Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Notes from the Field: Time in Kathmandu

I received an email from a colleague and good friend, Gina Drew, who has been studying issues relating to access and management of water in India. Concerning Time, she shares following experience:
I'm in Kathmandu. We have load shedding here and I'm taking advantage of the electricity right now. Life revolves around when the lights will come on. People here have about 6-12 hours of cuts a day, done in rotations. We get a list depending on our neighborhood. How is that for temporal freedom? Sometimes the hours are good. Sometimes they are annoying. Most times in the area where I live, the light comes on in the night when everyone is sleeping. Even my circadian rhythms are regularized here so I'm usually out when I could be taking advantage. Thankfully I'm buffered by the outages with a solar powered inverter that gives me enough juice to power the router, a few lights, and perhaps a laptop.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Overheard on the Street

It's raining in New York City. Again. And when it rains, it means that the sidewalks become especially congested as umbrella wielding citizens, both large and small, attempt to negotiate the crowded sidewalks and entrances to the subways. It's remarkable to watch since it reveals a sense of order that is otherwise not readily visible.

Monday, March 29, 2010

At the Heart of a Baseball: A Global Story

We're a week away from the New York Mets home opener, and I've got baseball on my mind. I'm excited—with the season yet untapped, it's full of possibilities. (I've decided I'm not going to pay attention to assorted scouting reports that are predicting yet another doom and gloom season. Why give up before the first pitch?) While watching a Spring Training game, I realized I didn't know much about the namesake of the pastime, the baseball, itself. Sure, it's round; it's white with red seams; and it's a ball—you might be asking yourself, is there really more to it than that? But there is, Reader. Oh, there is.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

In the News: Weekly Roundup (3/21 - 3/27)

Another week, another round of news and other interesting notes from the web. As always, if you've found anything of note you'd like to share, please post it below.



Blog News - Blogs for Anthro Students and Research Blogging Feature

Anthropology in Practice has been included in a list of "100 Best Blogs for Anthropology Students." While I would take the rankings with a grain of salt, the list is still a great resource for anyone interested in anthropology. And I'm delighted to be included among the ranks of some notable anthro-bloggers.

I'm also pleased to note that one of my recent posts was selected by Dr. SkySkull, an editor for ResearchBlogging, as an editor's selection for notable reads. You can read The Irish Diaspora: Why Even Trinidadians Are a Little Irish here.

This week on Anthropology in Practice I'll be talking about a few additional issues concerning time, dissect a baseball, and hopefully resume local explorations.

Thanks for visiting, and stay tuned.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Is Your Time My Time? Deconstructing "Social" Time (3)

I've been doing a lot of sifting through the articles and books I have on Time, and some graduate writing I did on the subject. And I think I'm ready to address my question as to whether there are parallels in Intersubjective Time. To do so, we're going to take a trip to the Caribbean. (But first I recommend you check out Part 1 and Part 2 of this series if you haven't already.)

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Is Your Time My Time? Deconstructing "Social" Time (2)

Time. Sometimes it can seem as though there isn't enough of it. Sometimes it can seem endless. I woke up thinking about my notion of temporal freedom because it seems to run contrary to social order, which is structured in such a way that encourages intersubjectivity (the shared social experience of individuals). We exist within networks that overlap—I am a wife, sister, daughter, writer, anthropologist, godmother, bibliophile, former student, etc. Each of these roles carries with it experiences and memories that overlap with those of others in these networks. What I have named as temporal freedom actually seems to tied to a great number of external factors and persons. These thoughts sent me back to my bookshelves and to my notes from grad school. Here is what I have managed to puzzle out today—perhaps you can help strip back the layers on this as well, Reader. Hold on tight. We're going to delve into some theory today.

Is Your Time My Time? Deconstructing "Social" Time (1) [Updated]

My stay in Port St. Lucie forced me to consider the issue of time. In New York City it's easy to take time for granted. New York City is after all "the city that never sleeps"; it's inhabitants and workers are constantly on the go. As a result, time is managed and constructed so that it is convenient: for example, many businesses offer extended hours to accommodate late shift workers, party-goers, and just general late nighters. (One of the things I missed most about the City while I situated in North Carolina was the ability to get a roast beef and salami sandwich at 3 am.) Extended hours is a practice that makes for good business—if you have your doubts, just check out the lines that form for street food vendors when the bars start to empty in the wee hours of the morning. The result, I think, is that time is stretched so that we have more hours in which to do things. So even though we may have less hours of sunlight, we're not necessarily bound by a circadian rhythm that demands we sleep soon after nightfall or wake at the crack of dawn. We've by-passed the natural clock. We've adjusted so that dinner or breakfast (depending on when your day starts) at 9 or 10 pm is not unusual; a late lunch means eating at 4; and pharmacies and some supermarkets are open 24 hours—just in case you decide you need toothpaste or an orange at 4:30 am.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Lessons from Baseball: Building a Community Around Tradition [Updated]

"People ask me what I do in winter when there's no baseball. I'll tell you what I do. I stare out the window and wait for spring".
Rogers Hornsby
I was in Port St. Lucie, FL this past week for a taste of Spring Training with the New York Mets and a break from the gray, rainy, hectic life of New York City. Spring Training is a very important seasonal rite for baseball fans. It means that warm days aren't too far away and with them will come Saturdays at the ballpark with sausage and peppers for lunch. It means night games under the lights as the air crackles from the heat being released from the sidewalks and buildings. It means singing Lazy Maria during the seventh inning at Shea CitiField. Opening Day is indeed a homecoming, but long before the season is even a glimmer on the horizon, many fans make the annual pilgrimage to the warmer regions where the clubs hold camps. Spring Training is a means of welcoming the change in seasons and marking the changes in the sport itself. [Left: Spring Training game at Tradition Field, March 19, 2010].

Changes are plentiful in baseball. Players, coaches, and managers retire, are released, or are traded. Others are added. And these changes can impact the dynamics of the team and the relationship the club has with its fans. Uniforms change. Stadiums and ballparks are rebuilt and renamed. But beyond the rules, the emotional connection fans have to the sport remains an important element in keeping with the tradition of the game. The sport is hopelessly intertwined with events in the individual fan's life and comes to represent something larger than nine innings of trying to hit a tiny, speeding ball with the equivalent of a stick. For many a fan, baseball represents a connection to their own past, to family loyalties that are handed down and defended with each generation. This connection is the reason fans remain loyal after moving to a state with a different home team because it helps tie them to their own story. The traditions connected to the sport are deeply personal and varied: tailgating before the game, looking for change to pay for the "cheap seats," waiting endlessly at the players entrance in the hopes of getting an autograph, the seventh inning stretch, watching the game with a loved one—all were cited as examples of traditions individuals associated with baseball.

The Mets have captured the essence of this feeling with their aptly named ballpark, Tradition Field.  Formerly the Thomas J. White Stadium, (a Florida politician responsible for bringing the Mets to Florida), the ballpark was renamed in 2004 when the nearby town of Tradition purchased the naming rights. With a name like Tradition, you would think that the town had been long established, but it's a planned community founded only in 2003 by Core Communities, LLC. The town is composed of several smaller villages arranged around a central hub, complete with a picturesque Town Hall. What's interesting about the relationship of the township to the ball club is that the two are supported by the emotive responses to the feelings of tradition. Tradition, FL bills itself as a "return to the days when your town had everything you need"—including baseball in a small town way, perhaps as your grandparents remember it. The town of Tradition has built itself using the power of memory by choosing a name that evokes a sense of notalgia and personal meaning. [Tradition Field, home of the New York Mets, the Gulf Coast Mets, and the St. Lucie Mets.]

And it's a great tactic. The ballpark has a homey, local feel to it that's greatly different from the atmosphere at CitiField, and one expects it to be so. There are only two "tiers" of seating, plus a large "berm" area (another Dutch word, by the way!), and with families and older folks milling about, you get the sense that this is what baseball was meant to be (even in the majors): a way for a community to come together. Of course winning matters because pride matters and the community's pride is at stake, but there's also a sense of simplicity. It is all carefully manufactured to allow you to experience baseball as it is meaningful to you. In an era of corporate sponsorship, it's something to think about: the ties a team has to a community, and the importance of the names associated with the club in terms of connecting with the fan.

Updated 3/23: It was announced today that effective immediately the stadium has been renamed to Digital Domain Park. I'm interested in knowing how this may affect fans' relationship to the ballpark—and also saddened at the loss of such a meaningful name.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

In the News: Weekly Roundup (03/14 - 03/20)

I've been traveling this week—collecting ethnographic bits and pieces from places other than New York City. I'll resume normal posting tomorrow, but here's another installment of the Weekly Roundup.

Anthropology

General Interest

Technology

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Four Stone Hearth 88 Is Up and Running at Ad Hominin

Ciaran Brewster of Ad Hominin is hosting this edition of the blog carnival. Be sure to get your dose of anthropology news before you head out for your St. Paddy's Day Celebration.


The Irish Diaspora: Why Even Trinidadians Are a Little Irish

This post was chosen as an Editor's Selection for ResearchBlogging.orgHappy St. Paddy's Day! This Irish national holiday celebrates Patrick who is—arguably—the most recognizable of Irish saints, known for championing Irish Christianity (and using a shamrock to explain the Holy Trinity). The observance has also been viewed as a one day break from the abstinence of the Lenten season. While it still has religious undertones, for a vast majority of people, St. Patrick's Day is a day for merry-making—jovial gatherings, and free-flowing alcohol are all characteristics of the day. Everyone is supposedly a little Irish on St. Patrick's Day and there is more truth to this saying than most recognize. It's not merely a loophole allowing for the uninhibited consumption of Guinness. The Irish have traveled to all corners of the world, and like other immigrant groups, wherever they have stayed they have left a mark.

With its distinct culture, people, and linguistic markers, the Caribbean might be the last place you would think to look for the Irish. But much in the same way the spirit of the Dutch is alive and well in New York City in street and place names, so too do the Irish have a presence in places such as Montserrat, Jamaica, St. Kitts, and elsewhere throughout the British Caribbean. For example, in Jamaica alone one will find:
Irish Town and Dublin Castle in the cool hills of St. Andrew; Irish Pen and Sligoville in St. Catherine; Athenry and Bangor Ridge in Portland; Clonmel and Kildare in St. Mary; Belfast and Middleton in St. Thomas; Ulster Spring in Trelawny, and Hibernia in Christiana ... And then there were the obviously Irish surnames, despite the less than obvious features that went with them: the Burkes, the Collins, the Lynches, the Murphys, the Maddens, the Mullings, the Lanigans, and the Walshes. There were the McCarthys, McCormacks, McDermotts, McDonnoughs, McGanns, McLaughlins, and McMorris's. 
How did the Irish come to be here, so far from their emerald island? The surnames above may not carry the prestige of an Astor or a Schermerhorn, but they tell of a history that is no less important. [Left: The flag of Montserrat reveals an Irish connection by featuring Erin, the personification of Ireland, as well as a harp, which is another Irish symbol.]

Following the Battle of Kinsdale, the Irish Clan system was largely abolished and the English had seized most of the land of Ulster. The 30,000-something prisoners of war were shipped off and sold as laborers to the colonies of the Caribbean and the United States. According to one source:
The first Irish slaves were sold to a settlement on the Amazon River In South America in 1612. It would probably be more accurate to say that the first “recorded” sale of Irish slaves was in 1612, because the English, who were noted for their meticulous record keeping, simply did not keep track of things Irish, whether it be goods or people, unless such was being shipped to England.
The Proclamation of 1625 would make this a common practice. Irish political prisoners would be routinely packed up and sold off as laborers:
In 1629 a large group of Irish men and women were sent to Guiana, and by 1632, Irish were the main slaves sold to Antigua and Montserrat in the West Indies. By 1637 a census showed that 69% of the total population of Montserrat were Irish slaves, which records show was a cause of concern to the English planters.
Apparently, the Irish were desirable "slave stock" because they could be obtained for free and sold for a profit, whereas traders would need to pay to have Africans "caught" which minimized the profit margin. And because they were "cheaper" in this sense, the Irish often suffered harsher punishments from their plantation masters. It is estimated that between 30,000 and 80,000 Irish were sold as laborers. The population in Ireland was drastically reduced: In 1652, Ireland's population was 616,000, down from 1,466,000 in 1641. Of course, this change was not solely due to to the slave trade—famine, wars, and disease certainly played a role.

Nonetheless, the Irish presence in the Caribbean had been firmly established:
Most European settlers on the islands confined themselves to one or another island or group of islands, hence the modern-day expressions Hispanic Caribbean, French Caribbean, British Caribbean, and so on. The Irish, on the other hand, looked for and found new homes wherever opportunities or other circumstances took them. They resided on practically all of the islands of the Caribbean and circum-Caribbean zone, as demonstrated in the papers by Rodgers, Anderson, Power and Chinea, among others. Some of them were undoubtedly trans-colonial, multilingual, and highly adaptable to changing environments.
The Caribbean is unique in this way. It's role in the colonial power struggle has brought together people from all different backgrounds, resulting in a cultural mixing not truly seen elsewhere. I can only confidently speak on behalf of Trinidadians where the resulting mix of Africans, Indians, Chinese, and others has created blended cultural artifacts in the forms of food, festivals, music, religion, and clothing. Intermarriage between groups has strengthened these blended artifacts giving them a particular authority in these areas. Trinidadians, being enthusiastic rum connoisseurs have taken to Guinness, that popular Irish brew, and created their own version of the Guinness Float (Guinness and ice cream). Trinis have been known to take their Guinness mixed with carnation milk—a drink I can remember having perhaps a bit early in my forays into drinking. [Right: A pint of Guinness.]

So on this St. Paddy's Day, I invite you to think about the ways we are all connected via histories and relationships that may not be so apparent at first glance. And go ahead and enjoy the holiday however you choose to mark it—after all, we are all a little Irish.

And if you're interested in reading more about the Irish diaspora, there's a great list of resources here that you can check out. I would also recommend—in the name of social science—that is you can claim a connection to Ireland, that you register with the Irish Diaspora project.

Citations:
Chinea, Jorge L (2007). Ireland and the Caribbean. Irish Migration Studies in Latin America 5 (3), 143-144. [document]

ResearchBlogging.orgRodgers, Nini (2007). The Irish in the Caribbean 1641-1837: An Overview. Irish Migration Studies in Latin America, 5 (3), 145-156.


Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Where Everybody Knows Your Name ...

It's not your favorite friendly bar, but your local coffee spot. Once—okay, sometimes twice—a week, I get my morning coffee from the guy stationed in front of my building. His coffee is good and cheap, and it's a nice break from the decaf tea I try to drink most days of the week. (Sometimes a girl just needs her caffeine.) His name is Ahkmed. He gets up at 2 am Monday through Friday to secure his spot in front of my building and by 11 am is packing up his cart. He sells coffee and tea, bagels (plain, or with butter or cream cheese), pastries, and juices. Unlike other vendors, he doesn't have a grill where he can whip up eggs and bacon—his business is pretty straightforward.  Ahkmed, like most other street cart vendors, is a local—meaning that he's a familiar face, part of the social landscape.

Ahkmed also knows my order. In fact, he doesn't even have to ask anymore, so our minute or two together is spent chatting about other mundane things: the weather, our health, weekend plans. He also says hello if sees me out of the building while he's packing up. Knowing your customer is obviously a good business technique—it keeps people coming back. As much as I look to Ahkmed as a fixture in my social landscape, he apparently does the same. I stopped by to get coffee this morning though;it wasn't my regular coffee day. After exchanging brief greetings, Ahkmed didn't begin his usual routine of heaping sugar into a large cup. Instead he asked, "Coffee today?" I laughed and said "Yes, please!" Our routine restored, he laughed also and said "Today's not your day." So I explained that I would be traveling and needed all the energy I could get. "It's good that you told me," he said. "I look for you. I know my customers." [Left: Waiting in line for coffee from Ahkmed.]

It's a good feeling to be known in a sea of strangers. People want to be recognized; they look for the familiar. In some ways, Ahkmed serves as an anchor for me and his other customers. Yes, I could go to any of the other carts that line the street along the way to my building, I could text my order, I could succumb to the siren song of Starbucks, and possibly become known to these vendors too. But Ahkmed is convenient, and his friendliness is a welcome change. Some folks might be troubled by the fact that their comings and goings are noted, but in this case, I hardly think that his motives are sinister. We operate in the same sphere. It's no different than noting where the subway entrance or mailbox is along your route. My interaction with Ahkmed is just another manifestation of the social order—the routines that govern our lives and the people in them.

And I'm sure you've encountered this as well: the surprising realization that your routine is noted by someone else. See, for example, the runner who wrote to the NYT's Metropolitan Diary (see the last letter) about wanting to cheat on her run and finding that a neighbor was keeping count for her. Share your stories below.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Culture in Action 6: Stations of the Cross

During the Lenten season, Roman Catholics observe the Stations of the Cross. This devotion marks the final hours of Christ by recognizing 14 events that culminate in the entombment of Jesus. For many Catholics, it is spiritual pilgrimage performed as an act of reparation for the pain and suffering inflicted upon Jesus as he labored to Golgotha. Many Catholic churches hold a Friday mass during Lent for the Stations. This past Friday, my Bengali-Catholic family members hosted a private prayer in this same spirit.

An altar was arranged with candles, a few religious statues, and of course, a cross. The readings were conducted in Bengali and involved much standing and kneeling. It was beautiful in its simplicity. And a staunch reminder of the reach of colonialism. But it was also a means for this family to reconnect and reaffirm their sense of community. Given the intimate atmosphere of the event, I didn't take too many photos, but here are a few (apologies in advance for the quality of the shots):

Above: Side view of the home-made altar. (03/10)

Above: Those gathered kneel for a reading led by the woman in the green sari standing in the left of the shot.

Above: Standing for a reading.

Though it's perhaps not clear in the pictures I managed to secure, the gathering was not segregated—there just happened to be more women than men. Following the prayer, there was a light vegetarian dinner (of course—we've already explored the central role food plays in many different cultures!) which was filled with merry cries characteristic of a joyous reunion.

You can view additional installments of the Culture in Action series here.

Friday, March 12, 2010

In Pursuit of Authenticity in the Digital Age

I often wrangle with the idea of digital authenticity. How do we know who we're talking to online? How do we know they are accurately representing themselves? Does it matter? As an ambitious graduate student, I devised and carried out a study investigating the creation of "authenticity" on the Internet. I wanted to see if I could fake my way into an online community. How'd it turn out? I was banned; they weren't happy with me. My exaggerated emulation of other members marked me as a rat right off the bat. But it's a study that I'm prepping to revisit in my wizened old age. I think these issues are salient as we struggle to tame the digital beast that has taken hold of our lives.

In this vein, the WSJ recently ran a story concerning the intersection of public and professional lives in social media. By now you've certainly heard the horror stories (and perhaps know someone personally who's experienced a social media mishap)—for example, the guy who interviewed with CISCO and tweeted about the potential cons of the job, the intern who called in sick and then posted photos of himself at a Halloween party, the Eagles employee who should have kept his commentary to himself instead of posting his feelings to Facebook, and of course the professor whose Facebook statuses have been construed as threats against students. More and more it seems that the web is the place we turn to reveal ourselves. Behind a computer screen it's easy to feel invisible, when the truth is that we've laid clear digital trails concerning our interests, amassed scores of followers, and now can broadcast our location with the push of a button. We're anything but anonymous.

An article on CNET talks about the growth of Generation X-hibitionist, who according to Harris Interactive have few concerns about privacy and the Internet: 59 percent were happy to provide personal information to marketers. Compare this data to 1998, when 80% of people cited privacy concerns as a obstacle to shopping online. And digital and social media developers are encouraging this new-found comfort level:
At a technology conference in January, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg told his audience that Internet users don't care as much about privacy anymore. The 25-year old said that, in the seven years since he started the company, "people have really gotten comfortable not only sharing more information and different kinds, but more openly and with more people—and that social norm is just something that has evolved over time." Zuckerberg defended the company's decision in December to push users to reveal more, saying "we decided that these would be the social norms now and we just went for it." 
Thinking back to "earlier" days, digital sociality seemed in many ways to encourage individuality while protecting identity. You could create multiple screen names to cater to different aspects of your personality and keep them all separate if you so chose. (Sex fiend by night, book worm by day? Or vice versa? No one needed to know!) The emergence of avatars further encouraged this. Green skin, pink hair, surf clothes—if those attributes presented a closer representation to who you felt you were, you were free to roam cyber-space in your new skin. This removed some of the limitations we may experience in the physical world in terms of expressing ourselves—I don't think my coworkers would look at me the same if I showed up wearing green face paint.

[Avatar screen for MSN Minimise Me. © MSN]

So Zuckerberg may be right. It appears that we have been moving in this direction for some time because diminished privacy standards encourage a truer representation of who a person is. And perhaps these relaxed rules about representation online are crossing over into the physical world in the form of a more relaxed view about personal representation. Perhaps some time in the near future it'll be okay if I decide I want to wear green face paint all the time—it wouldn't raise any eyebrows on the street, people would still sit next to me on public transportation, and I wouldn't get referred to HR for an evaluation. But we're not there yet. And until that time, perhaps what we are perceiving as relaxed rules about online privacy is an attempt to author an authentic self online?



Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Blog News

Hello, dear readers! Thank you all for joining me during my adventures in New York City. I'm taking a moment to touch base with you all and invite you to "delurk"—say hello, let me know what interests you, what you're doing in your corner of the world, etc.

I also want to talk about some upcoming posts that are "tumble-weeding" through my mind:
  • As the weather warms up and the snow becomes a distant memory, I hope to resume some of my neighborhood explorations. I've got the Five Points, Central Park, and a few neighborhoods in the other boroughs on my list which will bring us back to discussions about the past in the present.
  • Updates to some of the landscape changes I've noted on here previously—the city is planning an aquatic carousel in the Battery Park, which should be interesting to watch unfold.
  • More ruminations on digital and social media. I would like to introduce you more to the academic literature and will be making more of an attempt to connect you with the articles and books I'm reading.
  • And of course, continued explorations of how the past and technology are intersecting daily life.
So I hope you'll continue visit and that you'll continue to share your ideas with me. Cheers!

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

If Thieves Can Do It So Can You: A Case for the Potential of Social Media

The story about the New York City bike messenger who used Twitter to find his stolen bike has been making the rounds on the Internet. Also making the digital rounds of late is the website PleaseRobMe.com, which is a glorified Twitter list of people who choose to disclose that they aren't home. The theory behind this site is that people are all too willing to share information on social media sites and give little thought to how this information might be harvested and used. In this case, would-be thieves could case this list and identify prime targets to burglarize. For me, PleaseRobMe.com both raises an important point regarding the digital management of personal information, and adds to the uncertainty surrounding the role and use of digital media in our lives. Yes, we need to be aware of what we're sharing and the digital image it creates (i.e., your digital persona), but fear of using this technology will only increase its misuse and delay its proper implementation in daily life. The bike messenger story adds a nice balance to this view.

Digital and social media are here to stay, and are quickly changing the ways we interact and connect with each other. Fear or mistrust of social media, if not properly countered with education, will not detract from its reach, but will impact the quality of the interactions. Discussions concerning netiquette are important, as is an awareness concerning how shared information can be used and how to properly manage and control different aspects of personal networks. Fear and uncertainty minimizes the user's ability to wield the social web effectively. The power of connectivity is immense and the lesson that it can hurt you is not something that should be overlooked, but users should not forget that they have the upper hand right now: As businesses scramble to understand the social web audience, it is the users who are in the position to guide the development of this technology as something that will be meaningful to them and not something that they are fed as part of a marketing tool. As a result, shying away from this technology without learning how to awaken its potential forces the user to relinquish ownership of his or her network, which opens the user up to external interlopers.

The bike messenger story demonstrates how connectivity can be mobilized—it's a story where the potential power of the social web shines through. Hopefully users can take away the message that we are a community that is united virtually, but with a very physical presence in the world. It reduces the strangeness of strangers in a world where we are taught that mistrust is the norm. While proper precautions should be taken to safeguard sensitive information, the social web is a source for information as well as support. If the idea that you only connect to people you have an interest in holds true, then your network is one that cares about your well-being. So if you lose your bike, or your book, or something of greater value, or need advice or a recommendation, because your network is invested in you, you'll activate a group of people who want to help you find a resolution. This raises the issue of network management, which I  believe is actually key to the strength and survival of the social web. Network management does away with auto-following and friending everyone you met at happy hour last night. It means making meaningful connections, and creating a holding pattern for people you may want to give greater access to your life. Until users learn how to actively manage the members of their network—to draw distinctions between the different tiers of connections via privacy settings—the individual's social network will be inefficient and weak. 

Social media is not to be feared. If would-be thieves can harness the power of the social web, there's no reason users cannot claim this same power for their own purposes. We cannot afford not to understand this technology, both personally and professionally.

How do you see the social web evolving in the future? What will it take to raise an awareness of netiquette and social power via the web?

Monday, March 8, 2010

Hubble 3D—The Final Cut

A few months ago, I enthusiastically reported that I thought the IMAX feature HUBBLE 3D would allow theater-goers to claim a piece of the telescope for themselves and get a glimpse into a world that they would not otherwise experience. Tonight I was able to view the final cut of the documentary and while it was still exciting and my statement proved to be be an accurate assessment, some of the promise held in the raw footage was unfortunately lost during editing. The shuttle launch still fills you with anticipation; the crew's excitement is still palpable; the images from HUBBLE are still breathtaking; and the repairs to the telescope still capture your imagination. However, serious science buffs may feel that the documentary comes up a bit short. As one audience member commented at the end, "It didn't tell me anything new."

The film does provide a cosmic adventure—though some may find it better suited for a grade school science class than a mature audience. While I can agree with this evaluation, I think it's probably a good introduction for the general public to HUBBLE and space exploration. It does a lot in terms of making science accessible to the public at large by opening doors that have been previously unreachable. I mean, when's the next time you're going to get to tag along as astronauts perform repairs on an important scientific instrument in space? If you think it might be awhile, then you might want to grab the family and check out HUBBLE 3D

If anyone does check it out (release date: March 19th), I'd love to hear your perspective—particularly in the vein of whether this is an appropriate tool/medium for giving science public exposure.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Food Cart Vendors Get Hip to Digital Media

I pass any number of breakfast vendors in the morning. From eggs and bacon to buttered rolls and bagels with cream cheese to oatmeal to coffee—oh, the heavenly smell of coffee (which I only drink maybe once or twice a week)—the carts and trucks that line the sidewalks, sometimes two or three to a block, are responsible for feeding a good majority of this city in the morning. Some also do lunch duty. And it's not always a case of one side fits all. These vendors offer slight differences: For example, a husband and wife team serve tortas, another offers Turkish coffee, and another makes a gigantic breakfast wrap with egg whites, cheese, tomatoes, and possibly avocado. (It's always seemed a bit too big of a breakfast for me, so I haven't actually tried it.)  

 [Above: The Love Truck serves up coffee with the Beatles and other favorites playing in the background.]

But there is one that has come to stand out because the husband and wife team offer something I haven't seen before: They have a sign inviting people to text message their orders! So you're sitting on the train trying to stave off those lingering waves of sleepiness when someone boards with a large cup of coffee. Suddenly, heads snap up, people sit up a little straighter, and an almost audible sigh sweeps through the car—I've both seen and experienced this phenomena first hand. Now that you've been teased fully awake by the aroma of freshly brewed caffeine, you want a cup too. And you're thinking of how you'll have to either stop and get a cup or make do with the office sludge—er, coffee. Well, what if when you got off at your stop (or maybe even while you were in the subway tunnels and had a cell phone signal for a brief moment), you texted your order to a breakfast vendor and it was waiting for you to pick up as you scurry to your office?

Okay, admittedly, this isn't exactly new. Several nearby food establishments accept orders placed over the web or via fax. However, this is the first instance I've encountered of a street vendor trying to attract business in this way. And it's exciting because it means that the trickle of digital and social media is indeed filtering through society. Is this going to revolutionize breakfast? No, but it's a sign of how the social order is changing—adapting—to reflect a new social norm. Digital and social media is changing the way we interact with each other, and our expectations regarding turn-around times. By implementing this service, this particular vendor is catering to the culture of this city. First, he's tuned into a medium that most people can access and understand, and linked himself to them with it. Second, he's reduced wait-time, or at least he's attempting to reduce wait time. Presumably, if you text your order, you can bypass the line and just pay and go. A person who's running late isn't likely to wait online. With this extra service, he's added the potential to keep the business and create a loyal customer base. It's a smart strategy. [Left: A vendor advertises Turkish coffee.]

Have you placed an order for food recently via Twitter, the web, or any other way using digital/social media? Are these options available where you live? And would you use them if they were? Talk to me—how does this compare to your neck of the woods?


Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Remembering a Language One Definition at a TIme

I'm always interested when I see people—who are clearly past the obvious student stage—carrying books and highlighters. What are they reading that's worthy of marking and remembering? Have I read it? Should I read it? The reading preferences of New Yorkers are as diverse as one would expect: books, newspapers, graphic novels, in every language imaginable are read by subway riders. I saw a woman reading an oriental philosophy book this morning—she didn't have a highlighter, but she was so engrossed in what she was reading that she nearly missed her stop.

A few nights ago on the LIRR, while waiting in the aisle for the train to roll into my station, I noticed an older gentleman with a highlighter standing in the vestibule. The book he held looked a bit worn as though it had been read a few times, but there was something familiar about the cover. As I edged closer in preparation to exit the train, I realized I was looking at a dictionary! A Russian-English dictionary at that! He was forced to step back to allow more people readying to disembark into the vestibule and looked up. I was close enough to offer a smile and hold my book up (which was not a dictionary). He seemed friendly enough, so I asked, "Good reading?" "Ah, yes," he said in English that was only slightly accented. "Only it is more like remembering." There wasn't time for additional conversation, but I wished him good luck and exited onto the platform. [Right: Remembering Russian during his commute.]

In the age of dictionary.com, it's hard to remember the power that 500+ pages can wield. Once the bastion of knowledge, for one man, it now offers the power of memory.

Tending to Your Digital Remains

Thinking about your demise isn't pleasant, but we do it. We plan to have assets distributed and debts settled, we make care arrangements for loved ones (including pets), and we may even decide what we want to take with us. But what about your digital remains? You know, your Facebook account, your online gaming characters (i.e., World of Warcraft, Second Life), your banking profile, and your assorted memberships throughout the web. What becomes of these accounts? Are you comfortable having just anyone logging in to close them out? Checking your email? Are you comfortable with the idea that the character you worked so hard to build in Second Life could disappear because someone elects to close the account. If you're concerned, you should be. Increasingly, an integral component of our lives is our digital footprint—our digital persona, the identity we craft for ourselves online by posting photos, tweeting updates, sharing geotags, playing video games, and any other element of daily life that we transact online whether it be banking, shopping, research, or even blogging. Worry no longer—the March edition of Wired offers tips on managing your digital remains:
At least three companies — AssetLock.net, Legacy Locker, and the charmingly named Deathswitch.com — have arisen to keep customers’ passwords, usernames, final messages, and so on in a virtual safe-deposit box. After you’re gone, these companies carry out last wishes, alert friends, give account access to various designated beneficiaries, and generally parse out and pass on your online assets. Digital remains that are not bequeathed to an inheritor are incinerated, closing the book on PayPal accounts, profiles, even alternate identities (especially alternate identities: You don’t want your mother knowing about, or worse, playing, the wife-swapping giant badger you became in Second Life).
Essentially, you pay one of these companies to manage your digital persona. They require you to confirm on a regular basis that you're still alive. Once it is determined that you've passed, the applications take the appropriate steps to distribute or destroy element of your digital footprint.  There are definite pros and cons to these services: On the one hand, it allows you to have final control over your digital materials, on the other hand it serves as a reminder of how tenuous our web existence really is, which is rather contrary to the way we have been operating. We tweet and update statuses on Facebook to establish ourselves. We're warned constantly that what you post online can come back to haunt you. Yet, these services offer erasure, and they make it seem simple. In the digital age, if we erase our web presence then what do we leave behind? Can we hope for any trace of our existence—our passions, our interests, our connections?

Monday, March 1, 2010

Revisiting the Nativist Stance: Lessons From History for Brand Recognition

As I have discussed before, this is a city that's constantly in flux. The City That Never Sleeps, The Crossroads of the World, The Information City, The Port of Many Ports, The Media City—these nicknames that imply fluidity. New Yorkers are adaptable. Sure they may grumble at subway delays, but they rarely ever bat an eye at the reasons for delays. New construction happening on the street? It quickly becomes part of the background, part of the social fabric of the city. So it's surprising when change causes a flutter.

Recently, Walgreens announced that it would be buying the Duane Reade drugstore chain. Duane Reade is deeply integrated into the city. Taking its name from two city blocks, the pharmacy has been around since 1960. Originally just a few stores, it's now hard to walk three blocks in either direction without seeing its familiar sign. While Walgreens has more stores throughout the country, Duane Reade has thee times more stores in New York City than the other chain, according to a NYT article. The drugstore just launched a new promotional campaign that emphasized its connection to the city: The slogan, "Everywhere you go, Duane Reade," spins the chain's ubiquity as positive. And even while some New Yorkers comment on commercialization, there are others who are wondering what will become of the brand. Will Walgreens replace Duane Reades? What will become of those former rival stores strategically located across the street from each other? And what does it mean for New Yorkers who have come to recognize at least this one element as a mainstay of their New York existence. Duane Reades are like the hotdog vendors, the yellow cabs, the breakfast carts, and the umbrella vendors who come creeping out when it rains to hawk their wares—what does the social landscape look like if these familiar store fronts come down.

I just finished reading Five Points by Tyler Anbinder, and the stories of this neighborhood remind me in some ways of the feelings associated with this particular transition. Each wave of immigration brought to New York City a group that would fight to be settled here, to ultimately be called natives. Each group would look down with contempt at successive immigrant groups and magnify their faults. These newcomers didn't know the ways of the social order, they didn't understand what it meant to earn a living here, they didn't get the character of the place. According to some historians, this sentiment underlies on the most violent gang encounters in New York City history—that between the Bowery Boys and the Mulberry Boys/Roche Guard, which has come to be known as a conflict between so-called nativists (those born in New York) and the new Irish Catholic immigrants. Of course, the story is not as simply as this disagreement, but there appears to be some truth in this origin of animosity, and it's one that has been played out again and again with each new group.

This conflict echoes in the Duane Reade buyout. Walgreens is simply a new interloper, trying to inject itself in the social landscape. Who are these new comers? And will they understand the character of the city? They're not natives though they have a chance to manipulate such an identity for themselves. The Duane Reade brand may have actually been damaged in the sale. After all, touting yourself as an integral element of the city and then selling to an out-of-state rival hardly inspires home team backing. (Look what happened with the Brooklyn Dodgers—there are still broken and bruised hearts all throughout Brooklyn.) Still, Walgreens has a reputation it can capitalize on and an opportunity to introduce change slowly, secure its hold, and negotiate its presence as integral. They just have to play their cards right: by embracing the New York brand, they have the opportunity to seed the market here, while first making structural changes to the store (e.g., layout) before migrating to the Walgreens signage. And New Yorkers will follow, and we'll accept it. Because we are a city of change.

Tell me about changes you're seeing in your neighborhood. Has a rival chain moved in? What has it does to the character of your neighborhood? To the people who frequent the stores? And what do you think Duane Reade's chances of survival are?