Reading “On Being an Unemployed Arts Graduate”

Reading “On Being an Unemployed Arts Graduate“, I tend to agree with the diagnosis. Humanities departments should be less ambiguous about their raison d’être. However, you can’t exempt the graduates and the corporations that fail to hire them of any responsibility so easily. Not seeing exactly what something is or what it’s for and pushing through nonetheless is a useful and beautiful thing. It requires a lot of grit, willingness to make mistakes and learn from them.

What I find most disheartening in this article is the focus on monetary value and individualism (and the self-helpy vibe). Therapy and individual well-being can’t be the sole purpose of Humanities. If we go down that path in reorganising universities, we will encourage creeping individualism.

Colleges have also community missions: they help cities/states govern themselves, by informing and educating citizens. Humanities have a lot to offer in the domain of the political and the communal.

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How to move towards content ecosystems?

How to design a CMS for the modern newsroom in On Content by Lee Simpson describes how the Guardian develops content management as an ecosystem and not through a single specialized piece of software.

Creating ecosystems of smaller and interchangeable pieces joined by APIs instead of betting on a single integrated CMS seems to be the most robust solution. There are content exchange formats emerging and such an approach is not a utopia anymore. Lee Simpson describes the evolving ecosystem thus:

A standardised mechanism for handling content from draft to publish (and beyond) would allow us to take advantage of tools being built by other software houses dedicated to solving the problems at individual stages of the content publishing process. Similarities can be found in the bases of programming workflow — dedicated systems and tools for each step of the process.

The benefits of this approach are numerous. For one, it reduces the friction in the tools’ adoption. If you can offer collaborators options, you will get new procedures and systems adopted much faster. People who have already developed preferences for certain applications may use them. Others will have options. They’ll welcome this freedom and that will make them much more cooperative.

Such an approach will help encourage content creation in non-journalistic organisations as well. Lots of professionals do write. Simply not in their browsers. If you can let them have their writing app or their image manager, for example, that might make organisational changes less painful.

However, the centralized services and APIs necessary to make this vision a reality are shared resources. Organizations in which the power is distributed and where the departments enjoy, cherish and safeguard their autonomy tend to resist the complications of putting shared resources in place. Shared resources require common rules. Sorting this out is digital governance. These rules will be embodied both in policies and computer code. They will be — or at least appear — costly to change. All the negotiations between business units must happen up-front: requirements have to be defined, someone has to be empowered to enforce the rules, etc.  Even if the benefits are great, it takes tremendous amounts of power and goodwill to sell. And the organization must be ready.

10 steps to live-tweet debates

Live tweeting panels is hard. 140 characters is very little. The main goals when covering an event alone is to testify that the event has taken place and that people following either in-person or on a live stream have gotten something important out of it. This encourages attendance for the next events obviously and raises the profile of the organizer.

Go through the list of panelists and search their presence on social media. That maybe frustrating in an academic setting because you’ll often find that they don’t have one. However, you may be surprised! Some prominent figures in the academic world are pretty active on Twitter. Journalists and politicians are also often on social media. Try to memorize their twitter handles or make a list on your laptop. Panelists will retweet you if you show up in their notifications. Accidental subtweeting can be embarrassing but it’s bound to happen.

Announce the event, live-tweet and possible streaming a few days in advance. Give all the necessary details. If many or all of the participants are active online, prepare an announcement tweet featuring each of them. Schedule those tweets at regular intervals. Keep in mind that you might have to mention each of them for fairness’ sake.

Choose your #hashtag with care. Discuss hashtag with coworkers. Go for the obvious one. If the event is about current affairs, chances are there will be one already. Look at trending topics. Make a few searches about the subject of the event. The hashtag will come to you. If all this fails, invent one. If the topic is too controversial, try flying below the radars by using the name of the organizer and the date. Being roped into arguments about the event’s organisation and the choice of panelists during the live tweeting of the event is a nightmare. Try to avoid that even if it means loosing a little visibility.

Be there early. Find a good place. Next to the center aisle is good so you can get up to take pictures. Before the event, encourage people to join one last time and comment positively on the attendance. If there’s a live stream, add a link in those first tweets.

Be accurate. If you’re not sure that the tweet accurately conveys the things that have been said, don’t send it. It’s better to have a partial account than an inaccurate one. If you engage the responsibility of the event’s organizers, misrepresenting the guests could impact their ability to get guests in the future.

Focus on tiny statements. They might seem inconsequential in the grander scheme of the debate but that’s all you can count on. In fact, chances are the grander scheme of the debate will escape you because you’ll be busy trying to catch tweet-worthy soundbites. There’s no way you can follow, synthesize and live-tweet a debate at the same time. If you need a synthesis and live-tweets, take two different people. You can count on partners, especially if the panel has members of the press on it. There will be journalists in the audience. Follow them and publicize their content.

Describe the topic in general. If you can’t be accurate and focus on tiny statements, describe what is being discussed without conveying judgments or opinions. Tell who is speaking and what topics he focuses on without going into details that might introduce inaccuracies. This technique works especially well with pictures.

Post pictures. Pictures do well on Twitter and they don’t require detailed Sit in a place where no empty seats show. Enlist coworkers with phones to send you pictures during the event. You will be able to post pictures from various angles.

Be fair. Find a way to mention and represent every single panelist. Sometimes, this is going to be hard. Some people don’t make tiny statements especially if they get emotional. Use every trick in the books to give them the most equal possible air time. The casual observer of your live-tweet should be able to reconstruct the guest list from your tweets.

Do not make public comments on the quality of the coverage. It isn’t your place to comment on the quality of the partners’ work. You need them. You can count on your followers and the guests themselves to point things out and issue corrections. But do not like or comment on them. Interfere only to kick and ban assholes.

After the event. Round up pictures and take the good ones and put them in a Facebook album (if you got a page) as a long term testament of the event. Since it’s a public event that is publicized, you can tag people in it. If you tag the panelists, you have to tag all of them.

You can keep posting about your event until you announce the next one. Take advantage of transcripts, round-ups, video and audio as they come out.

Image credit: Vdovichenko Denis / Shutterstock.com

Stop trying to become a machine

We shouldn’t want to emulate the qualities of machines but rather go as far as possible in the other direction and develop uniquely human qualities like empathy and courage and kindness.

For all we know, they will remain uniquely human qualities — embodied and encrusted in the myriad complexities of the human experience. Even though we invent machines that appear to be intelligent, we won’t be able to know their minds. They will be others and we’ll need to build relationships with them.

As far as I know, we can’t have that relationship until we fully accept what we are and what we bring to the table.

Instead, we’re trying to become productive 24/7 never sleep properly. We’re trying to catch up with the algorithms and the robots who largely run our economies now. This strategy is bound to fail. So of course, we’re trying to cheat death and become machine-like by augmenting ourselves in ways that would make us as efficient as computers.

The fact is, we can use the tools without having to loose ourselves.

The fast and cheap curse

Cheap and fast usually bring friends to the party. Among their annoying friends is convenience. Cheap and fast websites are quickly considered an easy and self-evident commodity that isn’t worth any serious consideration. The first thing to fly out the window when you focus on cheap and fast are the arguments and questions that should precede any kick-off meeting and guide the creation of websites. “What is this website achieving for your department?” becomes an off-topic and time-consuming distraction. Everyone starts acting like it’s a rude question; as if the asker meddles with their private affairs.

“Just do the website!”, they’ll say. The word “just” insinuates itself into every sentence. It will soon be accompanied by weird semi-shrugs and sighs. It’ll spread in the team like a virus.

“Just” is toxic. It means that a half-assed website is acceptable as long as it’s cheap, fast and as long as you don’t bother people with questions. A CMS, templates and half-baked internal documents do not a website make because the job of a website is not just to exist. A website isn’t a testament to the power of the people who commissioned it. It isn’t a shrine to the cult of the emperor. Or, at least, it shouldn’t be. When websites are driven by organisational ego, things go awry quick.

Proper websites have goals and provide a service to visitors and guests. Visitors and guests, by the way, have their own motivations. Having to say it seems silly. Yet project leads who hesitate to address the website’s purpose tend to overlook visitors and their reasons to visit the website in the first place. Spending time discussing the organisation’s and the visitor’s goals to find the overlap is the heart of the matter.

IT-minded, deployment-obsessed, cost-shaving, and discussion-hating internal web teams are at risk. Technology makes it easier and easier to push words, images, videos and sounds to servers. Commoditized publishing platforms such as Medium, WordPress.com and Squarespace will reach into the enterprise very soon and put our website spinning teams out-of-business.

Instead of focusing on cheap, fast and convenient, we should steer our practices and culture towards thoughtful craftsmanship, accompany our internal clients in the shaping of their communication initiatives, think about visitors and address content. Such a change will ensure that our jobs are secure because no vendor or service provider can take that away. Moreover, it will make our organisations more in-tune with both employees and the outside world. And that will make us loads of cash.