McLuhan the Younger: Two New Books

There have been plenty of people touted to carry the mantle left behind by Marshall McLuhan — Neil Postman, Douglas Rushkoff, Paul Levinson, even Jean Baudrillard, but no one has been working more behind the scenes and under the radar to keep his legacy alive than his own son and sometimes co-author Eric McLuhan.

Eric McLuhan has amassed a significant body of work in his own right, including Electric Language (St. Martin’s Griffin, 1998), The Role of Thunder in Finnegans Wake (University of Toronto Press, 1997), the forthcoming Theories of Communication (with Marshall), and The Human Equation (BPS Books, 2011; discussed below), among many others.

One of Marshall’s most important and most overlooked works was co-authored by Eric. The posthumously published Laws of Media (University of Toronto Press, 1988). In this book, they tackle the Shannon-Weaver model of communication as needlessly linear (a task I’ve attempted myself), writing, “The Shannon-Weaver model and its derivatives follow the linear pattern of efficient cause — the only sequential form of causality” (p. 87). Formal cause was a lesser known but chronic concern for McLuhan.

[T]he formal causes inherent in… media operate on the matter of our senses. The effect of media, like their ‘message’ is really on their form and not in their content (Marshall Mcluhan in Gordon, W. T., 2005, p. 10).

In Media and Formal Cause by Marshall and Eric McLuhan (NeoPoiesis Press, 2011), Eric brings together three pieces by Marshall and an extended essay of his own (“On Formal Cause”) that references them, as well as historical context provided by his new introduction and a Foreword by the inimitable Lance Strate.

Aristotle’s definition of formal cause — one of four causes he defined, and the one that contains the other three — reads the “essense, idea, or quality of the thing concerned” (Bunge, iii; what Heidegger would call “the thing thinging”). McLuhan saw Aristotle’s oral orientation conflating formal and final cause. This view and the Shannon-Weaver model are the results of left-brain thinking, and we need a right-brain perspective if we are to cope with the new electronic age. “Communication theory necessarily concerns the study of the public and not of the program,” McLuhan wrote in an unpublished letter to Archie Malloch. “The ‘content’ of any performance is the efficient cause which includes the user or the cognitive agent who is, and becomes, the thing known, in Aristotle’s phrase” (p. 10). He goes on to cite his mentor Harold Innis as the first to show that the alphabet is what split Greek thought between “thinking” and “being” (p. 30). “Literacy become synonymous with Western civilization that divorced ‘subject’ from ‘object’ and thought from feeling, just as the dominant metaphors of mechanism widened the separation of  ’cause’ and ‘effect'” (p. 31). Knowledge of the alphabet distances us from knowledge of formal cause.

And understanding formal cause is tantamount to understanding our new media ecology. It was at the center of McLuhan’s work. Eric writes, “Formal cause is still, in our time, hugely mysterious: The literate mind finds it is too paradoxical and irrational. It deals with environmental processes and it works outside of time” (p. 87). McLuhan wrote, “effects precede causes” (p. 43). The bright light of the future casts shadows on the present from forthcoming events — that’s formal cause.

[Media] Ecology does not seek connections, but patterns. It does not seek quantities, but satisfactions and understanding (p. 8).

Mass media in all their forms are necessarily environmental and therefore have the character of formal causality (McLuhan to Ruth Nanda Ashen, NAC, 1975).

McLuhan mentioned predicting the present in his work several times, and an observance of “daily miracles” like his oft-studied subject Chesterton. He also approached all of this mass-media mess from what amounts to a systems point of view: figures, grounds, environments, anti-environments, sense ratios. He was trying to get outside of it all to see what it was doing from the highest possible vantage point.

So this is all about perspective. And McLuhan pointed out that perspective is a mode of perception that involves a single point of view — or fragmentation, in space and time, in painting and in poetry (Gordon, Hamaji, & Albert, 2007, p. 139).

The perspective is part of what makes The Human Equation by Wayne Constantineau and Eric McLuhan (BPS Books, 2010) so effective: the vantage point, the human as central concern, the human as center of the universe. This is “Book 1: The Human Equation Toolkit,” and the toolkit consists of numerous sets of four related concepts, tetrads, not unlike the ones in Marshall McLuhan and Bruce R. Powers’ The Global Village (Oxford University Press, 1992), and those included in the aforementioned Laws of Media. The Human Equation starts with four embodied positions — standing, lying down, sitting, and kneeling — as the basis of all extensions thereof (i.e., media, technology, etc.). Co-authored by the late mime Constantineau, that the book’s foundation is comprised of body positions should come as no surprise.

This short book is rife with odd new perspectives on our media, culture, our place in the universe, and indeed our bodies themselves — much like so many of Marshall McLuhan’s own odd shorter works.

This year marks the centennial of Marshall McLuhan’s birth, and his work is as relevant now as it ever was. Here’s to everyone who’s keeping his legacy alive, especially his son Eric McLuhan.

References:

Bunge, M. Causality: The Place of the Causal Principle in Modern Science. Metaphysics, 32, Bk. 1, ch, iii.

Gordon, W. T. (2010). McLuhan: A Guide for the Perplexed. New York: Continuum Books.

Gordon, W. T. (2005). McLuhan Unbound, #14. Corte Madera, CA: Gingko Press.

Gordon, W. T., Hamaji, E, & Albert, J. (2007). Everyman’s McLuhan. New York: Mark Batty Publisher.

Heidegger, M. (1971) Poetry, Language Thought. New York: Harper & Row.

McLuhan, M. & McLuhan, E. (1988). Laws of Media: The New Science. Toronto: University of Toronto Press.

McLuhan, M. & Powers, B. R. (1992). The Global Village. Oxford University Press.

National Archives of Canada. (1975, July 2). Marshall McLuhan to Ruth Nanda Ashen.

The Greatest Actor of All Time: Nicolas Cage

Few actors have had careers anywhere near as diverse and dynamic as Nicolas Cage. A member of the Royal Coppola Family, Cage has been in everything from goofy teen comedies like Fast Times at Ridgemont High (1982) to mind-blowing, block-busting adventures like National Treasure (2004). His acting agility is abetted by his willingness and ability to take on challenging roles that other thespians of his caliber wouldn’t think of accepting — and pulling them off without dumbing them down. As Roger Ebert once put it,

There are often lists of the great living male movie stars: De Niro, Nicholson and Pacino, usually. How often do you see the name of Nicolas Cage? He should always be up there. He’s daring and fearless in his choice of roles, and unafraid to crawl out on a limb, saw it off and remain suspended in air. No one else can project inner trembling so effectively…. He always seems so earnest. However improbable his character, he never winks at the audience. He is committed to the character with every atom and plays him as if he were him.

The filmic examples are seemingly endless, so instead of surveying his career in its entirety, I will concentrate on three representative films: Raising Arizona (1987), Matchstick Men (2003), and the indisputable greatest movie of all time, Con Air (1997).

Francis McDormand once said that one can’t make any money working on a Cohen Brothers film. While I’m sure that’s changed since (this statement was made pre-Fargo), I think most would agree that for an actor, working with Ethan and Joel Cohen is an honor, a privilege, and an opportunity to establish oneself artistically. No one has done this more fervently in one film than Nicolas Cage in Raising Arizona. With his career stretched out before him like a sleepy kitten, Cage took on the lead role in a film that would define one of the many facets of his style as an actor. H. I. McDunnough is a good-for-nothing, two-bit thief who falls in love with a police officer hell-bent on raising a family. After an intermittent courtship involving H. I.’s lengthening rap sheet, the ultimately infertile couple marry and attempt to have children. Seeing a news story about a couple who has more offspring than they can handle, they decide to steel one. Hi-jinks ensue, and the doomed H.I. is caught between his old ways as a thief and his new life as a family man, with the two inextricably intertwined like so many lovers’ legs.

In the similarly quirky Wild at Heart (the plot of which I always confuse with True Romance, perhaps because of their similarly Westbound plots and blonde love interests), Cage would almost reprise this role. He was to all but abandon this kind of character later in his career, save maybe Adaptation (2002) and, our last stop, Matchstick Men (2003).

What did he abandon the weirdness for? Action, of course, and Cage’s crowning achievement, Con Air (1997) is jam-packed with it. This Jerry Bruckheimer vehicle crashes and burns in the best possible way: right into Las Vegas! Where else are you going to see oddball jokesters like Steve Buscemi, Dave Chappelle, and John Leguizamo teamed-up with powerhouse hunks like John Travolta, Vin Diesel, and Ving Rhames, alongside A-list actors like John Cusak,  John Malkovich, Matt Damon, Willem Dafoe, and Nicolas Cage in the same movie? Bob Stephenson is even in here! What happened to the casting director on this star-studded screen scorcher? Fired for awesomeness? How about the screenwriter or the director?

The Ridley Scott-directed Matchstick Men (2003) tells the story of an obsessive-compulsive con man getting conned out of everything. Sam Rockwell plays the partner-cum-con (Frank Mercer) who uses a young girl, Angela (played by Alison Lohman), posing as Roy Waller’s (Cage) estranged daughter. Matchstick Men (and Adaptation, pictured below, by proxy) is less important for Cage’s role per se than it is for his role at the time it happened: dead in the middle of a string of Cage-fronted action movies. In the midst of constant reminders of his action-hero status, Matchstick Men recalled a younger, weirder Nicolas Cage, and reminded everyone of his immense on-screen strengths.

So, in brief, Nicolas Cage is the greatest actor to ever entertain a darkened theater. I dare you to come up with a stronger, more genuine, more diverse body of work.

———–

“…I was just admirin’ your cage.” Here’s the trailer for The Greatest Movie of All Time, Con Air (1997) [runtime: 2:23]:

fWq-S1_1vnc

Don’t Deprive the World of Your Ideas: Four Books

It’s difficult for me to even think about marketing or branding without thinking about Scott Belsky. His Making Ideas Happen (Portfolio, 2010) and the whole 99%/Bēhance/Action Method is as close to a working system for this stuff as I’ve seen. Belsky says to identify your differentiating attributes and emphasize them. Doug Rushkoff once told me to give people something they can’t get anywhere else, and Howard Bloom once said that if you’re not actively marketing yourself, then you’re depriving the world of your ideas. This is how you stand out without a doubt.

Besides Belsky’s, I have come across four other recent books on the topic of self-promotion and breaking through the cluttered airwaves. Even the airwaves specific to this topic are noisy, so if my reviews seem cavalier, it’s because I only want to give you a general sense of each of these books. If one piques your interest, I highly recommend checking it out.

On the very first page of his book Disrupt: Think the Unthinkable to Spark Transformation in Your Business (FT Press, 2010), Luke Williams cosigns the statements above, but makes strong qualifications thereof. “Novelty for novelty’s sake” is a resource killer, and customers seek the familiar. Differentiating yourself is one thing, being different is entirely another. It’s not about differentiating, it’s about disrupting. “Differentiate all you want,” Williams writes, “but figure out a way to be the only one who does what you do, or die” (p. 2). The full “Disruptive Thinking” plan is more complex than that, of course, but that’s its most basic premise. Williams is a Fellow at frog design and an Adjunct Professor of Innovation at NYU Stern School of Business, so this stuff is his stuff. His book deserves to be at the top of this list.

I’m trying to change the world before I change my mind.
Pete Miser

The subtitle of The Dragonfly Effect by Jennifer Aaker and Andy Smith with Carlye Adler (Jossey-Bass, 2010) reads “Quick, Effective, and Powerful Ways to Use Social Media to Drive Social Change,” but before you scroll to the next book, hear me out. Aaker, Smith, and Adler have put together a crash course in achieving the ever-elusive just noticeable difference for your big ideas.

A dragonfly has four wings, and the dragonfly effect has four skills: focus, grab attention, engage, take action. Their first case study (Team Sameer and Team Vinay) yields the following list. Some of these should sound familiar (these are from How to Do Something Seismic–and Create a Movement by Robert Chatwani):

  1. Stay focused; develop a single goal.
  2. Tell your story.
  3. Act, then think.
  4. Design for collaboration.
  5. Employ empowerment marketing.
  6. Measure one metric.
  7. Try, fail, try again, succeed.
  8. Don’t ask for help; require it.

I love these, and that last one, seemingly counterintuitive, is quite brilliant. And there are hundereds more in here. The Dragonfly Effect is a solid system for success in our media-saturated times.

If you’re more interested in starting a movement, a campaign that focuses more on people and passion than products and projects, then Brains on Fire by Robbin Phillips, Greg Cordell, Geno Church, and Spike Jones (J. Wiley, 2010) is the book for you. These authors aren’t writing about product launches and opting-in. They’re writing about conversations and engagement. The clutetrain might be still making the rounds, but these folks are taking it to new stations. And now that the technology has caught up with the ideas, so can you.

“Markets are conversations,” stated The Cluetrain Manifesto (Perseus Books, 1999), and conversations are where movements start. Participation does not equal engagement, but Brains on Fire employs eleven lessons in getting from the former to the latter. From “Movements Start with the First Conversation” (Lesson 2) and “Movements Empower People with Knowledge” (Lesson 5), to “Movements Have Shared Ownership” (Lesson 6) and “Movements get Results” (Lesson 10), this book is as fun as it is fearless.

I found out about Brains on Fire from Scott Stratten, fellow Geekend 2010 speaker and author of Unmarketing: Stop Marketing. Start Engaging (J. Wiley, 2009). Unlike some of the authors above, Stratten tackles more traditional marketing tactics (e.g., cold calling) in less traditional ways (e.g., giving things away). He also often tries too hard to be funny. That, along with the traditional marketing buzzwords found throughout the book, make it difficult to take some of this stuff seriously. Reading this, I often got the feeling he wasn’t talking to me.

With that said, Stratten’s ideas are good. If you’re looking for a quick guide (the chapters herein are very short, easy to read one or two in just a few minutes) on how it’s done now, Unmarketing is a damn good start.

Getting focused, truly differentiating yourself or your campaign not just for differentiation’s sake, involving and engaging your audience, and being as open and transparent as possible are not just suggestions for success, they are how it’s done now. These four books (along with Scott Belsky’s Making Ideas Happen and the ever-relevant Cluetrain Manifesto) are a crash curriculum in current marketing and spreading ideas. Don’t deprive the world of yours. Get them out there.

Daylight Savings Tribe: SXSW 2011

Sometimes our Earth’s orbit brings us closer to other heavenly entities. Last Saturday for instance, our own Moon was closer than it has been in twenty years. Well, annually in mid-March, we collide headlong into another planet, a clusterfuck (as Buckminster Fuller would say) of talky panels, film screenings, and live shows that is known as South by Southwest, or more commonly by its planetary initials SXSW. This was only my second visit and the first at which I have spoken. The daylight saving’s time wormhole swallowed up a few key things and possibly a few people on Sunday morning, but I’m pretty sure everything I said about last year still holds. The panels are good, but the side conversations are the goods.

Our tribe for SXSW Day #4: L to R: Dave Allen, Merrick, Shivvy, Roy Christopher, and Michael McSunas.

My favorite locations on panel planet this year, included “Indie Success: Caching in on Collaboration,” a discussion of creativity and collaboration with Kenyatta Cheese, Heather Gold, Allee Willis, and Mary Jo Pehl. I met Kenyatta at SXSW last year because he was on a panel with my friend Alice Marwick, and I met the awesomely multi-talented and hyper-driven Heather at Geekend 2010 after my talk there. This is how the tribe grows.

Kenyatta is a beacon of positivity. He is just a benevolently inspiring presence. His words are strong yet playful at the same time. I ran into him and Tricia Wang (these two) serendipitously one afternoon on 6th Street, and my day was just completely made. “I am Kenyatta Cheese, and I am of the web,” he opened at this panel, and when the legitimacy of his last name was questioned, he said, “I didn’t choose my name, but I’ve chosen everything since.” Believe that.

The web allows us to create and distribute the most mundane of our thoughts, but getting them to the point of getting them out there is often a large part of the struggle. Heather insists that we need to give ourselves permission to create, and Mary Jo Pehl put it, “it’s so freeing to let go of the idea of quality.” Songwriter and artist Allee Willis posts her creations as they happen. She said that being a happy artist means knowing your comfort zone and getting out of it. She keeps every iteration of everything she does, 42,000 terabytes’ worth. It’s more about the process than the product (This was a common thread this year, as even 4chan founder Christopher Poole said in his keynote, “It’s the process at which you arrive at the product that is fascinating.“) Find the balance to corrupt the balance. You can’t learn from perfection. Let it go, work with others, and release your darlings. This is good.

I also caught a great talk on Gamestorming by the authors of the book of the same name, Dave Gray, Sunni Brown — whom I’d met in the registration line — and James Macanufo. As you know from my previous posts about notebooks, I love attempting to represent ideas visually — with pens and paper. Well, the Gamestorming crew is all about that. They encourage us to think of meetings or projects as games and to pursue them accordingly. James also encouraged creating artifacts, that is, writing things down. “If paper didn’t exist,” he said, “we’d have to invent it again.” I cannot be more supportive of these ideas. I love this stuff.

One of the main themes from last year — context (or lack thereof) — popped up time and again in discussions this year. Much to the chagrin of several reviewers of Follow for Now, and when the web started inflating and people were getting hired as “content creators,” I toyed with the idea of being a context creator. I still think it’s a viable task (I may put it down as my occupation on my 1040 this year), and so does my good friend, fellow traveler, and SXSW partner-in-crime Dave Allen. It seems like the core of what Dave and I — and our mutual friend Jeff Newelt — do is make connections and provide context for them. I see it like this: at its most basic, human interaction consists of three things: 1) contact, 2) content, and 3) context. They can occur in any order or simultaneously, but all three all have to exist in order for meaning to shine through. Leave one out, and meaning leaks.

Historical context is especially important and the most neglected, and that’s the main point of Dave’s post on SXSW this year. Our digital archives are so vast that we have access to much of the past, but no way to contextualize it in time. I am digressing, but this is a problem Dave and I talked about regularly this week and will be exploring further in the future. The idea is also deeply embedded in Tricia Wang‘s work (and subsequent panel, “Sleeping at Internet Cafes: The Next 300 Million Chinese Users“) in on the next internet community in China. As Geert Lovink once put it, “The New does not emerge. It erupts, then fades away.” We have to keep it in context.

Thanks to Jeff Newelt, Dave Allen, and Ume, I managed to see screen-scramblers Eclectic Method three times during SXSW. They do a multimedia remix show that’s like they’re flying a plane, driving a car, and conducting a train all at once: It moves in every direction, and they somehow keep it controlled. Their show on Sunday at the Seaholm Power Plant was huge. Just HUGE. They played the much smaller Pepsi Max event on Wednesday (just before the legend Pharoahe Monch), and a short set at the Austin Music Hall the next night (pictured).

The line-up that night was bananas: local favorites Ume, ‘Bama trunk-popper Yelawolf, Texas representative Trae the Truth, a DJ set by Erika Badu, Eclectic Method with Childish Gambino AKA Donald Glover, and the legendary Wu-Tang Clan. I saw The People’s Champ Paul Wall on his way there and Bam Margera backstage. Bananas…

Ume filled the cavernous venue with their joyous noise sounding the best they’ve ever sounded. No offense to their old drummer Jeff, but the addition of new drummer Rachel really steps up their sound. They’re bound to finally smash the next level now… I was bugging out so hard during Yelawolf’s set that it prompted Eric from Ume to tweet, “It is fun watching @RoyChristopher have fun.” (Favorite. Tweet. Evers.). Yelawolf killed it, and I certainly enjoyed myself.

After several discussions with folks at the show, we concurred that in order to legitimately claim the the Wu-Tang Clan was in the building, there had to be at least five of the extant members present. Well, We got U-God, Cappadonna, Inspektah Deck, GZA, and Ghostface Killah — just enough for the city. They were plagued with sound system problems, mainly screeching mics, but the energy was at a feverpitch. The five of them eased out on stage one by one, exchanging verses, and when Ghostface finally emerged, I thought the Austin Music Hall was done for.

Rob Sonic reppin' the Well-Red Bear

Somehow since last time I’d seen him, Rob Sonic had become convinced that I didn’t love him anymore. Fortunately he came back to town with Aesop Rock and DJ Big Wiz (collectively known as Hail Mary Mallon), and I was able to profess my love to him anew. The boys were in town to rock the back patio at Home Slice Pizza. They brought their friend Kimya Dawson (see the clip embedded below), who made me weep like a baby every time she took the stage. Aesop Rock, Rob, and Wiz did a quick but thorough mix of old and new material, all of which was the toppest of notches. Cannot wait to hear all of  their new records (several in the works from these folks).

Somehow, my man Merrick (of Music Impacts — more on this project on the site later) got us into the VIP at Perez Hilton’s party at The Moody Theatre, where we drank free drinks and watched Liz Phair freaking own the place. No small feat considering the size of that monstrosity. We stumbled off into the night not long after her stellar set (which included classics like “SuperNova,” “6’1″,” “Flower,” and closed with “Fuck and Run”).

Not Liz Phair.

A ten-day orbit of fun and stimuli like this makes saying “thank you” seem ridiculous, but I must try anyway. Many thanks to old friends Dave Allen, Jeff Newelt, Kenyatta Cheese, Heather Gold, Kerrisa Bearce, Travis McCutcheon, Miriam and Jake Hodesh from Geekend, Aesop Rock, Rob Sonic, and Big Wiz, as well as Lauren Larson, Eric Larson, and Rachel of Ume (and mutual friends Andrea, Jessica, Ronnie, and Chad), for getting me into stuff, buying me drinks, and just for simply being my friends.

High-grade humans I met this year whom I must thank include Donna Coxon-McCory, Merrick and Shivvy of Music Impacts, artist Gary Baseman, Ian and Johnny of Eclectic Method, their manager Justin Bolognino, Char Zvolanek, Michael McSunas, Shadamation, Mark E. Johnson from The University of Georgia, Brady Forest from O’Reilly, Sunni Brown, Zadi Diaz, Steve Woolf of Blip TV and Epic Fu, Tricia Wang, Kelly Khun, Cecy Correa, Stephanie Spear, Lauren Rae Bertolini, Amy Allcock, Dang Nguyen, Miriam Shoemaker, Kim Stezzi, and Brian Scipione of Sonic Living: You all made this year what it was, mind-twistingly awesome. And to those I missed: Michelle Rae Anderson, Zachary Dominitz, Chris Grayson, Sloane Kelley, Doug Stanhope, Brendon Walsh, Mark Budgell, Mark O’Sullivan, and Paul Iannacchino, Jr: Next time.

I walked out of my place at midnight on Day Number Nine, and I could hear the distant drone of a million bands still playing downtown. You can’t worry about missing something on Planet SXSW, because no matter what you’re doing, you’re always missing something.

—————

Here’s Kimya Dawson and Aesop Rock (a.k.a. Poltergasm!) doing “Delicate Cycle” at Home Slice Pizza on March 19, 2011 [runtime: 4:33]:

Ipj0HQOgMmQ

TEDxAustin 2011: Right Now.

Quoting Ray Kurzweil, TEDxAustin co-curator Nancy Giordano opened the day by saying that as humans we’re prepared for linear change but completely unprepared for exponential change. We were certainly unprepared for the full day of potential change she and the TEDxAustin crew assembled in the Austin Music Hall on February 19th: Right Now. Giordano warned us a few times of “intellectual whiplash” when the schedule leaped from one topic to entirely another. She never warned us about “expectation whiplash” though. Right Now was a rollercoaster.

Several people* have pointed out that it’s easier to imagine the end of the world than the end of capitalism. Sunny Vanderbeck isn’t after the end of capitalism, just capitalism as we know it. In one giant leap toward fixing it, he takes a long-view that includes responsibility for the world in which business is done over short-term gain. In another, he advises openness. No more relying on sweatshops or sneaky offshore practices. If we make and demand that processes be more transparent, change happens. Change is a contagion. … Ralph Wagner showed us the future of biotechnology, then Robyn O’Brien, author of The Unhealthy Truth (Crown, 2009), showed us how it can go horribly, unhealthily wrong. Here’s hoping her contagion catches on. She showed us crazy data on genetic food modification, pesticides, and food allergy and cancer rates in the U. S. versus the rest of the world. These are not a pretty pictures of our country or its policies. …  Runner Gilbert Tuhabonye advised us to do our work with joy. He has done his under many circumstances. He advises joy.

“Language and culture are the software of the 21st century,” proclaimed Sylvia Acevedo, CEO of ComminuCard. Um, I’m no rocket scientist (Acevedo is. No, really.), but I would argue that language and culture were the software of every century prior to the 21st. Software is the software of the 21st century. … Osama Bedier monstertrucked through his Skyped-in presentation with his back thrown out and taught us about the history and presumably the future of payment. By way of comically extended metaphor, he also taught us why the limitations of the Space Shuttle are based on the width of horses asses. It’s a great story, and I won’t give it away here. Gregory Kallenberg illustrated how creative media can bring polarized opinions together with his documentary Haynesville (2009) about a giant natural gas reserve (170 trillion cubic feet or the equivalent of 28 billion barrels of oil) in the backwoods of Louisiana. It’s an amazing story of hope and possibility. … Poet and teacher Joaquin Zihuatanejo brought tears to the eyes and chills to the skin with his starkly told stories and dynamic delivery thereof. If you’ve ever doubted the power of words, look up Zihuatanejo. … After we all got hyped up, Flint Sparks made sure everyone got very relaxed. The bumpers and graphics on the screen between and during the talks were excellent, and I was stoked to see Public School among the credits.

In each of our packets, there was a list of three people TEDxAustin thought we should meet. As most conference-goers know, the sidebar conversations are usually as important as the planned speakers, the serendipity of bumping into the new. As John Maeda once put it, “serendipity comes from differences.” Unfortunately, we tend to seek out similarities, and I found some like-minds in the halls (big ups to Kevin and Paul from M3 Design, Todd the freelance writer, and Travis the designer), but even my micro-experience echoed the larger impression of a bunch of white folks patting themselves on the back. By the end of the day, no one had found the three people on their suggested list.

Gary Thompson has some great ideas about how the internet and the cloud should serve us better, but he’ll have to help Sunny Vanderbeck fix capitalism before he’s likely to be able to implement any of them. Companies still want our information to stay separate because it serves them — and capitalism — that way. … Peter Hall was my favorite speaker by far. He talked about the difference between maps and mappings, and showed lots of great examples. He’s at my own University of Texas at Austin, so look for me to be tracking him down soon. … Lionel Tiger, author of The End of Males (St. Martins Press, 2000) and professor from Rutgers University who coined the term “male bonding,” came to defend the men. He made many interesting points about boys growing up believing they’re just bad girls, but the reason we don’t have men’s studies departments and courses on masculinity is the same reason we don’t have White Entertainment Television: It has always already been that. The study of history up until the last 30 or so years has been the study of men. We’re still doing it wrong, but we’re doing it.

TEDxAustin: Right Now ended with a bit of a whimper and not a bang. Tavo Hellmund was the most “sought-after” speaker of this event, but I couldn’t really figure out why. His talk was on the benefits of bringing a Grand Prix Formula 1 facility not only to the United States but to southeast Travis County, which he’s doing. It seemed antithetical to the piped-in Brené Brown talk we’d just heard. … He and Dustin Haisler should talk about generating interest in their communities. The messenger is the message, Hellmund seemed to be saying. Haisler, who spoke last, has obviously read Clay Shirky’s last book, but not Dan Pink‘s. Harnessing the cognitive surplus to renovate local government looks great on a comment card — it’s like democratizing democracy — but incentivizing it with virtual money doesn’t sound feasible. I don’t want to play Farmville with the players of Farmville, so I hardly want my city government run by them. Incentive comes from within. Engagement starts with the person, not the external rewards.

I left TEDxAustin inspired and very glad I managed to slip in, perhaps with a few of my expectations violated. The organizers, curators, participants, and volunteers all deserve massive gratitude and credit for putting this thing together.

——————

Here’s one of the videos of one of the talks we watched at TEDxAustin. It’s Brené Brown from TEDxHouston 2010, and it’s awesome [runtime: 20:45]!

X4Qm9cGRub0

——————

* Michael Hardt, Mark Fisher, Fredric Jameson, and Slavoj Žižek, at least.