Monday, March 31, 2008

Autism Awareness

So, April is Autism Awareness Month, and April 2nd is World Autism Awareness Day (as approved by the United Nations General Assembly). As you may know, my daughter, who is now twelve years old, has autism, and I've posted on this subject several times previously.

We have put up a family page to help raise money for one of the organizations involved in increasing autism awareness and engaging in autism advocacy, The New Jersey Center for Outreach and Services for the Autism Community (COSAC), and you can go to that page by clicking here or on the link right above my picture on the upper right. And if you have the inclination, and of course only if you can afford to do so, then any donation you can make would be appreciated.

COSAC is an excellent resource for information about autism, as is the Autism Society of America, and Autism Speaks. Also, CNN is providing comprehensive (for cable news) coverage of autism, especially for World Autism Awareness Day.

Now, here's a list of my previous posts directly related to autism, for what they're worth, in order from the earliest to the latest:

I've left out the posts that make minor references to autism, and to be honest, I forgot I had posted this many times on the topic.

And while we're on the subject, let me share some basic information with you in this post, adapted from my book, Echoes and Reflections: On Media Ecology as a Field of Study:

Autism is defined as a disorder of the self, and it is a disorder profoundly linked to problems in communication and perception. And while it is a biological condition, the product of a neurological abnormality, present before birth, which affects the development of the brain, no medical tests have yet been developed to test it; instead, diagnosis depends upon behavioral observation. Autism therefore is a fuzzy category, with shifting boundaries. First identified in 1943 by Leo Kanner, it has come to be understood as a spectrum disorder, meaning that there is a continuum between the severest cases, through the mildest which may go undiagnosed, and perhaps extending into nonautistic normalcy. And it is a syndrome, meaning that it encompasses a wide variety of traits, some of which may or may not be present in any given case, and which may appear in any number of combinations. Autism is referred to as a pervasive developmental disorder, it occurs in males four times as often as it does in females, and it affects approximately a million and a half people in the United States, with a rate of occurrence now believed to be 1 in 150 (in New Jersey, where I live, it's more like 1 in 94, and the New York Times has speculated that the national average may actually be closer to this).

This disorder is diagnosed by three main criteria. The first has to do with impairments in social interaction; Kanner referred to this as "autistic aloneness." There are problems developing relationships, reciprocating emotions, and sharing interests with others, as well as a blindness to nonverbal social cues. The autistic seems lost in his or her own world, and an alien in our own. The common ground that typical individuals take for granted is simply not there. The second impairment is in communication, both verbal and nonverbal, and often includes delays in language acquisition or sometimes a complete lack of speech. Moreover, there may be a lack of imaginative play, and of interest in narrative. There may also be related problems with the processing of sensory information. At times, the individual may seem impervious to sensory stimulation, not reacting to sounds or to physical pain, while at other times he or she may be overly sensitive to certain sensory input. The third criterion is described as "restricted, repetitive, and stereotyped patterns of behavior, interests, or activity." Both simple motions like hand flapping and complex behavioral patterns may be enacted repeatedly. There is a tendency to favor ritual and routine, and to behave obsessively and compulsively. Even in mild cases, interests may be pursued with unusual focus and intensity.

The majority of autistics are categorized as mentally retarded, but of course assessing intelligence is highly problematic when dealing with individuals who may be unable or simply unwilling to speak. Only 20% attain a relatively typical level of intelligence, and are referred to as high functioning (Asperger's Disorder or Syndrome is also considered a form of high-functioning autism). Some autistics have savant skills, highly developed abilities in one specialized area, such as mathematics, computer science, music, art, architecture, mechanics, biology, or simply memorization, visualization, or manual dexterity. These autistic savants are usually well below normal in other areas, however, and autistics in general are particularly handicapped in regards to social and emotional intelligence.

One possible savant was Albert Einstein, who did not speak until the age of 5, had a great deal of difficulty with social interaction, and possessed savant skills in mathematics and visualization. The philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein also exhibited autistic traits; this adds new shades of meaning to his famous quote, "Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent" given the mutism characteristic of some autistics, and the problems that many of them face in language acquisition. One of the founding fathers of the United States, Thomas Jefferson, may have been mildly autistic, and the same may be true of America's greatest inventor, Thomas Edison, and his modern-day counterpart, Bill Gates.

Along with intellectuals, artists appear likely to have a better than average incidence of autism, as social impairment would not be a factor in solitary creative pursuits, while visual and musical savant skills would be decidedly advantageous. Thus, Vincent Van Gogh's seizures and psychological difficulties may have been the result of the syndrome, and possibly Andy Warhol's antisocial tendencies and love of repetition; among musicians, Béla Bartók and Glenn Gould both exhibited autistic traits. Religion too, with its elements of repetitive ritual and spiritual isolation, would appeal to high functioning autistics, such as, possibly, the legendary follower of St. Francis, Brother Juniper, as well as the holy fools of Russian Orthodox tradition, and the Buddha. This sort of speculation focuses on extraordinary individuals because of their celebrity, and because history tends to ignore the ordinary and the low-functioning alike. One prominent exception, well known in the field of communication, is the 18th century wild boy of Aveyron, the subject of François Truffaut's 1970 film, L'Enfant Sauvage (aka The Wild Child). A strong case has been made that the original "wild boy" was not raised by wolves, but rather was an autistic child who had been abandoned or run off.

Accounts of autistic individuals can also be found in fictional form. Dustin Hoffman's portrayal of an autistic adult in the 1988 film Rain Man is particularly well known, and the recent bestselling novel by Christopher Haddon, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, takes the reader directly into the interior landscape of the autistic mind. Often unacknowledged is the fact that Tommy, the hero of the 1969 rock opera written by Pete Townsend of The Who, was patterned after autistic children Townsend had observed. Although Tommy's condition is the result of childhood trauma, his symptoms have little to do with repressed memories. Instead, he is unable to hear or see, even though there is nothing wrong with his sensory organs, and he does not speak, even though he is capable of it. Tommy spends his time gazing in the mirror, not out of narcissistic vanity, but because he is lost in his own world; and he displays savant skills of tactile dexterity when placed in front of a pinball machine. Tommy's "amazing journey" actually parallels the delayed development of high functioning autistics, who as adults gain the ability to communicate something about their experiences.
And that is worth a post in and of itself, I think, but another time.

For now, I just want to thank you for your attention, and support.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

McCain Cool and the Political Illusion

So, I had a Letter to the Editor published in today's New York Times. That's not earth shattering news, I know, but on the other hand, it's not too shabby, either. The letter was in response to an Op-Ed piece by Neil Gabler that was published on Wednesday, March 26th, entitled The Maverick and the Media. So let's see what Neil, who does know a thing or two about media, especially film, had to say:

IT is certainly no secret that Senator John McCain, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, is a darling of the news media. Reporters routinely attach “maverick,” “straight talker” and “patriot” to him like Homeric epithets. Chris Matthews of MSNBC has even called the press “McCain’s base” — a comment that Mr. McCain himself has jokingly reiterated. The mainstream news media by and large don’t cover Mr. McCain; they canonize him. Hence the moniker on liberal blogs: St. McCain.

What is less obvious, however, is exactly why the press swoons for him. The answer, which says a great deal about both the political press and Mr. McCain, may be that he is something political reporters really haven’t seen in quite a while, perhaps since John F. Kennedy.

Seeming to view himself and the whole political process with a mix of amusement and bemusement, Mr. McCain is an ironist wooing a group of individuals who regard ironic detachment more highly than sincerity or seriousness. He may be the first real postmodernist candidate for the presidency — the first to turn his press relations into the basis of his candidacy.

Of course this is not how the press typically talks about Mr. McCain. The conventional analysis of his press popularity begins with his military service. If campaigns are primarily about narratives, he has a good and distinguished one, and it would take a very curmudgeonly press corps to dismiss it, even though that is exactly what a good portion of it did to Senator John Kerry’s service record in 2004. Reporters also often cite Mr. McCain’s bonhomie as the reason for their affection. As Ryan Lizza described it last month in The New Yorker, a typical campaign day has Mr. McCain rumbling from one stop to another on his bus, the Straight Talk Express, sitting in the rear on a horseshoe-shaped leather couch surrounded by reporters and talking “until the room is filled with the awkward silence of journalists with no more questions.”

The Washington Post columnist Richard Cohen, citing the conviviality during the 2000 campaign, wrote that “a trip on his bus is, well, a trip.” And as the party master, Mr. McCain is no longer the reporters’ subject. He is their pal.

While other candidates have tried to schmooze reporters this way without success, what has made Mr. McCain’s fraternization so effective is that it comes with candor — or at least the illusion of it. Over the years, reporter after reporter has remarked upon his seemingly unguarded frankness. In 1999, William Greider wrote in Rolling Stone that, “While McCain continues examining his flaws, the reporters on the bus are getting a bit edgy. Will somebody tell this guy to shut up before he self-destructs?”

Imagine, reporters protecting a candidate from himself! But, then again, since the reporters on the bus liked Mr. McCain too much to report on his gaffes, he really didn’t need protection. His candor was without consequence. It was another blandishment to the press.

Yet however much his accessibility, amiability and candor may have defined the news media’s love affair with him in 2000, and however much they continue to operate that way in 2008, there is also something different and more complicated at work now. Joan Didion once described a presidential campaign as a closed system staged by the candidates for the news media — one in which the media judged a candidate essentially by how well he or she manipulated them, and one in which the electorate were bystanders.

By this standard, Mr. McCain’s joviality and seeming honesty with the press in 2000 constituted a very effective scheme indeed, until it came time to woo actual Republican voters. As Time’s Jay Carney once put it, “You get the sense you’re being manipulated by candor, rather than manipulated by subterfuge and deception, but it is a strategy.”

So far, Gabler has concentrated on what is sometimes referred to as elite integration, the close connections that develop between the press corps on the one hand, and politicians and public officials on the other. This is not a phenomenon unique to McCain, but rather pervasive throughout politics and journalism. For example, the White House Press Corps gain special access to the President, and in return for that access, tend to follow certain rules and are subject to certain restraints. In effect, they not only have exclusive access to a politician or public official, but they are initiated into an exclusive club, and it's only human to feel some loyalty to that group identity, and the individual at the center of it (in addition to the altogether human tendency for journalists to get attached to, and feel sympathy for the individuals they cover).

But Gabler did introduce the point about postmodern irony earlier on, and needs to return to it:

What makes 2008 different — and why I think Mr. McCain can be called the first postmodernist presidential candidate — is his acknowledgment of the symbiosis between himself and the press and, more important, his willingness, even eagerness, to let the press in on his own machinations of them. On the bus, Mr. McCain openly talks about his press gambits. According to Mr. Lizza, Mr. McCain proudly brandished an index card with a “gotcha” quote from Mitt Romney that the senator had given Tim Russert of “Meet the Press,” a journalist few would expect to need help in finding candidates’ gaffes. In exposing his two-way relationship with the press this way, he reveals the absurdity of the political process as a big game. He also reveals his own gleeful cynicism about it.

This sort of disdain might be called a liberal view, if not politically then culturally. The notion that our system (in fact, life itself) is faintly imbecilic is a staple of “The Daily Show,” “The Colbert Report,” “Real Time With Bill Maher” and other liberal exemplars, though they, of course, implicate the press in the idiocy. Mr. McCain’s sense of irony makes him their spiritual kin — a cosmological liberal — which may be why conservatives distrust him and liberals like Jon Stewart seem to revere him. They are reacting to something deeper than politics. They are reacting to his vision of how the world operates and to his attitude about it, something it is easy to suspect he acquired while a prisoner of war.

Though Mr. McCain can be the most self-deprecating of candidates (yet another reason the news media love him), his vision of the process also betrays an obvious superiority — one the mainstream political news media, a group of liberal cosmologists, have long shared. If in the past he flattered the press by posing as its friend, he is now flattering it by posing as its conspirator, a secret sharer of its cynicism. He is the guy who “gets it.” He sees what the press sees. Michael Scherer, a blogger for Time, called him the “coolest kid in school.”

The candidates who are dead serious about politics, even wonkish, get abused by the press for it. Mr. McCain the ironist gets heaps of affection. In this race, though, it has forced some press contortions. While John McCain 2000 was praised for being the same straight talker off the bus as he was on it, John McCain 2008 is praised precisely because he isn’t the same man. Off the bus he plays to the rubes (us) by reciting the conservative catechism; on the bus he plays to the press by giving the impression that his talk is all just a ploy to capture the Republican nomination.

Yet the reporters, so quick in general to jump on hypocrisy, seem to find his insincerity a virtue. When an old sobersides like Mitt Romney flip-flops, he is called a panderer. When Mr. McCain suddenly supports the tax cuts he once excoriated, or embraces the religious right, or emphasizes border security over a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants, we are told by his press acolytes that he doesn’t really mean it, that his liberal cosmology will ultimately best his conservative rhetoric. “Discount his repositioning a bit,” Jacob Weisberg, the editor of Slate, wrote two years ago, “and McCain looks like the same unconventional character who emerged during the Clinton years.” The article was subtitled “Psst ... He’s Not Really a Conservative.”

This suggests that love is blind. It also suggests that seducing the press with ironic detachment, the press’s soft spot, may be the best political strategy of all — one that Mr. McCain may walk on water right into the White House.

So, I do find the point about postmodern irony interesting, especially in the way that Gabler connects it to liberal politics, and I have no quarrel with him on that score. But, before getting to my own letter, let me share with you the letter that immediately preceded my own, which offers an interesting alternative perspective:

To the Editor:

To the extent that Neal Gabler is right when he states that John McCain is “a darling of the news media,” it’s not so much because he shares their sense of irony. It’s because he’s a Republican who is not reliably conservative.

So here’s a prediction from someone who’s been a full-time working journalist since 1967: The love affair will end as soon as soon as the general election begins (if not sooner). That’s when every gaffe by Mr. McCain will be portrayed by the media as “evidence” that he’s old — really, really old. That’s when every grimace will be “proof” that he’s got a hair-trigger temper.

When the Democrats stop beating each other over the head, and one of them starts running in earnest against John McCain, the media will no longer find their “darling” nearly as “ironic” — or nearly as lovable.

From a media point of view, it’s one thing when Senator McCain sticks a finger in a fellow Republican’s eye, quite another when he’s taking aim at a liberal Democrat.

Bernard Goldberg

Miami, March 27, 2008

The writer is the author and former CBS News correspondent.

So, this is pretty neat, I'm in good company, and Bernie here thinks that it is all a matter of liberal media bias. And maybe that's true, but I have a different point of view on the matter, one based in part on Jacques Ellul's notion that the two-party system is essentially a political illusion, an illusion of democracy, and whoever wins, it won't make much of a difference because most decisions are made by technical experts behind the scenes, the candidates simply being technical experts at getting elected and molding public opinion.

And then there's McLuhan's notion of hot and cool media, and that the cooler candidates tend to defeat the hotter ones, as was the case for Kennedy over Nixon, Carter over Ford, Reagan over Carter, Clinton over George H. W. Bush, and George W. Bush over Gore and Kerry. So, anyway, here's the letter I wrote, as they published it (with minor edits):

To the Editor:

Neil Gabler’s article, while insightful, implies an extreme contrast between John McCain as ironic and Barack Obama as idealistic, and yet both are treated well by the press. And more significantly, both are what Marshall McLuhan called “cool” characters, tailor-made for cool electronic media like television.

Both have a soft, indistinct personable image that the cameras love as well as reporters, and that allows audiences to project their own hopes and desires onto them. Expect the general election to be all about which of the two is the coolest of them all.

Lance Strate

Bronx, March 26, 2008

The writer is a professor of communication and media studies at Fordham University.

For the official citation, this was published today, Saturday March 29, 2008, in the New York Times, p. A16, and can also be found online at the New York Times website. And I should add that I knew I needed to keep the letter short, not to mention the fact that I wrote it on the fly, to be honest, so I didn't go into longer explanations.

But let me at least say here that one shortcoming of Gabler's approach is that labeling something postmodern is not an explanation. It's a label, plain and simple. That's where media ecology comes in, because media ecology provides an explanation, which in this instance is, simply put, the electronic media environment.

And just to deal with the point about ironic detachment, that phenomenon is a part of celebrity logic, and a consequence of, really a response to always being under surveillance, always being on camera, always in the midst of a performance. This situation essentially blurs the distinction between putting on an act or performance in the conscious sense, and acting in a genuine manner (of course, Erving Goffman and others note that all behavior is performance, but I am making the distinction here based on a conscious or better yet self-conscious sense that you are putting on a performance, especially for the cameras and the media). And it is true that television and the electronic media seem to encourage less in the way of formal acting and more of just playing yourself. But by the same token, it means that anyone who seems to be just being themselves is putting on an act, or perceived to be when they are on camera. So this can't help but breed cynicism about any media appearance. And when all performance seems to be false, ironically it is the ironic stance that seems to be genuine, the stance that says, hey, I know it's all an act, so I'm not taking it at all seriously.

The logic may be hard to follow, and hard to swallow, but no one ever said the electronic media, being based on the nonlinear circuit, are logical.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Studying Media

So, Twyla Gibson, who's from the University of Toronto's McLuhan Program, a genuine media ecologist, and an expert on Eric Havelock in particular, contacted me this past fall saying that she was editing a new online journal up there, and asking if I had something on McLuhan that they could publish in the first issue. The journal is called Media Tropes, and the first issue has recently been published. You can click on the title to take a look at the site, and see what's in the issue. Just wait a minute before you do, I won't keep you long.

So, when Twyla asked me for an article, well, it just so happened that I had a speech that I had given several times by then, the first time being back in 2002. It's gone through several different titles, for different occasions, but overall I think this one is the best, and I think the piece itself is pretty accessible for an academic essay, and serves as a nice introduction to McLuhan's notion that the medium is the message, and a nice introduction to media ecology. So I made a few minor revisions, added the references and citations, and voilà!

You can access and download the article as a PDF file, courtesy of our friendly neighbors to the north--thank you Canadians, we love you!!!

You may have to register first, but I don't think that will result in the Mounties knocking on your door.

And of course, downloading means never having to say you're sorry (and never having to read the damn thing!).

So now, without further ado, here is the article, available free free free for your downloading pleasure:

Studying Media as Media: McLuhan and the Media Ecology Approach

And now, I'd just like to say thank you, and good night, eh? Oh, and pass the Molsons!

Friday, March 21, 2008

Internet Addiction and Faith

In a recent post entitled Disconnect Anxiety and You (and Me) -- Virtual Tribalism, I discussed an article from Canada's National Post about the need people feel to be connected to the net at all times, or at least to be connected via their mobile phones--an article that included a couple of quotes from me at the end.

So, I was surprised to learn about an article published a couple of days ago in the Joplin Globe, out of Joplin, Missouri. The article's headline reads: Mat Anderson: More face time, less Facebook, and a little blurb accompanying it reads, "To feed the need for social connectedness, teens report logging in to Facebook and MySpace accounts an average or three times per day."

The author is Mat Anderson, and there's a picture accompanying the article that I assume is him:

I include this here merely to provide some visual interest to this post. Okay, by now you're probably saying to yourself, what's the point of all this? Okay, let's go to the article. It begins with Mat's confession:

When I first logged onto the site five years ago, it seemed like a great way to keep in touch with friends and maybe even meet some new ones. Within weeks of creating my profile, I had added dozens of “friends” and I was spending about two hours a day on the site. A year later, my “friend” count had reached quadruple digits and MySpace was the center of my world. I delighted in receiving comments and new friend requests and despaired if no one read my blogs or I fell out of someone’s Top 8 friends. In short, MySpace had become MyLife.

While it may sound ridiculous to some readers, this story is echoed by millions of teens across America. To feed the need for social connectedness, teens report logging in to Facebook and MySpace accounts an average or three times per day. Many experts say these behaviors are a sign of a return to tribal instincts, and a cause for serious concern.

Now, from a general semantics perspective, we'd be concerned about making an inference connecting "return to tribal instincts" with "a cause for serious concern," as these two phenomena are not necessarily connected, but let's hold that aside and continue on with the article:

“Rather than people surrounding you in a village, you’re in a virtual tribe,” says Lance Strate, chairman of Fordham University’s Communication and Media Studies Department.

“When there were real tribes, people had no concept of individualism. If someone were excommunicated from the tribe, he’d allow himself to wander away and die. He couldn’t imagine life outside of the group.”

Woohoo!!! There I am! And interestingly enough, it's my quote from the significantly different National Post article. Not that it's altered in any way, not even down to the mistaken identification of me as department chair. Nor is it particularly taken out of context. But I just wonder about reusing my quote in this way? Is this good journalism? Be that as it may, let's see what else Mat has to say:

Today, that same tribal mindset is found in teen culture and is emphasized in the world of social networking. Teens spend hours updating profiles with personal information, uploading pictures for friends to comment and browsing the profiles of friends and strangers alike. As time spent online increases and these sites become the social center of a teen’s life, the thought of being disconnected becomes more horrific.

In recent research, teens described feeling anxious, panicky and even empty when deprived of Internet access. They reported the greatest fear of being disconnected was that they were “out of the loop” and risked being left behind by friends. Experts say this addiction to technology and the need to find identity with an online group of friends are symptoms of a greater void in the lives of teens.

This is where parents come in. Teens crave and need social interaction that is real. As more of teens’ social experiences occur online, it becomes the responsibility of parents to guard their teen’s developmental need for face-to-face social interaction.

So, look, I'm not taking major issue with what Mat is saying here, I'm just surprised at the way he uses the notion of the tribal mindset in this entirely negative way in conjunction with the notion of internet addiction. Are tribal peoples addicted to their media, to oral tradition, the singing of songs, etc.? I suppose you could say so, but it doesn't sound right to me, as they are living a way of life that eminently facilitates the survival of the group, that is the product of tens of thousands of years of evolution, that is the only way of life they know and the only option open to them.

And even when it becomes one among other alternatives, I wouldn't say that a tribal mindset is necessarily negative or inferior. In the context of the extreme individualism that developed in the west as a consequence of alphabetic literacy and print culture, some return to a kind of neo-tribalism in the electronic era can be seen as an effort to restore balance to the culture.

The fact that Mat doesn't seem to understand my views on tribalism is no doubt due to the fact that he used my quotes from the other article without talking to me at all, whereas the original journalist had interviewed me for twenty minutes and picked out a few bits afterwards.

So, anyway, on with the show, and the article, which ends with some advice from Mat:

Here are some tips to get started:

* Put the computer in a public place. By doing this you can monitor the amount of time your teen spends online as well as the content that is being accessed.

* Establish times to unplug. Parents should set specific times when families can interact with each other without the distractions of text messaging, phone calls and the Internet.

* Challenge your teen to be offline for a week. While many won’t make it, those who do may discover that life can be more enjoyable when unplugged.

* Practice what you preach. If parents have trouble disconnecting from cell phones and Blackberrys, teens view that example as perfectly acceptable behavior.

Through my experience I learned that I could have thousands of online friends but virtually no relationships. This left me feeling isolated, lonely and insecure. Once I made the difficult decision to unplug, I realized the time I spent on MySpace was time that I could have used to build real friendships, have genuine experiences and pursue my dreams.

By teaching teens these rewards of a life lived offline, parents can help teens develop a true sense of identity while leading happier and fuller lives.

You can evaluate the usefulness of his advice for yourself, but in the meantime, here's the author's blurb at the end of the article:

Mat Anderson is the staff writer and research specialist at The Bridge in Joplin. For more information visit

So, you can go check out The Future Paradigm, I did and the first thing I found was this very article. And here's what it says under "About Us" on the side:

The Future Paradigm is a free resource of Bridge Ministries that is designed to educate parents about the unique challenges and issues that teens today face. We are dedicated to bringing you the most relevant and useful information about trends in teen culture as well as the latest teen research from around America.
And going to their "About Us" page, here's what it says about their purpose:

The Bridge is equal parts ministry and attraction. On the one hand, we are striving to be the new Main Street. The place where you go to be with your friends. A lidless environment where you can live and be and grow and meet and shine. On the other hand, The Bridge is a ministry where the exchange of ideas is not limited to acceptable social subjects, but includes subjects (like faith and politics) which have been too taboo to mention in other years or settings. Behind the scenes, staff members and volunteers are listening, connecting, loving, sharing, and sacrificing to bring the hope of Christ to everyone through actions, attitude, and words. We will not relegate Christ to our apparel or our overhead sound system. His Spirit is alive in us and you should see that.

And it goes on in this vein. Now, dear friends, you know this is a religious orientation I do not share, although I am not necessarily opposed to people of faith. It is in fact quite reasonable to recognize that traditional religions are grounded in older media environments, and are threatened to their vary foundations by the electronic media. So this orientation is entirely rational.

So I guess it's not surprising that Mat picked out my quotes, as opposed to the others quoted in the National Post article, who were much more empirical, quantitative research oriented social scientists than little old philosophical me. As we used to sing back in the old, dear departed media ecology program, media ecology, something like theology. And it was Neil Postman who explained that what we are doing is not social science, but moral theology. I just wish that people like Mat would read up on media ecology, read Neil Postman, Walter Ong, and Marshall McLuhan, and then they'd have a much better idea of the full dynamics of what's at work here. And hey Mat, if you're reading this, my book, Echoes and Reflections: On Media Ecology as a Field of Study isn't a bad place to start. Just a suggestion...

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Social Media on Social Media

In a previous post entitled The Professionalization of Social Networking, I wrote about PR professional and social media expert Paull Young, of Converseon, Inc., who came to speak to my Interactive Media class. I'm pleased to report that he recently was interviewed on the program Happy Hour, which appears on the Fox Business Network cable channel.

Now, I have to confess that I never heard of the Fox Business Network cable channel before, I guess this is their answer to CNBC, and I'm not entirely sure that our cable service even carries it. But fortunately, though the magic of YouTube, I was able to view the segment, and share it with you.

The setting of this program is intriguing, bringing to mind the long-running sitcom Cheers. It certainly looks good, although I have to wonder if all that background noise is such a good thing? It certainly becomes more and more of an issue for us old folk, although the interviewer and interviewee's talk was totally distinct, so maybe they do know what they're doing. Oh, and kudos to Paull for not letting the old Aussie accent get the better of him (but what's up with that sweater, man?).

Of course, as any media ecologist will tell you, in the end, no one remembers much of what you've said on television, they just remember that you were on television, and that is impressive! And so much more when it can be amplified via the internet. So, you can go directly to YouTube to see the clip in its native environment, or just watch it here. And this is what the person posting it wrote:

Paull Young of Converseon discussing Social Media and small businesses on the show Happy Hour. The big social media secret is to listen to your customers and give them something that they want. Who knew?

And here's the interview:

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Encyclopedia Down!

So, when I was a kid, my dad bought a second hand Encyclopedia Britannica, I think it was actually from the 1920s, but hey it was something. Back then, they said that if you didn't have an encyclopedia, your kids wouldn't do well in school--I remember my sixth grade teacher once came to our house, he was selling encyclopedias door-to-door. And it was the old fear appeal, well known to students of persuasion, more recently used to get parents to buy home computers and internet connections. Most of my friends had new editions of the World Book, but anyway there always was the library, where you could find all of the encyclopedias.

Back in the nineties, I wrote entries on "mass media" and "communication" for Groliers, and updated them for their new multimedia edition on CD-ROM, which was also available online. So, I had some inkling that things were in flux, and that encyclopedia were moving over into new media. But then came Wikipedia, and even the changes that were going on changed. And this all came up in an article published last Sunday in the New York Times, Week in Review section, p. 3. The piece was written by Noam Cohen, and entitled "Start Writing the Eulogies for Print Encyclopedias," and it starts like this:

IT has never been easier to read up on a favorite topic, whether it’s an obscure philosophy, a tiny insect or an overexposed pop star. Just don’t count on being able to thumb through the printed pages of an encyclopedia to do it.

A series of announcements from publishers across the globe in the last few weeks suggests that the long migration to the Internet has picked up pace, and that ahead of other books, magazines and even newspapers, the classic multivolume encyclopedia is well on its way to becoming the first casualty in the end of print.

Back in the 1990s, Encyclopaedia Britannica led the pack in coming to terms with the idea that the public no longer viewed ownership of the multivolume compendium of information as a ticket to be punched on the way to the upper middle class — or at least as the oracle of first resort for copying a book report.

Sales of Britannica’s 32 volumes peaked in 1990, but in the next six years, they dropped 60 percent, and the company moved quickly to reinvent itself online. In 1996, Britannica eliminated its legendary staff of 1,000 door-to-door salesmen, already down from a high of 2,000 in the 1970s, in the face of competition from Microsoft’s Encarta encyclopedia for home computers.

Jorge Aguilar-Cauz, president of Encyclopaedia Britannica Inc., a private company based in Chicago, said that the print edition was still profitable, but that sales were just 10 percent of what they were in 1990. Customers are mostly schools and libraries.

It was only last month, however, that the publisher of Germany’s foremost multivolume encyclopedia, Brockhaus, took similar action, announcing that in April it would be putting online, free, all 300,000 of its articles, vetted by scholars over 200 years of print editions. (Brockhaus hopes to make money by selling ads on its site.) At the same time, the publishing house said it couldn’t promise that it would ever produce another print edition, something it has done regularly since the encyclopedia appeared in Leipzig in 1808.

Publishers in Denmark and France, too, are rethinking the commercial viability of their encyclopedias. A one-volume French encyclopedia, Quid, lost its publisher last month, and may only survive online. The largest publisher in Denmark, Gyldendal, has decided that the subscription plan for its online encyclopedia is misguided (it stopped a print edition in 2006). It plans to come up with another way to support itself.

“There is some kind of sadness,” said Nicole Weiffen-Aumann, a spokeswoman for Brockhaus, “but on the other side, many people are happy, looking forward to our new product — both things you can find in our company.” She added: “There are many people that say, ‘When I was very young I bought my first encyclopedia from Brockhaus, and there will be no next edition, I can’t believe it.’ ”

The Encyclopedia Americana still has good sales in print volumes, said Greg Worrell, president of Scholastic Classroom and Library Group, but the company is focusing on its online outlets. He said it was still determining a print plan, but added, “the likelihood is there will not be the 2009 multivolume print version.”

And it is funny, because encyclopedias were always a mixed bag, generally not respected from a scholarly perspective, seen as an easy alternative to real research, okay for grade school, but not for serious work in higher education. In a sense, they were a precursor of the digest format, which came to the fore in the early 20th century, and was criticized for its simplifications, its dumbing down of information, by critics such as Daniel Boorstin, for instance. But now comes the nostalgia:

To scholars, the ready access to updated information online is a net gain for the public. But that doesn’t mean that they can’t mourn the passing of a household icon — a set of knowledge-packed books on their own reserved shelves that even parents had to defer to.

“I remember in my own childhood in the 1940s, early ’50s, I and my parents would sit around the table and look at the encyclopedia together,” said Larry Hickman, director of a center at Southern Illinois University devoted to the education pioneer John Dewey. “In the old days, the Encyclopaedia Britannica or the World Book encyclopedia was regarded as authoritative,” he recalled, laughing as he agreed, “That’s why you would copy it for your book report.”

And you know, there's an interesting point here that was completely bypassed in the article. It used to be fairly common practice for grade school kids to copy out of the encyclopedia, maybe with some slight changes. No one got all bent out of shape about plagiarism back then. Maybe it was thought that the simple act of copying by hand was enough of a conscious effort to allow the knowledge to be absorbed, making it a real learning experience. Interesting to think about that, the residue of scribal culture, schoolroom copying, the tactile and kinetic learning involved, an intimate means of thinking with the author. But now we live in the age of digital copy and paste commands that totally undermine the notion of copyright, and everyone is concerned about plagiarism down to the elementary school level--this came up in my son's school a couple of years ago, for example. But I digress. Back to Noam:

But Mr. Hickman said that parents and children can have the same discussions “seated in front of the computer, the electronic hearth, as I like to call it.” And he said that losing a set of books considered infallible was actually a good thing for developing critical thinking.

Yet, as encyclopedia publishers struggle, the Internet age has become a golden one for the newer kind of encyclopedia.

An ambitious project to catalog online all known species on earth — with the even-more-ambitious title the Encyclopedia of Life — went live last month. The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, a project that began online in 1995 and has never been in print and never will be, is chugging along with nearly 1,000 entries that are vetted by an academic board of more that 100 scholars for a total of 10 million words.

Now, enter the two ton gorilla in the room, or was that an elephant?:

And then there is the behemoth Wikipedia, a project that has no board to vet articles and is created by thousands of volunteers, with more than two million articles in English and an additional five million in a babel of other languages.

Wikipedia is regularly among the top 10 most visited sites on the Internet throughout the world — maybe in part because there’s a lot more there than meets the needs of the average term paper. The superabundance of less-than-prized information on the site has led to a phenomenon called “wiki-groaning,” which involves comparing the length of seemingly disparate articles to humorous effect. Lightsaber Combat beats out Modern Warfare, for example, and John Locke, the character from the TV show “Lost,” edges out the other John Locke, whoever he was.

Encyclopedia publishers, while taking swipes at Wikipedia’s unreliability since it can be edited by anyone, have clearly adopted some of its lessons. They are incorporating more photographs and suggestions from readers to improve online content, and they are committed to updating material as facts change.

Britannica says it updates an article every 20 minutes. Even the Stanford Philosophy Encyclopedia will make changes with relative speed. When a law was passed on voluntary euthanasia in the Netherlands, “our entry was updated within a couple of weeks, at the latest,” said Edward N. Zalta, a senior research scholar at Stanford and principal editor of the online encyclopedia. “It may have been a day or two — we don’t do it as quickly as Wikipedia, but in a timely way.”

This is the problem, raised time and time again, speed of dissemination become paramount, rather than taking time for evaluation. Editing, gatekeeping, is a process that slows down the flow of information, and the new media are all about instantaneous dissemination. It's been noted that Wikipedia has some things in common with online news sources, and has news stories covered by new or amended entries almost as quickly as the journalists. And hand-in-hand with speed goes a massive increase in the volume of information being made available. Here's a revealing graphic that accompanied the article:

Now, back to Noam one last time:

In essence, the Internet is justifying the hubris of early compilers like Linnaeus, the father of taxonomy, said Edward O. Wilson, the expert on insects at Harvard who spearheaded the Encyclopedia of Life and serves as honorary chairman. “There were so few species to deal with, only in the thousands,” he said. “He and his disciples thought they could do the rest of the flora and fauna of the world. Boy, were they wrong.”

In the intervening centuries, Professor Wilson said, science was taken over by specialists. But by allowing specialists to pool their knowledge on a Web site, he said, the Encyclopedia of Life will be able to come close to the dream of a compendium of all the known species in the world.

“Once we get all the information in one place, think of the impact this will have — available to anybody, anywhere, anytime,” he said.

Asked about his own experience with encyclopedias, Professor Wilson said, “I grew up in Alabama — we didn’t have things like the Encyclopaedia Britannica in our home.” What he did have were field guides. “All the field guides — for snakes, butterflies, turtles. Back in the 40s, I had my butterfly nets, and I was right up to date through my guides,” Professor Wilson said.

He added: “There are nerds that say we will have something the size of a field guide, and punch in something. Maybe I am hopelessly old fashioned, but a kid with a knapsack, and a Boy Scout or Girl Scout manual, printed, a field guide on snakes or butterflies, printed, is the best combination in the world.”

Mr. Aguilar-Cauz of Britannica is counting on that sort of nostalgic allure to keep at least some encyclopedias on bookshelves and not just hard drives. He envisioned the print volumes living on as a niche, luxury item, with high-quality paper and glossy photographs — similar to the way some audiophiles still swear by vinyl LPs and turntables. “What you need people to understand,” he said, “is that it is a luxury experience. You want to be able to produce a lot of joy, a paper joy.”

The print encyclopedia as a luxury item! This corresponds to Marshall McLuhan's insight that a medium that becomes obsolescent does not disappear, but rather is transformed into an art form.

Funny thing is, encyclopedias were the product of print culture. At the dawn of the age of typography, you had what was known as the Renaissance Man, the individual who might conceivably know all that there is to know (doubtful actually, but maybe a good chunk of it). Why Renaissance? Yes, it was the rebirth of learning, but it was also immediately followed by the printing press creating a knowledge explosion, so many books, so much knowledge, made so widely available, leading to more people studying more and more, studying books but also the world, discovering more and more new knowledge, so that it soon became impossible for any one individual to know everything. So, the Renaissance Man represented the last period of history where someone could make a legitimate claim to have mastered all knowledge. And with printing came the era of the specialist.

But what also appeared in Gutenberg's wake was the dream of trying to collect all the knowledge of the world within a book or set of books, rather than within a brain. One of the earliest efforts came from the French Encyclopédistes (note that I'm giving you the link to Wikipedia there), spearheaded by Denis Diderot (wikipedia link, again). And what's fascinating is that the effort was an abysmal failure. Print historian Elizabeth Eisenstein noted that by this time, the knowledge explosion has simply become too massive. When I first read about it, I was a bit surprised, since the encyclopedias we used as kids never gave the impression of being failures. But in fact, they are the products of lowered expectations, presenting not all the knowledge of the world--all our knowledge encircled, en-cyclopsed--but just a summary, a digest, of selected subjects.

And finally, this brings me to a poem I posted over on my MySpace poetry blog two weeks ago, which being altogether relevant to this subject, I will now repost here.

Note: For anyone unfamiliar with the language, the final consonants of French names and words are typically silent, so the name Diderot is pronounced dee der 'oh

Digital Diderot


The March of the Wikipedians

Hey diddle, Diderot,
How much do you know?
Are you nimble?
Are you quick?
Jacking up that candlestick?
Can you light up that wick?

Dites-moi, Monsieur
Diderot! Diderot! Diderot!
Did you do the math?
If so, then what did you
Figure-0! Figure-0! Figure-010101!
Burning the midnight 0i1?
Flickering illumination?
Wavering dedication?
Abée c'est Diderot?
To what order do you belong?
Was it all a Cartesian dream?
Or a coordinated nightmare?

Let's all go down to the Wiki-Mart!
To get us some of that Kwiki-Smart!
Then enter the Enchanted Wiki-Room!
"Where all the birds sing words and the flowers croon!"

Hickory Diderot dock!
The mouse clicked on the clock!
While the cat played the fiddle,
And Alexandria's ragtime bandits
Set fire to stacks and shelves,
Knowledge cooked but not consumed...
No matter...
It's all immaterial...
And the cyclops turned into a sysops!
And a multivolume set became the internet!
And they put the pedia to the media!
Wicked! Wicked! Wicked!

Diderot, row, row your boat
Gently down bitstream...
Adieu Monsieur Diderot, adieu mon ami...
The gods have left the machine!

Poetry Blog Rankings

And so you see, I already had my eulogy for print encyclopedias written! Isn't that something!

Friday, March 14, 2008

Disconnect Anxiety and You (and Me) -- Virtual Tribalism

So, I was quoted last week in the National Post, a Canadian newspaper. As is always the case, only a few sentences were used out of some twenty minutes of talk, and the tendency is typically to favor the more banal as opposed to the more brilliant insights. But the article is not bad, and most certainly blogworthy.

It was written by Craig Offman, who also interviewed me, and Craig seemed like an altogether decent, and well informed individual. The title of the article is Many Canadians feel anxious without the Net, I've put in the link so you can click on the title and read it on the National Post website, and of course I'll also provide you with the text right here in Blog Time Passing. Oh, and the date of publication is Sunday, March 9, 2008.

It begins with the facts:

‘Internet addiction" and "CrackBerry" are the narcotic-laced phrases we invariably use to explain our growing dependence on laptops and PDAs. Now a Canadian media research company has examined what happens to users in the absence of their virtual communication of choice and coined a term for the modern-day affliction: "disconnect anxiety."

The syndrome is described, in a study that will be released today, as the various feelings of disorientation and nervousness experienced when a person is deprived of Internet or wireless access.

"If you have your BlackBerry or cellphone just outside of your shower, you're probably suffering from it," says Kaan Yigit, president of Solutions Research Group, the Toronto technology-trend tracking company that conducted the study.

Some recent events have tested people's ability to disconnect from their electronic lifelines. Citing concerns about work-life balance, Citizenship and Immigration Canada recently forbade its civil servant from e-mailing on weeknights, weekends and holidays. And a three-hour service disruption last month left around 10 million BlackBerry users in the virtual darkness.

"Everyone's in crisis because they're all picking away at their Blackberrys and nothing's happening," said Liberal MP Garth Turner about a fidgety caucus meeting.

That kind of dependent relationship with our screens is more common than one might think. There are around 19 million cellphone users in Canada, and, according to the group's research, 70% of them carry the devices with them everywhere. More than half of Canada's two million Blackberry owners have taken their devices or a laptop into the bathroom, and 40% bring them along on vacation.

Almost 60% of Canadians with laptops have cozied up to them in their bedrooms at some point - and 26% do so frequently. Around 14% watch TV while logged on to their monitors.

For their study - called Disconnect Anxiety: And Four Reasons Why It's So Difficult to Stay Off the Grid - Solutions Research interviewed more than 3,000 Canadians last year. They found that 26% of them exhibit elevated levels of disconnect anxiety, 33% exhibit above-average levels and 41% are below average. The last group was heavily in the 50-plus age group, Mr. Yigit said, suggesting an obvious generational difference.

So, this is all about Canadians, and maybe they are different, being farther north, and therefore in a colder climate, than those of us in the US. But I suspect we're more or less the same in our usage.

Anyway, that's the data, which basically can be summed up with the basic idea that more and more people are feeling more and more anxious when they are not connected to the net in some way. Now for the explanation:

Some tech-culture theorists explain being online in terms of pleasure: the validation and adrenaline spike one feels when a hundred e-mails are awaiting a response, or when making a new friend on a social networking site.

In the absence of such technology, however, many people experience a sense of desperation or futility. That reaction leads experts to wonder if this reliance signals a sort of "neo-tribalism," a subtle return to our roots in a collective society. Or it might suggest that we struggle - and perhaps fail - to enjoy being on our own.

Now, maybe I wasn't the only one who said this, but this is definitely something that I talked about, as you'll be able to tell from the direct quotes at the end of the article. One of the things I talked about that he didn't include in the article is the need for phatic communication, the simple confirmation of our existence that we get when we acknowledge one another. That's why we have the ritual exchange of greetings, like hello, how are you?, fine thank you, etc. It's not to actually get information from one another, but rather a euphemism for saying, I recognize your existence, and thank you, I recognize yours as well. Every e-mail, message, blog post, comment, tweet, etc., that we receive carries out this same function--it says, hey, you exist! You are a human being! You are a member of our society! And we need that. Especially since so many of us live in environments where we experience a constant stream of disconfirmation, people who ignore us, treat us like we're not there, like we don't exist. That's why people go a little mad in cities. And that's why all of this electronic stimulation, social stimulation specifically, is so very satisfying, gratifying.

Now, back to the article, where the point shifts to safety needs (as Abraham Maslow used to refer to them):

The Solutions Research study concludes that several factors contribute to disconnect anxiety: the growing worry about personal safety and inability to respond to an emergency; the fear of missing important information at work; the worry, particularly among teens, that they'll miss vital gossip; and a fear of disorientation.

Participants in the study used words and expressions such as "half a voice," "panic," "loss of freedom," "inadequate," and, inevitably, "empty," to express their feeling of estrangement.

"Losing technological access means being left out of the loop," explains social-networking authority Danah Boyd, who is a PhD candidate at the School of Information at the University of California, Berkeley, and a Fellow at Harvard Law School's Berkman Center for Internet and Society. "Parents fear that they may not be able to get in touch with their kids. Kids fear their friends will forget them."

Ms. Boyd added that if being connected represents the baseline for social status, then it is not surprising that people are anxious about being disconnected. "No one wants to be left behind."

Nor does anyone want to feel stranded or vulnerable. "In our research, people have expressed the belief that fellow citizens on the streets are less likely to stop and help nowadays," says the study. Not having access or service creates anxiety about personal safety and the safety of family members."

One interviewee from the survey recalls being in Death Valley without a signal, worrying that his rental car would get a flat. "I was just praying," the person said. "What would I have done? Rub two stones together? Cry for help?"

Another complained that an inactive cellphone leaves a person prisoner of one's own silence. "It's almost like you lose your sense of freedom because you just can't call someone," said one person. "You might as well be in the 1800s."

I think this is very much to the point, and I said in the interview, as I've said many times before, that the day is rapidly approaching where we will all expect our vital signs to be monitored 24/7/365.25. Anything can go wrong for anyone at anytime, and at minimum many of us now expect to be able to summon help by way of the cellphone under any circumstances, and feel naked without one. Senior citizens wear those medical alert necklaces, dogs and some people have chips implanted in them so they can be located, so just extrapolate out a bit and in the not too distant future people will be linked permanently and internally (through implants) to the net.

Now the article turns to the youngsters, who have been elsewhere described as digital natives, as opposed to us old folks who are digital immigrants:

For younger people who use social-networking sites such Facebook and MySpace, and who are avid text-messagers, the communication compulsion is no less intense. A typical Canadian aged 12 to 24 sends and receives 90 text messages a week and visits her Facebook account three times a day in order to maintain correspondence with an average of 154 "friends."

One teen explained her virtually sociable mornings this way: "You are in your PJs with your toothbrush hanging out and you are already talking to your friends. That's pretty different than 2005, I guess."

While some of these anecdotes might hint at addiction, Sherry Turkle, a professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, would rather question our relationship to this technology.

"If your child is addicted to heroin, you have one job and one job only: get him off," said Prof. Turkle. "Spending 10 hours a day on Facebook is different. It's really a diagnostic tool. It makes us question what is missing in the rest of someone's life."

Also a psychologist and the author of Evocative Objects, Prof. Turkle said that one young subject told her that "a screen represented hope, hope that life will be more exciting, that it will provide more romance."

The opposite then applies when the user is off the grid. "If something that's seen as sustaining is taken away, people grow anxious," she said. "They feel that nothing is going to happen."

Prof. Turkle also wonders if this kind of manic communication says something deeper about us: our ability to be alone without feeling loneliness. "One of the gold standards of thinking about a fully developed individual is an ability to enjoy one's solitude. So that every time you're alone, you're not lonely," she said. "I wonder if we are part of a generation that is not able to be alone."

I certainly see my 14-year-old son on his cell phone with friends even when he's home for the night, we caught him text messaging once at 1 AM, and he plays with friends online, and talks to them through a headset while playing Halo on his Xbox. The isolation that I remember feeling as a teenager, aside from the limited use of the telephone available to us, is now a thing of the past. I can't really say that's a bad thing.

I do have great respect for Sherry Turkle as a scholar, and the point about addiction is well taken. But she is also defending the sense of self associated with literacy and print culture, a sense of self that emphasizes the private individual, and I am sympathetic to this position, having one foot in the old culture myself. And my mentor, Neil Postman, would certainly approve, but he would also acknowledge that this is exactly what we are, and what we have been losing due to the electronic media. This point was made by Marshall McLuhan as well, back in the sixties, which now opens the door for me to have the last word in this article, echoing McLuhan (and quoting him, but that wasn't included in the article):

Some sociologists see this rampant communication as a return to tribal instincts, with a modern twist. "Rather than people surrounding you in a village, you're in a virtual tribe," said Lance Strate, Chair of the Communication and Media Studies Department at Fordham University in the Bronx, New York.

"When there were real tribes, people had no concept of individualism. If someone was ex-communicated from the tribe, he'd allow himself to wander away and die. He couldn't imagine life outside of the group."

I guess that makes for an interesting way to end the article, dramatic for sure, although I would have preferred a bit more elaboration. But I do think it's a good analogy, between tribal excommunication and today's disconnect anxiety. (By the way, there're some places on the Fordham website where I'm still identified as department chair, and that's why I get incorrectly listed as such from time to time.)

Of course, one of the great differences between virtual tribes and traditional ones is that you can belong to many different virtual tribes, so membership is less central to your identity, or put another way, instead of your identity being subsumed by the tribe, intimately and irrevocably bound up with group identity, identity is now fragmented, decentered, and distributed across many different tribes, not as an individual, but greater than any one tribe. And for other reasons, the tribe itself becomes internalized, but that's another story.

What's also missing is any strong initiation rites, so the boundaries between insiders and outsiders are much looser, more permeable and more easily negotiated. And that means that identification with the group, and loyalty to the group, is greatly reduced from traditional tribal culture. I have elsewhere referred to this as liquid tribalism (in my "Cybertime" chapter in Communication and Cyberspace).

So, wanna be a member of my tribe?

Saturday, March 1, 2008


One of the many interesting things that happen on MySpace and elsewhere on the internet is that people play with their own images, and those of others. I thought I'd add a short post here sharing some of the ways that my MySpace friends have turned me into an icon.

The first one was produced by a friend named Alexander last year. At the time, he was transforming his "top friends" (those few selected to be displayed on your profile page) into versions of Garbage Pail Kids. In case you somehow, inexplicably missed it, Garbage Pail Kids were a set of trading cards put out by Topps, the company best known for their baseball cards, as a parody of the Cabbage Patch Kids dolls. There's actually a Garbage Pail Kids World site, but that's besides the point, which is to share with you the card that Alexander made for me:

Flattering, wouldn't you say? Well, it's all in good fun.

The next image was created by my friend Voo, or as she's lists her profile, The House of Voo. This was in response to the poem that MySpace poet Moses the One and Only (aka Moses the Holy Dude) posted about me, Spa(w)n, which featured an animated image of a fish in a bowl. You might remember that I previously mentioned that poem in my post last month, On Plagiarism, because Spa(w)n was a sympathetic response to my poem, Our Plague Days. Anyway, Voo ran with the fish theme, and put me inside the fishbowl:

For some reason, on MySpace this works as an animated gif on MySpace, and the water shimmers, but that's not the case when it's copied. So I'll reproduce it here through another method to retain its flow:

Actually, that's a pretty cool effect, don' t you think? Oh, and it has a title, "Lance in a Tank" if you please!

Anyway, the next two were photoshopped by another friend, Misha, who produces these kinds of images for a number of her friends. This first one she titled "Lance - le penseur" (that's French, you know, for the thinker):

Very cosmic, n'est-ce pas? So's the other pic she produced, which she called "Lance - creation" (can't get much more cosmological than that, can you?):

Well, obviously, the next step is to turn me into a poster, which another friend whose nom de MySpace is Poetman, accomplished:

He gave it the title of "Integrity" (pretty flattering, all in all). He also did a number on a picture of my dog, Dingo:

And that about sums it up, doggone it!