February 25, 2011

Prisoners of Our Own Devise

With their characteristic aplomb and prescience, the New York Times dismissed blogging earlier this week, stating the obvious that blogs have become irrelevant to today’s youth who prefer their Facebook and Twitter “status updates” to “express themselves.” Yet buried within this article of cobbled opinion and “expert” quotes were some intriguing revelations to unearth concerning our current technologic servitude. For instance:

“The Internet and American Life Project at the Pew Research Center found that from 2006 to 2009, blogging among children ages 12 to 17 fell by half; now 14 percent of children those ages who use the Internet have blogs. Among 18-to-33-year-olds, the project said in a report last year, blogging dropped two percentage points in 2010 from two years earlier.”(1)

Thus, we gather that teens’ lack of interest in blogging might be proportionately relational to their acquisition of cellular devices proffering text-based platforms that leapfrog standard keystroke entry since said teens were further depicted as “too busy to write lengthy posts.”

Enter Twitter and its teen-appropriate, tailor-made 140 characters per “Tweet.” Further enhancing their defection from journal-style entries, we might also note the teen preference for abbreviation and the initialism of Internet slang. Such methodologies are well served in Twitter morsels and if one has something longer to say one simply strings a “run” of Tweets together.(2)

Which allows me to introduce my first revelation about technologic servitude: our ability to “express” is dictated by the device chosen for expression. Most current cell phones available with Internet access and text capability also have limitations to keyboard design and size that handily direct textual usage to the brevity of text messaging. Clearly, it is easy to comprehend why teenagers don’t blog any longer – their cells are easier to carry and they spend most of their “on-line time” on cells rather than their laptops or home-base computers.

Therefore, we have a generational shift in device preference for “self-expression” fomented through the cultural construction of our identities via advertising and peer pressure, as well as the social ergonomics of device functionality.

Parenthetically, it is perhaps less obvious that these “children” of the aforementioned Pew Research Study (“ages 12 to 17”) may not really have that much of interest (yet) to write about. With the continuous onslaught of media-saturated distraction available constantly via their device of preference, from YouTube “viral” videos to “free” MP3 downloads, it’s easy to see why younger teens don’t have time to think, much less write about their moment to moment existence other than brief “updates” or vague descriptives flavored with the occasional emoticon.(3)

But before you call me a Luddite let me confess to my seduction by both TiVo and the “MBA.” The necessity of a DVR became woefully apparent to me last year when my ancient VCR deteriorated slowly; I have yet to assume the task of digitally migrating thousands of hours’ worth of film noir, music documentaries and performance art tapes to a “safer” platform.(4)

All of this sparks me to theorize that the kind of device you are indentured to “defines” your identity. Blackberry owners are “professional,” upwardly mobile and no-nonsense; they want a “real” keyboard. Androids suggest “hipness” with that touch-screen immediacy; its “haptic feedback” guarantees a subliminal and “cool” sex appeal.

The advent of social networking, Internet sites like Facebook and Twitter that fully conform to those “software platforms” that reflect the enmeshed symbiosis with correspondent technologic devices like cell phones and netbooks, have ensnared their users within suppressed content restrictions and “Big Brother” oversight. Those of us who discovered Facebook a couple of years ago, and launched our “Profiles” happily, blithely praising the eccentric brilliance of Mr. Zuckerberg, eventually discerned we were posting updates in a kind of addictive paralysis that grips Facebook aficionados. Our updates were also limited by word-count, photos were sometimes censored and the number of “friends” we could have was also limited.

We are prisoners of our own devise. The laptop mirage of intimacy and connection to our hundreds of friends in the Facebook world is matched by our needy allegiance and fidgeting obsession with our Androids. We compulsively check and re-check email, scroll through 4-point type to simulate “reading” and develop thumb cramps and carpal tunnel from text addiction.

Indeed, it is your device that controls you. It beckons in the dark – that green/blue glow on the nightstand – that calls out, “There might be a message…perhaps a text.”

1. Kopytoff, Verne. “Blogs Wane as the Young Drift to Sites Like Twitter,” New York Times, February 21, 2011.

2. Before her Twitter account was taken down Courtney Love was particularly adept at these sequential runs which often lasted several hours.

3. There’s a dissertation yet to be written on the comparison of literary output relative to one’s episteme; Arthur Rimbaud had completed his entire body of literary work before he turned 21; there was no television or Internet in 1875.

4. TiVo continues to fascinate me with its ability to “pause” live television – surely there are video artists that are currently working within the potential of this aberration to gift us with new, unexpected “works?”

February 5, 2011

Critical Fragments: Criticism

The following quote from jazz great, Wynton Marsalis, about music critics strikes me as having the potential to inform us about art criticism as well. If you substitute "artist" for "musician," "art" for "music," and so forth, his comment resonates across media to reveal the challenges inherent in all criticism. I have made the substitutions of the analogous terms for you below; the links go to his original quote:

"A lot of times, reviewers don't really know enough about what you're doing to have an intelligent comment on it. It's hard to walk in and see something one time. An artist has worked on something, it has a lot of references, and it's full of things the reviewer doesn't know. A person doing an art review -- how much art do they know? How much art theory do they actually know? I understand the practical aspect of it. Yours is a piece they reviewed on Tuesday. They have a piece to review on Wednesday. I'm not mad at them. I'm just lucky to have the type of friends and artists and people dedicated to my art that I do."