Tweeting is kind of an act of resistance and defiance, a way of shouting to the sometimes disinterested world that you’re stubborn, proud, and not giving in as everywhere else is turned into a clone of everywhere else.
Every time somebody says to me, “It’s so impressive how you manage to get writing done despite being on Facebook/Twitter/etc. all the time,” I cringe. I’ve been hit by a backhanded compliment. I’m surfing, tweeting and emailing — leaving my digital prints everywhere and probably picking up some nasty computer viruses — while serious writers are working pristinely, heroically beyond the clutches of the Internet.
Jonathan Franzen found the Internet such a threat that he disabled it by plugging an Ethernet cable into his computer with super glue. The philosophy behind this act of almost rageful vandalism seems self-evident. Compared to the hard work of writing, the Internet gives an easy way out. Before, the writer took breaks for things like coffee, cigarettes, drugs — items that each have natural limits in the human body. But now, you’re basically working in an intellectual red-light district where, at any time — every three seconds if you want — you can dip into the constantly replenished streams of email/Facebook/Gawker/eBay/YouTube/Instagram.
It felt good. It felt right.
I would lose track of my computer. I’d find it in weird places, buried under stacks of books, under chairs, or creeping toward the appliance garage where the food processor lives.
Alexis Madrigal, Twitter Is Weird—and Other Things Fatherhood Taught Me, The Atlantic.
Madrigal, who recently had a baby, spent two months on break from being a “full-time information consumer,” and deprofessionalized his internet use:
The videogame world has a useful analogy: There people talk about “core” gamers versus other types. Core gamers overwhelmingly come from certain demographics and their behaviors and interests are distinct from the much larger group of people who play games sometimes. They have dedicated gaming hardware and try out lots of games. They care a lot about graphics and don’t mind mastering complex control systems. Casual gamers are different. They like easy-to-play games where the learning curve is not steep. And they don’t spend a ton of time or money on games.
In my normal life, like many other journalists, I am a core Internet user. But in the baby bubble, I became a casual user, just someone looking to read the news and keep up with friends and family.
FJP: The piece has some interesting insights about what the difference between the two is, which news consumption styles are best suited to Twitter, what a phone (versus a laptop) is good enough for and what an intertwined digital-analog life looks like.
Other than her church, the Waffle House was about the only place Rose felt comfortable going alone since Stan, her husband of 65 years, passed away last year. They used to eat at the restaurant together. From time to time she’d retell how the two of them met, a long and winding story involving a Ouija board and a flirtatious secretary rival.
from The End of the Waffle House by Jessica Contrera in the Indiana Daily Student.
The story is one of love, loss and local community, and it was reported and written by a senior at Indiana University. We point to it here because a) it’s moving and well-written and worth the 8 minute read, and b) we discovered it through Longreads.
Did you know that every week, Longreads features a piece of writing from a college journalist? And they are often great. So, college students and professors, keep that in mind as your write and report. You can e-mail your stories to Syracuse University professor Aileen Gallagher (firstname.lastname@example.org), who helps Longreads curate, or tag them on Twitter with #college & #longreads.
FJP: I’ve always been a little sad that the excellent work done in college newsrooms is hard to discover. Cheers to the curators who help us find all the good stuff. —Jihii
In other words, based on your consumption of news, your search patterns, and a deep analysis (semantic, tonality, implied emotions) of your mail and your posts — matched against hundreds of millions of others — Google will be able to suggest a link to the profile of an artist in Harper’s when you dropped in Google News to check on Syria.
Frédéric Filloux, News: Personalized or Serendipitous?, Monday Note.
Filloux interviews Richard Gingras (senior director of news and social products at Google) about how Google is planning to serve content to readers that is both personalized and serendipitous:
According to him, “Today’s news personalization is very unsophisticated. We look at your news reading patterns, we determine that you looked at five stories about the Arab Spring and we deduct you might like articles about Egypt. This is not how it should work. In fact, you might be interested in many other things such as the fall from grace of dictators, generation-driven revolutions, etc. These requires understanding concepts”. And that’s a matter Google is working on, he says. Not only for news, but for products such as Google Now which is the main application of Google’s efforts on predictive search.
How it’ll actually pan out, we don’t know, but there are a couple of questions that come out of this that are worth keeping in mind:
01. How do recommendation engines (currently) work?
Recommendation engines, otherwise known as recommender systems, suggest content based on previous behavior or purchases. Such systems typically use one of two approaches: Collaborative filtering creates a predictive model based on a user’s previous interactions such as products purchased or viewed. Content-based filtering looks at content or item characteristics and suggests content with similar elements. Amazon, Netflix and music services including Pandora and last.fm use recommendation engines.
02. Why preserve serendipity?
Four years ago, Mathew Ingram wrote about the serendipity defense—one of the main arguments for a bundled news package: basically, newspapers let you easily stumble upon fascinating articles that you’d never think to look for by yourself. The advantage that newspapers have over the internet on this is that once you pick one, you can have a good sense of what quality to expect from it. You know the brand, you can let your critical guard down and the whole experience is fun and easy. While the internet might be the ultimate serendipity machine, achieving the same results requires much more: know-how, patience, a critical eye on the trustworthiness of the source, and regular exploration.
03. Why prescribe content?
While the web allows us to find endless amounts content, that content often ends up being finer and finer bits of the candy we love, which encourages us to exist in echo chambers of information-decadence. Those who believe that news services should deliberately prescribe content to help readers diversify the perspectives they are exposed to have yet to find a way to do so that doesn’t feel like an eat-your-vegetables approach. Plus, prescribing content to readers for the benefit of a “balanced” news diet would likely require too many assumptions about value to ever be widely accepted.
FJP: If you’re a proactive news reader, you can create your own diet of publications or people both in and outside your comfort zone and maintain a personalized, serendipitous, diverse set of sources. If you’re not, you’ll rely on recommendation engines to do the work for you. For the creators of those engines, it’s a tricky mix to find the right balance between serendipity and prescription. And unfortunately, many of the concocters of the magic potion are for-profit companies that skew the formula for their own benefit.—Jihii