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December 9, 2012 Leave a comment Go to comments


What’s up with New York Times columnists? With David Brooks and Ross Douthat repeatedly on the decline-of-culture beat, why did Roger Cohen decide two days ago to jump in? He opened his latest column with news that “oversharing and status anxiety [are] the two great scourges of the modern world.” Cohen continues:

So let us absorb the mass of unwanted shared personal information and images that wash over one, like some great viscous tide full of stuff one would rather not think about — other people’s need for Icelandic lumpfish caviar, their numb faces at the dentist, their waffles and sausage, their appointments with their therapists, their personal hygiene, their pimples and pets, their late babysitters, their grumpy starts to the day, their rude exchanges, their leaking roofs, their faith in homeopathy, their stressing out, and all the rest.

Please, O wired humanity, spare me, and not only the details.

It is tempting to call this unctuous ooze of status updates and vacation snaps seeping across Facebook and Twitter and the rest information overload. But that would be to debase the word “information.”

Fortunately, the Atlantic’s Alexis Madrigal is on the case. He observes, “I’ve been on Twitter for a long time, Facebook even longer, though in a more limited capacity. And I’ve never noticed these topics permeating my timeline.” To demonstrate, he lists the first 20 tweets on his timeline, all of which sound interesting indeed. (You can follow the link and see for yourself.)

Madrigal’s advice to Cohen:

My diagnosis is simple, Roger: your friends and associates are terrible and boring. Being that you are a smart and interesting guy who would distill only the finest information from any social network, the problem is the garbage going into your feed, which can only come out as garbage in your column. And that garbage is being created by the people who you choose to follow and know.

In the spirit of Madrigal’s post, I will now list the last 20 items on my Twitter timeline. You can decide for yourself if these are interesting. But as Madrigal explains, the point is that his 20 items are interesting to him. If you want to make good use of Twitter, follow people who interest you. No one forces you to follow John Boehner.

Okay, here goes:

1. Link to NYT article on how Tolkien’s manuscripts ended up at Marquette University in Milwaukee.

2. Link to Lee Child piece in NYT on how to create suspense.

3. Link to David Pogue CBS Sunday Morning video.

4. Link to article on Coast Guard airlift to Florida of sea turtles stranded in Massachusetts.

5. Comment on Washington Redskins’ defense (from a politics and technology writer who rarely comments on sports).

6. Link to piece on militarization of domestic police forces, led by Homeland Security.

7. Link to article on a graduate student’s experience as a mass media fellow at Scientific American under a program of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

8. Um, well, I kind of love the Twitter feed of Miguel Bloombito, who admonishes his followers: “Don’t be un assholero. Givero up tu seat de subwayo to las womaño de pregnanto y los señor citizens.” (This feed is a running joke based on Mayor Bloomberg’s attempts to speak Spanish to summarize what he says in English in public announcements. See this article for background.)

9. A comment on David Gregory’s insistence today on Meet the Press on framing question in the context of going over the cliff, with the observation that this is how false consciousness spreads.

10. More from Miguel, getting into the Christmas spirit: “Doño mi ahora, el gay apparalo!”

11. An excerpt from the diary of John Quincy Adams, from a feed that tells us his doings two hundred years ago to the day while serving abroad as an ambassador.

12. A link to a chart (a “conspectus”) from 1880 on the history of political parties.

13. Sorry, it’s a Sunday. Not too many of the people I follow are active today. Miguel Bloombito again. I’ll skip the details.

14. A retweet by an editor of a link to a blog post at Language Log that I had already read, on some nonsensical piece about alleged decline in vocabulary of students. I may write about this separately.

15. A link to an ongoing discussion about raising the Medicare eligibility age.

16. A retweet of a link to the latest piece by the NYT public editor, which I may also write about separately.

17. Another link (from someone else I follow) to the work of the NYT public editor, sending us to her response to critics of another piece.

18. And, from this same person, a link to the public editor’s latest.

19. A link to The Economist’s best books of 2012.

20. A link to a poll at The Guardian for person of the year. Darn. Too late to vote. It’s closed. The overwhelming winner is Bradley Manning.

As I said, it’s Sunday. This isn’t entirely representative. But I see no evidence of oversharing. Oh, unless this post is itself evidence.

Categories: Culture, Journalism
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