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Is an Hour Enough to Save Everyone's World?

Just got back from a lunchtime walk during which I was approached by three college-age people, each asking for two minutes of my time to solicit my support and funding for, respectively, Save the Children, gay and lesbian marriage rights, and Greenpeace. Along the way I was also asked by two homeless people for money.

All five encounters physically reinforce the relentless images of crisis and desperation confronting us in our mediated society. In the face of such need and the natural fear it engenders of being in need, it's a wonder more of us aren't either hardened or crippled into inaction.


Stephen Fry, Ubergeek

Two weeks ago, the actor and author Stephen Fry was part of a wide-ranging interview on BBC Radio 4's Analysis: The transcription of excerpts are entertaining and full of the wit and common sense that a non-techie but avid digital user often provides. It's also worth your time to listen to the whole podcast, which is linked to among the excerpts.

Among his best observations, Fry tells us why the Web is like a city (it has libraries and theatres and museums—and a red light district), how Facebook is becoming low rent and MySpace is already there, how texting resembles 17th and 18th century letters but with fewer abbreviations, and why email is a literary form unto itself.


Lexia to Perplexia, and Back Again

According to the scholar N. Katherine Hayles, "Electronic literature, generally considered to exclude print literature that has been digitized, is by contrast 'digital born,' a first-generation digital object created on a computer and (usually) meant to be read on a computer."

As you can imagine, the genre has existed for decades as a near-monastic pursuit. It has a small but devout following and has attracted the attentions of such powerful thinkers as Hayles, Jay David Bolter, George Landow, and Stuart Molthrop.

However, the mainstream hasn't been ready for it. Electronic literature, which encompasses several forms including hypertext fiction and interactive fiction, rarely provides an easy read. Furthermore, the genre has been technologically hamstrung. In its early days, not many potential readers had ready access to computers. And throughout its history, its chief authors have had to be as facile at coding as they are at creating narrative, despite the development of a rather clunky and expensive program dedicated to creating hypertext narratives.

Now, I think, is electronic literature's time to breakout. The technology has improved and opened and the public's behaviors have been conditioned enough that the vehicles and tastes for such narratives are converging.

As Japan proves, mobile devices are getting good enough to consume—and compose—narratives. And the potential such open and free technologies as Twitter and Facebook to develop an audience around short, connected (even cryptic) hypertext narratives that can spin off in multiple multimedia directions is ripe for the plucking.

Now is the time for the next wave of authors of electronic literature to take the art to its next level.


"Fuck New Media"

This time Technorati can't blame me entirely for the salty headline.

No, the above phrase was uttered by Columbia Journalism School professor Ari Goldman to his "Reporting and Writing 1" students. "Goldman, a former Times reporter and sixteen-year veteran RW1 professor," New York Magazine reports, "described new-media training as 'playing with toys,' according to another student, and characterized the digital movement as 'an experimentation in gadgetry.'"

You might rethink those "gadgets," Ari, because if you actually read the news, you'd know those "toys" were rapidly replacing newsprint. That sound you hear, Ari? It's the shutters closing on two of the oldest newspapers formerly published in major media markets.

Both, by the way, are being reborn in some fashion as online-only publications. I guess boys will be boys when it comes to their toys.

Now, I know, Ari, you claim not to be against new media. You just want your students to master the fundamentals, which you claim they can practice in any medium. But you're wrong there, too. True, we need good, honest, in-depth reporting now more than ever. But online is no place for the long form. And your students will need to learn how to deliver their good, honest, in-depth reportage in a manner appropriate to their digitally savvy readers and the medium that will carry it.

Size matters, Ari, if you want to "fuck new media." And smaller is better in our online and increasingly mobile world.


Amazon Cries Uncle

Another tip from Albert: Amazon has released an app that allows all Kindle books to be read on the iPhone and iPod Touch.

Wait. Wasn't the point of the Kindle's electronic ink that it produced a reading experience that is supposedly better than traditional media screens, and more akin to an actual page? Guess that wasn't enough for all those people who already own a handheld that plays music and movies, delivers the Internet, and provides phone service to buy one more device just for reading.

This move may save Amazon's e-book business, though I doubt it. Have you ever tried to read Gravity's Rainbow eight sentences at a time? But it certainly marks the Kindle as a failed experiment that was about 10 years behind its time.


Intelligent Design

My friend Albert, the most pious and devout atheist I know, alerted me to this image he found on Flickr.

Was Jesus really almost as big as a tyrannosaurus rex? Did his sandals have a place to attach spurs? Does Crayola make a color called Flesh of Christ?


Trying Something New

No, really, I still love you, Blog. Very much. This is just something I'm, well, playing with. To see what it's like. I still love you, Blog. Really.


Slow Listener

Miles Raymer has an excellent article in the Chicago Reader about the Slow Listening Movement, a music-listening regimen that former Reader contributor Michaelangelo Matos is trying to counteract the audio ADHD induced by the iPod.

Though Matos' plan is intriguing, two other aspects of the article really caught my eye. First was the opening anecdote, which I hadn't heard before, about a man who won a songwriting contest, the award for which was exclusive rights to a previously unreleased Sufjan Stevens song. Rather than posting it for profit on iTunes or releasing it in any digital form, the winner decided to host in-person parties in which people could come hear the song for free—a gesture toward the roots of music before any recording technology.

I think that's touching and a lovely, respectful nod toward the song's actual creator. Apparently, that was not the reaction among Stevens fans: "This decision provoked startling anger—Duffy and Malloy were called hoarders, elitists, and worse for what one commenter at the Sufjan fan site All Good Naysayers dismissed as their 'little asshat teaparties.'" So digital technology has rendered an open invite to a music-listening party not populist enough. How dare you make me actually go somewhere to hear a song and not charge me for it.

Usually, such strong reactions are exhibited by those who resist technology and feel persecuted for it. In this case, it's Stevens' fans, clearly used to the freedom and convenience of digital music technology, who feel persecuted.

This brings me to this article's second intriguing sub-story, in which Raymer reports on a new MP3 device designed by an Italian design collective who have a similar view toward music listening as Matos. Though digital, their player replicates the look of a cassette. Furthermore, there is no skip or browse function—to fast forward or rewind, you actually have to twist your fingers or a pencil in the faux tape holes, like an old-timey cassette.

New technologies mimicking old ones is nothing new. However, in this case the designers are going for more than just retro chic. They are actually trying to limit your listening experience to make a point about how digital formats have changed our habits. Not really the stuff of profit, but it makes for good press.

Raymer's article highlights how central music is as a medium to our human experience—how viscerally we feel it. As such, music will continue to play a central role in our struggles surrounding new technologies, particularly as those technologies are developed as contexts for the delivery, distribution, and enjoyment of music. Napster was only the beginning.


The Multicolored, Polyphonic Tides of Revolution

This past February 20 was the centenary of the publication on the front page of Le Figaro of The Founding and Manifesto of Futurism, written by Filippo Tommaso Marinetti and credited with starting the Futurist movement. F.T. Marinetti's document had a profound influence, for very different reasons, on early-20th century Fascism and, later, on Marshall McLuhan.

It is difficult to know how serious or sane Marinetti was. He was an outsized figure given to outsized pronouncements and self-contradictory behavior. He was a supporter of Mussolini, so he held at least some convictions toward Fascism. He denounced pasta. He fought a duel with a critic who dealt with his work harshly yet on at least one occasion heckled his own play. He wrote an anti-Catholic novel but later reconciled with the Church and stated that Jesus was a Futurist. He protested against fascistic Antisemitism.

Of course, we librarians can never forgive him for the 10th point of his manifesto, which begins, "We will destroy the museums, libraries, academies of every kind...." But who couldn't love a guy so innately opposed to order (despite the whole Fascism thing, that is) that he included 11 points in his manifesto, which we all know are supposed to be some multiple of 10? Is that where Nigel Tufnel got his idea?

In honor of F.T. Marinetti, I offer The Manifesto of Manifestos:

  1. We affirm exclamation points!
  2. We will destroy our own movement before it starts by issuing a manifesto.
  3. We will act contradictorily to everything we say we stand for and call it art.
  4. In the absence of exclamation points, we will question everything cryptically.
  5. We will wear hats and pins.
  6. We will put up inscrutable posters and stickers in public places and wait for the curious or impressionable to rally around them.
  7. We will wait for the New York Times to report on our movement, then sell hats, pins, posters, and stickers.

Since this is, you know, a movement, I invite you to to add your own declarations in the comments or even re-post The Manifesto of Manifestos on your site. There are hats to be sold, and I need a new winter coat. If there aren't hoards of 20-somethings wandering around Brooklyn or the Lower East Side wearing merch within the month, then the movement has failed!


Teach a Man to Fish...

FINRA Investor Education Foundation and the American Library Association Announce Nearly $882,000 in Grants to Public Libraries to Support Grassroots Financial Literacy.

At last, public libraries are learning to hit people where they live. If public libraries become the go-to place for people to learn how to manage and research their personal finances, taxes, job search, and health care, they will never have to worry about receiving public funding ever again.