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January 31, 2011

We are the medium

I know many others have made this point, but I think it’s worth saying again: We are the medium.

I don’t mean this in the sense that we are the new news media, as when Dan Gillmor talks about “We the Media.” I cherish Dan’s work (read his latest: Mediactive), but I mean “We are the medium” more in McLuhan’s “The medium is the message” sense.

McLuhan was reacting against information science’s view of a medium as that through which a signal (or message) passes.

shannon's communication diagram

Information science purposefully abstracted itself from every and any particular medium, aiming at theories that held whether you were talking about tin can telephones or an inter-planetary Web. McLuhan’s pushback was: But the particularities of a medium do count. They affect the message. In fact, the medium is the message!

I mean by “We are the medium” something I think we all understand, although the old way of thinking keeps intruding. “We are the medium” means that, quite literally, we are the ones through whom information, messages, news, ideas, videos, and links of every sort move — and they move through this “channel” because we decide to move them. Someone sends me a link to a funny video. I tweet about it. You see it. You send a Facebook message to your friends. One of them (presumably an ancient) emails it to more friends. The video moves through us. Without us, the transport medium —” the Internet — is a hyperlinked collection of inert bits. We are the medium.

Which makes McLuhan’s aphorism more true than ever. In tweeting about the video, I am also tweeting about myself: “This is the sort of thing I find funny. Don’t I have a great sense of humor? And I was clever enough to find it. And I care enough about you— and about my reputation — to send it out to you.” That’s 51 characters over the the Twitter limit, but it’s clearly embedded in my tweet.

Although there are a thousand ways “We are the medium” is wrong, I think what’s right about it matters:

  • Because we are the medium, one-way announcements, such as a tweet to thousands of followers, still has a conversational element. We may not be able to tweet back and expect an answer, but we we can pass it around, which is a conversational act.

  • Because we are the medium, news is no longer mere information. In forwarding the item about the Egyptian protestor or about the Navy dealing well with a gay widower, I am also saying something about myself. That’s why we are those that formerly were known as the audience: not just because we can engage in acts of journalism without a newspaper behind us, but because in becoming the medium through which news travels, some of us travels with every retweet.

  • Because we are the medium, fame on the Net is not simply being known by many because your image was transmitted many times. Rather, if you’re famous on the Internet, it’s because we put ourselves on the line by forwarding your image, your video, your idea, your remix. We are the medium that made you famous.

It is easy to slip back into the old paradigm in which there is a human sender, a message, a medium through which it travels, and a human recipient. It’s easy because that’s an accurate abstraction that is sometimes useful. It’s easy because the Internet is also used for traditional communication. But what is distinctive and revolutionary about the Internet is the failure of the old diagram to capture what so often is essential: We are not users of the medium, and we are not outside of the medium listening to its messages. Rather, we are the medium.

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January 30, 2011

The more things (books) change…

Not many years ago ex-Governor Alfred E. Smith complained that his autobiography, Up to Now, was not being promoted vigorously enough. “But, Governor,” remonstrated his publishers, “we planted your book in every bookstore in the country.” “Bookstores,” snorted the Governor, unconsciously summing up every publisher’s grievance for the past five generations. “Who in hell goes to bookstores?”

From Try and Stop Me, by Bennett Cerf, 1944. (Simon & Schuster, p. 107)

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January 29, 2011

Religions of the Mideast

I know everyone except me has this down cold, but here’s a handy map of the religions of the Middle East, provided by Columbia University.

map of religions of the mideast

Click on the image to see the full map

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Another open access journal, and when closed access journals go rogue

On the one hand, a new peer-reviewed open access journal is starting up: The Journal of Media and Communication Studies. It’s promising to work toward a four-week decision process for submitted articles, with publication in the next issue. Good luck to JMCS.

On the other hand, Jonathan Zittrain blogs about a European journal currently being sued because it refused to give in to an author’s demand that a short, critical book review be removed. The editor’s courteous, respectful, generous response is here. (I posted about this when Harry Lewis blogged about it earlier.)

Just to give you a sense of how “libelous” the book is, here’s its final paragraph:

Karin Calvo-Goller has undoubtedly invested much time and effort into this book, which – but for regrettably sloppy editing – might well serve as a first systematic introduction to the procedural issues confronting the ICC. What is still missing is a book that might help to resolve these issues.

Oh why can’t we all just get along?

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Berkman Buzz

The weekly Berkman Buzz, as compiled by Rebekah Heacock:

  • The OpenNet Initiative explains Egypt’s “just-in-time” style of Internet censorship: link

  • Herdict looks at the reports it’s received from Egypt: link

  • Jonathan Zittrain discusses how editing an academic journal can be dangerous: link

  • Doc Searls’ discussion of Flickr has received nearly 100 comments: link

  • Weekly Global Voices: “Special Coverage: Egypt Protests 2011″
    link

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The more things (like books) change…

Not many years ago ex-Governor Alfred E. Smith complained that his autobiography, Up to Now, was not being promoted vigorously enough. “But, Governor,” remonstrated his publishers, “we planted your book in every bookstore in the country.” “Bookstores,” snorted the Governor, unconsciously summing up every publisher’s grievance for the past five generations. “Who in hell goes to bookstores?”

From Try and Stop Me, by Bennett Cerf, 1944. (Simon & Schuster, p. 107)

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January 28, 2011

Google’s whacking of GoogleWhack is whack

Googlewhacking is the harmless pastime of trying to find two word combinations that get a single return when searched for at Google (without quotes around them). Gary Stock invented it in 2002, and it took off rather rapidly. [Disclosure: I was an early promoter of it (also here and here and here, etc.).

Now, nine years and millions of views later, Google has decided that Googlewhack threatens its brand. Gary reproduces the irksome, frustrating, poorly-written, and poorly-thought objection from Google’s AdSense Purity Squad. It’s the sort of inanity caused one hopes by a bot. On the other hand, why would we entrust our culture to bots?

Jeez, Google! How about working towards the day when Google + Jerk is a Googlewhack!

 


[Jan. 29, 2011:] Gary reports that he got a personal note apologizing for the initial demanding message, and that all is well. Well done, Google.

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Stupid Mac tricks

Here’s a fun little Mac trick from MacLife:

1. Open a terminal.

2. Type:

/System/Library/Frameworks/ScreenSaver.framework//Resources/ScreenSaverEngine.app/Contents/MacOS/ScreenSaverEngine -background &

3. Hit the return key.

4. Hit the button that lets you see your desktop.

5. Close the terminal to end the effect.

6. Blame MacLife for anything that goes wrong (although nothing should).

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January 27, 2011

Boston surrenders, snow declares victory

That’s it, snow. You win.

After two more hours of shoveling this morning, the pile in the yard is approaching 7 feet. Our neighbor kindly agreed to let us deposit snow from our driveway onto their narrow walkway. Without that, we would have had to clear the snow by melting it teaspoon by teaspoon in our mouths.

Not that it matters, but you shouldn’t feel too smug. You only won because you were able to throw more and more troops into the fray. No strategy, just a ruthless willingness to send your young — each a unique individual, not that you care — into the breaches that we kept trying to open. Whatever clever stratagem we came up with, you countered simply by throwing more snow at it. Still, it worked. We hope you’re very proud of yourself.

So, call off your dogs. No need for another blitz. We surrender unconditionally. Please take these frozen tears as a first small token of our capitulation. Plus Fluffy, whom we haven’t seen in a couple of days anyway.

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[2b2k] Guardian aggregates all its data

The Guardian has been publishing its data for the past couple of years. Now it is making all of it available in one spreadsheet:

Want to see all of the data we have reported? Here’s all the data we’ve covered over the last two years, that’s almost 600 spreadsheets linked from one spreadsheet

Not just transparnecy, but convenience! Well done, Guardian!

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