The Harvard Comma

In the spring semester of my junior year, I took a class called Communication and Public Relations in the Department of Media, Culture and Communication at the Steinhardt School of Culture, Education and Human Development.  In case you didn’t click on any of the links above, here’s the course description:

Public relations means different things to different people but it has one undeniable element: communication. This course is concerned with arranging, handling, and evaluating public relations programs. Students work with actual case histories and deal with contemporary topics such as the use of the computer in public relations.

So what does this mean?  Basically it was a course that taught you how to write a press release.  Now for those of you who haven’t written one before, the press release is unlike other forms of written material.  It’s written in AP style, which is also used by journalists; the logic being that reporters won’t have to rewrite your release for their publication.  It’s a bit tricky to learn, and I’m not sure I could just jump back into writing press releases – in case you haven’t noticed, I’m a fan of using semicolons and multi-part sentences, and press releases require short, clear writing.  But I’d probably be able to muddle through if I had to, I suppose.

Anyway, I do remember two things that my professor (who shall remain nameless) insisted upon.  The first was the fact that there is no such thing as the “first annual” event.  You have the first event and the second annual, but she continually reminded us that there is no such thing as the first annual.  Now the web seems to be on the fence, but I’m kind of okay with this.  But what she stressed even more was the frequent usage of the so called “Harvard comma.”  The Harvard comma, also known as the serial comma, is the comma used before the “or” or “and” in a series.  Example:

The dog, the cat, and the bird

I’m someone who was taught to use the serial comma in grade school, so this aggravated me a little bit.  It took a while for me to get used to not using it when I was writing press releases, but eventually I got the hang of it.  But in the year or so since this class ended, I’ve found myself jumping back and forth – sometimes using it, sometimes not.  It gets kind of frustrating when I’m writing a paper (or a blog post) and in the span of a couple of paragraphs my hands type this supposedly superfluous comma just before the conjunction in a series to not including it at all.  Which isn’t really a big deal I suppose, but it’s just something I happen to notice.  So which one do you use?

Why I’d like to attend #140conf

So Jeff Pulver is putting together a conference called #140conf in celebration of all things Twitter.  As a recent college grad (try today, actually), I’m not exactly able to sign up and just go.  But Jeff has generosity decided to run a program giving scholarships to 30 people who wouldn’t otherwise be able to attend.  The entry process?  Write a 140 word e-mail on why I want to attend.

So here it is:

Hello Jeff-
I’d like to attend #140conf because I think that one day Twitter is going to revolutionize the way that companies interact with their customers (if it hasn’t already), and as a recent college graduate – commencement was yesterday in fact – I think that what I could learn at #140conf will be invaluable in my career.  I’m also extremely interested in the political applications of Twitter; it seems like every week I find some new way that a government across the world is using Twitter to open itself to its constituents.  I’d really appreciate having the opportunity to attend #140conf in order to explore this (and more).
Also, to be perfectly honest, the idea of spending two whole days talking about Twitter kind of appeals to my inner geek.
Thank you,
Jed Cohen

For kicks, I decided to write a Twitter version that’s 140 characters long:

Because I graduated from college today and think that one day Twitter is going to revolutionize the way I’ll work.
Jed Cohen

And finally, my tweet linking to this post (for bonus points apparently).

My Problem with the Telephone

I feel incredibly awkward when I talk on the phone sometimes.  I kind of wish I knew why; I suppose that it’s a function of two things.  The first is that I primarily use digital communications when I’m interacting with people I don’t see on a regular basis – I’m more comfortable using e-mail, Facebook, or Twitter, so I tend to communicate that way.  But when I have to actually talk to someone, I’m not used to interacting with them in that manner.  The second is the standard communication theory concept that intermediated forms of communication lack the feedback that in person communication does – I don’t have body language to rely on, so its more difficult to gage what the other person means.  But this should make my digital interactions more difficult, right?  After all, the digital realm has even less feedback than the telephone.  Perhaps the difference lies in the fact that I’m able to edit my words, to consider every possible interpretation and make sure that what I’ve written reflects my intent.

Maybe this means I should pick up video chatting and then get everyone else to do the same.  Or not.

The New Yorker Summit

I went to The New Yorker Summit today.  It was pretty great.  The Summit began with a keynote by Malcolm Gladwell, and then featured panels focused around three areas – “The Economy and Financial Markets”; “Priorities: Health, Education, Energy, and the Environment”; and “Foreign Policy: Defense and Diplomacy.”  Gladwell started the day discussing the problem with experts – how experts in a given field (he used the financial markets) are much more likely to both be miscalibrated when it comes to their own skills and knowledge and suffer from the illusion that they control random events.  This did set the tone a bit for the rest of the day (which I suppose is what a good keynote should do), but the conversations ranged across many topics.  My favorites included Nassim Taleb and Robert Shiller’s panel on the economic crisis; Geoffrey Canada’s talk on how to create scalable, lasting educational programs for disadvantaged children; and Seymour Hersch’s conversation with David Remnick on foreign policy and some of the scary things he knows.  But don’t just take it from me – why don’t you read The New Yorker’s coverage of………itself.  How very meta.

Anyway, maybe more later after it all sinks in and I have a chance to review my notes?

Slide Trackers and Organizational Communication

Okay, so I’m a bit of a design freak.  Big surprise, right?  But one of the areas where I feel people often overlook design is in presentations.  As someone who has taken quite a few classes in the Stern School of Business at NYU, I’ve seen quite a few presentations as the result of group projects.  Most of them are created by students who have taken Organizational Communication (or Org Comm as it is often called).  In the interest of full disclosure, I’ve never taken Org Comm (thankfully).  That said, after seeing plenty of examples of the course concepts in action, I’ve come to one conclusion – Org Comm really doesn’t seem to help that much.  I don’t mean to be mean and I’m certainly not saying that taking Organizational Communication doesn’t add value to someone’s education (then again it is a required class at Stern, so they don’t have a choice).

Continue reading “Slide Trackers and Organizational Communication”

Twitter, the Psychology of Reciprocity, and Self-Reinforcing Micro-Networks

As I get this blog off the ground, I thought that now would be a good time to take a look at something that I’ve noticed lately on Twitter.  Now I’m sure that just about everyone reading this has at some point heard something about Twitter and the psychology of reciprocity.  Basically, the argument is that if I follow a whole bunch of people, then a certain percentage of them will follow me in response.  The reciprocity principle has been proven to have an effect in many situations; it’s why some non-profits send you those little address labels when they ask you for a donation – it actually increases their donation rates because people feel like they should pay the non-profit for the labels (see Robert Cialdini’s work if you don’t believe me).

Now I’m not arguing with this.   Continue reading “Twitter, the Psychology of Reciprocity, and Self-Reinforcing Micro-Networks”

New Media, New Politics and the Future of Democracy

Over the course of my college career, I’ve taken classes across NYU; I’ve studied marketing in the Stern School of Business, politics in the College of Arts and Sciences, communication theory in the Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development, and public service in the Wagner School of Public Service. But quite possibly one of the most intriguing academic opportunities I’ve had has been the chance to take a number of tutorials within Gallatin. Tutorials are group independent projects – two to five students will spend the semester working together and with a professor of their choice to examine an issue or topic they find interesting. It’s a pretty unique opportunity to study almost anything you want to. During my time at Gallatin, I’ve had the opportunity to take three tutorials. The first two took place during my junior year; they were focused on social marketing, and ultimately led to the creation of “Are You Sustainable?,” a pilot project designed to promote environmental sustainability at NYU. The project ultimately fell apart for a variety of reasons, but it was quite an interesting experince nonetheless.

The third tutorial I’ve participated in has taken place during this semester. It’s title is the rather abmbitious “New Politics, New Media, and the Future of Democracy” (then again the first two were the equally ambitious “Advertising Democracy I and II). We’ve been focusing on the role of the Internet and other information and communication technologies (ICT) on politics, and over the course of the semester we’ve examined a number of diverse topics including the role of new media during the 2004 Howard Dean presidential campaign and President Obama’s campaign (and his first 100 days in office), network theory, and the role of ICT in civil conflict.  Anyway, the whole point of this post is to discuss the class website, – it’s the place to go to read some of our work and take a look at what we’ve been working on.  Also, if you go back far enough, you can even see some of videos taken from class discussions at the beginning of the semester.

First Post – Welcome

Welcome!  I’ve had a website for some time now, but I’ve recently decided to switch over to a blogging format instead.  I decided to make this change for a number of reasons, which I may at some point get into.  Then again, I may not, depending upon whether or not the mood strikes me.  Guess you’ll just have to keep reading and see!