Monthly Archives: August 2008

As a woman, I’m offended.

As a woman, I’m offended by John McCain’s decision to select Alaska Governor Sarah Palin as his running mate. It is clear that the decision is primarily driven by politics, by the belief that to get Hillary’s supporters, all you need to do is play the gender card.

I respect what Palin has done in Alaska in terms of calling out corrupt politics, and I’m sure that McCain does too. But being a whistleblower and working towards a clean state government are not qualifications for the (vice) presidency, especially not in times like these. We need whistleblowers and we need people who will work to clean up the government, but we need so much more than that.

McCain is not a young man. The most important quality in a vice president is their ability to be the president should something happen. It’s one thing to say that Obama is not ready because he hasn’t spent enough time in Washington, but he has worked on issues at many levels and he is very well connected globally and engaged in global political issues. There’s nothing that indicates that the same is true of Palin.

Palin is the Governor of a state with severe economic issues. What has she done? She played protectionist politics to keep a dairy company in business when it was clear that they couldn’t compete and they still failed. Trying to protect failed business plans is not the path towards economic growth. Her current plan, although not yet implemented (thank god), is to destroy the environment and put at risk future generations for economic prosperity today.

As a woman, I’m offended. Women have long borne the responsibility to protect the environment and future generations. How can she turn her back on this to reap short-term political and economic rewards?

Palin marks her identity by noting that she’s just a soccer mom. She is respected politically for questioning powers that be. She is respected by evangelicals for not aborting her son after learning that he would have Down Syndrome.

As a woman, I’m offended. Palin has the right to choose what she does with her body, and I respect her decision, but I also demand the right to make my own choices. Feminism isn’t about aborting – feminism is about the right to choose and make decisions about our bodies based on what is best for everyone involved in the social context in which we live. A woman’s personal choice alone does not make her eligible for presidency.

I voted for Barack, but I deeply respect Hillary. I am in awe of the work she has done and that she continues to do. In 1992, I would’ve (could I have) voted for her in a second over Bill. 2008 is different and I think that Barack is bringing to the table something far more important. My choice of Barack is not a diss on Hillary. For the first time in my life, I made a choice about who to vote FOR not who to vote against.

Palin is not Hillary. Palin lacks the experience, the connections, the political stature, and, most importantly, the deep respect for women and women’s issues that Hillary has.

As a woman, I’m offended. I’m offended that McCain is choosing a woman who is clearly ill-equipped to be the president of this country in an effort to woo over Hillary’s supporters. I’m offended because McCain’s decision is one of the most misogynist ones I’ve seen in recent history. Does he honestly believe that women in this country are so stupid as to believe that any woman is a substitute for another woman? That all that us women boil down to is our XX chromosomes and estrogen? C’mon now.

Don’t get me wrong – I want to see women in the highest positions of power in this country. But I don’t just want any woman. I want women in power who have earned the respect and worked to achieve said power. I want women who are chosen because of what they have done, not how they look in a political power game.

I was expecting McCain to choose a woman. I figured that’s why he waited this long. I was expecting him to go outside of the DC circuit and my latest musing was that he’d choose Meg Whitman. Sure, she’d be controversial as hell, but damn is she a professional power house. And, unlike Palin, she actually knows something about economics. Her experience as CEO of a major international company has given her tremendous experience that would complement McCain tremendously. She’s financially self-sustaining and appealing to the economic conservatives that the Republican party lost under Bush. Sure, she’s controversial and I’d hate to see that kind of corporate-ness inside the White House, but she’s beyond qualified and capable. Palin is an entirely different picture. She appeals to the social conservatives because of her personal views, but she lacks anything resembling the qualifications to be president.

As a woman, I’m offended.

I wasn’t going to vote for McCain before, but I had at least respected him and what he’s done for this country. He’s completely lost any ounce of respect in my mind. His decision to choose a vice president based solely on her gender is absolutely antithetical to every value I hold dear. Our sisters, mothers, and grandmothers did not fight for women’s rights only to have a woman toted around as an accessory in federal politics. I am confident that Palin is a smart, compassionate, and capable person, but she lacks the qualifications, experience, and long-term thinking to be president. This isn’t about DC. She hasn’t even done anything worth mentioning in Alaska. For McCain to tap her for this position is just outright offensive.

On the anniversary of women’s right to vote in this country, Hillary asked the crowd if they voted for her or for the people that she’s trying to serve. In asking the audience to vote for Barack, she asked them to move beyond individualist-politics and focus on the issues at hand. My hope is that women everywhere took that message to heart. This isn’t about getting a woman into the White House. It’s about creating a future that we want to live in.

with great privilege comes great responsibility

Just as the Olympics was a spectacle of physical prowess, the Democratic National Convention has been a spectacle of political aspiration. As best demonstrated by my preference for Fantasy Congress over Fantasy Football, I’m much more of a sucker for the political. And this week’s convention was most definitely a 10.0.

Each speech addressed a different American anxiety around Obama’s candidacy. Michelle Obama began by taking back the idea that Republicans have a stranglehold on the meaning of family. Hillary Clinton’s brilliant articulation of the need to rise above individual candidates and move forward as a united party went straight at the efforts by Republicans to leverage a divided party. Bill Clinton reminded us that he was attacked by Bush Sr. as being the young upstart with no experience. And then Barack, oh Barack…

Barack articulated the problems that we are currently facing and the costs of the last 8 years. He made light of his “celebrity” status, noting that his experiences and connections to people aren’t quite what one might imagine a celebrity lifestyle to be like. He then offered concrete moves he intended to make as president, dead-on facing the attack that he’s all dreamy and not-at-all concrete. And then… oh and then… He laid out why dreaming and moving towards a higher purpose is more than political bullshit, making it clear that government cannot fix society alone. He asked everyone to take responsibility for their actions and to work together to make this a great nation. He set out what government can do and what people must do. He asked people to engage and promised to work for them in return.

In my work, I am constantly reminded of the costs of hyper individualism. The publics that we know are driven by consumerism, not collective goods. The politics we live with are power-games that capitalize on sound bytes and psychological diversions. The information culture we inhabit is driven by fear and sensationalism. I’m not looking for nationalism, but I wouldn’t mind a culture that recognizes that we are our brothers’ and sisters’ keeper. I would like to see a culture that concerns itself with the public good, that makes decisions that and words towards what benefits the collective. This can’t be done with policy. It must be done through inspiration and mindfulness. And good policy must be integrated with efforts to right ourselves in this direction. Barack’s speech asks everyone to realize that politics as usual comes from our collective apathy and obsession with minutia. Details are important, but we must be moving towards a meaningful goal for any particular policies to matter.

Policy is important, but that’s not why this election matters to me. I don’t think that the intricacies of politics can be laid out in a policy speech and I don’t think that being an informed voter is about policy. I think that it’s about the direction we are headed, about the higher goals, about the things that we all have a stake in and can contribute towards. I want a leader who can lead, not just one who passes laws. I am interested in the philosophical question of how you can motivate a population to work towards a common good and achieve great things.

I know not everyone is inspired by Barack, but what excites me is how many people are. I see people engaging for the first time. I see young people getting excited that they can do something. Of course, I also see a lot of bitter, angry, and cynical people. I’m not sure if Barack is going to be able to help them turn those attitudes around, but I am confident that he’s going to try.

At the end of the day, I live in a country with tremendous wealth, power, and privilege. And thus, I’m reminded of the Noblesse oblige: with great privilege comes great responsibility. Many individuals have used that call to drive them to do good, but now I think that we must find a way to make that our collective mission both domestically and globally. My hope is that Barack’s candidacy (and ideally presidency) may help people recognize their place in this networked world and their responsibility to it as well. Whether we’re talking about the environment, terrorism, education, health care, or the economy, we need to be talking about networks and networked peoples. These are systems and systems cannot be managed individually.


I have a dream… that one day the people of this nation will open their eyes and see their neighbors as brethren once again and work to make sure that they too are happy and prosperous.

I have a dream… that one day the people of this nation will let go of their selfish desires and work towards the collective good, caring for those who are in need, and helping other achieve to their fullest potential.

I have a dream… that one day the pursuits of knowledge, innovation, and happiness will be the gross national product we seek to maximize.

I have a dream… that come this November, we put a halt to being an arrogant, controlling, greedy, and aggressive global actor, that we ask our allies for forgiveness, seek humility, and work to right the wrongs that we have inflicted on so many peoples for so many years.

Let communities rise… Let people come together as one… Connected at last.

MacArthur’s Digital Media & Learning Competition

MacArthur has announced its second Digital Media & Learning Competition. The focus this year is on participatory learning and they are giving awards in two categories:

  • Innovation in Participatory Learning Awards will support projects that demonstrate new modes of participatory learning, in which people take part in virtual communities, share ideas, comment on one another’s projects, and advance goals together. Successful projects will promote participatory learning in a variety of environments: through the creation of new digital tools, modification of existing ones, or use of digital media in some other novel way. Submissions will be accepted from applicants in Canada, People’s Republic of China, India, Japan, Mexico, the Netherlands, Nigeria, Russia, Singapore, South Africa, the United Kingdom, and the United States, countries in which HASTAC or MacArthur have significant experience. Winners will receive between $30,000 and $250,000.
  • Young Innovator Awards are designed to encourage young people aged 18-25 to think boldly about “what comes next” in participatory learning and to contribute to making it happen. Winners will receive funding to do an internship with a sponsor organization to help bring their most visionary ideas from the “garage” stage to implementation. For this competition cycle, submissions will only be accepted from applicants in the United States. Winners will receive between $5,000 and $30,000.

For more information and to participate, check out the competition’s website.

“Born Digital” by John Palfrey and Urs Gasser

I am pleased to announce that John Palfrey and Urs Gasser’s Born Digital: Understanding the First Generation of Digital Natives is out in the wild! This book grows out of the digital natives project at the Berkman Center (with which I am loosely affiliated). “Born Digital” investigates what it means to grow up in a mediated culture and the ways in which technology inflects issues like privacy, safety, intellectual property, media creation, and learning.

Intended for broad audiences, “Born Digital” creates a conversation between adult concerns, policy approaches, technological capabilities, and youth practice. This is not an ethnography, but JP and Urs build on and connect to ongoing ethnographic research concerning digital youth culture. This is not a parent’s guide, but JP and Urs’s framework will benefit any parent who wishes to actually understand what’s taking place and what the implications are. This is not a policy white paper, but policy makers would be foolish to ignore the book because JP and Urs provide a valuable map for understanding how the policy debates connect to practice and technology. The contribution “Born Digital” makes is in the connections that it makes between youth practices, adult fears, technology, and policy. If you care at all about these issues, this book is a MUST-READ.

To buy the book, click here. Also, check out the Born Digital website for more information. And if you live in Seattle, SF, Boston, or DC, stay tuned for book-related events in your area.

To the academics in the room….

I want to take a moment to address the academics and academic-minded that read this blog because I know that many of you are very wary of pop books in this area. I also know how much y’all hate the term “digital natives” and I too feel my skin crawl when that term emerges. When I first learned about this book, I was very wary. I didn’t know JP or Urs at the time and I didn’t want to offend, but I reached out with a few of my concerns. To my astonishment, JP invited me to sit down with him and hash out my thoughts. Thus began a discussion that has truly shaped my thinking about these issues and has made me deeply appreciate this book and what it’s doing. Said conversation is also how I got involved in efforts to leverage my scholarship to make change.

From the beginning, JP acknowledged that the term “digital natives” is hugely problematic, but also pointed out that it’s the kind of term that makes interventions possible. Society and mass media has already done the othering and rather than pretend as though this wasn’t happening, they wanted to tackle it head-on. Throughout the book, they bring up adult fears, myths, and techno-phobic frameworks in order to dismantle, ground, and/or situate them. This is not an academic intervention, but a socio-political one. They purposefully and intentionally take an approach that speaks to those who are doing the othering, those who are thinking “kids these days…” At first, I was very resistant to their approach, but the more time I spent with parents, teachers, and policy makers, the more that I realized how effective such a tactic is.

Academics tend to err on the side of nuance and precision, eschewing generalizations and coarse labels. This is great for documenting cultural dynamics, but not so great for making interventions. Creating an impression, an image in the minds of those who are fearful requires more than accurate data. It requires a compelling story and a framework that can replace the boogie monster. This is why polemics tend to speak in extremes. They key to using generalizations responsibly is to work hard to make certain that the impressions rendered are as representative of cultural frames as bloody possible. It’s easy to convince people to generalize from extremes; it’s much harder to get them to build images from what’s normative.

Combatting pre-existing images requires more than accuracy, more than nuance. It requires either a new more-sticky image or a reworking of the original image. By working inside the frame of “digital natives,” JP and Urs seek to ground that concept through a realistic image of practice. Reclaiming a term does not relieve it of all of its baggage, but it is a service to discourse if you can accept that the term won’t just disappear by ignoring it. Once it’s grounded, nuance becomes possible in entirely new ways.

I had the great honor of being able to read an early draft and provide feedback. I’ve read lots of parenting guides and white papers and other pop culture coverage of these issues. What struck me about “Born Digital” is how well it is connected to what is actually going on, how well it speaks to the research that we do. It’s not sensationalist or extreme, but very even-handed. They move between different perspectives to try to paint a full picture. Sometimes, they are too patient with idiotic perspectives, but that’s when I breathe and remind myself that telling people that their ideas are stupid is not a good intervention tactic. Sometimes they are also too techno-centric, but once again, this makes sense if you recognize what they’re trying to do. Of course, the only reason that these things stick out is that they do such a good job of addressing the practices of the population they map out.

As I got to know JP over the last year, I developed a deep appreciation for his approach to life, the universe, and everything. He tries to help people from different sides see the others’ perspective, using whatever tactics are necessary. He’s calm, even-handed, and works hard to stay true to cultural complexities. He’s the compromiser and he’s willing to take the heat in order to help bridge gaps and ease tensions. This shines through in “Born Digital.” As I read the book in the context of its mission, my wariness slipped away. They’ve done a tremendous job of building on what we know and connecting it to systems of power.

If you’re an academic and you choose to pick up this book – and I strongly encourage you to do so – try to read it in context. Because it is deeply grounded in research, it might be tempting to see it as an academic book with too few citations. I’d encourage you to resist the critical reflex that comes with being piled higher and deeper and appreciate the ways in which scholarly work is being leveraged as a tool for cultural intervention. I think that JP and Urs have done an astonishing job and believe that they deserve our deepest gratitude. I for one am VERY thankful of their efforts to make change based on what we know instead of what we fear.

Dionysus and the Amethyst Initiative

Across the United States, dozens of higher education leaders have signed on to the Amethyst Initiative. It’s a fascinating approach. The signers aren’t committing to a stance, but rather asking American society to begin an informed and unimpeded debate on the 21 year-old-drinking age. It’s a controversial topic and it hit the airwaves in controversial style. Merely trying to cover the story touched a nerve across the country and countless media channels dedicated air time to the debate, if only to dismiss the initiative. Still, a conversation began.

In 1984, the United States passed a bill that required States to institute a 21 minimum drinking age in order to receive full federal highway funds. Many States had age limits before this, but this bill effectively federalized a drinking age and restricted alcohol purchasing to those 21+. The drinking age has a long and sordid history, wrapped up with Prohibition, moral reform, and age consciousness.

Anyone who tries to tell you that something magical happens for everyone at the age of 21 that makes youth brains capable of moderate consumption at that age is full of shit. The drinking age is not about psychology, no matter how many reports appear to “prove” otherwise. The drinking age is first and foremost about social control. We tried to prohibit everyone from drinking and when that failed, we went about trying to oppress the population that could be controlled. Like all other acts of Prohibition in this country, the minimum drinking age stems from a set of moral values projected onto a population as a means of control.

While the age limit is about social control, there is no doubt that alcohol is a dangerous drug. The chemical effect can damage the body in all sorts of ways and alcoholism is a very real addiction with costly repercussions. Binge drinking can be deadly and, even when it’s not, it can cause severe long-term damage. Alcohol doesn’t just affect the imbiber – alcohol affects everyone around the drinker. Drunk driving is a leading cause of death, alcohol destroys families, and a large percentage of domestic violence incidents involve alcohol. Alcohol abuse is linked to depression, poverty, violence, health problems, and all sorts of societal “ills.” Alcohol is one of the most dangerous and most abused substances out there. That said, people like it.

Let’s assume that the age-limit prohibitionists meant well since most moral reformers do (especially when the law runs counter to economic profitability). Even laws passed with the best of intentions can result in dire side effects. The Minimum Drinking Age is one of those laws. Like other abstinence approaches, this law set in motion a series of social and cultural factors that actually magnifies abusive acts. I want to briefly map out some factors at play and then discuss how the combination of them is outright deadly.

1) Alcohol is a marker of status. Youth desire adult vices because they desire the status and freedom that they symbolize. The more that adults tell youth that they are not old enough or mature enough to imbibe (… have sex, drive, stay out past midnight, etc.), the more imbibing becomes a desirable act. So long as alcohol is seen as a status symbol of maturity, it is consumed in excess by those seeking any means of being validated as mature. The harder it is to get, the more status it confers.

2) Moderation of enjoyable and high status activities must be learned. Humans naturally moderate (a.k.a. avoid) unpleasant experiences but they also naturally seek out pleasant ones. For many, alcohol consumption is enjoyable. To complicate matters, risk taking and the status that it affords is desirable. Illegal alcohol consumption combines these two elements. It is naturally pleasurable and excessive use of hard-to-obtain substances affords status in many circles. Moderation runs counter to this. Moderation is typically learned through personal exposure to the unpleasantries of alcohol or the shift in its status amongst a person’s social circle.

3) Age segregation makes learning to moderate harder. Age segregation means that status is conferred locally. Each new cohort goes through the ropes of alcohol consumption with few guides who have learned the costs and side effects. More problematically, age segregation means that status is local. Youth validate each other’s consumption as a marker of adulthood and there aren’t adults who have gone through the hells of abuse to curb the status structures. Thus, youth are socialized into a culture where massive consumption is highly regarded.

4) Abstinence programs make education and guidance impossible. We know that youth start drinking in high school, but there’s a general “don’t ask, don’t tell” mindset at play. Schools that provide quality information are viewed as “encouraging” bad behaviors. Instead, schools are required to tell students of the horrors of alcohol while youth are simultaneously witnessing adult consumption. The hypocrisy of these messages is well recognized and youth end up dismissing all of the abstinence material as inaccurate.

University settings are by-far the worst configuration possible for this dynamic. Youth leave home, attaining one marker of adulthood, only to find an age-segregated social world with pressures to live up to the images of “cool” adulthood set in motion by mass media. They are no longer accountable to their parents and they desperately want to be validated by their peers. Universities are discouraged from educating underage students about alcohol and so there’s tremendous amounts of winking taking place in lieu of proper dialogue. Abuse runs rampant and is further magnified by the status that it affords from being risky in an age segregated community. Underage drinkers drink in private where their intake is not monitored rather than drinking in age-mixed public spaces where social pressures discourage genuine abuse. Youth aren’t socialized into drinking like adults, but rather drinking like media’s image of adults. Youth are afraid to seek help when they’ve gone too far because what they’re doing is illegal. Talk about a recipe for disaster.

Yes, youth make dumb decisions. But so do adults. Alcohol abuse is not just a problem for youth; millions of adults have problems with alcohol. Many adults with problems developed their habits as youth where their consumption was underground. They never had someone guiding them and no one ever realized that they had gone too far… until much later. The brain is like a power law – it grows most rapidly in the womb and slows as we get older. There is no magic age where it stops learning, but learning does get harder. Youth habits die hard, but lessons learned in youth also stick stronger. Holding off the possibility for abuse is certainly desirable, but if it means the difference between slowly ramping up and going from 0 to 60 in under a second, guess which is more likely to result in an accident?

I’m glad to see a debate raging on this topic. I think that it’s absolutely critical. My research with youth has led me to believe that the 21-minimum is deadly. I think that it encourages greater abuse than other scenarios. If I were given a magic wand to change the laws regarding alcohol, here’s what I would do:

1) Children may drink alcohol in private residences at any age when their parent or guardian is present.

2) Youth may apply for an alcohol permit starting at the age of 16. A mandatory education course and test (perhaps online) is required for getting this ID. With this ID, youth 16-17 can purchase alcohol in public when accompanied by an adult 21+ and those 18-20 can purchase alcohol in public by themselves.

3) No one under-21 can drive with even one iota of alcohol in their system. Consequences include fine, community service, permanent loss of alcohol permit, and multiple year license suspension.

Will this make alcohol abuse go away? No. That said, I believe that it would drastically reduce it. Changing the laws in this way will encourage parents to actually begin conversations about alcohol with their children rather than avoid the topic. I feel as though such an approach would mean that youth ease into alcohol and learn its limits while in an environment with older adults. By the time that youth hit college, alcohol would not hold the same level of allure. It would not be a marker of freedom in the same way. It would allow educational approaches to come into play. And it would allow what is underground to come above ground and reach a healthier state.

I know that many folks out there support reducing the age limit because, well, “they do it anyhow.” There’s no doubt that there’s a lot of underage drinking going on, but this isn’t just about legitimizing what is. We need to build safety structures in place, structures that allow youth to come of age in a healthy way. That’s not what exists right now. Thus, when youth head off to college, they drink their freedom to excess and the damage is palpable. If we’re going to curb that, we need to be more honest with ourselves about where alcohol stands in the cultural consciousness. We need to realize that you don’t learn to drink from a tap when all you know is a fire hydrant. And we need to recognize that imparting knowledge is more effective through socialization than pamphlets.

The Ancient Greeks believed that the amethyst quartz would prevent intoxication. The goddesses stepped in to help Amethystos ward off the intoxicated Dionysus. It is now our time to step in and help create structures that help youth have a healthy relationship with an otherwise unhealthy substance.

I want my Olympics 2.0-style

Last night, I went to bed watching girls’ gymnastics. I found myself very irritated. There were 24 girls in the finals, but NBC focused only on those that they thought would medal. The result is that there was tremendous downtime that the announcers filled with speculation, gossip, and historical reminiscing. I was quite irritated because what I wanted was to see more gymnastics. Anyone who is at the Olympics has to be fascinating to watch – why only focus on those who are likely to medal?

Come to think of it, everything about how NBC has covered the Olympics has been abysmal. Last weekend, I was with a hardcore copyright conservative who kept arguing that people watching the opening ceremonies online were cheating NBC out of money. I countered that what these people were doing was indicating what the market wanted. Many were happy to watch the Chinese CCTV version live instead of waiting until what NBC declared to be “primetime.” Personally, I was quite annoyed with NBC starting around 5.30AM when we woke up to watch the opening ceremonies only to learn that they weren’t covering it live. So, logically, we went to NBC’s homepage to see if they were streaming it live. No. That’s where I think that NBC fucked up royally. I don’t know why they decided that the Today Show was more important than the opening ceremony, but they did. Still, there was no reason to not stream it live on their website. I would’ve happily sat through dozens of commercials to see it live. Instead, I TiVoed it and watched it sans commercials. Big win on NBC’s part, right?

What NBC has tried to do is configure its viewers. They’ve told everyone how they should watch the Olympics and are peeved when people have a different idea of how they want to watch this symbol of nationalism. Normally, the people have no choice. Yet, because of the Internet, there’s a lot of push for alternatives. Of course, personally, I’m just angry and annoyed. I can think of so many ways that NBC could’ve handled this better. What I want is Olympics 2.0.

I want an Olympics where the “best” is broadcast on TV, like now. But I also want an interactive version. Take gymnastics. I want to know on each apparatus who is up live. And I want to be able to switch between different cameras and choose my own view through the stadium so that I can watch whichever competitor I want. I want to be able to watch live, all day, on ALL sports (even judo and the other weird ones where Americans are not so present). I want interactive live and I want to be able to pull down and follow any individual Olympian or team through their events at a later point. I want the Olympics to be treated as a bunch of spliceable objects that I can remix live for my own viewing pleasure. And I want to be able to see it ALL. Is that that hard to ask for? Hell, I’d be willing to pay for such interactive watching options. And I’d certainly be willing to watch ads to see things LIVE. But boy does it annoy me to watch a “live” NBC broadcast that is already well reported on in the NYTimes.

So can I please have Olympics 2.0? And dear International Olympic Committee, please don’t sell exclusive rights to the next Olympics to an organization who is doing more to curtail and configure access than to engage the market the way that they want to be engaged. And NBC, would you stop being so antiquated and leverage new media for what it’s good for?

health update

First, thanks to all of you who’ve written nice things asking me about my health. Since I bitched here, I feel compelled to send an update too. The good news is that it’s relatively simple and I’m going to be fine. The bad news is that it’s going to take a little bit.

For those who don’t know the backstory, I fractured C2/C3 when I was 16 playing ultimate frisbee. I’ve had various problems over the years as a result, but it’s been a while so I was rather shocked to see old symptoms reappear. After finding a doctor who didn’t think I was crazy, we set about to test things and figure out what might be causing it. Blood work, CT scans, physical evaluation, etc. Everything with my blood work and CT scans came back clear. There are still old scars on my neck, but that’s nothing to worry about. Nothing new. But, here’s the funny part – my alignment has gone to shit in all sorts of funny ways.

My body’s alignment issues are funny because they’re the result of trying to exercise. ::groan:: So, I knew that the various injuries that I’ve acquired over the last few years in an attempt to get into shape – golfer’s elbow, strained shoulder, knee issues – were most likely caused by my attempts to compensate for my neck and wrists. Well, annoyingly, it seems as though my body has decided to additionally compensate for those injuries, further setting my body off kilter. The result? Dreadful alignment, pinched nerves, trapezius spasms, etc.

Doctor’s guess is that this, combined with dissertation stress and the allergies and cough I managed to develop in Beijing, set my body into especially high freak out mode. It was a matter of time and, well, time hit this summer. As in the past, the problems with my vision are stemming from trapezius spasms. Only this time it’s not due to too much exercise, but to improper exercise. Even working with a personal trainer wasn’t the best of ideas because my injuries are too complex for that to work out well so that probably made things worse. But it’s all fixable.

The good news is that no one is suggesting surgery or medicine. Instead, physical therapy. Directed, targeted, measured exercise with constant assessment. Get the body back into alignment without causing new injuries. Do exercises that don’t let me compensate in stupid ways. Very precise and careful development of muscles. No additional exercising “for fun.” The doc guesses it’ll be a few months until I feel right again, but that if I work with a therapist to put my body back into shape, I should feel ten bazillion times better shortly. If not, we reassess.

Personally, I’m relieved. This all makes sense and the “solution” is something that I can live with. Or at least try without reservations. The only downside is that this stupid sneezing is probably not going to go away so long as I live in environments with pollutants. Hrmfpt.

answers to bizarre questions

Some of the questions posed when I requested brain fodder were, shall we say…. odd. In fact, it felt a bit like an “About Me” quiz. So I couldn’t resist answering….

Alison Bechdel or Jorge Cham? Jorge Cham. It might be different if I ever left the house or could face thinking about my identity. There is no danah, only Zool. I mean dissertation. Besides, did you see today’s PhD Comic? Running low on excuses… like asking for brain fodder…

Why is belly-button lint always blue? Well, if you’re wearing black clothes, black is never true black… typically blue. And then you mix with other colors and voila. Try wearing only white clothes for a week. And read The Incredible World of Navel Fluff. Some people have far too much time to think about these things.

Are you Jewish? Not according to the Israeli Orthodox. But, really, what queer, feminist is? More seriously, my parents aren’t Jewish, but my partner is and we celebrate all of the Jewish holidays.

Sweet or Salty? It was always sweet until recently. I think I’m getting old. Or adjusting to living in a desert.

Where did zephoria come from? When I was in college, zephyr meant three things to me: 1) the west wind; 2) an IM client; 3) the puppy dog that I lived with. In other words, zephyr combined my geekiness, my love of nature and animals, my desire to go to California, and my communication-driven-ness. Euphoria was what zephyr made me think of. Thus, zephoria. Plus, I always liked words that started with ‘z’.

Favorite color? Silver, especially the silver that sparkles rainbows. Like the way that I imagine Edward’s skin to look when he walks into the sun in Twilight. Not quite diamond silver, but the metallic silver that you can only get in nature, not car paint or clothing.

Who killed edupunk? Mmm… fun David Lynch plots ensue….

delectable brain floss?

Last night, I took a break from dissertation writing and went to the bookstore. At midnight. I wasn’t alone. Dozens of teen and early-20s girls took their wrist bands and lined up to buy Breaking Dawn, the fourth and final book in the Twilight series by Stephanie Meyer. It was relatively calm, especially compared to the Harry Potter extravaganza that I witnessed in Harvard Square when Book 7 was released. Still, I was quite happy to see folks standing on line for a book. Go dork pride!

The Twilight series is what my friend Irina calls brain floss (a.k.a. brain candy). It’s the kind of yummy tasty book that makes you want to stay up all night and whip through it. All 700 pages of it. But that ruins its power as brain floss. Brain candy books must be used sparingly to be brain floss (or else you’d have to call it procrastination). So I’m only allowed to read 50 pages a day. Irina’s convinced that brain floss is necessary for dissertation reprieve. It gives your mind a break from the intense social theory reading that it must do while writing. The focus is on the storyline and character development. It’s easy to consume and takes absolutely no thinking whatsoever. Crunch crunch crunch… tasty.

Personally, I lurve YA brain floss. I mostly have little patience for the images of money, fame, power, and love presented in most adult brain floss. Of course, when I’m feeling the need to humor myself with Hollywood’s absurdity, I will sometimes grab a Jackie Collins. But that can’t be admitted to out loud so shhh.

I’m about to finish the Twilight series, so I have a question. What good brain floss do y’all recommend? Think the guilty pleasure book reading you do at the beach that is pure junk brain candy. Feel free to comment anonymously if you’re embarrassed. But bring on the trash!

knol: content w/out context, collaboration, capital, or coruscation

Isaac Newton famously stated, “If I have seen a little further it is by standing on the shoulders of Giants.” This metaphor is commonly used to highlight the way that knowledge is not a single-author process. We build on what others do, explicitly and implicitly. While folks generally understand this, our culture focuses on the contributions of individuals. In the world of publishing, there is often a single author on the cover and little is known about the large and small contributions of a whole team of folks – the editors, the grad students, the reviewers, etc. (I especially love books “by” politicians where the ghost writer is never acknowledged.) More problematically, when people are measured by what they can attribute to themselves as individuals, there is pressure to either avoid collaborating with others or to steal credit. Neither of these are healthy.

I’m a big fan of collaboration and collective knowledge production and public good projects. This is one of the reasons that I love Wikipedia. Not only are Wikipedia entries the product of collective contributions, but both the small and large contributions are visible to all. Of course, contributing to Wikipedia needs to be an act of love because there are no traditional structures that reward such contributions. Wikipedia has its faults, but it is fundamentally the collaborative creation of a public good.

Google’s Knol takes an entirely opposite approach to knowledge production. Knol’s entire structure is built around single authors, control and individualism. There aren’t even mechanisms for multiple authors and the tools available for collaboration are extremely limited. “Collaboration” still assumes a primary author. Linking between knols doesn’t appear common and so there’s no network of information. They key is authorship.

Since Knol launched in beta, folks have been comparing it to Wikipedia (although some argue against this comparison). Structurally, they’re different. They value different things and different content emerges because of this. But fundamentally, they’re both about making certain bodies of knowledge publicly accessible. They just see two different ways to get there – collaborative anarchy vs. controlled individualism. Because Knol came after Wikipedia, it appears to be a response to the criticisms that Wikipedia is too open to anonymous non-experts. The implication is that Wikipedia is the dribble of the unwashed masses. These same folks praise the control-centric Knol. Yet, I think Doc is right. A knol is quickly becoming a “unit of spam” instead of a unit of knowledge. Y’see – a system that is driven by individualism quickly becomes a tool for self-promoters. (And men…)

We’re quite a few months into the Knol experiment. What I find particularly fascinating is that most of the knols that they promote on their front page are health-related, primarily by people who claim to have health-related expertise (doctors, nurses, professors) who appear to be copying/pasting from other places. Why health? What’s motivating these people to contribute? (And why are they too lazy to fix the formatting when they copy/paste from elsewhere?)

Frankly, from my POV, Knol looks like an abysmal failure. There’s no life to the content. Already articles are being forgotten and left to rot, along with a lot of other web content. There’s no common format or standards and there’s a lot more crap than gems. The incentives are all wrong and what content is emerging is limited. The expert-centric elitism is intimidating to knowledgeable folks without letters after their names and there is little reason for those of us with letters to contribute. While I don’t believe in the wisdom of a crowd of idiots, I do believe that collective creations tend to result in much better content than that which is created by an individual hermit. (Case in point: my *$#! dissertation vs. any article I’ve co-authored.)

What makes me most annoyed about Knol though is that it feels a bit icky. Wikipedia is a non-profit focused on creating a public good. Google is a for-profit entity with a lot of power in controlling where on the web people go. Knol content is produced by volunteers who contribute content for free so that Google can make money directly from ads and indirectly from search traffic. In return for ?

When are we going to learn that the Internet is really good at collective action? When are we going to learn that getting people to develop and maintain bodies of knowledge on the Internet is an art? When the incentives are all wrong (e.g., Yahoo! Answers), the result is pure crap. When are we going to learn that experts alone never produce the best content? Hell, even a high school kid can improve most articles with some simple editing.

I don’t think that Wikipedia is the end-all, be-all, but I do think that they’ve learned a lot over the years. And I think that we need to take what they’ve learned seriously and improve on it. I do think that Wikipedia could benefit from the contributions of experts and I would love to see folks think about how such contributions could be incentivized and rewarded. That said, I don’t think that experts are enough. I think that they are only one part of the puzzle. I also think that Wikipedia is limited by its own scope. I’m glad that there are other projects under the Wikimedia Foundation, but I think that there need to be more and they need to be managed in context. For example, it’s pretty clear that we need a WikiHealth. Of course, I think that this area needs to be addressed cautiously.

There are huge costs to having inaccurate information available when it comes to health. It’s one thing to get the wrong diagnosis for your computer problem and accidentally destroy your machine. It’s an entirely different reality to get the wrong diagnosis for your health problems and brick your body. You can say that people shouldn’t take advice from the Internet, but be realistic. Our insurance/health system is so broken that most people can’t afford to go to the doctors… and besides, doctors are amazingly good at being wrong. So what’s the right structure for collective knowledge production around health? And no, Google, the answer is not people who self-report as doctors writing “definitive” entries about topics.

So, if I were to evaluate Knol, I’d give it a D. Maybe a C for effort, but points off for being so arrogant. Your thoughts?