Friday, December 17, 2010

Waiting for Service

            Stifling, closely packed bodies wait with hushed voices.  Eyes penetrate the other’s space, searching for something interesting to distract our vacant minds.  I peer out over my towering arm-load of packages, counting again the number of line-dwellers in front of me.  I try to notice each cultural nuance in my new surroundings, most notably each of the line-dwellers are holding perhaps a few letters or at most one small package.  Noting the difference in my armload of packages and their handful of letters my stomach begins to churn with a sense of foreboding, subtly questioning the wisdom of my decision to ship lovely handmade clay jewelry half-way around the world.
            Having arrived at 10 am I am confident that I will be done by lunch-time.  By twelve-thirty, I have moved a few steps closer to the counter so I am hopeful that my three fellow line-dwellers will hasten their transactions so I can make my lunch appointment.  However, one step closer and thirty minutes later we are all informed in a clipped tone by one of the two postal employees, that they are closing for lunch.  Recognizing the dismay on our collective faces, the diminutive clerk assures us all to keep our places in line, as it will be only two minutes before they return.
            What to do?  Take a number?  I look and find none.  My seemingly brilliant plan of making a pact with my fellow line-dwellers to maintain ordinal status quickly meets with reality when an older, be-speckeled man leaves the line to sit down and his remaining gap in line is immediately closed.  Alas, the choice is difficult; remain in line and fight to keep the line-dwellers behind me at bay with my elbows spread wide like a bird in flight, or return another day to repeat the saga.  The pressing holiday timeframe is indisputable, so I chose to remain in line, steadfastly splaying my arms like an eagle in flight.
            Two minutes plus sixty-eight more minutes later finds us line-dwellers drenched in sweat, hungry and, at least for me, returning in my mind to the unwittingly bad decision when I refused my driver’s offer to mail my packages.  Lost in these thoughts of regret, I almost miss my chance to step up to the counter, had my favorite fellow line-dweller not pushed me hard.
            Fumbling up to the chest-high counter, not having spoken for hours, my dry, parched lips open to utter the words “international post”.  The diminutive, rested postal employee eyes me for a full thirty seconds before requesting my first package.  With a satisfied sigh, I hand over my largest parcel destined for my homeland.  Twisting it over and over in her hands while alternatively eyeing me, she settles on the address, slowly hen-pecks the numbers and letters into the vintage 8088 computer, then holds the package to the side and casually drops it to the floor where it meets with sickening crunch.  My protests are met with more aggressive tossing into crunchville, and more animated stares and pressing bodies against my back by my fellow line-dwellers.
            Disheartened with the futility of the adventure, I stumble out with my culturally-integrative mindset grasping for the learning moment; finding only astonishment with my new home, the country called India.

Author note - this is a paper I wrote for my graduate writing class. 

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Multitasking: Strategies to better manage your tasks

             I, like most of my peers, have my cell phone beside me so I can respond to texts while I am researching this topic for my graduate-level paper, simultaneously monitoring my 4 email addresses and periodically adding to a powerpoint presentation for my next consulting assignment.  I am passionate about what I do and, in living this passion, I am a moderate multitasker surrounded by technologies.  In fact, because I multitask regularly, I have reached a level of proficiency.  Or have I?
According to the PBS Frontline film Digital Nation, the plethora of multimedia inputs and outputs is “dumbing down the world”.   In this paper, I examine the role multitasking plays in the concept of tapping human capital by engaging employees and individuals to live their passion as, for example, Google strives to do with their 20% rule.
The researchers and scientists whom I site in this paper are fairly consistent in their negative views on the topic of multitasking, described as the “performance of multiple tasks in a relatively short time period, with shifts in attention among the tasks” (Oberlander et al, 2007).  Due to this commonly-held position about both the inefficiency and ineffectiveness of multitasking, I conclude this paper with a few strategies on how to multitask to enhance productivity, although some may argue that productive multitasking is not even possible considering the brain’s capability. 
How our brain processes multiple tasks
In considering how our brain processes multiple tasks, we first turn our study to the “attentional spotlight”, or Broadband Area 10 portion of the brain which houses the sequential arousal system, and, cannot multitask (Medina, 2008).  This scientific reality, along with various other findings, has lead to state-based laws banning the driving of a car while talking on a cell phone, as it has been proven that driving while on a cell phone reduces the reaction time to the equivalent of driving while legally drunk (.08 blood alcohol content).  
Further to this, Jack King, Director of TCU’s Koehler Center for Teaching Excellence has documented neurologic “brown outs” during multitasking where the brain loses some of its computing power, creating surface learning in which the brain attempts to only understand procedures, numbers and facts without synthesizing it into deeper learning and understanding.   In fact, “power” multitaskers processing five or more inputs at once (cell, IM, text, email, social media, etc.) are consistently more susceptible to interference from irrelevant stimuli, such as the random text message from a friend or pursuing a random thought for trivial purposes while abandoning the central project that brought them to that data.  These same “power” multitaskers take more time to break from their current task and divert to the other as compared to light to moderate multitaskers managing 3 or less tasks simultaneously (Saunders, 2009).
This synthesis of input required for deep learning an understanding is predicated by “down time”—a chunk of time when the brain is unoccupied and free to associate as it will.  Only in this state is the brain able to fully process the patterns of events and data in a way that seems to create persistent memory, make connections between ideas, and even develop the sense of self.  In fact, researchers go so far as to say “downtime to the brain is what sleep is to the body” (Richtel, 2010).  This downtime is not achieved often, as our habit of pulling in the data deluge, the continual checking of our iPhones for the rare urgent and important email, the sense of disconnect we feel when we haven’t checked our FaceBook account recently all prevent us from controlling our time and allocating ourselves the much-needed downtime that our deep thinking requires.
As referred to above, regular sleep cycles are also linked to higher success in multitasking.  The longer we work in a sleep deprived state, defined as 5 hours or less per night, the lower our ability to multitask and subsequent higher rate of error (Haavisto et al, 2010).
Multitasking in learning environment
Consider that the average internet user is subjected to 3000 commercial messages in a day.  Add to that statistic the average U.S. child is exposed to digital media about 50 hours per week (Detzin, 2010).  No wonder we have trouble focusing on anything when multimedia’s bi-directional blanketing covers our environment!  Shakespeare’s words precisely describe this modern day scenario, “We are consumed by that which we are nourished by”  — a quote that Neil Postman would heartily agree with as well. 
So, if the digital media deluge is hitting us at such a high daily rate, which type of media has the most detrimental effect on our attention span and ability to multitask?  Consistently researchers point out that video games take the worst toll on the brain (Richtel, 2010).  The intensity of the environment and the simulated reality combine with other factors to make the emotional stimulus of video gaming override all other brain functions and, in fact, contribute to poorer REM cycles of sleep due to the over activity in the brain sparked by video games.  In essence, all other forms of media, including TV, are less disruptive to the brain than video games. 
The US has yet to implement controls and pre-emptive educational programs to arm our Millenials (born between 1986 and 2000) and M2 generation  (Kaiser Foundation term, born 1992-2002) with knowledge on how to manage these media forces bombarding them.  In fact, the Kaiser Family Foundation found that half of the students from M2 Generation are using the internet, watching TV or using some form of media while they are doing homework.  In fact, the average of this generation is over 7 hours of media time per day.  Factoring multitasking time, that number jumps to almost 11 hours per day.  This age group does not have the self-control or discipline to choose schoolwork over the computer, but only 3 in 10 have rules set by their parents about media use.  Of course, other diversions are readily available at their fingertips.  It’s clear that when adults are not supervising, kids are using these mediums for entertainment, not education. 
In the business environment, multitasking creates a scenario in which employees are prone to mistakes due to the brain’s aforementioned “attentional spotlight’s” inability to multitask.  These errors in multitasking are comprised of two types:  a) errors of commission—that of performing an incorrect action, such as writing a report on the wrong project (often related to low working memory) and b) errors of omission—that of not performing a correct action, such as not writing the report at all (often related to inability to quickly perceive of and shift to new priorities).  Oberlander et al (2007) found that three failures generally can be found when analyzing errors in simultaneous work tasks:
1.       The employee perceives the elements of the current situation inaccurately,
2.       The significance of the elements as a whole is not understood by the employee, and/or
3.       Potential future implications of the situation are not shared with or considered by the employee.
Of course, equally important individual differences predict multitasking performance as well.  Another key finding in Oberlander et al’s research is that anxiety levels of employees impact both types of errors, but the level of conscientiousness of the employee had no relevance to the error.  In other words, an employee’s high level of loyalty to the employer cannot be used to predict fewer mistakes but if we are able to decrease an employee’s level of anxiety, we increase the odds of the employee actually doing the task, and doing it correctly (2007).
How can we be more productive in our multitasking?
                Most of us multitask, and in reality, the capability to multitask is becoming even more important.  Thus, five simple considerations are provided to help us manage our time more effectively and efficiently, freeing us and those we work with to be fully engaged in what we are passionate about on both the personal and professional level. 
First off, there is hope.  Researchers have found a small contingent of the population (3%) that is naturally capable and highly skilled at multitasking (Watson, 2010).  This small segment of the population is able to switch between tasks quickly without losing any speed or ability to comprehend the tasks, and is not experiencing the mistakes the majority of multitaskers are making.  However, not much is known about this population so additional research is being conducted into this group to fully understand how their behavior differs from the majority and/or how their brains may be different.  The HR Professional should keep a watch on this emerging field of study.   
Secondly, as Oberlander et al (2007) discovered in the error-trending research, multitaskers would benefit greatly from reduced anxiety levels as the researchers found a clear relation between anxiety levels and both mistakes of commission and omission.  This is a great opportunity for the HR professional to assist managers in decreasing levels of employee anxiety utilizing proven methodologies, including high frequency communication and transparency in decision-making.
Third, renowned technologist Pierre Khawand, Lecturer at UC Berkley’s Haas School of Business and Founder of People-OnTheGo, suggests structuring cycles of forty minutes total focus time into your daily calendar, followed immediately by thirty minutes dedicated collaborative time to get the most from your every minute at work.  These forty minutes of focus requires that you ignore or turn off all interruptions in order to allow your brain to gather thoughts and concepts in order to achieve rich levels of concept maturation and ideation.   
Fourth, national emphasis is required to ensure members of the M2 generation understand what the digital deluge means to them, how they can and should use it and, most importantly, its inherent dangers to them as students, individuals and members of society.   South Korea has taken a leading role in legislating change at the national level due to recent and disturbing cases where teenagers have committed murder or suicide due to internet addiction.  This national endeavor has been developing over the past 5 years, and includes education at the elementary level on internet etiquette, online safety and moderation when using the technology.   Presently the S. Korean government is also contemplating banning those 16 and under from visiting the popular 24 hour internet cafes known as PC Bangs between the hours of midnight and 6 am.  The national agenda in the US could include a similar type of education for those just entering the digital deluge, preparing them for the onslaught and creating awareness of the risks the technologies carry.    
Fifth and finally, I share a humorous story that I heard from one of my webinar participants.  Her colleague Jim was running a global team meeting with 35 participants joining from all across the world.  His intention was to share slides over the internet with the participants while also speaking over a conference bridge line for one hour in order to reach a decision on a project.  He started the meeting with a verbal introduction, then asked everyone to log into the website where he was hosting the meeting.  After everyone was logistically situated, he proceeded to share his desktop mistakenly rather than just his powerpoint presentation.  While discussion was ensuing between the members of his team, Jim started two skype chats—a spicy chat with his girlfriend and another chat with a colleague —all while his team was discussing the matter Jim had placed before him.  Unbeknownst to Jim, all 35 of the team members that logged onto the shared website could see every one of the somewhat racy chat boxes popping up on Jim’s window. 
Multitasking can be your friend with careful and attentive management, but, if not managed well, it quickly becomes your enemy.     
Consuming kids: the commercialization of childhood. (2008). Media Education Foundation. Retrieved from
Dretzin, R. (Producer). (2010, February 2).  Digital Nation. Retrieved from:
Gates, B. (2006, April 7).  How I work: Bill Gates.  Fortune. Retrieved from:
Garber, M.  (2010).  Attention versus distraction? What that big NY Times story leaves out. Retrieved from:
Haavisto, M.L., Porkka-Heiskanen T., Hublin, C., Härmä, M., Mutanen, P., Müller, K., Virkkala, J. & Sallinen, M. (2010).  Sleep restriction for the duration of a work week impairs multitasking performance.  Journal of Sleep Research 19, 444-454.  doi:10.1111/j.1365-2869.2010.00823.x
Kaiser Family Foundation. (2010).  Generation M2: Media in the lives of 8- to 18-year-olds.  Retrieved from:
King, J. (2010).  Multitasking or Multidistracting? Retrieved from
Medina, J. J. (2008).  Brain Rules. Seattle, WA: Pear Press.
Saunders, F. (2009).  Multitasking to distraction.  Science Observer, November-December, 455.  Retrieved from:
Oberlander, E. M., Oswald, F. L., Hambrick, D. Z., Jones, L. A., United States, Bureau of Naval Personnel, & Navy Personnel Research, Studies, and Technology Division. (2007). Individual difference variables as predictors of error during multitasking. Millington, TN: Navy Personnel Research, Studies, and Technology (NPRST/PERS-1), Bureau of Naval Personnel.
Ritchel, M. (2010).  Growing up digital, wired for distraction.  The New York Times.  Retrieved from:
Montagne, R. (Host), Shapiro, A. (Host).  (2008, October 2).  Think your multitasking?  Think again [Audio podcast].  Retrieved from
Watson, J.M. & Strayer, D.L.  (2010).  Supertaskers: profiles in extraordinary multitasking ability.  Psychonomic Bulletin & Review, 17(4), 479-485.  doi:10.3758/PBR.17.4.479

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Technology is not Value Neutral

How far would you go to help your new baby boy born with a neural defect?  What if the doctor’s prognosis was that your son’s brain would not develop past the age of an average two year old?  Would you consider utilizing the technology of stem-cell transplantation, despite its controversial methodologies, to save your son? 
Through this scenario analysis, I propose that no technology is value neutral.  To further explain this position, I hold that a value proposition was inherent and decisively made in order to develop of the stem-cell research technology.
Stem-cell research is the technology that allows the study of the basic building blocks of the human body.  Stem-cells are unique in that they have the capability to differentiate into any type of cell.  As a result of this unique and highly useful characteristic, private and limited public research has been and continues to be conducted on stem-cells to understand the process of embryonic development and to capitalize on tremendous advancements that stem-cells allow in the development of medical treatments for a wide array of conditions, including neural defects and cancerous tumors.  The technology that makes this research possible is hotly debated, as one of the two sources of stem cell research is the human embryo, which scientists agree has more potential for development of treatments than stem-cells from adults.
How did this understanding that the human embryonic stem-cell has more potential than adult stem-cells come about?  Many historical decisions and events played a part, but two specific events brought this potential to the forefront – a) legalized abortion, the result of the court case Roe v. Wade in 1973 and b) into vitro fertilization research that resulted in its first live birth in 1978.  These decisions placed into researchers’ grasp the potential of experimenting on embryos that were otherwise not coming to term.   
On what value base was this technology developed, that has pushed us far down the road of debate on a topic that wasn’t conceived of until the 1970’s?  Marshall McLuhan states in Understanding Media that the “medium is socially the message…technology can do anything but add itself on to what we already are” (18).  In other words, technology cannot simply be developed for positive or negative effect, leaving all else equal.  Rather, technological advancements fundamentally alter our ecology; just as an earthquake can shift an entire street by one inch, or global warming can raise the oceanic water tables by one inch.   The stem cell research technology was developed to conduct research on embryonic stem cells, predicated on the fact that this research concluded the existence of that stem cell.  Rather than value-neutral, I see a specific value statement inherent in even conceiving of this research.
Indeed, had I found myself in the scenario presented above, I would face a complex maternal debate to save my son.  Consider even the word ‘save’ takes on a different meaning as “radical technologies create new definitions of old terms, and this process takes place without our being fully conscious of it” (Postman, 8).  Does ‘save’ mean life-saving or simply that his life would be more normal with the transfusion?  How would you decide, considering your own values as they relate to the values you perceive to be inherent in the development of the stem-cell technology?
Department of Neurobiology and Physiology, Northwestern University.  (2002).  “What are stem cells?”  Retrieved from
McLuhan, M.  (2003).  Understanding Media.  Gingko Press, CA. 
Postman, N.  (1992).  Technopoly.  Alfred A. Knopf, Inc., NY. 

Saturday, November 20, 2010

The shift away from Oral Tradition to Technology of Writing

The study of Ong, Plato and Homer together allow our thoughts to converge on the practice of oration as compared to the technology of writing, and the effect oration has had on civilizations past and present, and equally important what ill-effects have occurred as civilization moves away from honoring oration. 
Uni-dimensional writing
 Walter J. Ong, S.J. brought some wonderful insights to the study of oration, I find the most profound of those insights to be that “sight isolates, sound incorporates”.  In stating this, Ong breaks down the main attributes of these two senses as they relate to the technology of writing.  Sight is what is required (or touch if you consider braille) in order to communicate through the technology of writing which is uni-dimensional in nature and monochronic, or linear, in appearance to the consciousness. Take a moment to read the  visual depiction of multiple translations of “Thank you” and note for yourself how your eyes move over the words in a sequence.  Hearing is what allows us to multi-dimensionally experience the world, in that the wrap-around sense of hearing embeds rhythm, melody and resulting memory into our very being, as this “My Thank You Song” video by Guillermo Echevarria demonstrates.  If you consider that vision is a sense that requires slicing of the world into small digestible sections, or the “dissecting sense” per Ong, you can see where he is going with the idea that auditory is a “unifying sense” in that one is required to synthesize all the sounds coming in all at once without being able to section it into smaller slices.  We know, for instance, that memorization of passages or complex concepts is made easier through song or storytelling.

Misuse of Technology, or not ready for technology?
Plato seems to agree with the perspective that writing is a uni-dimensional mode of communication, as compared to speech, when he pens a dubious view of the new technology in Socrates’ dialogue with Phaedrus—in fact we feel almost a disdain for writing in the following exchange, “I cannot help feeling, Phaedrus, that writing is unfortunately like painting; for the creations of the painter have the attitude of life, and yet if you ask them a question they preserve a solemn silence.”  In this Socrates also shares that he fears that technologies and new discoveries (writing) may become viral and spread to those who are not ready for it nor understand it, and thus may misuse it.  Interestingly, this same concern for the “misuse” of the newest discoveries is a cycle we see throughout history, and I hypothesize this is a result of a age-old and general feeling of superiority and hubris by man.  Those that “have” consider those that “have not” to be inferior and, thus, have the opinion that the “have nots” would be unable to comprehend or make use of the newest innovations in an appropriate and approved way.     
Theseus son of Aegeus
In fact, the fear about the misuse of writing is indeed rampant in the oratory cultures as well, as oration is indeed prone to misuse and misunderstanding.  As revealed by Ong, the orator, in the act of reciting the stories, changes the content based on the audience, his own mood and even the political events of the day.  Just because an orator says he used some verse as before doesn’t mean he used it word-for-word as we would interpret from a literal, verbatim-focused society.  So rather than subordinating to the parent verse, an orator uses an additive technique that enhances the story and thereby changes it, even if the change is slight.  To moderate this potential misunderstanding, aggregative methods are incorporated into oration that allow for clarity from the reader’s point of view.  For example, to ensure the reader understands who a character is, name-triggering phrases such as “godlike Plyphemus, Theseus son of Aegeus, or dread son of Saturn” are used to ensure the reader is tracking with the story line in the Iliad.  When these phrases are regularly sprinkled about in the text, this may sound repetitive to the reader of the written word, which rewards the concise writer who uses sparse word choice in their story.  However, when hearing the entire Book 1 of the Iliad, these repetitive structures are key to helping the reader follow along. 
 We see this repetitive nature of oration as key to modern day success of public speakers, a recent examples of this strategy is from President Barak Obama’s presidential inauguration speech sprinkled liberally with the phrase Yes we can!”   
Oratory, or storytelling, by elders
Although we see some traces of the oratory tradition in modern day, the loss of oration as a tradition in the culture of the United States has had negative effects on a specific population— that of our elders which belong both to the silent generation (1927-45) as well as the baby boomer generation (1946-64).  Elders of communities that prized oration used to hold the collective’s past in their minds, reinforcing their place of importance and honor in the community as they shared their memories through stories and parables.  Their specialty was the relating of parables based on the past so the young could use the messages and morals of the story to solve modern-day issues. These communities position their elders in positions of honor and power in their family home.  Homer reinforces this respect for elders in the words spoken by the smooth-tongued Nestor, the facile speaker of the Pylians, who was presiding over his third generation of Pylosians, “I am older than either of you; therefore be guided by me.  Moreover I have been the familiar friend of men even greater than you are, and they did not disregard my counsels…Not a man now living could withstand them, but they heard my words, and were persuaded by them.”  Nestor commanded respect as a cultural norm and by clearly outlining where he was positioned in the political hierarchy and his demonstrated powerful influence over others.
Comparatively, the US culture, in which I live, has an aging population where almost 13% is aged 65 or older, a percentage that is estimated to grow to almost 20% by the year 2030.   To care for this growing percentage of the population, one in four households provides care to a relative or friend aged 50 or older (  This means that 75% of the aging population in the US is or will be cared for in assisting living communities, where they are taken out of the key influential positions and made to feel tangential and removed from the younger generations.  This separation diminishes the opportunity for knowledge sharing between generations, and the oral tradition of telling stories about “when they were young” and the lessons those stories may teach are decreased significantly.
In order to preserve this historic knowledge-base, one that is not recorded in the technology of writing, rather shared mostly in the oral tradition, we will need to find alternative means of connecting generations and bridging the gaps between those members of the silent/baby boomer generations and members of the younger generations.  Whereas this relationship is fairly automatic in the 25% of US multi-generational homes, this gap-bridging structure is not present in the balance of homes in the US—thus the need to expand alternative models such as “Connecting Elders to Kids” by Junior Achievement and KAETA (Kids and Elders Through Arts) or this unique program in Kankakee, Illinois which brings four generations together regularly as community outreach.

Homer.  (800 B.C.E.)  The Iliad, Book 1.
Ong, W.  (2002).  Orality and Literacy; Chapter 3.  Routledge, NY.

Plato.  (370 B.C.E.).  Phaedrus.

The Pepper Institute on Aging and Public Policy.  “Facts on Aging.”  Retrieved from

US Government Administration on Aging, Department of Health and Human Services. Retrieved from

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Misrepresentation of Facts

            I do indeed subscribe to the realities as laid out by our Session Three scholars, that of a US society that is pummeled from all sides by corporations and news organization with an agenda driven by capitalism, and very rarely is that agenda beneficial to us.
Maldive Islands, Indian Ocean
McKibben frames this awareness of the misrepresentation of facts by media beautifully when he states, “Our society is moving steadily from natural sources of information toward electronic ones…so we need to understand the two extremes.  One is the target of our drift.  The other an anchor that might tug us gently back, a source of information that once spoke clearly to us and now hardly even whispers...Information ecology is now heralded as an adequate replacement to the natural ecology.  TV masks and drowns out the information that used to be provided by the physical world.  (McKibben, Daybreak). Continuing this vein of questioning, he follows that up with “Can we, blessed with technology but also with nature, get it right?” (5 AM).  By this rhetorical question, McKibben is asking if we can somehow align what nature has mandated as requirements for survival with the new reality of a an age known as the “knowledge age” where knowledge trumps skills and physical competencies.
Frozen Food VS Food Source
These skills and competencies were instilled in humanity to manage the limitations that we have had to deal with since civilization started—how to find enough food to feed the community, how to keep ourselves warm, what water sources were potable.  Considering these limitations, McKibben uses his experiment of watching 24 hours of televised cable channels to compare microwavable mini-burgers to the actual production of that same food 150 years ago.  The process of raising the beef, understanding the requirements and realities of both agricultural and livestock farming, gaining the competencies of butchering, baking  and preserving were skills that were required in order to enjoy a dinner of hamburgers.  In stark contrast, our present day process required to put hamburgers on the table for dinner includes only two necessities—money and a visit to the store where we see a seemingly endless supply of burgers, buns and condiments.  Imagine if we had to raise & grind the wheat, kneed the dough by hand and bake it on the hearth?  Would you let one of those pieces of bread start to mold?  Would you mindlessly throw it out with the garbage?  As McLuhan states, “content of a medium is like the juicy meat piece of meat carried by the burglar to distract the watchdog of the mind” (1994) which is to say the medium does its best to distract and placate us, even snickering with us at the absurdity of the medium, while simultaneously sliding messaging into our subconscious with the goal of affecting our conscious decisions for their financial gain.

Considering these limited resources, I’m extremely disappointed with the experience Dena Kleiman shared with the New York Times about her trip to southern Chile.  According to her story, she had always fantasized about eating her own catch; in essence feeding herself through her own hunter-gatherer experience.  However, in the act of consuming her own catch, she was struck with the violence and guilt of it all, and left the fish uneaten.  What a tremendous waste of a limited resource and, in what many other cultures of the world would relate as well, what a violation of the natural order.  The rationale used by hunting cultures is to hunt for subsistence, and in so doing, honor all parts of the animal that sacrificed their life for the existence of their own culture.  Dena failed to honor the animal she lured out from the depths of the southern Chilean river by refusing to eat the very animal she killed, and in so doing, reminded us all how disconnected we are from the source of our food.  Another view of this same disconnect principle is presented to us in the movie Food Inc where the exposed process of agribusiness has decimated any warm and friendly concept of farming that the average American holds in their mind.
This disconnect then brings us to Chomsky, who holds that when people have access to information and curiosity you can no longer require them to submit to the rule of law without unbridled participation.  This unbridled participation hinges upon a society that presents facts, then provides a forum for dialogue and discussion.  As we saw in Outfoxed, one news source with enough financial backing can channel the entire ecosystem of “news” and create the reality its financial backer’s want the public to see.   As McKibben relates, “Most of the time, though, the information that TV has to offer is not spelled out in such tidy little factlets.  It is at least a little hidden in the fabric of movies and newscasts and commercials and reruns.  Not so hidden that you need to hire a team of deconstruction contractors to analyze it all—just hidden enough that the messages are passed over, absorbed through the eyes without trigger in the entire brain” (McKibben, Daybreak). 
With this overarching concern for the individual’s attention to the messaging and content, responsibility rests on citizens to develop avenues of voice that are publicly funded (e.g. Public Radio International) and to take individual leadership in their own consumption of the media and respond with unbridled passion when the blatant and/or subversive misrepresentation of facts does occur.

Greenwald, R.  (2004).  Outfoxed; Rupert Murdoch’s War on Journalism. 
Herman & Chomsky, N..  (1988). A Propaganda Model from Manufacturing Consent.  Pantheon, NY.
McKibben, B.  (1993). Daybreak from The Age of Missing Information.  Penguin Books, NY
McKibben, B. (1993).  5:00 A.M. from The Age of Missing Information.  Penguin Books, NY
McLuhan, M.  (1994).  Understanding Media; the extensions of man.  Gingko Press, CA.

What is fact in today's world?

Neil Postman (1931-2003)
I was helping my 12-year-old son do research for his geneology project.  His research topic was to review a ten-year period of his grandfather's life and see those events from his grandfather's perspective.  Of course this is using the phenomonological approach to communication, which I enthusiastically shared with him.  His blank stare told me everything - he didn't get it nor was it a need to know for his paper.  Anyway, in looking for references to this ten-year timeframe, my son just used the search engine Google and referenced any site that came up.  When I observed this behavior, we had a chat about fact or fiction.  His view on fact was if it was published on the internet or in a book, it was fact.  As Postman writes, "Technology imperiously commandeers our most important terminology...and redefines [it]" (1993, pp. 8) My son's definition didn't jive with my definition, and was certainly an opportunity to carefully define this terminology with him.  Whew, what a wonderfully teachable moment and a perfect segway into this topic.

Jawaharlal Nehru & Gandhi
Classmate Barbara had a wonderful perspective, "a fact is a fact until it isn't a fact".  Famous Indian statesman Jawaharlal Nehru said, "Facts are facts and will not disappear on account of your likes."   So what makes a fact a fact?  IMHO (fun CMD word) a fact is a finding that is established and proven through data points and empirical evidence; something that is in actual existence and not based simply on someone's opinion or conjecture.   What makes it continue as a fact after it is established as a fact?  Again, IMHO, a fact must be continually and objectively proven in order to retain its credibility as a fact.  What conditions have to be met before the fact is no longer a fact and, using Nehru's term, disappears?  Once again IMHO, a fact that cannot be objectively defended against challenge, is proven wrong through empirical evidence or not in actual existence any longer is not a fact.  "Outfoxed; Rupert Murdoch's War on Journalism" movie pointed out the gross negligence of the media mogel in how he and his organization pushed their version of the facts in the form of commentary, then used the platform of "just the facts" to constantly blur the line between fact and personal/corporate viewpoint.  Seemingly the goal of the organization is to muddy the water of fact just enough to create doubt in the public's mind, with the goal of preventing the other side from winning.  Read more about this expose here

With regard to the possibility of creating community on the internet, I believe community is more alive than ever as the population of the world gets more comfortable with the ever-improving platform of the internet, and as socioeconomic conditions allow for a wider base of participation.  Just an example, at a halloween party 2 weeks ago, an old friend approached me and asked if I knew anyone in London.  Of course, I know a few, so answered to the affirmative.  A few more interesting minutes later, we realized that my friend in London, England and my friend standing in front of me in Redmon, WA USA shared the same sperm donor.  I believe that at no other time in history have we been able to have donor identity transparently visible to both parties, and have access to the database that allowed both of my friends to make the connection.  Of course the social network that connects us all was the final link to complete the circle of friendship and bring me into the picture.  I have enjoyed reading other's postings on how an online community has enriched their lives as well. 

Postman, Neil.  (1993).  Technopoly; The Surrender of Culture to Technology.  Vintage Books, NY.
OutFoxed; Rupert Mudocks War on Journalism

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Reflections on CMD in Ben Affleck’s character monologue from the movie “Clerks” (1994)

In character, Affleck uses some examples of computer mediated discourse (CMD) lingo as defined by Herring to be the study of which languages are being used on the net, and even more interestingly, how these languages are being used (Thurlow, 2004).  Examples of CMD terminology, or netspeak, used in this movie include “buzz” and “net-nerds”, and the usage of these terms leaves the two subjects that Affleck’s character is addressing with puzzled looks on their faces.  Clearly they were not part of the very group that Affleck was disparaging, although Affleck seemed to be a card-carrying member himself. 

Thurlow, C., Lengel, L., Tomic, A.  (2004)  Computer Mediated Communication; Social Interaction and the Internet.  Sage Publications, London.

Reflections on internet-based relationships in the movie "You've Got Mail" (1998)

It was interesting to revisit the opening up of Meg Ryan’s character to a stranger online.  I can’t help but reflect back twelve years ago when 90% of the internet user population was located in richer, more industrialized countries which accounted for only 15% of the world’s population (Thurlow, 2004).  Compare that statistic to 12 years later, 2010, when internet usage in the Asia-Pacific (APAC) region of the world made up almost 42% of the internet user population of the world.  Interestingly, countries that have the second (India) and fourth (Indonesia) largest populations in the world have very low penetration rates of internet usage at 7% and 12% respectively.  With this additional growth potential in APAC, I hypothesize the balance will surely shift in the near future to over 50% of the worldwide online presence being represented by the Asia-Pacific region, lead by China.
Had this geographic diversity been represented when “You’ve got mail” was filmed in 1998, would Meg’s character have felt as comfortable sharing with a complete stranger?  According to German sociologist Ferdinand Tönnies, Gemeinschaft, or small and intimate communities, when combined with locality, or sharing a common geographical setting, creates space for intimate sharing and relationship development (Thurlow, 2004).  In 1998, the western-centric spread of internet technology assured Meg’s character that she shared a common socioeconomic community, since 90% of the users on the internet were from richer and more industrialized nations.  Would she have made the same choices, considering the complex cultural and linguistic mix that is now tapping the internet?

Miniwatts Marketing Group.  (2000-2010).  Retrieved from
Thurlow, C., Lengel, L., Tomic, A.  (2004)  Computer Mediated Communication; Social Interaction and the Internet.  Sage Publications, London.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Computer Mediated Communication is Virally Mythic

Computer Mediated Communication (CMC) has reached every corner of the world, but according to, only 29% of the world’s population has internet access as of June 2010.  When seen through the lens of Postman’s Faustian Bargain, “for every advantage a new technology offers, there is always a corresponding disadvantage” (1998).  As this relates to the topic at hand, Postman advocates that we give equal weight to 71% of the world’s population who have no access to the internet.  The aggressive adoption of the internet has far-reaching effect, and surely more effects are still to be discovered.  In this paper, I seek to frame the impact of the viral spread of the internet on one generation of the world’s youth, specifically the generational group born between 1981 and 2000 called the Millennials (Keener, 2009).  Within this framework I hope to highlight the disadvantages of CMC taking on mythic proportions for this specific generation.
            To frame this discovery, let us take a brief walk back to a time the Millennials have limited or no experience with.  Imagine a time before Skype®, the revolutionary free voice over telephony protocol that allows video and voice calls.  Reflect on a time when the concept of instant messaging (IM), of which ICQ® was the groundbreaker, wasn't even a murmur in business much less a day-to-day imperative.  Walk back in time when the daily business revenue reports had to be sent by postal service with a wax seal on the back of the envelope to ensure no tampering had occurred.  Perhaps you recall a time when international calls were so expensive one could only afford to call once a month for 10 minutes to loved ones.  Consider that at one point the act of sending an email was a new buzz in business and a revolutionary idea taking much prep time—computers would crash, email clients would fail, a dial-up connection would break off in the midst of sending, or attachments to the email acted as a lead weight to the process—all potentially resulting in a failed send. 
While this reflection seems to bring forth a memory of long ago, dear reader, you have a clear picture of my first international assignment in Germany from 1991-1995. 
Fast forward to the present as my international assignment just ended, a full eighteen years after I first worked in a foreign country.  In this current time, the millennial generation includes teens, new hires just entering the workforce and mid-level employees just reaching the age of thirty.  On this last international assignment, my only difficulty with keeping up with family was the timing of the call due to a 12.5 hour time difference.  In business, IM and text messaging were required business communication tools, phone calls using VOIP technology were free and 90% clear of disruption, and video conferencing was a choice to be used at any time.
The millennial generation has always has these technologies to draw from; they were early adopters and indeed more proficient at their computers than their parents.  This perspective lends itself to apathy for the meaning, intention and danger represented by CMC, with the focus mostly toward the usability of CMC.  With this imbalance of perspective, CMC has taken on mythic proportions and has become in some ways unquestionable. As an example, two female co-workers from the millennial generation were shocked to have their Facebook® records subpoenaed by the courts in order to provide proof of their emotional trauma due to sexual discrimination, as evidenced in a court case against Simply Storage Management LLC (McKinney, 2010). 
The millennial generation members that have access to the internet know very little of a world without CMC from first-hand experience, thus have the impression that the internet has always been and will continue to always be a core of their communities in some form.  As in Postman’s reference to his students’ misconception that the alphabet has always been, the internet can be mistaken for an overarching fundamental of life. 
With this life experience, it is easy for the millennials to unquestionably follow as the water in a river follows the creek bed.  To move them from this single mindedness into a more critical line of questioning it is not as simple as inspiring the student to look for reliable sources on the internet.  It is unquestionably difficult to raise the level of discussion out of the tactical discussion of “how” to use the internet into the more strategic discussion of why to use it, for whom is it used and ultimately for what purpose always remembering that the internet is a “product of human creativity and hubris” (Postman, 1998). 
To get to this strategic level, questions such as the following should be raised regularly by the millennials: Is the internet to be used to further epistemological understanding of the world?  Is the purpose for use of the internet to engage at the phenomenological level of communication and view the world from each other’s perspective? How can we consider those left behind by CMC, the 71% of the world’s population that is not connected to the internet?  
We, as mentors, managers and parents to this generation, can and must provide the framework for this discussion along with policies to guide the use of this technology known as CMC in order to counter the mythic status that the internet has attained in the past twenty years.    


Keeter, S and Taylor, P.  (2009, December 11).  The Millennials.  Retrieved from

McKinney, C.  (2010, August 10).  Court Orders Plaintiff to Turn Over Pictures and Messages from Facebook. Retrieved from

Postman, N.  (1998, March 27).  Five Things We Need to Know About Technological Change.  Denver, CO.