Media & Journalism Grab Bag

Here are a few items on the theme of media, journalism, and news that have caught my attention lately…

TOP OF THIS LIST: Out of the Rubble, A Public Housing Drama Rises, a three-part video feature from the Washington Post, Dec. 22, 2004. First-rate storytelling that works well on a very small screen.

Now that we’re entering the age of TV programming delivered to mobile phones, I hope more news organizations start producing and deliver more of this kind of content.

Read the rest of this list…

Continue reading

Troublesome Trolls (Online Vermin, Part 2)

(NOTE: This is an installment in my “Handling Online Vermin� series about addressing people with poor online communication habits. Series intro and index.)

Online Trolls: These vermin seek to provoke a reaction. They bait in order to get people to snap back, thus granting them perceived license to attack even more fiercely. They deliberately stir up conflict and push people’s emotional buttons. They enjoy polarizing communities and disrupting discourse.

Combative, aggressive, polarized TV shows like Crossfire showcase and glorify trolling behavior – even though they claim to offer debate.

To a troll any attention is good – and the more intense the better. Negative attention tends to be especially intense online. Trolls usually believe they appear insightful and strong when tearing others down or creating discord, but this behavior actually has more in common with a tantrum.

Online trolls are distinguished by baiting behavior: Routinely making statements which are intended to push people’s buttons and start a flame war.

Trolls are the most dangerous type of online vermin because they feed on, and thrive in, discord. They directly benefit from a hostile environment. Trolls are generally averse to constructive discussion – they find it boring. Any environment which lacks a venomous heirarchical struggle, or which challenges the chosen basis for a fragile self-image, triggers insecurities regarding the troll’s own importance or superiority.

Time is the key to recognizing a true troll…

Continue reading

Tools Grab Bag

Here are a few cool tools that have caught my attention lately…

Mind mapping: See what you’re thinking
, by Dave Pollard, How to Save the World, Jan. 5. Lately I’ve grown to adore mind mapping tools. This article is perhaps the best introduction to the topic, with no hype.

Excerpt: “Recently I’ve started playing with mind maps as a personal thinking out loud tool, to organize my thoughts and think creatively all by myself. I’ve always learned best by writing, synthesizing and distilling books and other voluminous materials down to their essence: the message, the meaning, and the necessary actions. So perhaps this learning by writing down style is the reason I find mind maps useful.”

YES!!!! That’s exactly why I love mind mapping tools, too.

Read the rest of this list…

Continue reading

E-Learning Grab Bag

Here are a few items on the theme of e-learning that have caught my attention lately…

TOP OF THIS LIST: Experiencing knowledge to succeed, by Michael Jones,, Dec. 13, 2004. Excerpt: “Many in education – and especially many in e-learning – forget a simple truth. It’s not what you learn, it’s the process by and environment in which you learn it…

“Those who attempt to boil down information to a set of standardized learning objects that can be consumed interchangeably and acontextually risk losing sight of the contextual and collaborative elements of learning. Now, for some types of learning (e.g., procedural training), it’s perfectly correct and efficient to simply transfer information from A to B. This is simple knowledge transfer and acquisition. More complex learning, however, is essentially experiential and deeply contextual.”

Read the rest of this list…

Continue reading

Online Porcupines: Pricky Business (Online Vermin, Part 1)

(NOTE: This is an installment in my “Handling Online Vermin” series about addressing people with poor online communication habits. Series intro and index.)

Online Porcupines: People who seem unable to write a sentence that lacks a barb. There’s a rude, condescending, dismissive, or insulting edge to nearly everything they say. Often these barbs are thinly disguised as humor, or as hyper-rationality.

Believe it or not, most porcupines are not aware of how irritating or hurtful they can be. They believe it’s “just their personality,â€? or they transfer the problem to you. (“Can’t you take a joke?”) They believe they are concealing their vulnerabilities, when in fact barbs only make underlying insecurities more obvious.

The online porcupine has much in common with its rodent cousins. Both sport a coat of sharp quills which cover it entirely save for the face and soft underbelly. In the rodent version, these quills are modified hairs. In the online version, these quills are linguistic…

Continue reading

Handling Porcupines, Trolls, and Other Online Vermin (Series Index)

(UPDATE FEB. 10: Read about The purpose of this series. Also, listen to this audio note on vermin and compassion.)

Contrary to popular opinion, the internet is not really about technology. It’s about people, specifically how people communicate.

Despite the best efforts of evolution and civilization, human beings still have a lot of rough edges – individually and collectively. We annoy, denigrate, and dismiss each other all the time. Sometimes this is intentional, often it is not.

The plain text which comprises most online communication makes our rough edges hard to miss. It strips away many of the subtle buffers and safeguards we’ve created to minimize the inherent emotional and psychological risks of communication. Also, online media presents a deeply weird juxtaposition of isolation and connectedness, anonymity and identity, parts and whole. In this baffling environment people can be unbelievably brash and vulnerable at the same time.

In this realm, the vermin of communication thrive. Recognizing them, and choosing to react appropriately, is the key to avoiding their damage…

Continue reading

Writing & Editing Grab Bag

Here are a few items on the theme of writing, editing, and content rights that have caught my attention lately…

TOP OF THIS LIST: Any fool can learn to write for an audience, e-editor, Nov. 29, 2004. I’ve worked on a lot of style guide projects, and this article nails precisely a key point which is wholly omitted in most conventional in-house style guides: The first duty of the author is to write for the audience. A skilled editor is needed to handle the rest. Editing (real editing, not just proofreading) is not optional! It’s a mistake, usually, to expect most writers to be their own editors.

Excerpt: “Producing business text to suit a particular audience is a thoroughly misunderstood process. Getting the content right for the reader is the responsibility of the author. And in 99 cases out of 100, that is exactly where the limits of the author’s responsibility should be set. Presenting that content to the reader in its most accessible and striking form – honouring every nuance, but striking out every windy cliché and cavalier contradiction – is the other half of the exercise. That depends on editorial skill and judgement, and on the editor having the humility and stamina to check all those names, facts, details and dates the author couldn’t be bothered to question.”

Also, don’t miss e-editor’s Dec. 9, 2004 followup article. Excerpt: “Even after the skilled e-editor has done his or her worst, cutting and polishing like some dedicated craftsman in an Antwerp diamond house, the shorter, clearer, stronger piece that emerges should still have something of the author in it.”

Read the rest of this list…

Continue reading

The Human Touch Matters More than Ever

As technology becomes more sophisticated and pervasive, it’s more important than ever to stay connected to other human beings. Used well, technology can support that goal.

I was just re-reading an excellent column on this theme by Gerry McGovern: Technology not answer to every problem (New Thinking, Dec. 6, 2004). He observed, “Very few websites I come across are giving enough attention to human interaction. There is an expectation that the website should solve every problem in every situation. This approach is not going to work. There are certain things that people are better at, and organizations need to realize that the human touch, properly applied, is a valuable asset.”

I see this very clearly in my husband’s portrait business…
Portrait of Amy Gahran by Tom Vilot

Continue reading