30 November 2005

"I Only Paint Fakes," and Offended People

Like many of you, I've ended up on a few listservs that are not so troublesome or voluminous that it merits the effort to unsubscribe, but they are only of peripheral interest. Mostly, it happens when I attend a meeting or seminar during which they pass a sign-up sheet for announcements of future events. Mostly, as it turns out, future events do not seem as interesting as the one that got me to loan out my name.

And so the emails roll in to the inbox, and out to the deleted mail file.

Today, a notice came on one particular list that is run by a professor at my institution about two former(?) students who were recently written up in minor news outlets. One of them, Diane Zorn, is engaged in a particularly interesting line of research concerning academics who suffer from what she calls, "The Imposter Phenomenon." As she describes it, the Imposter Phenomenon is
"an internal experience of intellectual phoniness common among high-achieving people". She has found that IP can affect anyone from PhD candidates preparing for their comprehensives to established and tenured professors. "At one workshop a professor who was two years away from retirement told me that he still lived in fear of being revealed as a fraud," said Zorn.
I can relate to this phenomenon, but from a different ground. In my research on Role*, I describe the experience of what I call the "exo-self":
Exo-self is a shorthand for the apparent receptacle of extrinsic motivation. Through my years in corporate life, the social norms of my milieu necessitated external trappings, including demonstrations of affluence, hierarchical status, credentials and accreditations, as sources of personal value and validation. All of these are proxies for the ways in which others might regard me in the social contexts of work/life. That regard became so important to my sense of self that the proxy replaced any internal sense of worth, value or validation. I mistook these proxies as my self; the agglomeration of the proxies thus comprised my exo-self.

...My value instead was reflected in the trappings that adorn the exo-self; the trappings themselves awarded or acquired as a direct result of the external evaluations – sales wins, for example – over which I had relatively little direct influence (despite the prevailing fiction that underlies the salesman’s job), and even less control.

In general, the exo-self reflects not the capabilities or intrinsic worth of the individuals in question, but rather the dominant socio-cultural assessment of how well the individual plays her/his assigned and expected role in society at large, and the particular subculture within that society with which the individual chooses to associate.
I would thus identify Zorn's Imposter Phenomenon with the tensions that exist within an individual among the oppression of assuming her/his exo-self, their unique role* motivating aspects, and the specific roles in which they feel they must perform.

As interesting as is Zorn's work (not to mention the cool connection I can make with my own stuff), that's not the point of this post. The notice of Zorn's article came on the listserv, as I mentioned. One of the people on the list responded by saying, "academics and scholars feel like frauds because THEY ARE. I know it keeps me grounded knowing this simple truth." And then he referred to himself as "the fraud."

I read this statement in two ways. First, I saw it as a satirical commentary on the nature of the roles we all don in the course of our individual professions. Second, I read it as a reminder that we should not take ourselves seriously. Our work, our students, our commitments to each other - those aspects we should absolutely take seriously. Ourselves, never, as that leads to arrogance and the sort of haughty, ivory-towerish detachment of which many academics are accused. Truly great people realize this. Picasso was once apparently asked how many paintings he had created. He responded that the number was around 2000. When told that there were at least 5000 of his paintings for sale in the U.S. alone, he shrugged and said, "I only paint fakes."

The moderator of the list was not so sanguine at the attempted satirical commentary that reveals an important truth. She labelled the comment as "abusive" and said that she would "not tolerate it." The person who posted the comment was not only removed from the list, but a special email was sent to the rest of the list notifying all of the banishment that would undoubtedly prove to have a chilling effect on future commentary. It is within the prerogative of a list moderator to include and exclude whatever s/he would like. However, in this case the moderator is an avowed feminist (and thus nominally interested in promoting non-dominant discourse), and a professor in an institution renowned for encouraging dissenting voices and social justice.

Unfortunately, a sense of humour and an appreciation of the importance of satire to "speak truth to power" doesn't seem to be a prerequisite for her department.

Update: The person was reinstated, as he objected to a "one-strike-you're-out" rule as being unfair. The moderator, however, still deemed the comment objectionable, as she read it as disrespectful to the "vulnerability of intellectual exploration and expression." Given the tremendous privilege that academics enjoy, my reaction to this comment was certainly a raised eyebrow.

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28 November 2005

Juxtaposition of the Incongruent

Two juxtaposed posts on boingboing today that are striking in their demonstration of the fundamental tension of the Internet today. One aspect of that tension are those who are vested in an Industrial Age model of business and enterprise, while the other represents "network thinking," characteristic of a UCaPP - ubiquitously connected and pervasively proximate - world.

In the first corner are the telcos who consider the Internet as nothing more than a transport mechanism (that they own) for content (of which they want a part for the privilege of transporting). These are folks who consider the Internet as nothing more than a broadcast medium, as was radio, television, and heck - even telegraph. Doc Searls has a thought-provoking (if a tad long) essay that discusses Saving the Net: How to Keep the Carriers from Flushing the Net Down the Tubes. Consider what is on the telco's agenda. Here's Edward Whiteacre, CEO of SBC, the "baby bell" that just swallowed AT&T, one of the world's premier, tier 1 ISPs, as quoted in BusinessWeek: "The Internet can't be free in that sense, because we and the cable companies have made an investment and for a Google or Yahoo! or Vonage or anybody to expect to use these pipes [for] free is nuts!" Why has the Internet become so important to the world of both commerce and culture? Simply because the Internet grew before short-sighted, greedy people - behaviours exemplified by Whiteacre - could stick their hooks in it. Searls observes,
As a place, the Net has always been independent of the carriage on which it relies, which is one reason it also encourages and rewards independence. The independence of the Net and its inhabitants is precisely what accounts for countless new businesses and improved old ones...

Advocating and saving the Net is not a partisan issue. Lawmakers and regulators aren't screwing up the Net because they're "Friends of Bush" or "Friends of Hollywood" or liberals or conservatives. They're doing it because one way of framing the Net - as a transport system for content - is winning over another way of framing the Net - as a place where markets and business and culture and governance can all thrive. Otherwise helpful documents, including Ernest Partridge's "After the Internet" fail because they blame "Bush-friendly conservative corporations" and appeal only to one political constituency, in this case, progressives. Freedom, independence, the sovereignty of the individual, private rights and open frontiers are a few among many values shared by progressives and conservatives. All are better supported, in obvious ways, by the Net as a place rather than as a transport system.

In the other corner is someone who is not afraid of the changes, and in fact, has thrived because the changes have freed her from the indentured servitude that the old business models represent. Jane Siberry, a marvellous musicians whose music I have loved for years, has created a truly UCaPP business for promoting and selling her music. As the EFF's Fred von Lohmann describes it,
Her new download store, recently unveiled at her site, is a model of what the music downloading world could be. All of her songs are available as plain MP3s, which means they will play on your iPod and are not loaded with DRM restrictions (much less evil rootkits).

And you pay whatever you like for them. Yes, you set whatever price you like. Options include:

* free ("gift from Jane");
* a standard price (CAN$0.99);
* self-determined price - pay now; or
* self-determined price - pay later (to facilitate try-before-you-buy).

When you purchase the song, moreover, you can select up to 5 people to whom you can email a link to the song... She summed it up this way: "I want to treat people the way I'd like to be treated. I don't like being treated like a child, so I won't be doing that to other people."
Go check out her site, and her music. You won't be disappointed by either the quality of her singing, or the quality of her business acumen.
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Why Johnny and Janey Can't Read

What with being ill and then trying to catch up late in the semester, I've been away from blogging for a while. Today, however, I had the opportunity to give a lecture to the University of Toronto Senior Alumni Association, a group that believes that one's brain is like a muscle - it needs to be continually exercised to stay in shape.

I shared with them my thoughts on "Why Johnny and Janey Can't Read, and Why Mr. and Ms. Smith Can't Teach: The challenge of multiple media literacies in tumultuous times." The talk traced the thinking of the Toronto School of Communication. In doing so, I
introduce the notion that our beloved literacy is now nothing but a quaint notion, an aesthetic form that is as irrelevant to the real questions and issues of pedagogy today as is recited poetry – clearly not devoid of value, but equally no longer the structuring force of society. I will ask you to consider that our society’s obsessive focus on literacy would doom future generations to oblivion and ignorance, if only they cared a whit about what, and how, we think. Further, I am going to challenge the assumptive ground upon which our institutions of education – primary, secondary and tertiary – are built, and raise the real question of our time – and of any time – namely, what is valued as knowledge, who decides, and who is valued as authority.
The folks who attended were an attentive and engaged audience, asking many thought-provoking questions after the lecture, and raising many important issues for our time. I had a thoroughly enjoyable time, as I hope they did too.

As with almost all my stuff, it's available for download [pdf] and reuse under a Creative Commons license.

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09 November 2005

Rehabilitation or Change? Remaking the Corporation

Note to readers: It never rains, but it pours, as the cliché goes. So many bloggable items have hit me today, after a while of focusing on other matters. And then there are the items for which there is just too little time... On with the post!

What to do about corporations? There are few among the population who believe that our current corporate form is the best we can do, and many who believe that some of our modern corporations are evil incarnate. The question is, what should be done.

Over the next few years, I am embarking on a serious (as in PhD-serious) study of the emergence of a new corporate form that is consistent with the 21st century, as opposed to being grounded in the 19th century and the Industrial Age. More about that over the coming months. However, an article came to my attention this morning that raises the question of apparent corporate rehabilitation vs. real corporate change in the context of the Washington, D.C.-based Business for Social Responsibility group.

The group was originally founded in the late 1990s by Laury Hammel who
owns a string of health clubs in Boston. Hammel wanted BSR to help business become more socially responsible, but also to engage in the public policy debate. "We were sick and tired of having the Chamber of Commerce being the voice for business," Hammel said. So, he started the group, and brought in such luminaries as Arnold Hiatt, former CEO of Stride Rite.
The idea was to create a body through which the voices of small and medium-sized independent businesses could be heard, and potentially have an influence on policy.

However, the group has been recently taken over by large business interests. The new board has shut down local chapters, and forced out those who are interested in grassroots influence in the process of change for social responsiblity. In particular, any discussion of government regulation, national health care, war and peace, cracking down on criminal activities by corporate executives was to be stricken from the BSR agenda. The reason?
"[Former Levi Strauss vice-president, and now BSR President, Robert] Dunn didn't want anything to do with influencing government policy," Hammel said. "Dunn believed that we would never change the world if we didn't get big corporations behind us. And we would never get them on board if we kept our foot in the public policy arena."
So now, BSR has become yet another lobby group for large business under the imprimateur of social responsiblity. The list of corporate sponsors of BSR's recent conference can be read right from the Fortune 25 list of corporate giants: ExxonMobil, Chevron, AstraZeneca, Walt Disney, Pfizer, General Electric, Altria/Philip Morris, McDonald's, Edison International, Starbucks, Ford Motor Company, Coca-Cola, Abbott Labs, Microsoft, Monsanto, KPMG, Chiquita.

The nominal theme of BSR's new corporate image is "change from within." The actual effect is nominal rehabilitation in order to become more acceptable to a population who tune into the buzzwords of social responsibility, but are generally unable to dig beneath the surface. Here's the real bottom line: Change isn't coming from within, it is coming from without - people without jobs, people without health care, people without a living wage, people without justice and equity, people without privilege, people without local investment, people without blinkers and blinders who can see what is actually being done to both the social environment and the bio-environment, are the ones who will begin to effect the environmental changes that are now possible under UCaPP conditions.

And that certainly is a change.
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Fallujah - The Hidden Massacre

What really happened at Fallujah in 2004? A new documentary, produced by the Italian TV network, RAI, reveals that Weapons of Mass Destruction - and in particular chemical weapons - were used in Iraq by the U.S. military against civilians.

The weapon in question, apparently called MK77, is the replacement for napalm that caused so much horrific death and destruction in Vietnam, and was subsequently banned by the United Nations. However, a weapon with precisely the same grotesque and deadly effects, under a different name, is being used by the very country that is loudly decrying WMDs.

MK77 apparently contains "whiskey pete," the military slang for white phosphorus. According to two soldiers who participated in these missions, and now (after being discharged) have supplied information to the RAI producers, white phosphorus incendiary bombs explode on impact and spread a gaseous cloud for 150 metres in all directions. Wherever the gas touches skin, the skin burns immediately. White phosphorus gas actually burns the skin to the bone beneath clothing, leaving grotesque corpses with apparently undamaged clothing. Gas masks are of no use, since the gas melts the rubber, and the skin underneath. If you inhale the gas, "it will blister your throat and lungs, and you will suffocate, and then burn from the inside out."

This nearly 30-minute documentary (in English), Fallujah - The Hidden Massacre, (asf version here)contains very graphic and very disturbing footage of the results of what cannot be described in any other terms than American war crimes. View with caution.

Talk about retrieving the Vietnam era...
(Thanks, I think, Gianluca.)
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RoleStar at CSTD

Yesterday, I had been invited to do a poster session at the annual conference of CSTD, a professional association for workplace learning and performance practitioners. For those of you not in the academic world, think back to the sixth or seventh grade, when you had to submit your school project on a sheet of bristol board, stand up in front of the class and present it. Afterwards, it was pinned up on the wall - if you were good enough, you got a gold star.

Academic poster sessions are the same thing - without the gold star. In this case, we were asked to prepare a 99-second pitch about our research. Here's how I condensed my 161-page thesis into about 90 seconds:
What motivates you? What really engages you in whatever it is that you do? Oh, I’m not talking about money, or power, or responsibility, or being involved in decision making – these are all external, environmental factors that, while important, don’t get to the heart of your intrinsic motivation. My research shows that what you do is not as important to your sense of engagement with your work as how you go about doing it, in terms of the interpersonal dynamics and interactions that you create in your immediate environment. By employing a composite qualitative methodology that incorporates heuristic inquiry, grounded theory and a feminist approach to interviewing, I have developed the theory, and practice, of enabling most people to discover their unique motivating, and demotivating, aspects. In doing so, I reverse the conventional notion of role, from being a mere enactment of behaviours, to becoming an empowering resource. My name is Mark Federman, and my project is called, “Rolestar – Discovering the passion in your work and your life.”
Not bad, if I do say so myself.

I prepared a 10-page handout that includes a one-page overview of RoleStar and the Discovery Conversation, the fairy tale that describes the theory in a way that even a child can understand, a synopsis of the thesis in a more academic tone, and an invitation letter that asks,
Is a role* discovery conversation for you? Are you facing an important career decision, or concerned about your career progress to date? Are you considering a new career at mid-life? Or, are you seeking a deeper understanding of what motivates and demotivates you, to figure out why you are sometimes totally engaged and passionate about what you do, and at other times, completely turned off and apathetic?
If you are seeking a brand new approach to career and life coaching, please contact me – perhaps I can help. You can reach me by email.
You can download the brochure for yourself right here [pdf].

Thanks to those who stopped by to chat, and especially to one of my regular readers.
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And How is One Certified as Sane?

Although this story is a year old, one of our students brought it to my attention last evening. According to the British Medical Journal (and numerous other sources), Bush plans to screen whole US population for mental illness
A sweeping mental health initiative will be unveiled by President George W Bush in July. The plan promises to integrate mentally ill patients fully into the community by providing "services in the community, rather than institutions...

According to the commission, "Each year, young children are expelled from preschools and childcare facilities for severely disruptive behaviours and emotional disorders." Schools, wrote the commission, are in a "key position" to screen the 52 million students and 6 million adults who work at the schools.

The commission also recommended "Linkage [of screening] with treatment and supports" including "state-of-the-art treatments" using "specific medications for specific conditions." The commission commended the Texas Medication Algorithm Project (TMAP) as a "model" medication treatment plan that "illustrates an evidence-based practice that results in better consumer outcomes."
In other words, everyone gets screened, and issued the right drug to treat what ails 'em. One of the respondents to the article reports,
The Bush screening program asks a variety of questions about mental well-being. Examples include: "In the last year, has there been a time when nothing was fun for you and you just weren't interested in anything?" and "Has there been a time when you couldn't think as clearly or as fast as usual?"

Is this for real? Taken in account the abovementioned questions, every US citizen will be a candidate to be labelled mentally ill... So, according to this plan, which seems to be going ahead, EVERY man, woman and child in the United States is to be screened, analyzed and monitored by the US government and legal enforceable personalized "care" regimes applied to those exhibiting signs of "mental illness"
Imagine a society in which people who believe the government is acting against their interests, and that members of the government may be conspiring to commit nefarious acts, (like... I don't know... how about thrusting the country into a costly war under false pretenses that will benefit certain business interests while costing tens of thousands of lives, two thousand of which - and counting - are American lives), are mandatorily screened, diagnosed as being delusional with paranoid tendencies, and medicated to shut them up. This strategy is far more effective (in theory, at least) than directly suppressing their speech, or making them disappear, as often occurs in other, less sophisticated, fascist regimes. I'm just saying...

There is much discussion in response to the article on the BMJ site.
(Thanks Paula!)
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03 November 2005

EPIC 2015 - The Sequel to the Future

I wrote about EPIC 2014 shortly after it came out a year ago. As you may recall, it told the story of the future of mass-news-media, in which all was swallowed up by "Googlezon." Well, a year has passed, and accordingly, Robin Sloan and Matt Thompson have again cast their vision forward with an update. EPIC 2015 isn't as dark as 2014, but it still asks some provocative questions in the context of telling future history.

In a world (today, that is) in which the news-media create, rather than merely report on, the news, what happens when the current reversal from consumers to producers runs its course? In 2015, according to Sloan and Thompson, news ranges from the profound to the trivial - much like today's news and commentary, come to think of it. McLuhan always said "never predict anything that hasn't already happened," and I have to agree with both McLuhan, and Sloan and Thompson: Under UCaPP (ubiquitously connected and pervasively proximate) conditions, the effects of EPIC are already here.
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01 November 2005

Gender Divide?

I don't usually take transit, preferring to walk the hour to and from the campus. This morning, with an early medical appointment downtown, I found myself on the subway about 8:30 a.m. Looking around the jam-packed subway car, I noticed that women outnumbered men by a factor of 2 to 1. (I actually counted among the people I could see.) Glancing at subway platforms, especially at the more crowded stations, I noticed the same gender disparity.

Is this difference merely a random occurence?
Do men travel earlier to work?
Does public transit attract more women than men?

If there is an explanation that accounts for this difference, it would undoubtedly reveal some interesting insights into the nature and dynamics of either the gendered workplace, or the gendered (perhaps classed?) nature of urban transportation, or both.

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