What it means to write: Handwriting in the age of technology

Charged with many crimes -- encouraging theft (music, movies, ideas), giving us impersonal and inadequate replacements (blogs, texting, emailing), facilitating shortcuts both in critical thinking (wikipedia) and in spelling (texting again) -- technology appears to have another imbroglio brewing: causing the death of writing by hand. The issue falls along the same lines as many arguments dealing with advances in technology, namely a nostalgia for and valorization of the old versus the high expectations for and valorization of the new.

Whether handwriting will ever be dropped from curricula in favor of keyboards remains to be seen. What is more interesting (at this point in time) is the argument raised by Anne Trubeck in her article, "Is Handwriting Going the Way of the Dodo Bird?," which takes the stance that yes, handwriting is nearing obsolescence, but that is a good thing.

Laying out a fascinating trajectory of writing-- from the Sumerians, to the Romans, to the Puritans, to the Spencer/Palmer split, to typewriters, and finally to computers, Trubeck asks us to consider the democratizing implications of typing and how screen text can unburden writing from class and gender issues.

From the article:
Handwriting slowly became a form of self-expression when it ceased to be the primary mode of written communication. When a new writing technology develops, we tend to romanticize the older one. The supplanted technology is vaunted as more authentic because it is no longer ubiquitous or official. Thus for monks, print was capricious and script reliable. So too today: Conventional wisdom holds that computers are devoid of emotion and personality, and handwriting is the province of intimacy, originality and authenticity.
Continue reading on Alternet

Damming the Forest: New Dam in Forest Preserve in Southern Belize

One year ago, in December 2008, the Prime Minister of Belize signed an agreement with the US engineering company, Hydro Maya, to begin research into a potential dam project on the border of the Bladen Reserve in the southern-most district in the country. According to a story from Ya'axche Conservation Trust, the company then should have obtained permits to begin the research, but instead, began "researching" the project without the required permits. Hydro Maya's "research" includes building roads into the preserve and clearing numerous large trees and slopes. The Bladen Reserve is a co-managed forest reserve and is "considered to be one of the most biodiversity-rich, and topographically unique areas within the Mesoamerican biodiversity hotspot" (Ya'axche). Further, the river is source of water and food for the nearby community of San Pedro Columbia. From the Ya'axche article:
San Pedro Colombia Village is located about twenty miles from Punta Gorda. It is a village whose residents still practice their traditional way of life, relying heavily on the forest for medicine and the river for water for drinking, washing and bathing. So when they began noticing heavy duty equipment moving into their forests unannounced, it troubled them.
Troubling indeed. In short, the company behind Hydro Maya (Bradley Engineering), obtained permission to obtain research permits, then without obtaining the permits, without consulting or notifying nearby communities who actively use the river and surrounding forest to provide basic needs, and further, without contacting the Ya'axche Conservation Trust, who is the co-manager of the Bladen Reserve, began the dam project (you can view more pictures here).

Ya'axche and community members of San Pedro Columbia have begun meeting in efforts to determine what action to take, and meanwhile, very little national press has covered the situation in Belize, and no international press has reported on the situation.

Read the Ya'axche article (from Channel 5 Belize) here>>>

Read about the Bladen Reserve here>>>

Visit the Ya'axche Conservation Trust here>>>

Show your support for Ya'axche and the Maya people who depend on the forest, the river, and the surrounding environment.

A Tree Falls in a Forest: Ancient Garden Cities in South America

As more Amazonian forests are felled, as more industry moves in, and as more aerial digital images are uploaded, evidence of previously unknown civilizations are being unearthed -- specifically along the border of Brazil and Bolivia. According to a recent article from New Scientist, researchers have discovered another "piece," perhaps, of what they term "garden cities," a network of villages located in north-central Brazil and dating from 1400 AD. The scope of the garden cities would have been the size of New Jersey, populated possibly by more than 50,000 people. That little "hard" evidence exists of them is due to the fact that they built with earth, rather than stone, leading the Amazon to reclaim its land once the society had been decimated by colonizers.

The new discovery further supports the idea that the Amazon basin was heavily populated by "complex" societies before the European invasion, societies that were sedentary and long-lived. The structures that have been uncovered appear dissimilar to the geoglyphs of the Incas and the Nasca lines of Peru.

Of course, as quickly as these discoveries are made, modern-day economic development swiftly takes over:
"'I have no doubt that this is only scratching the surface,' says Alex Chepstow-Lusty of the French Institute for Andean Studies in Lima, Peru. 'The scale of pre-Columbian societies in Amazonia is only slowly coming to light and we are going to be amazed at the numbers of people who lived there, but also in a highly sustainable fashion. Sadly, the economic development and forest clearance that is revealing these pre-Columbian settlement patterns is also the threat to having enough time to properly understand them.'"
Read the article at newscientist.com.
Image: Edison Caetano, newscientist.com

Visualizing Capitalism

We're not sure the source of this - it was passed on by a friend. Still, it is a simple visual of what's really going on to make our capitalist system operate.
By Level:
We Rule You
We Fool You
We Shoot at You
We Eat for You
(and on the bottom) We work for All - We Feed All

Who, What, Where, When and Now: Newspapers and Higher Education

Whether newspapers are on the brink of extinction, or simply evolving, the question of where that leaves the "public" (and whether the complicated separation between that public and the news that reports on and for it still exists), and where that leaves traditional journalism continues to fascinate, trouble, and perplex scholars.

The Chronicle of Higher Education posed the question of how the perceived decline of mass media will affect higher education to those invested in the issues. Some interesting responses and theories emerged.

Harvard's Harry R. Lewis proposed that journalism supports the research of the academy, breaking down often hard-to-understand industry jargon into language easily digested by outsiders. Good and informed journalism must therefore be preserved and fought for.

Columbia's Mark C. Taylor argues a similar point: "Fair, accurate, and responsible in-depth journalism is essential for any democratic society, and never more so than today. ... We also need to develop institutional structures that support dialogue between the academic world and the broader society."

In terms of how such a fracturing of news media affects university students, these scholars also had much to say, arguing for a more inclusive role for technology in the classroom, for upholding the idea of objectivity and journalism's role in recording history, for turning out graduates who can think critically and reflectively.

Garrick Utley of the State University of New York brings up another interesting point, what he terms "the past-tense, present-tense tension":
Journalism is by definition and practice past tense. Stories in print or on television newscasts have been reported, facts checked, scripts and articles written, edited, and vetted, and only then presented to the public; the journalistic version of peer review.

Today, news is increasingly present tense. Cable news channels have become primarily live talk and live coverage of breaking-news events. There are ever fewer traditional newscasts or edited news reports. Television news is becoming real-time reality television. And Internet news, with ever more (and more narrowly focused) Web sites, blogs, and live streams of events, is also becoming real time, or present tense. Social-network sites are nearly real time and some, such as Twitter, are present tense.

Academic life, like journalism (at its best), is largely built on past tense, through the accumulation of knowledge and the importance of context, not to mention tradition. Academe and journalism share certain traits. Whether they face a similar future remains to be seen.
It almost seems that it is this focus on the past that is keeping newspapers (and academia probably) from evolving in such a way that leaves behind the problems that have plagued them, and from moving forward into a digital age that is inhabited by people no longer passively taking in carefully molded information. That this comes with its own challenges is clear, but it also floods the once deafening silence with new voices.

Read the Chronicle's article here.