Salsa Scoop> tag: ”blog:noodlings“

Your Mother Wants You To Go Home to Eat

by Jason Z.

The Great Firewall of China -- that country's massive Internet censorship program -- is the great standing exception to the the cornucopian communication age cottage industry, not unlike China itself is for neoliberalism's great markets=freedom project.

So it's fascinating to take in this academic meditation on the uncanny spread of an Internet meme, The Curious Case of Jia Junpeng, or The Power of Symbolic Appropriation in Chinese Cyberspace.

the main message is that in China today, the internet can always be appropriated by users for their own purposes, however closely it is monitored or controlled. ... ... The issue is not simply a matter of citizen expression versus state control, or freedom versus repression, though these are of central importance. Even during more controlled periods such as the Cultural Revolution, there were what Tang Tsou calls "zones of indifference" which state power did not try to penetrate or control. In some ways, cyberspace is easier to control. A vast online community, for example, may be monitored from a small central control office. Entire networks can be shut down. Yet this does not mean Chinese cyberspace does not have its own "zones of indifference."

"Zones of indifference" ... reminiscent of (if distinctly less exalted than) Hakim Bey's Temporary Autonomous Zones. What's next in this for the timeless play of coercion, critique and consent? I think I may have to pick up the gentleman's book to get a few ideas.


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Small Accommodations for Technology

It's a tiny thing, after all. A little callus on the thumb, a little path worn through the garden ... the visible tokens of the concessions we make every day to plug a malleable soul into the life its fleshy prison shambles through. Most of the time, one only notices the smallness of one's niche within the range of human experience in the face of some jarring contrast. I caught myself in a bit of that the other day, and when I stepped back to examine it, it struck me kind of funny. We use a Jabber installation for internal IM, to which I connect along with various other services with Pidgin. My normal m.o., to keep my screen uncluttered, had been to shut down chat windows awaiting a pending response, counting on my correspondent to pop it open when and if they answer and I need to pay attention to it again. Jabber, as one can see, gives one's correspondent a rather brusque message that sort of thing is done. "Left the conversation"! Just imagine excusing yourself from a tiresome party encounter with a line like that. (Don't think I haven't imagined.)

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The Quality of Mercy

The quality of mercy is not strain'd, It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven Upon the place beneath. It is twice blest: It blesseth him that gives and him that takes. 'T is mightiest in the mightiest: it becomes The throned monarch better than his crown; His sceptre shows the force of temporal power, The attribute to awe and majesty, Wherein doth sit the dread and fear of kings; But mercy is above this sceptred sway, It is enthroned in the hearts of kings, It is an attribute to God himself; And earthly power doth then show likest God's, When mercy seasons justice. Therefore, Jew, Though justice be thy plea, consider this, That in the course of justice none of us Should see salvation: we do pray for mercy; And that same prayer doth teach us all to render The deeds of mercy. -William Shakespeare, The Merchant of Venice

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The Theory of the YouTube Class: ObamaGirl and the Web2.0 Aesthetic

Someone could have dined well on my dime by wagering me on the proposition that this now-renowned "ObamaGirl" video would be -- well -- renowned. I guess I'm a fogey. When I saw this thing Thursday morning it registered a big "meh." Three days later, the needle hasn't budged. Actually, the citizen media that caught my eye that day came via the UK-based nfp2.0 blog -- a spot of guerrilla marketing. [I know you want the SILF t-shirt] This charismatic piece hit me as an interesting juxtaposition to last summer's viral-marketing Hindenberg, the Subway pitch which went viral for its cover-your-eyes awfulness. (All the original's video links seem to be pulled, but the below is the piece plus smartass subtitling.) Despite my mixed reactions, and despite the contrasting purposes at play, there's a kinship between the first two of these videos that's wanting in the third. What is this quicksilver "genuineness" that decodes a piece's meaning and foretells its prospects as citizen media?

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It's the Use, Not the Tech

Our resident programming recluse emerged yesterday to pronounce upon the peculiarities of elevating a format into a standard. Seems it's another one of those problems which upon scrutiny dissolve from the technical to the social. The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our code. Tangentially, Chris' ruminations reminded me of a book review in the month's backlog of New Yorkers awaiting my return from vacation last week. Subtitled "How uses, not innovations, drive human technology", it surveys the "use history" of technology -- the relationships people form with tools, and perseverance of old technologies amid new, the ultimate centrality of human experience and society vis-a-vis gizmos and "futurism".
no one is very good at predicting technological futures; new and old technologies coexist; and technological significance and technological novelty are rarely the same ... Above all, [David] Edgerton says that we are wrong to associate technology solely with invention, and that we should think of it, rather, as evolving through use. A "history of technology-in-use," he writes, yields "a radically different picture of technology, and indeed of invention and innovation."
I hadn't seen it remarked upon in my scan through the nptech chatter of recent weeks, but that sounds like a description anyone who's worked at a nonprofit -- or taken a support call from one -- can readily identify with.

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You ever have that moment -- where you think, what the devil did people do before the Internet? What did I do? And, "I'm one well-placed electromagnetic pulse from "Omega Man"? I debated in high school, moderately competently. Research was the coin of the realm in forensics, and I presume still is although I haven't been in the game in forever. Are those faint recollections of card catalogue lookups, photocopying magazine pages and then cutting and freaking pasting them -- like kindergarten -- really right? Dragging around several enormous tubs full of profoundly anti-ergonomic evidence to make sure of having the right sheet of paper to whip out and read? That world's information management seems closer to cloistered copyists than the life I lead at the moment.

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After NTC

There's nowhere like the nation's capital for turning out nonprofiteers in record numbers, and NTC had the scale of, like, Battlestar Galactica or something: a minor metropolis afloat in the stars. The number 1,200 was murmured, which would be enough bodies to outvote Vatican City. People talked about going the whole 2-3 days without the serendipitous run-in with someone they were hoping to meet. Almost any thematic takeaway for the NTC would be a plausible one, simply because there were just so many different ways to look into the kaleidoscope. My personal version of the theme -- having hit sessions on screencasting, mobile, and radio both online and off -- was multi-channel engagement. It feels to me that the sector is straining against this membrane, looking for the next ah-ha moment, the next breakout into open country. Can we get Internet everywhere? Can we mate it with television, telephones, voice, thought, shoe leather? Can the multiplying tools and gizmos combine and connect? Can it get from niftiness and even effectiveness to really game-changing? We catch glimmers. A citizen video flips control of the Senate -- hybridized data sets present the occasional but isolated dazzling perspective -- rumors circulate of flash mobs on distant shores. The Twitter froth, I suspect, emerges fundamentally from its hint of gathering blogging, texting and social networking into a bridge tenuously connecting meatspace and cyberspace identities. It -- whatever it is -- just isn't quite there yet, and some days it seems it's on the next train after Godot. But the hope for the Next Big Thing might be one of those cases of generals fighting the last war.

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What Two Years in Nonprofit Tech Has Taught Me (If Anything)

Yesterday was the two-year anniversary of my first day at DemocracyInAction, and it got me reflecting on the many strange and wonderful things I've learned, from the many strange and wonderful fellow-inmates of the nonprofit tech asylum. I came by the nonprofit tech space quite accidentally, as happens to many in it -- development (fundraising, not tech development) turned accidental owner of a web site turned e-pamphleteer turned buyer/user/customer evangelist of scrappy startup do-gooders turned employee of aforementioned scrappy startup do-gooders. I've been learning on the fly since those first stomach-fluttering support calls, and with luck a few of those lessons were even the right ones. At any rate, these are a few of the dominant delusions I'm nursing as a result:

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Metrics Meretricious and Meritorious

One of the pleasures of an otherwise meritless fantasy sports habit is learning to evaluate games and players in different ways. Baseball fans, for instance, will be at least passingly familiar with OPS, an only recently-popularized statistic for evaluating a player's offensive contribution more deeply than a batting average. Football Outsiders has done wonders -- and unearthed hidden insights, many rapidly becoming conventional wisdom -- with unorthodox analysis of NFL games. So my ears perked up when the indispensable Progressive Exchange mailing list took an innocuous inquiry about mailing every month as opposed to every other month* and galloped into a conversation about what metrics like e-mail open rates measure and whether they really matter. Mark Rovner of Sea Change Strategies struck the tocsin thusly:
We all — myself included — pay far too much attention to these measures because they are so easy to get. But are they really telling us anything important? Is your goal for a newsletter really to get them to click to your site, or is it to bond them to the organization?

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Surge Protection

With the young emperor set to cart more bodies to the Sumerian charnel house, we would be remiss to make no comment on the issue of the day, to which so many of our users are lending their energy. We've been spotlighting on the home page the outstanding house party event that True Majority is running through our Distributed Event tool. (And note their comprehensive Event Kit -- putting organizing material like that in the hands of would-be local activists in conjunction with the signup pages is what really makes a house parties action rock.)* More importantly, it's a response to the mad and unpopular "strategy" of more, deeper, and alongside tomorrow's Day of Action to Shut Down Guantanamo (scads of DIA types among the sponsors) represents a critical test for that netroots we keep hearing about.

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