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Information Flow

When I really get to thinking about information and technology, it ends up being visual to me. I can see myself standing in a Tron-like vector-based grid with information flowing around me. I can reach up and select the pieces I want. Magnify them. Consider them. Make them part of my own consciousness, my own flow of information. Share them with others, contribute my perspective. Or reject them and move on – let them slide into the flow of someone else’s grid.

In those moments I view the web and its attendant offshoots as a thing that works much like the human mind. It’s kind of … lovely, in its own way. A system that reflects its creator. A mind map of the universe. A beautiful, multilayered, multicultural, multilingual, multipurpose mind map.

It’s my purist way of viewing technology as something that can help all of us.

Crash into reality, though, and it’s a little different. I don’t interact with it as this pure system. I have to pick and choose, manage my flow.

To that end, I have always been one of those people who is entirely utilitarian in my use of any and all technology. I have to be. I will download just about anything and play with it, but if I can’t use it, sayonara, hasta la vista.

My life is too busy to sit and play with Twitter all day. If it were my job to play with Twitter all day, if I had a strategic, beneficial-to-my-life reason to use it, that would be one thing.

But right now, that technology would be mostly personal in its use, and I can’t live in this overly communicative space, this place where I tell people what I’m doing all day long instead of doing it. I like having a life, not talking about having a life, not telling the same ten people all day long about what I’m thinking.

Same thing with LinkedIn. In a phone conversation I had yesterday I was questioned – why do I only have 43 contacts? Why am I not more active in network building? Well, because frankly, LinkedIn is kind of… anachronistic, because it’s all about “only” professional interaction and that’s a myth in the social media world (she says, knowing this post will go to the LinkedIn flow). I’m there because I have to be, but most of the action for me happens on Facebook. Professionally and personally. It also does not escape my notice that some of my best friends from before I became a professional anything are very into the same tech I am.

It may be the way people who work in technology interact with it and each other. We truly connect — we share content, thoughts, emails, status updates, photos, and we are comfortable using technology to do it. In the background, even as we use it, we are thinking about the tech itself — it runs like a subroutine through my consciousness. So technology, in its way, is part of all the threads that make me, me. As a result, when I’m there, I know that I genuinely connect with others on Facebook.

In connecting with your own network you connect with the whole collective, and Facebook is brilliant for contributing to the collective. The flow is so fast that people have to choose what to pay attention to, and I am always watching the flow pretty closely. I notice what people pay attention to, what they comment on, how they use the information I add to the flow. My mother is on there, and probably ignores my posts about augmented reality while my former boss thanks me for the link. My former boss is also a friend, and she probably ignores my posts about my kids’ last report card. But my mom picks that thread up and runs with it. An old colleague posts something about her baby teething – and I help out with a tip or remark of my own. Yesterday I posted something simple about a facial I was about to get, and people from across the spectrum of my network had things to say — 10 things, as it turned out. All I did was put it out there, into the stream. A tiny blip.

It’s beautiful, really. And while it does blur the lines between the professional and the personal, social media does that whether we acknowledge it or not.

Facebook is where my information flows. That’s where I select what I want to add to my consciousness, how I communicate with people in the online space. It’s where my network is. It’s where I invest time in growing that network. It’s my grid.

My friend Sarah and I, we have a lot of information flowing between us on Facebook and elsewhere. She inspired this post with one of her own.

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Last night I went to the Old Town School of Folk Music in Chicago to see Caravan of Thieves and Works Progress Administration.

First, a bit about the venue. The School’s theater is cozy and intimate. It allows performers to see the audience. The ambiance is relaxed. The bands were relaxed and the whole show had the feel of hanging out with friends and jamming. Some really excellent musician friends who outstrip me in skill by miles and miles, but still.

I hadn’t heard of Caravan until seeing them perform and they were amazing – the musical style is called “acoustic swing” — this music is complex and unpredictable, the lyrics are dark and wonderful. Two acoustic guitars, one upright bass and a violin performed Bohemian Rhapsody – no joke, and they did it really well. They have a theatrical bent to their performance that makes the music feel even more adventurous – to really appreciate the music’s twists and turns, see them live as I did.

The stories told in the songs have a little twist to them. One song, Bar Isole, is about a bar and a wife and a bartender. It starts out with French cafe music, you know, when the guys come up to your table and start playing so you can’t even hear yourself think, but with a twist – it was in a minor key. They called the song a “modern love story” because it’s about a wife who flirts with a bartender, only to find that the bartender and her husband are sleeping together.

If I had to recommend one or two songs that simply must be downloaded, I’d say Bouquet and Bar Isole. If you like those, definitely finish the album.

Works Progress Administration is made up of guys from other bands. Glen Phillips from Toad the Wet Sprocket is easily recognized by most of us – he sings on many of the tracks. Luke Bulla from Lyle Lovett’s band and Sean Watkins from Nickel Creek play too, but the band itself flexes in its members based on the song being played. The first and second tracks of of their August release, Always Have My Love and Good As Ever, are being played on the radio station I listen to (Sirius XM’s The Loft, channels 29 and 50).

All of the songs they played last night are pretty different but a dominating factor is what I will call the warmth of the music. Yeah. Warmth. Like a fire you want to sit by. You’d expect a bluegrass domination thing to be happening but it doesn’t, which is nice. There’s an indie rock feel to some of the stuff, but there’s some nice blues stuff happening mixed in with the bluegrass, and you can tell that these guys are all buddies having a great time. That’s how the band came together – they were just playing together for fun and decided to work on some songs they had written… decided the songs sounded pretty good… so they formed WPA.

On their site they say: “We are an independent band. We have no label, no corporate pockets to pick, no millions to splatter our name across the mediascape.” You can decide how much you want to pay to download their album. They want me to embed their player to spread the word. So here it is in, totally worth playing during a workday:

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Genius: one percent inspiration and 99 percent inspiration.
-Thomas Edison

The Great Fingernail Incident of 1981:

My friend Amber asked me to hold her 10-speed bike by the back wheel so that she could put the chain back on. As she went to do so the front wheel turned, the bike twisted, and my fingernail – my left ring finger – got caught in the spokes of the wheel.

For the rest of the summer, I watched a new fingernail grow underneath the old one – the old one had black, flaking dry blood between it and the new one that hurt to shave off with a nail file — which I religiously scraped for months until all I could see was fresh new fingernail, with pink underneath it. To this day, that fingernail grows faster than the other nine.

There are several novels that could float from my fingertips fully formed.  Easily made, their stories would be familiar, and therefore either stand the test of time or … float away like so much of the flotsam and jetsam we have today.

Those novels could look like regular fingernails. Since they might turn out something like a woman’s version of Run, Rabbit Run… grow like them, act like them, eventually be clipped right off of the end of a reader’s mind like them.

Or… they could, with their black blood between the old and the new, apply pressure. Pressure for growth, change, expansion. One percent. Just one percent.

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Tonight I found myself thinking about the song True Colors by Cyndi Lauper. Actually, I’m pretty sure the song itself was written by Prince.

She’s So Unusual was the very first CD I ever had, purchased in 1985 along with our family’s very first CD player.

A very old, good friend of mine used to work in large concert venues and used Time After Time to test his sound system, claiming it to be acoustically perfect. I listened to it once on his way awesome sound system. It was pretty perfect, along with his system. I could really hear, and locate, all those different wavelengths (not a technical term, just one I use) the song moves at.

So I thought, ok, paltry digital music system that I have here on my laptop, I want to hear it right now.

I popped into MySpace (still where I go to find music) just to see if there might be a cover I liked better than her version. I know there are other versions of her stuff, including a pretty amazing ballad version of Girls Just Wanna Have Fun by Greg Laswell:

Anyway, I ended up downloading the album The Body Acoustic.

True Colors on this album is amazing. Gorgeous. 80s pop reconfigured to be good music. Cello. I realized as I listened to the opening bars, this is a song I learned to play on the guitar.

All Through the Night has Shaggy (a name I do not know outside of Scooby Doo, sorry) and it’s pretty damn awesome. And Money Changes Everything – is a waaaaay better song here. She has really done a fantastic job.

Even if you found her stuff too poppy in the 80s, this album is worth checking out. Even if you can’t understand why Puffy Ami Yumi is on it, look, Ani DiFranco is.

And the Puffy Ami Yumi song is Girls Just Wanna Have Fun — ska acoustic! What fun.

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People I Wanted to Be

When I was younger there were several people – well, ok, characters and/or actresses – that I wanted to “be like.” This phase started when I was probably 11… I can’t say when it ended, really. I just stopped thinking that emulating or wishful thinking were good things.

This is  a really weird mix of badass women and supremely graceful, classy women. Intellectually speaking, I suppose Simone de Beauvoir, Adrienne Rich, Betty Friedan and let’s not forget Erma Bombeck — they are harder to find on YouTube…

In no particular order… Chrissie Hynde for her rawness:

Holly GoLightly… what girl didn’t want to be her?

Katherine Hepburn, in any role on any day but more as a human being… this is the first movie I ever saw her in… you old poop!

College days… Anaïs Nin. I remember why — it was mostly for the passionate way she lived her life, even if there was tremendous pain, too.

Ripley, from the first Alien movie:

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Getting Older

When I was eight years old I moved to England. I entered the third grade not knowing how to write cursive, but almost everyone in my class already knew how to do it.

I had to use the images posted around the room of the correctly formed cursive letters for the better part of two months, teaching myself to write cursive, that year.

My teacher’s name was Mr. Steinbeck. I swore up and down for many years that the John Steinbeck had been my teacher.

One day I asked Mr. Steinbeck, who taught me not only cursive but how to endure the hell that is long division, what it meant to get older.

I believe my parents were 29 and 30 at the time.

He lifted his hand to my face. He pinched the skin on his hand and pulled it up. He let the skin go and slowly, like a deflating souffle, the skin went back into place.

He told me to do the same to my skin. It snapped back into place like a rubber band.

That’s what getting older is all about,” he said.

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Put. The Phone. Away.

The most recent cover of The New Yorker shows children trick or treating at the door of a home as parents stand at the end of the sidewalk looking at their mobile devices, which cast an eerie glow onto their preoccupied faces.

I wonder how many kids feel as though when the iPhones come out, they disappear (or any other mobile device). “Yes honey. That’s great, honey.” Tap, tap, tap. Download another app.

The device becomes the eyes, ears, and mouth with which we sense our world, creating such distance between ourselves and our lives.

In 1999, when I was working with people who loved their tech gadgets, the coolest thing to have was a Motorola Razr. It was a phone. Phone calls. That’s all it did.

There was only so much time you could spend on a phone. Even though I had two phones and a pager, I didn’t spend eons checking or using them. Even sending text messages becomes annoying after a while, so the phone can be put down, charged, walked away from.

But is the iPhone and its ilk just as dangerous to the ability of people to connect to one another as the widespread use of the internal combustion engine is to the environment?

Judging by what I see around me, I’d say yes. They are tools for further self-absorption that we just don’t need.

(Oh, I know, I know. Mitigating circumstances. “What about the time when I… or when my kid got hurt…” I’m not talking about those things. I’m talking about daily business of life stuff.)

That New Yorker cover kind of makes the whole thing hit home. Not only are you supposed to be out having fun with your kid, but you can’t even disconnect from your device long enough to watch them say trick or treat? Aren’t Halloweens supposed to be something you mark time by in your child’s life?

Shouldn’t you be there for it?

And by that, I mean, not just standing there – but recognizing the moment as special? Recognizing this time with your kid as special?

And quit it with the camera phone! Just look at the world and have the experience.

What happened to focusing on the task at hand?

Don’t we all feel harried, hurried, harassed enough from being connected all the time, from being pulled in all these directions? You’d think we would welcome the relative down time doing one thing at a time offers.

And I don’t know about you, but I’ve noticed that when I’m trying to do four things at once, not a single one of them is done well or completely.

For my kids there is a time to use computers (or any electronic device). They use the devices to complete discrete tasks. Think about how different it is for us. The computer and internet are literally part of nearly everything we do.  My kids have their own cell phones, too, and I have made them such battery conservation fanatics that they will use their phones and turn them off until they are ready to make another call. Hm. They may have something, there.

//End Rant//

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