Archive for June, 2008

Globalization Hits Journalism: OC Register to Outsource Editing

OUTSOURCING TO INDIA ISN’T just for the tech support or medical transcription industries anymore. Southern California’s Orange County Register has said it plans to outsource some of its copyediting and layout duties to the South Asian country — causing a stir in the already struggling journalism biz (via FP Passport):

Orange County Register Communications Inc. will begin a one-month trial with Mindworks Global Media at the end of June, said John Fabris, a deputy editor at the Register.

Mindworks’ Web site says the company is based outside New Delhi and provides “high-quality editorial and design services to global media firms … using top-end journalistic and design talent in India.”

Editors at Mindworks will work five shifts a week for one month, performing layout for the community paper and editing some stories in the flagship Register, Fabris said. Staffing at the company will not be affected, he said.

If the trial period turns out to be a success (however that may be gauged) it’s hard to believe that staff cuts won’t come in the tailwind — if not at the Register, then at the next paper that chooses to employ overseas editors.

Beyond job concerns, there is the question of how people living thousands of miles away can begin to edit content for which they have no context, for a community in which they have no vested interest. I’m sure the OC paper can expect spectacularly clean text on a technical level. But what it loses may be in the finer details.

Deep Reading, Deep Travel: Our Dying Print Culture and What It Means to Wanderers

photo by feuillu

NICHOLAS CARR IS WORRIED that his mind is going — or at least, that the capacity for concentration he once possessed is slowly evaporating. In a recent article for The Atlantic, Carr expresses legitimate concern that Google, and the medium of the Internet in general, is drastically altering the way we think. The fragmented nature of information on the web and the high potential for distraction means we now skim more than we read, he observes, gorging ourselves on information that we rarely take time to digest:

Thanks to the ubiquity of text on the Internet, not to mention the popularity of text-messaging on cell phones, we may well be reading more today than we did in the 1970s or 1980s, when television was our medium of choice. But it’s a different kind of reading, and behind it lies a different kind of thinking—perhaps even a new sense of the self. “We are not only what we read,” says Maryanne Wolf, a developmental psychologist at Tufts University and the author of Proust and the Squid: The Story and Science of the Reading Brain. “We are how we read.” Wolf worries that the style of reading promoted by the Net, a style that puts “efficiency” and “immediacy” above all else, may be weakening our capacity for the kind of deep reading that emerged when an earlier technology, the printing press, made long and complex works of prose commonplace. When we read online, she says, we tend to become “mere decoders of information.” Our ability to interpret text, to make the rich mental connections that form when we read deeply and without distraction, remains largely disengaged.

The result, argues Carr, is that we are losing are ability to analyze and arrive at insight while reading. While this new trend in thought is disturbing (if not surprising) in and of itself, the picture becomes even more frightful when the effects are extrapolated into other life experiences — like, say, traveling to another country.

The fear here is not that travelers will actually want to experience a country in bite-size chunks, but that we may be unwittingly yielding our ability for deep travel; our sensitivity to feeling lost, alive and lucid. If we keep heading in this direction, there is the danger that after touching down in a new place we will glean what we assume is its meaning and value, and then simply move on.

As my own thoroughly-Googled mind becomes trained to decode one chunk of information after the other, I’ve noticed that slowing down and appreciating where I am seems to be getting harder — no matter how stunning my surroundings may be. Tuesday night, as I sat along banks of the Han river looking towards the lights of northern Seoul, my thoughts continued to flutter. I felt unable to reflect or settle in the moment, without first making a considerable effort to breathe and meditate….and even then my concentration was fuzzy.

Obviously, as print culture fades the world over, there is a more tangible risk — the demise of the independent bookstore. These shops, once venues for mingling intellectuals and quiet gateways for travelers seeking a dose of local flavor, are rapidly disappearing due to a combination of free content available on the Internet and the dominance of stores like Borders. Monocle recently reported that even in Beirut, small booksellers are struggling as massive chains swallow the market.

It would seem then that taking the time to unplug and read a book is not so much of a luxury as a necessary act of self-preservation. We owe it to ourselves to reconnect with our own thoughts, and to not allow the deeper meanings of our experience to slip away due to dulled senses.

Edited June 26, 2008

There’s Nothing Wrong with Missing Home

photo by michael-kay.

Somewhere in the archives of the crudest instinct is recorded the truth that it is better to be endangered and free than captive and comfortable.
Tom Robbins, Another Road Side Attraction

AFTER MORE THAN FOUR years of living back in the U.S. — the majority of which I spent carving out a new life in Madison — I don’t know why I expected leaving to be easy. I suppose some part of me bought into the myth that “real travelers don’t get homesick.” And while I had carefully tried to mentally prepare myself for the fact that the experience in Seoul this time around would be much different from my previous adventure, nothing but a direct dose of this new world could make me fully appreciate the changes not only in the cityscape, but in myself as well.

Readers have no doubt noticed my prolonged absence from the keyboard here, as well as my divergence from the semi-normal format of analyzing world news and issues to dwell upon some common themes about life here in Seoul. I’ve realized that before I can begin to move forward with business as usual — here, or in any part of my life — I must take some time to let the dust settle.

I came here in a whirlwind: the day I left (a Saturday), my fiancee and I drove out of Madison by 3:30 AM. I departed Chicago at 8 that morning, stopped over to see my folks in Seattle around 11 and by 2 that afternoon had taken off over the Pacific. Many blurry hours later, I was eating kalbi for dinner in a Seoul suburb…on a Sunday. The physical and mental effects of that journey have convinced me that human beings were never meant to travel at such speeds.

At first when I arrived — indeed, as evidenced in a previous post — I was under the illusion that I had stepped back into my old shoes, so to speak. I remembered the streets, the food sat well and I met with good friends. It was only after moving into a dingy one-room back near the university I attended in 2004 that the changes became more palpable. Surrounding me were restaurants and alleyways full of memories but vacant of familiar faces. I noticed a good amount of non-Koreans walking around, no doubt here to attend the very program in which I had once been enrolled, and seeing them reminded me of how distant that time was. I walked around campus and caught a whiff of the reminiscence I had anticipated, but mostly just felt out of place. It wasn’t where I belonged any more.

Continue reading ‘There’s Nothing Wrong with Missing Home’

The Long Hot Summer Ahead

THE AIR IN SEOUL IS NOT CLEAN. Even on the clearest days the horizon is painted with a faint, dusty brown. I make this observation not necessarily out of criticism, but as a simple a statement of fact. This is the reality I remembered, that I expected, but perhaps was not fully prepared to embrace again. And as spring burns into summer, the breath of the city becomes even thicker. Walking along the side of the Han river yesterday, dirt and gravel crunching underfoot with a million smells swirling in the air, I felt indeed very far away from the Midwest.

Taking shelter in the shade of a tree, a purer brand of breeze wafted through, and I was thankful for that. I took special pleasure in having ventured to a random riverside neighborhood, breaking the eat-work-sleep schedule I had ground myself into over the past week. But as I sat there, watching cyclists glide by — most of whom were inexplicably riding hardcore mountain bikes — a reality sharper than air quality set in: this would be the first summer through which I would consistently work.

No more part-time at coffee shops. No more “by the way I won’t be here for the next month” kind of notices. No more bike rides on Wednesday afternoons. Rough.

It isn’t that my workplace is so excruciating — quite the opposite, I enjoy my job. But for someone who values his time in the outdoors, stepping into a soft-lit, air-conditioned office on a halcyon bluegreen day is going to be murder. Especially in Seoul, where lush mountains jut above the cityscape, tempting me with offers of respite from the smog and constant bustle.

While I’m tempted to say, Such is life, I know better; so do most in the travel blog community. Life can be a juggling act between freedom and responsibility, but it often boils down to choice. And I’ve made mine. I certainly could have continued on the track I was on — slinging espresso, pushing freelance articles and eeking out a living. I was happy that way, and I definitely could’ve gone somewhere on that path. By coming back to Korea I’m almost starting from scratch; a familiar place seen through a different lens, a career where my fulfillment will only come with sweat.

…And a New Direction

AS I SLOWLY EASE IN TO a new life here in Seoul and struggle to muster the energy to write, I’ve been forced to ponder the direction this blog will take. When TDT first began, there was hardly a method to the madness — things have shaped up a bit more recently, but it still lacks a proper form. And I suppose I like it that way.

What I mean to say is that, while there will no doubt be a lot more posts offering personal anecdotes and meditations on my life here, I have firmly decided that this will not become a “Korea blog.” Opinions and ideas about the nation are already in abundance on the internets (coherency is another issue entirely) and so I would point readers looking for expat perspectives on Korea to more consistent sources; the Metropolitician, The Marmot’s Hole and The Grand Narrative, to name a few.

If I want anything to change on this blog, I would like to more clearly focus it in the direction of capturing cosmopolitan culture and philosophy; writings for the “citizens of the world,” so to speak. Even in my short couple weeks here in Seoul I’ve managed to encounter people with unbelievable backgrounds; globe-hoppers and polyglots whose roots transverse borders. More than travel itself, what seems to be at the core of this community is awareness — of world issues, of their role in them, and of the damaging effects of a limited perspective.

And of course, I’m always working to make the blog truly “daily,” a goal I’m afraid I won’t be able to quite deliver on until things calm down a bit more — not to say I won’t be trying.

For now, safe journeys, and keep reading.


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