Archive for July 2012

So this is the thing about the internet sometimes :

I know, you’ve probably been thinking “man, it has been a long time since Porcelain and Porcupines* has been updated. Weeks, even. What’s the hold up? What could be so terribly involved?” Only now to discover that the issue is, in fact, the whole entire internet, and you realize “Wow, that is a pretty complex topic; I’m glad some time has been spent thinking about this. And, honestly, I am very much looking forward to having what exactly it is about the internet discussed, because it has been a bit tricky to nail down, I tell you what.”

And I also know, that sounds just like you. But the thing about the internet sometimes, it’s that sometimes, you wake up in the morning and you find yourself wondering whatever happened to Tevin Campbell?

For those of you who are, technically speaking, young enough that I’ve been old enough to babysit you your entire life, and yet still we know each other : Tevin Campbell was like the 1990 version of Justin Beiber. Only better, which I feel confident asserting even without ever having heard a single Justin Bieber song, because Tevin happened first, his hair was actually stylish (you know: for the time), and he worked with Prince who, regardless of how anyone might feel about him or his music, it must be acknowledged, is an insanely talented mother-f*cker. (That video is N entirely SFW, by the way).

So sometimes, in the morning, you wake up and, among the other things involved in beginning the day, you start to think about what music you’ll listen to on your way in to work, and Tevin Campbell pops into your head. Because it’s been the kind of week where you can talk all you want to, but the world still goes around and round, and even though it probably won’t, you can’t help but think that maybe a harmonic expression of insight from a 14 year-old might help you gear up to face another day of it. And so, as you search through your varied musical accoutrements, you take a moment to wonder : What ever happened to Tevin Campbell?

Which is where the internet comes into it. Because the internet obviously knows what happened to Tevin Campbell, either thanks to Tevin himself , someone representing him, or someone only tangentially related to him, which means that anyone, on anymorning, could invest less than 10 seconds and find out exactly what did happen to Tevin, and what he’s up to these days.

But this information is not strictly the provenance of the internet. In the days before the internet there still existed ways to research the formerly famous, or the still famous just less so, but these things – fan clubs, magazines, conventions, other – required far more effort on the part of the fan. To find out what happened to Tevin Campbell, you had to genuinely want to know what happened to Tevin Campbell, because time and money would be taken from you before you could find out. The ease of access to the information on the internet is what’s changed, that almost as soon as you wonder “What ever happened to Tevin Campbell?” you can get the answer to whatever happened to Tevin Campbell, without ever taking the time to consider whether or not you actually want to know.

And that’s the thing about the internet sometimes, is that it’s smudged up the line between wondering and wanting to know. Because, while I’m very happy to wonder about Tevin Campbell, or why soap always lathers white, or what this Higgs Boson business is all about, I don’t actually want to know any of those things; well, maybe the Higgs Boson thing a little bit, but only because it’s in the news so much right now and I feel a little bit of peer pressure there. But honestly, why things have mass doesn’t really interest me any more than the strange trend I see of people going for a run with a tiny backpack strapped to them.

The tiny backpack issue is one, like whatever happened to Tevin Campbell, that I simply want to wonder about; I am quite happy to spend a few moments pondering it, and then letting it recede back into the ether whence it came, and never, ever knowing what or why. There’s a very simple contentment in mystery sometimes, a contentment that can become difficult to maintain when the mystery is so easy to solve. And that’s the other thing about the internet sometimes, is that, if you just for a moment make the mistake of thinking that you want to know, and then you find out? Then you can’t wonder anymore, because you know.

*This is totally unrelated, but I just realized that I don’t have a clever internet sobriquet on this site. Do I need one?  Should I just be myself? That seems weird, for the internet. I don’t think I can do it.

Like Fight Club, I believe that the first rule of Facebook should be that you don’t talk about Facebook. And not just because the movie adaptations of each were directed by the same dude (who apparently also directed Sting’s Englishman in New York video (and, OMG, if you want to feel old, check out how young Sting was in that video)), but because, on the whole, when someone starts talking about Facebook, it’s because they’re complaining about Facebook. And although I myself am about to partake in that very same habit, I’m going to ignore the hypocrisy of telling you exactly why everyone needs to stop complaining about Facebook already.

The complaints about Facebook tend to fall into two camps : there are the complaints made by Facebook users, usually about some change that Facebook has made, how much they hate it, and how Facebook should revert to the previous version that they similarly hated when it was first released. While I can’t claim to be on board with every Facebook update – I have no idea what this “timeline” business is about, and all that grumbling in the past week or so about Facebook email was the first I’d heard that there was Facebook email, and even with that being said, I’m still not quite sure what the controversy is there (and please don’t take that to mean that I’m curious) – I tend not to get quite so up in arms about them. For me, Facebook is currently the best way to let everyone I’ve ever met know in real time that a bug has just flown up my nose, or to make me aware of all of the life choices I’ve made that led me so far astray from the boy I was in love with when I was 14, but other than that I don’t have much investment in it; the technology behind it doesn’t interest me, so as long as it remains easier than sending out a yearly newsletter (which, considering the frequency with which I update this blog, I clearly would never get around to), if the minds behind Facebook want to add frapdoodles to their lippity-barms, or other technical jargon, I am okay with it.

The second category of Facebook complaints tend to take the form of lists compiled for the benefit of Facebook users, letting them know which of their status updates no one cares about. While these tend to be humour-based lists, uninteresting Facebook posts are apparently so rampant that Time Magazine itself had to take up the cause. Topics to avoid will vary depending on the list, but the important takeaway from all of them is that, whether you’re sharing a picture of dinner, or that you’ve completed errands, or that your child has reached some milestone in toilet-training, nobody gives a shit.

This conclusion, however, is totally untrue, and it’s untrue because the only way to arrive at this conclusion is for a person to believe that everything posted on Facebook is directed entirely at them, which, astoundingly self-centered a thing to think as that is, is an easy enough mistake to make : if most of your time spent on Facebook is spent talking about yourself – and it is- it would be natural to conclude that everyone else is talking, if not about, then at least to you. But they’re not; once one takes enough of a step back from their position to realize that they are not, in fact, the center of the universe, one can see that even though they themselves may not care about something, it doesn’t necessarily follow that no one in the world does. I, for example, love just about every picture of food I’ve seen posted, with the notable exceptions of fast food, food intended to look disgusting, and  anything involving bacon; and, although on the whole I tend not to be super enamored of the parental comments I see, some of my friends have such joyously happy children that being involved even peripherally in the occasional poop in the bathtub or some particularly sassy comment is actually quite special.

Of course there are comments that I don’t like : I’m probably never going to update my status to show my support for awareness of a cause, and if you’re being intentionally vague in the hopes that someone will draw the rest of the story out of you, I am not your girl. However, while I believe that Facebook is no place to be coy, I don’t believe that the solution is to insist that everyone put an end to online enigmas; a better solution, I think, would be for everyone to take a deep breath and consider the possibility that, if you don’t care about someone’s status, maybe they’re not talking to you anyway.

In real life, it’s pretty easy to understand this : if you happened to find yourself in the same restaurant as someone you worked with 8 years ago, you might take a minute or twelve to catch up with them, but, after an appropriate amount of time had passed you’d return to your own table and your own dinner. Or lunch. Or maybe even afternoon tea. The meal itself is not important; what is important is that you would not, most likely, continue to pop back over to that person’s table intermittently to insist that they talk only about things that interest you, or order food that you find aesthetically pleasing. Instead, you would show this acquaintance of yours the same respect you would a stranger, and allow them to eat their meal in peace.

Even though I very firmly believe this is the correct thing to do, I have, recently, found it difficult to show that respect to a stranger. (Yes, all of that was just introduction; can you believe it?) What happened was this: on a very lovely evening not too long ago, I found myself strolling down the sidewalk of Cambridge, as one does when one is headed out for the evening. Walking too close behind me were two or possibly three girls, one of whom was holding forth on a gentleman of their mutual acquaintance who, the last time she’d run into him, greeted her with the wrong name and then, when she corrected him, responded in a vague sort of voice “Oh, that’s just a formality.”

The conversation went on from there, but, concentrating as I was on not turning around, grabbing her by the shoulders, looking her straight in the eye, and telling her “Oh honeypants. No,” I couldn’t really pay attention to it. Restrained as I was, I couldn’t  explain to her that her name is not just a formality, nor just a way of ensuring that the underpants you get back from the camp laundry are actually yours; it’s a way of identifying who you are in the world, what sets you apart, what makes you special. It is, at its core, the very simplest way you have of defining yourself, and even though it was given to you by someone else, you can make it mean whatever you want.

I also could not tell her that dismissing her name as “just a formality” does not, as she went on to claim, make a gentleman “so weird.” There is a lot of misunderstanding about weirdness in the world right now, but since that, sadly, was not the time nor the place to set down some basic ground rules regarding the weird, I couldn’t just say that if a gentleman genuinely is weird, instead of just acting weird, that does not excuse him from learning your name. Particularly not once you’ve made the effort to tell him what your name actually is. Weird is a definite thing that some people are, but it does not give them free reign to be inconsiderate – or worse – of your stated preferences.

I couldn’t tell her any of these things; instead, I could only hope that somewhere out there on the internet is someone not sufficiently aware that she’s not talking to them and so can tell her, over and over again if necessary “Oh, girl; No.” Because, seriously – “your name is just a formality”? NO.

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