Category Archives: Blogging

Twitter, Tolkien and talk

“What do they call people who use Twitter – twits?” That’s my sister, the social media Luddite, talking. The video below is probably something she would enjoy (I found a link to it via, um, Twitter):

Funny – though it does repeat the misconception people who use social media somehow “don’t have friends,” when the majority of people who use it are probably using it to keep in touch with existing friends and acquaintances. As for social media representing a fantasy escape from “real relationships,” ironically this skit ends with the two guys falling back down to “the real world”… which is nothing but their boring, sterile work cubicles. If that’s all there is to real life and real relationships – the straightjacketed “reality” ultimately defined by the corporations that employ us — well, no wonder people are hungering for such flights of fancy.

But it’s also true that some people use Twitter as a virtual stream of consciousness, and it can be exhausting. Have you ever thought about how much space we feel the need to fill up with reports about the course that society has planned for us? This isn’t limited to social media. Advertising, talk radio, and news are blared at us 24/7. Even coffeeklatsch chitchat about weekend errands, engagements, weddings, pregnancies, vacations… it’s the “stuff of life,” true, and social glue – but it’s everywhere. Even church services have become more enculturated – after mass, we seemingly can’t wait to return to the normal talkstream in the vestibule, or at the apres-church Sunday picnic. We have less and less actual space for divine silence in our lives.

Last Sunday I went to the second annual local International Tolkien Reading Day, which was held this year at the Eastwood Palace in the “upper room.” Last year, it was held at a cafe in the Valley, which I at first thought was a more congenial public spot for this kind of thing than the Palace. It turns out that the Palace venue worked well too. The event was a straight-through reading of The Hobbit (probably good that you don’t try that in a cafe). I didn’t make it nearly that far, but a handful of hardy souls did. For hours and hours they did nothing but read fiction aloud. The audacious eventual goal with the Tolkien day reading project is to one day read the entire Lord of the Rings trilogy straight through, which would take days if they went nonstop.

Some people see a straight-through public reading as a cool thing to do, an achievement of endurance and focus – which it would be. But also, imagine days of this kind of breathing room hacked into the teeming sociality of our lives. Days during which there could be no chitchat about whatever it is that we all chat about. Reading silently to oneself is subversive — but so is a public reading, during which voices are focused completely on something other than the world we’re expected to constantly uphold, promote and amplify with our talk. That would be getting closer to the silence that has been missing.

Twittermania

I’ve been using Twitter since last summer. I mainly use it as a pleasant time-waster (as if I don’t waste enough time!), but over the last couple months – weeks even – it has ramped up into a national mania. You might have noticed that I’ve already incorporated two different Twitter streams into this blog, including one called “nycotweets” (see above) that primarily offers quick links to interesting New York-related links and blog posts. These are items I want to bring to people’s attention, but don’t have enough time to blog about (and, I fear, many people increasingly don’t have time to read blog posts about).

Everyone’s moving into social media – enthusiastically or uneasily. Sean Kirst blogs about his new experiences with Facebook addiction. His post got me mentally picking around the edges of the social media trend. I remain slightly skeptical about it, and this is why:

I can’t help feeling like we’ve been here before. When our society experienced a shock to its system on 9/11, we should have slowed down and had a time of deep national reflection. That didn’t happen. Instead, we got increased spending — on wars (the ultimate spending spree), on gadgets, and especially on houses we couldn’t afford. It produced a busy, bubbly economy that proved not to be real.

Now, with another shock to our system — the economic decline that picked up speed last fall — we are again ramping up in frenzied activity. Social media nirvana, like the Ownership Society, is the new American dream. “Friends” and “followers” are amassed in great quantity. But what value do these so-called networks really have? Perhaps they subtly steal more time and energy from us than they give back. And if the last bubble resulted in an economic crash, what sort of crash might this next bubble end in?

A recent article in the Chronicle of Higher Education provides much food for thought:

Ten years ago we were writing e-mail messages on desktop computers and transmitting them over dial-up connections. Now we are sending text messages on our cellphones, posting pictures on our Facebook pages, and following complete strangers on Twitter. A constant stream of mediated contact, virtual, notional, or simulated, keeps us wired in to the electronic hive — though contact, or at least two-way contact, seems increasingly beside the point. The goal now, it seems, is simply to become known, to turn oneself into a sort of miniature celebrity. How many friends do I have on Facebook? How many people are reading my blog? How many Google hits does my name generate? Visibility secures our self-esteem, becoming a substitute, twice removed, for genuine connection… Friendship may be slipping from our grasp, but our friendliness is universal.

Even wordy blogs might be growing as obsolete as the much-lamented newspaper business, which is why I grudgingly accept that a little side project I’ve long wanted to do has got to be Twitter-based and not blog-based. It’s a Twitter stream called OutdoorsNewYork, and offers items of interest about camping, wandering wildlife (with an emphasis on unexpected encounters — think: Fairmount’s bear), and the New York/DEC parks system.

Because… you just can’t fight social media.

When it rains, it snows

Word to the wise: When running a blog, thoroughly back up your data. My web provider had a server failure yesterday, which had the unsettling effect of wiping my account with them clean. Fortunately they do keep backups, and I do too… just not in one easily accessible piece. (While briefly contemplating the apparent loss of all my data, I felt sad about the disappearance of others’ comments and the New York State blogroll.)

So it’s supposed to snow a bit today (snow before Halloween? I do not like). Here is the Golden Snowball with a video reminding us of the Epic Fail of Buffalo’s recent October Surprise.