Pride and Prejudice and Zombies: Reader Discussion Guide Excerpts

I just finished reading a killer classic fiction mashup (literally), Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. It’s a parody of the Jane Austen novel (which I tried to read in college and found unbearably tedious).

I must admit, though: The addition of a Night of the Living Dead-style zombie plague made all the endless fretting and plotting over how to present  oneself as appropriately marriageable in polite society surprisingly entertaining and understandable.

Because the thing is: The strictures of British aristocratic society — particularly how women were held in chattel status, and the ceaseless power plays of verbal indirection — were indeed nightmarish, soul-destroying, and cannibalistic.

Therefore, I don’t think it’s a stretch to consider this book a seminal feminist treatise. (God knows we need more entertaining seminal works of feminism!)

If you read this book (and I recommend it) don’t miss the reader’s discussion guide at the end. It contains 10 questions. Here are a couple of my favorites…

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Hashtags: Your Social Media Radar Screen and Magnet

Twitter Trending Hashtags
Image by mobatalk via Flickr

Later today I’m giving a talk at an entrepreneur’s group about how you can get more benefit out of social media by using hashtags. I’ve found that these can be exceptionally valuable tools to connect with topics and people. They also can help you make yourself (or a topic, organization, or event that matters to you) much easier to find and connect with.

I’ll be fleshing out these ideas in a later blog post. But for now, here are my main points I intend to make — Plus some resources I will to demonstrate…

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Hashtags on Twitter: How do you follow them?

TweetDeck
Column-based Twitter applications like Tweetdeck can make following hashtags easy. (Image by Tojosan)

As I’ve mentioned before, hashtags are a powerful tool that allows Twitter users to track what many people (especially people whom you aren’t already following) are reporting or thinking about a particular topic or event.

Here’s the catch: Hashtags aren’t an officially supported Twitter service. They’re merely a convention that Twitter users have adopted on their own, within the 140-character text-only constraints of tweeting. So you can’t really “follow” hashtags through the main Twitter site.

Many third-party Twitter tools and services “play nice” with hashtags — but you must first know what these tools are and how to use them in order to get maximum value from hashtags.

This can lead to a bit of basic confusion, especially among people who are new to Twitter. Specifically, how exactly do you follow a hashtag?…
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Tipsheet Approach to News: The Launching Point IS the Point

Typically news is presented in narrative story format (text, audio, or video). Often, that works well enough. But what about when people want to dig into issues on their own? What if they want to learn more about how the news connects to their lives, communities, or interests? Generally, packaged news stories don’t support that leap. It generally requires a fair amount of reading between the lines, initiative, research skills, and time — significant obstacles for most folks.

The growing number of citizen journalists (of various flavors) obviously are willing to do at least some of this work — but they don’t always know how to find what they’re seeking, or have sufficient context to even know what might be worth pursuing beyond the narrative line chosen for a packaged news story. Also, lots of people who have no desire to be citizen journalists still occasionally get interested enough in some news stories to want to check them out further first-hand. They just need encouragement, and some help getting started.

Therefore, it helps to consider that news doesn’t always have to be a finished story. In some cases, or for some people, a launching point might be even more intriguing, useful, and engaging. Here’s one option for doing that…
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Being a Citizen Shouldn’t Be So Hard! Part 2: Beyond Government

NOTE: This is part 2 of a multipart series. See the series intro. More to come over the next few days.

This series is a work in process. I’m counting on Contentious.com readers and others to help me sharpen this discussion so I can present it more formally for the Knight Commission to consider.

So please comment below or e-mail me to share your thoughts and questions. Thanks!

To compensate for our government’s human-unfriendly info systems, some people have developed civic info-filtering backup systems: news organizations, activists, advocacy groups, think tanks, etc.

In my opinion, ordinary Americans have come to rely too heavily on these third parties to function as our “democracy radar.” We’ve largely shifted to their shoulders most responsibility to clue us in when something is brewing in government, tell us how we can exercise influence (if at all), and gauge the results of civic and government action.

Taken together, these backup systems generally have worked well enough — but they also have significant (and occasional dangerous) flaws. They’ve got too many blind spots, too many hidden agendas, insufficient transparency, and too little support for timely, effective citizen participation…

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Local: Just One Set of Ripples on the Lake of News and Information

Clearly Ambiguous, via Flickr (CC license)
Local is just one set of ripples on the lake of news and information.

UPDATE SEPT. 15: I’ve launched a new series fleshing out this discussion. See Being a Citizen Shouldn’t Be So Hard! Part 1: Human Nature

When it comes to information that helps people function better as citizens in a democracy, how important is local, really?

Geographically defined local communities are the focus of the new Knight Commission on the Information Needs of Communities in a Democracy. Earlier this week, I posted this comment (and this one) on the Commission’s blog questioning the Commission’s assumption that community = local.

Don’t get me wrong: I love that Knight is trying to determine what kinds of information people really need to function as citizens today. I agree that’s a crucial line of inquiry these days. However, I’m concerned that by assuming those needs are inherently tied to “local,” the commission could miss a very important (perhaps the most important) part of what “community” really means to people today.

I was honored to see this very thoughtful response to my comment from Alberto Ibargüen, president and CEO of the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation. He made several good points, including this excerpt…
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The myth of the creative class (Jeff Jarvis)

Just now, Jeff Jarvis posted something that resonates strongly with me. See: The myth of the creative class:

“We have believed – I have been taught — that there are two scarcities in society: talent and attention. There are only so many people with talent and we give their talent only so much attention — not enough of either.

“But we are shifting, too, from a culture of scarcity to one of abundance. That is the essence of the Google worldview: managing abundance. So let’s assume that instead of a scarcity there is an abundance of talent and a limitless will to create but it has been tamped down by an educational system that insists on sameness; starved by a mass economic system that rewarded only a few giants; and discouraged by a critical system that anointed a closed, small creative class. Now talent of many descriptions and levels can express itself and grow. We want to create and we want to be generous with our creations. And we will get the attention we deserve. That means that crap will be ignored. It just depends on your definition of crap.”

This is so, so true…   One of the things that I find most encouraging about this era of media evolution is that every day I encounter a wider variety of unexpected jewels. Many of them are rough, or nascent. But they’re there, and I can find them if I look for them.

Even more importantly, I get to discover what resonates with me — and with other individuals. I don’t have to just settle for the kind of content I’m “supposed” to like (i.e., serious objective journalism, crisp professional audio, slickly produced video). I can focus on what I really like — and what has meaning to me. By getting to define my own criteria for “quality content,” I get to challenge my assumptions and expand my concept of who I am, and who I could be. My world is much richer for it.

This is exactly why I’ve always enjoyed going to see local music performances practically at random, while abhorring commercial radio for music discovery.


The Stereogram Approach to Finding the Meaning of Life

Gary W. Priester (Click image to enlarge.)
Often, the first challenge in life is simply to see the target.

I really used to hate stereograms.

When they became popular in the early 1990s, they often reduced me to serious frustration and headaches. I would stare at them — glare at them, really — trying to will their embedded 3D images to leap out. Everyone else seemed to enjoy these hidden illusions with ease. But my eyes and brain stubbornly refused to do the trick.

Then one day, I realized that I was looking at a dolphin. I just glanced at the cover of a book of stereogram art, and there it was. I was delighted to discover that the image wasn’t “leaping out” at me — rather, I was “seeing into” it. I wasn’t even sure how I’d started to see the hidden picture. All of the sudden, and quietly, it just worked.

Years later, I’ve come to realize that whenever I’ve identified a key mission or purpose I should pursue, it’s emerged (very much like that dolphin) from the background of the world around me. I get a sense that some vision is waiting to be seen, and I prepare my mind to be open to it. Then eventually I see it, and it feels like I always should have seen it.

In contrast, whenever I’ve tried the top-down, primarily rational (rather than intuitive) approach to choosing a course in life, I usually end up not really wanting what I’ve been working for, or liking what I’ve done — which is frustrating and demoralizing on many levels.

I’ve been quiet on this blog lately, mostly because I’ve been spending more time conversing, research, reading, and journaling. To be honest, I’ve been searching for purpose. For a couple of years now — although I’ve been doing a lot of interesting work, meeting a lot of interesting people, and learning a lot of interesting things — privately I’ve been feeling like I’ve been flailing around, seeking direction and purpose.

Finally, I feel like the picture is starting to emerge. Here is the outline so far…
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