My New Home

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Things to Like about Twitter: #3 We, Not They

When the 10:00 news leads with a story about Drew Peterson and Rod Blagojevich's secret gay marriage on the set of The Hills, our typical reaction is, "Why do they put junk like this on television?" And usually, the answer comes back, "Because they know that's what people will watch."

That's just the way the media business works. News. Entertainment. Newsertainment. PBS. They are all in the business of publishing/airing what they think we will want to consume. Of course, when we don't approve of what they are broadcasting, we separate ourselves from the intended audience with the term those people. Because we aren't those people, we have higher standards. It is they who are in control of the content who truly decide what we can read, view, and hear.

With Twitter, though, we have no one to blame but ourselves. Twitter is media without the control of business. It is still open for business, and corporate entities definitely can influence which way the twind blows. But they can't control it.

A look at Twitter's trending topics at the moment reveals a widespread interest in Michael Jackson and Iran and a quiz about what McFLY song you might be.

One could argue that those trends represent three distinct groups of people, but one would be wrong. There is plenty of overlap in those trends. If you follow enough people on Twitter, you'll see plenty of people who tweet both the frivolous and the serious. You'll also see people filling their tweets with nothing but trending topic references and a spam link.

Those people. :)

It's not perfect. But I love that there is this global sampling of people and their interests that is governed almost exclusively by the interest of the audience itself and not just some big-wig's greedy interpretation of it.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

A Victim of a Selfish Kind of Love

I'll get this out of the way: I was terribly saddened to learn that Michael Jackson died today. My first thought: No way. My second thought: On the list of People Most Likely to Fake Their Own Deaths, Michael Jackson is at the very top. My third through thousandth thoughts: Damn.

It's hard enough on a normal day to know how to feel and what to think about Michael Jackson. His music is stamped on our souls. His personal life . . . we can't wash away the stink of what we've heard about that man. It's impossible to know how much of it is true, but it's tough to prove a shred of it false. Besides, the maelstrom of shocking doubt and bizarre intrigue seems to be the image MJ wanted anyway. But I don't think he wanted exactly what he got.

The thing about death is, it's the personification of everything bad in the world. When someone dies, you remember the good stuff and the bad—no matter what the optimists say to the contrary—you remember it all, and it comes in a flood.

You remember the disagreements that never got settled. The regrets. The questions that never got asked, or were asked without a satisfactory answer. You remember unkind thoughts. Faults that won't get mentioned. And the good things, they just turn sour when you remember that the person who brought you happiness is gone.

And when someone dies, the full weight of all that is wrong with the world converges at one point that pierces your heart, the chronic pain of life uniting in an acute moment of agony.

So Michael Jackson presents a little problem for us, don't he? The loss of the musical master, the entertainment icon, the moonwalker (I didn't exist when JFK died or Armstrong leapt for mankind, but I remember where I was when I first saw MJ moonwalk); the nonexistent childhood and the troubled family; the mountains of abuse that categorized his life . . . MJ died, and I felt like I had to process it all while watching The Tale of Desperaux with my two sons.

I'll remember where I was when I heard about Michael. It was an awful moment. But I will carry with me the music, the moves (they live on in me, Michael, rest easy), and the memory of every "don't do this" child-rearing lesson he ever taught me. I still don't know how to feel. I don't know where MJ is now. I just know that whatever people say about him, whatever he might have done, we all need a lot of grace. We're all lucky ever to shine. And we all . . . well, we all die. There isn't anything good about that.

Still, when it ends, mourning the loss of what's good is less painful than crying over trouble that never got resolved. So I'll just say that waiting to make peace is the worst kind of procrastination. To MJ, I hope you finally found the peace that so long eluded you.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Things to Like about Twitter: #4 Anyone Can Do It

When I say anyone can Twitter, I don't just mean anyone can have an account or anyone can do it if they really try. I mean anyone can absolutely take over Twitterdom.

Case in point: Ashton Kutcher, aka aplusk. I'm not happy he's using my initials to further his twittermania, but the dude was the quickest to amass 2 million followers.

Yeah, A+K is the reigning king of Twitter. He's no longer Kelso from That '70s Show, The New Bruce Willis, or the dude from Punk'd. Ashton is Mr. Twitter.

So if you don't think you can make Twitter work for you, take a good hard look at who can.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Things to Like about Twitter: #5 No Computer Necessary

I don't tweet by phone. I don't really text much by phone, either. I use my phone to, you know, call people. I'm old school that way. I just can't see paying $100 a month for service, but what do I know?

For those people who do use the features on their power/smart/mega phones, you'll less-than-3 Twitter. For all the bagazillion things the Internets offer, Twitter is the one that makes the most sense in the translation from PC to phone (okay, maybe it's in a tie with mapping/GPS applications).

Twitter gives you that sense (be it quasi or genuine) of being connected, and the quality of the experience is by no means diminished by the limitations of your phone. It's actually enhanced, because, unlike PC-based functions that require you to be home* on a Friday night to hang with your e-friends, phone Twittering allows you to maintain your virtual network while also enjoying an actual life. You can have your geek and eat out, too.

As for me, I'm still sitting when I'm twitting. But for those of you with lives, take heart. Twitter (and all your techno tweeple) can follow right along.

*or in your dorm room, library, office, or the local Panera where you and your laptop are usually stationed

Friday, June 12, 2009

Things to Like about Twitter: #6

You can accomplish the same effect with (with more features, if you're into that, but I like Twitter for the simplicity), but I really like the ability to share music one song at a time with Sometimes you hear the whole thing. Sometimes you hear a :30 clip. But you know what? Sometimes all you need is :30 of MJ to turn your day around.

You're welcome.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Things to Like about Twitter: #7 The Return of Editing

If you've had any conversations in the last five years with anyone who has ever taught you anything about language, you've probably heard that person (those people) bemoan the demise of all things literary. The electronic era was supposed to have destroyed the concept of stringing words together by now, but Twitter, I believe, has brought about a resurgence or sorts.

People just don't write anymore. Word processors made everybody lazy, and email made us careless. But texting? It spawned a generation whose typical communications look more like vanity plates than personal messages. The average text message (which is limited to 160 characters, here's why) is devoid of substance and vowels. W00t. L8r. Ttfn.

It wasn't the medium that took meaning from the messages, it was the context. Continuing in email's carelessness, texting is casual. We've all collectively decided our friends aren't worth writing for. But what if our texts suddenly weren't so private? Then we'd have to make sure that somewhere beneath those 160 characters hid a clean pair of underwear and a decently constructed thought.

Enter Twitter.

Limited down to 140 characters to accommodate usernames, tweets are meant to be noticed, to attract, to communicate something personal albeit trivial. To fit in your thought, a link, an @reply, and a #hashtag, you can't just spit out whatever words come to mind. To tweet, one must edit.

Sure, most people simply use shorthand to squeeze their lengthy missives under the 140-character wire. But others actually start eliminating that, nixing the passive voice, and axing frivolous adjectives and adverbs.

The bottom line: every tweep or twitterer must edit. How they do it and how well they do it are totally up to them. But Twitter is teaching texters the value of every letter and inspiring them to text with meaning and purpose.

Let your 6th grade English teacher know there's still hope for the future.

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Things to Like about Twitter: #8 No Commitment

Fake friends. Everybody on facebook has them. Heck, everybody in the world has them. It's been that way pretty much since the beginning of time. Caesar had Brutus. Hamlet had Rosencrantz and Gildenstern (and vice versa). Heck, even Abel thought Cain was his friend.

Cain: "Hey, Abel, come here for a second, would ya?"
Abel: "Sure, buddy, what's up?"
Cain: "Remember how the serpent told mom, 'You won't surely die,' that one time?"
Abel: "Of course."
Cain: "Yeah, I don't think he meant you."

But these days fake friends don't kill you. At worst, they invite you to send e-Karma to other fake friends or join their "Bring Back Dungeons & Dragons" group. At best, they boost your fake friends statistics and give you links to dancing Jonases in leotards. But for those who aren't totally comfortable with fake friendship and all the emotional fabrication it entails, social networking is just big tangled mess of electronic awkward.

First you have the friend requests you don't want to accept but are afraid to refuse. Then you've got the endless streams of invitations to groups, causes, games, and other. And the "decline" options are always worded to make you feel completely devoid of compassion. "Your fake friend wishes to share this wonderfully joyful application with you. Do you care enough to just click a couple of times?" And then your options are, "Yes, I'm a good person," and "Ignore," "Turn a blind eye to their cry for attention, " "How 'bout a rude gesture, instead," or "I loathe you."

And there's pressure. Pressure to comment on the notes, the links, the statuses, the photos. Pressure to engage in the debates. Pressure to "like" stuff when you just can't think of anything to say. Pressure to wish people happy birthday and thank them all for the pressurized wishes.

Well with Twitter, there's no pressure. Tweets are like dust in the wind. You send 'em out, and the people who notice, notice. The people who don't, don't. Maybe they're more like farts in the wind, now that I think about it. I'll address that subject more in a later post, I'm sure . . . minus the flatulence, hopefully.

And friends on Twitter make casual facebook friends look like Diana Barry and Anne Shirley. Somebody follows you on Twitter, you don't have to follow them. You can, but the pressure is gone. What do they notice? They don't need to know what you're doing, they have Ashton and Demi and Shaq to keep them company. You're too good for me? Huh, well, at least Barack Obama can follow me. Yes he can.

So yeah, I like the no commitment. The no requests. The no groups. The no structure. I can have real Twitter friends. I can have fake Twitter friends. I can have fake Twitter friends who are real Twitter stalkers. It doesn't bother me. It's only 140 characters.

Monday, June 08, 2009

Liked Ravinia, Loved Patty & Friends

Heather and I had the pleasure of seeing the Three Girls and Their Buddy tour stop at Ravinia last night. For as much as I loved the performances by Shawn Colvin, Emmylou Harris, and Buddy Miller, the show was really just Patty Griffin & Friends for me. I love me some Patty Griffin.

The concert itself was pretty much one big surprise. The four headliners were the onlyliners. No supporting band. No set list. No intermission. Just some guitars, a few makeshift percussion instruments, and four earthbound voices of ethereal richness singing the best songs that came to mind.

My favorite moments came from unexpected places, like Shawn Colvin's, "I Don't Know Why," a song she said was written for her daughter . . . about 17 years before she was born. The strange thing was, I knew exactly what the song was about the minute I heard that synopsis. I have no excuse for not knowing and loving that song prior to last night, but I'll try to make it up to you by letting you in on the gem.

Buddy Miller's highlight was a cover of a Stephen Bruton song called, "Heart of Hearts." It's so obscure, I couldn't locate it with the lyrics I could remember. Even after discovering a YouTube performance of the song with a band called The Resentments, I found precious little evidence of its existence anywhere else. Heather called it her new theme song, and I just loved it. I hope you enjoy it, too—although as Buddy played it (in honor of his friend, the songwriter Bruton, who died while Miller was recovering from a heart attack earlier this year) I couldn't help thinking that there has been no advancement in the audio industry capable of recreating the sound of a live performance.

I was thrilled to the point of aneurysm when Emmylou Harris mentioned a forthcoming album from Patty (produced by Buddy) dubbed a "lapsed Catholic" gospel album called Downtown Church. This struck me as particularly humorous since just this week I had used Patty Griffin's tribute to her grandmother, "Mary," as part of the soundtrack for a slideshow honoring Heather's grandmother Mary (a devout Catholic, and a delightfully unboring human being). I knew Patty was unlikely to play the song in a concert where she performed only a handful of covers and originals, so I took this small emotional tie-in as sufficient coincidence for the evening.

And then, after the stage was cleared and the artists were beckoned back for an encore, Patty & Friends treated us to a quasi-a capella spiritual hymn followed by one last group performance, a song Patty called their benediction: (yeah, you guessed it) "Mary." There were tears.

Thursday, June 04, 2009

Things to like about Twitter: #9 - Hashtags

What the @#!$ is a hashtag? On Twitteria Lane, it's when you put a # in front of a word to facilitate real-time searching. So this thing I like about Twitter is actually two things.

1. By using a hashtag, you can easily search Twitter for a real-time list of twerps from everyone in the entire land of Twit who is intentionally discussing a topic in installments of fewer than 140 characters. If you want to discuss So You Think You Can Dance, you simply add the #sytycd hashtag to your dia-twibe, and anyone perusing an active search of that topic via Twitter's search feature or TweetDeck or any of the twillions of other Twitter-related applications.

And unlike Facebook or MySpace, you aren't just discussing with your friends, you're tweeting it up with all of Twitter. Everybody is gathered around one giant water cooler.

2. The hashtag also brings more practical usage to yet another rarely used character on the keyboard. For quite awhile, @ was reigning as the otherwise-useless symbol du jour, but # has taken its rightful place among the inner circle.

It's not just pound or number, anymore, baby. Make way for #, the hash master.

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Things to Like about Twitter: #10 Trends

Twitter tracks the most-tweeted topics in twitternity. Today, it's Joe Jonas and his "Single Ladies" dance. I can't even comment other than to say, thank you, Twitter, for this: