12/31/2009 More from Michelle Lang’s “Afghanistan Dispatches”
A few days before her own death, journalist Michelle Lang blogged about the passing of Lt. Andrew Nuttall, a fellow blogger. Both died via IED.
“A ‘Rough’ Year in Afghanistan”
By Michelle Lang in Afghanistan Sun, Dec 27 2009
As 2009 draws to a close, Canada’s top general conceded the past 12 months were “rough.”
Speaking to reporters in Kandahar this weekend, Gen. Walter Natynczyk, the country’s chief of defence staff, said the growing danger in Afghanistan and problems with corruption in the summer presidential election made the past year a difficult one. You can read more here.
His comments follow the death last Wednesday of Lieut. Andrew Nuttall, 30, who was killed when an improvised explosive device detonated as he was leading a foot patrol in the Panjwaii district. Nuttall was, by all accounts, a well-liked young officer who was bright and athletic.
At a ramp ceremony last week, attended by thousands of NATO soldiers and civilians who work at Kandahar airfield, Padre Steve Defer said Nuttall loved the outdoors and loved to surf off the shores of Vancouver Island, where he grew up. “The waves at Tofino,” said Defer, “will never be the same.”
12/30/2009 RIP Michelle Lang, journalist and blogger
Canadian journalist Michelle Lang, who began reporting from Kandahar on December 20, was killed today, along with four Canadian soldiers she was accompanying on a routine patrol that ended when an IED exploded beneath their vehicle. She wrote 7 blog posts during what was to be a two-week tour in Afghanistan. Here is the most recent of her “Afghanistan Dispatches” for the Calgary Herald.
By Michelle Lang in Afghanistan Tue, Dec 29 2009
On a recent trip outside of Kandahar Airfield, I started talking with a lady who had an unusual patch on her body armour. It was a skull with the words, “combat barber” underneath.
It reminded me of a story I had read several years ago about Canadian Forces’ efforts to recruit hair stylists to work in Afghanistan.
My editor had asked me to write a story about civilians who come to work in Kandahar and I thought combat barbers would make for an interesting interview.
Yesterday, I spoke with Vanessa Mead, 25, from Fredericton, N.B., who came to Afghanistan one month ago to cut hair.
12/30/2009 New Year’s Eve with Anderson Cooper (not) and Walter Benjamin
And herewith I make good on a tacit promise made in my last post, namely to reproduce Walter Benjamin’s “The Writer’s Technique in Thirteen Theses,” which I leave to the reader to align with Stephen King’s tips for writers, addressed earlier. Benjamin’s theses appear in One-Way Street, which is included in Volume 1 of his Selected Writings, ed. Marcus Bullock and Michael W. Jennings (Harvard University Press, 1996, 458-459). I thank my dear friend Tom Levin for flipping them to me nearly instantaneously following an email query just now.
I. Anyone intending to embark on a major work should be lenient with himself and, having completed a stint, deny himself nothing that will not prejudice the next.
II. Talk about what you have written, by all means, but do not read from it while the work is in progress. Every gratification procured in this way will slacken your tempo. If this regime is followed, the growing desire to communicate will become in the end a motor for completion.
III. In your working conditions avoid everyday mediocrity. Semi-relaxation, to a background of insipid sounds, is degrading. On the other hand, accompaniment by an etude or a cacophony of voices can become as significant for work as the perceptible silence of the night. If the latter sharpens the inner ear, the former acts as a touchstone for a diction ample enough to bury even the most wayward sounds.
IV. Avoid haphazard writing materials. A pedantic adherence to certain papers, pens, inks is beneficial. No luxury, but an abundance of these utensils is indispensable.
V. Let no thought pass incognito, and keep your notebook as strictly as the authorities keep their register of aliens.
VI. Keep your pen aloof from inspiration, which it will then attract with magnetic power. The more circumspectly you delay writing down an idea, the more maturely developed it will be on surrendering itself. Speech conquers thought, but writing commands it.
VII. Never stop writing because you have run out of ideas. Literary honour requires that one break off only at an appointed moment (a mealtime, a meeting) or at the end of the work.
VIII. Fill the lacunae of inspiration by tidily copying out what is already written. Intuition will awaken in the process.
IX. Nulla dies sine linea — but there may well be weeks.
X. Consider no work perfect over which you have not once sat from evening to broad daylight.
XI. Do not write the conclusion of a work in your familiar study. You would not find the necessary courage there.
XII. Stages of composition: idea — style — writing. The value of the fair copy is that in producing it you confine attention to calligraphy. The idea kills inspiration, style fetters the idea, writing pays off style.
XIII. The work is the death mask of its conception.
As a holiday bonus (since so many bloggers seem to be offering them), I will append Benjamin’s theses on the critic’s techniques, which also number thirteen.
The Critic’s Technique in Thirteen Theses
I. The critic is the strategist in the literary battle.
II. He who cannot take sides should keep silent.
III. The critic has nothing in common with the interpreter of past cultural epochs.
IV. Criticism must talk the language of artists. For the terms of the cenacle are slogans. And only in slogans is the battle-cry heard.
V. “Objectivity” must always be sacrificed to partisanship, if the cause fought for merits this.
VI. Criticism is a moral question. If Goethe misjudged Holderlin and Kleist, Beethoven and Jean Paul, his morality and not his artistic discernment was at fault.
VII. For the critic his colleagues are the higher authority. Not the public. Still less posterity.
VIII. Posterity forgets or acclaims. Only the critic judges in face of the author.
IX. Polemics mean to destroy a book in a few of its sentences. The less it has been studies the better. Only he who can destroy can criticize.
X. Genuine polemics approach a book as lovingly as a cannibal spices a baby.
XI. Artistic enthusiasm is alien to the critic. In his hand the art©work is the shining sword in the battle of the minds.
XII. The art of the critic in a nutshell: to coin slogans without betraying ideas. The slogans of an inadequate criticism peddle ideas to fashion.
XIII. The public must always be proved wrong, yet always feel represented by the critic.
This seems to me a fitting offering at the threshold of a new year and decade.
12/29/09 My first brush with Stephen King
Having said that (cf. my post from earlier today), I did break down and read a few of the posts in my inbox promising to make me a better blogger in 2010, and actually found a list that made some sense. I’m pasting it below for my own reference as well as for readers who might find it of interest. You can find it at http://www.howtomakemyblog.com/book-review-13-blogging-lessons-learned-from-stephen-kings-on-writing/ I’m thinking of revising my avoid-reading-Stephen-King-at-all-cost in light of what follows.
13 blogging lessons learned from Stephen King’s On Writing
Stephen King’s book On Writing is a very good read. It is targeted towards writers and wanna-be writers, but it is a very inspiring book for anyone.
As bloggers are writers, this book can teach you several lessons and can inspire you in your blogging. Here are the 13 lessons I have picked up from reading Stephen King’s On Writing.
- Just start it. Whatever you plan or wish to do, just start doing it. Take the first step. Start chasing your dream. When you’re brave enough to start, you will be able to succeed and you will make it happen.
- Follow your passion. No matter what people say, always do what you like to do. Stephen King’s family, teachers etc all said that he was wasting his time writing, but he kept going on as he believed in it himself.
- Do it for joy. If there is no joy in it, it’s just no good. Writing is not about making money, getting famous, or making friends. Writing blog posts should be inspired play and it should not feel like work. When you do it for joy, you can do it forever, no matter what.
- Stick to it. Never give up on your dream. No matter how hard it seems. Good writing is the result of thousands of hours that the writer has spent composing and the tens of thousands of hours spent reading compositions of others.
- Don’t be afraid of rejection. Is nobody reading your blog yet? If you really enjoy it, it shouldn’t matter to you. Just keep working on producing new material and work on winning blog readers one by one.
- Find your own writing space. When writing, get rid of the whole world. Find your own writing space, close the door and concentrate. Eliminate all the distractions. Turn off the TV. It will improve the quality of your life, save you a lot of time which you can spend on working on your passion.
- Make it unique. Blend in your own personal knowledge in your writing. What you know makes you unique. You have your own thoughts, interests and concerns. Be brave and tell people what you think and what you know.
- Make your writing reader-friendly. Just by looking at the text you can see if it is going to be easy or hard to read it. Easy stuff contains lots of short paragraphs and a lot of white space.
- Edit yourself. Write a first draft, get away from it for a bit and do something else. Then come back and read it over. Fix the spelling mistakes, and pick up inconsistencies. You need to revise for length. Omit needless words. Cut the bullshit, cut the fluff from your writing. 1st draft – 10% = 2nd draft.
- You cannot please everyone. You can’t please all the readers all the time, you can’t even please some of the readers all the time, but you should always try to please some of the readers some of the time.
- Teach yourself. Forget the classes, the lessons, the seminars… you learn your trade best by putting the effort into it and doing it. The most valuable lessons of all are the ones you teach yourself.
- Write a lot. Don’t talk about it, just do it. Your time is valuable and you need to understand that the hours you spend talking about writing is time you don’t spend actually doing it.
- Read a lot. If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have time or tools to write either. Everything you read has its own lessons. Reading good stuff helps you aim higher and work harder. You see what can be done, and experience different styles. Reading bad stuff helps you recognize bad things and helps you steer clear of them in your own work.
And yes, bloggers are (for the most part) writers. Nothing more and, importantly, nothing less.
Memo to self: retrieve Benjamin’s tips for writers for an upcoming post.
12/28/09 Blogging in the decade to come
Over the last few weeks, my email inbox has been brimming over with posts from other bloggers proffering advice (and flogging books) on how to blog bigger and better in the new year. The majority of these posts take the form of lists of what to do differently (which undoubtedly includes translating my sometimes cumbersome paragraphs into something more telegraphic). I confess that, while I have deleted only a few (whose sources I don’t entirely trust), I haven’t been able to bring myself to read the ones that still await my attention. There are a number of reasons for this, some of them obvious (celebrations, family time, year-end exhaustion). The less obvious ones would, I think, appear on the radar of the author of a comment on an earlier post of mine, which I reproduce here in grateful acknowledgement of its thoughtfulness and timeliness.
Oh dear, sounds like you have hit on a rather formulaic view of blogging (if you substitute ‘formulaic’ with ‘wrong’ I won’t disagree much in this case). Your blog is your castle – to paraphrase the English phrase. It is your space to deliberate, write, share, rant, shout, or even offend, if you can face the fallout. Interactivity is overrated and over-used. Sharing and collaboration is often a shield used by people who have little original thought or are afraid to be alone. (This applies only to individuals, my criticism of organisations for lack of interaction, sharing and openness is known.) I think blogs like yours are what still keeps me interested in blogging (I started blogging in 2002 and have seen several waves of people arriving to the blogosphere, each bringing their own assumptions, objectives and experiences. Darren Rowse is but one of them.) I am interested in thoughtful writing, longer forms than just a few bits regurgitated by many bloggers. I like to see ideas that would not have seen the light of day, if not for the blog form and the drive of the author/blogger to capture them for their own reasons, not to please some audience. There are as many types of blogs and ways to write them as there are books and writings styles. They share one thing in common – they are expressions of individuals, not of institutions. That to me is revolutionary! They allow us to drive our ‘identity’, as defined by ourselves. This is one of the most valuable things the web has enabled. So if you decide to write only interminable screeds based on your innermost thoughts and notes, that’s fine by me! The good news is that you will get audience that will value your blog exactly for that. There is no point in writing a blog to fit an imaginary audience. Your blog is an expression of things you want to express and the rest of the world can shut up and read. Or ignore at will. Of course, there are a few things you can do to make your blog more visible and discoverable to others. For example, I found you because you linked to my blog in one of your posts and I liked it enough to explore your blog further. I might even subscribe to it. 🙂
And here is an excerpt from my reply to Adriana Lukas:
To have an indication that I can go on writing without the reader in mind, and still garner readers like you, makes a big difference.
This will still hold true in the decade to come.
If this is off-da-hook, I’m hanging up…. But rather than resume my sporadic rant, already well-documented on Twitter, I thought it better to share a useful year-end account of the debates surrounding Twitter’s imposition (sorry, implementation) of its “Retweet” feature, and the resistance of users adhering to the consensual RT practice generated by themselves. The latter, while requiring slightly more effort than a couple of clicks (since when did copy/paste become labour-intensive?), allowed for both off-the-cuff and more thoughtful editorializing and contributed, sometimes significantly, to the ongoing conversations facilitated by Twitter. http://blog.sxdsalon.org/2009/12/03/rt-vs-retweet/
Posted on December 3, 2009 by pete
This is a post about “retweeting,” a beautifully evolved and delicate little social dance called that Twitter users invented, and Twitter’s so-called “Retweet” feature, which stomps on it.
In this post, I’ll call the original, organically evolved practice “RT” (as it is usually written in tweets), and Twitter’s confusingly named mis-feature “Retweet” (with uppercase “R”).
An RT comes from somebody I follow. The reason I follow people on Twitter is because I want to know what they’re thinking and what they want to say. An RT is a way for somebody to repeat (and perhaps change, perhaps not) what somebody else has said, and give them credit for it. But it’s important to me that it’s not just a little bauble they find interesting (that’s what Favorites are for), but that they’re willing to enter it into public record as something they’re willing to repeat, in their voice.
On the other hand, a Retweet comes from somebody I’m not following. Yeah, sure it’s interesting to see new people on Twitter — but I’m deliberate about who I’m following and who I’m not. If I’m not following someone, I don’t want to see them in my timeline. Let me go see who they are and what they’re about, then maybe I’ll follow them. But please, I don’t want random people popping up in my timeline.
Darn it Twitter – “retweet” Meant Something Else!
The original RT practice evolved as a set of social gestures:
- repeating what someone else said
- giving someone else credit
- sometimes giving multiple people credit, in an RT chain
- editing original sayings to fit in 140 characters after adding the “RT” string and the @-sign attributions
- editing original sayings to add commentary or change emphasis
Creating a good RT is an editorial, curatorial and social process. Should I give someone credit, or not? How many people should I give credit? Should I edit it to punch it up, or add emphasis?
Seeing someone else take my tweets and add and shape them makes me feel good. It’s an act of love and co-creation. The RT practice works the way people have talked and chatted with each other, about each other, since people became human and started talking.
Even seeing somebody retweet something poorly — missing an attribution, or editing badly — was a meaningful social gesture. Did they just not know the conventions? In that case, it’s a great opportunity to be social with them and help them out. Are they just mean-spirited, and they don’t really care about other people? Bad retweeters could communicate that, as well.
On the other hand, a Retweet is a simple, mechanical indication that someone liked something. It’s wonderful that social media systems like Flickr, Delicious and Facebook allow you to see what other people think is interesting, with “Like” and “Favorite” affordances — they’re great mechanisms for discovery. Slashdot and Digg are entire services built just on that concept. And of course, Twitter itself has a Favorite feature that they haven’t really exposed as well as they could have for readers.
I don’t have any problem with the Like/Favorite affordances. But @Twitter, for shame — why would you name your Like feature “Retweet,” and completely confuse the wonderful social practices that had evolved so beautifully on your service?
But I Just Want to Share Interesting Tweets Easily
It was a little bit of work to make a regular RT with the standard tools — cutting, pasting, making sure you got the attribution correctly. But third-party Twitter clients and Twitter add-ons like Greasemonkey scripts included easy single-click RT features, which went along with the original social practice, and didn’t break it like the Retweet feature did.
Ease of use doesn’t explain why the new Retweet feature breaks all the sociality of the old RT convention.
Business Model; Relevance and Ranking
I would guess that at least some of the motivation behind Twitter’s implementation of the Retweet feature is that they think it will be good for their business. When everybody is using an automated mechanism, Twitter can tell just by counting button clicks what’s being repeated most often. It automatically aggregates popularity, which of course has some relation to relevance.
I don’t have any problem with Twitter counting popularity of tweets. But again, they should use a Like function, or their Favorite function, for that, instead of bastardizing retweets.
References and Further Discussion
The discussion around the Retweet mis-feature has been ongoing for months. Here are some pointers to other voices.
- Why Retweet works the way it does (Evan Williams, Twitter co-founder and CEO)
- danah boyd – “Disappointed by the Twitter RT implementation, not surprisingly. It doesn’t actually support the way people RT. See: Tweet Tweet Retweet: Conversational Aspects of Retweeting on Twitter (PDF)”
- Twitter: #SaveReTweets (act.ly)
- Twitter Plans to Mangle ReTweets #SaveReTweets (Dan Zarrella)
- To #SaveReTweets, Make Sure Everyone Knows How to ReTweet (Dan Zarrella)
- Retweets Revisited: Commenting on Retweets is Important (Mashable)
- Twitter Retweets: Thanks but No Thanks (PC Magazine)
- Ray’s 2.0: Twitter lesson I learned from Denise (@dhowell): the awesomeness of retweets (Ray’s 2.0)
- Ray’s 2.0: Advice: don’t use Twitter’s so called “retweet”! (Ray’s 2.0)
- Why Twitter’s New Retweet Feature Sucks (Outspoken Media)
- Twitter’s new retweet feature is the worst ever. (Twitter Watch)
- Resist or collaborate: How will you ReTweet? (fledgling)
- Twitterloo! How to send Twitter on a hasty RT. (Beg to Differ)
- Twitter Tries To Change Retweets, Doesn’t Get The Social In Social Media (Business Mind Hacks)
- Some thoughts on Twitters new ReTweet feature (Sean Bonner)
Some representative tweets from the last month or so that were posted under the #saveretweets hashtag.
RenVonVit – RT @RayBeckerman: I strongly urge my friends who RT NOT to use the Twitter pseudo-retweet button. #saveretweets
RickyMaveety – @RayBeckerman I saw that feedback request. I gave them feedback. They won’t like it, but I told them the truth. #saveretweets
lacouvee – @dingbatkaren nothing to YAY about!! They just don’t get it #saveretweets
TomRaftery – @franksting Well, it is by a ZenDesk webform. Tbh, I don’t care how it is received, as long as Twitter fix the RTs #saveretweets
eviltofu – RT @ctham: @GrowlyBear I’d rather it does not. I’d rather copy-n-paste entire tweets than use the new RT button. #saveretweets
erika613 – RT @queerunity RT @RayBeckerman Don’t use Twitter’s version of the “retweet” http://is.gd/59hDD #saveretweets
kootenayrev – @buzzbishop So do. Many are boycotting the new RT and just sticking to the old way of RTing. #saveretweets http://bit.ly/Bg75c
triumph68 – @LesbianDad If you want to add comment or alter orig tweet at all (+some other things), use orig “RT” format not the button. #saveretweets
pkieltyka – RT @mhp: Please #SaveReTweets and do away the unwanted implementation RT @jack: Anyone know how to turn off the auto RT function in Twe …
jimrhiz – Twitter clients should keep original retweet mechanisms as well as canned uncommentable version #SaveReTweets @echofon
JulieDeYoung – Thanks, I agree: RT @RayBeckerman What to do with Twitter’s pseudo-retweet button: ignore it http://twurl.nl/jakme5 #saveretweets
RayBeckerman – #saveretweets RT @Kcecelia Continue to:not use new RT,vocally object,provide objections to techies such as,e.g, @davewiner to note/pass on.
RayBeckerman – Twitter tip:Don’t use so-called “retweet” button on Twitter’s web site http://is.gd/4YRfB #twitterfail #saveretweets
cjoehl – RT @Strwbrry_Blonde IT HAPPENED. retweet feature pushed @michellemalkin into my feed. I AM UNFOLLOWING YOU ALL. #saveretweets #p2
CloudK9 – Agree! Using “Genuine Retweet” for this! RT @Andjelija Dear @twitter please #saveretweets. I’m not liking the new system AT ALL. Sorry ;-(
sarachapman – removing comments on twitter’s new retweet function is a joke- whole point of a RT is you’re reacting to something you’ve read #saveretweets
Nanmac3109 – AGAIN, I do not like the new retweet function. I don’t like for ppl to appear on my timeline who I do not follow. grrrrrrr #saveretweets
AmishPhoneBook – RT @NYT_JenPreston When I see all the smart things our readers say, I hope no one ever uses new RT feature. #saveretweets
JessicaPuchala – #saveretweets !!- seriously! — RT @Twitter_Tips: New Twitter RT’s Don’t Get The “Social” In “Social” Media: http://j.mp/2dMiW9
alison99 – Agree 100% RT @LisaBarone: Why Twitter’s New Retweet Feature Sucks http://tinyurl.com/ybs2mft #justsayin #saveretweets
davechapman – @Twitter_Tips I hate that you use the new-style RT so much. My feed is a mess now! I’m gonna unfollow you unless you stop #saveretweets
Makurrah – RT @kootenayrev: Thinking of un-following anyone who uses the new RT feature. A wretched feature. #saveretweets http://bit.ly/Bg75c
sookieverseblog – Hate it. Hate it. HATE. IT. #SaveReTweets
ElVeiga – RT @davechapman: @twitter @ev wanted to let you know I really don’t like the new retweet feature. please reconsider it #saveretweets
jmcesteves – Rerepeating 🙂 RT @plasticmadness I hate to repeat myself, and I hate the word hate, but I hate you damn new RT ways! Grrrr… #saveretweets
denvan – @brandexpression Re. New RT a joke. Nope: I’ve got a growing list of 10+ anti-RT blogs: http://tinyurl.com/yfkega8 #saveretweets
kootenayrev – Thinking of un-following anyone who uses the new RT feature. A wretched feature. #saveretweets http://bit.ly/Bg75c
Makurrah – @HowardKurtz #SaveReTweets and check my new blog post on ” Resistance or Collaboration: How will you ReTweet? http://bit.ly/4j76mO
Stargirlie713 – RT @Shoq: #DieProjectRetweetDie #DieProjectRetweetDie #DieProjectRetweetDie #DieProjectRetweetDie http://bit.ly/z2bYr #saveretweets
AmishPhoneBook – RT @rochtrev: RT @several_ RT @PkaPk: Me 2. RT @bytesize23b: @twitter I oppose new RT feature.I wnt 2 C names of ALL who RT. #SaveReTweets
phoenix_drums – I like MC Hammer as much as the next person, but I don’t recall following the dude. #saveretweets
AmishPhoneBook – RT @rrcarter: @TheDLC I also HATE the retweet function! It’s crappy. Go here to sign a petition against it: http://act.ly/er #SaveRetweets
snugglezz – RT @RayBeckerman: RT @mlharr i noticed w/ the RT button we cannot comment anymore 😦 #sad #twitter @ev @twitter #saveretweets #twitterfail
andrewmueller – @DenVan Worse than that they are saying “we know what is best for users” That said, it may be best for their bus model #SaveRetweets
Just_Vampires – Congrats @twitter – the dumb beta RTs ensure I shall no longer tweet via the web interface. Here’s to tweetdeck and echofon #saveretweets
mireyamayor – Isn’t the personalization what makes you stand out in social media? Why take this critical feature away? @RayBeckerman #saveretweets @ev
RayBeckerman – RT @musingvirtual: RT @GraceMcDunnough Twitter Tries To Change Retweets, Doesn’t Get The Social In Social Media #SaveRetweets
RayBeckerman – RT @MissShuganah: Too bad @ev and @twitter have no competition. Then they wouldn’t be so cavalier about community. #saveretweets Pls RT
OscarB – Ok, the new official RT system is a #BIG #FAIL #saveretweets
tamaracharmed – lLOL! RT @dbugliari: Came home to @Alyssa_milano dressed in black. Apparently, she’s mourning the loss of retweet’s integrity. #saveretweets
Latimore – RT @Jason_Pollock: #SaveRetweets: I think since Twitter is ruining RTs that many will just stop RTing as much since the new feature is s …
Stwo – RT @andrewmueller: @twitter who did U talk to when determining how2implement the new RT function,it certainly wasn’t UR users! #SaveRetweets
reeph – #SaveRetweets @Jason_Pollock I hate the new RT. I don’t like emphasis on the original poster’s handle. Plus, let me edit freely!
12/25/2009 RIP Lt. Andrew Nuttall, soldier and blogger
Pasted below is the final post on the blog kept by Lt. Andrew Nuttall ofthe Canadian Forces, who, together with his ANA partner, lost his life to an IED a few days ago.
Update from Afghanistan 4 December 1st, 2009 Posted in Military, Personal/Website| No Comments » (I’ve put some more pictures up on flickr!) Hi all! In order to be as open as I can i’m now going to post these updates on my website, although I am going to have to be a bit less specific, but i promise it won’t take away from the story. As well I’m posting some new pictures with this update so it should be a good one! The last I left you was saying I was moving to a new house with no internet. Well many things have changed, yet many things stay the same. The new place was working out excellently for us, and a platoon of ANA (afghan national army) which we started to work with very closely. We spent many long days fixing and improving our compound, as well as the typical patroling around our AO. The situation around this new home was much more tense and fragile than our last, the last time the locals saw any uniformed troops was some americans who ran through the place guns blazing. As such they were quite wary, and so were we because of the high amount of insurgent presense we were expecting. Either way though during all of the days we’ve spent there nothing kinetic (aka fighting) has gone on, and that is relatively typical of the situation here. On one side the people are frightened, impoverished, and seek nothing but safety and prosperity for their families. On the other side is a very small subset of a combination of extreme Salafist muslims (aka seeking to impose an extremist version of islam on the entire world), anti-western mercenaries, and misguided brainwashed (generally) youths that utilize cowardice hit-and-run and ied tactics in order to sway the civilain population of afghanistan and north america to pull their troops out. Then there is us in the middle, an array of nations trying to combine our traditionally conventional forces and conduct combined operations with the young but capable ANA (and young but immature Afghan National Police, ANP), in a barren country with many more needs than just militaristic. Complicated, yes, confusing, only a bit, frustrating, unfortunatly too much. But back to my situation, I spent my first bit of time there talking a lot to the locals together with the ANA. One of our biggest force multipliers is the combined arms team we’ve got working together, the CIMIC people (aka reconstruction and projects), PSYOPS (aka local messaging), engineers, armoured people, and the afghan government (ANA and ANP). Together we can really do some good, when the people are on board. Sometimes the people aren’t as what was happening with me, either their frightened or don’t realize what we can do and it takes time to convince them through actions that we are there to stay and not gone with the next change in winds. So as I was beginning to make some heady with the locals and get more information/weapon and ied caches and such, the platoon recieved another surprise. We had to move another time! Now usually moving around is no big deal, but it definetly throws a wrench into the plans (plus we’ve got to fit in our foosball table!). Either way we found ourselves moving not too far down the road, which works out well as the new place is close to the village we’re trying to improve and is more comfortable. I tried to include as many pictures of the place we’re in now, most of the troops live in the mud hut, while the hq staff is outside in the tent. The mud hut themselves are only a bit dusty (and mouse infested), but are really warm at night and cooler during the day (perfect for afghanistan weather). Plus we’re slowly building up some other nice morale boosting amenities, warm water for showers, a dvd player, a gym with actual weights (instead of sandbags), and of course we’ve got the foosball table and dart board plus many board games. The longer we stay here the better it gets.The other big event that happened was Eid. Its the muslim version of christmas, all of the locals will go home with their families and cook big meals. I had the lucky chance to be at 2 different Eid dinner celebrations with the ANA, where we butchered some local goat and sheep, boiled it in a curry like water, and had it with the best tasting basil i’ve had, of course lots of rice, and huge pomogranetes for desert. Wow it was so delicious, and so much food we all were stuffed! (Though i missed out on the heart and liver soup, and brain pate. Apperently it was delicious, i wanted to try). After the first Eid meal there was a big dance party, the ANA put on a very scratchy speaker with the usual shrieky arab music. That is when the night started getting a bit gay, you could see that some of the ANA probably joined for the booty, luckily i had to run to attend to the radio. On the second Eid dinner afterwards we sat around and talked for almost 2 hours, it actually was fun sharing stories and jokes. Another big (ish) piece of news that some of you may know already, but my tour is being extended over here. Since canada seems determined to pull out at the end of 2011, their going to extend the last three tours, starting with mine. The effect they’ve told us is only a 3 week extension. But from what I can infer, the effect it will have on me will turn my 6 month tour into almost 8 months. Since I have to be the first one in and last one out, I’m guessing i’ll be back sometime mid June (though thats a total guess now). All of us here (including me) are not worried about this extention. We all believe in what we’re doing and an extra few weeks isn’t going to hurt anyone in the long run (as long as we maintain our vigilance of course). Plus if I end up getting home then, i’ll get to celebrate my b-day with lots of friends and family. Also loop my post-deployment leave into summer leave and get my vacation mustache growing! Heh, but that is waay far away and i’m really not thinking of that. I tend to look about 72hrs to a week out, keeps me from getting distracted.
Well, i’m off back to the command post to get back to the battle. I can’t believe that its almost December, feels like time is flying! Though its getting really cold now. The nights and morning it might even be 0 and even during the middle of the day its not super intense hot (though still those of us not on mission will try to get some rays on our pasty white farmer-tans). There’s even been a couple big rain and thunderstorms, very surprising as they came up really fast, though don’t usually last long (max an hour), and its nice to wet the ground and get the dust down. Though after we see lots of local activity as they will get out and tend to their crops because water is definetly a scarce commodity that these people are very efficient users of.
Thank you very much everyone for your emails and care packages! I will do my absolute best to answer every message, and every package recieved feels like christmas! (Actually my first happy day here was when i got a nice care package from a grandmother in greenwood, ns. A random one i definetly was not expecting, but definetly a huge lift of the spirits). Keep sending me updates of all of the great times you will have in the winter. I hear that the west coast is getting an early snow, thats fantastic, wish i could be the for the snowboarding! Please all stay healthy and live everything to the fullest!!
Much love to all,
12/18/2009 A question for Clay Shirky
This, as it turns out, is my first mobile posting, punched into my trusty BB as I wait in a cafe for my kid and her friend to exit the nearby cinema.
I’ve just re-read Clay Shirky’s “A Speculative Post on the Idea of Algorithmic Authority” for the fourth time – in hard copy, of course. Two colours of highlighter compete with scribbled marginalia at this point. Having already pasted up the OED definitions of “algorithm” and “authority” in an earlier post (when in doubt, adhere to etymology and historical usage), and reviewed what are in fact fairly tight arguments in what Clay terms a “placeholder” for a full-fledged formulation (would that still be speculative?), I find myself wanting to ask one question, fmi.
In what I take to be a key paragraph, Clay writes:
“There’s a spectrum of authority from ‘Good enough to settle a bar bet’ to ‘Evidence to include in a dissertation defense,’ and most uses of algorithmic authority right now cluster around the inebriated end of that spectrum, but the important thing is that it is a spectrum, that algorithmic authority is on it, and that current forces seem set to push it further up the spectrum to an increasing number and variety of groups that regard these kinds of sources as authoritative.”
So Clay, what forces do you have in mind? Some seem obvious, but others perhaps less so. And as I wrote the other day, this seems like front-burner stuff in the context of the “content farming” discussion.
Sent from my BlackBerry® wireless device
12/16/2009 “Algorithmic authority”: Keeping up with Clay Shirky
Clay is clearly (obviously and with lucidity) working through the crux of the problematics that, to my mind, are obscured by the language of “content farming.” In an effort to follow in his footsteps (no easy task, I recognize) and earn for myself the insights he is making available to others, I decided to resort to an established authority whose basis is not, on the face of it, algorithmic – a source I have never failed to find productive in some way. Thankfully, one can now access the Oxford English Dictionary without having to go to the reference room of the nearest library, or to use the handy magnifying glass to read the miniscule print of the compact edition, less legible with each passing year.
With the online version it’s as simple as copy and paste. I wanted to check the definitions of “algorithm” independently of Clay’s work in any case, since my 11-year-old daughter asked me about it a couple of weeks ago, and I wasn’t entirely confident of my reply. (They’re doing algebra in grade 6 – it’s not long now till I will be unqualified to help with math homework. Hallelujah.)
Herewith the OED definitions, with my highlighting for future reference:
1. = ALGORISM 1a.
3. Med. A step-by-step procedure for reaching a clinical decision or diagnosis, often set out in the form of a flow chart, in which the answer to each question determines the next question to be asked.
Yesterday I retweeted (the user-generated way, which allowed me to editorialize “Nightmarish”) the rww Sunday Editorial “Content Farms: Why Media, Blogs & Google Should Be Worried” (http://bit.ly/68LAmv ). The fact that I follow Richard MacManus (author of the editorial) and Co. on Twitter demonstrates that I take them to be authorities of sorts, such that, if they are worried, perhaps I should be as well (though the last thing I need is more anxiety in my life).
So I did a bit of homework on this pending threat to my relative tranquility as a blogger, and read a cluster of recent posts around the question of “content farming”: Michael Arrington’s “The End of Hand Crafted Content” (http://techcrunch.com/2009/12/13/the-end-of-hand-crafted-content/ ); “Why Social Beats Search” by A VC (http://www.avc.com/a-vc/2009/12/why-social-beats-search.html.); “The Revolution Will Not Be Intermediated” on Doc Searls’ Weblog (http://blogs.law.harvard.edu/doc/2009/12/13/the-revolution-will-not-be-intermediated/ ) – all of these posted on December 13, 2009.
Along the way, I realized a couple of things. First, my anxious response to the notion of “content farms” was based in part on some unconscious association with cruelty to animals, and especially to horses (e.g. the invidious “PMU farms” where mares are relentlessly exploited to produce estrogen-based products for women). But more importantly, my trouble has been with the word “content” in this context, and the slippery imprecision of its usage with reference to the Web. In rww’s editorial, for example, Richard MacManus writes that “companies like Demand Media and Answers.com…create thousands of pieces of content per day.” I get what he’s talking about, but I also get the beginnings of a headache.
And what “really scares” Michael Arrington? “It’s the use of fast food content that will surely, over time, destroy the mom and pop operations that handcraft their content today. It’s the rise of cheap, disposable content on a mass scale, fed to us by the portals and search engines.” I guess I resist the image of me (or any blogger I respect) with jaws wired open, ingesting whatever is coming down the pipeline.
Doc Searls’ post of 12/13 came closest to making sense on this matter. “…I’ve been hand-crafting (actually just typing) my “content” for about twenty years now, and I haven’t been destroyed by a damn thing. I kinda don’t think FFC is going to shut down serious writers (no matter where and how they write) any more than McDonalds killed the market for serious chefs…. Nothing with real value is dead, so long as it can be found on the Web and there are links to it. Humans are the ones with hands. Not intermediaries. Not AOL, or TechCrunch, or HuffPo, or Google or the New York Freaking Times. The Net is the means to our ends, not The Media…. The Net and the Web liberate individuals. They welcome intermediators, but do not require them…. what matters most is what each of us as individuals bring to the Net’s table. Not the freight system that helps us bring it there, no matter how established or disruptive that system is…. We seem to think that progress on the Net is the work of “brands” creating and disrupting and doing other cool stuff. Those may help, but what matters most is what each of us does better than anybody or anything else. The term “content” insults the nature of that work. And of its sources.” [emphasis added]
Finally, a kindred view on the debased usage of “content” in this discussion, and more broadly in relation to the Web. I underscored above the instance where the word marks a link to a much earlier post on Searls’ blog, entitled “The personal platform” and dated January 31, 2008 (http://blogs.law.harvard.edu/doc/2008/01/31/the-personal-platform/ ) It seems that the figure or model of “content” has been troubling Searls for some time: “Until I read this piece by Adriana Lukas this morning I hadn’t fully realized how the ubiquitous use of the word content, which I’ve griped about for years (and which Adriana quotes), frames our understanding of markets, and media, in ways that place presumed control in the hands of “providers” other than ourselves. Even UGC – “User Generated Content” – is not seen as ours, but as freight for media companies to forward for their own purposes. As John Perry Barlow put it a few years back, “I didn’t start hearing about ‘content’ until the container business felt threatened.'”
He provides a link to a post by Adriana Lukas for mediainfluencer under the title “Content is for container cargo business” (http://www.mediainfluencer.net/2008/01/content-is-for-container-cargo=business/ ), which in turn begins with two citations from Doc Searls on “content.”
Doc Searls on Content in 2005: “The word content connotes substance. It’s a material that can be made, shaped, bought, sold, shipped, stored and combined with other material. “Content” is less human than “information” and less technical than “data,” and more handy than either. Like “solution” or the blank tiles in Scrabble, you can use it anywhere, though it adds no other value.
And again in 2007: “Stop calling everything “content.” It’s a bullshit word that the dot-commers started using back in the ’90s as a wrapper for everything that could be digitized and put online. It’s handy, but it masks and insults the true natures of writing, journalism, photography, and the rest of what we still, blessedly (if adjectivally) call “editorial.” Your job is journalism, not container cargo.”
As Searls belatedly notes on his own post of 2008, “But rather than gripe some more, Adriana offers a useful way of framing the full worth of individuals, the creative goods they produce, and what they bring to both social and business relationships: the concept of the person as the platform:
Content is media industry term. The number of people talking about content grows every day as they assume roles that before only media could perform. With more tools and ways of distributing, photos, videos, writings, cartoons etc. are being ‘liberated’ from the channel world. Alas, often sliding into the platform and silo world. As far as I am concerned there are only two platforms – the individual user and the web.
Years later, in light of the purported menace of “content farms” coming soon to a search engine near you, this might ring a bit naive, or utopian. But at least Searls and Lukas reflect upon and resist the ways in which “content” has become radically debased coinage. With its value so diminished before the fact, it’s harder to worry about what little is left.
What I want to pass along today is something like the flip side of Chris’ case (or just another piece of some greater question). My source here is an article by Erin Anderssen for the Globe and Mail, published Saturday December 12 in the F (for “Focus”) section of the paper, and online at http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/technology/gr8-news-were-entering-a-new-era-of-literacy/article13977421/
Under the title “GR8 news: We’re entering a new era of literacy,” Anderssen reports on received wisdom about the dumbing-down of the English language, but also on the research of a number of academics across several disciplines that cuts against it. Here are some of her findings.
Ever since the send button clicked on that first sloppy e-mail, digital technology has been accused of ruining the quality of writing. Describing the fate that awaited prose in a world overrun by texting, John Sutherland, emeritus professor of modern English literature at University College, London, made a dire pronouncement: Texters, he wrote in a column in the Daily Mail, are the ‘Genghis Khans’ of the written word, ‘pillaging our punctuation; savaging our sentences; raping our vocabulary. And they must be stopped.
Clearly, Prof. Sutherland is no fan of the shorthand texters use – GOYHH, they might snipe back at the language scholar (as in, Get Off Your High Horse) – but more than a few worried academics share his gloomy prognosis, suggesting that literature, as we know it, is doomed by pulpy Web-based pose [sic] and careless punctuation….
But take heart, dear scholars. A new study from California’s Stanford University has produced some reassuring news: Young people may not be writing so badly after all, and, in fact, their prose is evolving in some promising new ways. They write more on their own time, their school essays are longer, their voices are more attuned to the people who will read their words. They know better – at least by university – than to drop text-speak into a class paper.
[Permit me to insert an image here, one that I discovered during the year I spent at Stanford on a faculty fellowship. I do this for myself and for any readers of this post who could use a visual break.]
[This is the men’s gymnasium at Stanford, photographed on April 18, 1906 after the great earthquake struck at 5:13 a.m. I’m also fond of the image below, depicting the entrance to the university at the end of Palm Drive before and after the quake. Perhaps it goes without saying that I had a terrible time at Stanford….but that’s for another post, probably another blog, entirely.]
Back to Erin in the Globe:
In the Stanford study, undergraduate students submitted pieces of writing over the course of five years, including everything they wrote for school. Their contributions amounted to 15,000 samples – blog postings, journal entries, e-mails, PowerPoint presentations, honours theses, scripts and an astonishing amount of poetry.
Only 62 per cent of the writing was done for class assignments – the rest of the samples were other items the students submitted voluntarily. On their own time, the students – half of whom were pursuing science or engineering degrees – were remarkably prolific, says Andrea Lunsford, director of Stanford’s Program in Writing and Rhetoric, who spearheaded the study.
Much of the personal work was intended to be active, to make a case or argue a point. For this generation, she says, “writing is performative. It gets up off the pages, walks off and does something.”
[I will keep my own sense of the performative function of language to myself at this point, in deference to the prof who actually did all this work. – Ed.]
While students at Stanford may be a select group, Prof. Lunsford has also completed a similar study by amassing a random collection of essays by first-year university students across the United States. In a sample of more than 800 papers, there was not an LOL (or any other text lingo) to be found – though other English professors say they do crop up.
And her research showed that over the past century the length of student essays has increased dramatically – from an average of 162 words in 1917 to 422 words in 1986 and 1,038 words in 2006.
In addition, while 25 years ago, the most common assignment was a personal narrative, first-year students today are most often assigned papers requiring a thesis and sources – and consequently, Prof. Lunsford concludes, more “higher-order thinking skills and complexity”….
There is more worth reading in this thoughtful piece. Perhaps the most interesting outcome of Lunsford’s research is her crediting the students whose work she studied with kairos, the ancient Greek term for the ability to say the right thing at the right time. This is surely a hopeful sign. And she is right on the mark when she argues that teaching proper punctuation and the ability to make a cohesive written argument is first of all the responsibility of educators. “If we want students to sustain dense, richly sourced arguments then we will have to teach those skills throughout schooling,” she argues.
I expect to encounter some of those dense, richly sourced arguments in (for example) blog posts, in the near and longer term. And I can hope, can’t I, that some of those savvy students might one day find their way to my blog, and not mind if I use words with more than two syllables to make my case?
This a.m. my inbox yielded another post from the prolific Chris Brogan: “Write Better Blog Posts Today.” The “today” was an effective hook – of course I want to start writing better posts today, right away, right now – so I read with attention, finding myself admiring once again Chris’ willingness to share the benefit of his experience. He offers a good deal of solid advice, succinctly put, and I would recommend the post to novice as well as more experienced bloggers. Read it at http://www.chrisbrogan.com/write-better-blog-posts-today/
But I had to disagree on one point, which I reproduce below:
A caution about choice of words: a great piece of advice a professor once gave me was this: “tell it to me like I’m 6 years old.” Ken Hadge said that’s what he told anyone trying to sell him something the moment they used a large word. The other day, I spoke in front of a huge international audience. I used the smallest words I had, except for one: serendipity. I had never considered how hard to translate that word might be to other cultures. The definition of serendipity is: the faculty of making fortunate discoveries by accident. I could’ve found another way to say it, or could have bolstered up the original use of the word with a simple definition. Because I missed this, I lost some small part of my audience.
Words matter. Choose yours for an inclusive audience. Everyone knows you’re smart already. Save the big words for your crossword puzzles.
For the moment, I will simply append here the comment I left for Chris earlier today:
I haven’t heard back yet, but I know from my Twitter feed that Chris is in transit and will be offline all day. But there is more to be said about the language of blogging in what some are calling a new era of literacy. I’ll return to this in tomorrow’s post.
Following a handy summary of “What we kinda-sorta know” at this stage (e.g., “‘bloggers’ versus ‘journalists’ is (really, really) over,” “Some information won’t be free, but probably not enough to save big news organizations,” “The news will increasingly be produced by smaller, de-institutionalized organizations”), Anderson tries to “pretend (just for a moment) that all those fights are settled,” in order to reflect on the possibilities for discussion and argument in the year to come. The following are his candidates:
1. What kind of politics will be facilitated by this new world? In the old world, the relationship between journalism and politics was fairly clear, and expressed in an endless series of (occasionally meaningful) cliches. But changes on one side of the equation inevitably mean changes on the other. The most optimistic amongst usargue that we might be headed for a new era of citizen participation. Pessimists see the angry town halls unleashed this summerand lament the days when the passions of the multitude could be moderated by large informational institutions. Others, like my colleague Rasmus Kleis Nielsenat Columbia, take a more nuanced view. Whatever the eventual answer, this is a question we should be trying to articulate.
2. What kind of public policies and laws will govern this new world? Law and public policy usually move a few steps “behind” reality, often to the frustration of those on the ground floor of big, social changes. There’s a reason why people have been frustrated with the endless congressional debates over the journalism shield law, and with the FTC hearingson journalism — we’re frustrated because, as far as we’re concerned (and as I noted above), we think we have it all figured out. But our government and legal system don’t work that way. Instead, they act as “consolidating institutions,” institutions that both ratify a social consensus that’s already been achieved and also tilt the playing field in one direction or another — towards incumbent newspapers, for example. So the FTC, the FCC, the Congress, the Supreme Court — all these bodies will eventually be weighing in on what they want this new journalistic world to look like. We should be paying attention to that conversation.
3. What kind of networks will emerge in this new media ecosystem? It’s a strong tenet amongst most journalism futurists that “the future of news is networked,” that the new media ecosystem will be the kind of collaborative, do-what-you-do-best-and-link-to-the-rest model most recently analyzed by the CUNY “New Business Models” project. But what if the future of news lies in networks of a different kind? What if the news networks we’re starting to see emerge are basically the surviving media companies (or big portals) diversifying and branding themselves locally? This is already going on with the Huffington Post local initiative, and we can see national newspapers like The New York Times trying out variations of this local strategy. A series of “local networks,” ultimately accountable to larger, centralized, branded organizations may not be what “networked news” theorists have in mind when they talk about networks, but it seems just as likely to happen as more “ecosystem-esque” approach.
4. What’s the future of journalism school? This one’s fairly self-explanatory. But as the profession it serves mutates, what’s in store for the venerable institution of j-school? Dave Winer thinks we might see the emergence of journalism school for all; Cody Brown thinks j-school might someday look like the MIT Center For Collective Intelligence. Either way, though, j-school probably won’t look like it does now. Even more profoundly, perhaps, the question of j-school’s future is inseparable from questions about the future of the university in general, which, much like the news and music industries, might be on the verge of its own massive shake-up.
5. Human beings, data, and “the algorithm.” This one fascinates me, and it seems more important every day. In a world of Demand Media, computational journalism, and AOL’s news production strategy, questions about the lines between quantitative, qualitative, and human journalism seem ever more pressing. If we are moving towards some kind of semantic web, what does that mean for the future of news? What role are programmers and developers playing? How will they interact with journalists? Is journalism about data, about narrative, or both? Is journalism moving from a liberal art to an information science? And so on.
These, as Anderson attests, are “big, big questions.” But we’ve been preparing ourselves to tackle them for a while now. There are more than a handful of folks I trust to share this daunting task – in fact, some of them are well underway already.
12/10/2009 The self-flagellator’s monthly report
As I began this accounting, I kept the language of my TypePad profile as a frame of reference, and specifically its enumeration of my “interests”: “Blogging in all its manifestations, including Twitter; journalism; historiography; literary and cultural theory; history of aesthetics.” If this is the equivalent of an ad for my blog, I wanted to see (for one thing) whether the product was delivering on its promise.
In brief, then: The total number of posts for November is 25. An analysis of their predominant themes yielded the following:
Blogging (8 posts)
Twitter (7 posts)
Blogging and Twitter (2 posts)
Social media in general (1 post)
Breaking news/current events (3)
Print journalism (1)
For the most part, then, the content is in line with the terms of my profile. What the numbers alone don’t convey is that, as the month unfolded, more and more of the posts were devoted to blogging, even at the expense of micro-blogging. This was unanticipated, since Twitter was my focus when I began the project.
The other matter that does not register in this number-crunch, but that has had an irrevocable impact on fledgling, is my signing on to posterous in late November, to embark on a companion blog, makurrah’s posterous. My hopes for that site are bound up with my hopes for this one, and I have already begun utilizing it as (among other things) a gloss or set of marginalia on this, the “macro” effort.
12/09/2009 A quick-compose update:
12/07/2009 A downer (guest post) from ProBlogger
By this point, having run across a quantity of conventional wisdom in list format, I wasn’t particularly optimistic going in. But Nathan’s post not only made sense; it provided examples from his own history of blogging that resonated in a meaningful way, and had me making changes almost immediately. I revamped the design of fledgling (I’d been equivocating) in response to his emphasis on the importance of making one’s blog stand out, visually, from the crowd. Moreover, I promptly subscribed to ten additional blogs in and around my “niche,” with an eye to leaving comments and adding to the conversation (taking the “social” in “social media” more seriously, in effect). One of those new subscriptions was to beginnerblogger.com, whose author got back to me straightaway, thanking me for the follow and offering a suggestion on my blog’s design.
I was feeling on the right track, and grateful for the pragmatic assistance available in the blogosphere. But when I opened the email containing today’s ProBlogger offering, the title of the post raised not only doubts, but hackles. This too was a guest post, written by Rob Sutton from “Ramped Reviews” and entitled “How Getting An F On Your School Paper Makes You A Better Blogger.” You can read it at http://www.problogger.net/archives/2009/12/07/how-getting-an-f-on-your-school-paper-makes-you-a-better-blogger/
Could there possibly be more bad faith inscribed in the title of a blog proffering advice about blogging? It’s tantamount to saying, go ahead and fail at school, it won’t keep you from being a popular blogger and making tons of money by selling ads on your site. In the very first line of his post, the author confesses (or perhaps brags) “This comes to be a surprise to many, but I hate writing.” He then goes on to boast about “throw[ing] over 2,000 words a day on a screen for others to read and why is everyone I know surprised that my words now turn into dollars?” [I’m keeping my virtual red pen firmly in check – it would be too easy to demonstrate ignorance here.]
This guy obviously had some inept teachers during his school days (I’ve never been one to blame the student when learning goes awry). And of course it’s very easy to make an argument that lively and persuasive writing works better on a blog (or anywhere else for that matter) than text that is grammatical but uninspired. Who doesn’t know that? I would simply say, without reservation, that if someone hates to write, then they are involved in blogging for reasons that have nothing to do with writing. And they are in no position to give advice to bloggers who know that if you hate writing, you are seriously compromised as a reader as well as a writer. As to what kind of blogger that makes you….
Let’s leave it there for now. This may be a case where the less said, the better.
12/04/2009 A question via Quick Compose
12/03/2009 The self-flagellator
If you are still reading at this stage, you may be one of the few to recall my post of 10/20/09, “Kant weighs in on Twitter” (a lame placeholder for a proper title). In that text I cite a long passage from Paul de Man’s essay “Phenomenality and Materiality in Kant,” the crux of which I reproduce here.
In order to make the sublime appear in space we need, says Kant, two acts of the imagination: apprehension (apprehensio) and comprehension or summation (comprehensio aesthetica), Auffassung and Zusammenfassung. Apprehension proceeds successively, as a syntagmatic, consecutive motion along an axis, and it can proceed ad infinitum without difficulty. Comprehension, however, which is a paradigmatic totalization of the apprehended trajectory, grows increasingly difficult as the space covered by apprehension grows larger. The model reminds one of a simple phenomenology of reading, in which one has to make constant syntheses to comprehend the successive unfolding of the text: the eye moves horizontally in succession whereas the mind has to combine vertically the cumulative understanding of what has been apprehended. The comprehension will soon reach a point at which it is saturated and will no longer be able to take in additional apprehensions: it cannot progress beyond a certain magnitude which marks the limit of the imagination.
Right. To make a long story short, I have given myself a masochist’s assignment: to begin to try to comprehend (understand as a whole, or cumulatively, to the extent possible) what has to now been a matter of apprehending the ephemeral components of this project as they appear, fleetingly, only to disappear again according to the strict laws of reverse chronology.
Reverse chronology is of course at its cruelest and most unforgiving on Twitter, with which I’ve begun this attempt at comprehension. I have printed all of my tweets from the month of November and begun to analyze them. I can already share a couple of things, for those who might be interested, about the translation from virtual to material. When you print your Twitter feed, the tweets are numbered, with the most recent appearing as #1. My November tweets run to 148. What is slightly unsettling about this accounting is that tweet #1 has long since been displaced as such, though it’s only December 3. So the numbers in front of me are not current, stable, or reliable, but rather traces of a time now past.
As a somewhat reluctant student of Scobleizer’s “pimp my blog” school of tweeting (whose obverse is the “pimp my tweets” school of blogging), I was curious to see just how many of my tweets would turn out to be serving this purpose (I had no clue going in). Of the 148 in total, 57 tweets had links to posts on fledgling – around 20%.
The predominant thematics running through the November tweets appear to be 1)Twitter’s introduction of its Retweet feature (of which I am highly critical, though I try to maintain a sense of humour about it) and 2) “meso-blogging,” to which I came fairly late in the month in the form of posterous and my new blog on their site. The possibilities afforded by a blog neither micro (Twitter) nor macro (fledgling), but dedicated to negotiating the space between the two, animate a number of the tweets posted in late November.
Then there are the one-offs (on Molly Ringwald playing the MOM in the tween soap The Secret Life of an American Teenager, or news that Al-Jazeera English got CRTC approval, which means they will be broadcasting in Canada soon, or reports that Springsteen won’t be performing with the E Street Band ever again), @replies, RTs (all and only the copy/paste way. #SaveReTweets).
More results as they emerge. Once I get a handle on the months’s Twitter output, I will turn to November’s posts on fledgling and makurrah’s posterous. I may or may not pull an all-nighter.
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12/02/2009 The gift of reader engagement
But this morning I opened an email containing a recent post by Darren Rowse of ProBlogger, to which I subscribed about a month back in the spirit of consulting more experienced bloggers across a range of disciplines and practices. I have to admit that its content threw a wrench, at least provisionally, in the works.
Readers of fledgling will know that this is my “macro” blog, which it to say the place where I entrust pages of various notebooks of my own, and reproduce or at least flag material I run across that informs my project as it unfolds. It is, in other words, a locus of writing as well as curating texts, with a view to future work (whatever its eventual form) that the blog will (I hope) make possible. The experience of writing it is, for the most part, solitary – a solitude with which I’ve made peace over the course of my working life as a writer. The readers, should they materialize, will be welcome as a kind of bonus, or gift – that’s primarily how I’ve conceived of the reception of my written work, including the blogs.
But ProBlogger, or at least Darren Rowse, works on a very different model, one predicated on interactivity. In the video component of his post “7 Questions to Ask On Your Blog to Get More Reader Engagement,” he comes across as a thoughtful and likeable guy, who recounts an experience of meeting someone at a party, asking the person some polite introductory questions (“What do you do?”, “What are you working on?”, that sort of thing), and then being “talked at” for half an hour rather than treated with reciprocal consideration and given an opportunity to tell his own story. This experience is utterly familiar, and his appeal to it in the framework of blogging etiquette is fairly persuasive.
For Rowse, just as “it doesn’t feel good to have someone talk AT you” in a “real life conversation,” it is also the case that “Blogs can be like that and in this post we explore the power of asking questions on your blog.” He goes on to “share 7 types of questions you can ask to increase reader engagement.”
Here are Rowse’s 7 questions (or “types of questions”):
– What Do you Think? [Not clear on the use of upper case here, but never mind. – ed]
– How Do you Feel?
– What Will You Do?
– What is Your Opinion?
– What is Your Story?
– What is Your Experience or Example?
– What Have you Been Working On?
His sign-off is in keeping with his message, on the video as well as in the written post: “Of course there are plenty of other types of questions – what type do you ask and how do you find people respond?”
A quick scroll down the page showed that, in the brief hours since its publication, the post had garnered loads of comments, most of them of the order of “Great advice, thanks Darren.”
So what is my problem? (Yes, that is a real, not a rhetorical question, so please feel free to respond.) Maybe the better question is, what are my problems? (There are a few people who would have a lot to say on that matter – come to think of it, some of them read this blog.) There are several aspects of the kind of “interactivity” advocated by Rowse that provoke resistance on my part. For starters:
– To be perfectly frank, I’m not even sure I want people to be reading my notebooks. This is partly residual, I suppose, from twenty-odd years as an academic who only made things public when they were finished, polished, ready (in my judgment) for prime time.
– Rowse’s schema reminds me of the helpful response of a member of my family who is reading the blog with some regularity, and making suggestions to boost its page views. Things like “more pictures would be good” and “if you use difficult words, can you link to an online dictionary?” He’s undoubtedly right (and I have tried to grab more images. Have you noticed?). But can’t I expect my readers to do a bit of the work themselves?
– I do not conceive of my role here as that of a teacher, imparting a body of knowledge. Been there, done that, in spades. I figure any reader who wants to engage as a peer (or a mentor) knows to hit the comment button without my having to ask “What is your opinion?”
– There are some traits that all blogs share, and it would be useful at some stage to enumerate them. But all blogs aren’t the same. They are not created equal. They have different raisons d’etre, different objectives, different temporalities and life spans. So how can they all be expected to engage readers in the same ways?
I’ll return to these and related questions shortly. Oh, and I nearly forgot to ask: What have you been working on?