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Month: April 2008

Everyone’s a Billionaire

Everyone’s a Billionaire

I’ve been thinking about this lately, because I’ve had a serious downturn in my recovery this week. I can speculate about why, but to be honest I’m not entirely certain. My body is rebelling, and it goes from vaguely achey to gobsmackingly, agonizingly painful. It’s incredibly frustrating. I’m supposed to be getting better, not worse. I have work to do! This is getting seriously old; I’m so over the whole illness thing. I want a normal, reliable body back.

This state has brought me some insight into things I should be more grateful for when I’m not sick. Sadly, the best way I can think of to communicate it is with a money metaphor.

When it comes to energy, most people are billionaires. They have so much energy that they occupy most of the day spending it frivolously and furiously. Jetting up and down the stairs, dancing, talking long walks, fidgeting. Some people make a point of trying blowing their entire savings account as often as possible by running or doing aerobics or other expensive activities. Obviously this practice is very good for their local energy economies, because by the time they wake up every morning they have earned all their energy back in interest. Their savings accounts are constantly replenished by a good night’s sleep. Billionaires never have to count their cash; even when their wallets appear empty, their savings are merely on temporary hold.

And then there are the energy poor. They only have a few dollars in their pockets from the start, so they have to decide what they need to spend it on over span of the day. Each purchase needs to be carefully thought out and considered. Need to walk up the stairs a few times? In order to do it, a few other things need to be crossed off the list, like the ability to focus and concentrate, or being able to communicate with others for the duration of the day. The energy poor conserve so carefully that stray body movements are controlled; do you need to fidget while on the bus? Once you’ve sat down, do you really need to shift your limbs? The original action is enough to get you there. Sitting still until the next necessary action seems like a good move. This isn’t an endless cup of riches, it’s only a handful of change. While billionaires get their money back every morning, the energy poor have to wait much longer than that. Sleep doesn’t give them the energy interest boost; they need a few days to earn that energy back. Billionaires rarely need to pull out a credit card, but if they do, they can rest assured that balance can be repaid very quickly; the poor draw their line of credit from their joints, muscles, bones, and heart; slapping that card down at the till means sacrificing some bodily well-being for a few more hours of activity, a few more flights of stairs, an hour or two of conversation. At the end of the day the poor have an empty bank account and the stinging pain of physical debt, waiting for a pay packet.

Guelph Pictures

Guelph Pictures

I was going to post about how utterly lousy I feel today (in particular, the WIDE RANGE of associated symptoms that come along with hypothyroidism, and how HELLISHLY LONG it takes before they go away and how NO ONE really tells you about any of them), but instead I will post a picture my dad posted today on his new photo blog:

He’s posting all kinds of fun pictures of Guelph lately, I’m delighted. Guelph is a very pretty town. I miss it.

Good Ads

Good Ads

Jeremy pointed me to a 2005 lecture by Mark Pesce called Piracy is Good? recently in which, among other things, Pesce argues that the future of advertising is in little fuzzy “bugs” on the corners of video, stamping a regionally-specific label that you can stare at alongside your episode of Battlestar Galactica. I can see his point; perhaps advertising has to sink into the story somehow in order to remain significant. I wondered, though, if we wouldn’t just ignore little fuzzy bits in the corners of the screen; who cares that McDonald’s sponsored Desperate Housewives? I imagine it would be more effective, though more of a creative sell out, to work a product into an episode, like Elaine’s dedication to the Sponge on Seinfeld.

It seems to be a foregone conclusion that the tv commercial is dead. People Tivo tv and just skip through the commericals; others download tv shows minus any ads whatsoever. So who would produce these things anymore?

On the flip side, there are some awesome commerials that stand on their own as little works of art.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V5BxymuiAxQ&hl=en]

Jeremy linked me to this one, and I passed it on to Jason this morning. It’s an ad, but it’s a good ad!

And then there was this one:

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BRI-A3vakVg&hl=en]

This national rallying cry, tapping into Canadians’ heartfelt desire to be distinguished from their southern neighbours, is still well loved in spite of the fact it’s advertising a pretty crap brand of beer.

And then there’s a couple of current PSAs:

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vrFnnUsfWvw&hl=en]

I think that’s an awesomely effective ad, though my friend Brin says it doesn’t make him want to stop smoking. I guess you can’t have it all. And then there’s this one, which just makes me bawl like a baby:

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8USn0BdRQ94&hl=en]

People still pay attention to tv ads; it’s just that they have to be extremely good to keep us watching.

The Speed of Adoption

The Speed of Adoption

Last night I was waiting for Stargate SG1 to come on and watched an entertainment news program (or parts of it). On it, they described the internet phenomenon that is the YouTube Divorce, wherein some famous person’s wife recorded a video of complaints about her soon-to-be ex-husband and uploaded it to youtube. The entertainment news host indicated that everyone had seen it. I had not seen it, and had not ever heard of either of the two players involved. What struck me about it was this; there was a time that I heard about internet memes on the internet exclusively, and suddenly I learn about them on tv.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fxfhInhkvtM&hl=en]

I didn’t catch this broadcast (October 8th, 1993), but didn’t hear much else about “internet” in popular media until much later. I remember the first time I heard someone talk about the internet on tv on a local news program. It wasn’t cable, just basic free tv from a pair of bunny ears, and the year was 1999. It was a mention of some businesses web site, which you could visit for more information, with a url given. I had been spending lots of quality time on the internets in the 90s, and hearing the web talked about so openly on tv made me think: well, that was a fun ride. Now everyone and their dog is about to appear. This is it: it’s over. It’s not ours anymore.

The lag time between hearing about something online, seeing it/using it/adopting it, and then hearing about it in the mainstream media seems to be getting shorter and shorter. I used to be able to count on hearing about something via friends or Metafilter or some other random web browsing months if not years before mainstream media would “discover” it. Watching blogging come into the mainstream has been fascinating; I thought it hit the mainstream in 2001 when I finally decided to get on board, but it seems that every year thereafter blogging was a new relevation and just got bigger and bigger. Now, no one even blinks in the mainstream media when they reference someone’s blog. They all have blogs of their own, and no one need to define the term anymore. Everyone’s heard of wikipedia. The basic level of internet literacy is going up.

So that’s why yesterday seemed to be such a turning point for me; the internet now has a few killer apps that have finally taken such hold of mainstream North America that I am hearing about internet memes on tv before they reach me on the internet. In fact, perhaps there’s only one killer app that brings the rest of the culture online: it’s YouTube. As with any growing community, there are no more universal “big internet memes”; what’s big in your world isn’t so big in mine, and I may never hear about your internet celebrities until something strange or radical puts them in the media spotlight. The internet has long been fractured into interest groups, but there will be fewer and fewer “all your base” moments as the user group grows, things that everyone on the internet hears about at one time or another. In my internet universe, the youtube divorce didn’t merit a mention; it was clearly huge for the mainstream entertainment media’s audience.

Next up: Entertainment Tonight finds cool social software/web 2.0 apps and reports on them before I hear about them from my networks. Scary!

Welcome to the internets, dad

Welcome to the internets, dad

My dad has a blog! It’s a photoblog, wherein he posts his pic du jour. My dad loves to take pictures, and has taken some really stunning ones; see a handful of his pics from his trip to India here. For a guy who doesn’t have much time for things computery and internety, he’s really picked up a lot of how-to details really fast. He’s posted to his blog two days in a row, with no help from me!

Maybe I’m not a changeling child after all!

The Good Cancer

The Good Cancer

I’m up WAY too late (remind me not to make myself a nice huge mug of caffeinated tea right before bedtime) reading the blogs of other people who’ve been through what I’ve been going through for the last few months, and I came across this:

People, even doctor-people, tell you that thyroid cancer is “the easy, one, the one you want to get”. That’s their preference, because it has its own protocol, its own special weakness, its kryptonite is iodine. What they don’t tell you, and should, is that it’s easy for them. For the patient, it’s not easy. The body still rebels. Innocent cells still get hurt. Don’t get me wrong…I am damn grateful that I don’t have one of the other cancers. I’m just annoyed at how trivial they all made this seem, how light and easy they said this would be. If you’re in my situation now, I’m sorry. I know you want all kinds of reassurance that it’s not going to be so bad. Trust me, it’s not so bad! Only sometimes! I’ve got friends battling 6 months of hell right now, just to stay alive. You wouldn’t want to ever trade places with them, your cancer for theirs. But, you don’t have the “good cancer”…there’s no such animal. So, any fear, any panic you’ve got…it’s okay. You are entitled to it.

This paragraph could not resonate with me more. They don’t really warn you about the weird path on the way to treatment, how very sick they make you in order to treat you. Severe hypothyroidism is significantly more than just feeling “tired”. At least my endocrinologist had the decency to frame like this: “You’re going to be feeling pretty low.”

Also, I found a link to Barbara Ehrenreich’s excellent essay, Welcome To Cancerland: A Mammogram Leads to a Cult of Pink Kitsch, an excellent rebuttal to both the joyous optimism cancer patients are supposed to feel and the cult of consumerism that has enveloped breast cancer, and hinting that the culture of ultra-feminine cancer care and support is actually turned into a form of busywork that prevents feminists from rising up and taking action that might help prevent this disease.

Like everyone else in the breast-cancer world, the feminists want a cure, but they even more ardently demand to know the cause or causes of the disease without which we will never have any means of prevention. “Bad” genes of the inherited variety are thought to account for fewer than 10 percent of breast cancers, and only 30 percent of women diagnosed with breast cancer have any known risk factor (such as delaying childbearing or the late onset of menopause) at all. Bad lifestyle choices like a fatty diet have, after brief popularity with the medical profession, been largely ruled out. Hence suspicion should focus on environmental carcinogens, the feminists argue, such as plastics, pesticides (DDT and PCBs, for example, though banned in this country, are still used in many Third World sources of the produce we eat), and the industrial runoff in our ground water. No carcinogen has been linked definitely to human breast cancer yet, but many have been found to cause the disease in mice, and the inexorable increase of the disease in industrialized nations-about one percent a year between the 1950s and the 1990s-further hints at environmental factors, as does the fact that women migrants to industrialized countries quickly develop the same breast-cancer rates as those who are native born. Their emphasis on possible ecological factors, which is not shared by groups such as Komen and the American Cancer Society, puts the feminist breast-cancer activists in league with other, frequently rambunctious, social movements-environmental and anticorporate.

But today theirs are discordant voices in a general chorus of sentimentality and good cheer; after all, breast cancer would hardly be the darling of corporate America if its complexion changed from pink to green.

In the mainstream of breast-cancer culture, one finds very little anger, no mention of possible environmental causes, few complaints about the fact that, in all but the more advanced, metastasized cases, it is the “treatments,” not the disease, that cause illness and pain.

Even the heavy traffic in personal narratives and practical tips, which I found so useful, bears an implicit acceptance of the disease and the current barbarous approaches to its treatment: you can get so busy comparing attractive head scarves that you forget to question a form of treatment that temporarily renders you both bald and immuno-incompetent.

Fascinating stuff. That last line reminded me instantly of one of the major points of the graphic novel Persepolis, which I’ve recently finished; in distracting the population with head scarves and the length of women’s shirts, radicals and dissidents can be distracted away from the cause of revolutionary action. For the record: thyroid cancer is increasing in frequency more rapidly than any other malignancy. It is now the 8th most common form of new cancer among young adult females. And in case you didn’t know the cause: at high risk of thyroid cancer are people who have been exposed to radioactive particles from atomic weapons tests and nuclear power plant accidents such as the 1986 Chernobyl disaster in the former Soviet Union. I’m told the Toronto region has one of the highest rates of thyroid cancer. But I guess the best thing I can do is go shop for scarves to hide my scar and keep on being brave, right? The idea of making room for anger in cancer care absolutely fascinates me.

The Progress of the Scar

The Progress of the Scar

As you can see, it’s starting to fade out in spots. I’m taking these pictures with my laptop’s built-in camera (and Photo Booth), and I think it takes a bit of red out of it, but that’s roughly what it looks like. The faded out spots have no ropey scar tissue (or stitches?) underneath it, while the redder parts still do. At first it was one solid ropey line under the skin, with the thinnest possible little sharp scab across it on the surface. (The scab came off after the first day sans dressing.) Since then, bits of the ropey line have been falling back and feeling normal, making it bumpy to the touch. It’s like a line that’s being erased in random places. Very strange.

It seems to me, given the way it’s healing, that you can sort of guess at how the incision was made. You see the red dot in the direct middle of it…it’s healed down to nothing on either side of the direct middle, but there’s a half-inch bump in the very centre of the incision. So I imagine that he started with the scalpel in the middle, and then dragged it outwards, first on one side and then on the other, with the least amount of pressure at that point directly after the puncture, but a bit more on the ends. It’s like he was doing some geometry homework on me, and that’s the only comparison I’m qualified to make.

It still doesn’t hurt, in case you’re wondering. But I think I’m starting to get a bit of feeling back around it. I don’t even notice it feeling tight anymore. The skin is (mostly) back to its stretchable self. Surgery is really not the hardest thing about thyroid cancer, not by a long shot. The human body is an amazing thing, and I’m frankly shocked at how well it bounces back from being sliced open and sewn back up. Our ability to heal ourselves is amazing. Another thing to be grateful for.

CBC Search Engine

CBC Search Engine

I heard a great episode of Search Engine on CBC radio this morning; it started with the idea of an internet bill of rights (to be continued), and then goes on into the details of an outstanding story about how an internet community caught a car thief (using bulletin boards, photo sharing, youtube, and even ebay). While people often see the virtual world and the real world as starkly separate (one being for losers and one being legitimate), this story shows the intersections of the two both in healthy, positive ways and also in quite disturbing ways. The show then goes on to an equally fascinating story about the main editor and protector of Hillary Clinton’s wikipedia page. Wikipedia is often demonized among librarians, educators, and the general public, and this story, the story of one editor with one particular interest, is timely and interesting. He explains how he does and doesn’t control the fate of what’s on that page, how people constantly try to vandalize the page, and he and his fellow committed editors keep that page accurate, and how their edits are vetted by others. Anyone can edit wikipedia pages, but it also follows that anyone can keep them fair and accurate, too. The show then ends with a short bit about net neutrality by Cory Doctorow.

The CBC has gone all interwebs lately!

You can hear this episode of Search Engine here:

http://odeo.com/flash/audio_player_tiny_gray.swf Click to listen.
To subscribe to the podcast using Itunes click here.

The New Day

The New Day

I had my second, unplanned nuclear scan nearly a week and a half ago now. I didn’t want to say too much about my current status, because it feels so very uncertain. The second scan wasn’t as complete as the first; it was about 25 minutes of lying extraordinarily still while the machine took its pictures rather than a full hour it took the first time. When I asked the technician why I was doing this again, he said, “It’s technical. It’s not you.” So perhaps it was just an unreadable scan? I’m not sure. I haven’t heard anything from the hospital since. I got the call to come back for the second scan 9 days after the first one; it’s now been 11 days since the second one.

I wish someone would call me and say, “It’s over! You’re cured! You no longer have cancer!” but I guess no one gets calls like that. Ends with a whimper, not a bang.

As my endocrinologist told me to, I took my first thyroxine pill after the first scan. And the way I interpreted after was in the bathroom of the nuclear imaging department at the hospital directly after they finished. Perspective: I had been severely hypothyroid for weeks at that point. I had a horribly hoarse voice, I was irritable and anxious, I spent most of the time groggy and tired, my body movements were slowed down dramatically (meaning I got in a lot of people’s way on sidewalks because I walked so slowly), my body temperature was dipping under 35 degrees, and I was getting married in three days. I was very pleased to take that first pill.

How long would it take? I have to admit, while getting rid of hypothyroidism does not happen overnight, the following morning my voice was slightly less rough, and I felt very slightly less groggy. (Defining “groggy”: every morning with my parents, my mother got out of bed around 9:30 and made coffee (tea for me) and breakfast. Directly after surgery, I got up about 2 hours before that and read books or checked my email. Toward the end of this experience, I woke up hearing her in the kitchen and wished I could go back to sleep. At my worst, I got up, went into the kitchen to say good morning to my mom, and while I understood the words she was saying back to me, I couldn’t make sense of the sentences. I was so groggy I couldn’t parse what she was saying to me until a good 20 minutes or so after I started drinking my tea.) The next morning, my voice was definitely getting better. I felt very positive.

What I didn’t realize is that the body picks and choses which parts it wants to heal first. I guess that makes sense; when you’re out in the cold for a long time, your body decides to give up on your limbs and focuses on your core functions, so why should it be any different in this case? My voice got better fast, my grogginess receded, my body temperature started going up pretty dramatically, but suddenly I had swollen and achey wrists, ankles, knees, and hips. I had no idea that was part of the deal, even though I’d been staring at a list of symptoms for weeks at that point. I was getting puffy around the eyes. It’s as if parts of me got better and other parts got worse. I started to read about theories about fibromyalgia/chronic fatigue syndrome being actually just a manifestation of hypothyroidism (tired, sore joints, muscular pain). I also started to notice horrifically dry skin; I could sand my walls down with my elbows. I wasn’t really in an ideal physical state for my “honeymoon”. While I was pleased to see Jeremy again (finally!), there I was: tired, irritable, achey, slow, and not much fun.

Today, it’s been two weeks since I started taking thyroxine. It’s also the beginning of projected double-digit temperatures in Southern Ontario (they’re projecting 11 C degrees today, 14 C degrees tomorrow), so it’s the first week that’s really felt like spring. Coming out of a hypothyroid daze is very much like coming out of a kind of hybernation, so this all feels very well timed. Today, I feel a bit clearer in the head. I have a bit more energy than I’ve had in a while. I can’t quite remember what “normal” feels like, so it’s hard to compare, but I think I’m getting there.

Microcelebrity

Microcelebrity

I heard a bit on the radio about the internet and microcelebrity, but I only caught the tail end of it. I found an article about the idea here, written by Clive Thompson of Wired, and found that it really resonated with me as a tip-of-the-iceberg kind of idea. I wish this concept were more widespread in online discussion, and it’s implications more carefully considered. Even for those who know about it, few really take it seriously. I mean, Tay Zonday doesn’t really need serious deconstruction, does he? We watch him, we talk about him. So what?

I’m disturbed by our tendency to create and worship at the altar of alternative authority figures in online communities, and then to scoff about the whole thing because it doesn’t matter.

This is primarily why I hestitate over studies like Walt’s which seek to quantify popularity in the world of librarian blogs; I fear the creation of a hierarchy within this online community. Creating a list of popular bloggers creates more visible, more defined, and authoritative list of our community’s microcelebrities, encouraging others to vie for the top spot and pay closer attention to these community leaders. In reality this happens anyway, regardless of whether you quantify it, so I suppose I shouldn’t be so skittish about lists. But I feel like we don’t consider the implications of this microcelebrity enough, that we don’t stop to deconstruct the process enough and see what kinds of behaviours we unthinkingly adopt in its presence.

I’m interested in what it means to be a microcelebrity in any community, because I’ve seen in turn destructive and counterproductive so many times online. Why does this happen? Most people start doing what they do, putting themselves online, for a set of self-defined and often unique purposes: they enjoy writing out loud, they enjoy participating in a community of like-minded people with similar interests, they enjoy the challenge of alternative perspectives, they want a place to react and respond to the things that go on in their daily lives. They like to record their own growth and be urged on in that growth by people they do and don’t know. They want to get some feedback on something they’re doing, get some reaction and attention, perhaps. They want to create an online presence. Most people (I imagine) don’t enter into an online community with the goal of becoming one of that community’s celebrities; most people don’t realize that all online communities have their own homegrown celebrities. We don’t conceive of celebrity that way, and we don’t, as a rule, know the internet and it communities well enough to know that this is what happens. But I have never seen an online community that didn’t have them. It’s rarely a positive experience for anyone, even though “it’s not real” and “it doesn’t matter” and “who is it really hurting”. It hurts us. It reflects the way we build our communities, and being conscious of it will hopefully create a richer, more diverse environment.

What does it mean to be a microcelebrity, known in other circles as a BNF? It means that everything the microcelebrity writes about or focuses on gains more attention than it would otherwise; microcelebrities set the topics for discussion within the community, because everyone is reading what they say and wants in on the conversation. If the microcelebrity develops an interest in something relatively ignored to that point, that interest becomes a new fad. The microcelebrity coins terms that have currency in the community. The ideas, rough drafts, or work of the microcelebrity gets lots of feedback and response in the form of comments, forum posts, tweets, or blog posts; the work of the microcelebrity is more often cited and built upon than that of others. The ideas or work of microcelebrities become goalposts of the community, and everyone else is often compared against them. It’s a powerful position, but that power is often invisible to the microcelebrity, who is often just trying to do what everyone else is doing without recognizing the influence they’re having on the community at large. This definition of celebrity is so absurd to people that the power that comes with it is difficult for them to comprehend. It often feels like microcelebrities “run” the community, when in reality they do not and cannot. Their interests and activities just consistently receive more attention than that of others in the community.

It all sounds pretty positive, but there are downsides, and I think those downsides are dangerous for a healthy online community. Being under a microscope constantly by one’s own community of peers means that the microcelebrity is required to be increasingly careful about what kinds of ideas they espouse lest they inadvertently quash someone else’s project or cause drama. Clive Thompson writes: “Some pundits fret that microcelebrity will soon force everyone to write blog posts and even talk in the bland, focus-grouped cadences of Hillary Clinton (minus the cackle).” He doesn’t believe this is likely, but I’ve never been involved in a community where I haven’t seen it happen. As soon as everyone is staring at you all the time, and the slightest negative opinion sends some part of your community into a tailspin and your inbox to fill up with hate mail, things do get pretty bland. We talk about celebrities (micro or otherwise) as if they are not flesh and blood people; we can talk about them negatively without imagining that they would ever find and read our words about them. We curtail the people we read the most, in the end. The microcelebrity’s views and interests become more mainstream because mainstream is what we want from them; we want them to pet our egos, support our projects, and not stomp on any emerging subcultures or fledgling ideas, and we want to be able to eviscerate them for everything they say and do, as well. Why do we do this to each other? Why is this necessary? (Ask Jessamyn if she gets any hatemail. I bet she does. Do you?)

People approach microcelebrities to pimp their project or their posts, because the approval of a microcelebrity has such great weight; people post comments on these people’s posts just to get their names out there and visible within the community. People put microcelebrities in their feedreaders just to keep track of what they’re paying attention to, either to repost and respond to it, or possibly just to mock it. People get scornful of microcelebrities and everything they say and do, just because there is always a group of people who want to define themselves against what’s popular and shaping public discussion. Microcelebrities will always be judged as not as smart, interesting, or up-to-date as whoever is trying to build themselves up in their shadows. (“Why does she get all that attention? She doesn’t deserve it.“) They become heroes and an anti-heroes at the same time. It’s junior high all over again, and what disturbs me the most is that we don’t ruminate often on the nature of our interaction with microcelebrity at all. We don’t get metacritical about the way we build people up and use them as community signposts. We don’t question the way we adopt authority even when such authority is entirely fictional. We naturally shape our online communities that way and then chafe under them without investigating what underpins the construction of a community.

Being careful about what you post online is no great tragedy, but deliberately creating a hierarchy as a collective where a small subset of a community are expected to control topics and opinions, set trends, and give blessing to emerging subcultures, is self-limiting on all sides.

And this is why I object to creating “top 10 lists” of librarian bloggers; I know what ends up happening. People troll these lists for the ones to watch rather than exclusively following the people they would naturally gravitate toward or find interesting. We create a canon. Without the top 10 list, at least the people getting attention at any one time would shift and change a bit more; as soon as we publicly acknowledge those who get most of our attention, we’re starting to build up those hierarchies and cement them.

Microcelebrity is a real thing, and it can have a negative impact on an online community. I’d love to see a community structured to allow everyone to get the feedback and attention they want without any small subset becoming the de facto class presidents. Maybe we’re just not wired that way.

Edit: Seems I’m not the only one feeling uncomfortable with blogs and their communities today.