Tag Archives: twitter

Labor Days

It is not a good time to work in a creative field, from a financial standpoint if nothing else. Despite this cold hard fact—or perhaps because of it—it is impossible to spend any time online without encountering aggressive creative encouragement. Every few days, you will encounter some meme ordering you to forge ahead with your project, which are basically 21st century versions of Hang in there! Barring that, you will receive a link to a personal essay that uses 2-3K words to broadcast the same message, usually depicting a Hero’s Journey from Unhappily Not Doing Things to Joyfully Doing Things.

As someone with writerly ambitions, my own anecdotal experience shows that literary corners of the internet are lousy with this stuff. The solitary nature of writing lends itself to a state of isolation that is susceptible to anything resembling encouragement, no matter how trite the sentiment or unrepeatable the path to success.

My pessimistic nature would cause me to chafe against these appeals regardless. But the more of it I run across, the more I believe it completely misses the boat in terms of what really ails anyone who aspires to do creative things.

Continue reading Labor Days

Donald Sterling’s Word Hole

As the current controversy swirls around Donald Sterling, many people are surprised he could be bounced from the NBA for making racist statements when he is a horrible human being who has done many horrible things over the course of his horrible lifetime. In his basketball dealings, the Clippers owner has consistently treated his players like chattel. In his other businesses, he’s even worse, as he did his best to impose racial quotas on his Los Angeles real estate properties and celebrated beating lawsuits brought against him by elderly widows.

For many, Sterling’s potential demise stemming from something he said in a secretly taped phone conversation feels unsatisfying, like Al Capone going to prison for tax evasion (or maybe racist tax evasion). He said some hideous words—the reasoning goes—but they were just words, which pale in comparison to his past actions.

Such reasoning fails to understand the character of what our world has become. In the 21st century, we have little else but words.

If you’re fortunate enough to live in the First World (the arena where the Sterling mess is being discussed in earnest), chances are you spend your day dealing in total abstractions. Rather than make tangible objects, you arrange words and send them to other people, who read them and arrange their own words in response. Or you interpret data into recommendations for possible future actions for someone else higher on the chain of command, someone you may never see.

If your job does involve making something, it is probably an app or a web site or something else that is, at its core, a carefully arranged series of ones and zeroes. The highest paid, sexiest jobs in our universe hinge on the writing and interpretation of huge blocks of letters and numbers and symbols we call code.

More and more human interaction is performed through some kind of electronic intermediary (the Internet, or some form thereof), free from physical contact and other sensory input, sometimes even free of any sort of context. As our world has grown increasingly abstract, the abstract has increased in value.

Words—abstract expressions, as opposed to action—mean more now than they have at any other point in human history. There was once a wide gap between saying I’m going to punch you in the mouth and actually doing it. The distinction between the two narrows more and more every day.

In such a world, an action is not as important as an event. An event is something that allows people to react publicly (on the internet) in the abstract form of words.

Donald Sterling made two fundamental mistakes that are indicative of him being a product of the 20th century (or, based on his racial politics, maybe the Dark Ages). His first mistake was assuming there’s any such thing as a private communication. His second was making his racism an event. He did so by condensing his horrendous views into a bite-sized chunk that could be easily disseminated and reacted to in the abbreviated channels in which most of us now interact.

In a world in which most of us get our news from condensed media like Twitter, Facebook, or frantic texts from friends and relatives, an event is not important unless it can be quickly understood and engender an immediate reaction across a wide swath of people. Such events have to possess as little ambiguity as possible, and allow people to construct outsized emotional reactions.

The events that have traction in this world are ones that allow uninvolved observers to climb atop soapboxes and adopt stances that bestow upon them a feeling of abstract righteousness. Something will stay in the news as long as it permits people to feel their reaction to it means they’re making a stand, even if that stand consists exclusively of tweeting about it once a day.

These abstractions push aside events that are, materially, far more important. A civil war in the Ukraine is kind of a bigger deal than anything Donald Sterling said, but a civil war has way too many complicating factors to afford any casual observer the luxury of feeling they’re on a side that is totally “right.”

An “important” event also has to emerge, progress, and reach its endgame in a timely manner. The missing Malaysian Airlines flight was enormous news for a few weeks, due to the weirdness of the mystery and human sympathy for those on the flight and their families. Then, it became clear that the story’s resolution was nowhere in sight. Now, as far as the internet is concerned, that story is as over as a TV series that never figured out its own denouement.

Had Sterling’s remarks left any room for interpretation, he could have continued owning an NBA franchise no matter how many employees and tenants he harassed. Instead, he said something so cartoonishly racist it ripped through the internet at lightning speed. It both allowed people to stand firmly against a specific person and a specific thing, and it seemed to point to a specific, imminent conclusion; i.e., kicking Sterling out of the NBA.

Should the NBA’s official reaction to Sterling’s words drag on for any length of time (which it almost certainly will), the internet will be happy to move on to another target of outrage, confident it did its part in getting rid of him. Even if Sterling remains a franchise owner, we will at some point stop talking about him after having talked about him at length for what seemed like a really long time, and that will be sufficient punishment in some people’s minds. If no words are spent on your behalf in this abstract world, do you even exist?

The Onion, Skinned

The Onion/Daniel Day LewisI can’t say anything about the Onion Twitter/Quvenzhané Wallis kerfuffle that hasn’t already been thrashed over a million times by a million other people already. (Less than 24 hours after it started, I might add. Oh brave new world!) My own feelings on the matter itself are summed up thusly:

The Onion could have made substantially the same joke in substance by using a million other words–asshole, douche, even bitch is so overused it barely resonates anymore. Instead, they opted to push the envelope. Pushing the envelope is a test pilot’s term, by the way. It refers to the flight envelope, which is another phrase for the estimates of what a plane is capable of doing. Sometimes when you push the envelope, you discover the mechanics can perform even better than calculated. Sometimes you wind up crashing into the side of a mountain. What happened was clearly an instance of the latter.

The Onion’s tweet using that word in reference to a nine-year-old was about as high-risk/low reward as it gets. The best case scenario: they get a bunch of RTs from people who already read The Onion. The worst case scenario: What actually happened, basically. I don’t think it’s censorship to consider that something like this could blow up in your face, and that you might also hurt the feelings of someone who really doesn’t deserve it.

I’m not all that interested in defenses or condemnations of The Onion per se. I’ve enjoyed Onion Product (c) since college and have read material that was way more “offensive” than that on their pages, so this certainly won’t sway me from their side. I also find it somewhat crazy that The Onion, of all people(s), found itself forced to apologize while there are thousands of way more offensive “comedy” accounts on Twitter. (There are multiple accounts called The Funny Racist, guys.) What I find far more interesting is the means by which The Onion wound up in such hot water, and what that says about the ways in which we consume different online media.

I saw a few folks on Twitter (kinda) defend The Onion by pointing out that we’re talking about the same web site that made copious 9-11 jokes within days of 9-11. The argument behind this is, C’mon, it’s The Onion. Only morons wouldn’t understand this was a joke. For years, people who “get” The Onion have mocked people who don’t.

There’s an unsavory undercurrent of Comedy Snob Insider to this attitude; The Onion isn’t so ubiquitous that everyone in the world knows who they are or what they do. However, I do think that any average person who clicks on a link from The Onion and reads even a little of their content will understand it is satire.

The problem in this case is that The Onion didn’t write a post or even one of their quick headline thingies. They wrote a tweet, which is more troublesome, at least in terms of potential interpretation.

An article has context. As I said above, if you visit The Onion’s site, even if you’ve never been there before, you will receive clues about their perspective and intentions. Tweets, on the other hand, have zero context at all, except for what you bring to those 140 characters. In the case of The Onion, to understand the intent behind the tweet, you have to “get” them. If you don’t, you won’t.

If you’ve never heard of The Onion, chances are you don’t follow them on Twitter. And then, someone suddenly RTs this tweet into your timeline. How do you respond to it? If it was me, I would think the tweet was so over the top, I’d look into it before getting outraged. I do this a lot, since I follow a lot of accounts who shame-retweet the racist/ignorant tweets of others. Sometimes I contemplate responding. Then I look at the RT’ed dude’s page and discover it’s some 15 year old dumbass, and move on.

The thing is, Twitter doesn’t really operate like that. Twitter’s biggest selling point is that it gives people the ability to respond immediately to Big Events in real time, whether that’s an award show or a game or a relative’s wedding. Ideally, everyone should figure out what they’re reading before they fly off the handle. Ideally, they should also eat better, floss, and donate more money to charity, but people don’t do a lot of things they should do. Twitter functions the way it functions, and getting mad about that seems as pointless as getting mad at a river for not being a mountain.

Every joke has a stage on which it makes sense, with its own sets and costumes and lighting guys up in the rafters. Had The Onion written the same words, verbatim, on their web site, they would have provided the joke with that stage. By presenting these words via tweet, they not only removed that stage, but broadcast it to a much wider, far less clued-in audience where outrage could be spread and feed on itself in milliseconds. Saying “duh, everyone knows what The Onion is” betrays a POV far more nearsighted than a non-Onion reader; it means everyone you know knows what The Onion is. You are not the universe.

I learned a lesson similar to this one last year, when I wrote one tweet on a parody account of mine that inexplicably blew up, exposing it to an audience that had zero idea what what I was trying to satirize. (Also similar to The Onion: the tweet in question wasn’t all that funny, either.) In my case, the trouble stemmed less from people who didn’t “get it” and more from a few lazy newspapers. However, the principle is largely the same: If you present something in a medium like Twitter, where people have to provide their own context, they’re liable to get that context wrong.

Twitter Snitches Get No Twitter Stitches

The Guy Adams/NBC/Twitter flap angered a lot of people, but if I’m allowed to have a moment of emotional narcissism, I’ve found it more infuriating than most. The incident not only echoes nonsense I went through not too long ago, but makes said nonsense seem even more weird and gross in retrospect.

In case you don’t know about this tale, here’s the short version: Guy Adams, Los Angeles bureau chief for the English newspaper the Independent, wrote a series of tweets ripping NBC a new Costas-hole for its terrible Olympics coverage. Shortly thereafter, his Twitter account was suspended. Twitter told him he’d been suspended because he’d tweeted a private email address of an NBC exec. In truth, the email address Adams posted was readily available to the public. Therefore, the email reason seemed a flimsy excuse to suspend a vocal critic of NBC, which is officially partnering with Twitter for these Olympics. Adams’ account was restored after he issued an “apology,” but not before it was revealed that it was Twitter who initially blew the whistle on him to NBC, not the other way around.

I went through something similar a month ago with my parody account @TimesPublicEdit, albeit for slightly different reasons and on a far smaller scale. Basically, a few news orgs mistook the account for the real New York Times public editor and reported one of my tweets as coming from him. Like Adams, I was never informed my account was suspended. Like Adams, I quickly found out that Twitter’s procedures for dealing with suspensions is to shoot and ask questions later; upon receipt of a complaint, they will both assume you are guilty and leave it up to you to figure out how to rectify the situation. Also like Adams, the burden was put on me to prove my contrition for an offense I didn’t commit. (In my case, that offense was “attempting to mislead” people, which was not even remotely my intent.)

Continue reading Twitter Snitches Get No Twitter Stitches

The Secrets of My Success

“Sir, you do have decent credit, but if we’re going to offer you this loan, you’ll need to put some collateral against it. Do you have anything of value to offer?”

“Why yes, I do”

*lays a dozen fake Twitter accounts on loan officer’s desk*

“You’ve been approved, my good man!”

* * *

“Your résumé is certainly extensive, but we have many candidates vying for this job. I’d like to know if you possess any unique skills that uniquely qualify you for this position.”

“Yes, I believe I do.”

*shares 1400-word essay about “Steampipe Alley,” followed by detailed recounting of several mid-80s McDonalds commercials*

“When can you start?”

* * *

“I have to admit, you make a solid pitch, but I’ve seen a ton of sales presentations today and I’m having a hard time deciding which is the best. Are there any other reasons we should want to do business with you?”

“Yes, there are.”

*reels off several jokes about jarts and Boku drink boxes*

“Stop drillin’, you hit oil!”

* * *

“I gotta be honest, I get a lotta people coming in here saying they’re gonna be the next Hemingway. Is there some extra special reason why should I take you on as a client?”

“I believe there is.”

*displays massive tome about Edgardo Alfonzo*

“Lookin’ forward to workin’ with ya!”


Yesterday, this happened on Twitter.


I’d like to thank me for making this all possible.

Sharing Is Caring

buttons.pngYou’ll notice that Scratchbomb posts now have handy, convenient ways that allow you to share them with the world in just a few clicks. Or maybe you hadn’t noticed, but you surely must notice now that I’m telling you about. And if you’re not noticing them by now, you’re just being difficult.

Truth is, there always was a little sharing thingy beneath the tags, but I realized that it was obscured and obtuse and confusing. So now I’ve streamlined it via the only ways that people seem to share articles anymore: Twitter and Facebook.

To tweet about an article, just click the little Tweet button. That opens a window with a shortened URL so’s you can tweet away about my latest needling of Mike Francesa.

To “like” a page on Facebook, just click the little thumbs up button so all your Facebook friends will know how smart you are.

Please do this to spread the word about Scratchbomb’s fantastic-ness, and to also help me get my secret data mining project off the ground.

Bud Selig, Twit

budselig2.jpgHonestly, I think MLB’s revised Twitter policy has been blown way out of proportion. I believe this so strenuously I’ve been trying to browbeat any writer who reported the story to change their tune. I even offered a free group interview with MLB Network star Mitch Williams, but no one has taken the bait yet.

The new policy is basically this: MLB.com beat writers can only tweet about baseball. They can only use 127 characters instead of 140, because all their tweets have to end with #sexybudselig. At least until I overtake Justin Bieber as a trending topic, or figure out who Justin Bieber is.

The reason for this policy is quite simple: I don’t want our beat writers using up precious MLBAM resources on non-baseball-related tweets. Especially after our staff went through the enormous trouble of setting up Twitter accounts for all these people. That takes over 17 hours per account! At least that’s the time I was billed for by our freelance IT staff. Why, that’s almost as long as they tell me it takes to perform a Google search!

Penalties for violation of this policy will be firm but fair. Any beat writer who tweets about a sandwich, salad, or any other food item will be suspended for three games. Because neither I nor anyone else could possible give less of a shit about your lunch.

Anyone who tweets about the latest Lost episode will be suspended for 50 games, because I’m Tivo’ing the whole season so I can watch it in one long chunk one it’s over. Don’t think I won’t do it, either. I came down on Manny Ramirez like a ton of bricks when he tweeted about the season finale of Grey’s Anatomy.

However, I will show leniency to any beat writer who can help me do a podcast. Does anyone know how to set that up? Because I think the world is finally ready to hear my thoughts on Battlestar Galactica.

The Self-Delusion Express Rolls On!

The tweeting of James Urbaniak (aka Dr. Venture) alerted me to this tweet from the soon-to-be-ex-governor of Alaska. For the full effect, I think you need to see how this tweet looks all by itself, standing alone in all its glory.

palintweet.jpgYes, the work ethic is certainly there in Alaska. Ain’t no quitters in Alaska! Except for maybe one repeat offender.

There are amoebas with more self-awareness than this broad. The only three things in this creep’s universe are Me, Myself, and I. She’d plunge herself into a pool of toxic waste if it got her three extra minutes of news coverage.

And just take a look at that wallpaper. Somewhere there is a “Footprints” poster with no background. I think that scene comes from Microsoft Clip Art; search for “Decorative Plate”.

If you really want a scare, read Todd Purdum’s Vanity Fair article on this monster, and think about how close we came to her being one heartbeat away from the presidency. We dodged a bullet, folks. A proudly ignorant, narcissistic, sociopathic bullet.

Scratchbomb: Now With Even More Self-Promotion!

Just wanted to alert the masses to a new commenting feature. If you come up with a brilliant bon mot, and you want other people to know about, you can post said comment to Twitter.

In order to enable this fantastic feature, you’ll have to do some quick set-up work in your Disqus account to align it with your Twitter account, but it only takes a few seconds to do that. Then tick the little “Tweet This Comment” box underneath the text field, and voila! Witness the magic.

Why would you want to do this? I haven’t the slightest idea. But there it is.

Next, I’m working on a commenting feature that will toast bread as you type. Stay tuned!.