I finally made the time to embark on Clay Shirky’s first book, which I’ve been wanting to read for months. Having consistently come away from various blog posts and videos that he’s shared a bit wiser than I was going in, I opened the volume with high expectations, which were met in the first few paragraphs. His anecdotal example of the stolen phone, and his analysis of the extent to which it “demonstrates the ways in which the information we give off about ourselves, in photos and e-mails and MySpace pages and all the rest of it, has dramatically increased our social visibility and made it easier for us to find each other but also to be scrutinized in public,” gets to at least one crux of our historical present. What I like most in what I’ve read so far, however, is an unattributed quotation that serves as a section header on page 6: “Give me a place to stand and a lever long enough, and I will move the world.” For me, this stunning imperative provides a modicum of hope for the future, from the standpoint of a present that reads, all too often, as grim. I recognize here the topos of the Archimedean point, but I can’t recall the source of this “moving” (motivational?) citation. Can anybody help me out? Clay, are you there? (You shouldn’t be all that hard to find, right?)
01/04/2010 Before the fact: Walter Benjamin on blogging
Today’s brief offering transcribes another scrawled entry in my notebook, one that records more of Walter Benjamin’s One-Way Street (which had its own origins in barely-legible notes). In the context of the year-and-decade-end inbox avalanche of advice on how to optimize, maximize and monetize one’s blog, this comes, to me at least, as sweet relief and bracing reminder.
To great writers, finished works weigh lighter than those fragments on which they work throughout their lives. For only the more feeble and distracted take an inimitable pleasure in closure, feeling that their lives have thereby been given back to them. For the genius each caesura, and the heavy blows of fate, fall like gentle sleep itself into his workshop labor. Around it he draws a charmed circle of fragments. “Genius is application.”
(Selected Writings, vol. 1, 446)
01/02/2010 @Biz on “A year in the life of Twitter”
A link in the Twitter blog post by @Biz (December 29, 2009) connects the reader to his recent article “Why we can never rest: a year in the life of Twitter.”
The article’s closing lines are perhaps worth citing, for the record.
Many people have assumed that Twitter is just another social network, some kind of micro-blogging service, or both. It can be these things but primarily Twitter serves as a real-time information network powered by people around the world discovering what’s happening and sharing the news. The Iranian election was the most discussed issue on Twitter in the final year of a decade defined by advancements in information access.
In the new year, Twitter will begin supporting a billion search queries a day. We will be delivering several billion tweets per hour to users around the world. These are figures we did not anticipate when we founded the company in 2007.
01/01/2010 Walter Benjamin on the virtues of blogging
The new year appears to be off to a fine start. I’m fortunate enough to be blogging from a gorgeous small hotel in Toronto, where I’m ensconced as the snow falls softly on the other side of the windows and I embark on my first post of 2010. This time last year I wasn’t yet a blogger; with nearly 100 posts under my belt, I’m feeling at least legit. As I mentioned two or three posts back, my idea is to take as a point of departure for the next several posts the question of what Walter Benjamin has to teach us, in our time – for example, about blogging. For the most part, I’ll simply quote his writings, adding commentary where appropriate.
I begin by returning to a work that I cited recently: One-Way Street, which is translated and collected in Selected Writings, ed. Marcus Bullock and Michael W. Jennings (Harvard University Press, 1996, vol. 1, 444). This is the first section of the text, entitled “Filling Station.” Its pertinence to blogging seems to me self-evident.
The construction of life is at present in the power far more of facts than of convictions, and of such facts as have scarcely ever become the basis of convictions. Under these circumstances, true literary activity cannot aspire to take place within a literary framework; this is, rather, the habitual expression of its sterility. Significant literary effectiveness can come into being only in a strict alternation between action and writing; it must nurture the inconspicuous forms that fit its influence in active communities better than does the pretentious, universal gesture of the book – in leaflets, brochures, articles, and placards [and blog posts, and tweets… – Ed.]. Only this prompt language shows itself actively equal to the moment. Opinions are to the vast apparatus of social existence what oil is to machines: one does not go up to a turbine and pour machine oil over it; one applies a little to hidden spindles and joints that one has to know.