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Twitter: Defending the IndefensibleAuthor: Simon Sellars • Jan 11th, 2010 •
“You’ve still got the paradigms print gave you, and you’re barely print-literate”
- William Gibson, Neuromancer
“Science and technology multiply around us. To an increasing extent they dictate the languages in which we speak and think. Either we use those languages, or we remain mute.”
- J.G. Ballard
“Twitter is like little animated hieroglyphics in the margins of a working manuscript, offering obscurely breaking news”
- William Gibson, Twitter.
I’m aware that people think this site goes through fallow periods where it seems nothing is happening in terms of research into Ballard and Ballardian themes. But as I’ve mentioned before, I am posting nearly all links on my Twitter account and saving ballardian.com for longer posts and articles. I’m also aware that some readers don’t give two hoots for Twitter, but it works for me as a linksharing hive mind, ready and able to be plugged in for instant feedback. It may well be a “fad”, but as one of my students remarked last year, who cares? Fads serve to focus creativity. And he’s right. The aggregate clusters around a particular medium, breaks up, moves on to something else. What does it really matter if it’s gone in a year, two years, three? For the moment, Twitter works – Twitter is the lightning conductor.
Besides, with the likes of William Gibson and Bruce Sterling using it regularly, do I really need to justify it? Perhaps. Here is my perspective. Updating a blog is hard work; Twitter less so. You do it in down time. At least I do. I recently remarked that I had written around 42,000 words on Twitter in ’09, less a boast but more an expression of surprise at the amount because it happened so intuitively. And if I can write like that, so quickly and honestly, then I should not be agonising over my forthcoming book — which, too, is supposed to be 40,000 words. I look back over many of those posts and can see clear and direct lines leading to, away and back to the articles, essays and chapters I wrote last year, as well as links, jottings and hurried notes about future projects and ideas. (And there are tools available to archive this stream, which can then be searched for keywords and themes.) When I was updating this site regularly with blog posts, I would agonise over getting a post right, sometimes spending so long that the moment would evaporate. The post would never get written, and the link/person/project I had found would be lost in the temporal backwash. With Twitter, I record the link quickly and go back to it later if need be. I align myself here with Geoff Manaugh, who writes:
Twitter is very obviously not the answer to everything, and it never should have been portrayed that way; but it also very obviously is not the death of humanism. Twitter is just another option for people to use when they want to take notes – and it’s no more exciting than that, either, to be frank. It’s a ball-point pen.
Get over it.
Still, some people will always snigger, that’s just how they’re wired. Today, you can still read articles in newspapers that go out of their way to denigrate the experience, their comments recalling exactly the criticisms levelled against blogs when they first became a popular interface. It’s supremely boring. As for me, I’ve heard it all before. I have one particular interlocutor (a friend, I might add!) who loves to belittle my experience. Here is the latest witticism, posted on another forum:
Simon did note recently that he’d written some 40,000 words on Twitter, which he saw as a very promising portent for the progress of his book. I didn’t think of the analogy in time to reply, but that’s like saying 2,000 quick wanks is good preparation for marriage.
Ho ho. Shut the door on your way out, dude. Oh, and turn out the lights.
In this exchange with one of his followers on Twitter, Gibson sums up the link between Twitter and creativity. He was asked if he was spending too much time on Twitter, when he didn’t spend nearly as much time as on his blog. The interrogator’s fear was that excessive tweeting would negate any potential new book from Gibson. Gibson replied: “I see zero adverse effect. In fact, quite the opposite. The blog was *work*. I do this [Twitter] in the *margins* of work. The other thing about twitter is all the web-browsing time it saves you. People do it *for* you. Twitter: like rattan bones *for your mind*!”
I know from experience that any reasonably popular blog most definitely is work. This site was only updated so much because I was writing my PhD on Ballard at the time, and I was completely saturated in the research material. Now, unfortunately, I have to make a living and sourcing and writing lengthy posts for free every few days doesn’t seem like such an attractive, or healthy, option. On this score, I like what Momus has to say about why he is stopping his own regular blogging. Its an explanation that resonates with my own feelings:
Because there’s a kind of tumbleweed feel to my Friends List these days, as people migrate to Twitter (and “ship” their inconsequential tweets back to the old haunt as if to place a big “Nothing to see here folks!” sign over both locations) or Facebook. Because I don’t feel that blogging either can or should be as big a part of the next decade as it has been of this one. Because I wonder what would happen if I put the energy I pour daily into this blog (and I’ve established a great working routine!) into something like a book, or something else … Because I’ve probably said everything I have to say about my opinions and worldview, on a certain level (which isn’t to say that the positions I’ve adopted have won or been accepted; many will never be). Because switching to another medium (fiction, for example) will be a way for me to put those views and hunches and feelings into new and fresh relationships with each other…
Because I don’t like the chain letter pressure to come up with something interesting every day, or the way that a couple of missed entries lead to a whole week in which nothing happens, and how I care about that and battle to bring the ratings back up. Okay, I’ve cited this before as a plus, calling it the Scheherazade Challenge, but look at poor Scheherazade’s motives for inventing a new tale every day: all the king’s other wives were killed. Is that the kind of pressure I want in my life? Have I considered gardening as a hobby?
But Twitter is like thinking aloud, occasionally to others, often to yourself. A brain stream that is sometimes inspiring, sometimes energising, sometimes dumb and silly, but always for the open-minded person creative in the way that only playful self-reflection and considered world-gazing can be. The other important note to consider is the network effect: a good deal of the links I post/tweet are sent from other Twitter users. I have 1500 followers — I repost that link, and even if it is picked up by a handful of those people, they may have many more followers than me, they retweet it to their followers, and the chain continues. The aggregate effect is the most phenomenally powerful element of Twitter. This is why news often breaks on Twitter before it hits MSM. So, I am indebted to the many kind users who send me interesting news and information, and I hope I’ve been able to add value in the same way. So if you’re intent on hating on Twitter, think of each user as a node or a switching station if that makes the experience any more palatable.
In short: to my mind, Twitter is the best research tool available at this moment in time.
Nonetheless, as a service to my Twitter-challenged friends — and to the loyal readers who visit this site regularly and who expect/want/would like to see new material/research/insights — each week I am going to try to post my previous 7 days’ worth of Twitter links and quotes, plus some observations. I’ll spare you the asides to other users and extended conversations: that’s a realtime conversational/feedback element that can’t necessarily be relayed here, but that must be experienced via Twitter itself, preferably through a client such as TweetDeck. I think this is also good practice for people who visit the site through an RSS reader and therefore can’t see the little Twitter box at the top right of the ballardian.com home page, and who may therefore never even know there’s any action at all over there.
So, my real motivation has never been to preach about Twitter, but simply to share some fairly interesting Ballardian/Ballard-inspired artworks, theory, social upheavals and projects that I have found (or disseminated), and that I hope you will enjoy also. But just to restate: ballardian.com is still alive, and reserved for articles, long posts, essays and photofeatures as they arrive from me and other contributors. There are many exciting features coming up, of which Paul Roth’s recent brilliant essay on Burtynsky is just the beginning.
So, let the link dumping begin. I’ll start from the new year. For the other 42,000 “wanks” from 2009, you’ll need to check the archives.
Jan 1, 2010-Jan 7 2010
ballardian: “I look forward to the transformation of Britain into the ultimate departure lounge. After all, we have every reason to leave.” – JG Ballard
ballardian: The Ballardian forum has been offline for months due to hassles with web hosts etc. Now, it has been revived! Enjoy: http://bit.ly/60Jcwy
ballardian: I’ve been looking forward to SW myself… RT @geetadayal: A review I wrote on “Sonic Warfare,” a new book by @kodenine: http://bit.ly/4qx5uX
ballardian: A Truffauldian dystopia would not care. RT @SpaceSyntaxGirl: RT @GreatDismal UK pensioners burning books to keep warm http://bit.ly/6GI8Ff
ballardian: RT @bldgblog: Great photos of the rapidly decaying Biosphere 2 project, referencing “buildings that die,” Ballard & more: http://is.gd/5PlJE
ballardian: “Like most CGI extravaganzas, it flares on the retina but leaves few traces in the memory” @kpunk99 on Avatar: http://bit.ly/63MNY2
ballardian: RT @GreatDismal: Ballard would have so brilliantly articulated the nitrous eroticism of our full-body airport security scan imagery.
ballardian: “Mutation or metamorphosis was taken for granted, indeed welcomed” Christopher Hitchens reviews Ballard’s shorts: http://tinyurl.com/ygjq3dc
ballardian: Hawkwind, Ballard, Hieronim Neumann… “Flat block / of two dimensions / It’s a human zoo / a suicide machine” http://bit.ly/5d7fZM
ballardian: “I’m an urban guerilla / I make bombs in my cellar / So watch out Mr. Business Man / Your empire’s about to blow” http://bit.ly/5LDtOi
ballardian: Understand: the public is not the problem. First the Newark fiasco, now this: explosives smuggled onto plane in ‘test’ http://bit.ly/8q7wec
ballardian: RT @Richard_Kadrey: Makers, wankers and vampires! RT @martyhalpern: The 10 most pirated digital books of 2009 http://tinyurl.com/yfhoy5r
ballardian: There are some very strange spam bots patrolling Twitter. One retweets w/out attribution, and then announces it is unfollowing the victim…
ballardian: Fabulous piece equating Burj’s “vacant stare” w/ the emptiness of the post-recession/post-apocalypse: http://bit.ly/5hymnv | via @bldgblog
ballardian: RT @bldgblog: Weird new year’s reading: “nfantryman’s Guide to Combat in Built-Up Areas,” U.S. Army urban combat handbook http://is.gd/5IYAD
ballardian: “Ballardâ€™s stories… well made, full of supposedly contemptible components, yet irreducibly strange” Zadie Smith http://bit.ly/8ZY58Y
ballardian: RT @johncoulthart: Expect babies or small children to be put to work as bomb mules from now on http://is.gd/5MhZI
ballardian: RT @ColinPeters: two great panics that taste great together. Body Scan vs. Child porn law RT: @juliangough @Fergal: http://is.gd/5MhZI
ballardian: RT @paleofuture: NASA’s 1965 press kit for the Gemini V mission [pdf] http://bit.ly/4Pa4OQ (via @alexismadrigal)
ballardian: RT @stephenhero: RT @jojeda Parkour flip book-style http://post.ly/HKUV
ballardian: Just discovered Google Chrome’s “incognito” function, which is wicked sick! Especially this bit: “Be wary of surveillance by secret agents.”
ballardian: Pot, meet kettle… In the UK, “rich, swollen”, ISPs smack Bono down: http://bit.ly/6EQfxv | via @Glinner
ballardian: “Foretelling human ends” – Ballardian.com: Paul Roth views Edward Burtynsky’s work on oil through a Ballardian lens http://bit.ly/5rWJL3
Accept-Encoding: gzip, deflate
ballardian: RT @jimrossignol: More camera-confiscation madness from British police: http://bit.ly/5XOkB7
ballardian: RT @timmaughan: The original #Avatar story – shame so much of this depth is missing: http://bit.ly/7o7xA3 (@MariKurisato)
ballardian: “Why, sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.” Lewis Carroll
ballardian: “Time does not exist. The universe is static. Movement is an illusion.” – Julian Barbour, Killing Time (film) http://bit.ly/QBMOv
ballardian: “The only way through a crisis of space is to invent a new space” – Fredric Jameson
ballardian: RT @melchil: Janek Schaefer’s ‘Recorded Delivery’, sound-activated tape recording sent through British post http://bit.ly/5mAEyR 1995
ballardian: The only thing better than William Basinki’s Disintegration Loops is William Basinski’s shortwave loops.
ballardian: Delhi’s Raqs Media Collective – interstitial urban capillary veins: “conversing about the ‘debris of the unrealizable’” http://bit.ly/7SGros
ballardian: Believe it when I see it… Dubai & Moscow’s rotating skyscrapers, “made possible by 79 giant wind turbines”: http://bit.ly/171p02
ballardian: RT @soundscrapers: U.S. Military is Meeting Recruitment Goals With Video Games – But at What Cost? http://is.gd/5Mjqa
ballardian: So the reports *are* true: the Newark airport lockdown *was* hell… Hey Jude sing-a-long: http://bit.ly/8Kful3
ballardian: RT @johncoulthart: So if the Burj Khalifa needs to be bailed out in the future will it change its name again? Burj Walmart, Burj Tesco?
ballardian: I feel sick… BASE jumping off the Burj (video): http://bit.ly/xc7cu
ballardian: “Life is getting friendlier but less interesting. Blame technology, globalisation and feminism” http://bit.ly/4XydbF | via @cityofsound
ballardian: I’m all for ‘injecting playful moments into the urban fabric’: PlastiCity FantastiCity design comp http://bit.ly/7ZlYA8 | via @pruned
ballardian: Remember Pillars of Wisdom, Paul’s great film about Abu Dhabi’s artificial skyline? It can be downloaded w/ new s/track http://bit.ly/8zs3rd
ballardian: Narrow Streets LA, a Fantasy Urban Makeover: “Century City, a Ballardian complex of futuristic ruins preserved intact” http://bit.ly/59HDFz
ballardian: Disneyâ€™s RiverCountry Rotting in Fittingly Ballardian Way: http://bit.ly/87t3ns
ballardian: RT @LittleMonsta: 10 Sci-Fi Weapons That Actually Exist http://bit.ly/8wq5EK
ballardian: My mate Paul arrived just in time to see the Burj explode into life. Here’s his film of the opening – incredible stuff: http://bit.ly/8J1FWI
ballardian: RT @jomc: “alpha fail” : man who says obvious and/or officious things in a booming voice with overwhelming confidence.
ballardian: I’m off to bed now, to dream of the Burj…
ballardian: Open lecture series, School of Architecture, Sheffield U: “emergence, dead-zones, edge spaces, terrain vague, subcults” http://bit.ly/4Fj7LE
ballardian: Window cleaners on the Burj Dubai. Only 142,000 sq m to go. “Get a move on, lads!”: http://bit.ly/2E7CWS
ballardian: @johnny_neurotic Vincenzo Natali, who is directing High-Rise, has apparently based the building’s design on the Burj: http://bit.ly/4CUHFV
ballardian: Burj Dubai opens today: “designed so that those who so wish will never have to leave, or descend below the 108th floor” http://bit.ly/5qbbIa
ballardian: Newark airport: this phrase scares me more than terrorism “this act breached the ‘sterile’ sections of the terminal” http://bit.ly/59pMGQ
ballardian: RT @ethel_baraona: Lost Formats Preservation Society http://tinyurl.com/loxvjr <------- reminiscent of @bruces's Dead Media Project
ballardian: A model to believe in? The “slow-budget” film approach” http://bit.ly/843Hbh | via @christydena
ballardian: @The_Art_Life I’m interested enough in Avatar’s ideas & tech to see it again. The debates are enlightening. At least film matters again.
ballardian: Reading the comments = deja vu; will publishing learn from music biz mistakes? Ebook piracy increases http://bit.ly/6SUSnN | via @bruces
ballardian: A quote for the times (again): “You’ve still got the paradigms print gave you, & you’re barely print-literate” (William Gibson, Neuromancer)
ballardian: “The Burj Dubai – just the latest example of mankind’s edifice complex (Times): http://bit.ly/4yFuIY
ballardian: Times: “Burj Dubai, the first superscraper, opens for business tomorrow – if it can find any” http://bit.ly/76rEYj
ballardian: @The_Art_Life Good pts re Avatar. Yet I still feel certain aspects undermined Av’s cleverest ideas. Twitter not best medium for elaboration.
ballardian: Moorcock on Ballard: “There were fights, bad acid trips, wild drives through the London night” – http://bit.ly/4MGxm5 | via @johncoulthart
ballardian: Backing up my Twitter account, I was astonished to find I’d written over 42,000 words on here in 09. Hope yet for getting my book done!
ballardian: Great to see a savvy MSM Twitter angle for a change (NYTimes) “the real value is listening to a wired collective voice” http://bit.ly/7pIqmQ
ballardian: Happy NY! After R.A. Wilson, my 2010 goal is to “create the happiest, funniest, most romantic reality-tunnel consistent w/ my brain signals”
Newer: Twitter links, part 2 »