If you’re feeling too happy and want to get depressed…

As an expecting father, you’re made aware of the vaccinations that your child will need. It’s a standard topic in newborn care classes. And, of course, in this modern day, whenever teachers of these classes talk about it, they have to go to great lengths to inform people that vaccinations are safe. Because, it turns out, there are a number of conspiracy types, or those simply misinformed, who think vaccinations are unsafe, and who deny their children getting them. The problem with that, of course, is that infectious diseases are on the rise among children, which is upsetting as it’s wholly preventable.

If you want to get your dander up, listen to a segment from yesterday’s Science Friday, where host Ira Flatow talks to the highly credentialed Paul Offit about this irrational fear of vaccinations. What will upset you is Chantal, who calls in, and, in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary, insists that she will not let her children be vaccinated according to the recommended program. Her logic is twisted and inconsistent (she first sites governmental regulations about appropriate amounts of metals in the system, but then later says she doesn’t trust the CDC’s recommendations about vaccinations, because she doesn’t trust the government telling her what to do). Somehow, at some point, she got this notion into her, and no amount of reasoned discussion will dissuade her. What’s most upsetting is that this behavior doesn’t just affect the children of these ignorant parents, but of other children (particularly those children who cannot be vaccinated for certain medical reasons).

Is there a good reason for not simply requiring children to be vaccinated, parents’ desires not withstanding? I’m sure this makes libertarians froth, but the second-order effects of not vaccinating have a deleterious impact on others, not just the child under discussion.

TV you gotta watch: Slings and Arrows

I know I’m quite late to this, but I also know this show is remarkably obscure, and was released on DVD only towards the end of last year, I think. Slings and Arrows depicts the trials and tribulations of the New Burbage Theater company as it handles strange times on the stage. It’s definitely not an obvious ratings winner — it’s Canadian, erudite, and rewards a knowledge of The Bard that I’m sure I lack.

But it’s remarkably good television (and I have Tim Goodman, the otherwise mediocre TV critic of the SF Chronicle, to thank for his effusive review long ago.) I’ve watched the first three episodes of the first season, and the show offers a heady mix of drama, comedy, absurdism, fantasy, and, well, straight up pathos. While each episode is contained, the series definitely builds one to the next, providing characters with uncommon texture and nuance. I’m also surprised by the confidence of the writing and directing — there are scenes that require chutzpah to pull off, but simply work in the context of the drama. It’s a show with uncommon intelligence, one that doesn’t talk down to the viewer, but instead pulls you along. It reminds me most of, of all things, “Dead Like Me,” the ill-fated but quality Showtime show.

Anyway, if summer TV doldrums has you down (particularly post-Olympiad), and the fall crop depresses you as much as it does me, definitely try out Slings and Arrows. You might be surprisingly delighted.

Bruce’s Loo

Yesterday was the final day of UX Week 2008, and our final speaker was Bruce Sterling. Though I’d heard of Bruce during the rise of cyberpunk, I was never all that aware of him until I attended South by Southwest Interactive in 1999. He was a legendary presence at the event, both providing the final thoughts to the attendees, and hosting a rocking party at his house.

I had the fortune of Bruce speaking at another event of mine, IDEA 2006, where he did a remarkable job of summarizing the proceedings and goading the audience into doing not what is interesting, but is important. So, as we were planning UX Week, I asked him if he’d be interested in a similar role, and, happily for me, he agreed.

Yesterday, as I was thinking of how to introduce him, I was reminded of a photograph taken at South by Southwest Interactive in 2000. Titled “Bruce’s Loo,” it me and a number of friends shot in a mirror in a bathroom at Bruce’s house during his closing party that year. It used to be on Heather’s Mirror Project, but that site seems down. Luckily, Bruce had it in a blog post, so I took the image, and made sure it was big on the screen during the introduction:


It’s a funny image. Four of the folks in that photo became somewhat famous internet couples — Jason and Meg, Derek and Heather — and both couples actually met at the conference that year. I suppose you could count a third internet couple in there — me and Jesse (yes, that gentleman on the far right is the same as this gentleman), a year before we started Adaptive Path, where we’re now the last two remaining founders. Also in the photo is Judith, and the elusive Misty West (real name!) who is now a rancher north of San Francisco.


She was right — it does take a village!

Yesterday I attended my second (and final) Preparing for Childbirth class at Kaiser Permanente, and, upon leaving, my thoughts focused on the ohmygodcrucial need for a support group in order to make this a fully positive experience.

We live in a strange situation here at the beginning of the 21st century. Neither my wife nor I are particularly close to home (her folks are 1600 miles away, mine are 400), so it’s impractical for family to help out during the birth. For how long for humans was it simply a given that the family managed the birth (with a midwife?). No longer! In part because of this, we’re hiring a doula, so we can have another member of our team to help handle the ins-and-outs of the hospital where we’re having the baby.

“The hospital” points to the other strange aspect of all this, which is the medicalization of childbirth. I suppose we could have used a birth center, or performed a home birth, but because I’m a member of KP, it made sense to take advantage of their services. But the more you engage in the process, the more you realize that pregnancy and childbirth is managed almost like a disease or other medical condition, and not simply a process as natural to mammals as eating, sleeping, pissing, shitting, fucking, grooming. Obviously, it’s perhaps the most involved of mammalian processes, and, as such, complications are more likely to arise, but you know things are going overboard when you’re told that a woman in labor cannot eat solid food while in the hospital, and you find out the reason for this is because they have to treat her as a candidate for surgery, which requires an empty stomach.

The medicalization passage was a digression, though. Without family around, what we have are our friends. And as we prepare for parenthood, I’m realizing that I have to overcome my inclination to not ask others for help. I hate being a burden and a bother, but, really, you need others to help you through this. (And I also feel like a bit of a schmuck, ’cause I haven’t reached out to help friends who had kids recently, thinking they’d let me know how I could help. I realize now that you cannot wait for someone to ask for help. You just have to give it. Oops.)

It’s clear that child-rearing, particularly at the outset, all but necessitates more than 2 people being involved. I’m guessing that in Ye Olden Days parents didn’t worry nearly as much about lack of sleep and having all the right accessories because there was easy access to a close-knit community that looked after its own. Now, we need to scaffold your home with all manner of baby items, and rather aggressively reach out to others to make sure you’ll have the support you need. (And I consider us lucky, as Stacy has an extremely flexible job, so she’ll be able to take off as long as she needs).

I’m grateful for the close friends that I have, and for the happy coincidence of so many children being born in such rapid succession within this group. I will have to overcome my reticence in asking assistance, and you can be assured that I’ll be first to lend a hand to newly expecting friends.

We’ll see how this goes.

An anthropological introduction to YouTube

Michael Wesch is one of my personal heroes. Beginning with “The Machine Is Us/Ing Us,” he’s brought a fresh, thoughtful perspective to the social media that are (re)shaping our lives. His “A Vision of Students Today” is the strongest critique of the educational system you’ll ever see in under 5 minutes.

I had the fortune of meeting Michael when he spoke at IDEA 2007. He’s a warm, smart, passionate guy, and was readily able to contribute to the discussions of information architecture and new disciplines.

Michael recently spoke at the Library of Congress, and gave an hour-long talk titled An anthropological introduction to YouTube. In doing so, he’s shaming the professional anthropology establishment, as he’s doing more to spread anthropological thought and discourse to a wide audience than entire university departments. He also shows that rigor can be fun.