Sunday, May 31, 2009

Media Conversations 6--Be There or Be Square!

So, it's been a bit hectic lately, what else is new, but really it has. So I apologize for not letting you know about this sooner, but hey, no time like the present. I've helped to organize, along with David Walczyk of Pratt Institute, a conference on media literacy and education which is being held this Thursday through Saturday here in New York City. If you're around, you really should try to catch all or part of it.

The conference is being held at Pratt Institute on 14th Street on Thursday evening and during the day on Friday. Then we move east and slightly uptown to Gramercy Park and the Players Club for a Friday evening session. Then all of Saturday's sessions will be in the McMahon Hall Lounge at Fordham University's Lincoln Center campus.

I should add that the conference is being cosponsored by the Institute of General Semantics, and by the Media Ecology Association.

Here's a cool poster that one of David's students made for the event. It looks great:

The only thing is, the dates are wrong. The conference is only running June 4-6. If you show up on June 7th, there won't be anything going on.

So, what's it all about you may ask. Well, you can go check out the conference website now, or at anytime you like. It has the full schedule and tells you about the various participants. Here's the URL: <>. But I'll also put the schedule in below.

Before we get to that, let me tell you about some of the highlights and things I'm especially excited about.

Thursday evening we're opening with some cool stuff, including the first New York City screening of the documentary Consuming Kids, and a keynote presentation from Tom deZengotita.

Friday morning we have a session on journalism that includes Alan Hayakawa, the son of S. I. Hayakawa, and I'm really looking forward to meeting him; among the others on the session are Neil Hickey of the Columbia Journalism Review, who was for a long time the editor of TV Guide, back when it was America's top magazine, as well as the online guru for the New York Times, Alex Wright.

Friday afternoon we have a session on childhood with Rosemarie Truglio, a dear friend and Vice-President of Research for Sesame Workshop, and also including Twila Liggett, creator of Reading Rainbow, Ed Miller of the Alliance for Childhood, and Mary Rothschild of Healthy Media Choices. This session is followed by one on new media literacies featuring David Walczyk and Paul Guzzardo.

I am especially excited about our Friday evening session at the Players Club, made possible by my friend and colleague Meir Ribalow. And it's worth going, just to check out the Players Club itself, which was founded by the brother of John Wilkes Booth. Meir and I are going to participate in a discussion about heroes and role models with Maria Cooper Janis, the daughter of Gary Cooper, and the actor Victor Slezak, among others.

Saturday morning we're having a session with an international focus that includes my old colleague and collaborator Ron Jacobson, Jordi Torrent, who organized these conferences in the past, Paul Mihailidis, and others.

Saturday afternoon we'll be concluding the conference with a screening and discussion from The LAMP--Learning About Multimedia Project courtesy of Katherine Fry of Brooklyn College, and then a panel discussion on Mapping the Media that will include media literacy maven Renee Hobbs, Thom Gencarelli (a Trustee of the Institute of General Semantics and Vice-President of the Media Ecology Association), Bill Petkanas (Editor of ETC: A Review of General Semantics), and Martin Levinson (President of the Institute of General Semantics).

Well, this will certainly give me a lot of material to blog about, and I'll be sure to do so, and provide more information about these folks, with links and everything, when we get down to it. But for now, I hope you can make it to the conference, and please help to spread the word. Here's that URL again: <>

And, no, I didn't forget that I promised to post the schedule here. Here ya go!

Media Conversations VI
An International Conference on Youth, Media, and Education
Free and Open to the Public

June 4-6, 2009
New York, New York

Co-sponsored by
Pratt Institute
Fordham University
The Players Club
Media Ecology Association
Institute of General Semantics

Thursday, June 4th
Pratt Institute
144 West 14th St., 2nd. floor

5.30-6.30 pm Multimedia Presentation
Thus Spoke the Spectacle
Eric Goodman and Mike Stevens

6.30-8.00 pm Welcome and Screening
'The Bungled and the Botched' : The Necessity of Psychological Sustainability
David Walczyk, Pratt Institute
Followed by...
The Manhattan Premiere of the film Consuming Kids (67 minutes)

8.00-9.30 pm Keynote Address
Introduced by Tula Gianini, Dean, Pratt Institute School of Information and Library Science

"Teaching media literacy in our schools: why it is so easy to do badly and so hard to do well"
Tom DeZengotita, Dalton School/New York University/Harper's Magazine

Friday Morning and Afternoon, June 5th
Pratt Institute
144 West 14th St., 2nd. floor

10:00am-12:00 pm Panel Discussion
Media Education and the Future of Journalism
Cynthia Walker, Saint Peter's College (moderator)
Donna Halper, Lesley University
Alan Hayakawa, Patriot News
Neil Hickey, Columbia Journalism Review
Beth Knobel, Fordham University
Alex Wright, New York Times

1.00-3:00 pm Panel Discussion
Childhood and Media
Jessica Hochman, Pratt Institute (moderator)
Gretchen Hams-Caserotti, Darien Public Library
Twila Liggett, Marymount Manhattan College
Ed Miller, Alliance for Childhood
Mary Rothschild, Healthy Media Choices
Rosemarie Truglio, Sesame Workshop

3:30-5:30 pm Panel Discussion
New Media Literacies
Paul Guzzardo, Urban Designer and Media Activist (moderator)
Thomas Gillespie, Quinnipiac University
Peter Gutierrez, Curriculum Developer; NCTE Commission on Media
Alex Quinn, Games for Change
David Walczyk, Pratt Institute

Friday Evening, June 5th
The Players Club
16 Gramercy Park South (East 20th Street between Park Avenue South and Third Avenue is renamed Gramercy Park South)

7:30-9:30pm Panel Discussion
Heroes and Role Models in Movies and Other Media

Meir Ribalow, Fordham University (moderator)
Maria Cooper Janis, Filmmaker
Susan McGregor, Friend's Way
Lee Pfeiffer, Cinema Retro
Victor Slezak, Actor
Lance Strate, Fordham University

Saturday, June 6th
Fordham University, Lincoln Center Campus
McMahon Hall Lounge
155 West 60th St. (between Columbus and Amsterdam Avenues)

10.00-12.00 pm Panel Discussion
Media Education in the Global Village

Ron L. Jacobson, Fordham University (moderator)
Mary Bosco Amakwe, Seton Hall University
Paul Mihailidis, Hofstra University
Holly Morganelli, Pratt Institute
Jordi Torrent, Media Literacy Education Project, UN-Alliance of Civilizations & Duende Pictures

1.00-3.00 pm Screening and Discussion
The LAMP Learning About Multimedia Project

Katherine Fry, Brooklyn College/The LAMP
D.C. Vito, The LAMP

3:30-5:30 pm Panel Discussion
Mapping the Media

Thom Gencarelli, Manhattan College (moderator)
Renee Hobbs, Temple University
Dan Latorre, Scholastic Magazines
Martin Levinson, Institute of General Semantics
Bill Petkanas, Western Connecticut State University

So there you have it. Be there or be square, and I do hope to see you there if at all possible!

Monday, May 25, 2009

not here word art

So, I wanted to share with you a bit of word art I came up with, courtesy of the Wordle website. I first heard about this website on Twitter, from a tweet put up by Karen Russell, er, um, I mean @KarenRussell, who is a professor of public relations at the University of Georgia's Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication, and the editor of the Journal of Public Relations Research to boot! Her blog, Teaching PR, is an excellent resource for public relations education, and social media as well, I should add.

Anyway, Wordle let's you turn any bit of text into a form of word art. If you like how it looks, you can save it in their gallery, too. And you can go look at other works that have been saved there.

So I took one of my poems from my MySpace poetry blog, one entitled "not here" which happens to be the longest one I've written, and created what I think isn't a half bad piece out of it. Here it is in miniature:

Wordle: not here

Unfortunately, and this is a drawback for this site, they don't let you copy, save, or upload anything to anywhere else, aside from this sort of thumbnail, so to see the piece in all its glory you're going to have to go over there and look at it, kind of like having to go to the museum to see the painting. Anyway, here's where it lives:

You can also provide it with the URL of any blog, blog feed, or any other web page that has an Atom or RSS feed, or a user name, to create an image based on the online text. So, what I'm going to do is post what I've written so far, then feed the URL for Blog Time Passing in, create another bit of word art, and add it to this post. Ready? Okay, here goes!

OK, I'm back! And here's the new text art derived from this blog:

Wordle: Blog Time Passing 1

And to see the full size image, head on over to the following address:

It is possible to change the colors, vertical/horizontal orientation, and shape, but in this instance I just let wordle do its thing. This one could be considered the thumbprint of Blog Time Passing, if you ask me.

Is it art? Marshall McLuhan said that art is what you can get away with. Seems to me wordle is getting away with plenty here!

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Autism and Adulthood--A Coming Catastrophe

An op-ed piece in today's Sunday New York Times is worthy of note, to say the least. Entitled, Growing Old With Autism, the piece is written by Karl Taro Greenfeld, the author of Boy Alone: A Brother’s Memoir, which is about growing up with an autistic brother, Noah, who his father Josh Greenfield wrote about in three books, A Child Called Noah, A Client Called Noah, and A Place for Noah.

Let's just jump right in, shall we, as Karl opens the piece in personal memoir fashion:

IN mid-2007, I set off to meet with geneticists, epidemiologists and doctors who specialize in researching and treating autism. I was seeking a novel therapy for my 42-year-old autistic younger brother Noah. I was also looking to discover how heightened awareness of autism — it is now among the most financially successful and mediagenic diseases ever, with hundreds of millions of dollars a year going to research, and regular press coverage — might have resulted in new and innovative programs for adult autistics like Noah.

Those of us in the autism community already know the answer to this one, but let's let Karl go through the motions:

Autism was already widely being described as an epidemic, affecting as many as 1 in 150 8-year-olds, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. We had come a long way since Noah got his diagnosis in the late ’60s, the so-called dark ages of autism, when many pediatricians believed they had never seen a case, and so-called refrigerator mothers were mistakenly blamed for their children’s withdrawn, antisocial condition.

Yes, that's right, and it was the psychoanalysts who were largely to blame, for blaming the mothers, and Bruno Bettelheim was at the forefront of all this, apparently just making it all up to fit his Freudian theories. Bettelheim's once stellar reputation has been repudiated in general in recent years, but in the autism world he was our bête noire for half a century. But all this is water under the bridge now, so let's get back to Karl's story:

But now, with autism described to me as “the disease of the decade” by Peter Bell, the executive vice president of programs and services for the advocacy group Autism Speaks, I thought perhaps there was hope, even for low-functioning adult autistics like Noah.

I should interject that my daughter is not low functioning, she has moderate autism. But the description of developmental delays from infancy that comes next is very familiar to me:

Noah has been my family’s focus for decades. As a baby, he had been very slow to turn over, crawl or walk, and each subsequent developmental milestone was even more delayed as he grew into adulthood. My parents did everything they could for him, moving us from New York to Los Angeles in the early 1970s to be closer to a pioneering autism program at the University of California at Los Angeles, opening their own day care center for the developmentally disabled, even creating a one-on-one assisted-living situation for Noah — years before this became common — so that they could delay institutionalizing him.

I toured those state hospital systems with my parents when we started looking for a place for a growing-up Noah. Those were terrifying visits: adult patients wearing helmets and restraints, howling and hitting themselves. This was during the ’70s when the scandals at state psychiatric hospitals like Letchworth Village in New York and Camarillo in California were making terrifying headlines. Clients at Camarillo were dying from neglect and improperly administered medications. We had to keep Noah out of that system for as long as we could.

Letchworth Village was part of the same scandal that the young Geraldo Rivera brought to light in the early 1970s (which rocketed him to fame as an investigative reporter at a time when investigative reporters on local news were all but unknown, back when they were pioneering the "action news" format for local TV news), a scandal better known by the name of the other substandard and abusive facility that was brought to public attention, Willowbrook. But let's get back to Noah's story:

Eventually, when he was 22, Noah had to leave home. He graduated from his special needs school on a bright, sunny Orange County day; he was beaming, handsome in his bright blue cap and gown.

But for the profoundly autistic, graduation is perhaps the saddest day in their lives. For those who cannot enter the work force, continue on to more education or find some sheltered workshop environment with adequate staffing, there are few options. Far too few programs and resources are allocated for adults with autism.

Noah has been in and out of sheltered workshops, but these are always under threat because of state budget deficits. Noah has been asked to leave some programs because he was too low-functioning. For several years, we have been trying to find a day program where he might interact with others and perhaps perform some simple, menial job. We have long since given up any hope that he might continue in adulthood the behavioral therapies that are now considered standard for autistics; unless the family is willing to pay the bulk of the cost, there is very little out there for men and women like Noah.

Okay, let's get this straight. Up to age 21, autistic children are required by federal law to be provided with an adequate education by their local school districts. After that, they age out of the school system, and there are absolutely no provisions made for them, for how they are to occupy themselves during the day, let along for their continued learning and growth, which however delayed it may be, does indeed continue. As Karl goes on to explain, all of the focus in autism advocacy has been on early intervention and treatment:

For purposes of fund-raising and awareness-raising, autism has been portrayed as a childhood disease. The federal Department of Health and Human Services has characterized it as a “disorder of childhood.” There are practical reasons for this: early intervention has been shown to be the most effective therapy. The trend in autism treatment has been to steadily lower the age at which intensive intervention commences — as early as five months, according to some experts. Yet autism is not a degenerative condition; the vast majority of those 1 in 150 children who are afflicted will survive to adulthood.

As I spoke with the experts, I began to see that the focus on children had influenced not only the marketing of autism, but also research and treatment. It seemed the majority were interested in children only, the younger the better.

“The best time to look is at the early ages, when autism is developing,” Sophia Calimaro, vice president of research at Autism Speaks, told me a few months ago, explaining that was also where there had been the most treatment success. “I’m not making excuses, but that’s really why more research into adults with autism hasn’t been done.”

The problem is two-fold. As Karl points out, for the purpose of fundraising, children work much better than adults. Help the children! Save the children! Who makes for a better poster child than a child? Those young, innocent faces are so good for moving people to action, and contribution.

But it's also true for the researchers. Children are easier to work with. They offer more hope. They are more malleable, more plastic. There's more of a chance of success in one way or another. You can get the nonverbal child to speak, get the behavioral child to stop injuring himself or herself, get the high functioning child mainstreamed. You can perhaps find the cause of autism, find a way to diagnose it earlier, maybe even, even find a cure of some sort, that might not reverse it but might prevent whatever goes wrong from doing its damage.

It's really a two-fold phenomenon. It's so much better to work with children than adults, children are so much more lovable, less threatening, and can make you feel like a hero. And it's so much better to work with high-functioning autistics where you can perhaps improve their life chances in a significant way, and again register a sense of success that just isn't there when working with low functioning individuals. As Karl himself learns, and explains to us:

Low-functioning adult autistics are viewed with sympathy but not much scientific inquiry. No one has broken down how many dollars are actually flowing to adult autistics, but at the International Meeting for Autism Research in Seattle in May 2007, I counted more than 450 papers and presentations and three dozen talks on autism given by academics and specialists; of those, only two dealt with low-functioning adults, and neither included a cohort large enough to be statistically relevant.

The careful measurements of brain function, or dysfunction, were almost all done on children. A few cognitive and emotional development studies dealt with adults, but these were overwhelmingly focused on high-functioning autistics and people with Asperger’s syndrome.

Autism Speaks, the major sponsor of autism research projects, has not broken down the proportion of funds that go to adult-oriented research, but Mr. Bell, whose teenage son is autistic, laments that “it’s low, too low. ... We have to change the paradigm for those of us who have kids who are going to grow up and need more and better services.”

And hey, Autism Speaks does a lot of good work, but they themselves have not been immune from this bias. And here now is the coming catastrophe, as Karl describes it:

That change can’t come soon enough. Even with state-of-the-art early intervention — eight hours a day, seven days a week — many autistics will need support throughout their lives. The reality is that very few, perhaps only 10 percent, of those as severely autistic as Noah benefit from the current interventions to the point where they become functioning members of society.

If the current C.D.C. estimation of prevalence is correct, then there will be an awful lot of adult autistics who need lifetime support and care. Noah’s life has been a grim study in how scarce those resources are. Without them, his behavior has regressed.

This message is an important one, and it's a shame it was somewhat buried by the personal memoir, as aesthetically pleasing as it may be to the reader. The present epidemic of childhood autism is about to become an epidemic of adulthood autism, and absolutely no preparations have been made to deal with it. And medical research, including searches for a cure, that's all well and fine, but more importantly we need basic services to take care of these members of our society, these children of ours. Here's how Karl ends the piece:

A recent “psychological and psychopharmacological” report by the California Department of Developmental Services said Noah exhibited a “failure to develop peer relationships, a lack of social or emotional reciprocity,” and it described some of his “maladaptive behaviors” like “banging his head against solid surfaces, pinching himself and grabbing others.”

“Noah may also,” it noted, “intentionally spit at others, pinch or scratch others, dig his fingernails into others, and/or pull others’ hair. He may bite, head-butt and hit others; throw objects at others, and hit/slap his head when he is highly agitated.” He is a handful.

Now, imagine a few hundred thousand Noahs.

Imagine that, indeed. The problem is twofold. One is providing day programs to take the place of school, and allow autistics to perform useful, maybe even fulfilling functions, contribute to society, and better yet continue to develop at their own rate. The second is to provide homes. We parents will take care of our autistic children as adults, for as long as we are able. But we are growing older, and we won't be around forever. Siblings may be able to help, but they won't necessarily be equipped to handle their autistic brothers and sisters. And men and women with autism are otherwise healthy, and except for the possiblity of death by accident, which is somewhat increased, they will live normal lifespans.

This coming catastrophe is only made worse by the recession or depression or whatever it is. No resources forthcoming, fundraising is difficult, the outlook overall is not very good.

So, where will they go? What will they do?

Tuesday, May 19, 2009


How could I not post this? Celebrities are naturally gravitating to Twitter as a medium by which they can further boost their fame, and further inculcate parasocial relationships and parasocial interaction, relationships and interaction that feel like they are two-way, but are actually altogether one-sided . And while this is increasing the overall popularity of Twitter, and its value as a medium of communication--the value of any interactive, non-hierarchical network increases the more people adopt it, which is why Facebook seems to be undergoing a snowball effect in regard to its growth--from the point of view of Twitter pioneers and purists, the influx of celebrities, and fans as well, is ruining the medium (someone called it the new MySpace for this reason!). This reminds me of how the introduction of the World-Wide Web in the nineties led to a sudden proliferation of commerical websites online, which horrified all of the early intenet users who had gone around saying things like, information just wants to be free! Anyway, this little cartoon is by the same folks who brought us Twouble with Twitters (see my previous post, The Twitlight Zone), and well worth inclusion here on Blog Time Passing:

So, there you have it, a flood of celebritweets! So say it with me: Noah Moah! Let's go build an ark, my friends, the storm clouds are gathering...

Sunday, May 17, 2009

The Disappearance of Religion

So, maybe it's a bit drastic to say, disappearance, but certainly a devaluation of traditional religion has been underway in the west for the past half century or so, at the same time that there has been a resurgence of spirituality.

In media ecological terms, religion as we understand it emerges out of a media environment that employs some sort of writing system; without one, what you have is more of a polymorphous spirituality and a multitude of local practices and beliefs, all seen as equally valid, if not equally powerful. Writing gives us sacred texts which define religious ritual and theology, making it possible to drawn boundary lines between believers and unbelievers, creating an either/or system that includes concepts such as conversion and heresy.

And now that the electronic media are undoing the effects of typographic literacy, an emphasis on homogeneous religion has been giving way to something more like oral spirituality, a neo-paganism if you like, although it isn't necessarily New Age phenomena, but also a mix-and-match approach to traditional religions.

So, given all this, I was intrigued to read an opinion piece reprinted in the North Jersey Record, originally appearing in the Christian Science Monitor, on this subject. The author, Stephen Bates, teaches in the Hank Greenspun School of Journalism and Media Studies at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, and the title of the piece is Why Americans are devout and diverse but not divided (and the title is linked to the original article in the Christian Science Monitor, if you want to go take a look).

Bates starts out with a gratuitous jab at the prevalence (and presumed over-diagnosis) of ADD and ADHD, which I think unnecessary:

In the Adderall age, many Americans are flitting from faith to faith, or from faith to no faith. The Pew Center on Religion and Public Life recently released a poll showing that about half of adults have changed faiths since childhood. Moreover, some 16 percent of Americans say they no longer identify with any religion, compared with 7 percent who were raised without one.

The Pew Center report is called Faith in Flux: Changes in Religious Affiliation in the U.S. (yeah, I got it linked), Here's the Executive Summary of the report:

Americans change religious affiliation early and often. In total, about half of American adults have changed religious affiliation at least once during their lives. Most people who change their religion leave their childhood faith before age 24, and many of those who change religion do so more than once. These are among the key findings of a new survey conducted by the Pew Research Center's Forum on Religion & Public Life. The survey documents the fluidity of religious affiliation in the U.S. and describes in detail the patterns and reasons for change.

The reasons people give for changing their religion - or leaving religion altogether - differ widely depending on the origin and destination of the convert. The group that has grown the most in recent years due to religious change is the unaffiliated population. Two-thirds of former Catholics who have become unaffiliated and half of former Protestants who have become unaffiliated say they left their childhood faith because they stopped believing in its teachings, and roughly four-in-ten say they became unaffiliated because they do not believe in God or the teachings of most religions. Additionally, many people who left a religion to become unaffiliated say they did so in part because they think of religious people as hypocritical or judgmental, because religious organizations focus too much on rules or because religious leaders are too focused on power and money. Far fewer say they became unaffiliated because they believe that modern science proves that religion is just superstition.

But let's return to Bates, and see what he has to say as he makes reference to Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan, who was one of the all time great intellectuals of American politics in the 20th century (and a New Yorker, natch):

Those are just some of a passel of trends that have been reweaving the nation's religious tapestry. Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan warned against defining deviancy down. In a variety of ways, we're defining deity down. Have we gotten so skittish about giving offense that American faith is all but meaningless? Then again, the US is one of the most peaceful nations when it comes to religion. That speaks volumes.

You see? An interesting conflict is brewing here. So, what exactly is going on?

For almost all groups, religious intermarriage has nearly doubled since the 1950s. Though two-fifths of Americans claim to have attended worship services in the past week, scholars believe that between a quarter and half of them are bearing false witness. Speaking of the Commandments, one poll found that 42 percent of Americans could name five of the 10 – whereas another poll found that 43 percent could name three of the five cartoon Simpsons.

What's going on? "The idea of a plural society is so new to Americans that many will not even understand the term," Christian Century magazine said back in 1951. "It will be even more difficult to arouse their concern over the development because they will find it difficult to believe that any such thing can happen here." The headline read "Pluralism – National Menace."

It happened here, and, as Christian Century editors fretted, it hasn't been altogether good news for the Good News. Using 1990 data, economist Jonathan Gruber of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge, Mass., studied the effects of people of the same faith clustering together. For every 10 percent decline in religious density, by his measure, attendance at worship services dropped by 8.5 percent. Religious homogeneity boosts churchgoing. And the United States has become the most religiously diverse nation the world has ever known.

My natural inclination is to think of pluralism and diversity as a good thing, so it's interesting to encounter this other point of view where it is seen as a mixed blessing at best.

Such a society can try to reclaim the faith by slaughtering the infidels, or it can make accommodations. Perhaps the most important accommodation is to quit claiming that your god is the best. In 1924, Robert and Helen Lynd asked high school students in Muncie, Ind., whether Christianity is the one true religion. Yes, said 94 percent. Asked in 2002 if they practice the one true religion, just 17 percent of Americans said yes. Monopolies on truth don't go over well in a religiously multicultural society. Thus, such talk has gone the way of the walls of Jericho.

Since people in religious minorities (my own included) tend to get the short end of the stick when it comes to talk about slaughtering infidels, I am happy to see an end to such triumphalism. But it is interesting to consider that this comes at a cost.

That's why most houses of worship are so easygoing, too – why they now welcome folks who try out faiths the way they try out screen savers. As John Updike wrote, the Christian church once could "exclude and excommunicate; now, unlike most other organizations, it will take us in if we so much as show up."
The cost, then, is a kind of religion-lite, shading into a wholesale trivializing of religion along the lines that Neil Postman warned about in his discussion of televangelism in Amusing Ourselves to Death. So perhaps we become intolerant of religious stricture and discipline, of ethics and morality, but along with it we become intolerant of religious intolerance too.

To be sure, conservative Christians stand apart. They aren't marrying people of other faiths at the same rate as other Americans, and they're considerably more likely to deem theirs the one true faith. When President George W. Bush declared that all religions pray to the same God, the head of the Southern Baptist Convention "corrected" him. But many of the rest of us can't tolerate such intolerance. A Gallup poll in 1989 (admittedly, the Age of Falwell) found that nearly a third of Americans wouldn't want to live next to a fundamentalist Christian.

Fundamentalists lack the light touch of channel surfing and, of course, of surfing the web. And where does that leave us? I agree with Mather below, and disagree with Bates--it leaves us with the disappearance of religion, in all but name.

"The toleration of all Religions and Persuasions," Puritan preacher Increase Mather observed, "is the way to have no Religion at all." Mather got it wrong, but toleration does recast religion. Is that a problem?

Bates himself seems to be rather tactfully tacking around the questions. His conclusion?

Not when you consider the alternative. Here, it's not Sunnis versus Shiites, or everybody versus the Jews. We are a sprawling nation of near-universal belief in a Supreme Being, of many religions, and, at the same time, of scarcely any interfaith strife. We're devout and diverse but not divided. No other country has managed to pull that off, and it's quite an accomplishment. By defining deity down, Americans keep the faith – and keep the peace.

I do agree with his touch of triumphalism here--the American achievement of religious tolerance is remarkable, especially as it has been achieved without resorting to the kind of impoverished atheism that seems so prevalent across the Atlantic. This is not to disparage atheists in any way, shape, or form, there is much to be said for the position they hold, but there is also an enormous loss in abandoning all sense of the sacred in human life.

Peace is one of the great goals of most if not all traditional religions, and you can't argue with that. Watching The Tudors on Showtime, I am reminded of the incredible fact that at one time the English were killing one another over whether the communion wafer was merely a symbol or literally was transformed into the flesh of Jesus during the ritual. I mean, my God, what an absurd cause for war, as duly satirized by Jonathan Swift. And then there's the whole history of the Jews as we lived among Christians and Moslems. Oy vey!

So, after all, Karl Marx and Frederick Engels were not all that far off in The Communist Manifesto when then posited a utopia absent all religion, and predicted that it would come to pass as an inevitable historical development. While they may not have been exactly correct, I do think we are witnessing the withering away of the state and of organized religion, albeit very gradually, and not without considerable resistance, and due to technological change, especially the electronic media.

And this, finally, brings to mind the song "Imagine" by John Lennon Here's a version where it's sung by the very young Connie Talbot (someone left another version of it for me under the Comments section of my MySpace profile):

What was amazing about this song is that the lyrics, while quite beautiful, are pretty much straight out of The Communist Manifesto. I just have to wonder how many fans actually have been aware of this fact? In any event, I don't think the case for Communism was ever put more persuasively, certainly not more entertainingly. And while the idealism this represents, however commendable, must be viewed skeptically, neither should it be dismissed out of hand, as it is not entirely without predictive power. Imagine that!

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

A Brain to Remember, Rest in Peace Leonard Shlain

I heard the news today, that Leonard Shlain has passed away, and you can read all about it, and about Leonard, on the site his family set up: Leonard Shlain's Brain. All I want to do is say a few words about my fellow media ecologist here on Blog Time Passing. Coincidentally, I recently mentioned his daughter Tiffany Shlain in a blog post entitled A Special Day.

Leonard Shlain was a passionate and insightful intellectual, and in addition to his regular job as a surgeon, he was a media ecologist. His first book, Art and Physics, explored the parallel ways in which standard Newtonian and Euclidean notions of time and space were rejected in the early 20th century, in physics by scientists such as Einstein, in art by painters such as Picasso. This follows up on a marvelous insight that McLuhan had about this common thread of discontinuity in our culture, both of which relate back to the introduction of telegraph in the mid-19th century, the first electrical communication technology, which essentially abolished time and space as factors in communication.

Perhaps Shlain's best known book was The Alphabet vs. the Goddess, where he brought his expertise in biology to bear on the notion that monotheism was a consequence of alphabetic literacy, arguing that it also constituted a shift from the feminine-dominated goddess worship of nonliterate cultures to the patriarchal ideologies and theologies of the west. His strong alignment with feminism carried over in his next book, Sex, Time, and Power, where he argued that women had a central role in the development of time-keeping, and with it civilization. And his final book, which will be published posthumously, is Leonardo’s Brain, where he argues that the genius of Leonardo da Vinci is linked to his being feminine, homosexual, left-handed, and right-brained.

As you can no doubt tell from these short descriptions, Leonard did not shy away from controversial topics, and he was not averse to the big ideas, grand historical worldview, and wilingness to engage in probes and explorations that is characteristics of so much of media ecological work. He was a true public intellectual.

Moreover, it was a pleasure to be in the audience for his featured presentations at three Media Ecology Association conventions--indeed, we were fortunate to have him with us just a little less than a year ago at our last meeting at Santa Clara University. He was a marvelous speaker, and one of the few individuals I have seen who knew how to use PowerPoint effectively. Len also gave the 2007 Alfred Korzybski Memorial Lecture for the Institute of General Semantics, which was published in our journal, ETC, on our website, and in our annual, the General Semantics Bulletin. Here's a photograph of Leonard Shlain from that event:

His works represent significant contributions to the media ecology and general semantics literature, and take their place in our canon next to those of Marshall McLuhan, Harold Innis, Walter Ong, Lewis Mumford, Alfred Korzybski, Susanne Langer, and Neil Postman. We will miss his intellectual acuity, his powerful multidisciplinary methods, his keen understanding of the human organism and its extensions, both aesthetic and utilitarian, and his creative flair.

Monday, May 11, 2009

A Social Media Tasti-D-Lite

Back on April 27, we were delighted to have BJ Emerson of Tasti-D-Lite as a guest speaker in my Interactive Media class at Fordham University (see previous posts Meet The Social Moose and Social Moose Goes YouTubing). And yes, BJ did bring us free samples, which we loved, but it was also marvelous to hear him talk about his own experiences and approaches to social media in a business context, and we were fortunate that he allowed us to video his talk. It's not possible to present the class in its entirety, but here are some excerpts from his time with us:

It was great to meet and get to know BJ, and I'm grateful for the delicious discussion of social media that he provided. After class, he was off to their Columbus Circle store, right by Fordham's Lincoln Center campus, for a tweet-up that I really wish I had been able to attend. I understand they served Fail-Whale Cake!

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Blogs Don't Kill People, People Do?

So my friend Paull Young, social media public relations maven displaced from down under to NYC, posted a thoughtful commentary on his blog, Young PR, entitled: Blogs Don’t Influence People - People Do. You can go read it, and meet me back here if you like. I won't mind.

Anyway, it was a thought-provoking post, and it motivated me to write a comment in response that I left on his blog, and that I also thought I'd share with you here:

Great blog post, Paull, and I agree with your main point entirely: "The power of blogs and other forms of social media comes from the relationships they enable through conversation." In other words, it's not about the content, messages, information, or memes being sent and received, it's about the connections being made, and the relationships being forged. This is another way of saying "the medium is the message," because what McLuhan meant by medium is closely related to what psychologist Paul Watzlawick meant by the relationship level of communication, as opposed to the content level. We tend to ignore the medium/relationship, and pay attention to the content, but it is the medium/relationship that has the more significant impact on us, individually and collectively.

The one point I would take issue with is your appropriation of the NRA slogan in this context. If you really consider the analogy, you are in effect saying that social media make no difference in our lives, because people would be communicating and relating to one another no matter what, and social media are just another means to that end, neutral in and of themselves, entirely subject to individual choice about how they are used.

From the media ecology perspective, technology changes human relationships and human affairs. Guns do kill people, in the sense that they facilitate aggression, increasing the potential for violence. And blogs do influence people, in the sense that they facilitate communication, increasing the possibilities for forming and maintaining relationships. Simply put, we have a greater number of relationships because of social media, with less regard to geography, and with greater variation and diversity, while also increasing our ability to find others who share our interests and biases. As McLuhan explained in Understanding Media, the medium is the message in part because technological change alters the speed and scale of our communication.

And well now, I guess I've got a blog post of my own here!
And so I have! Content emerging out of relationships, that is exactly what we're talking about, that's the power of social media!

Social Media and Pagan Residue

So, earlier this semester, we discussed Camille Paglia's magnum opus, Sexual Personae, in my graduate class at Fordham University, and in that book she argues that a strong pagan residue can be found within western culture over the past two millennia, underneath thin patina of monotheism. Further, she draws on the binary opposition of the Apollonian and the Dionysian as constituting two faces of paganism (at least of the Greco-Roman variety), with special attention and emphasis on the often overlooked or purposefully suppressed, or repressed Dionysian.

Among the many characteristics that line up within this opposition are Apollonian as order vs. Dionysian as chaos, Apollonian as male vs. Dionysian as female, Apollonian as technology vs. Dionysian as biology, and Apollonian as literacy vs. Dionysian as orality. This is not to say that all of these characteristics were necessarily connected to Apollo and Dionysis in pagan culture, just that the terms Apollonian and Dionysian are used to refer to themes and traits that parallel, reflect, and are analogous to these other binary pairs. Paglia emphasizes order vs. chaos and male vs. female, while I have added on technology vs. biology and literacy vs. orality.

So that got me to thinking, and it occurred to me that the binary opposition of paganism could be applied to social media. This relates back to a previous post here on Blog Time Passing, About Face(book).

Clearly Facebook is Apollonian. It's all neat, and clean, and orderly. Named after a print medium, it very much reflects the biases of literacy, of the literate and well-educated, middle class and affluent, the technologized (but not the do-it-yourselfers) and consumerized, and the patriarchical and paternalistic (and perhaps patronizing) male-imposed, bourgeois, safe environment.

MySpace on the other hand is pure chaos. It is organic, relatively lawless, and altogether messy. And it reflects the oral tendencies that go along with working class culture. It is open, as space is open, rather than closed and kept captive like a book. And in this sense it is an archetypal great mother of a social network, a matix, a womb, the feminine force at its most threatening.

So then, where does that leave Twitter? Well if Facebook is Apollonian and MySpace is Dionysian, that means that both are pagan. And that, I would think, makes Twitter monotheistic. Paganism is, from a monotheistic point of view, idol worship, an image-centered communication system. Monotheism, on the other hand, is logocentric, word-centered, as God is identified by his speech acts (beginning with, Let there be light!) and in certain respects as the divine logos, as the word (either in spirit or in flesh). Images, on the other hand, were prohibited by the Second Commandment, and there is a clear polemic against idol worship running through the Bible. It follows, then, that if Facebook is Apollonian, and MySpace is Dionysian, then Twitter is monotheistic.

To be clear, I don't mean for all this to be taken literally. Rather, I am employing these categories as an exercise in critical thinking, and as a means to unleashing further insights about the nature of social networks.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Symbolic Calculations

So, I had a great time last Thursday doing a guest lecture on general semantics for David Walczyk's information and library science class at Pratt Institute. And it was particularly encouraging to see how well Korzybski's non-Aristotelian approach fit into the course on technology and design that David was teaching.

And on a related note, after mentioning what I was doing on Twitter, I heard from GrtGrndLdr who turned out to be Alexandre Rivest on Vimeo, and who looks like this

or at least that's the image he uses for his profile. Anyway, he asked me to take a look at one of his videos, as if, which he explained was inspired by Alfred Korzybski. It's not about Korzybski's work per se, he was clear about that, but I think this is a great example of how general semantics can spark creative and critical thinking about language and symbolic communication.

as if from Alexandre Rivest on Vimeo.

Now I know that my friend Bruce Kodish would be quick to remind me that general semantics is not just about language and symbols, that's a common misconception, and it would be more accurate to say that general semantics is about how we abstract information from what's out there, and construct internal maps of the world through perception, language, symbols, and also media and technology for that matter, and it is about how we can become conscious of the process of abstracting, and learn how to improve our ability to evaluate our environment, evaluate our own thinking, and evaluate our evaluations.

But it is also true that general semantics does teach us to think about language in new and different ways, and in the case of this video, in entertaining ways as well. Thanks, Alexandre!

Friday, May 1, 2009

Social Moose Goes YouTubing

So, at the start of the semester I introduced the new blog for this year's Interactive Media class at Fordham University, which the students called The Social Moose, in a post I called Meet the Social Moose. And during our last class meeting this past Tuesday, we did our only webcam video of the semester, which I uploaded to YouTube in two parts, and which I'll share with you here, for what it's worth:

And there you have it (and good luck to you all on the final!).