Tuesday, March 24, 2009

The New CB Radio: "Come on back!"

Let's do a little futurology today, always a good exercise for SF/F/R writers.

Patric Michael pointed me to this YouTube video

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PN2HAroA12w&feature=dir

It's a high-production-values animated satire about addiction to twitter.com and tweeting. The theme seems to be that the practice of tweeting is pointless.

The piece is worth seeing just for the production itself, not the message.

The message is populist but I think way off base. However, it's worth listening to carefully because it does express accurately and with an appropriate amount of tasteful humor what non-tweeters see tweeters doing.

This is a viewpoint I've seen expressed variously about golfers, runners, skiers, gamers, bird watchers, dogshow competitors, and hobbyists of all sorts. Tweeting is much cheaper than most social activities.

But frankly, because of the social barrier to social networking highlighted in this video, I am not at all sure twitter.com will survive this economic downturn. It was heavily funded at startup and is still striving to deal with that debt.

I've been on twitter.com (as http://www.twitter.com/JLichtenberg so you can follow me there easily once you set up a free account) for only a few months. I'm just beginning to discover some of the off-twitter.com tweeting tools that have built up around this communication device.

There are endless blogs and pages full of tutorials on how to social network, and I've read only a sparse few of those. Lately, there have been tutorials circulated for how to use twitter to advertise your wares -- any product you want to sell. Those tutorials are of interest to writers because we have books to hawk. People with something to sell see a market (word of mouth is the best advertising) and greed ignites the hearts and minds. The smoke from that inner fire of greed makes your tweets reek.

Veteran tweeters shun the commercial push, and other tutorials advise strictly against making your tweets about you and what you want or are offering. The advice is to make your tweets about other people, not yourself or your wares. Tweet about a well defined subject, and give real information -- that's the kernal of the advice I've seen. The key is to GIVE.

And when you give real value for your reader's time, you tend to get "retweeted" (which is like a good online review for a book - word spreads).

Here is an article on getting retweeted (seriously, people are studying twitter.com member behaviors this closely). The article gives this advice: typically, people want to pass your Tweet on for one of three reasons: they found it useful, funny, or informative

http://www.mediabistro.com/prnewser/social_networks/how_to_get_retweeted_advice_from_three_pr_pros_110370.asp
I've seen the exact same advice and admonitions in several articles. Apparently there is an audience on the web that thirsts for advice on how to relate to new people you've just met. Or maybe there are just a lot of people with nothing of their own to say who are repeating to you what you already know. This might be considered in the category of a useless waste of time.

However, I see something going on here that apparently a lot of people don't.

Place the micro-blog or tweet (a 140 character message useful because it will auto-shrink a long URL into a micro-URL -- a service available at some websites directly) against the background of the macro-trends of the world over the last few decades. (Good futurology starts in the past, you see.)

Blogs are the equivalent of the snailmail letters and letter-zines and APAzines (all SF fanines used to be non-fiction until Star Trek fanfic hit a voracious market). Fans used to exchange these longer more involved essays on the subject of the moment, the latest book, movie or TV show on paper, or (again with the advent of Star Trek fandom) by telephone.

Twitter and micro-blogs on social networks are the equivalent of the post cards we used to exchange. The phone calls tended to be midnight low rates, and last for hours apiece, so they were more like conversational blogs with lots of comments.

What you can fit on a post card, taken out of the context of the 'zine or round robin letters, is utterly meaningless. Yet for those to whom it is addressed, it holds great, deep, and consequential meaning.

Likewise microblogging -- any single message is meaningless. Taken in context of "who" this person is, what comments they've left on Yahoo News blogs, in their own blog, comments on other people's blogs -- in context, the microtweet "Had pizza for lunch" gains GREAT meaning (knowing this person is allergic to milk products but addicted to pizza).

The odd thing is, I never (ever) saw any tutorial on how to use letters and post cards, or even how to publish a paper 'zine. People just knew how to social network despite the week or more between sending and receiving. Even us nerds who were considered so socially undeveloped in those days hit the ground running once connected with someone who had something to say we wanted to hear! No tutorial necessary. Pure instinct. The instinct of a social creature finally finding another member of our own society -- people who read.

I recently saw an item that the post office is closing several more distribution plants and firing a huge percentage of the postal workers in layoffs and attrition. Nobody snails anything they can e anymore.

The snailmail fan network generation raised their children on Sesame Street. That show reduced attention spans. Children grew to adulthood without the ability to sit still and concentrate on one thing long enough to read a book. Parents used the fascinating TV screen as a baby sitter while they snail-mailed and many have lived to regret that.

In the 1970's the biggest topic in macro-trends was the information explosion and how would we ever deal with so much data. SF writers doing the futurology never got the results of the information explosion right.

Then AOL gave the average American online access with dialup. That business model collapsed as cable provided broadband. Now it's wireless everywhere. 3G networks. More information, faster eventually meant music, video and TV shows on your computer or cell phone.

Google emerged with an innovative algorithm to conquer a lot of that deluge of information. You can now find what you want when you want it. Spam exploded, forcing the development of closed and monitored associations which we now call social networks or Web 2.0.

LiveJournal started the blogosphere, I think -- though there were individual web-log keepers among the geek community long before that. The blogosphere exploded, expecially after Google bought blogspot.com and blogger.com, although it was huge before that.

Meanwhile, in the 1980's and 1990's, CB Radio grew prominent. CB has limited range and frequencies reserved. When TV goes digital, more frequencies will be available for emergency first responders, but we can't have better civil defense response because a couple million out of 310 million didn't get their coupons.

Many cars had to had CB radio to talk to cops, truckers, other motorists. I've had several, and found them a lifesaver when driving interstate, when I needed to ask for help. But mostly I just listened to what engaged and interested truckers. Marvelous research tool. That trend is gone now because we have cell phones and sat phones for safety driving interstate.

With the phones came text messaging your friends. Texting is a form of microblog -- you are limited to tiny snatches of text so small people invented shorthand to squeeze something sensible into the space. Now many have forgotten there is a thing called SPELLING, not to mention capitalization conventions.

Connect the dots I've mentioned, and maybe you'll see the pattern I see.

More and more communication tools, fast, accurate, easy to use, being placed into the hands of people who have nothing to communicate except the fact that they exist and think they should be paid attention to, counted.

Check out who blogs and what they talk about in what style on this survey page:
http://technorati.com/blogging/state-of-the-blogosphere/who-are-the-bloggers/

That's so similar to what drove the craze for the original CB Radio in cars, though Ham Radio operators are a different breed than the general public. The old fasioned Ham Radio operators were geekish techies and journalists who covered a world-girdling beat and kept each other informed of what was happening that the media was averse to covering. But they are a social network, too.

Occasionally, those socially driven Ham operators saved thousand of lives when mass communication went down during a disaster. They were bloggers! And today Twitter has been used exactly like that - to save lives in wildfire situations, and eventually I'm sure in earthquake and tsunami if they can keep the cell towers functioning. That is, when someone has something important to say, people pick it up and "re-tweet" it until everyone in the world knows it.

Why does twitter.com deserve the flak it gets in this animated indictment?

After all, the folks who behave in the insanely addicted fashion shown in the animation get quickly shunned on twitter (and in the old paper-based fandoms too). On twitter.com they stand out because they may be following more than a thousand people, but maybe 20 follow them. Twitter has recently instituted curbs to prevent that kind of abuse of the system, both by individuals and by salesmen and businesses.

Those individuals who can't "get it" as higlighted in the video, sign on and then never come back. So the two animation characters and their argument in this video is irrelevant to tweeters. Why do both these things happen to these kinds of people?

What is twitter.com , really about? And why did futurologists miss this potential since they were SF writers fully conversant with on-paper fandom? What are WE missing that would make a terrific novel? Movie?

The advertising and sign-in pages for most micro-blogs invite you to post something by posing you the question: What are you doing now?

And that's where the whole thing goes wrong. Many tutorials on how to use twitter advise against answering that question because it's the wrong question.

Way back when my mother was a kid, they taught things in grammar school like penmanship, ellocution, and how to write a personal letter (on paper, with a pen you dip into the ink.)

They still taught penmanship when I was in grammar school all the way to 7th grade. (I flunked.) I took to the typer the instant my Dad bought one when I was in 8th grade! But I had learned to compose the personal letter. Typing was easy.

The very first thing I typed on that typewriter was a letter to the editor of IF MAGAZINE lambasting them for the lousy artwork illustrating the stories -- they never got the image correct according to the text. I had an urgent and firey need to communicate this simple point - DRAW IT CORRECTLY. Given the high tech communications tool of the day, I did just what new tweeters do - expressed myself without even knowing the person I was yelling at, and not caring. I just had to get this message OUT. It was personal.

They published it and that changed my life. Years later, my first story was published in IF -- and had a grossly inaccurate illustration! It's as if illustrators can't read English. (Thank G-d, Patric Michael isn't one of those!)

Today, the best language courses and learning systems rely on what became known as the Ulpan system, invented by the Israelis when they had to take in more refugees than the total population of their country and somehow get them all able to speak, read and write a language in common.

The Ulpan system relies on a basic human need that is being fed by the microblogs like twitter.

The Ulpan relies on the ultimate, life-or-death, very primal (that's a word Blake Snyder uses a lot, and I'm using it in the sense he does -- as a fictional element that must be present in order to make a story happen) -- a primal human need illustrated by my need to write that first typed letter.

More primal than sex, a little less primal than the need to breathe air or to eat. But it's right in that level of primal. It is a survival necessity.

The very first thing a newborn does after taking a first breath is SCREAM.

It isn't "crying" in the sense of being driven by emotional pain.

It's more driven by physical shock. It's a scream. And that primal scream of the newborn is the first action taken by a human being. It's a reflex, clears the airways, and announces Need.

Newborns need to be cared for. They are nothing but need. Way before they have any awareness that "others" even exist, they communicate that need.

Those that don't cry, don't live.

Think about newborns abandoned in dumpsters -- that tiny little cry pierces the cold steel and sometimes rescue happens.

The CRY is uttered -- and something happens. The newborn doesn't have the brain cells to connect cause and effect at that point, but the CRY IS ANSWERED.

Way before we ever say anything on purpose to get a response, the first thing that ever happens (and this might not be true for other species out in the galaxy!) is we RECEIVE a response to something we don't even know we did.

NOTE THAT WORD RECEIVE -- it's crucial to some of the more esoteric and abtusely philosophical writer's block breakers I talk about. RECEIVE has vast mystical significance.

Receiving is simply that primal. Cry and receive. That's how we learn to communicate, and we learn it in that life-or-death circumstance and the NEED TO COMMUNICATE is engraved on every braincell with the warning SURVIVAL NECESSITY.

Using that innate need to communicate, the Ulpan method of language learning deprives the student of all other means of communication besides the language to be learned. It's often called the immersion method, but it's far more than that. The technique isn't so much the presence of the new language as the total absense of any and all other languages or methods of communication.

You don't learn by translating. You learn by acquisition (even if you're an adult). Nobody tells you what words mean. You have to figure it out.

The need to communicate is so primal that even adults end up thinking in the new language, even to the extent of forgetting how to speak their native language!

The need to communicate is that powerful.

The need to communicate can re-arrange your brain cells to use whatever channel is open. Any response that comes in will ignite the greed to communicate.

Now if you haven't watched that little animated video, watch it now with this need to communicate concept in mind. (and if you're an Alien Romance writer, watch carefully the communication gulf between these aliens from different planets in the video). Yes, even though they are both human from Earth and work in adjacent cubicles, the gulf between them is interstellar.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PN2HAroA12w&feature=dir

What the one man can't grasp is that the other's need to communicate is totally independent of content - of having something to say that is selected to be of interest to those you are talking to.

A baby's first cry isn't aimed AT someone, saying "HELP ME" -- there's not yet any sense of "me" in contrast to "you." Where there's no "you" there can't be any "me." It's just SCREAM.

Placing these communication tools such as twitter into the hands of people who have nothing to say and nobody to say it to is like attending a birth, clearing an airway, and listening to that first CRY.

It's a SCREAM. It has no content. It says OUCH. It says HELP but not HELP ME, for there is no "you" to be summoned. No awareness of the identity of "other" is in that scream.

It is a SCREAM FOR ATTENTION -- a continual, hour by hour all day whimper for attention, just like a baby's fretting and learning how to fret to get results as the twitter-ites are searching the web for tutorials on social networking.

Is that SCREAM contemptible?

Think about it a bit more. If we looked at all newborns as contemptible because they can't do anything but cry, whimper, and scream, how many of us would there be?

Do these neo-tweeters need to be held in contempt? Or do they need to be nurtured until they have something to communicate, someone to communicate it to, as well as the means to do so?

Recently, a number of domains have sprung up to index twitter.com's membership so people can find like-minded people -- people who have similar interests are being drawn into circles. They then discover they do have something to say that someone else wants to hear. Eavesdrop on them and you'll hear gibberish.

So, with the advent of mass-personal communication media, Earth is girdled with a tweet-o-sphere.

What do you suppose this might look like to the Aliens Who Watch?

Do all species throughout the galaxy go through this phase of infancy in communication?

In the 1950's and 1960's, Science Fiction glibly predicted that we were being watched and that Earth was embargoed because of our SCIENTIFIC infancy. We wouldn't be admitted to the galaxy civilization until we had conquered War and made our own space ships.

Well, in the 50's and 60's -- WWII was the big shame and blot on human conscience. And Science was leading the charge to a better life for all.

What's our problem today? We have space ships and a space station, and so much orbital junk there are accidents. But the aliens haven't invited us to the galaxy picnic yet.

We still have war, and it's brewing up to be bigger than WWII unless - unless what?

UNLESS WE CAN COMMUNICATE!!!

Nope.

We can communicate -- with a fury and a vengeance. Both combatant sides in the ideological war are using these communication tools, blogs, tweets, whatever, SCREAMING their messages. But they aren't all talking about the same thing at the same time. So (like overheard tweets) their messages are incomprehensible.

We aren't in two-way communication even at the level of scratchy, static-ridden CB Radio. (Have you seen TV "news" where the interviewees and the anchor all are shouting at once? What does that imply about their audience?)

As tweeters mature, and the blogosphere evolves, perhaps we will pass some galactic agency's test in communication skills and be allowed into kindergarten for new planets -- providing we can nurture the neo-tweeters to begin to inject content into their utterances.

At the moment, though, far too great a portion of our population has nothing to say. You can generally tell who they are by the number of meaningless words they interject into their utterances. The more rage they feel, the more driven to get your attention, the more meaningless expletives pepper their sentences, and the more their posts seem like primal screams rather than messages.

Maybe our urge to communicate, primal as it is, just isn't galactic class?

What can we do to attract "their" attention? What's the primal scream of a newborn civilization? What do we have to say that anyone "out there" would want to hear? Respond to?

Think again about how the social impact of the internet and the web were missed by SF futurologists, though they predicted A.I. robots which we almost have now. Think about the bemoaning of the information explosion and how it would be a destructive force because we had no means of taming it. Now think about Google Search, Web 2.0 and social network sites like facebook and myspace.

Futurologists are as overwhelmed by the implications of twitter and blogs as their predecessors were in 1960 by the information explosion and photocopiers in every library busting copyright to smitherines.

I got an email today mobilizing blog combat targeting the blog of a Florida newspaper about an issue local to New York but with national implications for air traffic controllers. That's also going on with the Yahoo news blogs -- huge organized groups of ordinary people are swarming into combat zones on the web.

What does the popularity of twitter.com mean for the future of world society?

Please drop a note on this blog to demonstrate that you have something to say, someone to say it to other than yourself, and know how to say it. Maybe someone "out there" will notice us inside this dumpster? Maybe that won't be such a good thing? Or maybe we'll learn to talk if someone comes to teach us?

Jacqueline Lichtenberg
http://www.slantedconcept.com/

22 comments:

  1. As a Certified Professional Nanny, I learned to *listen* to newborns. The key to listening to newborns is the same as the key to listening to any other human being. First, the listener must accept and believe the newborn (or other human) is worthy of respect. Newborns learn 'cause & effect' from the womb. The way they do this is when a parent or caregiver listens, takes the time to understand, and then responds accordingly. It's the same with bigger humans. This is how communication is learned and grows for all of us.

    Consider the newborn who is not listened to. When she cries, the parents' first priority is to get her to shut-up. So, they stick a bottle in her mouth, change her diaper, rock her incessantly, make googly faces, stick her in a swing, whatever they can think of to get her to shut the heck up. Both parent and child may give up and withdraw from each other or they may keep trying and drive each other nuts. Some eventually figure out how to work with each other to achieve their goals. Some just endure until the baby learns adult language. And some babies end up in dumpsters. Every cry of this baby is a 'scream for attention' because she's learned what she really has to say is of no value to those around her. If what she says has no value, she concludes she must have no value either and all sorts of lifelong emotional problems set in.

    Next, consider the newborn who is listened to. Alone in her bassinette, the newborn cries. The parent or caregiver walks over and listens without doing anything for a second, just listening and observing the baby's skin tone and body movements. The parent thinks, "Oh, her cousin acted just like that when she wasn't swaddled snuggly enough." The parent picks up the baby, re-swaddles her, and lays her back down. Contentedly, the baby falls back to sleep. Both parent and baby have learned this cry and movement achieves satisfaction. Now, they're set for all future swaddling 'conversations' and baby learns she is listened to and, therefore, is loved.

    Bigger humans are the same way and it always amazes me when I meet someone who is not used to being listened to. Once they figure out I'm listening, they never shut up! Nothing wrong with that. An emotional need is being met. The other person usually learns to listen by example. And finally true communication is established.

    My belief is if you want someone to listen to you, first listen to that person.

    Personally, I don't have time for Twitter. That's okay. My Blog Buddies and I already have a good conversation going in cyberspace.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Kimber An:

    Yep, you listened to me and you have something to say!

    Jacqueline Lichtenberg
    http://www.simegen.com/jl/

    ReplyDelete
  3. Re the Ulpan courses, through which "even adults end up thinking in the new language, even to the extent of forgetting how to speak their native language!" ...

    What happens if the Galactic Federation requires all prospective members to enroll in planet-wide Ulpan for the Federation's common language? Would we six billion Earthlings willingly, eagerly, line up to forget English, Russian, Chinese, Hindi, Indonesian, Japanese, and its 4000+ other languages (which means losing big chunks of the cultures that go with them) as the price of acquiring perfect command of Conversational Alien and, with it, galactic citizenship?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. You don't permanently "forget" your native language when learning a new one -- nor the culture that goes with it. You add new perspectives.

      Delete
  4. Please drop a note on this blog to demonstrate that you have something to say, someone to say it to other than yourself, and know how to say it.
    You asked for it Jacqueline….
    “Do these neo-tweeters need to be held in contempt? Or do they need to be nurtured until they have something to communicate, someone to communicate it to, as well as the means to do so?”
    I see the problem from a different angle. I see it more that there are not enough people who know how to “listen”. That’s why so many people are “screaming”.
    While the baby was only screaming in frustration, anger or hunger, the fact that someone listened and took action to solve the problem gradually brought about that awareness of “other” that was missing in the first place.
    Listening is becoming a lost art. As more and more people are allowed to vent in blogs and tweets, they are forgetting that aspect of the equation. Yes, you will get the ones who support the tweeter and blogger with a “You go girl” or the equivalent, but how many try to ascertain what is at the root of the blog or tweet and suggest solutions? I suspect that the more blogging and tweeting that goes on, the more the people these bogs and tweets are aimed at will shut their ears and eyes.
    So, why is it so hard to listen? Good listening requires the ability to put aside the notion of “self” and get into the shoes of the speaker. Many people who appear to be “listening” will actually adopt the first opportunity they can to break into the discussion with advice and bring their own “self” into the mix, offering advice or relating stories from their experience which may or may not have relevance. (Like this one! Lol)
    They miss the fact that often the first rant has no bearing on what the actual problem is. A good listener will suppress that urge to interject and delve further.
    (I wrote this all before I read Kimber Ann’s comment – great minds think alike. I left it in as it is crucial to why people are screaming)
    This brings the third aspect of the screaming/listening equation into play. The attention span. The thirty second sound bite, the “fast, bite size yippety yap”, the pace of today’s world has reduced our ability to take the time to listen or even “scream” properly.
    I would assume that those who “blog” and read blogs have more patience than “tweeters” so their scream is longer and more thoughtful. A twitterer may scream but have they the patience to listen to the effect of that scream? They will have to learn (as the baby does) that someone is listening to their “twitter” and will take it seriously. Then maybe they will mature into interactive bloggers.
    Finally: Good futurology starts in the past, you see.
    The “difficult” true life WIP that I have mentioned to you in the Editing Blog, has its hero a missionary called Thomas Kendall. His role in the first settlement in New Zealand was to teach the maori about religion. The speed at which he learnt their language and was able to converse in it in comparison to all the other Europeans had a huge effect on what transpired. His compatriots viewed him with suspicion because he knew what was being said and they didn’t. As he learnt their language, he learnt about them and became more respectful while they were still seen as savages (think alien) by the others. This pulled him more and more away from his wife and fellow missionaries into the maori world. To exacerbate things, he was before his time and respected their rights to retain their language and culture instead of just supplanting it with Victorian England culture. More conflict.
    So the lack of the ability to communicate can build huge barriers between those that can and those that can’t. It will be interesting to see if similar divisions will occur in society today between those who can “blog” and “tweet” and those that can’t. Will the non-tweeters be held in contempt?
    Because my true-life WIP was proving so difficult to write, I am 7 chapters into a scifi novel using the lessons learnt in the past, guessing that if we did interact with aliens the same issues would crop up.
    From what I have read, most scifi relies on the incoming aliens to have watched Earth’s TV to learn our language so they can speak to us in our language. Unless we are lucky and they are more like the Thomas Kendall’s and other enlightened first contact people of the past, Kate’s fears may come true:
    Would we six billion Earthlings willingly, eagerly, line up to forget English, Russian, Chinese, Hindi, Indonesian, Japanese, and its 4000+ other languages (which means losing big chunks of the cultures that go with them) as the price of acquiring perfect command of Conversational Alien and, with it, galactic citizenship?
    I am fascinated in my work environment how different our migrants are when they are able to speak to one of our staff in their own tongue. Sometimes, I have to take a customer out of the shop and into the neighbouring tobacconist so that they can translate how to use medication in Cantonese! My life would be easier if we all spoke “Conversational Alien”. Culturally though it would be poorer. It’s interesting to see how in modern New Zealand, there is a strong push to ensure young maori learn to speak in their own language. Many see that as a way to reach many who are lost in society because they have lost contact with their cultural roots.
    Common language, communication, listening and taking the time for all to occur is essential for a society to function properly. Tossing random irrelevant remarks into the twitter-sphere is the antithesis of this. Will it change us? Time will tell.

    ReplyDelete
  5. Please drop a note on this blog to demonstrate that you have something to say, someone to say it to other than yourself, and know how to say it.
    You asked for it Jacqueline….
    “Do these neo-tweeters need to be held in contempt? Or do they need to be nurtured until they have something to communicate, someone to communicate it to, as well as the means to do so?”
    I see the problem from a different angle. I see it more that there are not enough people who know how to “listen”. That’s why so many people are “screaming”.
    While the baby was only screaming in frustration, anger or hunger, the fact that someone listened and took action to solve the problem gradually brought about that awareness of “other” that was missing in the first place.
    Listening is becoming a lost art. As more and more people are allowed to vent in blogs and tweets, they are forgetting that aspect of the equation. Yes, you will get the ones who support the tweeter and blogger with a “You go girl” or the equivalent, but how many try to ascertain what is at the root of the blog or tweet and suggest solutions? I suspect that the more blogging and tweeting that goes on, the more the people these bogs and tweets are aimed at will shut their ears and eyes.
    So, why is it so hard to listen? Good listening requires the ability to put aside the notion of “self” and get into the shoes of the speaker. Many people who appear to be “listening” will actually adopt the first opportunity they can to break into the discussion with advice and bring their own “self” into the mix, offering advice or relating stories from their experience which may or may not have relevance. (Like this one! Lol)
    They miss the fact that often the first rant has no bearing on what the actual problem is. A good listener will suppress that urge to interject and delve further.
    (I wrote this all before I read Kimber Ann’s comment – great minds think alike. I left it in as it is crucial to why people are screaming)
    This brings the third aspect of the screaming/listening equation into play. The attention span. The thirty second sound bite, the “fast, bite size yippety yap”, the pace of today’s world has reduced our ability to take the time to listen or even “scream” properly.
    I would assume that those who “blog” and read blogs have more patience than “tweeters” so their scream is longer and more thoughtful. A twitterer may scream but have they the patience to listen to the effect of that scream? They will have to learn (as the baby does) that someone is listening to their “twitter” and will take it seriously. Then maybe they will mature into interactive bloggers.
    Finally: Good futurology starts in the past...
    The “difficult” true life WIP that I have mentioned to you in the Editing Blog, has its hero a missionary called Thomas Kendall. His role in the first settlement in New Zealand was to teach the maori about religion. The speed at which he learnt their language and was able to converse in it in comparison to all the other Europeans had a huge effect on what transpired. His compatriots viewed him with suspicion because he knew what was being said and they didn’t. As he learnt their language, he learnt about them and became more respectful while they were still seen as savages (think alien) by the others. This pulled him more and more away from his wife and fellow missionaries into the maori world. To exacerbate things, he was before his time and respected their rights to retain their language and culture instead of just supplanting it with Victorian England culture. More conflict.
    So the lack of the ability to communicate can build huge barriers between those that can and those that can’t. It will be interesting to see if similar divisions will occur in society today between those who can “blog” and “tweet” and those that can’t. Will the non-tweeters be held in contempt?
    Because my true-life WIP was proving so difficult to write, I am 7 chapters into a scifi novel using the lessons learnt in the past, guessing that if we did interact with aliens the same issues would crop up.
    From what I have read, most scifi relies on the incoming aliens to have watched Earth’s TV to learn our language so they can speak to us in our language. Unless we are lucky and they are more like the Thomas Kendall’s and other enlightened first contact people of the past, Kate’s fears may come true:
    "Would we six billion Earthlings willingly, eagerly, line up to forget English, Russian, Chinese, Hindi, Indonesian, Japanese, and its 4000+ other languages (which means losing big chunks of the cultures that go with them) as the price of acquiring perfect command of Conversational Alien and, with it, galactic citizenship?"
    I am fascinated in my work environment how different our migrants are when they are able to speak to one of our staff in their own tongue. Sometimes, I have to take a customer out of the shop and into the neighbouring tobacconist so that they can translate how to use medication in Cantonese! My life would be easier if we all spoke “Conversational Alien”. Culturally though it would be poorer. It’s interesting to see how in modern New Zealand, there is a strong push to ensure young maori learn to speak in their own language. Many see that as a way to reach those who are lost in society because they have no contact with their cultural roots.
    Common language, communication, listening and taking the time for all to occur is essential for a society to function properly. Tossing random irrelevant remarks into the twitter-sphere is the antithesis of this. Will it change us? Time will tell.

    ReplyDelete
  6. Apologies to various commentators whose very welcome remarks came in overnight and did not get approved until I woke up.

    :-)
    Rowena

    ReplyDelete
  7. I once read an article about the telegraph as the nineteenth-century equivalent of the Internet. Telegraph operators, as the technology geeks of their day, established a network of communication among themselves over the wires.

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  9. Kimber An says the key to listening is to assess the baby's crying, interpret its need, and fulfill the underlying desire.

    "Listen to the baby." in other words.

    KateGladstone asks if the human race would be willing to give up its various self identities in exchange for galactic membership.
    One must presume the human race is willing to listen to what is offered in such membership before making a decision.

    "Listen to the parents." in other words.

    Ozambersand said "Good listening requires the ability to put aside the notion of “self” and get into the shoes of the speaker."

    "Listen to others." in other words.

    According to the message of the video Jacqueline cites, twitterers are merely shouting into the void.

    "Listen to me." in other words.

    The commonality is of course, listening.

    It can be argued that there is no language, and by extension no communication, unless someone is listening to correlate sounds into abstract ideas, and while the argument has about as much usefulness as the sound of a tree falling in a forest with no one around, it raises an interesting point: How exactly do we listen, in the first place?

    Jacqueline touched on the notion by saying that an infant's first scream contains no concept of 'me', only a call for help. Fair enough, but what about the second scream, or the third?

    On a purely physiological level within the infant's brain, synapses are dividing and joining at an exponential rate, and with each new connection comes glimmers of abstract thought. Definitely random, wholly uncoordinated, but eventually those little glimmers coalesce into *meaning*, so long before the baby discovers the joys of having only one word to express everything from being wet to being angry, the baby discovers "self". "I made that sound. Me."

    Then she learns to modulate her single word as more mechanical linkages connect, and she learns 'instant gratification'. Cry a certain way, and the parental units come running. She has learned to justify herself.

    Most good parents (and Kimber An already knows this) understand that sometimes you just have to let the baby cry herself out. Ironically, that's most often when the baby takes the greatest understanding of herself, if not the world around her. She finds her hand, her foot, her blanket, whatever, and pops it into her mouth. We've all seen it. :)

    In other words, the baby learns to communicate. Not JUST with the world around her, but with herself. This is an important distinction, because more often than not, we LOSE that ability to communicate with ourselves, usually by finding, or being given, a substitute.

    "Can you tell me how to get, how to get to Sesame Street?"

    Ever watch a toddler TALK to the TV? :)

    Ever notice how often a parent, especially a young one will say to the baby-sitter, "If she gets fussy, there are DVD's on the shelf." ?

    Long about the time that physiological changes permit 'relational self awareness' (where the baby believes she is the center of the universe and the big people are satellites around her) MOST of the 'relational reinforcements' are taken away. And with that removal comes the loss of abstract communication. A TV doesnt talk back in any meaningful way. It ANSWERS, noise for noise, but it doesnt communicate. And language becomes a series of 'trades', noise for noise, word for word, and by the time the child is beyond those crucial formative steps, the pattern is so ingrained it follows into adulthood.


    Dont believe me? Consider any conversation you've ever had where both parties are commiserating:

    "I had a horrible day today. My hamster took a header off her wheel and broke her tail."
    "I know what you mean. I had a cat once that got its tail caught in a screen door. It was awful.

    "Gosh my back hurts today."
    "Yeah. I've had an ache in my legs for days."

    I versus I. Its how we validate ourselves, in comparison to others, because we've forgotten how to communicate. And on a much deeper level, we've forgotten how to communicate with outselves.

    Consider this little snippet of conversation:

    "Oh my, Ethyl's boyfriend caught her tangling the sheets with the gardener. Dont you think thats awful?"

    Why does that last question even matter? Can the speaker not tell for herself how she feels about the act? Probably not, because she is basing her understanding of the situation on what her neighbor thinks, rather than examining her own feelings, rather than communicating with herself.

    The only 'relational' that exists for her is herself to other people.

    So now, our hypothetical infant is twenty years older, and once again, she has been given a substitute for communication.

    As part of the twitter crowd, she shouts into the void (in 140 characters or less) "I am alive!" And someone shouts back, "So am I!" Instant gratification, and validation. Right back from the time of infancy.

    So, Kimber An, when you say "My belief is if you want someone to listen to you, first listen to that person." I'd have to disagree and say that if you want someone to *listen* to you, you must first be able to listen to yourself.

    And Kate, the answer is no, unless the human race learns the capacity to communicate, and thereby learn that nothing will be lost of their respective cultures and ideas unless they choose to let them go. It's rather easy to be bi-lingual, after all.

    And ozambersand, I offer up this windy missive as a possible answer to why we tend, more often than not, to interject rather than listen.

    Thanks Jacqueline!

    Patric

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  10. Re:
    "And Kate, the answer is no, unless the human race learns the capacity to communicate, and thereby learn that nothing will be lost of their respective cultures and ideas unless they choose to let them go. It's rather easy to be bi-lingual, after all."

    Yes, "it's rather easy to be bi-lingual" --

    but the Ulpan educational method (as described in the original posting) apparently makes it IMPOSSIBLE (at least for some students) to become or remain bi-lingual.

    According to the original posting, it seems that (at least for some students) Ulpan instruction "erases" the student's native language. (An unintended side-effect? Or an INTENDED effect: do the providers of Ulpan instruction WANT to perform some sort of "linguistic cleansing" so that the graduating student will entirely belong to the new language and the new culture?)

    So ... what happens if
    the Galactic Federation/
    Interstellar Technocracy/
    ___[insert your preferred name for a multi-species, multi-star-system culture/civilization]___
    has developed a sort of "instant Ulpan" ...
    to gain whatever irresistibly enticing Good Stuff the aliens have to offer (eternal life and health, for starters?),
    we poor benighted Terrans need only take a nano-pill/don a head-set for half a second/let the alien "absorption center" clinician shoot this special beam at our skulls/whatever,
    and instantly we turn from speakers of one or more Terran languages into perfect monolingual speakers (indistinguishable from any native speaker) of Galactic-Federation-ese ... ?
    And what if the magic pill/headset/ray/whatever makes the student PERMANENTLY monolingual, too (so that s/he cannot re-learn his/her former language, no matter how much s/he wants to and how hard s/he tries)? A culture that made perfect mastery of its language the price of admission -- and that had the technology to give anyone such mastery in an instant -- could presumably take the technology a little further and make it impossible for adult "instant learners" of Lingua Galactica to ever speak anything else ... (which would have the interesting consequence that the alien embassy to Earth would have to be staffed entirely by actual native speakers -- as opposed to technologically created "instant natives" -- of the galactic language ... )

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  11. Patric:

    That's an excellent summary of the basic issues of communication.

    Since communication (or miscommunication or the lack of any communication) is actually the core of Romance, this is right on topic, even though it may seem abstract, theoretical, or even scientific.

    The science of communication can indeed be the "science" in SFR.

    Jacqueline Lichtenberg
    http://www.simegen.com/jl/

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  12. Kate Gladstone

    Apparently, you've taken the concept "forget your native language" literally.

    A few days ago, we had a guest post from Suzzette Hadin Elgin, a writer I believe I've posted about here -- and I've certainly discussed her work extensively in my professional review column.

    Her field is Linguistics, a long time favorite topic of mine.

    A long time ago, the Actor/International Folk Singer Theordore Bikel recorded an album of songs with concert style patter in between songs. His specialty is singing in dozens of languages (he's even lost count).

    On one recording, he tells a story of a Judge trying to deal with an Accused who doesn't speak English, so they call in someone to translate.

    Bikel does both parts, in various languages, as he tells the story. The audience actually understands at least two of the languages (he only tells this story where they do).

    The punch line is where the translator speaks to the Judge in the Accused's language, and to the Accused in the Judge's language.

    The audience ROARS, and the tone of that laughter tells it all.

    Everyone in the audience has had this experience.

    Why?

    Because almost everyone in the audience is natively multi-lingual.

    Suzzette Haden Elgin's novels (she writes novels based on her world famous linguistic theories to explain how they work, and they make her abstract points very clear) give you a real grasp of what Bikel's audience is experiencing, and what the joke is.

    It all lies in that technical term in linguistics, ACQUISITION of a language.

    The Ulpan method is based on re-triggering in the adult the ability a child has to ACQUIRE a language rather than learn it.

    It is possible for humans to acquire several languages as children (I think someone measured a maximum, but I can't recall it right now).

    The breakthrough method of the Ulpan in the 1930's and 1940's was the taking away of other language opportunities and allowing only one means of communicating. The drive to communicate is so strong, so survival oriented, that the brain will actually acquire a language long after the brain cells designed to do that have shut down.

    Today, modern brain research explains it. We can, even as adults, recircuit our brains, and new brain cells to do specific jobs can be created.

    Languages that are ACQUIRED -- regardless of the age at acquisition -- act just like the pickle the translator found himself in before the Judge.

    You literally don't know you spoke in the wrong language, because to your inner urge to communicate, all your acquired languages are one. It is easy to get confused.

    You don't TRANSLATE, you simply say what you have to say.

    When you have not spoken an acquired language for a while, or have disciplined yourself not to speak in that language, cadence or accent, and then try to deliberately speak in that language -- you literally can't FIND it inside your head.

    You forget a native language.

    It is an odd feeling, somewhat on a par with the experience of having kinesiology tried on you for the first time. The chiropractor will test the strength of your arm held out straight, and it's strong. Then he'll tap gently on some body point, and test the arm again, and your arm will collapse weakly.

    Everyone who has had this done to them the first time experiences and expressing the most universe-transforming astonishment.

    When a multi-lingual by acquisition person discovers they're speaking the "wrong language, not the one intended, for the first time, they laugh in exactly the tone the I've heard people laugh when their arm collapses.

    But of course, the strength is restored either with time, or by adjusting the body so energy flows more evenly. And likewise, languages you have acquired don't ever just disappear, forgotten forever -- they're just sometimes hard to access in an odd way.

    You don't know what language you're speaking, and actually it doesn't make any difference as long as you're understood.

    Multi-lingual families will bustle through the whole dinner hour speaking in sentences that are half in one language, half in another -- or sometimes with English words interjected, it can come to three or four languages per utterance.

    Acquired languages work differently inside our brains than "learned" languages do.

    And it is possible to "acquire" a language even after having learned it from textbooks.

    The point to take away here is that the urge to communicate is PRIMAL, even more primal than the urge to pair-bond and reproduce.

    This fact lies at the core of many Romances, and perhaps at the core of the existence of the Romance genre, and the battle of the sexes.

    Jacqueline Lichtenberg
    http://www.simegen.com/jl/

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  13. And one more additional comment on communication.

    As I mentioned, there are a plethora of tutorials on how to "use Twitter" -- but people are making big bucks offering tutorials on CONVERSATIONAL SKILLS.

    This has, in fact, been a lucrative industry ever since I remember, but I'm particularly impressed by the range, and depth of skills and "tricks" they are now offering to teach you.

    Conversation (from the Victorian Drawing Room onwards at least, and no doubt in Ancient Rome as well) has always been a combat arena in which one must score points.

    But I think making an entire industry out of teaching people Conversation may be new. You're supposed to learn these things from your parents.

    What seems to me really a recent (couple decades maybe) development is the malicious tone to the science behind Conversation -- what you must know to hold your own.

    Here is a bullet-point list used to advertise a $20 set of 2 CD's you really need to succeed in the world! Note "talk show hosts":
    --------------
    The set, which runs just under two hours in length, explores:

    The five basic rules for making lasting, influential connections.
    What to say to make your first impression unforgettable.
    Why "using" people isn't wrong at all.
    The "hard" and "soft" attitudes toward cultivating people.
    Why every single encounter with another person is an opportunity to further your aims in life.
    The need to dismantle your "blocking system."
    How poor communication skills can harm you in your professional life — and your love life.
    The first step: Accept the obligation of starting a conversation, because "he who wants the fire must fan the flames."
    How to overcome shyness.
    Why you should store intriguing anecdotes in your "mental treasury."
    The "Kernersville ploy" and how to use it to your advantage.
    How some basic research before a party or gathering can help turn contacts there into assets.
    Talk-show hosts' tricks in stimulating a conversation.
    How to battle "language erosion" and enrich your conversations.
    A top insurance executive's surprising formula for success — and how to adapt it to improve your communication skills.
    The right — and wrong — ways to instigate a conversation.
    Why asking for advice can be a "secret weapon" in getting ahead.
    Conversational tricks to making a good impression at an interview.
    How to treat the world like a "cafeteria of wit" to get people to listen to you.
    The oft-used conversational question you should avoid.
    The three categories of conversations — talking up, talking down, and talking straight ahead.
    How to look for the "aperture of intimacy" when meeting a member of the opposite sex.
    Tried and true conversation starters.
    The game you can play to bolster your conversational skills.
    Why listening to others is "the most flattering kind of espionage."
    How amplifying the triumphs of others can win their favor.
    How to avoid potentially offensive remarks.
    The mistake men often make when meeting a woman — and how to avoid it.
    What the parable of the parrot teaches about the importance of conversation.
    --------------
    Is it small wonder parents have to be taught to listen to their newborn or how to use Twitter?

    Jacqueline Lichtenberg
    http://www.simegen.com/jl/

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  14. Well, thanks for clarifying -- that really does ease my mind!

    As you say, I'd taken the original posting literally: I'd thought that the inventor[s] of Ulpan actually, and scarily, HAD discovered a way to "erase" someone's native language -- so I shuddered because I imagined (say) an Elizabethan-literature professor taking an Ulpan course and losing his/her job because s/he could no longer read Shakespeare _et_al._ except in translation ...

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  15. Kate:

    Ah, GREAT SF THINKING THERE!

    That's a marvelous premise for an SF Romance since (as you'll see in my post for March 31) I'm now into discussing communication in romance via symbolism.

    Jacqueline Lichtenberg
    http://www.simegen.com/jl/

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  16. Jacqueline, those dot points on conversational skills will come in handy for working out dialogue in scenes.
    If communication is happening I can think of the points that engender it and make sure my dialogue is following those suggestions. Vice versa if real communication should be happening but isn't happening, I can use elements of the other dot points!
    Thanks a bunch!

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  17. ozambersand:

    Yes, exactly! It's such a thrill when someone actually hears what I'm saying!!!

    Thank you!

    Jacqueline Lichtenberg
    http://www.simegen.com/jl/

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  18. Jacqueline...

    Haven't I just become much more cognizant of romance as a genre lately. Laugh.

    But you are correct, of course.

    Time and again, what I find myself drawn to repeatedly in such stories isn't the descriptions of huge muscles or flowing blond hair, it's the dialog.

    Yeah, that's a total "D'uh" moment, dialog drives any story or conflict, but I find myself far less interested in what the kids do together than in how they get there.

    And while my little sub-genre is by necessity rather narrow, I *seem* to be seeing a larger trend in that direction. Either that or I'm subconsciously ignoring all the how-to manuals. heh.

    Either way, no matter how it is achieved, dissected, discussed, mapped, planned, or prodded, communication is vital to the concept of coming together, be it between two people, between countries, or between alien races.

    There simply MUST be a bridge.

    And it should be noted that there is a rather large irony in the observation above: More often than not, conflict is derived from the character's MIS-communication. :)

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  19. I really am almost an alien, myself, to blogging, and as for twittering. I look at it as something from a hell dimension that came through a portal and which needs to get banished back. You can tell what generation I'm from. Scratch that... I think is a growing dimension warp, and I'm getting more and more on the wrong side of it.

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  20. Bleustar:

    I see your comment about conflict being based on mis-communication as about parallel to the comment I made on http://editingcircle.blogspot.com/2009/03/in-beginning.html
    where I pointed out that the beginning of the story involves both the main Protagonist and the Protagonist setting their GOAL which must be achieved in at the last page or so. The topic was focused on SFRomance, but it applies across a broad spectrum.

    One way a writer has of showing the reader the protag's main goal that will be achieved is by starting the story where the protag DENIES ALL INVOLVEMENT with that goal, expresses adamant aversion to that goal. They'd rather die than do XYZ.

    When a story starts with blatant mis-communication, that shows the reader that the conflict it sparks will be the last of the conflicts resolved - on the last page.

    In SF and other adventure or heroic fiction, the readers come prepared to enjoy a character setting a goal and achieving it in the end, consciously.

    In Romance, readers are looking for the TRUTH inside the character, beneath the conscious level, and so a subconscious goal is a fascinating story element.

    When you combine both, you can generate a neat SFR or Fantasy Romance that satisfies both readerships -- and can work within the space of one novel.

    Jacqueline Lichtenberg
    http://www.simegen.com/jl/

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  21. Jaye:

    The generation gap you can see widening happens in every generation.

    I was in Robert Heinlein's house visiting when I learned something that had been drummed into my head all my life before that point -- and I never got it.

    The thing that made Robert always YOUNG was the zest and enthusiasm with which he embraced everything NEW (and he was older than I am now).

    At that time, he was one of the first adopters of the Winchester Drive, the granddaddy of today's hard drive -- the first device to be called "external hard drive" which was a mysterious technical term at the time.

    This attitude is what Science Fiction fans call THE SENSE OF WONDER. One reason we gravitate toward SF and all imaginative literature that flattens the walls around our minds is to retain the SENSE OF WONDER that impells us to sample everything new and selectively embrace that which can be useful.

    Today I add a new philosophy to what I learned from Robert.

    When something new and "pointless" like Twitter flashes through the community, embraced by the young and shunned by the old, it is very likely truly useless at that point.

    Our job, at this point in life, is to use this new tool for some worthy purpose, to find an application of its power that elevates the condition of all mankind.

    Children's toys serve a purpose. There is a wisdom that says the wisest among us PLAY throughout all stages of life.

    PLAY is the signature of the ever-growing, ever evolving consciousness.

    Play with all the new things, delight in them, and find the renewed joy of a SENSE OF WONDER. Then, using that wonder, you can tackle the more grownup job of applying the new, useless, tool to adult purposes.

    Note also that Facebook was the venue of teens -- but today it's the habitat of grownups. And they still play with all those "applications" -- eventually, they will invent a useful use for it all.

    I intend to be part of that inventing crowd.

    Jacqueline Lichtenberg
    http://www.simegen.com/jl/

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