Slow movement – music to my ears

Posted by jerry on March 14th, 2007 — Posted in Journal, New media

Evelyn Rodrigues has hit the proverbial nail in the right place when talking about slow marketing, slow travel, slow food – you name it. If web 2.0 is about people then it also has to be about taking time for people. It is not a coincidence that modern management is talking increasingly about work/life balance – meaning focus on the important relationships and people will work happier and be more productive. Creative tension is passe – and ineffective.

Technology may be about speed but innovation requires time out, time to recontextualise – remember Archimedes taking time out in the bath…?  Let alone the orchards of Isaac Newton and Viginia Woolf.

Whatever happened to letting an idea marinate – go through a few iterations first before releasing the bug-ridden beta product on the unsuspecting public?

The speed of technology is a great enabler, but that is a means of delivery, not of exploration. We have bread-making machines, but even they have to take time out to let the dough rise. There are times when people just need to talk to each other. And that’s the rich part of web 2.0

Meta tags – so 200BCE

Posted by jerry on March 13th, 2007 — Posted in History, Journal, New media, Technology

There are continuing discussions over web 2.0 – on the issue of tagging and tag clouds (all forms of meta data) – so I thought it timely to revisit an idea I first explored in 2004. The internet has come up with a range of standards in relation to information about information – meta data standards. The best known of these are the Dublin Core meta data standards But the issues that led to the Dublin core standards are not new. The Rosetta Stone (196 BC) – just 200 years after Plato, and – significantly – during the Greek administration of Egypt, revealed something really interesting – the existence of meta tags almost 2000 years before the Internet.

The two languages in three scripts on the stone revealed the difficulties of applying consistent language standards across an empire. Just as Web pages today specify a language an script to be applied, so too, the Rosetta stone includes as part of the inscribed decree, the stipulation that it is to be set in hard stone, in the three scripts: heiroglyphic, demotic and Greek.

What we have in fact is a meta data standard that specified the platform (a stele of hard stone); the language versions; the authority of the specification, (Ptolemy V); and its URL (each of the first, second and third rank temples). In web language these would look like this in the head part of the cartouche:

Rosetta Stone meta tags

In other words about half of the Dublin Core meta data standards are incorporated into the Rosetta Stone. This must surely provide us with an insight into something fundamental about the nature of information, and the nature of official discourse. What is needed to establish the intelligibility and authoritativeness of a piece of text when it is removed from the body (speech) and placed into a third-party medium? This is not a new question – and goes to the heart of what it means to be part of a speech community, and indeed part of the virtual community of human culture whether online or face-to-face.


Winners are grinners – but there’s a serious side

Posted by jerry on March 12th, 2007 — Posted in Journal, New media

A little while ago, new media literacy analyst Angela Thomas set a mystery challenge. In June she would be heading off to… well, that was the mystery. The first clue showed a window – with Classical architecture overtones.

The second clue suggested it had something to do with chocolate. I figured it wouldn’t just be any old chocolate – perhaps European or American, but not your bog standard Cadbury – nice though it is. Again could be almost anywhere from Adelaide to Alsace.

It was the third clue that clinched it. A photo of a mermaid fountain. I searched Google and found lots of references to mermaids, but I needed to narrow down the search. Try Flickr. If it was a genuine clue, there would somewhere be a photo of this fountain. About five pages in and I had it. The photo was a plaza somewhere in San Francisco, USA. Surely not a plain old Herschey bar?

I had the name of the plaza, Ghirardelli, but still not the significance. So I googled the name and came up with the chocolate factory that gave its name to the plaza. And being in the US, this chocolate factory had a decent website – complete with links to Google Maps, which gave me the street address and the final piece of the puzzle – which precise building would provide a view of THAT window in a setting that involved chocolate.

Amazingly, it took someone in Australia, a mere 350km from Angela to pinpoint within a few meters a mystery spot that must’ve been instantly recognisable to countless US residents in SanFrancisco!

Is it a question of web literacy? Is it the amazing tools that are available to the online researcher? Perhaps it is the combination of all these. For me it came down to a search strategy – what kinds of information might I find where?

Interestingly, the initial google search only provided fog. But once I had located the image, then I could use Google effectively to locate the mystery spot – and to find information about the Japanese-American artist who designed and built the fountain and had it cast in bronze in 1968 as part of a Civic commission.

So web literacy is not just about being able to use advanced search functions on Google, or about stumbling across intriguing mystery location challenges on someone’s weblog, but about being able to use the appropriate tools across both visual and textual information to achieve the desired result.

What began perhaps as a fun way to get people engaged in a blog by eliciting audience participation, actually wound up challenging people to engage the combination of literacies that go to form web literacy or new media literacy.

Hmm… since I’ll be travelling at about the same time, perhaps I should set a return challenge – watch this space 😉

Thanks to Angela for setting this new media literacy test 🙂


Plato and new media

Posted by jerry on March 8th, 2007 — Posted in History, Journal, New media, Technology, Theory, Writing

Plato, one of the first new media analysts was concerned about the then new technology of writing. And he understood the potential (and actual) pitfalls of this new operating system. The same has been true of all subsequent new technologies. Always there remains the need for a meta-helper – one who understands the new technology to help later adopters make full use of the new technology.

This wonderful skit on medieval helpdesk support to a new user switching from scrolls to folio books is truly one of the internet video classics!


There is a wonderful parable here that speaks to one of Plato’s greatest concerns with writing over face-to-face communication. And that is that when something is written you can no longer query it or interrogate it – a bit like the user manual in the video here.

Plato, writing between 411 and 406 BC in the Phaedrus noted five key concerns with new information technology:

  • Education will suffer because it presents information rather than promoting thought
  • Information security will be compromised
  • Authorship will be difficult to authenticate;
  • It will be nothing more than a shallow distraction, devoid of serious purpose; and
  • people will stop interacting with real people.

Quite prescient really when you consider the many criticisms of the internet and with web 2.0. His objections were raised almost 2500 years ago, but remain true today, and form the basis for the key themes of almost any information technology seminar whether about censorship or eLaw or online banking or copyright.

In popular discourse, the internet is often presented as a dangerous and anarchic space. At the heart of the arguments against the internet lies the issue of authenticity.

The point is that virtual communities, like SecondLife, are real communities that exist in a virtual space. But people are still talking to people, albeit mediated by computers. It is no different from peopletalking on telephones, excpt that the interface is different.

In addition, the real/virtual distinction breaks down because human idiscourse is already mediated through language and social conventions – we can no longer harken back nostalgically to a ‘state of nature’.

There’s a lot more about this in chapter 9 of my book Virtual States, but there are elements here that will form the basis for my next book – more on that later.

Thanks to Angela Thomas for the YouTube link (though I haven’t yet figured out how to embed it properly into my self-hosted WordPress blog) *sigh*.


Speech accent archive

Posted by jerry on March 7th, 2007 — Posted in Journal, New media, Writing

We deal so much on the web with visual literacy and linguistic literacy, but as direct oral communication gets easier on the web so much can be lost in translation – from English to English due to regional variation in accent. At George Mason University there is a great site for exploring an archive of accents from around the world.

speech accent archive

You can browse by region or via the world map and there are sound samples as well as a descriptive linguistic transcription. Fascinating site! Check it out 🙂

Thanks to languagehat for the link 🙂 and to Sharon for pointing it out to me
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