| At the Corner of Technology and Culture

Flying the Squirrel Flag

Another new coffee shop opened up in my area recently, called-ahem-Coffee Shop. It’s so new, I can’t find it online, but it’s right by Clafouti, across from Trinity Bellwoods Park. Nothing much unusual about that; every time you walk down that strip of Queen Street there’s something new opening up, or–more and more often, it seems–closing down.

What I noticed about it, though, was the clever sign (sorry, didn’t have my camera) which combined the generic “Coffee Shop” name in a generic white font, with a white silhouette image of a squirrel. Trinity Bellwoods Park is locally famous for its population of white squirrels–I imagine they have a form of albinism. So, the uber-generic name was matched with a kind of hyper-local signifier of local neighbourhood pride.

It’s not the first time I’ve seen the image. Fleurtje had a purse with one on for a while; one of the neighbourhood shops had t-shirts with a white squirrel logo. I’m intrigued by this hyper-localism. Is it just a reflection of the fact that we’re a bigger city now, and so the population base supports it? Is it because so many people in this city were born somewhere else that it’s feeding a desire for place, for settlement? Or perhaps it’s a reaction to a broader sense of rootlessness. I talked about it on the podcast with Cathi a while ago. Any thoughts?

McLuhan Fer Ya

A guest I interviewed today for Spark reminded me of a great McLuhan quotation: “We look at the present through a rear-view mirror. We march backwards into the future.”

We’re always looking at technological change in its immediate technical impacts, but with very little sense of all the social organization that surrounds it. The way the social changes with new technology always seems to catch us by surprise. Reminds me of another great bit of McLuhanism: “As long as we adopt the Narcissus attitude of regarding the extensions of our own bodies as really out there and really independent of us, we will meet all technological challenges with the same sort of banana-skin pirouette and collapse.”

What would it mean to look at our technologies, those ‘extensions of our own bodies’ as imbued with culture, and embedded within culture?

Life in the Perpetual Future

I saw this cool post at New Scientist, suggesting that we no longer have a clear sense of when “The Future” is, in the way that we once would have said ‘the year 2000’ or ‘the 21st century’.

I wonder whether it’s actually that we now live in a time of perpetual almostfuture. In the way that we have ennui about technological innovation, and lack surprise, hope and delight about the future. We seem perpetually not in the present, always in the almost tomorrow.

First One is in the Can!

We just put the first episode of the new season of Spark to bed. We’ve been working with Chris Kelly from CBC Radio 3, while Dan has been working elsewhere for a little bit.

It’s amazing how much more exciting it is when you actually hear it as audio, rather than as a bunch of scripts. A kind of alchemy, really. Now only another 41 to make!

More Animals With Weapons

Following on my last post, Trendhunter points out these silhouette images of animals fused with weapons. It’s a bit more ambiguous than Ludo’s images. Is it making the point that humans are engaged in a kind of warfare on wildlife, or is it a more ambiguous and Ludo-esque evocation of wildlife’s retaliation–kind of, wildlife-as-suicide-bomber?

File Under Weird Art

Lately, I’ve been thinking about cyborg chic. If we are inching towards a cyborg reality in medical innovations, perhaps we are also moving towards an aesthetic of obvious human/machine crossover. For instance, consider the cell phone ads featuring hands made up of cell phones, or the hot rising star, the deliberately cyborg-esque singer Janelle Monae. The weirdly bloated, waxy effect of today’s injected and implanted cosmetic procedures dovetails nicely with this celebration of obvious artificiality.

An interesting spin on this is the work of Paris-based street artist Ludo, who has been making a series called Nature’s Revenge. He creates images of plants appended with weapons or electronics, a symbol, I guess, of the other side of our war on nature. (via Design Boom) If there is such a thing as cyborg chic, what is it telling us about our relationship to nature?

Podcasters Unite!

Just came back from Podcasters Across Borders (my third). Great to see old friends again, of course, and to learn some new tricks of the trade. It inspired me to be more diligent about audio quality with thesniffer.

It was also interesting to see how the podcasting community has evolved over the past three years. There seems to be a comfort with different streams of podcasting. For some people, it’s pure hobby, mode of expression, and way of connecting with like-minded people. For others, it’s part of their business. For some, it’s a way of leveraging their digital profile. We all seem to co-exist happily enough. I guess for me, it’s a bit of all three.

Some personal highlights: Sylvain gave a great talk on Learning From The Beatles (and I don’t even really like The Beatles). Jay gave the first presentation on McLuhan I’ve ever seen that also talked about Harold Innis…Yay! And of course, the food was great!

Thanks to PAB for a great weekend!

Teachers, Librarians, and the Future of Ethics Online

Gave a talk last night to a great group of teacher-librarians from the Toronto District School Board. It was about social media, the increasingly social character of information, and ethics online, as we move into the reputation economy. They were clearly so passionate about literacy, access to information, and learning in general. It was just great to be around that kind of energy.

What To Make of This?

The New York Times’ “Sunday Styles” page on the 4th featured this story about software that allows parents to check their children’s attendance records and test scores on a daily basis.

According to the article,

“With names like Edline, ParentConnect, Pinnacle Internet Viewer and PowerSchool, the software is used by thousands of schools, kindergarten through 12th grade. PowerSchool alone is used by 10,100 schools in 49 states.”

“Although a few programs have been available for a decade, schools have been using them more in recent years as federal reporting requirements have expanded and home computers have become more common. Citing studies showing that parental involvement can have a positive effect on a child’s academic performance, educators praise the programs’ capacity to engage parents.”

It’s an interesting–if creepy–example of the reach of technocracy. The technology has existed for a long time, but it’s the intersection of the technology with the relentless reporting of ‘objective’ standards that makes it really take off. The creation of lists, itemized data, and so on, leads to the constant monitoring of the data. The technical ability to amass and monitor all that data in turn leads to the increasing requirement to input it.

It’s a sort of compulsive, internal logic of the technology.

I’m a Hick (tech)!

I’ve been thinking a bit lately about whether location matters anymore. Now that we have all these tools for remote collaboration, does it still matter if you are physically proximate to colleagues? To a larger community? And if it doesn’t, why do we still get together in physical space?

I suspect there are things we get from each other by being in real, physical space that we will never be able to replicate at a distance, but can we get better at ‘doing’ distance? For instance, the largest stumbling block seems to be creating opportunities for happenstance, for overheard conversations. What would it mean to replicate that idea of idle moments and happenstance over distance?

Anyway, it should come up in a couple of interesting conversations in the next while. Tomorrow, Wednesday, I’m moderating a wrap-up panel at HICK Tech, a very cool all-day conference about technology and rural issues, that takes place in Owen Sound. Very much looking forward to it. At the end of May, Spark is heading up a panel at this year’s MESH conference, with the tentative title “How Can I Miss You If You Won’t Go Away?” about this idea of location, and whether distance really matters anymore. I went to MESH last year and had a great time.




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