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robertogreco : cable   5

On technology, culture, and growing up in a small town
"Rex Sorgatz grew up in a small and isolated town (physically, culturally) in North Dakota named Napoleon.
Out on the prairie, pop culture existed only in the vaguest sense. Not only did I never hear the Talking Heads or Public Enemy or The Cure, I could never have heard of them. With a radio receiver only able to catch a couple FM stations, cranking out classic rock, AC/DC to Aerosmith, the music counterculture of the '80s would have been a different universe to me. (The edgiest band I heard in high school was The Cars. "My Best Friend's Girl" was my avant-garde.)

Is this portrait sufficiently remote? Perhaps one more stat: I didn't meet a black person until I was 16, at a summer basketball camp. I didn't meet a Jewish person until I was 18, in college.

This was the Deep Midwest in the 1980s. I was a pretty clueless kid.

He recently returned there and found that the physical isolation hasn't changed, but thanks to the internet, the kids now have access to the full range of cultural activities and ideas from all over the world.
"Basically, this story is a controlled experiment," I continue. "Napoleon is a place that has remained static for decades. The economics, demographics, politics, and geography are the same as when I lived here. In the past twenty-five years, only one thing has changed: technology."

Rex is a friend and nearly every time we get together, we end up talking about our respective small town upbringings and how we both somehow managed to escape. My experience wasn't quite as isolated as Rex's -- I lived on a farm until I was 9 but then moved to a small town of 2500 people; plus my dad flew all over the place and the Twin Cities were 90 minutes away by car -- but was similar in many ways. The photo from his piece of the rusted-out orange car buried in the snow could have been taken in the backyard of the house I grew up in, where my dad still lives. Kids listened to country, top 40, or heavy metal music. I didn't see Star Wars or Empire in a theater. No cable TV until I was 14 or 15. No AP classes until I was a senior. Aside from a few Hispanics and a family from India, everyone was white and Protestant. The FFA was huge in my school. I had no idea about rap music or modernism or design or philosophy or Andy Warhol or 70s film or atheism. I didn't know what I didn't know and had very little way of finding out.

I didn't even know I should leave. But somehow I got out. I don't know about Rex, but "escape" is how I think of it. I was lucky enough to excel at high school and got interest from schools from all over the place. My dad urged me to go to college...I was thinking about getting a job (probably farming or factory work) or joining the Navy with a friend. That's how clueless I was...I knew so little about the world that I didn't know who I was in relation to it. My adjacent possible just didn't include college even though it was the best place for a kid like me.

In college in an Iowan city of 110,000, I slowly discovered what I'd been missing. Turns out, I was a city kid who just happened to grow up in a small town. I met other people from all over the country and, in time, from all over the world. My roommate sophomore year was black.1 I learned about techno music and programming and photography and art and classical music and LGBT and then the internet showed up and it was game over. I ate it all up and never got full. And like Rex:

Napoleon had no school newspaper, and minimal access to outside media, so I had no conception of "the publishing process." Pitching an idea, assigning a story, editing and rewriting -- all of that would have baffled me. I had only ever seen a couple of newspapers and a handful of magazines, and none offered a window into its production. (If asked, I would have been unsure if writers were even paid, which now seems prescient.) Without training or access, but a vague desire to participate, boredom would prove my only edge. While listlessly paging through the same few magazines over and over, I eventually discovered a semi-concealed backdoor for sneaking words onto the hallowed pages of print publications: user-generated content.

That's the ghastly term we use (or avoid using) today for non-professional writing submitted by readers. What was once a letter to the editor has become a comment; editorials, now posts. The basic unit persists, but the quantity and facility have matured. Unlike that conspicuous "What's on your mind?" input box atop Facebook, newspapers and magazines concealed interaction with readers, reluctant of the opinions of randos. But if you were diligent enough to find the mailing address, often sequestered deep in the back pages, you could submit letters of opinion and other ephemera.
I eventually found the desire to express myself. Using a copy of Aldus PhotoStyler I had gotten from who knows where, I designed party flyers for DJ friends' parties. I published a one-sheet periodical for the residents of my dorm floor, to be read in the bathroom. I made meme-y posters2 which I hung around the physics department. I built a homepage that just lived on my hard drive because our school didn't offer web hosting space and I couldn't figure out how to get an account elsewhere.3 Well, you know how that last bit turned out, eventually.4"
jasonkottke  kottke  rexsorgatz  2016  rural  internet  web  isolation  connectivity  change  subcultures  media  culture  childhood  youth  teens  socialmedia  college  education  universities  highered  highereducation  midwest  cv  music  film  television  tv  cable  cabletv  cosmopolitanism  worldliness  urban  urbanism  interneturbanism  1980s  northdakota  minnesota  homogeneity  diversity  apclasses  aps  religion  ethnicity  race  exposure  facebook 
april 2016 by robertogreco
Has the Internet Really Changed Everything? — Backchannel
[See also: http://kottke.org/16/04/on-technology-culture-and-growing-up-in-a-small-town ]

"How have decades of mass media and technology changed us? A writer returns to his remote hometown — once isolated, now connected. And finds unexpected answers."



"In the Napoleon of the 1980s, where I memorized the alphabet and mangled my first kiss, distractions were few. There were no malls to loiter, no drags to cruise. With no newsstand or bookstore, information was sparse. The only source of outside knowledge was the high school library, a room the size of a modest apartment, which had subscriptions to exactly five magazines: Sports Illustrated, Time, Newsweek, U.S. News & World Report, and People. As a teenager, these five magazines were my only connection to the outside world.

Of course, there was no internet yet. Cable television was available to blessed souls in far-off cities, or so we heard, but it did not arrive in Napoleon until my teens, and even then, in a miniaturized grid of 12 UHF channels. (The coax would transmit oddities like WGN and CBN, but not cultural staples like HBO or Nickelodeon. I wanted my MTV in vain.) Before that, only the staticky reception of the big three — ABC, CBS, NBC — arrived via a tangle of rabbit ears. By the time the PBS tower boosted its broadcast reach to Napoleon, I was too old to enjoy Sesame Street.

Out on the prairie, pop culture existed only in the vaguest sense. Not only did I never hear the Talking Heads or Public Enemy or The Cure, I could never have heard of them. With a radio receiver only able to catch a couple FM stations, cranking out classic rock, AC/DC to Aerosmith, the music counterculture of the ’80s would have been a different universe to me. (The edgiest band I heard in high school was The Cars. “My Best Friend’s Girl” was my avant-garde.)

Is this portrait sufficiently remote? Perhaps one more stat: I didn’t meet a black person until I was 16, at a summer basketball camp. I didn’t meet a Jewish person until I was 18, in college.

This was the Deep Midwest in the 1980s. I was a pretty clueless kid."



"“Basically, this story is a controlled experiment,” I continue. “Napoleon is a place that has remained static for decades. The economics, demographics, politics, and geography are the same as when I lived here. In the past twenty-five years, only one thing has changed: technology.”

Photog2 begins to fiddle with an unlit Camel Light, which he clearly wants to go smoke, even if it is 8 degrees below zero outside. But I am finding the rhythm of my pitch.

“All scientific experiments require two conditions: a static environment and a control — a testable variable that changes. Napoleon is the static environment; technology, the control. With all else being equal, this place is the perfect environment to explore societal questions like, What are the effects of mass communications? How has technology transformed the way we form ideas? Does access to information alone make us smarter?”

“How am I supposed to photograph that?” asks Photog2."



"As we discuss other apps on his home screen — YouTube, eBay, Facebook, Twitter, Yahoo — I realize that my line of questions are really just attempts to prove or disprove a sentence that I read on the flight to Dakota. The sentence appears on page 20 of Danah Boyd’s book, It’s Complicated, a study of the social lives of networked teens:
What the drive-in was to teens in the 1950s and the mall was in the 1980s, Facebook, texting, Twitter, instant messaging, and other social media are to teens now.

I cannot shake the sentence, which seems to contain between its simple words a secret key, a cipher to crack my inquiries into technology and change. Napoleon didn’t have a drive-in in the 1950s, or a mall in the 1980s, but today it definitely has the same social communications tools used by every kid in the country. By that fact alone, the lives of teenagers in Napoleon must be wildly different than they were 20 years ago. But I lack the social research finesse of Boyd, who could probably interrogate my thesis about technology beyond anecdote. So I change the topic to something I know much better: television."



"Whether with sanguine fondness or sallow regret, all writers remember their first publishing experience — that moment when an unseen audience of undifferentiated proportion absorbs their words from unknown locales.
I remember my first three.

Napoleon had no school newspaper, and minimal access to outside media, so I had no conception of “the publishing process.” Pitching an idea, assigning a story, editing and rewriting — all of that would have baffled me. I had only ever seen a couple of newspapers and a handful of magazines, and none offered a window into its production. (If asked, I would have been unsure if writers were even paid, which now seems prescient.) Without training or access, but a vague desire to participate, boredom would prove my only edge. While listlessly paging through the same few magazines over and over, I eventually discovered a semi-concealed backdoor for sneaking words onto the hallowed pages of print publications: user-generated content.

That’s the ghastly term we use (or avoid using) today for non-professional writing submitted by readers. What was once a letter to the editor has become a comment; editorials, now posts. The basic unit persists, but the quantity and facility have matured. Unlike that conspicuous “What’s on your mind?” input box atop Facebook, newspapers and magazines concealed interaction with readers, reluctant of the opinions of randos. But if you were diligent enough to find the mailing address, often sequestered deep in the back pages, you could submit letters of opinion and other ephemera.

This was publishing to me. My collected works were UGC."



"“What are your favorite apps?”

This time my corny question is fielded by Katelyn, another student who my mother suggests will make a good subject for my harebrained experiment. During her study hall break, we discuss the hectic life of a millennial teenager on the plains. She is already taking college-level courses, lettering in three varsity sports, and the president of the local FFA chapter. (That’s Future Farmers of America, an agricultural youth organization with highly competitive livestock judging and grain grading contests. It’s actually a huge deal in deep rural America, bigger than the Boy and Girl Scouts. Katelyn won the state competition in Farm Business Management category.)

To the app question, she recites the universals of any contemporary young woman: Snapchat, Instagram, Pinterest. She mentions The Skimm as a daily news source, which is intriguing, but not as provocative as her next remark: “I don’t have Facebook.”

Whoa, why?

“My parents don’t support social media,” says the 18-year-old. “They didn’t want me to get Facebook when I was younger, so I just never signed up.” This is closer to the isolationist Napoleon that I remember. They might not ban books anymore, but parents can still be very protective.

“How do you survive without Facebook?” I ask. “Do you wish you had it?”

“I go back and forth,” she avers. “It would be easier to connect with people I’ve met through FFA and sports. But I’m also glad I don’t have it, because it’s time-consuming and there’s drama over it.”

She talks like a 35-year-old. So I ask who she will vote for.

“I’m not sure. I like how Bernie Sanders is sounding.”

I tell her a story about a moment in my junior civics class where the teacher asked everyone who was Republican to raise their hand. Twenty-five kids lifted their palms to the sky. The remaining two students called themselves Independents. “My school either had zero Democrats or a few closeted ones,” I conclude.

She is indifferent to my anecdote, so I change the topic to music.

“I listen to older country,” she says. “Garth Brooks, George Strait.” The term “older country” amuses me, but I resist the urge to ask her opinion of Jimmie Rodgers. “I’m not a big fan of hardcore rap or heavy metal,” she continues. “I don’t understand heavy metal. I don’t know why you would want to listen to it.”

So no interest in driving three hours in the snow to see AC/DC at the Fargodome last night?

“No, I just watched a couple Snapchat stories of it.”

Of course she did.

While we talk, a scratchy announcement is broadcast over the school-wide intercom. A raffle drawing ticket is being randomly selected. I hear Jaden’s name announced as the winner of the gigantic teddy bear in my mother’s office.
I ask Katelyn what novel she read as a sophomore, the class year that The Catcher in the Rye was banned from my school. When she says Fahrenheit 451, I feel like the universe has realigned for me in some cosmic perfection.

But my time is running out, and again I begin to wonder whether she is proving or disproving my theories of media and technology. It’s difficult to compare her life to mine at that age. Katelyn is undoubtedly more focused and mature than any teenager I knew in the ’80s, but this is the stereotype of all millennials today. Despite her many accomplishments, she seems to suppress the hallmark characteristic of her ambitious generation: fanatic self-regard. Finally, I ask her what she thinks her life will be like in 25 years.

“I hope I’ll be married, and probably have kids,” she says decisively. “I see myself in a rural area. Maybe a little bit closer to Bismarck or Fargo. But I’m definitely in North Dakota.”

I tell her that Jaden gave essentially the same answer to the question. Why do you think that is?

“The sense of a small community,” she says, using that word again. “Everyone knows each other. It’s a big family.”"
internet  technology  rexsorgatz  2016  isolation  cv  web  online  culture  distraction  media  film  music  quietude  publishing  writing  worldliness  rural  howwelive  thenandnow  change  community  smalltowns  schools  education  journalism  books  censorship  fahrenheit451  raybradbury  thecatcherintherye  jdsalinger  newspapers  communication  socialmedia  snapchat  facebook  instagram  pinterest  theskimm  news  danahboyd  youtube  ebay  yahoo  twitter  videogames  gaming  subcultures  netflix  teens  youth  connectivity  childhood  college  universities  highered  highereducation  midwest  television  tv  cable  cabletv  cosmopolitanism  urban  urbanism  interneturbanism  1980s  northdakota  homogeneity  diversity  apclasses  aps  religion  ethnicity  race  exposure 
april 2016 by robertogreco
Clay Shirky on the why's behind current US Presidential Election cycle - Loose Leaves
[Now available here too: http://civichall.org/civicist/clay-shirky-on-the-whys-behind-current-us-presidential-election-cycle/ ]

"I started writing about both parties becoming host bodies for 3rd party candidates. Instead of an essay, it turned into 50 tweets. Here goes

Social media is breaking the political 'Overton Window' -- the ability of elites to determine the outside edges of acceptable conversation.

The Overton Window was imagined as a limit on public opinion, but in politics, it's the limit on what politicians will express in public.

Politically acceptable discourse is limited by supply, not demand. The public is hungry for more than politicians are willing to discuss.

This is especially important in the U.S., because our two-party system creates ideologically unstable parties by design.

In order to preserve inherently unstable coalitions, party elites & press had to put some issues into the 'Don't Mention X' category.

These limits were enforced by party discipline, and mass media whose economics meant political centrism was the best way to make money.

This was BC: Before Cable. One or two newspapers per town, three TV stations; all centrist, white, pro-business, respectful of authority.

Cable changed things, allowing outsiders to campaign more easily. In '92, Ross Perot, 3rd party candidate, campaigned through infomercials.

That year, the GOP's 'Don't Mention X' issue was the weakness of Reaganomics. Party orthodoxy said reducing tax rates would raise revenues.

Perot's ads attacked GOP management of the economy head on. He was the first candidate to purchase national attention at market rates.

Post-Perot, cable became outside candidates' tool for jailbreaking Don't Mention X: Buchanan on culture war, Nader on consumer protection.

After Cable but Before Web lasted only a dozen years. Cable added a new stream of media access. The web added a torrent.

What's special about After Web -- now -- is that politicians talking about "Don't mention X" issues are doing so from inside the parties.

This started with Howard Dean (the OG) in '03. Poverty was the mother of invention; Dean didn't have enough $ to buy ads, even on cable.

But his team had Meetup & blogs and their candidate believed something many voters did too, something actively Not Being Mentioned.

In '03, All Serious People (aka DC insiders) agreed the U.S. had to invade Iraq. Opposition to the war was not to be a campaign issue.

Dean didn't care. In February of 2003, he said "If the war lasts more than a few weeks, the danger of humanitarian disaster is high."

Dean said "Iraq is a divided country, with Sunni, Shia and Kurdish factions that share both bitter rivalries and large quantities of arms."

Dean said "There is a very real danger that war in Iraq will fuel the fires of international terror."

For All Serious People, this was crazy talk. (Dean was, of course, completely correct.) This was also tonic to a passionate set of voters.

Mentioning X became Dean's hallmark. Far from marginalizing him, it got him tons of free news coverage. Trump is just biting those rhymes.

After webifying Perot's media tactics, Dean pioneered online fundraising. Unfortunately for him, his Get Out The Vote operation didn't.

That took Obama. Obama was less of an outsider than Dean (though still regarded as unelectable in '07) but used most of Dean's playbook.

Besides charisma, he had two advantages Dean didn't have. First, the anti-war position had gone from principled oppositon to common sense.

Obama could campaign not just on being prescient (as Dean also was) but on having been proved right years earlier.

The second advantage was that Obama's voter mobilization strategy--the crown jewels--was superior to that of the Democratic Party itself.

This was the last piece. Perot adopted non-centrist media, Dean distributed fundraising, Obama non-party voter mobilization.

Social media is at the heart of all of this. Meetup and Myspace meant Dean and Obama didn't have to be billionaires to get a message out.

Online fundraising let outsiders raise funds, and it became a symbol of purity. Anyone not raising money at $25 a pop is now a plutocrat.

And then there was vote-getting. Facebook and MyBarackObama let the Obama campaign run their own vote-getting machine out of Chicago.

McLuhan famously said "The medium is the message." This is often regarded as inscrutably gnomic, but he explained it perfectly clearly.

The personal and social consequences of any medium result from the new scale introduced into our affairs by any new technology.

The new scale Facebook introduces into politics is this: all registered American voters, ~150M people, are now a medium-sized group.

All voters' used to be a big number. Now it's <10% of FB's audience. "A million users isn't cool. You know what's cool? A billion users."

Reaching & persuading even a fraction of the electorate used to be so daunting that only two national orgs could do it. Now dozens can.

This set up the current catastrophe for the parties. They no longer control any essential resource, and can no longer censor wedge issues.

Each party has an unmentionable Issue X that divide its voters. Each overestimated their ability to keep X out of the campaign.

Jeb(!) Bush, who advocates religious litmus tests for immigrants, has to attack Trump's anti-immigrant stance, because it went too far.

Clinton can't say "Break out the pitchforks", because Democratic consensus says "We've done as much to banks as our donors will allow."

In '15, a 3rd party candidate challenging her on those issues from inside the party was inconceivable.("I don't think that word means...")

So here we are, with quasi-parlimentarianism. We now have four medium-sized and considerably more coherent voter blocs.

2 rump establishment parties, Trump representing 'racist welfare state' voters, and Sanders representing people who want a Nordic system.

Trump is RINO, Sanders not even a Dem. That either one could become their party's nominee is amazing. Both would mark the end of an era.

We will know by March 15th whether a major party's apparatus can be hijacked by mere voters. (Last time it was: McGovern.)

But the social media piece, and growing expertise around it, means that this is now a long-term challenge to our two-party system.

Over-large party coalitions require discipline to prevent people from taking an impassioned 30% of the base in order to win the primaries.

The old defense against this by the parties was "You and what army?" No third party has been anything other than a spoiler in a century.

The answer to that question this year, from both Trump and Sanders, is "Me and this army I can mobilize without your help."

Who needs a third party when the existing two parties have become powerless to stop insurgencies from within?"
clayshirky  politics  us  rossperot  berniesanders  2016  politicalparties  cable  marshallmcluhan  themediumisthemessage  media  television  control  messaging  facebook  fundraising  platforms  discipline  issues  division  donaldtrump  jebbush  barackobama  hillaryclinton  democrats  republicans  coaitions  thirdpartycandidates  howarddean  2003  meetup  internet  web  socialmedia  1992  getoutthevote  myspace  money  campaigns  campaigning  mybarackobama  rino  georgemcgovern  elections 
february 2016 by robertogreco
The internet is fucked | The Verge
In a perfect storm of corporate greed and broken government, the internet has gone from vibrant center of the new economy to burgeoning tool of economic control. Where America once had Rockefeller and Carnegie, it now has Comcast’s Brian Roberts, AT&T’s Randall Stephenson, and Verizon’s Lowell McAdam, robber barons for a new age of infrastructure monopoly built on fiber optics and kitty GIFs.

And the power of the new network-industrial complex is immense and unchecked, even by other giants: AT&T blocked Apple’s FaceTime and Google’s Hangouts video chat services for the preposterously silly reason that the apps were "preloaded" on each company’s phones instead of downloaded from an app store. Verizon and AT&T have each blocked the Google Wallet mobile payment system because they’re partners in the competing (and not very good) ISIS service. Comcast customers who stream video on their Xboxes using Microsoft’s services get charged against their data caps, but the Comcast service is tax-free.

We’re really, really fucking this up.

We’re really, really fucking this up.

But we can fix it, I swear. We just have to start telling each other the truth. Not the doublespeak bullshit of regulators and lobbyists, but the actual truth. Once we have the truth, we have the power — the power to demand better not only from our government, but from the companies that serve us as well. "This is a political fight," says Craig Aaron, president of the advocacy group Free Press. "When the internet speaks with a unified voice politicians rip their hair out."

We can do it. Let’s start.

THE INTERNET IS A UTILITY, JUST LIKE WATER AND ELECTRICITY

Go ahead, say it out loud. The internet is a utility.

There, you’ve just skipped past a quarter century of regulatory corruption and lawsuits that still rage to this day and arrived directly at the obvious conclusion. Internet access isn’t a luxury or a choice if you live and participate in the modern economy, it’s a requirement. Have you ever been in an office when the internet goes down? It’s like recess. My friend Paul Miller lived without the internet for a year and I’m still not entirely sure he’s recovered from the experience. The internet isn’t an adjunct to real life; it’s not another place. You don’t do things "on the internet," you just do things. The network is interwoven into every moment of our lives, and we should treat it that way.

Yet the corporations that control internet access insist that they’re providing specialized services that are somehow different than water, power, and telephones. They point to crazy bullshit you don’t want or need like free email addresses and web hosting solutions and goofy personalized search screens as evidence that they’re actually providing "information" services instead of the more highly regulated "telecommunications" services. "Common carrier rules are basically free speech," says the Free Press’ Aaron. "We have all these protections for what happens over landline phones that we’re not extending to data, even though all these people under 25 mostly communicate in data."

It’s time to just end these stupid legal word games and say what we all already know: internet access is a utility. A commodity that should get better and faster and cheaper over time. Anyone who says otherwise is lying for money.

THERE IS ZERO COMPETITION FOR INTERNET ACCESS

None. Zero. Nothing. It is a wasteland. You are standing in the desert and the only thing that grows is higher prices."



NO INTERNET PROVIDER DESERVES SPECIAL TREATMENT



THE FCC IS WEAK AND INEFFECTIVE



"So there’s the entire problem, expressed in four simple ideas: the internet is a utility, there is zero meaningful competition to provide that utility to Americans, all internet providers should be treated equally, and the FCC is doing a miserably ineffective job. The United States should lead the world in broadband deployment and speeds: we should have the lowest prices, the best service, and the most competition. We should have the freest speech and the loudest voices, the best debate and the soundest policy. We are home to the most innovative technology companies in the world, and we should have the broadband networks to match.

We should stop fucking it up.

"There is much greater consensus around the fundamentals of the open internet than this binary up and down debate that’s going on," says former FCC Chairman and current NCTA President Michael Powell. "There is common ground to find an answer."

Free Press president Craig Aaron is blunt. "What we need right now is decisive action," he says. "We can still unfuck the internet.""
broadband  cable  internet  netneutrality  publicutilities  2014  nilaypatel  corruption  regulation  monopolies  monopoly  control  power  access  fcc  competition  us  freespeech 
february 2014 by robertogreco
John Gerzema: The post-crisis consumer | Video on TED.com
"John Gerzema says there's an upside to the recent financial crisis -- the opportunity for positive change. Speaking at TEDxKC, he identifies four major cultural shifts driving new consumer behavior and shows how businesses are evolving to connect with thoughtful spending."
trends  johngerzema  community  volunteerism  crisis  ideas  consumer  ted  consumerism  values  savings  conspicuousconsumption  quality  transparency  business  travel  mobility  liquidity  value  libraries  cable  sharing  lending  learning  education  continuingeducation  diy  urbanfarming  sustainability  infrastructure  environment  creditcards  cooperation  trust  crowdsourcing  artisinal  glvo  localcurrency  green  consumption  kogi  carrotmobs  incentives  twitter  ethics  fairplay  empathy  respect 
october 2009 by robertogreco

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