Monday, April 28, 2014


“It’s still a gradation of night, but night with tomorrow already luminous behind it”
-Stuart Dybek

Because “the snow melts slowly, the ice drips
into these cautious days, undressing under the bridge,
glass stalactites under the turnpike
refracting sunlight over the train tracks…”

Because the sound, lighter
than rain but multiple, musical, is unheard and
the words are drenched in mild purples where
the cars park, littered and seedy.

Soon we will feel differently
about these winter days with spring already
startled into answer – broken music unlocking
a question the snow banks have been

unwittingly asking for what seems
a very long time. Above, highway traffic
passes unseen – wet tire tracks perhaps,
sunblind drivers on their way somewhere.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

The Reason the Darkness Grows

A passage I really like, from Chapman: Odysseus, after some brutally bad luck (his crew keeps landing on islands, exploring them, and getting eaten by the inhabitants) lands on yet another unknown island. He makes a coach's Big Game Day speech to his dudes about the necessity of doing the very thing that's brought them nothing but misfortune and death:

... Now, friends,
Afford unpassionate ear; though ill fate lends
So good cause to your passion, no man knows
The reason whence and how the darkness grows;
The reason how the morn is thus begun;
The reason how the man-enlight'ning sun
Dives under earth; the reason how again
He rears his golden head. Those counsels, then,
That pass our comprehension, we must leave
To him that knows their causes, and receive
Direction from him in our acts, as far
As he shall please to make them regular,
And stoop them to our reason. In our state
What then behooves us? Can we estimate,
With all our counsels, where we are? Or know
(Without instruction, past our own skills) how,
Put off from hence, to steer our course the more?
I think we cannot. We must then explore..."

Translation: There's a lot we don't and can't know. And much we can't control. The way forward is risky. So what are we going to do, nothing? Guess? No. We have to explore.

Many moments for us are like this one on Circe's mad island: brought by forces we can't fully understand to where guesswork simply won't suffice. The only way forward is to experiment, try to figure stuff out.

We have to drive into the dangerous heart of it and see what happens, hope for the best.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014


Reading the Iliad took most of my cancer days. I was at war.

The Iliad is a big book, and I dabbled with multiple translations. I was after more than the story. I wanted to triangulate the whole mess, chart it from different angles to know it better, understand the distance between Homer and me.

What I really needed was a project. I took ill just before getting my second Masters in the Humanities, and basically for as long as I can remember I'd been at work on literary projects. At any one time I was grappling with philosophy, theory and literature, structuring an argument and turning it into prose, while also crafting verse, developing an art that seemed to tap into what was at the very center of who I was.

It's a sense-making act of incredible power to write. Even -- no, especially -- to write a paper. I think that's why most people hate it. By "power" I don't mean power over the world. More like power to keep the world at bay. Not that it's escapism, pure and simple. Art is too connected to life. But for me, papers and poems were both places to bring chaos into order. Playfully, at times ironically, because the order you make always puts you in touch with the chaos outside. You always see chaos winking through.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Nostalgia for the Ephemeral in the Age of Urgent Now (3/3)

The dream SnapChat pitches: "Snap an ugly selfie ... and send it to a friend. They'll receive it, laugh, and then the snap disappears ... It's about the moment."

SnapChat: It's about the moment.
More like SnapChat: Because would you let your kids use an app called DickPix?

There's something disingenuous about a promise to regain something that never existed. It was always a lie, this sense of anonymity and being lost in the vastness of the internet. And it's not a lie we should perpetuate if we want people to grow up and manage a successful digital presence.

For me, the mirage dissipates when I realize I'm feeling nostalgic for being so damn naive.

Logically, SnapChat is for sending pictures you wouldn't want the other person to keep or share. So: pictures you very, very clearly shouldn't send in the first place.

Very simple strategies exist for the person on the receiving end to capture SnapChats. Just search "SnapChat Leaked" on Facebook and Google. (But not if you're at work, you dig?)

All the issues of trust and permanence are still there, only now if I send you a Snap of my cat doing something adorable, it's gone in an instant when you'd rather hold on to it.

We're only scratching the surface of how our technology is shaping this paradigm of the permanent and urgent now. I think SnapChat proves we're longing for a way to keep our connectivity without sacrificing our own impulsiveness, to be in the moment but free from the record of it. SnapChat pretends it can give us that back, but did we ever actually have it? On the internet, I mean.

Is this the trade-off: we get connected to everything, but everything gets connected back to us?

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Nostalgia for the Ephemeral in the Age of Urgent Now (2/3)

Douglas Rushkoff argues that digital technology and perpetual connectivity have created a kind of "Present Shock" in which we experience "a diminishment of everything that isn’t happening right now — and the onslaught of everything that supposedly is."

Urgent, interruptive nowness is partnered with over-whelming permanence. Social media has ushered in the Age of Now (which you're missing out on by reading this btw), but the record of the moment still lasts forever.

For. Ev. Errr.

And that moment has been indexed, and it's very searchable.

There was, at first, promise of a kind of freedom on the web — before social technologies boosted our limited exposure. Back in those more naive times, we shared more openly, as if our posts sinking into the depths of whatever-we-called-it-before-Timeline was sufficient to erase them. We hid behind handles like they were codenames and shared peer-to-peer. No Google search string was sufficient to find you if you didn't want to be found. Anonymity was part of the game on "the net" and it was fun.

If you came through that in my generation, you grew up into what we have now. Facebook monitors your web surfing so it can sell you the shoes you were thinking of buying. Employers will dig up your bong-filled college photos on MySpace and pass you over for a job while the NSA sifts through your old Hotmail account to keep America free from terrorism.

It's been kind of a rough coming-of-age.

Given that, I can understand this counter-intuitive desire for impermanence. When SnapChat creators Evan Spiegel and Bobby Murphy were on Colbert (where I apparently get all my information), one of the things they mentioned was this ephemerality.

Monday, June 10, 2013

Nostalgia for the Ephemeral in the Age of Urgent Now (1/3)

I decided to give SnapChat a go (bluekitsunebi is my handle).

I didn't really get why such a thing existed and I had no interest in using it, which was precisely why I felt I had to get an account. I did it for science. Also to answer the question: "Why else could this possibly exist except to drunk-send naked selfies?"

Funny thing, though: using SnapChat made me nostalgic for my AIM away messages. For when Facebook was only for college kids. For having a LiveJournal and a Geocities web page that I was sure no one could ever a.) trace back to me if they didn't already know me or b.) find without invitation.

Basically nostalgia for being a naive, 19-year-old hormone-bomb who impulsively shared anything and everything without fear of the consequences!

All of that stuff did not disappear. I had to find it and delete it and I'm only half certain it's actually gone. Some day I expect some of this old content to manifest, a ghost of my angsty youth, and destroy my already barely professional online persona.

Maybe that's what they're symbolizing with the cutely evil, gleefully mocking little dude in the SnapChat logo:

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Users: Engage!

What I'm hearing from the social media experts is that page likes and follows are shallow metrics.

This isn't news, especially since it's built right into Facebook's EdgeRank algorithms: a page like has less 'rank' than multiple post likes (at some point), and a share is worth more than a comment is worth more than a like.

Which ups the strategery, makes it all about the 'engagement.' Are they commenting? Sharing? That's Edge Juice. Digital capital.

If folks engage, they are more likely to see my future content, and that's a win for me and my brand.

It does not help the rank of my future posts if I share stuff no one wants to talk about.

Knowing this, I'm sure I'm not the only one to push things out into the virtual world hungry for that validation.


So what if it doesn't happen? Recently, hearing the crickets, I did a slapdash piece of market research. Having posted about once a day for a week regarding goings-on in Turkey (which feels REALLY IMPORTANT to me by the way) I decided to count up those posts (7 of them) and see how many likes and comments there actually were.

I then compared that to the last 7 posts I've made about anything else. The mix of text, image and video was about consistent.

I said slapdash, guys, this isn't real science. Just a quick pulse check.

Out of 7 posts, I had 28 likes and 9 comments. (I'm not a super popular guy.)
Out of 7 Turkey-related posts, 3 likes and 2 comments.

Getting say ~15% my 'normal' engagement on the Turkey posts than the rest?

The hot cakes really aren't moving.

How to interpret this? I could get judgey and decide that everyone's so jaded and uninformed. Why else don't they care? (Easy to feel this way. Why should kitty photos trend more than revolution?)

But I take this "data" with a grain of salt. All I know is that the topic of Turkey is getting poor user engagement among my Facebook audience. Without access to more complicated analytics, I couldn't even tell you who's clicking through this stuff.

It has me wondering: are there times when user engagement is a bad metric to rely on? What if some topics get seen, even clicked -- but not liked or commented on? Does that always mean I should post something else? That I made a mistake? Do I just need to position the content differently? Try a different platform? Seek a different audience?

Does the user engagement metric drive us to preach to the choir? There is always the case of strong disagreement (flaming and haterade are still user engagement, I guess), which suggests at best that digital discourse is likely to polarize.

Probably yes, some of those things. But also I think maybe user engagement isn't always everything. Some things we need to see even if we're not ready to talk about them. How do we measure that?