Monday, May 14, 2007


The Strawman officially turned three on April 18th, which is, in the fickleness and celerity of our current culture, not an insignificant accomplishment. Though, really, what is prideful in celebrating a blog, as dazzling as it is/was at times, left idle, sometimes for months, vacant and seemingly vanquished?

Well, if the absences were necessary and likely unavoidable; if the content produced lacked a certain amount of timeliness and topicality (not merely transcriptions of the apparently endless transcriptions of the apparently endless events, everywhere, that announce themselves as news and boast of their worthiness and therefore require, if not demand, our attention); if, importantly, there was a thoughtfulness and care to both the writing and the intellectual curiosity that provoked the writing (The Subject/The Occasion); and if, finally, it were not an imposition, a joyless task, merely an extension of the modern’s anxious busy work that evades peacefulness or solitude for want of excitement, for fear of loneliness, then pride can be found in small places.

I can admit, somewhat abashedly, that if the amount of writing on this blog, since its inception, has decreased, then, even if by small measures, the quality and interestingness of the content, and hopefully that of the writer, as well, has increased, or matured.

And yet, this blog’s initial mandate was to, as I recall, “pump out as much commentary as is humanly possible-- or at least until I run out of things to comment on”; and while that was a foolhardy scatological salvo into the blinds of the blogosphere, those were the heady and exuberant days when the transcription of the transcription wasn’t banal.

Indeed, in the three years that have elapsed there has been no shortage of available commentary, nearly all of it redundant. Why the commentary is all too available is obvious: the proliferation of New Media platforms (Blogs, Podcast, Vlogs, etc.) and the growing hegemony of content hosts as a means for this dissemination of comment (viz. You tube and Blogger, among others). The growth has been exponential, dizzying.

And while the commentary can neither be entirely discounted nor categorically merited, as a social phenomenon it is far too interesting and historically significant not to reckon with. En masse, a particular demographic from various industrialized countries (U.S, Canada, Europe, Japan) are externalizing thought. What would formally be considered diary entries, quiet ruminations for the writer’s own self-satisfaction (and likely for posterity) appear on the Internet as blog posts, a great number of which go unread.

To be sure, the fact that one’s work can go unread is one of the many appealing qualities of the blog. Additionally, the speed with which an errant thought on Thai cuisine or some effusive praise about The 40 Year Old Virgin or, likewise, a piercing meditation of Kant’s categorical imperatives can be put into writing, often ungrammatically (in both senses), and published online is head turning. The blog, it can be said, is impersonal and conversational in tone and operates on the contradictory assumption that it is both closed off from an audience and laid bear to the world; a diary. But diaries are written to be read, whether by the writer alone or the audience the writer imagines to be witnessing the act. Thus, much of the available comment, if its intentions are advertised or not, seeks some type of recognition.

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The push for human recognition, which finds its starting point in the Enlightenment with the individual’s autonomy from the monarch, and consequently the monarch’s separation from the state, placed individual liberty at the apex of political thought. Technology, for its part, has been nothing if not the extension of thought, an apparatus to realize in some efficient manner our mental desires and to relieve our material constraints. Scientific rationalism (the application of general science and technologies to the practical problems of modern daily life) and the individual’s political, and therefore private, autonomy have created the modern circumstances for an unprecedented new form of self-expression.

Though, naturally, the access to this form of self-expression is predicated on sociological and economic realities. Blogs are predominately written/accessed by the middleclass; their political and cultural sensibilities generally shape the normative landscape of the blogosphere. Much of the blogosphere is simply many, many over-loud opinions and comments that differ only in degree, but not in kind.

There are so many positions one can take about the Iraq War, and I’ve taken all of them. From pacifist, to Humanitarian interventionist, to the rouge Hawk, and finally, regrettably, to Apathy and Fatigue, the evolution has been a tiring one. The blogosphere, most particularly in its public affairs and political enclaves, requires a discipline of thought, of totalizing omni-reflective thought, both intellectually exhilarating and emotionally, and oftentimes physically, exhausting. One must have a position on everything. And quickly.

If journalism is the first draft of history, blogs are the notes, the kinetic sparks of history the Organism in movement. And no reliable or substantial critical analysis of society, of politics, of culture, can accommodate these demands, nor should it ever aspire to. Which is to say that, while the platforms for New Media are a considerably promising in the development of a participatory citizenship (albeit limited in accessibility), the attendant atmosphere of sound, fury, and celerity tends to be noxious to sober, unadorned thought.

Print publications like the New Yorker and The New Republic (Old Media) who publish long articles and essays are having to contend with the speed of the blogosphere. Going against conventional wisdom, The New Republic (recently purchased by Canadian media conglomerate CanWest) will now publish bi-weekly, on glossier paper, and double its content, which, in a time where speed carries more currency than thoughtful opinion, is welcomed.

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But isn’t this necessarily an excuse or rationalization for inactivity, for pointless navel gazing while crenels of the political and cultural events of our time pop furiously? Yes and No. The dynamism of New Media platforms greatly narrows the gap of event and coverage to near simultaneity. As quickly as it occurs, it is reported, chewed over, hastily contextualized and then re-contextualized. The media culture is ravenous, nearly cannibalistic, implicating all, consuming everything. An event is devoured and quickly excreted in almost light speed, never truly digested in the process.

This is where, I suspect, deliberative, dry analysis intercedes, to collect all of these undigested and indigestible parts of social material, as paleontologist do, and create an explicable if not entirely comprehensive narrative of the components, the players, and, often, the sheer randomness of past events. So, ultimately, it is not a zero-sum game where New Media will win simply by foot speed. Instead, Old and New media can act as adjuncts to each other while competing for the same audience and complimenting the desires of their readership.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

On Faces: Facebook/False Intimacies

(Some preliminary and still gestating thoughts)

I hate social networking. Only after much scorn and derision and coercion did I relent and place a profile on Facebook. Naturally it was under a fake name with no picture and no likelihood of activity. Not so, it seems. It began with a little gravity, things pulling themselves to me, disparate pieces of a life left behind shifting orbit, coming closer. People I had no intention or desire to ever talk to again started "poking" me, importuning, insisting that we be "friends", again. And who could deny a classmate from elementary school, who's heart is so cold, so closed off? Who could begrudge us that innocence, that naivety, of secret hand shakes, ashen legs, red faces?

No one. Not then. We were young then. But now? What are we after? No one is denied; everyone must enter your life again, and enter with a crooked smile and false bonhomie, or you will pay with psychic dread. Am I a bad person? Is my network of friends inclusive enough? If she is on his list and I am on his list, will she understand why she can't be on my list? And then thought collapse on itself, to the subject: why am I not on his or her list? What is my worth?

And suddenly your social currency is only validated, or not, when you check your inbox, your mind doing revolutions, needlessly, about people you may or may not ever see again, physically. But they will haunt you each time you visit your page, their words will bleed through your wall, offering intimacies to strangers, to you. This person you went to Univeristy with; this person you meet through an organization; this person who knows this person you know; this person who knows far too much about you.

Anything pushed to its extreme winds up having its opposite effect. When at first you wanted everyone closer, just at your finger tips, just in case, just to type those easy wittcisms and then return to more important things--you are now bound. Either be online and not reply; be busy and not reply; or disappear entirely. This is not a community of fellow travlers; this is the tyrany of the group.