Thursday, January 29, 2009

McLuhan Redux/Remix

So, I recently heard from Jamie O'Neil, an assistant professor of digital media arts at Canisius College in Buffalo, New York. Canisius is a Jesuit school, like my own Fordham University--in traditional parlance, we are sister schools. And Jamie is a media ecologist who was prompted to contact me by my friend, sister media ecologist, and fellow Media Ecology Association board member Ellen Rose from the University of New Brunswick. That's in Canada, you know...

So, Jamie is also a performance artist, and he has an alias, Kurt Weibers, or I guess you could call it a stage name, pseudonym, or what have you. Here's the deal, in his own words:

Jamie O'Neil is a video/performance artist, writer and teacher. In 2002, he created the virtual identity of Kurt Weibers for usage online, in videos and live performance seminars. Kurt Weibers is the spokesman for Global Point Strategies, which developed Navel Software for organizational change, as well as numerous motivational presentations on topics ranging from creativity, listening, time management and synchronicity, to quantitative research methods for understanding culture. Kurt Weibers works as a reporter, business consultant in Norway and a DJ / VJ (on the side) the latter role being the reason for his involvement in the McLuhan Remix project.
This write-up is taken from his McLuhan Remix website, which is worth a look. It includes some explanation of the remix or mash-up phenomenon, and its relationship to Marshall McLuhan, as well as a short video essay entitled, naturally enough, McLuhan Remix, which is made up of three YouTube videos. You can play them continuously on his McLuhan Remix page, but I will also embed them here for your convenience, dear reader:

McLuhan Remix: Prologue 1/3

McLuhan Remix: The Medium is the Mix 2/3

McLuhan Remix: Epilogue 3/3

There's other interesting material on kurtweibers's Channel on YouTube, which you can explore if you care to.

The bottom line, for me, is not so much that McLuhan was prescient, but simply that he was identifying the characteristics of electricity, electrical technology, and the electronic media environment, much as Lewis Mumford had done before him. Most of what is being hailed as new and unprecedented about contemporary digital technology is, in fact, characteristic of electric technology in general, and was recognized by media ecologists like Mumford and McLuhan over the course of the 20th century. That is why McLuhan is more relevant than ever today, as we continue to electrify just about everything we can. You might say that what we are doing is in one sense expanding the electronic media environment, but in another filling it in or filling it out, or to put it another way, coloring in between the power lines. Remixed drinks, anyone?

Thursday, January 22, 2009

The Peaceful Transfer of Power

So, leading up to Obama's inauguration, during the ceremonies, and in the immediate aftermath, I couldn't help but notice that I heard self-congratulatory references made by a number of journalists and commentators on television and cable, spoken on behalf of the United States, about the peaceful transfer of power from one leader to another, one administration to another, one party to another.

I wouldn't say that this was the first time I'd heard that sort of thing being said. But I don't recall ever hearing it being said quite so much, no where near as often as I have heard it said over the past week or so. The peaceful transfer of power.

Maybe it's all on account of the proliferation of cable news networks, with 24 hours of news programming to fill, and nothing much really going on, so they have to keep saying the same things over and over and over again, such as, The peaceful transfer of power.

But it seems to me that there might be something more to it, along the lines of the Shakespearean quote, Methinks thou doth protest too much. Are we (the me-dia being the we-dia in this instance) congratulating ourselves so much now because we are no longer taking it for granted, no longer just assuming that it is the natural course of affairs, this peaceful transfer of power.

That is the way it always use to be, I believe, at least as I remember it, that we never talked about the transitions as being in any way remarkable in and of themselves. I don't recall any self-conscious remarks about the process when Carter turned the reigns over to Reagan, for example, or when the elder Bush handed the presidency over to Clinton. So why now is there so much ado about this, the peaceful transfer of power?

Could it be an underlying concern that we can no longer just assume that a peaceful transition is going to happen? Does it have something to do with questions about the legitimacy of the past two elections that brought George W. Bush to power and kept him in office for a second term? Is this a paranoid fantasy of the left, the fear of a right-wing power grab, a coup d'état, that it could indeed happen here? Is it a reaction to the polarization of American politics, and therefore a barely supressed fear bubbling up from both ends of the political spectrum? Or is it a genuine concern that we have entered a post-democratic era wherein the unexpected and previously unthinkable might occur? Are we in real danger of losing our long tradition of, the peaceful transfer of power?

I most cerrtainly hope not. I'm not suggesting that it's a real possibility right now, I don't want to think it's a real possibility, and certainly any attempt to go against our political tradition would have disastrous consequences. Obama keeps summoning the spirit of Abraham Lincoln, which also reminds us of a time when at least some rejected the peaceful transfer of power, both at the start of his presidency, with all the horror that resulted in, and in its tragic end. Lincoln's is a dangerous archetype, however powerful and appropriate it may be to invoke. It is dangerous to be seen as a messiah, that sort of storiy generally does not end well. And as a democracy, we do not need a messiah. All we need is competent and ethical leadership. And we do not need a martyr. Sacrifices are inevitable, but a democracy does not encourage martyrdom, and does not need a scapegoat to die for our sins. What a democarcy needs is for us to take responsiblity for ourselves, to make sacrifices for ourselves, and not rely on others to sacrifice on our behalf.

The peaceful transfer of power. Can we still take it for granted, or is it less than certain? I don't have the answer, but it seems as if others are asking the same question, and some are saying no, it is no longer a sure thing. And even if they are wrong to question the inevitability of the peaceful transfer of power, if some people are unsure, and others suspicious, might that lead to a self-fulfilling prophecy that undermines or brings to an end our tradition of nonviolent transitions?

These thoughts trouble me, as I continue to hear the words on TV, the insistent celebration of... The peaceful transfer of power.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Marketing Books in the Digital Age

This YouTube video provides a great deal of insight into the book publishing industry as it functions in the digital media environment:

Or not.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Meet The Social Moose

So, with the start of a new semester, I'm teaching my Interactive Media course at Fordham University again, and we have launched our class blog, which the students have decided to name The Social Moose for reasons that are best left unsaid, especially since I have no idea why they chose the name myself. But what the hey, it is kinda catchy, don't ya think? Anyway, they're already having some fun with it, and we'll see where it goes, over some familiar territory no doubt about it, but there's always something new that comes out of any collaboration, especially this kind of class. So, if you care to, you can click on the link below, and take a look at what we're up to, and I'll also add a link on the side so you can always have easy access to The Social Moose from Blog Time Passing. And please feel free to add comments to the posts there if you feel so inclined. So, here's the link:

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Eine Steine Nacht Muzak

I thought I'd post a poem here that I recently posted on my MySpace poetry blog, because its theme is time, and it has a media ecological slant to it. The name of the poem is "Eine Steine Nacht Muzak" which is also the name of this blog post, as you may have already noticed.

The poem involves some elaborate play with the layout which, for reasons that only the gods of the internet know, does not seem to be working in this blog, no matter what I do (and I have tried a multitude of methods). So I am just going to post it as it is, or as blogger decides to present it, because the words are the main thing anyway, the presentation is just some added interest. But if you want to see it as it was meant to appear, you can take a look at it on MySpace by clicking here: Eine Steine Nacht Muzak.

So, here we go:

Eine Steine Nacht Muzak

cries and vespers

In the new TimeSpace
the trains all run
on Time
running on big and little hands
digits take a ride on the readout
if you passengers go
collect 200 Chronars
then the Conductor
signals with his baton
waves his major wand
drumming his arcane autograph
a unique Time signature
as he scores a TKO
with his holepunch
find yourself coldclocked
down for the
count down
to the wire
The bell rings, but
does it bring you

whine and compline

do you see them?
days, hours, minutes,
seconds, and their fractions
to feed
the furnace
calendars and schedules
to fire up the engine
it is
steamy sequence
——just put your lips
——and blow
——toot sweetly
All Power to the LocoMotivational "quote!"
We are driven by
magnetic fields, our fuel's gold
lead-free noble gases
for alchemical transportations
sand transformed to our glasses
bottling 60 fluid minutes at a "pop!"
Eine Kleine Bottle, Möbius?

crossings and matins

And so the Sun's dial-up service
offers to telegraph the moves,
but Time tables the proposal,
as the TimeZoners,
saving daylight,
saving clockface,
Commit spatial intercourse, clockholding you once
Again, and the voyeuristic clock watchers
watch the watch, man,
watches, repaired to the
drawing room
to be drawn and
quartered, ready to spring forth only to fall a
quarter back "sneak!"
And you wonder where does the
Time go?
AWOL Time——Warn her!
Or is it
too late...?
You thought you were getting off
at Times Squared,
it looks like Grand Central Station, after

prime and ignite

Time shares its management techniques with you.
How to keep on track.
How to railroad proposals.
Training you to be a model trainer
schooled to stop watches
the rail
n. . . . . . . . . . .
schooled to order
the order of the day
Efficiency über Alice
in der welterland!
On Sorrow!
On Pity!
On Human!bondage
by the wrist, watch it, every hour on the hour
——cattle car we go . . .
Keeping Time?
No, not at All . . .
Serving Time!
An e l a p s e d—a—n—c—e
of judgment
So will you cry havoc?
And let loose the chains of custody?
in dogged pursuit of
Time released? Is there no
escape Key? Is there no way out of
this escapade? Is there no breaking the lease
on this escapement? "Fire!"
So will you Sound
the alarm?
Clock adoodle ado
about no thing
sanity claws at you
Will you take a bite out of Time?
Will you take a sainted nick out of Time, nipper? Or
are you mesmerized by your master's racing
Say-ain't it so Jo Jo? Heard it on the radio
just a silly little
nano nano second
man o man o shave it's
close, in concord and
in concert
will you commit a mortal synchronize?
or will you take the Type A-Train in search of the
Holy Rail? "third!"
And which will your immortal soul be riding today?
the subway
the el?

terce and tightlipped

Time flies
Time flees
Time flows
Time floats
Time floods
Time speaks
Time speeds
Time heals
Time wounds
Time kills
Time eats
Time lives
Time life
Time books
Time magus's seen the trouble I know
Time borrows
Time sells
Time shares
Time runs
Time pieces it all together
Time tolls
Time tills
Time told
Time tells you off "mad align!"
Time's passed pasTimes are Time it was wants upon a Time
Time is
and Pastures
and you
enduring durations under duress
enduring eons of erroneous eras
as the epoch-collapse now
awaits you
end Times grow near
The End of His story
A mad deus X-Machina
And like clockwork
you wait for it
you throw all of your
weight into it "gravity!"
dig those grooves for graves, man
and, Hi digger, more tin, for your being on time
neither early
nor late shall you be, but
To the point.
Or are you feeling ducky today? "quack!"
You must put all of your dialects in a row
Low Chairman,
of course, and Iddish too,
and Heisenberg
answered t'ain't he
high Sandburg? um, certainly
so you might as well take a load off
no point to tressel with angels when
a sleeper car awaits
get your ticket from the divine office
to stand trial in the
New Castle
——cough——qu'est-ce que c'est, Franz?
you must open with A miner's key and pick axis monday
And don't forget to
get your coal for the crematorium
Do you want one lump?
Or two?

sext and violins

And Maxwell dementedly
four dimensions of
and chronons
as he lets loose
his hammer
to strike the
silver bell
bang bang
toot toot
and he reads from his book of hours
by the light of his candle
and as the perfume of burning parchment
fills your nostrils
the endgineer is boiling over
and barriers
and Time
he is engaged in whistle
off steam
breaking records
ignoring history
brakes failing the
runaway train
has left
the station
on the loose!
Better vamanoose!
Because the rapid has gone
v a p i d!
So you fire your diabolical canonical
Because it's all too late and
Because yours is a
Brutal sentimentality and a
Violent nostalgia
And so, you find yourself all Maxed out
And all the Doctor can do is to tell you to
Take two Time capsules
And call him
Because morning has broken and
Nobody knows how to fix it and
Nobody knows how to End this

all or none

But the heart still keeps the beat
pulsating in waves
and particles, the
blood's rush hour to the
head engorged and
ravine us
ears hear the drums talking
so let the rhythm take you now
as the coxswain quickens the pace
we are clocked at speeds of shining brilliance
and soft luminescence
as e e quells mc's square head
Time bends
for a
Mote's art and a divine stein (beer with me please)
like skipping stones across
the surface
of the
waters of memory
In the New Now
the faster we go
the longer it takes
we can live forever
if we————————————————————accelerate

——Lance Strate

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

More on Literacy and Imagination

So, in my last post I told you I was going to be part of a roundtable discussion on Literacy and Imagination sponsored by the The Philoctetes Center this past Sunday, and would I lie to you? No, of course I wouldn't, I did the roundtable, and as promised, I'll tell you a little about the event.

First, it was a pleasure to see my friend and fellow media ecologist Bob Logan from the University of Toronto, who got me involved in this event in the first place. We met before the session for lunch and to catch up on things, and it was quite interesting to hear about Bob's latest projects and endeavors. We then headed over to the
New York Psychoanalytic Institute, where the event took place.

It was a pleasure to meet Jonathan Rosen, another participant on the session. Jonathan is a New York City-based author who has written a couple of novels, as well as a delightful little book entitled The Talmud and the Internet: A Journey Between Worlds. Rosen is also the editorial director of the "Jewish Encounters" series of books, a series I have found intriguing--I just got one of those books, Resurrecting Hebrew by Ilan Stavans, for Chanukah.

It was a pleasant surprise to learn that another participant had been added to the session at the last minute, Bambi Schieffelin, an anthropology professor at New York University. Here's the write-up about Bambi that was added to the program:

Bambi Schieffelin is Collegiate Professor and Professor of Anthropology at New York University. Her edited books include Language Ideologies: Practice and Theory and Consequences of Contact: Language Ideologies and Sociocultural Transformations. She has published on the introduction of literacy in Papua New Guinea, on orthography debates on Haitian Creole, and on instant messaging. Her current book project, New Words, New Worlds (University of California Press), focuses on the impact of fundamentalist Christianity on the language and social lives of Bosavi people in Papua New Guinea.

Bambi is very much a scholar of orality and literacy, as well as linguistic anthropology, and her research has taken her to Papua New Guinea, much like Edmund Carpenter in the 1960s, and Mike Wesch more recently. And she also has studied how we use language in text messaging and instant messaging. In talking to her about it after the roundtable, Bambi mentioned those wonderful Cingular/AT&T commercials about text message lingo, which really do provide some insight on how new new media have changed our language (a point Neil Postman made about technology in general). Here's the first one in the series:

I love the actress who play's the mother in these commercials, her facial expressions are priceless. Here's another in the series:

So, anyway, the point is that Bambi is a media ecologist, although she may not realize it. And after the event, I went to dinner with Bambi and Bob, and we had a delightful conversation that went on long after the dishes were cleared.

As for the roundtable itself, the set up was unusual, in that we particpants were arranged in a circle around a table, and the audience was all around us, so that some folks were seated behind each one of us, which felt a bit uncomfortable. I'm not sure what the rationale for this kind of proxemics might be, but hey, we went with it and it worked out okay. The co-directors of The Philoctetes Center, Francis Levy and Edward Nersessian, also sat with us and took part in the discussion. I don't think they were very happy with the program, to be honest, because they didn't say anything to us after the event was over, but I do think the discussion was lively and interesting, and there was considerable interest from the audience during and after the session.

So at this point you are probably figuring I'll finally get around to reporting on what actually went on during the roundtable. Well, that's not going to happen. You see, it turns out the session was videoed, it even was streamed live--if I had known, I would have told you so in my last post--and you can view the video, even download it, from their website. So, here is the page with the write-up of our roundtable, now with a button you can press to access the video: Literacy and Imagination. And here is the page listing all of their past programs, all of which were recorded (except for screenings), and there is much of interest here--this is truly a great resource: Past Programs.

So, you can watch and/or listen to the discussion, if you care to, and see what you think of it for yourself. Or, you can just read this post, and use your imagination.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Literacy and Imagination

So, if you can, come see me participate in this roundtable discussion on Literacy and Imagination, along with my friend and fellow media ecologist Bob Logan, as well as author Jonathan Rosen, this Sunday. The sponsor, The Philoctetes Center, is new to me, and I look forward to learning more about them. Also of interest is a program they are running a day before ours, on January 10th, Helvetica: Typography and Literacy, which includes a screening of a documentary about the font that was created for the modern age (meaning mid-20th century, and by the way, this post is appearing in Arial, the font that is most similar to Helvetica of the choices Blogger makes available to me), and a panel discussion to follow. So, anyway, the next day, Sunday January 11th, is our event, and here's the announcement for it:

at the New York Psychoanalytic Institute

invites you to a Roundtable
Sunday, January 11, 2009 at 2:30pm
The Philoctetes Center
247 East 82nd Street (Phone: 646-422-0544; email:

Literacy and Imagination

We take literacy for granted, but it is a rather recent invention in the evolution of the human species. The advent of literacy was the result of a confluence of factors that have long been the province of evolutionary biology, centering primarily on the development of the cerebral cortex. Mimesis, cave painting, hieroglyphics, ideograms, the invention of primitive alphabets, and the Gutenberg printing press are frequently noted as watersheds in the making of man as a literate creature. From a neurophysiological perspective, literacy itself could be viewed as a shaping factor in the development of the human brain, along with certain verbal patterns that constitute oral traditions and, in turn, literature. Is literacy just an episode in the larger history of human consciousness and intelligence? What are the elements of human imagination that facilitate the growth of literacy? This roundtable will consider the history of literacy from a scientific and humanistic point of view, examining it as an element of brain structure, a path to knowledge, and an expression of the imagination.

Robert Logan is Professor Emeritus in Physics at the University of Toronto. His books include The Extended Mind: The Emergence of Language, the Human Mind and Culture; The Alphabet Effect; and The Sixth Language: Learning a Living in the Internet Age. His Understanding New Media: Extending Marshall McLuhan is forthcoming in 2009. He is also working on a project to design a SmartBook which combines the traditional codex book with the e-book.

Jonathan Rosen is the author of the novels Eve's Apple and Joy Comes in the Morning, and two works of non-fiction, The Talmud and the Internet: A Journey Between Worlds, and The Life of the Skies: Birding at the End of Nature. Rosen is editorial director of Nextbook where he edits the "Jewish Encounters" series, published by Nextbook/Schocken. His essays have appeared in The New York Times Magazine, The New York Times Book Review, The American Scholar, The New Yorker, and numerous anthologies.

Lance Strate is Professor of Communication and Media Studies at Fordham University, President and co-founder of the Media Ecology Association, and Executive Director of the Institute of General Semantics. He is the author of Echoes and Reflections: On Media Ecology as a Field of Study, and co-editor of several anthologies, including The Legacy of McLuhan and Communication and Cyberspace.

Events at Philoctetes are free and open to the public. Seating is on a first come basis. If you would like to learn about how to contribute to Philoctetes, please visit our Support page.

The mission of the Philoctetes Center is to foster the study of imagination — funding research, organizing roundtable discussions, offering courses and programs open to the public. The Center publishes a newsletter, Dialog, and is developing a web-based clearing house on work related to imagination. The Center also publishes a journal, Philoctetes. Visit for more information.

And if you want the link to the page on their site where they describe the program in greater detail, here it is: Literacy and Imagination. If you can't make it, I won't be insulted, and I will try to report back on how things went here at Blog Time Passing, as best I can, but don't expect a transcript, or even a terribly accurate summary, it may just be a product of my imagination, literate as it may be.