Thursday, May 20, 2010

Gen X Hits Middle Age

A.O. Scott has written an interesting NYT piece about the midlife crisis of Generation X, gathering a few recent pop culture texts that supposedly offer insight into a peculiar lament.

Though I've always felt that the Gen X moniker was foisted upon us to sell books and magazines, I must admit that I've gravitated to its definition of folks born between the Kennedy and Reagan presidencies. Indeed, back in the '90s I remember reading Douglas Coupland's book of the same name, which actually borrowed the term from another author's description of a previous generation, and feeling some sense of recognition.
Image borrowed from PopSop
Problem is, Generation X has always stood for nothing except a dull contempt for people and things presuming to stand for something. In that way, the term contains its own contradiction. Remember, we're the folks for whom OK Soda was marketed. You know, the dolts who'd nod sagely at a slogan like, "What's the point of OK? Well, what's the point of anything?"

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Text-Speak and the New Discourse

Djelloul Marbrook has written an interesting piece about the impact of online communication on what counts as good writing, and he offers a provocative thesis, that today's electronic writing, often a lazy mishmash of lazy and hackneyed tripe, may yet unfold into something new and transformative.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Speaking Philosophy

In COMM 149, Rhetoric and Public Life, my students and I start with a discussion of the relationship (borrowing somewhat from Robert Pirsig: the "war") between philosophy and rhetoric. I typically begin by noting there are as many definitions for rhetoric as there are rhetoricians. For that reason I was intrigued by Simon Critchley's NYT piece, What is a philosopher?, which starts the same way.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Fremont Peak Observatory

Saturday night, with its nearly new moon and promise of few clouds, was a great evening for stargazing. Jenny had done some research on the Fremont Peak Observatory and found that a local group of amateur astronomers regularly share their telescopes with folks interested in seeing the celestial sights. So we made our way in late afternoon. Problem was, ocean fog had already rolled over the coast, and the skies were gloomy. Driving along 101 we feared that our first night at Fremont would be a bust.

However Fremont Peak rises well above the usual fog ceiling, and by the time we reached the parking lot and found the Valley View Trail, the twilight panorama looked something like Caspar David Friedrich's Wanderer Above a Sea of Fog [wiki].

Friday, May 14, 2010

Is Facebook Worth the Risk?

I'm still processing a semi-popular uprising against Facebook as privacy advocates continue to profess shock that the social networking site is using information about user-habits to make money, and even worse, doing so in ways that users can't control. I suppose my confusion about all this consternation stems from the fact that I try not to post anything on the site that I wouldn't cheerfully see on the front page of the New York Times. And while I am fairly vigilant about updating my privacy settings, I have largely abandoned hope in safeguarding all my info from prying eyes.

Perhaps I've been too easily indoctrinated into the electronic panopticon. With each loyalty card I use, each internet transaction I engage, each time I participate in another geo-tagged activity, more of my data is sucked into the infosphere - often for purposes I cannot anticipate or influence. Bit by bit I measure the risks that my data will be used to harm me against the rewards I receive from this kind of accessibility. So far, at least for now, the rewards outweigh the costs.

But not for everyone.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Blog Redesign

Today I decided to redesign Woodland Shoppers Paradise - and it's about time.

This morning I began to read some of my colleagues' blogs when I noticed how much more snappy their designs are than mine. I'd been stuck with the same generic default format for about three years, always dreading the potential that a revision would royally screw up my pages. And yes, I ended up spending much of the day fiddling with details. But Blogger's relatively new Template Designer allowed me plenty of flexibility in building a site around a swell background image (photographed during a research trip to Alberta's West Edmonton Mall).

Take a look and please let me know: Any problems? Any glitches?

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Do Not Ignore iHobo

[Click the screen-cap or point your browser here:

And now, at last, you can download a hobo. A UK charity called Depaul UK has created an iPhone app (not yet available in the U.S.) designed to attract donations from the text-messaging masses. It's called iHobo, a simulator that allows users to manage the life of a street person over a three-day period.

The principle is simple enough: "Once you've tried to help a virtual one, you'll feel more inclined to help a real one… Ignore him, and his life spirals out of control."

Yes, he taps on the glass.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Beale Street Fauxcales

During our 2007 BBQ Tour, we enjoyed the opportunity to spend an evening on Memphis's famed Beale Street. It's a sort of Disneyland of blues, with lots of fauxcales designed to produce an experience of place without the risks of genuine encounters with racial or class-Others.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Summer Travel Plans

As the academic year comes to a merciful close, I look forward to some much needed summer travel. I thought I'd share these tentative plans in hopes that you share some advice about any of these locations. In many cases, these destinations represent first-time visits for me, so I'll appreciate all the travel tips I can receive.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Shanghai Expo: Early Reports

So far, Shanghai's Expo 2010 is opening pretty much like every other world fair: tales of nightmarish lines, cranky visitors, screwed up ticketing systems, and unfinished buildings.

Jenny and I are visiting in August, expecting even fiercer heat but hoping for more organized chaos. We can't wait to see some of those cool (and sadly temporary) exhibit buildings [Learn more: Decoding the Pavilion Architecture of Shanghai World Expo 2010].

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Converging Ourselves to Death (Speech)

This is a slightly revised version of the speech I presented last month as keynoter for the Rocky Mountain Communication Association's 2010 conference in Denver. The trip was a delight, especially the opportunity it provided to photograph farm relics and neon signs. But the best part was the chance to meet some really cool folks (including some outstanding faculty members and graduate students at The University of Northern Colorado). I just thought it'd be useful to archive my RMCA remarks, if only to bring back some happy memories...

Think back to the last time you were several places at once.

Visualize the moment.

Imagine you're chatting on a mobile phone while scanning a website on your laptop. Perhaps you catch a glimpse of video on another screen nearby. Maybe you're doing these things on the same device.

OK, how many places so far? Three?

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Grammar Police

Lately I had to admit to my students that I still have a thing or two to learn about semicolons (turns out you can use those little buggers to separate clauses that appear to contradict each other - Who knew? Well, everyone but me...) and it got me thinking about that swell M.C. Frontalot song, Tongue-Clucking Grammarian (here's a little sample - and lyrics). Then I saw this image today (borrowed from cheezburger), and I had to smile. Semicolons, I'll beat you yet; I will.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Fauxting and Anticipatory Disengagement

My pal Bonnie recommended this piece by Boston Globe guest columnist Charlotte Steinway, a college student-spokesperson for the so-called "be-everywhere-now generation."

Steinway's piece decries a tendency of some college students to practice anticipatory disengagement with the aid of personal media devices, hoping to avoid the ambiguity of face to face interactions. The editorial even describes the art of "fauxting" -- fake-texting to avoid real conversation.