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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Filed under Classic, Uncategorized

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

How I Celebrated International Women’s Day: Voting, Working, Researching, Blogging

I thought my day today was ordinary. Routine. Nothing special. Unfortunately, it was revolutionary.

This morning at 7 a.m., I voted in our town elections for budget issues for the town and for the school district.

I proceeded to work, where I have a contract that guarantees me equal pay for equal work.

I,  freely and without restrictions or restraints, researched information online for and with colleagues in the US and abroad.

Together, my husband and I cooked and ate a meal.

I called my parents and chatted a little politics and a lot of news of family and friends.

I fired up my own laptop and wrote this blog.

Not actively thankful for any of it, until I clicked again, for the second time today on the Google doodle.

Then I remembered. As I had puzzled over a piece of writing at work this morning, I had clicked on the Google doodle, which is how I learned it is International Women’s Day. Using the events drop-down menu, I learned that Boston, the nearest major city to my home, had no events listed on the site. I did find somewhere that someone said it was started in the early 1900’s to honor women killed in a factory fire in New York, but Wikipedia puts IWD squarely in the socialist camp, calling the New York story “apocraphyl.” I decided the idea of acknowledging gifted women is great, and recognizing women for more than being mothers (Mother’s Day) or lovers and friends (Valentines’ Day) is useful idea. And I moved on.

I had clearly missed the point.

So many women on the planet today would have been thrilled to do any of the mundane things I did: vote, or work or find information freely or share household tasks equally and happily with a partner. This is life as it should be. To the men who hold women’s rights or status hostage in one way or another, anywhere for any reason, you have nothing to be afraid of. If justice or love does not motivate you to loosen up, try this. Your own life will only be truly good when you share your world equally with the women in it.

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Filed under Looking forward

“Sine” of Great Sentences

I have been reading about power inverters that convert direct current to alternating current, but I have also – for separate reasons – been reading Old Man and the Sea again. What a beautiful synthesis of thought dawned on me when I read Hemingway’s  sentence-paragraph:

He loved green turtles and hawk-bills with their elegance and speed and their great value and he had a friendly contempt for the huge, stupid loggerheads, yellow in their armour-plating, strange in their love-making,  and happily eating the Portuguese men-of-war with their eyes shut.

When I read the sentence again, the first part with its staccato rhythm of phrases joined by “and,” “elegance and speed and their great value and he had…” reminded me of the square wave inverters. They are simple and cheap and work with a short of push-pull. But the second part of Hemingway’s sentence, with its smoothly flowing parallelism:  “yellow in their armour-plating, strange in their love-making,  and happily eating…”seemed to flow as a sine wave, in lovely smooth rhythm.

Brooks Landon speaks of the writer’s craft of building great sentences in one of The Great Courses says that readers “recognize distinctive rhythms in prose,”  which are a series of long and short steps akin to Morse Code, or Aristotle’s vision that prose should not be metrical, nor should it be without rhythm.” Writers have to feel the variety pulse through our fingers as we create precise, intense sentences  so that we carry our readers along.  Thus, the sine wave is a metaphor for the effective sentence, illustrating the silky flow of power moving back and forth in a series of high frequency pulses.

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

The “Rite” Help at an Main Drug Store Chain?

Recently, I stood in line behind an elderly gentleman who was trying to get some money back from a clerk at a local drug store chain. He had the advertising flier, his purchases, his receipt to prove he had been overcharged. He was polite, organized, and reasonable. The clerk quickly assessed the evidence then abruptly informed him that he “did not have a wellness card so he didn’t get the sale price.” He didn’t seem to understand what that had to do with the prices boldly advertised in the flier. He pointed to the flier again as the clerk repeated, “You don’t have a wellness card.”

As they circled through this several times, he showed the ad and pointed, then she repeated that he had no wellness card, while the giant gap in understanding between them became clearly evident to me and several other people watching in line behind me. The obvious solution was to let the man return the items, get the card, then repurchase the items at the sale price. But she never offered. Maybe she didn’t offer because filling out a long form while a long line gathered seems like too much work. Maybe she didn’t offer because she didn’t think of it. But these cards are effectively ripping off senior citizens.

The irony of a “wellness” card stressing old people out and becoming an institutionalized excuse for allowing them to pay too much is that when they come in they should get the “correct” “help” as your name implies, even though your spelling is atrocious. The worst part is, we have three of these stores in our town of 15,000 and I have seen similar scenes repeated at each of them. Executives, fix this.

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Filed under Just thinking

Bad Art or Bad Fashion? Fireflies are your media?

Struggling with writing your very own bad poetry? Painting got you down? There may be a day when someone else will come to admire your work. But in case you wonder how bad it needs to be to be truly bad, read on. Rest assured, though, that if you make jewelry out of live fireflies and broken glass, you are in.

The criteria NPR says that a judge once applied to obscenity is that you know it when you see it, and the same thing applies to bad art. However, in their story about MOBA, the Museum of Bad Art, NPR staff quote Michael Frank, the head of the museum, who manages to get a working definition:

“What we look for are pieces of work that are produced in an attempt to make some sort of artistic statement — but clearly something has gone wrong. There has to be something about it that makes you stop, and very often wonder why the artist continued down the path to produce what he or she did.”

Since the veritable chain of MOBA installations is in nearby Massachusetts, I put them on my to visit short list. But I couldn’t resist checking to see if there other halls of fame to being totally bad. Lo and behold! The Bad Fads (who sort of cheat, since they include some fads that are not really bad (Frisbees) and admit that “bad” can mean “good” if you are in the right generation) and 10 weird museums offered by the Daily Mail, especially if you are into parasites or funeral carriages.

The best part of my quest to verify the fascination with the bad turned up this piece of evidence that that fascination is not at all new. When I read the dateline, I did a double -take:

By Marconi Transatlantic Wireless Telegraph to The New York Times.  March 14, 1909, Sunday

Museum of Bad Taste; Horrible Examples in Art to be Shown at Stuttgart

The Stuttgart museum was to collect items that departed from good taste, “fresh freaks” that dared “improper use of materials, offense against construction ideals, and anomaly decorative effects.”  I had to find out. What were these materials? Did the museum still exist? How offensive could one be with improper materials engaged in decorative anomalies? Can you say rodent on a skateboard?

Thankfully, Gustav E. Pazaurek has put order and articulation by clearly defining bad taste. Spoiled materials are definitely bad, as are live insects and apparently using them to imitate something else is absolutely off the table. Yet, while “functional lies” are sins, for sure, I have to disagree with this rule: “Obtrusive, abnormal shapes and proportions that detract from the clarity and familiarity of a traditional, functional form. ” To show why this is a rule meant to be broken, take a look at Swiss sculptor Alberto Giacometti’s Walking Man, I. Giacometti’s tall, gaunt man with his slightly tired stride communicates a spiritual search, one that is often solved by breaking the rules.

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Filed under Around the world while you were sleeping..., Looking forward