Category: Technology - Clips and Phrases A Personal-ish Sometimes Blog by Miriam Jayne
 
 
I have been digging into different educational technology tools in preparation for a webinar I'll be giving shortly, which is really fun. I am super excited about one in particular - Cinch.fm. It's basically a super-easy, low-barrier to entry, share-friendly podcasting service that allows you to record your messages from your computer, iPhone (Android on the way, perhaps?), or a standard phone via an 800 number. You can attach a photo to your message, share it over social networks or via a unique URL, or embed it with custom HTML, as I have here:
It was so ridiculously easy to create this. The implications, I think, are awesome. Here's one idea I thought would be cool: imagine this in a classroom. Kids are working on an art project and the teacher comes over, takes a picture of their piece, and does a short phone interview with them about their work. Record that and send it home. Or attach the link to the interview to a QR code displayed at the school art fair for a guided tour.

I love it, and I'm excited to play with it.

And you should come to our show. :) (Buy tickets here!)
 
This year I am going to learn code. And I'm going to do it for free, on my own time, thanks to the good folks over at Codecademy.

Jewish tradition has a lot to say about words and language. Lashon hara, or evil speech, is in particular a topic of (perhaps not enough) discussion. (Heard that story from the rabbi on Yom Kippur about the woman with the pillow and the feathers? Yeah, me too. Every year.)

Words are powerful. The Bible has long declared that the entire universe was created with a few simple words spoken by a pretty powerful deity. "Let there be light," and there it is. This idea, surprisingly enough, is not totally counter to the scientific understanding of the Big Bang. Here's a picture (please don't ask me how this was taken, ask this guy) of the sound of the big bang, one big speech bubble...
In essence, speech creates worlds. It can also destroy them. 
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Remember the story of the Golem? That lumbering, clay man created for the soul purpose of saving Jewish lives during tough times? He is brought to life with a words on parchment, and destroyed when those letters on his forehead are changed from "emet" (truth, a word made up of three characters - the very first, middle, and last letter of the Hebrew alphabet, because is not real truth the beginning, the middle, and end?) to "met" (death; interesting study in opposites, ain't it?). The loss of a single letter, aleph, brings the poor beast to the ground. 

The Internet is quite literally a world built with words, but written in a language I don't quite understand. It isn't the only one, by any means, but it is the most tangible example of humanity's ability to create our own universe, to imitate God's work (however you understand God, or the work which was - is continually being or will be - done). I want to do that. I want to create worlds with words. So I'm going to learn how to code.

Join me?
 
It should be clear at this point that my husband Alan and I are big, big nerds.  (If you needed more proof, he's reading the Myst books right now and I...well, read my other blog posts.)  

So in that vein, we're watching the entire Star Trek: The Next Generation series from the beginning.  Here's a way cheesy promo spot to get you excited for the rest of this post. 
There have been all kinds of articles talking about Star Trek technology, comparing it to the types of nifty gadgets we actually have today.  And a competition has even been launched to help expediate the creation of a real-life tri-corder to diagnose disease.  Pretty cool stuff.  Even if you're not a nerd (I think).

But there are some other interesting lessons we can learn from Star Trek, especially when it comes to social media.  Here are a few:
  • "These are the voyages of the starship Enterprise..."  Best. Elevator pitch.  Ever.  We should all be so eloquent, succinct, and powerful in pitching our own organizations and their missions.  And we should all have Patrick Stewart do our voice-overs.
  • High-ranking crew members are forever going on "away missions" to weird places that just so happen to be able to support human life.  Watching this, I wonder - where is your Flip cam?  Your iPhone?  How are you not recording every moment of this?  On the one hand, I'm right - they should really be documenting these "strange new worlds" they're seeking out.  On the other hand, there's a nice lesson in here about human experience.  Lose yourself in the documentation, and you miss the big picture.  (Like the, dare I say it, John Mayer song, "3x5."
  • A similar lesson applies to the power of speech, and face-to-face contact.  Crew members aren't (at least to my knowledge) constantly texting one another.  They tap their chests and start a conversation, or they bring up a video screen and talk things through, complete with facial expression and body language.  (On that note, there's a great TED talk about the power of video here.)
  • "Captain's log..."  I love blogging, but as a singer I also know there is something about recording your own voice - getting the tenor, the pauses, the changes in pitch, the mood...  It's powerful.  Hearing that back months, years, after completing a mission must be an intense exercise in reflection.  And how much more could the person taking our position after we leave learn from not just our words, but the sound of them?  If podcasts/vlogs were as neatly searchable as they are on the Enterprise (and they will be, one day), it would be amazing to see what more we could learn about ourselves.
It's interesting to think that Star Trek, for all its visions of the future, hardly addresses issues of social media.  Video chat, sure, but not much else.  The Federation is bureaucratic and hierarchical.  The staff meets in a board room.  Officers are divided by color.  This is hardly the authentic, transparent, simple kind of organization that succeeds in social media spaces.

Nonetheless, there are some interesting lessons to be gleaned that can help us make our own experiences in social media more meaningful and productive.  Bottom line: Star Trek blends social technologies that best mimic true human interaction and learning into the work of the ship.  

Is there more to learn here?  More to criticize?  What would you add to this list?  
 
The Tower of Babel gets a bad rap.  Here's an offensive-ish video illustrating just that fact...
Humanity gangs up, decides to take over heaven, building this massive structure together, which is eventually thwarted by the divine beings who get freaked out about humanity's power.

Blecch.

As Social Media Coalitions Manager at the Jewish Education Project (wow, segue), I've been thinking a lot about collaboration and what it means to build something together.  Whereas a model like, say, building the mishkan is a pleasant reference, the Tower of Babel invokes a sense of caution, even dread.  Don't dream too big! it warns.  

I believe, though, that there is another message we can glean from this text; one that doesn't stop you in your tracks and shout at you that you're not a god.  Quite the contrary.    

In "Reality is Broken" (seriously, just read it), my new hero Jane McGonigal talks about the feeling we get when we're immersed in what she calls "epic environments."  "An epic environment," she writes, "is a space that, by virtue of its extreme scale, provokes a profound sense of awe and wonder."  Built epic environments, those we know have been crafted by human hands, inspire in us a particular sense of awe - "it makes us feel capable of much bigger things, together."  The Grand Canyon is a good example of a natural epic environment, while the Great Wall of China is a built one.

McGonigal talks about the first epic environments, places constructed thousands of years ago for, it seems, the express purpose of inspiring a sense of awe.  The Gobekli Tepe, for instance, which predated Stonehenge by thousands of years, was among humanity's first 'cathedral' on a hill.  One would think that these structures were the products of advanced societies, cultures that had learned to cooperate on a huge scales.  Surprisingly, though, evidence suggests that the opposite may be true.  "The stone cathedrals...actually inspired and enabled human society to become dramatically more cooperative, completely reinventing civilization as it once existed," McGonigal explains.  Whoa.  Some mind-flip, huh?

Now let's return to the infamous Tower of Babel, viewing it with this new information in mind.  

No wait, let's back up a bit.  Let's start with Noah and the Ark.   

Arguably the Ark was an epic environment, yeah?  Massive in scale, housing two of every species on the entire planet, some kind of weird sewage system...  It must have inspired the sense of awe we're talking about.

But the Ark was a one-man kind of deal.  The rabbis often fault Noah (who was "righteous in his time"... but probably wouldn't have cut it were he stacked up next to, say, Abraham) for not involving others.  Unlike Abraham, who argued passionately on behalf of a couple of sinful cities, Noah got the marching orders and set to work.  No questions asked.  No one else involved.

The Tower of Babel, on the other hand, was a grand-scale collaborative effort.  All of humanty gathers to achieve one goal - to build an epic environment.  So epic, in fact, that it would reach to the heavens.  

The divine beings are threatened by this move, and resolve to "confound their speech."  Humanity is then spread over the entirety of the earth, effectively preventing a breech of the upper world.

The text portrays this scene pretty negatively.  Man's hubris, divine intervention, and a punishment that throws us all that much farther out of the Garden of Eden.  But what if we read it another way?  What if we looked at the positive results of this story?

Building the Tower of Babel taught us to be cooperative.  This project forced humanity to test the limits of its power.  It certainly invoked a sense of awe in the builders and onlookers - the kind of awe McGonigal writes about.  The kind that makes bigger things seem doable.  And perhaps the divine punishment is not that at all.  Being scattered, developing new languages...  These are new adventures, wider horizons, opportunities to build complex societies in vastly different territories.  And none of this would have been possible if we hadn't built the Tower in the first place.  

So maybe this biblical tale of the second built epic environment wasn't so bad as it seems.

If you buy into my optimistic reading at all, then, dear readers, we have a new task at hand.  The divine beings thought they were preventing further collaboration by spreading us out and tangling our tongues.  How about we prove them wrong, eh? 
 
I've been running through a pretty significant library of extra-curricular reading lately (thank you, Kindle app).  It's been awesome.  I read "Here Comes Everybody," then "Groundswell," both of which were solid reading for any social media buff.  Then I moved on to "The Networked Nonprofit," which I am declaring to be compulsory reading for anyone who does anything in the world and wants to do it smarter, simpler, and more effectively.  I dug "The Starfish and the Spider" for the concept, not so much for the hands-on.  (It's actually a good companion piece to "Networked Nonprofit.")  And now I've caught the gaming bug - I'm just getting into "Reality is Broken."  And it's awesome.
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Jane McGonigal is quickly becoming a new hero of mine.  She's smart, and talented, and often funny.  She's simultaneously grounded and hopelessly optimistic.  She uses the word "gamefulness."  She's so cool!

McGonigal is out there saying that there are things that are broken in the world, and maybe the lessons we learn from games can help us fix them.  Maybe making our lives more game-like will add meaning to our lives.  (Just read the book.) 

I don't care if she's "right."  She makes me want to believe.

Games and art make life worth living.   Ok, I can buy that; game on.
 
Originally posted on JewPoint0

Consider the following tale:

Gloria works for a large and respected nonprofit organization.  She tweets occasionally for the organization, but also has a personal account.  One day, in an innocent slip of the fingers, she tweets about drinking at a party from her work account instead of her personal one.  Not registering the error, she finishes her day as usual.  June’s colleague suddenly starts fielding messages from the organization’s constituents about the, ahem, unexpected tweet.  How should he react?

Or perhaps this little story will capture your fancy:

Tom recently Googled his organization and found that there were several blogs discussing a project his team was implementing.  He was pleasantly surprised to find such an enthusiastic group advocating on behalf of his organization, but the blog was hosting by an organization with explicit political leanings, and Tom’s organization is specifically non-partisan.   Should Tom take advantage of building the organization’s network and strengthening relationships with individuals who could contribute a lot to their work, or should he steer clear of anything that could be interpreted as political?  How should Tom respond?

Both June’s colleague and Tom could really use somewhere to turn for guidance.

The way many organizations are facing these and other questions is by developing a social media policy (we recently blogged about the excellent policy developed by the Avi Chai Foundation here: “Avi Chai Foundation Gets Social”).  A social media policy is essentially a document that helps define how different groups associated with an organization should conduct themselves online.  It is a valuable and powerful tool.  A social media policy helps outline both expectations and possibilities for social media interactions.  It acts as a go-to document for any questions or conflicts that may arise.  A social media policy can provide a sense of security, knowing your team is approaching social media from the same set of assumptions.  It can also, somewhat counter-intuitively, foster a sense of freedom in the use of social media – you can jump into the game with more confidence when you know the rules.

Perhaps even more valuable than the document itself is the process of developing a social media policy.  It encourages a big conversation, an honest discussion of the values and character of your organization and how they should be reflected online.  As Beth Kanter explains on her blog, “…if you want the policy to truly work, you need a process, especially if your organization is still grappling with fears and concerns.”  The process can present an amazing opportunity for listening, sharing, and reflection among the people who make your good work possible.

Darim is here to help you have this conversation and implement your own social media policy.  That way, Gloria’s accidental tweet (a true story which you can find out more about here) and Tom’s political blog posts won’t seem so daunting – with the right approach, they can become opportunities for learning and increased connection with the people who care most about what you do.

To dig deeper into this topic and start the conversation, Darim is offering a webinar on social media policies (and because it’s our tenth anniversary, you’re welcome to join us for free).  Here is all the information:

Social Media Staffing and Policies

Tuesday, May 17, 1-2pm

Register here: http://bit.ly/lZTGph

And we want to hear from you!  Does your organization have a social media policy?  If so, what did you learn, or how did you grow through the process of creating your guidelines or policy?

 
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Alan is kind of a Dave Barry freak.  Seriously, we've got a full shelf devoted solely to the Barry and his words of wit and wisdom.  Besides Bill Cosby, Dave Barry is the only person on earth who can get Alan laughing until he stops breathing and I legitimately fear for his well-being.

Over the last two days of our clearly very spiritual Passover, while Alan and I were both fighting off nasty colds (his came complete with a mind-blowingly painful earache), we read through "Dave Barry in Cyberspace."  Written in 1996, its observations on the internet are antiquated to say the least (I don't know if "internet" and "America Online" were ever interchangeable terms, but they're definitely not now).  Nonetheless, it's pretty funny stuff.
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While reading, we somehow got to talking about email addresses, and ranking the domains by relative coolness.  It seems to be deeply ingrained in both our heads that an email address @aol.com is lame, while @gmail.com is cool.  We both agreed that having a vanity domain, like say @stereosinai.com, is by far the coolest (unless it's a family domain - @smithfamily.net is pretty blah).  Where then fell into a heated argument about the relative merits of @yahoo.com, @hotmail.com, and some of the lesser-used domains.  Like I said, out Passover was way spiritual.

Where did this come from?  Do others feel this way?  What makes one email address cool, and the other worthy of hipster snubbing?

How would YOU rank the email addresses?

 
Take a moment to watch the video below.
Now consider this.

Think about the amount of technology that went into bringing this video to your screen.  The sheer accumulation of human innovation is mind-boggling.

Humans can shoot themselves into space in metal cans.  Humans in other metal cans can watch the other, while sitting comfortably and being offered free drinks. They can take out a mobile device, which works half-way up into the stratosphere, and record through the window.  They can take that video and upload it to a worldwide network.  I can access that network, watch the video (along with almost two million others, as of this writing), grab a couple of letters and place the video into my own space on this worldwide network, and comment on it.  Then you can comment on my comments, and so on.  

It's pretty freaking cool, I think.