Archive for July 2009

Ubiquity… Everywhere

July 30, 2009


When professor Janna Anderson gave me a copy of the third book in “The Future of the Internet” series with the title to the right, I quipped that it’s surely the first book in history to have ubiquity in the title.

I was wrong. A search of found a few predecessors, all by the same author.

Ubiquity is defined as “existing or being everywhere at the same time,” as in omnipresent.

The use of that word is obvious in the context of the internet. The “Future of the Internet” book, based on a third canvassing of experts and analysts by the Pew Internet & American Life Project, forecasts that mobile devices will become the primary device for online access by 2020. However, the experts disagree about whether this will lead to better human relations or better home lives.

My cursory search found titles by author Mark Buchanan such as “Ubiquity: Why Catastrophes Happen,” “Ubiquity: The Physics of Complex Systems” and “Ubiquity: The Science of History… or Why the World Is Simpler Than We Think.”

The latter book starts with a story: “It was 11 a.m. on a fine summer morning in Sarajevo, June 28, 1914, when the driver of an automobile carrying two passengers made a wrong turn. The car was not supposed to leave the main street, and yet it did, pulling up into a narrow passageway with no escape. It was an unremarkable mistake, easy enough to make in the crowded, dusty streets. But this mistake, made on this day and by this driver, would disrupt hundreds of millions of lives and alter the course of world history.”

Disrupt hundreds of millions of lives?  Alter the course of world history?

The author is telling the story of the assassination of Austro-Hungarian Archduke Ferdinand, whose death at the hands of a teenage Serbian terrorist is credited with precipitating the start of The Great War, which ended five years later with 10 million dead. Alas, after 20 fitful years, Europe went to war again, this time named World War II, resulting in 30 million more deaths. The author concludes by noting, “In just three decades, the world had suffering two engulfing cataclysms.  Why?  Was it all due to a chauffeur’s mistake?”

While that is a dramatic query, history certainly is ubiquitous. Catastrophes are ubiquitous. And the internet is becoming ubiquitous. Perhaps ubiquity will become one of the “hot words” of the coming decade.


‘Teach Naked’

July 25, 2009

A dean at Southern Methodist University is removing computers from lecture halls and challenging faculty to teach naked — meaning, without technology.

drawing in the public domain

Dean José A. Bowen of the Meadows School of the Arts (which includes Communications) believes PowerPoint, in particular, creates boring learning environments. Bowen challenges teachers to put material online or use podcasts so that classroom time is for student interaction.

In academic circles, his approach has generated a news story and video in The Chronicle of Higher Education.

At Elon, our classrooms are filled with technology, and we try to use it wisely. That may mean accessing a Web site, or showing a video excerpt, or giving an example of online interactivity in our small classes.

Mostly, the classroom should involve eye contact — teacher-to-student, student-to-student — so that we’re going far beyond textbook material and engaging students in active learning.

My fellow dean makes a good point in a provocative way. The purpose of technology should be to enhance student learning, not bore it to death.

Still, since technology can help the learning process if used wisely, we plan to stay clothed in Elon’s School of Communications.

Brian Williams vs. Jon Stewart

July 22, 2009

It’s enjoyable to watch two witty people in a verbal sparring match.

NBC News anchor Brian Williams — the one I watch most evenings — held his own as a guest on “The Daily Show with Jon Stewart” on Comedy Central.

Williams cited the late Walter Cronkite as the newsman he most looked up to, with the quip below about Jon Stewart’s hero:

Vodpod videos no longer available.

Ironically, Time magazine did a tongue-in-cheek poll this week asking the question: “Now that Walter Cronkite has passed on, who is America’s most trusted newscaster?”

Stewart received 44% of the nationwide responses, Williams 29%, ABC’s Charlie Gibson 19% and CBS’s Katie Couric 7%.  In North Carolina (based on 136 votes statewide), the poll was closer — Stewart with 38% and Williams with 29%.

Spoofing the news and news anchors is a natural for comedy. Stewart’s wit, sarcasm and spin are enjoyable to watch as entertainment, and he occasionally generates real news as when he exposed the many errors of CNBC’s scream-master, James Cramer.

I also enjoy watching Stewart because an Elon alum, Rich Blomquist (class of 2000), is a writer on “The Daily Show” and has collected four Emmys.

Of course, when we want real news night after night, Brian Williams and similar news anchors are the ones to watch. As Williams said while on the faux newsroom set of “The Daily Show,” NBC News actually has people working in its newsroom.