The Dudes Do ASHA 2013 – Day 3: On Memory and Messages

Just over two years ago, I started keeping a hand-written diary – or journal, depending on which side of the Atlantic you come from [1]. The reason for doing this was that (a) I am over 50, (b) I have a terrible memory, (c) I’ve never done this before, (d) a goldfish has more recollection of its life than I have, and (e) I have a terrible memory. It’s not an ego thing – I don’t have grand delusions that some future biographers are going to pore over my inky scribblings and create three-volume encomiums of my life. No, it’s because I really am worried that huge chunks of my life have simply disappeared. Gone.

Unless you’re one of those folks blessed or cursed with a photographic memory – or you’re an elephant – you probably recognize all too well what I’m talking about. I vaguely recall occasional incidents in my past that are illuminated by a memory flashbulb, but it’s almost as if I’m seeing someone else. And I’m also aware that those few minutes of brightness are surrounded by months, maybe years, of absolute black. The unfairness of it all is that not only is life short but most of it is forgotten. It’s enough to make you ask God for a refund – or at least the opportunity to ask for another go and promise that this time you really will pay   attention!

Scribble, scribble, scribble - CC license from Rui Fernandes

Scribble, scribble, scribble – CC license from Rui Fernandes

Hence the diary/journal. At worst, I can flip through and take some satisfaction knowing that on, say, August 24th, 2011, I ate a cheese sandwich, bought a book off Amazon, and watched “Lost” on TV. Dull? Yes. Pointless? Probably. Worth sharing with the world in a biography? Definitely not. But it’s enough of a memory jogger to remind me that I’ve done something in my life, no matter how inane or absurd.

So if you’re one of our younger readers and you haven’t already started keeping a journal, I highly recommend it. There’s something satisfying about scratching words on a piece of paper in your own handwriting that is very different from the hammering of keys to toss letters into a word processor. Both can track your thoughts and memories but the former can also capture nuances of hand movement – and even the blurring of ink from tears 😉

Because I’m writing this post almost a week after the event, being able to refer back to my journal/diary is wonderful because I can now remember what I was thinking on that third day. Specifically, I recall that during the Convention, something was happening in a parallel universe: a Shadow Conference. In fact, the world of the Shadow Conference is a silent yet vibrant virtual reality that mirrors closely our real world but exists as a stream of bits and bytes, which can only be seen by using magical windows that open up glimpses in the Shade.

The “magical windows” are, of course, computer screens, and the Shadow World is known by its common name of Twitter. With the title of the convention being “The Magic of Teamwork,” it’s somewhat fitting that the magic of technology was in evidence throughout the entire event. And all you need to become a citizen of  the Shadowlands is a Twitter account, a twitter handle, and a piece of software to read the tweets.  Easy peasy.

The level of twittering was so great that I even saw a message that I’d never seen before:

Error message showing Twitter limit reached

Say what?

Clearly the folks at ASHA were determined to subject Twitter to a stress test! At one stage, twitterer @TomSatherSLP estimated that tweets were running at 3.6 per minute, which is over 200 per hour. During sessions, if someone was live tweeting presentations, there’s a good chance it went higher than this.

The easiest way to follow tweets during a conference is to follow a hashtag that has been dedicated to the conference. I use Hootsuite on my smart phone, which allows me to set up a single column that shows all the tweets associated with a particular hashtag. Specifically, the convention used the hashtag #ASHA13, which means that if you post a message and include that hashtag in it, anyone following it will see that message. That also means you see posts from people who you don’t already follow – a good way to find new tweeter.

The word hashtag was the American Dialect Society‘s Word-of-the-Year in 2012 and the symbol of the “hash” is actually called an octothorpe. The hash sign is also known as the number sign and the pound sign. The latter derived from the Latin libra meaning pound, which used to be written as an “l” followed immediately by a “b,” and this is turn became conjoined as:

lb symbol

T’was but a small step from there to the symbol we now recognize on a computer keyboard:

HashThe other name for this symbol, the octothorpe, was, according to one theory,  coined in the 1960’s by a worker at Bell Laboratories called Don Macpherson. He reasoned that because there are 8 points on the symbol, the prefix octo- for “eight” should be used, but there needed to be something else – you can’t just call it an “octo.” Now, Macpherson was, at the time, on a committee working to reinstate the Olympic gold medals of the athlete Jim Thorpe, whose 1912 winning medals were taken from him when the Olympic committee found he’d been paid for two seasons of baseball prior to the Games, which, in those days, only allowed amateurs to take part [2]. So, he chose the word Thorpe to add to the prefix, and thus was coined the octothorpe.

Yet another suggestion was that the symbol looked like a set of 9 fields, but that the center was actually a village, so it showed a village with 8 fields around it. The Old English word meaning “village” is thorpe (c.f. in England you have places like Scunthorpe, Cleethorpes, and Grimethorpe). So the octothorpe is a whimsical “village with 8 playing fields.”

So next time you use the hashtag, try to think of it as a way to become part of that vast “whimsical virtual village” of the Twitterverse – or the Shadow Lands!

[1] I can’t be sure about this, but I suspect that the “diary/journal” distinction is one of those US/UK things. Sure, a “diary” has connotations of a simple scheduler where you jot down the times when things are going to happen, but when I was a lad, “keeping a diary” also referred to the activity of writing down everything that had happened during the day – which is what Americans do with a  “journal.” A quick glance at the word “diary” using the Corpus of Contemporary American and the British National Corpus shows that it is used almost twice as much in the UK than in the US – but that doesn’t sound stunningly significant, and I’d worry about the sense of the word. I did a comparison of the phrases “keep a journal” and “keep a diary” form both US and UK English, and here’s how it looks:

Frequency of us of journal versus diary in UK and USSo it seems more like in the UK that folks “keep a diary” while US writers will “keep a journal.” Let me know if you think otherwise.

[2] In 1983, thirty years after his death, the International Olympic Committee returned the medals. Thorpe’s original medals were lost – and have never been found – so in lieu of the actual medals, his heirs were presented with commemorative medals.


2 responses to “The Dudes Do ASHA 2013 – Day 3: On Memory and Messages

  1. I too should start a journal/diary. Now if I only remember to do it…..

  2. Ha ha remember to do it. I started keeping a journal some months back. I love to go back and read my life. I also am able to recall may of te memories better

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