Posts tagged: information

It’s a sunny July day and while my intentions were to get outside and go hiking, I’m sitting inside reading internet articles. How did I lose the last hour?  Like any good modern young person, it started with Facebook and ended with thinking about Facebook.

Like most hours whose duration goes by without notice, this hour of internet rambling started with refreshing Facebook. I clicked an article that a friend shared on Facebook, and through a series of well placed “if you like this article, you might like…” suggestions, found myself stumbling around various regions of the internet, learning of the history of shoplifting, Abbie Hoffman, pipebombs, and culturejamming.  I ended at this article on “Toxic Culture” by Adbusters.

I found the article interesting, and like hitting the “Go Home” button on a GPS, my first inclination was to head back to where I started and share the link on Facebook.

Despite the fact that my brain was buzzing with reactions, the most I could do at the very moment, alone at my laptop, was Share, and hope for something more than TL,DR.

This clip from Portlandia shows just what it is to be a modern scholar of the internet. Read much, share often, discuss little. Concise, Twitter-ready witticisms boil everything from our media to our opinions down to sparse headlines, and with Google Reader inboxes blinking numbers in the quadruple digits, sometimes, a headline is all we care or have time to know.

In the early days of the internet, bulletin board and forum meant roughly the same thing. But as it turns out, the ambiguous nomenclature didn’t last—the two terms differentiated all on their own.

Both forums and bulletins remain true to their early internet definitions in that they remain public digital gathering places. But today, internet forums are, in most cases, a niche destination for specialized questions and users who have been around since the internet’s nascent and are used to their typically no frills, sometimes disorganized, structure. They remain true to the Roman origins of their name though—these digital Forums are still where substantial information, opinions, and ideas, are exchanged on the internet.

 Bulletin boards, on the other hand, better describe the more recently-innovated public internet spaces. I’m talking about websites like Facebook and Twitter—websites populated by the internet en masse. On these websites, the quip is king. Twitter is the extreme example at 160 characters, but even Facebook has character cut-offs. On these modern bulletin boards, a constantly refreshing stream of everything our friends, our celebrities, our brands, our media outlets, care about are tacked to our LCD cork boards.

Our ability to reply is hampered by a million factors. Who has time to think about thoughtful replies when there’s emails to reply to, 2439 new articles in Google Reader (true story), a two month backlog of Dinosaur Comics to read, and a Facebook de-tag party, round two from last night when someone whipped out a camera while you were lip synching David Bowie covered with bubble wrap and spinach in your teeth (true story). Who wants to type a paragraph’s reply on a smart phone key board? Who wants to be the one radical nut-job friend who trolls people’s statuses with seven-comment-long rants?

Bulletin boards have given us unprecedented access to the whims, cares, values, interests, and lunches of a small group of people we care about, and an unfathomably huge circle of people who we perhaps haven’t seen in years, or will never even meet. The things we share are so incredibly public, but at the same time, very intimate peeks into our interests and motivations. The very act of sharing what we read, when we read it, and from what source reveals a slew of personal meta-data. This sharing community creates imagined intimacy—a network through whom we seek and sometimes find acknowledgement. A single Like on a status proves that at least one person heard what we said.

And somehow, it’s good enough. Even if an article we Share doesn’t receive a single reply, to have shared it is somehow better to than to have simply read it. And if we do generate responses, why are the one liners and Likes good enough, and even entirely socially adequate.

If Facebook is not a Forum for the substantial discussion of the Bulletins we post, what is it? Why do we Share if not for conversation? Do we Share as individuals masquerading as mass media—single sources, Tweeting soliloquies to our legion of Twits? Do we Share to flaunt that we are well-read? Do we share in earnest hope for real connections and exchange of opinions? The internet is a barrage of information. To process it all insurmountable. But if the internet is our modern public discussion space, why are we so very content to express our every thought in 160 characters?

Perhaps then, the internet is a complex tool, expanding as a universe, but one whose protocol is a beast unto itself. Its rules different, its communication quick and witty, a brief annotation as we attempt to organize our vast discoveries within this portal to information. We save the real discussion for the forums by which it has always been done: Face to face, with the two to twelve most authentic of your 500 facebook friends.