Online # 1

Lots Of Fun For EveryoneI’m online, browsing. I’m cruising for a new pair of slippers. I’m sitting on the love seat, in the living room, slouched down, my feet docked on the ottoman. My location is public, living room, slipping down, gliding for a new pair of slippers, my purpose public.

I enter “cruising slippers” into my search engine. I feel good. I’m plugged in, lit up. I’m online. My socials are open. The drones are swarming. I’m not alone. I twitter something fast: “Online slippers, what? Come on back!” Immediately, there’s a response.

I’m in a mood, an online mood. Mood indigo. What’s that? I enter “mood indigo” into my search engine. Oh, yeah, the Duke. I jump over to JazzStandards.com and click on the song, give it a whirl. Oh, yeah, the melody comes back to me, haunting. The piano notes sound like ice cubes clicking coolly in a cocktail glass.

“The Duke of Earl.” Who was the Duck of Earl, anyway? I enter “The Duck of Earl” in my search engine. It ignores the typo, corrects my search, thank you. I click on Urban Dictionary and start to scroll down. Some nice peer reviews going here, mostly thumbs up, a few down. Then an ad pops up: “Have you ever been arrested?”

I don’t like ads. I try to ignore the ad, but I can’t. I feel arrested. My mood shifts. I’m like a boat on the open sea, at the mercy of variable breezes. I open my facebook, enter “variable breezes” in my status and click. I get a few likes. Someone in Dansk says, “Breezing?”

Yes, that’s it, I’m breezing. I shift back to Twitter and enter “Breezing,” just the word, not even a period. No response. I’m not surprised. I don’t have that many followers on Twitter, but what’s a lot? I change lanes, back to Facebook, and enter “Breezing.” I have 500 friends. What time is it in Dansk, I wonder.

There’s a new tweet, from some cat in Belgium. I enter “slippers” into Google Translate: “pantoufles,” if I want a pair of French slippers, which I don’t, necessarily. I switch Translate into Dutch: “slippers.” Slippers in Dutch is slippers, same as English. Who knew? I enter “Slippers in Dutch is slippers in English, too” into Facebook. I get a bunch of likes and a few comments like it’s a joke or something, but I’m serious. I get a bizarre comment from some kid I went to high school with I haven’t seen or talked to in years. She claims she’s a lawyer of some kind. Probably under some kind of house arrest.

I open my search engine and type in “ottoman” and poof comes the story via Wiki: “Thomas Jefferson’s memorandum books from 1789.” Now there’s a trip, speaking of high school. I parachute out of Wiki and land back in my living room. I’m thirsty. I’m thinking of walking down to the coffee house. They have Wi-Fi there. What’s Wi-Fi? I don’t understand beyond having a general idea. I enter “Wi-Fi” into my search engine. What if we could see radio waves? I Tweet, “waves, pulsing.” I was going to tweet “radio waves,” but I didn’t. We can’t see these waves, at least I can’t, but I think I can feel them. Sometimes songs just pop into my head. That ever happen to you? Suddenly I’m singing some song in my head, not singing it, really, but it’s there, playing, playing in my mind, like my head is a transistor radio picking up the wave of the song. But if I try to sing the song, out loud, the words won’t come. A few might, but not the whole song, not unless it’s a song I’ve gone to the trouble to memorize, to commit to memory. This paragraph is too long for its purpose.

Location, living room. Purpose, slipping through time online for a new pair of slippers. Open: socials, check; three search engines, check; Wiki, check; my word processor, check. All systems go. Where does that term come from? I enter “word processor” into my search engine. What ever happened to WordPerfect? Do we process words? Do we perfect words? Mot juste. The word frozen. Justice.

I enter “All systems go” into my search engine. The dictionary calls the phrase cliché. Really? I don’t hear anyone using it much anymore. I enter “All systems go” into both Facebook and Twitter. Nothing, no response. Interesting. Maybe I should have typed, “All systems are go.”

I saw “Argo” not too long ago, on the Big Screen. What a trip. I had not been to see a film in some time, not in a big screen theatre. I had forgotten how big the screens could seem. We sat in the first row of the second section, not too close, in the front middle, so to speak. I like the front row. I like to slouch down and stretch out my legs. A message filled the big screen just before the lights dimmed: “Please put out your cell phone.” No, not right, “turn off,” it said. I did. I turned off my cell phone. I had thought I might maybe send out a few tweets during the film, but I thought better of it.

So to speak, thought better of it, all systems go. I should look these up. I’m bored with all that. I check out the news. First, the weather: slight chance showers. Slight, what is slight? Parse. Can you parse the showers, please? I tweet, “Parsing showers.” No one’s on Facebook. 500 friends and no one’s on. That’s a first. I check the news.

The news. I type “the news” into my search engine. I’m reminded of the scene in the Steve Martin film “Roxanne.” Charlie is strolling down the street and stops at a newsstand to buy a newspaper. He pulls one out and glances at the front page. A look of shock and horror pops up on his face. He scrambles back to the newsstand and fumbles in his pocket for another coin. He opens the newsstand and sticks the newspaper back into it and continues his stroll, his calm smile back on under his big nose.

1987, the year “Roxanne” was released. I just looked it up. But the thing is there are no newsstands anymore, no phone booths either, and mailboxes appear to be disappearing.

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Notes: This post is part fiction, part real. It was inspired by a conversation I really had last Friday afternoon over at Stark Street Station with some colleagues. I do have a Twitter account, but I’m not on Facebook. I didn’t think of tweeting during the movie. That’s not something I would do. In any case, my cell phone can’t do that, tweet. And I’m not really in the market for a new pair of slippers. I don’t even have an old pair of slippers. I don’t wear slippers. Meemin retweeted “Parsing showers,” over an hour ago. A good post takes time.

“What’s Happening?”; or, the Faux Social Finish of Verb People

To twitter is indeed to sound off like a bird. “No full sentence really completes a thought,” said Hugh Kenner, in The Pound Era (1971), throwing a rock into several generations of roosting English grammar teachers: “And though we may string never so many clauses into a single compound sentence, motion leaks everywhere, like electricity from an exposed wire. All processes in nature are inter-related” (157). This from the “Knot and Vortex” chapter, where Kenner introduces the “self-interfering pattern,” using Buckminster Fuller’s sliding knot illustration: “The knot is a patterned integrity. The rope renders it visible” (145).

Social networking as experienced via Twitter or Facebook allows for no stillness. One is always in flight. One is not a noun; as Buckminster Fuller said, “I seem to be a verb.” Nouns represent dead flight, the verb at rest in its grammatical nest: “The eye sees noun and verb as one, things in motion, motion in things,” explains Kenner (157).

Verbs have no permanency. What’s happening must constantly change. Twitter is a rush of tweets each jolting the flock to flight, while posts on Facebook fall down the page like crumbs from a plate at a reception. Nothing is saved because in the social network world there are no nouns. The text is a mirage, the words constantly falling, falling down, down feathers falling through the electric light.

Ezra Pound’s short poem “In a Station of the Metro” is a perfect tweet: “The apparition of these faces in the crowd; / Petals on a wet, black bough.” The short poem with title fills the tweet space with 40 characters to spare, fixes the stare of twitterers but momentarily, as the faces can only pause in apparition not even of ink, but of light, and the social connection is a faux finish. People are verbs, constantly changing tense.

Where The Gutenberg Galaxy Wanes While the Zuckerberg Zone Waxes: How the Founder of Facebook is Destroying the Printing Press

At 18, a grunt at Fort Bliss, in El Paso, sitting knee to knee and cheek to cheek with my peers in a latrine of 12 stools, I learned that going to the bathroom is a business, and privacy does not work for us, we work for her. We had, in 1969, at Fort Bliss, neither laptops nor cell phones, though we were allowed books, periodicals, and letters, and if someone wanted to know the status of a constipated grunt in Fort Bliss, they would be updated in a few days via an APO address, not instantly in a Facebook post.

In The Gutenberg Galaxy: The Making of Typographic Man (1962), a mosaic of blog-like posts illustrating the effects of print technology on the human environment, Marshall McLuhan explains that the printing press is responsible for the creation of the public. The printing press, McLuhan argues, created nationalism and the divorce of science from art, made the “marginal man,” the alienated individual, one who lives outside the margins (text boundaries) of society, and print is responsible for linear thinking. McCluhan’s 310 chapters each comprise a complex claim full of what today we would call “links” to other sources. Here’s one of my favorite chapters: “254 The typographic logic created ‘the outsider,’ the alienated man, as the type of integral, that is, intuitive and irrational, man.” And another: “258 Typographic man can express but is helpless to read the configurations of print technology.”

Can we read the configurations of  Internet technology? If McLuhan was right, and print technology traded an ear for an eye in its focus on the page, rearranging our sensorium, the eye now the dominant sense, and if the book, printed in one’s vernacular, killed Latin and created privacy, then will the global village created by the Internet reverse these sensory changes and take us back to primitivism? “187 Every technology contrived and ‘outered’ by man has the power to numb human awareness during the period of its first interiorization.” And when and how will we know?

A flurry of comments on these new directions, new configurations, filled the air this week. This week’s New Yorker (September 20) contains “The Face of Facebook: Mark Zuckerberg [founder of Facebook] opens up,” while CQ Researcher has just published a major report, “Social Networking: Are online social networks eroding privacy?” (Sept. 17): Marcia Clemmitt summarizes in her introduction, “For some the new world of ‘radical transparency’ will increase human understanding and encourage honesty and accountability. But some lawmakers and scholars [are] concerned about losing older notions of privacy.” Zuckerberg is also the subject of a new movie, The Social Network, which contains a largely unflattering view of him, but of the rest of us as well, according to a Newsweek on-line review (Sept. 20), “With Friends Like These.”

These new direction discussions follow [in my reading on the subject] a November, 2009 scholarly article in The Australian Humanities Review, notable for its overall positive viewpoint [as well as for the review taking the social networking phenomenon seriously) of the Facebook experience. In “Grizzling About Facebook,” Meaghan Morris, (Chair Professor of Cultural Studies at Lingnan University, Hong Kong, and Professor in the Department of Gender and Cultural Studies at the University of Sydney) makes her position and thesis clear in her introductory remarks: “…anyone who thinks that social networking is a ‘superficial’ matter of clicking should explain to me (to begin with) in just what world the effort of making a photo album for friends and family does not involve emotional commitment; and in what kind of real world it counts as an evasion of contact to have an on-line party, or to send gifts, humour and words of comfort or affection to people across space and time. It would have to be a world without regard for writing and reading, obviously: no love of letters, no emotional responses to rock art and cathedrals; no crying over novels and poems, either. Come to think of it, it might be a world without great newspapers (a prospect which some pundits no doubt have uncomfortably in mind).” This was in response to a negative editorial in the South China Morning Post arguing that the virtual contact of Facebook is no substitute for “real” human contact.

But the mounting concern is not over how we spend our time, but whether or not we can spend it in private. To this question, Morris offers a number of questions, each of which might serve as the thesis for another paper: “I certainly do not mean to suggest that all criticism of Facebook is grizzling. Serious legal, ethical and political issues are arising from or being intensified by the ‘Facebook’ phenomenon (to use a typifying metonym myself), in the process sharpening some of the challenging debates of our time; free speech and its limits, censorship, the right to privacy, the negotiation of social protocols for a transnational economy that thrives on difference as well as inequality, the relations between semiotic and other modes of violence, tensions between legal, communal and performative models of identity, the foundations of community, the power of corporations in our personal lives, and the technological transformation of work are just a few of these.” Indeed, that’s enough to keep the Facebook scholars busy for a spell. In the CQ Researcher report, there’s a thread pulled out but not nearly unravelled to conclusion regarding the similarities and differences between Facebook and MySpace, a thread which suggests a social stratification, perhaps a tribal (in the McLuhan sense) response, ultimately, perhaps, a Marxist view of social networking.

But it’s those concerns about “older notions of privacy” that I find interesting. What is privacy? Where do these ideas of privacy come from? Is liberty synonymous with privacy? Are both the consequence of print technology, as McLuhan suggested, and as technology changes and changes us, will our notions of privacy also change? No doubt the development of self-consciousness in human evolution created some sense of privacy (when did we begin to sense a need to be alone with our thoughts?), but now, by privacy, do we mean secret, or do we mean control, or do we mean, as T. S. Eliot said in “Prufrock,” “To prepare a face to meet the faces that you meet….” Or do we mean privilege, as in the private privy, the privy chamber, not a public place, hardly a Facebook page. Not for nothing is the stool called the throne. The king enjoys the privilege of privacy, and has the power to grant a private audience. Now with 500 million advertised members, control of the masses would seem but clicks away, but who shall be king? But if the king remains in his privy, who cares?