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Entries in General Semantics (40)


The three hour layover on the way to digital journalism

Attending the A.N. Smith lecture in Journalism at Melbourne University last night, Fairfax Media Chief executive and General Manager Greg Hywood outlined the digital media strategy for Fairfax in a "post-classified ad" revenue present and of course, future. Apart from the oh-so humble reminders that the Age and Sydney Morning Herald embraced the internet long before their competitors, his subtle investor pitch demonstrating the media convergence that Fairfax employs to derive its revenue was finally indicative of a media ecological approach to journalism and content communication across a mass yet still fragmented (in terms of point of access) audience. Print in the morning, smartphones on the go and accessing the web during the day, etc.

Mr. Hywood made a salient point in terms of devising a business model to ensure not only survival, but growth in quality journalism and content creation. Leaving the privileged curatorship vs. citizen engagement debate aside; he struck at the core of the problem for lumbering giants resistant to changes in their once robust classified ad "rivers of gold." The journalism, he said, was a solution to the fundamental problem of people trying to "make sense of the world around them." The media can no longer sit idle and react to changes in the consumption of their products, they must now find "solutions" in the skein of Postman and the Media Ecologists.

For example, Neil Postman only months prior to his passing remarked in a lecture that an airline wished to spend a substantial sum to improve the speed of their aeroplanes. Researchers found that they could cut at least three hours from the Los Angeles to New York trip utilizing new engine technologies. But then engineers wondered; what did passengers do with their three hour surplus of time?

Go back to their hotels and watch television.

Thus money was saved by installing televisions into the backs of their seats - the solution was much more ingenious than attempting to appeal to the abstraction of "progress." Just like News Ltd. recognizing that the medium in the afternoon was in fact the train platform and bus and tailored its message accordingly in the form of free, portable and "light" newspapers that can be read while waiting to arrive at one's destination.

Just because journalism can be uploaded and broadcast to smartphones and tablets doesn't mean it always, in every case should; if the problem is not knowing when or where rock gigs are and the solution is a weekly street press to guide you, why force change when it isn't required? Perhaps pondering this question will write the next chapter of journalism; whether in print or online or something unheard of.


The Urgency of Paradise

Today, I was fortunate enough to sit down with a one-on-one discussion session with President Emeritus of the Australian General Semantics Society, Mr. Laurie Cox. Despite his advanced age (92!) he insists his psycho-social age is merely 40, having "surpassed all the traps of adolescent thinking" with over 57 years of General Semantics training and teaching.

As we sipped coffee and talked, he asked me how I was going professionally and personally. Professionally things weren't great, but I was heading towards completing my thesis half way through the year and thus my master's degree. Personally, I didn't have much to report - though we hit upon sex, interpersonal communication and intimate relationships for a majority of the session. One of his salient points that resonated with me is this; "With all relationships, you mustn't forget the axis of time."

Of course, he referred to axis as that of a graph - that time is crucial in forming lasting, trusting and loving relationships. In our environment, we are sold many things that ought to "save time" otherwise "time is wasted." If it is, the "opportunity will be lost" at that "instant." We work "overtime" and consequently have no "time to spare." But in the realm of relationships, time is not of the essence, but "is" the essence.

"Rushing it" almost never feels as satisfying as "taking it slow" and some predatory "dating coaches" emphasize "speed seduction" and moreover "quick fucking" but not "spending time with someone significant" or "passionate lovemaking." Love and relating to others takes up our time in our thoughts and actions - it's not meant to be kept to a rigorous "timetable." One figuratively must "take the time to take the time." Even if it's "come time" to acquaint yourself with someone new, re-affirm an old friendship or even "find time" to work on oneself with hobbies, projects and other creative pursuits.

I for one viewed time as an enemy while growing up, something I felt I was constantly "short of" - but now I am beginning to view it as one of my most powerful allies.

Laurie in his own life-affirming way knows something about time - and emphasizes that we may have a lot or very little at all; but if the "timing is right" between two (or even more) people, time can invariably bind us all together, with love.


Steps to an Integrity of Mind

During this social media moratorium* I've been doing a wealth of reading - mostly re-reading psychology books such as Drs. Ellis and Harper's A Guide to Rational Living (I started re-reading it yesterday and am almost finished - It's incredible what can be accomplished when you decide to walk away from a computer!) I'm also re-reading much of my "useful resource" library that can be accessed here.

In addition I'm getting out of the house more - just because!

The ability to silence one's chatter to allow one to think, challenge and pose new questions is severely hampered by the "Niagara of words" as Samuel I. Hayakawa once noted. Twitter and Facebook updates with a frequency that is twice or even three times as quick than the human nervous system could possibly parse and understand. If our abstraction processes are routinely incomplete then surely social media networks are passing around discrete packages of shortened information that are whittled down into something almost nonsensical (insofar we are unable to extract meaning from them via our senses.) So why is our mind being littered with tiny tracts and tidbits? Where is our mindfulness in this instance?

In my view, mindfulness is being conscious of your abstraction and subvocalization process - also known as metacognition or "thinking about thinking." You are most likely not reading this post aloud and thus subvocalizing the words. But how often do we sit back and think about what we are telling ourselves about the world?

Usually we are unaware of our own thoughts. These are powerful - they impact on our emotions and behaviors. If the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis and researches of Count Korzybski are held to be valid, our reality is inferred and created by what we tell ourselves and how we derive meaning from the outside world. If we tell ourselves we are a "piece of shit" or unable to handle certain situations we feel we have been trapped in a cage built by our reactions to a largely self-constructed semantic environment.

It is true - we only have limited choice when considering the vastness of the cosmos and the immediate macrocosm that we see. Standing on the corner of the street we can choose what direction to travel and whether to peruse a shop, book a holiday or even chat up a girl we find attractive but causality remains. But there are some things we cannot prevent and other things we are completely incapable of. But that does not make life unlivable, harrowing or awful. We adapt to our environment as best as possible and carve out happiness within it.

The universe is indifferent but the way we choose to see it is up to us entirely. Even if one is a cognitive neuroscientist, a believer in the eight-circuit model of consciousness or a strict religionist or somewhere in between, we all choose to adapt to these methods of thinking - no one forces us. At the end of the day we are alone in how we conduct ourselves and how we perceive the outside world. Belief is the death of intelligence. Belief in the irrational is the death of one's agency and one's mental freedom.

Much like Marcus Aurelius says - Do you not possess reason? With reason doing its job, what else could you possibly want or need? It can feel like a struggle to become rational in an increasingly irrational world - but, at least in my opinion, it is one of the most worthwhile endeavors one can ever take.

*I am aware that some of my non-social media activities on the web cause automated tweets to be sent, such as posting this blog or "loving" tracks on, etc. This does not constitute a "breaking" of the moratorium according to my criterion.


Renovation of the Soul

If there's nothing to be learned in life then in my opinion, you aren't living life. This past week has been full of anger, tumult, hate, love and renewal. Just today I was caught between bliss and indignation, the latter caused by a failure to stop and take repose. In moments of intense pressure, the head takes flight and the heart gears for war.

Rationality has no meaning and in some cases, the sounds coming out of one's mouth would sound almost foreign to you and others in calmer moments. A industry colleague of mine, after unjustly calling him "unprofessional" (I later apologized and thanked him for his good work and kind words) advised me to "kick back."

Kick back! If only I could kick back, I thought. I have work - paid, unpaid and academic to finish. I have all these attachments that signify anything other than kicking back. But why? Was this true? Had I forgotten my GS training? Were my meditations and self-reflections all for naught?

These items of paper with instructions printed on them are not the cause of my stress and worry. Ultimately, I am the culprit. If I am dissatisfied with an aspect of my life, then I can only really blame myself. So I took his advice. I poured myself a double whiskey and sipped a while. My feelings told me that I was putting myself under the "pump" rather than anyone else. My thoughts were not in alignment with reality - 3,000w of 4,000w done with 2 full days to complete the remainder? Hardly a challenge for me. It has been done before and can be done again. My internal map was very much out of alignment with the blank, "objective" territory.

Reading my colleague Sandi's blog, she has learned a lot in 26 years. She makes some good points, others I disagree with. But there is one point that remains pertinent:

Disappointment and hurt is everywhere in life. Happiness and wonder is also everywhere in life. Choose what you decide to focus on.

Just like a modern day Marcus Aurelius, we sometimes have to sometimes stop and remind ourselves: "The universe is change, life is what our thoughts make it."


Embargo of Presence

Some excerpts with commentary from my recent essay (footnotes removed) on media ecology entitled "An iPhone in every hand."

Neil Postman in his magnum opus “Amusing Ourselves to Death,” wrote the easiest way to see through a culture is to “attend to its tools for conversation.”  Currently, all of our conversation, save for face to face contact is mediated, at some level, by computers and the internet – the tools – and the conversation – the exchange of messages – is happening globally in which any user of a computer is theoretically part of this “globalized conversation.”  But what is the nature of the language of this conversation – the “driver” of conversation that makes it possible?

The Sapir-Whorf hypothesis presents the formation of language is “not merely a reproducing instrument for voicing ideas, but rather itself is a shaper of ideas.” The computer and the internet and all its various convergent and multimedia forms not only have produced new platforms for communication, they have, in fact, shaped a new way of organizing and regulating ideas; the way humans interact with one another, conduct their business, their politics and their education of future generations.

One such device that achieved this was the mechanical clock. A computer is built on a time-telling function – time regulates the processing of information by creating a sense of “dramatic, fictional or symbolic time as well as a sense of past, present and future.” Computers, like clocks are self-operating machines; they manufacture no physical products. They are able to regulate starting and ending times for social/economic/political engagements; enforce deadlines and are used to track units of remuneration (workers paid by the hour, etc.)  For example, all people across the known world began to
"[W]ork, sleep and eat by the clock” and began to “regulate their actions by this arbitrary measure of time, the clock was transformed from an expression of civic pride into a necessity of urban life…the computer too has changed from a luxury to a necessity for modern business and government.”

In 1993, Postman said that it would be possible for us to "privatize" our public space by outsourcing it to computers - we would be able to shop, converse and vote from the comfort of home. We have moved beyond that space - we can now do this anywhere with mobile smartphones. Like the mechanical clock, the computer regulates our movement and how we communicate.

It as if we cannot communicate if we do not have a phone or access to the internet like social media. It's commonplace to hear about events after the fact if you did "not check your Facebook."

Chunks of time can now be graphically represented; we can see the past and the future in our own present by the dynamic exchange of text, video, audio and images. The television was bound by time to show its programs sequentially - now the programs can be viewed in our own "time" at our will from wherever. As Watzlawick says, "one can not not communicate" - but what happens when one does not have an iPhone in his hand to begin with?