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Friday, September 30, 2011

Overconnected, UnderInformed

Bill Davidow, author "Overconnected"
I like advice, especially if it's short and sweet. It's easier to accept and remember, I suppose, not to mention useful in the practice of living.

Two recent arrivals reverberate regularly in my daily work-a-day life teaching communications. "Some is not a number, soon is not a time," is a quote from the Heath brothers' book, "Switch". It's a nice re-issue of the famous maxim: what you can measure you can improve.

The next is from "Overconnected, the promise and threat of the Internet' by Silicon Valley veteran William Davidow. His book's premise is that 'feedback loops' in computer and communications technologies accelerate flaws in financial systems and make mistakes easier to make and slower to stop. It's less a "pro and con" view of the Internet than a view from beneath the floorboards of how the Internet's changed the world's economies.

He quotes his humanities professor from college, John Adams. Adams required students to memorize years, names and places. When engineers like Davidow protested such memorization, Adams answered "I have found that the more facts people know, the less they theorize."

For teachers, this advice is a helpful reminder. In the Age of Information, it's tempting to throw out the baby with the bathwater. If Google delivers facts, dates, names in a matter of seconds, what good is reading a detailed account of a historical era or event? The temptation to turn instead to the Internet's maze of dazzling distractions is easy to understand.

The answer, of course, is context: The reason for the sudden rush of coolness and bouyancy is the pool of water you just dove into. Context gives us the reasons that the economic crash of 2008 was similar and different than the one of 1929. Knowing facts, dates, names and context is what prepares us to not repeat mistakes, but avoid them.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Five Things I Know About Nuevo Laredo

1. The residents who love and have built the unique border culture of la frontera are of the most adaptable, creative and resilient people on Planet Earth.

2. There is no border region in the world where there is greater disparity in economies, yet our history is largely peaceful and rich (think music, dance, food, sports), convivial and collaborative in its acceptance, blending and enjoyment of bicultural traditions.

3. The message sent by the cartel to create fear with the recent murders and the decapitation of a local woman employed by a Nuevo Laredo paper is frightening as it reveals the intent and character of its authors.

4. Borderlanders are creative, and that's what it will take to fight the powers that seek to control Nuevo Laredo.

5. Those who work for good work tirelessly. They work not for money or gain, but for something greater, culture and the future. Over time, truth will overcome lies, and good will always triumph over evil.

PS. June of 2010 I spent a week in Laredo/Nuevo Laredo preparing a radio report on the use of social media by residents of the two cities in response to the decline/death of journalism about cartel violence in Nuevo Laredo. The reports were broadcast on Texas Public Radio. Here is a link:

(Scroll to Show 516)

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Just in Time vs. Just in Case...a case in point: donuts

Just in Time vs. Just in Case

I hate those TV programs that exploit the mentally ill, like Jerry Springer’s show or more recent examples like “Intervention” and worst of all, “Hoarders.” Poor people working out their family squabbles, addictions and bad habits in front of the camera for the audience’s entertainment.

See, I’m not at all like those crazy cheaters, meth addicts and shopaholics who lose sight of their lives and hallways with stuff they do and buy without thinking.

It’s tempting to watch, because deny as much as I want, some part of me is right in there with the crazy woman who can’t make her way out of her apartment anymore.

I can’t watch for long, though. I get a pain in my gut just from watching. I figure that’s my spiritual payback for watching mind-numbing pop-porn.

So imagine my surprise when I learned yesterday that I could have my own “there’s never enough” TV series right in my own shoulder bag. In fact, I have huge pop-porn potential.

I needed a thumb drive from the bottom of my purse. For what? To have an extra copy of a project, of course.

It struck me that I had BAD case of “Just in Case” when I had to plunge elbow deep in my bag to locate the thumb drive. In the process I fished up two wallets, two hair brushes, a cell-phone equipped with a photo and video camera, another photo and video camera, four pencils, five pens and a jumbo-size tube of hand cream.

Two of everything, including data. Does this mean I really am a hoarder? I was now knee deep in despair. Fortunately, I came across an email from my good friend, Oprah Winfrey. Yes, she sends me emails every morning, that busy bee. In this morning’s mail she sent a 2007 article by life coach Martha Beck about “Just in Case” thinking that bulges at my purse and body parts closer to my backside-- versus “Just in Time” thinking that leads to lighter living and shoulder bags, I suppose.

“Just in Case” I need no coaching on. I do "Just in Case" on my own. Here's an example from this morning. Two donuts. Just in case. Or, I’ll have this taco now, in case I get hungry later this afternoon. I’ll buy this outfit that’s on sale now in case I fit into it after my planned summer of Zumba exercise classes.

For learning about “Just in Time” thinking I do need Martha Beck to coach me. She writes in her article that hoarders and other pop-porn over-achievers that shop, eat, drink, exercise or do just about anything to excess are doing so out of fear and thoughts of scarcity.

Martha, are there really ever enough cameras around when you need them? She thinks one is enough. Silly girl.

OK, so I am a bit reluctant to sit down at my own intervention. Take a deep breath.

Martha Beck proposes a three step process for moving from “Just in Case” to “Just in Time” thinking:

First, list 10 times that you thought there wouldn’t be enough of something and you survived.

Second, list ten areas where you have too much, not too little.

Third, list 20 or 50 or a 1000 wonderful things that entered your life just at the right time, with no effort on your part. She coaches that it’s OK to start with the little things (oxygen, sunlight, a song on the radio).

Martha Beck says once we start “deliberately focusing on abundance” we will be overwhelmed by all the good things that just show up in our lives without much effort on our part. Really?

I intend to try this and work hard at it, but I’m afraid this is dangerous territory, Martha. After all, I’ve come this far carrying around a heavy purse and no real harm’s come from it.

Besides, what if I need a camera and can’t find one when I need it? What if I’m in the middle of a project of some kind and feel --God forbid --hungry?

Not only that, but have you ever waited for a job to just show up in your life? Or the right pair of sandals? I hate to be a doubting Thomas, but as they say, if the sandal fits.

I may still be stuck in scarcity thinking, but I don't really like it here. I’ll give it my best shot to work on my “Just in Time” thinking and try to toss out my “Just in Case” thinking.

If you like you can read the Martha Beck article at the following link:

Brothers Brilliant

I've recently noticed how much I appreciate writing that is clear, direct and helpful. I stick to non-fiction for most of my leisure reading because, to paraphrase a recent trendy phrase, "I do drama on my own."

Chip and Dan Heath are two brothers and scholars that write books that are excellent, accessible and loaded with interesting studies. Their first book, "Making It Stick" is chock full of helpful advice on writing effectively.

Their principles for making ideas "stick" follow an easy to remember formula, use ideas that are "Simple, Unexpected, Concrete, Credible, Emotional, and Stories (the acronym is SUCCESs)."

Their follow up book, "Switch: How to Change Things When Change is Hard" may even be better than their first book. Just as rich with great examples of leadership and innovation. My favorite line from the entire book is a real kick in the pants for those like me that need help with following through on ideas, projects and plans: "Some is not a number, soon is not a time."

It's helpful to remember, too, that self-control is a resource that is in "limited supply." The Heath brothers write how researchers learned that self control can be exhausted. Therefore it's important to focus on what we use our self control on, because we can't draw on an endless supply.

With the ailing economy, drought, political turmoil and other news flooding from around the world, it all gets to be a bit much for me. Remembering that self control is an exhaustible resource helps me to remember what I can impact and what I cannot.

It also means relaxing a bit about the "small stuff". Really remembering, no one is watching, overseeing my every move. Not that I'm not interesting, but because they are usually too busy focusing on themselves. That's a huge relief. My self control can be focused on stuff that counts, like grading student work or things that I can have an impact on like my health.

Friday, September 23, 2011

I love you, Dr. Michael Wesch

My five sections of Introduction to Mass Communications at Northwest Vista College are embarking on Week Six of the semester by exploring topics their groups have selected that are 1. important to college students 2. using relevant technologies, much in the style of "Visions of Students Today" by Kansas State University Anthropology professor Michael Wesch.

So far some of the topics the 30 groups in the five classes have selected are: "What is it like living in post 9-11 America", "What is it like living without ready access to drinking water", "What is it like living in a consumer-driven economy?" and "What is it like being in a relationship surrounded by media-driven images about romantic relationships?" The students worked on their "research question" by discussing their interests and carefully editing for bias or leading language.

The 'relevant technologies' they are using are similar to the ones used by Dr. Wesch's class in the video which has had 45 million views since 07 when it was uploaded by his students. These include Facebook Group pages, Google documents for collecting and gathering responses, as well as others, including Twitter.

The student groups are energized about this project and I'm eager to see the process evolve, and to learn from our classes efforts. I'm not sure we'll have 45 million views on our projects, but I am sure this is the sort of activity that tells students education is about things they care about and that their ideas, voices and efforts can contribute to building a better world.