March 6th, 2009

Pointless Pointing?

In his latest set of responses to reader questions, ESPN.com's Bill Simmons, my favorite sports columnist, takes a complaint about boring status updates on Facebook as the occasion to make points that I've been fumbling towards in my head, even as I participate in the very forms of social networking that inspired them:
The more interesting angle for me is how Twitter and Facebook reflect where our writing is going thanks to the Internet. In 15 years, writing went from "reflecting on what happened and putting together some coherent thoughts" to "reflecting on what happened as quickly as possible" to "reflecting on what's happening as it's happening" to "here are my half-baked thoughts about absolutely anything and I'm not even going to attempt to entertain you," or as I like to call it, Twitter/Facebook Syndrome. Do my friends REALLY CARE if I send out an update, "Bill is flying on an airplane finishing a mailbag right now?" (Which is true, by the way.) I just don't think they would. I certainly wouldn't. That's why I refuse to use Twitter.

As for Facebook, I don't mind getting status updates and snapshots of what my friends' lives are like -- even if "Bob the Builder" is prominently involved -- as long as they aren't posting 10 times a day or writing something uncomfortable about their spouse/boyfriend like "(Girl's name) is … trying to remember the last time she looked at her husband without wanting to punch him in the face" or "(Girl's name) is … just going to keep eating, it's not like I have sex anymore." Keep me out of your personal business, please. Other than that, the comedy of status updates can be off the charts. Like my college classmate who sends out status updates so overwhelmingly mundane and weird that my buddies and I forward them to each other, then add fake responses like, "(Guy's name) … snapped and killed a drifter tonight" and "(Guy's name) … would hang myself if the ceilings in my apartment weren't too short." It kills us. We can't get enough of it. We have been doing it for four solid months. And really, that's what Facebook is all about -- looking at photos of your friend's kids or any reunion or party, making fun of people you never liked and searching for old hook-ups and deciding whether you regret the hook-up or not. That's really it. All in all, I like Facebook.
I agree with him about Facebook, where most of the thoughtful content is imported from elsewhere on the internet, but which is fine for the cyberspace version of hanging out with friends at a café or pub. I also like Twitter. Again, though, most of the good stuff I get from my network is pointing me towards more substantive material elsewhere. Unless I have the time to follow the links, it feels like being in a room full of people talking animatedly about what excites them while everyone else does the same and no one can really catch the specifics of what's being talked about. That sort of social networking is always already on the verge of turning into pointing in which participants are more interested in sticking their own index finger out than they are in using their eyes to track anyone else's. Does pointing have no point if the thing being pointed to isn't registered?

Field of Vision

I don't know whether I qualify as ADHD or OCD or any of the other acronyms bandied about these days when people's self-sabotaging faults are discussed. But I am definitely the sort of person who is highly sensitive to my physical environment when I'm trying to concentrate. There's a reason I used to align the objects on my living room floor as a teenager so that they would be at right angles to the television screen.

Since my bike injury last year, I've had a devil of a time sitting at my desk to type. Something about the angle at which I have to bend my knee makes my ankle and foot swell uncomfortably. As a result, I took to using the laptop on a long, thin folding table. At first I did this in the front room. But that seemed too much like the colonization of leisure space for work. So I reconfigured my home office, cramped as it, to accommodate the table. Now I work primarily on the laptop, but access the desktop, which I use for my iTunes library, photo archive and scanning-related tasks, by swiveling and rolling my chair forward two feet.

It's a remarkably productive set-up. I only wish I'd thought of it sooner. The most interesting thing about the arrangement is that the practical value of being able to access both computers I use is supplemented by an unanticipated advantage. Before, when I would look up from the screen to rest my eyes and ponder, I'd see either a wall or a window. Now, though, when I life my eyes from the laptop I see this view:


Apparently, I respond as powerfully to positive distractions as negative ones. Scanning the books on these shelves sharpens my reflections, prodding me to conceive of what I'm writing in relation to these weighty tomes. And the sight of these shelves in proximity to each other also improves my thinking about the relationship between the categories they delimit. Mentally making the passage between French post-structuralism, on the left, and psychoanalysis, on the right, via the "bridge" of my stuffed Nietzsche's eyebows -- thank you again, Steven and Robin! -- or remarking the visual symmetry demonstrated by Charles Taylor's Sources of the Self, on the left, and Frederic Jameson's Postmodernism; or, the Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism, on the right, adds a body to my musings that would be lacking if I didn't have the spatial aid of this spectacle confronting me all day.

A Good Week For the Bears, Past and Present

I didn't get to watch tonight's Celtics-Cavaliers game, but was heartened to see that former Cal star and all-around great story Leon Powe rose to the occasion. With Kevin Garnett sidelined and Glen Davis ejected for a flagrant foul, he had 20 points and 11 rebounds to help secure a crucial victory. I've said it before and I'll say it again: "Go Bears!" But just don't go down the path Marshawn Lynch has been following lately. . .