Atomized junior

Dedicated to the smallest particles of meaning on the web
Atomized Links:

Usual Suspects:

(A search engine for Wikipedia)


Atomized junior

Tuesday, February 22, 2011
Andy T-Bone Carvin

 I've been following Andy Carvin's twitter feed for a little over a month. Well you know, we all want to change the world. What I've decided -- before all else, is that that man needs a nickname. Why should only musicians, baseball players, and crime types get nick names? So I gave him one, in the title Andy "T-Bone" Carvin.

 Andrew Carvin a Senior Strategist with NPR started doing something a little special with his twitter account toward the end of January. As the protests in Tunisia grew and forced a change in government there, and similar protests got under way in Egypt he create a Twitter list of personal and institutional contacts from middle eastern countries and began to follow them in a real time probing conversation. Like an old fashioned party line anyone could pick up and eaves-drop on NPR's Andy Carvin on Tracking and Tweeting Revolutions | The Rundown News Blog | PBS NewsHour. "Curating a list" this behavior is often called.  He did this from his office (I suppose NPR gives him one), from home, from Metro, from trains,  airplanes, and he did it 15 to 18 hours a day. Because of the outward similarity to being a moderator in a old school news group I misunderstood the comprehensiveness, ambition and novelty of the endeavor in its early days. Mistaking it for an ad hoc event run amok  What Makes @ACarvin Tweet? (TCTV).  

   Eventually the longer I stayed with it the more deeply impressed I was by it. While realizing at the same time that it wasn't really working for me. The human mind, and its the senses are designed to take in large scale rapidly changing information (sight), particularized ones, (touch taste), or work in the background (hearing). Unfortunately for twitter interpreting textual information on a computer screen was not part of our original design spec. More of a tertiary learned skill for humans. One I'm sure is pushing adaptive evolution, but one capable of being over-whelmed currently. I was already following three dozen or so people on twitter. A number at least a standard deviation below the mean, an outlier among people "serious about twitter". After hitting the green button to 'follow' Andy Carvin I found the tweets were coming in at one to three hundred an hour. Twitter at that point stopped being interesting, fun or, from a practical standpoint, effectively informative. Nothing could be made from it, no narrative reconstructed from undifferentiated water rushing over a breached dam. I had the sense that maybe if the same information were presented by voice it might be possible to keep up with it, like radio. Links being so many references and cutaway segments to weave in and out of. Like a headline news broadcast off to the side. Something less insistent than scrolling text.  Reading requires no small degree of focus attention and energy. Casual scanning doesn't help much. Twitter is already a compacted medium there are few words in a tweet to skip over. Everything is a key word.

  I initiated some partially successful attempts to deal with it. My first preference was to continue follow Carvin. So I created sublists of my twitter follows. Each shaped to a purpose and on-topic. Perhaps no single sublist will get out of hand. The problem is these sublists don't behave well. They often don't auto-update and they don't immediately (or ever) fill in tweets when you have been away from them for a while. They don't really behave like a time line. A more robust version of this first is to form several distinct twitter accounts for each reason you have. A second preference is to not formally follow @acarvin at all, but simply bring up his twitter page or list as needed. This last is probably the best approach for someone not desiring to become a twitter power-user or loading more than tweet deck on their machine.     

 I sometimes wondered about what sort of physical set up Carvin was using, what would be the best set up to accomplish a task like this. Ideally you would want two screens, or some manner in which you could have twitter, al Jazeera and e-mail all open at the same time without overlapping windows. They do make small (13") battery operated screens designed to be a dual screen for laptops. You could use OSX's "spaces" to group and switch between windows. But as well in the Apple iPod/iPad world you can use those devices as outriggers to a laptop -- there is an app for that Air Display Avatron Software.

 I'm going to pause just a moment here and introduce another angle of all this before everyone becomes undetachably convinced that something magical is happening here and this is the obvious Future of Journalism. This is more of a nod to Evgeny Morozov, than  against Carvin. A skeptics position on the new media (Internet) Shangri-La. The idea that despotism can not stand up to web 2.0. A lot has been said about this; a good quick introduction perhaps is this New Yorker piece which looks at it in terms of NeverBetters versus BetterNevers, and EverWasers How the Internet Gets Inside Us : The New Yorker. Twitter et al. can be used to follow a revolution, but not make a revolution. It can be used as a dissemination and comment vehicle, not an organization tool at a point of crisis. Those gaining information in this manner must remind themselves they follow the event at a remove. Secondly the ability of governments, intelligence agencies to monitor and disrupt, or shape telecommunications is great, their learning curve moves across the terrain swiftly -- you can fool them once, but rarely twice The Autocrats' Learning Curve | Foreign Policy. No matter how new vital and web 2.0 these tools are, it is all very brittle because they all relay on basic tc/ip and sms protocols, telephone lines, cellular networks and these are all in the hands of the state.

 The non utopian needs of news which social media processes might answer for boil down to two primary things: Delivery and Inclusion.  Delivery it appears desires ubiquity and currency. People want instantaneous news, and they want it where ever they are: real-time and participatory. The second thing I think I saw here was a strong desire to hear from authentic voices. Authenticity presumes agency in the unfolding event and some applied filter for  misrepresentation and irrelevance. Current news process provide this but prior to Andy Carvin not at the speed of SMS and social media sharing, not at the speed of a modern revolutions.

 There were things about this I thought Andy Carvin did right and wrong.

Things wrong include transcribing speeches by politicians into twitter. Most of theses speeches were covered fully, often live, by broadcasters, with access to the US market. Transcribed in print that day or the next. In the meantime it was more than sufficient to summarize and quote.  Another thing I think he did wrong was to work alone, to try to do this by himself. I often felt while reading over these tweets that this would've been benefited from some form of tag team arrangement. One person riding herd on the tweets and retweetings, another trying to maintain a measure of perspective and summary from a range of sources. For all I know he had interns and was doing this. It didn't seem so.

Another thing I thought he didn't do was fully conceptualize this project in terms of the user. I could never tell who he thought his users were, I knew early on it wasn't me. And I felt it differed from traditional conceptions of a News consumer Was he working as a private albeit informed citizen to a collection of peers? Was he working as a journalist creating a new News product, a service for informed insiders (peers, revolutionaries, revolution support infrastructure)?  Did his coverage bias the reader towards a simplistic sympathy for an artificially conceived common man, the underdog? Or correct a bias away from the common man of the Arab world who is too readily identified as a hostile other, distorting our view of where the American interest lies The Revolution Will Be Tweeted : NPR .

 There were many things right about this exercise. He leveraged a network of activist contacts from previous professional work. He made adaptive use of a distributed text network service (twitter) freely existing on the web. Twitter was ideal in this circumstance, low frills, low bandwidth, immediate iterative continually updating. And through lists and hash-tags capable of a considerable degree of fine and dynamic tuning Twitter Feed Evolves Into a News Wire About Egypt -

He brought a journalistic mindset to the game.  Challenging people for their sources of information and for conformation of information, facts over rumor and ardor. What he did was to curate, an overused phrase these days, no edit. He was not rewriting peoples copy, or demanding of them inverted pyramids (at least not j-school ones).  He proceeding largely by retweeting others, Striking a balance between tweets and retweets The Art of the RT: NPR[base ']s Andy Carvin Tweets the Libyan Revolution | VF Daily | Vanity Fair.  The information particularly visual information, videos and pictures, had passing through no filters no hesitant institutional sensibilities along the way. they were raw. Lastly it should be mentioned he attracted a lot of good attention through this and raised money for NPR with the improvisational "GaveForAndy" campaign #gave4andy: Andy Carvin and the ad hoc pledge drive » Nieman Journalism Lab » Pushing to the Future of Journalism.

  In a revolutionary fecund world, there is the possibility for authoritarian regimes dislodging in nations across every continent, popping off like cheap buttons on a good shirt. Democratic self-rule is far from the norm. Among those who rule -- even where democracy is nominally practiced -- there is no particular love for it. Business is none of the people's business. In the lands of the proletariat abject fear of the people is palpable.  Everyone checks themselves for spots and hopes their neighbor has the fortitude to shoot enough of their owns citizens to keep the dominos from toppling. But there is the problem. It is one thing to conceive of a project like twitter curation to cover a landmark, climatic, and finite event. it is less clear if this can be as useful going forward to cover such news with an increasingly regular extreme cast. There will be significant churn to human affairs for a generation it won't be possible for any nation to remain isolated from it. Everyone's news will demand to become our own.  

"Kick over the wall cause governments to fall, how can you refuse it. Let Fury have the hour Anger can be power don't you know that you can use it" - Clash, Clampdown

11:57:03 PM    ;;

Friday, February 4, 2011
Walking Stewart

  A while back I came across mention of a minor historical figure I had never heard of before, John "Walking" Stewart. History is full of interesting people. But it is also long and repetitive, much of it has escaped me. "Walking" Stewart walked, that's why they called him Walking Stewart and apparently what he is remembered for Walking Stewart - Wikipedia.

 An indifferent student as a boy, his father sent him off to Madras from London, at age 15 to a clerical job for the East India Company. This was in 1763. Nothing about the British colonial procedure in India was in accord with his inclinations. As a teenage clerk he wrote letters to the company's directors explaining the failings and misunderstandings of their endeavor to them (particularly their consistent refusal to learn local languages). When they declined to listen John Stewart left their employ. In those days a clerical position in the empire's endlands was an indentured servitude. You didn't earn enough money to book passage back to England. If you had an eye for the game then you could rise through the system and exploit a fortune out of the country in a dozen or so years, then book a starboard passage home to retire. Stewart walked away from it all. He walked first to the employ of a couple of allied, or independent princes of India. In time he walked away from them as well. By the account he gave people later he eventually walked all the way back to Europe from India, across sundry desserts and wildernesses.

 At any rate by 1786 he was back in Europe. Something about this initial set of experiences broke him, or at least sun-struck him into the mold of an eccentric; a character and committed solitary wanderer. He ranged across the European and apparently American continents. In 1792 he was in Paris, a few years later he was in the young United States where he wrote a book and had it published locally. He did this sort of thing a lot -- Results for 'au:Stewart, John, 1749-1822' [WorldCat]. John Stewart was a Traveler, Naturalist, Vegetarian, and Philosopher. Each of the above defined him and informed his writings by turns. After thirty years of unremitting wandering he settled down to a life of taking turns around London. There self-publishing books on his passions, and hosting dinners parties in order to harvest his guests as a captive audience. He was, perhaps, the Professor Sea Gull of his day.

 No one has written a biography of him. There does not seem to be that much existing information on him. When I first started looking I was struck by the degree the few sources I could find all seemed to be quoting each other. Some of his books still exist, held by a few libraries. One book is available online from the Hathi Trust Travels over the most interesting parts of the...  The American one is also available as an ebook from Newsbank The revelation of nature : with The prophesy of reason. [Two lines of verse]. (eBook, 1795) . About half of this book is a long impeneratable poem, but the prefacing 20 page "Dedication to America" essay is fascinating, keeping in mind De Tocqueville he's not. He dismisses the sloganeering enumeration of the days and months of revolution (1 May, 14 Jun etc.) as empty jargon to be avoided. Warns that any recourse to war even in the face of European provocation would lead to a tax burden that would tear the fragile new nation apart. A nation that possesses the necessities of life, he says, will always have an advantage over one that keeps to luxuries. He warns also against falling back into a Confederate monarchy, and that civil differentiation eventually will equal civil war. Reading through this you do get a sense that he was moving from an observant phase of his life to a pedantic one, by this point.

 Much of what information of his life does exist comes from obituaries written after his death in 1822, from essays by friends like Thomas De Quincy, and an entry in the British Dictionary of National Biography. In 1943 Bertrand Bronson later known for his books and articles on 18th and 19th century English child ballads wrote an article on Walking Stewart for a University of California journal ["Walking Stewart", Essays and Studies, 14 (Los Angeles, 1943)] trying to synthesis a narrative of his life and resolve some discrepancies. This journal is obscure and hard to find now.  but fortunately the essay was reprinted in his 1968 collection Facets of the Enlightenment; studies in English literature and its contexts. (Book, 1968) [] (which McKeldin where I work holds). This article remains the fullest treatment of John Stewart's life to date. In the last ten years another writer, Kelly Grovier, has turned to Stewart twice. Both times to examine influences Stewart had on William Wordsworth. The overall spectre of the French Revolution that hung over Stewart and Wordsworth's life, echoed through my reading of theses pieces and portions of Wordsworth's Prelude while Tunisia and Egypt rose up and overthrew their Ancient Regimes.

 Stewart was a metaphor even in his own lifetime. Symbolizing something of the nature of his preferred thesis the atomized and living nature of all things. The wraith of roiling existence and doubled consciousness. In the first article  Shades of the Prison House JSTOR: Studies in Romanticism, Vol. 44, No. 3 (Fall, 2005), pp. 341-366 Kelly examines possible influences Stewart may have had on Wordsworth on the subject of dualistic natures, the alienation of these consciousness from each other, more simply the alienation of the self from the identity that our memories provide (Tintern Abbey). The subsequent imprisoned nature of our being and bodies, in time by space in space by time. Grovier then tries to demonstrate that this anticipated Michel Foucault's views on the same subjects concentrating on a notion (from Ernst Kantorowitz) known as "the Kings two bodies". The royal person is at once a mortal and the lasting body politic, divine manifestation and subjugated leviathan.  In the latter article Kelly Grovier - Dream Walker: A Wordsworth Mystery Solved - Romanticism 13:2 (2009) Grovier tries to identify the perplexing and wraith-like Arab traveler -- from the opening dream sequence of book five of Wordsworth's Prelude with Stewart himself. It certainly seems possible that this figure is a transfiguration of Stewart. More likely it could be read as an amalgamating overlay of Stewart and Coleridge.

  Stewart had an autodidactic intellectualism. As Bronson's 1943 piece points out Stewart was no studious being. He was a man of physical practical experience regarding his learning. What stuck to his mind was what was in the air, what was as available to everyone in that revolutionary, questioning and skeptical era. A reflection of the zeitgeist through his highly personalized set of convictions. Bronson refers to his philosophical system as "an image surprisingly free of literary references". Earlier he approvingly quotes De Quincy referring to Stewart as embodying "a rude and unscientific Spinozism."  Its unclear what the Arab traveler represents. The Prelude book five is named Books. The book itself begins with the narrator falling asleep while reading Don Quixote. The suggestion is that the Arab Traveler represents the type of experience accumulation, learning, that comes from reading. The ways certain people can be essentially represented in your experience as a living book. The autosuggestion is that this is a quixotic way of working towards fundamental meaning. Wordsworth always seemed to be looking for someone to supply him with a philosophic structure which he could place both the English and French enlightenment in, and fit both Bastilles as well. The one that always stands, the one that lays as rubble.

 I've see two stories recently about blogging slowing Bloggers quitting what they call a demanding task with few rewards | Business Of Life | Crain's Chicago Business , even falling off  The End of Blogging | The New York Observer. Both these stories emphasize how much work blogging really is, how hard it is to do well enough to build an audience single handed. How unsuitable it is as a casual hobby or ready-made creative outlet.  The absurdity of writing without being paid Is Writing Online Without Pay Worth It? : NPR.

 An autodactyl character like John Stewart puts me at pause. He wrote voluminously and poorly. All of it self-published. Yet he counted Thomas Paine and De Quincy among his friends and Wordsworth among his acquaintances. He was engaged in a myriad of ideas, though not always rigorously managed. What he brought to a conversation was unique experience, radical sensibility and a point of view born of a thousand horizons. At times; though, he seems like a shadow moving through people's description of him. Peculiarly none of his books were travelogues in any traditional sense. his books and discussions rarely treated on descriptions of his experiences and travels, but only on  practical essences he chose to distill from them.

 All writers assign themselves the task and role of communicator. Rarely if ever are they invited to it. All writers carry a soapbox under one arm, even if it is no thicker than a notepad. Writing -- blogging ought to have some purpose and effect, it ought to be directed towards some end, the presumption of an audience engaged or challenged by it in some way. The larger portion of hits I get are to pieces I write about the Navy and the plane the squadron I was assigned to flew. I like writing those pieces, but it is just a portion of the past. I don't want it be what this is about. I rarely write about the second half of my enlistment working at Op Nav in the Pentagon as a 2nd class Petty officer, living at Fort Meyer. These experiences are little different to me; memories of the same period. More than personal reminisces. What motivates me to write here is observing certain events move through the media or public consciousness and attending to  any sense that its essential meaning is not being met directly, while avoiding the muddy trodden path of the immediate discussion. At the risk of blurring what little focus I have here I know this doesn't always work and I should try to write about a more diverse set of topics. There's always pop culture to talk about, but I'm not so sure about my notion of pop culture. How come no one has ever has made a Mutt and Jeff movie? That's what the people are looking for. Oh wait there are a few - ' Bulling the Bolshevik ', 'Back to the Balkans'. Good stuff I'm sure.

 Not to disfavor randomness, or novelty, but writing is best grounded in personal experiences. The process is to analyze, summarize, synthesize experience through native abilities;  what we know (what we've read) what we've encountered, where we've been, who we've known. What paths we've walked.

11:00:55 PM    ;;

Click here to visit the Radio UserLand website.
Click to see the XML version of this web page.
Click here to send an email to the editor of this weblog.
Creative Commons License This work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.
2011 P. Bushmiller.
Last update: 3/23/11; 1:55:17 PM.