Friday, January 30, 2009

Another Articulation of Omnitopia - Dung Kai-cheung's The Atlas

Conducting a google hunt for terms related to my research on space and place, I've come across Lee Sheung Hung's 2007 University of Hong Kong thesis, "To Write the Unwritable: Contesting Dung Kai-cheung from Within," which confirms that another author has used the word "omnitopia" in published writing -- but in a manner unrelated to my own work.

Lee Sheung Hung's thesis examines the works of Dung Kai-cheung (cited in other publications as Louis Dung Kai Cheung, Louis Dung, and elsewhere as Dong Qizhang), author of The Atlas: Archeology of an Imaginary City, a future history of Hong Kong that was published in Taiwan in 1997.

Doing some internet sleuthing, I found a terrific overview of The Atlas in Lingchei Lett Chen's Writing Chinese: Reshaping Chinese Cultural Identity (pp. 89-91). Here's a useful description of The Atlas from Chen's book: "The author claims that the Hong Kong that is known to its people in fact cannot be pinpointed on a map because a map is only an 'epistemological translation' of the world" (p. 90).

Of particular interest to me, Lee Sheung Hung reports that Dung Kai-cheung uses the word omnitopia in The Atlas, albeit in different manner than my own articulation. In The Atlas, "Omnitopia" is the name of a brief piece that appears in a larger section entitled "Theory." According to a translation cited in the thesis, omnitopia refers to being "everywhere, and nowhere" (p. 23).

I can find no English version of The Atlas, other than Martha P. Y. Cheung's collection, Hong Kong Collage, which includes an excerpt, though not the section in which "omnitopia" appears. Fortunately, a friend of mine is helping me track The Atlas down; she's even offered to perform some translation for me.

Given the widely used nature of those root words -- omni and topos -- I cannot be too surprised to potentially find another theoretical articulation of omnitopia. I only wish I'd heard of this book before publishing my own work. That said, I am happy to recognize that I am not alone in working with omnitopia. I hope to chat with my counterpart beyond the Pacific one day soon.

February 4 Update: Dung Kai-cheung and I had a pleasant email exchange on this topic. He was gracious and understanding, a model of collegiality in a globalizing world. Given my enhanced appreciation for the author and the man, I continue to hope that the entire text of The Atlas will find an English translation. I'd like more people to read his articulation of omnitopia.

Friday Fun Post: Media-Centered Reality

It isn't real until it's framed by a mobile phone.

I saw this image first at BuzzFeed and soupsoup.

By the way, click the BuzzFeed link for a Leaning Tower of Pisa image that is sure to inspire a chuckle.

(Photographer unknown)

Thursday, January 29, 2009

More Facebook Unfriending

Douglas Quenqua (NYT, registration may be required) has contributed to the well-worn meme of Facebook unfriending. This article focuses on the recent Burger King "Whopper Sacrifice" campaign, which featured Facebookers culling ten of their "friends" for a Whopper.

Unlike the normal process of unfriending that sends no specific message of the cut, the "Whopper Sacrifice" promotion actually sent messages to the new un-Friends, informing them of their comparative value.

While the campaign was quickly abandoned, some interesting issues remain.

Brian Gies, a marketer who helped launch the campaign, reflects on the changing nature of friendship in the online era: [snip from the NYT piece] “It seemed to us that it quickly evolved from quality of friends to quantity,” he said, “which was interesting to us because it felt like the virtual definition of a friend became something different than the friends that you’d want to hang out with.”

Read the entire article: Friends, Until I Delete You

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Omnitopia Update

Getting there!

Today the page proofs will be sent from Hampton Press to the folks who produce the actual paperback and hardbook books. No more PDFs, no more emailed edits. The next step is a bound copy of City Ubiquitous: Place, Communication, and the Rise of Omnitopia.

In preparation for the rollout, I've created a Facebook group where folks interested in omnitopia (or are just feeling generous enough to add their name to the community) can check for updates, post and access omnitopian images, and discuss topics related to the concept of our Age of Ubiquity.

I'm also working on a platform for the website (right now, there's just an image of the book cover as a placeholder). I envision that site as a much more robust front door to omnitopia, offering downloadable excerpts, reviews, faculty resources, and links to buy the book.

I'm also Twittering fairly regularly, posting (roughly) once-a-day messages about articles, blogs, and even poems(!) that I find referring to omnitopia in an interesting way. Students and other folks interested in the idea can check for new and innovative applications of omnitopia - or even receive them on their mobile devices.

Please consider participating in the rollout to the book.

  • Join the Facebook group:

  • Sign up for the Twitter feed:

  • Bookmark City Ubiquitous:

    (I'll let you know when the website goes live, about two weeks from now.)

    And look ahead to late February or early March when, according to the publisher, City Ubiquitous should be available for purchase.
  • Tuesday, January 27, 2009

    25 not-so-random things about Andrew Wood

    The following is my response to one of those "25 random things about you" invitations I occasionally receive on Facebook:

    1. I was born in 1968. My earliest memory is watching Walter Cronkite playing with a model rocket as he explained the first moon landing.

    2. My earliest memory of my father is an association of a necktie with the concept of a thousand dollars.

    3. When I was a child, I wept at the thought of being unable to meaningfully communicate with my dog, a cocker spaniel named Colleen.

    4. I was hyperactive as a kid - on Ritalin, the whole bit - and I was teased mercilessly because of my lack of impulse control.

    5. My mother explained my relation to the world by telling the story of how, when other kids were riding down the slide, I'd try to convince them to do something far more interesting. She often reminisced about how frustrated I was that they only wanted to wait in line, ride down the slide, and wait again.

    6. My mother taught me that the key to understanding my family's emphasis on self-reliance is to study the isolated, craggy shores of Scotland. [I did in 2011.]

    7. When I was a kid, I wanted to be an aeronautical engineer, but I got turned off by the math.

    8. The kindest thing my mother ever did for me is this: When we walked out of a showing of The Right Stuff, I asked her, "Mom, do I have the 'right stuff'?" Without blinking an eye, she answered, "yes."

    9. At the age of 16, I was almost killed when I rode my bike into the path of an oncoming car. In a feat of unexplainable gymnastics, I somehow turned perfectly perpendicular from my path onto the road and didn't get a scratch. Assuming I had expended my supply of good fortune, I always presumed thereafter that I'd die exactly 16 years later. Turning 32 was a little strange for me. Living afterward has been strange, too.

    10. I won a fight in high school once, but I'm more proud of the day in which I talked myself out of one, even as a crowd of onlookers were hungry for blood.

    11. In the Navy, I once almost got turned into hamburger by the intake of an A-6 Intruder.

    12. One of my biggest regrets is not going to Berlin to see the Wall come down in 1989, even though I lived relatively nearby in Spain.

    13. I married my high school sweetheart (though, technically, we first knew each other in middle school).

    14. Every major mistake I've made in life is due to impatience - most of my achievements, too.

    15. I cried like a baby in grad school when I got caught claiming to have read a book that I'd only skimmed. That day, I committed to never overstate my accomplishments again.

    16. Everything I learned about doing my job as a college professor came from work as a Navy broadcaster and college forensics competitor. Thinking on my feet, working under deadline, and synthesizing coherent wholes from disparate parts is what I do for a living.

    17. Every few weeks I quietly recite the Gettysburg Address to myself.

    18. The biggest lesson I've learned in the past ten years is a bit sad: Friends who are friendly at their convenience are best reclassified as "acquaintances."

    19. I get easily stressed by unordered social situations.

    20. I'm awful at remembering names and faces: a frustrating skill-deficit for a professor.

    21. I find it increasingly difficult to suppress my annoyance at people who walk around with their heads down while sending text messages. That's a bad thing, walking around a college campus with a scowl.

    22. My favorite activities involve long distance driving. Photographing old motels, diners, and neon signs is a passion of mine. But the freedom of an open horizon is what I love most of all about the highway.

    23. It's a cliche, I know, but I want to see Paris. I can't believe I haven't gone yet. [I finally did in 2011.]

    24. I'm so happy that Jenny and I share a vision of sailing traveling around the world.

    25. I'm agnostic, but I still pray.

    Monday, January 26, 2009

    More Trouble for Starbucks

    Matthew Tully writes in The Indianapolis Star of the closing of another Starbucks, noting the particular sadness of this failure. Here's a snip:
    While an empty Starbucks in a suburban strip mall is annoying, those in areas that have struggled for years to emerge from rampant crime and a lack of development are sad.

    "We really were excited to have them there," state Rep. Greg Porter said. "We thought of (the stores) as something that could help solidify the efforts the community has been making."
    Tully reports that Starbucks had made an effort to open stores in economically troubled areas, but in this current economic downturn, it cannot afford any risks against its bottom-line.

    Read the entire article:

    January 28, 2009 Update: Starbucks to cut 6,700 jobs, close 300 stores: "The company also plans to eliminate about 700 corporate jobs, including about 350 at its corporate headquarters in Seattle."

    February 9, 2009 Update: Starbucks Plays Common Joe: "On Monday, the company plans to announce that it's selling discounted pairings of coffee and breakfast food for $3.95, a type of promotion long used at fast-food chains. It's the first move in an aggressive campaign to counter the widespread perception that Starbucks is the home of the $4 cup of coffee."

    February 11, 2009 Update: Starbucks begins announced job cuts with 1,000 layoffs: Among those layoffs, "About 870 assistant store managers were notified that their positions were eliminated, Starbucks said in a statement."

    Note: This blog-post is also accessible via

    Sunday, January 25, 2009

    Guest Blog-Post - Holiday Inn or Howard Johnson’s

    I'm trying something new today: a guest blog-post. The following is from Brett Lucas, who emailed me a thoughtful reply to a website I posted some years back about Holiday Inn: Wal-Mart of the Hospitality World. His post follows:

    Is “Holiday Inn,” the Wal-Mart of the hospitality World, or was there another serious competitor? While Kemmons Wilson had a great deal of influence in the lodging industry with the Holiday Inn chain, and the larger hospitality industry in general, I would also go farther and say that Howard Johnson had just as much of a profound influence in the industry as well, and could have been seen as the Target or JCPenney’s of the hospitality world, using the Wal-Mart analogy. Howard Johnson, came into the hospitality industry in the 1930’s, and opened his first motor lodge in 1954; however, he came into the industry from the side of a restaurateur with his ice cream stands and restaurants/coffee shops. On the other hand, Kemmons Wilson established its first Holiday Inn motel in 1958, and included a coffee shop (often including meeting rooms and a cocktail lounge) on same site; however, Kemmons Wilson came into the hospitality industry from the lodging side first, and a restaurateur second.

    At the peak of Howard Johnson’s empire in 1969, he had approximately 500 motels and 1,000 restaurants, whereas Holiday Inn had about double the hotels that same year. While Holiday Inn was a larger chain, I would argue that both chains were mid-range (price-wise) in terms of place project packaging (Jakle, 1996) at the same time period, and neither chain was aimed at the budget traveler. Howard Johnson was also instrumental in use of architecture (a-frame gate-lodge with cupola, orange roof, etc) of the building and colors as part of the marketing of the product. International House of Pancakes used the same concept in developing their restaurants.

    It wasn’t until the mid 1970s until some of the budget chains like Econo Lodge, Super 8 and Motel 6 became well established (due to the oil embargo and other economic challenges), taking a larger share of the lodging industry from mid-range chains Howard Johnson’s and Holiday Inn (to a lesser degree) suffered two downfalls in the 1980s. The first downfall was the take over by larger corporate conglomerates; Marriott, and Hotels Inter-continental respectively; and the respective chains lost direction of their product placement in respect to increasing competition of other chains. The second downfall, or change in the marketplace, was the shift in the traveler wanting a motel with extra amenities such as coffee shops and exercise facilities (one pays extra for the motel room to subsidize the on-site coffee shop, unless it is an off-site coffee shop like Denny’s); to budget hotels that have minimal amenities (often just a swimming pool and no on-site restaurant) and often offer a free continental breakfast. With the influx of other food/restaurant offerings, and the Interstate Highway System, budget conscious travelers now see a motel as a bed and a shower, and are not looking for many of the other amenities that were sought after in previous years. Mid-range motels such has Howard Johnson’s and Holiday Inn, also got the squeeze from the other end of the lodging spectrum, in the area of hotels with suites and extended stay facilities (i.e. Homewood Suites, Courtyard by Marriott, etc.), aimed at the longer staying business traveler, offering more amenities geared toward families and business travelers.

    As American travelers have gone from a three-tier system of motels (budget, mid-range, and luxury), to the preference of a two-tier system (budget and suites/luxury), mid range chains such as Holiday Inn (not including Crowne Plaza and Embassy Suites) and Howard Johnson’s have had a difficult time recalibrating to changes in travelers needs. As a result of the changes in the lodging industry, and “amenity creep” from the budget motels, new mid-range chains such as Day’s Inn and La Quinta Inns & Suites have come to fill in the void left by Howard Johnson’s, as well as encompassing the suite market. Could the fate of Howard Johnson’s been the unintentional generational phenomena, of “Not my fathers Oldsmobile,” and just did not keep up with the changes of the American traveler?


    Brett Lucas is a planner who works for the City of Vancouver in Washington State. Brett has a MA in geography from Cal State East Bay ('05) and a BA in geography from Oregon State University ('94). He appreciates your comments on this post. Photographs of abandoned Howard Johnson’s in Colton (CA) by author.

    Check out Brett's blog: Geography (The Cultural Landscape), Railroads & Amusement Parks

    Friday, January 23, 2009


    Jenny and I were sitting at home when the power just went out. Looking outside, it was clear that the whole neighborhood was dark. Lights danced in nearby windows, dogs barked, and a few folks gathered on the street, talking softly. Jenny and I grabbed some candles and then found the radio-flashlight.

    Crack. Crank. Crank. AM radio! FM too!

    No news on the blackout - but twirling the tiny, plastic dial, I found a late 1940s radio play, Bob Hope's "Ghost Breakers." Sitting in the dark, lit by flickering candles, we listened to a cheesy story that was interspersed with jokes about Harry Truman, Jack Benny, and the Ku Klux Klan.

    Clunk. Clunk. Clunk. Watch out! Behind you! He has a gun! Bang Bang!

    The cats settled on our laps and we enjoyed the vibe. The house all dark, filled with the tinny sounds of 1940s-comedy. Then I wondered: will it be like this if our country really goes to hell? Sitting at home, listening to the radio?

    Jenny, often more practical than I during these sorts of events, decided she'd had enough of our forced historicism. We could just drive to a nearby coffee shop, she offered.

    Well, yes, I suppose we could.

    Our car was locked behind a closed electrical garage door, and we had to pull the string and open it manually. It was like we were figuring out some Boy Scout badge skill.

    A few minutes later, we entered the part of town where the outage had not struck. I was sad, seeing how small our temporary catastrophe proved to be. Beyond Skypark, our neighborhood, people are watching television, seeing movies, living their normal lives.

    Even further beyond... it's a bit frightening to contemplate.

    Now we're in a coffee shop, sipping pricey stuff, listening to some sultry sounding guitar music, and grooving on the wireless.

    It's cool, I guess. But I want to go home soon - time traveling to the age after the Depression and before the Space Age.

    The Printed Blog

    Claire Cain Miller (NYT, registration may be required) describes a strategy employed by one newspaper publisher to stay relevant in the web 2.0 era: fire the reporters and reprint blog content.

    The Printed Blog is designed to be a free daily (maybe a twice-daily, if things go well), based entirely on local blog content. Ads bring in revenue, which is partially distributed to the bloggers.

    That way, the local geezer who spends all day watching city counsel drainage subcommittee hearings can make a few bucks and provide more depth than a journo covering a broader beat.

    Each paper will be hyper local. Thus, as Miller puts it, "A city the size of Chicago could have 50 separate editions tailored to individual neighborhoods."

    Read the entire piece: Publisher Rethinks the Daily: It’s Free and Printed and Has Blogs All Over

    Thursday, January 22, 2009

    Another Block Against the Wall

    I noticed recently that our local Blockbuster is closed. Signs offer renters the opportunity to drive to semi-nearby towns but exclaim even more loudly the death of the brick and mortar video store.

    Well, perhaps I speak too quickly on that latter point. There will long be small Mom and Pop shops, some even that have a few videos on shelves (along with DVDs and whatever medium comes next). These are the places with dedicated movie geeks, the types of maintain a "secret stash" for friends and cool customers.

    One of our independent shops is where I got the unrated version of Bad Lieutenant when Blockbuster only rented a safe R version. Same deal with Requiem for a Dream. Blockbuster, in contrast, was more memorable for its rows of new arrivals, all empty.

    In recent years the chain "eliminated" late fees and promised guarantees of new arrivals, and it continues to attempt competition with Netflix. But it seems too late to save Blockbuster.

    I haven't rented a video there for years. In fact, it's a point of contention when Jenny does. Given how much we pay for cable and Netflix, given our own DVD collection and the ease of accessing cool (and free) content online, renting from Blockbuster just doesn't make sense to me.

    I guess it doesn't make sense to a lot of people.

    Wednesday, January 21, 2009

    The Green Book

    Yesterday, Ron Warnick's Route 66 News posted a thought-provoking story about earlier times on the Mother Road in which African-Americans were generally not welcome in some of the old Mom and Pop motels (along with diners, bars, and other stops) both on and off the Mother Road.

    The piece even features a link to the Negro Motorist Green Book, a publication designed to point African Americans to roadside businesses who appreciated their patronage (as opposed to many who offered a rude and sometimes deadly welcome).

    I first saw this book as a display in the Smithsonian's American History Museum, and I am still amazed at this document, how it represents both the prevalent racism of an America not so far past and the ways in which some folks managed to work around its limitations.

    Yesterday's inauguration highlighted to Ron, to me, and to countless others just how far this nation has come. As Barack Obama said in his address:
    This is the meaning of our liberty and our creed . . . and why a man whose father less than 60 years ago might not have been served at a local restaurant can now stand before you to take a most sacred oath.
    Prejudice, both in its overt and covert forms, has not been eradicated from our nation. But the fact that Barack Obama is now our 44th president and that publications like the Negro Motorist Green Book are rightly relegated to history allows us to be a bit more proud today.

    Read Warnick's article - and download a PDF of the Green Book: My, how times have changed

    Monday, January 19, 2009

    Semiotic Ghosts

    When I was a kid in Dunedin, Florida, I walked around - a lot. I didn't have a bike for years, but I rarely missed the wheels; everything was pretty well close at hand. One day, I was looking for the location of something or other, and I asked an old man for help. He pointed a finger upward and said, peering beyond the horizon, "It's over yonder." I might have been about eight, but even then I recognized how cool it was to hear the word "yonder." None of my friends said it, none of the adults I knew said it either.

    "Yonder" is one of those words that float hazily outside of culture, one of those semiotic ghosts William Gibson wrote about in his short story, "The Gernsback Continuum." "Yonder" is recognizable in its vivid ability to conjure up a sense of time and place, but it is no longer present - except for a few older folks willing to carry it with them. It resides in and out of memory, like a fading sign once painted on a wall. Remembering my first encounter with the world "over yonder," I keep my eyes sharp for similar semiotic ghosts: things once alive and real and now ephemeral: recognizable but slightly removed from reality, shimmering before they fade forever.

    Like telegrams.

    I hear that Western Union sent its last telegram in 2006. Wow, I wish I'd ever sent or received one of those those things. I don't think I've ever held a telegram in my hand. I visualize a yellow or orange piece of paper, maybe with strips of typed writing glued onto its surface, the strips roughly aligned but somewhat askew. Of course, I see the word "STOP" separating clauses (supposedly one-character periods cost money but the four character STOP was free. Does that make any sense to you?). Telegrams represent an age of nearly-instant communication before cheap long distance and well before electronic mail. Telegrams were a tangible form of expression, even now resting in attics and basements around the world. I know what telegrams were. I remember them. Just not personally.

    What's a swell semiotic ghost that you remember?

    Please feel free to post your reply. And remember: semiotic ghosts are generational creatures. Yours will be different from mine. Squint your eyes just a bit. What do you see?

    Learn More: STOP -- Telegram era over, Western Union says:

    Read More: William Gibson's The Gernsback Continuum

    Friday, January 16, 2009

    Thursday, January 15, 2009

    The Waffle House Phone Licker

    I've finished my first draft of the Waffle House essay, and I plan to send it off today to the book editors. Given my recent writing about omnitopia (the book is just about ready to go to the printers), I couldn't resist weaving some of that idea into my reflections on Waffle House. But my favorite parts of this essay involve some of the fascinating people that I met. Here's a taste.
    The Waffle House on 51st is subdued, part of a lowslung row of businesses, a narrow cleft that is darkened by lowered blinds. Even the sign is less obvious, located above the entrance but under the eave. A server tells me that the place of 51st attracts a pretty strange clientele. Without much prompting, she illustrates her case with the legend of the Phone Licker. This guy, she says, occasionally ambles down McDowell Road before stopping by the payphone outside. He sneaks a salacious peak for privacy's sake and then tongues the phone receiver. She caught him once, if only to prove to her friends that she's not crazy, but he scampered off without an explanation. "We don't need TV," she announces to me. "We've got McDowell vision."
    (Photograph by Andrew Wood)

    Wednesday, January 14, 2009

    Lure of the Open Road

    A few weeks ago I came across a link to Thelma Popp Jones' story, "The Lure of the Open Road," a travelogue detailing the adventures of two young women exploring the United States, from Buffalo to Illinois, down the Ohio River, across the deep south and back home again - by bike in 1944.

    The story of two "mice" (as they called themselves) sleeping in barns, bathing in streams, sailing on rivers, and catching rides with truckers is remarkable for its depiction of an America that so is much friendlier and so much safer than the nation we know today.

    The prose is chipper and the language is understandably dated. But if you allow yourself a few moments to fall into the rhythm of this story, you may end up losing a Sunday as I did, reading an almost unbelievable journey through the heart of wartime America.

    Read the entire story:

    Tuesday, January 13, 2009

    Text Crazy

    Susannah Cahalan writes in the The New York Post about a teen who sent 14,528 messages - in a month. Here's a snip:
    Reina had a karaoke birthday party, and while other people were singing, she was texting her best friend sitting right next to her.

    She even texted her friends to brag about the high number of text messages she had logged when her parents got the statement.

    Her texting soared last month because "it was winter break and I was bored," Reina told her parents.
    And here's a useful fact:
    The average number of monthly texts for a 13- to 17-year-old teen is 1,742, according to a Nielsen study of cellphone usage.
    Here's more information about average text amounts: (Nielsen Wire).

    Read the entire article: This kid's a text maniac

    More mobile phone craziness

    Knife-Wielding Teen Enraged Over Cell Phone Punish: "Authorities were called to the home at about 3 a.m. Sunday. Police say the girl violently attacked the door while her parents hid in the bedroom. Investigators say it started when the girl's father took her cell phone away while she used it in her bedroom. The father suspected the girl stole money from her mother's purse to buy more minutes on a prepaid phone card."

    Drivers beware -- kids crossing with cell phones: "A team at the University of Alabama at Birmingham reported on Monday that children who talk on cell phones while crossing streets are 43 percent more likely to be hit by a car than when their phones are turned off. . . [Despina] Stavrinos said in a statement that children who attempt to multitask while talking on a cell phone have 'reduced cognitive capacity to devote to potentially dangerous activities such as crossing streets.'"

    Monday, January 12, 2009

    Mobilizing Twitter

    A while back, I commented about my slowness to get hip to Twitter, the microblogging app so popular with journalists and industry "insiders" these days. To a certain extent, I get the idea easily enough: 140 characters (almost) instantaneously blasted to a feed, which can be tapped via visitation to a webpage or, better yet, received via mobile device.

    Thus, I've heard that some media outlets swarm an event with Tweeting journalists covering "all sides of the story." Their disparate perspectives become integrated into a single space. Moreover, as the Mumbai attacks illustrate, anyone with a useful Twitter feed can contribute even more than a credentialed journalist. So, yeah, I think that Twitter is worth thinking about. That's why I've decided to experiment a little by setting up three Twitter feeds.

    The first one - highway163 - is a personal feed for pals who might be interested in what I'm posting to Facebook, what I'm reviewing at Yelp, what I'm watching via Netflix, and what missives I post to Blogger. I use Friendfeed to grab that material and send it to Twitter, particularly since entries that exceed the 140 character limit are automatically shortened, with the excess being transformed into a tiny URL. What's cool about Friendfeed is the site's ability to grab text from dozens of my sites, plucking them all for my Twitter feed.

    The second one - profandy - is a faculty feed for my students who might want an instant update of changes to class location, delays, or other time sensitive info. I've arranged that feed up to flow from my mobile phone. So if I'm stuck in a massive traffic jam on Highway 17, I can send a text to inform my students. Right now, only visitors to the feed page could access that information, but I plan to start inviting students to subscribe to the feed via their mobile phones (reminding them that (a) I won't send any but the most time sensitive messages and (b) standard SMS charges apply).

    The third one - omnitopia - is an idea-feed related to my omnitopia research. This is potentially my most promising use of Twitter. When City Ubiquitous hits the shelves, I'll post that Twitter feed to review sites, listservs, responses to omnitopia-related emails, and my blog (which includes a section dedicated to my last five omnitopia Tweets, thanks to the Twitter Badge feature). Then as I come across interesting news items, article references, photos, YouTube videos, and the like, I'll post Tweets. To send the content, I've set up a Twidget module on my Mac's dashboard for the text and a Flickr dropbox in my dock to add pix (sending images to the feed via Twittergram).

    The goal with this third feed is "stickiness," inviting readers to stay engaged with omnitopia, commenting on it, adding to it, and (ideally) sharing it with friends in their own networks. Enhanced book sales is one goal, but a meaningful conversation about omnitopia is even more important.

    Using Facebook for personal stuff, my mobile phone for time-sensitive classroom stuff, and my desktop for omnitopia stuff just may help me avoid confusing the streams. The next step is to develop the kind of content that inspires people to subscribe and return. I may take some time to think about this a future post.

    Friday, January 9, 2009

    Friday Fun Post: Cute Things Falling Asleep

    In the grand tradition of entirely unambiguous titles (I'm flashing back to the classic Snakes on a plane), here's Cute Things Falling Asleep.

    Thursday, January 8, 2009

    Ethereal Places

    I just finished reading an essay in Critical Studies in Media Communication by Serena Hashimoto and Scott Campbell, entitled "The occupation of ethereal locations: Indications of mobile data." It's an interesting piece that employs a psychoanalytical view (with a bit of symbolic interactionism) to explore the ways in which mobile technologies (with a particular emphasis in texting) change our relationships to people and places. The article discusses a notion of ethereal place that aligns in useful ways with my own journeys through placeless enclaves. Here's a decent summary of the authors' concept from the piece: "The space is a product of fantasies of pure communication, of perpetual contact, and of the other being present here now, without any of the distances and difficulties enhanced by discerning vision" (p. 546).

    Here are a few representative quotations:

    On the historical nature of communication technologies: "[C]ommunication technologies were developed in order to overcome the barriers that stand between self and other, such as time, space, and flesh" (p. 542).

    On one purpose of texting: "Young people are particularly known for their expressive use of the technology in an effort to remove otherness through demonstration of social network membership" (p. 543).

    On the large number of "nonsense messages" supposedly sent by youthful texters: "Oftentimes it is the symbolic nature of these characters and not the actual content of their message that carry meaning" (p. 544).

    On the "blindness" created by mobile telephony: "The loss of the primacy of vision in telephonic interplay engenders the telephone slipping away 'as a sensory object.'" (p. 545).

    On the ways in which mobile devices lose their meaning as objects: "As the user walks freely, hands empty, talking to the other in a thing, an ethereal place has been entered" (p. 546).

    On the diminishing value of place: "Mobile data have no concreteness of place, no rapport with location. Their structure is based on ongoing permeability and flux" (p. 549).

    On the changing values and fashions associated with mobile technologies: "Mobile telephony has aided in the creation of new 'places' which demand a new aesthetic in order that they be entered" (p. 550).

    Quoting Manuel Castells, who coined the phrase mass self-communication: These are communications that are "self-generated in content, self-directed in emission, and self-selected in reception by many that communicate with many" (p. 552).

    Hashimoto, S. & Campbell, S. (2008). The occupation of ethereal locations: Indications of mobile media. Critical Studies in Media Communication, 25(5), 537-558.

    Learn More

    Manuel Castells,

    Center for Mobile Communication Studies Publications of Interest

    Wednesday, January 7, 2009

    Can You Hear Me Hereafter?

    This is a relatively ancient article (from December, 2008), but I had to post a link to it anyway, just in case you didn't read it.

    Diane Mapes writes on MSNBC that some folks are getting buried with their mobile phones, their iPods, and even with Bluetooth headsets stuck in their ears. Get ready to get creeped out:
    “We had a young man die this past summer and they put his cell phone in the casket for the viewing and it rang constantly,” [one funeral director] says. “It was turned to silent, but you could see the phone light up so you knew people were calling. And they were leaving messages. They knew he was dead, but they were still calling.”
    Read the entire article:

    Tuesday, January 6, 2009

    Salinas Animated Neon

    Here's some homemade video of Valley Center Bowl in Salinas. This place features a swell animated neon sign.

    Trouble seeing this video? Point your browser here: (please select "watch in high quality" for best view).

    By the way, if you're ever in town, stop by Smalley's Roundup on Market Street. The ribs are terrific - comparable to Dreamland in Tuscaloosa, AL. Not convinced? Check out the Yelp review:

    Monday, January 5, 2009

    Through Being Cool

    I'm attempting an experiment in word recovery: I'm bringing back the word "swell."

    You remember "swell," don't you? You certainly heard it in Pleasantville as a stand-in for staid, bland 50s culture. Indeed, from the 1920s through the 1950s, swell grew from being a mildly rebellious adjective, an affront to Victorian discipline, to become an all-purpose affirmation of that which is good.

    However, in an essay published in American Speech, Robert L. Moore identifies the mid-1960s as a turning point, the time when swell became, well, uncool. Swell became associated with cocktails when the kids were turning onto pot. Swell was World War II while Vietnam raged in the jungles and on television. No longer trapped as a beatnik affectation with its suggestions of funky jazz authenticity, cool marked the baby boomers' time to come of age.

    I grew up in the world of cool. It was like air; I breathed it unconsciously. But by the mid-70s, cool had lost its own cachet as faint defiance and had settled into comfortable middle age. I'm pretty sure the first time I heard something being called cool was something my mom said. By now, cool is pretty much anything that doesn't suck.

    That said, I never thought much about the meaning of cool until a faculty colleague asked me with disarming directness just what the word means. I stammered out an answer, something about social acceptability. I suppose I made sense, but as my students know, I'm the last person to say that I'm cool, or that I have some insight into its meaning.

    Maybe that's why I want to bring back the word "swell." But there's more to it than that. Let's consider the two words more closely.

    Cool signifies a degree of detachment, a kind of social distance. When I was a kid, those fellows who leaned against a wall, steadied by one cocked knee, were cool. The ones who didn't seem to need the affirmation of others were cool. Cool is a performance of knowing the right pose, knowing the right attitude, knowing the right fashion.

    The problem is that while a pair of blue jeans was once cool, today's hip threads (even jeans) come much more dearly. Cool demands a complex economy, which can get pretty expensive, and one's dues are never fully paid to join this club. Flip through any issue of Esquire or Cosmo and you'll know what I mean.

    Swell seems so much more appropriate for our era of economic uncertainty than cool. Swell suggests an almost libertine pleasure, a glandular expansion that mocks deprivation. In a previous incarnation, swell referred to high social status. Often it was used as a noun: "He's a real swell." But I refer to the more recent popular usage, a cheerful optimism that comes with little cost. Cocktails were once swell; now they're cool. Malts have always been swell (though anything can be cool if you're willing to pay enough).

    Cool is confidence that masks alienation. Swell is confidence, plain and simple. And it's much more fun to say.

    So join the club. Trying weaving "swell" into your everyday speech. Sprinkle it among your positive adjectives for fun, for kitsch, for old time's sake. Let's start a swell revolution!

    Learn More: Moore, R.L. (2004). We're cool, mom and dad are swell: Basic slang and generational shifts in values. American Speech, 79(1), 59-86 -- also, here's a news article written by Moore to summarize the academic article.