renice.com web


Friday, January 30, 2004

Earl Grey Hot 

A few years back, I had dinner with a friend who's about my age. She ordered a cup of Earl Grey tea – when the waitress left I grinned, deepened my voice, and said, "Earl Grey, haut!" (And by the way, urlgreyhot has to be one of the coolest blog titles.) My friend looked at me as if I'd just had a Tourette's episode. I explained, "Jean Luc." Blank face. "Picard..." Frown. "The Next Generation!" She still looked perplexed and I was completely flummoxed. After considerable awkwardness, we realized the problem: she didn't watch television. (Or, if you'd rather: I did.)

Although it's hard to pick a favorite episode from TNG, I think "Darmok" must be mine because I'm reminded of it so often.

For example, I miss a good percentage of the jokes where I work because I don't know every line from Office Space. I had been missing a great deal more, until I finally devoted a couple of hours to my cultural literacy and watched it on tape.

Like the Tamarians in "Darmok", we've been using literary references as a communication basis and shorthand for generations. But now that new technologies are speeding up the creation of literary sources, we lurch between the importance of remembering the past or encouraging the new – and the burden of striking a reasonable balance is conversely held by older and younger citizens. The New Dictionary of Cultural Literacy gives us a sense of how heavy that burden is for anyone who wants to be "an active citizen in our multicultural democracy."

The good news is that, as you can see, hypertext is a step in the right direction :-)


Thursday, January 29, 2004

The Problem with Literary References 

I've already gotten some flak for this blog – but not the kind I fretted (fret) over.

At lunch yesterday, some of my bloggin' co-workers complained about my blog's title. They've got a point: purloined is an archaic word that I would never use in speech (except maybe when I'm doing my best BBC reporter imitation), and I would look askance at anyone else who did.

They made another point that they might not have been cognizant of. My title is a literary reference (which is why I imagine Diann, literary type that she is, clicked my title as it scrolled by on Blogger's top page and then commented on my second-ever post – I love that about blogs, by the way). I made this particular reference because of the story's themes of intended audiences, privacy and its protection.

But the reference is to a story I'd read over 30 years ago – and hell! these guys hadn't even been born yet. Sure it stuck with me, and I, among others, consider it a classic, but let's face it: the number of 'classics' that have been created in the last 30 years has increased exponentially. Why should they have read something that impressed me 30 years ago when there's so much else they have to do to stay culturally literate.

Which leads me to the societal obligations and problems of trying to stay current, which do not rest solely on newer generations.

[Next: "Earl Grey hot!" and Picard's diplomatic mission to understand the culture that could only communicate through their stories.]


Monday, January 26, 2004

Nothing to Hide 

The President's Analyst is one of my favorite movies. I'm reminded of it every time I walk the dog, with cell phone headset melding to my head. The movie seems timely to me, but I wonder how much of it would make sense to my younger colleagues. I think it needs an updated remake and then a sequel.

Imagine that Bill gets his hands on the technology. Of course, his lawyers convince world governments that his company can provide a GrayMatterModem™ to every citizen at birth for pennies, with a little humanitarian aid thrown in to sweeten the deal. Naturally chaos ensues with kludgey versions and security holes which the net admin/physicians, or "physadmins", refer to as "Mad Bill Disease"; cults of alternative physadmins, known derogatorily as "quackhacks" and "guru-randas", spring up with counterfeit Patch-Aids™; complicit bureaucrats conspire to hide the incidence of brain tumors resulting from the implanted chips; privacy rights activists are admonished by right wingers that we have nothing to worry about if we have nothing to hide; and the Amish, though they'd have no problem asking their neighbor to buzz someone, dourly provide refuge for anti-brainmodem revolutionaries.

Something like "Harrison Bergeron makes a Minority Report", starring Johnny Depp as the president's analyst, Keanu Reeves as the ingenue rep from MS TeleCompany, and Chris Rock as the CIA agent.


Sunday, January 25, 2004

More about being public...  

When I first posted my personal website in 1994, I did catch some flak about making too much personal info available to who-knows-what-lurking-psychos. (Note that the guy who was the loudest alarm on this topic turned out to be one of the bigger psychos I've ever dated.) I took the leap though and, other than an overabundance of spam, have never noticed any negative results.

It is true, however, that I once didn't hire a CS student because of his personal site and I wouldn't be at all surprised if there are employers who hadn't hired me because of mine. On the other hand, I nearly always put one of my pro-choice pieces into my design portfolio because full disclosure seemed a better route than trying to work with someone who couldn't tolerate my viewpoints. So it was after some internal debate that I decided a personal website would be an interesting social experiment in controlled disclosure.

After only a few months, I declared the experiment successful. (Of course that was over 9 years ago – the site may be more damaging now that I don't keep it up to date or on the edge.) At the time, I had had a hard time with former co-workers' preconceptions of who I was. My appearance, style, and demeanor, as well as labels such as 'woman', 'feminist', and 'artist' (and now 'middle-aged' under both the label and appearance categories) seemed to undermine an awful lot of my working relationships. It often took an entire year or two to dispel many preconceptions and reach reasonable working relationships. The points when people would begin reassessing their presumptions about me invariably were marked with comments such as, "You're not like I thought you were."

When I posted my personal site, I had just started working with a new group. After I mentioned my new site (remember, it was a novelty then, and I was the only person in the group with one – in fact, there were still people in the group who had never opened a web browser), my co-workers seemed to reach their reassessment points within days, rather than months or years. I stayed with the group for nearly 5 years before I was offered a position in NYC, and it was the most comfortable I had yet been with workmates.

[Enough for now – 12 padded feet are beginning to stamp impatiently for breakfast. Next entry I'll be extrapolating from The President's Analyst.]


Saturday, January 24, 2004

First Public Post 

I went to a friend's literary reading some 9 years ago. I'd recently put up a personal website, so at a nosh break I described some of the fun responses I'd gotten in email from around the world. Of the 5 people listening to me, only one knew what the Web was. I was a little taken aback, but, since we were all attending a reading, I explained with some humor that the Web was the "ultimate in vanity publishing." They couldn't imagine how it would work.

Today, even I'm amazed at the way it's working. I'm publishing my first public weblog with more than a little trepidation. When I was an undergrad in a computer science survey course, my professor said that we didn't need to worry about the information age encroaching on our privacy because computers would create so much information it couldn't possibly be usable. That position was obviously naive – in much the same way that my long-standing belief in a premise of Poe's short story had been naive (believing that something could be best hidden in plain view, that is – perhaps I'll get to the logic of mathematicians and poets in another post). Although I try to be as optimistic as Rebecca Blood in her history of weblogs, I'm actually wondering how our random musings will be used and abused... and how much trouble I could be getting myself into as   I    c l i c k   P U B L I S H.