Featuring Junot Diaz, a great interview with the Boston Review
Two months back, ahead of CMS/WHS associate professor Junot Diaz's latest story's appearance in the New Yorker, Diaz had a conversation with writer Paula M.L. Moya. The two were classmates in graduate school, so the interview, published in this month's Boston Review, is so appealingly personal -- and, to those outside academic discussions of fiction, a great look in:
Paula: I wanted to ask you about something else you said in the lecture yesterday. You said you wanted to, and thought you could, "figure out a way to represent most honestly--represent in the language, and represent in the way people talk, and represent in the discourse--what [you], just one person, thought was a racial reality," but without endorsing that reality. You indicated that you aim to realistically represent "our entire insane racial logic" but in a way that "the actual material does not endorse that reality" at the level of structure. This is certainly what I would argue your work succeeds in doing. But I would like to hear more about how you go about creating, at the level of structure, a disjuncture between the realistic representation of race and an endorsement of the racial logic on which the representation is based.
Junot: The things I say. [Laughs] OK, let me see if I can make sense of my own damn self. Let's see if I can speak to the actual texts. Well, at its most simplistic in, say, Drown, we have a book where racist shit happens--but it's not like at a thematic level the book is saying: Right on, racist shit! I was hoping that the book would expose my characters' race craziness and that this craziness would strike readers, at the very minimum, as authentic. But exposing our racisms, etc., accurately has never seemed to be enough; the problem with faithful representations is that they run the risk of being mere titillation or sensationalism. In my books, I try to show how these oppressive paradigms work together with the social reality of the characters to undermine the very dreams the characters have for themselves. So, Yunior thinks X and Y about people and that logic is, in part, what fucks him up. Now if the redounding is too blunt and obvious, then what you get is a moralistic parable and not literature. But, if it's done well, then you get both the ugliness that comes out of showing how people really are around issues like race and gender, but also a hidden underlying counter-current that puts in front of you the very real, very personal, consequences of these orientations.
Osterweil quoted in the Wall Street Journal's "The Hidden Cost of Apps for Children"
The Education Arcade's Scot Osterweil tells the Wall Street Journal that industry now has "the ability to invade the kids' space much more aggressively than ever before". He's talking about so-called freemium apps, which parents download free, hand over to their kids, and then discover $99 credit card charges when their inexperienced kids buy in-game upgrades:
As successful as this marketing proved to be for the Smurfs--they reached $600 million in annual retail sales during the early 1980s--it still required a trip to the store. Smartphones eliminate that step. Parents might control passwords and maintain authority over purchases, but the technology allows instant purchase and delivery.
Weary parents, who could simply say no to their kids, sometimes don't know exactly how these games work. The Federal Trade Commission says it is considering new rules to improve disclosure about online purchasing. Meanwhile the industry, which has hooked a core audience, is plowing ahead.
"You've now got the ability to invade the kids' space much more aggressively than ever before," said Scot Osterweil, a designer of educational games and a research director of the comparative media-studies program at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
Once again, CMS alum Sam Ford has the right explanation of how and why modern P.R. can go awry.
Joanna Weiss in a Boston Globe editorial quotes Ford about what he calls the "gee-whiz shiny new object mentality" that sets companies up for disaster when they don't understand how new tech allows untended audiences to get their hands on a message.
She cites famous missteps that, in ways that used to work when the intended audience was isolated from others, made organizations -- from the Obama campaign to Chevrolet -- look awful once their message was spread farther than they expected.
Case in point 1: On June 1, the day that dismal job numbers are released, the Obama campaign releases a video featuring Anna Wintour, the "Vogue" editor who inspired "The Devil Wears Prada." Gazing down her nose, she invites Obama supporters to a fundraiser she is co-hosting with one of "the most incredible women in the world": Sarah Jessica Parker. This is apparently a bid to tap into a "Sex and the City" envy that shriveled and died circa 2008 -- and to battle Mitt Romney for the title of "candidate least in touch with the commoners." The Republican National Committee responds with a video called "Meanwhile," which overlays Wintour's speech with bad employment stats.
What's most astounding about these mistakes is how unnecessary they were, given that they'd happened before in the corporate world. So says Sam Ford, director of digital strategy for the communications firm Peppercom and a comparative media studies affiliate at MIT. He reminded me of a time, in 2006, when Chevrolet decided to let people create their own ads for the Chevy Tahoe, using online video, on the Chevrolet site. People responded with short films explaining how Chevy was raping the environment.
Chalk it up to what Sam Ford calls the "gee-whiz shiny new object mentality," which draws both corporate chieftains and campaign strategists -- two groups dominated by wealthy, cloistered, aging white men -- to rush headlong into the digital world, simply because it's there. Facebook pages, Twitter feeds, and mobile apps are cheap and easy to produce. The kids are talking about them. So campaigns and companies tend to leave the conception and operation to interns and low-level employees. Often, it's clear that no one is watching from above. Or proofreading.
GAMBIT at the center of GameSpot video on Boston's game development history
Our GAMBIT Game Lab was stoked to see the dozen or so mentions of its work, mission, and role in game development featured in a GameSpot video yesterday.
There really is something special about Boston when it comes to the two-lane road between MIT and small-to-medium-sized game companies like Harmonix, Dejoban, and others; practically speaking, GAMBIT is a kind of molten core at the center of the Boston gaming planet, a space where experimental games have a place to come to the surface at the same time the industry's top professionals pass their knowledge back in.
Associate Professor of Digital Media Fox Harrell spoke recently with Action Speaks, whose podcasts celebrate great, America-changing anniversaries.
Last October 12, when Fox spoke with them, it happened to be the 39th anniversary of "Pong"...
Pong introduced America to video games and now there seems to be no turning back.
As more and more people around the world use video games to pass the time, to teach and learn and to create alternative realities, it is time for us to consider what its implications are and whether or not we are leading or being led--and to where.
Fox and two fellow panelists discussed the rise of video games and the need for a nuanced understanding of the impact of games, just as we've learned to apply to other media.
Action Speaks is broadcast on their presenting station WGBH in Boston and on over 250 other radio affiliates around the United States.
The MIT alumnus and and creator of modern email (not to mention the word itself) told Fast Company that despite the USPS's dire announcement of post office closings and a 50% volume drop since 2001 -- in other words, despite the financial pressures placed on the USPS by the ascendance of email itself -- the postal service can go back to its roots and innovate its way out of waning relevance.
As he told Fast Company:
The first U.S. Postmaster General, Benjamin Franklin, was a superlative innovator. Like Henry Ford, he laid down a production system with the USPS for the receipt, sorting, routing and transport of mail while setting quality standards of training and delivery.
That was not a mere operational process of tweaking or refining an extant [business] to generate more revenue or reduce costs--but an inventive process.
The U.S. Postal Service could offer an email management service to millions of businesses overnight, generating enough revenue to cover costs and make profit without layoffs. Global 2,000 companies and small to medium enterprises alike sorely need email management, which is a massive opportunity. They could also lead the charge in email validation and other solutions for a host of problems faced by email marketers.
Ayyadurai recently produced his own "History of EMAIL" visualization, a clear "what could have been?" and "what could be?" for the USPS.
Interview with Fox Harrell: "How An Artist-Scientist Conjurer Thinks, Works and Lives"
Our thanks to Anne Khaminwa for conducting this great interview with Fox Harrell for the International Review of African American Art:
He occupies a charmed space in the academy, holding a joint appointment in the Comparative Media Studies Program, the Program in Writing and Humanistic Studies, and in the Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL).
One question underlies and unifies these pursuits. "How," Harrell wonders, "can I take advantage of what computers do well -- such as representing and transforming information -- to help us to better understand, and improve, the human condition?"
Harrell is interested in how computation can create powerful new forms of phantasmal media -- interactive narratives, computer games, social media, AI-based art, and "new forms unanticipated by any of those." He believes that digital media can transform users' ideas, improvise new aesthetic meanings, and critique society and culture.
Caduceus to be featured on Classroom 2.0 live this Saturday
The Education Arcade game "Caduceus", created in partnership with Boston-based Fablevision and Children's Hospital Boston, will be featured on Classroom 2.0, with designers Alex Chishom and Wade Munday. Caduceus transports children to a world of science and alchemy--teaching them about the challenges of modern medicine in the process.
How do you understand and measure success in social media?
How do you create content that audiences not only pay attention to, but want to share with others?
Do you really want to make a video "go viral"?
How does the language you use to describe social media campaigns impact the end result?
Based on years of researching how and why people spread news, popular culture, and marketing content online through the Convergence Culture Consortium for the past several years, our speakers are currently working on a book entitled Spreadable Media. This Webinar will look at what "spreadable media" means, why the concept of "stickiness" is inadequate for measuring success for brands and content producers online and ultimately why marketers and producers should spend more time creating "spreadable material" for audiences than trying to perfect "viral marketing." In this one-hour session, the speakers will share the ideas and strategy behind "spreadable media" and a variety of examples of best--and worst--practices online for both B2B and B2C campaigns.
"Breaking Down Advertising's Walls": CMS researcher Sam Ford in Fast Company
Sam Ford is a CMS grad, a CMS researcher, and a director of the communications company Peppercom. He's also now a blogger at Fast Company.
In his first post, Ford writes about convergence culture's reasonable obsession: breaking down walls between media.
My movement from an academic working with industry to an academic within the industry was driven by my interest in how companies and their audiences converse; what better place to study that conversation than public relations? In my position today at Peppercom, I remain especially interested in why and how the industry and the academy should collaborate around media and the humanities. My posts here at Fast Company this week will focus on this theme: what can the industry learn from the academy, and vice versa?
Henry Jenkins at the Aspen Institute, Forum on Communications and Society
CMS Co-Director Henry Jenkins last month joined the likes of Madeleine Albright, Craig Newmark, and Former U.S. Solicitor General Theodore Olson for a panel on how public policy and private initiatives can better meet the public's information needs.
As I found myself making small talk with everyone from the heads of major media companies to former members of the Bush administration, the one topic which seemed to have captured everyone's interest was Harry Potter. Almost everyone had stories to tell about the experience of reading the final book in the series. In Convergence Culture, I suggested that fan communities might offer us better chances to talk about shared values across the ideological divides that currently shape American politics because they offer us shared fantasies and common reference points. Well, this was a pretty dramatic illustration of that principle at work.
Jenkins interviewed for PBS' Frontline on the future of News
CMS Director Henry Jenkins was interviewed recently for PBS' website companion to their 4-part Frontline series, News War, touching on topics covered by the New Media Literacies and Convergence Culture Consortium research initiatives.
We are living through a shift in the communications environment on a scale that has only occurred a few times in human history, comparable to the shift from [an oral tradition] to literacy, the emergence of print and the rise of modern mass media. Each of these moments fundamentally altered pretty much everything in the culture, touching every major institution, impacting all aspects of everyday life, and fundamentally reshaping our understanding of what it meant to be human.
Henry Jenkins interviewed for documentary about the controversy surrounding violence in Video Game
As reported by Dean Takahashi in his blog for the San Jose Mercury Times, CMS director Henry Jenkins is one of a number of interviewees for Spencer Halpin's documentary Moral Kombat, a documentary about the controversy and dialogue surrounding the issue of video game violence. Halpin includes commentary from people involved with the issue from the gaming industry, academia, the legal profession, journalists, as well as government and the military.
The current edition of MIT's ZigZag podcast (Episode 12) features CMS Director (and Project NML Primary Investigator) Henry Jenkins and Project NML Research Assistant Neal Grigsby discussing the Project NML Exemplar Library, and the TATs Cru graffiti exemplar in particular.
Interview with Prof. Henry Jenkins on Serious Games, Videogame Violence & More
Professor Henry Jenkins speaks with GameDaily BIZ regarding his new book, Convergence Culture: Where Old and New Media Collide as well as his upcoming appearance at the Serious Game Summit in October, where he'll be presenting a keynote on the age of media convergence and collective intelligence.