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5
Nov 18

#BTSxCitifield Part 3 – The fans, the show, the experience – so awesome

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About to enter Citi Field stadium, at the front of the line chatting with some awesome fans.

I try to talk about my introvert nature at work a lot, especially with the students on my team, because if they are also struggling with it, I want them to know it isn’t a curse.  I like to say that I’m an introvert who has learned to fake it because people sometimes don’t believe me, but it’s true.  Some people are energized by social interactions, but for me, anything more than a one-on-one conversation can be draining, and the larger the group, the faster my battery runs out.   If I don’t get periods of solitude to recharge, it can be so exhausting that I get physically sick.

This basic fact about my personality has caused me so much angst and unhappiness.  Especially because I also paradoxically feel the need to make useful contributions, whatever the conversation or interaction may be, so there is forever a battle going on with part of me wanting to conserve energy and stay on the side, and part of me wanting to be in the center of the room participating in what’s happening.  It has taken a very long time to find a good balance.


I mention my introversion by way of introduction to this third and last post in my #BTSxCitifield series (read Part 1 and Part 2 here) for two reasons.

First and most obviously because the theme of BTS’s Love Yourself: World Tour is about learning to love yourself, and learning to love my introversion instead of hating it has been one of the hardest things for me to do.  It was only after I stopped fighting it and gave myself permission to be that way that I learned how to balance my life’s social flow in a way that feels sustainable and good.  Ten years ago, flying to New York City and attending a stadium-sized concert like #BTSxCitifield by myself would have been unthinkable.  That I was able to not only go to the concert, but truly enjoy the experience – in part because of the huge crowd – is a personal triumph that seems worth celebrating.

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Enjoying the show with 40,000 (!!) other fans.

And second, because I am such an introvert myself, I’ve often wondered how the artists, creators, and professionals I admire deal with the pressure of fame and the sometimes crazy emotional demands of their fans.  Fame is such a double-edged sword. Attracting passionate fans is a source of success, but losing anonymity, especially today when everyone everywhere has a camera in their pocket, seems to mean losing the ability to just be in the world.

And when does being a passionate fan tip over into being a crazy fan? 

Is it “crazy fan” territory to buy tickets this expensive?

It may be weird to worry about what it means to be a “good fan” but I think Stephen King’s novel Misery must have made a big impression on me when I was young because I’ve always thought the most respectful way to honor an artist is to support their work from afar.  Pay for their work and share/evangelize their stuff to others, but don’t bug them. [1].  There is a natural desire to express appreciation and gratitude when someone’s work has made a positive and meaningful difference in your life, but that should never come at the expense of respecting the boundaries of the real person behind the fame.

I thought about that a lot when BTS released a series of provocative concept photos for their S version of the Love Yourself: Answer album.  It turns out there’s a Korean word specifically to describe obsessive, stalker fan behavior, 사생팬 or saseang fan [2], and they have obviously experienced that.

It makes you wonder how they are really doing.  Not their stage personas, but the real 20-something year old guys behind the scene (see what I did there?).  Is this insane hype-train of record breaking achievements actually good for them?  Are they being exploited?  How are they handling the intense glare of the spotlight, and is my participation in ARMY fan culture hurting or helping them?  The introvert me would have withered and died from that kind of intense pressure in my 20s, as so many of my favorite childhood actors actually did die.

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River Phoenix and Corey Haim, two of my earliest fan-crushes.

I want to hope that the real people in BTS are doing ok, that they have each other and their families, and that they are still young and resilient enough to enjoy the wild ride that they are on.  I have to hope they, and the people who love them, will know when to get off the crazy train when (if?) the time comes.

In my last post, I described how my interest in BTS began and deepened enough to call myself an ARMY and there was a moment, a series of moments, before I clicked the buttons that sucked a ridiculous amount of money out of my bank account, when I wondered if it was crazy-fan territory to sit for an hour in a virtual queue to buy expensive concert tickets, and an expensive plane ticket, and an expensive hotel reservation, just to see a bunch of 20-something boys from Korea for just a couple of hours.

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Sitting in a ridiculous virtual line to buy tickets, only to be unceremoniously dumped out to this error message.

Ultimately, I decided that I enjoyed their music and appreciated their art so much that I wanted to be counted among their fans for their first stadium-sized concert and their last show in the US.  It wasn’t just about attending the concert, although I was of course excited to see them perform live, but symbolically, I think every fan who came to Citi Field was there to show them and the world just how much their work inspires us.  We wanted to give them another win, another trophy for their bag.  That super-fun feeling of winning together, ARMY+BTS synergy, is what tipped the scales enough for me to actually purchase the tickets. [3]


The Night Before the Show

I flew out of Cincinnati on the Friday evening before the concert, with just enough time to land at LaGuardia and get settled into the hotel for a good night’s sleep before the show.  Hilariously, the first ARMY I met in the wild once I got to New York was another person from Cincinnati!  Queue that old joke about flying a thousand miles to meet your neighbor.  Our hotels were in opposite directions so we split up shortly after meeting, but we followed each other on Twitter and re-connected after we got home – and now we’re set to watch Burn the Stage together when it comes out in a couple weeks!

That chance encounter with a friendly ARMY was the first of many happy meetings.  I saw groups of ARMYs everywhere I went as BTS fans descended on New York from all over the US, and really all over the world. It’s hard to describe the feeling of meeting strangers who don’t quite feel like strangers because you already share a common interest, the instant smiles when we recognized each other, the excitement that everyone felt about arriving for the show.  I really didn’t know what to expect the next day, and after agonizing over what to stuff in my no-larger than 16 inches backpack to comply with the venue rules [4], I managed to sleep like a rock.

Arriving at Citi Field Stadium

I had no idea what it would be like at the venue, so I didn’t really have a plan, but part of the reason I made the trip was to experience the ARMY fan culture, so I took a cab from the hotel around 6:30 AM and got dropped off right at the stadium.

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The first picture I snapped after arriving at Citi Field, ~6:45 AM.

The first thing I noticed as I walked across the parking lot was the merch line (the line to buy official merchandise from the band like the t-shirts, bags, etc.), and it didn’t seem crazy long yet, so without even looking around at anything else, I headed for the back of the line.

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That big group of people on the right side is the merch line, which hadn’t started moving yet, ~ 6:45 AM.

At that moment, as I approached the back of the merch line barriers, I felt .. nervous.  I’d met a couple of fans at the airport and at the hotel, who were all super nice and friendly, but I wasn’t sure what it would be like in the REAL ARMY crowd.  Would there be crazy sasaengs?  Would it be weird that I was by myself?  Was I even a big enough fan to deserve to be there when so many fans couldn’t get tickets?  My introvert nature and all the anxiety that comes with it suddenly popped out and I felt.. shy.

I needn’t have worried.  I got in line and spent the next couple hours chatting with the fans around me, gawking at all the hand-made signs, watching the merch line grow and grow and grow..

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ARMYs behind me in the merch line..

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Can you tell how diverse the crowd is?  Young, old, men, women, every ethnicity.. 

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JOON FOR PRESIDENT!

It turned out that the whole day before the show was a series of waiting in one line or another, and universally, the crowd was friendly and cheerful and happy to chat about BTS endlessly.  It was terrific!

Entering the BTS Village

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The “Village” is what they called the cordoned off area where you could buy the “merch” and visit a bunch of different booths to pair your bluetooth-enabled light stick, take a picture with a hologram of your favorite BTS member, donate to their UNICEF LOVE YOURSELF campaign, etc.

Once the merch line started to move when they opened the Village, everyone ran in to.. get in yet another line for whichever specific area or booth you wanted to visit.  I stuck with the merch line, and got handed an order form to fill out while waiting with a new group of ARMYs.

I can’t remember how long we stood in that line, but it seemed to move pretty quickly.  I was super disappointed that the official concert t-shirts sold out within the first 15 minutes, since that was the main thing I wanted to get, but there were plenty of other (way overpriced!) things to buy to commemorate the experience.

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An example of available merch and the crazy prices.  There were like 6 or 7 pages of things you could buy.

Talking about it with the other ARMYs around me, I was surprised to find that everyone hated the new Americanized “Beyond the Scene” branding and didn’t want any of the t-shirts if it didn’t have the original Korean 방탄소년단 (Romanized as Bangtan Sonyeondan) wording.  Not that Big Hit Entertainment asked for my opinion, but I think the sincerity and authenticity of BTS is one of their biggest selling points even with American fans, so I’m not sure the “Beyond the Scene” re-brand is gaining traction.

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I ended up with t-shirt version 1.  No one around me wanted to buy version 2 because it said “Beyond the Scene”.  The lady behind me reeeeealllly wanted a hoodie and was afraid they would sell out before she got to the counter.  I think she was successful in her quest but I’m not sure, I lost track of her in the crowd.

With my merch in hand and my wallet further emptied, I wandered around for a bit trying to decide which booth to visit.  Suddenly I remembered that I had won an express “skip the line” ticket from Big Hit to visit the “BTS Studio” booth where you could take a picture of yourself with a hologram of your favorite member, so I headed over in that direction.. and got in the express ticket line. (Which was only like 10 people long, but still, another line!  lol)

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The Korean tour staff were all very nice and seemed super amused at the Americans saying 감사합니다 (kamsahamnida – thank you).

While I was waiting to get my picture taken, I noticed an ARMY who had just come from the merch line struggling to juggle all of her purchases. Because the “shopping bag” merch item was the cheapest thing on the menu at $5, I bought 3 of them, which was the maximum allowed, so I stepped over and asked her if she wanted a bag to hold all of her stuff. I was glad to have an extra to share! We snapped a picture together once she got her stuff all sorted out.

Then suddenly it was my turn to enter the little BTS Studio tent!  I have to say, the “hologram” technology they used to make it seem like your favorite BTS member is walking up and sitting down with you to take a picture was pretty freaking cool.  I was so flustered trying to sort out my bags and all the stuff I was carrying that I didn’t get a video of that (that’s one time when I really wished I hadn’t come alone), but it was fun all the same and sort of made your heart beat a little faster even knowing it wasn’t real.  I also had a little panic trying to pick which member because at this point, I really do love them all (OT7!), but my original favorite won in the end.

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Quick, pick your favorite BTS member!

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A picture snapped with my phone of the slightly blurry picture I got in the BTS Studio booth. Me and Jimin!

After that I wondered around the Village a lot taking pictures and videos and just enjoying the scene and the freedom of not being in a line for the first time since I arrived.

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Fans dancing in the Village..

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Another dancing fan… You can see the merch booths in the background.

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Tour staff would watch your bags and take a picture of you with your phone at the various sign boards and photo backdrops..

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Making a donation to the UNICEF #BTSLoveMyself campaign to end violence against children..

I’m not sure what time it was, but by that point, my feet were starting to hurt a little and I was ready to take a rest.  See my note below about the awesomeness of the Trekology YIZI Go Portable Camping Chair – which I promptly pulled out and set up to rest my weary bones and have a drink and a snack.

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Having a rest and filming people entering the Village area..

I thought it was pretty irresponsible of the lady yelling at people to run to the lightstick tent because they were selling out, they didn’t sell out the whole day as far as I know.

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Lots of people started to sit down and eat things they had brought at that point.

There seemed to be no food or drink vendors anywhere, which I thought was nuts.

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A short video I intended to send to my sister but for some reason it wouldn’t upload so I never sent it..

Finding my Gate and Observing the Front of the Hard Core “General Admissions” Line

Shortly after filming that clip, I left the Village area thinking I should at least figure out what gate I would be entering and where the line (surely there was another line!) would be for that.  I didn’t realize it at the time, but it turned out that the private box seat ticket holders would be using a gate in the same vicinity as where they were letting the General Admissions line form up to actually enter the stadium.

Now keep in mind that some of the General Admissions folks had been camping out for over a week to get closest to the stage, so as I approached them, I had a feeling like the General Admissions line were the “real” ARMY and the rest of us were just baby ARMYs.  We still had hours to go before the show started, so I set up my awesome little camping chair again and watched all the hoopla at the front of the GA line.

Periodically you would see fans who had stepped out of line to get merch or something come running up frantically worried that they had missed their spot, so I started posting short video clips and tweeting them out in the hopes that it would help keep things calm.  There were definitely a couple of moments there where it seemed like the crowd might get shovey and pushy, but for the most part, it stayed orderly and calm.  After watching them deal with one situation after another, I thought the security staff did a great job of being kind yet firm to keep everyone safe.

Somewhere in the midst of the GA line drama, I started to feel really hungry and decided to go off in search of food.  I walked and walked and walked and finally came upon what may have been the only food cart out there, a Nathan’s Hot Dog cart.  I hate hot dogs, but boy if you’re hungry enough, even a hot dog can taste delicious.  In fact, I had two!  The Twitter timestamp says I posted this at 3:04 PM, and the stadium opened at 4, so this was shortly before they let us go in to get our seats!

Entering the Stadium!

Phew, I feel like I’ve been writing this blog post for eons, and we’re just now getting into the stadium!  Picking up from the last section, once they let all the GA folks through, they finally called for our gate and I managed to be like the 10th person in line for that. It was definitely a very buzzy excited feeling getting ready to go into the venue.  After months and weeks of planning and then waiting in lines all day, everyone was ready to get inside.

Of course there was one more line to go after they opened the big fence – the security line.  I apparently didn’t take any pictures during that period, but they had big K-9 dogs, and a seriously armed police presence at the concert.  We saw groups of officers in full riot gear, and some with what looked like long range rifles.  It was pretty intense, but given the death threats against members of the band and all the recent public shootings, everyone in line with me agreed that we’d rather have more security than less.

The security check was pretty intense, too.  They really did search every single compartment of every single bag I had.  I can’t remember if they physically patted us down, but I did have to remove my jacket and sweatshirt and fanny pack, and they definitely wanded us in addition to going through metal detectors.  It felt as thorough as any airport screening I’ve been through recently.

And then suddenly we were inside!  I must have gotten so excited to actually get to our seats that I forgot I had a camera for a while, because I have no photos of the super posh Porche suite at all.

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GA folks getting in place around the stage, before the music videos started.

I did take a few snaps of the GA folks still streaming in around the stage though, and shortly after that they started playing BTS videos on the big screens.  The screaming and cheering began in earnest at that point, and it didn’t stop until the show was over.  It was sooo loud, you really can’t imagine it.

Somewhere around here, I started streaming live on Periscope, with the intention of streaming the whole show if I could.  I know it’s against the rules, illegal, etc. etc. but.. well, there are a lot of people who really can’t afford the crazy expense of attending a live BTS concert.  As concerts go, it is one of the most expensive shows on the planet.  Seriously, Billboard says it was the most expensive tour of 2018, and that’s just for the tickets.  That doesn’t event count the cost of travel, hotel, food, and the aforementioned expensive merchandise, which I guess isn’t a necessity, but who goes to a concert without buying the t-shirt to prove it?

In any case, I watched a lot of live concert streams in preparation for going to Citi Field, and I was always grateful to the people who risked their seat to stream for all the ARMYs around the world who couldn’t attend, so I intended to try my best to stream, too.  Which I did, for a couple of hours.  Until security came. 🙁   Having the security guy breathing down your neck and risking getting kicked out of a show you really want to see, waited forever to see, and paid a bazillion dollars to see.. Well, I put my phone away.  When I looked at the stream playback much later, it said over 100,000 people had viewed it.  *gulp*  That’s a lot of people.  I’m sorry ARMYs, I really tried.


Another great thing that happened around this point was the arrival of my most awesome seat buddy, Chris.  Like I said before, for the most part, I was fine to attend the concert by myself and I really enjoyed everything solo all day long.  But when Chris showed up, a guy around my age, also by himself, and just super friendly and fun to chat with.. it really made the concert just that much more awesome. We chatted through the whole show and he even helped shield my phone from the security dude for a bit when I was still trying to stream despite the stress of it all, bless his heart.

Chris, I hope you read this post!  Super thanks for being such a fun seat buddy!!  If you’re ever in Cincinnati, definitely ping me and I would go to another show with you anytime, anywhere!  🙂

I don’t have many other pictures of the pre-show since by this time I was streaming, so now it’s on to the show itself!!!  FINALLY!!!!!

And the Show Begins… Breathing the Same Air as BTS!!

I know, I’ve written a whole novel and half and haven’t even gotten to the actual live concert yet.  What can I say, it was a long, fun-filled, busy day!

By the time the show actually started, the crowd was so amped up, with huge swelling screams and cheers and ARMY bombs blinking.  The start of the show was LITERALLY explosive, like fire shot out of the stage!  And it was so LOUD!  And so high energy!  And we’re seeing Idol performed live!  Right in front of us!

I don’t have any pictures because I was still streaming when the show started.  I  hoped to have some of my video footage edited by now to include, but I think it will have to come later or I won’t get the post up this century.

Fake Love from outside the stadium..

I do have a few clips that I filmed after I gave up streaming and after the security dudes departed, but my crappy phone cam footage doesn’t even begin to do justice to what it really felt like.  Singing along to your favorite songs with 40,000 other fans who love it as much as you is really something else.  The energy was insane, I can still feel the vibrations in my chest if I close my eyes and think about it.

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The twinkling ARMY bombs everywhere added so much to the atmosphere..

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I didn’t get even one single great shot of the band. Even though the screens were huge and we could see clearly in person, the light noise and cables and whatnot made it impossible to get a great photo with a phone camera from where we were sitting. That’s ok though, the experience itself was the reason for being there, and the memories are more than enough.

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Seesaw nation rise!

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Serendipity!

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Sparkly Jimin!

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The Truth Untold!

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The best pic I took of V! (That one’s for you Chris!) 🙂

I cried a couple of times.  When Jimin cried, I bawled like a baby. Not my footage, but thanks to the ARMY that caught this on camera. *sniffle*

I cried again during Namjoon’s ending comments.. (JOON FOR PRESIDENT!)

If I’m in the right mood, hearing Magic Shop still makes me cry because I can hear the echo of 40,000 ARMYs singing back to them in one voice.. it was really beautiful. I sang, and screamed, and danced, and cheered, and enjoyed the hell out of those 2.5 hours.

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By the end of the show, we all said our good byes, wished each other safe journeys home, and parted ways. It was really a magical experience.

End of the Show & Heading Home

I’d read about post-BTS-concert depression from other ARMYs, but what they don’t tell you is it starts the very second the show is over.

I felt like I was in a shell-shocked daze as we started herding out of the stadium, and by the time I got outside and back out to the parking lot, I think I stood there for I don’t know how long, just too overwhelmed to even move.

Believe it or not, I didn’t realize until right that moment that I’d planned every detail of my arrival TO the venue, but I had absolutely no idea how to get back to my hotel FROM the stadium.  40,000 people were all trying to leave at the same time, it wasn’t like I could call a cab.  I was so disoriented, I didn’t even know which direction the hotel was in from where I was standing. As more and more people poured out of the stadium, I got swept up in the moving crowd, and just ended up going with flow with no destination in mind.

That was the only moment the whole day that I felt somewhat vulnerable and a little afraid to be alone.  The crowd was still very friendly, but it was dark and chilly and I suddenly felt like I could get lost or disappear and no one would even notice.

Once we got to the outer edges of the parking lot near the street, I sort of came back to my senses and started looking on my phone for options.  There were already huge lines forming for Uber and Lyft drivers, but then Google suggested a ride service I’d never heard of, Juno, so I downloaded and installed it and like MAGIC – even in that insane crowd – a driver in a big black SUV was there in less than 5 minutes to pick me up.  It was fantastic.

I honestly don’t remember much after that.  I know I made it back to my hotel, and I think I was too late for room service so I just crashed.

The next morning, I wandered downstairs to get coffee, where I met some young ARMYs with their dad getting ready to head home.

And a little later at check-out, I met one of the stagehands who had traveled with BTS for their whole North American tour.

I took one last selfie sitting outside the hotel waiting for a cab..

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And then I headed for the airport and flew home..

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Back in Cincinnati with the #CitiFieldFlu

As I mentioned in Part 1 of this series, I got so sick within a day or two of coming home that I basically didn’t get out of bed for a week.  I saw someone on Twitter call it the #CitiFieldFlu, I guess loads of people picked up whatever nasty bug was going around.  By the time I recuperated from that enough to go back to work, I was too busy playing catch-up to write much, so that’s why it took almost a month to get this posted.

I sent a few messages to some of the folks I met at the concert once I’d recovered to thank them again and wish them well, and got back a bunch of nice replies.  And I was super delighted when the Cincinnati ARMY I met at the airport DMd me on Twitter to ask if I wanted to go see Burn the Stage in a couple of weeks.  She was so awesome, she even bought an extra ticket!  Thank goodness, because they sold out while I was too sick to even notice anything.  I’m really looking forward to meeting up with her to see the movie!

At this point, even I’m tired of this post, so I’ll wrap it up quickly.

It’s hard to describe, even with all these words and pictures and videos, just how much I enjoyed the show.  The fans, the concert, the music, the love, the whole experience.

At a time when the political climate in the US feels uglier than anything I can remember in my lifetime (the election is tomorrow as I write this, I am desperately hoping for positive outcome), it felt sooo good to be with sooo many people from soooo many different places and walks of life, all coming together to celebrate and enjoy good music.  It felt soooo good to support a bunch of young guys from the other side of the world and send them our love and appreciation and admiration and all the best hopes for their future.  It’s really a tribute to the boys of BTS, and to Big Hit, and the entire team of professionals who produce and support them that we could all come to New York City and enjoy the show like that.

It made me feel and remember that Obama-style hope, and I’ve really missed that.

Thanks to all the ARMYs I met on my journey for making the trip so special, and to BTS for a concert that I will never forget. I purple you.

💜


 

[1] As a lifelong Constant Reader and huge fan of King’s work, it really wigged me out when he joined Twitter and I realized I could actually send a message to one of my favorite people on planet Earth.  I never did, of course, because that would violate my “don’t bug them”  principle, but I’ve been tempted a time or two.

@stephenking if you ever see this, I’ve loved your writing since I was 8 years old and got grounded for reading The Dead Zone. Thank you, sincerely super thank you, for a lifetime of awesome stories.  <3

[2]  I saw some crazy sasaeng behavior at Citi Field, but thankfully not too much.

[3] I actually purchased tickets THREE times.  The first time, I bought tickets on Stub Hub after losing out in the virtual queue, but I didn’t realize the ticket I bought was for wheelchair users only.  Stub Hub wasn’t very helpful when I contacted them, their only advice was to put the ticket back up for sale and buy another one, which is what I did.  Then a week or so before the concert, Citi Field released a block of box-seat tickets, and even though it was much more expensive, I snagged one of those and then re-sold my second ticket.  I didn’t want to be a scalper jerk, so I always set the ticket prices for what I myself paid, but I lost out on transaction fees and whatnot each time.  I never did the math to total up how much I really paid in the end to see the show, I don’t want to know.

[4]  I bought a couple of items for my trip which I’d like to recommend.  It took hours of scouring Amazon to find a backpack that met Citi Field’s size requirements.  I ended up with the Red Rock Outdoor Gear Drifter Hydration Pack and just left the hydration pack at home.  It was a good purchase, for such a small backpack, I managed to cram a lot in it, and clip a lot on it. I also packed two Jackery Portable Charger Bars (6000mAh) and a Solar Charger RAVPower 24W Solar Panel which clipped to my backpack to keep me fully powered for the whole trip.  My phone never ran out of battery even with constant use and lots of filming.

And last but definitely not least, my favorite purchase of all was something I almost left in the hotel room.  Right before I walked out the door, I clipped the Trekology YIZI Go Portable Camping Chair to my backpack and I spent the rest of the day so grateful that I had it.  Two thumbs up, it really saved my feet!  I even had several offers to buy it from me throughout the day!

The lightweight Trekology camping chair that saved the day and my feet/back.

 


28
Oct 18

#BTSxCitifield Part 2 – Finding BTS + Joining the ARMY = Going to Citi Field

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This post is part of a series, see #BTSxCitifield Part 1 – The Backstory: How Trump and #MeToo led to finding #BTS and joining the ARMY to start from the beginning.


 

Remember when I said I wasn’t sure if I even remembered how to blog since it’s been so long?  Well, I managed to misconfigure an IFTTT trigger and caused an endless loop of alerts about the new blog post being posted to Twitter, which posted a blog post on here that I had tweeted, which triggered a new tweet.. lol.  Like a noob all over again!  Thank goodness a RL friend texted me to let me know about the problem.  Thanks Phil!


 

So back to the story.  Exactly how did a middle-aged (!) white lady living in suburban Cincinnati, Ohio get into a Korean boyband?  In the last post, I talked about my unexpected reaction to the election of Trump and the #MeToo movement, and how my inability to cope with the endless cycle of upsetting news led to an American media/internet blackout.  Shutting off the information flow opened space for new interests and hobbies at a time when I was in need of distraction, and that was the context in which I discovered BTS. [1]

I also mentioned that the first BTS songs to catch my ear were Save Me and Dope, but I’m trying to remember what it was exactly that prompted my deeper dive into BTS.  In the beginning, it was hard to distinguish one boyband group from the next, EXO, Winner, GOT7.. The whole K-pop genre was a stretch for me musically, and I found the “super innocent yet super sexy schoolgirl” vibe of the girl groups especially disturbing.

K-Pop girl group AOA in what appears to be typical “sexy school girl” styling.

Even if they produce a catchy tune, I have a hard time supporting an industry that over-sexualizes young women like that.  I suppose the boy bands are not so different, since sex sells the world over, but it feels somehow less in your face with the men than it does with the women.  I’d say BTS in particular seems to dress fairly conservatively these days, though there are shirt-ripping and belly-showing dance moves from their earlier videos.

BTS in school uniform styling, not sure what year this is from though.

Digging around in my YouTube history (yikes, not recommended!), it looks like a fan-made video I stumbled upon about the BTS “alternate universe” story might have been an early hook.  It’s basically a short film explaining the fictional universe that connects many of their albums and music (sort of like a rock-opera). It tells the story of 7 high-school friends who drift apart, facing their various painful childhoods and personal demons as they grow into adulthood.  But one member, Jin, has the ability to time travel, and as he watches his friends meet one tragic fate after another, he rewinds time searching for what to change to bring them all happiness, failing over and over again in each alternate timeline.

The time-travel story arc crosses several album cycles and if you search for “BTS storyline” on YouTube, you’ll find a plethora of fan-made videos with theories about what all the clues mean.

As a newcomer to the BTS scene, I think it was the fans’ obsessive attention to detail and endless theorizing as much as the storyline itself that caught my interest.  Over the next few months, I began to realize that it was a truly global phenomenon.  Europe, Asia, South America, Africa, North America, all around the world there were crazed passionate fans following these guys’ every move.  It made me wonder how this baby-faced K-pop boyband had somehow developed a following that was so intense it crossed time zones, national boundaries, language barriers, cultural differences, age, sex, gender.

Korean fans (or fans who speak Korean) translate their work into English, and other fans translate it from English into other languages.  On Twitter, which seemed to be the preferred social media channel, there were endless conversations, in every language you can imagine, at any time day or night, sharing, arguing, debating, writing fan fics, producing their own videos, explaining, theorizing, analyzing.  (Look at the live, global BTS feed right now, how many languages do you see?) [2]

And the band was producing a near continuous stream of new content themselves, releasing their new album Love Yourself: Her in September 2017, with new videos, new theories, new tweets and posts.  The synergy between the band and the fans was.. well, crazy.  It sucked me in.

It was like watching a reality television show unfold in real time, except instead of seedy cat-fights and endless love triangles, you had these innocent, hardworking Korean guys from an underdog small-time record label trying to beat the odds, and fans from all over the world cheering them on, and over and over again, I had the thought that the international dialogue happening between BTS fans was so different from the hate-filled “us vs. them” rhetoric happening in the US.  I’m not sure how to describe it, but it felt like… the exact opposite of the toxic brew of ugly Trumpist nationalism.

BTS performing “DNA” at the American Music Awards, November 2017.

By the time they came to the US and performed at the American Music Awards in November, I had passed the threshold from casual observer to proto-fan, and by May of 2018 when Love Yourself: Tear was released (which went on to break a zillion records including landing at #1 on the Billboard charts), I could have passed any “You’re an ARMY If..” quiz.  I even had a handle on all this newfangled fandom jargon (wow it made me feel old) of stanning and biases and ships and K-Diamonds and I-Lovelies.  It wasn’t just the band.  It wasn’t just the music.  It wasn’t just the fans.

The real catch is the thing that unites the fans and the band, an infectious hopeful optimism that crosses every language, cultural, or age barrier.  Even though they are so young, their music tells the story of a group of boys growing up and trying to discover how to live a meaningful life in a world of such disparity.  And even though I’m 42 years old, I’m still trying to figure out how to live a meaningful life in a world of such disparity, too.  Their solo albums and side projects delve into how hard it is to overcome anxiety, perfectionism, and depression, and through their music and countless interviews, it’s clear they’re figuring out that fame and fortune don’t buy happiness if you don’t like yourself.  And here it took me 30-some years to discover that.  How wonderful would it have been if I had realized it in my 20s?

Don’t get me wrong, I’m as cynical and jaded as the next gal. Yes sometimes the lyrics are cheesy, and yes sometimes the music is pure pop syrup, and yes the K-pop machine has an ugly underbelly including sexual abuse, suicide, and contracts that aren’t far from indentured servitude, and yes the band is a commercial, capitalist enterprise making zillions of dollars with their $50+ t-shirts, and lightsticks, and this, that, and the other.  BTS and BigHit Entertainment is a business, BIG business, and they are monetizing the passion of their fans to make a killing (Forbes reported in March 2018 that Big Hit Entertainment was valued at 783 billion KRW, or $687 million USD, I’m sure that’s only gone up since then).  That’s all completely true.

BTS ‘Fake Love’ dance practice session.  Even if you don’t like the music, you can’t tell me that isn’t art.

And.. somehow I don’t care.  Somehow, I’m glad for them.  Somehow I still find sincerity in their finger-hearts and silly smiles, earnestness in their practice videos and sweaty concert performances, optimism and a refreshing naivete in their lyrics and rap wordplay.

Why not a bunch of young guys from Korea who have still have the unbelievable youthful audacity to think they can change the world? 

Ultimately, that’s what turned me into an ARMY.  Adorable Representative MCs for Youth.  At a time in my personal life when I felt despair, I happened upon a global thread of hope through BTS and their fans, a reminder that young people all around the world are struggling, thinking, hoping, trying to find a way to live and move forward, and that the way forward is as it has always been, one step at a time, to just plain not give up.  To not let cynicism win.  A reminder of the joy of music, the release you feel dancing to a good beat, and the inspiration that came from seeing the often smiling, sometimes tired, but still hopeful faces of 7 Korean boys who aren’t yet ground down by the machine, the world, life itself.


A favorite tweet from a few months ago..

As the last album of the Love Yourself cycle came out in August 2018, Love Yourself: Answer (which also went on to break a bazillion records including #1 on the Billboard charts again), BTS and the Adorable Representative MCs for Youth became (part of) the antidote to my Trump depression.  BTS and ARMY culture shows that there are other ways to to respond to the challenges the world faces other than tribalism and building walls, and that good music, good art makes us think, feel, reflect, absorb, change, and no joke, it can be healing.

Anyone who has watched a BTS video has seen the Big Hit Entertainment intro: “Music & Artist for Healing”.  Indeed.

So after all that, I did what every other self-respecting ARMY (who could afford it) did, and started planning a trip to see them live when they came the States for their globally sold-out Love Yourself World Tour.

Coming soon, #BTSxCitifield Part 3 – The fans, the show, the experience – so awesome.

 


 

[1]  My rekindled interest in Korean culture was not my only new diversion.  During an unusually long power outage in November, I dug through the closet and found my guitar, and have been faithfully teaching myself to play (again, but kind of for the first time).  I took piano lessons as a kid, and played clarinet very badly in grade school, but this is the first time that I’ve passed the threshold of playing an instrument well enough to really enjoy it.  And practicing requires a level of obsessive repetition that feels almost meditative, it’s given me an enormous amount of solace.

Don’t make fun, I know I’m not very good at singing OR playing, but that’s the first song I learned after picking a guitar up again for the first time in 20 years. (I’ll say it again, Music for Healing!)

[2] BTS landed in the 2018 Guinness Book of World Records for having the most Twitter engagements, apparently more than Trump and Justin Bieber combined.  I find that really funny for some reason.


22
Oct 18

#BTSxCitifield Part 1 – The Backstory: How Trump and #MeToo led to finding #BTS and joining the ARMY

It has truly been an age since I’ve written an actual blog post. [1]  I may even have forgotten how to do it, I guess we’ll see.  It’s not so much that I haven’t felt the urge to write from time to time, but once you get out of the habit of blogging, it feels insurmountable to start back up again.  And yet here I am, trying to remember my website password on a Saturday morning.

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The impetus for this blog reset was that I wanted to write about the experience of going to see BTS at Citi Field in New York a couple weeks ago. (If you need a primer, here are a few from the Guardian, Rolling Stone, NYT, and Vulture).  Like many, I picked up the #CitiFieldFlu while I was there, so I’ve basically been bedridden or trying to catch up ever since I got back into town, but I hope I can remember everything because I think it might be one of the best trips of my life.  It was not only a great show, the whole trip was the kind of awesome, life-affirming experience that makes you see the world differently when you come back home, and not many concerts can do that.

PART 1:  THE BACK STORY

But to back up a bit, I feel like I have to explain how I got into this Korean boyband in the first place…

It actually starts with the election of Donald Trump, the #MeToo movement, and the absolutely paralyzing trauma I felt near the end of last year.

By mid-2017, as the daily insult and injury of the Trump Administration took my breath away, and every American media outlet, news program, channel, and pop-culture reference  everywhere became All Trump All the Time, I began to experience a kind of cognitive overload and emotional upset that I’d never felt before.  Then in the fall of 2017, the #MeToo movement broke open with one horrific story of abuse after another.  Coupled with the shock and complex emotions that came with each days’ news cycle, I also began to feel a sense of shame that I was having so much trouble even coping with the news.  I’d be heading into work listening to NPR, and suddenly find myself bursting into tears of anger, sadness, fear, horror, and sooooo much disappointment, it’s still hard to comprehend.  Until one day, I just couldn’t cope with it anymore.

Magazine cover picturing all the women accusing Bill Cosby of sexual abuse, with an empty chair representing other women who had not yet come forward.

I turned the radio off.  I turned the TV off.  I canceled my subscriptions to the New York Times and the Washington Post.  I un-followed hundreds of accounts on Twitter.  For many months, I was pretty much offline but for what I absolutely had to do for work and I told everyone in my personal life that I was on a complete news blackout and that I did not want to know what happening.  No, that’s not quite right – it wasn’t just that I didn’t WANT to know, it was even worse than that.  I couldn’t even force myself to look at what was happening.  [2]

My family and friends were shocked and confused, I think, and concerned.  For anyone who knows me at all, tuning out and ignoring things is an extremely uncharacteristic response.  And since the day I first discovered the internets back in 1994, most of my personal hobbies and interests, not to mention my whole career and professional life, has revolved around the internet, activism, and using technology to improve the human condition.  And yet suddenly I found myself unable to engage with any of it.  All of it. I felt compelled to shut the internet off.  [3]

That was about a year ago, in November of 2017.

So what does a person DO when the thing that occupied all of their waking life for all of their adult life suddenly becomes toxic?

A SLOW-SIMMERING INTEREST IN KOREAN HISTORY/CULTURE TURNS INTO A REFRESHINGLY DIVERTING MINI-OBSESSION

How do any of our obsessions begin?  Some tiny niggling seed that takes root and grows into something strange and unexpected.

marypix_composite_005_william-james_in-korea_1950s

My grandpa is in the center kneeling, with Korean children wearing UN hats.  Not sure of the year, 1953 or 1954.

My most recent one has deep roots, if I think about it.  My grandfather on my mother’s side, who I called Dad, served in Korea when he was in the Army, and it’s one of those episodes in the family lore that holds myriad meanings and significances.  Family rumor has it that Mom and Dad got married because she got pregnant after (before?) Dad went to Korea.  Not sure about the timeline there, maybe my mom will correct me. The cherry lacquer wooden bowls that Dad sent back from Korea were a source of bitterness for my aunt Mary when Mom and Dad passed away and we couldn’t find them.  My uncle Frank probably still hasn’t forgiven me that I wouldn’t give up the photographs of Dad in Korea.  (In my defense, I kept them to scan them in so everyone could have them. :P)

After Dad died, I spent many hours scanning in photos and tracing through his life story, and I never could determine exactly where he was stationed in Korea, but I had the thought that I’d like to go there some day.  He didn’t talk about his military experience much, but it obviously helped shape who he was, and if the family rumors were true, I was indirectly a product of his Korean adventure.

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With Dr. Youngkyun Baek and Korean National University of Education graduate students at the University of Cincinnati, 2007.

Another root of my new obsession was a wonderful experience many years ago meeting Dr. Youngkyun Baek, who at the time was an Asst. Professor at Korea National University of Education.  In 2007, he joined the University of Cincinnati with a Visiting Professor appointment and arranged for me to lead a week-long seminar with a group of his graduate students from Korea to discuss the use of Virtual Worlds and Second Life in higher education. That was my first sense that Korean society is far more accepting of and quicker to adopt technology than the US.

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Having a traditional Korean meal with so many side dishes it blew my mind!

It was fascinating and so much fun to spend time with them.  The  language barrier was only a mild impediment to a fun-filled week of exploring virtual worlds during the day, and exploring Cincinnati and Korean culture after class.

IMG_0907

Canoeing the Whitewater River with my new friends.

I’d say it is one of the great regrets of my career that I didn’t stay in better touch with them all.  Maybe I’ll try to reconnect now that I’m less ignorant of Korean culture than I was back then (I feel embarrassed now to think of how much I didn’t know).  If any of them happens to find this blog post, I hope they’ll say hello!

In any case, a few months before my Great Media Blackout of 2017 began, one of the news headlines that contributed to my sense of panic also re-ignited my interest in Korea.  You may recall in August 2017 when headlines like Trump Threatens ‘Fire and Fury’ Against North Korea if It Endangers U.S. began to appear.  For a split second, I was afraid Trump might get us into a nuclear war, and thinking of my conversations with Dr. Baek’s students way back when, I wondered what it must be like to live in South Korea and have that worry constantly.

One thing led to another, and I began reading about the Korean War and South Korea’s military enlistment policy, and then an online friend suggested that I watch a Korean drama on Netflix called Descendants of the Sun if I was interested in how the military experience and North/South relations are portrayed in Korean popular culture.  After that completely addicting experience, I discovered I could add Rakuten Viki and Dramafever apps to my Amazon Prime/Amazon Firestick, and well, let me tell you, once I fell down the K-Drama rabbit hole, there was no turning back.

Next thing I knew, I was ordering books from Talk to Me in Korean (highly recommended!) and getting monthly deliveries of Korea Box (also highly recommended!) and scouring the Cincinnati area for soju.  (I never found it in Cincinnati, you have to go over the river into Kentucky at Party Source.)

It was all a marvelous distraction from the Trump/#MeToo madness, and though I have a lot of critical thoughts about the conservative, patriarchal parts of South Korean culture, it was still a welcome respite to leave the American mediascape behind and learn about a faraway land with their own history and myths and fabulous cuisine.  As you can imagine, once I entered the world of K-Drama, then the music of K-Pop wasn’t far behind.

 

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One of my favorite songs, so good. #Eagles

A post shared by Fleep (@fleep513) on

My musical tastes are as weird and varied as everyone else’s.  I cut my teeth on a combination of bluegrass gospel from my biological father’s Kentuckian side of the family, and 50’s/60’s bubblegum pop, the Beatles, and “classic rock” from my mom and step-dad.  The Eagles (who I just saw in Cleveland this past weekend!), CSN(Y), and Jackson Browne are in my childhood DNA, and then as an adult, well, it’s too varied to categorize, but I can say in the last decade or so, pop music and hip-hop were not really in the mix.  I remember a couple years ago having the realization that I was Officially Old because I didn’t recognize even one single artist who won a Grammy that year.

So K-Pop was really a field afar for me, and I think I started with some generic “Top K-Pop Hits” playlist on YouTube, as one does these days.  It all sounded kind of the same at first, and then one of the songs starts to grow on you, and then another one, and then you realize, hey, those two songs are by the same group, and then.. and then..

So yeah, that’s how I discovered BTS (Hangul: 방탄소년단; RR: Bangtan Sonyeondan), translated as Bulletproof Boyscouts, also known as the Bangtan Boys, a seven-member South Korean boy band.

For any ARMYs who might be reading, the first song was Save Me.

The second one was Dope.  I had to know who that red-headed dancer was.  (Once you Jimin, you can’t Jimout, as they say.) ((Now OT7 for life.)) =)

This seems like a good place to take a break.

Coming soon:  #BTSxCitifield Part 2 – Finding BTS + Joining the ARMY = Going to Citi Field


 

[1] I looked it up, my last sincerely written, totally original content blog post was in January 2014 about Edward Snowden.  Wow, that’s even longer than I thought.
Re: Snowden – Whistleblowing & Its Consequences and Part 2: Snowden – Whistleblowing & Its Consequences

[2] In the interest of full disclosure, I want to say publicly that I am also a survivor and a victim (even though I hate both terms) of sexual abuse, sexual harassment, and sexual assault.  #MeToo.  Part of my shutdown was undoubtedly related to those past traumas that I thought I had overcome. Obviously not. It’s clear to me now that the way that the Trump election and #MeToo became entwined in my emotional response has as much to do with my personal history as it does with my political identity.

I also want to say that if any other person out there also had a total shutdown response to Trump and/or #MeToo, just know that you are not alone.  I think we’re human and there are limits to how much trauma a person can process.  We all have our own roads of recovery.  I remain truly really grateful for the men and women who had the strength to speak up when I myself did not.

[3] Relatively speaking, of course, I really couldn’t maintain a 100% blackout even with great effort.  In this modern day and age, there really is no total escape no matter how hard you try.

[4] Dramafever was just shut down last week after Time Warner/AT&T bought them, and there was a great wailing heard round the world by K-Drama fans everywhere.  =(


19
Mar 16

Morning Coffee Reading – 3/19/16

Blogging became too time-consuming.  Formatting, linking, embedding, bad copy pasta that has to be fixed.  But I’ll try again, because my network continues to inspire me so much, I feel I should make the effort as they do.  Bless their hearts, what would I read in the morning if they got lazy like me?

And, I remain forever amazed at how wonderful tripping, linking, chasing, stumbling through others’ thoughts on the internets can be, and how sharing our thoughts can further other people’s trips in (hopefully) meaningful ways.

Here’s my latest trip to go with your morning coffee.

Badges and evidence, the “reputation economy”, and data used to make decisions

Sparked by insomniac reading of Stephen Downing (@oldaily) at 4AM earlier this week, I saw that he gave a keynote address on the AvaCon grid at the Virtual Worlds Best Practices in Education 2016 conference, wherein he speculates, “about the future of virtual worlds in learning when they are mixed with mobile devices and performance support systems.”

Scanning past Stephen’s blurb about the VWBPE keynote, somehow I came across Alan Levine’s (@cogdog) recent post “Seeking Evidence of Badge Evidence“, wherein he explores the usefulness of gamified badging systems if they don’t link to actual evidence that the badge was earned.  Metadata about the evidence isn’t the same as linking to the evidence itself, right?  Right.

This sparked a memory of an older post of mine, Twitter and the Reputation Economy in 2014, wherein I mused about how to measure “reputation” and suggested that Twitter Lists provide a non-obvious measure of something.  Alan subsequently pointed out that a Twitter list wordcloud may be an indicator,  but it is not a measure.  Good point.

My tweet about Alan’s post sparked D’Arcy Norman (@dlnorman) to point to Cory Doctorow’s (@doctorow) recent post about what a terrible currency reputation would be.

I agree that Whuffie would be a terrible currency, so be sure to read that @doctorow post, as well as “Wealth Inequality Is Even Worse in Reputation Economies“.

My tweet also sparked Alan to go down a deep, technically complicated but fascinating rabbit-hole of what my Twitter list wordcloud means, whether it’s useful, and how to generate one using docker, which I still don’t really understand.

But go read his post “Measurement or [indirect] Indicators of Reputation? A Twitter List / Docker / iPython Notebook Journey“.  It’s good stuff.

At the end of all that chain, I summed up my current take-aways about data used for decision-making on a comment to his post:

1) measurements and indicators are not the same thing, important point.

2) reliability is key, whether of a measure or indicator.

3) the use-case (type of decision you’re making) should drive the type of data used to make your measurement or indicator.

4) a measurement or indicator created for one use case may not transfer to a different use case.

Metaverse Vocabulary Words – Metaxis, Liminality, Stygmergy

Somewhere in checking out that tweet stream, I also came across Mark Childs’ (@markchilds) recent post exploring words that describe transitions, edges, limits, and perceptions of spaces, or places, or feelings of being present in a space or multiple spaces even.  

Just go read the post, “Metaxis and Liminality“.  

These concepts seem important for not just educators to understand, but also those of us working to create the Metaverse and places in virtual worlds.

My tweet about Mark’s post then sparked Leon Cych (@eyebeams) to share that they had local drama students acting out roles in Minecraft:

 

..the video of which relates to Midas’ golden touch played out in Minecraft, and that perfectly captures and visualizes the idea of stygmergya word I came to know and love through Sarah Robbins (@intellagirl) years ago when she was exploing using virtual worlds for teaching.  See her “Using a Faceted Classification Scheme to Predict the Future of Virtual Worlds”.  (I should link to her dissertation, but I can’t find a good link.)


Machine Learning, AI, and Science Fiction

After clicking through all that, I went back to Leon’s Twitter page to make sure I was following him (I am), and saw that he referenced the above tweet and forwarded Mark Child’s post on to Martin Robinson (@surrealanarchy), who apparently has changed his main Twitter account to @trivium21c (I followed that account, too).

 

I then ended up reading Martin Robinson’s tweet about machine learning and “When AI rules the world: what SF novels tell us about our future overlords.”

 

There are several books mentioned in there that I surely must read, now.  I might come back and list them, but I might not, so read the article and see for yourself which books you also need to read.

David Foster Wallace, which never gets old.

And in that AI & SF article, there was a link to a David Foster Wallace quote, which takes you to his “This is Water” commencement speech, posted, of all places, in the Wall Street Journal.

The perfect, beautiful hilarity of reading that speech on the WSJ website was so awesome, I thought, this is where I end my trip today.

Enjoy your morning coffee.


16
Jul 10

Interview posted – Discussing Social Media on WVXU’s Impact Cincinnati!

Chris Collins & Chris Brewer in the WVXU Studios

Yesterday I had the pleasure of speaking with Chris Brewer from Northern Kentucky University on WVXU’s Impact Cincinnati show with host Maryann Zeleznik.  Our topic was how new communication tools are impacting our lives and we discussed all the usual suspects like Facebook, Twitter, Foursquare, etc. in addition to the changes iPhones and Android smart phones have brought to the scene since our last show back in July 2009.

From the Impact Cincinnati website:

Topic: How new communications tools are affecting our lives

Millions of people each day now access Facebook, Twitter, MySpace, and other social networking sites, using home computers as well as a rapidly growing array of sophisticated mobile devices that allow anywhere, anytime internet connections.

Guests include:
University of Cincinnati Instructional & Research Computing department IT Analyst Chris Collins
Chris Brewer, a social media consultant for clients such as Apple and the New Media Consortium, Director of Online Technology for NKU’s College of Informatics, and the developer of GrooveRiver.com, a niche social network for Cincinnati musicians.

Listen to the Program

It’s always fun to get a behind the scenes look at our local NPR station studio and I hope we encourage Cincinnati listeners to try out some of the social media offerings that can help expand your personal and professional networks.   Check out the recording here and many thanks to Chris and Maryann for a great conversation about social media!


3
Jun 10

Web 3.0 Semantic Web (video)

Web 3.0 from Kate Ray on Vimeo.

Thanks to Hey Jude: Learning in an Online World for the tip.


27
Mar 10

Governance in Virtual Worlds

On Friday, March 26th, I participated in the Governance in Virtual Worlds 2010 conference sponsored by the Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law and World2Worlds.  The conference description:

Virtual worlds and online games are used by millions of people around the world for recreation, corporate and academic conferencing, formal education, research, training and charitable work. These worlds have given rise to public-policy issues, both ancient and cutting edge. Governance in Virtual Worlds will provide an exploration of these issues by professors, journalists, corporate managers and community activists. Learn what it means to be an active citizen, a creative producer, and a savvy customer, and meet the people shaping policy for the worlds of the future.

Now, I’ve attended a LOT of conferences, conversations, symposia, discussions, and other such things revolving around virtual worlds, but I must commend John Carter McKnight, Adjunct Professor of Law at  Arizona State University for putting together a truly excellent group of panels.  (And I’m not just saying that because I was on two of them!)   Though the conference was plagued with technical issues at the beginning, which happens sometimes, the panels sparked good conversations (and sometimes heated debate)  and it was the first time in a while I heard some new ideas that made me stop in my tracks and think, “Oh, yeah.  Why aren’t we talking about that?”

John Lester (formerly Pathfinder Linden) Gives Keynote Opening Address

For long time SL peeps, one of the highlights of the conference was John Lester‘s keynote opening address.  Formerly known as Pathfinder Linden, who did much to promote the education and health care communities in world, John appeared as his original avatar from the SL beta (the first one!) days, Count Zeeman.  John’s keynote was unfortunately one of the ones marred by the technical challenges, but he talked about the biological responses that humans have to our virtual experiences.  He gave an example of a teacher who brings her students in world and right off the bat has them jump off a mountain.  The students feel fear, vertigo, and all these physical reactions, they don’t know if they’re (their avatar) is going to die, they don’t know what to expect.  The physical reactions we experience in virtual spaces are due to our brains having evolved to think in, navigate in, and respond to 3D data, we have entirely natural responses to 3D cues, it activates our lymbic system just as if we were standing on a physical mountain.  Ok maybe to a lesser degree, still.  🙂

Of course, we’re missing key components of physicality in virtual worlds, particularly the non-verbal cues of body language, posture, etc.  John reminded us Snow Crash fans that in Stephenson’s novel, the thing that made the metaverse take off was when it incorporated the natural body language of those who were jacked in, so we’re not yet at a point where I yawn in real life and my avatar yawns as well, but that’s where we’re headed.

I’m not sure if this was just my take or John’s, but there was some conversation that augmented reality is likely to top into the mainstream before virtual worlds, since handheld devices are already ubiquitous and the super-smart-phone genre like Droids and iPhones are becoming more commonplace and affordable.  John mentioned the augmented reality windshield GM prototyped that I tweeted about the other day (woe the day our windshields get hacked!) and we talked about a future where our HUDs were not just on the screen but in our contact lenses.  Good stuff!

In terms of governance of virtual spaces, the issue is that our current system of laws and courts are processes that move so exquisitely slowly, and yet the pace of technological change is accelerating at an ever faster pace.  How are we to govern spaces that our current systems are not even remotely equipped to understand, let alone arbitrate?  And that, of course, was the key question of the conference.  It was great to see John and despite the audio glitches, it was great to see him in world again.

Keynote Panel:  The Politics of Virtual Engagement

Next up was the keynote panel, which also had a rocky start on the technical end (again, not the fault of the conference organizers!) and I didn’t get to show my slides so I’ll embed them here:

I’d hoped to talk about how we can look at the small scale governance issues already cropping up at the institutional level, like in higher education, and then extrapolate how those issues will affect the larger ecosystem of institutions participating in virtual world spaces, but the tech issues got our timing and things off to a rocky start, so I’m not sure how much came through.   In any case, the “Politics of Virtual Engagement” at my university are just one example of many, but I think there are lessons to be learned.  For example, virtual world evangelists and people like me trying to introduce the concept of virtual worlds to academia have to have a deep knowledge of our institutional culture.  The needs of our student population are different than the needs of faculty, which are again different from the needs of administrators and staff.   The trick is trying to weave those needs together into virtual spaces and experiences that tap into what can only be done in virtual worlds or that virtual worlds do better than other platforms. People have to see how this technology meets their needs before it can scale up.  This is as much true for every other domain – business, non-profits, online communities – as it is for higher education.

And the questions and issues raised by the students, faculty, and staff at the University of Cincinnati are likely to be echoed across the spectrum of institutions who move into virtual worlds.    This technology forces us to renegotiate long standing and entrenched boundaries that DO exist in the physical world, but are highly permeable in the virtual world.   What can we learn from early adopters who are already negotiating these shifting boundaries to make it easier for the early majority?

I also think virtual worlds expose the limits of our creativity and imagination in ways that are.. somehow less obvious in the physical world.  Give a teacher the freedom to work in any kind of learning environment they can imagine rather than a traditional classroom, and you’re bound to get some blank stares.   And who can blame them!  They aren’t accustomed to having that kind of freedom and flexibility, and conceptualizing the actual SPACE in which learning takes place is not in their knowledge domain because in the physical world, someone else designs the classrooms.  And it isn’t just teachers, students, staff – it’s also me!  The plasticity of virtual worlds gives us tremendous freedom to create settings and experiences that can’t be replicated in the real world, but our imaginations are not yet caught up to the possibilities this technology makes possible.

I feel that way even after participating in virtual environments for over 15 years at this point.  Every day something new shakes my world and hints at possibilities I hadn’t even considered.  It’s fascinating stuff.   And I think in the long term, all the other issues – who owns your data, privacy issues, conflicts over copyright and IP – these issues don’t have simple black and white answers, the inter-relationships forming between individuals and individuals, and individuals with institutions, and institutions with institutions, and scaling all the way up to encompass the global digital community and ecosystem, these things are so complex, and emerging and evolving so quickly, I just can’t imagine that our existing institutions will survive in anything resembling their current forms.   I guess we’ll see!

Real Laws in Virtual Space

There were two speakers in the next panel who made a lasting impression on my overwhelmed brain.  Joshua Fairfield, Associate Prof of Law at Washington and Lee School of Law, and Gregory Lastowka, Professor at Rutgers School of Law.   This post is already getting long, so I’ll sum up quickly.  Joshua’s main point was that we are spending an awful lot of brain cycles worrying about how RL law is going to impact virtual worlds, and not enough time thinking about how the rules of virtual worlds would be horrific if implemented in RL. Good point!  From my quickly jotted notes as he was speaking:

Imagine IP licenses embedded in our toaster, our clothing, our cars, as we do have constraints on our use of virtual property. What then?   On privacy, we all know from the Bragg case sued Linden Lab, LL has ALL communications from people in world, all IMs, they were able to pull up IMs from years before.. All of those convos can be sometimes must be made available without a search warrant, no probably cause required. The essential irony – we go to escape and are under constant surveillance. Cell phoen tracks you through GPS whereever you go.  So the question is, are we losing our personhood?  Personhood, once property and privacy are in trouble, personhood will follow. We are a social network in our selves, the social networks we use are coming to OWN that tangle of connections that we are. We will hand over our personhood when all aspects of our behavior, posessions, creations, and communications are owned by .. someone else.

Gregory Lastowska’s talk was also good, again my raw notes:

Virtual Worlds as a separate jurisdiction.. virtual law as separate rules of physical jurisdiction. Play spaces are governed by a separate set of rules, we can look at different human societies, say the rules pertaining to education, religion, or family, they are sort of “special spheres” of human interaction, so there may be some precedent for game worlds, but that isn’t the trend we’re seeing, the courts are treating them just like web sites, so not seen as separate sites of jurisdiction which may not always be the right way. David Post, Jefferson’s Moose, hypothesize different laws for cyberspace. If we were to look at the internet and copyright law, we never would have developed our copyright law as we did because much of it doesn’t WORK as applied to the internet, the net is constant copying, every microsecond there are violations, and when it comes to financial importance, lawsuits, Napster etc. you see the general trend is to limit the growth of the technology in order to serve the copyright law, and that seems ,.. not good.

SO – if this were a separate space, what kind of law would we have?

Second the point on augmented reality, separate from VW issues? We will see some issues from VW will also be issues with augmented reality, primarily the difference between the customer/client and the owner/server operators, as we move towards cloud computing, balance between tech and law, Lessig’s Code..

Got interrupted, work phone call.  Then a meeting and I missed some of the next panels.  Bummer.  🙁

Virtual Self Governance

The last panel was about how communities existing in virtual worlds govern themselves, and I was really excited to talk about my own virtual community, Chilbo, in this setting.   Here are my slides from that presentation:


Now strangely, it seemed that one of the other panelists was upset that I had slides, that I talked specifically about how the Chilbo Community formed and was governed, and especially that my last slide invited people to visit and explore our town.  Frankly, I thought that’s what everyone on the panel was going to do, per the instructions I received from the conference organizers, so I’m not sure exactly where the miscommunication occurred.   If I wasn’t supposed to talk specifically about Chilbo, then I’m not sure what the point of the panel was!  Further, the other panelist also seemed to disbelieve my statements about our experience.  I didn’t expect any of the content I presented to be .. inflammatory or controversial, rather I thought the point of the discussion was to talk about some of the specifics of how different in world communities form, govern themselves, and use the tools and platforms to self-organize.

Perhaps I misread the tone of the other panelist, but I felt distinctly defensive after a bit.  As hard as it may be to believe, yes, we do actually mostly govern by consensus and no, acrimony, arguments, and strife are not very common – in fact, it’s quite rare.  That isn’t to say there are never any disagreements, just that differences of opinion or conflicting interests seem to be resolved with little fanfare and few fireworks.  I confess, I know very little about the inner-workings of CDS.  I’ve very pointedly made an effort to let the structure and processes of governing Chilbo evolve out of our specific culture, community, and needs, rather than trying to emulate or model it after something else – because in some sense, though human communities are obviously not new, the thing that IS new is the who’s, why’s, and how’s of how we have all come to be together in this particular virtual world, in this particular region, at this particular time.   Though as Rose Springvale said, we don’t want to reinvent the wheel (a good point!), I think we also have to give ourselves the freedom to imagine new ways of self-governing to break out of systems of governance that were developed in a pre-digital age.

In any case, I’m not suggesting that the Chilbo model is perfect for everyone and maybe wouldn’t work for any community but our own, and it isn’t even as if I understand exactly how or why it seems to be as successful as it is at constraining the discord that often appears in online communities, but for whatever reason, it seems to be working for us on a lot of levels, and so my goal was to share about our experience.  That really shouldn’t have offended anyone’s sensibilities, I don’t think.

Overall, I felt it was a great conference and I was sorry to have missed a couple of the panels, but I hope everyone else enjoyed it as much as I did and many thanks to all the folks who organized, attended, and participated.


11
Mar 10

When Game Devs Engineer the Real World – You Brushed Your Teeth, +5 points!

The concept of “Life as a Game” is certainly not a new one, when I was a kid, the game of Life was my favorite board game of all time.  I still remember the thrill of filling up my little car with boy and girl babies I imagined I’d have  at some point in the far off future, or the crushing defeat of bankruptcy, a term I didn’t really understand, but in that context basically meant “Game Over.”  Spin the dial – what does the game of Life bring you next?

And it’s not as if I’m not a big fan of video and online games – I cut my teeth on the Atari 2600/5200, hand drew maps in colored pencil to find Princess Zelda, played Ultima on a Commodore 64, still have an account on the Medievia MUD that goes back to 1994, have an 80 level holy spec priest on WoW (they nerfed holy spec, don’t get me started), and most recently celebrated the completion of my horse stable on Farmville.

I grew up on games – the first generation to grow up playing video games – I was a “Girl Gamer” back when we were a pretty rare breed and I’m still playing now that “gaming” in its various forms is so common that the Pew Research Center reports that, “Game playing is ubiquitous among Americans teenagers. Fully 99% of boys and 94% of girls report playing video games.” They also report, “More than half – 53% – of all American adults play video games of some kind.”

We are increasingly (already?) a nation of gamers.

And yet, despite the fact that virtually all young people game, and over half the adults in the US game, there still appears to be a very finite line between “gaming” and .. everything else.  We still delineate “real life” (RL) as separate from game spaces – even when the space isn’t actually a game space, as in Second Life.  The skepticism and often openly hostile reaction of scorn/pity that Second Life residents get from non-SL peeps is almost remarkable considering that the very people delivering that heaping dish of disdain turn right around and log in to WoW or EVE or Farmville.

Just yesterday, in a debate about a topic wholly unrelated to gaming, someone I was arguing with bolstered his point with the concluding line:

“I think of you as less of a person for using Second Life, and for no other reason.”

Now, to be fair, we were engaged in a sort of theatrical debate where the low blow is not only acceptable but expected, and it was all said in good fun and humor, but.. like with many kinds of humor, it was funny because it had the faint ring of truth.  Many people actually DO think less of me as a person for using Second Life, just as a decade ago they thought less of me as a person for playing EverQuest, just as a decade before that they thought I was not only insane but maybe dangerously insane for talking to strangers on the internet through those weird BBSs and MUDs full of D&D playing soon-to-be-axe-murderers.

Ahhhh how times have changed.  The internet, she vindicated me. And ahhh how times of changed, now half the adults in the US play WoW or some other game and it’s not so crazy anymore.   Alas, I’m still waiting for virtual worlds to vindicate me, but having gone through this combo-pity-scorn routine a few times, I’m not shaken by the current state of attitudes about virtual worlds, augmented reality (why would you want to look at DATA on top of the REAL WORLD on your PHONE, what’s wrong with you?!), or most of the other technologies I use that cause people to look at me askance and with wary eyes. (Twitter????  Whaaa???)

What DOES cause me great concern, however, is that these Ludic Luddites have no clue about what’s coming.

Barry Joseph delivers the SLEDcc 2008 keynote address.

I have to give all due props to colleague Barry Joseph (SL: GlobalKids Bixby) from Global Kids, an organization that does great work with youth in New York City, for introducing me to the concept of a “ludic life” at his keynote address at SLEDcc 2008.

His keynote talk, Living La Vida Ludic: Why Second Life Can’t Tip, is worth watching, and it’s one of those talks that sticks in your mind like a burr, at the time it didn’t quite penetrate (I was one of the conference organizers, so my brain was on 50,000 other things) but it stuck with me, and in the years since, the message he delivered only resonates more strongly with time.

Loosely translated, it’s about living a playful life.  It’s about combining the adventurousness, fun, openness, exploration, and all of the other joyful aspects of our game play into our “real life”.   The central thesis of his keynote was that virtual worlds and other platforms like Second Life can’t and won’t tip, until the broader culture of “living la vida ludic” tips.  One must come before the other, and back in 2008, he made it clear that the title of his talk could be taken in two ways – first, that virtual worlds like Second Life would NEVER tip – or that something was holding Second Life back from tipping into the mainstream.  He left the question about which interpretation was right for the audience to decide, but I thought then as I do now that the answer was the latter.  There are forces at work holding back virtual worlds, Second Life, AND the ability for us to live a ludic life as openly and as joyously as we wish we could.

Those who don’t understand not only feel scorn and pity, they feel fear.

Yes Virginia, NASA scientists say  the earthquake in Chile may actually have knocked the earth's axis.   It's not just your perception, the world has actually shifted.

Yes Virginia, NASA scientists say the earthquake in Chile may actually have knocked the earth's axis. It's not just your perception, the world has actually shifted.

As I said to a good friend of mine the other day, I’m struggling with this.. feeling I have, that all of the meta-narrative that stood at the very foundation of my understanding of the world – how the world works, where it’s going, where I fit into it, what I’m supposed to be doing – the meta-narrative from my childhood seems to not make much sense anymore.

The world seems off kilter.  It’s changing so quickly, I don’t know anyone who feels like they can keep up with the pace of change.  And so many major systems that underpin our society and culture appear to be, frankly, broken.  On the rocks.  Our government. Our banking and finance system. Our ecosystems.  Our healthcare system.  Our system of education.  None of these systems and institutions appear to be meeting the needs of our society as we experience it TODAY.  They all seem to be failing us.

Why?  It’s a no brainer, of course, and not an original thought at all.  It’s simple – the systems and institutions built to address the needs of a pre-digital-society don’t work to address the needs of a society that can get, transmit, and transform information as quickly as we can today.

And boy is that causing a lot of fear.

I feel it, don’t you?

Fortunately, the nation’s best teachers have some advice

(well, mostly the nation’s best male teachers, but that topic is for another post)

Chris Lehman at TEDxNYED explaining that changing education necessarily means changing the world. Photo credit WayneKLin.

The rousing chorus of last week’s TEDxNYED conference, where superstar educators from K-12 and higher ed like Larry Lessig, Henry Jenkins, George Siemens, Mike Wesch, Amy Bruckman, Dan Meyers, and others converged, is that the education system is not only broken – it’s getting worse. They blasted out  conversation starters about why and how and what needs to change in the US (educational system).

Perhaps most importantly, the subtext of the conference was that the issues teachers and educators are facing aren’t just confined to the “educational system” – as if it’s some discrete thing disconnected from the society and culture at large – and indeed, as George Siemens said, considering that society dumps every ill and issue at the doorstep of education to solve, it’s amazing the system functions as well as it does.  But take out the word “education” from these TEDxNYED Talks, and they are talking about what society at large needs to do to adapt to our changing circumstances.  (The videos aren’t up yet, but they’ll be available on YouTube soon.)

At least for the purposes of this post, I think the first important piece of advice came from Michael Wesch.  Which is simply this:

When a game changing technology enters a society or culture, you don’t have the option to opt-out.  It changes everything.

All those Ludic Luddites, who fear the technology, avoid the technology, feel that the current systems of getting things done would work just fine if only they could better regulate, standardize, and enforce them, are just plain wrong.  The world has shifted and there’s no turning back now.

What does this have to do with gaming?

Slide from Dan Meyers' talk at TEDxNYED - quests anyone? Photo credit kjarrett.

Well, I’m getting round to that.

As I watched these presentations and suggestions from teachers about ways to improve (society) education, I couldn’t help but see game elements – and the ludic life – infused throughout their talks.

When Dan Meyer talked about changing math curriculum to stop asking kids to give the answers, but instead help them figure out what the important questions are, it looked like creating good game quests to me.

When Lessig and Jenkins talked about mashup culture and how destructive it is to limit the creativity unleashed when you put tools in the hands of individuals, it reminded me an awful lot of how content gets created in virtual worlds like Second Life and OpenSim.

Or what about this quote from George Siemens’ presentation:

George Siemens at TEDxNYED. Image credit WayneKLin.

The solutions we need to address societies biggest problems – (global) warming, population growth, poverty – will be found through serendipity, through chaotic connections, through unexpected connections. Complex networks with mesh-like cross-disciplinary interactions provide the needed cognitive capacity to address these problems.

Sounds like the serendipitous, chaotic, and unexpected connections you form in WoW, or EVE, or any other game world, and “mesh-like cross-disciplinary interactions” is just fancy talk for good class balance.  Can’t have too many tanks and not enough healers or the whole thing comes crashing down.

Ok.  And one more, also from George:

The big battles of history around democracy, individual rights, fairness, and equality are now being fought in the digital world. Technology is philosophy. Technology is ideology. The choices programmers make in software, or legislators make in copyright, give boundaries to permissible connection.

This is, of course, the perennial battle between the game players and the game gods. Except wait, what?  The whole story of the birth of the US is all about us being our own game gods.  Hm.

In any case, the point here is, I think the Ludic Life is starting to tip.

We haven’t hit it just quite yet, but the elements of game play that Barry talked about in 2008 are starting to show up in the oddest of places.  The World Bank is funding an Alternative/Augmented Reality Game called EVOKE that has thousands of people, from school kids to adults, and from all over the world, playing a “game” that promises to teach us how to address major global issues and respond to global crisis.  Oh, and you might win scholarships, grants, or seed funding from the World Bank if you have a good idea.  Put that on your resume!

While Facebook and other social networks like Twitter have been the talk of the town, a recent NPR story cited research showing that more people play Farmville than use Twitter.  And it isn’t your kid playing, it’s your mom.  The average Farmville player is a 43 year old woman, and there are 80 million people playing.  80 MILLION.

Smartphone apps like Foursquare and GoWalla are turning our real lives into games, too.   I’m now the proud “Mayor” of Queen Mary’s Family Restaurant, where my mom and I go have breakfast on Sunday mornings.  I had to edge out some other fella who got there before me.

So, what’s bad about that?  Isn’t this a GOOD thing?

Well, yes and no.

Many thanks to my good friend and neighbor in Chilbo, Roland Legrand (SL: Olando7 Decosta), for the post on his Mixed Realities blog that brought the video below to my attention.   Check this out:


What happens when game devs (working for corporations?) become our primary social engineers instead of the nominally elected politicians?

Naturally,  I’m interested in the ways that game mechanics, game culture, game concepts, and game design filter out and influence RL.  And though I work in higher education, my undergrad degree is in Political Science and my not-so-secret passion is sort of the nexus where the emerging metaverse and game culture is changing “real life” society and culture, which of course includes education but goes beyond edu, too.

I know I’m not the first guild master to think that herding this bunch of cats is way more complicated than many RL jobs, or to realize the skills I learned adventuring with my guildies often had applicability to real life situations. I’d like to think I learned something about teamwork, diplomacy, compromise, and all sorts of organizational, strategic, tactical, and political skills through my journeys in worlds that only exist in bits and bytes.

Generally speaking, my career, my work, this blog, everything I’ve been doing for the last 10 years is about bringing this technology to people who don’t have it/know about it/use it yet.

But watching that video gives me the willies.

First, because I don’t think it is as far off in time as some think it might be.  Second, because I don’t think it’s that far fetched in terms of what could actually come to pass.  And third, because I’ve been a lowly peon player in the game god universes/metaverses for a really really long time.  On an old BBS I’m still using, I’m one of the “moderators”.  And you know what we say?  This ain’t a democracy.  Don’t like our rules, don’t play.

Furthermore, my post the other day about Stickybits demonstrates just how quickly the barriers to privacy are falling.  I posted that barcode just to figure out how the service worked, and before I knew it, I was collecting the home addresses of my blog readers without even realizing what I’d done.

Want me to know your home address?  Go ahead, download the app to your smartphone and scan that barcode.  I’ll get an email within a minute or so letting me know you scanned it, and where you were on the planet when you did, right down to the address and a lovely Google Map pinpointing your exact geo-location.

And I guess I should award you 5 points if you scan it.  Redeemable for..  I don’t know what yet.  An hour long private tour of Second Life, I guess.

And now I’ve broken the #1 rule of the 140 character metaverse, which is to make a really really long post and get to the end and not have any answers.

I don’t know exactly what train we’re on here, but the train seems to be moving ever faster and faster.  And I worry more and more about who’s driving the train, and I have a sort of sick feeling that about half of the passengers have no clue that they are even on THIS train – I think they think they’re on a different train entirely, and that they’re driving it.  But they aren’t.

I dunno.

As much as I love gaming, and I do love it, I’m not so sure I want Crest giving me points for brushing my teeth.  I think I’ll have to come back to this.

Thanks for reading if you made it this far, and if you have any thoughts, I’m all ears.


10
Feb 10

On Fear of Blogging: Optimist: Speaking with your Digital Voice: Part 1

This is one of those self-indulgent, reflecting on my own blogging posts, so if you hate that sort of thing, stop reading now.

Wherein the Optimist Wins the Internal (Eternal?) Debate:  To Blog or Not To Blog

A friend and I recently got into a heated debate about blogging.  The context isn’t important so much, but it made me reflect a bit about my own blogging.   (Though I do wonder if I am alone in thinking that sites like Slashdot and the DrudgeReport – no matter how they may have started – are not “blogs”. They are or have become news sites, and news sites are not the same thing as blogs, in my mind.)

What is a blog anyway?

First, I had to separate out what _I_ do that I consider to be blogging.  Is Twitter a blog?  People say it’s a “micro-blog” but it rarely feels that way to me.  It feels more like a group IM conversation with an archive instead of a reflective piece of writing.  I think my core definition of blog includes that – a reflective piece of writing is a main feature of the vast majority of blogs.  It may reference other sites, it may incorporate different kinds of media, but the essence of the “web log” is a person logging their thoughts, experiences, results, art, images, whatever documentation that can be submitted to the “web log” system, so that others can learn and share from our experiences, so we can learn from the experiences of others, and so we can contribute some part of ourselves to .. well, the world – the world wide web log system, the internet, the metaverse – whatever you want to call it.

This is my blog.  This is where, when I can, from time to time, I try to share something of interest to the world.  Whoever’s listening, whoever’s reading, whoever shares a passion for the same things I do – here’s the stuff I’m working on.  I’m trying to “web log” my work, parts of my life, parts of my family, parts of me.  I don’t get as much time to do it as I wish I could, I’m not nearly as skilled at all the different forms of media as I wish I were, and I often self-consciously worry terribly about what people will _think_ of what I say or what I do – but I want to try to share my stuff with people who might care, and I want to have a web log for myself, so I can go back and reflect on what I’ve said, reflect on how my views have changed, or remember why it was that I chose some path that didn’t work out at all like I intended.

A “blog” to me is personal.  This blog is personal.

And in this age of .. such rapid change, with all notions of privacy being challenged, of a time in my life when I wear so many hats I couldn’t print a business card that would fit, when my work (which I personally define as attempting to study and help provide answers to the questions:  What’s happening on the internet and particularly in that part of the internet they call “virtual worlds”?  What implications does it have for education and for society as a whole? What or which of these tools are most effective for teaching, learning, sharing ideas, and instigating positive change?) is studying a rapidly, constantly dynamic phenomenon that I can only study by doing and being involved in to understand the technology well enough to study it..  What part of my life or my work is personal?

Isn’t ALL of it personal?

Is that a stupid question?

Why teachers, professors, and educators should blog

I try in my workshops to talk about how a technology can be used, for teaching, for personal discovery and learning, for organizing distributed workforces or volunteers, for communicating with constituents – but essentially, I don’t know if any of it makes sense until you’ve done it yourself – for yourself.  It’s hard to understand the real power of a “web log” until you’ve done it and seen how much it improves your own learning.

For every instructor or faculty member who has asked the question – why would _I_ want to blog?  That would be my answer.   We talk about experiential learning, and reflective writing, and all the appropriate buzzwords, but in terms of a tool that really truly enhances and promotes experiential, self-reflective learning, I almost can’t think of a better tool than a blog.  Telling a story, to yourself or someone else, and creating or finding the media, creating the narrative, and sending it .. out there, into the big world of all the people in the world having a conversation or sharing in the big web log system, is, frankly, a thrilling experience.  Or it can be, it should be.  The ability to create something, share something, document some part of your experience, communicate with others who share your passions, create an archive for yourself to learn from too – it’s journaling in the 21st century.  All of the great forebears of science, philosophy, and human knowledge recorded their experiences, publishing research is the heart of academia, and the web simply provides a better way to do it.

The “blog” – no matter how far they stretch the term in the media – is a reflective piece of writing that exists for its own sake or ties together all of the elements of an “entry”  that is thrust into the global web log system of human knowledge.  When you put it out there, you’re talking to everyone, anyone.  You’re talking to the person who is reading it now, and the person who will read it tomorrow, and all the people who will read it in the future to come.

What do you have to share with the world of now and the world of tomorrow?  What do your students have to share?

Education, at its core, is about training people to think rigorously.  It is about teaching people how to distinguish between signal and noise, correlate data, understand cause and effect, think broadly about the implications of our choices, and contribute something meaningful to society as a result of this training.

Speaking with your Digital Voice

To me, this is the beauty of blogging, of twittering, of connecting..  Watching the “web log” and learning from it, seeing my experiences echoed in it, recognizing and appreciating the art in it, applying what I take from it (to my own life and to my work), these things make blogging and participating in the conversation worth the investment of time.  The reward, the return, is enormous.  The power of finding the information I need or want when I need or want it, of finding the people I need or want when I need or want to talk to them, running across information I didn’t even know I needed – this stuff has changed how I work, how effective I can be, how many people I can reach, teach, learn from – it allows me to be my own teacher, my own guide, and still find the wisdom and the guidance from others whenever I am receptive and ready to learn from them.

Podcasting, videos, virtual worlds, blogging, twitter, social networks, social media, wikis, YouTube, they’re all elements of the same thing – using your digital voice to speak.  It is simply another mode of human communication, one with many implications for changing society in the future, and every student, and every teacher, should learn to speak with their digital voice.  When you do, the results of what you share are better indexed, searched, and located, which allows others to find you and you to find each other so that between you – between us – we can do a better job of.. whatever it is we want to do (or need to do).

Using our Digital Voice to Solve Real (Big) Problems

The people of the world seem to agree – global warming is real.  The people of the world seem to agree – solving the energy crisis is one of the great challenges of our time.  The people of the world seem to agree – giving every child an opportunity to live, grow, and learn in safety is a priority.  The people of the world seem to agree – actually on quite a number of things.  And what we disagree about, what we argue and debate about, the choices we make in our real lives as a result of our experience or nature or knowledge – the web log system is one way we are working it out and looking for answers, looking for solutions, or maybe just the right questions.

Everyone I know these days is saying and thinking, “There has to be a better way of doing things.  The world seems like a mess.”   We, as a people, have unprecedented power to reach each other, learn from each other, and work together using our digital voices.  Why aren’t we using it to solve the big problems ourselves?  Why does it seem everyone is waiting for Them to come up with the answers?  Institutions, governments, NGOs, charities, your boss, the board, the People In Charge.

I’ll ask again – why aren’t we solving the big problems ourselves?

I think I’ve come to the conclusion that not enough people with not enough of the right skills know how.  I don’t know how, myself, I’m trying to learn.  I’m trying to understand how my own actions help or diminish my own cause(s), I’m trying to understand how best to leverage my time and my resources to help solve common problems – or is that ridiculously naive?

A Bad Addiction or Addicted to Empowerment?

Maybe I’m just addicted to the fire-hose, watching the next generation’s version of the boob tube on endless repeat except there’s no repeat – just a steady stream of fresh data, fresh experiences, fresh laughter, fresh music, fresh conversation, fresh opportunities, fresh challenges.. all of the stimulation, freedom, creativity, joy, efficacy, acceptance, and .. empowerment.. that I feel quite denied in the “real world”.

I can’t afford to drive all over and pay for concerts.  I don’t have the right credentials to help plan cities or communities or spaces in the real world.  I don’t have the right wardrobe to attend certain kinds of functions.  I don’t have the capacity to hop-skip around the world to meet a colleague for coffee and chat when I have time.  But I can do all of these things online.  I can practice at any number of things that relate to people, to creating, to  planning, to experimenting.. with virtual things instead of physical things.  Virtual resources are, electricity permitting, infinite.  Time is not.  Talent is not.  But if I need to get people together to help me solve a problem, or create a community, if we collectively are going to solve the really big challenges of our time, I’m more convinced than ever that we’ll need our digital voices to do it.

That’s my optimistic answer for why you should blog, why I should blog, why my mom should blog, why teachers should blog.  I dunno if that’s right though. The pessimist wins some days.


30
Jan 10

Set Tivo to Stun, Must Watch! digital_nation: life on the virtual frontier (PBS) 2/2 9PM EST

Be sure to set up your Tivo/DVR to record the PBS premier of digital_nation: life on the virtual frontier this Tuesday, 2/2 at 9PM EST.  Besides knowing some of the people in the show, I’ve been watching the submissions and postings on their website for a good while and I think it’s going to be interesting.  I couldn’t get the nerve to submit a video myself, but I look forward to seeing other Second Life residents in the mix!