Ermahgerd: The Ernterld Sturry

Vanity Fair tracked down the actual Ermahgerd girl, now a grown Ermahgerd woman who's about as perplexed by the whole thing as you might expect:

“I just can't believe this is my 15 minutes of fame—I was hoping it would come in another form. But I guess you have to take what you can get.”

WTF is Ermahgerd? Gert erducurted.

[L]ike many other Internet memes, the mechanism behind ermahgerd is rooted in the centuries-old tradition of language games, such as gibberish and pig Latin, which have been practiced in English-speaking countries as early as the late 19th century. Both games involve shifting consonants and adding extra vowels in a sentence to cipher a message...

"Meme" culture [without getting into how this terminology bastardizes the concept of memetics] is aggressively dadaistic, the sort of cultural practice that's designed to be instantly and intensely polarizing. If you're not in on the joke -- and it is a very complicated joke -- it's not just baffling, but alienating. If you are in on the joke, it's irresistible: having cracked the code, it's impossible not to participate.

Ermahgerd, and related species of Internet weirdness, tend to get cited as evidence of a deep and irrevocable social rupture -- largely generational, but also unmistakably class-related -- over technology. Some of us, goes the critique, are so obsessed with our devices, so absorbed in digital culture, that our consciousness and personality have been permanently altered, in a way that's more or less without historical precedent. There may be some truth to that. But it's worth remembering that the deployment of elaborate in-jokes as a social sorting mechanism is nothing new, and fundamentally nothing to do with technology. 

...The truth is, we all have a desire to cipher and decipher messages in our everyday conversations -- whether it's about a young woman who loves her books, or a pug going crazy over a bone made of milk.


Almost by definition, language games create an inside and an outside. Which group you fall into depends on your ability and willingness to sort through an outwardly meaningless grab-bag of unfamiliar references and puzzle out the grammar, the structural logic, that binds them together. This, and the fact that Maggie Goldenberger was herself performing a joke persona of her own invention when she posed for what would become the Ermahgerd image, makes it extremely interesting that Goldenberger (and also, as it turns out, R.L. Stine) seems to feel very much on the 'outside' of this joke.

domo arigato

Seems somehow apt that Snowden makes his public appearances as a disembodied reverse-Orwellian cyborg superhero...

He is a uniquely postmodern breed of whistle-blower. Physically, very few people have seen him since he disappeared into Moscow’s airport complex last June. But he has nevertheless maintained a presence on the world stage—not only as a man without a country but as a man without a body. When being interviewed at the South by Southwest conference or receiving humanitarian awards, his disembodied image smiles down from jumbotron screens. For an interview at the TED conference in March, he went a step further—a small screen bearing a live image of his face was placed on two leg-like poles attached vertically to remotely controlled wheels, giving him the ability to “walk” around the event, talk to people, and even pose for selfies with them. The spectacle suggests a sort of Big Brother in reverse: Orwell’s Winston Smith, the low-ranking party functionary, suddenly dominating telescreens throughout Oceania with messages promoting encryption and denouncing encroachments on privacy.

the final countdown

Busy, busy week. Essential Pittsburgh had me on Monday to talk about the show (audio here), and I got a little love yesterday from the Post-Gazette. Meanwhile, we've been hammering WESA listeners with daily on-air teasers & promos, and my thumbs are bloody from self-promotional tweeting & retweeting.

Anyway, Nanograms is go for takeoff TONIGHT at the Thrival Music + Innovation Festival. The event is full but we're going to Periscope this sucker, so keep an eye on Twitter tonight around 6 if you want to do the fly-on-the-wall thing. Or you can wait until the live episode posts some time in November.

Episode 1 will go up during the event -- will be up on the website by 7:00, and should show up on iTunes shortly thereafter.




Launch event sold out

I'm a little shocked to report that, 72 hours after we announced next week's live event, registration is full! That's *after* Thrival added extra seats yesterday. 

We'd been talking about trying to record the event for use in a future episode of the podcast. Those plans were tentative, but given the apparent level of interest I'm going to make sure a recording will be available for those who can't attend. 

Thanks to everybody who signed up, or tried to. I'm thrilled at the response! 

Wow, that was fast...

We just started promoting the Nanograms live launch event yesterday, and already I'm told we have pre-registrations equivalent to about two-thirds of the venue space. I'm assuming at least some of those people won't show up, but at the rate we're going this may actually fill up.

Point being, now would be a good time to register

Tentative plans are to record the event and post it in some form, so hopefully those who can't make it to the event will still be able to listen. But I'd rather see you there!

Speaking of 'there,' have I mentioned how awesome our host is? If you haven't already been to TechShop, it'd be well worth your time to arrive early for a chance to check out their setup and learn about what they do there. This guy thought so.

More on the live show here.

Let's do something weird together

Welcome! Thanks for checking out the site. There will be lots more to check out when the series launches on September 24th, so I hope you'll be back. Until then, a few words about Nanograms.

This show has been almost a year in the making, and just about everybody at 90.5 WESA has been involved at some level. Really, it's the culmination of many conversations over the last four years about how our station can create something new and exciting in the medium we know best -- audio -- outside of the technical, logistical, and conventional constraints of the broadcast format. We want to challenge our assumptions about the kinds of stories we tell and the way we tell them. We want to let them breathe, grow at their own pace, and go wherever they take us. These podcast episodes are the first baby steps in that direction. 

At this point I should probably drop the collective pronouns and not try to speak for my coworkers... though I think it's fair to say there's tremendous energy in our organization, and a hunger to venture beyond the range of topics and viewpoints to which we're limited by the 24-hour broadcast day and our finite slice of broadcast spectrum. Anyway, speaking for myself now: I love radio, and I especially love public radio. But I listen to a lot of podcasts too. And while we've witnessed the launch of some brilliant, wildly original and astonishingly successful public radio podcasts and other digital projects in the last couple of years, I think we've only just begun to ask ourselves what we're capable of doing in this new space that the Internet has opened up. I think we can do more complex stuff. More challenging stuff. Weirder stuff. 

Sorry, I get carried away. Here's where I try to dial back the grandiosity and point out that this is an experiment. I really hope it works, but it might not. If it does, there will be lots more of this kind of thing in the future (hey, that's the theme of the show! see what I did there?). 

What was my point? Oh, yeah. Welcome to the website! Watch this space for show notes and other supplementary addenda on the episodes as they post. As of this post there are seven of them in season 1, and there may be a few more. More on that later.