Content still counts

Graph illustrating the Law of diminishing content
The law of diminishing content

First off, a disclaimer: I love discovering and using new Web 2.0 technology and tricks. However, it sometimes seems that the people I would most like to share with are the least likely to use the technology; worse still, the people who tend to dominate new media are the least interesting to me.

Take twitter, for example. I find that I use it almost exclusively to get immediate alerts of breaking news (Another reactor blows in Fukushima!), although most of my incoming tweets are from colleagues who seem to think that they should share every thought that occurs to them, from the most interesting work developments to their most personal experiences. I resent that they are unable to filter their stream of consciousness to separate different content for different audiences. I do not find it normal to include a link in your email signature that takes me to photos of your children in the bath, for example.

Even after making a distinction between public and private information, there remain a number of colleagues who flood my tweetdeck with impressive-sounding messages about seminars led, students coached or bridges built. But it is soon apparent that these are nothing more than descriptions of routine duties dressed up as new initiatives. Not surprisingly, these kinds of tweets come from people specialized in marketing, communication or life coaching — all pseudo-academic subjects that are sustained only through their own self-promotion.

These same people, the audience myopics and fluff meisters, are always present at the coffee and cake gatherings, or at the meet-and-greet lunches, always looking for ways to increase their network, although between their frenetic tweeting and hobnobbing, one wonders when they actually do any real work. I rarely attend these social gatherings, not because I’m a misanthrope (OK, not completely), but because I’m busy producing content: solid course material that draws on Web 2.0 eLearning possibilities as a means for student-centred, collaborative, flexible learning.

When my contract comes up for renewal at the end of the academic year, I’ll have an impressive portfolio of innovative training material to back me up … and not one tweet will be included. In a wider context, whether content will win out over appearance is hard to guess; however, in my case, contract renewal will come down to a place being vacated by a retiring colleague, and will have nothing to do with my own contribution (despite management and HR protestations to the contrary).

Maybe I should just go eat more cake.

Squeeze me baby, till I lose control

It’s odd coming back to this place that was once so familiar and now seems so … neglected and … quite frankly, dowdy. I reckon this blog could do with a makeover, a little nipping and tucking in the layout, minor facelift-like.

Since I stopped blogging regularly, I have maintained my presence in the cybersphere through occasional tweets, although I’m still not convinced that sending messages of fewer than 140 characters to largely unknown “followers” is the next big thing in communication. I still like reading long articles (sometimes on paper!) that give the writer the time to develop his arguments. I used to think magazines were a frivolous and decadent waste of money, compared with books, but I’ve changed my mind recently; I still have a few very overdue issues of The Atlantic, Esquire and The Economist from the Dakar International School library, and I’m still finding bits to read six months later.

One thing on this blog that is updated is my playlist of music in the right-hand sidebar. The big change is that I’m playing and uploading those files with our latest gadget: a logitech Squeezebox Duet.

It’s been years since we had any means of playing music at home. We had a crappy boombox system that I bought in Abidjan in 1998 and used until Rome in 2005. After that, we just listened to music on a computer. Kind of sad for people who have lovingly collected ten zillion vinyls, cassettes, CDs and digital files.

We kept putting off buying a music system because there was always something else that we needed more urgently (school fees, flights to Europe, rent, etc.), but last month we splashed out on a Bose 3*2*1 sound system … and it sounds great, even if the subsonic bass makes Mr B feel like a chav in a VW Polo. We didn’t stop with the Bose, however, because my dream was to have our massive audio library centralized, sorted and playable from the couch. We first bought a So-Smart drive from Dane-Elec, which turned out to be So-Dumb-and-Annoying because it had an unusable file management system (try searching for one track out of 26,000 only in alphabetical order) and froze unpredictably. We took it back to the shop, got our cash back, and bought a LaCie Internet disk. Very stylish, but it only allowed LaCie’s very basic software and would not run more sophisticated music management software such as Squeezebox; so back went the LaCie to the shop. With our cash back in our hands, we got lucky the third time with Logitech’s Squeezebox Duet. It’s basically a handset that allows you to stream wirelessly your audio files from a hard drive to an audio output. In our case, our music is on an external hard drive, USB-ed to an always-on laptop, and the audio output is through the Bose. Fantastic sound, and great fun rediscovering some blasts from the past.

And yet, I’ve come to realize that in the last month I’ve only played music for a few minutes on maybe six occasions. With four kids running around, one Wii-ing; another singing a new song from school; a third trying to demolish the furniture with her toys; and the fourth mewling and burbling … ANY music just comes out as unwanted noise, and so we shut it off quickly. Mr B reckons we’re just getting old and can’t handle lots of different noise. Maybe so, but we’re still going to make a conscious effort to LISTEN to our music now that we have the means to do so.

One of the downsides of having a new electronic gadget is that we now have another remote control to add to our collection. I will certainly agree with Mr B that it’s a sign of aging when one can’t work out how to access a TV programme without manipulating three different remote controls: TV control to set the input source, Bose control to control the sound, and the Humax decoder control to control the channel changes. After three weeks, we’re beginning to learn the correct sequence of commands, but still … sometimes we long for the days of just switching on the TV and nothing else.

(Oh boy. 1 a.m. again, with a feed on the way and an early wake-up call from toddler J at around 6:30.)