Breaking Out of the Echo Chamber

OpenDemocracy, via Flickr (CC license)
What might this Malian girl and I have in common, and what might we learn from each other? How could we know if we can’t really connect?

This morning I listened to an excellent Radio Open Source interview. Host Christopher Lydon was talking to Global Voices Online founder Ethan Zuckerman and GVO managing editor Solana Larsen. I’m a huge fan of GVO and read it regularly — mainly since I enjoy hearing from people in parts of the world I generally don’t hear much about (or from) otherwise.

One of the most interesting parts of the discussion concerned how homophily shapes our individual and collective view of the world. Homophily is a fancy word for the human equivalent of “birds of a feather flock together.” That is, our tendency to associate and bond with people we have stuff in common with — language, culture, race, class, work, interests, life circumstances, etc.

Zuckerman made a profound point: Homophily makes you stupid. Which is another way of saying something my dad told me a long, long time ago:

“You’ll never learn anything if you only talk to people who already think just like you.”

Here’s what Zuckerman actually told Lydon about how homophily makes it hard for people from around the world to relate constructively…
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The Cup: The Cool Boulder Geek Hangout

I spent most of today working and socializing at The Cup in downtown Boulder. It’s known locally as the cool hangout place for local geeks. It also specializes in fair trade coffee (which is cool, even though I don’t drink coffee, I’m a tea fan).

Today several of my friends stopped by, so I grabbed video clips of a few of them for the hell of it. Here they are: Joe Pezzillo , Ari Newman , and Dave Taylor.

Not appearing in this video are:

  • My brand-new friend Patrick Sandoval of Primal Future. He’s a local artist and online entrepreneur who creates and sells t-shirts with original images based on ancient symbols. Very cool stuff.
  • My dear old friend Max Chadwick dropped by too. We used to work together about 12 years ago when I was still a wage slave, and now he’s an exec at People Productions — which hasn’t stopped him from being cool.

I’m bummed that I didn’t think to grab video clips of Max and Patrick. But anyway, hope you enjoy the rest.

The Perils of Political Romance

KoAn, via Flickr (CC license)
Questioning romance may not be popular, but it’s vital when stakes are high.

This morning I finally figured out why I’ve been feeling so utterly disengaged from the inescapable frenetic quest for Presidential candidates.

Well, actually Canadian blogger Rob Hyndman figured it out for me in his post this morning: We Won’t Get Fooled Again. He wrote:

“…I don’t want a political romance, and I’m not hungry for a return to the halcyon days of Camelot. I want someone who has a proven passion and ability to fix a broken system. And until I see that in a candidate, I’m more wary than credulous, and I’m suspending my belief.”

This was part of Hyndman’s explanation of why he’s uncomfortable with Barack Obama’s bid for the presidency. But Obama is his point, not mine.

My point is that we should take a close look at the myriad problems caused by pervasive deep-seated romantic myths in our culture…

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Preview: Sex, Journalism & Trust

RabbleRadio, via Flickr (CC license)
Prudishness and journalism were never a good mix.

Today I started pulling together a bunch of stray threads that have been nagging at me for some time. Anyone who reads my work knows that I have longstanding admiration for quality journalism — and growing frustration with the culture and attitudes of professional journalism.

It occurred to me that a lot of the things that frustrate me about journalistic cynicism, idolatry, and sanctimony are remarkably similar to what frustrates me about sex negativity in American culture.

So I’m writing an essay to connect the dots. There are a lot of dots to connect, it’s going to take me a while. And I’m still thinking it all through.

One think I’ve learned is that my readers can always help me think tough things through. So in that spirit, here are some excerpts from what I’ve drafted so far. Bear in mind that this is JUST a draft, I WILL be refining it. I know it sounds more preachy and strident than I’d like. Also, I need to make it more fun and flow more. All that will be worked on

With that said, here’s the draft…

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Caucus day literary break

While Iowans go a-caucusing today, I thought I’d give Contentious readers a short literary break from one of my all-time favorites, Alice in Wonderland. This is from Chapter III: A Caucus-Race and a Long Tale

“…What I was going to say,” said the Dodo in an offended tone, “was, that the best thing to get us dry would be a Caucus-race.”

“What is a Caucus-race?” said Alice; not that she wanted much to know, but the Dodo had paused as if it thought that somebody ought to speak, and no one else seemed inclined to say anything.

“Why,” said the Dodo, “the best way to explain it is to do it.” (And, as you might like to try the thing yourself, some winter day, I will tell you how the Dodo managed it.)

First it marked out a race-course, in a sort of circle, (“the exact shape doesn’t matter,” it said) and then all the party were placed along the course, here and there. There was no “One, two, three, and away,” but they began running when they liked, and left off when they liked, so that it was not easy to know when the race was over. However, when they had been running half an hour or so, and were quite dry again, the Dodo suddenly called out “The race is over!” and they all crowded round it, panting, and asking, “But who has won?”

This question the Dodo could not answer without a great deal of thought, and it sat for a long time with one finger pressed upon its forehead (the position in which you usually see Shakespeare, in the pictures of him), while the rest waited in silence. At last the Dodo said, “everybody has won, and all must have prizes.”

“But who is to give the prizes?” quite a chorus of voices asked.

“Why, she, of course,” said the Dodo, pointing to Alice with one finger; and the whole party at once crowded round her, calling out in a confused way, “Prizes! Prizes!”

Alice had no idea what to do, and in despair she put her hand in her pocket, and pulled out a box of comfits, (luckily the salt water had not got into it), and handed them round as prizes. There was exactly one a-piece all round.

“But she must have a prize herself, you know,” said the Mouse.

“Of course,” the Dodo replied very gravely. “What else have you got in your pocket?” he went on, turning to Alice.

“Only a thimble,” said Alice sadly.

“Hand it over here,” said the Dodo.

Then they all crowded round her once more, while the Dodo solemnly presented the thimble, saying “We beg your acceptance of this elegant thimble;” and, when it had finished this short speech, they all cheered.

Alice thought the whole thing very absurd, but they all looked so grave that she did not dare to laugh; and, as she could not think of anything to say, she simply bowed, and took the thimble, looking as solemn as she could…

Barcelona is great, my Macbook is not

Just a quick update — I’m greatly enjoying my brief vacation in Barcelona. Last night a friend and I enjoyed tapas, tempranillo, and an AWESOME flamenco fusion trio in the courtyard of a Catalonian cafe. Here are some photos I took in Barcelona and at the seaside town of Vilanova i la Geltru.

However, my Macbook is not doing so well. Something went wrong with the power system and I can’t charge it. Most likely the electrical outlet adaptor I’d been using fried out and took with it either my laptop’s power adaptor or battery. I don’t think the hard drive or motherboard is fried because the machine worked until the charge ran out completely. But I cannot charge my machine at all right now, that’ll have to wait until I’m stateside. Sunday or Monday I’ll be visiting an Apple store in the states to diagnose the problem, replace the components, or replace the machine.

I’m just accepting this as a backhand blessing from the Goddess of Serendipity, who continues to smile upon me (or laugh at me, I’m not sure which sometimes). It’s good for me to take an enforced online vacation. I’ll live.

Anyway, Barcelona ROCKS! Come here if you can. Meanwhile I’m off to tour a Gothic Cathedral, followed by more tapas. I could live like this, I think — although I would need a functioning computer as some point or my head might implode.

Blogging Ethics: WSBD? (What Should Bloggers Do?)

Timothy Lloyd, via Flickr (CC license)
There are lots of ways to make ethical decisions. This probably isn’t the best one.

I’ve pulled together an interesting panel session for Blogworld Expo. It’s called Blogging Ethics: Making Tough Decisions, and it’ll be held Thursday Nov. 8, 10:15-11:45 am at the Las Vegas Convention Center.

(Right now they still have my session listed as “citizen journalism,” but they should have the info updated soon.)

Frankly, I’ve found most media ethics discussions to be dreadfully stodgy and dull. I definitely don’t want this session to be boring. So I’ve invited some bloggers who represent diverse approaches and goals:

  • Christopher, a Vegas resident who blogs (sans last name) at While Las Vegas Sleeps: “Real stories from the most unreal city on earth.” I chose him to explore the ethical issues of personal blogging — especially from a place where the long-standing local communication ethic has been “Whatever happens in Vegas stays in Vegas.”
  • Toby Bloomberg of Diva Marketing, who’s great at articulating the business, marketing, and PR approach to blogging.
  • Graydancer, a leading blogger and podcaster for the rope bondage, performing arts, and BDSM/kink communities. Talk about people with unique considerations around communication, privacy, and freedom of expression!
  • ADDED OCT. 24: Charlotte-Anne Lucas, assistant professor of journalism at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. She teaches online journalism, web publishing and design, and digital storytelling. She was an early blogger at TheStreet.com and at MySanAntonio.com, where she instituted ethical guidelines, along with strict corrections policies on blogs and online writing in general. She also requires her journalism students to blog.

Here’s what I have in mind for this session…

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Webcast tonight: It’s a conversation, stupid!

Greetings from Los Angeles, where I just flew in because in a couple of hours I’m speaking at a cool event at the USC Annenberg School of Journalism. And you can watch — and participate!

Michelle Nicolosi of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer and I are co-chairing a panel at 5pm Pacific. It’s called “It’s a Conversation, Stupid: Blogs, Wikis, Social Networking, UGC meet Journalism.”

UGC…. UGH!!!!! I loathe the term “user generated content.” It smacks of mechanism, hierarchy, and just plain condescension.Unfortunately it’s common among mainstream-media types, and you can bet I’ll have something to say about that! Like: Why don’t we just call it “contributed content?”

…Ahem… Anyway, this is part of an intriguing seminar at the Knight New Digital Media Center. (because “new media” ain’t new anymore) called Journalism in a 24/7 World: Decision-making for the Online Editor. Tonight’s event is offered in partnership with the Online News Association. If you go to this page at 5pm Pacific, you’ll find a live link to the webcast.

You also can submit questions during the event via this form. I’ll ask them on your behalf during the event as time permits. No softballs, folks!

Here’s the official blurb for the event:

“What happens when the audience becomes content producer on the nation’s top news web sites? Do you ‘moderate’ or let ‘er rip? How do journalism values and standards survive a User Generated Content world? Hear how USAToday.com and USA Today executive editor Kinsey Wilson, Yahoo! News editor in chief Neil Budde and CNN.com vice president and senior producer Mitch Gelman are opening their web sites to their audiences as never before. Get a chance to weigh in from your cell phone and laptop as Newsvine CEO Mike Davidson paints the future of collaborative journalism. Moderators will be Michelle Nicolosi, assistant managing editor for interactive at the Seattle Post-Intelligencer and Amy Gahran, conversational media consultant and editor of Poynter Institute’s E-Media Tidbits.”

Hope to see some Contentious readers there. Please say hi!

One Laptop Per Child: Why Media Folks Should Care

Laptop.org
Don’t know what to do with a computer that looks like this? Don’t worry — you’re not the target market.

Lately I’ve been learning more about, and getting quite intrigued by, the One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) program. Yesterday I listened to an IT Conversations podcast talk by Michael Evans, VP of corporate development for Redhat, one of the leading producers of Linux and open-source technology. That really tied together for me why this project is so compelling.

Originally I’d thought this project was interesting but rather frivolous. I mean, when millions of kids are dying around the world every year from malnutrition, dirty water, preventable diseases, and toxic environments — let alone the lack of energy and communication infrastructure in many populous parts of the developing world — a laptop sounds a bit like like Disneyland.

But now I think I get it. Here’s what I find so compelling and significant about OLPC…

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