Thursday, June 14, 2007

Oh, Mexico continued

So, Thursday, June 7th was a full day at the MEA convention, with Joan Mayans of the Global University Network for Innovation in Spain, and President of the Observatorio para la CiberSociedad, doing a featured presentation on the internet and the knowledge society. I wanted to ask a question about how he defines knowledge, given that from a media ecological perspective, knowledge itself is based on our technologies of communication, and the concept of knowledge changes along with those media (as discussed by Harold Innis, Walter Ong, and Peter Drucker), but I never got the chance.

Anyway, Joan was followed by Octavio Islas giving a talk on how the internet remediates television (that is, makes television its content, remediation being a term introduced by Jay Bolter and Richard Grusin). And this was followed by a roundtable discussion on Neil Postman's legacy that included Robert Albrecht, Sue Barnes, Fernando Gutiérrez, Casey Lum,
and Janet Sternberg. Casey stole the show with a hilarious anecdote about climbing up to the roof of his house and pulling down his television antenna.

During the afternoon breakout sessions, I took part in a panel on media ecology methodologies that also included Casey, Dan Stout, and Paul Grosswiler. I basically argued for the methodology of no methodology, or at least that standard methods are not adequate for addressing the big questions that many media ecologists like to ask. I did talk about philosophical method in general, along with intellectual history (a meta-analysis that media ecologists do well, and that is especially associated with Jim Carey, but that is not sufficient in and of itself for our field), cultural history as practiced by Lewis Mumford, Eric Havelock, and Walter Ong, textual analysis as can be found in McLuhan Mechanical Bride, ethnography which Casey and Dan advocated, and various schema such as McLuhan's hot and cool, and laws of media, Innis's time and space, Postman's questions about technology, and Nystrom's analyzing media handout. Corey Anton, who had chaired the session, also talked about phenomenology. And I mentioned that in a discussion about methodology Neil had once said that all you need to do is just look around, and listen, and that McLuhan's essential method was to pay attention, rely on observation and pattern recognition.

I attended a second breakout session chaired by Casey, that featured another friend from my previous excursions to Mexico (and previous MEA meetings), María de la Luz Casas from the Cuernavaca campus of Tecnológico de Monterrey, along with the distinguished scholar Clifford Christians of the University of Illinois-Urbana Champaign, who was also representing the Jacques Ellul Society, and they engaged in a stimulating dialogue about Ellul's sociological and theological thought.

That evening, we had another wonderful reception, followed by karaoke night at the hotel bar, which was great fun. Towards the end, I reluctantly participated, but the less said about that the better.

Friday, June 8th was the big day for us, beginning with a featured presentation from Jay David Bolter, who elaborated on his immediacy/transparency vs. hypermediacy/reflectivity categories for understanding media. Jay was followed by a roundtable on McLuhan that I moderated, and that included Eric McLuhan, Octavio Islas, Paul Lippert, Robert Logan, Julie Newton, and Phillip Marchand. And this was followed by a roundtable on new media chaired by Ellen Rose, that included Jay Bolter, Clifford Christians, Katherine Hayles, Fernando Gutiérrez, Joan Mayans, and Alejandro Piscitelli--there was an intense and fascinating debate that went on between Cliff, who argued for the universality of humanism, and Kate, who took a relativistic position in defense of the posthuman. Kate Hayles then had her featured presentation, in which she discussed the relationship between narrative and the database. All told, it was four outstanding sessions.

In the afternoon, I attended a breakout session on new media that included papers by Sue Barnes on internet advertising (she was poised and unflappable despite problems with the room's lights that forced us to change locations), George Teschner on Wikkies and authority, Matt Thomas on hacking as a metaphor for self-improvement, and my MA student Marian Kozhan giving her first paper ever, which was on her MA thesis topic, courtesan blogs--Marian gave an excellent presentation, and I was very proud of her. Unfortunately, I wasn't able to attend the presentations of my other two MA students who participated in the event--Laura Rojas was on a Spanish-speaking session (this was our first bilingual convention), and Gary Kenton's panel was opposite one that I participated on, but I understand that their papers were very well received as well.

That evening, we had Eric McLuhan's Keynote Address, "The Ecology of the New Nomadism," followed by our Award Ceremony, which is a very important and meaningful part of our annual conventions.

This was then followed by my President's Address, which I'll deal with in a separate post. Then, we had another reception, followed by a surprise: Fernando, Octavio, and the rest had hired for us one of the best mariachi bands around, and they put on a stupendous performance. Everyone was extremely impressed, especially since mariachi is generally not treated seriously in American media, but these guys were GOOD!!! And so was Fernando's sister, who took the stage and belted out a couple of songs with the band. Everyone was glowing afterwards. After all, how many academic conferences include a mariachi concert? But hey, that's MEA for you.

Saturday morning, we were all pretty relaxed. There were two breakout sessions. During the first, I gave a paper that had been written by Stephanie Gibson, an old friend who at the last minute had come down with a high fever and couldn't make it to Mexico, so I told her that I'd present the paper on her behalf. It was about the controversy concerning public breastfeeding in the U.S. Actually, Stephanie had asked me a while back if I though the topic would be of interest for the MEA's journal, Explorations in Media Ecology, she was afraid that it wasn't media ecological enough, but I assured her that I thought it fit just fine within our field (which is an open system, after all). As a parent myself, the subject of breastfeeding is not entirely unknown to me anyway, and the paper generated a great deal of interest. For the next session that followed, realizing that the person who was supposed to be moderator wasn't there, I stepped in and we had a lot of fun with two papers, one of the quadrivium by Ed Tywoniak, and one on visual thinking and the ecology of ecology by Julie Newton.

That afternoon, we had a tour of several sights in downtown Mexico City, including the government palace where there were some absolutely stupendous murals by Diego Rivera. One of the people working for Fernando had previously worked for President Vicente Fox's administration, so she was able to get us into some places where most tourists couldn't go, including a beautiful meeting room for the Commerce Minister. We then toured a modern art museum built over the ruins of a pyramid (which was still visible in spots), and ate at the Opera saloon, where you can see bullet holes in the ceiling put there by Pancho Villa.

On Sunday, June 10th, following a morning business meeting, we took a (blue) bus ride to the pyramids of Teotihuacan. It was my sixth time there, but I still love it, and always leave feeling energized. I know that the first timers were all very, very impressed with the site, to say the least. I really can't do the pyramids justice here, so I won't even try, but they are well worth the trip. Afterwards, we ate at the nearby La Gruta restaurant, which is down in a cave, an incredibly cool place, with great food, and a floor show featuring native and Spanish dance and song. It was a splendid way to top off a spectacular experience at the pyramids. Then it was the bus ride home, and later that night, a few hardy souls accompanied Thom and me to La Hacienda de los Morales, once the colonial governor's mansion, now an extraordinarily beautiful restaurant (and the food's not bad there either).

And on Monday, sadly, it was time to fly home. What an amazing, inspiring, exhilarating seven days!

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