A Positive Digital Footprint

This evening I went to a digital safety presentation by a youth resource police officer sponsored by our local PTO. Most of what he said was fairly valid, but the way he said it was questionable in my mind.

First, it was very much of a digital immigrant telling other digital immigrants how their digital native children should act online. He admitted that he just didn't get why people talk about food or share their location online. In my mind, this made him less credible.

More importantly, his talk sounded like he was asking the parents to limit or curtail their children's online activity. To a certain extent this makes sense. We don't want kids to do things online that could end up hurting them. He spoke about making sure that kids didn't grow up with negative digital footprint.

I suggested that he might want to look at things from the other side. How do we encourage our digital native kids to have a positive digital footprint? How do we help these digital natives develop a good digital portfolio and a strong personal digital brand?

These are the questions we should be grappling with.

Salon, Authority and Twenty First Century Bullies

From the NaNoWriMo group on Facebook, I found the following comment:

Here's an interesting steaming pile of anti-NaNoWriMo dreck from

Yes, like other's my attention gets drawn to train wrecks, accidents along side the highway and other disasters, so I slowed down and took a look. The author admits that she doesn't write novels, and goes on to say,

NaNoWriMo is an event geared entirely toward writers, which means it’s largely unnecessary. When I recently stumbled across a list of promotional ideas for bookstores seeking to jump on the bandwagon, true dismay set in. “Write Your Novel Here” was the suggested motto for an in-store NaNoWriMo event. It was yet another depressing sign that the cultural spaces once dedicated to the selfless art of reading are being taken over by the narcissistic commerce of writing.

As I read this, I pondered, what would make a person write such a screed? Is it insecurity in her own writing? Is it some haughtiness about being a 'real' writer, instead of just some inspiring hack? Are they two sides of the same coin?

'The narcissistic commerce of writing…' She, as, I presume, a paid writer, seems to be in an odd position criticizing the commerce of writing. Perhaps the narcissism she is complaining about is her own. Perhaps she is concern that she will be eclipsed by some great writer that emerges out of NaNoWriMo, moves through writers conferences, and writes the next great American novel.

So who is Laura Miller? Her bio says

In 1995, Laura Miller helped to co-found, where she is currently a staff writer. She is a frequent contributor to the New York Times Book Review, where she wrote the Last Word column for two years. Her work has appeared in the New Yorker, the Los Angeles Times, the

Wall Street Journal and many other publications. She is the author of "The Magician's Book: A Skeptic's Adventures in Narnia" (Little, Brown, 2008) and the editor of "The Reader's Guide to Contemporary Authors" (Penguin, 2000). She lives in New York.

Oh yes, there s that nasty little bit of the commerce of writing slipping in. Be sure to buy her books, not. Her articles are mostly reviews, which based on her screed against NaNoWriMo I didn't see any reason to read.

Her article has received many great comments. Perhaps the best starts off like this:

Well aren't you just the Queen of Everything

Good gods, Miller, what crawled up your ass and died? What do you care if people take a whack at writing a novel or not? Who are you to tell them what is and isn't a "waste of time"? It's their time and effort, and if they want to spend it trying to write, let them. How exactly is it hurting you?

While you're at it, why don't you write a column on what a huge waste of time it is to collect stamps? Or crochet doilies? Or bone up on football stats? How about making birdhouses; THERE'S a fucking waste of time for you. And let's not forget scrapbooking. Damn, think of the millions of man hours (or woman hours) wasted on pasting ribbons and gewgaws and pictures in cutesty books. It's disgusting!

If this were just another self-righteous narcissistic professional writer sneering at all the people who still write for the joy of it, I would be tempted to glance at it and move on. However, I believe this reflections a much bigger issue in the world of writing, the idea of authority.

It is a topic that has been explored at many great conferences on the future of media, so I'l just give a quick summary. Here in the twenty-first century, where anyone can write a blog, and now, for that matter, anyone can self-publish, how do we determine what is of value? How do we find the authors that write with true authority.

It used to be that the publishers and the book reviewers were the gatekeepers, the guardians of authority. Yet now social media and crowd sourcing take the change in authorship one step further. An author can write a great book, self-publish it, and get enough critical praise from the hoi polloi to make the book a commercial success. Wither authority?

Ms. Miller also wrote a couple articles recently about Goodreads changing their moderation policy. She talks in these articles about the role of bullies at Goodreads. As we think about the changing nature of authority in the internet age, I have to wonder how much the apparent rise in bullying is a result of people trying to find their way in this new media landscape and acting inappropriately out of fear of their own loss of status.

Perhaps this provides a better insight into why Ms. Miller has chosen to publish an inflammatory attack on a wonderful hobby of people seeking to improve their ability to communicate in the twenty-first century.

The Third Gender and the Fourth Estate

Can a writer effectively compose a first person narrative story but from voice of their opposite gender?

There are a lot of interesting questions people struggle with in the NaNoWriMo Facebook group, and this is just one of them. Most of the responses are fairly predictable. "Yes… I can…I'm told they're accurate, too, from my male readers….There is more difference within genders than between…."

The discussion drifts off to sexuality.

I added my two cents with

Wow! I came at this from a very different perspective than most of the other people on this thread. My first thought was, "It all depends on whether you are cis or trans".

This, of course, led me to thinking about gender being socially constructed. If we are creating new worlds, we can also create gender constructs as we please.

I wonder how many of the forum participants get the reference to "cis or trans" or "gender as a social construct".

On Wednesdays, I speak with my eldest daughter who is teaching in Japan these days. Recently, she went to a conference on gender equality there. During our discussion of her experiences, I mentioned an interview I had recently listened to where the speaker identified herself as being in a third gender. She was a western woman in a strongly patriarchal Muslim country. In the country, there were acceptable roles for men and for women. Yet, she, as a western woman, could participate in activities traditionally reserved for men as well as in activities traditionally reserved for women.

My daughters and I often speak about social constructionism and I've been planning to weave the idea into my novel for NaNoWriMo. As my mind wanders along this path, I bump into the Constructivism philosophy of education, and I start thinking about social constructivism. Writing a novel is a great opportunity to experiment with challenging social constructs. How do writers create or reinforce social constructs? What role does the fourth estate play in shaping the third gender?

I must admit I've always had problems getting past Orlando "slicing at the head of a Moor which swung from the rafters". Yet the idea of Virginia Woolf's Orlando has alway intrigued me. At this point, I don't expect to have an Orlando like character in my novel, but we shall see.

Still, Dave Rises

The other night a solitary black man, trying to do his job was attacked by a group of drunk white college aged boys. He knew what he needed to do to finish his job. He faced them down from as safe a distance as he could. He smoked a cigarette, read a little bit from a book and bided his time.

As soon as his time was up, and the minimum requirements of his job was fulfilled, he beat a quick retreat.

The entertainment press went wild. Those who profit over the rude behavior of concert-goers wrote about his 'hissy fit' saying he had a melt down.

There is a great section in Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, where Thompson talks about being chased by a highway cop for speeding. He goes into a great description of driving like hell when chased, and stopping with bravado. The cop won't like it, he may even pull his gun, but you'll know and he'll know who was in control.

Yeah, Dave Chappelle had a melt down, right! Just like Hunter S. Thompson speeding to L.A. If I smoked cigarettes right now, I'd take a drag and look contemptuously at the crowd.

No, the people who had the melt down were the privileged drunk white boys and the leaches in the entertainment industry that make a buck off of them.

Probably the same leaches that used a fabricated child star, gave her a raunchy ill conceived and ill performed rip off of part of black culture. It is probably the same leaches that got all upset when we talked about how bad the performance was and how it only adds to sexism, racism, and the degradation and objectification of certain groups of people, instead of focusing on some other drama we have control over, like Syria.

No, from what I'm reading, Dave Chappelle's performance in Hartford was a masterpiece, long over due. it was John Cage's 4'33" performed in a not-so-post-racial twenty-first century in a large venue. Listen to the sound of the audience today. It was Martin Luther King's speech reworked to be a commentary on discourse and hecklers in the age of social media. I have a dream that thinkers, both great and small will not be heckled off the stage in Hartford, or online, or in high schools because they look different and say challenging things. It was a eulogy for Bart, the 15 year old boy who was heckled and bullied to death in Greenwich Connecticut.

Yet Dave Chappelle's exit from the stage also echoed a hopeful note. Like Maya Angelou, still Dave Chappelle rises

You may write me down in history
With your bitter, twisted lies,
You may tread me in the very dirt
But still, like dust, I'll rise.

The first reports I'm hearing online this evening is that Chappelle killed it in Pittsburgh this evening.

The EPIC New Facebook Newsfeed

The ‘Evolving Personalized Information Construct’ is the system by which our sprawling, chaotic mediascape is filtered, ordered and delivered. Everyone contributes now – from blog entries, to phone-cam images, to video reports, to full investigations.

Recently, I introduced a colleague to EPIC: The Evolving Personalized Information Construct. It was a video made in 2004 about the future of journalism.

It talked about the importance of things like eReaders and video, not quite getting the details right, but predicting a lot of what has happened over the past decade. For example, it suggested that Google would buy TiVo to corner the online video market. Instead, they bought YouTube. It suggested that Sony's ePaper would become the medium of choice, instead of mobile devices. And, it suggested that the challenge to Google would be from Microsoft having bought out Friendster, instead of Facebook becoming the 'social news network and participatory journalism platform [that] … ranks and sorts news, based on what each user’s friends and colleagues are reading and viewing and it allows everyone to comment on what they see.'

They also suggested that the evolving personalized information construct would be Google's and not Facebook's.

I thought of that video today as I listened to the announcement of the new Facebook newsfeed. In fact, during the presentation, Mark Zuckerberg even used the world evolving numerous times.

The creators of Epic challenged us, nearly a decade ago, to think about what happens to journalism in the age of social media. Perhaps, they merely scratched the surface.

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