Mexico City's Air and Burma's Internet War

I’m lounging in Gate 19 of Mexico City’s Benito Juarez International Airport, waiting for confirmation of my flight’s departure gate—the jet’s not due to take off for another hour and a half or so. I’m bored and sleepy and still stinging from an inevitable goodbye that came way too early. And as I sit here in the airport, bickering with my brother, checking my work e-mail, and chatting it up with my online contacts, I can't help but feel melancholy. Because in between the madness that is this airport and the schizophrenic feel of a mega-crowded super-metropolis, there are beautiful moments of poignancy and intimacy I am leaving behind.

Which has left me wondering... What does it mean to live a life of relative peace and affluence in times of turmoil? Just now, as I was catching up with a friend over MSN, I was slapped in the face with the harsh reality of the 21st century. Right off the bat, my friend asked me how my lightning-bolt visit to Mexico had treated me. I responded automatically and without giving it much thought: “It’s been great. Today was a beautiful day, in fact, the smog was so light I could even see most of the buildings.” He reacted with one of those surprised smiley faces that are now ubiquitous on MSN IM chats:
“:-O. That’s a pretty intense thing to say.” Huh. I guess it is.

A beautiful day in a big city is one where I can see the sky and my head doesn’t hurt from the noisome air pollution. For me, a day with average smog levels in a Third World megalopolis can be more awe-inspiring than your run-of-the mill, postcard-perfect sunset at a beautiful deserted beach (I've experienced many of these also). Mexico City’s poor air quality offers salient authenticity. But does everyone think the same, I wonder? The world is anything but perfect and moments like this provide a glimpse at atonement.

I was unexpectedly enlightened by what at first appeared to be a cursory, ho-hum IM exchange. Yesterday--in stark contrast--I was (strangely) put off by an e-mail I received asking me to join in an online effort to chastise Burma's ruling military junta for spraying bullets over peaceful crowds of protesters, and doing so without any show of remorse of restraint. Whatever. I blithely carried on with my day. The strange thing is this: I very much feel for these freedom-seeking Buddhist monks, and thanks to the Internet, even though they are halfway around the world, I feel personally connected to their plight.

To wit: Never have I been more amazed at the power of the Web for bringing attention to a rapidly escalating conflict--especially when regional access to the Internet has been one of the most contentious issues in this tense situation--yet I felt my inbox was crudely violated by a person with whom I had a tacit agreement not to engage in politically oriented e-mail sharing. My reaction to this e-mail might be on par with that of a 5-year-old, but I feel that my take on the civil unrest in Burma has been tainted by unwanted digital correspondence. Yes, yes, I care. And yes, along with the world, I am also watching--but watching only.

At the moment, I’d much rather do something to improve the air quality in Mexico City than help fight for civil rights in South East Asia. After all, as far as global digital media, it's all eyes on Burma. They've got all the limelight they need. Buddhist monks don't desperately need my e-mail signature right about now... I wonder if they even need yours?


So We Really Do Only Care About WASPs

This is one of the bigger OLA units you'll see on rotation when visiting the homepage of mega-portal Yahoo!. Now, I'm really not one to rip on celebrity gossip mongers and I try to stay on the sidelines when accusations of racism get tossed around, but I really feel I need to call this one out. I don't necessarily find this racist, at least not overtly--but come on! They're all white, skinny, blond celebrities. These photos are almost interchangeable. A lifeless ad cluttered with cookie-cutter Caucasian celebrity pictures at their hackneyed best--zero "click here" appeal, from where I'm standing.

Don't get me wrong. I am actually interested in all these celebrities and have followed their varied careers individually. And I usually rush to click on the first lame-if-strangely-compelling celebrity post discussing who the cutest Hollywood baby is. But how about some variety, eh? Not all cyber-sufers are white I'm sure and most are interested in celebrities of all strokes and ethnicities. Even Jessica Alba, the only non-WASP there, has been completely whitewashed (I guess Jeniffer Aniston has Greek roots, but she totally blew that into bits when she changed her last name). Is this the lowest common denominator?

What's your take on this? Is it implicitly racist?


The Ins and Outs of Online Work Etiquette

A friend of mine suggested I practice some digital decorum at work--what many refer to to as “Netiquette.” If you'd like, go ahead and take a makeshift netiquette quiz here and find out if you're a connoisseur.

To honor my friend's recommendation, I've compiled a quick list of not-so-hard-and-fast rules I usually apply when I communicate through online. Feel free to add your own best practices, amend, or shoot down some of mine:

  1. Cc'ing someone by accident on off-the-cuff e-mail messages is a major faux pas—especially if you cc exactly the person you don't want eying your e-mail just then—but it happens to the best of us. Digital contretemps will inevitably ensue. Own up to your mistake and be honest. Let the rest run its course.
  2. E-mailing is the way to go when you are introducing yourself formally. When you feel the working relationship has progressed satisfactorily, you will be ready to move up to the next level: IM’ing.
  3. Join your workplace network on Facebook.
  4. Relationship statuses on Facebook can be a major cause of embarrassment and emotional burn. After all, you don’t want to be listed as “in a relationship” and have your significant other display an “it’s complicated” or a “whatever I can get” (especially if you have work contacts on there). Taking the step to update your status on Facebook is a big deal—make sure you do it in tandem with your significant other (cheesy but a a safe call).
  5. Web browser histories don’t necessarily define a person. However, don’t go looking anywhere shady that you might feel could come back and bite you—unless you remember to clear your cache, that is.
  6. If you have a personal blog that people sometimes check in on, do not post more than once a day (unless it’s a quick, short post). People are not that interested. Don’t smear others on your blog or drag your personal life into your posts, either.
  7. Don’t overload IM messages with emoticons. They’re super annoying and act as stumbling blocks for hurried eyes. However, feel free to sprinkle your messages with acronyms, and be sure to keep your messages short and to the point.
  8. Always send screengrabs and callouts whenever these might speed up communication.
  9. Don’t ask a question on IM off the bat—make sure the person you are reaching out to is on the other end by starting off with a quick “yt?” or “hey.”
  10. Don’t go off on someone online, especially with all caps. If things get heated, pick up the phone.
So do any of the above seem familiar? Am I on the right track? What form of online work etiquette do you apply?


Online News You Can Use?

It’s no secret that the evolution of the Internet has dealt a mighty blow to many longstanding traditions of mainstream journalism. Today, a new kind of journalism billows from the blogosphere and impregnates the pages of major newspapers, as these publications print news funneled directly out of the online pipeline. Citizen journalism has taken precedence and gained credibility over mainstay journalistic institutions like The New York Times. Through exhaustive and dedicated reporting right from the trenches, bloggers themselves have earned their right, in spades, to take the lead and blaze a trail for other “established” journalists to follow. And follow they have: Today, major newspapers and cable news networks scramble to leverage and understand how the Internet powers up social journalism. In the process, many an established news outlet has tumbled.

I believe the Saddam execution video is an excellent example of this kind of citizen journalism: The broadcasting of the uncensored video online was able to take advantage of the capabilities of social media to shed compelling light on the situation in Irak for the entire world to witness. What troubled me the most when the video was made public was not so much how authorities decided to ardently persecute those responsible for making the video—this was inevitable—it was the fact that mainstream news media censored the video by not airing it completely and doing so without sound.

I believe the world had a right to see first-hand the realities of Saddam's execution in all its raw power, and I hold the person responsible for filming the video and making it available online a journalistic hero. I hope more people around the world follow suit by documenting controversial events on their cell phones or portable cameras and posting these on the Web. Regardless of the motivations, the Saddam video was an act of courage.

Ironically, however, as mainstream news outlets begin to add social media tools to their online publications, it seems news is being watered down, as hard-hitting reports become overshadowed by cutesy and kooky news pieces. Take a look at the mock news from The Onion, which pokes fun at this very situation by headlining an article with “'Most E-Mailed’ List Tearing New York Times Newsroom Apart.” While the piece is by no means real (it's super funny--I highly recommend it), it is dead-on about the effects the Internet is having over corporate news reporting. So the question still remains: While the Web has proven a useful tool in disseminating news with viral speed, is it actually acting as a nullifying force on journalism as a whole? I’d love to hear your thoughts.


When You Care Enough to Hit Send

Sometimes life comes at you hard and fast. Sometimes you’re so bogged down with work you don’t know whether to jump out the window or take out everyone around you. Whatever happened to the unfettered life of parties, pleasantries, and play? Was it ever really real? Who knows! Who cares! Work is work, and it needs to get done. For now, I can take solace in the fact that somehow there is always humor in stressful situations, and if we take time to laugh at these (and ourselves), we can prevent frustration from taking too heavy a toll.

So on this note: I would like to recommend my website pick of the week, Someecards.com: the sarcastic/jaded/ironic answer to Hallmark’s cheeseball e-cards e-mail service. I especially recommend the workplace cards—the humor is sharp, acidic, and double-edged. These cards have never rung more true with me than today, when I am stuck at the office on a super-rainy Saturday, hustling to get things done on time for a big-shot client that doesn’t seem to make up its mind. One card I feel is spot-on reads “I’m not convinced we’ve wasted enough time on this.” Hehehe...

On a side note: What really gets me about impossibly tight deadlines--the one I'm on right now has sentenced me to a weekend at the office--is not the daily grind this demands during the last few days before the actual work is due; it’s the fact that I get so laser-focused that I can’t seem to fit anything else into my brain. The result: Finding the time and the words to write out of pure pleasure becomes a daunting task. But with sardonic sites like Someecards.com ridiculing the absurdity of life, love, and work, my need for therapy loses urgency. Because in the end, as one of the cards ominously points out: “When life gets overwhelming, remember that you’re going to die." Nice.


Looks Like She's Got a Lot of Yogurt Left

Commenters really know how to bring it. For me, they make the blog experience that much more worthwhile (and volatile). In fact, most times I find myself clicking on a headline simply to check out how the readers themselves have illuminated a particular story through their quirky insights. So there’s a clip of Kid Nation on Gawker? I need to get on that right away. After all, I wanna weigh in on the show myself—but more than that, I can’t wait to read the snappy, snarky comments I know will make me grin, smirk, and simper as I scroll down below the fold.

For example: I was happily scanning a post this morning on Jezebel.com that spotlighted a story from today’s Wall Street Journal analyzing the lives and loves of New York’s most prominent socialites. Of course, the post included a not-so-hot photo of socialite Fabiola Beracasa with flat hair (that's the photo of her above). The first comment on the string: “That is NOT a good haircut for a head that size. I'm quite glad I have no clue who that is.” LOL. That’s the funniest thing I’ve read all morning.

First off, the commenter is dead on about the hair—it looks like someone plastered her coif down to make her head seem super-large (and the post is all about how she goes to the stylist every day. Awesome). And secondly, and perhaps more importantly--the user doesn’t even know who this person is (why should anyone, really?), nevertheless decides to not only read the post, but to comment on it by assessing the chick's 'do. Too funny.

So here’s the deal: Even for posts that read perfunctory, comments manage to add a level of dimension, depth, and wit (not to mention immediacy) that make reading them a tasty treat. There's no way to hedge a bullet once commenters chime in.

After the premiere of Gossip Girl the other night, the put-down-of-the-moment on comment strings and blogs alike has become “looks like you’ve got a lot of yogurt left.” Don’t know what this means? Don’t worry, I don’t know if anyone really does. But that’s the whole point, and that’s what makes it funny—it made no sense when Blair cut Serena with that one-liner on the show, and it still makes no sense now (maybe it's some sort of fat girl joke?). But Web commenters have made it their own, and in no time, I’m sure many will be using it to deride their most cherished frenemies. I hate to say it, but Fabiola, it looks like you've got a lot of yogurt left.


As Bloggers Collide

I sometimes wonder if what the technology naysayers keep arguing is true--are they correct in chiding the Internet for dehumanizing users and separating us from one another? Have some of us spot-welded ourselves into a place where we value the digital experience more so than real life, in detriment of our human condition? I’ve heard it said by some techno-geeks that their Second Life is much more exciting than their regular life; and yesterday, I found myself reading a post in Gawker about a high-profile break-up between two bloggers that “sent Internets reeling.” It was one of the most popular stories of the day on Gawker: A couple of Internet-spawned pseudo-celebrities had made their falling out a public affair through various acrimonious, snobby, and ridiculous blog posts. And after eyeballing the comments, I confirmed with amazement just what the title of the post declared with deadpan assurance—the breakup did in fact throw many an Internet user into a tizzy.

So who are these bloggers that Gawker has focused so much attention on? Julia what? Jakob who? Why do some people care so much about these totally random (and unattractive) people? Does anyone even know them in real life? How much sway do they have over the digital landscape that makes the announcement of their breakup more appealing to Gawker readers that the latest Britney post? I wonder if these two former “lovers” ever even met each other outside of the blogosphere. Maybe they never consummated their now defunct relationship, aside from a few attempts at cybersex. Or maybe they’ve gotten so good at cybering they don’t feel the need to go at it in real life? Scary thought.

Behold a snippet of text from the breakup e-mail that did the relationship in:

“I am not capable of giving you what you deserve in a relationship, even an ‘alternative’ relationship, so, we should stop seeing each other.”

Um, what? I wonder what the dude means by ‘alternative.” I wonder if by “stop seeing each other” he means to stop IM’ing each other and to put and end to cheesy photo-sharing. I wonder if by “not capable of giving you what you deserve in a relationship” he is implying that he could never pry himself away from his computer long enough to rendezvous with her in real life.

Online break-ups make good drama, and even though I didn’t know these people when I started reading the Gawker post, I was immediately enthralled by the story and unexpectedly pulled into their lives—I definitely know who they are now. In the future, if I see a post on Julia Allison or Jakob Lodwick, I’ll probably check it out. Is this keeping me from living a life of my own, or does it just mean I’m hip to the times and that I know how to leverage online to add significance to and enjoy my life offline? I'm really hoping it's the latter...


More Than a Chatroom With a View

One of my favorite activities during high school and college, back when I had idle time to relax and enjoy TV on a regular basis, was to watch music videos and trash-talk with my friends about how ridiculous or retarded pop videos had become. We picked apart every single element with pretentious posturing ("ugh, it's obvious that that video is a rip-off of Kubrick’s Lolita" or "what an insipid use of irony" or even "those dancers are so busted-looking"), and it was super fun. I thought this was a thing of the past for me. And then the other night, in between closing project tickets online, QA'ing copy for a client, and getting up to speed on the latest Manhattan gossip, I started watching a music video on YouTube called "D.A.N.C.E." by Justice (great video, by the way, I highly recommend it--more so if you are a self-professed hipster). Out of nowhere, on one of the guys' t-shrts featured in the video, the words "Internet Killed the Video Star" flashed in retro eighties colors. Woah.

While the idea is nothing new, I realized all of a sudden that what I used to do before with my friends I do it now online with strangers, on YouTube and Break and MetaCafe and even Facebook. I still love to watch videos and psychoanalyze them to death and pretend I am too cool to walk this Earth, but today I do it online. I am one of those avid commenters that always has something to say about a clip I see on the Web. And then there's the insta-satisfaction I get when reading the comments offered up so freely by other users--sometimes mean-spirited, oftentimes grammarless and retarded, other times thoughtful and insightful, but usually very funny (not to mention random). For me, the World Wide Web is one giant chatroom--a chatroom with a view.

What is TMZ.com if not a digital free-for-all where we all can satisfy our inner voyeur by trashing celebrities from our high horse, along with other users? It's watching TV with our friends, but times ten. The Internet is about looking, but more importantly, it is about participating. Sure, television can satisfy and titillate, but it doesn't captivate or connect in the ways that the Internet does. The music video I saw last night got me thinking: The Internet appeals to the senses much like TV does (through sight and sound), except it also incorporates an extra level of engagement--the sense of touch. By typing away and mousing objects around, users have an active role in shaping the digital media landscape, and this power is evident with every Submit button we click on, every photo we tag, every experience we rate, and every comment we share.


A Cliché by Any Other Name

As a writer, I’m always looking for just the right words to accurately describe situations, objects, and ideas, and oftentimes I find myself resorting to the use of clichés to do so. Does this mean I am a lazy writer, or does it somehow show superior skill when it comes to putting together sentences? The question haunts me almost daily. I am never completely convinced if I should steer clear of clichés or if I should leverage them. After all, they've been used so many times by so many different people that they've lost their expressive power, right? Will using a cliché help me bring my point home or simply make my writing seem trite?

To wrap your head around just what I am talking about, check out ClicheSite.com, the site with the largest list of clichés, euphemisms, and figures of speech, “complete with definitions and explanations.” For a writer, this site can be a treasure trove of inspiration, a literary toolbox of sorts. Or can it? I’m inclined to think that many phrases listed in this site are value-added expressions that can offer relevance and immediacy when it comes to our day-to-day conversations, and in most instances can be more effective than any high-brow term or far-reaching phrase that could be used in their place. But I also believe that relying too heavily on clichés will render your writing innocuous and give it a pre-fabricated feel, leaving readers with a stale, styrofoamy aftertaste. Writing should be lively, original and engaging, not an robotic exercise saturated with grammatical one-trick ponies and pre-packaged literary devices coming at you rapid-fire style.

Does it all depend on the audience you intend to reach? Ah, there’s the rub. Some think of clichés as roadkill metaphors, and maintain that using them in writing is simply a shortcut to thinking--no matter who the audience is. Other opine that when carefully selected, clichés will actually spice up even the must dull, threadbare writing (technical documentation, anyone?). Whether a stymied writer or clever word artist, using clichés is almost always a tricky ordeal. The best way to use a cliché? Turn it upside down and inside out to convey something entirely new; that way you’ll be sure to make waves with your readers by cleverly pounding them with surprises. Yes?


Google Me Good

It strikes me as a little odd that people who put their profiles up online on social websites--from Facebook to the ultra-exclusive aSmallWorld to the now ghetto-looking Hi5--get all bent out of shape over having their profiles available to be googled. I understand the argument which some espouse saying that privacy should take precedence over accessibility in some situations, but I also think that users are not media retards that need paternalistic protection over all things digital.

We should be responsible for our own online actions and should not depend on third parties to guarantee our privacy. Doing so throws the issue of our own personal accountability into sharp relief, because after all, isn’t the whole purpose of placing yourself out there on the Net an exercise aimed at connecting with others and elevating your professional presence? Who else does this depend on but ourselves? I know that for me at least, being easily googled is an online virtue I’m still working hard at.

Learning to navigate the Web and creating a space for yourself online is a skill that should be learned and perfected by anyone who has access to the Internet. Truth is, privacy is no longer a right but a privilege. If, for example, you’ve had a life of hard knocks and fear your personal details will filter through to or end up splashed on the pages of blogs and websites around the world, then do something about it. Go out there and create the online image you want for yourself. It’s never been easier or quicker. You are in control, and if skillfully executed, a carefully nurtured online persona is an investment that will do wonders for your career. The digital medium allows you to mold and sway the opinions of those around you for your own benefit--if you learn how to do this right. After all, online conversation is currency these days.

No doubt, at this point in the rapidly-evolving world of digital media, each and every one of us is 100% responsible for our own imprint on the Web, whether we like this or not. The Internet is no more different now in this regard than say, print or television, with the exception that with the Web, we can actually intervene if something pops ups that we take issue with--and we can do so in real time. It is standard knowledge in contemporary PR that nothing is off the record. Celebrities and socialites know this better than anyone, and have their publicists on a 24/7 online watch. Is someone putting up vicious posts defaming your character? Respond. Take action. Sue even. But don’t let it be, and don’t blame the search engines. We must not only be vigilant, we must be active in creating and shaping the kind of digital profile we want for ourselves--one that accurately reflects our passions, fears, and accomplishments. Feel like burning someone online yourself? What the heck, go ahead and do that too--just know that you are responsible for the choices you make online.


September Rain

Every year, when the rainy season in Costa Rica enters its last and rainiest stage, my mind starts to tire of the water and my soul turns uneasy. Drops of melancholy tinge the air with scents of yesterday, and the deep greens and grays that permeate the drenched city of San José--the same colors that a few months ago I welcomed whole-heartedly and which soothed my soul with gentle whispers--begin to close in on me with unusual heaviness. I venture online for relief, and pretend I am sunning in Sydney or partying in Paris, but once I close my laptop and look out the window, I am once again engulfed by gloomy, solemn sentiments of slowly moving bands of tropical rain.

A cool, misty moisture envelops buildings, trees, and mountaintops, and even once-happy birds seem to find the endless rain oppressive. Cloud forests saturated with moss, rivers overflowing their banks, walls soft to the touch, beaches awash with debris, and angry, sluggish, resentful clouds gathering above, pounding everything below with forceful showers, over, and over, and over again. Comforting but tiring, the rain floods the land with promises of life and winds blow with hints of change, but nothing yet. Television offers little recourse.

I yearn for the sun but make due for now, with work, with exciting digital media forays, and with friends and family. Seasonal Affective Disorder (aptly acronymed SAD) starts to set in with tenacious force, and anchors itself deep within my heart, but I still smile. And while I feel put out, all I can do is stay put, weather the unending rain, and wait for the dry season to arrive. A couple of months from now and I’ll be in the clear, literally. And no matter how many thunderstorms I have to endure, I know that today, the sun shines inside brighter than ever before.


Unwords: Words for All Affairs

I am captivated by the ways in which technology’s precipitous development has an impact on the way a lot of us communicate. Recently I was reading a great post in Notes from the Digital Frontier where one of the regular bloggers recalled his dismay while texting with a friend. He pointed out that, because his friend’s phone’s dictionary did not recognize a certain term, his friend opted to type in a different word instead. Huh. "The input method changes our communication style," he perceptively concluded. This has actually also happened to me, various times. I can’t think of a more obvious example of technology’s influence over language and communications. And then there’s Cingular’s recent advertising campaign “idk, my bff Jill,” that aside from comical, signals just how fast language is evolving. The first two TV spots from the Cingular campaign together have gotten more than a million hits on YouTube, not simply because they are funny, I suspect, but also because they ring true with a large segment of American (and global) society. If you haven’t seen the ads, click here.

Which brings me to another issue that I feel is also super-interesting: that of creating words to describe new experiences, situations, and ideas to help these become commonplace in digital media and contemporary society. Say hello to Unwords.com, the site that "makes it possible for you to share your words with the world." I’m sure a lot of English professors would be appalled with some of the words users have submitted, and many a crusty English nazi would take issue with the fact that the site simply exists. For me, however, this is as exciting as language gets. Not only is it evolving at hyper-speed, we now have digital observers documenting and fueling the phenomenon.

I believe that it is part of a writer’s job to introduce and coin new terms to describe and define emerging phenomena, especially if said writer wishes to push open societal restrictions and explore new frontiers. It creates knowledge exponentially and paves the way for others to do the same. As a society, we all benefit. Recently I was waiting to board a plane at Miami International Airport, when we were told to wait so the arriving passangers could "deplane." I’m sure the word "deplane" did not exist 50 years ago. Now we all know what this means, even though the word might not be in any dictionary (it is, by the way--as an intransitive verb). So what if other, older words start dying out too quickly? IDK, NBD, from my point of new.


Rainbow Smurfs and Digital Robin Hoods?

I was having sushi last night with some friends at a Korean restaurant off the beaten path in San Pedro (the “Cambridge” of San José, someone once said—the analogy surprisingly fits) when I brought up the issue of my blog. “You guys better check it out, it just keeps getting better and better” I remarked with aplomb, and shot them my trademark right eyebrow lift indicating that my assessment was in fact tongue-in-cheek—this in hopes of getting some sort of reaction from these cynics. I made all efforts to make my blog the focal point of our brisk conversation. Because hitting up my contacts online for comments wasn’t working so well, I decided to shamelessly panhandle live and face-to-face. My efforts have still not been as successful as I would like, but when I checked my blog later that night I found one extra comment. Ahh, my friends! I’m lucky I have them. And it was a carefully crafted remark too—poised and thoughtful. However, commenters have yet to pile on to any of my posts.

Don’t get me wrong, I love having an avid readership, even though it might consist solely of my mom and a couple of friends, but I definitely want to cast a wider net. However, I can’t complain; last night’s blatant self-promotion was fruitful for my digital ambitions to lord over all things digital media. My friends and I had an on-the-spot brainstorming session, a spontaneous attempt to conduct an after-dinner Internet think-tank experiment, where we engaged in a bevy of digital media topics—everything from the grisly to the sugary to the ultra-geek—that could serve as promising topics for future posts. Some of these I’m keeping stashed away for a rainy day, letting them age like a good wine so by the time I decide to author a post regarding one of these topics, I will have a well-thought out argument that absolutely no one will be able to challenge (this is also tongue-in-cheek by the way, I actually hope to stir up a comment string some day so contentious that it will fire up even the most jaded and indifferent reader’s inner Ann Coulter).

So what issues should I touch on right now? Last night we toyed with the idea of the digital Robin Hood, a “good” hacker (I though about naming it a gooker, but it sounds gross, and a little too much like hooker), that instead of accessing restricted networks and opening up cans of digital whoop-ass, would actually patch up security flaws, beautify websites, and create robust and scalable firewalls anonymously and for free. However, we quickly trashed this idea as completely retarded and uselessly absurd. I also thought about discussing my theory of the gay Smurf trifecta: Brainy smurf, Vanity smurf, and Smurfette (who I always though was a full-on tranny—and I’m not talking about a car’s transmission) but this seemed grossly off point and somehow inappropriate. Neither of these seems like a good topic to start the kind of spirited debate I hope to have on the pages of my blog one day. So what do you think? I would love to hear your suggestions.


404 No More

Things really are what you make them. I was reading Adrants today and came across a post that immediately caught my eye. It spotlights the efforts of Smashing Magazine to compile the most interesting, original, and user-friendly 404 pages that websites have cleverly crafted for their users. Love it. This way, if you happen to lose your way online or accidentally type in an extra “f” or “p” or whatever key it is your fingers seem to be most torpidly drawn to when you speed-type, you will be met with a fun and funky experience that doesn’t make you want to kill yourself or make you feel awesomely frustrated, impotent, or totally ripped off.

Let me explain what I mean. Recently at work we had a situation where, because of updates to a client’s site, several pages were being pulled down. In their place, we had to add in a corporate version of the 404 page—something along the lines of “Thank you for your interest in such-and-such. We are currently working on updating the information on this page. Check back again soon.” Boring! And totally lame. If I was a user who had bookmarked that page or typed in the URL thinking I was pretty smart so I could get to it directly, I would feel cheated. What the hell! A total bump in the road when it comes to smooth online navigation. I have some thoughts on this:

  1. Why not add in some links directing the user to other sections of the site? No need to make these pages dead ends.
  2. Be creative and make the user want to come back in the future to check for updates. Unless you’re a click-happy loser with OCD, I can’t imagine anyone checking that page again anytime soon.
  3. Be more specific and transparent. Why is this page unavailable or “currently in construction”? I think it’s a great opportunity to engage with users by giving them a sneak peak at what’s coming. Or if the page is never to be available again, then be creative and make the user glad that they got lost on your site.

404 pages usually blow chunks. But it doesn’t have to be that way, and thanks to the efforts of many a crafty individual out there, users are getting something extra that makes the online experience that much more compelling.


Touch My Bum, This is Life

For any of you not familiar with the Cheeky Girls, “touch my bum, this is life” is the line of verse these Romanian sisters sing over the hook of their signature tune “Cheeky Song (Touch My Bum).” Needless to say, it’s pure, senseless cheese. But because it’s so random and nonsensical, it’s funny. And because it’s so random, nonsensical, and blatantly sexual, it’s immediately engrossing. It’s an old hit to be sure and was only big in Britain, but it was a hit nonetheless, and it speaks volumes of our media tastes (it topped the charts a few years back, earning this post a label far beyond the “so-five-minutes-ago” dismissive—and by the way, how so-five-minutes-ago is the term “so-five-minutes-ago”?).

While it’s true that people are dying in Darfur and blowing themselves up in Irak and getting pounded by hurricanes right here in Central America, the world needs an escape (a sweet escape?). A breather, a way out--even if it’s just pretend and even if it’s just for a second. I’m thinking that for the Brits, “The Cheeky Song” was probably just this (or at least I’m hoping so, because I can’t fathom someone taking this song semi-seriously). I certainly need an escape every now and then.

Sometimes I ponder on the meaning of life and peruse the headlines of “serious” news sites for analyses on current world affairs. I’m deeply interested in politics, economic development, and world events—more so than most I would say. But today I’ve found myself reading up on Tinsley Mortimer’s announcement that summer is “over” (she doesn’t have to rush back from the Hamptons every weekend anymore!) and on Olivia Palermo’s embarrassing e-mail disaster from back in March—now old news—pleading with the caste-conscious New York socialites-of-the-moment to accept her and love her. This adds absolutely no value whatsoever to my day and has no transcendence in my life at all. I don’t even live in New York right now. There is nothing I can do with this information that could possibly make me a better or more useful person, especially down here in Costa Rica where it rains eternally and the issue du jour is soccer and free trade. Nevertheless, I’m strangely drawn to it.

One high-profile blog back in spring, Park Avenue Peerage, deemed the Palermo story so important it penned a post entitled “Our Official Take on Olivia’s Letter.” I read the whole thing, down to the last comment. One struck a chord with me: “‘Our Official Take’ on some rich girl’s email. LMAO.” So true. Gawker and Page Six also covered the story. My verdict: The media is out of control. And I love it. Now blogs are issuing official statements on unconfirmed e-mails that no one cares about and that are chock-full of grammatical unforgivables. Awesome! More power to the people. “Touch my bum, this is life” all of a sudden makes perfect sense to me.


Of Cars and Clothes and Benjamins

The more I read, research, and write about cars, the more I desperately want to buy one. I want to splurge and participate in the thrill of personal purchase so I don't feel I'm missing out on the decadent joys of capitalism. I want to throw away my money, be flippant with my buying choices, randomly return unwanted items I bought out of inertia, and complain that I have nothing to wear. I want a convertible and a coupe and a roadster and a four-door sedan and an extended cab truck and a hybrid with Active Fuel Management and Rainsense wipers and automatic temperature controls that runs on an ECOTEC engine that, as a colleague recently quipped, "converts gasoline into world peace" (see dealer for details). But truth is, I don't need another car. I can't even afford a car right now. But I want a car, and I want it now.

I remember when I was in high school and I was a socialist that I pretended--hypocritically--to loathe all things material. I wanted social justice and was planning to unite with the workers of the world. I wanted peace, love, and rock and roll, and visualized spending the rest of my days surfing away an endless summer--I'm embarrassed by it now, as I didn't even know how to surf then and I still don't know how. But I was adamant about my so-called values and morals, disdaining all who pursued material pleasures and vying instead for the simple things in life.

As soon as my college years hit and I began to make a life for myself in the Northeastern Unites States, I nuked away my "values" faster than a Coca Cola fizzles out and turns flat. No more peace, love, or social justice. Ppfff. Forget that! My life became a wasteland of excess, posturing and one-upping, always ready to serve up some 'tude to anyone not up to par. I was completely enveloped by my surroundings and found myself slowly turning plastic. I distinctly remember a conversation I had with friend of mine from NYU that resonates to this day as a cautionary tale. We were in Battery Park, overlooking the sultry waters of New York Bay on a crisp, cold night, when she said, as we both admired her soft new leather jacket: "You know, back home I used to not care about clothes that much. Now I can't help but want the latest fashions." I nodded empathically and played it up with a distinct "totally." A wardrobe malfunction for us was not having just the right thing to wear. Who had we become? We were prisoners of our environment and didn't even know it--or if we did, we didn't care.

And today, I really really want a shiny new car. But now I know that even though I may want it, that doesn't mean I'm going to get it, and even if I could buy it, I probably wouldn't indulge simply because I can. Now I know a little better, and in between the empty insta-gratification of no-holds-barred capitalism and the sounds-nice, sharing-means-caring, unreal hippie ideal, there's a spot where I have begun to feel right at home.


It's Britney, Twitch

As I was dabbling through my RSS reader this morning sifting through today's posts--scanning headlines in search of something that would grab my attention--I came across various tirades ridiculing Britney Spears' performance on last night's VMA's. So naturally, in honor of my inner voyeur (perennially salivating over salacious celebrity dish--I say Gimme More), I clicked on the play icon of the first video embed I could lay my mouse cursor on. Yes, yes, yes, the performance was a veritable train wreck. Lifeless, awkward, wacky, tacky--stressful even. I know it made me anxious, even though I already knew she wasn't going to fall flat on her face despite what all her spastic movements seemed to indicate. The celebrity audience, hesitant and puzzled, still managed to patter applause. Personally, I was actually impressed Britney was able to keep her balance throughout--I bet it's not easy to stagger around like that to the beat of a song onstage while wearing stiletto boots, a hooker's get-up, and a wig, all while doped up. I should know. I give her props just for that, for sure.

Anyway, the inevitable digital blitz that has ensued is proof that now more than ever, the medium really is the message. The real event wasn't the actual performance per se, but what came after. So Britney bombed onstage--who cares? The answer is, a lot of us do, and we need to talk about it. If it wasn't for the media documenting all her crazy, drug-fueled antics obsessively-compulsively (the head-shaving incident still makes tops--and hey, it's her prerogative), we would have not cared that much in the first place. It is the media that makes it what it is, and that gives it cultural (in)significance. The shocker is not what the live audience saw last night; it is what the media-inclined are experiencing today--on YouTube, on blogs, in news reports and gossip magazines. Last night, it was just one more mediocre, stale-ass performance. Today, it is an event. It is social construction at its best, live and in real time, and we are all invited. That's the power of digital media. Events aren't important the very second they happen; rather, they gain momentum with time and talk.

The Internet is Mentos to pop cultural Diet Coke. As I read and fervently consumed the comments being tossed around regarding Britney's fiasco, I couldn't help but smile. The one that made me laugh the hardest: "It's Britney, twitch." Genius.


The Shallow End of the Bitstream

I find myself on the very outer rims of the digital Long Tail, and while I realize there might be purpose to my writing, I would like to dig deeper and move closer to the vortex of cyberspace. I want to engage in compelling conversation and connect with other like-minded and not-so-like-minded individuals, but am still at a loss as to how to do it. I am realizing that finding something semi-interesting to write about periodically and being confident and on point every time is tough stuff.

I'm trussed to nothing and floating freely--a celestial body at the tail end of a stellar whip swirling around far away from the center of an already super-saturated galaxy. What does it take to venture father in to the deep, cut-throat waters of the World Wide Web, were only the mightiest rise to the top, without getting burned or burnt out in the process? I tend to believe I have what it takes to create a space for myself without much difficulty, but it will all depend on the vibrancy of my posts and the compelling, sticky quality of my writing.

For me, it seems that my creative juices flow more freely late at night, when I'm tired and a now familiar lack of lucidity begins to creep and permits a torrent of ideas to flood my usually soppy brain. My day comes into focus and I can reach out up into the stars and pull down bits of thought, then shape these into words and sentences that follow some sort of logical flow. But I still need inspiration, a muse of some sort, a passion that drives me to explore the deepest ends of space and allows me to return with a shiny, attractive pearl that I can share with the digital world. What I can hope for right now is that, between all my lackluster posts, maybe-but-not-really musings, and not-so-hot arguments, there will be one or two that hit a bullseye smack in the middle and forever burn bright.


I Am African

I like to think of myself as a citizen of the world. With my dual citizenship, I have been afforded the chance to identify with and immerse myself in two different, distinct cultures: that of the United States, that--despite the current sate of world affairs--is still soaked with an endless sense of freedom and opportunity, and that of Latin America, drenched in magic realism and steeped in tradition. I would not pick one over the other. Instead, the combination has served as both platform and springboard to explore and visit other cultures around the world--and I still have a long ways to go. But today, I consider myself international, and believe that globalization, regardless of its discontents, is an exciting phenomenon. Because of my staunch support for global free commerce, I've been called everything from immoral to insensitive to bourgeois, and I've even been labeled a "degenerate"; however, I just shrug these off with a smile. I think all these people are afraid and have axes to grind. I'm all about globalization--it moves in all directions and is in constant flux, and those who wish to keep it in check will only get bulldozed under it's power.

I am North American, South American, African, Middle Eastern, European, Australian, Asian... Or at least I want to be. When I travel, I am most interested not in visiting the sights (although this is fun) but in getting a feel for what it means to live in and be culturally and geographically tied to a certain place. Local media has a lot to offer in this respect. And I've found that, with the forces currently shaping the world, not only is local global and global local--cultural experiences become more acute and immediate. Recently for me, it was London, Motown, the City of Lights, Beantown, Mexico City, and Los Angeles. Soon, it might be Lagos, Islamabad, Tokyo, Stockholm, Buenos Aires. Who knows? As distances shrink and borders fade, even more explosive, exciting, and (probably) violent things are bound to keep happening.

But when it is all said and done, I think we will be better off because of it.


Elements of Zeitgeist: Why Shallow is Meaningful

Recently I touched base with a friend of mine from college I had not talked to in more than two years. The last time we saw each other was ages ago, when I was someone else completely, in my snug apartment in Alphabet City. It was early in the morning--a sad, listless, meaningless morning--and my frustration and impatience erupted in an explosive and derisive verbal attack that punctuated what was perhaps the beginning of the most dramatic falling out I've had with a good friend. I can't remember if I threw him out or if he stormed out, but I can remember the pungent spiritual decay I felt take over me after. I was on a slippery slope and had already decided to take no prisoners and scorch all earth.

Anyway, those were different times. Today I appreciate friendship, and thanks to social media tools, we were able to smooth out the past and bury the hatchet. And as we slowly got up to speed through various wall posts and private messages, I realized that our affinity towards media and pop culture binds us tighter than I would have ever expected. The line that did me in: "Who else in your life can talk about Paris Hilton and Kierkegaard in the same breath?" he pointed out. And he's right. And then the slam dunk: "I'll be sure to fax Lou Dobbs your riot grrl piece." I always found his insights funky yet on point, and both incredibly funny and piercingly honest. It was bubblegum with razorblades in it.

Which brings me back to the point I'm trying to make. Levity and frivolity are powerful tools--they can be coping mechanisms, a way to break the ice perhaps--but it takes a skilled connoisseur to use superficiality to convey something truly meaningful. Back in college, my life was as insipid as Paris Hilton and as hard to swallow as Kierkegaard. Today, it's a whole other story. I enjoy substance and can throw down with even the most uppity intellectual. However, I am most comfortable watching music videos nominated to this year's VMA's on YouTube or catching the latest summer blockbuster. Because today, sometimes a pop song is more telling and has more relevancy to me than say, Dickens. Whether loaded with meaning or as breezy as air, it's the sign of the times. And that's super exciting to me.


A Postmodern Writer's First Post: Let's Watch

I'm buried in work, droopy-eyed, sleepy, and dreading the office tomorrow. And yet I'm excited because I'm blogging for the first time... I'm sitting on the floor with my laptop on my lap, my legs spread forward and crossed, half-listening to a show my friend is watching on TV--something about how a couple of sadistic killers a la Natural Born Killers recorded the screams of their victims during Nazi-era Germany, and then would listen to the tapes during sex to get off. It's actually super explicit, morbid stuff--hard to stomach--but maybe because it's the Discovery Channel the show gets a pass with the PTA crowd. I still believe it should deserve a bit of tsk-tsking. And now that I think of it, I didn't even know they had tape recorders during the 1930's in Europe... sounds totally made up to me. Intense, but made up.

Everything I see or listen to in the media lately sounds completely bogus and fabricated--from the news I read online each morning, to reality TV, to the morning radio broadcasting nutty traffic reports, everything seems neither here nor there. And yet, on a strange, spiritual level, I find it all both comforting and motivating. Because at the end of the day, what is "true" anyway, and do I even want it?

Fleeting--that's where it's at. If it's not here to stay, it's that much more significant. The world keeps turning, wildly, quickly, pulling me in different directions, and when I manage to ease up and listen, I always find a couple of hidden treasures that stop me in my tracks and leave me wide-eyed. What was it for me today? The show on the Discovery Channel? Not so much. It was the tropical drizzle in the evening, the unexpected digital pat on the back this morning, and right now, it's starting this blog, which makes me feel shiny and new.