Wednesday, May 31, 2006

A Movie Critic has an Important Epiphany's film critic acquires self-knowledge at Cannes. Would that the late Pauline Kael had been so insightful.

"As another monotonously gorgeous day broke the next morning in the eastern sky over Nice, I woke up with the idea that the celebrity panel had made the critics and reporters uncomfortable because they reminded us too much of regular viewers. Former New York Times critic Vincent Canby observed years ago that the film critic's pose of being an ordinary moviegoer is just that. You can't watch 100 or 150 or 200 films a year and be an ordinary moviegoer; you become a specialist with a defined aesthetic and rarefied tastes in some direction or other. Whether that direction lies in Thai kickboxing films or Tarkovsky-esque meditations on the soul is purely a question of temperament."

Read the full article here.

Friday, May 26, 2006

The Dangers of Blogging about the Workplace

The NYT has an article indicating that being a blogger might be hazardous to your career.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Human Rights Watch Report on Internet Access in the Middle East

Good reading for anyone concerned with positive, non-violent social change in the Middle East.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Cyborg Planet, Part 2: Friendships in Cyberspace

The late, great media ecologist Neil Postman urged people to pause before adopting any new technology and to ponder all the possible consequences, good and bad, that the technology brings with it.

This precept, that all technology has unintended consequences, should be known as "Postman's Law." Postman's favorite example of this was television. Television, he pointed out, favors pictures over text. Since we respond to images viscerally, we don't evaluate the information television presents with the same critical consideration that we would give to written information. Translation? Television has made us dumber.

I've been thinking of Postman lately, as I pondered the phenomenom of internet friendships. An internet friend, or "cyberpal" is someone with whom you have formed a personal bond through the exchange of ideas and discussion of mutual interests via internet-based communication (i.e., e-mail & blogs). That is to say, interaction is almost exclusively computer-mediated. The two parties involved rarely (if at all) meet face to face.

Although such relationships have been around since the creation of the internet in the late sixties, it has in recent years become a mass phenomenom through the popularity of such websites as "My Space" and the ever-burgeoning blogsphere. As "cyberpaling" continues to grow, it is a good opportunity ponder the implications of Postman's law.

The difficulty of making friends after the end of one's schooldays is a well-known problem. In the pre-television days, people often spent their free time at social clubs and gatherings were they could make friends with people of similar interests. In America, mass media & suburbization has helped to erode that once vast network of communal activities (see Robert D. Putnam's Bowling Alone).

This poverty of friendships coupled with the rise of internet helped bring about the Cyberpal Phenomenom.

The impulse to connect with other people has been a powerful spur in internet use. But (and here the voice of Postman intrudes) doesn't this form of interaction lack the tactile appeal of face to face interaction? Do we not lose the vast, wordless communication that is conveyed by gesture and expression? The pitch of voice? The feeling of hand touching cheek?

The short answer is yes, which is why cyberpaling should never be a substitute for real time, physical interaction. However, before we sentimentalize such encounters, we would do well to remember that much of what we share in public meetings tends to be trivial, small talk. It is the meeting which is the message. Looking back on some of my own friendships, it amazes me how little of real consequence I've shared with other people during the occasional hurried lunch meeting or weekend outing.

By comparision, sharing thoughts over the internet is preceded by private time where the writer has the opportunity to give more care to the content and form of his or her thoughts. Because of this, i suspect some bloggers have shared more with their online readers in terms of true feelings, fears, and hopes than they have with people they see on a regular basis.

One form or another of friendship should not predominate. As we continue to give new shape to human interaction in the 21st century, we should avoid the extreme of either/or but seek the best of both worlds.

Monday, May 15, 2006

Planet of the Cyborgs?

Recently I conversed with my favorite Arab philosopher Tololy about the idea that modern humans qualify as virtual cyborgs given that so much of their interaction with the world is mediated through machines.

This is not a new idea. I remember being exposed to it in graduate school in the late 90's. But the blogger phenomenom has given a new urgency to the idea. As a telecommuter, I communicate with my colleagues through e-mail and phone conversations. I don't live near any of my friends and even if I did, my schedule would rarely allow me time to set-up face to face meetings. Only with my wife and son do I have any meaningful encounters in the course of a regular day.

What does this signify for human relations? What is the upside? What is the downside? Let me think...

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Literary Quote for May 11th, 2006

Sigh no more ladies, sigh no more,
Men were deceivers ever,
One foot in sea and one on shore,
To one thing constant never.

Then sigh not so, but let them go,
And be you blithe and bonny,
Converting all your sounds of woe
Into hey nonny, nonny, nonny.

Sing no more ditties, sing no more
Of dumps so dull and heavy,
The fraud of men was ever so,
Since summer first was leafy.

Then sigh not so, but let them go,
And be you blithe and bonny,
Converting all your sounds of woe
Into hey nonny, nonny, nonny.

Then sigh not so,
but let them go,
And be you blithe and bonny,
Converting all your sounds of woe
Into hey nonny, nonny, nonny.

William Shakespeare Much Ado about Nothing

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Free Egyptian Bloggers!

Sandmonkey, one of the leaders of the Arab blogsphere, has issued a call to bloggers to protest the Egyptian government's imprisonment of 48 people (including several Egyptian bloggers such as Alaa, who has a well known blog with his wife Manal) who were arrested after a peaceful protest promoting the independence of the Egyptian judiciary. In SM's own words:

Alaa and those arrested with him are now arrested for 15 days "pending investigation", which could be renewed indefinitely if the state so wishes. Him and the men were sent to the infamous Torah Prison and the girls to the Qanatir prison for the duration. This makes them hardly safe, because stuff that goes on in egyptian prisons on the hands of the jailors: beatings, sexual assaults, torture of all kinds. This is why we aim to get them out of there as soon as possible, so that even if they do end up serving the entire 15 days- which they won't have to if the government gets pressured- they ndon;t end up serving an extra day after that. No one deserves this happening to them, especially for exercising their right to free speech.

Please contact your representative and voice your objection. Just as good--let the Egyptian government know that they can not get away with this repression (important fact: the Egyptian government gets $2 billion in U.S. aid each year. Remember--That's my money and your money.)

Here is an e-mail address:

A Heroine for Our Times

While much of the world's press focuses on the Middle East in the struggle between secularism and radical relgiousity, Christopher Hitchens reminds us of the personal cost paid by the bravest and most vulnerable advocates for human rights. In this case, Dutch parlimentarian Ayaan Hirsi Ali.

One of the problems I have with European liberalism is that while they often boast about having model societies , there appears to be a strong undercurrent of tribalism and racism embedded in them. True liberalism requires a civic nationalism rather than an ethnic nationalism. Once fear sets in, an old sense of tribal/racial identity appears to reassert itself among native Europeans, who often refuse to see immigrants as authentic members of their nations. In a recent Newsweek article, "To Become an American," Fareed Zakaria talks about a German plan to recruit Indian high tech workers to help improve Germany's economy:

I told the German official at the time that I was sure the initiative would fail. It's not that I had any particular expertise in immigration policy, but I understood something about green cards, because I had one (the American version). The German Green Card was misnamed, I argued, because it never, under any circumstances, translated into German citizenship. The U.S. green card, by contrast, is an almost automatic path to becoming American (after five years and a clean record). The official dismissed my objection, saying that there was no way Germany was going to offer these people citizenship. "We need young tech workers," he said. "That's what this program is all about." So Germany was asking bright young professionals to leave their country, culture and families, move thousands of miles away, learn a new language and work in a strange land—but without any prospect of ever being part of their new home. Germany was sending a signal, one that was accurately received in India and other countries, and also by Germany's own immigrant community.

The idea of that "volk"--the heriditary members of a nation--have primacy is antithetical to the ideal of the polyglot democracy which is highest political ideal of our century. Let's hope we all find our way to a solution before this century comes to a close.

"There is no such thing as the State/And no one exists alone;/Hunger allows no choice/To the citizen or the police;/We must love one another or die." - W.H. Auden