Monday, May 16, 2005

Thanks for a great semester!

J880 is now closed. I'm going to leave all of the commentary up here on Blogger, though, for someday I'll get the chance to teach this class again and I want my next group of students to see the good work you've all done. I'm also going to let you all remain members of the weblog, so if you're inclined to offer some wisdom to a future iteration of this seminar, be my guest.

You folks were a great class and I hope you all got something useful out of our collective labors, both in discussion and online.

(Anyone desperately in need of a blog fix can check out my own humble venture, Uncovering Information Labor.)



Wednesday, May 04, 2005

The Southern Slide

About people's ability to choose where they live, etc., in the shiny, new info-space...

Can we relate this to the quickening rise of the American south in population terms? Southern states are picking up population more quickly than northern ones -- the reason why John Kerry couldn't have won the election by holding Gore's states and adding New Hampshire is that states like ours lost electoral votes following the 2000 census, while states like Florida added votes. Is there reason to believe that southerners are breeding more? That erstwhile northerners are choosing to leave for some economic reason? Cultural? That they hate those damn northern winters?

I haven't seen any data to indicate that ex-northerners are leaving because they're in search of a more politically conservative climate, because the states themselves, over time, don't indicate drastic changes in voting results. So are these people apolitical, or at least apathetic enough that they don't really care if they candidate loses? Is what's pulling people south also responsible for pulling Confederate flag bumper stickers north?

A Giant Ice-Cream Sundae That Is More Beef Than Sizzle

Taibbi's evisceration of Friedman is here. A sample:

On an ideological level, Friedman's new book is the worst, most boring kind of middlebrow horseshit. If its literary peculiarities could somehow be removed from the equation, The World Is Flat would appear as no more than an unusually long pamphlet replete with the kind of plug-filled, free-trader leg-humping that passes for thought in this country. It is a tale of a man who walks 10 feet in front of his house armed with a late-model Blackberry and comes back home five minutes later to gush to his wife that hospitals now use the internet to outsource the reading of CAT scans. Man flies on planes, observes the wonders of capitalism, says we're not in Kansas anymore. (He actually says we're not in Kansas anymore.) That's the whole plot right there. If the underlying message is all that interests you, read no further, because that's all there is.

It's impossible to divorce The World Is Flat from its rhetorical approach. It's not for nothing that Thomas Friedman is called "the most important columnist in America today." That it's Friedman's own colleague at the New York Times (Walter Russell Mead) calling him this, on the back of Friedman's own book, is immaterial. Friedman is an important American. He is the perfect symbol of our culture of emboldened stupidity. Like George Bush, he's in the reality-making business. In the new flat world, argument is no longer a two-way street for people like the president and the country's most important columnist. You no longer have to worry about actually convincing anyone; the process ends when you make the case.

For what it's worth, Taibbi's reference to the "culture of emboldened stupidity" is just how I've thought of Friedman for a while now, but haven't been able to devise the proper phrase to describe.

A thought from last week's class...

Late. I have the convenient excuse this week of a dead computer.

During last week's discussion of how the increased communication formats have changed the way we live our lives, I kept thinking back on a phone interview I'd had the previous afternoon.

First of all, there's the fact of the phone interview itself - I'm graduating in a week in a half, and all of my interviews thus far have taken place over the phone. I have an in-person interview later this week that only comes after four, yes, four telephone interviews. I think this is a fairly recent change in the use of telephone technology; it certainly wasn't the case three years ago when I graduated from undergrad.

Second, there was something about this phone interview that resonated in particular with our discussion: the interviewer asked me how I would communicate with my clients in the other, geographically disparate offices, and using the telephone didn't even cross my mind. Email, I said, is usefully for articulating initial requests and responses, and instant messenger is great when you need real time response. The interviewer agreed with me, and then he said something I find really interesting in the context of our discussion; he said that he uses IM all the time, even to contact colleagues down the hall.

It seems to me that we tend to discard old technologies when we adopt new ones, and that we tend to replace in-person interaction with interaction over a number of electronic means. Which leads right into what interested me in this week's readings...a running theme within both articles was the increasing popularity of remote communication as opposed to in-person, physical communication. I have to wonder if as a society we will eventually rebel against this trend.

Tuesday, May 03, 2005

Communication constitutes community!

Graham and Marvin, after the long explanation of cyber space and physical place, conclude that "real face-to-face interaction, the chance encounter, the full exposure to the flux and clamour of urban life - in short, the richeness of the human experience of place - will inevitably make a virtual community a very poor substitute for the kinds of urban communities celebrated by Jane Jacobs in her famous book The Death and Lif of Great American Cities (1962)" (p. 231).
From their conclusion, I think that they imply that communication constitutes community. All sorts of different communications may determine our community. What kind of communication are we involving in cyberspace and real place?