Near Earth Archive

A backup of Near Earth Object by Paul Fidalgo

Formed by Boredom

This worries me a little (by Toby Litt in Granta):

A couple of years ago, I spent three months playing World of Warcraft – partly as research for a short story I was writing, mostly because I became addicted to it. This convinced me of one thing: If the computer games which exist now had existed back in 1979 I would not have read any books, I think; I would not have seen writing as an adequate entertainment; I would not have seen going outdoors as sufficiently interesting to bother with.

Similarly, I find it difficult to understand why any eleven-year-old of today would be sufficiently bored to turn inward for entertainment.

This raises the question as to how future writers will come about, without ‘silence, exile and cunning’ – without the need for these things?

I was formed, as a writer, by the boredom of the place in which I lived.

Now, I did have video games when I was eleven (not anything of the scale or complexity of WoW, but I had the NES and the Segal Genesis), and I think they are a big reason (second only to cable TV) as to why I almost never read books at that age, despite being “bookish” in all other respects. With rare exceptions, I allowed the television screen to use up almost every single waking minute of my life. I can’t tell you how much I regret that.

Eventually, I got bored. In my boredom, I learned to play — just barely — some guitar, and wrote songs. Or wrote in my journal. As a young adult, particularly when I was a working actor without television available to me, I got really bored, and dove head first into my songwriting, and other reading and writing as well, for a good stretch of about five years.

But in the thick of the social web today, along with the rigor of parenthood, I am once again rarely bored. I loathe television now, even to the point where even high-quality programming makes me impatient and anxious for the time I lose to viewing it. But my iPad and Mac and iPhone ensure that I never need be without distraction once the kid is asleep.

A happy difference now from my days of TV-cured boredom is that I spend a huge amount of time on my devices reading, far more than I did as a child or teenager. I am not delving into genuine books as much as I would like (and not nearly as much as I did when I was essentially bereft of television and Internet access), but my iPad serves primarily as a reader for long- and medium-form written content. I almost never visit YouTube, I play almost no games, etc.

But that’s me, a nerd who never fully embraced his nerddom in his teens, and is now trying to intellectually and culturally catch up. To today’s eleven-year-olds, will such an endeavor even occur to them? I’d like to think so. I’d like to think, at least, that they’ll do better than me. On a hopeful note, my two-year-old son Toby, who, although he does love his episodes of Dinosaur Train, absolutely loves books and being read to. I will do all I can to keep him loving books. He’ll be a better man for it.

End the Tweaking

Advice I could stand to take, from Rob Beschizza, editor of BoingBoing:

Getting snared by technology-tweaking, especially design, is the fastest and easiest way to waste time to no good end as an indie blogger type. There’s only one thing that brings in readers, and marketing people call it “content”. Writing. Artwork. Games. Whatever it is that you do that other people care about.

The confusion between the technology of blogging and the art of it is natural, because we’re still close to the dawn of the medium.

This has definitely been one of my weak points, to which my three or four longtime readers can attest. I’ve hopped platforms and gnashed my teeth over silly design conundra more times than is defensible. I’m only recently waking up to the idea that I’ve got to stop worrying about the packaging, particularly considering the relatively tiny audience I have. A nifty logo, while nifty, will not draw an audience.

Toby Sez

Larry Page is, I Think, Interviewed about, Kind of, Google

There’s been a lot of to-do in the tech press over a Businessweek interview with Google’s Larry Page, in which Page dishes a bit on Steve Jobs and his war against Android. But I found something else about the piece far more revealing. Read as Page responds to a simple question about what the hell it is that Google, once specifically a search company, actually does:

I think you have—I mean, what does it really mean to be a search company? I mean, even at that time, I think at that time and now, basically our soul is the same. I think what we’re about is we’re about using large-scale kind of technology: technology advancements to help people, to make people’s lives better, to make community better. Obviously, our mission was organizing the world’s information and making it universally accessible and useful, and I think we probably missed more of the people part of that than we should have.

It sounds to me like Page has no idea what Google’s purpose is anymore, other than to be be very big in the general context of the Internet. It doesn’t matter what that is specifically.

Truly, the entire interview is off-putting in how often Page litters his speech with rhetorical cushioning, lots of “reallys” and “I thinks” to avoid being definitive, and generally dances around a lot of frankly softball questions. (His lack of enthusiasm for any Android tablet on the market is palpable.)

Indeed, the only time he becomes succinct is when he’s complaining about how unfair Facebook is about contact exports. So a least we know how he feels about that!

This doesn’t strike me as the way the CEO of a globally-dominant supercorporation talks to a reporter. Can you imagine Steve Jobs or Bill Gates getting this mush-mouthed? If I were someone whose livelihood depended on the further ascent of Google, this small magazine interview would worry me.

Priorities

On the day that the Supreme Court decides that a person can be strip-searched by police for any reason whatsoever, Politico knows what’s really important. Their front page right now:

20120402-203435.jpg

“Sometimes he comes off stiff.”

Yes, I am twelve.

Original story here, about the “Mitt-Stabilizer.”

Immovable Type

Anil Dash tries to calm the Instapaper-vs.Readability animosity and makes a startling point about the reality of Web-based journaling:

. . . when I would spend my time flinging zingers at Matt Mullenweg about the merits of Movable Type vs. WordPress, you know who was winning? Mark Fucking Zuckerberg. Facebook won the blogging wars. The web became a more closed place than if either Movable Type or WordPress had evolved into the tool that powered social networking.

Oh my god he’s right. God damn it, he’s right.

I often wonder if this blog, or my sometimes-toying with Tumblr-type blogging, is essentially made redundant or irrelevant by Facebook and Twitter–heck, almost all the traffic to this blog comes from Facebook, meaning that just about everyone who reads it are people I in some way already know. Why bother maintaining a stand-alone website if it’s just an inconvenient detour from Facebook for all its readers? I’m curious what you think.

Don’t Get in a Car with an Atheist!

Spotted on Indeed.com, a “job listing” from a Texas mother looking for someone to help her transport her teenage daughters to school and activities, emphasis mine:

I am a mother who is 38 years old, I am a teacher in Tomball ISD, my husband is American and I am Mexican. I need to find a woman or girl that is nice, kind, and has good manners because you would be a role model for my daughters too. Christian or Catholic would be best. If you think you are atheist, please don’t take the job, I do not want those ideas in my daughters’ heads. We are a very kind and positive and affectionate family.

Just stretch your imagination and think about what folks might say if instead the ad feared for the effect of Christian “ideas in my daughters’ heads.”

You know what? I’ll bet she’d be “kind and positive” toward an atheist applicant before she called the police.

Tomorrow is Gone

The Veracity and the Vicissitude of Mike Daisey

Listening tonight to the nearly-unbearable “Retraction” edition of “This American Life” in which Mike Daisey is taken to task for his fabrication of details about his experiences in China, I kept waiting for Daisey to more effectively counter the assertion by Ira Glass that people who come to see a monologue expect that every word of it is true.

Perhaps it’s because Glass and the myriad bloggers and reporters feasting on this story are themselves journalists, and therefore can’t help but expect something like this to be akin to what they do, a retelling of actual events. And perhaps it’s because my roots are in theatre that I feel like Glass is wrong; one may not even think about it consciously while watching a show, but I feel that people on the whole do understand that a show is a show. I know that when I saw Daisey perform his excellent How Theatre Failed America in DC a few years ago, I certainly had no illusions that he was giving a 100% factual account of his life in theatre. Of course he was going to embellish, exaggerate, and invent. Why? Because he was spinning a tale, based on facts but not relying on them, that told a larger truth.

I understand that at least as far as “This American Life” and, perhaps even more damning, his op-ed in the New York Times are concerned, it’s the packaging of his story that matters. It does indeed sound as though Daisey offered his play as an entirely factual retelling and therefore worthy of being used as such on the show (and that his manufactured experiences could be written as though they were actual reportage for his New York Times piece). There’s no excusing the presentation of fiction as fact to news outlets.

But I have to wonder at “This American Life” for even wishing to do so with Daisey’s play. If they wanted to use his piece as a springboard, why not simply excerpt some pieces of a performance, make clear that what we’re hearing is a story told by an actor in a play, and then delve deeper into the very real, no less serious issue at hand? Why even decide to hand essentially an entire episode over to what they know is a piece of theatre? Glass says not killing the show after being thwarted in their attempts to contact Daisey’s translator was their big mistake. I think their big mistake was in thinking that a play might possibly be, not just the inspiration, but the substance of one of their reports. I find it hard to believe, but I am forced to believe, that Glass and company are as naive as he claims they are when it comes to credulousness about the veracity of performance art.

I don’t know what Mike Daisey was thinking. He’s such a brilliant writer and performer, and I think it would be a genuine, substantive loss to the culture if we were to lose what he does because of this — particularly since his larger motive was so crucial, so real. I can only presume that the idea of getting his show on “This American Life” and of getting to be treated with a kind of reverence by the media became con-fused with that larger motive. He is an actor, after all, and we are nothing if not attention whores of the worst kind. (Hey! Go download my music!!!!) I wish so badly that he had handled this all so differently. All he had to say to Glass, to the media, to his audience, in any subtle form he wished, that his play is just that, a play, but that it is based on many true events and reports. Done.

I also wish that when Ira Glass pressed him as to whether it was acceptable for his play to be in part constructed of fictions that he had said, proudly, that the art of storytelling has a different goal than journalism, and that his job is to get his audience to think and to feel something. Daisey does that extremely well, and the things he wants us to care about remain worth caring about.

Side note: I am more than a little sickened by many of the tech bloggers and journalists whose work I usually think extremely highly of, but are now dancing on Daisey’s reputation’s grave, almost delighted that Daisey is facing this new firestorm. This seems to me to be borne out of nothing other than their own desire to not have to feel anything about the source of the gadgets off of which they base their careers. Now they’re off the hook, so they believe, and they have someone to put in the stockades for his heresy. It’s deeply disappointing.

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