The next miracle (v11.1): Owen Youngman

Knight Professor of Digital Media Strategy, Medill / Northwestern

Owen YoungmanOwen YoungmanOwen Youngman

Gee, Brain, what are we going to do tonight?

The topics and books that were the focus of my principal panel at this year’s Printers Row Lit Fest continue to compel the attention of writers, reviewers and journals.

Technology Panel, Printers Row Lit Fest, 6/13/2010 video of Printers Row technology panel

Sunday’s New York Times Book Review, for instance, held a highly complimentary review of Tom Bissell’s “Extra Lives: Why Video Games Matter.” In the Business section, Steven Johnson took mild exception to some of the premises in Nicholas Carr’s “The Shallows” in a piece called “Yes, People Still Read, but Now It’s Social.” And Carr’s busy blog, Rough Type, pointed me to the online version of the latest Nieman Reports, where Jack Fuller shares part of what he learned in researching and writing “What Is Happening to News” in a piece entitled “Feeling the Heat: The Brain Holds Clues for Journalism.” (Nieman also includes a link to Chapter 6 of the book, one of those I’ve been teaching at Medill this past academic year.)

In short, we’re long on discussion of the impact of technology on our cognitive abilities; of the continuing evolution of narrative; and of the changes wrought in and on our culture by the various media revolutions of the past 20 years. You can get a flavor by watching (all or some of) C-SPAN’s 47-minute video from Printers Row, available by clicking on the photo at right.

I can’t end this particular linkfest without doubling back yet again to the NYT and its magazine cover story Sunday about a computer system that has been built to play “Jeopardy!” The interactive simulation that accompanies the online version was nearly as compelling as the article … enough so that I didn’t get distracted while playing it (nor, come to think of it, was I distracted while reading. This is a good sign). Watching “Jeopardy!” today after having read the piece was to be reminded of just how tricky those clues really are, and what a feat of programming it is to “teach” a machine to parse them out.

The Brain

"The same thing we do every night, Pinky: Try to take over the world."

If I were so inclined, I suppose I could worry that by the time an IBM system is ready to have a real conversation with a human being, all the available humans will have, in Carr’s memorable construction, outsourced their memories to Google. For another day.

Not dead yet (epilogue)

At the end of their well-received final presentation, the fall Interactive Innovation Project students shared this video with those in attendance. It successfully illustrates their progression through a quarter of studying death notices and obituaries. Indeed, it demonstrates the degree to which they embraced the topic…

Fall 2009 Interactive Innovation Project, Medill

You never squawk alone

The last full week of August somehow wound up being Media Week at, maybe because I had been gone to Santa Fe for the opera and chamber music season for the previous 10 days. In addition to some interesting meetings involving the journalism school, the computer science school, and a prospective media partner for some of our work, I found myself on WTTW’s Chicago Tonight on Aug. 27 and on WGN Radio’s Extension 720 on Aug. 28.

chgotoniteThe Chicago Tonight gig (16-minute video at WTTW) was precipitated by the Chicago Reader’s changing hands, an outcome of the bankruptcy filing by parent Creative Loafing Inc.  Not surprisingly, the Chapter 11 status of the Tribune and the Sun-Times was also a focus, although the three cases are pretty different (particularly the Sun-Times'; see yesterday’s post).  And we talked about the state of community media on the Internet here in town, since one of the guests was Thom Clark, co-author of “The New News: Journalism We Want and Need” from the Chicago Community Trust.

The next night’s chat with Milt Rosenberg was two hours of unadulterated fun.  (Here is a 19-minute video excerpt of the opening of the program from the WGN Web site.) With Brad Flora of Windy Citizen – that’s @bradflora to you – and Bill Adee of the Tribune – that would be @Bill80 – we held forth on some of the same topics, but with way more emphasis on blogs and blog aggregations, social media, and all things digital (to coin a phrase).

(n.b.: Should you want to have the whole two hours playing in the background sometime, here’s the link. To quote a Kevin Pang tweet to me during the broadcast: “This is too entertaining for a Friday night….just hearing Uncle Milt say ‘Twitter’ makes me squeal with delight.”)

As we like to say, enough of the pasture.  Next up: more of the future.