Fight the Power 2.0

It was earlier this year when I realized that the song in the video above, “Fight the Power” by Public Enemy, was twenty years old. I remember when I was first introduced to Public Enemy back in high school. My friend Adam put on the album “Apocalypse 91… The Enemy Strikes Black” while we were playing video and board games. It was the first time I had been exposed to hip hop and shortly thereafter it became the first hip hop album I bought. I had never listened to any band with a social and political agenda before Public Enemy. “By the time I get to Arizona”, “Can’t Truss It”, and “Shut’em Down” were like shots being fired across my world perception bow born from my very mundane suburban living. I knew things were not right in the urban community, but I had never heard it told from street perspective. This cultural grain of salt has stayed with me through the years. However, like a lot of my fickle music interests as a teen, the album got heavy play for a month and then retired to a CD folder, rarely to be heard again.

I’ve been thinking about “Fight the Power” recently since I bought the Public Enemy retrospective “Power to the People”. I’ve been playing it on my iPod when I’ve been working on ideas for the library that has been resisted in the past. While the song is more closely identified with a call for racial equality, I thought this article from Salon about the song and its impact said it best: “When Public Enemy called us to battle, it revived the notion that it just might be possible to fight the system. At the very least, we knew it was necessary.”

In the last couple of weeks, I’ve been keenly following the state budget battle out in Ohio. Governor Strickland had announced a 50% cut in funding to libraries as part of his proposed budget. Since a majority of libraries are state supported, this would mean the crippling and/or closing of many libraries around the state. I’ve joined and contributed to the Save Ohio Libraries Facebook group that was set up in order to organize rallies, distribute state legislator contacts, and public lobbying of the Governor. The genesis of this group has been phenomenal as it gained over 20,000 members in the first week (the current tally as of the time of this post is roughly 45,000). It is full of photos, links, video, and active postings on the wall and in the discussion boards. While I have not received a message from the group creator, I have been checking it (as well as following #saveohionlibraries on Twitter) for updates as to how things are working out. I can’t say that my posting presence on this massive group has gone unnoticed.

The other night, I got a Facebook message from an Ohio resident which read:

Why posting about Ohio libraries if u r in NJ? My grandchild here in Cleveland can lose her storytime, yours?

My reply to her was:

Because libraries are important, regardless of state borders. I just want to show my support!
NJ has some budget cuts, but we aren’t in the same trouble as Ohio libraries!

Her last message thanked me for my involvement, but this whole series of events has been fascinating. This certainly is not the first time that social media has risen to a grassroots cause, but it was the first time I experienced it from a front row seat. It held me in rapt attention in the evening for most of last week as the number of group members climbed and people started offering their words, links, and other forms of support. In concert with libraries all over the state and the Ohio Library Council, this virtual march ran as a prelude to actual ones. These Buckeyes, proud and defiant, have focused the outrage of the populace into political action. (As of the time of writing, the budget is still in the air.)

As engrossing as this whole situation was to watch unfold in the belly of social media, it was during a drive up to work where I had a thought that gave me significant pause: why is it that the library community can be this organized and passionate when it comes to budget battles and less visible during other times? (With the exception of book challenges, possibly.) Does it take being pushed to the brink of non-existence to ignite the fire in our bellies for our profession and rally the public to our noble cause? What can be done now to prevent putting ourselves in this position in the future?

As it can be expected, I have a few ideas.

We need to radically reframe the public and political dialogue about libraries. How? By advocating that libraries are an essential service of a modern industrialized society. Information literacy has become a new set of basic skills for people living in the developed world. Even if a job does not require them, it is more than likely you will need them to apply to that job as businesses move their employment applications online. Data is the new goal of our hunting and gathering ways, whether it is to determine the lowest airfare available, how to contact an old friend, or find out what the weather will be like tomorrow. Our materials (print, video, audio, web) are fuel for the human curiosity engine that resides in all of us.

We educate, enrich, and enhance the lives of our patrons. Whether it is through materials or programs, computers or classes, or simply being there for our patrons when they are looking for someone to talk to, libraries matter to their communities. There is no private or government entity nor internet service or website that equates to the personal service we offer or the depth and breadth of information we can access. Our role in society is unduplicated, unequaled, and undisputed in this new age of information.

Therefore, we are essential.

In order to broadcast this type of message, it is pressing that we believe in it ourselves. There can be no false enthusiasm or facade to this belief; it must be complete and genuine. Personally, in seeing the passion presented by my peers at conferences and gatherings, this is perhaps the easiest aspect that I am proposing. However, I can see how it would be a true barrier in a world that minimizes and marginalizes the very mission of the library. It is imperative to rise above the critics, to instill ourselves with confidence about our restless profession, and to take pride for our service and toil on behalf of our patrons. For if we don’t believe that we are essential to the public, why should they believe it themselves?

From this, I see the hardest yet most rewarding part: a sustained public movement towards the safeguarding and custodianship of the public library and its ideals. While moving towards this goal can feel Herculean, we are already surrounded by the necessary building blocks.

Some of these are more familiar and “traditional” methods of building relationships with the community by getting to know your patrons and politicians. A Friend’s group can work as an extension of the library as each member becomes an ambassador of the library. Local media in the form of newspapers and radio stations provide a broadcast platform to reach out to the community. Encourage local politicians to define a stance on the library and library funding and invite them to come and see the collection for themselves. In addition, any marketing campaign that can be run (alone or in conjunction with a Friend’s group) at the community level should work to raise the visibility of the library. These tried and true methods are pretty universal for libraries around the country.

Picture by Matt Hamm

On the other hand, there are the exciting new methods possible through web 2.0 social media. Witnessing the growth and development of the Save Ohio Libraries Facebook group has really reinforced this concept with me. For the price of time and effort, you can create content that can be used to reach out and interact with patrons far beyond the walls of the library. It is this extension into the lives of our patrons as a relevant and important service that will ensure the survival of the local library in the future. It latches onto the underlying appeal of constant and immediate contact as offered by text messages, email, and Facebook or Twitter-like updates. With the improvement of our communication technologies, this is the opportunity to groom this technological type of relationship with people. As communication methods grow, as different types of web based social networking appear, and as the product of information evolves, the library needs to be in step with these advances. Our patrons are moving along with the improvements, and so should we.

The difference between the traditional methods and web 2.0 social media is that the latter is more personal since the conversation never ends. Beyond the aforementioned constant contact, it becomes a part of the information lifestyle that people have grown accustomed. We meld into the other popular web services that people use to manage their daily lives. The ability to order groceries online coincides with placing materials on hold; watching YouTube becomes no different than watching a movie on Overdrive; and calling or emailing the reference desk is seen as an upgraded internet search. Not only are the tools on hand, but there are more being developed and refined with each passing software innovation cycle. Twitter, Jaiku, Facebook, Myspace, Flickr, Picasa, Blogger, Livejournal, these are examples of social media of today; can you imagine what is down the road from these illustrious starting points? We will never lose the personal touch that is exemplified by more traditional patron relationships, but we should work to enhance it through the communication and information technological wonders of social media.

For librarians looking towards the future of the public library, now is the time to create our own functional social networks for advocacy. Now is the time to forge new friendships and connections with librarians both local and national. And now is the time to share experiences and knowledge resources when it comes to organizing the library grassroots. It is through these bonds that we can support one another during the inevitable crises that play out across the country when the ideals of intellectual freedom are endangered, when our content is challenged, and when our very existence in the community is threatened. Librarians call upon each other to help with a reference question; how can we not call upon others to help one another weather the ideological storms? Our professional egalitarian ideals should not mean that we treat everyone equally yet suffer all of the hardships alone. We are now one immense information sharing entity, intricately connected through phone and ethernet. The closing of one library is a loss of a unique community resource to the whole system and we should treat it as such.

This is not a call to replace specialty or state library associations in their advocacy roles, but to supplement them. Our assets are thousands of additional eyes and ears with computer savvy capable of finding and reporting information back to the others. It is an intelligence network staffed by passionate library professionals that extends wherever a library stands. With the increasing ease of user content creation, information sharing has never been easier for those who are bold enough to utilize it. This is a strength that we should seek to use for the benefit of libraries from coast to coast.

(In terms of the ALA, at least one person I know doesn’t think that the ALA is doing enough. I don’t really know enough about the organization to make any declarative statements, but I have been watching for their actions and words during the Ohio budget crisis.)

I realize in closing that the latter half of this post is more passion than substance in calling for a change in our collective course of action. But passion is the unquenchable thirst that drives each and every one of us to go farther and reach higher, whether as a librarian, an athlete, a parent, or just to be a better person. And library advocacy has become my passion, much in the same way that you can hear it in the voices of the testimonials in this video from NYPL.org:

So, I say to you, dear reader, who is with me?

The Spirit of the ‘Net, Revised

Over Twitter today, one of the people I follow tweeted about an article titled the 10 Golden Rules of the Internet. This article was written by Aliza Sherman, the owner of the first female Internet company, Cybergrrl Inc. She certainly has made her bones when it comes to the internet and technology. But, to be honest, the first rule of her Golden 10 set my teeth on edge.

1. Respect the Spirit of the ‘Net. Since 1995, I’ve been writing about and talking about what I call the “Spirit of the ‘Net.” The Internet was not meant for marketing and selling but for communication and connection to people and information. Understanding this, even today, can flip your marketing and selling strategy on its head, but you’ll have far more success respecting the spirit of the ‘Net, rather than throwing money at hard-sell tactics.

(Bold emphasis mine.)

The teeth-on-edge part is more due to my personality quirk of being extraordinarily nit picky for historical accuracy. While communication and information sharing were a reason for the development of the Internet and the various Internet predecessors, the intent of this creation was facilitate technology development to defend against a potential missile attack by the Soviet Union. Let’s not romanticize the fact that the Internet is the product of the military industrial complex looking for better ways to ensure that our nukes would work while we stopped theirs. From there, various academic institutions used the development of various transfer protocols to allow for the sharing of research information between scientists. Even the academic users got pissed when the commercial sector became interested and formed the first ISPs. Then (and only then) did it manage to crawl its way to the public sector where personal and business driven demand encouraged the developments that we have seen in the last fifteen years, taking us from a text only output to the websites with animations, sights, and sounds that play like little movies on our screen. In that context, the Internet was birthed from the loins of the Cold War arms race, grew up in the labs of universities and colleges, and came to age in the commercial sector. While one could distill the reasoning as being communication and people connection, I would hardly say that the underlying factors are completely altruistic. (Read more here, here, and here.)

The other thing that rubs me the wrong way about the Aliza’s first rule is the term “not meant for”. To put such a limiting phrase in connection with the Internet seems, well, at odds with the true potential and application of the technology. If I had read that ten years ago, I would have agreed; but now, in looking at the exponential growth of applications and possibilities of the ‘Net, it feels short sighted.

The beauty, the magic, and the mystique of the Internet is that it is whatever the user wants it to be. It’s the technology equivalent of the The Mirror of Erised upon which a user can gaze into their web browser and see whatever they hold in their hearts. Hell, it goes a step beyond that, where a person can find, share, and create content as they best see fit.

I would take the two mentioned exceptions and turn them into a question. So what if someone wants to use the web for marketing? So what if someone wants to use the web for shopping? Hell, let’s just change the question into a generic “so what if someone wants to use the web for X?” and replace X with whatever so called objectionable term that is supposedly against “the spirit of the ‘Net”. My answer to each and every one would be that the Internet has grown large enough to accommodate all of these different types of uses and users.

For myself, the spirit of the ‘Net is the staggering number of connections that are made each and every day. Whether it is person, a business, charity, activist group, concept, or simply an idea, it is the link between any of these that holds the true spirit of the ‘Net. It provides the intellectual freedom to explore beyond our physical sight, reach, and limitations. It transcends international borders, governments, languages, and cultures to create the simplest of all connections, Point A to Point B. It rests in the hands of the user to define what A and B are, to find or create the link between them, and to give the proper context for themselves or others.

In the scope of the larger picture, shopping and marketing don’t even appear on my internet issues radar. There are bigger concerns such as open access, net neutrality, regional censorship, and finding ways to increase the reach of the internet to developing nations and areas around the world. There are still more connections to be made, more functions to be found, and uses to be implemented. The ‘Net has come a long way in the last fifteen years, but it has not nearly achieved its potential for limitless connections. It reminds me of the end of the Robert Frost poem, Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening,

The woods are lovely, dark and deep,
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.

This Blog Post Is Not Yet Rated

Tonight, I went to the movies with the wife and friends to see the new Star Trek movie. I haven’t been a movie fan for a long time. And it’s not the rising ticket prices, the unhealthy concessions, the cell phone/PDA interruptions, or general lack of creativity in most Hollywood efforts over the last decade. No, I can actually tell you the exact moment when I stopped going to movies.

For some background, I had been a fan of films for a long time. I got back into them when I attended the release of the first Batman movie back in 1989. I was blown away by Tim Burton’s presentation of the Dark Knight from the cast to the effects to the overall feel of the movie. Throughout high school and parts of college, I loved going to the movies. And I would try to see them all: the latest blockbusters, the action flicks, melodramas, everything. (Everything except horror, since I’m a bit of a wimp.) I would make the effort to try to see the movies that were nominated for the Best Picture by the Academy Awards. From there, I would make my picks for the categories based on what I had or heard about the nominees. The award event itself was always a bit dull, but I would find something to do while they wound their way through the categories to the ones I had some interest in.

This all changed during the 1998 Academy Awards. I can see myself sitting in my college buddy’s dorm room watching it with his girlfriend and a couple of other friends. The night had gone on and we were chatting about the winners and whatnot when it came time to give out the highest award of the night, Best Picture. We watched the usual pomp and circumstance as they flash to the producers in the audience as their movies and names were called. The envelope came out, opened, and the presenter excitedly announced the title, “Shakespeare in Love!” The room went into a stunned silence. We stared as the television audience clapped and cheered as people in tuxedos made their way onto the stage. At this point, I leapt up and informed the unsympathetic television what my opinion of this choice was using many words and terms that made it R rated within seconds.

How could this be? Elizabeth? Saving Private Ryan? Life is Beautiful? The Thin Red Line? Ok, the last one was more pedantic than I really cared for and I had a hard time concentrating to get through, but are you fucking kidding me? I was disgusted, an instant cinema atheist, and swore off movies for awhile. Now, I go to a handful a year and am very picky. Especially since I have read how Academy Award voting works (and you think our elections are screwy) and seen the revealing documentary This Film Is Not Yet Rated (which explores the MPAA and their rating shenanigans), my tolerance for Hollywood tripe is next to zero. All of which have made only the most compelling of trailers and reviews as an reason to see a movie.

So, as the wife wants me to go see movies with her, I will usually oblige. I was interested in seeing this after reading and hearing some excellent press on it and as a person who was a fan of the The Next Generation. I embraced Star Trek initially for the gadgetry and sci-fi science, but now for the ideal that we as a species can work together to explore the vast universe that exists beyond our clouds. We had lined up early for the sold out showing at a theater a few towns over. When the line moved to start seating, I was first into the theater out of our group. A quick on-the-move consultation with the group created a swift agreement for optimal seating. The five of us sat down with me in the middle of the row. As a tall person, I generally try to get an aisle seat so as to give myself room to cross or stretch my legs. However, this theater actually had comfy seats and marginally ample legroom, so I was not going to press the point. Shortly thereafter, I was asked if the three seat to my right (this was a middle row) were taken. I replied that they were not and the row was soon filled with a mother in her sixties and two adults who I presume were her children, a mid to late term pregnant woman and a man who looked to be either the pregnant woman’s brother or boyfriend.

Immediately upon sitting down, the mother informed me that they had gone to an artisan convention the previous weekend that was full of amazing bits of, uh, artisan-ship. She gestured to the advertisement in the tiny movie guide book that they give out in the lobby for this past event and proclaimed that it had the most amazing glass she had ever seen. The first sign should have been how quickly the pregnant woman dove into the games of her cell phone, ignoring her mother next to her. Being the fool that I am and seeing that I still had time to kill before the film, I actually continued the conversation. It went something like this:

Me: Are you a fan of Star Trek?

Her: Yes, I’ve seen them all.

Me: My dad saw the original series. I was a fan of The Next Generation and watched parts of Deep Space Nine, but I couldn’t get into all of the other series.

Her: (more impassioned) I’ve seen them all.

Me: (slightly ignoring her) I didn’t really care for Voyager or Enterprise. I didn’t really see all of the movies. I think I saw the eight and ninth one…

Her: (most impassioned) I’ve seen all the movies. I loved them all. You know the director of this movies does Lost. Do you watch Lost?

Me: Nah, I couldn’t get into it. I watched some of the first season.

Her: You should watch it. You would like it. You have to pay attention. It’s very detail oriented. My husband blah blah blah blah my daugher blah blah blah blah I’m going to be a grandmother blah blah blah blah.

I can actually hear the whistling of the thought shells as she was launching them towards my position. It was after this exchange that I realized she was compelled by some unseen force to inform me of all of the amazing facts and details of her life which included (it most certainly included) her love of Star Trek. And rather than simply letting this slide, I decided to engage her in this battle of passive one-upmanship. She would say something (“My son is the manager of Borders in Cherry Hill”), I would counter (“I’m a librarian in Burlington County. It’s a county job so the benefits are completely awesome”), and the duel that she was not aware of would go on. It was very pleasant, a very good way for a jerk like myself to pass the time till the trailers (mercifully) came on. After which, we ceased our conversation.

Or so I thought. The movie had started when I realized that my secret verbal dueling partner has no inner monologue. None whatsoever.  She identified the appearance of every significant character with their name much in the way that a three year old would identify animals, colors, numbers, and food. When the word “Iowa” came up on the screen, she would say “Iowa”. If it was simply too much to identify in one word, they became Twitter length sentences. When they took off from the recruit center, she commented on how much it looks like a brewery (“It looks like a brewery!”). This went on for the length of the movie, these under-the-breath words escaping her lips just loud enough for me to hear but faint enough to tune them out. In the back of my mind, the Lewis Black part of me is cackling at her saying “Iowa” over and over again (the movie went there a couple of times) while the rest of me is just trying to keep it together till the end. Of course, at the end, she announced that she needed to see the movie again because she missed “the singularity” (which she had not since they actually explained it in a brief exchange composed of three sentences of two words, three words, and one word: “A singularity!” “A black hole?” “Yes!”).

I managed to get to the end since the movie was ultimately more entertaining than she was. I really enjoyed the plot, the pacing, subtle yet powerful effects, and the how they wove the original series into the movie. A good movie, all and all, with a fresh feel of Hollywood to it. You have my word on that. My seatmate told me so before she left.

the search for the next big thing, ctd

Awhile back, I had written about trying to figure out the next big thing for libraries and library science. This past week, I had the fun privilege of attending the 2009 NJLA conference. I would not say that the conference provided an answer about what the next big thing is as that would suggest a conclusion to the search. I did feel that the conferences I attended indicated a new direction worthy of following. Well, a “new to me” direction, for I don’t think I had a true original revelation for my profession, but the concepts presented have consumed my thought processes for the couple of days afterward.

There is a saying in library circles that goes like this: “a good library should have something to offend everyone”. I’d like to add a corollary to this well known collection development mantra: “a good library should have a feature for everyone.” The advent of the internet and other information transmission technologies have displaced libraries as the information monopolies that they enjoyed since the days of Alexandria. Much in the way that the United States have switched from a manufacturing to a service economy, libraries are still experiencing the postpartum pains of transforming from information gatekeepers to guides. Knowledge and learning are the old buzz words that get thrown around when people talk about the library; enrichment and service should be the new ones. Our academic credentials are well established, but we need to aggressively break that mold and show patrons that we have more to offer that can enhance their lives. We need present ourselves as having features and services available that compliment their interests and desires.

And what sort of services and features should we offer? In my opinion, it is to meet the patron on the communication medium of their choice (a.k.a. “where the rubber meets the road”). Whether it is in person, phone, email, or text, we need to be able to act and converse on all of those levels. With the glut of information in various forms out there, we need to provide guidance for people to get to the right information, to find the proper resources, and sage advice on how to navigate the barrage of potential sources. In exchange, we learn from our patrons (directly or indirectly) what communication tools they use in their lives and what they prefer. I think we are in another case of trying to catch up with technology, only with much worse timing than the internet during the business boom of the 1990′s. It is falling right in the midst of an economic recession and government interested in trimming budgets where libraries are viewed as cost centers rather than valued citizen resources.

Right now, I know how the budget at my branch is fairing. I know that if I want to do something with text service, I’m going to have to get pretty damn creative and look for free and/or open source solutions to add that to my branch’s services. It frustrates me since I know some of the solutions are within “easy” reach save for the fact that I lack the technical knowledge to fully understand them. I’ll have to get someone smarter than myself (not a real stretch) to be able to explain whether or not it can be implemented to me.  As our system blocks Myspace and Facebook, I am less inclined to start a presence on either site. But I am eager to learn more about Facebook opening up its API to developers, so any sort of foot dragging may be rewarded after all. Twitter, which has caught my fancy these days, presents a mixed bag as there are user retention issues for this microblogging/micromessaging social site. The limitation of the 160 character box for both Twitter and text works well in focusing a message, but it does poorly for presenting larger concepts, instruction, library news, or issues. Yes, there are url shortening services out there that are coming into heavier use, but this would rely on the end user clicking on the link rather than having the sum total of the message presented in the text or Tweet. Beyond that, we get into library philosophy debates as to whether we are able to provide all the answers for a patron on such a short format, regardless as to whether it is the patron’s preferred method of communication or not.

The one concept from the conference that most intrigued me was mobile reference. It’s very simple deal, really: take a librarian, add a smartphone with a data plan, and cut them loose into the wild. I’m not necessarily talking about a door to door salesman approach, but the purpose of mobile reference would be engage people outside the physical setting of the library and provide a sampling of library services. For more information, a mobile reference librarian would say as they handed over the library pamphlet, you can visit, call, or check us out on the web. Ok, perhaps there is some salesmanship, but that is no different than when a person is seated behind a desk talking about a new program, service, or event. It also establishes a presence outside of the library and creates a new way for the patrons to use the library.

I can see what the arguments against mobile reference might say. Where is the patron need for this service? How do we target an audience? Is this is a good use of staff time? I don’t have those answers at this time. What I do know is this: whether we like it or not, the internet has blown the walls off the libraries as a knowledge center, yet our single focus remains on what we can do within the confines of the building. Mobile technology has liberated us from the land line and given us the potential to do library service anywhere there is a viable internet connection, yet we are content to sit at the reference desk window and watch the world go by. It is hard enough to compete with the convenience of the personal computer versus driving, walking, or even phoning or emailing the library; we should not limit the ways in which we offer ourselves to our patron community. This is more passion than facts, for certain, but I do feel strongly enough about it to do more research into the subject.

Is all this talk pie in the sky? Maybe. But I do think we run a constant danger of putting ourselves in a perpetual catchup situation for adding emerging and/or established technologies. We need to become better at identifying technology trends, budget for it in due time, and make it connect with what we have to offer while it is still a popular technology. We won’t be able to sit on our duffs as much anymore, but that reference desk chair is not as comfortable as it once was for me. Not after the conference. We see how our patrons use technology everyday. We need to pay closer attention, see what it is, and then start looking where it is going. That will put us back on the forefront of the information age.

State of the Blog Address

So, I’ve been plugging away at this blog for a month. I know, what a noob, right? Well, it’s not my first stab at blogging and I’ve maintained a personal journal over at LiveJournal for a couple of years now. I guess that’s technically a blog, but since it has the word “journal” in it, it gets me all caught up in semantics. At any rate, this is my second attempt at having a completely public blog (my LJ is private and limited to family and friends).

In looking back at the past month of entries, they started off very serious, very link laden, and a mix of fact and opinion. As time moved on, I got away from that format. As much as I like trying to provide a complete picture of some of the issues that I support, it can be very draining. More draining than I thought it would be since it doubles the writing time as I collect and paste links and edit heavily. Don’t get me wrong, I like being able to provide the whole picture and cite my sources; it’s the right way to present the underlying facts that support a position. But, as the month went on, I have found that my interest was waning due to the high standards I had set for myself.

And hell, this is not supposed to be work, this is supposed to be something that I want to contribute to on multiple levels. So, the course has now changed (or, as I like to imagine it, “I am not lost, it is that path that has wandered”). I’ve always had the impulse to write, but not always the willpower to follow through. Right now, I have the willpower so I might as well take it where it is going and not stifle it by setting an unreasonable standard. I like writing about library science, religion, politics, goofy stuff in my life, and stuff that just pops in my head and demands to be recorded online.

More importantly to me, I like telling a story. I come from a long line of storytellers who savor the experience (much to the chagrin of my wife who hates waiting for joke punchlines and/or anything long winded).  I have many happy family memories involving people gathered around a dining room table or scattered in the family room or patio telling tales of their life experiences. More often than not it was something funny, but there would be stories of the somber times of World War II, Depression, and the intervening years of personal tragedies and other close calls. I’ve always known I was a storyteller. And though I prefer the spoken word to the written one, this is as good a medium as any for sharing most stories.

And so, I will see in another few months whether or not I stuck with the current format. It’s nice to see how certain things evolve over time. I’m looking forward to where I’m going, wherever that may be.

Politics in the Age of Information

These days, there is a disconnect between politics and the information age that I find disconcerting. We live in an age where information is neatly digitized, indexed, and available upon demand for those who seek it. And yet, there are those public figures who do no such fact checking of their own to some of things things they have said in the past. I concede that positions change over time and with different fact parameters, but what always surprises me is the disconnect to these past statements. It’s not like there isn’t a way to determine previous positions on a topic via searching relevant databases or the internet.

In a recent example, take Rick Warren. In an interview with Larry King, he indicated that he had never spoken against the gay marriage issue embodied in Calfornia’s Proposition 8. Not only is there evidence that he did so, but it is a video. Where is the reconciliation?

Insofar as politics go, the best collection of position or statement reversals lies with The Daily Show. If it is left to satirical entertainment to keep people honest about their positions, then what the hell are journalists doing these days?

the faulty model of newsprint media

At the end of last week, the New York Times Company threatened to close down the Boston Globe unless the employee unions agreed to $20 million in cuts. This comes on the heels of comments by NYT executive editor Bill Keller speaking to an audience at Stanford in which he stated “saving the New York Times now ranks with saving Darfur as a high-minded cause.” (He clarifies his statement to relate it to the relative level of interest in the survival of the Times, not as a human rights intervention. This doesn’t change the extraordinarily poor choice of comparative terms.) It’s not the only newspaper in trouble within recent memory. The Tribune Company (owner of the Chicago Tribune and Los Angeles Times) filed for bankruptcy at the end of 2008. The Philadelphia Inquirer filed in late February and the Rocky Mountain News (Denver) closed its doors just shy of 150 years of printing. The Seattle Post-Intelligencer dropped the print edition in favor of a web only edition.

While this traditional type of media is reeling financially, I think that newsprint media and technology have reached a crossroads of opportunity. The best example of this opportunity resides in the newspaper subscription service for the Kindle. The device is capable of downloading and updating content (such as newspaper subscriptions) automatically through available technological networks. This means you can wake up in the morning, roll over, hit your alarm, pick up your reader off the nightstand, and have the paper (so to speak) in your hands. In addition, it satisfies a push for greener technologies that will reduce a carbon footprint such as materials (paper and ink) and fuel. This is the sort of technology that the newspapers should be pushing the market to develop: a cheaper media reader (much cheaper than the Kindle’s $360 price tag) that can allow people to subscribe to their web content.

While there are arguments that print media is a victim of the economy or the public’s reading habits, I personally don’t find them compelling enough. The lack of movement towards digital content represents a lack of innovation on the part of the newspaper companies. And it’s not like they didn’t see it coming with the rise of Mobipocket Reader or the Kindle. We are becoming a “fingertip society”, for we expect information to be found at our fingertips when desired. While I cannot deny the pleasurable sensory experience in the feel of newspaper, the smell of the ink, or the crinkles of the sheets when turned, it is the content that is the selling point. A searchable digital format is what people have come to expect in their information experience. While there is much lost from the lack of serendipity browsing in these formats, there are greater gains to be made here in preserving these journalist institutions.

This reasoning also covers readering habits as it relates to how people are perceiving the information around them. Awhile ago (and I can’t remember or find the source now), I remember a  study that indicated that leisure reading is down across all age groups. However, this is an incomplete analysis for it fails to mention that the number of information mediums has gone up. Whether it is the web, text, video, or peer to peer referral, the increase in the types of media and means for people to get information has pushed newsprint media from being one of a few to one of many choices. In part with the aforementioned instant access that society has come to expect, this makes the current newspaper format a dinosaur of the information age. It does make me sad to say that I believe newsprint is on its way out; I have tons of memories of reading the comics with my father or the things I’ve discovered by thumbing through a section. But I cannot deny the financial situation nor the information trends which are moving away from it.

They are late off the starting block, but traditional news media can catch up. The technology is here or a few innovation generations away from where it needs to be for newspapers to fully take advantage of it. I will hope that there is some companies left to take advantage of it.

(Posted at LISNews)

pitchfork futures are up. way up.

A friend of mine put this article from Rolling Stone up in his blog about the bailout and AIG. While I had read various blogs, heard the talking heads on television, and other print media articles, this put it all in perspective. If anything, it quite possibly made me a tad more religious for I don’t think some of these people will see justice in this life. I have never wanted to own a pitchfork more than any other time in my life, even if I wasn’t using it for its originally created purpose.

The article also served to reverse my position on the bailouts and the incredible amounts of money involved here. Not simply because it is against the very nature of free market capitalism, but that these people deserve to undergo either financial reorganization or bankruptcy. (As my father put it last night, “They should get the haircut they deserve, not the bolstering.”) This would allow the companies to come down in size to the more manageable (read: easier to regulate) levels prior to 1999. It would also send a clear signal that such organization behavior will not be tolerated.

I’m not completely unsympathic to the plight of the people who work or worked for the company who are going to lose their jobs from this financial crisis. Having been let go a couple of times in my jog history, I would hope that this would create the change or innovation I underwent in changing fields. The march of industry will go on, just to a different beat.

pretty soon, nothing happened

After being issued the challenge to put forth a budget, the Republicans answered… with a 19 page document that contained no actual numbers. (You can see it for yourself here.) Glenn Thrush from Politico reports that even the release was subject to some bickering as the party members split between actually creating a budget with numbers versus putting *something* out there to win the news cycle. Sadly, a budget is longer than a news cycle. This budget is something we have to live with long after the cameras turn off.

Now, I will admit that, at the Center for American Progress (a noted progressive site), I scored in the ‘liberal democrat’ range on their Interactive Quiz. (Although, it is hard to take a website quiz where you rate issues 1 through 10 as gospel, but that’s another story.) But I’m not a partisan hack. If there is a house on fire, I’m not going to argue about where the water comes from. I want to see all the solutions brought to the table. And this just disappoints in a way that makes me very, very sad.

I used to think I was a Republican in Exile, someone who was driven away by the social conservatives who hold views that I find disagreeable. (The pro-life, pro-death penalty stance makes my head hurt.) The conservatism of my youth (small government, fiscal responsibility) has been replaced by the pragmatism of the absolute cluster fuck of a mess we are in. And if the Democrats and liberals of this country are offering the better solutions, I’m willing to go along with them. For those who think this is a compromise of my values, it might be. But I live in the real world which demands solutions for the moment. And a 19 page critique of the President’s budget without hard numbers is not a solution as much as it is a partisan talking points memo. Like Cuba Gooding Jr. in Jerry Macquire, show me the money.

Maybe I should feel sorry for them. It’s not easy to be a Republican these days. They really do need some time in the wilderness. Or we need more political parties. Or less yelling at the far right and the far left and people like myself feeling like a kid passing notes between feuding parents.

I need a drink.