Only the nose knows?

Although I generally don’t follow sports, I enjoy listening to Frank Deford, NPR’s sports commentator: his reports are witty and usually go beyond the stats to the personalities in the sports world (no doubt to appeal to the non-sports fans who listen to NPR). This morning’s comments on Tiger Woods and the cult of celebrity that has now enveloped the sports world was no exception.

And perhaps because I’m swimming in nearly 100 final research papers to grade, I giggled at this:

“To quote the young poet Muhammad Ali…: ‘Only the nose knows where the nose goes when the door[s] close.'”

How charming is Ali’s poem: the idea that anyone wants their private lives to remain private in the age of full self-disclosure and public confession (via Twitter, Facebook, blogging) is so– quaint.  But of course, still true. Even those of us self disclosing away on the Internet do so, usually,  in a carefully crafted way so that we are creating a public persona–certainly not our real inner selves.  I’m sure none of us would want our private text messages revealed to all (and of course Tiger’s women saved his texts: they were from the famous Woods!). But enough about Tiger.

William Deresiewicz has written several articles on this theme: his Chronicle articles are long (over 5000 words–longer than most) and historically grounded.  This term, I encouraged my composition students to read and respond to “The End of Solitude” (in an early January edition of The Chronicle of Higher Ed) and those that chose it wrote wonderfully rich responses: while their initial instinct was to criticize what they perceived to be an attack on their generation, they soon conceded, as Deresiewicz himself does, to his claim that being alone is fine, but for more than an hour without checking some electronic device,  not so much.

His most recent article in the Dec. 6th edition of The Chronicle, “Faux Friendship”  ponders the changing definition of friendship over the centuries, naturally in response to the dozens or hundreds of friends many of us collect on FB or Twitter.

Deresiewicz has much to say about the faux friendships formed on FB. About those FB “friends” you haven’t been in contact with for 20 years:

“Your 18-year-old self knows them. Your 40-year-old self should not know them.”

So true. At first it is amusing exchanging anecdotes, but then, you realize that your old “friend” has become a ________ (fill in the blank), whose status updates cause you physical pain.  Let’s say I’ve use the “hide” and “de-friend” function regularly on FB.

About the inability to form true friendship in 140 character informational blips:

“In order to know people, you have to listen to their stories….Posting information is like pornography, a slick, impersonal exhibition. Exchanging stories is like making love: probing, questing, questioning, caressing. It is mutual. It is intimate. It takes patience, devotion, sensitivity, subtlety, skill—and it teaches them all, too.”

While I appreciate the “storytelling as making love” metaphor, I’m not so sure about the pornography metaphor: Really?  Does that mean those who Tweet or post updates on FB are all exhibitionists? And that those who read such postings are getting some sort of physical pleasure out of doing so?  Hmmmm, no.

But I get his point. FB, Twitter, Blogging: all allow us to feel connected with others, but we shouldn’t make the mistake of thinking such connections are real friendship.  They are, he would argue, too EASY to be real.  A real, lasting friendship is complex, messy, often rife with conflict.  And it requires some real physicality (and here, I suppose, the pornography metaphor does work).  I see my good friends from college only once a year, if that.  Even though I’m aware of what they do throughout the year. But it’s only in that physical meeting that we reconnect emotionally.  Old angers come out. Past shared laughter is reignited.  It’s momentary, but it lasts for weeks, and the flame of that true connection stays lit, though dim, until the next time.

Such a long-term, long distance  friendship is a different sort of friendship than the friendships I have with those who live near me.  And that’s what Facebook, e-mail, etc etc IS good for. It allows my friends and I to mimic the daily interactions I have with friends nearby (what are you doing now? how was the food at that new place? did that student bug you again today?).  We certainly do have fact-based, informational status updates with friends in person: it’s the shared daily-ness that is a big part of our friendship.  I know what latte so and so wants from Starbucks, and I know about the broken water pipe in so and so’s house, and the annoying thing so and so’s mother said to her last week. That’s something my students who were responding to Deresiewicz tried to express in their responses to his essay.  Yes, perhaps a faux friendship is only based on status updates, but a real friendship has them, too.  FB, Twitter, Texting all allow us to keep that part of friendship in tact when distance separates us.

[Note: I’ve only recently discovered that there was, many, many moons ago, a bloggosphere conversation about cooked and raw blog postings, a conversation I will resurrect on this raw blog someday since I hate that I missed it at the time.  This post, is, by dint of being a break from finals grading, half cooked.]

Multiple Blogiality Disorder

Last December I gave a lecture on Oprah’s Book Club, and based on my emphatically positive spin on the Oprah Effect, I was recruited by an eager colleague to assist in starting a faculty and staff blog: a public space for our rapidly growing institution to remind each other who we are and what we do.

We’ve been active for a few months now: our small blog task force has reached out to those faculty and staff members who we think might have something interesting to write about (and who might actually want to take time out of their busy daily lives to do so).

Based on the blog stats, people are reading these postings (with truly novel takes on subjects such as post- modernity, social networking,  soap and chemistry, and “generation me”).   One faculty member “outed” herself as an anonymous blogger of mostly mother and teaching related reflections when she agreed to cross post on our college blog. Another faculty member who posted is also a blogger, but not an anonymous one: she links to both blogs on Facebook, and enjoys the cross pollination of the various public forums.

This week, for the college blog, we are encouraging faculty and staff to submit their summer reading lists.  I am getting some interesting titles, but not as many as I’d hoped.

Despite a slow start, it’s been rewarding starting this new blog—which has yet to really find its footing.  Is the college blog a public relations tool of sorts (not that the PR folks are selling it in any way), or is it just another form of a “Water Cooler” that we have on our internal e-mail system? Right now, it seems to be the latter, but what is most interesting is that because I am one of the public faces of this new blog, I am often confused as the writer of many of the postings—folks stop by on campus to thank me for my interesting posts about Facebook or teaching, and I have to stop and remember that they mean my colleagues’ posts on the college blog (not Annie Em’s posts on those same subjects).

It’s a little unnerving.

This blog, too, is still trying to find its niche: partly educational, partly self reflection, partly a pastiche of links that amuse me.  But that’s ok.  I’ll keep writing and see where it goes.  While I don’t have the talent to write stories like TK,  or the charm to blog on life like Inky, or the wit of Acadamnit, I enjoy the process of writing a blog posting.  Tenured Radical (a rather well-known blogger) has a thoughtful recent 400th posting where she reflects upon her rather satisfying “career” as a blogger, a public intellectual of the 21st century.

That’s a marvelous goal, to be a public intellectual.

One of my students this term came to chat with me about that: he wants to be a public intellectual when he grows up (he’s 22) and asked me what he should major in!  I was truly at a loss. What would you have said?

Since he was sitting there in my soon to be small, old office, waiting for me to give him advice, I ultimately said something, though it probably sounded like a rambling list to the poor guy:  I said that it didn’t matter what he majored in, as long as he took a variety of classes, challenging classes, too.  I said it was probably more important that he write and participate in conversations as often as possible.  That he travel and become involved in the world around him. I gave him a list of titles of books by writers I consider to be public intellectuals, and encouraged him to take classes with professors on campus who I think would be possible mentors for him.

And then I said I hoped we could chat again someday after spring term when my brain was not quite as mushy.

I hope he does stop by to chat next week after he hands in his research paper (an approach on a topic that is, of course, original and challenging).  Maybe I’ll tell him to start a blog.

Faceblogging: The Daily Us

One theme that has come up in the blogosphere lately is that Facebook (aka FB) has, as Dr. Virago so pithily put it, “killed the blogosphere star.”  Now, I’m no blogosphere star like others who’ve blamed their FBing for their missing bloggings, i.e. Orange Tangerine, or another, who, despite dozens of pleas from dozens of bloggy fans, refuses to join FB.  But I do agree that there are times when FB gives me more pleasure than blogging, and vice versa.

Facebook includes those of my RL (real life) friends who actually want to be on Facebook (and certainly many do not), as well as old classmates and boyfriends, a few now former students, a former Big Blue Marble pen pal,  some family members-including my mom, and, interestingly, my pastor from church (who tends to use FB as a place to draft his sermons in twitter form-which greatly amuses me).  On FB I get a snapshot of how or what those various people are doing each week.  Lately, they’ve been taking quizzes so now I know who the REAL New Yorkers are, and which TV mom they are most like.  Sometimes, someone will post something of interest, like a clip from the Daily Show that I missed, but usually I’m the poster/sharer of information-that’s when the blogger side of me spills into FB: I tend to be the one who “shares” articles on my Profile on subjects ranging from 40somethings who use Facebook to Taylor Mali’s Utube poetry. When I do that, it’s a sign I need to return to my blog.

Unlike FB, my blog is anonymous: I haven’t shared my blog with any of my FB friends on purpose.  For many bloggers, our blogs are our anonymous spaces where we interact with other anonymous faces (though we are often all in similar fields, such as writing or academia, so in the real life-RL-we might actually be friendly to each other).  That anonymity is, at least for me, part of the pleasure of blogging vs. FB:  I want to see if those who do not know and like me in RL are interested in reading my random thoughts.  Yes, there is the risk of being “caught” by those who know me, but I suppose that’s adds a sort of exhibitionist pleasure to the whole endeavor.  Wordpress allows me to see how strangers find my blog through search terms, and that gives me some clue about who might be stumbling onto my blog accidentally (the most popular search terms relate to Cutty from House, titles of novels I mention, and, interestingly, “annieem”: I’m sort of curious about that one since it means that someone is specifically googling my pseudonym.  Let me tell you right now: I’m NOT the dog or craft lady Annieem).

Not that all bloggers are anonymous (obviously, for some, blogging is another way to get their ideas out there, and perhaps to help sell their books), but for others, it’s a way of testing new ideas, or venting about students and teaching, or just making connections with those who do not have to listen to us.  We form a community, of sorts, one where I know that no matter how inane my posting, that sometimes I’ll get a sweet comment or two from those who remind me that I’m not totally writing to a dark hole.

There’s an interesting article in this week’s New Yorker about humans as social animals: “Hell Hole” by Atul Gawande asks, and answers, the question of whether or not forced solitary confinement is torture.  Of course it is: he quotes Terry Anderson, who was a hostage, mostly in solitary confinement, for seven years: “I would rather have had the worst companion than no companion at all,” he noted.  We humans physically deteriorate when we are deprived of social contact with another human.

We humans also get too caught up in our own heads without contact with others, though perhaps, when we have the choice, we prefer social contact with the best companions rather than the worst. Nicholas Kristoff calls this “The Daily Me” : since the web allows us to  self select the news and information and ideas we read, we often choose what  best reflects what we already believe. His focus is more on the potential political polarization that could occur nationally as a result of this, but his solution is something I force my composition students to do as a matter of course: “So perhaps the only way forward is for each of us to struggle on our own to work out intellectually with sparring partners whose views we deplore. Think of it as a daily mental workout analogous to a trip to the gym; if you don’t work up a sweat, it doesn’t count.”  For one essay, my students must objectively report on various perspectives on an issue, and then for the next essay, they get to choose a position and “spar” with the others.  They, naturally, struggle with this, and more often than not change their perspective to something more moderate than what they began with: truly knowing and understanding what the opposition thinks helps us clarify our own thinking.

We anonymous bloggers, however, are probably more interested in the comments from our like-minded community members than in sparring, unlike those bloggers who love a good online fight (see, once again, here or even here-it’s the comment section where the “discussion” happens, of course).  But even when there is debate/discussion the blogger usually “wins” the fight, and the interloper is chastised by the rest of the like-minded community (or the comment itself is deleted, though I suspect that happens mostly to spam-right?).  Ezra Klein has categorized the sorts of postings that lead to more comments/debate: politics, low culture, and a high level of snark.

Of course on FB there is little sparring since the purpose is not to debate ideas (though there may be a link to a political group you’ve joined, or a link to the latest low culture gossip, it’s just a link, an invitation to spar),  but to share pieces of ourselves with others.  If there is snarkiness, it’s a shared sense of snark since you are writing to friends after all.  And sometimes I just want that affirmation that there are others out there who know what I did today (even if it was just taking a walk on a windy, but sunny, Sunday afternoon), or who share my sense of what is amusing in the world, while other times I want more idea development, feedback or advice-and it doesn’t matter if any readers know who I am based on 25 random things, or what I did today.

Of course, anyone who is still reading this now nearly 1200 word blog posting is probably part of my Daily Us.  I’m not interested in sparring (though I do enjoy reading such debates), and I’m not always interested in snarky writing about students and teaching (though I do so love reading such snark), so my bloggings will probably continue to be rambling thoughts like this, or requests for book titles (I’m still waiting for more funny short stories or novels you’ve read)….

So Much to Read, So Little Time

There are several recent articles that I’ve read that I so very much wish to write about–but considering the presentation I have to give in less than 12 hours, and the 70+ researched essays needing grading, that will just have to wait.

But I post links and brief descriptions here for those who want to read ahead:

Happy Reading!