Thursday, June 25, 2009

MEA--As the Wordle Turns

So, a week ago I was in St. Louis for the Media Ecology Association's Tenth Annual Convention, hosted by Saint Louis University (like Fordham, a Jesuit school, one where Marshall McLuhan taught for seven years during the 40s, and Walter Ong taught for decades after that), June 18-21. Kudos to convention coordinators Sara van den Berg (who is also head of the English Department and Director of the Walter Ong Center at SLU), and Paul Soukup, and to the whole SLU crew, especially doctoral student Abigail Lambke.

Speaking of Abigail, when I saw the cover art on this year's convention program, I said, oh wow, it's a wordle! Regular readers of Blog Time Passing will recall my previous posts about Wordle, not here word art and Media Conversations Wordle. Well anyway, I was told to ask Abigail about it, and she confirmed that it was a product of Wordle, although she had not saved it to the wordle gallery. But she was kind enough to email me the file so that I could share it with all of you masses of Blog Time Passing readers. And so, without further ado, here is the 2009 MEA Convention Wordle:

Ta daaaa! Very cool indeed, good going Abigail!

And while we're on the subject of Wordle, I redid my earlier images, using a screen capture utility to grab them and save them at a larger size for you. So here's a larger version of one I posted earlier based on text from Blog Time Passing:

And here is one derived from my poem, "not here" in a larger format:

And now to the question that I know is on all of your minds--will I be making any more of these images in the future? My answer is, maybe, if there is Wordle enough and time...

Monday, June 22, 2009


So, I am such a nerd (or is it geek?) I know every reference John Hodgman makes in this hilarious video! Although maybe I'm a bit of a hybrid too, because I'm a Mac, not a PC, after all. But the war between the jocks and the nerds is a great way to frame the recent political battles between Democrats and Republicans. If Obama is essentially a nerd, Bush is a jock, and Kerry and Gore are both nerds. This could be the best classification system since McLuhan's hot and cool media! Except I'm not sure where Bill Clinton fits in. He's something of an operator and ladies' man, and also a policy geek. Hmmm, well, let's think it over, and in the meantime enjoy the video!

And there you have it! This was taken from the 65th annual Radio and TV Correspondents Dinner, a time-honored and always humorous ritual of the White House Press Corps, and I thank my friend Meir Ribalow for bringing the video to my attention.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

General Semantics Logomania

So, as Executive Director of the Institute of General Semantics, I felt that the logo we were using was kind of blah, and that a new logo would in order (although I'm not formally in public relations, I think I have some affinity for the practice). Here's the old logo for you:

Now, it is true that we often refer to the Institute by its initials, but IGS is hardly distinctive, or recognizable, or unique for that matter. Google "IGS" and you get

  • The International GNSS Service (IGS), formerly the International GPS Service
  • IGS Energy, America's #1 independent retail provider of natural gas
  • IGS The No.1 WoW Service Provider. WoW Gold, Accounts, world of warcraft gold
  • The International Geosynthetics Society
  • the Indiana Geological Survey
  • the International Glaciological Society
  • The Ipswich Grammar School
  • International Graphonomics Society
  • The Institute of Governmental Studies
  • IGS (Information Gathering Satellites)
  • Generon Innovative Gas Systems
  • The Institute for Global Studies
  • Welcome to IGS Games
  • IGS is the industry leader in Skiptracing, Asset Location and Collateral Recovery
  • Membership in the International Gem Society is $59 for one year, $109 for two years, or
  • the International Guitar Seminars website
  • Innovative Growing Solutions Inc. is now in a larger, more convenient location
  • Interdisciplinary Group Seminar (IGS) 2006 - 2009
And I could go on in this vein, but I think you get my point. Overall, the Institute comes in at number 13 on the Google list, not terrible but not great either. But the bottom line is that if you pronounce it as an acronym, you get igs, which sounds like a cross between ick, and ugh (yeah, yeah, I know all about how popular UGGs are, but that doesn't help the Institute at all, does it?).

As for the line, "founded in 1938 by Alfred Korzybski," while that certainly is distinctive, I don't think it belongs in our logo. That's the kind of statement, in my opinion, that you might find in a business logo. The way I see it, 1938 is not so long ago as to make people say, wow! If it were 1066, or 1453, maybe then. And Alfred Korzybski is not particularly well known, certainly not known independently of general semantics, so there is no benefit from association in the way that there would be if, for example, the Institute for Intercultural Studies indicated that it was founded by Margaret Mead. If anything, the old IGS "motto" reinforced the negative, and erroneous impression some people have had that the Institute is some kind of cult, a cult of Korzybski. Now don't get me wrong, I'm more than happy to direct a cult, if you're willing to follow. Don't say anything now, you can let me know later.

But back to my story. I had a vague notion of what our new logo should look like, and my friend Corey Anton, who's an IGS Trustee, enlisted his wife Valerie Peterson, in making some initial designs, which were then completed by my old friend Peter Darnell (and here's a plug for his outstanding Visible Works Design company). So, here is one version of the new logo:

You can see another version of the Institute of General Semantics website, just click away, take a look, and meet me back here.

Pretty cool, huh? Well, I think so anyway. The idea of enclosing the logo in an oval, kind of like a seal, came up as a consequence of trying to integrate it into the existing website (courtesy of IGS webmaster Ben Hauck, working with Peter Darnell), and once that happened, well, I really like that version as well . I can't wait to start making t-shirts (you think I'm kidding? maybe we'll do caps as well... and I have a thing for neckties...).

So, anyway, let me tell you a bit about the logo, why don'tya? First, in keeping with the spirit of time-binding, our new logo is actually a retrieval of one of the original symbols used by the Institute, the null A sign (the letter A with a line over it), which stands for non-Aristotelian, Alfred Korzybski having introduced general semantics as a non-Aristotelian system.

Two earlier versions of the null A logo can be found on the covers of some of the books published by the IGS, such as Korzybski's Manhood of Humanity:

You can see the old logo on the bottom of the cover. I think it looks very sharp, actually, although the strict linearity of the image, in my mind, does not jibe with the nonlinear quality of the non-Aristotelian outlook (the motto underneath it, "Leading a Revolution in Human Evaluating," doesn't do anything for me). Another version of the logo can be found on the cover of Korzybski's Collected Writings:

This version is more appropriately circular, but looks hand drawn and amateurish. I should note, at this point that the null A symbol was also popularized by the science fiction writer, A. E. van Vogt, as can be seen on the cover of the first edition of his novel, The World of Null A, originally published in 1948:

Anyway, in making reference to the symbolism of null A, it's worth recalling that non-Aristotelian does not mean anti-Aristotelian; the point was not to oppose or denounce Aristotelian logic, but to move beyond it. Had Korzybski introduced general semantics at some point over the last few decades, he no doubt would have dubbed it post-Aristotelian instead, and indeed general semantics presages many basic elements of postmodernism, including paralogism (in the sense of going beyond logic—which was after all first codified by Aristotle—and its established rules and formulas).

It's also worth recalling that Korzybski forwarded post-Aristotelian thought as a complement to post-Euclidean mathematics and the post-Newtonian physics introduced by Einstein at the turn of the 20th century. And we might further connect the non-Aristotelian to the nonlinear (as I already have), a characteristic associated with oral cultures (which are inherently pre-Aristotelian), and with the electronic media (which can be characterized as post-literate and post-Aristotelian) especially as they have come to dominate communications in the 20th century. Additionally, the nonlinear is very much a part of systems theory (itself an outgrowth, in part, of general semantics), and especially of systems concepts such as chaos and complexity.

The circular component in our new logo is intended to suggest a nonlinear orientation, and a holistic one as well. According to Carl Jung, the archetype of the circle also connotes community, and our IGS is indeed a community, a virtual community in some ways, but also a learning community, as well as an intellectual association, an international society, and in a classic sense, a republic of letters.

So, we've given the logo a more modern, three-dimensional look for its aesthetic appeal and ability to attract attention, but also because general semantics itself represents a multidimensional outlook, in contrast to what Hebert Marcuse described as the one-dimensional man, and consistent with a multi-valued rather than two-valued orientation. Moreover, in Manhood of Humanity, Korzybski described time-binding itself as a third dimension that only human beings have access to, as compared to the first dimension of chemistry-binding that plants engage in, and the second dimension of space-binding that other animals are associated with.

Additionally, our new logo has an element of visual paradox of the sort associated with the artwork of M. C. Escher. And as Douglas Hofstader notes in Gödel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid, Escher's artwork exhibits the quality of recursion or self-reflexiveness, which of course is Korzybski's third non-Aristotelian principle.

By a happy coincidence, there is also some resemblance between our new logo and the triangular diagram that appears in the classic work by C. K. Ogden and I. A. Richards, The Meaning of Meaning, originally published in 1922:

This famous diagram depicts how a symbol relates to the thing it represents, referred to as its referent. The model emphasizes the fact that the relationship between the symbol and referent is arbitrary and conventional, and therefore imputed and indirect—that is why the bottom of the triangle consists of a dotted line rather than a solid one. Instead, the connection between the two is mediated by the mind, which is why thought or reference is situated at the apex of the triangle.

Symbols do not stand for things in the world, they trigger concepts in the mind. Reality does not translate into symbols, rather events are perceived and processed by minds that may associate the experience of those events with certain symbols, but then again may not. Between the map and the territory we find the mapmaker, the human medium that is the bridge between symbols and referents.

As a referent, the Institute of General Semantics needs a symbol that communicates something about who we are and what we are about. We need a symbol that, for those of us familiar with the IGS, connects to our collective perceptions and conceptions of the Institute and the discipline of general semantics as best as possible.

And we also need a symbol that hopefully will attract the attention and interest of those who are new to the IGS and gs, that will invite them to ask questions and learn more about our non-Aristotelian approach.

Of course, there's a sense in which change, indeed almost any kind of change, in and of itself can function as a means of publicizing our organization and all that it represents. More significantly, change can serve as a symbol of life and renewal, and it certainly is true that we must change, adapt, and evolve in order to meet the challenges of a dynamic environment. With this in mind, now, at the close of the first decade of the 21st century, we introduce our new logo for this, our contemporary non-Aristotelian moment, to symbolize our evolving non-Aristotelian movement.

Or, let's just leave it with the sincere wish that our new null A won't come across as a dull A! Or, as we say in New York, F---ing A!

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Calling All Papers--IGS Wants You!

And now for a very important announcement:

Call for Papers:

Across the Generations:
Legacies of Hope and Meaning

An International Conference
Sponsored by the
Institute of General Semantics

Co-Sponsored by the

New York Society for General Semantics

Media Ecology Association

Friends of the Institute of Noetic Sciences

Lifwynn Foundation for Social Reserach

Fordham University

(other co-sponsors to come)

September 11-13, 2009
Fordham University
Lincoln Center Campus
New York, New York

Featuring the 57th Annual

Alfred Korzybski Memorial Lecture

to be delivered by

Mary Catherine Bateson

The Changing Shapes of Lives:
Making Meaning Across Time

Send papers, proposals, and inquiries by July 15 to
or contact Lance Strate
IGS Executive Director
c/o Department of Communication and Media Studies
Fordham University
Bronx, NY 10458
718.817.4864 (voice)
718.817.4868 (fax)

You know it's going to be good!

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Media Conversations Wordle

So, here's another one of those images courtesy of the Wordle website (see my previous post, not here word art). I thought it would be interesting to see what would happen if I fed in the URL for this blog, after the series of posts I put up reporting on the Media Conversations 6 conference, and the result was even more interesting that I imagined:

You can see a bigger and better version of this bit of word art over on the Wordle gallery--here's the URL, just click and spell, so to speak: <>. Wordle up!

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Media Conversations Concluded

So, on the afternoon of the third day of the Media Conversations VI conference, continuing the Saturday program at Fordham's Lincoln Center campus, we had a special presentation on the part of The LAMP (Learning About Multimedia Project) (and yeah, go click it or you can stick it... never mind). It was a screening and discussion, and it was just sensational, not surprising since it involved Katherine Fry of Brooklyn College, who is The LAMP, along with D. C. Vito, who proved to be no slouch himself. Their emphasis in media literacy is on family, so they deal with youth, parents, and teachers, and get them involved in both making and gaining critical insight into media. As an interesting example, they showed us a video documenting a media scavenger hunt that families took part in, that had family groups walking around and recording every example of media that they saw, with quite revealing results.

They have their own YouTube Channel, which I linked up for you, and which I recommend checking out. But I'll embed some of the videos they showed us here for you to see more easily. For example, they've had several Talking Back commercials, and if you go look at them on YouTube, you'll see they've drawn quite a few heated comments. Here's one that, appropriately enough, involves a lamppost:

Cute, huh? Here's another for Bratz:

Here's an adorable example of LAMP Kids News Show:

And here's an example of The LAMP Family Videos, where families get a chance to make their own video:

And everyone was very impressed with this kid-made documentary about gender stereotypes:

All of the above and more were screened at the conference, but one they didn't show that I just found on their YouTube channel is a video poem "Mammals v. Robots" and I just had to include it here as well:

Anyway, you can check them out on YouTube, on Facebook, follow them on Twitter, and of course explore their website, The LAMP.

The final session of the day, a panel discussion titled Mapping the Media, had a general semantics orientation. Renee Hobbs of Temple University, one of the leaders of the media literacy movement, spoke about the differences between the map and the territory in relation to copyright and fair use, and also in regard to the differences between what teachers and kids mean by the internet. She also discussed the concept of news literacy, noting that the emphasis there seems to be on recognizing good journalism and quality sources of information, as opposed to also attending to the political and economic context of the news industry; in other words, Renee suggested that they are concerned with the ideal as opposed to the real and the critical.

Martin Levinson, president of the Institute of General Semantics, also talked about journalism as an effort to map the territory of real events. He discussed the noted communication scholar John C. Merrill, whose book, Journalism Ethics, includes a chapter entitled "Korzybski to the Rescue" which makes perfect sense, when you think about it, general semantics being an ethical system in many ways. Interestingly, I was recently asked by Tom Cooper of Emerson College if the IGS would be willing to be one of the sponsors of Media Ethics magazine, and this certainly makes the decision an easy one. And I hope to see Merrill at the Media Ecology Association's annual meeting next week.

Bill Petkanas of Western Connecticut State University, and editor of ETC: A Review of General Semantics, also got into the old map and territory, noting that different people have different maps for the same territory, and posed the question of who is news a map for? Of course one good answer is enlightened citizens, that's what journalists assume, although consumers is another answer that comes up quite often, especially among audiences. Bill also talked about the problem that people nowadays tend to see the news media as biased and self-serving, that there's a tendency to encourage a cynical view of news in the classroom, under the guise of being critical, and that this is exacerbated by news organizations attaching one another.

Dan Latorre, a social media consultant who worked for Scholastic Magazines for a time, talked about social media as an ecosystem, drawing on the perspective of Edward T. Hall, an important foundational scholar in the media ecology intellectual tradition. I particularly liked the point he made about how different people play different roles in the context of social media, one for example collecting information, another filtering, a third being creative, while a fourth acting simply as a spectator. I am sure that researchers in the area of group communication, like my friend Larry Fry (see my previous post, The Fragile Community) have already applied their sophisticated taxonomy of group roles to social media. Anyway, Dan stressed the idea of social media as an ecosystem, and the need of media litearcy to be associated with social literacy and cultural literacy.

And Thom Gencarelli of Manhattan College (and Vice-President of the Media Ecology Association, as well as a Trustee of the Institute of General Semantics), who was the moderator of the session, talked about the challenges that exist in mapping the media when they keep changing the borders. He talked about different models of communciation, including the media environments model that media ecologists tend to use, and posed the question of whether digital technologies represent a new revolution, or a continuation of the revolution associated with electric and audiovisual technologies (I think it is very much a continuation, with electric technologies coming into full fruition only with the advent of the digital).

A lively discussion with the audience ensued, a fitting and quite pleasurable way to finish off an exciting and stimulating three days of conversations about media, education, and youth. My thanks to David Walczyk of Pratt Institute, and Meir Ribalow and the Players Club, for their contributions--together we put together an outstanding event!

But best of all, Media Conversatons VI has been successfully concluded! Over and done! Whew!

Monday, June 8, 2009

Media Conversations Global Village

So, on the third and final day of Media Conversations VI, we met at Fordham University's Lincoln Center campus for three sessions.

The first session has an international orientation, and began with Paul Mihailidis of Hofstra University, who has a wealth of information to share. He talked about his work with the Salzurg Academy on Media and Global Change (yeah, click on it and go there, lots of good resources there, including videos to check out). I thought it particularly interesting that Margaret Mead was involved in the beginnings of the Salzburg Academy, since she was also the first head of the Humanities Division for Fordham's Lincoln Center campus, and her daughter is going to be the next Alfred Korzybski Memorial Lecturer (more about that on another post). Anyway, what they do is bring students together from many different countries to work on intercultural communication, and also to create their own curriculum. He noted that their philosophy was to go beyond cynicism about the manipulations of the media, and consider 1. What do media do? 2. How can they do it better? 3. Why are media essential? and 4. How can you be responsible too? His emphasis was on rights, access, and empowerment, on the need for free media for a democratic society, and on being both good consumers and good citizens. And he gave us the 5 A's of media literacy:
1. Access to media
2. Awareness of media's power
3. Assessment of how media portray events and issues
4. Appreciation for the role media play in creating civil societies
5. Action to encourage better communication across cultural, social, and political divides

We then had two talks about Africa. Sister Mary Bosco Amakwe, who comes from Nigeria and teaches at Seton Hall University, talked about how little discussion or even awareness of media literacy there is in Africa, as opposed to the west. Then Holly Morganelli, a graduate of Pratt Institute and former student of David Walczyk, who organized the conference with me, talked about her project in Zambia, "In Transition: Voices of Zambian Street Youth Culture," playing some recordings for us of children from the street, many victims of violence, abuse, AIDS, etc. She talked about how they were interested in hearing their voices, seeing pictures of themselves and their own artwork being mediated, and knowing others will see and hear them.

The last person on the panel was Jordi Torrent, who is involved with the Media Literacy Education Project of the United Nations-Alliance of Civilizations, and is a filmmaker as well, working under the name of Duende Pictures. I should also mention that Jordi organized the first five Media Conversations conferences, all of which were called Media Overseas Conversations, because he had gotten funding from the European Union to bring media education people together in New York City from different parts of the world. Jordi talked about his work with the United Nations Alliance of Civilizations, and their Media Literacy Education Project (and you know the drill, click on the links whenever you care to). He introduced us to the clearinghous they maintain on their website, which is full of resources for media education in numerous languages, and also talked about how they were interested in policy, and connecting grass roots movements with government officials.

Jordi also made a comment about how media ecology deals with a much higher level of discourse than media literacy, which is quite true. And while I myself normally prefer taking on and talking about the big questions that media ecology addresses, it is also refreshing to deal with lower levels where the concern is with practical applications. As the general semanticist Wendell Johnson suggests, it is best to vary your levels of abstraction, rather than engage in dead level abstacting.

Media Conversations New Media and More

So, the second day of Media Conversations 6 was a busy one, with a third panel discussion on New Media Literacies. The session began with Peter Gutierrez, who talked about the difficulties the media literacy movement has experienced, and how little attention new media has received. Some of the organizations that he mentioned include the National Council of Teachers of English (he's a member of their commission on media), the International Reading Association (whose concern, naturally enough, has more to do with literacy literacy), MIT's Project New Media Literacies, the National Association for Media Literacy Education, American University's Center for Social Media, and The Partnership for 21st Century Skills. All of these organizations are linked up for you, so feel free to go click and explore as much as you like.

Thom Gillespie of Quinnipiac University then proceeded to talk about his experiences working with and teaching digital narrative. He placed a great deal of emphasis on the ability to draw, explaining that learning digital skills is not that big a deal, folks will hire you without them because you can learn them on the job, but they can't teach you how to draw, that's a skill and talent that's really valuable. He also got into the idea of computer literacy, and talked about game design and interactive storytelling.

Karen Sideman followed, a late substitution for Alex Quinn of Games for Change. Yes, click it and check out the site, there even are games you can access there. Anyway, Karen talked about games being formal constructs and also being cultural constructs, and about game literacy as being able to read and write games. Their emphasis is on games that involve social issues, systems thinking, and conflict resolution, and as examples she discussed three games, PeaceMaker, Ayiti, and September 12th. But hey, go check out their website if you feel like playing games.

Then came David Walczyk, our host for the opening events at Pratt Institute on Thursday evening June 4, and the three daytime events on Friday June 5th, and the fellow who organized the conference with my assistance. David talked about media literacy for a phenomenological culture, identifying new media and the culture it spawns as nonlinear and putting to end the monopoly of the visual in favor of a multisensory approach. He talked about media illiteracy and the lack or loss of imagination, and the need for reflective imagination. David put forth a trickster model (shades of Marshall McLuhan!), and also spoke highly of physical computing (the Nintendo Wii being an example, where you use more of your body than usual in the interface), and of DIY (Do-It-Yourself) aka hacking and open source environments.

David ended with reference to phenomenological culture as the key to media literacy, and talking about cartography as a lead-in to Paul Guzzardo, the moderator of the session, to talk about his own work. Paul went on to talk about inserting the digital into the infrastructure of the street, making reference to Mumford who talked about the street as stage. Paul also got into noetic economy as a way of thinking about the city, and showed examples of projecting video onto buildings, and other forms of installations and performance art. Both David and Paul made reference to media ecology, I should hasten to add, and the Media Ecology Association and its upcoming convention at Saint Louis University.

I'll just add here that it was a great thrill to finish the day out with an evening session at the Players Club, arranged courtesy of my friend and colleague Meir Ribalow. I've posted about Meir and the Players previously (see Say Goodnight, Vienna), and it really is an amazing place (check it out: PLAYERS). I am truly grateful to Meir for setting the whole thing up, and I think it was a great experience for those attending Media Conversations 6 simply to see the club, which has certain museum-like qualities, and is a New York City landmark, having been founded in the 19th century by Edwin Booth, the most famous actor of his time, but better remembered, sadly, as the brother of the assassin of Abraham Lincoln.

This was also listed as a Players event, and here's what the Players e-mail announcement looked like, by the way:

FRIDAY, JUNE 5, 2009

The Players Foundation presents

New River and the Media Conversations Conference special panel on

Heroes and Role Models

in Movies and Other Media


Maria Cooper Janis — Susan McGregor

Lee Pfeiffer (Player) — Victor Slezak — Lance Strate

Meir Ribalow (Player), moderator

PROGRAM: 7:30pm


RESERVATIONS: (212) 475-6116

And it was truly amazing to be on the same panel with the daughter of Gary Cooper, and the TV and film actor Victor Slezak. I also was very impressed with Lee Pfeiffer, editor of Cinema Retro magazine, and with Susan McGregor, who had made the transition from show business to psychotherapy (see Friends Way). The discussion itself was quite interesting and varied, being about film heroes and role models and how they've changed reflecting the changing times, and about heroes and celebrities. Meir is a marvelous moderator who really would be fantastic as a talk show host, and it was a wonderfully conversive and convivial session. But, don't ask me to summarize it, I really couldn't, it was so wide ranging, I didn't take notes, I was simply immersed in it. We recorded the panel though, so I may be able to share it with you at a later date.

Until then, here are a couple of pictures that Institute of General Semantics webmaster Ben Hauck took. This first one where we're seating is pretty hard to make out because those were stage lights, and I can tell you that they were both blinding and incredibly hot! But seated from left to right are Lee
Pfeiffer, Maria Janis Cooper, Victor Slezak, Susan McGregor, and me, with Meir Ribalow standing on the right.

Then there's this nice group shot from after the session. On the left is Maria Janis Cooper, then Victor Slezak, then me, to my right is Susan McGregor, then Meir Ribalow, and finally Victor Slezak on the right.

I'll have more pictures in the near future.

So, I may not be a member of the club, but I sure felt like a player right then and there! What an extraordinary and exciting climax to that long day at the conference. To tell you the truth, I'm still a bit pumped up from it all!

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Media Conversations Childhood

Picking up where I left off last post, the next session on the second day of Media Conversations 6 was devoted to the topic of childhood, and featured a wonderful diversity of viewpoints.

The first speaker was Ed Miller of the Alliance for Childhood, click on the name to go to their site, either now or later, and I would add that there's a wealth of resources there. Anyway, Ed warned that the imaginations of our children are dying due to a lack of time for play. I should add that anyone who knows anything about human development knows that some of our most important learning takes place through play, especially social learning. Anyway, he reported that in Kindergarten nowadays, on average between 2 and 3 hours a day is spent on teaching reading, writing, and arithmetic (and it is amazing that they are doing academics even in preschool, I remember going to Kindergarten for half a day and it was all play), and only half an hour on average was devoted to "choice time" (as play is referred to), and in some schools no time at all was allotted to play. Ed also criticized the emphasis on testing that exists today, and introduced us to a Kindergarten song that's sung to the tune of "Row, Row, Row Your Boat":

Take, take, take your test
Follow all the rules
Go to bed and get some rest
Eat some good brain food.

Keep, keep, keep your desk
A neat and tidy spot
Wear smart clothes so you don’t feel
Too cold or too hot.

Bub, bub, bubble in
Answers carefully
Do the easy problems first
And hard ones finally.

Check, check, check your work
Read it all again
Fix mistakes before you’re done
Before you hand it in.

If you do these things
You will surely be
A super-testing champion
For everyone to see!

This comes to us from California, and it appears to be a response to the great anxiety that all this testing is inevitably creating in children. As Ed explained, all this pressure is actually making our children sick.

As a ray of hope, Gretchen Hams-Caserotti of the Darien Public Library followed, talking about the way she approaches managing the children's section of the library, emphasizing play and the stimulation of imagination, that it's about experiences rather than objects. She talked about how children's librarians today are not about sitting at a reference desk, there is no reference desk, it's about information literacy, strategies for accessing information, and about relationships. As she put it: We connect. We collaborate. We create.

Twila Liggett of Marymount Manhattan College followed, she's the creator of Reading Rainbow, and sadly reported that that longrunning PBS program is being cancelled. She brought the developmental theories of psychologist Jean Piaget into the discussion, explaining how children at different ages have their own kinds of logic and reasoning. And she spoke of the importance of the arts in education, as they represent different views of the world, and argued that media can play an important role in teaching about the arts.

Next came Mary Rothschild, who spoke about her organization, Healthy Media Choices, and yup, click on the name to check out their website, which also has good resources, including a blog, radio program and podcast archives. Mary talked about how parents, children, and families are all inundated with commercial media, and emphasized the importance of working with parents on media literacy, a theme that would come up many times during the conference. As she put it, media literacy education is parent education, that's what her organization emphasizes, the family. And she quoted George Gerbner, once a prominent mass communication researcher, who said that whoever tells the stories rules the culture, and that we have given our storytelling over to people with a profit motive. She also argued that families already have what they need to break free of the media's hold on their lives, including their own stories (i.e., family history), they just don't know it.

The last panelist was my friend, Rosemarie Truglio, Vice-President for Research at Sesame Workshop, and a close personal friend of Elmo, Oscar, Cookie Monster, and Big Bird. Rosemarie, who is quite briliant as you might expect, was the student of Louis Forsdale, a media ecology pioneer (he was also Neil Postman's doctoral advisor back in the 50s, and brought Marshall McLuhan down to talk to his classes back then, before he was famous, and continued to do so afterwards). Anyway, Rosemarie suggested that children have not changed, it's the world that has changed, and parents that have changed. Consequently, she reiterated the call for parent education, noting that there are a great many books and blogs out there giving advice about parenting, with no real consensus among them, leaving parents terribly confused. She also noted that PBS children's programs tend to be aimed at preschoolers, but that the age group watching keeps getting younger. In fact, she reported about her discomfort when a parent told her how much her 6-month-old loves watching Sesame Street, and discussed how research shows that 18-month-olds do not know how to focus their eyes on the center of attention on the screen when watching television. Sesame Street is designed for 2-5 year-olds, has a curriculum, and is the only program that reviews and revises its curriculum every year. She also talked about the problem that exists in getting educational toys to the marketplace as opposed to entertaining ones such as Ticke-Me-Elmo, noting that it's the buyers working at toystores (like Toys'R'Us) who make the decision of what is ordered, not Sesame Street or the toy companies. The bottom line, she concluded, is that parents need media literacy as much, if not more than kids need it.

I should also mention that Jessica Hochman of Pratt Institute did a great job of moderating this session, which was a really outstanding discussion on the topic, children being, as Neil Postman put it, the living messages we send to a time we will not see. I suppose that what this means is that what we really, really, really need is childhood literacy!

Media Conversations Journalism

So, the second day of Media Conversations 6 began with a session Media Education and the Future of Journalism moderated by Cynthia Walker of Saint Peter's College. Neil Hickey started things off talking about the importance of the relationship between democracy and a free press, and the challenges posed by what he identified as 4 screens: 1. television; 2. computers; 3. mobile phones; and 4. e-books (e.g., Kindle from Amazon). He expressed concern, as so many other did, that opinion has replaced fact as the emphasis in what passes for news these days, especially on television and the internet, and he brought up the idea that government should step in to support newspapers rather than letting them go under.

Alex Wright continued with a history of information technology, noting that online journalism mixes together the print mode, i.e., articles, with an oral mode that includes blogging, leaving comments, and other forms of interaction, suggesting that that two do not quite merge or work together well. He pointed us to a very interesting feature they've been running at the New York Times online, in their Living With Less section which is about the recession/depression, where readers get to vote on keywords, which are displayed with size reflecting the number of time selected. It's a visual display of emotion related to one of the major issues of the day, and I guess you really have to see it for yourself, so just go ahead and click it: How Do You Feel About the Economy? -- Interactive Feature -- I have to say this is pretty cool looking, and certainly gets across a sense of emotion, although I'm not sure how it works in terms of factual reporting. Oh, and he also mentioned that, in addition to the New York Times' presence on Facebook, individual reporters are now on Twitter!

Alan Hayakawa talked about his experience with mid-size regional newspapers, and how badly they were affected by the financial crisis, and how we still need journalists to help us to identify what is important and deal with information overload. Drawing on his background in general semantics, as the son of S. I. Hayakawa, he talked about how journalism is all about mapping the territory, and serving as a check against how others map the same territory, about the need to balance immediacy with reflectiveness, about the need to maintain an extensional orientation, ignoring the labels and sticking with description, and striving for objectivity even if it can never be absolutely achieved. In regard to journalism education, he noted that schools tend to focus on reporting, and need to also emphasize editing and presentation, especially digital skills to work with the new media. And he concluded by suggesting that reports about the death of the news are greatly exaggerated.

My colleague Beth Knobel then returned to the problem of not distinguishing between reporting and opinion, and again stressed the need for journalists today to know both the fundamentals about journalism, including critical thinking, research, and interviewing (knowing who to interview and how to interview); and also technology skills, especially digital editing.

Finally, Donna Halper voiced her concern that people are not exposed to different points of view, just seeking out their own for reinforcement, and that television news talk programming amount to shouting matches. She reminded us that we used to be able to tell who the news people are, that is the reporters, and who the opinion people are, but no longer. Bringing in the philosopher Emmanuel Levinas who wrote about ethics and the other, she argued quite forcefully that talk radio in particular violates his ethical principles, replacing facts with stereotypes.

And this has been Lance Strate, reporting live from Media Conversations 6, here on Blog Time Passing, or maybe not live since is a report of a session that happened two days ago, and maybe not reporting exactly because I just picked out some points that I found noteworthy as I was taking notes, but hey, it's still be, your humble blogist, giving you some sense of what when on, and we'll pick up form here in the next blog entry.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Media Conversations Begun

So, we're off to a good start with our Media Conversations 6 conference on media literacy and media education, with a very nice turn out last night, something on the order of 75 people. We began with a presentation by Eric Goodman aka Thus Spoke the Spectacle, the subject of a couple of previous posts here on Blog Time Passing (Thus Spoke the Spectacle and The Spectacle Speaks Again). And we had the premiere New York City screening of Consuming Kids: The Commercialization of Childhood, a new documentary by the Media Education Foundation, which you can read about, see a preview of, and order by clicking here.

Then we had a keynote presentation by Tom de Zengotita, who argued for an expanded and deepened notion of media literacy, going beyond the standard political/ideological analysis and critique of commercialism. He talked about the underlying ideology of funism, as he put it, that kids live in a state of entertainment. I kind of like that, because he is essentially saying that entertainment is an environment, and his argument is very much from a media ecology perspective reminiscent of Postman, and McLuhan, both of whom Tom cited in his talk.

So, television is fun, videogames are fun, and so is the do-it-yourself culture--making your own media content is fun. Cable news punditry, blogs and blog comments are all about fun, in the sense of dueling or professional wrestling. There's nothing to be learned from any of those exchanges, it's just entertaining to see people have at each other.

The same is true for believing in whatever, as Tom put it, like ghosts, UFOs, the Mayan calendar, etc. It's fun to believe. And when challenged, Tom notes, people say that they have a right to believe what they want to believe, it's an entitlement, and no one has a right to question it, what you believe is a part of who you are, and who you are is a self-construction (here he points to postmodernist constructivism), and you are entitled to construct your own identity.

Tom's conclusion is that, to obtain a deeper sense of media literacy, we need to teach students about constructivism, and funism, and encourage students to be critical of these cultural currents, and the media that are responsible for them, and their own role in perpetuating them.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Huxley and Orwell Redux

So, Stuart McMillen from Brisbane, Australia is a cartoonist who does a blog that is a cartoon blog, which I guess would be a cartblog, or cartbloog or cartbloon, I don't know, you tell me. But even if you call it late for dinner, he calls it Recombinant Records, and that's good enough for me. He's also the creator of a music-related webcomic which you can read by clicking here.

Anyway, he recently posted a cartoon that's has brought him to the notice of many of us in the media ecology community. It's a cartoon based on Neil Postman's introduction to his popular book, Amusing Ourselves to Death. As you no doubt know, in the foreword to that book, Postman contrasts the dystopic visions of George Orwell in 1984 and Aldous Huxley in Brave New World, arguing that while we were in turn worried and relieved about Orwell's vision coming true as the actual year 1984 approached, it was Huxley's view that was the more accurate one.

I should note, and this is not meant to take anything away from the originality, and certainly not the eloquence of Postman's essay, that at the time that I was in junior high school--I attended JHS 190 aka Russell Sage Junior High School in Forest Hills, New York--we actually were asked to read both novels, and discuss them. We never made the kind of connection that Neil did, but I think that assignment was fairly widespread throughout the New York City school system at that time (I was in junior high from 1968-1971).

And in an interesting case of parallel thinking, Hal Himmelstein, who taught here at Fordham long before I came to the Bronx, and who went from here to Brooklyn College, made the same comparison and contrast in the introduction to his book, Televison Myth and the American Mind, published around the same time as Amusing Ourselves to Death. I think there was just something in the air at that time, given the school assignments, the fact that the year 1984 had actually arrived, and the fact that an actor, Ronald Reagan, had been elected and then re-elected President and was enjoying unprecedented popularity.

And television was in its heyday, enormously popular and powerful, older media on the decline, newer media barely catching on at this point. And no one captured that moment, and its implications (which remain relevant today), quite so well as Neil did. So Stuart did well to retain Neil's words in addition to his own, original illustrations, which I will now bring to you via the miracle of web 2.0:

So, I went to the comments section following Stuart's post and left the following message for him:

Lance Strate wrote::

Nice work. As someone who enjoys comics and was a student and friend of Postman’s I can really appreciate what you’ve done here, and I can tell you that Neil would indeed have been amused.

Now, I want to encourage you to go see the full size version of the comic strip over at Stuart McMillen's blog post (just click here)--I had to reduce the size to make it fit into this blog's format. And when you're over there, when you get to the bottom of the page, click on View/add comments for this article. You can read the comments, including mine, and why don't you add one of your own while you're there, just to reinforce his good judgment? You can tell him I sent you. He may not know who the hell I am, but hey, it's a brave new world out here in the blogosphere, isn't it?