One Small Step

The first records I possessed were hand-me-downs. My eldest brother, Richard, whose natural, nurtured and self-developed musical talents were (and remain) considerable, passed them on to me; not in a formal way, but unconsciously, leaving certain records behind, when he left home and began a new life as a husband bound not only by his love for his wife but for music.

***


There were a few 45(s): Chris Smithers (“Old Kentucky Home”), Dave Clark Five (“If Somebody Loves You” “Bring It On Home To Me”) and my all-time 45 favorite; a double bill (of sorts): James Taylor (“You Can Close Your Eyes”) and Carole King’s (sung by James Taylor) (“You’ve Got A Friend”) as well as a 78: Blood, Sweat & Tears (whose “Variations On A Theme By Eric Satie” “God Bless The Child” “Spinning Wheel” and “You’ve Made Me So Very Happy” were not only immensely pleasurable to listen to but assisted in educating, shaping and inspiring me musically).

A mention, or discussion of records, to those born into the era and culture of Napster, iTunes, MySpace and musician-approved websites (with a “pay as you like” download option) may be viewed as perplexing, esoteric, or, flat-out incomprehensible.

A Digital Native (with parents who have admitted to owning or using records) might ask: How could anyone tolerate listening to music in a format prone to warping, hissing, skipping, crackling; each exacerbated by the physical maneuvering required of phonographs? Without question, in view of music’s digital transformation, the question is not only sane, but is to be expected.

Space Oddity a 1969 album by rock musician David Bowie (originally released by Philips in the UK as David Bowie, by Mercury in the U.S. as Man of Words/Man of Music and was reissued by RCA Records in 1972 under its current title) is not only a marker in the history of music (and Bowie’s irrefutable contribution to music) but was featured by the BBC during its television coverage of the lunar landing. [http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D67kmFzSh_o]

On Sunday, July 19, 2009 the eve of the fortieth anniversary of Apollo 11's successful mission — the first human landing on the Moon, the Smithsonian Institution's National Air and Space Museum welcomed the Apollo 11 crew, as well as Mission Control creator and former Johnson Space Center director Chris Kraft as the speakers for the Museum's 2009 John H. Glenn lecture in space history.

Due to rapid online sell out of tickets to previous lectures of this type (which have been and remain free), the museum used a random drawing to provide more people the chance of attending. All requests in the random drawing had equal chance of receiving theater seating, overflow seating, or standby. Tickets could only be reserved online and could not be reserved through the Museum Box Office.

The Lockheed Martin Imax Theater, located at the National Mall building in downtown Washington, DC, where the Glenn lecture was held, has entertained and educated many by design; specifically, its capacity to project films on a five-story-high screen with six-channel digital surround sound.

At this year’s Glenn lecture (which was made possible by the “generous support” of the Boeing Corporation) [http://www.nasm.si.edu/webcasts/archive.cfm] Apollo 11 Command Module Pilot Michael Collins noted that the venue he found himself in was not meant for speeches. Nevertheless, he took to the podium, with apparent humility and sincerity and both educated and entertained in a dimension uniquely his own.

Collins is, arguably, the least famous among the Apollo 11 astronauts: Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin possess a bigger share of the media moon pie. But evaluated by his persona and presence on Sunday, Collins is my favorite among the three men.

Collins shared with the audience, a conversation that took place between himself and one of his daughters: “What would you have said?” he asked his daughter; referring to Neil Armstrong’s (the first man to walk on the Moon) now famous assertion: “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.” [http://www.freeinfosociety.com/media.php?id=13]

As Collins reported, his daughter shot back this answer: “Do I look fat in this suit?”

Many in the audience reacted to the answer given by Collins’ daughter in the way I did — with a small, moderately audible dose of laughter. For those aware of and sensitized to the serious problems many girls and women face managing self-image with the manifold representations and images of what is deemed ‘beautiful’ ‘feminine’ and aesthetically ‘ideal;’ the daughter of an accomplished man proved herself not only endowed with a sense of humor, but capable, with just one question, of bringing to Collins’ audience, the serious subject and legacy of gender within NASA while simultaneously drawing attention to women’s achievements and contributions in the forty years since Armstrong took to the moon and asserted his gender’s near lock on space travel and exploration.

On August 4, 1999, the Chicago Tribune published a piece by Professor Martha Ackmann of Mount Holyoke College which she penned very close to the 30th anniversary of Apollo 11 [http://www.mtholyoke.edu/offices/comm/oped/Collins.shtml]. Professor Ackmann’s piece is necessary reading if one claims to be the least bit interested in the multi-level discussion invited by Collins’ daughter.

After all, space suits are a feminist issue.

“Among our greatest national resources,” Ackmann notes, “for imparting understanding of the space program is the National Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C. The most-visited museum in the world, Air and Space attracts 10,000,000 visitors annually.”

The closest I have come to visiting Air and Space is through its website. Alas, I was not one of the randomly selected attendees at this year’s Glenn lecture. Though the museum’s website maintains a video archive (making Armstrong, Aldrin and Collins available for viewing when the moon is full, waxing or waning) I experienced their respective presentations and perspectives during the 2009 Glenn lecture via C-SPAN.

While I watched, I thought of one of the 45(s) in my possession, which, if evaluated by its surface and its shape, seems to promise a melody, rhythm or arrangement of one genre or another; but when maneuvered carefully upon my Bang & Olufsen phonograph, the 45 escorts me back in time to July 20, 1969 when Neil Armstrong gave voice to his special place in space travel by taking “one small step.”

I hope and pray humanity can move gracefully forward by stepping into the ‘final frontier’ of planets and galaxies with space suits flattering to all astronauts.

Can you hear me Mission Control?

©2009 Julie Holley


Buffalo Boy

Steven’s birthday had always been easy to remember. It fell on April 15; a moment in time when the United States government grants its citizenry an opportunity to account for their respective good fortune, wealth or absence thereof.

***

April 15 is a deadline accountants and tax attorneys need not be reminded of — their professional livelihoods rest in the bosom of the day’s arrival.

My friendship with Steven commenced in the late eighties (through a friend of a friend). Ever since, I have made certain to extend birthday wishes to him in person, by phone or with the assistance of the United States Postal Service (known, in our digital age as: ‘snail mail’).

Steven was not a technophobe. But he refused to join the ever-growing, multi-billion- worldwide-populace of web surfers; and by extension, he lacked an email address. “I can’t be bothered with computers,” he once said, during a conversation some years ago. “If you need to get in touch, you’ve got my cell number,” was how he deflected my best attempts at getting him on the Information Superhighway.

Steven was not liberal in his politics or with dispensing the digits that determined our cellular connection. Sometimes, when I opted to phone him, I felt like a member of his inner communication circle; but the geometry of that circle, of that friendship, sometimes felt skewed by the seeming fragility of those digits — What if he (in an act of consumer revolt) changed his cell phone provider/plan — consequently claiming possession of a new series of cell phone digits — falling short of comprehensively informing his inner communication circle?

This past April 15 was an unusual one. I was, uncharacteristically, self-absorbed; the preparations and circumstances of a June bride (me), trumped history — my previously unrelenting recognition of Steven’s birthday was in 2009, an example of the human capacity to forget amidst a flurry of emotion, anticipation and planning.

It was the middle of May when I remembered that I had forgotten Steven’s birthday. So, I swiftly chose a male-themed, aesthetically-sensitive card from my diverse collection, took pen in hand, expressed my apologies at sending a belated birthday greeting, stressed that Steven phone me (on my cell phone, if he preferred) and sent the card to his residence in Buffalo, New York.

Buffalo, New York is where Steven was born, where his childhood took root; it is where his mother and three sisters (with their respective husbands) live. And Buffalo is where Steven (as he sometimes put it) “escaped from.” Dallas, Texas, Los Angeles, California and Boston, Massachusetts have been cities where Steven journeyed, to live; each one (obviously different in their destination draw) part of his “escape” plan.

Boston was our common urban link — his South End condominium a nucleus for close friends, a micro-repository of carefully selected, purchased and displayed art. Steven’s armoire was filled with clothes arrived at by Neiman-Marcus purchases. He was strident in his opposition to filth — disdainful of dirt in any shape, manner or form — making his stemware spotless, visitors subject to shoe removal and his vacuum the ultimate item in his household arsenal.

The day the movers came to Steven’s South End condominium to facilitate his return to Buffalo in the mid nineties, he was, naturally, pre-occupied with the mechanics of returning ‘home.’

Although he made sure to hire ‘the best,’ the movers, he determined required copious amounts of supervision. This move, this return to a place he once “escaped from,” would be his final move, Steven asserted as I watched him meticulously wrap one of his prized lithographs. The conventional wisdom is: Something always gets broken in a move. Steven wanted to defy those odds, this one last time.

When Steven got settled in Buffalo and I needed to get away for a few days, in the wake of circumstances that catapulted me, inelegantly, from one life, to the unknown of another, I drove, from Boston to Buffalo upon Steven’s invitation and urging.

We ordered in the first night of my stay; from a Chinese place a few blocks from Steven’s apartment. When we had our fill, Steven lit up a Marlboro Light, a brand he had been dedicated to since our first flicker of friendship, leaned back in his brown leather armchair and stroked Zephyr, his Siamese cat.

Thirst had found its way to my palate so I made my way to the kitchen to quench it. I took a guess where Steven’s water glasses were kept, opening the cabinet to the right of the sink, tentatively. A massive amount of prescriptions were revealed; the whole of which illustrated a dimension of Steven’s life I had only minimally, until that moment, understood.

The face of HIV/AIDS was manifest in my life before my friendship with Steven. I made sure to educate myself about the virus (and its associated consequences) as soon as it became a public health menace. But with Steven’s HIV positive assertion, what was an ‘abstract’ awareness and concern became an intimate fact between friends.

“You have to swallow all of that, each day?” I asked Steven, referring to my discovery. “Yeah,” he said. “All of that is keeping me alive.” I took a sip of water, swallowed hard and wondered how long Steven’s life would be sustained by such a daily regimen of pills. And I wondered too, how I would know when the pills stopped working; when the respective dosages would become no match for the complications sure to arise a man of Steven’s medical category.

When my belated birthday card was returned and subsequent calls to Steven’s cell phone indicating the number was no longer in service — I recalled our last phone conversation, a few months preceding his birthday. “I saw this Art Deco piece (a style he knew I was fond of) and thought about buying it for you so you’d have something to remember me when I die,” he said. “Don’t talk like that,” I shot back.

Even though everything seemed to point to Steven’s death, I wanted to be sure.

Sometimes, Google is a dead end, I discovered, upon locating Steven’s death notice in The Buffalo News.

Founded in 1998, Legacy.com is an online media company that collaborates with more than 700 newspapers in North America, Europe and Australia to provide ways for readers to express condolences and share remembrances of loved ones. The Buffalo News is one such “collaboration.”

Legacy.com is visited by more than 10 million users each month. It partners with 76 of the 100 largest newspapers in the U.S. and features obituaries and Guest Books for more than 60 percent of people who die in the United States.

“Combine memorable stories, photos, videos and more to honor and celebrate the life of your loved one,” suggests the Legacy.com website. They attempt to entice ‘mourners’ with a 14-day free trial.

Steven never did like “free.”



Hyper (Medication Optional)

The Personal Democracy Forum (PdF) (http://www.personaldemocracy.com) is the world's largest and best known conference on the intersection of technology and politics. For the sixth year (from June 29-June 30, 2009), more than 1,000 opinion makers, political practitioners, technologists and journalists came together to network, exchange ideas, and explore how technology and the Internet are changing politics, democracy, and society.

***
Though in its sixth year, I attended PdF for the first time, this year. My motivation was more than professional, it was personal. My attendance became mandatory after learning my Cambridge-culled friend Mark Pesce would be presenting “The Dangerous Power of Sharing (Power)” to PdF’s second-day, mid-afternoon, pre-Networking lunch audience at Jazz at Lincoln Center’s Rose Hall, steps away from Columbus Circle in New York City. The venue is popular for those as famous or more famous than Pesce (Jazz great Wynton Marsalis is an example of the latter).

Pesce, whose six-year-long, real-time-residence is Sydney, Australia, has Northeast, United States roots. Indeed, New England was once our mutual geographic anchor; the topography of which was distinct in our shared social network (some of Pesce’s closest friends became gold-mines of conversation at parties Pesce promoted and at which I was present and participated to the fullest extent).

While both of us enjoyed the dynamism of Cambridge, Massachusetts for its obvious and storied intellectual repositories (look no further than Pesce’s alma mater, MIT) Pesce and I once shared and enjoyed a cadre of people that was far removed from the virtual (one of Pesce’s passions); it was a social network that accentuated the actual.

As a ‘green’ tech-journalist, I sought Pesce’s presence and accepted his invitations to party at his MIT- adjacent apartment because I observed in Pesce, a sure-footed geeky masculinity which had not completely revealed itself, but was nonetheless part of Pesce’s panache and prestige.

Pesce’s expertise and insight into virtual reality/virtual worlds made my association with him during my live television days at Cambridge Community Television good for my show’s ratings. Pesce was described by many of my Talk Tech viewers as “the most captivating and dynamic” of all my tech-infused guests.

So Pesce’s arrival in New York City as a participant in PdF 2009 represented a reclassification of sorts — he went from being VHS archive material shelved safely amongst my VHS library to a tangible example of the phenomena Pesce eloquently emphasized (with above average visuals not standardly employed via PowerPoint) at PdF 2009: ‘hyperconnection.’

For the last four years, Pesce has practiced "digital ethnology", observing the behavioral, cultural and political changes wrought by the new technologies of sharing and communication. In his writings (both hard copy and e-thereal) Pesce has used his considerable talent for making logically-rendered, inspired, utopian terrains possible.

“We are so much better connected than we were even a decade ago, and this connectivity breeds new capabilities. The first of these capabilities are the pooling and sharing of knowledge – or ‘hyperintelligence’. Consider: everyone who reads Wikipedia is potentially as smart as the smartest person who’s written an article in Wikipedia,” Pesce portends.

The methodology of Wikipedia (which allows anyone to be an author or editor), is similar to the methodology of Wikileaks argues Pesce. Such an organic cyber-propelled community, a vast hyperlinked world of accurate intelligence fused with a collective knowledge and respect for statistically rendered demographic differences disrupts the ‘power grid’.

The success of Wikipedia in providing accurate and up-to-date information has been stunning and surprising to many. Wikipedia shows that the collective wisdom of an informed community of users may produce massive volumes of accurate knowledge in a rapid, democratic and transparent manner. Wikileaks aims to harness this phenomenon to provide fast and accurate dissemination, verification, analysis, interpretation and explanation of leaked documents, for the benefit of people all around the world.

According to Pesce, hyperconnectivity also means that we can carefully watch one another. We learn from one another’s behaviors “at the speed of light” he notes. This new capability – ‘hypermimesis’ – means that new behaviors can be seen and copied very quickly. Hypermimesis means that communities of interest can form around particular behaviors, ‘clouds’ of potential.

A f2f (face-to-face) with Pesce delivers a confident intelligence (notably lacking in conceit); which isn’t successfully transferable to the Web; no matter how many dimensions one imagines in virtual space. Notably not transferable, as well, is the glimmer in Pesce’s eyes when he considers the possibility (as he seemed to with me) of a conversation come full circle — a conversation that has been gurgling between Pesce and I since Google — whose SEO (search engine optimization) network infrastructure insists there are about 161,000 results for mark pesce..

At PdF 2009, I had an opportunity to assess if Pesce’s real-time persona is any less hyper than when I last saw him — at a party — where the dynamic of the room was elevated by intellect, computer-centered-conversation and many occasions when Pesce and I couldn’t help but laugh in each other’s presence.

My human architecture; the very one that forced me to stretch upward to a once frequent place on my time-space-continuum — where the body says what words cannot — when my affection for Mark caught up to him in the form of an embrace as he emerged from backstage — was a paradox drawn to human scale: A man credited with co-creating VRML (Virtual Reality Markup Language) and who has a record of evangelizing about it was forced to get real — in a New York second.

Thanks to futurists like Pesce, the odds of democratizing the future enjoy a greater likelihood. Pesce (and his futurist allies) understand that citizens, domestically and globally can upend present-day, closely-held hierarchies. The power of political change, its very motion (the ‘push back,’ (as some in the cyber-scene identify it) is actualized and manifest on devices (choose your telecommunication talisman) that drive the visual narratives of resistance in places seemingly disconnected to us (e.g. where Islamic law claims absolute authority).

For some, a mathematical approach to Pesce’s bottom line is contained in this Tweet:

Hyperconnectivity = hypermimesis = hyperempowerment

Kindly direct any Twitter-based-technically-viable-utopian-driven tweets to me @right_hook

Momma Mia

JibJab Media Inc., a digital entertainment studio born in a Brooklyn basement in 1999 was fathered by brothers Evan and Gregg Spiridellis. Today, it operates in Los Angeles and its 35 employees work to bring its brand of political satire, sendable eCards and viral videos to those Internet users in search of the company’s unique creative sensibilities and accompanying sense of humor.

*****

Nearly one week before Mother’s Day (which in the United States occurs today, this Second Sunday of May) I received an email from JibJab anticipating my Mother’s Day participation. “New Mother’s Day e-Cards” read the subject line. I demonstrated my interest in JibJab’s e-offerings by clicking; revealing the following text:

“Pay tribute to mom, and make her laugh in the process! With Mother’s Day coming up this Sunday, our majorly matriarchal eCards will bring a smile to her face!!

It was the “majorly matriarchal” description that caused me to focus further on JibJab’s e-offerings. I spent a few minutes exploring the execution of JibJab’s promise — eCards that were “majorly matriarchal.”

But there was another reason my click rate increased. JibJab had isolated one of my constants; that I like to make my mother laugh. Put another way — My mother’s happiness, especially when I am its source, brings me satisfaction — Self-serving, but true.

The modern Mother's Day holiday was created by Anna Jarvis on May 12, 1907, two years after her mother's death. Jarvis held a memorial to her mother and thereafter embarked upon a campaign to make "Mother's Day" a recognized holiday. She succeeded in making it nationally recognized within the United States in 1914.

Anna Jarvis grew to despise what the holiday became. “She hated the way candy shops and greeting card companies commercialized the day. Prices for carnations skyrocketed during the holiday. Jarvis verbally attacked the florists for raising the price of carnations,” says Bringhurst Funeral Home’s description of Jarvis. Bringhurst is a funeral home whose services one can encounter at Jarvis’ final earthly resting place — Bala Cynwyd, Pennsylvania’s West Laurel Hill Cemetery; which borders the western edge of Philadelphia.

One of the things history affords us is the opportunity to assess the present utilizing the framework of the past. Presently, companies like JibJab, Inc. seek creative success and monetary reward by drawing upon a 20th century development credited to Anna Jarvis. While JibJab.com looks to the past, thereby summoning Jarvis’ ghost, I conclude by clicking, that this year, I will pay tribute to my majorly matriarchal mother by declining JibJab’s assistance and declaring this 21st century fact: The Internet can be a means to a non-commercial end; an end I propose would have won Jarvis’ endorsement.

Happy Mother’s Day Mom.

Goodbye Maria: A Facebook Fissure

I let Maria go with a mere mouse-click. She was a shameless self-promoter who often wrote her Facebook status updates in Spanish; a language I can neither read, write or decode via my God-given sound processors (unless, of course, I hired Maria to translate her Spanish into English — which happens to be her core professional competency). Around the moment of her “departure” from my group of 98 Facebook friends, the media spotlight was fixated upon Twitter — journalists held the micro-blogging social utility aloft as a news item; Oprah, it was reported, sent out a Tweet (a 140-character-or-less communication at the core of Twitter’s operational framework). What can be said about Maria in such an abbreviation-mandated milieu? — Goodbye.

© 2009 Julie Holley

My mother's generation

Jean Grossholtz belongs to my mother’s generation. My mother turned 81 on February 14; Jean will be 80 on April 17. Statistically: elderly. But neither woman embodies the category.

In fact, each is extraordinary — in their youthfulness.


....
There’s no denying the lived-in skin. Wrinkles from feeling what Jean and Mom have felt over the span of their respective lives — wrinkles that have become more numerous as the days have multiplied.

Children of The Great Depression, each can claim, as fundamental to their character a deep well of strength and resolve — and courage — especially in this Information Age.

When revolutions like the Internet come along there is always the danger of the “old guard” being left on the roadside, the Information Superhighway, whizzing by, confusingly. Not so with Jean and my mother.

“I love my computer, I’m in love with my computer” Jean says, followed by a smile, sunlight pouring in, on a recent afternoon in her living room in South Hadley, Massachusetts. Professor Emeritus at Mount Holyoke College, Jean was one of my favorite teachers while I was an undergraduate there.

“How do you know what you know?” Who benefits from what you know?” she would (and still does) ask. Jean prodded her students and everyone around her to think critically, to be ever watchful of the Patriarchy, to resist injustice. Today, in this era of instantaneous information and hyperlinks she worries that most of us don’t question enough. Considering how many of us rely on search engines like Google to ferret out websites that appeal to our online appetites, Jean’s concerns are, in my view, legitimate.

Jean relies on email to communicate with those far and near; maintaining a world-wide network of those for whom the Internet has altered the means and methods of her political activism. Jean’s efforts in the domains of geo-politics and the environment have been enhanced by her ability to organize globally and to collaborate with allies internationally. Ideas, criticisms, suggestions embed themselves in the email, the conversational threads transported via Jean’s Macintosh; a machine she embraced early on.

Utilizing email, my mother fills my inbox with jokes, prayers, patriotic verses and most importantly personalized messages inspired by the mother-daughter relationship. When she and I began making use of email I created a folder named: “Mom’s missives.” Ever since, I have amassed an archive of emails I have deemed noteworthy, worth saving. It is one of the ways I honor her. One of the ways her life is embedded within mine.

According to the Pew Internet and American Life Project over half of the adult internet population is between 18 and 44 years old. But larger percentages of older generations are online now than in the past, and they are doing more activities online, according to surveys taken from 2006-2008. Jean and my mother are representative of the least represented (older Americans 73+) group of internet users. Comprising 4% of the United States internet-using populace acquiring the capacity to email has been the activity they relish most.

Just a few days ago my mother emailed me a Woolworth’s menu circa 1950. I was a child of the sixties so while I was not a beneficiary of a 30 cent egg salad sandwich or a 10 cent king size Coke, the economics of memory were ignited by the mere motion of my mother’s hand upon her keyboard; an effect enabled by her AOL account.

Economics of memory?

Simply, a supply of memories — whereby I am entering a Woolworth’s — as an unaccompanied minor — in pursuit of presents for my mother. Known as “the five-and-dime” Woolworth’s sold inexpensive, useful items — Items within the reach of my allowance-enabled budget.

Some older Americans like Edith, a silver-haired Brooklynite and grandmother of two prefer the phone to email. As her grandchildren grow up, immersed in a downloadable, interactive world will something as “basic” as email become more appealing to her?

I’ll bet my inbox on it.