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Monthly Archives: January 2015

Academy and Society  §

The title of this post is evocative of the post itself, which will ramble because it’s late.

Thing is, anyone reading this post from either the world of academics or from the broader economy will misinterpret what the title means because I have engaged in “code-switching” in mid-title. The title refers to the “academic” definition of “academy” and to the “mainstream society” understanding of “society.”

— § —

I defended my dissertation last May and promptly fell into a kind of academic hiatus. Not a permanent one, but one borne of the relief that comes from finally having completed something that’s been underway for the better part of a decade.

In the period since defending, I’ve returned in some ways—again, not necessarily permanently, but for the moment—to my previous career in writing, publishing, and corporate communication.

Before defending, I spent much of my time working with and thinking like academics. After defending, I am spending much of my time working with and thinking like business folk in “mainstream society.”

Over the course of my life I’ve always tried to keep both of these threads of productivity active, nurturing both, helping both to progress. I’ve always figured that each of them really requires a “Plan B” somewhere in the works to provide alternatives in case of emergency. It hasn’t been easy, but I’ve done it.

— § —

I’ve felt this sensation before, but never so keenly as now. These two worlds aren’t just orthogonal or irreconcilable; they’re mutually *beyond imagination*.

F. Scott Fitzgerald said, in an often-repeated quote, that the mark of true intelligence is the ability to hold two opposing thoughts in one’s head at the same time. I’d beg to differ. Doing that is rather easy because the thoughts are of the same *kind*. The have to be in order to be opposed, or frankly *opposable*.

The mark of true intelligence (which I have only in fits and starts) is the ability to hold two thoughts in mind at once that cannot be expressed in the same language, using the same schema, or with reference to the same socially constructed metaphysics.

This is the case with, say, a pairing of thoughts in which one is native to the academy and one is native to business.

— § —

Academic thinking, schema, language, cognition, and problem-solving are highly abstract and operate at scale in generalizations and statistical likelihoods and unlikelihoods, referring to society as a whole.

Business and popular thinking, schema, language, cognition, and problem-solving are highly concrete and operate almost entirely practically, in inputs and outputs, initiations and outcomes, and simply do not conceive of society at all.

— § —

I keep reading about the desire for the academy to produce job-ready graduates.

This will never happen. It can’t happen—for the same reason that academics are entirely marginalized within the business world and business leaders are entirely marginalized within the academic world. The two are universes apart; the gulf that separates them is transcendental.

Academics literally have no schema or terms with which to represent—much less anything to say about—business and popular concerns. Any attempts to make such representations or expressions nonetheless emerge in ways that are unintelligible and inapplicable so far as the business and popular communities are concerned.

And the converse is also true.

The academy does not produce job-ready graduates because “jobs” and “work” and indeed individual tasks and work practices, as understood by those in the business and popular communities, are fundamentally, essentially unrepresentable and inexpressible in academic terms.

And, of course, vice-versa.

This goes well beyond the general problem of translation as a project (i.e. translation of thinking, terms, and purposes from one context to the other) and into the specific  problem of what Lyotard called the  *differend*— the case in which conventional concepts in one language game simply do not exist, can not be expressed, and are frankly impossible to conceive of in the other.

— § —

There is a gap here to be bridged, or that ought to be bridged, but in recent weeks I find myself startled, perhaps even stunned, by its size. It’s more than a single person or department or discipline’s life’s work to accomplish this. The *differend* may even make it impossible.

In practical terms for me (thinking practically as I am wont to do at the moment, working primarily as I am in business), this means that it is more difficult than ever to switch between the two worlds. It requires days or even weeks of adjustment. This is largely an artifact of competence; the more competent one becomes at one or the other language game, the more one has internalized and habitualized its rules and cognitive conventions; that is, in some sense, the definition of competence.

But they are beyond incommensurable or incompatible; they are simply different in kind and metaphysics.

The result of any comparison or attempt to examine similarities, contrasts, and tensions, is incoherence—utter nonsense.

It strikes me that I can’t continue to do this much longer. I shall have to pick one or the other career thread and go with it once and for all, because it is becoming nearly impossible to maintain competence in one without losing competence in the other.

My brain simply doesn’t have enough intelligence to do it; competence in one increasingly precludes and occludes competence in the other.

This is a sad thing, both for me personally, and for what is says both about the academy and about society.

What do I want?  §

This is becoming am more and more vexing issue.

I need to decide, once and for all, whether or not I am pursuing an academic career. Because the fact is that right now I am not pursuing one, it shows, and time is rapidly running out.

If I am pursuing one, I need to rearrange my work schedule so that I always work on academic stuff first thing in the morning for at least two hours, because otherwise it will not happen .

The main problem is that I just don’t know.

I do know that I don’t want to work at Terapeak or be a marketing guy for the rest of my life, but what I actually do want to do remains something of a mystery to me.

As a result, there is a big empty spot in my head when it comes to the question of motivation.

What am I motivated to do?

This goes back to some of the issues that I had as a young person and to things that used to drive dad nuts about me.

The trouble is that I’m not motivated to do anything at all right now. I can’t name what I want because I don’t feel much of anything about any thing right now.

What do I want to do first thing in the morning? Absolutely nothing. Why do I do the work that I am doing? So my wife won’t yell at me so much.

Okay, I suppose that’s flip, but there’s an element of truth in it.

I certainly don’t have a “passion” or even anything weakly resembling one.

Voice?  §

I spent the first 20 years of my life saying what I thought, calling them like I saw them. I’ve spent the next 20 years of my life saying almost nothing that I thought, carefully avoiding calling anything as I saw it.

This is why I’m hesitant about a career in academics. Because even more than in corporate life, life in academics is like walking around with your mouth sewn shut. It is an ideological magic trick that the Right has managed to pull off, convincing everyone that the academy is “so liberal.” There are few places in American life so conservative as the American university. Conservatives absolutely rule on our campuses; they are the undisputed kings and kingmakers.

It’s been so many years… this period beyond the academy has been worryingly like a breath of fresh air. This is also why I’m perpetually lukewarm on Facebook. Because every lowest common social denominator is always around; it is a place of enduring stifling in the interest of keeping the peace and the alliances. I rarely post or share here. Why? So as not to offend anyone with what I actually think, and to preserve The Social Ties That Must Be Maintained and the Opportunities that Might Otherwise Be Lost.

As I continue to age, I continue to wonder, more and more, if it’s the right thing to do. Civility and all… I suppose it must be.

But you only live once. What if you’re silent the entire time? Have you done right by your fellow man by keeping every thought to yourself?

Or not?

The role of the diary?  §

So I’ve created this notebook in anticipation of keeping a diary here, since I’ve more or less made the decision to centralize on Ever note this year as my everything dump.

But it does raise a question that thus far I’ve never been able to answer: what goes into my blog and what goes into my diary, and what’s the dividing line between the two?

I suppose this raises the larger question of what each of these things is actually for. After all, the original purpose of my blog (and, in fact, its original name) was to be my diary.

But these days that would seem untenable.

Why do I keep each of them? What are their purposes?

Diary:

Because the online world is much more pervasive and public than it used to be, meaning that I can’t be entirely honest there about my thoughts. And yet I want to have a place in which I record my actual thoughts, in all their ugliness and chaos, for my children to have access to someday, perhaps when I’m no longer here.

Blog:

Because having a public presence or voice of some kind is almost mandatory these days, particularly for anyone in the white collar class that wants to have a successful career or have opportunities to do real things and make a real difference. Because for some thingsz, I really do want the possibility of an audience, the ability to feel as though I’ve said something to the world, even if I’m not sure that  anyone in the world is actually listening or has heard what I’ve said. Becausenmynego wants a place to “show off,” even if I’m not doing much of that, or at least not doing it very successfully, these days.

So where does that leave me?

Hard to say, but it’s clearly something that I need to continue to think about.

Opportunity? Catastrophe? Gap.  §

These are the gaps.

They are what happens after a period of intense focus, effort, achievement, and identity building—and before the next thing begins.

In the gaps, you are unsure of yourself. There is a kind of danger hanging in the air. Things feel both forced and thin. You can see through things; they are easily penetrated; easily riven. Nothing works. Nothing is happening, and yet, also everything is happening. It is a covert ecstasy. It is a silent catastrophe. It is—in the words of Baudrillard—a *lack*.

There are no signs of it, there is no evidence to indicate or prove it, but a kind of speculative decline accelerates nonetheless; you sense it the same way that you sense any imperceptible motion, the same way you know, when you wake up, than an earthquake has happened in the middle of the night, even though everything is just where it ought to be.

— § —

At the same time, there is a foreshadowing of victory in the air, a kind of inspired excitement—the sort that you feel before plunging headlong into any conflict with heart and soul, come what may. Sufficient dedication means triumph, win or lose; it is the abandon that ensures the victory—no one can diminish or undermine it. It is a wild kind of freedom, a kind of rising-above that cannot be slowed or undermined—and it is pending. Violently, aggressively, quietly pending. It stalks every thought, every face you meet, every piece of furniture that you might normally ignore as you go about your everyday life.

But it can still collapse; it can fail to take; the explosion might peter out; the gaps have a logic of their own that causes them to try to stretch, become interminable, become their inverse: the gaps can, without any particular warning, become the things between which lie the gaps.

And should the inversion take hold, an unknowable litany of things will be lost before they are ever begun.

— § —

I am in a gap now.

The Ph.D. is done. The good job is landed. The kids are out of their infancy. The marriage is now venerable. The bills are all paid.

What’s next is yet to happen, and is yet to even be conceived.

The first job—the only job—is to ensure that it does and is, before the gaps become the not-gaps, before the negative space becomes the positive space of life.

Motion is all that matters, yet the physics of friction and inertia are persistent. Determined.

After the deceleration, my job now is to commence a next grand acceleration—and to do it before I become completely hypnotized by the presence of, the all-encompassing context that is—this gap.

Testing, testing.  §

So I’m testing out the theme that I *may* adopt.

Things are moving along.

The goal was to have something up and running today.

— § —

Funny how life is “staged” in that way.

These are things that—years ago—I would spend weeks on. Every little detail had to be *just right* because it *mattered*. Now? Now not so much. Now there’s a lot of “good enough” going on. Rapid and reasonably-good is the watchword.

Things come up in life and change your priorities in unexpected ways.

I seem to be swimming against the current with my own priorities; a decade and a half ago, all I cared about was “making myself a brand.”

Now, I’ve had big audiences and lost them, published many books and seen them go out of print, earned a Ph.D. and (it would increasingly seem) forgotten about it.

Just as everyone else begins to talk about the importance of the “self as brand,” I’m transitioning farther and farther away from it.

— § —

I can’t be bothered.

My kids are growing up with every passing hour.

My job is an endless litany of needs and others’ dependence on the things that I get done.

My career—the parts that I care about—are less about exposure than they are about building things.

The more time I spend “branding myself” and getting that brand to be absolutely perfect, the less time I spend on things that I actually care about.

The potential for income? Advancement? Somehow it just doesn’t matter any longer.

Too much design.  §

I used to build my own “themes” back when there really weren’t any “themes,” just static HTML pages that you might generate from something that you might call a “template” if you were formal enough about it and had thought enough about it before deployment.

Now I don’t really want to do all of that. I don’t have the time to invest.

So I’m running around the blogging universe looking at “themes” and what I’m finding is that the world is now *way* overdesigned. I keep seeing words like “sleek” and “minimalist” that appear to apply to themes that are bombastic, grandiose, overdone and overwrought.

I have no interest in having *Also Sprach Zarathustra* playing in the background of peoples’ minds as I post a little of this, a little of that, maybe something on academics, maybe something on politics, maybe something on careers. I’m not going to SEO this up six ways from sunday and try to sell it as so much “expertise,” nor am I hoping to generate an income, land a job, change the world, recruit activists or employees, etc. with what I post.

But there appears to be a massive gulf between “no design whatsoever” (which applies to maybe 20 percent of themes out there for blogging) and “Fortune 100 ready,” which appears to apply to the rest.

Yes, I’ll be doing some CSS and customization work of my own, but I really want something that’s:

  • Clean and lightweight
  • With reasonable information density
  • Not at all bombastic or heavy-handed
  • Doesn’t “oversell” the content
  • Enables some organization and hierarchy
  • Is reasonably easy to navigate
  • Balances aesthetics with actual usability
  • And sees the entire blog as the context, rather than seeing the theme as the context

In short, there’s a lot of ego out there in theme-land, and designers seeing *their theme* as the content of the sites on which it’ll be used, rather than seeing their theme as something meant to be customized and then to *act in the service of the content*.

I don’t see anything nice, simple, organized, capable, and typographic. I just don’t. And I’m crawling through hundreds of themes at this point.

Frustrating and I’m more than a little embarrassed for all of the “designers” out there that appear not to understand the basics of design.

High-friction vs. low-friction blogging. (And my stilted workflow.)  §

Almost all of the bias in the blogging universe right now is oriented toward high-friction, marketing-intensive publishing. That is to say that everyone is designing solutions and workflows that enable you to:

– Plan blog posts more intensively before drafting
– Draft with many more tools, content types, and options available
– Enable more careful reflection before taking drafts live
– Ensure that the result is SEO-powerful, best-practices-awards, and social-friendly
– Enable widespread social distribution
– Even very business-oriented things like measure and predict ROI in some way

This means more and more elaborate workflows with more and more tools that have more and more options.

And here I am going in the opposite direction. I am looking to:

– Reduce blogging workflow friction
– Reduce time-to-live
– Reduce the “voice of the editor” in my head
– Get closer to “bare metal” posts—posts that express my subconscious world

This all results from me missing the blogging that I did in the late ‘90s and early ‘00s, which was visceral, quick, rapid, fragmented, but often personally illuminating. It felt both real and insightful, as if by blogging I gave myself a window into myself, saw new ideas that I didn’t know I had, came to better understand who I was and what I liked, and all of that kind of stuff.

The problem now is trying to do this with today’s tools.

Back then, I used:

– A bunch of shell scripts that I’d hacked together myself
– To process files I created in emacs
– That was called once again from another shell script
– That would take the plain text I generated, style and integrate it into a filesystem static HTML tree, then
– FTP this up to my host server

So the process of posting was, simply:

1. Type “post” at the command line
2. Type in a post in plain text
3. Hit C-X C-S (Emacs save and exit keystrokes)

That was that, the post was live. The scripts handled all styling, linking, monthly archives, and so on.

This is no longer tenable any longer, for one primary reason: like everyone else, I use mobile devices extensively these days. In the 1990s, I was always and forever sitting at a Unix command line. This is no longer the case. Now, I am always and forever somewhere with my mobile.

So I need to use more modern tools that can integrate into the “app economy” somehow. I like some of the additional, powerful, and integrated stuff that WordPress and Drupal can automatically do, but I dislike how they’re both also very heavy in non-automatic stuff. They’re extremely “clicky” and require lots of “configuration” and “management.”

Just the process of getting a post online via WordPress can shut down the mental engine very quickly. Click, click, click, choose, click, choose, *gah, didn’t mean to select that, gotta select the other one*, click, click, preview, etc.

So I’m trying using Zapier with Evernote right now, writing in markdown and hopefully triggering a quick post.

I’m not entirely keen on this workflow.

There are also services like scriptogr.am and plugins like “Post via Dropbox” for WordPress, but each of them has drawbacks that I can’t live with. For example, in the case of scriptogr.am, I can’t use my own domain unless the *entire* domain is directed there via DNS. That’s not cool because then I can’t host anything else—just my scriptogr.am blog. Not what I’m looking for. In the case of the plugin, I’m limited to one Dropbox folder, and then I have to think in terms of “creating files in that path” using a mobile app. Once again, not a low-friction experience.

There are some other plugins that more powerfully “sync” Evernote and both WordPress and Drupal, but they’re out of date and/or require PHP versions that my host doesn’t use, and I don’t want to switch hosts (and it may not even be possible to switch PHP versions while keeping my older archival stuff operating properly on my domain).

So I’m stuck with Zapier, which:

– Triggers once every time a “new note” is created
– Looks for the tag “Blog” (my setup, not a requirement)
– Tosses that to my hosted WordPress installation, which is set up with
– Jetpack and Markdown

But I’m a little sad about the “triggered” element here—I can only trigger on new notes, not on note edits. Basically, I get one shot. I save, it posts. Any changes after that I have to log into WordPress and do it by hand, and the results won’t be reflected in Evernote.

In other words, it’s a partial workflow.

Given how widely used Evernote and WordPress and Drupal are, I can’t believe this isn’t a solved problem.

But then, like I said, the bias everywhere these days is toward “heavier” and “higher touch” and away from “lighter” and “lower touch” in all of these things, so perhaps it’s not so surprising. In a world in which it’s taken for granted that everyone wants to be a marketing genius and “their own brand,” those of us who do enough marketing at work and who want to brand themselves substantively rather than tactically (even if this means a smaller audience and no particular “earning potential” as a result of blogging) are just sort of out in the cold.

I wish I was 20 again and had time to write some code of my own to tackle this. I’m sure there are others like me out there that would love for this to be solved, even if it’s a relatively niche market.

This is a test.  §

Will it work?

– Hard to know
– Until we run the test

Unfortunately, a lot of documentation out there right now, for a lot of services, is utter crap.