The Importance of NASA

Here’s what 1/2 a penny on the dollar buys you, according to astrophysicists Neil deGrasse Tyson:

If you listen to nothing else, skip to the 4 minute mark. The best examples of why technologists point out that the future technology and innovation isn’t coming from America. And won’t. Without a radical shifting of our priorities.

On Why I Can’t Wait For The News Industry To Die (78 of 90)

The last two years have been instructive for me professionally.

When I began working on The Cult of Me, I had every intention of writing a book about how the news industry could save itself from implosion. I thought it a worthy cause, one that I’d spend the better part of the last decade working towards. My experience on both the tech side and the reporting and editing side, my managerial experience, my love of telling stories. I thought this would be welcomed within my industry.

Turns out it wasn’t.

The anger, hostility and outright ignorance about emerging technologies, digital storytelling and networked communities astounded me. Everywhere I went, I was constantly made to feel as though the world that I worked in – this digital metaverse – was at very best second-tiered in terms of importance.

The language used – and oh, those arrogant journalists who cling to the assaults upon their language and yet use words so loosely – was horrific and off-putting, although I’m certain not always intentionally so.

Eventually, the fight with traditional journalists, the ones who clung to their typewriters and religion, became one I no longer cared to have. One I no longer needed to have. Time would take care of them. Business models would wash them away, eroding the righteous indignation away.

I left for more hallowed grounds, away from the chaos.


In 1994, my first job was a news aide at Citybeat, a local weekly in Cincinnati. I love the paper even today although my relations there have long been severed.

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Things About Sprint (77 of 90)

I was 28 when I graduated from Berkeley. 30 when I left Wired (and San Francisco).

I bring that up because 10 years later (or 8 years later if you’re doing the math), I don’t feel particularly smarter than I was back then. I do feel more well-rounded. Which I guess is a way of saying that I know more about what I know. I’ve been able to see around the knowledge I have, understand it for what it is, and see where it’s not quite right.

I get, today, that most of what I’ve learn in a book needs to be honed and shaped by the life, bits and pieces rubbed off and re-shaped in ways that only experience can tell you. I’m smarter today, I think, because I’ve gone through that chiseling process. I’ve been around the world, had the chance to play with the knowledge and craft it.

Which doesn’t mean I’ve turned off the knowledge spout. I still try to learn every day. But I spend more time on the things I am learning, trying to figure out what I know I’ll take the time to shape.

This flashed through my mind on Friday as I spoke with an executive from Sprint and another member of their communication team about promotion.

I’d just finished my talk on Read/Write Stories and Participatory Culture. We were discussing how this might play out in a corporate setting. I showed them some examples of what I meant. And laid out, briefly, how and why they might approach these ideas.

We have a meeting lined up in a few weeks to discuss this more.


This is not particularly unique, this situation I described. You reach a certain age and, in your field, people want to know what you think. This happens to my friends on a regular basis. Far more than it happens with me.

When I was younger, I ascribed the phenomenon that I observed to some “network” or “club” that everyone – but me – seemed to be in. I was an outsider, observing.

As I’ve gotten older, I realize it’s something else entirely.

I spend most of my day working with and around people who don’t understand what I do. (I recognize, of course, the same is likely true of them. I am not them, though, so I have to speak just of me.) I have been, for some time, an outlier in my field. Podcasts in 2000. Blog-like entries at Wired (short, notebook items). Pictures and images with stories. Shooting video.

These were things I tinkered with a decade ago. And my bosses at Wired News, some of them, were reticent to let me do such things.

The point is that I’m used to feeling on the outside. (And having people who don’t understand the skill behind the emerging technology try to explain to me how these things work.) So when I find someone who speaks the same language as me – generally someone who has that same outliers experience – I gravitate to them. Immediately.

From the outside, I imagine there are those who want to be in this club. Who stand around, like I did, I want to be on the inside. Because they think there is an inside.

And don’t yet realize the inside is made up of people who are simply on the outside the rest of their lives.


I tell my dad regularly: I have to watch what I say now because 10 years ago, people would argue back. Now, people nod and start doing. I don’t always appreciate the weight of that.

This isn’t, as I’ve suggested, a function of being smarter today than I was 10 years ago. It’s a function of honing and shaping. Because I’ve had the chance to fiddle with this knowledge for a decade, examining it from many angles. It’s not an idea now. It’s a part of my DNA.

I don’t speak, publicly, about the things I don’t know because I’ve been on the receiving end of that conversation too many times in my life.

So we’ll meet to discuss some the ideas I’ve discussed in my talk. We’ll kick ideas around about how Sprint might approach participatory culture. How they might seek to change their image (at least in the technology world), an image that took a hit a few years back.

We’ll talk because we’re outliers.

Speeches + Talks (76 of 90)

I am asked to speak to groups regularly.

This is something that, years ago, I thought would be very cool. When I first attended the South by Southwest Interactive and Music conferences in Austin in 1994 or 1995 (I can’t ever remember when I began going), I remember sitting in the panel sessions day-dreaming about the time when I’d be asked to do that.

I never imagined I wouldn’t get to do. I also never imagined it would be anything other than amazing.

Until I started doing it.

My job at Wired afforded me an interesting stage and perspective, one that the people who put on conferences were intrigued by. I began speaking at the National Association of Broadcasters in Las Vegas and South by Southwest in Austin and the College Music Journal conference in New York City. I even had the chance to speak in London (although I can’t remember the name of the conference.)

In terms of my career, these were amazing opportunities.

In terms of my mental health, not so much. Because, as it turns out, I really dislike public speaking.


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I am Mainstream (71 of 90)

I’m angry.

Well, angry isn’t exactly what I am. It’s not Hulk Smash anger. It’s some weird combination of frustrations, annoyance, alone-ness and emptiness wrapped into a people sandwich.


The continued insistence that the world that I exist within – this nebulous world of technology – is somehow not part of the mainstream.


I should back up, though, because this anger isn’t new. It’s quite old.

In 2002 when Wired News was undergoing a transition period, the management asked for suggestions about what should be done. A suggestion box of sorts.

For which I wrote a several-page, single-spaced Jerry Maguire memo extolling the power of the people, the emergence of the read-write Web and publishing tools that enabled us to give voice to our readers. Blogs, I said, should become a central component of our strategy. We should encourage our readers to write about technology on our site, we should invite them behind the scenes to help us craft and formulate stories.

It was, I argued, unconscionable that Wired News was not engaging with readers online. That we were acting as the High Priests (to paraphrase Steven Levy) of Information.

I was quite proud of that memo.

A few days later, my boss took me aside and said: “Blog are nothing more than glorified home pages, Brad.”

I knew my time at Wired News was over. (That years later, blogs and reader-collaborated reporting became the backbone of WN’s operation has not gone lost on me.)


Today, though, fight resurfaced because of a discussion about discussions.

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On The Future of Technology, Remix Culture and Software Tools (68 of 90)


Last week, I gave a presentation at the Popular Culture Association that didn’t go very well.

It was the first public presentation of a project that Brian McNely, Matt Mullins and I had worked on for the better part of this school year. The goal of “The Object Remix”: create a story using publicly available footage done people on YouTube, develop a framework for both teaching this remix writing and a technological understanding of what needs to happen to make this more mainstream and examine the impact of public/private lives.

On the whole, the presentation was okay, a learning experience for the three of us. We’re getting a sense of how to tell the story of the story we created. That takes time.

What didn’t go well was the ambush on my particular section (which I won’t go into). But ruminating on my discussions with those in attendance  about what happened has helped me clarify a valuable component to my presentation.

My main thesis, building off Larry Lessig’s work (in particular Remix and Code), is this:

  1. that technology companies have taken vague notions of law (e.g. copyright) and make it concrete (e.g. Digital Rights Management), which eliminates not only the ability to use certain “available” media (e.g. Creative Commons work uploaded to YouTube without the ability to download) but also the notion that there is a difference between “free” culture and “controlled” culture; and
  2. the Internet (and other networks) allow us to get anything we want, which means an arbitrary notion of control will not only fail but also – as I mentioned – created a disregard for those concrete notions that fly in the face of what we are actually doing; so
  3. we must develop software tools – in the vein of Vannevar Bush, JCR Licklider, Robert Taylor, ect – that allow us to parse through all media and find, easily, the “free” culture; otherwise
  4. we have pushed all use of work into the realm of piracy, devaluing what it is that is being done anyway.

My goal then, in this project, to is build a framework for building software tools that enable Remix culture within a copyright controlled world (or any mixed system of given rights, such as the Creative Commons, or affirmative rights, such as Copyright law).


That’s a whole lot of Academic-ese to say this: we’ve got to make finding materials that can be legally used by amateur culture much easier than it is today and then integrate those tools into academic disciplines that teach students how to work within the current culture.

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The Ecstasy of Influence: A Plagiarism

In response to the work Brian, Matt and I presented this past weekend (which is now behind a password-protected wall), my friend Evan Ratliff forwarded me this essay written in Harper’s a few years back.

It’s a treatise on influence, the commons and remix culture. It says more elegantly what we are beginning to say with our work. It’s called “The Ecstasy of Influence: A Plagiarism” written by Jonathan Lethem.

It’s written a few years after Malcolm Gladwell wrote “something borrowed” for The New Yorker, which takes – it seems – a different approach to the problem.

These are wrapped around ideas of participatory culture described by Henry Jenkins in Convergence Culture, Larry Lessig in Remix and Cory Doctorow’s writings with the Electronic Frontier Foundation and boing boing.

Angsty (64 of 90)

I’m not a big fan of arguments.

Which surprises some people. But only the ones who don’t know me very well. My friends understand this about me.

I will absolutely have arguments about the strengths needed to build a winning baseball team or the importance of defensive tackles in football. I will do so vociferously and until the end of whatever game happened to spur that conversation comes to an end.

Otherwise, I would prefer to live a life where I’m mostly left alone, surrounded by intellectuals, friends, writers and the like who – to paraphrase Penn Jillette – traffic in my way of thinking.

And I do. I’ve spent the better part of 12 years traversing the technology landscape professionally, poking around on the cutting edges. I’ve learned from some pretty smart folks to be sure. Folks who, as they say, have forgotten more than I’ve ever learned. I’ve been on the front lines of some of the bigger court cases and technology fights in the last 15 years.

I’m lucky that way, I guess.

But I’ve grown weary of having the same arguments with people who are just new to the game, who believe the world has started within the last few years and that nobody could possibly understand their (obviously) brilliant perspective (because they have just found it).

So I’ve retired from it.


I gave a presentation this weekend with two other Emerging Media Initiative fellows, outlining our Remix Writing project.

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Why The People Who Hate on SXSW Interactive Suck (47 of 90)

ED Note: I exchanged a few comments and Tweets with Jolie earlier today. She was surprised by the spirited response to her blog post (from the blogosphere; not from me). Our conversation confirmed what I thought: she’s a decent gal. She just waded, unintentionally, into the annual post-SXSW Interactive reaction debate. For all of you out there who have a burning desire to be a hater-hater, please I’d like to offer the paraphrased advice from my favorite judge in California: all parties are advised to chill.

South by Southwest Interactive is over, and with that brings out the annual “Why I Hated SXSW Interactive” bloggers.

This year’s queen is Jolie O’Dell. She wrote Why SXSW Sucks, which has some rather disturbing assertions in it (which have nothing to do with the conference, yet are troubling) and some recycled issues that get brought up each year (which did have to do with the conference, and are also troubling).

I have no idea who O’Dell is (other than what her bio says) any more than I know who most of the people who attend SXSW Interactive are so I don’t want this to appear to be an attack on her. I’m sure she’s a fine human being and I enjoy reading other opinions. So it seems important to say – and then re-iterate – that this isn’t an attack on her ideas.

It’s also important to note that I’ve been to every SXSW Interactive save one (when we were re-launching MIT’s Technology Review website and I needed to be on site), I’ve been on the advisory board for several years and I make my home in Austin (although I teach in Indiana, which means I’m only in town for a few months a year these days).

The problems with SXSW aren’t new, although the scale is different. What is new is the community has grown. It includes a new set of people: not developers, not creators, not distributers. Not the core of SXSW. Now we have the “tool users,” the non-tech set who have built their operations on using the simple creation, distribution and aggregation tools built by the SXSW core.

I love the convergence. The show has been headed this way since the beginning. It’s just reached a tipping point because the ubiquity of the tools. (A great credit to the engineers in the country, by the way.)

Here’s the real problem: This new tribe is disappointed to find that SXSW isn’t meant to be Spring Break. It’s not set up to help you party. It’s set up as a conference and festival, a place to interact. Not a place to get drunk and check-in.

It’s not, in other words, set up to be all about you.


The first Interactive conference, one I can barely remember it’s been so long ago, took place in the far end of the Convention Center, in the area above the main keynote ballrooms.

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South By 5…(46 of 90)

It’s been a long day, but there’s but one full day left.

I’m too tired to be sad. And too far behind in my work to worry.

At some point this evening, I’ll need to get my Media Ethics lecture finished (although it’s possible that will have to wait until tomorrow and instead I’ll put up my Thursday lecture, which isn’t mine. It’s Larry Lessig’s.) Currently I’m awaiting the last of my videos to upload so I can send off my AEJMC Tech Meme column, FIVE GOOD MINUTES, a series of vlogs with some of the smartest people I know.

And I’d like to get some sleep since I’ll be co-hosting the Accelerator tomorrow for six hours. Delirium is a bad way, I understand, to host an event.

Still, too much great stuff to do and too many smart people to track down is a high-class problem, as a former work colleague used to say. Because today was another beautiful day.

The highlight was spending a few hours with Dave Ferguson, the director of the Center for Media Design, who is in town for dual purposes. We had the chance to grab dinner before we each sprinted off in different directions. Two hours that flew by far too quickly.

Funny, of course, that we had to fly 1,200 miles to have time to get dinner. Then again, that’s the nature of the modern technology fast track. The world may be flat, but the travel still takes time.

While this isn’t the most compelling blog post ever, it’s certainly going to need to suffice.

South By 4…(45 of 90)

It’s midnight here in Austin, the end of the South by Southwest weekend.

It’s a sad day. Not because the event is over. There are still three days left. But there is a shift on Monday and Tuesday. The parties slow, the conference slows. The business begins to set in as the end draws near. At least for Interactive.

A whole year crammed into 5 full days. It’s hardly enough time really. Still, it was an amazing day in Austin.

The day started with a trip to The Spiderhouse for some work. Unfortunately, Ball State University still requires that I, you know, do my job. That means dealing with administrative tasks.

That was dispensed with quickly enough and my friend Jenny Toomey, who now works for the Ford Foundation, and I had lunch, caught up on old times and laughed quite a bit. She’s a lovely woman, one I’m proud to know. We’ve traveled long roads the past ten years, but life has really evened out for us.


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South By 3…(44 of 90)

South by Southwest (SXSW) is simply seven days of heaven. The weather was gorgeous and the panel sessions really kicked off today.

It’s fair to say the conference is under way.

I started the day with a nice 3 mile run, although the hamstring is now acting up regularly. I think when I get home I may have to look for alternatives to running until it heals. For now, running is all I’ve got to keep myself going.

After that, I headed to grab Micki (@mickipedia). She’s promoting her company, Neighborgoods, at the conference so we picked up her flyers from down south. (Her business partner lives in town.)

After that, it was off to the panels. First up: Andrea Phillips talking about Alternate Reality Games.


The talk focused on how female stereotypes harm the writing process. I’m usually very skeptical of these talks (from my days as in the Women’s Study minor at Miami University), but she made a really compelling case for why writers should focus attention on female characters. When the talk becomes available, I’m posting it here.

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