Saturday, February 12, 2011

Channels and noise

Do you tweet?  How's your RSS feed?  IM'ed anyone today?  What's your junk mail percentage in your e-mail inbox?  Whose pet performed some antic and ended up with a picture of it up on Facebook?

My answers:
Yes.  Not maintained.  No, but I Skyped my kid the other day.  Way up, over 50%, since some "friend" sent me a link to a coupon site.  (Raises hand in affirmative response).

And that's just the citizen me.  ScentScelf tweets, keeps a Facebook page, and blathers in a blog on a regular basis.

Time for some meandering.

Once upon a time, there was a summer of adolescent awakening.  No, not that kind.  But, among other things, I:

  • temporarily swapped away my books #1 and #2 of Nancy Drew, which had been my mother's, and were first edition WITH their jackets, for a couple of Dana girls mysteries, so each of us could experience the other series;
  • swam in an in-ground kidney shaped swimming pool with a diving board at one end;
  • rode my bike to the edges of my town and into another;
  • went to slumber parties, a phenomenon now dissed by Tiger Mothers and studied by cultural anthropologists;
  • was snuck into a friend's father's den, an area of the house oddly dim even in the bright midday, and warned twice warned to NOT TOUCH before a panelled wood door was opened, so that I could see this:

Breaker break one nine, good buddy.  Did I know what this was?

Such was life in certain suburbs before the great divide that I could hazard an educated guess.  Sure, that was...a CB radio.  Which another friend had told me about, because her dad used them in his truck, and by truck I don't mean Ford F-150, but a serious Mack, baby.  On my block, truck drivers, line chefs from the GM cafeteria, engineers from Ford, electrical salesmen.  Down the street, kidney shaped pools.  On the other end of town, where I rode my bike for slumber parties, a favorite "ride by": the house that had a heliport.

Hold that thought.

Meanwhile, return to the hushed plush carpet quiet of the dim house and the cupboard housing a magical communications device.  One that was "don't touch," because one shouldn't turn it on before knowing the rules of operation.  By which it wasn't meant so much how to actually operate the thing, but the conventions of participating in the conversation.  You didn't just hop on an start talking, you made sure you had a clear channel.  Once you had a clear channel, you weren't supposed to yak about what cookies you were making, or what Uncle Don brought home last night.  That was telephone talk.  You could discuss the weather (potentially useful to travelers, such as truck drivers).  And you could simply listen to the appropriately focused conversation underway.

I hushed to carpet quietness.  This was Serious Business, and while I grasped that the reason this particular radio sat in this particular location had plenty to do with why there was an inground pool in the backyard and an expensive sports car in the driveway, I still held respect.  For it seemed that the radio's power was being used for good and not for evil.

My guide then proceeded to turn the device on.  I nearly gasped.  She shot me a look of shush, which I did.  "I know what I'm doing," she said.  It was okay.  She found a channel, said all the proper introduction phrases.  Respectfully listened, answered a question.  Moved to another channel.

Then tossed her long hair out of her eyes and said in a voice I would later learn to call "coquettish": Hey good buddy, how's the weather where you're at?

There wasn't much talk of rain.

Lady breaker...

ScentScelf writes this blog, keeps a Facebook page, and maintains a Twitter account.  In this blog, my chapbook of sorts, I mostly write.  It is a place to assemble ideas and data and discoveries into more coherent chunks, sometimes more so, sometimes less so.  On the Facebook page, I link posts from the blog -- a kind of Facebook user friendly RSS feed, a heads up, or warning, that there's fresh material here.  I'll also post links to articles I think are interesting, that I'm ruminating over, to things that I find interesting but veer beyond whatever I think the edges of the blog should be.  On the Twitter feed, I'll put up posts that are either blog-type-material expressible in 140 characters or less, or items related to my passion for fresh water.

All of which is a way of saying I see them as somewhat different creatures, with perhaps overlapping but ultimate different character.  I *do* think about it, somewhat.  Because I can't see why you'd want the same noise from multiple channels.

Breaker break, good buddy.  Baby blog bear here.  Brush your teeth and comb your hair, catch ya on the flip flop.  Nice to have you in the chain gang.

Not only does the same information repeated over and over again read as "noise" in my head.  So does blathering just to keep fresh content in your feed.  And so does shilling.

As a case study, let's look at Roger Ebert.  Ebert is prolific.  He is a curious guy who bothers to process things and then write thoughtfully and engagingly about them.  He blogs on all sorts of stuff, has a ton of good leads to other interesting material, is thoughtful, and a good writer.  As a result, he has received many accolades for his blog.  He also writes a newsletter, to which I subscribe.  And he has a regular gig as a movie critic. These things bring him a variety of rewards, but not surprisingly, only one brings him real income.  Should I need to point this out, it is not the blog.  As a result, Roger found himself addressing the same question many bloggers and writers find themselves facing:  How can I make money at this?  His answer was to put up an Amazon link on his blog.  Amazon links work on a simple principle:  post one, and you will earn a percentage of sales that result from traffic entering through that link.  Pretty straightforward.

But here's the rub.  Roger started using his Twitter feed to post links to products available on Amazon.  Mind you, he's a clever guy, and generally devised a tie-in to something he had discussed or was discussing in his writing.  However--and this is an important however to my sensibilities--what had been content rich was now 50% junk mail.  Chatter had become noise.  And Roger sounded like a shill.

He's taken some guff for it, and has answered the complaints.  He believes he is right.  He wants to earn money from his efforts.  He is disappointed the more people haven't voluntarily signed up to subscribe to his output (something he admirably offered on a sliding scale basis), and has decided that advertising is the way to go.  Subscription versus sponsorship versus advertising.  (We don't seem to have old world patrons anymore; a MacArthur grant after a years of effort for a notable few is about as good as it gets.)  Old story.  I get it.  (I wonder if Octavian is paying attention?)  It's a tough balance.  Time is spent.  Effort is made.  Ebert has a day job, one which cushions the blow.  In that case, his employer (The Chicago Sun-Times) does the dirty work of soliciting and charging for advertising.  That's what lets them hire people.  Which allows someone to be a "salary man."  Which comes with its own costs.

There is no easy way out.  No clean, pure solution.  Roger drew a line in the sand.  He thinks he is right.  I don't.

My line?  Shilling is shilling.  And noise is noise.  It seems to me, while our tolerance levels may vary, there is a way to moderate the traffic so that we turn on and tune in, not tune out.  If the content provider can't respect that, the only choice for the listener is to tune out.

There is no clean shot.  Best get dressed for the ball before you drop the hammer down.  Right now, it seems like everybody must be walking the dog.  Too much jaw jacking and you're going to put us all in the mud.  

Don't want a SNAFU from that sonnet.

When I first started having control of who and when I had conversations with, my choices were:  Walk to their house and see if they were home.  _OR_ Pick up the phone and see if the party line was open to make a call.

At one point, I used a dial-up modem (listen to the tones! wait for the connect sound!!) and could share interests with like minded folk on a BBS.  And, oh, joy when the day could pay for an e-mail account with AOL.

No, the point is not how complicated communication is these days.  Though it kind of is.  So was an awl and a tablet, in its way; just more in the production than the reception.  The point is that there used to be all kinds of visual and context clues for what kind of sounds you were about to hear:  meanderings about nothing with friends were when your were hanging out.  Using the phone to determine where meetings would happen, and who had a parent that could get you there.  Hallways were for finding out who was on the basketball team.  Classrooms were for pretending to learn but really passing notes; libraries were for pretending to pass notes but really learning.

Advertising wasn't signified by a jump in volume on your television set, or a banner across the front page of your newspaper where a headline used to be.  Not that there weren't overlaps in advertising and editorial content.  But that was generally seen as poor form.  Or so my mythology goes.

Today, you sit with these devices, this input, this constant ready state for the next bit.  Byte.  What have you.

There is power in these new communication forms.  Twitter and Facebook helped a revolution, they say.  They've also led to suicides, career and actual.  With great power comes great responsibility.

My copies of The Secret of the Old Clock and The Hidden Staircase are still not on my shelf.  Waiting next to the incomplete set are both Dana girls books, ready to hand back.  I have a feeling I'll be holding on to them for a while.

But I hold out hope.  And I try to mind my communication manners.  My glass is generally half-full.  So I like to believe -- time to retrieve that held thought -- that we can all get along.

Like Rodney King said.  When a truck driver made the news.

I know, I know.  Meandering.  Miscellany.  But there it is.  Modern communications, older communications, keeping the input clear, grabbing the randomness at will, finding order.

Pass the numbers.  Ten-Ten, we'll do it again.

Get help with CB Slang at CB Gazette.  Learn why Concrete Blonde is not just a band.
Photo of Louie Louie's CB station found at The High Desert Cobra 200 Club.
Algorithm for deciding whether or not to follow a Twitter account created by Dan Shapiro.

Didn't think you were going to get away without a link to C.W. McCall, did you?  Watch a 45rpm disc of Convoy played on a turntable in a Magnavox console, because there hasn't been enough nostalgia for those who remember, or cabinets of curiosities for those who have no idea what I'm talking about.  But if handheld makes you tipsy, try this link and enjoy the Kristofferson/MacGraw movie poster.  Of course, you can shake your head and try to figure out why movie geeks (including Ebert) have praised Sam Peckinpah.  It wasn't because of the movie adaptation of the song, that's for sure.  I do miss that United Artists logo.  I wonder what Fairbanks, Pickford, and Chaplin would have thought about Rubber Duck.  Their producer sides might not have minded.  I'm pretty sure D.W. Griffith wouldn't have.

If you've made it this far, maybe you'll want to follow me on Twitter after all.  


Vanessa said...

Interesting to get your take on the noise and the shilling. It is a funny old world now, and although the Internet as finger tip encyclopaedia is a marvellous thing, I have mixed feelings about everything else, and get quite stressed by the information overload. I also think I have an aversion to hash tags and Twitter names. I prefer the tweets with no red bits in - easier on the eye.

And I also have an original Nancy Drew on my shelves, and an edition of Milly Molly Mandy from the 50s or so, possibly my earliest exposure to the printed word!

museinwoodenshoes said...

Enjoyed this post.

Was just talking to Bookworm yesterday about the Nancy Drews she hasn't picked up in several years; she wanted to know if the library might like them. "Those aren't Nana's old ones, are they?" I had to ask. "No, Mom, they're the 70s versions with yellow spines... they were yours." We've decided to pass them on to Goodwill. There were only two Nancys I really liked, though I think I read them all - The Hidden Staircase and The Clue in the Crumbling Wall - and those are staying.

My friend Lara still has my copy of Lolita. I still have her copy of The Great Gatsby.

On a more serious note - the dilemma of How Much Wired Is Too Much has been on my mind lately too. I don't Tweet. I don't even really know what RSS feeds are. I have a prepaid cellphone that has this really cool clock app and not much else. We Skype maybe every couple of months with my SIL in Atlanta; we'll soon be Skyping with my sister, who's moving to TX in the next two weeks. I prefer email to IM.

And I'm still online too much, I think. I'm going to be scaling back my Facebook usage, on the grounds that although it's enjoyable to visit that group and chat, it's also a little bit like opening a bag of chips. (Betcha can't read just one post.)

ScentScelf said...

V, it is a funny world. The knowledge hound in me loves how easily you can round up information, both directly and tangentially related to the topic of your inquiry. And I am enamored of the democratic aspect of free access to information...though I am then sobered by realizing how NOT free it is, monetarily (through burden of investment in technology) or in terms of what is there (the interwebz have expanded tremendously, Wikipedia has established itself as a reasonable source, but the little/the obscure/the odd languages/etc etc are being left off the train). The second issue will right itself eventually, but the first? Not so sure. Haves, have nots.

I still love the library. And used bookstores. And crazy friends and neighbors who happen to harbor esoteric knowledge on, say, salad knives.

But that's just the data part. The inflow...argh, the inflow. I have been asked to participate in a regularly scheduled Twitter conference. And I have tried. But exchanging complex ideas and explaining cited resources in 140 characters? TinyURL is my friend, but does not compress concepts. The #fumechat makes more sense, in a way, as it can be a passing of "love thats!" and "get it here" kind of information.

Who did I see lately that said they found themselves responding in conversation by simply thinking "Do I "like" this or not? Where's the "like" button?

Speaking of the power of the tools...I immediately ran to look up Milly Molly Mandy. Who was this character? Shoot! I think I like her! She appears to be a somewhat gentler, younger Ramona. (Did you ever meet Beverly Cleary's Ramona?)

This is one thing I hope the world never loses. Enough gaps so that there can be the joy of discovery. Who knows; maybe my limited imagination just hasn't conjured the contours of the gaps in the future.

Remember, glass half-full. :)

ScentScelf said...

Muse, thanks.

Yes! The blue versus yellow spines...that is of course how we defined my mom's collection versus my additions, creating a sort of Nancy Drew "flag" on the shelf: Blue on the left, yellow on the right.

A smile at Gatsby and Lolita and sharing with Lara. Did I mention how much I love books?

Indeed, the communication flows. IM'ing I do a bit, but it really is best in an office setting, I think. "Where's the Quimby report?" "Can we have a meeting at three?" "Joe brought donuts!" E-mail works better for actual exchanges/connections, in my mind. Which is why, perhaps, I do NOT like those e-mail "pass it on" chain letters. "Dearest sister, I haven't had time to talk with you in [three months/three years], but know that this cut and pasted letter/slide show of heartwarming puppies shows that you mean the world to me."

I guess you can be glass half-full and a bit of a crank at the same time.

I KNOW I am online too much. I am trying to treat it as a learning curve, like a teenager with access to a phone and a car and a whole lotta people to meet and plenty of time to do so. (Glass half-full.) But I do so with eyes wide open, taking it in, and preparing the paring down plan. (Crank or glass-half full? Not sure.)

Facebook crack. Are you kidding? Read just one post? How about hanging out a few minutes more, just to see if somebody responds to a comment you made on their wall? Oy.

Musette said...

I swear - you and I must be psychically linked!

Yes, I was JUST thinking about this last night (did not see your post)....I found myself just aimlessly clicking back and forth from one forum to another...and I was ashamed. :-( what happened to opening a freakin' book? In my fury (at myself, for my wastrel ways)I shut the computer down and went off to complete a NYT crossword puzzle. If I needed a clue (and I did) I went to the dictionary. Book.

No tweets. I'm limiting my FB time to twice a week now and I set a 10 minute alarm. I do have RSS feeds but those I also do once in the am and once at night, again with an alarm. There's too much chatter on the screen and in my head.

I'm learning to talk to people face to face again. Phone conversations. I wrote an actual letter. I watched some birds chase 4 squirrels off their feeder - and I didn't dash to FB to post it!

Once I sent you this comment I am shutting down the computer and I'm going to take my dogs for a walk. Otherwise, it just becomes all too much.


Olfacta said...

Noise is noise, whatever the source. I feel fortunate to have received my education before the internet took over everything. Still do some of the most ridiculous things imaginable in this sped-up world -- paint in oils (a painting can take up to six months to dry) meditate, bake and soak in saunas and hot tubs. Savor. That's what life is, imho. You get enough noise and it just sounds like static.

ScentScelf said...


Face to face. Phone talk. As parents, we spent more than a few minutes over the past few years trying to encourage our kids to use their dialing fingers instead of their thumbs, their feet instead of the interwebz. The non-rolled eyeroll as response to parent remains a classic in the adolescent vocabulary, it seems.

Good for you for the walk. And I think that the alarm is a good idea. (No snooze button, though...)

ScentScelf said...


Very true. Noise is noise, whatever the source. I love the oils...had no idea they could take that long to dry. But boy, I do know and enjoy the other things you mention.

Part of my pondering involves the fact that I do like a certain amount of input. The ideal amount ebbs and flows, but my challenge at the moment is just figuring out how to take it in from the new terrain without it turning to...static.