No Media, No Tech — What Happens?

This is an intriguing study of 200 college students at the University of Maryland who spent a media/technology-free 24 Hours and then took part in a study of their reactions and impressions of the experiment.

Among the findings (which are expanded at the website):

  • Students use literal terms of addiction to characterize their dependence on media.
  • Students hate going without media.  In their world, going without media, means going without their friends and family.
  • Students show no significant loyalty to a news program, news personality or even news platform.  Students have only a casual relationship to the originators of news, and in fact don’t make fine distinctions between news and more personal information. They get news in a disaggregated way, often via friends.
  • 18-21 year old college students are constantly texting and on Facebook—with calling and email distant seconds as ways of staying in touch, especially with friends.
  • Students could live without their TVs and the newspaper, but they can’t survive without their iPods.

Among the conclusions of the report:

The major conclusion of this study is that the portability of all that media stuff has changed students’ relationship not just to news and information, but to family and friends — it has, in other words, caused them to make different and distinctive social, and arguably moral, decisions.

The absence of information – the feeling of not being connected to the world – was among the things that caused the most anxiety in students as they sought to learn about the role of media in their lives – ironically by completing an assignment that asked them to spend a day without using media.

Check out this grid of notes from their class discussions about how they use different technology and media. The column around print, while a small response, is indicative of the slow demise of newspapers and magazines in the world.

Peace (in the world),

Emily Dickinson Lives!

Yesterday, thanks to the work of our school librarian, we had a special poetic visitor arriving from the Great Beyond. An actress who performs as Emily Dickinson (who lived in nearby Amherst) spent time with my students yesterday morning, talking and acting as if she were Emily Dickinson. She talked of her life and of her writing, and while it is hard to keep sixth graders in Spring in their chairs for (for them) an obscure poet, they were mostly attentive.

My student teacher is doing her unit around poetry (ack, I really miss teaching poetry this year), so the timing was right. As the librarian and I agreed, our kids need a variety of styles of performances (we had Mordicai Gerstein not too long ago and he was drawing, and laughing, and energetic with them).

And plus, who better to bring back from the dead than Emily Dickinson?

I’ve always like this poem of hers:

AFTER a hundred years
Nobody knows the place,—
Agony, that enacted there,
Motionless as peace.
Weeds triumphant ranged, 5
Strangers strolled and spelled
At the lone orthography
Of the elder dead.
Winds of summer fields
Recollect the way,— 10
Instinct picking up the key
Dropped by memory.

Peace (in the poems),

What the Poem in your Pocket?

Poem In Your  Pocket Day

Today is Poem in Your Pocket Day, when you are invited to print out or write out a favorite poem and keep it close to you throughout the day. I chose a poem called, eh, “Pockets” by Howard Nemerov.

It’s a new poem to me, but I like the use of pockets as a metaphor here, seen as lonely collectors of stuff  — but sort of a “theives’ kitchen” of things that bounce around all day — and which ends with the cool line of,  “What is a pocket but a hole?”

What poem will you carry around with you today?

Peace (in the poems),

Delivering the Books: from Massachusetts to New Orleans

A few months ago, we held a benefit concert at our school called Concert for Change, in which we collected money donations for the Pennies for Peace organization and collected books for New Orleans schools still struggling to rebound from Hurricane Katrina. One of my students spearheaded the book effort, and I assumed we would ship the dozen or so boxes of books, but he and his mom surprised me by saying they intended to deliver the books personally.

Last week, during our vacation, they did that, driving from Massachusetts to New Orleans to bring the books to a school that they had identified through their church organization. What a great learning experience for him. He brought back some pictures, and I made him this Animoto video as a gift of thanks. He also brought his Flip, so I am looking forward to seeing what he captured on there, too.

Peace (in the thoughtfulness of students),

PS — Here is some footage from our Concert for Change:

Glogging Some Multimedia Poetry

As readers of this space know, I have been writing poems every day over at Bud Hunt’s blog, where Bud has been posting images to inspire writing. We’re almost at the end (which is fine — I’m feeling a little poetry burnout right now) but I wanted to find some way to collect some of the poems together.

I decided to use Glogster because I could easily add the video poem I did, as well as upload a few podcasts from the month of poetry. I tried to find a good design, and I worry that the page is a bit busy (always an issue with Glogster), but I made this as  sort of “Thank You” card to Bud for inspiring me to write this month. I was always glad when others joined along, although I wish more folks would do it.

I also like that this glog is part of my classroom glog, so my students have a chance to read some of my poetry and see some of the multimedia work, too. It’s another way of sharing and showing.

Here is a direct link to my poetry glog, which I am entitling: “Inspired by Images.”

Peace (in the poems),

Me, My Sax and Rev.Ives: Wonderful World

In the 1990s, I was a newspaper reporter in Western Massachusetts and for about five years, I covered the small city of Northampton. While my main “beat” was education, I also became the secondary city reporter for some events. It was during my time there that I kept running into the Rev. Peter Ives, of the First Churches. When there were issues of domestic violence, he was there to talk through and push for changes. When there were racial issues, he was one of the voices calling for restraint, even in the midst of protest. He opened up the church sanctuary for all kinds of community events, although many were of the social justice nature. I came to respect and admire Rev.  Ives, and his wife, over the years for their outspoken nature balanced with true compassion.

Flash forward a few years, and my wife and I are having our second son. My wife, who grew up in a church-going household, was seeking a religious home, and she chose the First Churches for our family. I was reconnected with Peter Ives and his wife, Jenny, on another level, and again, I was amazed at how open and supportive they were/are to everyone, no matter their religious, race, sexuality, whatever. Although I am not religious, I attend church periodically, and I am always blown away by Peter’s sermons — they are poetic, touching and full of meaning. He takes gospel, weaves it in with world events and makes the issues personal. Peter has always connected with my children, too, on a personal and spiritual level, and they respect him. It helps that he organizes three fun family football games a year, too.

Well, Peter is retiring from the ministry, and yesterday, the church service centered on Peter’s years as a teaching minister, and how he has helped guide 30 people over 30 years into religious leadership. As part of that celebration, I was honored to be asked to join our little church jazz band and choir for a jazzy rendition of “What a Wonderful World,” which seems appropriate for Peter and Jenny, as they seek to make the world a better place.

Peace (in the world),

A student who “gets it” with Glogster

My students love using Glogster for projects, but most don’t quite understand how to balance the design with information, so as I am reviewing a batch of environmental projects that one of my classes has completed (they had to choose a topic, research some facts and add their opinions to a Glog), I am trying to grab some exemplars that use design elements with facts to make a strong point.

Here is one project about Giant Panda Bears by one of my students that I really like:

Peace (on the virtual poster),

PS — I wrote about Glogster and virtual posters recently over at the Learn NC website.

Avant-Garde Composing

When I was an undergraduate — majoring in English, minoring in music — I had a professor who seemed very much out of sync with our small state college surroundings. Dr. Peacock seemed to have come from the fabric of New York City’s avante-garde composition scene and what he was doing at our college was never quite clear.

But it was with Dr. Peacock that I first learned about how a composer could push the boundaries of the norm when it came to creating music. He taught me about using synthesizers (we had this old monster of a keyboard that you had to program to make work — it was like hacking into a computer); how to cut “tape” of musical recordings and re-fashion those pieces into something new (the forerunner of remixing); and how to create atonal pieces of music. Oh, yeah, and how to open up the top of a grand piano and tinker with the insides to create strange, beautiful sounds from the percussion elements of the Grand. (This did not go over well with his teaching colleagues and more than once, I watched him argue with another teacher about why his students had their hands in the strings of the Grand and why were placing objects along the percussive hammers.)

He was all about pushing the boundaries of music. And he was all about the “doing” as much as the theory behind what was being done. I felt like an explorer moving into unknown terrain most of the time, and thoroughly enjoyed the experience.

I was reminded of him yesterday as I followed  a link from Larry Ferlazzo’s blog to a site by Jason Freeman called Piano Etudes, where Freeman has worked to create an interactive site in which the viewer can use fragments of his piano pieces to refashion them into something new. It’s a very visual experience, as Freeman has mapped out how the pieces of a composition might intersection, and you grab elements and pull them together. Then, you can add your piece to the gallery at his site, download the music as an MP3 file and/or get a PDF of the score (see the image above, which comes from the PDF).

Freeman writes:

Inspired by the tradition of open-form musical scores, I composed each of these four piano etudes as a collection of short musical fragments with links to connect them. In performance, the pianist must use those links to jump from fragment to fragment, creating her own unique version of the composition. The pianist, though, should not have all the fun. So I also developed this web site, where you can create your own version of each etude, download it as an audio file or a printable score, and share it with others.

I plunged right in, and created a version of Freeman’s “Reading  Poem,” which I called “Writing a Poem by Starlight.” I downloaded the mp3 file, and then write a poem inspired by the music, which has a lot of space and open air to it. Then, I recorded the poem in Audacity, with the Freeman-derivative score as the background music.

Want to hear it?

Listen to Writing a Poem by Starlight

Here is the poem:

Writing poetry by starlight,
I touch the keys
so that I may coax
the darkness
to play a duet with light,
and shimmer until morning
comes …

Give it try. Write some music. Remix and create.

Peace (in the exploration),

Hackers, revisited

In the recent Wired Magazine article, writer Steven Levy has an interesting revisit to a book that I once just loved, Hackers: Heroes of the Computer Revolution, which sought to document and profile those folks who sought to revolutionize the personal computer, mostly with the ideals that technology could eventually be put into the hands of many. In Wired, Levy tries to reconnect with some of the people he profiled in his book, including Steve Wozniak and Bill Gates.

It should be noted that Levy’s use of the word Hackers does not donate someone seeking to crack into a computer or software for malicious intent; Instead, a Hacker defined by Levy is someone who understands the underlying structure of a computer or network, and seeks to improve it or re-imagine it through skills and imagination.

What is striking is how Levy also shows how many of the ideals of that earlier generation have splintered into a couple of directions. Gates urged early on that his work be compensated (which caused an uproar in the technology community at the time) so that he could use the money to hire more engineers and make better products. Others, such as Lee Felsenstein, still held the line that technology should be adapted and used by as many people, and with as few hurdles as possible, which comes into conflict with the for-profit model.

For me, I was never nor will I ever be a Hacker, per se. I don’t have those skills. But when I was creating my webcomic, Boolean Squared, I used some of the ideas behind Levy’s profiles to inform the motivation and personalities of my two central characters — Boolean and Urth. These kids love to dive into the computer and make it work for them, not the other way around, and they are not afraid to yank the cover off anything. I wanted that adventuresome spirit from the beginning days of computer programming to come through with my characters.

Today, Levy notes, we have the continued development of the Open Source Movement — as shown by such companies as Mozilla and the various Linux offshoots — along with ad-driven companies such as Mark Zuckerberg’s Facebook. Levy suggest that Zuckerman and his kin are the indirect offspring of those early days of hacking, although Zuckerman notes that he is less interested in the underlying “code” than the overall use of technology to connect people together as a social fabric. And my guess it that more than a few of the original hackers would be mortified by that association.

Check out the article on Wired.

Peace (in the wired world),