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  • mono 7:43 pm on April 22, 2008 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , Beauty, , , , Efficiency, , Isolation, , , , microblogging, Mobile phone, , , , Society, , Telecommunication, ,   

    Deepening Web Communication (Fragments) 

    Steve Rhodes

    Communications theorist Lee Thayer once wrote, “We ‘dilute’ the world by having an idea of it; and the intent of our words is, more often than not, to eliminate the world as resistance (Thayer 190).” As languaging creatures, our comprehension of the world is at once in direct contact with it (with certain spatial areas, horizons, surfaces, humans) and at the same time a part from it via language, creative expression, technology and so so on. That is to say, our ways of grasping the world is usually, most of the time, extending beyond the immediate here-and-now concreteness of reality, projecting ourselves onto things and others. Even when we are engaged in the concrete and ever-flowing “now,” we almost without control cover it over and lose what it could be with our self-talk or with symbolic complexes about how it should be. In the above quotation Thayer is calling us to think about the ways in which we understand our worlds, the ways in which we conceptually apprehend the concrete (via language) and how, perhaps, our talking serves the purpose of watering down the absolute harshness of the physical world.


    To use one example, in my current life situation I interact with computers everyday at home and at work. Just this evening, standing outside, I opened up my mobile phone, connected to the Web and checked my email. To some extent, the sense of aloneness, of isolation is swallowed up by the thought of being connected to a larger non-physical network of others. Moreover, for some of us, how much have we come to completely rely on Web communication for a large amount of the “real” communication that we crave, that we fail to engage while at work or even with friends? The temptation of connect may be seen as the temptation to substitute the “real” world for a virtual one, but I don’t think that things are this easy. Sure, it is nice to partake in micro-blogging or facebook updates, in order to keep relevant others “updated,” but what happens when one steps away from all of it? Moreover, how have our conversations changed…do we converse in 140 characters or less, I wonder?

    I think that for those of us that engage in various forms of social media, the spreading out and fragmenting of ourselves, while creating small pockets of self-identity and self-representation have the consequences of widening the sense of isolation instead of eliminating it. Spreading oneself across the social media spectrum for research purposes or curiosity may be beneficial if put to good use, but even then, too much talk about nothing, too much reliance on Web communication creates a false sense of togetherness. No matter what, the computer still sits on the table, in the room, in the house, in the city, etc…The objectness of the computer disappears while we are engaged with it.

    The Deep

    In the same essay as the above mentioned quotation, Thayer writes, “What has happened is that we have come to mistake our reach for our grasp. With the modernization of consciousness has come belief that information is a reasonable substitute for knowledge, and that knowledge, rationally accumulated, is a reasonable substitute for wisdom (Thayer 183).” Too much self-fragmentation into the voids of social media may serve to satisfy a temporary hunger, a quick fix on news, technological advances and so on, but what is happening in the accumulation of quick fix knowledge? It seems to me that the self that consists of a diet of aggregated feeds, comes to accumulate more information than necessary and, as a result, not really use that accumulated knowledge. Reaching too far and pulling everything in is tempting, but wasteful and shallow. When I say “shallow,” I mean quickly reading something for the purpose of simply taking it in without making it a part of oneself, without spending time with it and allowing it to work its magick on you. Reading an aggregated feed is much different than reading a book just as “tweeting” on Twitter is much different than engaging in a conversation while sharing a bottle of wine. The depth of communication is at stake in both examples.


    If ours is a situation in which we language the world, in which the world becomes the way it is talked about and made sense, then what are some ways that we can strive to create and enact the most beautiful possible world? Moreover, if ours is a technological world, how can we deepen our communicative grasp through the social networks which we use? Finally, if ours is a fragmented world, what are some ways that we can stitch some vital fragments back together, ways in which we can come to deepen and enrich our human lives through the technological? Perhaps, these too, are some of my hopes for Web 3.0

    *The two quotations were taken from the essay “Communication: Reach vs. Grasp,” which is in Lee Thayer’s book “Pieces: Toward a Revisioning of Communication/Life.”

    Photo by Steve Rhodes (CC)

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  • mono 6:06 am on April 17, 2008 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: Aimai, , Efficiency, Foreigner, How to, , , , , , , working in Japan   

    Spoken and Unspoken Japanese 

    I move between two languages on a daily basis, English and Japanese. When I say that I “move between” these two languages, I mean that I dive into conversations, jokes, sarcasms, criticisms, small-talk and office politics in both languages throughout the day. I am surrounded by others who do the same. I am also surrounded by others who prefer to use one language over the other.

    Learning a language is funny and if you ask me “how does one learn Japanese?” I’ll probably give you some tips on how to study or what you can do to increase your language-learning potential, but when does “study” stop and “fluency” begin and at what point does one become “fluent”? Despite confidences from the Japanese, which we know can just as much be cliche as it can be true compliment, the idea of fluency does not enter into my sphere…What I mean is that, in expressing myself in Japanese there is always a wall, an invisible wall that flares up heavily at times and magically disappears at times. Sometimes, I trick the wall out of existence by knowing how to agree, knowing how to carry the conversation. Other times, the wall completely vanishes only to reappear when I least expect it.

    If you also find yourself (or want to in the near future) move between these two languages here are a few things you may want to try or at least take into account.

    • Pay attention to the others around you and turn your daily life into the playground of learning. That is to say, I think that people can learn a lot by simply tuning in to the words that float around them, the little parts of speech that aren’t taught in textbooks, the kanji that reappear, the nodding of the head, the gait of the other, intonation, pauses…all of these come to life in the others around us. It may be difficult for one to see oneself a part of this and emulation is a wonderful way to learn the art of the spoken and the unspoken.
    • Pay attention to what is talked about and how it is talked about. For those who are wondering about “aimai,” the way of vague affirmation or indirect communication, one should always be paying attention to what is being talked about in small talk and how it is furthered on by others. Sometimes talking about the weather is simply talking about the weather and sometimes it is doing much more than that, it is strengthening the bond between you and the other person. It is a reaching out across the abyss from the other to you.
    • Humble yourself. I remember someone telling me to always “degrade myself” when presenting some project that I finished as the Japanese heavily do this when talking about themselves. Hhmmm…Well, yes and no. I think that at times it is proper to exit one’s ivory tower and to truly apologetically present some new completed project to co-workers, but at other times it serves one well to be steady and confident. The trick is that it completely depends on who you are surrounded by and who you are perceived to be in said situation. When in doubt, perhaps humbling yourself will serve you well.
    • Play with language. I think it is most important to play with the language slowly and smoothly. I used to write poetry in Japanese. At that time my goal was to create a harmony between the Japanese syllables, the form of the poem and the meaning that it held for me. In playing with the language in this way, I realized that it is possible to express or create some kernel of myself in this other language and I think with the proper amount of respect for the language and play with the language one’s ability will grow and the ability to “tune in” will increase.

    By no means am I a master at Japanese and sometimes when challenged by a fellow ex-patriot as he seeks to test my level of Japanese, I back down. I don’t appreciate such challenges and don’t wish to duel. The foreigner who wishes to partake in a linguistic duel does nothing for me and doesn’t prove anything to me. The ex-patriot who questions with me and who plays with the language with me is beneficial and much appreciated. Being in a relationship with a friend whom you can learn with is wonderful for both of you and much more productive than the stand-offish challenge.

    Thank you for reading this and I wish you all the best in your studies.

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