Archive for the ‘Communication’ category


May 19, 2011

I couldn’t have put it any better: here is a wonderful piece memorializing a tool that defined our social lives on the internet ten years ago, AOL Instant Messenger. I had forgotten some of its quirks, and indeed it was ubiquitous.

Will we still use Facebook this much in ten years? What else might come along?


In Praise of Silence

May 17, 2011

Dear dynamics,

Loud is winning.

But only because we’re letting it win. We let it win when we’re young, when we cry to be heard and then fed. We let it win when we’re a little older, when we pound our chests and sing our songs, hoping to be noticed by someone we love. We let it win as we assert our way through the world, shouting to get our way. We let it win when we can no longer even hear, and raise the volume just to make things audible.

Except… there is also silence.

There is the silence of the curious child, listening to and learning about the world she encounters. There is the silence of the kind young man who cares for a young woman from afar. There is the silence of the hard worker who does not complain, even when the task is difficult. There is the silence of the peaceful passing of the old.

Then there are much more terrifying silences. The silence of the victims, too scared to speak. The silence of the victims who do speak but are drowned out by the louder events around them. The silence of the evildoer who plots inside her own head. The silence of a species when it no longer exists.

Silence will always be there. Taking a silence and making it loud might help one soul. But there will still be more silence.

For silence to win, we must simply always be searching for it. Occasionally, we must search for it so that we can make certain silences louder.

But the ones that do not need to be loud – those we must treasure. The blissfully soft, hopeful passage in a Mahler symphony. The quiet of a library, full of learning. The soundless smile on a friend’s face.

Do not even read this, dynamics. It is already too loud. Let these words simply “be.” They do not need to be read. You will keep being loud and soft and in-between in the way you always have. These words do not need your attention. They are soft enough already.


A soundmaker

Concentrated Solar Power

April 14, 2011

Energy! This was on digg recently because Google was funding it. But it was also supported by a $1.6 billion loan guarantee from the US Department of Energy, so it’s funded in part by your friendly neighborhood American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009! In watching the video, you notice that big names are in attendance, such as Ahnold and Interior Secretary Ken Salazar. Suffice to say that most DOE Recovery Act awards don’t get that kind of attendance and attention – this is a big deal.

It’s a puffy video, with cheesy music, and a lot of patting themselves on the back. But CSP has a lot of promise – cheap, simple, clean. Now that some BIG plants are going up, we’ll start seeing more and more of them. Unfortunately, they won’t appear as quickly as they need to, partly because energy politics in DC are so terrible these days such that the government won’t be investing as much. Alas.

Anyways, it’s a fun, optimistic watch. And it has some cool visuals (those are HUUGE mirrors!).

A Nation of Talkers AND Listeners

March 26, 2011

“The key to a good relationship is good communication.” Advice from my mother. Emphasize the words “good.” She was referring to women I would date. But I think there’s a broader point…

Society does not practice good communication. We might be managing decent relationships on some levels (clearly, communication isn’t the only part of a relationship…) but I think democracies are still learning how to communicate effectively.

“Good” communication in a relationship means each person can raise issues with the other, the other will listen, one of them will come up with a solution which will be discussed based on its merits, and a decision will be made. It’s a process that involves 1) being able to express a thought clearly and 2) listening to and understanding that thought.

That’s between two people. Scale that up to the size of a democratic society. It’s not a monarchy where we just have social and economic relationships, now we have political ones as well. Does our democratic society practice good communication like outlined above? I say: not as well as it could.

True, we have more communication tools than before. We can transmit information extremely quickly.

True, we have a first amendment: “Congress shall make no law … abridging the freedom of speech.”

But what this gives us is a strong emphasis on enabling everyone to speak. Everyone can have a blog. Anyone can express an opinion. And 2.5 centuries ago, it was really important to codify that everyone have this ability. It empowers people to weigh in – there can be no self-governance if the people cannot talk about it. Plus, it just feels right to have the freedom to say what you think. If someone were to shut down this blog (as silly as it is) I would be really pissed off.

Except, this all means we’re a nation of talkers. It gives little thought to how we all listen to each other

So, what if the Bill of Rights also said, “Congress shall make no law … abridging the freedom to listen.”

Then you would have to approach things completely differently. What does it mean, “freedom to listen”? Well, you would need access to all opinions and ideas.

But it also implies that some people are not allowed to shout louder than others, or drown them out. Clearly you can’t hear an idea if others are dominating the information space. Citizens United pisses people off for this reason – the ruling allowed an information structure to exist where those with money can potentially dominate the information space.

But I don’t think we should approach the problem as just one of money. It’s a broader conversation issue. And there are a few important elements to it. (This is not an exhaustive list, I’m just getting a few down right now.)

NUMBER 1 – Education. The strongest way to ensure people are good listeners is to empower them with the knowledge of how to navigate an information morass. Education can also help people consider all the ideas and find good solutions together. Lots more to be said on this subject but I’ll leave it at that for now.

NUMBER 2 – Better journalism. There are all sorts of pieces to this, many of which are structural (how do we improve journalism training programs at colleges, how do we make sure journalists are compensated, how do we make sure the best ones are read the most often, and on and on and on).

NUMBER 3 – Public forums. I’ve written about this before. People need to make sure their ideas are heard by others and people need to hear unfamiliar positions. We can’t just rely on the ad-hoc setup right now – there need to be good local, state, and federal forum structures. How? Not sure, but I’m thinking about it.

Ultimately, we want to be better at solving problems. If people have incomplete information, how are they going to vote for the right representatives? (Let’s not even get into how uninformed our elected officials can be.) If we’re not good at having a real conversation as a democracy, we won’t get the best solutions.

Yes, some people will say that democracy is all politics, and that a good conversation is for naught because the political majority wins the day.

But why can’t we make it a political majority that has really worked through the issue? Why can’t we have smart public servants on all sides who practice good communication, writ large?

Otherwise we’re just a TV-drama society – a big relationship full of bad communicators who speak in code and don’t listen. Between two people you might just have hurt feelings. But at a national level, you get financial and environmental crises. When I date a woman, I make sure we both are good at talking about our problems with each other because I want us to enjoy our time together.

I would hope that my country could learn do the same, for all our sake. And I intend to work on teaching it to do so.


October 11, 2010

As of three weeks ago and going through December, yours truly has a gig as a columnist/bloggist/tweetist for the Stanford Daily. Three columns a blog post and a couple tweets in so far. It’s mostly Stanford-related, but it’s an exercise in evaluating a local music atmosphere, which is an applicable effort anywhere. Also, being forced to write two pieces a week that will actually be read by people is good for writing discipline and practice (though it means the 1moremic blosting falls off a bit). School newspapers are often more for the writers than the readers anyways. Might try to do a little cross-posting trickery at some point. Also, twitter is bizarre.

Anywho, for the curious, all LWJ writings can be found here.



September 5, 2010

How do conversations happen these days? Where do people interact with people of fairly different perspectives from themselves?

Cass Sunstein has lamented how the internet allows people to live exclusively in their own communities (couldn’t find a good link quickly, but I’m fairly positive he’s talked about this). I recently ran into another example of this lament from a Brit, Tom Scott, who describes how in the social-network sphere of conversation, people speak in their own space, rarely venturing out into common conversation areas. These are broad claims and I have little total-internet-trend data to back them up, but there’s an element of truth to them.

Aside from all the ways people can communicate on the internet (different web communities like political blogs or hobbyist discussion boards, different communication tools like facebook or email, different uses like work or entertainment, different media like video or text, etc etc) where else do we interact? Certainly not through other mass-media. TV allows a select few to hold conversations that others watch, and the same goes for radio and print (letters to the editor and call-ins don’t count – they are still very few people). We hope that those conversing are smart on the subjects since their views are being broadcast more widely than our own.

So do we have places in our daily lives where we can interact with people who might have a slightly or drastically different opinion? People do talk about things at work, or church, or at school, or waiting to pick kids up from school. When it comes to public affairs, governments occasionally hold public-comment periods and town-hall debates.

So where’s the daily/weekly/monthly/or even annually (whatever your frequency of engaging in discussion about society) meeting area for you to seriously bring your views to the table and hear from others? With our mass communication tools, is there a way to allow everyone to do this and then categorize and distill them the best we can, especially when public officials have to make decisions?

Broad questions. I don’t really see these things happening. From my perspective, a lot of people say stuff to the world. They write columns, they go on tv, they complain at a town hall meeting, they call-in to a radio program, they complain to a friend… I don’t see a good culture of forums where all kinds of people show up and bump and elbow and listen and consider and engage with each other.

I also know that when I’ve talked to some people of seriously different perspectives, it’s hard to have a conversation where we aren’t just disagreeing all the time. So are we all just bad at even reckoning with each other, and don’t know how to have real conversations where we acknowledge differences and find common ground? Is our political system just set up to manage everyone’s strong opinions so that no one completely dominates anyone else (in an ideal sense)?

Or maybe we just don’t really see the need to care about what other people think, because their business isn’t really our business. One quality mentioned occasionally in good politicians is the ability to listen, because they have to represent a lot of people. They are running into all kinds of different perspectives that they have to deal with, so if they act like they are listening and responding to most of them, they do better. People are just representing themselves (maybe a family or a business or a community too, but that’s still a smaller scope).

I think that what Cass and Tom are doing is providing a snapshot of conversation (or lack thereof) in a couple places in current society. Perhaps our problems of conversation are broader than the tools we use for conversing.

Or maybe it’s not all that bad and things just work themselves out anyways… Who knows.

I still want forums. And I want everybody there. Because we don’t all live like 6+ billion self-sufficient isolated hermits.

Craig gets the Gist

June 5, 2010

Continuing from the earlier post about information and transparency, there are the beginnings of some efforts:

Craig from Craigslist recently wrote about web tools for communication between people and government, including some that are being created as part of Obama’s Open Government initiative.

Interesting stuff. Worth poking around.