Media Lab reunion

media labAfter only a few weeks in my new job I have the opportunity to head back to my alma mater. As it would turn out, the Media Laboratory is having its 20th anniversary, and that, of course, is time for celebration! I’m sure that in the past month they have invented 2.5 new ways of looking at the world, started 5 new blogs, signed 2 new corporate sponsors, and soldered 1,800 blinking LEDs.

That said, I’ll be in the Boston area for the next four days, so give me a holler if you’re around, or just wave at me. I’ll be the guy wearing a giant purple jumpsuit with a giant Y! on the back and yodeling.


Upcoming superstar

Once upon a time...Once upon a time I had a friend who had a small website. We were such good friends that I became a poster child for said website, and everyone was happy. The sun was shining that day.

Then a BIG CORPORATION acquired the website, and corporate policy ensued. Privacies were policied, and policies were privatized. Somewhere in the mix, my poster-childhood was revoked. My picture was no longer an example for all those aspiring up-and-coming upcomingers. The fog rolled in that day.

But for a limited time, you can still see me in action! Quick, while supplies still last, go get your free autographed copy of Cameron Marlow, upcoming superstar!

Teenage Wasteland

Donna Gaines in 1978Now that I have forsaken the academy (just kidding!) and have copious amounts of commute time, I’ve been trying to read all of the books I punted on over the past 6 years. I just finished Donna Gaines’ Teenage Wasteland, an ethnography of the youth culture in the late 80’s that coincided with a number of suicides. In addition to descriptive biography and cultural criticism, Gaines’ book espouses young people as a cohesive social group, one with solidarity but not sovereignty. The book is largely focused on teenage suicide, a behavior increasing in prevalence over the 80’s. She concludes that this act comes from a state of oppression, not disenfranchisement:

In a now famous footnote in Suicide, written almost a hundred years ago, the French sociologist Emile Durkheim described fatalistic suicide as “the suicide deriving from excessive regulation, that of persons with futures pitilessly blocked and passions violently choked by oppressive discipline.” … Yet most experts attribute youth suicide to anomie—the opposit of fatalistic suicide in Durkheim’s thinking. In anomic suicide, the individual isn’t connected to the society—the glue that holds the person to the group isnn’t strong enough; social bonds are loose, weak or absent.

In other words, parents think that kids are detached from society and from themselves, when in fact they feel completely connected to each other, and disconnected from any concept of a future. This is not an area I know much about, but it seems that the parental view of “kids” or “teenagers” has been on a gradual decline since the baby boom. Take for instance Leave it to Beaver. In the light of today’s paranoid, parental propaganda, Beaver’s shenanigans would probably be interpreted as the actions of a conspiring gang instead of just some goofy kids. When Beaver got suck in the giant bowl of steaming soup, he was simply given a slap on the wrist, when today he would probably be arrested as a graffiti artist or culture jammer. Dude, it’s just the Beaver!

The book concludes with an afterward covering some cultural changes occurring during the 90’s, but it concludes long before the ubiquity of the internet. Gaines’ describes teenage fatalism as largely being associated with the geographic prison that many kids live in; she blames quite a bit of the “problem” on kids’ inability to get away from their home town. The internet has a huge impact on the concept of geography, giving people the ability to escape their immediate surroundings for other people and places.

The past few years have certainly seen a marked increase in youth adoption of internet communication tools; this has been the case since the onset of the web, and will probably be true for many years to come. We can assume that IM, blogs, Livejournal, MySpace, Friendster and the like are all helping support local relationships among kids, but to what extent are they allowing them to escape their hometown? When teenagers feel trapped, oppressed, and ultimately fatalistic, to what extent do they now turn to a kindred spirit somewhere far away? My guess is that today’s youth have even more solidarity than they have in the past, but it is certainly a topic that needs further exploration.

Any references to current research would be greatly appreciated.

Yahoo! Blogs/News mashup

The first few weeks I have spent at Yahoo! have been extremely exciting. In the course of a week Yahoo! has announced the Berkeley Research Lab (where I work), a new podcasting service, the acquisition of Upcoming and tonight Yahoo! Blog Search the integration of weblogs into Yahoo! News Search results. I am extremely happy to have had the chance to be part of what I think will be an important step in bringing blogs into a new context.

The decision to join news and weblogs instead of creating yet another vertical blog search is something that I’m sure will fuel a lot of blog posts, especially around the issue of whether or not the marriage is appropriate. Personally I see this not as a statement of some kind of equivalency, but rather as an acknowledgement of the goals that drive a person to go searching for news in the first place. But that’s just me.

And, as Jeremy has pointed out, a huge motivation comes from a desire to bring blogs to a wider audience, which in the case of Yahoo! News is umm… really wide. I’ve only been at Yahoo! for a few weeks (long enough to start! adding! extra! punctuation!), but I’m very lucky to have had the chance to work with this team during the final stages of development. This is, in fact, the only product I’ve ever had a hand in, and it has been facinating to see it take on it’s final form. It’s not something I have seen very often in the academic world, that is for sure.