Saturday, 11 January 2014

140 Characters in Search of a Platform - Cathy Butler

Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs
(as updated for the age of the Facebook meme)

I've been blogging for almost eight years now - which is beginning to feel like quite a long time.

I write here once a month, of course, but for day-to-day purposes I use Livejournal, a blogging platform I like because (unlike Facebook, and still less like Twitter) the entries have some degree of permanence. Conversations can be easily located long after the event; and occasionally I’ll get a reply to an entry I made years earlier, which a reader has stumbled upon by chance or because it happens to deal with some subject they’re researching.

I realise that this impression of solidity is deceptive. These days, Livejournal is based in Russia (where I hear it is so popular that that "LJ" has become the generic word for blogging, much as “to google” is the generic verb of search engine use). Unfortunately, because a good many Russian LJers are somewhat critical of their government, LJ tends to come under cyberattack round about election time and in periods of Russian political crisis. One day, I expect to wake up and find that the entire site has been disappeared.

Musing on these matters a few months ago, I wrote a little poem on the relative ephemerality of blogging platforms, and in this week of storms and coastal erosion it seems worth quoting.

“If the East Anglian Coast did Social Media”

Twitter - the bleating of the gulls
Facebook - a stone tossed out to sea
LJ - a sandcastle on the beach
Hardbacks - the old seawall.

That still seems about right, and it points those of us who think about posterity to the place where we should be putting in our main efforts. Even seawalls may be breached, however, as the librarians of Alexandria could have told you; the fact that you’ve written something on papyrus is no guarantee of its survival. In the end only entropy wins, and entropy doesn’t even care.

Ephemerality is only half the story, though. I have other reasons for my ambivalent relationship with social media and with modern technology generally. It isn't that I’m technophobic. If I haven’t bought a smart phone or joined Twitter, it’s not because I fear or despise them. Back in the 1980s I even did an MSC in computing; and Twitter seems just my kind of thing, the ideal platform for my particular brand of smartassery, with its central place for punnage and throwaway wordplay. It’s not even that I find such things trivial. On the contrary, I see puns as fissures in the surface of language, allowing us to peer down into the molten core of things.

No, the reason I have refrained from these things is far less high-minded: it’s simple fear of addiction. I am one of those who have just enough willpower not to buy something, but not enough to ration the use of it once it is in the house. This is equally true of Roquefort, whisky and the internet. It is for this reason alone that I continue to write in longhand rather than straight onto a computer. Paper notebooks don’t have wifi (yet).

I used to be able to escape wifi and its myriad distractions by taking my laptop to a café, but then all the cafes began getting wifi too. I suppose they thought I’d be pleased, but actually I cursed them for their consideration. One of the last holdouts was the café in IKEA, about fifteen minutes’ walk from my house – a café that also had the benefit of free coffee on weekdays. When my children were small, I'd take them to the ball pool there for an hour's free supervised entertainment while I worked and drank IKEA's free coffee, then collect them with a couple of pages of fresh-minted writing in my pocket. Everyone was happy except, presumably, IKEA, who got nothing out of it at all. (On the other hand, my walls are now lined with BILLY bookcases, so it came right for them in the end.) Last time I was there, however, the fatal words “Free Wifi Now Available” were blazoned on the café wall, and I realized that I would never be able to visit with technology again.

The good news is that I’ve discovered a café that’s unlikely to get wifi anytime soon. It’s not quite as convenient, but I can see myself getting quite a lot of work done. I just hope I don't forget to take a pen.


Sue Bursztynski said...

Thanks for this, Cathy! I've just added you to my friends page on Livejournal. I have a blog there, for general stuff, though I rarely post - I prefer my Blogger account for my book reviews and such.

Wifi can be an addiction, though it can be useful. When I was writing my last non fiction book, I was still on dial up. I ran out of monthly hours and found it very useful to go to my local cafe to research and write and I had no excuse for getting up for coffee or food - a nice waitress would bring it to me. ;-)

I mostly use Twitter as a tool, though I do sometimes scroll through to see what my followers/friends are saying. I rarely spend more than five or ten minutes on it, though. My own addiction is stationery, which I buy in huge amounts during the "back to school" season when it's cheap.

Catherine Butler said...

Hi Sue - I've added you back! I suppose we all have our weaknesses, but stationery somehow seems a healthier one...

Emma Barnes said...

I'm one of those usually paranoid about the permanence of social media - that every foolish thought or photo is stuck there to haunt you forever. I hadn't thought about the other side of things - that the whole lot might just disappear.

I hear you on internet addiction though...probably should set up as therapists for internet addiction, as the way to prosperity.

Sue Purkiss said...

Like the poem - and the adapted Maslow's triangle of need!

Joan Lennon said...

Loved the poem, the definition of puns, the understanding of addiction - and your new cafe!

Clémentine Beauvais said...

This is brilliant - so funny. And true. I'm amazed you still write by hand. I can't - I've never written by hand. That's what a first computer at 6 years old does to you. So for me it's all about Cold Turkey, which cuts the internet.

Penny Dolan said...

The social media matches the same need to communicate that writing does, so no wonder it's such a lure and enticement.

Like your Maslow's mountain - and hope the new cafe is as empty of wifi as you want it to be.