Saturday, September 29, 2007


Late to the party, I am only just getting into podcasts...

But now I'm hooked - NPR, BBC, CBC, and of course independant podcasters make up 90% of my media consumption now. My TV is becoming dusty and unused- the DVD and cd players cough up dustbunnies when opened, but the computer is happy- warm and humming away...

I like the idea that anyone can be a broadcaster from the comfort of their own living room. I especially like the fact the NPR broadcasts in Second Life - a stroke of brilliance that blurs the boundaries between virtual and "real life" experience. I wonder if this is beyond what early Internet theorists like Sherry Turkle dreamed: a public media broadcasting on and offline with listeners choosing their preferred way of engagement. Responding to a phone-in radio show can be made in one of three ways, the traditional phone, the ubiquitous email, or now, via the Second Life home of NPR - and while you're at it, pick up an NPR T-shirt for your avatar!

Land based radio may be on the outs, internet radio royalties are unfortunately sky high- a move that favors the large media conglomerates that own most of the land based stations, and a move that threatens public and democratic media. But I for one, hope that podcasts in "real life" and in platforms like Second life remain (and they can, with a little help from the creative commons). It is technologies like these that fuel the workings of the elusive global citizen, and will shift the balance of power in the culture industry.

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Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Customer Service

After waiting patiently in a big box store for at least 30 minutes without seeing hide nor hair of a service person... After being told repeatedly by people that obviously worked in the store "sorry, but this isn't my department, someone will be along to help you"... After finally being helped by a bored and seemingly humourless customer service rep, who seemed to do the absolute minimum required to help, I am left wondering, oh customer service, where have you gone?

I can see it dwindling in the place I work too, where coworkers go out of their way to say "I'm not on client service today, I can't help people" "It's not my day" or "it's not my job". I see the frustrated look on the client's face - they only came here to ask for what we said we would provide. They're not asking us to go out of our way to help them - and in fact, we're getting paid TO help them, so why do we act like it's such an inconvenience???

I'm not sure if this is a symptom of an individualistic world, where we can tune others out using our technologies, or whether this is a symptom of the commodification of everything, or whether it's merely apathy, but I do think that if we fail to service our customers, we will lose them. They will find what they want elsewhere for a better price (probably the Internet, because if they're not getting service ANYWAY, they might as well shop where there isn't any) and we stand to lose our reason d'etre. And so customer service apathy is a dangerous trap to fall into.

It sounds cheesy, but if we simply CARE for other people in small ways on a day to day basis, then customer service isn't even an issue. I challenge everyone to care a little more today - at work or elsewhere, and see what comes of it.

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Wednesday, September 19, 2007

What we become


"What we become depends on what we read after all of the professors have finished with us. The greatest university of all is a collection of books".
-Thomas Carlyle (1795 - 1881)

Yes, Thomas Carlyle, that's certainly true, but more than what we read, what we become depends on what we do after all our teachers have finished with us. You can read the best, most informative, most important books in the world, just as you can have the best, most informative, most important teacher in your field, and you may still become nothing of consequence. Similarly, you may have the worst mentor in the world, and you can move beyond it (though it is often incredibly difficult). While Carlyle's self study may be an important first step in many fields, reading is not doing, and what we become has more to do with what we do with our book collection after we've read it.

Another quarrel - most books do not teach critical thinking skills. So a collection of books in lieu of a university, while seeming like a good idea on the surface, would be an education built on pretty shabby foundations if the books in the collection are say, trashy romance novels. Sometimes we need guidance to know which books to include in the collection, or how to read with a critical eye.

Still, however, a good mentor does not have to come from a University - If we're lucky perhaps, what we'll become is decent mentors for others, then our quotes can show up on someone else's website one day.

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Monday, September 17, 2007

Never Give Up


After Fred Astaire's first screen test, the memo from the testing director of MGM, dated 1933, read, "Can't act. Can't sing. Slightly bald. Can dance a little." He kept that memo over the fire place in his Beverly Hills home. Astaire once observed that "when you're experimenting, you have to try so many things before you choose what you want, that you may go days getting nothing but exhaustion." And here is the reward for perseverance: "The higher up you go, the more mistakes you are allowed. Right at the top, if you make enough of them, it's considered to be your style."

Some days it feels as though nothing is easy. It feels as though you have to fight with a million more talented, richer, more attractive, more graceful people for a little bit of recognition. Some days it feels like nothing matters. Even if you can eke out a little slice of the proverbial pie, it couldn't possible EVER be worth the amount of work you put into it. Nobody cares, nobody notices the work you do, so you might as well do the bare minimum, right?

I think some people actually live by that philosophy, but not the really memorable people. Great thinkers, great athletes, memorable performers, and other mentionables perhaps aren't really that different than 85-90% of the population except for in one thing. They never gave up, even when they were told repeatedly to.

Sometimes it takes a million tries to get something right. Sometimes you have to write a million posts before someone reads your blog.

I can't dance, and I'll probably never be Fred Astaire, but I can learn efficacy, and I can remind myself to keep going, even when my confidence is at its lowest. Because it's never worth doing only the bare minimum, even in a world where nobody else will notice the difference.

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Saturday, September 15, 2007

Being Busy vs. Leisure Time

I've noticed that by and large, my friends fall under one of two categories: There are those who are always busy, seem to be taking on all kinds of new projects all the time, and doing each project to the best of their abilities, and there are those who spend every night and weekend hanging out, having leisure time, and wonder why the other ones are never around.

I don't feel like I'm in any position to pass judgment on either choice. The first category is an interesting, yet very stressful way to live. It can also be lonely. If you opt for new experiences over spending time with those who love you, you may find yourself without people to spend time with. On the other hand, the second choice, while more relaxing, seems to offer less in the way of living. Life is so short, that if you spend too much time just hanging out, you may miss the opportunity to try one of the "one day I want to..."s on your life list.

Personally, I fall into the first category. I like to be busy and usually am. In my case this results in the occasional feeling of exhaustion, burnout, periodic loneliness, and anger when I take on more than I should and lash out at those around me. I feel I gain from my choice, a richer life, more interesting experiences, a chance to continually grow, and opportunities to discover myself. Some would argue with me on this last point though, saying that I will only be able to fully know myself when I stop being busy, and start staying still. Maybe they're right, but if staying still doesn't feel like "me", am I not neglecting my own needs by doing it?

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Thursday, September 13, 2007

Who am I writing for?

Many new bloggers, graduate students, unpublished authors, and seasoned professional writers alike sometimes wonder "who am I writing for"? Myself, being in the first two categories, and formerly the third, often wonder who I am writing for with a sort of desperation. Nobody's is reading what I write, so my writing is a pointless act of self-delusion. Other times, even if there is a suspected audience, we think that if we can only figure out who that audience is and what they want, then we can write the perfect piece and finally be the accomplished writers we know we can be. One of my undergraduate writing professors always belabored the point "know your audience". She had the entire class convinced that knowing the audience was the secret to professional writing.

While my professor was not wrong in her advice, and while knowing your audience can be helpful especially in business writing, William Zinsser in his book On Writing Well suggests a different approach:

"You are writing for yourself. Don't try to visualize the great mass audience. There is no such audience - every reader is a different person. Don't try to guess what sort of thing editors want to publish, or what you think the country is in a mood to read. Editors and readers don't know what they want to read until they read it" (p.25)

If you are writing for yourself, it's easy to know your audience. If you're writing for yourself, it's easier to stay motivated to practice your craft and write every day. Even if your feedburner says, as mine always does: 0 readers.

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Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Without Google, I May Cease to Exist...

Google runs my life now... If I think about it, there are several very good reasons why without Google I would cease to exist. I will explain them here:

1) I Blog, therefore I am. Google owns Blogger. And since I write my thoughts here in order to achieve personal verification, and self actualization, without Blogger I may be swallowed by the whole of my own significance. I would certainly disappear from Netspace.

2)My Calendar is completely managed by Google Calendar. Again, without the reassurance of daily life events (work, leisure, personal development, etc) I cannot be sure that I would be doing anything at all. Google Calendar validates my existence by providing me with places I need to be, and in so doing reinforces the fact that I do, actually exist.

3)Google Desktop provides me with a link to the outside world. This proves to me that the world exists, and I by proxy, exist in it. With the drag of my mouse I find out what the weather is doing, what the headlines are, and whether my favorite blog has been updated. Since these feeds are always changing, I am fairly confident that the world and I still exist.

4)I am searchable. It's not easy, my blog is nowhere near the top of the ranks or anything, but technically, I am searchable. This beyond everything else proves I must exist, though without it I cannot be so sure of my own existence.

Think about it...Would you exist without Google? Myspace? Facebook? Without them, how do you know you're not just a figment of your own (or someone else's) imagination?

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