Friday, April 24, 2009

when online selves collide.

In the past couple of months, I've had several new thoughts about my identity online. in some ways, this exercise mirrors one i've undergone for years with my offline self: how to reconcile my various nicknames.

some people never get nicknamed; their given name follows them around, never straying too far so that when it comes time to fill out a form or choose an email address, the identifier simply rolls off the tongue. i live on the other end of the spectrum. only people at work and a few family members still call me by my given name; most others call me "boo" (and still others have developed their own nicknames for me over the years).

in my offline world, i've found ways to navigate these different names. i usually introduce myself with my given name, but it often doesn't take long to reveal that i prefer "boo." online, however, this has grown trickier, making me think that technology isn't necessarily as flexible as we purport. after all, though i could always edit my username, it seems that once i choose one, it is somehow hard-coded into my online representation. but if i have different names in different worlds (e.g. work and not-work), this gets complicated.

for example: if my co-workers don't know me as "boo," do i need to create a given-name doppelganger of online selves to maintain a web presence? a given-name facebook account and twitter profile? (i welcome your comments.)

while some laud the Internet's capability to host our splintered, idiosyncratic selves, i crave more synchronicity; i want fewer email addresses to monitor, less clutter, and a smaller set of information i have to memorize in order to enjoy the Web's majesty.

Monday, February 2, 2009


forget privacy or our desire to maintain control over our representation in the public sphere. the real victims of surveillance society are woodland creatures.

Google's StreetView camera car hits a baby deer

(LG, you might get a point for this)

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

boo recommends 3.

sexy people
Pictures of people from previous decades are almost as funny to me as videos of people falling down. "sexy people" finds a place on my list because unlike people falling down, the only victim on display is pride.

asking for help
It's taken me a while to learn this one, but sometimes it's better to request assistance than to do foolish things like: scale the shelves at the grocery store to grab something out of reach or apply for jobs on the same job boards that everybody else uses without first talking to people you know who can personally deliver your resume to their bosses. I won't go into a treatise on altruism here; I'll just say that people seem to like to help even if I don't often seem to like to accept it.

The John C. Reilly of cruciferous vegetables, chard falls between its better-known siblings, spinach and beets. Like Reilly, chard often plays a supporting role to starring ingredients such as tofu or exotic miniature chickens. Unlike Reilly, it comes in a variety of colors.

caffeinated punctuation
Now that I'm unemployed, I choose to demarcate my time with coffee -- my morning is em dash trips to the french press, my afternoon is a hazy ellipsis of slow sips on lukewarm cups at one coffeeshop or another.

dear old love
bite-sized catharsis.

Friday, January 23, 2009

what pedestrianization means to me.

In re-reading my last post, I noticed that while I explained that the challenges I faced as a pedestrian in DC colored my overall perception of that city, I didn't explain how or why that was the case.

In the last four years or so, walking has emerged as my primary mode of transport. In fact, the best thing I could say about my most recent job was that it was close enough that I could easily walk there from my apartment (red flag: I preferred ten minutes of walking through slush to 8 hours of sitting at that desk). My favorite times to walk, however, are on the weekends. I like to wake up early and walk to the grocery store and wait outside with the other insomniacs until the store opens its doors. After that, I like to run errands ("walk errands"?)--the bank, the dry cleaners, the post office. I'm privileged enough to live close to these quotidian outposts, and I try to take advantage of their proximity whenever possible. Walking from place to place gives me a sense of the goings-on in my neighborhood better than if I'd chosen to view things through my car windshield.

Boston is home to many people who travel mostly by bike, and its suburbs and exurbs are saturated with people who rely on their cars and the Mass Pike to get around. I own a car but choose not to use it very often. Driving a car seems wasteful and indulgent to me, a way of prioritizing my own personal comfort/convenience over the interests of my immediate neighborhood and the global environment. And I choose not to bike because, frankly, it freaks me out.

And so, I walk. When I lived in DC, I would walk to school. For my first year, I lived in Adams Morgan, a lively neighborhood of ethnic restaurants, colorfully painted houses and highly unsavory frat bars. The walk from my apartment to school guided me over half-puked congealed pizza on the sidewalks lining Adams Morgan, down the hill next to the hotel where President Reagan was shot in 1981, through Dupont Circle (arguably the gayest, but not nearly the queerest, neighborhood in the city), alongside part of Embassy Row, and then through the two halves of Georgetown bisected by Wisconsin Avenue. I would arrive at school sweaty and incredulous that so much history could be packed into just a few miles beyond my home. And yet, my description of landmarks obscures the realities of my walk -- the dodging of cars' failures to yield, the blaring horns, the buses near-misses. I was a regular Frogger out there trying to cross my own personal highway. DC's broad streets and ill-timed walk signals created traffic hazards at nearly every corner between my origin and destination.

Walking around a neighborhood or city tells you something about the civic and personal relationships contained within that space. In her book, the Death and Life of Great American Cities, Jane Jacobs emphasizes the importance of sidewalks in building and sustaining neighbhorhoods. In her view, sidewalks generate and maintain trust by facilitating heterophilious interactions, a key attribute of a strong network. The more a community can support its pedestrians, the safer and more enriching that community can be, whether or not its sidewalks are paved with congealed cheese.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

hopeful urban streets.

This week, my hometown city was besieged by millions of people who wanted to feed off the collective energy of the Obama juggernaut. Even if they didn't have a chance of getting closer than two miles to his dreamy aura, people traveled down pikes and through tunnels just to be there. With DC in the spotlight these past few days, I've been thinking a lot about my experiences in that city.

In the accumulation of twenty years I've spent living there, (until I was 18 and then for two years of graduate school), only eight of those years were ruled by a non-bastard president (namely: Clinton: 1992-90). I wonder now, as I'm living 500 miles away and Obama has finally moved into the White House, if the energy of that urban space has changed in any way. Has the influx of new blood actually altered its path through the city's arteries? As the city exudes a collective sigh, and more oxygen is released into the atmosphere, do residents think more clearly? Can they exercise more efficiently? Will their matches light faster when they strike them against the box?

During my most recent DC term (2006-2008), there were days that I felt actually beaten down by the city. It was more than a feeling of displacement or misunderstanding. I felt an active force pushing against me, pushing me out of the way, a profound sense of not fitting in. While many laud DC's layout, I felt continually challenged as a pedestrian in that city. The abundance of tourists and out-of-state temporary residents on the roads and the confusion of congested corridors, resulted in constant flouting of laws designed to protect those of us who often crossed intersections on two feet. The daily feeling of nearly being run over was not simply a metaphor.

Like so many others, though, I have hope that things will change, and I have no doubt that Obama's deep respect for collectivism will leak out of the White House and stain the DC streets a better hue.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

140 characters of resistance.

It's not hard for me to admit when I'm wrong. In fact, I suffer from a chronic lack of confidence in my opinions, so believing I'm wrong is actually my default setting. With that said, I want to admit on these pages that I was wrong about Twitter and its usefulness in my life.

I started out using Twitter for purely academic purposes; I was conducting research for a paper about how the 2008 presidential candidates were using Twitter to communicate to their "followers." At the time, Twitter bored me. I didn't get it. I didn't think the candidates were using it in any particularly interesting way; it was as if they'd simply been handed a "Politics Web 2.0" starter kit and Twitter fit nicely in the Microblogging compartment. My guess at the time was that voters who were aware of and using Twitter didn't need to hear from Hillary Clinton that she'd be making a speech at their local Barnes and Noble that day; they probably already knew. Of course, this was just a hunch, and while many innovative research papers have been predicated on a mere hunch over the years, this paper in particular needed some quantifiable data to back up my theories, so instead, I looked at how often (and to how many followers) the candidates tweeted.

After I finished writing the paper, I still saw no use for Twitter.... and then a funny thing happened: people I really like started to use it. All of a sudden, I used Twitter all the time! I didn't always post what I was doing (after all, I hold fast to my contention that my friends can't possibly care about the contents of my breakfast), but I sure started reading it a lot more often. I even signed up to receive tweets on my cell phone so that I could hear up-to-the-minute news from my friends as they walked through their lives in boston and DC.

So, I would like to admit that I was wrong. Like many things in our lives -- especially communication technologies -- a narrative needs to exist for why we should incorporate a new habit, some compelling reason to nudge us in another direction. For a long time, that narrative just didn't speak to me.... and then one day it did.

(I would also like to take this time to state for the record that I think Twitter will be dead within six months, or at least left in a shallow roadside grave once a better / shinier new technology comes around.)