Sunday, September 30, 2007


We headed out to the Chicago Botanic Garden this morning for a picnic. A perfect autumn day, too- an embracing warmth with a dry soughing wind and a powder blue sky lazy with clouds. Can we squirrel some of this away and dig it up sometime in mid-February?

Picnics at the garden, it turns out, are frowned upon. The sight of people gorging themselves on cheese and crackers might, I suppose, upset the laboriously manicured balance of all that is, well, botanic. I wondered, upon seeing some lily pads, if they weren't tended each morning by groundskeepers who neatly tethered them to the silty bottom of the pond. Undeniably pretty, it brought out the ageist impulse in us. "This is probably really nice for grandmas," we thought.

Still, it left me feeling expansive and with an itch for my own garden. Last weekend Abby, Cathy and our 2-year old friend and upstairs neighbor Emma invested in some crocus bulbs. Planted by small hands on a late summer day in September they offer the promise of winters end come late March. Fluorescent purples and yellows making a mockery of a Midwestern settlement of gray. I'm already looking forward to their arrival.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Personal Anthropology: Electronic Mail

Back in the heady days of the early 90's I could be found amongst the undergraduate sprawl of the Ohio State University in Columbus, Ohio. Like most financially strapped undergrads, costly long-distance phone calls were rarely an option. I wrote letters to my family and friends using nothing but a pen and college ruled notebooks courtesy of Mead. A week or so later I'd receive their reply. How quaint! Virtual communication options were, however, quietly establishing their presence in dull, red-bricked campus buildings where--as my then Northwestern-tethered friend Joe repeatedly, excitedly insisted--I could sign up for an "electronic mail" account.

An entry from a diary I kept then. April 12, 1991--Friday:

Ate lunch and headed over to Baker Systems and finally got an Electronic Mail account--something Joe has been telling me to get for almost a year--so it'll be in effect by this Thursday--cool! I can't wait. I'll be able to send mail directly to Joe and Will at Northwestern-- I can even talk directly to them...

That following Thursday, May 2, I stumbled through my first e-mail. A few weeks later I had managed to join various newsgroups and mailing lists, most devoted to the various niches of the then burgeoning electronic music scene ricocheting about Europe--the sounds and news of which, much to my discontent, were wading far too slowly across the Atlantic.

In their article, Netizens: On the History and Impact of USENET and the Internet, Michael Hauben and Ronday Hauben nicely summarize the giddy potential such aggregation of niche content suddenly, almost magically, made possible:

Inherent in most mass media is central control of content. Many people are influenced by the decisions of a few. Television programming, for example, is controlled by a small group of people compared to the size of the audience. The audience has very little choice over what is emphasized by most mass media. Usenet, however, is controlled by its audience. Usenet should be seen as a promising successor to other people's presses, such as broadsides at the time of the American Revolution and the penny presses in England at the turn of the nineteenth century. Most of the material written to Usenet is contributed by the same people who actively read Usenet. Thus, the audience of Usenet decides the content and subject matter to be thought about, presented, and debated. The ideas that exist on Usenet come from the mass of people who participate in it. In this way, Usenet is an uncensored forum for debate where many sides of an issue come into view. Instead of being force-fed by an uncontrollable source of information, the participants set the tone and emphasis on Usenet. People control what happens on Usenet. In this rare situation, issues and concerns that are of interest, and thus important to the participants, are brought up. In the tradition of amateur radio and Citizen's Band radio, Usenet is the product of the users' ideas and will. Amateur radio and CB, however, are more restricted than Usenet. The range of Usenet connectivity is international and quickly expanding into every nook and cranny around the world. This explosive expansion allows growing communication among people around the world.

Suddenly the trickle of content I had been piecing together from various mass media resources became an all-you-can-eat buffet covering various facets of the scene. Album reviews, heated discussions concerning the definition of "ambient music," and a multitude of other "issues and concerns" of interest were available for perusing and expanding.

So, more then a positive experience, it was a small epiphany--the discovery of a formally non-existent community of fellow electronic music travelers huddled and hunched over their far-flung computer keyboards all excitedly (and eloquently) sharing their passions.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007


This blog has been on summer-induced hibernation. School, however, is coaxing me from my slumber in the form of LIS768, one of the last classes I'll be taking through Dominican's Graduate School of Library and Information Science. I'll be digging around and writing about various curiosities regarding this fascinating, albeit sprawling and amorphous world of Library 2.0.

For those of you in LIS768--I'm primarily interested in audiovisual services and programming in public libraries, an area that, for a variety of reasons, receives scant academic or professional consideration. I hope to soon post a series of interviews I conducted and filmed this June with some wonderful local audiovisual librarians sometime in the next couple weeks.

I've long wondered how audiovisual departments could, in addition to providing materials to their patrons, assist them with creating content. Pre and post-post production software for creating and editing film or music is cheaply and readily available. Why aren't libraries working with teens, for example, to facilitate and create dynamic YouTube documentaries about their communities?

Perhaps what I find most exciting about the Library 2.0 movement (campaign? lobby? agitators?) is that it embraces this idea of patrons as content creators, whether it be adding comments on a blog or creating podcasts. I look forward to exploring that, among other curiosities, more in-depth over the course of this class.