Category Archives: Classic

Proximity Networks: The New Rude?

Down the rabbit hole I went today and wound up learning more about “proximity networks” and the apps that make them, a search that turned up competitors Color and Lokast. After reading lots of vague promises on LoKast’s site that didn’t really tell me how the app worked, I retreated to the “University of Youtube” to see what Lokast’s text was unsuccessfully bragging about.

Let me stipulate to two firm opinions:

  • I hold the written word in highest esteem as a means of communication. (I read and re-read LoKast’s copy.)
  • I love new, interesting technology. (I do get that proximity networks sound  handy.)

But when someone tells me they have

a mobile app for digitally enabling [my] physical life — to better connect with the people there with [me], to better experience the physical settings, and to help [me] accomplish the stuff that [I] do there better….

I really have to ask, “Uh, what??” Why do I need an app to help me talk to the person in the room with me or to help me “experience” my backyard after work? Certainly, they mean more than disconnecting me from my real world only to connect me back to it digitally?

So they get some minus points for vague writing. Over to YouTube I went. But the phrase “real time interaction platform for physical settings” doesn’t do much either as far as clarity about what this thing does…so I need to listen a bit longer…oh wow, he continues that I can share things with people right next to me. Since I already do that, I am waiting for the new angle on face-to-face communication.

But that doesn’t come. What follows is a view of an auditorium with people seated apart from one another, but wanting to communicate and share videos and photos, presumably during the event they are in the auditorium for. I know that already with the technology we have, under the guise of taking notes, attendees frequently pull out their tablets and tap away, some of which is not note-taking but rather messaging friends about the boring speaker or where to meet for happy hour later.

Therefore, it is not the usefulness technology of proximity apps I wonder about, because there obviously are good practical uses for the technology: people from the same company separated in a huge auditorium at a conference, for instance, allegedly “sharing notes” as the video suggests (how can such tapped in digital natives forget notes they must have stored in the Cloud?).

But I do pause at the new standard and presumed acceptance of distracted attendance as the new norm for professional behavior in the face of a speaker. It never seems to occur to the folks at LoKast to pretend to apologize for real time social networking in that auditorium. With the benefit of this technology, speakers today should expect to look out at audiences who are offering only divided attention.

Can we develop an ethic of civility that brings us back to looking at someone when they are talking to us? Do we need to evolve manners for proximity social networks that allow us to have conversations about people right in front of their eyes in a much more “in their face”-“behind their backs” way than ever before? We do. Or proximity networks are the enablers of the new rude.


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Writing: Dead or Alive?

Traditional public school education, in my opinion, has communicated that writing has more value than spoken communication or other forms of literacy, visual literacy in particular. While it is understandable that writing skills have been emphasized in school as far as devoting time to teaching the skills involved in writing, that emphasis has somehow de-emphasized both spoken and visual literacy, literary forms that, in my experience, are more intuitive to human beings. Therefore, in my on-going recent study of visual literacy, I was surprised to read the following statement in Design Writing Research: Writing on Graphic Design by Ellen Lupton and Abbott Miller:

The Western philosophical tradition has denigrated writing as an inferior copy of the spoken word. Speech draws on interior consciousness, but writing it dead and abstract. (4)

My experience has been that ideas only recorded in speech were considered fleeting, ephemeral, more trivial, than ideas – consciousness – preserved in writing. The reasons this is an important distinction are myriad, but one outstanding reason is that if speech alone draws on inner consciousness in ways that are more alive than writing, speech should be far more considered and less spontaneous.

A discussion of whether speech or writing is more alive is a tangent at best. My real pursuit of study and understanding recently has been the ongoing need to develop critical awareness of how visual symbols are composed. The way they are composed infuses symbolism and structure that allow images to have particularly powerful impact on viewers. To “read” images, viewers need training to recognize the embedded symbols. Thus images and text both live every time someone looks at them – they have the same life in the present as speech.

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Filed under Classic, Looking forward

Writing in Four Dimensions

To appreciate writing in four dimensions, look at Mike Matas explain in crisp sentences the new generation of digital book that he has developed with his team at Push Pop Press: Our Choice.  Written by Al Gore, the book is a follow up to An Inconvenient Truth, but this time Gore makes his case in an interactive, multimedia e-book. The content bends and flexes, moves and breathes. For the first time, Gore says, he is able to bring together deep research with images and sounds to prove his thesis. Details infuse every key point, down to the bars on bar graphs designed into a natural landscape.

The implications for readers are enormous; we must train ourselves so we do not let the gloss dazzle away our skepticism -not of Gore, I support his concerns on the environment – but of any content presented in such a slick fashion. People believe what they see on television, after all, even if it is not true.

The implications for writers are also enormous: crafting a story or an argument must be done with words and with design and with video and music and graphs and choices. What writers once conveyed using only words to get from their minds to readers’ imaginations, they will be expected to do to a standard of media-rich layers that can be touched and pinched and turned: “Using Push Pop Press authors can weave together text, images, audio, video and interactive graphics into immersive multi-touch interactive books, without dealing with the complexities and costs normally involved in software development. ”

Writers have always had to anticipate what Mortimer J. Adler explained in 1940 in How to Read a Book, “The Classic Guide to Intelligent Reading.” Adler tells his readers, “If you have the habit of asking a book questions as you read, you are a better reader than if you do not..Reading a book should be a conversation between you and the author…But understanding is a two-way operation, the learner has to question himself and question the teacher. He even has to be willing to argue with the teacher, once he understands what the teacher has to say.” The standard for reading and writing is becoming an immediate two-way conversation.

And while the advice writing teachers have always given – show, don’t tell – now takes on a literal meaning as well as a literary one, a foundation of simple and crisp will always under-gird the glitz. Play Matas’s clip on TED, but do it by choosing a language other than English. Note the correlation between Matas’s sentences and the translations: he explains an amazing complex product with direct, well chosen words that are relatively idiom-free, and immensely clear. As writers consider not only how to incorporate sights and sounds, I believe they will also need to consider how what they write translates, since choice of language is one more dimension to consider in new digital books.

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Filed under Classic, Environment, Technology, Tools of the Trade

Do Grades from Princeton Mean Anything at All?

What are grades supposed to do? Shouldn’t they indicate whether or not  or to what extent a given student has mastered material? I am under the impression that students think that if they master material, demonstrate that through the assigned assessments, that they earn the grades that indicate that. As one professor of mine once quipped, “I don’t give grades; you earn them.” Of course, I didn’t attend Princeton, where apparently grades are spread in a a quota system, despite Ms. Malkiel’s explanation otherwise, quoted in

Nancy Weiss Malkiel, dean of the undergraduate college at Princeton, said the policy was not meant to establish such grade quotas, but to set a goal: Over time and across all academic departments, no more than 35 percent of grades in undergraduate courses would be A-plus, A or A-minus.

What happens at Princeton is irrelevant to me, other than the fact that it has tried to become some sort of bizzare leader in curing grade inflation. Grade inflation would be when students are given higher grades than they deserve. The cure for that seems screamingly obvious: set standards for performance. Those who meet various levels earn the grades that those levels represent. The fact that, according to EdNews,  “Goldman Sachs, one of the most sought-after employers, said it did not apply a rigid G.P.A. cutoff. ‘Princeton knows that; everyone knows that,’ said Gia Morón, a company spokeswoman. ” There is a rich irony in the fact that one of the companies  that created the world-wide financial crisis is one of the companies that a)Princeton grads would be wanting their grades to impress and b) that standards don’t mean that much to Goldman Sachs.

Instilling arrogance is apparently a by-product of the education where grades are awarded on a curve regardless of the performance of the student. Grades are for the appearance of the school, to the likes of economy-wrecking financial firms, like Sachs. The EdNews article continues: “Jonathan Sarnoff, a sophomore who sits on the editorial board of The Daily Princetonian. ‘A Princeton G.P.A. is different from the G.P.A. at the College of New Jersey down the road.'” I wonder if he means that those grades are different in that they represent a particular level of mastery.

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Didn’t you hear: Juliet woke up in time! She & Romeo are happily married in Verona.

A recent article in the New York Times presents the problems and concerns parents have about the ways their children read. The concern seemed to be whether or not online reading constitutes the type of reading that cultivates the cognitive and critical thinking skills children will need to succeed in higher education and later in the workplace.

I am usually a proponent of the view that it is not the medium but the message when it comes to reading or research or writing: the fact that the internet is the tool rather than a brick and mortar library has never bothered me as long as the material that is being tapped is high quality. The fact that interacting with online text encourages writing is again probably a good thing. However, something in the Times article snagged my attention as a bringing students into a danger zone if it constitutes the bulk of their literature consumption:

Clearly, reading in print and on the Internet are different. On paper, text has a predetermined beginning, middle and end, where readers focus for a sustained period on one author’s vision. On the Internet, readers skate through cyberspace at will and, in effect, compose their own beginnings, middles and ends.

Literature that has endings we don’t like can often be the ones that get us to think the most, that force us to use our skills of argument, that make us grow the most.Students are always shocked to learn that Romeo & Juliet is not a love story at all, but a commentary on the price society pays for pointless conflict, stubborn pride, jealousy and unbridled revenge. It didn’t end well; that is why it sticks with us.

Of course, there might be the positive social good if students could alter it as they went along. The fiery Tybalt listens to his uncle and lets Romeo alone; Juliet resists the sin of disobedient opposition. Hmm, maybe is on to something…

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Filed under Classic, Literature

What buzz words reveal about our professions

Buzz words provide nice crutches so we don’t have to say the hard stuff in awkward professional conversations; they take the edge off. Understanding buzz words shows you are in the club. As obnoxious as they are, as much as I love to hate them, they make me smile. Who cares that they don’t really mean anything?

Recently, the BBC offered the top 50 examples of office speak “you love to hate.” From that list, my hat tips to Timothy Denton:

“Thanks for the impactful article; I especially appreciated the level of granularity. A high altitude view often misses the siloed thinking typical of most businesses. Absent any scheme for incentivitising clear speech, however, I’m afraid we’re stuck with biz-speak.”
Timothy Denton, New York

While office workers may be serial offenders in the buzz word category, they may have learned the art in school. An Australian article shows schools may be responsible for English jargon:

Tony Thompson asks, “Have We Learned Our Lesson Yet,” as he discusses why Australia has a looming teachers shortage. I had to look twice when I first clicked on the article, because the list of problems sounds so much like those in the US.

I could be the assistant manager of a retail operation and make more money but it is clear that I have a sentence to serve. And I will serve this sentence by listening to education gurus tell me that my style of teaching is wrong and that I have to change. My lessons are not “inclusive” enough. I need to give the students more “ownership” of the process. My knowledge of my subject can impede student learning. They must be challenged to seek out information on their own. God forbid that I answer a question. I need to be a guide, not a sage. I should use “scaffolding”. I still don’t know what this means.

It may mean we should use “real world learning ” (not that fake stuff.)

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Filed under Around the world while you were sleeping..., Classic

What if you thought you were all alone on the planet?

Brazil released pictures of an “uncontacted” tribe on its border with Peru. Imagine what that means, to be “uncontacted”? Your entire world is known and is finite, albeit filled with predators and evils spirits and all. The pictures showed these poor tribesmen looking up at whatever plane or helicopter hovered above them taking pictures. Their gut response was to defend themselves apparently because they seem to have some sort of weapon pointed back at the camera. That says something to me. They really had no reason I can think of to fear helicopters, if they are indeed uncontacted. But the sight of something big and bright and new up in the sky turns on an instinctive response in human beings to fight.

I had the kind of week at work that makes me think that mankind has not moved beyond  that instinct: bright, shiny and new – bad. The irony is that my bright and shiny and new thing is about history and man and what has he learned anyway presented in a terribly contacted way: history alive in a virtual world. “Stepping into History: Experiencing the Past Through Virtual Worlds” may give me clues about man’s instinctive responses. I think I will sign up. Will its lessons teach me that the tribe is right: when you see someone new, run? That theory sure doesn’t work when you are the new guy.

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