| At the Corner of Technology and Culture

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.

Karl Lagerfeld, DJ

Women’s Wear Daily notes that Chanel’s Karl Lagerfeld is going to have a ‘cameo’ in the new version of the Grand Theft Auto video game. He’s going to play a DJ. (via PSFK) Aside from the fact that it’s hard to imagine a significant overlap between Chanel-wearers and Grand Theft Auto-players, it’s another example of the increasing range of ‘stealth’ marketing going on.

It’s interesting how many of the more clever marketing techniques involve using alternate identities in fictional worlds, such as Alternate Reality Games. Perhaps it’s simply a part of offering more of a sense of ‘play’ in ads.

Open Channels

Between my personal communication channels, and Spark communication, my morning routine now involves:
-checking my and the show’s work email
-checking my personal email
-moderating the show blog comments
-adding my own comments
-updating my and the show’s twitter feeds

And that doesn’t include the semi-regular actual blog entries for the show or this blog, or thesniffer blog.

The one thing the morning routine almost never includes is picking up voicemail messages. Almost no one calls me on the phone, at home or at work. I wonder how common that is?

Lacunae of the Interwebs

We’ve all had that experience where we think we’ve ‘discovered’ some cool/weird new trend online, only to be met with eye-rolling from friends and colleagues and the inevitable “ungh. that’s been around for ages.” I had that experience today, talking to my colleagues about ‘sweding’, after reading about it in one of WIRED’s blogs.

The term “sweding” comes from the Michel Gondry film, Be Kind Rewind (“sweding involves amateur filmmakers creating homespun homages to movies.” says the blog). People make deliberately low-tech versions of beloved films. It’s another great example of people connecting to deliberately lo-fi, anachronistic applications of technology. Sometimes, it’s a deliberate time-shifting, but in this case it’s more like a delight in ‘roughing things up’. What’s fascinating about that is that the same technologies that allow individuals to do things that formerly only professionals could do, are now being used precisely to make cultural products that are deliberately non-sophisticated (while at the same time, delighting in the inventiveness with which the homages are recreated).

Oh, and I got a new computer.

Advertising Turf Wars

Amidst all the increasingly invasive, extreme, (or, on a lighter note, interactive) advertising out there, here’s an intriguing little border war. Textually reports that a teenaged graffiti artist named Skullphone hacked into a bunch of digital billboards in Southern California, replacing the ads with his logo of a, er, skullphone. Probably most arresting less because of the hack and more because of the visual style of the skull holding a cell phone. (via Blogrunner)

Speaking of which, what’s the deal with all the skull imagery these days? Tattoo-style skulls on clothing (like my shoes), Damien Hirst’s diamond encrusted skull. A sign of our Thanatos-driven times, I guess.

Awareness Test

My colleague and pal, Matt Galloway, tipped me off to this fascinating video. If I tell you anything about it, it might spoil it.

Back in Action

Well, that little hiatus turned out to be, um, lengthy, but the show seems to be a bird in flight now, so I’m eager to get back to the crisper! I’d like it to be a scratch pad for some of what I’m working on, particularly issues around how our sense of place and time is shifting.

Blogging MIA

Things have been so busy with Spark, not only the show, but keeping up the Web side of it, that I’ve had to say bye bye to personal blogging for the time being.

It seems to work best for me as a sort of ‘place holder’ for ideas that I haven’t written down more formally yet, and these days, most of my ideas are ending up on Spark. Hope to be back to it soon.

My New Show!

My new show, Spark, is going on the air on CBC radio one in September. Woo Hoo! More deets to follow. Many thanks to Nicola, Tom and Pedro for being amazing producers! There’s a little more about what the show is about at the show blog




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