Rethink.

Ora sono ubriaco d'universo. (Ungaretti)

Tag: internet (page 1 of 4)

The Inexplicable Popularity of Some Online Personalities: A List

So you’re online and you’re doing your best to keep to yourself or make friends. Typically this means you’re either reserved or polite, which is normal. You’d expect people would get popular by bending but not breaking the rules – they might ask questions that resonate with others but still be polite, to take one example.

What you didn’t expect is that the Internet is one giant suck-pit of stupidity where every personality that could be defined as “pathological” or “repulsive” gets a massive audience instantly. Here’s a few of the many types of idiots that have been irritating me nowadays:

1. Every day is whine day: yes, I know – this post. That argument doesn’t stick; you can read the rest of this blog and see why. All of you know that there are people online who use numerous media streams to complain. Sometimes these aren’t just people who are pissed at coworkers or family or friends. We’re talking about influential and powerful people who supposedly have lives and success who will do nothing but complain – their audience eats it up. I blame the audience. There are people who purposely don’t want to hear anything positive. They want to hear the world sucks.

2. The massive egotist: So there’s this moron who has written what he thinks is a credible expansion of a certain philosopher’s work and proclaims himself a herald of the future because he plays extensive amounts of video games. I am not kidding you. I wish I were. You don’t even want to know how many people are formally allied with his project, let alone the many who are paying for his work. What stuns me is the number of people willing to indulge someone’s brazen insanity, thinking it real courage. We do live in decadent times.

3. Pictures of me, me, me: I don’t mind this once in a while. It is important to project a personality when creating content. But if you’re going to try putting up pictures over and over in the hope one of them will go viral, that’s behavior which the community should shun. We don’t shun it enough – there are rewards for this sort of narcissism. Eventually you do go viral for the exact wrong reason.

4. There’s having a niche, then there’s repeating yourself: This might be my biggest problem with the Web. There’s so much content and most of us take in only a tiniest of a tiny fraction of it. Mark Bauerlein’s point about how the news is all around us yet we still can’t name the Vice-President is exactly what I’m ranting about. I’m obviously trying to expand my vision and see and write about more. I can’t begin to tell you how depressing it is when people get known for something that is literally the same thing, over and over.

There’s more than this, of course – I’m aiming at a few personalities I think are correctable. For example, I think a lot of people complaining or posting pics of themselves don’t realize there are other ways to interact with their audience. They just see it done so much it feels like there’s nothing else online. Right now, that’s exactly the problem.

And yes, I am jealous of those who have bigger audiences than me. I know what I could do with more readers, and I know it’d be special.

The State of Philosophy on the Internet

1. Sometimes the Internet and modern media technology are responsible for explosions of new talent. There’s no doubt in my mind we’ve been treated to a bunch of exceptional chess players and some great photographers because of our increasingly digital life.

I have reasons to suspect that despite access to a number of terrific resources, quite a few philosophy majors, and intelligent philosophy blogging that philosophy as a field is not blossoming online.

2. Notice that I say “as a field.” I don’t expect people to be reincarnations of Socrates or Wittgenstein. I’m not sure I even want that. What I do want is familiarity with the basics, an ability to think critically, appreciation and discrimination of the better from the worse in terms of philosophy itself.

It’s a losing battle. When philosophical thinking is not reduced to justification for various ideologies, it is needlessly complex and always shallow – the goal seems to be to show who can “win” on comment threads. The only thing even approaching something like intellectual honesty is the population of would-be cheaters posting their homework questions in forums. I can’t stand them. But at least their assignments ask “What does so-and-so mean by such-and-such?”

I’m not unhappy with philosophy blogging. Then again, we’re talking about academics blogging primarily. That’s exclusive in some awful ways. Academics not only tend to talk to other academics, but to a very specific segment of them. None of this, of course, helps the field significantly, especially when more “accessible” posts are ideological rants.

3. There is no solution that will make what I’m complaining about go away. I’m writing so that way a few serious minds who are dabbling in the field but not doing something more rigorous get away from news aggregator sites like Digg or Reddit and start making good notes on primary sources for themselves. I’m actually happy philosophy isn’t worse online – after Colin McGinn’s ridiculous proposal, it is clear things could be a lot worse overall.

I’d better tell my story. In my undergraduate studies, I understood virtually nothing in philosophy for 3 years. I was lucky to encounter some lectures on Aeschylus that explored the mythic foundations of the city. There was little or nothing to sustain those thoughts, though. The course I was in blazed through the Apology and Republic and Aristotle’s Politics. I couldn’t keep up and every time I got confused there was not only too much to do, but it wasn’t clear how I should even approach the texts.

Things only started opening up for me when I had time to breathe and a rough idea how the history of ideas worked. Yes, I’m not even talking about critical thinking or appreciation/discrimination at this point. Everything I’ve said so far is about “basics.” It took repeated attempts of reading with the question “Who cares about this stupid book?” in the background to bring the better books to life. Plato’s Republic was notorious in this regard. I tried reading it several times over a number of years. Each time I tried, I got the feeling that the book read “What is justice? Yes.”

4. So I think this. We can remedy a lot of what’s wrong with philosophy online if a few know some more basics and are willing to read carefully. Eventually they’ll ask serious questions. They won’t see everything in terms of arguments or argumentation. They won’t be taken in by big names and ideological agendas.

A few posts I’ve got to help people get started:

  • On Machiavelli’s Prince – a brief overview of the history of political philosophy. I’ve got my biases. They’re pretty clear in this post. I still recommend it: it’s a starting point.
  • Xenophon, Memorabilia III.7 – I’ve got the whole section here where Socrates exhorts Charmides, Plato’s uncle and an awful human being, to hold office. The commentary shows that this might actually be an attempt of Socrates to moderate Charmides. The larger point: ancient philosophy is very tricky stuff. Usually it requires ridiculously good reading skills. I confess I’m still lacking in many regards.
  • On Oedipus Tyrannus – short post showing how Greek tragedy may create a counterpoint to political philosophy.
  • On Plato’s Minos – you don’t need to know the text to know the status of “What is law?” is a solid question.
  • On Aristotle’s Politics I.1 – the text in question is very important. Aristotle lays out a plan for politics on vastly different grounds than we use.

I’ve got so much more lying around. Wish I could link you to all of it. I’ll just say this – I started writing so that way people could pick their text and stick with it. They’d know someone had read it or was reading with them. The big problem with the Internet is simply this. With all these texts available and the ability to publish, we do surprisingly little reading. Surprisingly little consideration of the voices of others.

For Bloggers: An Introduction to Twitter

I. Twitter isn’t for everyone, but it may be necessary for anyone wanting an audience

I’ll confess: I started using Twitter because I had to; when promoting a blog, you have to go where the audience may be. I’m very grateful for the people I’ve met on Twitter, many of whom are generous, willing to read and promote my work, confident enough to ask for help when they need it, and actually eager to know how I’m doing. And I think the interface itself and the many applications made for it are fun and intuitive.

Nonetheless, there are two major reasons why I can’t recommend Twitter to everyone:

  1. It is a major time trap. There is no way around this. And the audience you build there demands for the most part that you come to them. For some blogs, this is great – if you want tons of comments and interaction and people participating immediately, you should absolutely be on Twitter as much as possible in addition to running your blog.
  2. 140 characters only goes so far. I’ve gotten to know the people I’ve met on Twitter pretty well, but that’s because I ask a ton of personal questions and they’re pretty open anyway. I also use a number of approaches to make friends, because when all is said and done I want real friends. But at some point – especially when you’re reading and writing on, I dunno, Plato, Aristotle, Dickinson, Yeats, Frost, Nietzsche, Heidegger, Lincoln, Jefferson, Madison and a host of others fairly regularly – Twitter, like the Internet generally, creates another trap. Your content, after all, is just as good as anyone else’s, your opinion only matters as much as theirs. Your job is to convey the significance of your work in 140 characters or less, and yes, that is fundamentally unreasonable while being the hallmark of our democratic, interactive age. My ability to get readers is directly limited by the media I have to use: there is no incentive in that media for them to even look at what I do. Some of you are probably doubting the value of my work given how elitist I sound – I encourage you to take a look at some representative entries before telling me off, especially the commentary on Nietzsche’s “The Case of Wagner.”

II. So: If I want to use Twitter, what do I need to know?

The first thing you need to be aware of is that Twitter is a broadcast mechanism: you can use it for a small, intimate circle, sure, but you’re still broadcasting to some degree.

To a lesser degree, Twitter is like a chat room, a public Instant Messenger. I say this is “lesser” b/c if you tweet anything, you’ve broadcast something. If you tweet @ replies – replies directed at a user – you’ve still broadcast something. If you and that user go back and forth with @ replies, having a public conversation, then and only then are you conversing.

So why am I making a big deal about a fairly elementary point? Simple: you have to be aware of how you’re communicating in order to get the best group of followers possible. Anyone who’s spent 5 minutes on Twitter realizes that a good number on Twitter have absolutely no clue how to address another human being, let alone display manners or get other people to be interested in a topic or their own personality. If you think I’m exaggerating this, just follow a thousand people or so randomly and see how many are happy to crowd your updates with spam, random out-of-context quotes, tasteless links and jokes, and utterly useless personal information.

Now I need to be clear: while I am attacking many who use Twitter badly, I’m no advocate of coming up with hard and fast rules about how to use Twitter well. There are lots of gurus who think they can tell you how to craft the perfect tweet, or that there are an established set of mores for Twitter. There’s no such thing as the perfect tweet, though, or an established specific set of manners, and it should surprise no one that lists of rules about tweeting tend to get very pedantic very fast.

What you want to do for yourself is ask this: Who do I want to be interested in me, and what do I want to offer them? From there, it’s pretty intuitive how you use Twitter. Before I give you resources that will help, though, it’s important to go back to the broadcasting/chatting function of Twitter. Since you’re going to be doing a combination of both, it doesn’t matter if your Tweets read like you have a split personality. To some degree, we all have this – back in the day before mass media dominated our lives, people used to have to cultivate a public persona and not just “be themselves” as they were in private. Schools used to teach things like rhetoric to all students, because it was just assumed that an educated person would know how to conduct themselves in public. Your personae are united by your personality, and if you’re honest, the restraint you exercise in your tweets contributes to your authenticity. I don’t think I need to explain that people will usually not follow those who seem fake or are unlikeable, although there are important exceptions to this rule.

III. Resources and Strategies

I personally think the best strategy is to get a very devoted group of followers you want to talk to and help promote, and who are willing to talk to you and work with you. Since I’ve said Twitter is about broadcasting primarily, this means quantity counts too: you probably want to consider adding around 2000 followers before hitting the limit Twitter imposes on you.

I know, that sounds nuts, that sounds like I’m encouraging you to be a spammer. I’m not – I’m actually encouraging you to go find your audience, and deal with the fact that yes, a few people will ask you why you added them and tell you you’re creepy for existing and then those very same few people will Tweet about their sex lives in vivid detail to their audience of hundreds or thousands. The most important thing I’ve learned in 4 years of blogging and trying to reach the broadest possible audience is not to care what anyone thinks: if what you have to say or contribute is important, that’s all that matters.

I don’t think any of you will have trouble with getting quantity, and I do encourage you to get that quantity. Quality is trickier. We’ve talked about some criteria for who you want to add, but how do you find quality tweeters? And more importantly, how do you get quality tweeters to find you?

  1. Figure out what hashtags you want to use: Are the users you want to meet tweeting about a certain topic? All of us know that if you’re conservative or libertarian, #tcot or #tlot are hashtags you want to use for relevant tweets. Now that digg has canceled shouts, #digg and #digguser are a bigger deal than ever. One thing I’ll add – a hashtag is only as good as the people using it. If you want to check whether a potential hashtag is relevant, run it through http://search.twitter.com before tweeting it: if no one’s used it before, it’s probably not a good idea to start using it immediately.
  2. Start playing around with Twitter directories and groups: http://wefollow.com is self-explanatory, and I while still haven’t quite figured out http://www.twibes.com, I know I’m a member of one twibe or another. People have found me through these sorts of things – really – and it feels great to have someone say hi to you after spending a good amount of time trying to be more visible.
  3. http://blip.fm and grooveshark are pretty awesome – playing DJ for other people on Twitter can get conversations about music started easily. If you’re looking for a way to find like-minded users, you can’t go wrong with music.

My personal favorite Twitter toy is Mr. Tweet – it actually does find like-minded users pretty quickly for you, so if you’re wondering who to follow, there’s no need to think too hard about this. And if you can get recommended there, people will find you, although I must say the number finding me has reduced recently.

The day I like best on Twitter is #followfriday; a few people consider it spam, but it’s been hugely helpful in getting started on twitter, and people are thrilled to be recommended. It’s probably the best thing about Twitter, and the neat thing is that if you’re active enough on Twitter, it will most certainly benefit you.

IV. Some Final Notes

  • You might want a custom look for your Twitter page: I recommend @tweetplate but there are others.
  • I haven’t mentioned the word “retweeting” or RT or anything like that b/c I think that’s pretty much self-explanatory. There are RT conventions – you can’t change what you like when you retweet something, otherwise some people will get mad. That having been said, there are some people – just like people who pick on people’s grammar all the time – who go out of their way to look for mistakes in RT’s, I kid you not. You probably want to block anyone that gives you grief about this. Two relevant links – “What is ‘RT’ in Twitter” and “How to Retweet: A Simple Guide”
  • There are also apps for Twitter, in case you don’t want to update at the website, things like Tweetdeck and Twhirl and such. Not quite my cup of tea, but a relevant post if you want to see how Tweetdeck in particular can work: How to follow a lot of people on twitter and still be engaging
  • Twitter links are nofollow. That doesn’t mean they’re a waste, but it means that in addition to your audience building and friend making on Twitter that you are STILL going to have to build links to your site in other ways. Yes, it’s frustrating for me too.

Thank you for your time – if you have questions or comments, feel free to leave them below.

Tagging in Progress

Some of you have noticed that I’m streamlining and updating tags all throughout the blog. This is not an easy process: 200 tags were eliminated, with still more cuts to come, but a few are being added.

Moreover, out of 44 pages of entries, only 8 or 9 have been tagged to my satisfaction, and there are mistakes.

It’s gonna take some time for this to work out, but if you see a post that you know is badly tagged, let me know so I can work on it. I’d rather skip around a bit than reread nearly every entry in backwards sequence.

Do I Get to be Proud of 100,000 Pageviews?

Granted, it took 13 months. And there are blogs and sites getting 20,000 unique visitors a day that people online barely know about.

But you know what? I’ve experienced firsthand from the net how many people are resistant to learning, resistant to reading carefully and well, resistant to anything that’s different, new, or – worst of all – thoughtful.

100,000 pageviews is an enormous success even if it did take 13 months. This is a world where Britney Spears and Paris Hilton influence more than Plato or maybe even the Bible. If I have my way, there will be another 100,000 pageviews in less than a month: I just have to keep fighting, getting the link out there, and linking to other bloggers. Some of you have noticed that the number of “friends” in the blogroll is growing, and that trend is going to continue for a while longer, I think.

Setting a Reasonable Traffic Goal

I thought once that if I were getting 10,000 visitors a month, I’d not only be doing well, but I wouldn’t have to promote as much.

Well, I had 11,000 unique visits in September and a little over 10,000 in October, and I’m not satisfied. It isn’t greed that’s driving me: the issue is that very little of the traffic links back or shares the content (that “very little,” quite obviously, I am enormously grateful to). It isn’t clear that this blog’s audience is going to grow without a lot more effort.

So right now, when it comes to blog promotion, I’m in a quandry. I don’t want to do risky things and lose the traffic I have now: I’m not changing the permalink URL’s since quite a few of them are all over the Internet, and I’m scared of playing around with 301 redirects and rewriting post slugs properly and all that. I am rewriting a few title tags, though. (I’ve been thoroughly convinced of the truth of Stephan Spencer’s “Twelve SEO Mistakes Bloggers Make.”)

I wish I could implement some other strategies, though. I really want to work on retagging all the old posts properly and creating “tag” pages. For some strange reason, I can’t get “tags” to show up in posts, maybe I’m missing something obvious. Moreover, I want to advertise the content better generally – if you look at the “Key Posts” page, you’ll see that it has changed and is perhaps the most user-friendly thing on this blog.

Suggestions and thoughts are welcome. Right now the traffic goal is “as much as possible for me not to have to promote myself all the time.”

Thank you for your support – 50,000 unique visits looks like a healthy number…

…the more important numbers are the nearly 7,000 unique visits last month being surpassed already this month.

Numbers tell nothing, of course – it could be the case that 500,000 people stopped by here, and it wouldn’t mean anything unless people were commenting, saying hi to me, asking questions of me and others, getting to know every other reader better, helping each other out.

The real progress is that all of the latter is happening, and I want the audience of this blog to grow by those measures. The numbers only tell me that I have a reasonable chance of achieving the higher goods, and as they increase, they make me as proud as I am thankful.

If you’re a regular or occassional reader of this blog, drop a link to your best post in the comments, along with a blurb explaining why people might want to read it. One thing I regret is that I don’t link out to all of you enough, and I want to write a “thank you” post that makes sure that those of you who have blogs at least get a bit of a boost.

Blue Zinfandel Theme Issues: Are you having trouble reading this blog?

At least 4 of you have complained that this blog is wacky in terms of how it is presenting itself to you: something is askew esp. with the bullet points I use so frequently.

If you’re having/had trouble viewing this blog, post what browser you were using to look at this blog in the comments (3 of you whom I talked to were using Firefox 2 or IE), and describe what exactly went wrong. I’m still forum searching for a solution to this so no one has to change anything.

More Housekeeping Issues…

  • Some of you have noticed that the Index isn’t up and running entirely yet. I’m working on it piece-by-piece.
  • The most aggravating thing is changing every single link within posts that goes back to the Blogger blog. On a series like Plato’s “Crito,” 6 parts with 5 links per part, one going to every other part, that’s a minimum of 30 links.
  • No search engine traffic whatsoever yet. I’m thinking the Blogger blog might have to be deleted sooner rather than later (Edit: this has just been done). Am submitting to small search engines right now.
  • Any tips or advice or suggestions – give it now while I’m working on everything, please. Also: if you see any entries that are formatted badly, tell me, I’ll edit them right away. Thank you all so much.

Quick Post, I Want to Get Back to Work: "Distracted from Distraction by Distraction"

This article is most certainly alarmist, but has a few points worth considering:

  • To what degree are attentiveness and being distracted physiological conditions? The author claims that knowledge of the brain tells us that if you’re driving, and someone is describing something over the phone that requires you to visualize it, a “visual channel” will get “clogged” and you could “lose your sense of the road.”
  • More to the point: does this article rely on a conception of “attention = good” and “distraction (or anything that isn’t strictly “attention”) = evil?”
  • Something about the metaphors used to describe what’s wrong with Facebook and Myspace in this article doesn’t strike me as entirely credible. The primary complaint is that one goes there for “gossip and social banter,” but then one makes “friends” that not only aren’t real, but could be dismissed with a simple click even if they do offer something worthwhile. I don’t know why this doesn’t resonate with me, but I will offer this: twice I have met people purely online to whom I gave an enormous amount of knowledge and got zilch for it. Both were traditionalist Catholics of the “Latin Mass FTW’ variety (ironically enough – neither were affiliated with UD in any way). They were the only ones to never give anything of any worth to me or even acknowledge my existence after a short while (in their defense: I do accept prayers, and could be wrong about how much they’ve forgotten me). I think the author might be underestimating just how cold and self-righteous we would have to be to completely forget about people we meet online, for we’re online ourselves.
  • Towards the end of the article – I’d guess the complaints about kids learning nothing through computer overuse reflect on the kids, not the technology. It is possible to gain an enormous amount of technical expertise online. And any adult who says he doesn’t have the patience for a longer blog post anymore is probably an idiot. He can look in the mirror to figure out where that problem has arisen.
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