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Journal Entry

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Decade; frog; not Twitter; "cool with"

First, happy new year everyone. How was your decade? Oh good, or I'm sorry to hear that, depending.

I had an excellent decade, thank you for asking. Actually my life at the start 2010 is largely like my life at the close of 1999 in a lot of respects, except for two things. The big one: kids! Yay! I love having kids. And the smaller one: I published a bunch of fiction. Also cool.

Speaking of which, I have a story coming out -- "The Frog Comrade", in the Mar/April 2010 issue of F&SF. The Internet (in the person of Dan Percival) tells me that I read a version of it at Wiscon 2006, so apparently I was fiddling around with it for a long time. It's nice to have something coming out.

Lately signs have been mounting that I am entering the curmudgeonly, you-kids-get-off-my-lawn stage of life. I relish this. Like, for instance: Twitter. No.

It kind of amuses me to observe that, in 1999, "online journals" were an eccentric thing done by a few particularly loquacious , literarily inclined, chatty people like myself, mostly either aspirant writers, compulsive diarists, or folks with journalistic inclinations. They weren't "blogs" yet.

Then they became blogs, and it seemed like everybody and his dog had a blog. Ordinary people, the kind who would otherwise interest themselves for petunias and sports, were instead writing online about petunias and sports. The blogosphere was, briefly, a major way that ordinary people connected to one another, a way that post-industrial white-collar workers dealt with being stuck in front of monitors all day.

Obviously blogs grew to take on other roles -- like taking on a big chunk of the world's investigative journalism as newspapers fell apart economically as the Internet debundled information content. But for a while there they were also a way ordinary people talked to the internet.

Then ordinary people discovered that they actually only needed 120 characters to talk to the internet. That was the end of blogs as social networking.

I fully realized this only the last time I posted here, actually, when two people responded to my "I'm going to Readercon" note here, compared to... some larger number of responses to a similar note on Facebook (and I avoid Facebook). I want to say 12, or 20? But I don't know, because I have no idea how to find old posts on Facebook. They don't make it easy: Facebook is a river you cannot step in twice.

So the blogosphere now feels like an East Coast beach town in November. The tourists are gone. There are of course very big-deal bloggers making a zillion dollars a day, like big casinos down on the shoreline staying open all winter, and then there are little townies like me in cottages on little roads some distance from the dunes.

I kind of like that. It's cozy.

One other bit of curmudgeonliness: does it seem normal to the rest of you for USA Today to use the verb "to be cool with" non-ironically, in straight, non-editorial political reporting, as in the sentence "White House.... officials made it clear they're cool with fast-tracking the final phase of legislation..."?

Posted by benrosen at January 6, 2010 08:47 PM | Up to blog

I don't see any more contradiction in USA Toady using "cool with" than in them using "fast-tracking." Also, as a grammatical descriptivist, I don't have any problem with it. You have my blessing, USA Toady!

Posted by: Matt at January 6, 2010 09:55 PM

It's not a matter of grammar. I'm a descriptivist too, but the grammar is quite conventional, no more remarkable than if they said they were annoyed with, or aroused by. (Pause to imagine the staffers aroused by fast-tracking the legsislation. Well, yeah, probably.)

It's a matter of tone.

But actually, I admit I think it's kind of awesome, because you can see the historical progression of deformalizing of the language.

Here's the full sentence:
"The White House didn't say much about last night's health care talks between President Obama and congressional Democrats, but officials made it clear they're cool with fast-tracking the final phase of legislation, with no public hearings and no Republican involvement."

Here's a sentence from a comparable article from a January 5th, 1910 newspaper:

"Congressmen who have been counting on the support of President Taft for a bill to prohibit dealings in futures in agricultural products were surprised and somewhat dismayed to-day to learn over the signature of Mr. Taft that there was no authority for the statements which have been made from time to time recently that a conference was soon to be held by the President."

Here's a comparable sentence from a comparable article from a January 7th, 1810 (Australian) newspaper:

"HIS MAJESTY having felt the utmost Regret and Displeasure on Account of the late Tumultuous Proceedings in this His Colony, and the Mutinous Conduct of certain Persons therein towards his late Representative, William Bligh, Esquire, then his Captain General and Commander in Chief in the said Colony, in order to mark such His Disapprobation of the said Proceedings, has been Graciously pleased to appoint me His Representative in the said Territory of New South Wales and its Dependencies; commanding and requiring me, previous to the Opening of His Royal Commission for that Purpose, to Reinstate the said William Bligh, Esquire, in the Office and Situation of Captain General and Governor in Chief of this His Colony, in case he should be resident in the same at the Time of my Arrival."

With these data points, I am able to predict that a comparable sentence from a comparable article in a January 6th, 2110 newspaper will read as follows:

"Yer law bout self backup insurance them PirateParty babes wanted -- doornail-dead baby, doornail dead."

Posted by: Benjamin Rosenbaum at January 6, 2010 10:22 PM

Ben, have you seen Idiocracy? It's worth a gander if just to confirm your fears.

As for "cool with" I just wonder if it has more to do with the word "cool" which has now been replaced by "sweet" by the youngins (or at least 20-somethings) and so being middle-aged has become more respectable if not still colloquial. Also, I wonder if this was generated by an actual quote from a White House official, even if off the record.

So what's your twitter username? ;-) Actually, it reminds me of something you had suggested a while ago that placing limitations on writers actually generated a good deal of creativity or productivity or something good. Is it that Twitter just goes too far in this area? Would 250 characters be enough for you, or is more than just that limitation that bugs you? Of course I don't use it as a replacement to blogging and I didn't use blogging as a way to socialize, but because life has gotten so busy in recent years, I do find it a lot easier to type out a 170-character message than to compose a 2000-word blog entry, honing it and trying to find sources to link to, etc. If I had the time I'd probably blog again, but I'm too busy reading my Twitter feeds!

Posted by: Levi Wallach at January 7, 2010 01:01 AM

I'm not sure they're fears, exactly. Conciseness and informality do not equate to stupidity or ignorance.

Posted by: Benjamin Rosenbaum at January 7, 2010 01:26 AM

The thing about blog entries, or e-mails, or even phone calls (at least from my perspective) is they tend to have a purpose. Or, if they don't have a purpose, they have bulk. At their best, they are equivalent to sitting down with someone (or several someones) and having a great conversation. And that's good--I really really like that. Many nights of going to bed too late because someone was interesting and who needs sleep anyway will attest to this fact.

But one of the things I miss about college is sitting somewhere and having one of my friends walk up to me, chat for a minute, and then keep going. Or being able to go to the dining hall and be reasonably sure that, if I sat there long enough, sooner or later someone I love will walk through the door and sit down with me and I'll get to see them for at least a few minutes.

Now I am living at home, and most of my closest friends live far away (though having a car should help a lot with that, and more and more of my friends are planning on moving to the area), and a lot of the important ones I'll talk with online or e-mail with, but they're also on facebook, and it's there that I get to find out a lot of the little things that I would otherwise miss--things that happen when we don't happen to be talking online and that they wouldn't think to e-mail me but it's nice to know about. It's like... passing someone in the hallway between classes and they say something funny, or they seem upset about something, and you can't talk about it right then but it was nice to see them for a moment, and maybe it's something you ask them about later.

Which is not to say that it's a substitute for more lengthy communication, let alone in-person communication, but it's better than nothing.

As for "cool with," I agree it's an issue of tone and I'm just glad I'm not the author's tutor, because I doubt most (or any) of my past tutees would get away with that in a first year seminar essay and it's much harder to explain issues of tone than it is to explain issues of paragraph structure or parallel sentence construction.

Posted by: Em Tersoff at January 7, 2010 08:08 AM

New communication methods lead to increased separation of groups. Those who latched on to livejournal, say, live in a separate world from those who frequent facebook, which is apart from those whose social circle are on emailing lists (). That's to say nothing of the APA that I've been in since 1987...

But to be fair, I don't think it's so different from how generations tend to develop their own mutually-incomprehensible slang, whether hippietalk or leetspeak -- you can be physically in the same room with other people and still not follow their conversation...

Posted by: at January 7, 2010 05:49 PM

Oh, and thanks to an intermittent connection the previous comment went out unsigned. But it's by me, Jim Moskowitz.

Posted by: at January 7, 2010 09:43 PM

And it was 11 comments on FB, but who's counting?

Posted by: Lise A at January 8, 2010 01:52 AM

I'll admit, I just don't get twittering. I'm hoping if I wait long enough, it will crash & burn without me having to bother with it.

Posted by: Ethan Ham at January 9, 2010 05:07 PM

Lise, how the heck can you tell? I presume you must have somehow browsed FB history to find the post: this skill is beyond me.

Jim, very true.

Ethan, maybe so, but only to be replaced by something yet weirder. It ain't going back to blogging -- FB and Twitter are clearly much more normal-people-compatible than blogging.

Posted by: Benjamin Rosenbaum at January 19, 2010 05:21 PM
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