Saturday, June 28, 2014

Midnight, 36001 feet over the South China Sea

I’m going to try blogging again as we move to Singapore and start work at Nanyang Technological

University. Folks at home have suggested it, and I’ve resisted it for various reasons, but I remember how knowing I was blogging kept my eyes open to experiences in a way that I enjoyed. So here we go.

Many of us, Sandra and I included, have referred to our move as the start of a big adventure. That’s true in a lot of ways. A new country and a new culture, a new university and school, many lifestyle changes, new positions, for starters. Yet I have some trepidation at calling it an adventure, since my new colleagues and neighbors will have been in Singapore for many years or for all of their lives. What I find novel and amusing may be so ordinary and pedestrian to others, I suspect that reporting on things that catch my attention, that might amuse the folks at home, will serve mostly to show my new colleagues what a clueless newbie I am. So here goes that, as well.

So to back up: We started preparing to relocate some months ago, by starting to pare down. We’ll be living in faculty housing in a great 3-bedroom apartment, but it will be smaller than the house we spread out in in Michigan. So we began selling or donating many possessions, making iterative decisions about furniture, décor, utensils, and many possessions. We liberated ourselves of a lot of stuff. We painted the house and put it on the market in April, using a website and Zillow instead of a broker, and were pleased that after two weekends’ open houses a really lovely couple agreed to buy the house. It was about that time we learned we had quickly to get our things ready for packing and shipping. The movers came and put our belongings into a cargo container, and it went to Detroit by truck, New York by train, and then by ship south, through the Panama Canal, and it is now crossing the Pacific and the international date line. We’re tracking the ship’s progress because there actually is an app for that. It will come in to harbor in Singapore a few days after we do, if all goes well.

Sandi Smith invited us to stay with her and with Loki and Scout during the intervening time, and we were so grateful, and have had fun being roommates and getting trained by Loki and Scout. Scout is smart and petulant, and frequently tricks us. His flirting with Sandra has become quite melodramatic. Loki is the softest, sweetest boy, with a heart of gold. Some people think he is dangerous. I think he is protective. We have an understanding. We will remain grateful for and fond of our time at Ranger Smith’s.

We flew out to the International Communication Association andspent our anniversary in Seattle, while Sandra visited my mom in California and her family in Arizona. We flew home, sold the cars, and rented bikes. I met with students and colleagues and ate at Bell’s every day, while we counted the days and began saying goodbyes to our friends. Last week we made a sudden trip out west to be with the Gabbard family, as Papaw had become quite sick. We joined a vigil of loved ones for several days. It turned out Papaw would be the next one to fly away, and we are mourning still. That was Monday. It’s now Saturday or Sunday for us, for as I write this we have crossed the international dateline ourselves.

We’re looking forward to our new positions and a new country, so unsure of how exactly things will be, but optimistic and excited. Singapore, as we have said, has seemed to us a little like Disneyland: It is landscaped and beautifully maintained, has beautiful architecture in styles from traditional to ultra-modern. There are rules that guests to the park must follow. And of course it is in a warm location. There’s great food and a lot to do. Beyond that, it is a prosperous society that values research and education, and supports it well, and we’re crazy about being a part of that. We’ll let you know more what it’s like depending on how the blogging goes.

After a day’s recovery we start our jobs July 1, Sandra as the Manager of the Honors Program for the College of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences (CHASS) at Nanyang Technological University. I will become the Wee Kim Wee Professor in Communication Studies, in the Wee Kim Wee School of Communication and Information, also in the CHASS.

What particularly am I looking forward to? It’s a growing and ambitious school with many young and mid-career scholars, and really for the first time in my career I will be one of the oldest guys around. I look forward to joining the conversation about the doctoral program and how to capitalize on international educational opportunities, joining efforts to bring students from Europe and America to Singapore. I’m looking forward to seeing how I may work with younger faculty who may want a sounding board or a research partner. I’m looking forward to re-articulating my research interests in a new context, with partners who can help me see different angles that fit local needs, and framing theoretical questions in ways that align with the academic community’s moral and material support. To meeting new students who study hard, who will teach me many new things about how they use the Internet to communicate with one another. I have already been working remotely with staff members whose professionalism, courtesy, and warmth has been amazing. To seeing what I can do in a situation that seems in many ways limitless, with excited people who seem to want to excel and who have been treating me exceptionally graciously. I always find, as I travel, that people around me make me smarter, even though they have sometimes imagined that it was the other way around.

We have fantasies of dinners at Canteen 2 with friends and students. More on that later. And of course, we look forward to our ship coming in.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013


I’m at the International Communication Association meeting in London. I’ve seen some interesting research presentations. I've sat beside my former students as we watched their former students presenting research papers. Sometimes you can see the genetic resemblance in their work. (Sometimes you can see a mutation.) It is amazing.

I am being recognized at this conference with some wonderful distinctions of which I am very proud and deeply touched: The Steven Chaffee Career Achievement Award, and election as an ICA Fellow. There is more to each of them but they both recognize an individual’s contributions to and influence on others’ thinking and communication research. The former also recognizes a long program of research on a relatively closely-related set of questions, and doing this for over 20 years now has been an immense source of satisfaction for me. Given what the academic profession is supposed to be about, I am quite moved to have been recognized for these things. 

I am indebted to many people in the field who contributed to the way the work has had its reach, who have used and expanded the body of work which I’ve studied. It has been a recurring theme for me this year that I love being a student. So much learning  derives from the synthetic dialogue that occurs when other scholars appropriate and expand and rearrange and apply one’s ideas in ways one didn’t imagine.

I am profoundly grateful to the individuals who nominated me for these awards, and who supported my Fulbright application. I have gotten to thank many of these individuals personally, face-to-face and/or in writing. I will continue to do so.

There are some people I cannot thank in person and I’d like to mention them here.

A scholar’s work is subject to anonymous peer review as part of the publication consideration process, and reviewers, without any real compensation, give of their time and effort to provide criticism and suggestions. I have no idea who most of the people are who have given me the most help over the years in refining the expression of my ideas and in providing invaluable recommendations for improving what I do. It is never easy to receive criticism, and it is hard to receive challenges, but my work always improves, to a greater or lesser extent, based on this anonymous exchange. The reviewers eventually discover who the author was when a paper becomes a published article, but an author seldom finds out who the reviewers were. If you read this and you have ever been a reviewer of my research, please accept my sincere thanks.

There is another individual who I cannot thank enough because my debt of gratitude is too great and because he is no longer with us.

Last August we lost Prof. Chuck Atkin, a great scholar, a wonderful department chair, and a true and special friend. Among so many wonderful things he did, Chuck wrote in support of my Fulbright application and helped me obtain the sabbatical I have enjoyed so tremendously. I have been thinking about Chuck so often this year for many reasons, not only for his direct support in these endeavors. Chuck loved to do research and he experienced real joy doing it with others and sharing it with people, and he loved for his friends and colleagues to experience that same exquisite pleasure. So I think he would have been very happy that I have been able to do those things myself so much this year.

I think about Chuck most often in the morning when I get dressed, thanks to Prof. Sandi Smith, Chuck’s wife, who is also a dear friend and colleague, supporter, and teacher to me. Sandi has given me a good number of Chuck’s clothes. It is well known that Sandi played a very large role in Chuck’s clothing style. (That is, before Sandi he had none. Style, that is.). So these garments are very, very nice: elegant, dressy and/or sporty, professional.

When Sandi gave me some of Chuck’s shirts last fall, I hung them altogether in my closet and referred to them as The Charles Collection. Occasionally I’d send the Sandies (Sandi Smith and Sandra Walther) a picture of me wearing one of them. 

I have taken a number of them with me overseas. We call them The Eurocharles Collection. (The s is silent.)

I think about Chuck each time I put one on. They remind me to appreciate the joy of what I do, just as Chuck enjoyed so much what we do, doing research and learning things and having so much fun sharing it with others. I am wearing Chuck’s suit today as I am recognized for doing what we love so much. 

Thank you, Sandi. Thank you, Sandy.

I tried blogging this year at the suggestion of the Fulbright Foundation, part of the mission of which is for American academics to share their knowledge and culture with other people, and to share their experience with Americans back home as well. Fulbright sees social media as a new way to help do this. I must say that keeping a blog kept me cognizant of that objective, and kept my eyes open to experiences in ways I may not have been otherwise so attuned. But I don’t think blogging is for me on any kind of ongoing basis. It provides a certain publication pressure (of which I already have enough, thank you) without the benefit of helpful anonymous reviews. It is too personal. I usually write about my work, not about myself. So I’m signing off now. Thanks for the many nice comments about these notes.


Sunday, June 16, 2013


Boat off the Noordwijk coast
pumping sand to reinforce
the beach
It’s June. My Fulbright scholarship was complete two weeks ago. I’m in the Netherlands at a conference in Noordwijk. Between the last post about Paris and now, I did some more work in Amsterdam, said some goodbyes, then went on two wonderful weeks of vacation with Sandy visiting Paris, Florence and Siena; then a couple more days in Amsterdam including the doctoral defense of Lotte Willemsen, a very bright young scholar who has become a good friend. Today is my last day in this country, for now.

Since my return from CELSA in Paris, things were quite a whirlwind. There were only a couple of days in which to pack up my belongings and prepare to leave the apartment on Geldersekade. In that time, my colleagues from Duisburg, Germany--Stephan Winter, German, and Sabrina—came to work with Sarah van der Land and me to make adjustments, curricular decisions, and further coordination for a course we will be teaching next fall on virtual collaboration. The course will involve students from each of our universities (Michigan State University, University of Amsterdam, and University of Duisburg-Essen) working together online.

Later I went out with Jochen, Patti, Peter, Dian, Maria, Sarah, and Lotte to celebrate our time together in Amsterdam. Given it was beer week in Amsterdam, we did what the occasion demanded. They gave me some lovely gifts, including a bag with the CCAM logo, and another bag picturing the new Dutch king and queen (of whom I seemed to become a fan on Queen;s Day. 

Earlier, Patti and Jochen and I had met in Patti's new office at the UvA’s main building that accompanied her ascension to university professor--a beautiful room in a grand location--to review the projects we had started and the essays we plan to undertake together. Jochen suggested we need to identify the central characteristics of computer-mediation that fundamentally affect communication. I agreed but added that we may need to articulate the fundamental processes of communication as a requisite. One of our upcoming endeavors includes re-examination of some basic communication models to deal with new technology, interactivity, and the precepts of their differential susceptibility model of media effects. This will be a challenging undertaking for us, but one which I am eager to explore. We also have a review to work on together to describe mass media research in contemporary life for a major journal. Other experiments continue in the planning or refinement stages, and we are making plans for additional collaborations and meetings. These colleagues continue to argue together with me. They have high standards, they speak well and listen well, and they laugh easily. They have been valuable teachers to me and have become precious friends.

That Saturday Sandy came from America and we joyfully reunited again. We visited the Saturday market that had become my custom to visit to procure delicious snacks. We said goodbye to the meat guys, the cheese guys, the woolen socks guy, and others. They were kind and we took some pictures together, and exchanged names for the very first time. I will miss Saturday mornings in Amsterdam very much.

We returned from vacation two weeks later for Lotte’s dissertation defense. Once again, I got to wear my regalia and follow the guidelines that Peter Neijens taught me the first time I participated in such a defense in 2004: Take your hat off when you sit down, put your hat on when you stand up, and try to keep your question under 5 minutes. I told Peter, those are good rules for life! 

After robing and completing our preliminary discussion, as the professors left the meeting chamber we passed by a large rope hanging from a hole in the ceiling. Perhaps it was once to ring the bell of the chapel in which the event took place. Prof. Claes de Vreese saw me looking at it and told me it was for the students who did not pass the defense. (I had to think a moment to envision the hanging he was joking about.) 
Lotte answered my question well about the implications of her results for classic theories of communication and social influence. The other questions and answers were in Dutch, and my distinguished colleagues found them to be good as well. 

Once again, we each signed the diploma. We also conferred cum laude distinction, following a very distinct protocol with external reviews and authorization. Lotte absolutely shone. 

What did you learn here, Sarah van der Land had asked me one morning in May as she showed me Amsterdam’s northern side across the Ij river. Academically, I learned about the role of certain kinds of constructs in communication theories' investigations, that has already changed the way I do research and what I will teach graduate students. I learned more about connecting our research foci to contemporary societal issues in the manner that my new colleagues have done so effectively and successfully, and how doing so can open a door to theories' limitations, nuances, and needs.

I learned that questions I have mulled over about how to do my job, others have asked themselves the same questions, and when we compare these thoughts aloud we see find we have similar issues about how we spend our work time, how many and what kind of students are best to advise, and such. Maybe we will improve our approaches now that we have surfaced our challenges.

I learned I can lecture to students who have different participation styles and orientations to the classroom, and do so successfully enough.

I have re-learned the warmth and energizing effects of the good company of bright scholars and confidants with whom I look forward to an ongoing relationship. I think it will not take too much longer than the time it takes to recover from jet lag before I start dreaming up plans to return to Amsterdam.

I learned about myself through this experience that, as you may have read, I carry a lot of stereotypes with me and I project a number of them to others. I have also been able to examine how easy it is to get other people to move from a stereotyped to a somewhat more interpersonal encounter sometimes. It is not too difficult to maintain eye contact a little longer than expected, to make an effort to express gratitude an extra time, to make a joke or offer a personal observation, or in other ways to violate expectations in a simple enough way. 

For instance, when I asked the waitress in Siena whether she had said the steak would be 500 grams or 500 Euros, first she answered seriously, then she smiled at how obviously dopey a question it was. By the end of the evening she sat at our table with us. To get someone to smile, rather than respond to my accent in an indifferent manner, is fun.

I have enjoyed being a visitor, and being a European, too. I love the food and the quality of life here, the good company, and how so many people here know a craft—from making research to making sausages—that they do well and take seriously.  I am looking forward to home, for lunch at Bell's with Ron and Bill, dinner with Sandi, Maria, and Kami, and summer cookouts (with better weather) outside my big American house, with my sweet American wife, to re-engage with my international cohort of students, and a family reunion in California this August. But I am also quite sad to go, and very eager to return. 

Off to London today where some unusual events await at the International Communication Association conference. I’ll describe them in the next post.

...aan Zee

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

le débat

While I was in Spain I received email from German colleagues about an upcoming meeting we were to have in Amsterdam. My reply: “Wunderbar! Hasta Vreijdag.” Something weird is happening.

May 20, Monday: Five minutes’ walk from my apartment to Amsterdam Centraal, then by  train via Schiphol, Rotterdam, then Antwerp (with T-mobile texting me messages whenever I cross a border telling me something I will never understand), Brussels, then Paris. My first time to France.

Gorgeous and grand. Rainy and cold. My invitation was instigated by Brian J.Bowe, a PhD student from Michigan State on a fellowship at CELSA, the communication school of the Sorbonne. It was coordinated by Philip Scheiner and another Fulbright Inter-country lecture arrangement. 
And incredible luck.

The CELSA acronym unpacks into English as the Graduate School of Communication of the Paris-Sorbonne University. I learned that it originated in 1957 as an applied certificate program for advanced students in communication fields such as public relations. Journalism came later and even later came media, and research, as it evolved into a school of its own with numerous departments and coursework in corporate communication, media production, language instruction, social media, communication theory, and the analysis of macrosocial processes related to communication and technology. Brian is on a fellowship here, often acting as a bridge between the kind of quantitative, English-language social science that international communication research and Michigan State tend to do, and the philosophically-oriented, French communication research that thrives here. How culture is marketed to tourists is one of the topics researchers here explore, as well as cultures recreate themselves in diasporic communities abroad and online. 

Brian is part of the Languages Department. Its Director is Kyle Schneider, another member of whom is Felix Zaratiegui, an international advisor and director of Spanish language programs. But beyond teaching foreign language these faculty teach foreign culture. This group is like the international traders or inhabitants of port cities: They are multinational, very multilingual, and they tend to be exposed to scholarship from international associations and journals. 

They are also on the leading edge of a fireline that is sweeping across the French academic landscape, pertaining to language, culture, and scholarship. I got a clue when I asked Brian what I could read that would typify the research at CELSA, and I learned that, unfortunately for me, none of their publications are in English. The absence of—perhaps resistance to—English publications is, it turns out, an issue of some concern at CELSA and beyond. In fact, the first day I was there the issue was especially salient. The front page of Libération, one of the largest daily newspapers in France, which is ALWAYS in French through and through, appeared this way:


I have found each place I have been in Europe, when two or more Germans are together they speak German. When two or more Dutch are together they speak Dutch. Two or more Spanish, Spanish. French, French. But whenever there is any combination at all, English is spoken. At least among the well educated, English is, ironically, the lingua Franca. This is, of course, most beneficial to me whenever I am in a multinational conversation, even though it is sometimes a strain for my colleagues. But it is not a personal courtesy or even a matter of convenience. It has become a great source of concern of research scientists throughout Europe to remain involved, integrated, and recognized in cutting edge research literacy and visibility. This topic was so salient during my visit because, coincidentally, the government was debating on whether to authorize more college instruction in English.

So at CELSA, as I have also heard from German, Dutch, and Spanish colleagues, there is recognition that English-language journals are the most influential and prestigious. In order to get and to retain the best students and the best faculty in the world, an institution’s scholarship must have an international reach and reputation, and like it or not, that means nowadays that it may need to be done in English. At CELSA, Brian and Kyle are tentatively working with other researchers to explore international outlets like the International Communication Association.

What of one’s own language? What of the culture that is embodied in one’s own language? What of the way of thinking and the philosophy that pervades speech and writing, which is not in English? What of its uniqueness? Beyond the question of culture, there are also strategic issues to confront: Subscription to English-language science has the potential to place the work of scholars who are not fluent in English and its style of argumentation at some disadvantage when they must submit manuscripts to international journals.

The Sorbonne, or at least this corner of it, faces a dilemma. They have proudly maintained French research in the French language, with great French success. But they are wondering whether they are becoming isolated. Is this an inherent problem? Not necessarily. Does the faculty here need to intersect to a large extent with non-French scholars? Not absolutely. Does it hamper their ability to attract the best students in the world and to turn out graduates with an international reputation? Possibly. That might or might not be a problem. But it’s a topic of considerable concern, at CELSA, at the Sorbonne, and in France.


I would learn through discussions with other faculty that CELSA researchers, like those in Barcelona who I met, employ semiotic analysis. An exciting focus for them has been how, on the one hand, commercial entities design interfaces and internet platforms that lead users to do certain things and behave certain ways from which the designers’ institutions might benefit. But, according to Dr. Etienne Candel, users are aware of the way their online behaviors would be influenced and tracked, and they alter they behavior to avoid and even subvert this would-be influence and tracking. How these dynamics are studied seems to assume systematic behavioral influence attempts by design and in users’ responses, and at the same time some phenomenological degree of spontaneous rebellion. These are fascinating issues. I am still struggling to understand how they are emergent and independent and not causally circular. I said to Etienne, who was describing these processes, I can’t tell if you are a determinist or an anti-determinist. As I thought he might, he seemed to cringe at the notion of determinism, but he admitted it was a good question.

Etienne and I were interviewed for a video documenting CELSA researchers and visiting scholars, and we ended up debating vigorously during this taping. It began with when the moderator, Marie Doezema, an American journalist in Paris and CELSA advisor, asked me to say what I study and what brought me to the subject. I explained that I’m primarily concerned with how people get to know each other and relate to each other online, and that these questions have evolved into a series of studies looking at Web 2.0 systems and how we relate to the various sources in these interface systems. Etienne argued one cannot really get to know someone via the Internet the way you would in person: The anonymity and the frequent deception that takes place when one interacts with someone on the other side of the globe, for instance, raises questions about how one can truly get to know another person online. And since people lie online, the authenticity of these relationships are questionable when they are bound to the Internet. 

I said I agreed with everything he said, except for the qualifier, “when they are bound to the Internet.” How truly do we ever know another person, I asked, even face-to-face? And as far as anonymity goes, should I get email from Etienne when I am in Michigan and he is in Paris, does it make sense to say that there is any anonymity of the Internet at all? Or in any context when the source has a name, as there is a greater tendency to require in online discussions these days? And as far as deception goes, lying has been happening long before the Internet, and I don’t believe there’s any real evidence that it is more common online than offline, I added. So, I said, I think Etienne has described the human condition, not the Internet. He countered that there is a common narrative about deception via digital communication. It is the Internet’s reputation, and the belief that the Internet prompts deceptive communication is so widespread that it affects people’s actions whether the rumor is true or not. I said I agreed and I disagreed: I concur that there’s a widespread assumption that many people present themselves falsely online, but I disagree about its actual prevalence and or even that the belief pervades much online behavior. For one thing, selective self-presentation need not be dishonest; it is partial. It is easier to present one’ desired characteristics online, but that does not mean that we do not possess those characteristics nor that we do not try to do the same offline. But in terms of the narrative affecting interaction, that’s an intriguing notion but is it real, all the time? In America we have a stereotype about car salesmen being dishonest. But I think that when we go to buy a car we mostly put our suspicion aside once we see that the salesman is really just a person trying to do a job that you asked him to do. I think people go into the situation with suspicion but they put it aside rather readily, most of the time. I think it is the same with digital media. I contact someone and we share information and I learn about the person enough to get things done. If I email Etienne and he writes back, I don’t proceed as if he is lying to me. And if in the course of our exchanges we find out that we both like jazz music, that’s great and not something we get suspicious about. We learn about each other enough for our relationship to serve its purpose. It was a good debate. I have reported my comments at greater length than I reported his, although his may have taken a greater proportion of the discussion. It will be on YouTube someday, I’m told.

The discussion continued, in a way, after my research presentation. My talk presented numerous experiments, and conclusions deduced from theories and supported with statistical tests. This approach is uncommon at CELSA where they focus on cultural critique and the interpretation of users’ actions. It is qualitative rather than quantitative and it focuses on case studies as examples of broader social and institutional intrusions into users’ prospective behavior, their privacy, and economics. My kind of work is often criticized as too sterile, artificial, and ungenuine to be informative. Frankly, people who approach work their way and my way often get along quite poorly, and end up rather polarized with respect to what counts as valuable research. Things were only slightly combative during the period for discussion following my presentation. They challenged me.

Dr. Valérie Jeanne-Perrier asked me, “In these experiments of yours how much do you take context into account? How much do you study context?” she queried. “Not nearly as much as you would like me to!” was my response. I explained that we know the context of a lab experiment is often artificial, and that is an accepted limitation, yet we try to design experiments that are generic and abstract so that they may be applicable to a broad array of contexts. This is just as much a limitation as it is to study one context in detail and not know how generalized one context is to another. Dr. Karine Berthelot-Guiet, CELSA’s Research Director, disagreed: We find the same thing in many contexts, she said. I asked her to expound using the example of how users try to subvert the would-be intrusions of privacy by platform designs—do users who are aware the potential dangers always work around them?

“Yes,” she said.

“They always do so,” I asked, “but in different ways depending on the nature of the systems and their knowledge of how to defeat them?”

“Yes,” she said, in each context, no matter how the platforms are designed to exploit the users, the users find ways to undermine them.

“Then we are in complete agreement!” I said. “There is a determinist law of behavior that users who suspect interface designs of potential exploitation find ways to undermine them, and what contextual analysis does is confirm the patterns and illustrate the specific illustration. We are walking down two sides of the same street!”

There seemed to be a sense of surprised agreement, although it also seemed that it might take a while before people would decide if they were comfortable with it or not.  

Behind the Louvre, with the stylish ICA man-purse
A stimulating day and a most enjoyable visit. I will never forget the intellectual challenge and, I think, mutual respect that may not have been expected but seemed to emerge, gladly, nevertheless.

A little more walking in Paris and back by train “home” to Amsterdam. 

Thursday, May 23, 2013

I’d never been to Spain...

I’d never been to Beemster but I kind of liked the tulips...

Since the events of the last post, it’s been quite a few new experiences. All of them firsts for me. I really love this.

May 9: I met Profs. Elly Konijn and Johan Hoorn and their family for a trip to Beemster to her brother’s tulip farm and other enjoyable sights. Beemster is on a polder outside Amsterdam. The polders are the farmlands below sea level on former lakebeds. I’d read about the polders, and the dikes that surrounded and allowed them to be drained and remain dry, but to be honest I never really understood it.  But after a short car ride and a stop to rent bicycles, we embarked out on the dike that defines an edge of the polder and it all made sense. The dike is only about 4 meters high, but it is broad enough for a road and an aqueduct through which the water is still pumped. Along the dike you look down into flat valleys on either side. These are polder lands, with small canals within them for drainage and irrigation.

Elly’s brother maintains the family’s tulip farm which was almost in full bloom, a little later in the year than normal because of the long, cold winter we’ve had. But this dry and mostly-sunny day was made for visiting the tulip beds! It is breath-taking. They do not harvest the tulips, they cut off the flower-tops and let the bulbs mature. Later in the summer the bulbs will be harvested and sold. Elly told stories of growing up, cutting off the flowers, and later, pulling up and cleaning the bulbs. Machines do that now, and Elly does research.  

Charming towns, lunch cafes, horse stables, we biked all day. Elly and Johan’s daughters thought I biked too slowly. But they forgave me when, over dinner, I asked them to teach me more Dutch. They could not believe my ridiculously stupid pronunciation, and they made bizarre faces to help show me how one’s mouth is shaped to make the right sounds. I have never had better language teachers.

I’ve never been a Lutheran but I kind of liked the pulpit...
May 13: Back in Amsterdam the following Monday, at the invitation of Dr. Mirjam Vosmeer I lectured to an undergraduate course in the University of Amsterdam’s Aula--a former Lutheran church and a grand building. It still looks more like a church than a lecture hall, and the speaker addresses the congregated students from the pulpit. I noted that it is quite common in my lectures for there to be very long silences when I ask students a question, but it would be reassuring that this time it would be due to extended periods of silent devotion and personal reflection.  I think the lecture went fine.  One of the students emailed me afterwards, which is a good sign.

Monday afternoon I went back to the VU to visit the Communication Science department. Some of these folks are old friends now, who I have known since they were graduate students, and it is nice to see how their interests and careers are evolving. I started a research talk by presenting the results from I’d been involved with in Israel, since last time I spoke at this department was in 2009 when that project’s data had not yet been analyzed. I spoke of other research as well, but at the end we sat around and speculated about untested new ideas. We clarified, inquired, compared, and refined some of these ideas, and it was stimulating and enjoyable to be welcomed to think out loud with a group of talented scholars. We had a nice dinner together, too.

Well I'd never been to Spain, but I'd been to California...

 Early the next morning I flew to Barcelona where it was raining on deplaning and rained for the better part of two more days. It is a beautiful city nevertheless, and I got to see parts of it walking and other parts riding a part-subway/part-train to the Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona. I was invited by Prof. Charo Lacalle who leads her research group in semiotic analyses of online group discussions and media convergence.  Other communication researchers at UAB are using experimental approaches to identify sex bias in journalism staffing. There are fewer experimental researchers there than there are at home or at ASCoR, and I had been asked to focus on methodology as well as conclusions.

I think my presentations provided a  contrast to many of their approaches in that respect. Wednesday I spoke about the last 5 years of my research and its focus on Web 2.0. Thursday I spoke about the last 22 years of my research: relational communication online more generally. Friday I spoke about a topic I have not discussed with an audience before: The complications of doing technology-based research and its great potential for premature conclusions. We reviewed the cues-filtered-out research and its research artifacts, the initial dismissal of electronic propinquity theory, and the temptation to infer that effects that occur in technological environments are due to technology and not more universal in nature.

The city itself was beautiful: Tall, stately buildings and broad boulevards near the hotel where I stayed, with squares at every intersection and parks or restaurants down the median of many streets. I squeezed in a little sightseeing, to the gothic quarter where old alley-sized streets seemed at the same time charming and mysterious. I expected secretive characters to glance furtively then avert their gaze as they traversed these passages.  Buildings by the architect Gaudi were exercises in anti-architecture, and the Casa Batllo I toured makes one a fish in an ocean of flowing structural and interior design.

I will admit a little difficulty finding food, as the many restaurants near the hotel did not offer much English (why should they?), and I was effectively ignorant. I have to thank Deborah Castro Mariño for helping me learn to navigate the trains and campus, and for good company. I am a fast learner but an apprehensive one. Where I come from, when one hears Spanish, there’s Mexican food nearby and I know what to do, but Spanish food has nothing in common. I should never have assumed it would—but I did, that’s how conditioned I am. But maybe my stereotyping was made worse in that the terrain and suburbs (as seen from the train) looked JUST liked Southern California to me. Rolling hills or low mountains with green foliage and houses abutting them; fruit trees, palm trees, and an occasional cactus; and low houses with red Spanish-tile roofs, one with a swimming pool in a back yard. The scenes reminded me of the Hollywood Hills, or old Orange County, once one leaves the city center.

Altogether it was a great trip to Barcelona and I’d like to go back. I’m grateful to the Spanish Fulbright inter-country lecturing program that helped all this to happen in no small measure.  I remain cognizant of how lucky I am to have opportunities like these – which, to be honest, blow my mind when I think about it -- and people treat me very nicely wherever I go, sometimes shyly so. It surprises me when younger scholars are reticent with me, but I suppose being on the Fulbright list inflates one’s reputation. I remember when I was a grad student who could not believe it when I would encounter some eminent authors at a conference, and was too tongue-tied to say anything to them. I know how it is and I still get nervous around great intellects in our field sometimes. The great ones are kind and open, and continue to teach me how to behave.

Back to Amsterdam to start packing for Paris.