March 11, 2014
We could attribute this to surprise or even to a democratic instinct except for the adorable “I’m gonna punch you so hard” fist Putin starts to make at the very end.
And on a lighter note, here’s Pres. Obama on Between Two Ferns.
March 11, 2014
We could attribute this to surprise or even to a democratic instinct except for the adorable “I’m gonna punch you so hard” fist Putin starts to make at the very end.
And on a lighter note, here’s Pres. Obama on Between Two Ferns.
March 8, 2014
I enjoy isometric projection. You all know the isometric cube from video games:
An isometric cube’s lines are all the same length and shows all three sides equally. It is thus unnatural, assuming that seeing things from a particular perspective is natural.
This makes isometric cubes similar to Egyptian paintings, at least as E.H. Gombrich explains them.
Paintings in the Egyptian style — face in profile, torso turned out towards us, legs apart and in profile — are unrealistic: people don’t stand that way, just as cubes seen from a human perspective don’t show themselves the isometric way.
Gombrich talks about Egyptian paintings to make a point: our idea about what’s realistic is more infected with cultural norms than we usually think. The Egyptian stance seemed to them to be realistic because it shows the parts of the human form in the view that conveys the most information, or at least what the Egyptians considered to be the most distinctive view.
And the same is true of isometric cubes.
March 6, 2014
Knud begins by reminding us how small Denmark is: 5.5M people. Aarhus has a population of about 330,000. [My account is very choppy. The talk was not.]
Now that the process of digitizing all information is well underway, the focus is on what can only be experienced in the library. Before, the library was a space for media. Now the space is a medium. Seriousness was prized in libraries. Now a sense of humor. We’ve built libraries with books and other media to serve an industrial society. Some are truly beautiful, but they’re under-used. Now we’re moving to libraries for networked society.
Three and a half years ago, the Danes wrote a report on public libraries in the knowledge society, and went looking for partnerships, which is unusual for the Danes, says Knud. The new model of the library intersects four spaces: inspiration, learning, performative, and meeting spaces. But the question is what people are going to do in those spaces. Recognition/experience, empowerment, learning, innovation. Knud shows pictures of those activities currently going on in the library.
Two hundred of Denmark’s 500 public libraries are “open libraries” — open 24 hours a day, with staffing only about 12 hours a week. If you have a library card, you can open the door. You can check media in and out, use the Internet, use a PC, read newspapers, study, arrange study circles. “The point is to let users take control.”
A law in 2007 said there had to be one-stop shopping for govt services. Most libraries offer these services. You go to the library for a passport, drivers license, health insurance, etc. Every citizen needs to have a personal account for communication with banks, from the state (e.g., about taxes). Libraries have helped educate the citizenry about this.
Often libraries are community centers that involve public and private sectors and a wide range of services. Sometimes the other services overwhelm the library services. “People ask me, ‘Where is the public library in this?’, and I say, ‘Think about the library as the glue.’”
There have to be innovation spaces in the local libraries.
The Danish Digital Library (Danskernes Digtale Bibliotek) is an open source infrastructure for digital objects, including a resouce management system for the whole country, and to purchase digital content. All its digital services are accessible anywhere in the world. 86 of the 98 municipal library systems have contributed to a shared contract for a new library system based on Open Source. They share operations and development. “There’s a very good business case.”
So, why Dokk1, the new library?
Libraries are symbols of development and innovation in the society. They drive city development. They add new stories about the town. All public libraries are examples of the citizens’ interest in innovation. E.g., the Opera, Munch museum and library in Oslo have transformed the waterfront and brought a new identity to the city. Helsinki, Birmingham (UK), and others as well. “The same will happen in Aarhus, we hope.”
DOKK1 is being built into the harbor, “transforming it into an open sea front.” There’s 200,000 sq. feet of library, parking for 1,000 cars, two new urban harbor squares, a light rail station. Cost: US$390M . It will open in early 2015.
The front of the current library features new programs every few months, rather than the entrance being a way of controlling the users. They’ve run projects like iFloor (social interaction), a news lab (producing TV), AI robots, displays that capture and freeze images of people interacting with it, and much more. The building needs to interact with its surroundings and adapt to it, says Knud.
DOKK1 is “no building with an advanced roof.”
“It’s all about facilitating relations.” “The library of the future is all about people.” It will be a user-driven process: “From tradition to transcendence so users can deconstruct their old knowledge about libraries.” Knud shows a photo of children doing searches by interacting with blocks on the floor. They paid no attention to the info on the screens.
They have partnerships with the Gates Foundation, Chicago Public Libraries, IDEO, and the Aarhus Public Library
Another project: “Intelligent Libraries”: how to “work smart” by improving logistics. The project knows where all the books are in all the nation’s libraries, and how often they’re used. They use “media hotels”: “local or remote storage of overflow, slow moving materials.”
The name “DOKK1″ came from a competition. 1,250 proposals. Seven were considered by a jury. “It’s about branding the library.” 90% of all city inhabitants should know about the new project. In August 2013 75% did. In the existing library, users are invited to engage in the “mental construction” of the new one.
Now Jane Kunze talks about People’s Lab. She begins with a sign: “Shut up and hack.”
They’ve been setting up labs for the past two years to test different ways of interacting with users. Innovation is important to the Danish govt. (Denmark was just rated the most innovative country in Europe.) How can the public library be part of this?
They were inspired by Maker culture. Fab labs and maker spaces have been popping up everywhere. There’s also a trend in Denmark to repair rather than replace. And a focus on hand skills and not just academic knowledge. Also rapid prototyping, with inspiration from design thinking (as per IDEO).
The People’s Lab is a result of a collaboration among the library, community, and partners. Partners include public libraries, Aarhus School of Architecture, Moesgaard Museum, Roskilde festival, Orange Innovation, and more.
When they began, it was about kick-ass technology. But , while tech is fun, it’s really about people and community-building. “Don’t wait to involve people until your grand opening.” People will see your imperfections “but that’s part of what will make them committed to the place.”
The six labs:
They’ve been building a ladder of involvement, so people can come in for something basic and find themselves increasingly engaged — “small steps that make it possible for people to become more and more free in their thinking.”
They’ve learned that when the community already has hacker spaces and maker spaces, maybe the library should just be a gate to this ecosystem, opening them up to a broader public. Maybe the library is a place where people are introduced to making and working more creatively with their hands. “You can work with maker culture without having a makerspace.” You don’t have to have a room dedicated to machinery, especially for the smaller communities.
Q&A [with six of the Danes responding]
Q: Is this like a library plus the SF Exploratorium
A: We’re looking at how to create relationships among the patrons, staff, the media…
A: We want to make a place where people get involved in different kinds of competencies.
Q: Many of the other libraries you showed are on the edge of the city. Are you trying to make the library a destination? In Boston I wouldn’t let my 14 yr old grandchild go down to the harbor by himself.
A: In Aarhus, children move through the city at 10-12 yrs old. They can get to the new library by public transportation or bike. But we are trying to transform the city so that it is looking out, not in.
Q: We’re seeing more random innovation in library spaces in this city, as opposed to your carefully planned and articulated change. (1) You’re designers, but it’s about designing the interaction. (2) How can you bring unique, local materials into this interactive environment. (3) At archives, people are now curating their own memories, with a community collective approach. (4) We have generations of professionals, so just building new locations may not change things.
A: In Denmark we have a long tradition of tcollecting of local historical materials. E.g., we have lots of photos of cattle and farms, so we crowd-sourced geolocating them and put on Google Maps. We have a lot of materials that could be used.
A: We have a new project. When you get your grandparents’ old documents, you digitize them and load them on a national server. You’re in control of how open they should be. That’s in test now.
A: We have lot of projects that focus on seniors.
A: At the WasteLab, one of the most active participants was a 70 year old woman. She made herself into the welcoming host. One day she came in with a smart phone she had won. People at the WasteLab sat with her and helped her learn how to use it; she’d found a community to ask. Creating a variety of offers — from more traditional to the newer — involves everyone.
A: We see the library as a space for that kind of relationships.
Q: Are you getting any support from the Royal Library?
A: It has no relationship to public libraries.
Q: Design is crucial. It can signal to people that there’s more here than you expect. Modern libraries send a signal that it’s not only a place for research or study. Putting up those popup labs in your lobby is one of the most useful devices; people are in the experience without having to look for it. It’s the best of what Disney is trying to accomplish. The popup libraries are the gateway drug.
Q: How might this fit into an academic library space?
A: We collaborate with a couple of universities, but they’re two different worlds. University libraries generally see users as people to whom they provide services, rather than as people who can contribute to the library. It’s a question of what the academic libraries want students to do in the library. To read? To learn from other students? You might experiment with a common space to bring together these different communities.
A: You have a lifelong relationship with your local library, but only for a few years with your university library.
Q: Ultimately all libraries are shared resources, whatever those resources are. That’s a great argument for sharing access to all the tools we’ve heard about. Not every library needs its own 3D printer, but they could use access to one.
A: In Norway, a particular university library is divided into five areas, but with big shared spaces with tables, chairs, and menus. Then they put in empty shelves. The room was totally over-crowded and totally re-arranged.
Q: At Tisch Library at Tufts they’re renovating and creating group study space for people working alone but in a public space. Also, they’ve installed a media lab. At the Northeastern U Library, it felt like I was at an airport. There were fixed spaces and terminals, but there must have been 500 students in there. It was like a beehive. At the Madison Public Library they have The Bubbler, media lab and performance space. These are blurring the lines.
[Loved these talks. These folks are taking deep principles and embodying them in their spaces.]
The FCC is looking for ways to modernize the E-Rate program that has brought the Internet to libraries and schools. The DPLA is proposing DPLA Local, which will enable libraries to create online digital collections using the DPLA’s platform.
I’m excited about this for two reasons beyond the service it would provide.
First, it could be a first step toward providing cloud-based library services, instead of the proprietary, closed, expensive systems libraries typically use to manage their data. (Evergreen, I’m not talking about you, you open source scamp!)
Second, as libraries build their collections using DPLA Local, their metadata is likely to assume normalized forms, which means that we should get cross-collection discovery and semantic riches.
Categories: dpla, libraries Tagged with: dpla • fcc • librarycloud • metadata
Date: March 6th, 2014 dw
March 5, 2014
Karim Lakhani of Harvard Business School (and a Berkman associate, and a member of the Harvard Institute for Quantititative Social Science) is giving a talk called “How disclosure policies impact search in open innovation, atopic he has researched with Kevin Boudreau of the London Business School.
Karim has been thinking about how crowds can contribute to innovation for 17 years, since he was at GE. There are two ways this happens:
1. Competitions and contests at which lots of people work on the same problem. Karim has asked who wins and why, motives, how they behave, etc.
2. Communities/Collaboration. E.g., open source software. Here the questions are: Motives? Costs and benefits? Self-selection and joining scripts? Partner selection?
More fundamentally, he wants to know why both of these approaches work so well.
He works with NASA, using topcoder.com: 600K users world wide [pdf]. He also works with Harvard Medical School [more] to see how collaboration works there where (as with Open Source) people choose their collaborators rather than having them chosen top-down.
Karim shows a video about a contest to solve an issue with the International Space Station, having to do with the bending of bars (longerons) in the solar collectors when they are in the shadows. NASA wanted a sophisticated algorithm. (See www.topcoder.com/iss) . It was a two week contest, $30K price. Two thousand signed up for it; 459 submitted solutions. The winners came from around the globe. Many of the solutions replicated or slightly exceeded what NASA had developed with its contractors, but this was done in just two weeks simply for the price of the contest prize.
Karim says he’ll begin by giving us the nutshell version of the paper he will discuss with us today. Innovation systems create incentives to exert innovative effort and encourage the disclosure of knowledge. The timing and the form of the disclosures differentiates systems. E.g., Open Science tends to publish when near done, while Open Source tends to be more iterative. The paper argues that intermediate disclosures (as in open source) dampen incentives and participation, yet lead to higher perrformance. There’s more exploration and experimentation when there’s disclosure only at the end.
Karim’s TL;DR: Disclosure isn’t always helpful for innovation, depending on the conditions.
There is a false debate between closed and open innovation. Rather, what differentiates regimes is when the disclosure occurs, and who has the right to use those disclosures. Intermediate disclosure [i.e., disclosure along the way] can involve a range of outputs. E.g., the Human Genome Project enshrined intermediate disclosure as part of an academic science project; you had to disclose discoveries within 24 hours.
Q: What constitutes disclosure? Would talking with another mathematician at a conference count as disclosure?
A: Yes. It would be intermediate disclosure. But there are many nuances.
Karim says that Allen, Meyer and Nuvolari have shown that historically, intermediate disclosure has been an important source of technological progress. E.g., the Wright brothers were able to invent the airplane because of a vibrant community. [I'm using the term "invent" loosely here.]
How do you encourage continued innovation while enabling early re-use of it? “Greater disclosure requirements will degrade incentives for upstream innovators to undertake risky investment.” (Green & Scotchmer; Bessen & Maskin.) We see compensating mechanisms under regimes of greater disclosure: E.g., priority and citations in academia; signing and authorship in Open Source. You may also attract people who have a sharing ethos; e.g., Linus Torvalds.
Research confirms that the more access your provide, the more reuse and sharing there will be. (Cf. Eric von Hippel.) Platforms encourage reuse of core components. (cf. Boudreau 2010; Rysman and Simcoe 2008) [I am not getting all of Karim's citations. Not even close.]
Another approach looks at innovation as a problem-solving process. And that entails search. You need to search to find the best solutions in an uncertain space. Sometimes innovators use “novel combinations of existing knowledge” to find the best solutions. So let’s look at the paths by which innovators come up with ideas. There’s a line of research that assumes that the paths are the essential element to understand the innovation process.
Mathematical formulations of this show you want lots of people searching independently. The broader the better for innovation outcomes. But there is a tendency of the researchers to converge on the initially successful paths. These are affected by decisions about when to disclose.
So, Karim and Kevin Boudreau implemented a field experiment. They used TopCoder, offering $6K, to set up a Med School project involving computational biology. The project let them get fine-grained info about what was going on over the two weeks of the contest.
700 people signed up. They matched them on skills and randomized them into three different disclosure treatments. 1. Standard contest format, with a prize at the end of each week. (Submissions were automatically scored, and the first week prizes went to the highest at that time.) 2. Submitted code was instantly posted to a wiki where anyone could use it. 3. In the first week you work without disclosure, but in the second week submissions were posted to the wiki.
For those whose work is disclosed: You can find and see the most successful. You can get money if your code is reused. In the non-disclosure regime you cannot observe solutions and all communications are bared. In both cases, you can see market signals and who the top coders are.
Of the 733 signups from 69 different countries, 122 coders submitted 654 submissions, with 89 different approaches. 44% were professionals; 56% were students. The skewed very young. 98% men. They spent about 10 hours a week, which is typical of Open Source. (There’s evidence that women choose not to participate in contests like this.) The results beat the NIH’s approach to the problem which was developed at great cost over years. “This tells me that across our economy there are lots of low-performing” processes in many institutions. “This works.”
What motivated the participants? Extrinsic motives matter (cash, job market signals) and intrinsic motives do too (fun, etc.). But so do prosocial motives (community belonging, identity). Other research Karim has done shows that there’s no relation between skills and motives. “Remember that in contests most people are losing, so there have to be things other than money driving them.”
Results from the experiment: More disclosure meant lower participation. Also, more disclosure correlated with the hours worked going down. The incentives and efforts are lower when there’s intermediate disclosure. “This is contrary to my expectations,”Karim says.
Q: In the intermediate disclosure regime is there an incentive to hold your stuff back until the end when no one else can benefit from it?
A: One guy admitted to this, and said he felt bad about it. He won top prize in the second week, but was shamed in the forums.
In the intermediate disclosure regime, you get better performance (i.e., better submission score). In the mixed experiment, performance shot up in the second week once the work of others was available.
They analyzed the ten canonical approaches and had three Ph.D.s tag the submissions with those approaches. The solutions were combinations of those ten techniques.
With no intermediate disclosures, the search patterns are chaotic. With intermedia disclosures, there is more convergence and learning. Intermediate disclosure resulted in 30% fewer different approaches. The no-disclsoure folks were searching in the lower-performance end of the pool. There was more exploration and experimentation in their searches when there was no intermediate disclosure, and more convergence and collaboration when there is.
Increased reuse comes at the cost of incentives. The overall stock of knowledge created is low, although the quality is higher. More convergent behavior comes with intermediate disclosures, which relies on the stock of knowledge available. The fear is that with intermediate disclosure , people will get stuck on local optima — path dependnce is a real risk in intermediate disclosure.
There are comparative advantages of the two systems. Where there is a broad stock of knowledge, intermediate disclosure works best. Plus the diversity of participants may overcome local optima lock-in. Final disclosure [i.e., disclosure only at the end] is useful where there’s broad-based experimentation. “Firms have figured out how to play both sides.” E.g., Apple is closed but also a heavy participant in Open Source.
Q: Where did the best solutions come from?
A: From intermediate disclosure. The winner came from there, and then the next five were derivative.
Q: How about with the mixed?
A: The two weeks tracked the results of the final and intermediate disclosure regimes.
Q: [me] How confident are you that this applies outside of this lab?
A: I think it does, but even this platform is selecting on a very elite set of people who are used to competing. One criticism is that we’re using a platform that attracts competitors who are not used to sharing. But rank-order based platforms are endemic throughout society. SATs, law school tests: rank order is endemic in our society. In that sense we can argue that there’s a generalizability here. Even in Wikipedia and Open Source there is status-based ranking.
Q: Can we generalize this to systems where the outputs of innovation aren’t units of code, but, e.g., educational systems or municipal govts?
Q: We study coders because we can evaluate their work. But I think there are generalizations about how to organize a system for innovation, even if the outcome isn’t code. What inputs go into your search processes? How broad do you do?
Q: Does it matter that you have groups that are more or less skilled?
A: We used the Topcoder skill ratings as a control.
Q: The guy who held back results from the Intermediate regime would have won in real life without remorse.
A: Von Hippel’s research says that there are informal norms-based rules that prevent copying. E.g., chefs frown on copying recipes.
Q: How would you reform copyright/patent?
A: I don’t have a good answer. My law professor friends say the law has gone too far to protect incentives. There’s room to pull that back in order to encourage reuse. You can ask why the Genome Project’s Bermuda Rules (pro disclosure) weren’t widely adopted among academics. Academics’ incentives are not set up to encourage automatic posting and sharing.
Q: The Human Genome Project resulted in a splintering that set up a for-profit org that does not disclose. How do you prevent that?
A: You need the right contracts.
This was a very stimulating talk. I am a big fan of Karim and his work.
Afterwards Karim and I chatted briefly about whether the fact that 98% of Topcoder competitors are men raises issues about generalizing the results. Karim pointed to the general pervasiveness of rank-ordered systems like the one at TopCoder. That does suggest that the results are generalizable across many systems in our culture. Of course, there’s a risk that optimizing such systems might result in less innovation (using the same measures) than trying to open those systems up to people averse to them. That is, optimizing for TopCoder-style systems for innovation might create a local optima lock-in. For example, if the site were about preparing fish instead of code, and Japanese chefs somehow didn’t feel comfortable there because of its norms and values, how much could you conclude about optimizing conditions for fish innovation? Whereas, if you changed the conditions, you’d likely get sushi-based innovation that the system otherwise inadvertently optimized against.
Categories: berkman, business, liveblog Tagged with: innovation • open source
Date: March 5th, 2014 dw
February 26, 2014
Facebook provides more this-like-that instead of this-oh-that! (Or relevancy, interestingingness, and serendipity)
Facebook has announced that it’s going to start adding to your newsfeed stories that you don’t know about but that are on the same topic as ones you follow. As their post puts it:
In the late 1990s and early Oughties, the size of material being indexed by search engines busted the main metrics. Precision measured how many results of a query pertained to that query — how “noisy” the results are. Recall measured how many of the pertinent results were missed by the results list. But when you are indexing hundreds of billions of pages, total recall results in a noisy list because there are so many results that you can’t find the one that’s most relevant. Thus relevancy became much more important than before.
But even relevancy doesn’t cut the mustard when you are browsing the hay more than looking for the needle. Thus, over the past ten years or so we’ve seen interestingness become important in some environments. Sorting Flickr search results by interestingness turns up some of the most striking photos.
Reddit‘s community upvoting mechanism results in a front page that reflects not precision, recall, or relevancy, but interestingness. Reddit’s front page also illustrates that when we ask for results sorted by interestingness, we apparently tolerate far more noise than with any of the other three metrics.
These four criteria obviously each have circumstances in which they have value. If you know what you’re looking for, precision counts. If you need to do a complete review of the literature, or just need to cover your backside — an “Oh crap I didn’t come across that” moment is not permissible — then recall is your friend. If you are finding your way through a new topic, then relevancy will give you a feel for the terrain. But if you want to find something that will stimulate and amaze you, click on the interestingness button.
Facebook has opted for relevancy. This makes sense for them from an economic standpoint: You will be a happy Facebooker if you are shown stuff you didn’t know about that conforms to your existing interests and values. In their blog post explaining the change, Facebook takes as their paradigmatic example showing you a post of a photo captioned “James Harden and Dwight Harden throw down some sick dunks during practice” because you “follow or like Dwight Howard.” Highly relevant. And if Facebook started showing its users posts as noisy as what you get on the Reddit homepage or from a Flickr stream sorted by interestingness, its users would likely revolt.
So, I understand how this new move makes for happier users and thus makes Facebook richer and safer.
It’s a missed opportunity for helping to break us out of our “filter bubble” — Eli Pariser’s term for always being shown items that too closely reflect our existing interests and worldview, and that therefore confirm that worldview rather than expanding it. (See Eli’s excellent TED Talk.) It would have been far more helpful if Facebook had chosen to expand our worldview through interestingingess rather than reinforce it through relevancy.
Interestingingness is the key to serendipity, a term that, like precision and recall, doesn’t scale very well. Those who call for greater serendipity are trusting too much in the randomness now that the domain of possibilities is so huge. For example, one could create a site (which means that it’s already been created) that uses truly random ways to create a set of links to Web pages. Randomized Page Roulette. But how long do you think you would spend visiting those pages if they’re truly random? The list would be serendipitous but highly unlikely to be either relevant or interesting.
So, instead of serendipity, think about how Facebook could provide us with interesting links instead of links it knows we’ll like. It could use its awesome Social Graph to guess at enticing content that is outside our normal interests. These links would would have the sort of appeal that Reddit does, especially if it were marked as a stab and what you’ll find interesting rather than as stuff FB is confident you’ll like.
These links would be a powerful addition to Facebook’s value, for nothing is more stimulating to us than the discovery of something unexpectedly interesting or, even better, the discovering a new unexpected interest.
Most important from my point of view as a non-shareholder in Facebook, it would use what Facebook knows about us to expand our vision rather than adding another brick to the walled garden of our existing interests.
February 22, 2014
For $3 at a library book sale I picked up a copy of Releasing an Independent Record, revised 4th edition, by Gary Hustwit, published in 1994 by Rockpress Publishing Co. The short review is: Times have changed.
Gary’s advice is that if you want to get your music out, don’t go to one of the existing labels. Start your own. In 1993, that was pretty radical even though it required you to emulate the major labels’ processes, albeit starting from scratch and with no budget. So,the bulk of Gary’s manual is a directory of the services you’ll need to hire. He assumes you’ve already got a tape of your music. So, now you need to find a tape duplication house. You also need to get the paperwork done to set up your label’s bank account, and don’t forget the rubber stamp: “Depending on what formats you release, you’ll need a ton of different sized envelopes, and stamping the return address is easier than having them printed or writing it by hand.”
There are also handy, multi-page lists of the press to contact and the local radio stations (remember them?) to flog your songs to. And booking agents and promoters. And record labels so you can “See if your label name is already taken.” Oh, and you might want to check “if they’re interested in licensing your record.”
On the last page, there’s an ad for Rockpress’ other four books. My favorite is Hell on Wheels, by Greg Jacobs:
I recognize a couple —it’s not my demographic, people — but that list’s got a bit of Key and Peele about it, don’t you think?
February 16, 2014
I’ve been meaning to try Medium.com, a magazine-bloggy place that encourages carefully constructed posts by providing an elegant writing environment. It’s hard to believe, but it’s even better looking than Joho the Blog. And, unlike HuffPo, there are precious few stories about side boobs. So, and might do so again.
The piece is about why we seem to keep insisting that the Internet is panopticon when it clearly is not. So, if you care about panopticons, you might find it interesting. Here’s a bit from the beginning:
Categories: culture, journalism, social media Tagged with: philosophy • privacy
Date: February 16th, 2014 dw
February 13, 2014
A small anecdote in a “Talk of the Town” article by Michael Schulman in this week’s New Yorker (Feb. 17 & 24, p. 36) struck me harder than I would have thought. The article — “Get me rewrite” — tells of the controversy when a private middle school decided to perform the musical “Thoroughly Modern Millie.” The co-author of the script, Dick Scanlan, defended a scene as a satire of the Chinese stereotyping in the 1967 movie version, a point that was perhaps just a tad too subtle for middle school, and perhaps just too subtle.
What got to me, though, was what Scanlan, 53, told the student cast about “how he dealt with getting ‘brutally teased’ for being gay as a kid in Maryland”:
This simple story hit me at a couple of levels.
I’m 63 and graduated high school in 1968. Some of our crowd were obviously gay, but we had an informal Don’t Ask Don’t Tell social policy. (It was sometimes ok to tell, too: my girlfriend came out to me on the night of the senior prom. Long story.) We didn’t call our gay friends names or mockingly imitate them behind their backs, but we also didn’t know how to talk about it, and public displays of affection just were not in our vocabulary. And, I’m not sure how we phrased it, but we assumed (along with the rest of America) that something had gone wrong to make them that way. It was a syndrome, maybe caused by a domineering mother. So, at Herricks High in middle class Long Island, it could have been a whole lot worse. But it could have been a whole lot better.
So, when I hear Dick Scanlan talk about standing in front of a mirror to see if he was truly like his tormentors’ image of him, a bit of my heart breaks. I can too easily imagine my friends doing that. Having to try on the clothes the bully hands you has to be so unsettling, even if you are wise enough to come to the conclusion that Dick did.
The anecdote hit me hard also because I know I’ve done the same thing for the weaknesses I think others perceive in me. In these cases I’m internalizing my own bully, so it’s by no means as serious as what Dick and many of my gay friends went through. But I think I understand it.
I know I’ve talked about this topic before, and I expect I will again. When a change this deep and liberating occurs so quickly — we’ve come so far albeit not far enough — and when it’s a change not only in your culture but in your own attitudes, and when you don’t have the luxury of thinking that the old attitudes were held only by other people who you can write off as bigots, then what can you do but dwell on it and try to understand how wrong things could have seemed so right and how then so quickly have gotten better.
February 11, 2014
I’ve posted [pdf] a terrible scan that I made of a talk given by Joseph P. Fell in Sept. 1970. “What is philosophy?” was presented to a general university audience, and in Prof. Fell’s way, it is both clear and deep.
Prof. Fell was my most influential teacher when I was at Bucknell, and, well, ever. He was and is more interested in understanding than in being right, and certainly more than in being perceived as right. This enables him to model a philosophizing that is both rigorous and gentle.
Although I’ve told him more than once how much he has affected my life, he is too humble to believe it. So I’m telling you all instead.