Tuesday, December 21, 2010


See that vaguely dingy brown squarish rectangle to the left of “Fremont” in Fremont Avenue? That’s my house. If you squint, you can almost make out the driveway. You can see the sidewalk that goes from the back of the house to the alley, though the shed on our lot’s southwest corner just looks like a blotch of poorly-watered lawn. That’s the sidewalk our youngest learned to ride his bicycle on. That’s the yard where we set up the inflatable pool, where I mow and sing They Might Be Giants songs, where I once set the grass on fire trying to barbecue.

View Larger Map

Here’s the best street view one can get on Google of my house. Look beyond the mounds of snirt on the side of the road and if you squint your eyes just right, you can see the pine tree that’s completely blocking my home from public view.

View Larger Map

When, I have to ask, will Google bless Sugar City with an aerial view map that doesn’t render our town as Blotchville in the closest view? When, I have to ask, will we see the glorious day when a Google vehicle will trundle down North Fremont Avenue to give the world a view of my house with the sagging rain gutter, cracked driveway, pathetic flower garden, alligator paint job, and mounds of dog poo contributed daily by the neighbor’s Pomeranian?

Probably not going to hold my breath on this one.

Not even on the dog poo. Because what I really should be doing is mounting a 24/7 webcam on the front of the house and streaming it live to the web via this blog – or another blog solely dedicated to the camera – so that the instant that damn dog comes over to take a dump the entire world knows it and with me seeks vengeance.

Or, I could just find the courage to talk to my neighbors pleasantly and in a non-confrontational manner about the dog and his droppings. But that’s not the way we do things these days.

Unless, of course, I believe what Mark Dery, writing at True/Slant says about our propensity for oversharing and believing that the world cares about every tweet, blog post, family vacation, rambling thought, novel installment or whatever amount of digital detritus we can produce.

And I do believe it. And I do believe that only a very, very narrow slice of the people I broadcast to on Facebook, Twitter, my stable of blogs, Good Reads, Uncharted and other sites really care to know what I’m doing.

Writes Dery:
When [web guru Steven] Johnson argues that his “valley of intimate strangers” is “a much richer and more connected place than the old divide between privacy and celebrity worship was,” he’s forgetting that connection doesn’t always equal intimacy, that exhibitionism is a form of social dominance, and that we fetishize fame more than ever.

Isn’t that the motivation for much of what we call oversharing, online? Ours is the age of nanocelebrity: broadcasts created by us and, too often, for us and us alone. How many YouTube videos and blog posts and Flickr sets languish, their discussion threads registering a melancholy zero comments, their feature attractions playing to a spellbound audience of one? We’re all Norma Desmond, ready for our close-up.
Or, to carry a quote of Clay Shirky, another Internet guru, to its obvious conclusion: The Web, Chirky says, has brought us from the era of “Why should we publish this?” to the era of “Why not publish this?” Now it’s quickly taken us to the era of “God in heaven, why did they publish that?”

But that’s okay. Because nobody’s really listening anyway. Or if they are, it’s only because they’re pausing for breath before they let loose with another bit of their own “detached, bite-size yippety-yap.”

It’s just as Darin in the video and Dery writing say: “Friends don’t just randomly shout into the darkenss and hope someone’s listening.”

Here’s what Dery says:
Johnson argues that “something is lost in not bringing” our private selves—for example, “the intensities of sex and romantic love”—into the online space between “privacy and celebrity,” a liminal zone that Johnson calls “the valley of intimate strangers.” Taking the private public enriches our souls, he implies, and makes the public sphere a better place. “Somewhere in the world there exists another couple that would benefit from reading a transcript of your lover’s quarrel last night, or from watching it live on the webcam. Even a simple what-I-had-for-breakfast tweet might just steer a nearby Twitterer to a good meal.”

This is so reality-challenged, so head-in-the-data-cloud it’s effectively its own rebuttal, at least to anyone not lifecasting, 24/7, live from Laputa. What, exactly, is the benefit, to a pair of strangers, in reviewing the unredacted transcript of last night’s reenactment of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf, starring me, my wife, and the better part of a bottle of Rumple Minze, let alone watching the whole sordid affair on a webcam? Undoubtedly, someone somewhere would watch this, and maybe even claim to “benefit” from it. But there are those who claim to benefit from 2 Girls 1 Cup. Have we no sense of decency, sir, at long last?

As for the argument that we must Always Connect so that some passing Twit can have a “good meal” through our Random Act of Kindness, oh, ick.
Oh, ick, indeed.

Ron Rosenbaum, writing on a similar vein at Slate.com, reiterates what Dery and others are saying about oversharing.

So why am I still here, shouting into the darkness and hoping someone is listening?
It might be worth dwelling for a moment on the panopticon, because I believe Jeff, who has not demonstrated much familiarity with history before Google or philosophy before Zuckerberg, perfectly illustrates the shallowness of many of today's Internet gurus. Futurists who have no time for the past are now running "integrated marketing J-schools" and "entrepreneurial" programs rather than giving journalism students the deeper understanding of society, history, culture, and humanity that places like Columbia's J-school and Harvard's Nieman fellowship still care about.

And if he is aware of the panopticon and its implications, it's all the more shameful that he doesn't see the kind of digital totalitarianism he is shilling for.

But what grates most is his increasingly shrill and hysterical (in both senses of the word) advocacy of imposed, involuntary "publicness" on everyone. He seems unable to understand the difference between the virtues of transparency when it comes to powerful closed worlds of government and corporate power, and the perils—and invasiveness—of transparency when it comes to individual people.
Well, someone is listening. Me. I’m my audience, for the most part. And I’m okay with that. This blog is a minisec of ideas for me, principally, and for those who stumble upon it, secondarily. This blog gave me a place to monitor my own progress in writing my first complete novel. Whether or not anyone came along for the ride is only a secondary concern of mine. That I used this blog as a tool to help me complete a task I’ve long wanted to complete is good enough for me.

No comments: