I never believed in the Pay What You Want economy. Then I went to Amman.
When new economy people talk about pay-what-you-want, they fixate on Radiohead’s In Rainbows and Louis C.K.’s “free” comedy special (both of which are unique masterpieces, but that seems to be beside the point.) The Freakonomics team, which is obsessed with the different twists on these seemingly paradoxical PWYW schemes, went so for as to build an experiment into a preview screening of their movie. The minimum you could pay to attend was nothing, the most was 0.
Of the 5,000 who bought tickets, eighteen paid 0.
This baffled Stephen J. Dubner, who loves it when a contractor asks what he wants to pay for a service. “My answer is always the same,” he says. “’What I want to pay is zero. Does that work for you?’”
For a long time, I shared this sensibility. Then I went to Amman. Outside the central bus station, I asked a cab driver how much it cost to get to my hotel. He asked what I wanted to pay. (His actual words were: “what do you want to pay?”)
My negotiation skills had recently been hardened in Cairo. I told him I had five dinars. “If you think that’s fair,” he said, without batting an eye. And hit the gas. It was a longer drive than I realized, and the driver was a wealth of valuable intel that would later help me navigate the city. He offered me cigarettes and tea and cookies. By the time we arrived, I realized the ride had been worth more to me than what I told him I’d pay—more than any cab ride I’d ever experienced—and found myself renegotiating something six times higher than my original offer. But I felt good about the transaction.
This sort of transaction played out day after day in Amman, where an entire PWYW economy seemed to exist. No price I offered was ever refused. It culminated at a small tobacco shop, where I found myself holding an authentic Khalil Mamoon hookah. The owner knew immediately that I understood its value. When I asked him the cost, he asked: “what do you want to pay?” I low-balled him with an opening offer of Canadian. (You can pay more than 0 for a knock off back home.)
To my surprise, he extended his hand to shake on the deal. Then walked around his shop, loading up a bag with accessories and tobacco. Clearly I had overpaid, and to make the deal fair, he was now adding to a shopping bag everything that I had touched and smelled before finding the hookah. He added two kilograms of apple tobacco, which he had mixed himself. He squinted a little bit. Then two kilograms more. The transaction was done.
Somewhere between Louis C.K. and the Jordanian hookah man, the church collection plate and the hundred-dollar movie ticket, lies a better scheme than the walls that almost every newspaper in Canada has built around its product in the last few months.
Take The Globe and Mail. The version of their product that rumbles through my Twitter feed is very different than the Globe experience that ends up on my neighbour’s doorstep—or the no man’s land behind the paywall. On Twitter, the reporters are whip smart and unpredictable. Sometimes they’re weird, sometimes neurotic, sometimes conflicted, sometimes deeply hurt, sometimes inspired. It’s like an uneven symphony of a day in the life of Canada. Between those immediate 140-character observations and that other finished product is a staff of editors, who are paid a lot of money to turn a frantic symphony into muzak.
A lifelong reporter at the paper once described the editing system to me as “binary.” A story is either easily understood by a reader or it is not. A Globe editor’s opinion of the reader must be very low. The muzak is steady and predictable. Concerned only with the fact that there is an obvious nut graf, which is repeated in the headline, dek, cutlines and pull quotes. And so the final version, in contrast to the one on Twitter, is incapable of real prescience or anything like a human voice. They’re attempting to sell certainty when those succeeding around them are selling intimacy and a sense that anything can happen if you turn a page or click a link.
It’s a poor formula to make money in this economy. Spend a butt load on good, necessary reporting, which Huffington Post and all the other cold blooded content hijackers plaster up on their websites. Jeff Simpson’s steady wisdom is spruced up with a sassy voice, cut and pasted, framed and reframed, and pushed out through massive social networks to niche and partisan and regional audiences. (Distribution is what these “content generators” do best.) That a reader must now navigate a paywall to read a drabber version on the Globe only makes this e-leeching more lucrative.
Of course, my internal payment mechanism is not so precious to mistake the fact that there can be no raw symphony if I don’t pay for the muzak. However, I am too precious to pay specifically for that muzak And as someone who lives west of Kitchener, trying to get my money’s worth behind that paywall, only reminds me that I’m subsidizing a bunch of reporting about central Canada. The Globe needs to let the audience outside of their geographic and “edited” core pay what it’s worth to them.
Because right now I choose to pay zero.
I feel good about this transaction too. Like I’m sticking it to the muzak editors for ignoring my needs. How would you get me to pay more than zero?
Consider the night at the Berkeley Repertory Theatre, when comedian Mike Daisey gave his entire fee for a show to the audience, and asked him to pay it back to him afterwards—based on what they felt it was worth. He earned back the entire sum plus ,169. The Globe could charge me five bucks a month for the content, immediately credit it back to my account, empowering me to give it back based on what I use. If the Globe really wanted to engage me, they’d credit a few cents back to my account if I wrote something worthwhile in the comment section or enthusiastically tweeted a link.
Alternatively, I’d spend two bucks a month for a bundle of the stuff I actually want to read. Unedited “extended drafts” by Stephanie Nolen, Mark McKinnon, Simon Houpt, Alexandra Gill, Gary Mason, Sunny Dhillon, David Ebner’s kooky sports writing—there are more than a dozen bylines I’d check off—throw in a weird and engaging piece of long form in the vein of Ian Brown.
I’ve got a couple hundred bucks set aside every month for content, which typically includes a dozen print magazine subscriptions from around the world, several songs a month, some TV, simple beverages, some films, a play, a book or two. What will you give me for it?
*Part of this essay was published in Marketing magazine.
escapism n. the tendency to seek distraction and relief from reality.
I hereby go on the record to (politely) disagree with the Oxford English Dictionary (’96 edition), because while I do indeed use many forms of media to distract myself from reality, I don’t do it to get ‘relief’. I am not depressed or stressed, I’ve not suffered any recent trauma and nor do I shy away from working a forty hour week or being with my family.
What I am, more often than not, is bored.
The label of ‘escapist’ remains a largely negative one and to identify yourself as such may lead people to believe you are some lost, childish dreamer. Someone who cannot ‘handle’ reality and so chooses to distance themselves from it, rather than ‘grow up’ and face their responsibilities.
One stigma so often associated with the word ‘escapism’ is the one of mental illness. The refusal to acknowledge the recreational value of reading fiction and gaming while instead linking the idea to eating disorders and drug addiction. The insinuation that people who feel the need to take a break from everyday life are somehow ‘broken’ is a disheartening one.
I have known people to go to great lengths to help me come out of my shell or embrace the real world. They are sweet and always acting with the best of intentions, but they will never find me walk willingly into a pub when I have the opportunity to read a new novel. I am many things, an introvert and escapist among them but these states aren’t ones which require intervention. I do not need to be fixed. I haven’t shunned reality, but it rarely interests me like the prospect of a world where dwarfs sing songs and slay dragons.
In his essay ‘On Fairy Stories‘, J. R.R. Tolkien addresses the consolation of fancy, the joy we allow ourselves to feel when arriving at a happy ending. We seek this cathartic state not because we wish to deny the existence of sorrow or failure, but simply because it is a nice thing to feel.
There are degrees of escapism as with most things and I’m not about to claim that all forms are ‘healthy’ and that people who hide away from the world out of fear do not need support. What I would say is that with so many industries founded on the idea that people want to experience something else for a while, shouldn’t we really be moving on from this bad attitude?
In her article over on A Dribble of Ink, Foz Meadows uses a great metaphor for escapism:
The ability to escape into fiction is [...] the equivalent of being able to holiday anywhere and enjoy it.
It’s a lovely sentiment, one which I agree with wholeheartedly. It’s just a shame that I’ve come to feel almost guilty for identifying with it.
Perhaps the issue with escapism being seen in such a bad light isn’t so much the act itself, but the time an individual devotes to seeking it? A trip to the cinema is normal enough, though people connect with the films they watch in different ways I know. Reading a book over the course of a week or month isn’t exactly unheard of either…
Spending hours upon hours every night playing World of Warcraft in the dark is probably slightly less socially acceptable. The ‘grown man living in his mother’s basement’ stigma is one the gaming community took decades to shift and even now still lingers.
But even if the case is all a matter of timing, then I could be categorised as avoidant or worse, I’m sure. On my days off I am content to spend only a few hours in the company of other people, retreating to my computer, books or television for quality time instead. Yet I remain a highly functioning member of society (albeit a slightly grumpy one).
This subject is vast and complex and authors far more educated than I have come out to discuss it. So instead of fumbling around in it any further I will simply finish with explaining why I devote so much of my time to places and people who I know don’t exist:
It makes me happy.
My life is a series of steps, ones which I take everyday, some that I enjoy and some that I don’t. The world is vast and constant, spinning around a sun that will shine long after I’m gone. I have friends and family and all of them are important to me. But the walk to work becomes so much more interesting when, in place of the field that stretches out to my left, I see the overgrown ruins of a spaceport instead.
Read a bit more about escapism why don’t you:
There will always be those who are unable to see beyond their own limited parameters of what qualifies as communication, but there will also, thank God, be people like Barb [Rentenbach] (and Carly Fleischmann and countless others), who continue to show us what is possible when we are willing and able to open our minds.
~ My response to a comment on Wednesday’s post
You’re right, I am very emotional about this. because it scares me to death to think that my daughter could be this easily dismissed or feel that she has to prove herself simply because narrow minds refuse to believe her capable of .. well .. anything.
I’m not advocating for a miracle intervention. I’m not even advocating for facilitated communication conceptually. I’m advocating for a human being whose work I admire, whose friendship I’ve been blessed by and who shouldn’t have to carry the burden of proof on her shoulders because she dares to have something brilliant to say.
~ And another
On Wednesday, something happened here. I’ve torn myself apart trying to decide whether it’s best to talk about it or to simply walk away and hope that i’ve already said enough. But I’m not sure that I can. Just walk away that is. Because this little space in this little corner of the Internet — this place of respect and warmth, of love and laughter, of comfort and community and reasoned debate, feels sacred to me. It feels safe. And on Wednesday, it took a turn from feeling safe. I unwittingly and regretfully allowed it to become a platform for prejudice, and I need to make that right.
I’d written a post that I was proud of. Something that I dared, quite immodestly, to say I thought was important. I called it Rethinking Functional Behavior and the Tyranny of Made-up Deadlines. If you missed it, please read it. It means a lot to me, and, I think, to all of us.
The post was about slowing down. About breaking free from the panic caused by what I believe to be the desperately wrong-headed belief that development and growth happen during only some prescribed (and finite) period of time.
I cited Barb Rentenbach, a woman whose book I am slowly but surely devouring (and processing and re-reading and processing some more before absorbing) day after day after day. I noted that Barb, who is non-verbal, types her thoughts, a process that, for her, has very gradually evolved from very heavily facilitated to now independent typing.
I approved a comment in which a reader referred to Barb’s typing as a hoax. I was torn when I approved it for publication, but I thought it was important to address and debunk the accusation, as hurtful as it was, because I have come to learn that even some of the most outrageous comments can represent others’ unspoken, and sometimes even unrecognized, similar sentiments. And if there is skepticism running rampant out there, acknowledged or not, well, we need to talk about it. Because I can think of nothing more dangerous or insidious than allowing prejudice to run unchecked.
But allowing that comment through allowed for more conversation. Which should have been a good thing, but the conversation led to more accusation and ultimately left off in a place that left me angry for Barb and scared to death for my child and really damned sad about how far we apparently really are from truly recognizing, acknowledging and respecting each other’s humanity, and in so doing, abandoning our predetermined notions about who can be capable of what. It’s soul-crushing sometimes to realize just how much work there is yet to do.
I considered deleting the comments entirely after the fact, because I worried about their effect on those who will read them, but I just can’t bring myself to censor the blog ex post facto. It feels wrong. But so too, I hate the thought that a post that I wrote could have brought pain to Barb and to others like her, whose hard-won voices are being so callously silenced, who have been told that their voices don’t count because they aren’t “real”, whose ideas are being tossed to the curb with yesterday’s trash, who are being forced to carry the burden of proof of thinking their own thoughts. I can’t believe I had to write the last part of that sentence. Please, read it again — they are being forced to carry the burden of proof of thinking their own thoughts. For the love of God, can you imagine living like that?
In 1987, I wrote a paper for an AP English class on James Thurber’s short stories. My teacher called it plagiarism. I didn’t really want to admit to her that the most salient “proof” that I had of why it had to be original work was that I hadn’t actually done any research nor read anyone else’s opinions; I’d only read his stories. Mostly because I was too lazy to go and read what other people had to say about them, but also because I had plenty to say myself. But she persisted. She wouldn’t accept the paper. She called my father, a middle school principal at the time, to tell him that I had clearly plagiarized someone else’s work. My father asked her what the source was, planning to read both my paper and the source from which she believe I’d lifted its content so that he could form his own opinion before talking to me about it. Her answer, “I don’t know. I haven’t found the source yet.”
My father was baffled, as was I. She went on to say that she didn’t yet know where I’d taken my paper from, but there was no way it was the work of a high school senior because it was simply too advanced. She assured him that she was going to keep searching for the source, but in the meantime, I was free to prove that I didn’t plagiarise, and when I did she’d give me credit for the paper.
26 years later, I remember exactly how that felt. I remember the anger, the frustration, the impotence, the desperate lack of logic. I remember laughing that I was being punished for doing something well. I remember asking my dad how one can possibly prove a negative. If she could find a source, she had proof. If she couldn’t, it just meant that she wasn’t done searching. Me? I had nothing but my word.
Above all, I remember the doubt. I remember thinking that even my dad likely thought that I had, at the very least, inadvertently read something and absorbed it as my own, later regurgitating it without realizing that I had.
26 years later, I still remember.
I can’t possibly fathom walking through life in some extended-play version of that moment. And that moment is NOTHING relative to this. It kills me to imagine what it must feel like to be told that your thoughts can’t possibly be your own when you’ve fought so damned hard to find a way to communicate them.
To be clear, I am not making an argument for Facilitated Communication, nor am I dismissing the very real dangers of it being abused, just like any other methodology that relies on human beings for its execution.
As I wrote in the comment at the top of the page, what I *am* doing, and why I felt compelled to write this post, is “advocating for a human being whose work I admire, whose friendship I’ve been blessed by and who shouldn’t have to carry the burden of proof on her shoulders because she dares to have something brilliant to say.”
So as much as I may have preferred not to give this topic any further air time, remaining silent in the face of the silencing of others was not an option. Not here — not in my house.
That’s what I’ve got.
Thankfully, someone else has promised to take it from here.
Whenever you’re ready, my friend, my platform is yours.
In the meantime, I’ll be remembering your words about why you write. The ones that struck something deep inside of me when I first read them because I felt like I could have written them myself. But that’s your point, isn’t it? I might be you.
Birds sing not because they have to but because they can, as it is part of their purpose and who they are. Birds strive to sing. They will sing whether or not anyone is around to hear, but trust me, they are all heard. Words are my notes and sentences are my songs. I strive to write. I trust others will enjoy and be lifted by the work, but I will continue to sing either way.
Ed note: I will not allow this post to become a platform for debate about FC, nor will I publish any comments that even remotely violate Diary’s Comment Policy, which can be found in the toolbar to the right of the screen (or below on mobile devices.) Thank you in advance for helping me to keep this place sacred and safe for ALL.
Ed other note: Ariane Zurcher wrote a wonderful post about this as well. Please check it out when you can.
At first, horse riding is just like any other skill you want to learn. You put some effort in and eventually become more effective as time goes on. At some point, things begin to change. Somehow, without you necessarily knowing about it, the lessons the horses have taught you start materializing in your daily activities, […]
Freshly Pressed: Editors’ Picks
When I was young, I used to fill notebooks with words. When my mother found my secret stack (under the cupboard, inside a pile of garbage bags) she held them to the sunlight one by one and read each page with wide, disbelieving eyes. I stood there with clenched fists, watching her go through thousands […]
Freshly Pressed: Editors’ Picks
Based on everything I’d heard about Twilight, including a basic synopsis sprinkled with some finer details (like the sparkling), I could only assume that Stephanie Meyer was yet another author who managed to squeeze out a literary turd and somehow convince a publisher that it was solid gold. Still, I had never read the book(s), only skimmed them and read a paragraph here and there, so it didn’t seem fair to criticize this alleged turd without sifting through it.
I was right. It’s a piece of shit. And here’s why.
You Don’t Fuck With Folklore: Granted, there are countless variations when it comes to vampire myth, from their powers to their weaknesses…but there are some things that shouldn’t be changed, because they completely detract from the myth itself. Vampires are, across the board, creatures of the night. Now Miss Meyer tells her faithful readers, ‘Nope! They can, like, totally come out during the day – they just turn all glittery!’ A stake through the heart, evidently, is no longer sufficient to put an end to the unlife of a vamp: now we must tear them apart and burn the remains. Hm. I coulda sworn that method of destruction was specific to witches…but that’s just semantics, I suppose.
Characters, Sans Character: Never in my life have I read a book with such boring, one-dimensional supporting characters. What the hell were they even doing in the book? They served no purpose other than as filler between the flatly written Bella-and-Edward scenes. They had no quirks, no personalities, no likes or dislikes. They weren’t even characters; hell, they barely qualify as character outlines for a yet-to-be-started novel. Miss Meyer further expects her readers to believe that although the heroine is a poor conversationalist who is distant, borderline rude, to her compatriots they still – particularly the males – feel some kind of warped loyalty to her. Based on what, exactly? Oh that’s right. We don’t know enough about the characters to figure that out. I’m all for using my imagination, but my imagination shouldn’t have to fill in the backstory that you didn’t have the talent to write.
For Realism?: I ask you, readers: what are the odds that a clumsy, socially awkward, shy, pasty city girl would just fit right on in with a bunch of kids who’ve grown up in the same town together their entire lives? What are the odds that she’d have not one, not two, but three boys ask her to a school dance in the same day? Are we all agreed that the answer is ‘slim to fucking none‘? Teenagers are assholes, as I’m sure most of you remember. Small town teenagers are worse. Oh, but she’s Chief Swan’s daughter, so surely she must garner some sort of awe-inspired respect. Right. Cuz, you know, that’s what teens are famous for: loving the police and being respectful of authority.
Now let’s look at the scene toward the end of the book where Bella tells her father she’s going back to Phoenix. Even though he’s her father, and he loves her, and he knows that if she goes back she’ll be alone in the house, and he’s bought her a truck…he just lets her leave? Any normal parent would have called the cops before she could have finished packing her suitcase. And since Bella’s dad IS the cops, it doesn’t seem like much of a stretch for him to ring up his buddies and chase the goofy bitch down. Seriously – that was lazy writing done for the purposes of accelerating an otherwise stagnant plot progression.
BFFs and BFs, OMG!: If ever there was a prime example of poorly constructed personal relationships in a work of literary fiction, this is it. Why is Bella treating her father like he’s a child? Why is he letting her? Why are her friendships so shallow and underdeveloped? How is it believable that this emotionally detached, romantically inexperienced young girl could fall in love so quickly with a guy she knows nothing about, when she keeps herself so guarded around everyone else she comes in to contact with? I suppose the underlying reason is that he’s special, blah blah blah…but basic human psychology dictates that a girl with her emotional restraint and closeness issues wouldn’t have just gone batshit crazy over a guy just cuz he was so darn pretty and mysterious.
Abusive Vampires and You: It’s been some time since I was a silly teenager in love, and maybe it’s just me but…doesn’t Mr. Cullen just seem a wee bit on the abusive side? Always grabbing her wrists, pinning her up against the car, growling at her, glaring at her, warning her he’s dangerous, driving like a fucking psychopath while she’s in the car…I guess you could call it love. I call it a restraining order waiting to happen.
A Thesaurus is Not A Type of Dinosaur: At one point in the book, I couldn’t help but notice that the word ‘scowl’ had been used three times in a page and a half. Just out of curiosity, I flipped back exactly 20 pages and counted the instances of ‘scowl’ and all derivatives thereof
Eighteen. EIGHTEEN GODDAMNED TIMES. Glower. Grimace. Glare. Frown. These are all acceptable synonyms, not to mention more colorful phrases like “look daggers at” or “evil eye” or “dirty look.” But all Miss Meyer could come up with was ‘scowl.’ Again – lazy, lazy writing from a sub-par author who probably couldn’t diagram a sentence if you gave her an step-by-step guide written in crayon.
Story Arc? Fuck it!: Does anyone know what this book was about? Aside from the forbidden romance between an obsessed teenage girl and her aggressive undead lover? It seemed to me that the first 300 pages consisted of her Googling shit about vampires, being evasive with her friends, being secretive with Edward, biting her lip, and pissing and moaning about the weather in Oregon. Finally, roughly 300 pages in to a 500+ page novel, some shit goes down. Some actual action. A conflict! A fight! An antagonist that isn’t just a mean girl who doesn’t like Bella! And it only took 300 pages of mushy, gushy, asinine bullshit that has no relevance whatsoever to the aforementioned final conflict! Here’s my .95, Miss Meyer! I can’t wait for your next one to come out so I can blow my money on that piece of shit, too!
I’d like to conclude by saying that there is a method to writing. There are mechanics to writing. Those who don’t do it may not understand, but if you read enough then perhaps you do. We, as writers, have a responsibility to our readers to provide them with something that has substance, something that we didn’t just piss out of our fingers because we figure a bunch of hormone-ridden teen girls and bored housewives will buy it and make us rich. And we have a responsibility to ourselves to write something that we’re proud of, something that both follows the rules of conventional literature while simultaneously breaking them, enabling us to create a piece of work that is so excellent, we don’t even care if it gets published.
It is blaringly obvious that Miss Meyer did not write this book for her readers, or even for herself; if she had, then she would have put more work in to developing and shaping more than two characters; she’d have used a flippin’ thesaurus; she wouldn’t have pattered around on her keyboard for two-thirds of the book going on about sparkly skin and almost-kisses before finally throwing in an actual problem.
In Duma Key, Stephen King wrote, ‘All talent wants is to be used.’ If Miss Meyer does have any talent as a writer – and some passages and dialogue exchanges hint that she does – then she has a committed a crime against her talent, allowing this drivel to be mass produced and passed off as good reading. Catcher in the Rye was good reading. 1984 was good reading. Clifford the Big Red Dog was good reading. But Twilight?
Twilight is a slap in the face to every talented author who dreams of seeing their words in print. So congratulations, Miss Meyer. You are revered by your target demographic. But you are despised by those of us who know, respect, and produce good literature, good literature that will probably never see the light of day or reading lamp so long as people continue to believe that the garbage you write is worth reading.
Waking up is a commercial break in a seven-hour movie (sometimes four). You look at yourself and choose: a) Today I’m going to save the planet b) Today I’m going to work on my novel c) Today I’m going to go downtown to listen and jazz and mingle with old friends and smoked memories. So […]
Freshly Pressed: Editors’ Picks
Nearly three years ago, I met a boy who didn’t feel things. He and I called them “doors” — mine were always open, emotions free-flowing whenever I stayed up late to talk to him; and his were always closed, except for moments when my words could pry him open and he felt pinches of things he could name.
He was strange, and I liked strange people. He invested in conversation and that’s how I knew he would probably get it. People who appreciate words usually get it. Now, pay close attention.
One afternoon we were talking about time and how time is, essentially, a concept. Everything about time is a hundred-percent man-made, from the clock to the calendar and the idea of seconds and years. As we guessed at how the first person invented it, we tried to define time in terms of things that actually were rather than things that were supposed.
Are you still with me? If we were talking about, maybe algebra, we’d have to define unknown values in terms of something that is sure before we can go on. And that’s what we were trying to do. We were trying to prove the nature of time–something we weren’t sure really existed–by recreating it with parts that we were sure of. Parts like change.
Now, change is scientific. When we get down to the subatomic (or whatever the smallest unit is these days, I’m not sure) level, everything changes. There are poems going around saying that our bodies change completely every six months or seven years; and while I’m not sure if that’s absolutely true, the point of the matter is that everything moves. Even in an empty room, things happen. Dust gathers, air moves. I don’t know much about space, but my romantic notions of stars mean that I imagine space as changing and moving too. Everything changes.
So he and I decided that time was nothing more than the unit at which change took place.
And we said what if, hypothetically, we could have a room where absolutely nothing moved? There was no air, dust and mold didn’t gather, atoms for some reason didn’t move, nothing breathed or grew old, and everything was incredibly and perfectly still. Would time exist in this little room?
Obviously, there was no way to make our little experiment happen. But we chose to believe that time didn’t happen in that room because change didn’t happen in that room. That was comforting because, within the expanses of our ignorance, we made believe a supposed impossibility. We made time stop existing, at least in theory. Or maybe just in our imagination.
Now, I split this train into two.
First: I know you probably aren’t reading this, M, but I want to pretend that you are. When you left, you didn’t say goodbye, but you did say you would be gone for two years. Well, it’s been two years. And I realize we never talked about how much change could happen in that much time. Or whether you would come back to see it.
I’ve changed. I bet you have, too. But you’re still the strangest person I know, although I’ve tried hard to find someone close. I wonder if you still don’t feel much. I still feel too much, and I remember you all the time, M. I’m sure you’ll get it. You always got it better than nearly anyone did. I hope that doesn’t change either, no matter how much time passes by.
Second: in a daydream, somebody asked me what I would like to do if I could stop time for a little while. I brought back this time-theory to mind and I decided I couldn’t answer that question because, as long as I’m still doing something, then time is still passing by.
Instead, I asked my daydream friend if feelings counted as change, as something happening, moving, or being done. Because if it didn’t, then that’s what I want to “do” with stopped time. I want to find the happiest, most important second of my life, and just pause. Thoughts won’t flow, feelings won’t change, nothing will interrupt to ruin it, and everything will just stay suspended in existence seemingly infinitely.
Friends, maybe that’s what forever really is. Maybe we won’t find “forever” in trying to make things last a long time, but instead in finding one second that is good enough and letting it hang in its place, unbothered by the ones that come before or after it. Maybe that’s it. I like that.
Shared journals were an early form of social media, and the mass-media era may have been a historical aberration. These were two of the claims made by Lee Humphreys, a communications and media research at Cornell University, who gave a talk this week at Microsoft Research’s Social Media Collective. I agree with her on both counts, of course, though I would trace the sharing of journals back further, to the commonplace books of the 16th and 17th centuries.
Humphreys has examined in detail how people in the 19th century would share their diaries with visiting families and friends by reading aloud, in order to tell them what had been going on in their lives. She has also analysed the diary entries of Charlie Mac, a soldier in the American Civil War, which he copied out and sent home as letters to his family (and anyone else they wanted to share them with). Women in the 19th century, she suggests, kept journals as a way to be remembered, a form of self-expression and self-empowerment; it was only in the early 20th century that diaries and journals came to be seen as private documents. Today’s blogs and social-media updates therefore mark a return to a tradition of social sharing of personal writing. One consequence of this argument is that it undermines the notion that today’s social-media users are self-obsessed to a historically unprecedented degree. It also highlights the fact that social media is not a new phenomenon.
In my forthcoming book “Writing on the Wall” I make a similar argument about an earlier form of journal, the commonplace book. This was a kind of scrapbook, popular in the 16th and 17th centuries, into which people would copy items of interest to create a personal trove of valuable information. Commonplace books that survive from the Tudor period contain a huge variety of texts, including letters, poems, medical remedies, prose, jokes, ciphers, riddles, quotations and drawings. Sonnets, ballads and epigrams jostle with diary entries, recipes, lists of ships or Cambridge colleges and transcriptions of speeches. Collecting useful snippets of information so that they could be easily retrieved when needed, or re-read to spark new ideas and connections, was one of the functions of a commonplace book. But the practice of maintaining a commonplace book and exchanging texts with others also served as a form of self-definition: which poems or aphorisms you chose to copy into your book or to pass on to your correspondents said a lot about you, and the book as a whole was a reflection of your character and personality.
People would sometimes lend their commonplace books or miscellanies to their friends, who could then page through the entries and copy anything of interest into his or her own book. The similarities and overlaps between several manuscript collections compiled at Oxford University indicate widespread sharing of both individual texts and entire collections among students and their tutors, for example. Like internet users setting up blogs or social-media profiles for the first time, compilers of commonplace books seem to have relished the opportunities their newfound literacy gave them for projecting a particular image of themselves to their peers. Only a minority of the texts that people circulated were original compositions; most material was quoted from other sources. The same is true of modern social-media systems: posting links and snippets found elsewhere is standard practice on blogs, Facebook and Twitter, and on some platforms, such as Pinterest and Tumblr, more than 80% of items shared are “repins” or “reblogs” of items previously posted by other users. Then as now, people enjoy being able to articulate their interests and define themselves by selectively compiling and resharing content created by others. The mere act of sharing something can, in other words, be a form of self-expression—something that was as true centuries ago as it is today.
(Picture credit: Commonplace book from the James Marshall and Marie-Louise Osborn Collection, Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Yale University, via Flickr)
Timesquid is a delicacy in countries that are themselves hurtling sideways through the amorphous temporal soup.
It tastes like ammonia, and yesterday.