18.750 Zeitgeist metrics

From: Humanist Discussion Group (by way of Willard McCarty willard.mccarty_at_kcl.ac.uk>
Date: Thu, 28 Apr 2005 07:05:56 +0100

               Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 18, No. 750.
       Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King's College London
                     Submit to: humanist_at_princeton.edu

   [1] From: Paul Oppenheimer <paul.oppenheimer_at_gmail.com> (85)
         Subject: Re: 18.744 Zeitgeist metrics

   [2] From: Steven D.Krause <skrause_at_emich.edu> (52)
         Subject: Re: 18.744 Zeitgeist metrics

         Date: Thu, 28 Apr 2005 06:56:43 +0100
         From: Paul Oppenheimer <paul.oppenheimer_at_gmail.com>
         Subject: Re: 18.744 Zeitgeist metrics


I am reminded of a fine novel about a young Spanish-speaking woman in the
United States. (I apologize to the author of the novel: I remember
neither the author's name nor the title of the novel.) The most memorable
line in the novel for me was uttered in the character voice of a Native
American (First Peoples) man, who said, "The white man's campfire is a TV
set." There have been various cultures and subcultures (think for instance
of those brought up from childhood on the Greek and Latin classics,
translating English poetry into Greek poetry and vice versa), but, at least
here in the USA, there seems to be no common cultural vocabulary. I don't
know what to do about it. My instinct is to keep telling people about the
dead white european males (dwems) who formed the common culture for the
generations before my own. But I don't know whether I can get anyone to
listen. If a student can read a paragraph part of which is "Some believe
that p. But since p is preposterous, ..." and then summarize the views of
the author of the paragraph as p, carefully cited with a footnote, is there
any hope? Without any common language or points of reference, how is a
common culture possible. I see the grand experiment of the usa
disintegrating before my eyes. As late as 1968 or 1969, there were still
common cultural elements inculcated through the public (American sense)
school system. Now, there seems to be no cultural point of reference that
one can count on being recognized. This is without even addressing the
problem of mathematical and scientific illiteracy. What can HUMANIST
members do? As teachers or as independent scholars, we address very small
audiences. The major Internet portals (major as measured by traffic) are
in business to make money. Can we enlist MSN. AOL, Yahoo, and the like to
the cause of building or rebuilding a common culture? How would we
motivate them? Even if we convinced or persuaded them to join our cause,
would we know how to go about our task?

On 4/26/05, Humanist Discussion Group (by way of Willard McCarty )
willard_at_lists.village.virginia.edu> wrote:
                 Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 18, No. 744.
         Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King's College London
                       Submit to:

           Date: Wed, 27 Apr 2005 07:13:27 +0100
           From: Willard McCarty
<<mailto:willard.mccarty_at_kcl.ac.uk>willard.mccarty_at_kcl.ac.uk >

Some of you may know that Google gives us a week-by-week, month-by-month
and, since 2001, a year-by-year portrait of the wired Zeitgeist, at

I suppose nothing shown by the
face of this ghost, uttered by this oracle, measures our distance, or at
least mine, from the central concerns of our online world -- where it's
happening, man -- than the consistently high ranking of Britney Spears. I
take it (as a matter of something closer to pride than shame) that out of
the 10 top queries for the week ending 18 April,

> 1. boston marathon
> 2. amityville horror
> 3. britney spears
> 4. vida guerra
> 5. nelly
> 6. irs
> 7. lance armstrong
> 8. pontiac solstice
> 9. ufc
> 10. wholphin

I recognize only 3 without question, am in doubt about 2 and haven't a clue
as to the remainder.

So much for ignorance on our, or perhaps just my, side. How about ignorance
on the other? It is said that in England now a large percentage of the
young think that Churchill is a dog who sells insurance. (Only those who
live here will laugh knowingly; everyone else has to infer that there's
such a commercial, but will get the point.) It is said that in Ireland many
university students cannot say what event Easter celebrates. If (as I
believe) one cannot understand historical literature of the West, and
therefore its culture, without knowledge of the Bible, what sort of a
cultural fix are we really in? Is the truth in Raymond Williams' fine and
stirring phrase, "culture is ordinary", enough to see us through?

Now here is something to test our resolve to communicate with the world at
large! We must do it, but how? Or must we?


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Paul Oppenheimer
         Date: Thu, 28 Apr 2005 06:57:14 +0100
         From: Steven D.Krause <skrause_at_emich.edu>
         Subject: Re: 18.744 Zeitgeist metrics
Actually, I think some of these "top 10" are kind of interesting, and even
if it lists things we don't necessarily know a lot about, I think it says
something about the diversity of  people who use google:
 > >      1. boston marathon
You've probably heard of this; it just took place.
 > >      2. amityville horror
There was just a remake of this movie; I'm told it was awful.
 > >      3. britney spears
Well, Madonna supposedly likes her, and Madonna lives in the UK, so....
 > >      4. vida guerra
A "model" who I'd never heard of before this; incidentally, a lot of these
photos say "FHM" on them, which I thought was a British publication....
 > >      5. nelly
American rap artist; I think he had a new album come out.
 > >      6. irs
Internal Revenue Service, the tax collectors in the US.  Federal taxes were
due April 15.
 > >      7. lance armstrong
I'm sure you've heard of him; he said he's going to retire after one more
Tour de France....
These last three are the weirdest of the lot:
 > >      8. pontiac solstice
This is just a car; why it's this high up on the list is kind of a mystery
to me.
 > >      9. ufc
This is the "ultimate fighting championship," sort of a real life *Fight
Club* kind of deal that's on TV in the US once in a while.
 > >     10. wholphin
Apparently, a whale and a dolphin mated and thus the "wholphin" was
born.  Strange.
I understand your fear of the "loss of culture" Willard; though that is, as
Talking Heads told us, "same as it ever was."  The youth have always
corrupted the culture-- the culture of "the old," that is.
There's a passage in one of the writings of an ancient Greek rhetorician
(the name escapes me now) in which he complains bitterly about the youth of
his day 2500 years ago, teenagers more interested in cooling their wine in
the fountains and flirting with the flute girls.
   In the long-run, I don't think that Churchill and Easter have to worry a
whole lot about their space in the large canon of culture, while I am
pretty sure that, in 20 years time, Britney Spears and the Amityville
Horror will be long gone.  Conversely, this list seems to me to represents
at least one view of what "popular culture" on the web looks like.  6 out
of these 10 have something to do with sports or entertainment; throw in the
search on the Pontiac and on Vida Guerra, and I think you have a pretty
good argument that, while the Internet is much more diverse than it used to
be, it is still dominated by 15-30 American men.  At least this week.
Steven D. Krause
Associate Professor, Department of English Language and Literature
Eastern Michigan University * Ypsilanti, MI 48197
Received on Thu Apr 28 2005 - 02:20:56 EDT

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