people to the understanding of what had been esoteric gnosticism a few generations ago?  What responsibilities do we need to hold ourselves to in order to remain aware of the creation of ideas in a distracting world of cultural spectacle?

Granted, there are no easy answers to these questions.  But by asking them, at least we can have a thoughtful dialogue on how we want people to think for themselves in the near future.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

gender & politix:

thinking about gender and politix:

What does it mean to "queer" something when you're philosophical tradition is reasonably conservative?

Pardon the pun, but it can make for some pretty strange bedfellows:,M1

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

On Telegraphs & TelePrpmpTers

On two technologies: Telegraphs & TelPrompTers

One of the public relations stunts that P.T. Barnum executed which was not a hoax was being the first private citizen to send a transatlantic telegram. In a move that would make the yet-uborn Marshall McLuhan proud, Barnum openly admitted that the content of this first telegraph was not important. The medium itself was the message. Barnum was reinventing himself and his personal brand within the early electronic/communication revolution. (coincidentally, Barnum had a 5th cousin who later got rich building telegraphs)

There is a fascinating new book about the collision of science, industrial technology and show business in the late 19th and early 20th centuries: Madness in the Making

I am trying to either build or buy two TelePrompTer hoods for the student production studio at UDC. In an attempt to better train students for news and documentary productions, I believe that they will need to know both how to operate and read from prompters. Reading from prompter is both an art and a craft that many people simply can not master. It's an astonishing example of the metaphor that everyone who watches television assumes they could make it as well. TelePrompTers are a fantastic example of Heidegger's idea that the complexity and the assumptions of the technologies we use are self-concealing. (everyone can drive an [automatic transmission] car, but few could repair one, and fewer still could build one) A well-produced news piece, even one only made for podcasting or streaming,
will feature on-camera talent reading so naturally from the prompter, so that the technical aspect of the production is completely hidden from the viewer, and the 'personality' of the presenter or 'content' of the story covers the technical production.

But beyond this self-concealing aspect of prompters in television production, they also highlight the weird tension between written and spoken words. Anyone who has delivered a speech from TelePrompTer is first very aware of the uncanniness and awkwardness of the experience. After several takes, the performance (and it is a performance & vocal contrivance) becomes more natural. After a 16 week semester, students should be comfortable both reading and operating prompter. But this does not change the inscrutable connection/tension between reading words and speaking or hearing them. For the most simple example, turn on the English subtitles to a film you already know very well. Having the written text available to you changes your experience of listening to the performance of the film. This is only exacerbated when the words are scrolled, as they are in closed captioning, and brought to levels of near -confusion when you are the performer on camera who must read/perform the scrolling text. Yikes.

Reading is not performing. There are two skills necessary in using a prompter, one is the simple timing of the production, the other is the concealment of difficulty which the on-screen performance must include. The 'personality' or the 'content' becomes the distraction from the technical aspect of the media. Or, returning to the opening paragraph. The medium itself is the message, but it must conceal this fact from it's users and audience.

So, that is what I am looking to teach. No easy task.

Monday, August 11, 2008

an essay on the iconography of chubbiness

If you're in the mood for an essay on the iconography of chubbiness and it's relation to enlightenment and idolatry (and a hypothetical Thai-fusion restaurant near DuPont Circle), click here.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Introduction by way of ...

Knowing that everyone should spend more time writing, and less time watching television, reading tabloid newspapers, nattering into their cellular phones, etc., I want to be held to the same challenge. Thus starts this particular project in journaling. Sadly, the weblog seems to be loosing its original raison d'etre of long form writing. As English internationalizes becomes increasingly twiter-ised, it seems that few bloggers who are not paid and edited, write for deeper understanding and context.


Among the many strange things I am paid to do, one is teaching a Media Literacy and History class. I frequently find myself explaining to my students exactly what context is. Many of my students are young and brilliantly headstrong. I don't expect the average 20-year-old working college student to spend much time contemplating the context of their words, actions and life overall. Attending college is supposed to change that. And that change is a long, slow process.

But so many "educated" "professionals" also ignore the context of their words, action and lives. Why? I myself will admit to being intentionally myopic at times. I understand that some selective attention, retention and selective exposure is necessary to stay sane in a chaotic world that can often appear random. But by shutting ourselves off from large chunks of our own sensory perception we can easily miss the connections within what initially appeared as random.

I occasionally make music mixes for family and friends. Decades ago this was the subtle art of the "mix tape". Years ago this was the techno-cratic bleeding edge of the "mix CD". Now, like so many other media, music mixes are hybridizing into equal parts physical and virtual. Be that as it may, my music mixes usually garner the initial response of, "Wow, that's random...but lots of fun." For those family and friends who have the patience to sit through several listenings over months, or even years, they return with many questions and theories of connections -- connections which I myself would only be liminally aware of.

By way of...

One of the most difficult aspects and/or angles of writing is the balance of structure with spontaneity. At its simplest, this weblog is a practice for me to write m0re, write better, and write clever(er?). But at the same time, to be open to the connections which appear within what initially appeared as random if I spend enough time being open and looking for the right mental structures which are flexible-yet-fixed enough to describe these connections to other people. People like you, who also have the patience and desire to find connections in the seemingly random.

Come'll be fun -- not necessarily easy or relaxing -- but well worth the trip.