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Microblogging: Self-absorbtion as other-directedness

WSJ columnist Lee Gomes took another look today at Twitter and other so-called microblog services, sites that encourage you to post short entries (i.e. about 200 letters) throughout the day that keep a running log of what you are doing. Despite my previous post on the subject, it's perhaps insufficient simply to dismiss these as yet another expression of post-internet narcissism gone amuck, another way for people to mediated their own lives and make it seem more real in a media-saturated age. This, via Gomes, is how these services themselves describe what they are for:

Twitter, the first microblogging service and the current leader, says these messages are a kind of "ambient information." The folks at Jaiku, a newer entrant, say they allow users to have "social peripheral vision."

Both pretty good memes. Both companies seem aware that in order for people to use their services, they need to pitch it as something other than self-regard. So in a neat trick, they reconfigure the process of constantly updating the world about the minutia of your day as a kind of selfless act, sacrifical biofeedback.

"Any individual post is usually something mundane," says Mr. Stone. "But it keeps the relationship alive; it keeps you a good son or a good brother. The next time you see one of them, they will be able to say, 'How was that trip you took to the NASA research center? It sounded really cool.'"

Mr. Engeström adds: "It's a feeling you are living beside them even if you don't see them all the time. Not everyone wants to publish their lives online. But we all need attention from the people we care about."

So just like that, writing about yourself in isolation becomes a method for paying attention to someone else. Your solipsism is actually an expression of how connected you wish to be. This would be an almost tragic paradox, if people actually believed this.

In the column, Gomes likens microblogging to idle chatter on the phone, quoting a historian who notes, "The point isn't the content, it's the connection." But obviously there's a huge difference between having a phone conversation and sending out messages to the world. The phone conversation is reciprocal, and the reciprocity foments the connected feeling. The blog posts are messages in a bottle; I would think they would reinforce the feeling of being isolated in the world, despite the hypersophisticated communications industry, and all the various technological means of interconnectedness.

There's no doubt that rote volunteering of personal information helps establish a social bond, but the bond comes not from the ceaseless one-way flow of information but from the give and take -- the slow, measured ramping-up of what is shared and what is hinted at, and the warm glow that comes when you sense the other person is opening up. I think a blog program that periodically triggers you to spew out what is on your mind automatically yields a different form of intimacy, one not immediately or readily conformable to the forms we understand and yearn for. I hesitate to call it illusory; it's just new, not yet fully understood, and it's not clear what sort of relationships it would facilitate, or how it would affect already established relationships. Does it obviate reciprocity, or merely defer it, as the optimists in the article suggest?

Cover down, pray through: Bob Dylan's underrated, misunderstood "gospel years" are meticulously examined in this welcome new installment of his Bootleg series.

"How long can I listen to the lies of prejudice?
How long can I stay drunk on fear out in the wilderness?"
-- Bob Dylan, "When He Returns," 1979

Bob Dylan's career has been full of unpredictable left turns that have left fans confused, enthralled, enraged – sometimes all at once. At the 1965 Newport Folk Festival – accompanied by a pickup band featuring Mike Bloomfield and Al Kooper – he performed his first electric set, upsetting his folk base. His 1970 album Self Portrait is full of jazzy crooning and head-scratching covers. In 1978, his self-directed, four-hour film Renaldo and Clara was released, combining concert footage with surreal, often tedious dramatic scenes. Dylan seemed to thrive on testing the patience of his fans.

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Inane Political Discourse, or, Alan Partridge's Parody Politics

Publicity photo of Steve Coogan courtesy of Sky Consumer Comms

That the political class now finds itself relegated to accidental Alan Partridge territory along the with rest of the twits and twats that comprise English popular culture is meaningful, to say the least.

"I evolve, I don't…revolve."
-- Alan Partridge

Alan Partridge began as a gleeful media parody in the early '90s but thanks to Brexit he has evolved into a political one. In print and online, the hopelessly awkward radio DJ from Norwich, England, is used as an emblem for incompetent leadership and code word for inane political discourse.

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The show is called Crazy Ex-Girlfriend largely because it spends time dismantling the structure that finds it easier to write women off as "crazy" than to offer them help or understanding.

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If space is time—and space is literally time in the comics form—the world of the novel is a temporal cage. Manuele Fior pushes at the formal qualities of that cage to tell his story.

Manuele Fior's 5,000 Km Per Second was originally published in 2009 and, after winning the Angouléme and Lucca comics festivals awards in 2010 and 2011, was translated and published in English for the first time in 2016. As suggested by its title, the graphic novel explores the effects of distance across continents and decades. Its love triangle begins when the teenaged Piero and his best friend Nicola ogle Lucia as she moves into an apartment across the street and concludes 20 estranged years later on that same street. The intervening years include multiple heartbreaks and the one second phone delay Lucia in Norway and Piero in Egypt experience as they speak while 5,000 kilometers apart.

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Featuring a shining collaboration with Terry Riley, the Del Sol String Quartet have produced an excellent new music recording during their 25 years as an ensemble.

Dark Queen Mantra, both the composition and the album itself, represent a collaboration between the Del Sol String Quartet and legendary composer Terry Riley. Now in their 25th year, Del Sol have consistently championed modern music through their extensive recordings (11 to date), community and educational outreach efforts, and performances stretching from concert halls and the Library of Congress to San Francisco dance clubs. Riley, a defining figure of minimalist music, has continually infused his compositions with elements of jazz and traditional Indian elements such as raga melodies and rhythms. Featuring two contributions from Riley, as well as one from former Riley collaborator Stefano Scodanibbio, Dark Queen Mantra continues Del Sol's objective of exploring new avenues for the string quartet format.

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