and I quote

october 2010

click for permalink October 12, 2010

Don't friend me.

If we barely knew each other in high school, or middle school, or art school or one of too many pathetic starter jobs we may have shared as twentysomethings but, despite the mutual misfortune of being demeaned at the same time in the same place together, we hardly said two words to each other.

If you briefly, or not-so-briefly, dated one of my boyfriend's friends and at first we hung out just because we were both chicks but then we got to know each other and much to our surprise we totally hit it off; we had so much in common. Then you broke up with my boyfriend's friend and you fucked off without a trace because you couldn't stand to be reminded of the breakup.

If we were friends at an age that is < than the number of years it has been since then, and we didn't exactly "drift apart," rather our adolescent acquaintance ended in one of three soap operatic scenes so typical of that age (for me anyway, but I suspect I wasn't totally atypical):

Scene one: We were always fighting about something — whatever adolescent girls fight about; a boy, another girl, a borrowed item of clothing that looked better on one of us than the other, one of us said something about the other, according to a third (meddling, unhelpful shit-disturber of a) friend — and we'd studiously ignore each other, scribbling furiously all through class, etching our grievances into lined paper which we'd fold into tight little squares with the other's name on it and transmit via third-friend-as-carrier-pigeon to avoid eye contact with each other. Somehow this grew tiresome. One day we just never got around to making up.

ScoreScene two: We were inseparable for a blissful stretch of our pre-teen years — you know, the usual — sharing clothes, sleeping over, talking about boys, talking about everything, sharing deep dark secrets, swearing we'd be friends forever, making plans to get an apartment together in college, making plans when one of us (okay, you) decided to run away because hated your parents. Then one day, something of epic, catastrophic proportions occurred, something that was probably so ridiculous that, even in light of that previous sentence, it resists being fully remembered and transcribed (at least with grown-up hands, on a futuristic laptop, in my fabulous grown-up apartment), but just like that it was over between us — and over was just as forever as our friendship had been.

Scene three: This should really go without saying, but if our friendship ended when one of us (okay, you) wrote the other a "Dear Jane" letter of such thorough, soul-excavating finality that only a Virgo could appreciate it (ironically).

Finally, if you are the friend of someone in one of the above categories and we've never actually met but you saw my picture in amongst your friend's friends and you thought I looked like a nice person — or weirder, you've "heard so much about me, you feel like we're already friends." How do I say this?

WE AREN'T. Don't fucking friend me.

This goes double if we're already friends — and if we are, congratulations — you're an endangered species (unless GW did away with that Act. I can't remember). Anyway, if we are friends in reality, don't ever friend me on Facebook. Not because I hate Facebook, but for some mysterious, unexplained reason — too often repeated to be ignored — I know with absolute scientific certainty it will be the first nail in the coffin of our actual friendship.

VennIf we're really friends, call me. Email me if you must, or invite me somewhere. Better yet, invite yourself over (that way I can't keep you waiting). I'll make you a drink, we'll talk half the night, I'll give you the best advice in the world, which you won't follow (I suspect none of my friends do, but what I don't know won't kill me), or you can help me rearrange my furniture, but it won't seem like work because we'll be having way too much fun and you know how much I appreciate your eye for placement and how the ergonomics of every day life factor into an optimal seating arrangement. When you finally decide to leave, it'll be hours later than you intended and you'll be carrying some impulsive gift I've convinced you to take because it's obviously meant to be yours. Laughing and hugging, we'll say we have to do this again soon, which of course we won't, because that's real friendship.

A Softer World

It's not just that I'm a misanthrope. You see, living in technologically connected times presents unusual challenges for anyone who is, let's say, a writer; drawing upon autobiographical episodes from his or her life for material; whose writings, infrequent and self-indulgent and unmarketable though they might be, are at the most fundamental level, collages of memories. Just like your memories, they're peopled with characters and set on location in elaborate scenes from their life — some faithfully and photorealistically rendered, others stripped of identifying details, as if seen through a Vaselined lens. The Brain that Deceives Itself, far from begrudging the loss of unnecessary data, happily discards the high-resolution originals, compressing and flattening and zipping all those memories to free the mind for higher functions. This process has served us well over the millennia, blurring the faces of the ones who broke our hearts, dulling the pain in the eyes of those we wronged.

Who knows how faithfully our memories really render other people, or the details of all the conversations and interactions that comprise our past? Every memory is recreated by the brain every time we remember it; the system is naturally vulnerable to duplication errors, lost details, alternate endings, deleted scenes and recast parts. All the characters stored in there, whether shelved and neatly catalogued or piled together in a tangled heap, are effectively stripped of their original (some would even call them "true") identities over time. Thanks to the enigmatic mechanisms of memory, all individual identities and identifying characteristics are gradually rendered hazy and holographic, transformed into archetypes in our personal pantheon. But it wasn't just peace of mind that we gained in trade for the weight of a lifetime's sharp-focus memories. Distance and abstraction fostered creation.

Then along came motherfucking facebook, offering up an endless parade of extras and cameo appearances from our autobiographies, all flesh and blood and in your face, high resolution and living color. But they're not the memories you've been crafting all these years. No, they are their own creations; grotesque distortions ravaged by time and trials all their own. Like Hugh Jackman emerging from the time machine, these uninvited Doppelgangers handily dispatch their doubles while you're still deciding whether to confirm or ignore. Even if the reunion ends there, the damage is done. You'll find they've already recast some of your favorite scenes from the formative years, wreaked havoc with your narratives, exposed holes in your plotlines — all those carefully staged goodbyes — those bridges so diligently burned.

Given the choice, would you really want to be that cognitively dissonant apparition, an angry ghost from someone's past, your very presence destroying the vision of you preserved by time and distance? I know you're attached to this version of yourself that you've created — you've invested so much time and effort, it would be a shame if you weren't — but, given the option, wouldn't you prefer to leave this other, lovingly remembered beta you intact? Surrounded by old friends with whom you share a carefully crafted shadow realm (kind of like LOST); never getting older, never growing disillusioned, never gaining weight or going grey, never settling for less, never feeling regret, never settling down, never reproducing, never divorcing, never moving to Texas because the housing market is better there, never giving in to the myriad temptations the world has to offer, to slowly corrode the body and mind, never living with pain or illness or loss or tragedy. Death? Well, yes. Nothing I can do about that one.

A Softer World

I find it telling and somewhat encouraging that one of the writers I most admire among the living, has a similar, if less vitriolicly expressed, opinion of social media. In his interview on The Daily Show, when pressed on the subject, Aaron Sorkin said: "Socializing on the Internet is to socializing what reality TV is to reality." Of course, he was on a publicity junket for his newly released "W" treatment of King Facebook, Mark Zuckerburg.

I've only read one quasi-review of the movie, which was enough to send me right up to the edge of Facebook Suicide. In case you don't plan on seeing the movie and don't like reading reviews of movies you're not going to see (although, what kind of a weirdo would that make you?), I'll share the closing lines of Ari Melber's review, The Antisocial Network from The Nation magazine. Depending on how much you <like> Facebook, this excerpt may contain spoilers.

"[A]s Facebook continues to shape norms online and set the bar for aspiring start-ups, it is worth remembering the premise that it was built on. A few more lines from Zuckerberg, which are not quoted directly in the movie, capture the sentiment perfectly. Flush with thousands of profiles submitted by his peers, Zuckerberg typed out his thoughts via instant message to a friend at Harvard:"

ZUCK: yea so if you ever need info about anyone at harvard
ZUCK: just ask
ZUCK: i have over 4000 emails, pictures, addresses, sns
[REDACTED]: what!? how'd you manage that one?
ZUCK: people just submitted it
ZUCK: i don't know why
ZUCK: they "trust me"
ZUCK: dumb fucks


click for permalink October 9, 2010

Infographics... who doesn't love them? Here are some recent favorites.

Aging World

Our Aging World illustrates global population trends and allows users to compare demographics for eight countries over 100 years, with data from 1950 extrapolated to 2050, to "reveal insights about... history and provide a glimpse towards [future] economic and healthcare trends." The vertical bars represent age brackets of five years, from 0-5 up to the still all but universal Game Over zone of 100-105.

"According to the United Nations, the elderly population of the world is growing at its fastest rate ever. By 2050, there will be more than 2 billion people aged 60 or over." For example, if you look at the graph for Japan — the red line in the combined graph above — you can see that the two largest population groups are significantly older than in the other nations studied, around the ages of 35-39 and 60-64. See how narrow the left end of the graph is compared with the other countries? That's their famously low ("below replacement level") birthrate in visual form. But the other end of the graph is significantly wider, meaning higher numbers in the 65-99 age brackets than all the other countries. Is it just me, or do these graphs all look like reservoir tip condoms? Is there some hidden message here, GE?

Ebb & FlowThe Ebb and Flow of Movies: This infographic is brought to us by New York Times Movies and it tracks the box office receipts of all major film releases since 1986; "Out of Africa" to "I Am Legend" — which is a good indication of the other thing this chart tracks — the inverse proportion of revenue to the length of time films remained in the theaters...

And yes, there's something about quality here too; that huge spike in orange-brown? "National Treasure: Book of Secrets."

The site is searchable, too.

BrainstormerThis neat thing on the right is called The Brainstormer and, when spun, its three independent wheels form endless combinations of story, setting and character prompts for inspiration-seeking fiction writers. You just press the "random" button in the middle and the wheels turn and land on a new combination — if I spin it right now it comes back with... Self-preservation/small town/hermit... Hm. I spin it again and... Odd couple/Fairie/island (clearly it thought I was my mother that time). If you're not into writing fiction (or fantasy), it could still be fun as a game where have to come up with a movie or book that fits each combination (the first person who can't think of a match has to drink? Or, you know, whatever). So for that first one — ooh, Sling Blade! Or Nell. Woohoo, this is easy. The second one could be Peter Pan. (The Brainstormer is now available as an iPhone app.)

I wish somebody would make one for nonfiction writer's block... The inner wheel, instead of screenwriting class-inspired basic plot lines (like Sacrifice for Love, Mistaken Judgment and Supernatural Occurrence) could offer up a range of current or timeless political/philosophical issues guaranteed to spark debate, like "separation of church and state," "income inequality," "racial discrimination" and "sexual harassment." The second wheel would still provide the setting; "in public schools," "in the developing world" or "over the next decade." The third wheel could tell you which population segment to focus on — which would also suggest good sources for quotes and statistics to support your argument — like "a growing majority of Americans," "the Obama administration," "the ranks of the unemployed" or the always-quotable "industry insiders speaking on condition of anonymity." Now that would be fun.

This is one of those videos that have been popping up everywhere lately, where they take a lecture by someone like Malcolm Gladwell or Daniel Pink and an illustrator speed-draws what the speaker is saying. It's an ingenious technique that's become ubiquitous at Good magazine and other educational/political ("lefty") sites, and the main purveyor seems to be an organization called the RSA (the who, you ask? That would be the Royal Society for the encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commercewhy not RSAMC, I wonder). Notwithstanding their unwieldy moniker, the videos are brilliant. My favorite is a 10-minute version of Jeremy Rifkin's "Empathic Civilization," which "investigates the evolution of empathy and the profound ways that it has shaped our development and our society." If you've never heard of him, I highly recommend watching the full lecture as well.

The only problem with this novel method of information delivery is that it's only a matter of time before the meme runs its course and what was once a clever, original device is being shamelessly parroted in every PSA and car commercial on television. Next thing you know, you won't be able to sit through your company's annual general bore-you-to-tears-athon without being treated to some PowerPoint guru's attempt to liven up the presentation of the financial targets for next fiscal. Sorry, that's not going to make two hours of drowning in a molasses tsunami of corporate jargon any more "engaging" — and you know the fact that I'm mentioning it now means the meme probably passed that checkpoint about six months ago. So check out the RSA Animates channel on YouTube and enjoy them while you still can.

Finally, though not technically infographics, I have to include The Oatmeal here as it is the source of many heart-clenchingly insightful cartoon-form ruminations on experiences we all have in common, like printers, the three phases of owning a computer, the perils of offering technical advice to friends and family, the eight web sites you need to stop building and what's awesome and what's horrible about working from home...

Oatmeal - Working from home