Thursday, July 5, 2012

No Links is Good Links


essaysbysean.blogspot.com

No Links is Good Links
(an essay against internet links)
AND
“Son of ‘Done and Learned’”
(which morphs into the essay against links)

contents
Son of 'Done and Learned'
Footnote morphing to links

No Links is Good Links

End note
More, regarding attention span, from the above essay


Son of ‘Done and Learned’
Man, I need a fresh new title for my “taking stock” essays, before I end up writing one called “‘Done and learned’ Returns” or “ ‘Done and learned’s’ Filly.” After every page of 25 titles I’m “s’posed to” write a meta-blog. It’s been over 30 posts now,  time to look back.

During this last batch of posting (30) essays the biggest, saddest thing I’ve learned is the American people just aren’t ready yet to hit bottom, lose their denial, and then get their act together. My (America Descending June 2012) announcement of finding a book, Time to Start Thinking, by an alien, Edward Luce, has amazingly few hits (views by readers) compared to the essays immediately before and after it. In a sane world, the ratios would be reversed. Oh well, it takes what it takes.

For an essay putting into context “The Death of Buffy,” (January 2012) I’ve had many, many hits. Isn’t that nice? Now I can be like that obscure band out of Winnipeg, Crash Test Dummies. I remember well their music video, “Superman’s Song.” Their song was a mega hit; lots of folks became fans, but then this didn’t do the band any good. Folks were fans of the song, not the band. Similarly, I don’t think any of my Buffy readers became fans of my essay site. I say this because, out of all those “readers?” The only “comment” was a sentence fragment—not even a complete sentence. And it wasn’t “nice essay,” it was, “link to (Roger) Ebert?” And then silence… I’m real proud of that essay. My fellow Buffy fans? Not so much. To quote an ex-girlfriend’s T-shirt, “But I’m not bitter.”

On this site, I often write “sounding middle aged.” Why? Easy: As a regular guy, albeit one with a university degree, I know I may not be as smart as a young Internet computer nerd, but at least I can offer a middle aged man’s perspective. And besides, nerds aren’t so smart.

Footnotes morphing to links
A former Microsoft guy took a poll to plan out his next book:

It turns out not all nerds are nerdy enough to like footnotes. What blog-essayist Scott Berkun found was that half his readers would prefer the “footnotes” to be placed as “end notes.” In Theory, it follows that half of of his readers don't desire the distraction of footnotes on every page. And then, if on-line, neither would they desire any blue "link notes" scattered through an essay… In Reality, they do like links; in fact, a most prominent member of Scott’s posse has said he won’t even read a post if at first he doesn’t see lots of blue links scattered about.

Furthermore, a very successful blogger, Ms Penelope Trunk, has said that as she composes, her sense of timing includes allowing time for the reader to go off and follow links. Wow, some folks sure love their links. As for me: "Sorry Ms Trunk, “there’s something wrong with this picture.”" In fairness, she doesn’t exactly blog essays, although, like an essayist, she does like to sneak up on a surprise thesis. Rather, she writes blog-feature articles, hence the links, documenting her interesting opinions.

Call me middle aged, but in my day, only a dog would suddenly shout, “Squirrel!” Or, “link!” Call me a lover of indie bands, but if my dog shouts “sell out!” then I know someone is linking from desperately seeking SEO (search engine optimization) while hoping for a major hit count. “Lots of hits,” eh? Suddenly I imagine young nerds talking loudly in the doorway of a science lecture theatre to show other students they have “lots of friends.”

I’ve stopped linking. My own blog statistics are unclear; it might seem that my earlier linked posts had more hits, but it is my later, non-linked essays that have proved to be “evergreens,” ever generating hits. But as I said, it’s unclear.

What I am clear on is this: When it comes to linking to show my hits to my ego, I don’t want to be like one of those guys on the commuter train, audible from the next car, who talk on their fancy cellular telephones extra-loudly to show they have friends. Or else they’re showing everyone they bought a made-in-China cell with a crappy microphone. I’m still chuckling at how all the riders in my car cracked up one day: I pulled out a pretend phone and loudly started answering the guy.


No Links is Good Links
Excerpts from two essays, March and February 2011, from shortest to longest :)

~~ ... It was the web surfers, or “clickers,” that dimmed my enthusiasm for putting links in my pieces. I now use a logical lesson from the novel A Taste For Honey.

According to my childhood memory… This book was a 1940’s horror-mystery, recommended by Boris Karloff, where a beekeeper uses swarms of bees to get away with murder. The detective was Sherlock's brother Mycroft Holmes; the viewpoint character was an ordinary man who liked buying fresh honey. One day, walking along a quiet country road, this man sees a new sign that is just too far up the embankment to read. He climbs up and finds an advertisement for honey. As it happens, his usual beekeeper has just been accidentally stung to death (murdered, but he doesn’t know that yet) so he goes to the address on the sign. There he finds Holmes.

As it turns out, Holmes had planted that sign as a screening device. What he needed for catching the bad guy was:
a local partner,
who had to be someone curious,
and observant enough to notice a sign was new,
and adventurous enough to climb up to read it.
And, of course, it had to be someone who could convincingly go to the suspect’s bee farm to buy honey.

So I’ve decided to be like Holmes. Rather than make a link, even a link to my own posts, rather than risk casting pearls before swine, I would rather leave those pages for anyone who is active and curious enough to adventurously type up a search term to see what she will find. Or at least take the initiative to go to my home page archives. Those who are upset at this, those who want all their links handed to them on a silver platter, are probably not seekers of knowledge but merely clickers: incurious, frivolous clickers. I feel no guilt at filtering them out, just as Holmes would, denying them their all-too-easy links.

~~… Needless to say, in the working world, I won't waste your time. I'm polite. If I call you, I already have my pen and paper ready. If I have to leave you a message, then I leave my phone number, to save you a couple seconds from going to your rolodex… But I'm not so blasted efficient during my leisure time! In my real life I "waste time" in non-business ways by holding doors for ladies to go first, removing my hat and standing when someone enters…  Isn't the Internet a leisure activity? I like to buy a coffee when I surf the web.

~~ ... My own excitement for links died… on the day I read a thoughtful post by one of my favorite nerd web essayists, a computer wizard at Google, named Stevey. As you know, certain programming languages, such as Fortran and Cobol, are as dead as Latin. Other languages are half-dead, and it was beyond Stevey as to why anyone would waste time learning a dying language when you could put your precious man hours into a more recent, more powerful language. His essay was to encourage his fellow programmers to prevent any waste of their time.

Perhaps Stevey enjoys linking. Maybe, just like me, after his essay is ready to post, he will conscientiously spend an hour going over Google listings to find the best links for his dear readers. For his piece on programming languages, though, I’m sure Stevey thought that searching out a link to a certain useless language he had never used, and would never use, would be exactly what his article was against: a waste of time.

Then one of his “dear readers” scolded him: “Give us a break!” he said, angry that Stevey hadn’t linked to that half-dead language. I was angry too— at the reader! Presumably he is a programmer just like Stevey: computer literate, a fast touch-typist and skilled at web searches. Question: So why not easily do his own search? Answer: He’s obviously a surfer, a flea, jumping from tree to tree but unable to see the forest, the gestalt, or in this case the essence of Stevey’s article: Don’t Waste Time. Note to fleas: You can’t see connections, you can't reflect, while you are clicking.

Here’s a chilling thought: If that skilled programmer, besides being so rude and attention-span-challenged, is also too lazy to type in a search term, then is he too lazy to be conscientious when he makes his own links? Instead of an hour, does he only spend a minute by linking to the first thing he finds, wikipedia say? If I work so hard to find a link for this not-so-dear reader, then aren’t I setting down an oyster before a pig? My excitement at linking has turned to ashes.

Surf Destroys the Shore

I’ve seen others like that reader, destructive rude trolls, at forum sites such as Reddit and Digg, where people garner pages from the web and post them for comments. In fairness, though, at this point in web history, these forums tend to be mostly for the early adopters of technology: the computer geeks. A computer millionaire, Paul Graham, in an essay on trolls (No, I won’t link) wrote that computer nerds tend to be less social, lacking common people skills. The troll never sees a troll in the mirror.

I can barely imagine the effect on society, and the “opportunity cost,” of all those computer users, amidst a dark sprinkling of rudeness, devoting all those man-hours to skimming only the surface of all those superficial pages.

...

Well. Where does that leave an average guy like me? If I were to write my essays strictly with stereotypical surfers in mind then I would have to write “essays that are superficial,” because "surfers" read by skimming, ignorant of gestalt, and I'd write “essays that are impersonal,” to give myself a safe distance, because trolls might try to hurt my feelings. How boring! …

Worst of all: I’d never work hard on “essays that sneak up,” not for any of the big issues that have baffled people down the generations. Writing for surfers, I would have to give up on “essays that promote the good fight for lost causes.” Such a pity, because lost causes, the sort that trolls and hyenas will rush to tear apart, are the causes worth fighting for.


Endnote:
~For anyone with the true grit to go to my homepage, three related essays, since my last meta-blog, (done and learned) are
Reading and Rushing   (December 2010)
Surfing at Work   (January 2011
Fluffy Social Media   (November 2010)

More, regarding Attention Span, from the above essay:

Our society, or at least our surfers, at least for this day in web history, is creating an environment, or medium, where we value learning facts more than the process of learning, and we value rudeness and snap answers over civilized discourse and slow thinking. When Marshal McLuhan said, "The medium in the message" he was echoing John Dewey's belief that "we learn (message) what we do." (medium) For the next quote, I wonder how many hurried surfers would want to be spoon fed as to what to think?

McLuhan seems to have his most difficult moments trying to persuade his audiences that a television set or a newspaper or an automobile or a Xerox machine can be usefully defined as such an environment. And even when his audiences suspend disbelief long enough to probe with him further, McLuhan still  must labor to persuade that the relevant question to ask of such environments is not "What's on TV?" or "What's in the newspaper?" but "In what ways does the structure or process of the medium-environment manipulate our senses and attitudes?" (Teaching as a Subversive Activity by Neil Postman and Charles Weingartner, 1969, p. 17) 

Sean Crawford
At a table by a meadow by a pond
July 2012

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