Object Lessons: Rantings of a Lone Pamphleteer
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The Web: Stringing Us Along

CNN's Rick Sanchez tweets: "i'm interviewing sheriff joe arpaio today; plz tell me what i should ask him." Later he repeats: "questions for arpio?"

Now, I'm not above telling others how to do their job, but here it seems I just have to tell him to DO his job. He's purportedly a journalist, despite his inability to spell even in text-speak (as evidenced by his later tweet). Do we need to tell him that it is his most basic skill to come up with interview questions? Aside from knowing how to read off a teleprompter and applying stage makeup, I mean.

I'm getting kinda sick of all this tweeting. John Hodgman, a man whose work I generally respect (but are PC's really all that nerdy?), tweets the most boring items imaginable. I'm almost ready to unfollow him, especially if he details one more Scrabble game. (I like Scrabble as much as the next language wonk, probably more as it's the one game I'm 99.7% sure I can win against my husband, but I think there's a reason that we don't see televised Scrabble competitions complete with play-by-play; it's fun to play live, but more boring to watch than chess, or fishing, or any other non-contact sport. Of course, if we were to televise Scrabble games, I'm sure John Hodgman would be the perfect announcer.)

That Twitter's exploitation of our tendency towards sound bites exacerbates our already too-short attention spans doesn’t seem to be in dispute. But by feeding our "need" for fast information from onsite "reporters" and “I-witness” accounts worldwide, the WWW invites any all to become a stringer (or a blogger, or a tweeter), no experience, talent, or training required. This touches on an age-old problem facing writers since the dawn of anti-illiteracy campaigns; just because you can write, doesn't indicate that you have the talent to be, ahem, an artiste of the word. But mass literacy (which I'm in favor of) coupled with mass production produced many many bad writers (romance novels are commonly referred to as the worst offenders, though I've read some good ones with glee). Now, free press has been extended to the paper-free domains on the web, exponentially increasing the rates at which people who can write want to be writers.

Clearly, too, anyone can become a "journalist", whether or not they believe in the fourth estate's responsibilities and roles, whether or not they possess the creativity to come up with interesting questions for guests someone else booked, or whether or not they have any talent or feel for language, style, and voice. These tidbits of information provided by the new stringers (tweeters, bloggers, and other webophiles) are fed upstream to the dwindling news sources, amalgamated, repackaged, and reissued as "news." In essence, we are relearning that which we already know, compiled.

Now, I tweet and blog irregularly, when the mood strikes me, and hope that anyone who is interested pipes up, or ignores me, as the case may be. But this tendency toward over-informing is wearing thin even with me. It seems a fad destined either to fade, or to cause humanity to fade from view, retreating as we are into our avatars and other psychological masks; we may be destined to live out our lives in this shadowy ether of public and private, this netherworld where we are simultaneously observed and observing from the privacy of our homes without really being known. The 'Net facilitates our inexplicable need to connect and withdraw, to connect while maintaining our anonymity. It is a shadowland of camaraderie and isolation, and we should still be wary of what we are losing.

Here are a few losses that pop to mind:
true companionship and connections with others

independent, creative thought
respect for others
research skills
libraries

professional stringers and writers
penmanship
spelling
arithmetic

Perhaps I'll rant about those in my next post.




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