Traditional Vs. Non-Traditional Journalism

Chris Anderson and Will Hearst talking shop in May of 2006:

Publisher, Will Hearst, on the evolution of journalism:

[..] In the era of 20 years ago, there was a notion of a professional journalist — I’m not saying let’s race back to that era — what I’m saying is that notion is utterly gone. And what we are seeing as so-called professional journalism is really freelance material, shot in Baghdad, shipped to New York, somebody voice-overs it and that’s supposed to be “live news.”

And we’re covering Israel out of London and we’re covering Nairobi out of Tokyo, you know, we’re kidding ourselves. So in a way, I think the cure is not to go backwards, but to go forwards and to label that stuff and get more of that material and do away with this pseudo-professional news, which it really isn’t.

I mean if we’re gonna have “citizen journalism,” then let’s have it. […]

I completely appreciate the sentiment, but Will Hearst knows better than anybody that isn’t going to occur through the existing mainstream channels.

Mainstream news outlets — television and newspaper alike — are busy attempting to figure out how to keep the best parts of their old revenue model in place while leveraging the independent voices of the information age.

While the conglomerates look for new ways to count the same beans, innovative distribution models with decentralized reporting have already taken hold.

This shouldn’t be the cornerstone of the conversation, though. Even without an organized effort to distribute decentralized reporting, there are already 30 million active blogs in play around the world.

The news is becoming hyper-local and hyper-topical without the steady hand of industry drivers to guide it; traditional journalism is going the way of the stock broker.

Now traditional ethics? Well, that’s another story entirely

The Haditha Massacre, Media and Patterns of Warfare

haditha map massacre

With the massacre of Haditha already drawing comparisons to the My Lai massacre — where up to 500 unarmed Vietnamese men, women and children were killed in cold blood by American forces — proponents of this war are holding fast against this incident becoming the tipping point of complete anti-war sentiment.

Local blogger, Joe Guarino:

[…] We cannot take these unfortunate events, and then somehow generalize and amplify the Big Message they convey to suggest that the overall war effort is unworthy. We cannot make general assessments of the war in Iraq (or in Vietnam, for that matter) on the basis of tragic events that do not reflect the overall pattern.

The media would be wrong to muster a drumbeat on these stories, but if they do in stereotypical fashion, the public should ignore it.

Unfortunately for Joe and his agenda, the American public will discuss the role this atrocity plays in the overall war effort.

Whether Haditha represents an accurate assessment of the US military’s tactical MO or not, it has marked a clear shift in our collective perception of modern warfare. No longer do we live in a fantasy world of surgically precise operations; we’ve all awoken to the reality that combat-stressed groups of men and women in a war zone are capable of murdering civilians on their own accord.

That 21st century, smart-bomb warfare meme is kaput; we’re now all aware that the US is knee-deep in a grudge match.

But in the end, it truly doesn’t matter if this one incident is indicative of the pattern to the entire war effort or not, because to the Iraqi people — the people on the other end of the gun barrel in any circumstance — it signifies a terrifying escalation of chaos, murder and occupation that cannot be erased with clarifying words.

The Overall Pattern In Iraq

From pg. 39 of the September 2004 Strategic Communication report, by the Defense Science Board—a federal advisory committee established to provide independent advice to the secretary of defense:

2.3 What is the Problem? Who Are We Dealing With?

The information campaign—or as some still would have it, “the war of ideas” or the struggle for “hearts and minds”—is important to every war effort. In this war it is an essential objective, because the larger goals of U.S. strategy depend on separating the vast majority of non-violent Muslims from the radical-militant Islamist-Jihadists. But American efforts have not only failed in this respect: they may also have achieved the opposite of what they intended.

American direct intervention in the Muslim World has paradoxically elevated the stature of and support for radical Islamists, while diminishing support for the United States to single-digits in some Arab societies.

  • Muslims do not “hate our freedom,” but rather, they hate our policies. The overwhelming majority voice their objections to what they see as one-sided support in favor of Israel and against Palestinian rights, and the longstanding, even increasing support for what Muslims collectively see as tyrannies, most notably Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Pakistan, and the Gulf states.
  • Thus when American public diplomacy talks about bringing democracy to Islamic societies, this is seen as no more than self-serving hypocrisy. Moreover, saying that “freedom is the future of the Middle East” is seen as patronizing, suggesting that Arabs are like the enslaved peoples of the old Communist World—but Muslims do not feel this way: they feel oppressed, but not enslaved.
  • Furthermore, in the eyes of Muslims, American occupation of Afghanistan and Iraq has not led to democracy there, but only more chaos and suffering. U.S. actions appear in contrast to be motivated by ulterior motives, and deliberately controlled in order to best serve American national interests at the expense of truly Muslim self-determination.
  • Therefore, the dramatic narrative since 9/11 has essentially borne out the entire radical Islamist bill of particulars. American actions and the flow of events have elevated the authority of the Jihadi insurgents and tended to ratify their legitimacy among Muslims. Fighting groups portray themselves as the true defenders of an Ummah (the entire Muslim community) invaded and under attack to broad public support.
  • What was a marginal network is now an Ummah-wide movement of fighting groups. Not only has there been a proliferation of “terrorist” groups: the unifying context of a shared cause creates a sense of affiliation across the many cultural and sectarian boundaries that divide Islam.
  • Finally, Muslims see Americans as strangely narcissistic—namely, that the war is all about us. As the Muslims see it, everything about the war is for Americans—really no more than an extension of American domestic politics and its great game. This perception is of course necessarily heightened by election-year atmospherics, but nonetheless sustains their impression that when Americans talk to Muslims they are really just talking to themselves.

Thus the critical problem in American public diplomacy directed toward the Muslim World is not one of “dissemination of information,” or even one of crafting and delivering the message. Rather, it is a fundamental problem of credibility. Simply, there is none; the United States today is without a working channel of communication to the world of Muslims and of Islam. Inevitably therefore, whatever Americans do and say only serves the party that has both the message and the “loud and clear” channel: the enemy.

That last sentence (with my emphasis) represents the overall pattern that I see in the Iraq war. We’re a 100,000 strong force of monolinguistic, armed men and women on a foreign soil. Our soldiers have little to no training in the local customs of the Iraqi people, and practically no one can verbally communicate with either civilians or the enemy.

Essential building blocks of communication with the Iraqi people—humane, personal connections via idle chat during a convoy exercise, supportive conversation in local establishments, calming direction provided during a house raid—all become lost opportunities to gain a semblance of trust or credibility.

This simple inability to communicate waters the fields of insurgent seeds.

So when an atrocity such as Haditha occurs, the Iraqi people’s understanding of the act can’t be contextualized or messaged into obscurity by our military. Worse even, the sheer brutality of such an incident doesn’t need to be framed or spun by operatives of al Qaeda or the leaders of local insurgents to build a greater resistance to American forces.

The atrocity speaks for itself, with a clarity of message delivered via a deafening tone of dead relatives, neighbors and friends, all never to be seen again.

Iraqi citizens have lived with the fear of a potential Haditha massacre for years now. Their daily lives are filled with various degrees of similar experiences with American forces as we consistently sweep through house after house in the middle of the night, searching for insurgents. A Haditha massacre does only one thing: it confirms their worst fears, leading to more fear and more aggression towards our troops.

No matter what we want to tell ourselves, perception is reality.

The DoD knows we’ll never be able to control the perception of Iraqi’s, so this cry of the right to look at the big picture of the war is a nothing more than panicked attempt to control the perception and reactions of Americans that might question this war effort.

To suggest that the American public should “ignore” the “media mustering a drumbeat on these stories”—these atrocities—in order to protect the overall pattern of the war in Iraq is a failed intellectual position. This incident might only be one data point in the overall pattern of war, but it’s a glaring one; one that exposes more elements going wrong over there than going right.

The Role Of The Media

Iraqi war planners aren’t overly concerned with critical journalism, such as the March 2006 Time magazine exclusive on Haditha, affecting the average American’s take on the state of the war.

Sure, it’s a concern, but it’s only the tip of the iceberg.

If not managed, the mainstream media can become a major threat to war efforts because it is exists via the same capitalistic infrastructure as the government it supposes to watchdog.

In other words, when media institutions begin climbing onto editorial limbs, foregoing their inherent responsibility to the interests of corporate advertising, it clearly signals a shift in times to American corporations who become placed in a position to make certain decisions they’d rather not have to make:

  • They can remove themselves from media buys that are beginning to serve the reflected will of the consumer (poor PR) or
  • They can keep their advertising in place as a public relations strategy, while implicitly distancing themselves from our government’s effort to wage war

See, the real concern isn’t with the common people in as much as it is with the flow of money, for once the majority of corporations are off the bandwagon of a war effort, its future becomes rather short-lived.

An Example Of The Power Of Media

Lieutenant William Calley—the American officer in charge at the My Lai massacre—faced the scrutiny of the much more centralized, mainstream media of 1970. Advertising legend George Lois provides context to the media exposure of the atrocity at the time by describing the decision and experience of placing Calley on the November, 1970 cover of Esquire magazine:

LieutenantWilliamCalley

“Lieutenant, this picture will show that you’re not afraid as far as your guilt is concerned. The picture will say: ‘Here I am with these kids you’re accusing me of killing. Whether you believe I’m guilty or innocent, at least read about my background and motivations.'” Calley grinned on cue, and we completed the session.

When I sent the finished cover to (Esquire editor, Harold) Hayes he called to let me know that his office staff and Esquire’s masthead bureaucrats were plenty shook up.

“Some detest it and some love it,” he said. “You going to chicken out?” I asked. “Nope,” he said. “We’ll lose advertisers and we’ll lose subscribers. But I have no choice. I’ll never sleep again if I don’t muster the courage to run it.”

The notion that some editors might feel a sense of duty to a global community—and not just to a sovereign position or a bottom line—marks the potential for transforming the media into the greatest, political equalizer on the face of the earth.

In 1970, the attack on the “liberal” media—outlets that didn’t explicitly recognize corporate interests over human interests at every turn—was eerily similar to the conservative banter of today. From Into The Dark: The My Lai Massacre:

[…] On April 1, 1971, just two days after the verdict, Nixon ordered Calley to be placed under house arrest while his appeal worked its way through the courts. “The whole tragic episode was used by the media and the antiwar forces to chip away at our efforts to build public support for our Vietnam objectives,” he wrote.

Across the nation, there were many demonstrations of support for Lt. Calley. The American Legion announced plans that it would try to raise $100,000 for his appeal. Draft board personnel in several cities resigned in groups. Several politicians spoke out in public criticizing the government’s prosecution of the soldiers at My Lai. “I’ve had veterans tell me that if they were in Vietnam now, they would lay down their arms and come home,” Congressman John Rarick told the New York Times.

But prosecutor Aubrey Daniel also did not remain silent. He wrote a highly publicized letter to President Nixon criticizing him for releasing Calley to house arrest: “How shocking it is if so many people across this nation have failed to see the moral issue—that it is unlawful for an American soldier to summarily execute unarmed and unresisting men, women and babies.” […]

In the end, we have to recognize that an atrocity such as Haditha is a symptom of the behavioral patterns of all warfare. To brush it aside as a random act of violence would be to remove the complicit nature of war planners from the equation and lay it squarely on the shoulder of the souls that serve our country, no matter the call to duty.

A Conversation Across Space And Time

World 2.0 seems to have raised it’s periscope within our culture almost 5 years ago, in the immediate post-9/11 world. Who would’ve thunk it possible?

Brad Neuberg on October 21, 2001:

The world seems to be hungry for an ideological alternative to capitalism. I don’t know if this is a rational or simply emotional need for something to challenge what is now the dominant ideology of the age, but I predict that as soon as a semi-credible ideological alternative to capitalism arises that it will spread like wildfire and produce another Cold War type situation. Communism used to be it, but is now defunct and dead, while fundamentalist Islam semi-fills this need in parts of the world. I’ve noticed this need to challenge capitalism while traveling; I can even see it in myself.

I’ve never met Brad—as a matter of fact, I was only introduced to his blog tonight via Messina’s post—yet I dropped a similar perspective on the state of capitalism on the other side of the planet just two weeks later in the fall of 2001.

Coincidence or…?

The collective unconscious has always been a powerful concept, but before blogging, it wasn’t a tangible construct. It took the invention of the permalink and intra-day personal publishing to even begin to generate enough trails of human expression to expose Jung’s concept of unspoken, shared realities and archetypes.

While The Cluetrain gang introduced the concept of a global conversation to netizens back in 1999, what I find so interesting about the blogosphere since that time, is that the very notion of a conversation has the potential to become explicitly amplified and extracted to become findable across new dimensions of length and density.

The web is now chock full of meshed thoughts and dreams, connected explicitly by hyperlinks, loosely by tags and conceptually by discovery. With a shift in search result interface paradigms, the possibilities for more complete, immediate research queries are endless.

Topical themes—or memes—shift intra-day and can last as conversations either as sporadic and finite bunches (Jill Carroll’s abduction and release over a three month period) or prolonged variants (George Bush’s presidency). Imagine what types of conversational connections will become possible when interfaces, such as a Technorati search result, leaves the conservative constraints of separated permalink results based on latest entries or authority, and instead focuses on the clustering of such conversations through visual metaphors across other dimensions.

And no, I’m not talking about a folder paradigm.

I’m talking about dynamic, visual representations of conversations, with the ability to shift in real-time, using attributes such as tags and language co-occurance to drive groupings within oppositional variants such as the length and density of the conversation.

cluster-conversation

The day our thoughts and dreams stop getting lost in the cracks of time and authority, we’ll be one step closer to the knowledge revolution, leaving information in the dust with data. Then the decolonization of cyberspace can begin with earnest.

The Message: Score Another One For Netflix

the-message

I’ve had the Koran sitting on my bookshelve for the past ten years; I have no idea how The Message has alluded me until this past weekend.

While the historical accuracy of the film and its brilliant acting took center stage, there were explicit elements of both the production and storyline I found especially intriguing.

For instance, Islamic law forbids portraying either the voice or likeness of the Prophet Mohammed (that concept would put Christianity straight out of business), so when certain scenes called for interaction with The Prophet, director Moustapha Akkad made the call to turn the camera into Mohammed’s silent point of view.

The cast of followers spoke directly to Mohammed, yet they were simultaneously engaged in conversation with the audience, providing us with the positioning of The Prophet. In 1976, this may not have been viewed as a compelling technique, but in the age of first person shooter video games—where we directly engage and interact with the narrative, driving the storyline as we gaze into the eyes of AI avatars—the technique shifts meaning over the years. Very retro-cool.

In terms of the story, both the politics and marketplace of Mecca circa 600 AD were fascinating and generated numerous offshoots of thought.

The film reveals that the ruling class of Mecca kept the populous in-line, and themselves profitable, through establishing a marketplace of ~360 idolic “Gods”—wooden or clay figures, sold to individuals and families alike to provide good luck. The families blindly worshiped them as their personal saviors (talk about instant, add-water religion) and left the ruling class alone to continue their manipulation of the market and society.

When Muhammed returned from the mountains and began sharing his first poetic drops of the Koran, amongst the numerous stanzas (of eventual Islamic law), the message that forbode the worship of other gods was explicit. “There is only one God” quickly became the righteous chant of all classes of men who followed Muhammed’s revelations. Upon experiencing this shifting of inclusion (of social classes) and exclusion (of idolic gods), the local merchants/governors took this challenge of authority as a direct threat to the well-greased mechanism of Mecca’s economy, class and power structure and responded with force.

The mere concept of “There can only be one God” was more revolutionary than any number of armed men storming the city because their God could not generate a profit.

After digesting the film, my mind’s eye kept returning to the current global struggles between Islam and the West, asking the question as to whether or not we’re going through a historical recurrance on a global scale.

I mean, the World Trade Center was considered to be the most prolific iconic representation of the American (and Western) financial system. Could Ramzi Yousef and Osama bin Laden possibly have targeted the WTC in ’93 and 9/11, respectively, in an attempt to make a deep seeded philosophical connection with fellow fundamentalists, tying the traits of modern day global capitalism to Mecca circa 600 AD?

Yeah, the film was that deep. Now I’ve got to check out Reza Aslan’s recently published book entitled “No God But God: The Origins, Evolution, and Future of Islam.” Based on Jon Stewart’s interview with him last night and the reviews of Islamic bloggers, it’s bound to be enlightening on numerous fronts.

Review: Chomsky “What Uncle Sam Really Wants”

sam

Why I started my Chomsky indulgence with Understanding Power and not this digestible gem I’ll never know.

Uncle Sam is a brilliant pocket reference of Noam Chomsky’s world view, specifically his unflinching criticism of US foreign policy. His genius with linguistics provides him the means to absolutely tear apart the propaganda surrounding isms, bringing the conversation and arguments back to the table of reality. By comparing declassified government files, public policy and geopolitical events occurring between the early 1940’s to 1992, Chomsky cuts directly through the posturing of the US to frame cause and effect in the struggle for global power.

The man is fearless. He critically deconstructs policy from within the sovereign US to expose the post-WWII new world order policies of US planners—clearly describing how the Third World has been shaped to remain the peasant working class via neo-Nazi techniques of torture and intimidation, satisfying the needs of the US investor class.

His arguments are completely lucid and relevant in today’s world, even though it was published in the early nineties. Want an example? Keep an eye on the US propaganda regarding the “left-wing rhetoric” of Hugo Chavez. The BBC is already picking up the US talking points of Venezuela elections being rigged. Chomsky describes these US tactics in detail.

Chomsky’s take on US indoctrination of its citizens to contributing productively to pure capitalism is classic, as he tackles complicit participants from the mainstream media to academia. Just as stinging is his perspective on the marginalization of 80% of our population, which reminded me a bit of the 5% Nation, but without the optimism.

Here’s a section about the US in a Rent-A-Thug role (remember, this was written during the original Gulf War conflict with George H.W. Bush in charge):

[…] In any confrontation, each participant tries to shift the battle to a domain in which it’s most likely to succeed. You want to lead with your strength, play your strong card. The strong card of the United States is force, so if we can establish the principle that force rules the world, that’s a victory for us. If, on the other hand, a conflict is settled through peaceful means, that benefits us less, because our rivals are just as good or better in that domain.

Diplomacy is a particularly unwelcome option, unless it’s pursued under the gun. The US has very little popular support for its goals in the Third World. This isn’t surprising, since it’s trying to impose structures of domination and exploitation. A diplomatic settlement is bound to respond, at least to some degree, to the interests of the other participants in the negotiation, and that’s a problem when your positions aren’t very popular.

As a result, negotiations are something the US commonly tries to avoid. Contrary to much propaganda, that has been true in Southeast Asia, the Middle East and Central America for many years.

Against this background, it’s natural that the Bush administration should regard military force as a major policy instrument, preferring it to sanctions and diplomacy (as in the Gulf crisis). But since the US now lacks the economic base to impose “order and stability” in the Third World, it must rely on others to pay for the exercise—a necessary one, it’s widely assumed, since someone must ensure a proper respect for the masters. The flow of profits from Gulf oil production helps, but Japan and German-led continental Europe must also pay their share as the US adopts the “mercenary role,” following the advice of the international business press.

The financial editor of the conservative Chicago Tribune has been stressing these themes with particular clarity (William Neikirk, “We are the World’s Guardian Angels” 9/9/90) We must be “willing mercenaries,” paid for our ample services by our rivals, using our “monopoly power” in the “security market” to maintain “our control over the world economic system.” We should run a global protection racket, he advises, selling “protection” to other wealthy powers who will pay us a “war premium.”

This is Chicago, where the words are understood: if someone bothers you, you call on the Mafia to break their bones. And if you fall behind in your premium, your health may suffer too.

To be sure, the use of force to control the Third World is only a last resort. The IMF is a more cost-effective instrument than the Marines and the CIA if it can do the job. But the “iron fist” must be poised in the background, available when needed.

Our rent-a-thug role also causes suffering at home. All of the successful industrial powers have relied on the state to protect and enhance powerful domestic economic interests, to direct public resources to the needs of investors, and so on—one reason why they are successful. Since 1950, the US has pursued these ends largely through the Pentagon System (including NASA and the Department of Energy, which produces nuclear weapons). By now we are locked into these devices for maintaining electronics, computers and high-tech industry generally.

Reaganite military Keynesian excesses added further problems. The transfer of resources to wealthy minorities and other government policies led to a vast wave of financial manipulations and a consumption binge. But there was little in the way of productive investment, and the country was saddled with huge debts: government, corporate, household and the calculable debt of unmet social needs as the society drifts towards a Third World pattern, with islands of great wealth and privilege in a sea of misery and suffering.

When a state is committed to such policies, it must somehow find a way to divert the population, to keep them from seeing what’s happening around them. There are not many ways to do this. The standard ones are to inspire fear of terrible enemies about to overwhelm us, and awe for our grand leaders who rescue us from disaster in the nick of time.

That has been the pattern right through the 1980’s, requiring no little ingenuity as the standard device, the Soviet threat, became harder to take seriously. So the threat to our existence has been Qaddafi and his hordes of international terrorists, Grenada and its ominous air base, Sandinistas marching on Texas, Hispanic narcotraffickers led by the arch-maniac Noriega, and crazed Arabs generally. Most recently it’s Saddam Hussein, after he committed his sole crime; the crime of disobedience in August 1990. It has become more necessary to recognize what has always been true: that the prime enemy is the Third World, which threatens to get “out of control.”

These are not laws of nature. The processes, and the institutions that engender them, could be changed. But that will require cultural, social and institutional changes of no little movement, including democratic structures that go far beyond periodic selection of representatives of the business world to manage domestic and international affairs.” […]

Exactly.

To Move On…

montclair-manhattan-skyline

I grew up across the Hudson, about 13 miles west in a town called Montclair. Our home stood on a hill on the western side of town, with my bedroom resting on the top, eastern side of our three floor Victorian. My eyes could skip over Anderson Park, past downtown Upper Montclair and over the thin tree tops in neighboring towns, catching the very tips of The City skyline.

As a young boy that daily exercise both excited and enticed, as my minds eye continued on, landing me deep into the midst of Manhattan, my perceived gateway to the world.

My parents are both artists and educators who met at Columbia University in the 60’s. As a child in the late 70’s, they’d take me and my brother to gallery openings in old Soho and to the West Village to experience (off) Broadway shows. Our days in The City were fun, provocative and inspiring. When family or friends came to town, we’d enter tourist mode and scale the Empire State Building for a die-cast statue and snapshots of the view down or dine at Windows on the World, pretending to fit in with our fumbled, New Jersey appearances and mannerisms.

The City was as big as the world; they were one and the same to me.

Life Lessons

From an early age, my parents allowed me the freedom to explore my surroundings in our neighborhood and around my suburban town, but on their terms, making sure to teach me the basics before letting me out the door—to always look left and right before crossing the street and call home collect whenever I needed a ride. America circa the 70’s.

Times in the suburbs were much simpler back then. Conversely, the streets of The City had a different lesson in tow.

Whenever I visited, The City schooled me that a world filled of vertical cities lived above street level, while below the streets, the world was connected, full of roaming individuals whom I couldn’t engage with by conversation or by sight.

The City’s rationale (it spoke to all of us), was that in those pre-Giuliani times—the Bernard Getz era of NYC and only a few years removed from the Son of Sam and the craziness of the NYC blackout—you’d be pegged a tourist for simply looking 45 degrees higher than your line of sight and that transgression could open yourself up for a con or a mugging. The City would tell me:

That’s how people are taken advantage of!

The City spoke so I listened, because I trusted The City. It was everything I dreamed of being; creative, mysterious, exciting, fun… I learned to glance and frame the moment of people, places, and things; take it all in, but mind your own business was the underlying lesson I learned.

These two sets of rules—my parent’s light schooling of linear confrontations and the hierarchical laws of The City—represented the checklist of street smarts I owned at age ten. Now 34, though schooled by many more life lessons of much greater complications, I continue to think, dream, plan, and move about my life with these early lessons in tow.

Why?

Because The City gave me Don Quixote and Starlight Express and George Segal pedestrians and giant, 5-foot pencils and toothbrushes on West Broadway. It gave me the Bronx Bombers, the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade and hot dogs on the sidewalk. It even gave me Yellow Cabs with mini, fold-up seats facing away from the driver, which perfectly fit my smaller frame.

The City bought my complete trust with the allure of growing up to possess a soul similar to the Great Grid and all that lay in-between. So I walked between the buildings and never looked up; I glanced at the people and never saw a face.

All Grown Up

In 1996, my first gig in The City had me commuting in from Jersey City—a large, underdeveloped, undervalued coastal city on the New Jersey side of the Hudson and a solid 45 minute commute away. I worked just below Canal Street in a multimedia shop set above a Futon outlet; one of the twenty some-odd Futon stores on the block. My daily trek proved to be a nice contrast to my previous reverse commute deep into the Western expanses of New Jersey.

wtc-escalator

Once I landed in Manhattan at the WTC PATH station, I’d ride the packed escalators to ground level and walk the twelve blocks to my job, breathing in the fresh air of downtown Manhattan, mixed with the smell of roasted peanuts and my fellow commuter’s secondary smoke. I’d stop at the same street vendor to pick up fruit and coffee before settling into my studio window desk seat that overlooked the ancient rooftop water towers sprinkled across the Soho skyline.

As the long day of animating cartoon characters and holding lunch meetings at classic spots, such as Fanelli’s and Bar 89 came to a close, I looked forward to the walk back to the WTC, and the ride under the river’s surface to my affordable existence.

It wasn’t what I had imagined growing up, but I was finally living a dream within the gateway.

The Turn

Just as I felt my dreams of experiencing The City beginning to come together, my daily trek began to take on a different vibe.

I began to loathe my commute, with the crowds of suits on the PATH and our long escalator ride up into the heart of the WTC underground mall, squashed together like sardines. Innocuous moments became unbearably annoying. Experiences like passing the WTC Disney Store each morning as I approached the exit to street level began to chew on my desire to be a part of a less commercialized world.

The business epicenter of downtown Manhattan was eating away at me; more and more, I actually became upset watching three-quarters of my fellow travelers disappear every morning like worker ants into this building, a structure that I now only used as a thousand foot-tall roof twice a day and a directional beacon while uptown.

What happened to the romance of The City?

In my 25-year old mind, the WTC—my newfound entrance and exit point of The City—began to viscerally represent the home to corporate yes men; guys who would just as soon knock over a woman stepping onto the PATH as they would verbally drool over her once they landed their prime positioning in front of the opposing exit door. The PATH was so crowded at times, I actually witnessed smaller people get lifted off their feet in the shifting and shoving and cramming of bodies to get to work, or more direct to the point, to get to a pay day.

It was around this time that I was struck by a profound realization; not only had I broken one of the golden rules I learned from The City as a child by gawking at a vertical city, I’d been gawking at the epitome, the archetype of a vertical city.

For months on end I had been staring up into the WTC’s belly, observing its machinations, and deconstructing its inhabitants, and my behavioral mechanisms had begun to match its particular pace. As I consciously pondered this epiphany—the notion that I was changing, and not for the better—The City reacted in it’s best Don Pardo voice to quell my new found sensibilities the only way it new how:

“Forget why you thought you loved me; classic Yellow Cabs are gone, Soho is an outdoor mall, the eighties are done. Try on these duds for size!”

A valiant effort indeed, but this time, I wasn’t buying.

My eyes were open, as prolonged glances into the eyes of the people who surrounded me provided me with droning negativity in return—the pangs of repetition; the exhaustion; the real-life scheming of men and women desperate to keep up with the Jones’—they made my shift in perspective clearer each day.

Now when I walked through the grid of The City, each of the vertical cities above ground began to take on a new representation to me. Hierarchy, wealth, and confliction loomed over the masses of citizens who were both explicitly and implicitly schooled to not look into the eyes of the beast as well.

I came to the conclusion that by not looking all these years, really looking at what was happening in those corner office expanses, we were each complicit in allowing these vertical cities to intimidate our lives with dangled carrots and unattainable conclusions of never ending pursuits.

Moving On

To completely unravel and digest such a revelation, I knew I needed to shift gears, both psychologically and physically, so I left town for the rural expanses of the Birkshires and the promise of Silicon Village.

When my 10 year-old mind’s eye had constructed the essence of The City, it romanced the Great Grid, but not the office towers with white collar whips; it romanced the unknown personalities, the diversity, and the creativity of the people of New York City themselves. Once clear of a visceral connection to these expansive white collar, networked resources, only a matrix of interlocking paths of human relationships remained.

It was criminal how long it took me to recognize the situation as such.

Tonight marks the fourth day of the second week of my new life in Greensboro, North Carolina. The last time I left The City it ended up as only a brief respite, serving as a pit-stop before heading back to reconnect and take on the vertical cities from within.

I’m not so sure I’ll take the same path this time.

Maybe I’ve come to realize that seeing my passion to fruition won’t occur within a representation of the confrontational juxtaposition itself.

Maybe I’m better off planning, expressing, and implementing from a room on the eastern side of an old wooden home, with a window overlooking the thin, slumbering Oaks and Elms of a quaint town, while the far off tips of a different skyline glistens in the early morning sky.

Maybe I’ll now feel comfortable looking directly into the eyes of my fellow travelers, and explore relationships with the people underground and above—walking proudly with the roaming individuals themselves.

– – – – – – –

Note: Today marks the four-year anniversary of the tragic events of 9/11. Prayers for those who were lost or affected, which on my most clear days I realize includes myself. To those who abused their power by responding with an obtuse war to such a criminal act, there’s a special place in hell for you.

Tag! We’re It! Part II

A few months back, I stepped out of my dead-bolted existence within the walls of Ameritrade and began to digest the current state of this Web 2.0 explosion; the Semantic Web seems so much closer to fruition than it did just a few years back. Much of the renewed push and entrepreneurial spirit that has driven this industry-wide rebirth of shared data has been driven by our economic recovery from the dot-com crash. That’s a fact, but it’s not a sufficient answer to the focus behind 2.0—something deeper feels at play.

I decided to dig in and head down a rabbit hole of sociological context on a journey for clarity, and what I’ve come to realize isn’t particularly shocking.

dictatorial-democracy

We live in tumultuous times.

The air we breathe is being compromised more and more every day. Poverty around the world is increasing exponentially. Our country is knee deep in another Vietnam, another occupation, another struggle for gaining natural resources at any cost. People are becoming polarized by important and moral, personal and social issues, seemingly on a daily basis.

All of this is occurring during the reign of an administration that has even the staunchest of conservatives questioning whether we, the people, are living within the midst of a dictatorial democracy, rather than a thriving Republic, built on the principles of political discourse, government checks and balances, fiscal responsibility, the separation of church and state and the power of the individual voter.

So where does this leave us as a people?

Personally speaking, I’ve decided to refocus my effort to publish my views, opinions, perspectives, experiences, etc., in an effort to make even the slightest dent in the discourse surrounding our roles as American citizens.

What motivates me? Pick your poison: the War on Terror; the Rove/Plame/Wilson scandal; the Bolton push-through appointment; the Cindy Sheehan vigil. It seems that every day a new flow of bullshit only fuels the righteous indignation I’ve come to hold regarding this administration.

Is it even possible to imagine a more visceral description of an Aristocracy at play?

For me, the complete disregard of the intelligence and voice of the American citizen begins to explain the groundswell of blogging that has occurred over the past four years, specifically the political blogs and mainstream media watchdog sites.

Sure, the potential for capital gains plays a large role in the motivation to advance technology or any other industry. The web, though, is a bit different due to it’s low cost of entry, so I believe that moral conviction plays a role in both driving the evolution of technology and the passion to leverage it to it’s fullest degree.

So what’s the connection between geo-political events, blogging and the tactical fervor of Web 2.0? (social bookmarking, tagging, open source, open content, etc.)

In a nutshell: everything.

Without a true social democracy in the real, we’ve evolved to create one on-line — where boundaries can be broken down, hierarchies can be dissolved, control can be minimized, etc.

I blog in order to get my voice out into the ether of this new social construct; I tag my blog posts to provide context and semantic relationships on numerous levels, yet with a similar purpose:

  1. On the base object level to provide a succinct description of how I perceive this content from a conceptual perspective, perhaps creating a) a greater connection with the reader on a discernible level and b) connections on associative & relational levels with other objects (within my domain and elsewhere)
  2. On the categorization level to establish context within a particularly defined category or across a faceted classification scheme. If I were an actual brand, this would be how I’d ensure my position was reflected within my editorial construct and navigation scheme.
  3. On the retrievable object level to allow for more avenues of findability (four, well-thought descriptive tags exponentially increase the odds of object retrieval rather than none or even one, either in straight queries or in contextual presentation on the base object level)

These are tactical strategies in the information revolution.

The same principles apply to tagging even more granular object such as photographs, video and sound files, as well as the macro-level social bookmarking of URLs. The effort, I believe, is based on the desire of individual voices to be heard amidst the shelling of the mainstream media. While technically speaking, Web 2.0 is about the creation of richly defined object models and attributes — the more good data we entrench within our objects (be it content, files or URLs themselves), the better the chance for a semantic web experience — the movement behind it is much more compelling, much more philosophical in nature.

After leaving Ameritrade in April, I spent a month digesting Noam Chomsky‘s Understanding Power, which introduced me to the specifics of his propaganda model thesis, which I fully digested by watching the documentary Manufacturing Consent. Recently, Dave Sifry (CEO, Technorati) posted a graph on the Technorati Blog displaying the impact that blogs are making within the once dominated realm of entrenched, funded, mainstream media.

I’m only guessing that if Chomsky has studied the progression of the web, he’s smiling up in Cambridge right about now.

The legitimization of the individual (creative and political) perspective is being sustained in the 21st century by the conviction of the blogosphere, passionate focus on the possibilities of 2.0 revenue models and domains, such as Technorati, taking a leadership position. The concept of social dialog, networking and organization and the elemental foundation of capitalism are beginning to shift in exciting ways.

Imagine a near future where:

  • Individual perspectives can be made more readily sustainable through a common revenue model, reversing the big money/power structure of publication and media saturation? How would that impact the politics of our nation? Our wage labor practices?
  • Algorithms and interfaces allow for rich, precise retrievals of topical queries, with just as precisely retrieved contextual objects presented within a usable format, based on better clustering techniques and taking richer and more valuable attributes into account? How would this impact the way we learn and connect to one another?
  • Information domains allow topically defined objects to be rolled up into navigable concepts by users instead of predefined categories by information architects? How could this seamlessly raise the bar for common folk in their efforts to research online? To manage information across numerous domains?
  • Mainstream media articles and blog posts are presented on the same level (query or article), ensuring checks and balances of mis/disinformation, without a partisan bias? How important is it for check and balances to be rooted within the last bastion of traditional governmental checks and balances—the media?

And the great thing is that we’re not too far away from this revolutionary existence.

Blogs are beginning to bridge the social and communication gaps between nations. My peers are thinking differently when developing this medium, even in traditional business development circumstances. The tactical approach to producing, managing, sharing, finding and using information objects — defined from the bottom up — is finally getting it’s due.

Yes, these are tumultuous times, but they’re exciting as well.