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!