The Tedium is the Message: Communicating and Creating with the New Social Media


Published on

Winner 2012 Mary Shelley Award for Outstanding Fictional Work! Limited to 140 characters to confess his sins and meet his Maker, "tweeting" may not have been the best use of Willum Granger's final moments.

Executive Severance, a masterful work of Twitter microblogging fiction, is delightfully full of punny dialogue, clever character conditions, and a total lack of adherence to the old "rules" of

Executive Severance is a comic mystery created in Twitter that is compelling, entertaining and shows off what can be done in the 140-character form with style and mastery. With sendups of the mystery genre, social media conventions and cell phone behavior, Executive Severance is a cornucopia of word play and comic misdirection stuffed with punny dialogue and clever character conditions. ES has been called tight, tingling, and diverting.

What makes the print edition of Executive Severance truly exceptional is the amazing illustrations that accompany the story, produced by the acclaimed cartoonist, David Arshawsky.

  • Be the first to comment

  • Be the first to like this

No Downloads
Total views
On SlideShare
From Embeds
Number of Embeds
Embeds 0
No embeds

No notes for slide

The Tedium is the Message: Communicating and Creating with the New Social Media

  1. 1. The Tedium is the Message? Communicating and Creating With New Social Media Robert K. Blechman, Ph.D. New York Public Library September 4, 2012―My name is Robert Blechman and I am a Twitter novelist.‖
  2. 2. My Other LinksTwitter RKBs_TwitsteryWhale Fire www.executiveseverance.blogspot.comA Model Media Ecologist www.robertkblechman.blogspot.comOther SitesThe Savage Mind on Madison Avenue Heart of the Matter 2
  3. 3. The Medium Tedium isThe Message 3
  4. 4. Of course, my title ―The Tedium is the Message‖ is a play on media theoristMarshall McLuhan’s famous dictum ―The Medium is the Message.‖McLuhan wrote that ―Technological environments are not merely passivecontainers of people but are active processes that reshape people and othertechnologies alike.‖My talk today is about new social media in general and about Twitter inparticular. I will talk about the rise of Internet based social media in the contextof the history of communication advances and the possible impact of socialmedia on public and private discourse. I will end with a discussion about myown efforts to use social media for creative endeavors. If you came tonightwondering whether it is possible to actually write an entire novel in Twitter,SPOILER ALERT! The answer will be YES! 4
  5. 5. Is Twitter Making Us Dumber? 5
  6. 6. Is Twitter Making Us Dumber?―In a Twitter discussion, opinions and our tolerance for others’ opinions arestunted. Whether or not Twitter makes you stupid, it certainly makes somesmart people sound stupid.‖-Bill Keller, The New York Times Magazine, May 18, 2011 shortcomings of social media would not bother me awfully if I did notsuspect that Facebook friendship and Twitter chatter are displacing real rapportand real conversation, just as Gutenberg’s device displaced remembering. Thethings we may be unlearning, tweet by tweet — complexity, acuity, patience,wisdom, intimacy — are things that matter.-Bill Keller, The New York Times Magazine, May 18, 2011 growing body of scientific evidence suggests that the net, with its constantdistractions and interruptions, is turning us into scattered and superficialthinkers.-Nicholas Carr, The Telegraph, August 7, 2010 6
  7. 7. Is Twitter Making Us Dumber? 7
  8. 8. The Printing Press 8
  9. 9. Every new medium of communication is initially met with fear andtrepidation by someone. The printing press, invented by JohannesGutenberg in 1440, allowed the general public to have access to booksand thus to knowledge that had not been available to them before.General literacy was of some concern to Catholic priests who feared apopulation with access to Bibles in their own native language. How couldthe laity be trusted to interpret the word of God? Martin Luther soonproved their fears anything but groundless. Luther translated the Bibleinto German and the Catholic hierarchy’s monopoly on divinely revealedknowledge evaporated.The printing press also led to broader inquiries into science, the arts,history and human nature, known in hindsight as ―The Renaissance‖.This first technology of mass production provided the model forindustrialization, the factory system of manufacture as well as theeconomic system of capitalism. In addition, a literate populace was thefoundation for democracy 9
  10. 10. The Gutenberg Galaxy 10
  11. 11. In addition, print based literacy lead to standardization ofspelling, rules of punctuation and mandates about propergrammar, things about books we take for granted today. Forexample, it wasn’t until 75 years after the invention of theprinting press that someone thought to number the pages of abook.Attitudes toward new media change over time. In TheGutenberg Galaxy, Marshall McLuhan noted how Elizabethanplaywrights thought print publication of their work a form ofprostitution. 11
  12. 12. The Gutenberg GalaxyAlas, ‘tis true I have gonehere and thereAnd made myself a motleyto the viewGor’d mine ownthoughts, sold cheapWhat is most dear… Sonnet 110 12
  13. 13. In Sonnet 110 William Shakespeare wrote:Alas, ‘tis true I have gone here and thereAnd made myself a motley to the viewGor’d mine own thoughts, sold cheapWhat is most dear…The publicizing or confessional outing of private views seemed tothe writers of Shakespeare’s era to warrant the association of theprinting press with pornography and filth. 13
  14. 14. The Gutenberg GalaxySo long as men canbreathe, or eyes can see,So long lives this, and this gives life to thee. Sonnet 18 14
  15. 15. In addition to the splitting of the public and private self, McLuhannoted the promise of immortality poets saw in the printing press.Sonnet 18So long as men can breathe, or eyes can see, So long lives this,and this gives life to thee. 15
  16. 16. The Telegraph 16
  17. 17. The next breakthrough in communications, the telegraph, wasinvented by Samuel Morse in 1837,followed closely by theAlexander Graham Bell’s telephone in 1876. The telegraph enabledcommunication across almost any distance.According to McLuhan, ―It was not until the advent of the telegraphthat messages could travel faster than the messenger.‖ (UM p.127) Henry David Thoreau warned that the telegraph might be nomore than a conduit for news that ―Princess Adelaide has thewhooping cough.‖ 17
  18. 18. The Telegraph 18
  19. 19. According to historian Tom Standage, there was an Internet during theVictorian Era, based on the telegraph. The telegraph was―a new communications technology that allowed people to communicatealmost instantly across great distances, that revolutionized businesspractice, gave rise to new forms of crime and inundated its users with adeluge of information. Romances blossomed over the wires. Secret codeswere devised by some users…The benefits of the telegraphic networkwere relentlessly hyped by its advocates and dismissed by its skeptics.Governments and regulators tried and failed to control the new medium.Attitudes toward everything from news gathering to diplomacy had to becompletely rethought. Meanwhile, out on the wires, a technologicalsubculture with its own customs and vocabulary was establishing itself.‖(The Victorian Internet. p. VII-VIII)Sound familiar? 19
  20. 20. Radio/TV 20
  21. 21. In 1895, Guglielmo Marconi built a wireless system capable oftransmitting signals at long distances. Radio was initially an operator-to-operator form of communication used by amateurs. Early TV wasreally just radio with pictures. Both mass media matured into significantconduits for entertainment, news and commerce.Though McLuhan suggested that radio and then television made us allneighbors by creating a ―global village,‖ critics like Newton Minnowcalled television a ―vast wasteland‖ 21
  22. 22. Radio/TV 22
  23. 23. Radio/TV 23
  24. 24. and Media Ecologist Neil Postman complained that TV trivializeddiscourse to the point where we were ―amusing ourselves to death.‖ 24
  25. 25. The Digital Age 25
  26. 26. This brings us to the digital age. The printing press, the telegraph, radioand television required access to large amounts of capital to bringabout functional operations. Control of the medium meant control ofcontent.That all changes with the Internet. Barriers to entry are removed andanyone, at least in theory, can produce videos, audio programs,commentary, books and news reports. Consumers become producers.Consumers can view their videos on YouTube, record their diaries andcritiques on WordPress, pin their pictures on Pinterest, capitalize ontheir business connections on Linkedin and count their friendships onFacebook. This brings us to Twitter. 26
  27. 27. What is Twitter? 27
  28. 28. Twitter is an online application that is part blog, part socialnetworking site, part cell phone/IM tool, all designed to let usersanswer the question ―What are you doing? 28
  29. 29. Who is Tweeting?• Over 500 million active users as of 2012• Over 340 millions tweets daily 29
  30. 30. History repeats itself as we learn to adapt to publication of ourprivate lives and thoughts in the era of the new social media.Internet resources like Twitter and Facebook offer to democratizethe publication process, but also permit the unintentional outering ofpreviously private spaces.Although most individual tweets say very little, or seem tedious andmundane at best, ardent Twitter users argue that the true value ofTwitter comes from following people over time, developing anunderstanding of who they really are and knowing—in real time—what they are doing and how they feel about it. 30
  31. 31. Why Is It Significant?• Twitter creates a new channel of communication• Twitter facilitates a new way of seeing and understanding people 31
  32. 32. Although most individual tweets say very little, ardent Twitterers saythat the magic comes from following people over time, developing asense of who they really are and knowing—at nearly any moment—what they are doing and how they feel about it. 32
  33. 33. What Are Some Downsides?• The most common criticism of Twitter is that it enables inane interaction• As an asynchronous broadcast service, there is no guarantee that any individual tweet will be read 33
  34. 34. Gaining Twitter Followers• Celebrities have an advantage – Lady Gaga – 28,844,130 followers – Justin Bieber – 27,179,383 followers – Katy Perry – 25,681,620 followers … – CNN Breaking News – 8,593,231 followers – BBC Breaking News – 3,906,762 followers 34
  35. 35. Gaining Twitter Followers• Politicians, not necessarily – Barack Obama – 18,964,766 followers – Mitt Romney – 928,115 followers 35
  36. 36. However… 36
  37. 37. Lady Gaga’s Twitter Spam: Up to 72 Percent of Megastar’s followerscould be fake 37
  38. 38. Brevity is the Soul of Wit“What could be morepractical for a man caughtbetween the Scylla of aliterary culture and theCharybdis of post-literatetechnology to make himselfa raft of ad copy?” 38
  39. 39. While McLuhan didn’t have anything to say about posting inTwitter, media scholar Paul Levinson has noted that McLuhan’spenchant for aphorisms like ―the medium is the message‖ or ―weall live in a global village‖ would have made him a natural tweeter.The closest McLuhan came to Twitter was his observation aboutnavigating through digital technology:What could be more practical for a man caught between theScylla of a literary culture and the Charybdis of post-literatetechnology to make himself a raft of ad copy? 39
  40. 40. Computer Screen Limitations 40
  41. 41. MIT Media Theories Sherry Turkle believes that friendships basedscreen interactions have limitations.•Weak connections vs. strong conversations•We’ve become accustomed to a new way of being ―alone together.‖•Texting and e-mail and posting let us present the self we want to be.•E-mail, Twitter, Facebook do not substitute for conversation. 41
  42. 42. Twitter on The ViewThe Views – 157,395 follower 42
  43. 43. Certainly Twitter has penetrated deeply into the content of othermedia. The View has a weekly Twitter update. 43
  44. 44. Twitter on The News 44
  45. 45. News coverage frequently features a Twitter feed crawling along thebottom of the screen. 45
  46. 46. Twitter on David LettermanRicky Gervais – 2,943,395 followers David Letterman – 44,420 followers 46
  47. 47. Creative Uses of Twitter 47
  48. 48. Twitter has been criticized for demeaning discourse, pervertinggrammar and degrading spelling and punctuation. But is somethingelse possible? 48
  49. 49. The New YorkerJennifer Egan, ―Black Box,‖ The New Yorker, June 4, 2012 49
  50. 50. The New Yorker magazine has given legitimacy to the notion of Twitterliterature. Starting on May 24, 2012 Jennifer Egan tweeted ―Black Box,‖at the rate of one tweet per minute for an hour each night until shecompleted her Twitter short story. 50
  51. 51. 51
  52. 52. To challenge the negative responses to Twitter I conceived a literaryexperiment: Was it possible to maintain a narrative structure and attracta reading public in Twitter, 140 characters at a time?I coined a new term ―Twitstery‖ for the Twitter mystery genre andcreated a Twitter account ―RKBs_Twitstery‖ as a container for mydetective novel ultimately titled Executive Severance.Starting on May 6, 2009 I posted a new Executive Severance tweettwice a day every day for 15 months, never missing a deadline. 52
  53. 53. Why a Detective Story? 53
  54. 54. Why a detective story? McLuhan noted that ―In reading a detectivestory the reader participates as co-author simply because so muchhas been left out of the narrative.”Twitter is also intensely participatory and yet necessarily limited andso I adopted the detective genre as the driver for my story. Would myhero solve the crime? Would he undergo physical and mental trials?Would he get the girl? Would he spawn a publishing franchise?The detective genre provided an accessible façade to what Iconceived to be a new type of poetry. My work would be a sort ofsheep in wolf’s clothing. 54
  55. 55. 55
  56. 56. During the year and a quarter of my extended Twitter publication Iaveraged 180 followers a day. 56
  57. 57. Twitter as a Literary Medium 57
  58. 58. Twitter’s 140 character limit required intensive wordsmithing, theomission of punctuation in some cases and a lot of counting.Spelling, punctuation and grammer had to bend to the dictates of themedium. In other words, the standards we have accepted since theprinting press are now being challenged by Digital Age literacy.I cultivated brevity, concision and succinctness. 58
  59. 59. Narrative Strategies of Comic Strips 59
  60. 60. I soon realized that episodic nature of the Twitter timetable forced me toadopt the serial techniques of newspaper comic page story telling. Ineeded to learn the narrative strategies of Al Capp, Chester Ghould orMilton Caniff as well as Raymond Chandler and Mickey Spillane. Howdid comic strip authors hold their readers’ attention each day and tell ajoke while moving the story forward? 60
  61. 61. 61
  62. 62. I didn’t have the advantage of artwork, so I had to duplicate the effectwith words alone. I spent a lot of time in the New York Public Libraryacross the street reading archives of comics dailies. Comic stripartists can’t assume that their readers will see every issue published,so story telling in the funny pages involved a lot of repetition. By thesame token, I couldn’t be sure that my readers would catch everytweet posted. The last panel of the Friday strip was often the firstpanel of Monday’s entry. I decided that I wouldn’t do a lot of repeatingas my Twitter history was readily available to my followers. 62
  63. 63. Twitter Storytelling 63
  64. 64. So Twitter storytelling forces considerations similar to advertising, andalso similar to daily comic strips. Many have written about the negativeinfluence of Twitter on spelling, grammar and punctuation.I would suggest that Twitter detractors consider the gold in the Twitterstream, not just the dross. 64
  65. 65. McLuhan in the Digital Age 65
  66. 66. McLuhan wrote that ―Technological environments are not merelypassive containers of people but are active processes that reshapepeople and other technologies alike.‖ (The Gutenberg Galaxy p. 5)Twitter encourages writing in aphorisms. It is said that King Solomonwas considered wise because he knew 3000 proverbs by heart andcould bring them to bear in his judicial deliberations. Proverbs weretypical of an oral culture where memory was the only means ofpreserving knowledge.Consider Twitter as a training ground for the proverbs of the DigitalAge. Perhaps in the future, it will become the norm to produce ourliterature 140 characters at a time.Speaking as a Twitter novelist, I certainly hope so. 66
  67. 67. 67
  68. 68. And now, with your indulgence, I will read Chapter 1 of ExecutiveSeverance. To give you the full Twitter experience, I will display eachtweet on the screen behind me. 68
  69. 69. Executive Severance Chapter 1: The Twitstery BeginsWillum Mortimus Granger was beside himself. In fact when his body was found the top half was right next to the bottom 117Grangers body was split in two. "Well, we can rule out suicide" said the coroner. "I rule out NOTHING!" I replied 114Selfbisection was not at the top of my list of likely solutions. I hate ceding any ground when it comes to crime deduction 122"Maybe this was self inflicted. Then how do you explain the other 3 1/2 victims just like this I have at the morgue?" 117 69
  70. 70. Executive Severance Chapter 1: The Twitstery BeginsSo Granger wasnt the only one cut down in his prime. "You said 3 1/2 victims. You have half a body?" "No. Siammese twins." 123Willum Mortimus Granger and 3 1/2 others (as per the coroner) were dead, their bodies sliced in half. 100I stared at Grangers lower torso. Marshall McLuhan famously claimed that the wheel was an extension of our feet. Now I got it! 127Granger had owned a perfume concern, a blue coal mine and two pickle factories. His company was called Lavender Blue Dilly Dillly 129 70
  71. 71. Executive Severance Chapter 1: The Twitstery BeginsHit hard by the economic downturn, LBDD failed the smell test, couldnt sink to new depths and finally everything didnt go sour 128A cloning pioneer, Granger had replaced every part of his body. Calling his lab Body Parts R Us, he was literally a self made man 129If the economic downturn had hit Grangers cloning lab, Body Parts R Us, like it did at LBDD, he could have lost arm and a leg 126I knew a lot about Granger. By chance Id just read his NY Times best-seller "100 Things You Need To Know About Me Before I Die" 128 71
  72. 72. Executive Severance Chapter 1: The Twitstery Begins"I was born at a very young age." begins Grangers autobiography, 100 Things..., "I was very close to my mother at the time." 125Born to a family of neo-vegans, Granger ate only oats til age 17 when he became the first entrant to win the Kentucky Derby without a horse. 140A self-taught fly fisher, when Granger discovered the sports purpose was to catch fish, he released the flies back into the wild 129I looked at Grangers severed torso. Here... and here lay the remains of an entrepreneur, athelete, scientist and podcast mime. 127 72
  73. 73. Executive Severance Chapter 1: The Twitstery BeginsSure he was a failed entrepreneur, uncertain athlete, questionable scientist. But he was undeniably a world class podcast mime. 127Who can forget Grangerss podcast masterpiece, "Man Walking Against the Wind"? Or "Man Trapped in an Invisible Cube"? 117Now he was ready to perform his final mime podcast "Man Silent as the Grave." Placing my cell next to his torso, I ... 118pressed RECORD. Willum Granger was dead because, despite all his advantages, he couldnt be in two places at the same time. 123 73
  74. 74. Executive Severance Chapter 1: The Twitstery BeginsWe stood a moment in a respectful silence which the doctor broke asking "How can you do mime in a podcast?" Just then my cell rang 130Grangers last podcast would be ruined! I scooped up my cell wondering when I uploaded "Torn Between Two Lovers" as a ringtone. 127My own phone was strangely silent. By the time I pried the other cell phone from Grangers cold dead hand, the music had stopped. 129Looking for Caller ID I saw two things: Granger had been on Twitter at the moment of his death and the battery was almost dead. 127 74
  75. 75. Executive Severance Chapter 1: The Twitstery BeginsGranger had been Tweeting when he died! This phone was the Holy Grail, the Rosetta Stone, the Jeopardy Daily Double of this case. 129If Granger Tweeted his assailants name, or some clue, Id wrap up this case and tackle those 3 1/2 other victims at the morgue. 128If Granger wrote "Hey, Larry from LBDD! What are you doing here?" Or "Saw Vince from the lab" Those would be a definite leads. 128Granger had married twice, divorced 3 times. His last wife had been really, really mad at him. Perhaps a she would be fingered in a Tweet. 140 75
  76. 76. Executive Severance Chapter 1: The Twitstery BeginsI needed to know three things. What was the motive for the murder? What was the method? What was this stuff I just stepped into? 129"What is this stuff, tapioca?" "No," said the coroner "Thats his spleen." "It looks just like tapioca." "Believe me, its not." 129Docs words reassured me. Tapioca always turns my stomach. Wiping my shoe on Grangers shirt, I tapped the phone on with my pen. 129As the phone came to life the coroner scoffed "Do you seriously believe you can solve this case by following Granger on Twitter?" 129 76
  77. 77. Executive Severance Chapter 1: The Twitstery Begins"I wont follow his tweets to learn where hell be. I already know with grave certainty where hes going to be from now on." 125"Ill solve this murder not by tweeting forward, but by retweeting backward," I hit ENTER and Grangers final Tweet appeared: 125aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa aaaaaaaaaaaa 140aaaaaaaaaaa 11 77
  78. 78. Executive Severance Chapter 1: The Twitstery BeginsEither Granger wanted his followers to know he suffered an extremely slow, painful death, or his finger got stuck on the "a" key. 129"aaaaaaaa...?" said the coroner. "Thats it?" "It may be a code of some kind." I replied "All I have to do is figure out the key" 129The coroner continued, "Facing imminent death, as a final act Granger logs onto Twitter and tweets aaaaaaa… to his followers?" 128"Does that description do justice to the scenario youre painting here?" "Maybe we should look at his next-to- last tweet." 122 78
  79. 79. Executive Severance Chapter 1: The Twitstery BeginsThe coroner was getting on my nerves. I should put him on my suspects list. Once again I tapped the cell to view Grangers tweet: 129"Stomach unsettled" Granger had tweeted, "I guess that tapioca didnt go down well." I glared at the coroner. He just shrugged. 129The lab team was done and wanted to put Granger into body bags. His phone too. There wouldnt be another tweet out of either. 126 79
  80. 80. ?AnyQuestions? 80
  81. 81. My Other LinksTwitter RKBs_TwitsteryWhale Fire www.executiveseverance.blogspot.comA Model Media Ecologist www.robertkblechman.blogspot.comOther SitesThe Savage Mind on Madison Avenue Heart of the Matter 81