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Dan Valentine Essays

This is going to be different from my usual blog post.  I'm going back to my roots as an English major to craft something I don't get to write very often (anymore): an essay.  This isn't a post about how a product or technology can help you in your business, but rather a personal observation of what I saw happen today (though it naturally involves technology -- I'm still a geek).  Enjoy.  (And if an essay isn't your thing, rest assured that I will be back to normal for my next post.)  🙂

What I saw happen today was unbelievable.  And, you may be thinking I am about to dump my political affiliations on all of you, but that is not the case.  This is not an essay about who won the 44th presidential election.  I don't plan to discuss who won nor why.  Rather, I am speaking (as the geek that I am) about the part technology played in my own personal experience today.  You may be familiar with the concept of social networking.  Today, I saw it in an entirely new light.  Up to this point in my life, social networking hasn't really amazed me.  I understand the concept of being able to connect with old friends and have used various social networking sites for that very purpose.  I have connected with old friends with whom I had lost touch (and, in some cases, I thought would never get to talk to again).  I've passed a few messages back and forth with those old friends, seen pictures of their families, and even made plans, in some cases, to get together to catch up in person.  But today, my whole outlook on social networking changed forever.

Those of you who have seen me speak know that I am a passionate person.  (Anyone who gets as worked up as I do talking about SharePoint clearly has some passion.)  I carry that through to most aspects of my life, including politics.  (I know -- a shock, right?)  I typically support a candidate fairly passionately and am ready to discuss (read: argue) politics at the drop of a hat.  I watch the election results and eagerly await the results.  (The first election I remember watching intently, biting my nails and hoping, was when my now-best friend's uncle was running for the office of our local sheriff.  I was probably 10 or 12.  I've been hooked ever since.)  And, I have seen things change since my first election night.

In 2000, I remember thinking how interesting it was that I was connected to my friends by e-mail and instant messaging.  "How could things get better," I remember thinking.  "I'm connected with all of these individuals in real time (provided they are online, of course.)"  In 2004, I remember discussing live election results in all those same ways and even adding in text messages which were flying back and forth during the results, removing the requirement of them sitting in front of their PC.  But this year, I experienced a connection with my friends in a whole new way thanks to "web 2.0" and the concept of social networking. 

I have a Facebook account, as do many of my friends and co-workers (who are often one and the same).  It was intriguing to me to see how many of them were online and posting on Facebook as the election results were coming in.  Unlike IM, e-mail, texts or even phone calls, I was connected to all my friends at once, seeing live updates from them about their thoughts and feelings regarding the election.  And it wasn't a one-way street.  Leveraging the power of Facebook and the ability to comment on other people's comments, I saw actual discussions happening right on my screen in real time from a host of people using a variety of devices to connect.  I saw updates come in from mobile devices as well as PCs of all shapes and sizes.  I saw comments from people who were sitting with their families, out on the town, even some who were in Grant Park, hoping that their candidate emerged victorious.  And everyone was participating.  Status alerts were pouring in via e-mail, but I didn't need the alerts.  I was glued to my Facebook page, reading the things happening around me.  (During most of this time, I was using my own mobile device to watch the events unfold and even post my own comments.  I had to pull over more than once on my drive to Cincinnati to put in my own two cents!)

The word "awesome" is thrown around on a daily basis as a slang word meaning "good."  But, Dictionary.com defines "awesome" as an adjective meaning:

inspiring awe: an awesome sight.

or

showing or characterized by awe.

And, to understand fully what that means, we need to understand the meaning of the word, "awe," which is defined by Dictionary.com as a noun meaning:

an overwhelming feeling of reverence, admiration, fear, etc., produced by that which is grand, sublime, extremely powerful, or the like.

That is what I saw today -- something which inspired an overwhelming feeling of admiration in me.  I saw people connected today in a way which I have never really seen before.  While I use Facebook on a regular basis, I had never seen the power of connecting people come through as I did today.  Whichever way the election had gone today, it would have been history-making:  the first African-American president or the first woman to be elected vice-president.  And, quite frankly, I have friends and family on both sides of the aisle.  But watching them all come together virtually, spanning the vast geographic distances which separate us on a daily basis was awesome.  It wasn't about name calling, finger pointing, or "my party better get elected."  Instead, the motivations I saw amongst my friends was, "I'm glad we're all together, even if only virtually, on this historic occasion." 

I think, as a geek working for a very forward-thinking software company, I am so immersed in technology that I sometimes forget how incredible it is and what a tremendous impact it has on our daily lives.  I heard President-Elect Obama discuss Ann Nixon Cooper during his acceptance speech.  He talked about this 106 year-old Atlanta woman and all the change she has seen in her life.  I began thinking about the changes I have seen in my own life.  We may not yet be flying jetpacks or eating Soylent Green (fortunately), but things have changed so much. 

I began working for a small Internet Service provider in Bloomington, IL in 1996.  I remember the rather humble beginnings of what would eventually grow up to be the public Internet.  (And I am referring to things like the introduction of the World Wide Web and GUI-based browsers like Mosaic, rather than the actual beginnings of the Internet in its ARPAnet days.  I'm not that old.)  I can still tell you some of the websites I used to visit in those days, before such things as wikipedia.org, Live.com, and even Weather.com (all sites I visit on a regular basis now).  I've seen a lot change in the past 12 years.  But tonight, I took some time to appreciate what those changes really mean.  The fact is, we live in an incredible world that is becoming more amazing every day.  Technology has become such a part of our lives (for better and worse) that it seems we don't always stop to "smell the flowers" and realize how it has changed the way we interact.

I'm certainly looking forward to the next 12 years of innovation and hope that I can maintain this sense of wonderment as the Internet continues to change forever the way in which we live and interact.

 

Technorati Tags: election,history,innovation,connected

Abstract

Degraded bodies and forests. Domination, labor and rage. Connections between the past and Sri Lanka today. These are the themes of Valentine Daniel’s powerful epic poem, “The Coolie,” in the May issue of Cultural Anthropology. Using verse to convey truths that prose cannot, Daniel draws out the coolie labor system which powered the tea and rubber plantations of the British Empire, and the fatigue, beatings, disease and rape – of women and land – that went along with it. Over the years, he estimates, 30 million coolies climbed steep hillsides to plant tea, flay rubber trees for their sap, and saw down whole forests of ebony and sandalwood for export. The wasted land of contemporary Sri Lanka – “Gouged here, leveled there, rivers running dry-bedded,” – bears witness.

Daniel describes how Sri Lankans were required to wait on their conquerors, serving them food while their own children went hungry, stoking fireplaces over which hung the heads of wild animals that had cost coolie lives in the taking. Other forms of violence were more overt. Coolie resistance was also complex and reverberating.

In his introduction, Daniel traces his own connection to the subjects and themes of his poem. For the first 20 years of his life, his father worked on a plantation and Daniel spent a large part of his youth there. Then, as a beginning ethnographer he did research among “coolies.” In trying for decades to tell their story, Daniel finally found terza rima, a three-line stanza that uses chain rhyme, and a form first used in Dante’s Divinia Commedia.

Editorial Footnotes

In the past, Cultural Anthropology has published essays on the subject of colonialism. Martha Kaplan's essay referencing Foucault's interpretation of colonialism in European states (1995) and Tania Li's essay on colonial rule in Indonesia (1999) are good sources of reference. Aisha Khan's "Journey to the Center of the Earth: The Caribbean as Master Symbol" is also relevant in the area of colonialism (2001).

Cultural Anthropology has also published essays on the subject of labor and structures of oppression. Carla Freeman's essay "Designing Women: Corporate Discipline and Barbados's Off-Shore Pink-Collar Sector" (1993) as well as Anathakrishnan Aiyer's essay "The Allure of the Transnational: Notes on Some Aspects of the Political Economy of Water in India" (2007), are good sources of reference. Adeline Masquelier's essay "Of Headhunters and Cannibals: Migrancy, Labor, and Consumption in the Mawri Imagination" (2000) is also a good reference.

In addition, Cultural Anthropology has published a range of essays on ethnography writing. Todd Ramon Ochoa's essay "Versions  of the Dead: Kalunga, Cuban-Kongo Materiality, and Ethnography" (2007), Elizabeth Enslin's essay "Beyond Writing: Feminist Practice and the Limitations of Ethnography," (1994) and Dan Rose's essay "Transformations of Disciplines through Their Texts: An Edited Transcription of a Talk to the Seminar on the Diversity of Language and the Structure of Power and an Ensuing Discussion at the University of Pennsylvania" (1986), are a few examples of this theme.

About the Author

E. Valentine Daniel is a professor of anthropology at Columbia University.

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