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If we only knew…

October 6, 2011

When I was a freshman in college I took a writing class structured around discussing the effect of technology on society. As we delve deeper into the social networking age, I felt it appropriate to post the following essay from January 2003, written by me, as a look back into what we (or at least I) thought about web technology nearly 9 years ago…

Imagine a world where people never speak, a world based on text of all colors, shapes and sizes. A world that revolves around a single sound, yes, that one, that sound that comes across your computer’s speakers when you’ve been…INSTANT MESSAGED!

In today’s fast-paced world, the Internet is quickly becoming our main source for news, entertainment, information, and increasingly for communication. The proliferation of various instant messenger programs (mainly by America Online, but also by MSN, Yahoo, and ICQ among others) has allowed people to communicate instantaneously over miles and miles of space without having to pay long distance fees. Instant messaging has single-handedly changed the way young Americans communicate with one another, but in its current form it is no replacement for more traditional communicative forms. It does have a lot of future potential however, and with this communicative power comes some serious drawbacks.

The primary drawback of instant messaging (as is with much of the “frontier” of the Internet) is that there is an inherent inhuman aspect to it. First of all, unlike normal human contact, there are no facial expressions, hand gestures or any other type of body language. All that is expressed outside of words is expressed through little faces (called “emoticons”) or other pictures made with symbols. This won’t even compare to the telephone, where, although there is no person physically standing in front of you, the inflections in the tone of the voice add an emotional depth to the conversation that is lost in the vast wastelands of text that is the instant message. Unlike the informal letter, the instant message only allows you to change fonts and colors, while actually physical correspondence allows a person to use one’s own handwriting. The scribble of a line or tears on a page will speak volumes, and there’s nothing like the scent of perfume or a lipstick kiss at the bottom of the page to perfectly accent a romantic letter. In comparison to these traditional media, the instant message is probably the least formal, and in many ways the coldest, and least human form of communication.

Still the instant message is quickly removing traditional communication from normal daily life. Behind this upcoming force is the vast realm of the Internet and all of its resources, a power that could quite possibly give the instant message the ability to surpass normal communications by advancing the technology behind it. Already in existence (and in limited use) is the ability to “voice chat” over the instant messenger using a computer’s microphone. This technology theoretically would make the telephone obsolete in the future. Eventually it can be proposed that web-cams will be integrated into messenger programs to improve on the “community” aspect of the Internet. At that point users will not only be talking to each other, but seeing each other as well. This has already been put to limited use in businesses that allow for “telecommuting” rather than actually showing up for work.

In its current state though, the bulk of messenger services and their users are forming a new Internet sub-culture. This group lacks the formality of the letter writers of the past, and is quickly reducing the English language to free-form Internet shorthand that serves relatively no purpose in the outside world. In an instant message it isn’t so uncommon to see phrases like “lol” (laugh out loud), “brb” (be right back) or “rofl” (rolling on the floor laughing), but no where in normal communications would such phrasing be found. Another anomaly of messaging is the format of talking. Whereas in face to face or telephone communication an individual may speak for minutes without the other person getting a word in edgewise, but the bulk of messaging consists of two people going back and forth in conversation in alternating lines. Sometimes information is shared directly, but more often, information is only determined through what is implied, not what is directly given. In our groups, the only things I really learned about the other members is that one is handy with computers (something I implied from hi use of FlashMX) and the other is in a fraternity (known because he said he was). I enjoyed all of these conversations, but still learned relatively little about my team members.

This brings up another topic for questioning regarding instant messaging technology: Is it good/bad to be able to enjoy a conversation with someone and not learn anything about him or her? In a normal face-to-face conversation you can learn things about a person by their facial expressions, body language and voice tones. One might not learn anything from what they say, but from how they say it. In instant messaging this avenue of communication is lost. If a person is shy, nervous, or twitchy it is quickly noticed in person, but the instant messenger does not discriminate by race, religion or social disposition. I believe that this is actually the greatest virtue of instant messaging services. Currently I have 126 people on my AOL Instant Messenger program, the bulk of which I have little if any contact with outside of the Internet. Many of these people I’ve never seen pictures of nor will I ever meet some of them in my lifetime, yet this does not stop our conversation. I have “friends” in Alaska, British Columbia and New York and in theory could meet a person in Europe, Asia or anywhere that has an Internet provider. It is this same ability to meet people miles apart that helps maintain the popularity of messaging, especially among college student who have friends from high school who have gone to colleges out of state or in other parts of the state. With long distance telephone fees eliminated, communication becomes a “whenever you’re available” issue, and availability (of time) really is the only thing that stops communication from occurring.

The content of the communication leaves something to be desired. So much of the time the typed words contain relatively meaningless “fluff”. Because of the non-discriminatory nature of instant messaging, words of love and hate are spread with equal ease. This is due to the fact that we cannot see or hear the consequence of our actions, and the fact that the mask of a new screen name gives anonymity to a user that doesn’t exist in normal physical life. This causes some people to say things online that they otherwise wouldn’t say (which can be good or bad) but also increases the amount of deceit (50 year old men posing as 16 year old girls) that exists on the Internet. Furthermore, the recipient of the message, not the sender, determines the value accents placed on words. This reality begs for miscommunication and misunderstanding to take place, and often results in confusion for both parties. Even if the communication is proper, the designation of the importance of statements is still determined by the recipients. Because of the ”free-space” ideology of the Internet, so much is left to the users of the technology, and thus it is difficult to accurately group all instant messaging encounters into a single concept.

On the whole, instant messaging technology is the leading force in Internet communications, and it is the way businesses and corporations will soon begin to communicate. Its popularity among general Internet users is slowly degrading our traditional communications infrastructure and guides much of the communication in the younger (15-24 years) age bracket. If it is not controlled, instant messaging could become the bane of the educational system as more and more of the English language is becoming reduced to shorthand. Still, under proper restraint instant messenger programs are like any other technology: it is neutral, the user determining whether its purpose is for good or evil.

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Thrice – Major/Minor

September 27, 2011

Earlier this week I picked up Thrice‘s new album Major/Minor off of iTunes. Over the last several years I’ve been able to listen to Thrice’s musical evolution from album to album (with the exception of Artist in the Ambulance…which I should remedy soon), and have enjoyed their course from high speed, metal infused punk rock into their current space on the forward edge of rock music.

I do readily admit that I haven’t followed Thrice as closely over the last year or so as I have in the past. When I was told that they had a new album out my reaction was a bit confused. Had it been that long since they had put out Beggars? Turns out the gap between the two albums is a little over 2 years. I have been out of the loop…

Anyway, more thoughts about Major/Minor. On the album’s wiki page it’s mentioned that this album was designed to be bigger than Beggars and it certainly achieved that goal. Musically I feel like it really follows the trend towards indie rock circa 2004. More than a couple of the tracks remind me of musical ideas that Denison Marrs used on their last two albums, released in 2002 and 2004. That being said, I don’t think that Thrice’s sound is so much a musical regression as it is reinvention. While the sound is familiar, these songs are certainly Thrice tracks.

Throughout the years, Thrice’s sound has always been set apart from the rest of whatever scene they were part of by Dustin Kensrue’s vocals and Teppei Teranishi’s guitar riffs. Back in 2007 I had the privilege of seeing Dustin’s live set at Uprising Fest in Irvine and was pleasantly surprised to find that what you got in the live show was exactly what you heard on album. Where a lot of rock acts fall flat vocally (literally), Kensrue maintains pitch and conveys a sincere range of emotions. With Thrice, the musical backing provided by Teranishi, and brothers Eddie and Riley Breckenridge only adds to the depth of the musical quality. This album isn’t any different in that regard. Here’s a live performance of the album’s opener, “Yellow Belly”.

I hate to make it sound like Major/Minor is more of the same, because it’s definitely an expansion on Thrice’s previous work. I think the biggest problem I run into with this album is trying to describe where it sits on the musical landscape. A friend of mine told me the album was Thrice’s take on early 90s grunge. Personally I feel like this album is too complex to fit into your typical alt-rock box, but accessible enough that it’s hard to put anywhere else. Still, it’s a very solid album that I’m sure will continue to grow on me in the coming weeks.

Adams and Eves – Dear Professor

September 5, 2011

Adams and Eves debut album Dear Professor was released April 23rd, 2011 at San Diego’s Park Gallery. I was lucky enough to be able to attend this album release and do photography for the event.  If I was a better person, I would have had this written before the end of April. Instead I’m here at the beginning of September trying to figure out what words I want published. I suppose the biggest benefit of this period of procrastination is that it’s given me more time to reflect, read other reviews of the album, and really try to put together some sort of opinion.

I’m sure a person who was into the genre (whatever genre this album falls into) could rattle off a dozen artists that Dear Professor brings to mind, but I’m not that person. Instead I’m stuck with somewhat of an outsider’s perspective trying to describe an album that covers a few genres and creates an eclectic mix of indie-folk, bluegrass and country. The opening track begins with a soft vibraphone piece and the ending track finishes with a lo-fi acoustic piece reminiscent of an old record you pulled out of your parent’s collection and played on their wobbly 30-year-old phonograph. In between, Adam Powell and his band (composed of two musical families) take us on a journey into his pocket, across West Texas, underwater and to the doctor. All along they keep the listener engaged and grounded. These songs are playful without pushing the listener into feeling disconnected by maintaining a level of musical authority and lyrical precision that demands attention.

I really enjoy this album. Everyone I’ve talked to who has listened to this album loves it. I won’t say that this album is flawless. There are a couple of songs I’m tempted to skip when I listen through, but the quality of the other 9 tracks easily makes up for it. The only other complaint that I’ve made to anyone about this album is this: I really think Adams and Eves shines as a live band. All of the emotion poured into this album and given off on every track is amplified in the live setting as the chaos that is live music can only do. I have always been impressed with the level of precision that this band achieves live when I’ve seen so many major label bands fail to meet the expectations their albums produce.

If I was handing out stars they’d be gold and this album would get five out of five. If it were a movie, Rotten Tomatoes would certify it fresh. Siskel, Ebert, and Roeper would give it three thumbs up (was Roeper allowed to give a thumbs up?). Unfortunately (for my pocketbook) or perhaps fortunately (for my own sanity) I’m not any of these things. Instead I’m just going to say that this album is genius, and if you like good music you should check it out.

Adams and Eves are playing on Monday, September 5th at the Park Gallery. As it goes for all Park Gallery events, this is a free show. You can pick up a copy of the record on vinyl at a show or through their webstore. If vinyl won’t work for you, download their digital album from bandcamp.

The Casey Anthony Verdict

July 6, 2011

I don’t really have a lot to say about the Casey Anthony trial or its subsequent verdict. I have a vague understanding of the evidence given and possible lines of thinking for the jury, but that’s about all. My intent for writing this stems not from pleasure or displeasure with its outcome, but more from a general bewilderment of the national reaction towards the case.

I love social media. I am an active Facebook user and have been since the glory days of it being exclusive to .edu registrants. In some ways I have been resistant to their slow expansions, but overall I approve of the way they handle things. I enjoy being able to interact with people I’ve known all over the country and get quick opinions and group discussions going with people I (generally) respect and want to hear from.

On the other hand, the things I love about social media and our fast-paced, interwoven web society are also things that I loathe about it. I think social media has changed the way we react to things at both an emotional and intellectual level. I think it has served to spread the half-cocked opinions and nuanced semi-truths of the cable news charlatans that somehow manage to pass themselves off as trustworthy sources. Time and time again when I read through my Facebook feed and see the emulation and repetition of these talking heads and wonder if we conduct discourse in this manner because we’re following their example, or if they exist in such ubiquity because of the way we choose to conduct discourse.

I’ve been hearing my wife talk about the Casey Anthony trial off and on for the last couple of weeks. We have the most basic cable package that is offered by Time Warner here so we don’t have any of the 24 hour news networks. I get the bulk of my news from the local 10 and 11pm broadcasts or from the front page of Yahoo!. I figured my wife was getting a lot of information from the mom forums she’s involved with and thought this trial was one of those “woman” things that was better suited for a human interest story in Us Magazine and that most people (male or female) would have no idea what was going on. I could not have been more wrong. A little after 2pm today I started seeing comments from several of my friends pop up on Facebook. Some were less direct than others. Most were condemning. I suppose many of these people could have just read about it today, but I still found some of the quotes a bit jading. Here’s a sampling:

“Poor Caylee Anthony, her murdering mom got off, what is our country coming to.”

“rest in paradise caylee marie anthony! i’m so sorry that the person who ended your life is not being brought to justice.”

“i can not believe the verdict in the Casey Anthony trial. what is the country coming to?”

“I convinced Catlee’s [sic] murderer was Casey Anthony. No one knows the truth. But, we will all be judged before the lord, and there is no jury.”

“Who did it then?! Zanny the fake nanny… Ugh. Shocked…..”

Of course, I’m sure the 24hr news outlets will milk this story for another week or two before they find something else to try to distract us with. When I take a moment to reflect, I don’t think the thing that bothers me is what people’s opinions are on the case. I do think its a bit foolhardy to believe that what the pundits on the idiot box tell us is the absolute truth of the situation. Given the various versions of “the facts” I’ve been told about the trial, I’m not sure how many of us common-folk really have a grasp on the situation.

What does bother me, however, is that these people have any opinion on the case. Why are we hearing about it? Is this really worthy of national news? I certainly understand the local outrage. I understand (though I disagree) with the residents of the greater Orlando area who have basically determined to run Casey Anthony out of their town whenever she is eventually released. What I think is tragic about this story is that guilty or not guilty the media has created a situation where Casey Anthony (for better or worse) will not be able to live any sort of normal existence anywhere in the United States (I hesitate to say Canada). Why? Because it was a good story…it was good for ratings.

Casey Anthony was a nobody before this trial. Now she’s being hailed as the second coming of OJ Simpson. Maybe this trial, the forthcoming Lifetime movie and all of the subsequent interviews she will be involved in will make this national exposure of this trial the best thing to ever happen to her. I suppose that could happen…

I don’t say this to undermine the tragedy that is the loss of Caylee Anthony. When she went missing she was about a year older than my daughter is now. I do think children are precious and it is sad that this story will likely not have any sort of conclusion. Still, this story has not affected my life. It hasn’t affected the lives of anyone I know. There’s really no reason for anyone outside of the affected areas to know anything about this story.

Like most things here, this is another collection of shoddily thrown together thought. Every now and again a news story gets me thinking about what we find important and why we think it’s important. I know I’m guilty of reading every single thing I find interesting, but I do think that as part of our thought exercises we need to start making active decisions on what news events are truly major stories and what events are side-bar conversations that will only serve to distract us from more important things…and for some of you, maybe the Casey Anthony verdict was a very important thing.

On the War on Terror and the death of bin Laden

May 2, 2011

The killing of Osama bin Laden comes at an interesting time for me. For the last week or so I’ve been noting how my opinions have shifted towards non-aggression, at least for Christians. I don’t feel like Christians should necessarily not be in the military. I do think we need to be more careful about the methodologies we used in achieving set goals.

The various conflicts in the “War on Terror” were birthed from the terrorist attacks that occurred on September, 11, 2001. This event killed about 3,000 civilians with an additional 6,000 injuries. In the decade since then we’ve frequently heard people reference 9/11 with mantras like, “Remember 9/11” as the justification for war.

I am not necessarily against these sorts of retaliatory events, which I supposed leads to a major personal conflict. The question that has frequently come up in my mind is, “to what end?”. In the last decade we’ve managed to topple the Iraqi government and deposed Saddam Hussein. Yesterday President Obama announced that we have hunted down and killed Osama bin Laden, who was considered the leader and mastermind behind Al-Qaeda. Both of these events are certainly good things for people interested in eliminating enemies of the US and those that fund them.

However, in the process of achieving these two goals we have also done things that I question. The cost of “Remember 9/11” in Iraq and Afghanistan is approaching $1.2 trillion. The combined death toll has been somewhere around 300,000 with roughly half of those being civilians. With the death of bin Laden, lots of social media is getting thrown around that basically says, “The US always finishes the job” and “Don’t mess with the US, because we will get you” and “That will teach you for killing US civilians”, which I recognize are largely reactionary opinions. Still, these sorts of attitudes often make me wonder to what extent are we willing to go in order to “prove” our superiority.

I realize this post is very disjointed. What I posit is the following: today is not a day to celebrate as some sort of great victory. Yes, we have killed the leader of Al-Qaeda, and that is good. However in doing so we may have further shoved a stick into the hornet’s nest. Yes, in killing bin Laden we have achieved a goal put in place nearly a decade ago, but let us be sober in our elation, remembering that in order to achieve this goal many more than the September 11th, 3000 have died or been killed because war was brought upon their lands.

#20: The Last Airbender

July 2, 2010

I started watching this TV series with my younger sister when I was still living at home with my parents and always felt it was really well done for a program targeting kids. This is a review of the M. Night Shyamalan adaptation of that series. It is currently getting hammered all around by the critics. I haven’t seen it yet, but my sister and I have talked about the previews and she went to see it yesterday. I stole the following review from her blog. It is completely unedited by me:

the last airbender almost made me cry.

SPOILER ALERT!

time for my rant about it. thank you, m. night shyamalan, for ruining one of my favorite shows. i sat through the movie, and was fairly content with it. then i walked out and started talking about it with peter, and realized everything i hated about it.

first of all, what is up with the pronunciation? its like these actors have never watched avatar. when did aang (ay-ng) become aw-ng? sokka became s-oh-ka? avatar became aw-va-tar?

second, from the first time i ever saw the previews, i knew i was going to HATE nicola peltz as katara. who was right? oh yeah, i was. the movie opened, i saw her, and i wanted to punch her in the face. also, the boy who played aang, noah ringer? yeah, his acting was pretty decent at some points, and tragic at others. personally, i felt the only character who actually looked her part was princess yue, i dont feel like looking up the actor who played her. and i thought the guy who played sokka did a pretty decent job. iroh played the part well, but didnt look the part really. he needed to gain a few pounds.

third, i’m so confused about this race thing. obviously, yeah, in the show all the nations are different races. but i dont agree with the ones they used. zhao, zuko, ozai, azula. yeah, those TOTALLY sound like indian names. the fuck? no. seriously.
in my brother’s words “they fire nation is very like, japanese. the earth nation is more like, mountain people. like mongols or something. who cares about the airbenders because they’re all dead.” and then we both agreed that we think the waterbenders are more siberian-ish.

AND WHAT WAS UP WITH THE LAST LIKE THIRD OF THE MOVIE!? last time i checked, AANG CANT FUCKING RETURN TO THE MORTAL WORLD UNLESS HIS PHYSICAL BODY IS IN THE SAME PLACE AS WHEN HE LEFT.  and i was really disappointed that they left out the bit of humor while he was meditating. i distinctly remember in the show, aang yelled at them because he was trying to meditate and they were distracting him. probably one of my favorite parts of the episode. believe me, they play that episode like every day on the nicktoons channel (and yes, i watch that channel every once in a while -.-“). also, that entire last like third of the movie strayed from the show completely. it stuck to the basic idea, but details were majorly off. like, if you’re going to make a movie based on a tv show, you NEED to stick to the story. cuz fans WILL notice the minor details that you miss, or stray from.

BUT, i have to say, the movie redeemed itself with the special effects. i wasnt disappointed in the bending, as i kind of expected to be. it seems like they focused a LOT on making the bending seem realistic, which, i’ll admit, they did. very well. so i can say they redeemed a few points right there.

so here’s to you, m. night shyamalan, for ruining the movie so many of us have been waiting forever to see.

i can tell you right now that steve is gonna be pretty disappointed -.-“

Plans…

January 16, 2010

So I had planned to make two blog posts this week. One on Youtube videos and one to kick off a series of “Best albums you’ve probably never heard” based on my music collection. This probably isn’t going to happen this weekend, but hopefully within the next week or so I can crank out one or both of these posts.