Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Oh, Twitter, Twitter, Twitter

You don't realize how much you depend on something or someone until it is gone. Twitter is down and instead of the old, familiar and friendly Fail Whale they've substituted a new graphic which is a bit too cutesy for me. What do you think?

Sunday, November 02, 2008

What do you mean, there's an election happening?

I don't have much use for political advertising but I came across this one on my friend Michael Chin's blog (http://www.michaelchin.me/)that I thought I'd share because it's more creative than the standard ads. Love the last line, especially.

Thanks, Michael, I hope you don't mind me "lifting" this!

P.S. As you can tell, I didn't win the Izea Blog makeover contest but I'll try to do something to spruce up the place within the confines of what Blogger allows.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Izea Blog Makeover!

The good folks at Izea are running a Blog Makeover Contest which I'm entering to win with this blog entry. I've never done a post related to a commercial product/organization before but in this case, they are a great company and this is a wonderful opportunity I can't pass up.

This blog, Spiral Scratch, is overdue for a makeover by a graphic designer. I created it over two years ago and it originally existed as a place where I could write during my frequent bouts of insomnia. So, the posts were personal, reflective and what you might expect from a sleep-deprived person...a tad inspiring but all over the map.

In the past six months, I've immersed myself in the world of social media and have really learned the amazing things that can be done with a blog, how they can become their own kind of forum, and I ache to move this blog from the personal & eccentric to the personal & professional.

I've begun this to a certain degree by changing the template from a beige, bookish, librarian model to one that is sleeker but I'd love to have a custom made logo and design even if that means I move my blog to another platform that would allow more customization.

I can't say I deserve this more than anyone else but I can say that the timing for a makeover of this blog couldn't be more perfect. The visual changes would be reflected in a refinement of content which would focus more on communication, social networking and the social impact of technology.

I've been debating for a while whether I should start a second blog but in this instance, I think a makeover, in style and content, might be a huge step forward that would benefit me and my small but growing readership.

To anyone who is curious, Spiral Scratch is a title of a song but 1970s/1980s band, The Buzzcocks, and refers to what a vinyl record essentially is...one very long spiral scratch. It was also the name of my first radio show. I'm hoping that a visual and content makeover would help me bridge the gap between old & new technology as we discuss how technology is affecting our culture in both large and subtle ways.

Thanks, Izea, for considering this entry!

Friday, October 10, 2008

Don't Stop Believin'...in Web 2.0?

In the wake of the steep decline of the U.S. stock market, there is a lot of breast beating going on online with tech experts saying that the financial excesses of some Internet companies and the end to easy financial credit signals the end to the social networking phase of the Internet commonly referred to as Web 2.0.

Entered as evidence is this video featuring staff members of Facebook, Drop.io, Blup.tv, and a Wall Street Journal reporter along with their friends. These 20 people, who are sharing a gorgeous house in Cyprus, created a video lip syncing a Journey song filmed as they wander around the house and swimming pool, clearly enjoying themselves on a beautiful Mediterranean day.

Seeing these young entrepreneurs having fun on vacation while their own investment portfolios were declining in value was too much for some online journals including Venture Beat who titled their article, "Silicon Valley Lip Synchs While Market Burns" and featured a photo of the Roman emperor Nero.

Even more dire was the tone of TechCrunch which launched a brief jeremiad:

They leave behind an absurd video that would have gone unnoticed a month ago. But this week, with the walls tumbling down, they look like a bunch of jackasses who have no idea what’s going on back at home. And this video will always be associated with the end of Web 2.0.

Judge for yourself:

The irony is that here are 20 people sharing a house on vacation in Cyprus while other tech people were attending a conference in nearby Greece and all of these entrepreneurs have undoubtedly have taken equally, if not more, excessive vacation trips with their friends and family. Talk about the pot calling the kettle black!

I'm sure you could find 20 well-off 20somethings from a variety of countries sharing beautiful vacation homes at any point during the year. The fact that the majority of the ones in this video work for Internet countries does not signal the demise of Web 2.0 which is a cultural shift in the way we use the internet.

Yes, it is a little painful to watch people enjoying themselves while you are losing your shirt or, in my case, are unemployed. But feelings of envy & jealousy aren't a solid basis to make predictions about the end of the world as we know it.

Thursday, October 09, 2008

Ms. Pop-u-lar

Two weeks ago, "PR professional and social media freak" Sarah Evans had a fun idea to run a survey on the polling site Survey Monkey to find out the most popular people posting on Twitter, or The Unofficial Top 50 Tweeples to Follow, as she called it.

Several measures of Twitter popularity already exist on websites like Twitterholic, a website that lists those people with the most individuals following them or the most people who they follow or the most updates/Tweets.

But Evans' poll required people—and one didn’t have to even be a Twitter user to vote—to type in the name of the person they wanted to nominate and assign them a category, not just to check a box on a predetermined list of candidates.

I’m not sure how I found out about the poll..I think someone I followed reposted Evan's original message. And when I went to the survey website to nominate those people I most devoutly follow, I found that some names came immediately to mind. They weren’t on the list of the most popular anything, they were just individuals whose Tweets I had found consistently entertaining, informative, or unique. With some categories (automotive? lawn?), I couldn’t come up with any appropriate nomination but I tried to list all of the people I regularly read, sometimes twisting the meaning of categories like “food” or “entertainment” to nominate people who talk about their dinner in mouth-watering detail or who are generally amusing.

Well, the list was released yesterday morning and I found myself ranked as #18 on a Top 50 list out of 2,500 people nominated. While flattering, it is an odd position for me to be in. I thank people who took the time to nominate me but I’m not used to being in a position of popularity (and recently I've definitely been UNpopular!). I have a mild-mannered exterior but I see myself as living on the margins, economically, politically, professionally, and intellectually.

Perhaps what caused people to like my posts was that I had absolutely nothing to gain by Tweeting, not personally, not professionally, so I was myself, for better or worse. I don’t even Tweet about my blog so I have not even been looking for new readers, I just talk about whatever is on mind at that moment.

I woke up this morning, 24 hours later, to find that I have 80 new people following me in the wake of the poll results and I’m in the odd position of not wanting to disappoint people who now might have expectations of me. I mean, if you get ranked on a poll like this, you must be at least “interesting”, right? So, do I continue to write about my cat, my insomnia, my obsession with the Olympics, my frustration with the Girls in Tech moniker, my surprise at Project Runway results, my furnace problems, or my wandering thoughts on sociological theory?

It seems like very mundane material to me. But when I look over the Tweetstreams of other people on the list, to tell you the truth, outside of a few Twitter celebrities (i.e. Guy Kawasaki, Robert Scoble, Mashable), they are also mostly personal and ordinary. Maybe it’s not glamor or power that cause someone to visit a survey website, remember, and type in someone’s name but a simple identification with the ups and downs in the life of another person, when they are honestly written and shared.

I know in the scheme of things, this list means little (except new followers) but it is always an interesting exercise to look outside yourself and consider how other people perceive you. I find I’m often wrong and surveys like this are a good reminder that we sometimes need to shake up the preconceived limitations we have placed on ourselves and reconsider who we think we are to other people.

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Sunday, September 28, 2008

Gary Vaynerchuk's Keynote at Web 2.0 NYC

Here is a 15 minute keynote address by Gary Vaynerchuk (Wine Library) from the Web 2.0 Expo NYC that will almost have you quitting your day job to start a llama farm or make that movie you've dreamed of making:

Inspiring stuff, no? Unfortunately, life is complicated, hard, & messy, I wish my priorities were as clear as he presents his. I don't think I'm creating obstacles for myself or phantom walls, just acknowledging that taking the steps he suggests do have initially negative consequences. Unless you are incredibly blessed, our achievements in life come through a lot of hard work and putting aside immediate needs for future payoffs.

So, I guess the questions you need to ask yourself are how do you want to spend the rest of your life, or at least the next year of it? And what are you willing to sacrifice to make that happen?

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Scholar for hire...inexpensive but not cheap!

I'm currently unemployed, by choice, in order to hasten the completion of my dissertation but after 8 months I've come to the end of my limited savings and must look for employment. After adjuncting for over six years, I want to avoid that low paid route but after being in higher education for so long, I'm not exactly a hot commodity in the business world.

When I identified myself as an academic at a recent tech conference, I got the pause and half-smile that says, "Isn't that quaint? Do you still read books?"

How to translate writing & research skills to the business world, that is my question to the brave, the few, my blog readers. I've looked at some pay-to-blog jobs which I could do from home but I think the pay is probably minimal. I'm not looking for personal exposure, just a paycheck for a job well done.

The jobs I've loved have all involved teaching & research but I don't have the statistical background to do hard-core website analysis. I'm a qualitative researcher which means I analyze text and interview people. I've worked with delicate issues ranging from sexual abuse to religious experience, to more traditional subject like vocational issues & migration.

This is the ultimate me, me, me column. I'm not really asking for a job, just any suggestions you might have. I think I'm suffering from a lack of imagination on how to translate my job skills to the nonacademic world. Thanks in advance!

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Web 2.0 Expo NYC-orama!

I just went to my first tech conference, Web2.0 Expo NYC (as opposed to those in Berlin or San Francisco) put on by O'Reilly Media. I copied lots of notes, page after page, the old-fashioned way, but mainly noticed the many ways that tech conferences are different from academic conferences*.

I went to my first academic conference in 1990 and probably have attended somewhere between 30 and 40. It's one of the rare times I get to go anywhere, usually to a city I want to see or somewhere I've never been before. In the upcoming year, it's Chicago and SF. About every other year I'll participate by presenting some of my research.

So here are some differences:

Tech: Expensive, anywhere from $1200-3000 dollars. I assume that is deducted as a business expense? Ouch! Includes lunch though!

Academic: Inexpensive for students, between $25-100 dollars (more for on-site registration) and students bitch about having to pay that much. Between $100-300 for senior scholars. No food included.

Tech: Men: Casual, anti-suit atmosphere, jeans & sneakers, even t-shirts & shorts. Women: Whatever you feel like wearing that day.

Academic: Men: Wrinkled suits that they wore while they slept on the plane. Same suit every year. Women: Matched long flowing blouse & long skirt (think professional earth mother).

Tech: A lot of people are continually connected to the internet via their laptops. The most crowded area of the conference was where people could recharge their computers. People were tweeting, checking email during presentation. Use of mobile phones only for texting.

Academic: Mostly one-on-one conversations in conference center hallways and hotel bars. Most people in sessions watch presenters or consult their enormous program books to see what they are going to attend next. Occasionally, you'll see someone on a cell phone outside a meeting room.

Tech: Every presenter talked, no notes, through a powerpoint presentation. Just one presenter or, rarely a panel of people just talking about their jobs or the industry. Fifty minute sessions.

Academic: Four to six people reading papers to a captive audience. Strict moderator watching clock and motioning speakers to wrap things up (everyone goes over their allotted time). Sessions last between 2 and 2 1/2 hours. Sometimes no time for Q&A.

Tech: Lots of keynote talkers, big names in their field but only give between 5 and 30 minutes to talk! That's barely enough time to present one idea...soundbites!

Academic: Just 2 or 3 one-hour plenary sessions by people you should know but never heard of which are preceded by terribly long introductions of the speakers and sometimes award ceremonies. Almost mandatory to attend but usually little more than paying homage to senior scholars.

Tech: A fair number of exhibitors, often wearing color-coordinated clothing. Booth crawl one night featuring free alcohol. Sometimes there are booth girls wearing high heels, short skirts, often blond, who call out to attendees passing by to get their attention. Lots of promotional stuff (swag), games & giveaways to draw your attention to booth.

Academic: Many more exhibitors, book publishers who are indistinguishable from the conference attendees. You can't tell who is there to browse and who is there to sell books. You sometimes need to flag a book rep down to purchase books and everyone is buying books, sometimes hundreds (especially people from outside the U.S.). Nothing is free but there are often discounts for on-site purchases. It's like Christmas only you spend money on yourself.

Tech: A few night time events, hosted but more often cash bar, at a local nightclub or restaurant. People create their own after parties and some events are invitation only. People take lots of pictures of themselves and their friends in crazy poses and post them online.

Academic: Attendees go on a rotation of receptions between 7 and 11 pm hosted by a university or book publisher. Mostly free alcohol so more drinking involved than at tech conference (a surprise, no?). Those left standing at the end of an evening who don't have a 8 am panel scheduled the next morning gather in headquarter hotels for more drinking. There is a huge danger of embarrassing yourself in front of senior scholars. Luckily, no one is ever taking a picture of you.

Tech: Attendees asked to evaluate and "rate" each presenter whose session they attended. Ratings probably determine who gets asked again to present at future conferences.

Academic: Attendees asked about the logistics of the event (food, location, shuttle busses). Lousy presenters usually present every year, no compensation to those who suffered through their presentation on labor disputes among poultry workers. You try to remember the spectacular failures so you can avoid them in the future.

There were commonalities, too, but these are some of the things which stood out to me. Who knows, maybe next year, I'll get a media pass and blog the conference!

I had a really great time, learned a lot, hoped to share some of that in posts in next few weeks if they seem appropriate.

*Edit: I realized that I never defined "academic conference". I mean conferences or annual meetings of professional associations of academics (professors & graduate students), usually held between August and December. The groups focus on a discipline & mostly have three initials containing the letter "A"...AAA, ASA, AHA, AAR, APA, etc.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Random thoughts on a Sunday afternoon

Man, it's been quite a while since I've blogged. I think the last entry was a hard one to follow up on. It's funny how confessional people have become in the last 10 years but I still feel uneasy sharing details about my family online. My interior musings are up for grabs but I'm shy about revealing the messiness of relationships. That act involves discussing & describing other people and I can't help but be biased about them. I never wanted this blog to be a place where I gushed about my latest infatuation or ranted about someone who was annoying. That's just life.

Now while I'm supposed to be finishing up my dissertation revisions, I've found myself immersed in events in the New York City tech scene. I'm kind of fuzzy on how it all started. I was looking at some statistics that said that 3 months ago I had 50 people "following" me on Twitter and today I have 577! I don't even know when the tipping point was that I went from being a casual newbie to a person with so many online connections.

It's been like a snowball rolling down a hill, gathering momentum and growing in size. I bought some domains in the spring which lead me to read some technology blogs and a few personal ones and some of the people who wrote these blogs suggested that I follow them on Twitter. I don't remember who these first people were or if I even still follow them! From there, I started following people I saw posting interesting or clever Tweets, saw who THEY thought was interesting and it just grew from there.

After a month or two, I noticed that some of the people I was following were getting together to meet in person. I asked if it was okay if I showed up, got an enthusiastic thumbs up and showed up to a couple of events. I enjoyed myself and got to meet some very interesting people I would never have otherwise crossed paths with. We worked in different professions, came from different generations, lived in different places but, truthfully, that's what made it so engaging to me.

Since then, the situation has gotten unnecessarily complicated as all human relationships get. People talk about "community" and Twitter events are presented as being open to anyone but the sociological fact is that people are born to form tightly-knit small groups, call them cliques, networks, tribes, or the "inner circle". Unless there is some shared characteristic (ethnicity, religion, nationality, a common interest, gender, etc.), it's unusual for a circle of unrelated people to have equally strong relationships with everyone else in a group.

The bonds between the people I've met in the NYC tech/media/startup world seem, in general, to be at once intense & strong and incredibly superficial & fragile which is typical of status-conscious groups. It's a business environment masquerading as a lifestyle. It reminds me a lot of when I worked in the music industry and I (and everyone else) judged everyone based on who they were listening to. Seriously, I remember thinking that I couldn't be in a romantic relationship with someone who had incompatible musical tastes, everything else was negotiable!

In the tech world, especially in social media, people seem to be judged by several criteria including their "personal brand", their current occupational position, and their knowledge of the industry & of the people in it.

I realize that this is passing judgment on a sector of society that has, by & large, welcomed me and to which I do not belong. But it would be a mistake to see it as a negative judgment. What I'm saying is typical for most social areas of our lives, from school to work to local civic involvement.

The difference is that a lot of users I see merge their professional lives with their personal lives and I think this can be psychologically claustrophobic. There should be some people in your life who don't care where you work or who you know, who accept & love you whether you have a high status or no professional status at all.

I know in the music industry that there was a revolving door on many positions at record companies & radio stations and it was only the most charismatic & talented who could survive being fired and remain in the business for long. There were a lot of casualties. Maybe things are truly different for the 2.0 generation, who all act like entrepreneurs in the making, but I think it is dangerous to attach all of your self-worth and self-identity to a job that you may not have for very long.

Now is where I confess to having done exactly the same thing when I was younger...which is absolutely the case. I didn't care much about balance but when the bottom falls out of your world, you're left with little to stand on but yourself and your closest friends and it helps if you've both been there for each other regardless of your personal fortunes & statuses. These friends are gold!

I see great potential in online social networking for making instant connections between people who were once strangers. I just hope that the bonds that are made can be lasting and generous and are not temporary or just a means to an end.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008


This blog entry was prompted after reading the blog article
Are You Trustworthy?
by Sonia Simone on the blog Copyblogger. The article argues that businesses should value trust between themselves and their readers and how an important element of building that trust comes from showing that there was an actual human being behind a blog. Simone recommended attaching a photo (and a recent, non-glamorous one!) to ones blog so that people would have some idea of who the author is.

There were a lot of comments praising the article but one sentence by Doug Firebaugh stood out for me: “Being human is all to easy-showing it sometimes is difficult.”

Showing your humanness means not only showing those parts of ourselves which are endearing, admirable, or attractive but also showing those parts of ourselves that fail, that misjudge others, that are reluctant to publicly acknowledge our mistakes. It's hard to be vulnerable and show ones weaknesses & flaws to an audience who may or may not empathize with you.

I remember writing a response to another blog entry once in which the author had said, "Everyone loves attention." Well, not all attention is good attention. Growing up in an alcoholic family for six years, the only attention the kids in my family got was negative attention or praise when someone else made a mistake ("Good thing you're not like your sister!").

We all had our ways of coping...my younger sister played up her youth and adorableness, my brother only came home at night to sleep & was absent for the rest of the day & evening, and I tried my best to fade into the wallpaper and not draw attention to myself. Being singled out meant you were going to be the target of criticism so it was best to just become as small and inconspicuous as possible, to become invisible.

It took having a completely liberating & hedonistic undergraduate experience to make me less afraid to shine, to speak out, to make myself be known. I had a successful part-time career on a large community radio station and for six years I had a prime time show. We were only a 5,000 watt station but because the land was flat, our coverage had a 45 mile wide radius where hundreds of thousand people lived.

I found that the self-consciousness arising out of having someone who was always critical watching me still affected me though and the only way I could pull off each show was by having everyone else get out of the studio, facing the mike alone, and talking to the audience as if they were my best friend. It seemed to work very well but I eventually realized I was not commercial enough for a professional career in broadcasting as I had no wish to sell products to my "friends", I just wanted to share my love of music with them, take their requests, interview bands they liked & ask the questions they would've asked, and give away stuff (albums, tickets, t-shirts, etc.). The show wasn't about me it was about the live conversation I was having with people who loved the same kind of music I did or who were at least open to hearing new music I thought they would enjoy or find challenging. The audience was appreciative and the job was the most fun & educational experience I ever had had in my life.

What does this have to do with showing your humanness? I think we can waver between our desire to be invisible and to be visible based on how secure we are in our relationships with ourselves. If we feel loved & supported, one can much more easily step out into the spotlight and face any praise or criticism that might come your way. When we feel like we are on shaky ground, when we feel hostility & judgment from others, or are just in an unfamiliar area (a neighborhood, a clique of people, a discussion board), we might either try to be as unobtrusive as possible or to only want to show the most flattering aspects to our personality.

We come from a place of insecurity because we don't believe that someone has our back, will understand our occasional lapses into self-absorption, will forgive how we might intentionally cause another person pain.

So, I think our desire to publicly face our humanness, to be visible to others, can only come after we have been affirmed by others, when we have a support system whether that is a family, a network of friends, or simply an employer or professor who believes in your ability.

It is fashionable now to believe the sole key to success is high self-esteem but I think we are infinitely stronger and can be more truly ourselves, online & offline when we feel valued by other people. That makes us vulnerable to their influence in our lives but the good news is that it only takes ONE other person to make us feel like we can stand up, be human, take what life throws at us, and turn it into gold.

Identifying yourself

I've been working on a blog entry about visibility/invisibility which I hope to post soon but I thought I'd take a second and acknowledge the photo that I now have posted on my blog. I've tried to separate my blogging/Twitter life from my professional life and so that has meant no last name & no pictures of me. I'm on the job market & I didn't want my middle of the night musings or Tweets to be the first thing that popped during an employer Google search on my name.

But I was prompted to post a picture on learning that I'm one of the hundreds nominated for the Hottest Blogger Calendar contest. I can tell you it was quite a relief after learning this to go to the website & find that I didn't have 0 votes (okay, it's 3!). I'm almost at the bottom of the list under "Liz (Spiral Scratch)".

It's not that I'm vain but I do have a competitive streak in me. I won't win this contest, there are women bloggers with huge readerships & loyal fans but I just don't want to come in dead last!

As far as I know, this is a legit popularity contest and it doesn't require that the female winners look like Gisele Budchen. The calendar will probably feature women & men (there's a men's poll, too!) hunched over laptops, not laying out on tropical beaches but we won't know until it's unveiled in November.

So, I'm not shilling for votes, it's a silly contest, but since I am entered, I thought I'd post a photo & at least acknowledge that it is going on. Personally, I'm just happy not to be at the bottom of the list and any placement in the middle of the entries will be a boost to my superficial ego!

Monday, August 25, 2008

The fever has passed, now back to real life

I've returned from the seas of Olympic mania back into the calm woods of New Jersey. Since the political tickets are 3/4 set, I'm not absorbed by the upcoming two weeks of conventions and hope to pour more time into Spiral Scratch.

I blame the neglect on the seductive power of live broadcasting of obscure sporting events. Hell, I even watched the canoe races, a decision that I'm questioning now since I have to find a new job and I have a backlog of revisions to do. I caught the fever but it ran its course...until 2012.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

BBC Spooks

I got a small part in the BBC series Spooks...here is a clip:

Of course, it is the Manga me, complete with an odd nose ring that wasn't there before. It was strange, I did two other versions of this with actual pictures of myself but the Manga cartoon version looks more like me than the ones based on photos do!

Want to cast yourself in the spy drama? Go to http://www.facespook.co.uk/home.php and have a photo ready to upload!

Monday, August 11, 2008

Olympic Fevah!

The Olympics is now rivaling Twitter for the biggest time-killer in my day. It's amazing how pulled in you can get watching sports you have no real interest in like field hockey, weightlifting, equestrian sports, handball, and soccer. I think the announcers, while inane at times, do an excellent job giving the viewers the backstory on athletes so you feel pulled into the story of their "journey to the gold".

These stories are probably half truth, half embellishment but even knowing that doesn't make them any less compelling to me. Fables, legends, and myths have power even though we know they never actually happened. A good story beats an articulate analysis every day of the week in terms of holding people's interest.

I have never cared how many medals the U.S. wins, in fact, I always root for the lower profile nations to get their due since a smaller country winning an award always means so much more for their sense of identity and national pride than adding another award to the U.S. medal pile. They have fewer high quality training facilities & coaches and you can forget about corporate sponsorship. So, being the best in spite of the lack of support makes their accomplishment even greater.

I'm an avid Olympics watcher but a casual sports fan so I won't blog a lot about the athletic aspect of the games. But the social impact of international sports competition, corporate sponsorship, and the impact of live, online broadcasting of Olympic events are all fair game!

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Persona Blogging: Art or Artifice?

This entry arises out of a session I went to on Thursday, Aug. 7, 2008 at Social Media Camp NYC which was held at the Sun Microsystems offices in Manhattan. To give some background for those who are unfamiliar with it, Social Media Camp is a form of Bar Camp. Bar Camp, according to its wiki is

an ad-hoc gathering born from the desire for people to share and learn in an open environment. It is an intense event with discussions, demos and interaction from participants.
This looks like the standard definition for any professional gathering but the Bar Camp philosophy is to be spontaneous and participatory. While some campers might submit an idea for a session ahead of time, at a Bar Camp large pieces of paper are put on the walls with timelines for each breakout room so people can pencil in sessions they'd like to offer which can either be formal (Powerpoint talks) or informal (putting forth an idea for discussion). When they first started in 2005, Bar Camps focused solely on technology issues but form has been expanded to other areas, in this case, social media.

A lot could be said about the success or failure of this camp but I'd just like to talk about one half hour session that was offered on "Persona Blogging". The presenter, a 25 year old woman I'll call "R", runs 10 different blogs in which she presents herself as different people, ranging from a young woman much like herself to a middle-aged housewife in New Jersey to a gay clothing designer in Miami. She is given a demographic profile by her employer of their target audience and she assumes that identity when she writes and interacts with blog readers. One of her employers actually initiated this Social Media Camp session and asked her to lead it because he was interested in having a discussion about the ethics of doing persona blogging.

R barely got out an explanation of what she did for a living when she was faced with a barrage of questions, most of them critical or even hostile. My own question stated that I could understand her portraying a semi-fictional character (like Betty Crocker or Dear Abby) but I think she gets in dangerous territory when she starts creating relationships with readers under a false identity. People, women & men, can get emotionally invested in online relationships especially when the blogger publicly acknowledges them in some way. It can easily happen!

What was more interesting though than my personal opinion was the reaction the persenter received from the crowd. It was an incredibly heated, animated discussion but it wasn't really a discussion because participants just fired questions at R and each other without any real dialog occurring. All order was lost and the session devolved into mini-conversations occurring at tables or other areas of the room.

Clearly, she had touched a nerve which I believe is the issue of trust and authenticity in online relationships. R presented herself as someone who plays a role online and I think many in attendance were outraged because it raises the possibility that their own online relationships could be based on nothing but fabrications. A deceitful person can get away with pretending they are anyone online until some overly diligent person "outs" them.

In order to extend our social networks (whether personally or professionally) we have to trust that the people we meet online are who they say they are. Several audience members asserted that nowadays, people are aware that users online aren't necessarily being honest but I doubt that many individuals could be active networkers while maintaining a consistent attitude of skepticism towards everyone they encounter. You would basically not admit anyone to your Facebook page or block on Twitter anyone you didn't personally know which defeats the purpose of online social networking which is to reach beyond the physical boundaries of day-to-day work, family, friends & neighborhood social circles.

Having someone intentionally misrepresenting themselves on a blog for commercial purposes is different than a simple troll or bot because over a series of blog posts, the readers feel like they get to know this person. Faced with the fact that this relationship could be phony can cause one to question the integrity of other relationships or figures online which puts a cloud over the entire social experience.

R admitted that what she was really doing was a form of acting but we know that actors aren't their characters. Performance art is subversive because in some pieces one is not sure if the person is a performer or actually the character they are portraying. And this uncertainty makes most people uneasy because it introduces a great deal of ambiguity when we depend on being able to rely on our senses & experiences to differentiate what is real from what is false. We know that advertising is trying to sell us something but we also know an ad when we see it or we hope to be able to distinguish staged advertising from genuine personal interaction.

R's introduction of a "simple" question, "What do you think about the ethics of 'persona blogging'?" was engaging because it hit at the heart of the participants' field of interest, social media. Audience skepticism in online networks and advertising would likely doom any effort made by a marketing or media company. A company wants its audience to trust that it is who it says it is and will do what it says it will do or it will probably not succeed. R pointed at how vulnerable this trust when there is a third party who plays by different rules and I think this is what set the audience off.

While I completely disagree with the deceit of persona blogging, I must say that I had a really great 10 minute conversation with R and her employer after the presentation. I think they are playing with fire (potential backlash if R is outed) but I applaud their bravery for raising the question and facing the heat from the audience. Ethical issues always touch a nerve and are rarely easy to answer. That's also what makes them essential topics of discussion.

I Google You

I came across a recording of this song on the Science After Sunclipse blog where the songwriter, Neil Gaiman, posted a comment that included the lyrics to this song. For more information on Gaiman, you can check out his website or Wikipedia entry.

This song appeals to me not because of its romantic message but because I've been questioned why I don't use my real, full name on Twitter or on this blog and this song explains why!

I Google you
late at night when I don’t know what to do
I find photos
you’ve forgotten
you were in
put up by your friends

I Google you
when the day is done and everything is through
I read your journal
that you kept
that month in France
I’ve watched you dance

And I’m pleased your name is practically unique
it’s only you and
a would-be PhD in Chesapeake
who writes papers on
the structure of the sun
I’ve read each one

I know that I
should let you fade
but there’s that box
and there’s your name
somehow it never makes the pain
grow less or fade or disappear
I think that I should save my soul and
I should crawl back in my hole
But it’s too easy just to fold
and type your name again
I fear
I google you
Whenever I’m alone and feeling blue
And each scrap of information
That I gather
says you’ve got somebody new
And it really shouldn’t matter
ought to blow up my computer
but instead….
I google you

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Beijing Architecture

One of my favorite radio shows, PRI's Studio 360's episode last week, "Cooder, China, Cheetah Legs," had a segment on Beijing's new architecture being built in advance of the 2008 Olympics. There was also a nice article about new architecture in Beijing in The New Yorker in June 2008. The structure most commented upon has been the amazing "bird's nest "Olympic Stadium but I was struck by the photographs I saw of the headquarters for China's state television network, CCTV, China Central Television.

This arch is five times the size of the Arc de Triomphe in Paris and will be the second largest office building on earth, after the Pentagon, when it is finished. The building design is a continuous loop, kind of like a Moebius Strip, with a skeleton of gray glass & steel reflecting the sky. The two pillars incline inward at a 6 degree angle giving the 51 floors a look of precariousness which has caused some concern considering the amount of seismic activity in China. The building will be completed in December 2008 and the finished design of the building (below) come from Arup.com.

I am amazed by some of the daring building projects going on around the world like the variety of buildings in Beijing and in the Gulf states like Abu Dhabi and Dubai. The willingness to commit millions of dollars to create something that's never been done before requires an optimistic and confident vision of the future that I don't often see reflected in mainstream media's depiction of the "mood" of the U.S.

When I see questions about what "use" is public art, I think it not only is an illustration of beauty which everyone should (or could) be able to appreciate but it also reflects the sentiments of a culture, how it wants the world to view it. An inspiring structure like the CCTV headquarters is not only a beautiful building but also demonstrates the confident, prosperous vision China has for its future.

Saturday, August 02, 2008

When being wrong feels right

This week I found myself at an Advanced Blogging Workshop run by New York City Webgrrls, a group of women working in technology who network and run classes like this. In this workshop I discovered that everything about my blog is "wrong", from using the Blogger platform to my page layout, from the erratic nature of my posts to my content which is too personal and not professional enough.

I was told that "the blogging community does not respect anonymous bloggers" which is a pretty amazing claim considering the millions of blogs that exist...did the Worldwide Bloggers Association hold a meeting and not tell me about it? I never got a chance to vote!

My initial reaction is to think, if being right is what everyone else is doing, I want to be wrong! When I conveyed these sentiments in the workshop, that being "different" could attract readers, I was told that Internet users make judgments about whether they want to read a blog in 1/20 of a second and that if I didn't have the right pieces in their proper places saying appropriate things, these valued potential readers would turn tail & run and never, ever, EVER come back. Whoosh! Millions of missed opportunities!

I don't know about you, valued readers, but this is not how I read blogs. I do wander into some blogs that are on a subject matter that is not of interest to me and leave...for example, I'm not a computer scientist and I don't have a baby so if I go on to sites that have these as their primary material, I don't stay.

But through Twitter, I am exposed to literally hundreds of blog links every day and, unfortunately for my academic work, I follow quite a few of them back to their source. It doesn't matter whether it is a blog with tips for success or a blog that describes a party someone went to, if it looks mildly interesting, I'll give it five minutes of my time and even scan through older posts. I usually notice that some layouts are more inviting than others but I read some blogs that almost qualify as ugly! But content rules!

Because I'm basically a humanist and I follow a lot of people on Twitter who work in marketing & PR, I often find myself at odds with some of the consumer/corporate ideology in the material I come across. Unless the person is offensive or dismissive, this doesn't stop me from revisiting this blog if there is another entry posted that sounds interesting. Once again, content rules over presentation, at least in my world.

So, I apologize if having the menu on the right side rather than the left side forces the reader to have to shift their glance from one side of the page to the other but you know what? I think you guys can figure it out!

I am actually going to consider some of the suggestions that were made to me because I don't want to be closed-minded to criticism. But they will be considered each on their own merits. If being popular means looking like everyone else, I'll stick with my frizzy hair and oddly-shaped toes. I mean, if it can't be personal, why even have a blog?

Balancing, an Act

If you ever ask my mother, Ellen, about me, she would mention that I put way more hours into the jobs I've had than I ever get paid for, that sometimes I'm downright "lazy" and other times a complete workaholic. She is mystified that I don't have weekdays and weekends, a balanced life.

My mother, on the other hand, is an eminently practical woman, always busy, never sitting down until the kitchen is cleaned in the evening. But she only exerts exactly enough effort to get "okay" results. Her house is clean, not immaculate, her cooking good, not great, her patience moderate, but not extended, her clothing lightly used, neither old nor new. She enjoys and reads a great many books (she always is juggling 4 or 5) but doesn't remember the plots a month after she has read them as she has moved on to an equally enjoyable series of books. She has a green thumb but just manages a modest group of pots on her deck, a garden being too time-consuming.

She doesn't consider herself a success but in my eyes she manages to accomplish something I have never been able achieve->she achieves the greatest results with a minimum amount of effort. She does this by having the discipline of not expecting perfection, in fact, she would never ever expect that from herself. What she does expect is to be"good enough", to face tasks head on, even or maybe especially unpleasant tasks. She's a true Virgo and her chief strength is to persevere until her common sense tells her that her efforts would be best spent doing something else. She is economical in all things and, as a result, gets a lot of work accomplished.

I am quite the opposite, almost the polar opposite. Maybe because of the dominance of middle-of-the-road, suburban rationality in our home growing up, I was always drawn to the margins, both left & right, north & south. I am able to do absolutely nothing for long periods of time, just meditating, listening to the birds and watching the world go by like it is 1908. Another day I might get up at 3 am to work on a job I care about accomplishing and put in 18 hours.

But I am too cautious a person to live in the extremes of culture. I'm not to the manor-born, type A, go-getter but I also will always be gainfully employed, even if it is checking in books at a library...you won't find me in the White House but you also won't find me in a crack house! I'm edgy & contrary but not fearless.

Unfortunately, except for the arts, most occupations reward steady, consistent, hard work and people who are focused and who chip, chip away on their chosen career path. I am too passionate and ambitious to be a slacker but I also value a low stress life that lets me pursue my varied interests including friendships, faith, and volunteer work.

And so my life has been a series of large leaps of achievement followed by times of stagnation, times of winning awards & fellowships followed by long fallow periods where absolutely nothing is happening. While this might make me an interesting person to have at a dinner party, it has caused me setbacks from which I'm not sure I'll recover very soon. But who knows? Given the zigs & zags of life, I could be poised for a comeback any moment now!

I didn't intend to write an entry on myself, I had decided to write on time management until I realized that I am completely abysmal at it! I work on projects I love until I fall asleep at my desk but there are crucial, important tasks that I never get to. And so, if anyone is reading, please give me your advice on how to maintain a steady pace forward instead of my current habit of running far ahead and then sitting down while the world catches up.

Next post, I promise, will be less self-indulgent and confessional!

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

If no one sees you online, do you really exist?

I work in Sociology and one of the foundational ideas in the discipline is that human beings are social creatures by nature and that our communities play an enormous role in forming our personal and relational identities. Even the most anti-social individual is connected to other people through kinship, work, ethnic, religious, or cultural ties. No one is an island, I don't care if you are a hermit living in a cave on a mountain cliff, the actions of other people can affect your life.

Since this assumption about human nature and society was drilled into me during graduate school, I was a little stunned thinking about this blog entry to realize I was going to be arguing against it and for the singular importance of the individual outside of their public relationships. We DO exist outside our relations to other people and their perception of us.

This dawned on me after reading another blog (whose name unfortunately escapes me now) in which the author discussed an exchange with a reader who lamented that since he didn't appear in any photos on the Flickr website that were taken of an event, it was like he wasn't even there, like he wasn't in attendance.

I'm living part-time in an online world where self-promotion is the norm and people are actively encouraged to develop their "personal brands" for career advancement. I am brand "Liz" and I write a blog about "X, Y, and Z" and if you hire me, you can "own" a piece of me by association. The argument for this point of view towards the self is that it gives ownership over ones identity and other people perception of ones identity back to the individual...you can shape the way people perceive you by highlighting those aspects of oneself one wishes to be known for (intelligence, resourcefulness, humor, trendsetting, productivity, ability to strategize, etc.). A person actively creates, cultivates, and promotes those aspects of oneself that you're trying to sell whether for business or personal reasons.

saysI have a lot of issues with treating oneself as a commodity which I might go into in another post. But I bring it up here because it seems like this is another manifestation of "what other people see is what is real". In the 1990s, concern about the confusion between public perception with reality was mainly aimed at violence and sex in movies and television and later, the whole concept of reality shows and people living out their lives on camera. I remember in Madonna's film Truth or Dare (1991), Warren Beatty says,

She [Madonna] doesn't want to live off-camera, much less talk. There's nothing to say off-camera. Why would you say something if it's off-camera? What point is there existing?
Now we see this online. The description of a person or event which is posted on the Internet--whether it is a blog entry, a video, a news story--is seen as authentic partially because of the speed in which the information or images can now be delivered. The person who first defines an individual or encounter, whatever link comes out highest in a Google Search, is seen as more authoritative than later analyses or commentaries with lower search engine results. Authors with lots of readers have greater influence and respect amongst members of their community and by journalists than lesser known authorities even when you read volumes of scathing comments on their blogs.

Any act or statement that can make a person more notable, leave a bigger impression, created greater fame means that this person's life and opinion is worth more....to a certain group of people in our society. It doesn't matter whether you're a famous tech blogger or William Hung, any kind of fame that distinguishes an individual from the "masses" is highly prized and sought after by many people. The kind of quiet, reflective presence, a person who creates or works out of inspiration or out of necessity in their little corner of the world...well, it is almost as if they don't exist an individual. If you Google someone's name and nothing appears, do they really exist?

Of course, this hunger for public recognition is not held by all or even the majority people in the U.S. Most people, surprise, surprise, are satisfied with their lives although they wish they had a little more free time for their family or friends, they wish they were a little thinner, and they wish they made a little more money. They don't need every significant moment in their lives recorded and posted online to know that it occurred. They can rely on their memories to remind themselves, albeit with colored lenses, what meaningful events happened in their lives. They don't mind keeping their personal and even professional lives private.

Now, I don't think one viewpoint is superior to another, they are just incompatible with each other and I think few people on either side of this divide appreciate the other side's
point of view. Part of this difference is generational and we are bound to see more online chronicling of people's lives as the U.S. population ages.

My parents don't understand why I have online friends, my older brother doesn't understand why I participate in online discussion groups and I don't understand why my younger friends post their personal photos online for public consumption. It is an escalating, growing level of public exposure of ones personal life and while I think this change is ultimately inevitable in America (although it won't happen overnight), I think that seeking online validations for ones existence, beliefs, presence gives too much weight to our visible, public image over our intrinsic sense of self-worth.

The bottom line or the big picture? There are BILLIONS of individuals living right now without an online presence, who would never show up in a Google search. They are real and I think it would behoove our future as a country not to forget that they exist in a number that far and away eclipses the number of people who blog or who have My Space or Facebook pages. They might ultimately enter the online world but we would be blind to forget that they are many, that they exist, and that they might compose a large influence in our country's and culture's future.

What would it even mean to live in a world with 6.68 billion personal brands?

Monday, July 21, 2008

When those we like=those we are like

I've been reading a lot of blogs over the past month, probably too many blogs. In my Twitter escapades, I've been a hungry learner, clicking on links and following leads, trying to learn as much as I can about social media. I didn't wade into the shallow end, I dove off the high dive.

In many ways, I felt like Alice in Wonderland...I recognized the characters but it was a weird, upside down, cyberworld that seemed nonsensical to me almost all of the time. And, foolishly perhaps, I openly displayed my slack-jawed incomprehension, hoping to be pitied, tutored, and finally embraced by this colorful, dynamic world of buzzing social extroverts. Much of the time, I was positively dizzy by the pace of it all, as I watched lives being lived rush past me. Some days, I found it almost intoxicating.

In hindsight, I can see I was following an old pattern...when I get bored with my life or my work becomes too difficult or too tedious, I immerse myself in something new and feel the zest and excitement that one feels as a beginning student or as a traveler setting off on the first leg of a journey into an unfamiliar part of the world.

But while I am in in this world, I clearly am not of it. I don't work in technology, PR, marketing, or finance, I'm not a consultant, venture capitalist, or social media "guru", and I've felt this tension of being the outsider for as long as I been playing in this Twitter/Facebook land. I'm a terrible actor and so I've tried to embrace my outsider stance even during times where I was cast as a minor league pariah.

I clumsily stepped on toes, I questioned common wisdom, I scoffed at those higher up on the food chain than I am, partly out of ignorance but also because my values seem to differ so much from my online peers. I expressed bewilderment and sarcasm when I encountered statements, thoughts or feelings that made me incredulous: "Who ARE you? How can you claim THAT?? Isn't it dehumanizing to think of people as 'personal brands'?"

By and large, I was simply ignored, as a small child would be who interrupted their parents' dinner party. A few people welcomed me, if only for the novelty value of having a new face at the table, while others actively exiled me from their online family of friends and sent me to another room. And that's okay because, after all, we are really all strangers to one another online. No one "owes" me their friendship, it has to be freely given and I am sorry if I ever personally offended anyone.

I have only good feelings towards those I've interacted with in these social communities except the few who were confrontational, racist, sexist, or boorish. I've normally been treated with patient kindness even when I clearly didn't know a lot about what I was talking about and for that I am grateful.

But I'm also glad that I might have asked some uncomfortable questions or disturbed the clubhouse atmosphere of these cliquish communities. The majority of folks I met online were white, college educated, decently paid, spoke English as a first language, and were between the ages of 22 and 40 and, I have to say, many displayed a distinctly superior attitude, almost one of entitlement. I ran into very little social critique of the inequities of American society and our culture of leisure and consumption is positively reveled in. Even in my days working in the music industry, I never heard of people participating in this many parties! Even those people with families seem to travel and party a lot more than my offline friends and colleagues.

Of course, I'm a participant in all this activity even if I'm outside the dominant Twitter demographic. I brought up Iraq once, the indecent price of conference registrations several times, occasionally criticizing industries that think everything of worth can be measured, quantified, and ranked. And these comments feel FLAT so I got the message and kept my conversation personal (cats, weather, work, sleep, travel, family, etc.) instead of political.

In the end, a community is what it is and it is hard if not impossible for one individual to change the tenor of the discussion especially someone who is admittedly of very little influence. And I don't think it is my place to try to change something that is clearly so massively popular. But I do think it is my place to reflect upon my experience and see what was positive and what is lacking.

So while I might have fondness for the individuals I've encountered and I am completely in awe of their enthusiastic, almost mission-like ambition in their professions, I am unimpressed with the social networks that have emerged in this Web 2.0 world, at least the ones I have seen. In these circles, connections with like minds are made but isn't the point of all of this interdependent, global connectivity to interact with those who are different from ourselves, those who have different views on what's important in life, those from who we can learn something besides how to advance our career?

Instead, social networks seem to create niches where people who seem to have the same political and cultural values hang out together and empathize with each other's ups and downs. They are support groups more than change groups. There is a place for these types of friendships in all of our lives, lives where we are tired and bruised much of the time. I don't want to minimize this at all.

But at this point, I think that the excitement around social networks and the belief that they actually can lead to changes in our society is completely inaccurate and doesn't reflect their segregated nature. Maybe some time, down the road this could occur but not today and not tomorrow. The rule of like attracting like still remains a guiding principle of human behavior.

P.S. After rereading this I thought I should add that I hope to continue to Twitter away and participate on Facebook although maybe not at the same high, intense level as in recent weeks. And, if it still needs to be said, this post is meant to be a critique of the limitations of social networks, not of the individuals who compose them.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

My pique has peaked...

Emotional messages whether on email, voicemail, or blogs always look a little overwrought the next day once you've had some food, sleep, and pleasant conversation. Companies or people don't seem quite as incompetent, they are less annoying, almost bearable. It's hard to mentally put yourself back into that frustrated frame of mind you were in just 24 hours ago.

Emotions are mysterious things. When they come upon you or arise within you, they just consume you, body and mind. It is not that you are "irrational", it's just that you are completely focused on one particular thing...the person you're in love with, that jerk that cut you off on the highway, the delicious food you are eating, or the inability to take advantage of an advertised service that you expected to be able to use.

Strong emotions are not bad or good, they are just unbalanced and that can lead to powerful action--Kiss me! Or, give us justice! Or, pay attention to me!--but you lose all sense of perspective. Small annoyances can make you feel like you're beating your head against a wall. Someone not returning a phone call when expected can make you feel alone and unloved. A lover's arm brushing against yours can make you feel ecstatic. Ones reaction is out of proportion to the action or object that elicited it.

I tend to be embarrassed by my emotions, they seem messy and over-the-top, they make me feel out of control. But I'm going to leave my Starbucks/AT&T diatribe partially because they never got back to me and partially because I don't think we should walk backwards with brooms to erase every trace of where we have walked. I went ballistic, expressed my frustration, and now I'm over it. New topic tomorrow!

Friday, July 18, 2008

Lost in the AT&T desert at Starbucks...

I don't like blog rants against companies. Each person's experience with a company is uniquely theirs...potential readers have had their own encounters with businesses, both positive or negative. Ranting doesn't solve the problem because this is just a personal blog not one of influence or a large readership.

And yet...and yet...I must write because I can't get past the experience. Because I am stuck here in the Internet netherworld at Starbucks. I am stuck in limbo.

As you might have heard, Starbucks is now offering free wi-fi in its stores. Or at least that is the hook that gets people who used to come more often to Starbucks to come back. Free wi-fi is great, as soon as my computer booted up, I was instantly connected to the AT&T network. Starbucks.com recognized me and that I was logged on. Unfortunately, AT&T didn't recognize me by any username or password combination that I have ever used online. Yes, I was online via free wi-fi but I was trapped in the desert of an AT&T log in page, a bitterly harsh, empty plane of existence with nary an oasis in site.

I tried, Lord, I tried and tried every way I could to get online for over an hour and a half. I tried going through the Starbucks.com but, as I mentioned, the website said I was already online. My username was "already in use". Well, that is partially true I was logged on but I was stuck in an online purgatory.

I tried recreating my account. Starbucks wouldn't let me use any username I tried (I can't have created multiple accounts, could I?) and when I tried to create a new account under the username "Starbuckssucks", they accepted the name but wouldn't let me register with my Starbucks card because it was registered to my original account. You can't have a card registered to two different users.

Why didn't I talk to a barista about the problem? Well, the one time I tried to do that on a previous futile effort to use the free wi-fi, the person at the cash register said, "Really, we have free wireless here? I didn't know that. When did that start?"

So, let's try the AT&T log in page, there MUST be some link there to help the poor user. But, alas, no. Clicking on "Forget your password?" or "Manage account" just leads to an empty error page. And when I tried to find a link to contact the company, I got a T-Mobile page (say what?!) offering a list of phone numbers that I where I could call the company. This is crazy! Like I, a free wi-fi user, would try to navigate through the voicemail wilderness of AT&T in order to fix a problem with the Starbucks/AT&T recognition system. That would involve more hours of my life and I doubt they would even be any help at all. How can a Starbucks customer using free wi-fi have any influence over a corporate giant that has the iPhone to worry about?

The funny thing is is that I'm a devoted Starbucks customer and have been since the late 1980s when I first visited a store in Oregon. I defended their predatory business practices and argued for the quality of their coffee over similar coffeehouses. But once they raised my expectations and I came into the store with my computer, ready to get some work done, it was maddening to spend all of this time trying one way or another to get online and end up accomplishing nothing.

So, because Starbucks promised the customer (me) something which it could not deliver, they turned an embarrassingly loyal customer into one that wants to go just about anywhere else for coffee.

I should mention that in 6 or 7 attempts, I was once (1 time) able to get on to the AT&T wireless network. Once, and never ever again. And here ends my tirade against a company offering a service which is not really available and, what is worse, having no back-up plan (trained baristas? some help on the AT&T page? troubleshooting information?) to help when things go wrong.

P.S. Posted after I got home and went online thanks to another corporate giant, Cablevision

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Those who don't create, critique those who do

I've committed one of the cardinal sins of blogging: it's been weeks since I've written an entry. This has happened for a number of reasons but primarily due to my addiction to Twitter.

I've found this microblogging format and the people I've been introduced to incredibly compelling. Twitter is everything that academia and a dissertation is not: it is concise instead of wordy, it is flirty instead of measured, it is snarky instead of considered, it is timely instead of enduring, and it is fast instead of labored.

There is in both academia and the Twitter universe a great deal of self-promotion but where Twitter blares out self-referential Tweets in stark, bright colors, scholars indirectly tout themselves in lengthy and subdued footnotes. Twitter is bold, snappy and instantaneous and in academia, even after death, an author's work is ceaselessly critiqued for its worthiness and its potential contribution to the field. Bogged down in yet more dissertation rewrites, I was an easy mark to fall prey to Twitter's seductive urgency, its false sense of intimacy and its immediacy.

But since every quality that are Tweets, or messages, are aspects of writing frowned upon in my discipline, I've been a stranger in a strange land, out of my element. The people I've encountered online have been, by and large, kind and open to me but, to use another cliche, I'm a round peg in a square hole. I don't fit and many of my snarky remarks were observations of the worlds of the participants (primarily technology and marketing) that I found incredibly peculiar. I found and still find it difficult to hold my tongue when people are behaving in what seems to me to be a ludicrous manner. If I was physically present, I would roll my eyes and give a "what is WITH these people" shake of my head but since I was in the world of Twitter, I would fire off a random pet peeve of those I was "following" or remark sarcastically in a way that I thought resembled intelligence.

I was already to write another Tweet about how no one in the outside world really cares about political in-fighting in the world of technology when I got a terrible headache. Eventually, this led me to wonder, was I creating anything of value? Was I contributing to the problem instead of trying to understand the world and myself a little better?

Which, predictably, led me back to my neglected blog. I hope to take the energy I got from writing Tweets and channel it towards the creation of something more lasting and ephemeral than 140 character messages. I'm not aiming for profundity, I'd just like to contribute something relevant to the discussion going on online about how advances in technology and communication are changing the way we understand ourselves and the way we behave.

I know I won't be promoting myself on Twitter, that is a no-no that is just too ingrained in me over years of graduate school programming. But I can say with certainty that I'll probably lapse into talking about myself and my cat! That's a promise.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

When the other shoe doesn't fall...

My mother says, "Don't just talk to me when something bad happens to you and then never tell me when it all works out." Now, I don't listen to a lot of what my mother says because I've heard everything so many times before that it's been playing for years like a constant soundtrack in the background of my head which I've put on "Mute". [Editor: too long of a sentence here and be nice to your Mother!]

But she does have a point. I remember writing a journal (briefly) when I was younger and when I'd go back and read it, it was just filled with things I was angry about and couldn't express to the people around me. Just from reading the journal, you'd think I was a prime candidate for Anger Management classes.

Now, I don't want any reader to think my life is endlessly filled with woe. So, here is an update on the parts of my life were making me miserable over the past two weeks:

It's gotten below 90 degrees and we have a nice breeze going. I have finally stopped sweating in my sleep (overshare?).

I got my car started without it stalling out about two days after it broke down. Still have to take it to get looked at but so far, so good.

The cat seems to be doing just fine. She's eating, her spirits are up (i.e. she bites me) and she's even begun dragging her toys around from room to room like she use to (Cue bad webcam picture of cat):

So, while I haven't finished my dissertation revisions or found a job, life doesn't completely suck. After four months of interviewing the most motley assortment of people to respond to a Craig's List ad for housemates, I've found Kate, a costume designer, who seems refreshingly normal. She won me over when she mentioned her boyfriend was allergic to cats and then said, "I'll keep my door closed and he'll have to get use to it!" Here's the lease, just give me your deposit check and the rooms are yours! When can you move in?!

Just a reminder for me to write not just when things are awful and I need to vent but also when life is running smoothly.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

To be me or not to be me....

I haven't been blogging much recently because I have spent enormous amounts of time (for me, at least) reading other people's blogs and connecting with people via social networks (Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, etc.). So far, it's been an overwhelmingly positive experience albeit rather time-consuming. I haven't encountered any creeps or stalkers or people with poisonous negativity. In general, folks have been friendly and helpful which is remarkable to me because they don't know a single thing about me.

Among the many wonderful links that have been shared have been several analyses of blogs, what makes a good blog, how to get more readers for your blog, how to make your blog "better", etc. Reading this all at one sitting was, I have to say, overwhelming. I realized that I had no conception of "who my audience was". I guess I am writing for myself but I read other people's personal blogs so, who knows?, maybe there are people interested in reading about my problems finding a housemate or having writer's block or looking for inspiration and finding it in unexpected places.

I was feeling a LOT of pressure (by whom? I haven't a clue) to have this blog provide something meaningful, to make it more "helpful" to the reader and less like an episode of Seinfeld (without the punchlines). Less anecdotal and more substance.

Yet, I created this blog as a place to come and write about the stuff of life or, at least, my life however narrow that is. My dissertation fills up most of my life and has for the past few years and it is where I try to make meaningful statements and, as they say, "contribute to the literature." Although I might talk about my cat being sick (which I think was completely misdiagnosed), this blog was intended to be a place for interior thoughts, silly observations, great quotes, lingering frustrations, maybe a nice picture or two or even a video clip. It was not meant to be WORK, another job.

When I start thinking, "I need to write another blog entry", it becomes an unpaid job and I tend to write less. When I can share things I delight in or I find maddening, then it becomes a pleasure.

As the NY Times article about Emily Gould reveals (and the letters it provoked), this smacks of narcissism to a lot of people. Me, me, me. But, right now, I'm my primary resource for ideas along with a lot of wonderful new websites that people have introduced me to over the past three weeks.

I've decided that there is probably another blog in me, someway I can share all of the years I've spent in higher education with other people. But as for Spiral Scratch, that will just continue as a personal journal. I might update the stodgy template some and reduce the numbers of widgets to give it a cleaner look, but the message will remain the same. And for those of you who wander in here for wherever in cyberspace, I hope you will feel at home.

Sunday, June 01, 2008

The week that was...

...was absolutely terrible. Hence the gap between posts. The 3 big Cs hit the fan on the same day: my cat, my computer and my car, three things I rely upon. Serena is seriously sick (according to the vet), the OS on my 2 week old computer got corrupted and so had to be reinstalled (all my data and program files deleted), and my car kept stalling.

The car is 12 years old and hasn't had any major problems so it's not a total surprise that it needs work but I wasn't expecting my young cat to have cancer or a new computer to fail so soon after I got it. I must have spent three days trying to "work around" the OS failures before I finally threw in the towel. After installing all of my programs, transferring folders, bookmarks, etc., it was demoralizing to have to start again from scratch. But, what are you going to do?

The cat situation is the worst. She has never even had a sneeze before so I haven't quite accepted the doctor's diagnosis. It's not like I'm going to put her through chemotherapy (if I could even pay for it which I can't!) so it's going to be wait and see if she gains some weight back or gets worse. I feel so helpless, I can't imagine how I'd fret if I had a sick child, it would be ten times as worse.

June has to be better...I think I say that at the beginning of every month.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Putting a price code on art

I came across this news story about an artist, Scott Blake, who composes portraits just using bar codes. I like the creative use of such a ubiquitous element of our lives but I wish he would do more with it than celebrity portraits (also Madonna, Oprah, Marilyn, Ozzy, etc.). I thought it was a statement about the commercialization of culture ("Ring up Bruce Lee in aisle 3") but the closest Blake alludes to it is this comment:

"One of the most interesting comments I got was from a Jehovah's Witness; they saw Bar code Jesus as representing 'The price He paid for our sins'."

But given his other comments it sounds like he was just looking for a tool to design with and bar codes served his purpose rather than him trying to make a larger point about commerce and art:

"I was looking for a black and white shape that could be repeated and modified to create grey tones in a digital mosaic.

Interesting idea and execution but a missed opportunity, I think.

Here is the Daily Mail article on Scott Blake's work

Monday, May 26, 2008

The Phoenix has landed!

I found out about the Mars Lander a little late but was completely absorbed by it last night, watching NASA TV as the first pictures were transmitted after a $420 million, 422-million-mile, 10 month journey. They were broadcasting from the NASA Jet Propulsion Lab in Pasadena and it was just as interesting to me to see the atmosphere there as to see the Mars photos (it's the sociologist in me).

The tension was very high as the engineers waited and waited for the first photos to be transmitted and when they came on screen, the room erupted like the end of a Super Bowl game. I never saw so many men hugging. But it was such an achievement and after preparing for every worst case scenario, the whole EDL sequence happened perfectly, without a hitch.

Mars looks kind of what I expected it to look like but it is cool that these are actually photos taken from the surface of the planet. It will be interesting to see what they find out during the Lander's time of operation. See New York Times story for more detailed information.

Photos courtesy of NASA,JPL, Caltech, University of Arizona/Reuters.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Internet Intervention

All that time spent surfing other people's blogs occasionally leads something really worthwhile! From Those Aren't Muskets via Cracked and YouTube:

An Internet Intervention

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Public face

Any visitors to this blog might have noticed that there are a lot more doodads and widgets cluttering up the page. I'm trying to bring this blog up-to-date by conforming with the more standard layout features which makes for a crowded blog but one that I hope will fit it more into the blogosphere.

Have any opinions? I will take your silence as license to experiment!

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Creating, not consuming

I've been trying to get up-to-date on technology issues, specifically those involved with shared media and social networking. But it is just an enormous world out there! I have feeds and bookmarks for about two dozen blogs already so there is no way I can keep up with current developments without spending a couple of hours a day just reading other people's blogs.

Then I become merely a culture consumer instead of a culture creator. It's a little thrilling to be "in the know" and to have a grasp on the current wave of technology (as peripheral as it is to my life) but how does this knowledge help anyone, including myself? If I'm not creating something tangible, putting effort into content creation, then it is just ephemeral info that is immediately out-dated as soon as the next technological development or crisis appears.

I have to put more effort into creative efforts than just reading other people's thoughts, however interesting they might be.

My new mascot:

Sunday, May 18, 2008

5 Great Ways to Contribute to Social Media

Interesting article at Read Write Web: 5 Great Ways to Contribute to Social Media. I try to limit the number of blogs I read (I have to get SOME work done during the day) but I usually find something interesting on this one. As Corvida says, spread the link love!

P.S. This video on Facebook has been around for two months and viewed 3+ million times but I still think it is funny.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Assaulted in Second Life

I woke up in the middle of the night this morning and when I can't sleep, I usually end up wasting away hours on the Internet. Among other places I visited last night was Second Life, a virtual world on the Internet which gets millions of visitors every year.

I had already chosen my avatar/identity last month and so that was set, I just had to download the software and get started. The first thing a newcomer has to do is go through an orientation phase at "Orientation Island" where you learn how to navigate, move around, change your outfit, appearance, etc. It's like a sandbox where you can experience the world and get your bearings.

But almost from the outset, my avatar was pounced on by these male avatars hanging around the place. I understand a quick "Hi! How are you?" but I was actually pursued by one guy who kept spooning me and wouldn't move away. But at least this creep had clothes on. Other, naked guys would just come up to me and bump up against me and it was difficult to get away. Sometimes, I'd turn a corner and see a couple of male avatars and just backtrack to avoid having to even pass by them.

What sucks is that you have to go through this Orientation phase before you can go anywhere else in this virtual world. And to file an "incident" report, you have to provide the specific identity of these aggressive perverts. By then, I'd already checked out. And it wasn't just an individual, it seemed to be a hangout for some men to hassle new female avatars to don't know what they are doing in this unfamiliar world.

I hope that my experience was partially the result of my middle-of-the-night wanderings and this isn't business as usual at Second Life. I don't put up with this crap in real life, why should I have to deal with these hassles in a virtual world?

What is really weird is that these guys don't even know if I'm a dude or actually a woman. Hell, I could be their grandmother they are bumping their naked white butts with. All I know is that it was very creepy and the stink has stayed with me all morning long. I'm still undecided whether to ever go back again.

Alone again, naturally

It's hard to believe that I first started this blog in 2006 since it has been such an on and off thing. I see all of these visitors and I just wonder who on earth could have stumbled into this blog, out of the millions of blogs there are out there. I don't talk a lot about politics or celebrities or technology developments. My sense of humor is, well, let's generously call it dry. No videos or animations. Just my thoughts and an occasional photo or two.

When I think about this blog, I think of it as a journal not as a tool of self-promotion. I've only give one person a link to it and she was someone I met on the web, not a person in my daily life. I want to be able to say whatever I want without worrying what someone might think. Not that I'm outrageous or sacrilegious, I just have an internal censor in my head that keeps me from revealing too much about myself to people who will judge me. And my family and friends, God love 'em, can't help but judge. It's just human nature to have an opinion about things that concern those closest to you.

I wasn't sure what to expect by putting this all out on the Internet and so far, it's been a monologue. It creates the illusion for me that this is a very private forum when the fact is is that it is open to anyone to read and comment upon. So, I weave back and forth between intimacy and having my guard up, pouring my heart out and then worrying about it getting stomped on. Such is the arena of a personal blog. Maybe I'll make it less about "me" and more "other" focused, whatever that other might be.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Bad, BAD blogger

I haven't been blogging much lately...too busy trying to find a housemate and a new job (i.e., life). Best news is that my computer died which was agonizing (I loved my 7 year old laptop) but it forced me to get a new computer and, damn, a lot has changed since 2001. It's got some cool new features (webcam, DVD recorder) but I have almost gone mad trying to correct and "fix" a lot of glitches. Customer support? Hah! I think I know more about this computer at this point than the people who are hired to help me get it to work right.

I hope to return to blogging once I meet some ridiculous deadlines I committed myself to. Or I might come here to procrastinate, we'll see.

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

A polling we will go, a polling we will go...

I did one of those "select your political position polls" and here are the results:

89% Barack Obama
88% John Edwards
86% Chris Dodd
84% Hillary Clinton
84% Joe Biden
76% Mike Gravel
75% Dennis Kucinich
74% Bill Richardson
41% Rudy Giuliani
33% John McCain
30% Tom Tancredo
29% Mitt Romney
24% Mike Huckabee
15% Fred Thompson
14% Ron Paul

2008 Presidential Candidate Matching Quiz

These results are a surprise to me because they don't reflect how I thought I'd vote in the primary later this year. Of course, it takes a lot of trust that the poll was created intelligently and I have no clue if that is true. But it does cause me to think a little bit more seriously about the candidates who came out in the top half.

Monday, January 07, 2008

Flight of the Conchords...may they forever fly!

Now that I have shed all of that negativity I can talk about something I love...the Flight of the Conchords. I just heard about them right before Christmas and fell so hard that I had to buy their EP for everyone I care about them. They remind me a little of Spinal Tap, not quite as funny but more good-humored and playful. You can't listen to their music without getting a smile on your face, even "I'm Not Crying" which is the most hilariously pathetic breakup song ever.

Because all I've ever wanted was "to be a part-time model...although I better keep my day job".

I can hardly wait to watch the DVDs!

I hate cell phones!

AGGRAVATION: A condition of agitated annoyance, usually in response to negative stimuli.

Example of a situation provoking aggravation: Idiots who come into Starbucks and use it as an office without ever buying anything. They talk loud, oblivious to their surroundings, and are obnoxious and cheap. Their insensitivity has been known to lead to fellow patrons grabbing their cell phone out of their hand and throwing it into a frappacino blender, laughing maniacally while it is ground into small bits.

Situational conditions: Unfortunately, the Starbucks employees have been trained to ignore the behavior of people who come into their facility and disrupt the atmosphere even when they do not purchase any items sold in said business. They are not consumers or customers, they just exist to suck out all of the serenity that can exist in a coffeehouse and charge the environment with all of the negative stress of their workplace without actually spending any money or compensating fellow customers for having to put up with their insensitivity.

Toll: Minutes of my life I'll never get back, elevation of blood pressure, loss of concentration, and increasingly pessimistic view of the human condition.

Short-term solution: It is difficult to combat an obnoxiously loud talker. Cold stares do not work. Asking directly for someone to pipe down rarely succeeds in a satisfactory response. A nonviolent solution is made more difficult but the accommodating staff who shrug their shoulders and smile when you point out the obnoxious people who frequent such place, again, without every purchasing an item. Short of leaving the facility, I have found the only solution is to ask that the music volume be increased, use earplugs, and move to the table that is the farthest from the offensive person.

Long-term solution: Work on channeling aggressive impulses into work.