Binge Watching Is Changing Us: Recognizing the Power of Imagination

It may not be one of the great novels of all time, but one of my favorite reading experiences was Umberto Eco’s Name of the Rose. Genre wise, it is a historical-fiction whodunit set in a medieval monastery.  The story and action are great (which the film version attests to), but it also has an intellectual depth that only a professional semiotician like Eco could bring to the table.  As the novel unfolds, Eco probes the deeply symbolic side of our lives, exploring how the categories we think with structure our actions and passions. (Think of the short ancient language and culture sections in Snow Crash, but this time marinating the whole thing, not just peppering here and there.)

Monastery Davidovica

Monastery Davidovica (© Vhorvat)

For Eco, the swirling liturgical and religious imaginations of monks in medieval Europe shaped—for good or for ill—the way that monks understood the world.  Indeed, that imagination, populated by angels, devils, and biblical figures, is almost a character of its own

Looking back, I probably liked The Name of the Rose so much because I read it as I travelled in Europe for the first time. I picked up the novel as I waited for a train in London at the start of a long solo trek to Florence.  I had spent months poking around churches, castles, and museums in England during classes, so my head was full of the images Eco drew upon.  I was in the perfect place—both literally and figuratively—to enjoy the work.

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Putting the Horse Before the Cart: Music Technology and John Hampton Edition

I’m a big fan of the recording magazine Tape Op. It has been around about a decade and is all about DIY music. They were maker before maker was cool. (Plus, the physical mag is beautiful and U.S. subscriptions are free!)

A couple of months ago, they ran an interview with John Hampton, Grammy winning engineer and producer of folks like Alex Chilton, the Gin Blossoms, The White Stripes, Travis Tritt, and Jimmy Vaughn. Musing on his experience of working as an engineer vs. a producer, he remarked:

I was driving home one day from work and heard “Honky Tonk Women” on the radio for the very first time. I heard that cowbell and then Charlie [Watts] come in – I pulled over and rocked out to the whole thing. When I started working here I got engineer ears; I started nitpicking everything. Slowly, but surely, the nitpicking became the captain of that ship. After working in the studio for a while I heard “Honky Tonk Women” again and I thought, “That sounds like crap.” I had engineer ears now. Then it hit me one day that I used to love that song and now I don’t like it. Has the song changed? I’ve changed, not the song. So I slowly started what turned into a ten-year venture. I turned that boat around, falling back in love with music instead of in love with technology and how it gets put together. The only way that I’ve been able to do that is by making what I do, the engineering part of it, so easy that I can do it with my eyes shut. Its all in the background.

That should be the goal, right? Do what you do, not what the gadgets let you do.

Focus on life, not on the tools you use to live it.

Social Media, the Boston Marathon Bombings, and Believing Your Own Press

It has been a rough few days for folks in Boston and throughout the United States in the wake of the Boston Marathon bombings. My thoughts and prayers go out to all who are affected by the tragedy.

As of this morning, the primary events have come to a close. The suspects have been apprehended, dead and alive. Now the reflection begins.

Among the things to drop, social media has been taking a beating this morning in the wake of widespread dissemination of names of people who were falsely identified as suspects in the Boston Marathon bombings. Alexis Madrigal did a great job trying–only somewhat successfully–to trace the complicated and twisting chain of events that led to Reddit and Twitter users to speculate about suspects and disseminate names of suspects now known to be false. From what Madrigal can find, two names were out in social media space: one posted to Reddit from someone who thought that they recognized a person from a phono, the other Tweeted by someone who overheard a name on a scanner. Neither was identified by law enforcement as a suspect. But as Madrigal puts it:

The next step in this information flow is the trickiest one. Here’s what I know. At 2:42am, Greg Hughes, who had been following the Tripathi speculation, tweeted, “This is the Internet’s test of ‘be right, not first’ with the reporting of this story. So far, people are doing a great job. #Watertown” Then, at 2:43am, he tweeted, “BPD has identified the names: Suspect 1: Mike Mulugeta. Suspect 2: Sunil Tripathi.”

All of a sudden, we have suspects.

Except they weren’t suspects. They weren’t involved. NBC eventually got the information right based on contacts with law enforcement. But by then, the info had been tweeted and retweeted thousands of times. It was, as Madrigal put, it “a full on frenzy.”

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Christmas, Family, Media, and Music: 2012 and 1904

Just a quick interlude on this Christmas night. I hope that all of you have had a couple of nice days with your families (whether or not you celebrate the religious aspects of the day). We had a touch of snow last night on our way into Mass that made the evening as picturesque as could be.  Today was quiet, spent with family and friends.

Apparently, Netflix was down last night and this morning. As they put it at PhysOrg,

Families across the United States will have to rely on other sources of entertainment after Netflix’s video streaming service was hit by a Christmas Eve outage.

Rebecca Greenfield at  The Atlantic likely echoed the sentiment of many people when she wrote:

The service went down…during arguably one of the worst possible times ever, when many people stuck at home with their families would hope to seek a little refuge in some streaming movies.

So, wait, families don’t want to talk to one another?

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Clay Shirky, MOOCs, and Living the Deeper Mission of Education

Seems like the discussion about MOOCs so often gets cast in an “us vs. them” narrative, with people wondering whether or not the new guy on the block will supplant the venerable institutions of higher learning.

Media theorist Clay Shirky wrote a great piece that contextualizes the revolution in education within the “big pictures” of both technological innovation and higher education. It’s a long piece that is worth the read. One bit that particularly resonates:

The fight over MOOCs isn’t about the value of college; a good chunk of the four thousand institutions you haven’t heard of provide an expensive but mediocre education. For-profit schools like Kaplan’s and the University of Phoenix enroll around one student in eight, but account for nearly half of all loan defaults, and the vast majority of their enrollees fail to get a degree even after six years.

…In the US, an undergraduate education used to be an option, one way to get into the middle class. Now it’s a hostage situation, required to avoid falling out of it. And if some of the hostages having trouble coming up with the ransom conclude that our current system is a completely terrible idea, then learning will come unbundled from the pursuit of a degree just as as songs came unbundled from CDs.

Well put.

It’s one thing to argue for traditional classrooms against the onslaught of massive online classes.  It’s quite another to remain ignorant of all the people who are boxed out of our current educational framework.

 

Netflix, Closed-Captioning, and a Legal Settlement

Back in July, I posted about Netflix’s lost bid to have the a lawsuit against it thrown out of court. A class action lawsuit filed by the National Association for the Deaf asserted that Netflix violated the Americans with Disabilities Act because Netflix when it failed to provide closed-captioning for many of its streaming videos. My post reflected a bit on how the right thing to do can sometimes be very complicated. There are times, I think, when people/groups that demonstrate generally good will get (themselves) into questionable situations because they either didn’t think through their plans entirely, or they through it so late that changing course is so difficult, they are stopped in their tracks. Doing justice (a virtue) thing requires bravery (another virtue), but it also requires prudence (a third virtue) to figure out the right course of action to achieve justice.  For publicly traded companies seeking to do the right thing while both staying in business and—most importantly—keeping major shareholders happy, that’s no mean feat. Putting yourself out of business is not necessarily the most morally laudable course of action.

Well, it looks like the legal process worked its magic.  According to Joe Mullin at Ars Technica:

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