Posted by: cgratton | January 31, 2010

The iPad Attempts to Save the Day

Apple seems to truly be taking over the world.  Their products have seem to have struck a chord with…well, with every single person on the planet.  But more than that, they seem to be quietly – with a smile and a clever, catchy ad campaign – ticking away media after media off a master checklist, swallowing one industry after another in the friendliest monopoly ever witnessed.

And I’m not even an Apple critic.  I have an iPod, I am typing on a newly purchased Macbook while listening to my iTunes; I think their commercials are witty, their ideas innovative, and their clean, simplistic approach to streamlining technology refreshing in a tech world where buttons and downloads and upgrades and modems confuse, frustrate and scare me.

But there are critics, namely the industries that Apple has so kindly taken over, shouldering the burden of developing new, innovative business models that work – and thrive – in a rapidly changing, tech-driven landscape.

The music industry has blamed Apple for completely demolishing the hope of ever selling “a record” to the public again.  But on the flip side, iTunes has filtered money back into the music industry, which was getting beaten to a pulp by free downloading programs and illegal music sharing.

The cell phone industry was forever changed after the release of the iPhone, a smartphone watershed moment when computers and telephones made the most natural, holiest of unions possible and put all the other phones on the market to shame, and which simultaneously birthed the billion-dollar-plus App Business (they’re not lying when they say “There’s an App for That”).

And now it seems Apple is making room to take another dying industry under its wing – print media.

Savior or Satan?

With the debut of the iPad this week, Apple’s new 1.5-pound e-reader, Apple has capitalized on the Kindle craze.  Yet, as Apple CEO Stephen Jobs said in the unveiling press conference on Wednesday to The New York Times, he credits Amazon with pioneering the product, but Apple is “going to stand on their shoulders and go a little bit farther.”

From the reports so far, that little bit farther means going beyond getting the rights to 19th-century British classics and diving right into the goods, snatching up the crippled news industry and “benevolently” giving it a chance to survive.  The iPad has created a light at the end of the tunnel for the drowning news media by solving their hair-pulling dilemma of how to actually make money on their once profitable product – information.

People who have seen the iPad say that Apple will not only market it as a way to read the news of the day, books, magazines and other materials, but also sell it to the media as a way for them to sell content.  It’s a nonthreatening yet glaringly obvious bait to dangle in front of a hungry and desperate print media’s face.  “Hey look at our shiny new toy that all of America and the world is going to gobble up!  And hey, you can be a part of it too, undo all your mistakes and start a new, profitable wave of media distribution!”

And oh have they taken that bait.  As reported by The New York Times earlier this week, The New York Times Company, Condé Nast, Hearst and Time, four of the largest and most influential publishers, are developing or have already created mock-ups of a version of their publication for the iPad.  And when Jobs announced the iBook application, five of the largest book publishers – Hachette Book Group, HarperCollins Publishers, Macmillan, Penguin and Simon & Schuster – signed on to provide e-book content for the new tablet.  And others are without a doubt going to follow.

So could this be the news media’s silver lining?  Is this their ticket to financial success in the Internet Age – an iTunes-esque payment system to sell their product?  It seems to be a logical answer, but in their deals with Apple is the news industry really just signing a deal with the devil?  Will the newspaper – just like “the album” become obsolete?  Is this the price we will have to pay to keep the news industry alive?

It may be a hard pill to swallow for media bigwigs – investing their livelihood, honor and hope for a future in a high-tech company like Apple – but they haven’t exactly been able to figure out a better answer on their own.  So confused are they that major publishers like Time, Condé Nast, Meredith, the News Corporation and Hearst have announced that they have formed a consortium, called Next Issue Media, that plans to run its own online store selling digital issues of their publications while collecting consumer information.  A last chance to preserve their own independently run business model and maintain a direct line with customers, the consortium is a glaring example that some publishers won’t go down without a fight.  Like a scene out of Rocky, will the more agile Apple take down an old champ like the print news industry?  Time will only tell, but one thing is certain – it’s sure gonna be an interesting match.

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Murdoch with his wife Wendi arriving at the conference on July 8

Murdoch with his wife Wendi arriving at the conference on July 8

At Allen & Co’s Sun Valley, Idaho media and technology conference yesterday, media grandfather and News Corp. CEO Rupert Murdoch confirmed to Reuters that he was not interested in buying Twitter, the wildly popular microblogging site that has had the web world (and the world in general) in a tizzy for months.  When asked if he would sell his now almost laughably uncool social networking site, MySpace, Murdoch bluntly replied “Hell no.”

Murdoch, and others at the conference, pointed to the fact that although Twitter is ballooning internationally at an unbelievable rate, there is no sustainable source of profit, which makes it “a tough investment to justify.”

At this year’s 27th-annual Sun Valley, a conference where (among other things) media bigwigs come to discuss, and later bid for, the latest “it” thing to update their conglomerate repertoire, Twitter was obviously the biggest buzzword.

I expected it to be a fight ’till death amongst these media moguls to own it—all of them coming out of the main conference room with ruffled comb-overs, crooked glasses and ripped suit jackets. But in a bizarre and surprising twist, most have said they are pessimistic about the future of Twitter—they don’t see how it can generate enough revenue to survive.

As reported in the Wall Street Journal, IAC Chairman Barry Diller and Liberty Media’s Chairman John Malone gloomily said that an advertising model won’t work on Twitter and subscriptions are probably the only answer—that “Sooner or later people will be paying for these services,” Malone said.

So it seems that Twitter is bringing up all the insecurities about their own companies’ futures. As Ken Auletta, the New Yorker writer who moderated the panel inside the closed conference told the WSJ, “No one had any answers” about how they can make money on the Internet.  So they obviously haven’t come up with the secret formula yet, and the hazy digital future compounded with the economy breathing down their backs is enough to make them shy away from something as promising (yet financially tenable) as Twitter.

With all the mistakes the media has made over the years not jumping on technological innovation RIGHT AWAY, and in the midst of newspaper after newspaper shutting down their printing presses after generations of storytelling, wouldn’t these men and women possibly rethink their automatic rejection of something that’s being hailed as a revolutionary information-sharing tool with no end in sight?

It seems rather short-sided, Mr. Murdoch, to throw away any discussion on acquiring Twitter when your MySpace is spiriling down the toilet both financially and in popularity.  Also, Google or Facebook didn’t have money-making business models at their start either, but hey, they turned out OK.  Just don’t be upset when everyone says “I told you so.”

Posted by: cgratton | July 8, 2009

Baby Boomers and Facebook: A Love-Hate Relationship?

Facebook is really growing up these days—and not just because of more sophisticated features or new applications, but literally in terms of age demographics.  It seems that after years of putting up with the intensive media hype surrounding Facebook, baby boomers are finally pushing their skepticism aside (or getting over their technological fears) and succumbing to the all-powerful social network.

And they’re succumbing by the masses.  According to reports from analytics company iStrategyLabs, the number of new users 55 and older has grown a staggering 513.7 percent since January, a huge difference from the mere 4.8 percent growth of users 18 to 24 years old.  This new development now means that the largest chunk of Facebook users is 35 to 54 years old, a significant change from the website’s origin as a virtual yearbook for college students.

Many are saying that this growth is because Facebook has hit a “tipping point” and older generations are now almost forced to join just to keep up with the rest of the world.  And it makes sense.  With over 200 million users, Facebook’s user base is bigger than most countries’ populations, business practices now basically require some type of Facebook involvement, and frankly, Facebook is still a constant topic of conversation at the dinner table and the water cooler.  And with all this attention, it seems that parents (and grandparents) are realizing that this thing isn’t going away anytime soon.

My parents, aunts and uncles nearly all “friended” me on Facebook earlier this year.  Their reason to switch to “the dark side?”  They want to keep in touch with younger family members and reconnect with old friends.  Since then, reunions with lost classmates were planned, digital family picture albums were created and shared, and Easter dinner was filled with excited chatter about “tagging pictures,” “status updates” and “minifeeds.”

But when I asked my mom yesterday about her Facebook usage, she said she finds it annoying how much (and often) people share information about themselves.  “Who has time for all that?” she said.

And it seems she’s not alone.  A report last week from Inside Facebook, a company that studies and tracks changes in Facebook for marketers and developers, showed that in spite of the recent sharp rise in popularity among baby boomers, many users aren’t returning to Facebook after a few initial visits.  The report explains that older Americans aren’t using Facebook for daily communication like younger generations do, and instead just use it every once in awhile—like when someone pops into their head they want to talk to, or they receive an e-mail alerting them there’s something new on their account.

The number of active Facebook users over 55 is the only age bracket that decreased in the past few months

The number of active Facebook users over 55 is the only age bracket that decreased in the past few months

The report illustrates what I’ve noticed myself—that Facebook isn’t resonating completely with older generations.  As my mom said, “Why do you want everyone to know all these things about you?  Why do you feel the need to tell everyone you have a doctor’s appointment today or just had a hard day at work?”  And that seems to be a fairly common attitude among her generation.  To them, the relentless and excessive amount of personal information splashed across their Facebook homepages has ended up becoming a big turn-off.

So did the love affair with Facebook among Generation-Y turn out to be just a fiery fling?  I guess we’ll just have to wait and see if they change their mind again.

It can be called the shot heard ’round the world, a chilling video of a young Iranian woman suddenly gunned down by a single bullet and killed instantly in the streets of Tehran.  In less than a minute she is dead, but the aftershocks of the video are still surging around the world.

The video, which was released over the weekend, is now being regarded as a pivotal symbol of the brutality currently plaguing the streets of Tehran, and the woman in the video, Neda Agha-Soltan, as the face of the anti-government movement.  Taken by a witness close by, the video graphically shows Neda fall to the ground after being shot in the chest.  Blood pours from her nose and mouth; her eyes roll back into her head; and soon, her limp body takes its last breath.

Neda did not back either presidential candidate, her family tells reporters.  She was 27 years old.

Neda did not back either presidential candidate, her family tells reporters. She was 27 years old.

Neda, which means “the voice” in Persian, is now being called the voice of Iran—the voice of the movement—and her very public death gives a face to the unknown number of Iranian civilians who have died so far in the conquest for political retribution.

But most importantly, Neda is being hailed as a martyr.

Martyrdom is deeply entwined in Shi’ite politics and religion—Iran was founded by martyrs, and the ceremonies that surround martyrdom fueled the flames of the 1979 protests.

Today’s strife now has its own martyr, and the Iranian people now have a modern day religious symbol to fight even more passionately for.  They are once again reminded that just like Neda and the many other honored Shi’ite martyrs, it is better to fight and die for your beliefs than to live in the face of injustice.

This picture, which surfaced on Twitpic, reportedly shows Nedas grave

This picture, which surfaced on Twitpic, reportedly shows Neda's grave. Neda's family was denied a proper funeral by government authorities.

The video serves as a glaring example of the senseless brutality being conducted by government forces attempting to quell the mounting intensity of the post-election protests. But these efforts are having an extremely adverse reaction.

Outrage quickly swept through the streets of Tehran after the man who shot the video e-mailed it to a friend outside Iran who then sent it to European newspapers.  Soon, the video was up on YouTube, Iranians were forwarding it in text messages to each other, Facebook groups and a Wikipedia page were quickly created in her honor, calling her “The Angel of Iran,” and messages of mourning were generating a fury on Twitter.

This instantaneous transfer of information has exposed the world to vivid images, images that sound an alarm for many that: yes, this violence is really happening, and yes, it is really as bad as everyone is making it…and frighteningly, even worse.

For me (and undoubtedly countless others), the video brings home the reality of suffering, violence and chaos happening at this moment in Iran.  Yes, I have read the papers and have watched the news, just as I have read the papers and watched the news on countless other international tragedies.  But the traditional filter of the broadcaster or writer has diffused a sense of reality and humanity to the situation, softened the blow of compassion through “fair and balanced” journalistic practices.  Pictures and video footage in papers or on news broadcasts sharpen our understanding, bring us closer to grasping the depth of what is really going on, like the photo of the running children from the Vietnam war, or the airplane carrier full of U.S. soldiers’ coffins from Iraq.  Still, the information is always passed through the media filter, given the professional, ethical (and strategic) green light, which simultaneously robs the story of some of its immediacy and humanity.

But new media is eliminating this middle man, as seen most clearly in the story of Neda’s death.  This video is the raw information, untouched by the hands (or biases) of seasoned professionals.  As I mentioned in my last post, the video doesn’t follow a traditional news format—something that many are criticizing about the coverage of these protests.  True, it doesn’t provide us with the journalistic “inverted pyramid” of information, so we the audience can decifer our own understanding of the story.  But does it even need to?  I think our eyes can figure out the underlying meaning of the story on this one.

Posted by: cgratton | June 20, 2009

Social Media Helps to Generate a Revolution in Iran

These days, the “social media revolution” is living up to its name. Literally. In the midst of the political turmoil raging in the streets of Tehran, Iranian government officials are blocking cellphone text messaging, cutting off Internet access and shutting down electricity in an attempt to stifle the post-election riots by breaking down communication lines.

But Iranians are not taking this sitting down. Instead, they’ve turned to Twitter, Friendfeed and Facebook to share their up-close-and-personal stories from the front lines of the dramatically unfolding situation. They’ve been able to bypass government barriers on Internet access by applying their tech-savvy knowledge of  proxy sites to share news updates, photos and information with other Iranian protestors and the rest of the world.  The latter is particularly important considering the fact that a majority of reporters have been blocked from entering the city, and therefore, many international news networks have no one to cover breaking events.  They now are forced to rely heavily on this citizen-made material to form their broadcasts and glue together the fragmented pieces of this complex story together.

Much of this coverage came not only from Tweets, but also from YouTube videos. These shocking clips speak for themselves of the chaos and violence running rampant right now in Tehran.

In this video, from YouTube user wwwiranbefreecom, the viewer is dragged along the street at the same frantic speed as the cameraman. CNN, ABC or CBS’s coverage doesn’t hold a candle to this.

Or this video, which shows masked police officers brutally beating an Iranian protester from just a few feet away:

Ayatollah Ali Khamenei gave what some call a fatally errored speech on Friday

Ayatollah Ali Khamenei gave what some call a "fatally errored" speech on Friday

These videos are glaring examples of how citizen journalism is taking today’s available social media technology to the next level, using it as an engine of revolution, a tool to show the world what is truly going on despite what other government-generated reports may say.

And these reports are extremely limited.  Yesterday’s speech from Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, is one of the only official pieces of information the international news media has, and most are bashing the speech as ambivalent and manipulated, further raising questions of who’s to blame and who’s really telling the truth.

For protesters, exposing their understanding of the truth is overwhelmingly at their fingertips.  Many are calling these protests a “grass-roots movement,” and justly so, as Iranians are now relying on themselves and their own “grass-roots journalism” as a vital weapon to stand up to their government, spread awareness and finally let their voices be heard.

The events in Iran seem to mark a pivotal moment for Social Media, showing its incredible power to facilitate change and churn the cogs of political revolution. Naysayers can no longer discount Twitter or Facebook’s importance—the truth is out and its loud and clear.

Yet, some say that the information posted on these sites or relayed through these videos isn’t enough—it doesn’t relavently connect the  information or weave a balanced story the way the traditional news media does to help the audience understand overarching themes of importance.  But for as much as this may be true, there are no other alternatives at this point.  The media is practically blacklisted from entering Iran, and therefore the stories of this tumultuous event would never hit the airwaves at all.  And I think I’m not alone in saying that it’s definitely better to know anything we can at this point than to have yet another political injustice silently swept under the rug of censorship.

Break out the tequila, mix up some guacamole and put on your favorite sombrero, because it’s Cinco de Mayo, mi amigos!

But what are we really celebrating?

Much to contrary belief, Cinco de Mayo is not Mexican Independence Day (that’s on September 16).  Actually, today is a commemoration of the Mexican army’s unlikely defeat of the French back in the mid 1800’s.  Like a scene out of 300, a completely outnumbered and out-armed Mexican army stopped Napoleon III’s super-powered French forces in Puebla, a city 100 miles east of Mexico City, from continuing their quest to overtake the capital.

Yet, Cinco de Mayo is not a nationally recognized holiday in Mexico, most Mexicans don’t even observe it further than having a parade and giving their currently serving soldiers a salute. So why do Americans go crazy for the equivalent of “Mexican Veteran’s Day”??

In the U.S., the Chicano population has adopted this day as a celebration of Mexican heritage, proudly honoring their culture with parades, mariachi music, dancing and feasts.

It’s nice to look at Cinco de Mayo, like St. Patrick’s Day, as a day for Americans of every ethnicity to celebrate this along with the rest of the Mexican-American community, and pay tribute to an important facet of the American population.  But the fact still remains that most Americans don’t understand the holiday’s true significance, and just use it as a good excuse to let their hair down, gorge on half-priced bar nachos and take an obscene amount of tequila shots without judgment.

Also like St. Patrick’s Day, much of the reason for Cinco de Mayo’s popularity is that it’s a filler in the holiday dry season, a prime opportunity for American commercialism (yet again) to capitalize on a day, morph its significance and sell it as a glitzy product.

Perhaps I’m being a little too harsh and looking at it from a disproportional, college-partying perspective.  I just hope that the rest of the country will pay their respects to the Mexican army of 1862, and the thriving Mexican-American community, at some point tonight between the salt and the lime.

Posted by: cgratton | May 4, 2009

Swine Flu Infects Mexican Tourism Industry

Those with the traveling bug may be committing themselves to bed rest these days.  And it’s no surprise, as visiting certain destinations could result in contracting an actual sickness—the dreaded swine flu.

With the world still whirling from anything swine flu-related, and more and more cases breaking out everyday across the globe, the swine flu fever is hotter than ever.  Although some experts are now discounting the initial hysteria, the effects on Mexico’s economy cannot be denied. One of the first industries to take the brunt of this loss?  Tourism.

As reported by the Christian Science Monitor last Monday, the European Union advised all Europeans to avoid traveling to Mexico unless absolutely necessary.  The Associated Press reported that Germany’s largest tour operator, the Hannover-based TUI, suspended all charter flights to Mexico City through today, and Japan’s largest tour agency, JTB Corp., suspended tours to Mexico at least through June 30.  French and Canadian airlines have canceled flights, and in the U.S., Continental, United and US Airways have all cut down on the number of flights to Mexico.

Airport workers monitor passengers from heat-sensitive cameras in Hong Kong, the city at the forefront of disease prevention after the 2003 SARS epidemic

Airport workers monitor passengers from heat-sensitive cameras in Hong Kong, the city at the forefront of disease prevention after the 2003 SARS epidemic

But even if you’re brave enough to don a face-mask, buy a tub of Purell and cross into the most heavily infected areas of Mexico, once there, the options of what to do are severely limited, as businesses and tourist attractions have been forced to close.  Already, a leading business group estimated that Mexico City is losing approximately $57 million per day with all the swine flu-related closures, a 36-percent drop in tourism revenue, the AP reported last Tuesday.

Throat are checked with IDs at the entrances to bars in Mexico City

Throats are checked before IDs at the entrances to bars in Mexico City

“Tourism is one of the first things impacted; it is a fragile industry, because people get scared,” says Hailin Qu, director of the Center for Hospitality and Tourism Research at Oklahoma State University, told the Christian Science Monitor.

Women kneel in prayer in the center of Mexico Citys Zocalo Plaza.  Usually a bustling tourist center, the plaza is left empty after swine flu threats

Women kneel in prayer in the center of Mexico City's Zocalo Plaza. Usually a bustling tourist center, the plaza is left empty after swine flu threats

With Mexican tourism industry already ailing from the “drug war” coverage earlier this year, the compounded effects could spell disaster.  Already, Wachovia has released a “what if” report that compares the swine flu to Asia’s SARS epidemic of 2003 (at its worst, in the spring of 2003, SARS is blamed for the 70 percent plunge in international tourists and the 10 percent dip in China’s GDP).  Ouch.

But let’s not jump to harsh conclusions and further add to the swine flu hype, Wachovia.  Let’s just wait and see how severe this flu really gets before forecasting economic disaster.

Until we get our hands on that picture, though, I guess travel agents will just have to buy a book of crossword puzzles to pass the time.

Posted by: cgratton | April 27, 2009

Get on Your Party Shoes

This past weekend marked a momentous University of Connecticut tradition: Spring Weekend. Tens of thousands of college students threw responsibility, inhibitions and sound judgment out the window, pulling the “college card” to excuse themselves for a weekend of belligerent young adult bliss. Keg stands and beer pong games were around every corner, property was undoubtedly destroyed and furniture was lit on fire, and thousands of aluminum beer cans are now left glimmering in the sobering Monday morning sunshine.

Paying homage to my last Spring Weekend at UConn as a college undergrad, here are are a list of some of the best parties around the world, compiled by Matador.com.  And these aren’t your standard Mardi Gras or Canivale. Although also great, those parties have been done.  These, on the other hand, are the parties that people keep going back to year after year after year…

A food fight phenomenon

A food fight phenomenon

La Tomatina

What: Nobody is really sure how it began- practical joke? A harmless food fight between two merchants? A prank? No one knows but this messy fiesta has been a strong tradition since 1945. On the last Wednesday in August, about 30,000 people descend on this little town to participate in the world’s largest food fight. Never had that massive cafeteria food fight when you were younger? Well, here’s your chance.

When: The last Wednesday in August.

Where: The tiny town of Buñol in the Valencia region of Spain

Bring: Throw-away clothes and goggles! Tomato juice in the eye stings!
Learn more

Full Moon Party

What: Legend has it that the Full Moon Party started as a birthday party in the 80s. The backpackers decided to come back again and again. Soon word spread and every month, backpackers would head to KPG to party.

Over the years, the hippy party morphed into a 20,000 person festival. Even in the low season, the party still sees about 10,000 visitors. Many people will tell you that it’s lost its charm over the years but for a serious dose of all night (and all day) partying in Thailand, this is place to get it.

Thailand lets loose for full moons every month

Thailand lets loose for full moons every month

When: During the full moon, every month

Where: Ko Pha Ngan, Thailand

Bring: Your drinking shoes, a red bull, facepaint, and clothes you don’t care about.
Learn more

This sculpture wonderland is definitely on my to-do list

This sculpture wonderland is definitely on my to-do list

Burning Man

What: Looking for the ultimate arts extravaganza? Burning Man is for you! An 8 day festival that culminates in the burning of a 72ft wooden man, this festival is where you can cut loose. Each year has a theme (this year, it’s “American Dream”) and last year 47,000 people decided to join the fun.

When: Starts 8 days before the American Labor Day, September

Where: Blackrock Desert, Nevada USA

Bring: Everything BUT money! Burning Man runs on a full barter system and the only things you can buy are water and ice. Aside from the obvious supplies you’d take camping, other essentials include sunblock, a Camel Back and goggles. MOST importantly, bring something that allows you to participate–that’s what Burning Man is all about.
Learn more

Bay to Breakers

What: It’s supposed to be a 7 mile foot race but instead it’s a 7 mile costume party and keg race that goes through downtown San Francisco. It began in 1906 to keep people’s sprits up after the earthquake and locals are still keeping that alive, in force! Over 70,000 people, congregate downtown in costumes (or nothing at all) and shopping carts filled with kegs. A little Mardi Gras + a little Halloween college party = a lot of fun.

Only San Francisco could pull off such a crazy costume party

Only San Francisco could pull off such a crazy costume party

When: The third Sunday in May.

Where: San Francisco, California

Bring: A crazy costume and lots of beer!
Learn more

Holi

What: Similar to the Thai holiday of Songrkan, Holi is a two day Hindu spring festival that occurs in northern India. The first night is marked by bonfires, and the second day is spent pleasuring your inner 2nd grader by splashing colored flour and water over everybody. It’s a celebration about renewal.

When: The full moon in March.

Where: India

Bring: Red, orange, and green flour, lots of water, clothes you don’t need!
Learn more

Australia Day

What: Australians love two things: beer and bbqs. No day brings out the best in these two than Australia Day, when Aussies celebrate the first European settlement on the continent of Australia. Aussies, a normally festive bunch, kick it up a notch all over the country with bbqs, music, and beer. From the cities to the towns, Aussies are out in full force. If you don’t already have an Aussie friend to take you under his/her wing, head to a beach with beer and make some new friends! Most Australians would love nothing more to break in a newbie!

When: January 26

Where: Anywhere in Oz!

Bring: Your Australian pride, a case of Carlton draught or Coopers, and something for the grill.
Learn more

Posted by: cgratton | April 22, 2009

Go Hug a Tree…in Argentina

It seems almost silly to have only one specific day to celebrate environmental preservation, but the premise behind today’s Earth Day celebrations is worthy nonetheless.  Today, it is estimated that over 500 million people will participate in 175 countries.  How do these other countries celebrate mother nature?  Here’s a list of some inspiring Earth Day events from around the world from Greenopia.com and Vagabondish.com.

Thai monks celebrate Earth Day in a peaceful way

Thai monks celebrate Earth Day in a peaceful way

Thailand

Just north of Bangkok, the Wat Phra Dhammakaya Monastery has one of the coolest Earth Days on the planet.  100,000 monks from 20,000 temples make offerings of necessities to promote peace on earth.  In 2008, in honor of co-operation between Sri Lanka and Thailand, Abbot Dhammajayo of the monastery sent 222 Buddha statues to 222 temples in Sri Lanka.  So if you feel a little more peaceful this Earth Day you know who to thank!

Rome

The ancient city will host an eclectic concert that combines sounds from all over the world.  This year, Ben Harper is scheduled to play with his new band, along with other musicians from Italy, Jamaica, Nigeria and Brazil.  The goal of the concert is to use music to engage Romans in environmental activism, and to educate them about the small steps they can take to make a positive impact on the environment.

Buenos Aires

On Earth Day 2008,  more than 10,000 people gathered to celebrate at the Plaza de las Naciones Unidas in Buenos Aires.  They took yoga classes, watched short documentaries on climate change, and danced to music with a conscience.  No word if anyone tangoed around the Plaza – though an Earth Day dance from the birthplace of tango could be awesome.

The swimming route for Monacos earth-conscious swim

The swimming route for Monaco's earth-conscious swim

Monaco

This Earth Day will bring the 3rd annual Monaco Earth Day Swim, a 2.5 km open water swim from the Port de Fontvieille, past Monte Carlo to the Beach.  A wetsuit is required.  Don’t want to swim in the open water?  You can also kayak.  2008’s swim brought swimmers from over five nationalities to the event.  This year’s event is supposed to bring over 100 swimmers!

Chicago

Last Earth Day, more than 40,000 people celebrated at the Lincoln Park Zoo, breaking attendance records for the establishment.  Artists performing for the crowd included Bill Kreutzmann of the Grateful Dead, Oteil Burbridge of the Allman Brothers, Scott Murawski of Max Creek.

Tel Aviv

Last year (for Earth Hour) the city of Tel Aviv, Isreal put on a truly man-powered show.  With a crowd of 40,000 people packed into Rabin Square, the city turned out its lights, and relied on bio-diesel fuel and stationary cyclists to power the concert.  Amazing.

It’s reassuring to see the rest of the world participating in conservation and preservation efforts, especially from a traveler’s point of view. Nature is obviously the foundation of any destination, it has made the people who they are culturally and the shaped what the country is today. I know I want to continue to explore the world, see my destinations in their purest, most beautiful form, and truly get as close to the original, raw experience as possible.  This is why environmental preservation, awareness and education is crucial. Don’t you want generations to come to be able to walk through the rain forests, see a polar bear in the wild and scuba dive along the coral reefs?  Just some food for thought.

Global knowledge is power

Global knowledge is power

Happy Earth Day, everyone.

Posted by: cgratton | April 20, 2009

Travelers are Changing the World One Couch at a Time

Planning a trip and don’t have the cash for a hotel?  Want to see the “real” side of your destination without all the cheesy tourist stuff?  Looking to make friends from different cultures around the world?

Well CouchSurfing.com may just be the website you’re looking for.

The five-year-old social-networking website seeks to connect people from all over the world, create opportunities to share cultural experiences and broaden cultural understanding and consciousness while providing free accommodations.

A graphical representation of how far CouchSurfing has reached

A graphical representation of how far CouchSurfing has reached

And it seems to have hit a chord with its audience—the CouchSurfing community hit the one-million-member mark in March, currently representing 231 countries and over 57,000 cities—making the possibility of building this globally-minded understanding a tangible goal.  As one member noted on the website, “CouchSurfing is in a definition HUMANITY.”  This project is obviously not just about getting a free bed; it’s a “pay it forward” system that promotes cultural awareness and bolsters a global community.

It seems that social networking websites truly have no limits these days, and connecting the world through sites like CouchSurfing creates even more extraordinary possibilities for travelers. Now one can truly understand the world one couch at a time.

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