I love when I discover richer and more varied uses for podcasts. Jim Mowatt, a long-time LibriVox guy, and a retired force behind the LibriVox community podcast, has just launched a podcast about history. He did wonderful work on the LV podcast, so I’ll bet this one will be a goodie, for you History buffs. Have not listened yet, but just queuing it up.

Check out: historyzine.com … or:
* Subscribe by RSS
* Subscribe in iTunes

Categories: cbc, media, web

finding the core

Just posted a comment on Dan Misener’s blog (Dan now runs CBC radio, from what I can tell), that I thought was worth repeating here. Dan’s post was about connective tissue, says he:

On Spark, we’re trying really hard to make the show’s connective tissue live up to its content. That comes in the form of story treatments, editing techniques, music choices, sound design, scripts, segues, and all the other tiny little bits that go into making a radio program.

My comment was about the need to find the “core” of information-provision institutions:

i’ve been thinking about this lately: the changes on the web mean that many prized institutions are afraid of becoming obsolete. but i think the real problem is that the function they serve is not the one they thought they served … and they haven’t figured that out yet.

for instance, “providing information” is just one thing that say britannica, and mainstream media, and universities do. but it is not the *core* of their existence – and the core is where their importance and relevance lies. these institutions were fooled in the past century into thinking provision of information was the core of their existence, because information used to be scarce, and it’s distribution limited. now info is cheap and plentiful, and distribution ubiquitous … it turns out they aren’t all that valuable as providers of information.

and yet I feel deeply that professional media, britannica, and universities etc still have crucial roles to play in the world, they just haven’t adjusted yet to what that is.

they have to stop thinking of themselves as “providers of information” … they are something more (not sure what) and when the can confidently figure that out, they will find solutions to their angst about the future.

maybe your ideas here touch on something about where that core might be for radio.

Categories: web, writing

media, the problem of bloggers & mind

I’m usually dismissive about complaints about “bloggers,” because the usual complaints (boring, stupid, half-assed) don’t apply to the ones I read. But this interview (text and audio) with BBC documentary maker Adam Curtis talks not so much about bloggers in general, but about the actual impact popular bloggers have on media (particularly in the USA), which puts things in a different perspective. Mind you it says as much about Media as it does about bloggers.

On simplification:

It’s a wider thing than the internet, but the internet sums it up. It’s that on the surface it says that “the internet is a new form of democracy”. So what you’re seeing is a new pluralism, a new collage, a new mosaic of all sorts of different ideas that’s genuinely representative.

But if you analyse what happens, it simplifies things.

First of all, the people who do blogging, for example, are self-selecting. Quite frankly it’s quite clear that what bloggers are is bullies. The internet has removed a lot of constraints on them. You know what they’re like: they’re deeply emotional, they’re bullies, and they often don’t get out enough. And they are parasitic upon already existing sources of information – they do little research of their own.

So far not so interesting, but:

What then happens is this idea of the ‘hive mind’, instead of leading to a new plurality or a new richness, leads to a growing simplicity.

The bloggers from one side act to try to force mainstream media one way, the others try to force it the other way. So what the mainstream media ends up doing is it nervously tries to steer a course between these polarised extremes.

and on weak-willed media and the bloggers that frighten them:

I’ve talked to news editors in America. What they are most frightened of is an assault by the bloggers. They come from the left and the right. They’re terrified if they stray one way they’ll get monstered by bloggers on the right, if they stray the other way they’ll get monstered by bloggers from the left. So they nervously try and creep along, like a big animal in Toy Story – hoping not to disturb the demons that are out there.

It leads to a sort of nervousness. The moment a media system becomes infected by nervousness it starts to decline.

and on atomisation:

So over here is the part of the internet – and therefore of the world – where there are people who think the invasion of Iraq was all about oil. Over are people who think it’s all about stopping Muslim hordes taking over our culture. And over here, it’s the neo-conservative lot who think it’s all about ideas.

Do you remember that book about intelligent buildings, how buildings work out how to stand up? That’s what’s happening now. They’re working out how to hold each other up. So you get a Balkanisation where there is no movement forward – everyone just publishes their position, stands up, and that’s it. Everything is so static.

I’m just reading a great book about the mind, called The Brain that Changes Itself about the plasticity of the brain. One interesting thing that I had never quite thought of, is that “old-style” education (a focus on memorization, on memorizing poetry, on hand-writing etc) actually has a huge impact on all sorts of things, including the brain’s ability to reason, to remember, to think in complex ways, in addition to facilities with languages and symbols. Mike wrote about inchoate blog posts recently, and while I don’t agree with the whole idea, I do think the loss of discipline, the loss of the applied, dogged intensity to make a truly important work, is a real problem. For myself, I can write a long, “interesting” blog post and feel I have contributed something intellectually worthwhile to the universe, but it’s a different matter altogether to write a reasoned complete and coherent article, as I have done a couple of times with reviews for Books in Canada. It’s painful to write something like that, and rewarding. A 40-minute blog post takes a day to transform into a really worthwhile “lasting” piece of writing.

True of all forms of art. Compare, for instance, Nora Young’s podcast Sniffer (a sort of audio sketch book of some ideas), and her CBC radio show, Spark (a 2027 minute show packed with interviews and compelling ideas). How much time do you think goes into Sniffer? How much into Spark? (Nora or Dan, if you are reading I’d be curious about the person-hours required to make a 20-minute spark episode).

It’s not that Sniffer is bad and Spark is good, but that we need to keep clear what we want out of the net and our information vectors in general: a vibrant place for exchange of ideas, AND the careful, reasoned deliberation necessary to come to nuanced conclusions about complex problems.

I have been trying to re-inject more discipline into my working life. I feel happier when I am disciplined, but man is it hard in this hyper/disconnected world I live in. Easier to whip off a few blog posts and hope that someone else finds a good use for the ideas, than sit down and write this proposal for a book about LibriVox that I have been avoiding for six months.

Back to work.

cities and creativity

Mike announces that free community wifi group ilesansfil is proposing a project to the City of Montreal for a million dollars over five years to increase hotspot coverage. Kudos and good luck. Article in La Presse.

In a related idea, Jon Udell talks about the cities and the creative class:

…the creative class values place above employer. To a 25-year-old European marketing or software professional, the choice of Barcelona over some less desirable city is now more decisive than the choice between working for IBM or Microsoft.

You still need to make your city attractive to IBM and Microsoft, because these companies help create and sustain the quality-of-life conditions that attract the creative class. But companies don’t have a direct interest in those conditions, people do.

It was fascinating to see how these cities are now thinking explicitly about competing — in terms of their housing, transportation, safety, culture, and IT enablement — to attract the creative class. Success produces a compound benefit, because the creative class is an engine of prosperity. Not only does it spend money, it also germinates new businesses. And those tend to be just the kinds of businesses that appeal to the creative class, so it can become a virtuous cycle.

Is it elitist to focus on the needs of the creative class? I don’t think so. Every citizen cares about housing, transportation, safety, culture, and IT enablement. If cities do better in those areas in order to attract the creative class, everybody wins.

From my personal experience, ISF has been a prime driver of much of the creative interaction among the people I know (which is a small group, granted) … hanging out and working at Laika — with free wifi — helped germinate many of my ideas about the web … at least one of which (LibriVox) has been successful.

Patrick’s co-working project is nearing launch, so that’ll add some good spice to the creative mix.

Another related thing that I’ve been thinking about (without doing any analysis) is that the web and small start-ups are egalitarian employers, and hence could be important for integration of new communities in Montreal.

In the (mostly ill-making) Bouchard-Taylor Commission, one of the things that came up recently was the inability of trained professionals (doctors, teachers, engineers) from other countries to get work in their domains in Quebec – despite a shortage of doctors, teachers and engineers. That’s the nice thing about the web – I can say, talking from experience as a small (unfunded) web start-up, that I couldn’t care less about official qualifications, where you’re from (indeed, where you live) … all I want to know is: can you do the things that I’m hoping can be done (which you’ve learned just by hacking, and can demonstrate by showing me things you’ve done on the web), and do I think we’ll get along?

That’s important since one of the big problems for immigrant communities is finding good work. So finding ways to support small start-ups (whatever that means) *could* be one way to give more interesting avenues for employment for young, keen immigrants. Helping people in general become hackers is another way to give avenues to prosperity, without having the mainstream constraints that our traditional education systems impose.

Montreal is ideally attractive to the creative class — funky, cheapish, fun, mixed, vibrant etc — but there are all sorts of problems here. For pros and cons, see the discussion from a while back over at Heri’s MontrealTechWatch.

I wonder how City of Montreal’s planning & policies compare with other hubs of innovation?

Categories: audio, mixed tape, video

friday mixed tape: get on up

Bring on the funk.

Stevie Wonder: Superstition (1972)
One of the best openings in rock n roll. (And check out Stevie playing this tune on Sesame Street)

Curtis Mayfield: Freddie’s Dead (1972)
A very jazzed out version of Freddie’s Dead from the all-Mayfield soundtrack to the blacksploitation classic, Superfly.

James Brown: Get Up (I Feel Like Being a) Sex Machine (1970)
And the godfather.