Gwnewch y pethau bychain

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Me, I’m A Part Of Your Circle Of Friends…

We live in the age of social media.

Social media isn’t actually a recent thing, at least as we count time online.  Back in the digital Pleistocene, when i first got on the net1, social media was called Usenet.  Usenet was made of of a  hierarchy of “newsgroups”, each devoted to a specific topic.  if you were interested in science fiction books, you could hang out in rec.arts.sf.written.  If you were a perl programmer, you could hang out in comp.lang.perl.  If you wanted to  make snarky comments about other peoples .sig files, you went to alt.fan.warlord.2  There was a nearly inexhaustible number of alt.sex.* groups where you could get your specific freak on. Pretty much whatever you wanted to talk about, there was a group devoted to talking about it, and if there wasn’t, you could make one with a small amount of effort.

Usenet was a decentralised service, spread across thousands of machines on the Internet.  Messages posted to one news server would propogate to all the others, usually in pretty quick time.  Since the messages were stored on the server, it didn’t clutter up your email box the way a mailing list was.  (And back in those magical days, that was pretty much all that cluttered up your e-mail box, since spam hadn’t yet really become a thing.)  Over time, the more active newsgroups developed their own cultures and social norms, and became communities in their own right.3

In the early 1990s, with the advent of the World Wide Web, new forums began to pop up.  Websites with their own comments threads began to proliferate, and both single and multi-topic web forums began to pop up here and there.  Usenet had a lot of people still using it, though, and many preferred to continue having their conversations there.  Most web forums didn’t have a strong sense of community, partly by virtue of being newer and not yet having developed the sort of cultural inertia that eventually coalesces into social bonds, but also partly because most web forums were a poor place for the kind of person-to-person interactivity that dominated the better parts of Usenet.  Sooner or later, someone would figure out the right set of tools, and create a semblance of that on the web.

That person turned out to be Brad Fitzpatrick, who started a site called LiveJournal.

LiveJournal wasn’t the first blogging platform, but it was the first to really put all the pieces together to create a real, broad online community.  Unlike Usenet, where groups were defined by interest, blogs were inherently personal.   You could write about whatever was important to you at the time, and not worry if it was on topic.  This was your space.  If you had friends who were also blogging on LiveJournal, you could follow them,4  and LJ would construct an easy to read digest of all the posts your friends had made.  Comments left by one person following your blog might elicit an answer from someone else following it.  Someone might decide to ‘friend” you simply because you had a friend in common and they liked the sort of comments you left.   Topical communities began to form, kitting together groups of people with common interests.

For the folks on the more social areas of Usenet, like alt.polyamory or rec.arts.sf.fandom, this was a little annoying.  More and more, people were writing in their own spaces and not engaging the group.  Expressing surprise at a bit of missed news was likely to elicit a response of “Oh, I wrote about that in my LJ.”   Even in real life, in several of my social circles if you weren’t on LiveJournal, you weren’t really plugged in to the conversation.  I remember telling a fellow Atlanta filker about some bit of news involving some other filkers, and he expressed surprise because he hadn’t heard about it.  I told him I had read about it on LJ, and he said “But I don’t do LJ!” and I said “And that’s why you hadn’t heard about it.”5

As LiveJournal participation grew over the course of the early 2000s, Usenet participation waned.  At the time, i was still active on both, and the growing quiet on newsgroups was both noticeable and often commented upon by those of us who were still there.  Reluctantly, many hardcore holdouts started LiveJournal accounts of their own, if only to follow what was going on with their friends who increasingly put their time and energy into posting there.  Some communities shifted entirely to the web, succumbing to the overwhelming gravity the new central social hub was exerting on the conversation.

While this was the status quo for a number of years, new attempts at creating the next social hub came and went constantly. Most of them are footnotes6 and barely remembered7, or looked promising8 but were pushed out by more popular rivals9.  With the exception of MySpace, most of them failed the “what’s it for?” test.  They weren’t necessarily awful, but they didn’t appear to solve any problems presented by the current dominant platform.10

But since 2008, several new platforms have taken center stage.  Facebook, Twitter,  and Tumblr have developed huge communities, and Google+ and Pinterest certainly have their partisans. LiveJournal of late feels a lot like Usenet did ten years ago.   But unlike the Usenet to Livejournal migration, the new landscape is more fractured, with each new community containing a subset of the old. While some people manage to maintain an active presence on more than one platform, the vast majority of even those people have one service that is their primary hangout and others that they dip in and out of as the mood strikes them.

This is, ultimately, both good and bad.  The five major networks currently vying for social bandwidth deliver very different experiences to the one another.  If you think brevity is the soul of wit and like your conversations to come in rapid, short bursts, you can make Twitter your place and have a great time hanging with the other Twitterati.   if you’re more of a kinetic, visual magpie who primarily wants to see cool things and pass them around, you’ll probably tumble for Tumblr.  Pinterest is great for….whatever the heck Pinterest is for.11  And Facebook sits atop the mountain, the vast ruler of all it surveys largely by default.  Facebook has the most users almost entirely because it has the most users.  I know many people (myself not least)who say ‘I don’t like Facebook as a platform, but it’s where the people I want to interact with are, so that’s where I am.”

The bad part about the current landscape is that the conversation is fractured.  People on one platform don’t interact with people on the others.  The post you are reading will have been either posted or linked in several places.  People who see it on LiveJournal will likely comment there.  People who see it on Facebook will likely comment there.  Someone might respond to it on Twitter, and some might comment on the original blog itself.  And I’ll see all those comments and react to them in place, but — vitally — they won’t see each other.  Joey on Facebook will never see the comment that Rachel leaves on Livejournal, and neither of them will see the comment that Krista makes on Twitter.  No one has the amount of social bandwidth to monitor all of these places at once.   Most of us can’t handle more than one.

That’s not a tragedy.  But it is a missed opportunity.  We now have so many ways to connect that we sometimes miss the chance to connect.  And that makes me at least a little bit sad.

 


  1. late 1980’s 

  2. It’s a long story. 

  3. Parallel to all of this, services like Compuserve and Prodigy had their own walled gardens which fostered similar online communities. 

  4. “Friend” them, in the argot of the site.  A term which has continued to be problematic in social media ever since. 

  5. I think participating or not participating in a particular social forum is entirely one’s choice. I do think it’s a bit unreasonable to refuse on principle to join a particular social forum and then complain that you miss the things which are happening there. 

  6. Orkut 

  7. Buzz 

  8. MySpace 

  9. Friendster 

  10. And most of the really serious problems with LiveJournal were being solved by virtue of the LiveJournal codebase being open source, which meant anyone could start up an exact replica of it and compete. The most successful of these was Dreamwidth, but there were at least a half-dozen active LJ clones at one time. 

  11. I don’t mean to be snarky.  I really don’t know. 

People Are Strange When You’re A Stranger

In a community I spend a lot of time hanging out over on Facebook, someone posted the other day:

“So you people are cool and hip. right?? Why is Bitstrips a thing????”

For those of you who haven’t seen these, Bitstrips is an app that lets you create a cartoon avatar of yourself, and then caption various one-panel cartoons featuring you and your friends.  It’s basically a digital version of Colorforms 1 crossed with one of those mail order-storybooks you could get with your child’s name printed in them.

As memes go, this one is pretty innocuous2, and easy enough to flip past or even block if you’re not inclined to see them.  A couple of comments in the thread suggested they found them annoying, and one said the ones they had seen were a bit “creepy”, which may reflect their friends more than the app itself3. But one comment really threw me a bit.

I think some of the people that use them think they are funny and the rest are cartoonist wannabes thinking they are being creative and refusing to believe they are premade templates. I blocked them. I hope I am not sounding mean, that’s not my intention, I just think real cartoonists work hard enough as it is.

There’s an awful lot of odd assumptions being made in this comment, each of which is probably worth dissecting on its own, but the one I want to hone in on is the central animus behind it, which is:

There are people having fun in a manner I don’t understand!

This is a pretty common thing lately, and I hate it.  It’s an enormous world with an infinite variety of things to see and do, and not everything appeals to everyone, not least because not everything is FOR everyone.  There’s an element of sour grapes to the whole attitude:  “I don’t like this, and I don’t see why anyone else should have a good time.

A manifestation of this that happens several times a year around big pop culture events that I like to call “Clamouring Indifference.”  You’ll see it on your social media every time the Super Bowl happens, or the Oscars are handed out, or the finale of a show like Breaking Bad is aired.  Amidst all the people excitingly talking about the event, there will be a handful of people who will feel compelled to post about how they don’t care about the event, how terrifically bored by the event they are, and how they wish everyone would stop talking about it.

The truth is, though, that these people do care about the event.  They care deeply and passionately about it.  It’s very important for you to know how much they don’t like it.  It doesn’t take 500 words to say ‘I don’t care.”  I doesn’t even take three.   The real message being communicated is the same as the comment above:  “Hey, stop enjoying that thing I don’t enjoy.”

We live in an incredible age, where we can pick and choose whatever entertainment we want to consume, at any time, on demand.4  If you’re not interested in the college handegg tournament or the Tony Awards or American Idol, then go watch something else. or start up a different conversation in your space and see who comes to participate in it.   But don’t waste your time and everyone else’s by writing an essay about how  you don’t care about the thing everyone else is having a perfectly good time enjoying.

 


  1. They were these little boxed playsets that had a scene on them and little vinyl figures you could arrange on it. It was treated so that the vinyl figures would stick to the backboard, so you could arrange all sorts of little ersatz dioramas. I had a bunch of different ones, mostly comic-book related. 

  2. Who knows, maybe it’ll encourage someone to say “I’m really enjoying this, but the limitations of the form frustrate me” and they learn to draw and become the next great cartoonist. Or maybe they just use it to create a lot of corny jokes to amuse themselves and their friends. 

  3. And led me to wonder aloud whether they were suggesting that creepy stuff can’t be a “thing” 

  4. At least within certain levels of privilege, but I have a feeling the people who aren’t able to access on-demand entertainment are also not loudly professing their profound lack of interest in that entertainment on social media.  I could be wrong. 

…And never worry about the fall

Earlier today in the #frogpants chat room, Malynor (my 19th favourite Canadian), asked how I was doing on my first real day of unemployment, and commented that planned unemployment was probably less stressful.

I said “Well, planned unemployment is slightly less stressful in that it’s, well, planned and I have resources set aside to deal with it. But it’s still weird for much the same reason skydiving is.

Because of your careful preparations and precautions, you have a strong belief that everything is going to work out fine at the end of the fall, but you still can’t quite shake the fear that you just stepped out of a perfectly good aeroplane.”

Sleeping on a planter at the Port Authority…

I’m often amused to see what Twitter bots follow you based on what you post there. All manner of random commercial enterprises have suddenly followed me after a casual(and often completely devoid of context) reference to a product, place, or activity. Tourism sites, personal trainers, rap DJs…its like a bizarre form of bingo where no one ever wins anything.

This happens to a lesser degree on Livejournal, particularly if you haven’t disabled anonymous comments. But it’s fairly uncommon, at least enough so that I never really gave it a lot of thought, until this particular post began to attract the spambots. I’ve deleted at least five in the last couple of weeks.

I wonder what there is about my amusing but inconsequential exchange with a drugstore clerk has attracted so much interest from the sub-sentient crawlers of the blogosphere? Most of them seem to be trying to sell me knock-off designer clothing or boots, which makes me suspect it was the paragraph about looking for vests. But their persistence is puzzling.

So I Turned Myself To Face Me

Sometimes, you realise something about yourself so fundamentally obvious in hindsight that you’re not sure how it took you so long for it to occur to you.

I’ve been struggling a bit with my depression in recent weeks. Given the amount of slow-motion change in my life right now, that’s hardly surprising, but today, while thinking about a comment thread yesterday in osewalrus‘s Facebook page, something clicked in my brain that clarified to me why I’ve felt so unsettled.

I have two strong behavioural methods for temporarily punching up my mood: eating and buying things.

Neither of which I can really do right now.

I’m trying hard to get back on my fitness plan, which means I have a careful budget with regards to what and how much I can eat in a given day.

I’m saving up money to move across country in 3 months and need to be prepared to weather out a period of unemployment, so I can’t really shop for much of anything I don’t actually require.

It could be argued that neither of this are strictly healthy ways of dealing with stress and depression, but I’ve been me for a long time, and I know they both work, at least in the short term. And right now, for a variety for reasons, I’m denied their outlet.

Not sure what to do with this information presently, but there you have it.

Apropos of nothing

What is the metric equivalent to the word “mileage”? Kilometreage sounds dreadful and kludgy, but I’m not entirely sure what the appropriate analogue would be.

Towards a More Personal and Productive Journal

Over the last couple of years, the amount of updating I’ve done in this space has been limited both in quantity and in content.  There were some things I was going through that I really didn’t want to talk about in public, and as a result, I ended up no talking about anything much at all.

This distresses me for a number of reasons.  I really value the community of friends I have here, and I feel I was drifting out of touch as a result of not being as “plugged in” here.  The trouble is that inertia is difficult to overcome.  Having been away so long, it somehow feels disingenuous to just pick up again without noting that I was away and it becomes easier and easier to just put it off.

I’m entering the second half of my fourtieth year.  I feel slightly restless.  I am not content with myself.  I crave change, growth, and transformation.  My soul is hungry for connections both old and new.

All of this to say…I intend to write more often here.  I cannot say about what.  Whatever interests me.  When I started this journal in 2001, I expected it to be an essay platform more than a personal journal.  Over the years, it has been both, but of late it has been neither.  So consider this a rededication.  Some of what I write here may be simply personal reflections and meditations, reports of my weekend, or other triviality, but it’s better than just a random link every couple of days without any original content.

I also hope to recommit to my politics blog, which after a noble attempt to launch fell quickly silent, mostly due to my inability to keep up with the information inflow that allowed me to write at the level I wanted.  I’m hoping to begin writing there again as well, and I’m pondering my old ambitions to something in the field of journalism, though I’m not yet sure what form that will take.

Of all the things I’ve done in my life, writing and music have given me the most satisfaction.  Time to elevate those two pursuits back to the top of my priority list.  That way, I am convinced, lies happiness.

Christmas and Me

Last night, thatcrazycajun made a post about his mixed feelings on the holiday season. I’ve been giving this some thought since I read it last night, because I’ve lately been of two minds about Christmas.

I love Christmas. I love the atmosphere it creates. I love winter. I love the lights, and the music, and the sheer joy that permeates every part of it. People are friendlier, and more giving, and more outwardly focused at Christmastime, and I love that.

I should note that I was raised agnostic. I’ve never had a deep, personal, spiritual relationship with the Christmas season, so my love for the holiday doesn’t have to get tangled up with how I feel about the actual implications of Christological mythology.

At the same time, I feel a little empty at Christmas, because Christmas is so very much about family, and mine isn’t here. It seems I never have the luxury of time to go and visit mine during the holidays, and even if I could, it’s been over a decade since my grandfather, the axis around which my entire family world revolved when I was a child, passed away. My cousins all have children, and have begun to spin their own family worlds, and having been absent the last 20 years, I’m not really a part of it.

Some years ago, I went to pick khaosworks up from bedlamhouse and ladyat‘s home on Christmas Day. I arrived as the family gift exchange was in full swing, and so I stood and watched a while waiting for Terence to be done. And watching it made me feel…not bad, really…but somehow that while I was certainly welcome to be there, I wasn’t really a part of what was going on. I was an observer, not a participant. And I realised at that moment what I deeply, truly, achingly missed from my own life — that sense of total belonging. I’m not entirely sure I feel it anywhere, any more.

kitanzi and I have our own little Christmas traditions. We’re low-key people, and we do low-key things. But there’s a part of me that really misses the noisy, warm, chaotic love of Christmas morning with the whole family gathered for food and gifts and running around the yard.

That’s what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown.

In Rememberance of the Day

I wrote these words eight years ago. They’re still true today.

I don’t have a problem with remembering the terrible human tragedy that occurred eight years ago today. I think it would do us all good to pause and reflect on how terrible events can bring us together, and to remember what we learned, as a nation, as a community, as a people, about the world.

But I also think we should spend more time looking forward, not looking back.

We should spend more time making grand plans and executing them, inviting our souls and being creative, and living life to the fullest.

We should spend more time doing small, special things for our friends, our family, our loved ones.

We should spend more time laughing, and making music, and increasing the joy in the people around us.

We should spend more time helping each other, and holding each other, and saying “I love you” to each other.

Because at the end of the day, each other is all we ever really have.

The Killjoy Effect

That annual celebration of gladiatorial conquest and capitalist art known as the Superbowl was last night. During the hours-long telecast, I’m told, the New Orleans Saints defeated the much-favoured Indianapolis Colts, providing a sense of civic pride and joie de verve to a city that hasn’t had much cause to celebrate in recent years. Well done, and congratulations to the winning team for their accomplishments.

But that’s not really what I wanted to talk about.

Today, as I scroll through various blogs and journals, interspersed between the reactions to the game by fans of all stripes are the messages from the cynically aloof, who write paragraphs to inform us about how they did not watch That Game at all, nor did they check to see who won, because they, you see, could not care less about (spit) football.

I find this an interesting phenomenon which is not restricted to sport. If you look at any pursuit which inspires a passionate following, you’ll find a group who defines their superiority to the hoi polloi in terms of The Sort Of Thing I Don’t Care For.

I admit, I can be as prone to it as anyone. Yesterday, my friend Joey asked on Facebook: “Wasn’t there some sort of big football game today?”, and with a sly wink and straight face, I replied, “Yes, there was. Chelsea beat Arsenal, 2-0 :)”

There’s a certain sort of tribe recognition at work there, a signal to one another that we’re in that set of people who isn’t invested in the Big Thing Everyone Else Is Doing. When I see articles about the Twilight craze, I wrinkle my nose a bit and shake my head, having a firm and considered distaste for a series of books and movies I have not actually read or seen, nor do I have any particular inclination to do so.

In some ways, this is a very natural thing for us to do. No matter how much we desperately wish it was otherwise, we are shaped inevitably by our culture, often in ways that we don’t immediately comprehend or even notice. When we do see a shaping force we dislike, we take a forthrightly opposing position to it (and thus, are indirectly influenced by it, if only by creating our sense of opposition.)

But like most behaviours, some people take it too far. A sly wink and a quip insufficient to show they are not part of the maddening crowd, they write bitter essays about their studied indifference to the entire thing and how they never could see what anyone sees in it anyway. This both annoys and fascinates me. It fascinates me because what’s strikingly obvious about these little screeds is not that the writer doesn’t care about the subject in question, but rather it is very important to the writer that you know he doesn’t care. Someone who honestly doesn’t care about something would simply go on about their day, not caring.

It annoys me because while it’s ok for one to be archly solipsistic in one’s own blog; that is, after all, what blogs are for, it’s positively obnoxious when it’s done in actual conversation. If two people are having an excitable conversation about a topic of great interest to them, and you walk up and say, ‘Oh, you’re talking about $TOPIC. I never really understood what people see in that. It just doesn’t interest me.”, you have effectively a) derailed the original conversation, which was presumably being enjoyed by the original participants, and b) focused the conversation on yourself. The people you’ve now interrupted may feel the need to defend their love of $TOPIC, or they may feel they must change the topic, because someone has inserted themselves uninvited into their chat and declared the current subject not only uninteresting, but unworthy of the attention of anyone with more than a marginal level of sophistication.

There is a name for this sort of person: a killjoy. Killjoy is a great word, because it requires no explanation. A killjoy is someone who kills joy. It is someone who manages to make themselves feel better by holding themselves above whatever it is that anyone else enjoys, and makes wry and cutting remarks about the sort of people who like *that* sort of thing. (One manifestation of this particular personality is the Cool Hipster, whose primary criteria for declaring something art is whether or not anyone other than himself has ever heard of the artist. Many brilliant artists cease to be brilliant, in the Hipster’s world, the moment they actually achieve recognition outside the small and insular circle of the Hipster and his friends.)

Now, one can certainly have any sort of opinion on any sort of topic that one wants. It is, as they say, a free country. But the next time you feel the need to insert yourself into a conversation just to express your alleged indifference to the topic at hand, ask yourself: “What am I trying to accomplish here?” If you are genuinely curious as to what someone else sees in it, perhaps you can have a useful conversation and walk away with some new understanding about the subject you didn’t have before. If, only the other hand, all you’re really wanting to do is demonstrate how insufferably superior you are to the unwashed masses, do everyone a favour and just walk away and wallow quietly in your smug grandiosity. No one wants to hear it, and there’s little enough joy in this world already without someone coming along and draining it from the room.

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