Wednesday, September 21, 2011

But G+ Doesn't Support Titles

This is cross posted from a status I posted on G+. Yes, this whole thing is one status post over there, and this is rather long even for my blog posts, because putting blog length comments out in the stream for public consumption is apparently something which one can do now. This is sort of the topic of this post, that we now have a site that behaves like a social network but offers the opportunity to blog within it's structure. Don't worry, I'm not planning on abandoning my own personal parcel of the internet to do all my blogging there, but it is an interesting thing to try. That said, if this is the sort of thing about which you worry, you may want to talk to a professional about your anxiety.

There is a saying, "form follows functionality." Apparently it means that what something, originally a building, looks like should reflect what it is supposed to do. I think it can also be interpreted as meaning that what shape something takes reflects what it is able to do. For example, there is a reason Twitter is a morass of twits, with messages limited to 140 characters and all communication broadcast to the entire community this shapes the dialogue that occurs on Twitter. Another interesting, although too detailed for me to go into here, example is Facebook. As the user base and available tools have changed there have been fundamental changes to the type of community that exists within the "Facebook" structure.

By implementing statuses unbound by pathetically small 140 or 420 (500?) character limits, Google is implicitly making a statement about the community it desires to grow in G+. Of course, how exactly this functionality will play out in the community built on top of it remains to be seen, but one interesting G+ phenomenon is Tom Anderson. Yes, this is MySpace Tom, and yes, he is a one man phenomenon.

I have mentioned before that following Tom is a quite worthwhile thing to do, because he tends to say interesting, thought provoking things. Due to the Twitter-esque asymmetric subscription mechanism (recently implemented on another large social networking site I believe), it is possible for large masses of people to follow what essentially become social networking celebrities. On twitter these people are usually meat space celebrities and we get to hear about their new sunglasses or how trashed their hotel room is. On G+ these people are Tom Anderson and, because the different functionality, we get to hear insightful thoughts (rather than one-liners) about social networking, computing, and perspective.

Unfortunately, I think that some of the same functionality that enables Tom to reach such a large audience hinders the appreciation of his posts. Inevitably Tom's posts become inundated with hundreds of comments. Although a post might provide an interesting lead in to the idea that all "reality" insofar as we can perceive it, is necessarily subjective rather than an objective presentation of some external truth. However, if such a conversation actually took off, I couldn't find it due to the low signal-to-noise ratio within the comment stream. It is wonderful that Tom has so many well wishers, but the culture of a G+ comment stream is quite different than that of a blog where, even on the more popular blogs, comments, for the most part, are a continuation of the discussion began in the original post. To borrow a nautical metaphor suggested by G+'s own nomenclature, what we have here is a stream; toss something in and it pretty quickly moves on, lost in the bustle. A blog is more of a lake, or in my case maybe a pond (puddle?), if you chuck something into it, you can still come back and revisit it a couple of times before it eventually sinks.

Of course, there is nothing inherently wrong with G+ as it is. A fun community is taking form, and if more people from my circle of friends become active on it, I'm sure I shall enjoy whatever it becomes. However, if the fine folks over at Google want to provide a platform for discussions that are simultaneously public and substantive, I would recommend providing authors some way to organize comments into multiple threads. This way substantial responses can be organized into a separate discussion, or even multiple discussions, and other encouragement could be stored separately and perused by those who find it to be of interest. That said, what extent public, substantial discourse is possible is something of an important and unresolved question among philosophers of democracy, so that's something about which we could talk ;)

Monday, September 12, 2011

In Defense of Man

While I am usually in the habit of observing how our society is structured in ways that disadvantages women and the negative consequences, to individuals and society itself, that they cause, today I thought I'd take a break to talk about how tough men have it. As I have noted before, part of my own personal brand of feminism is realizing the problems current gender norms cause for people of both sexes, so this is entirely in keeping with me overall philosophy. Furthermore, just as my post on issues that disproportionately hurt women are in no way intended to imply that men have lives of wine and roses, this post is explicitly not asserting that men's problems are in some way "bigger" (whatever that means) or "more important" (whatever that means) than women's are.

What I would like to focus on today is the tendency for men to be somewhat overbearing. Although I have been kicking this idea around in my head for a month or two, I found an appropriate Questionable Content strip for the topic last weekend, as I cruised through my obsessive re-reading of their archive. Notice the line in panel two about, "persistence gets the girl no matter how big an ass you make of yourself." I would imagine that this works somewhat less frequently in real life than it does in romantic comedies, especially to people who do not possess Jon Cusack's boyish good looks (actually, I just looked him up to see what he looks like, and his wikipedia picture is kind of creepy). The point is, however, that males experience societal pressures to be the actors and do things to influence the behavior of women.

From the ostensibly harmless, although somewhat invasive and stalker-ish if you think about it, boombox outside the bedroom window, to the much less innocent seduction, to the entirely reprehensible acts of rape, inter-sexual relations are fraught with many examples of males asserting themselves upon females in order to influence their decisions. Of course, we all act at times in a manner intended to increase the probability that someone else will act in a desired manner, I think it is important to consider what is appropriate when attempting to influence people (or to win friends, for that matter). The concept I think is central to the male problem is that of "assertion."

For relevant contrast, consider the stereotypical methods of to romantically influence males. These tend to be less on the assertive side (boombox outside the window) and more on the passive side, such as alteration of appearance through the use of wardrobe and cosmetics (or so I am told) and the like. This is not to say that males cannot utilize wardrobe, and maybe even cosmetics, just that the masculine goal is acceptability, while the feminine goal is approachablity.

This is not to excuse stalkers, rapists, and Blutos, but rather to posit that their behavior may be a manifestation of a common, underlying dysfunction in our societal structure, and hopefully spark a discussion on whether this seems reasonable, and, if so, what might be done to alleviate this problem.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Words of Power

On a walk into school last week I started thinking about cuss words. Since this is a post about cussing, I will include some strong language, if only to refer to the word itself. The departure point for this post is the thought that, although they all refer to the same substance, words like "poop," "crap," and "shit" all have varying levels of social taboo, ordered in increasing order I believe. This highlights that the taboo nature of cuss words, while related to the sensitive subjects they inevitably are about, is not solely tied to the literal meaning of the word. Rather, it, like all word connotations and meanings, is a very cultural phenomenon.

I have sometimes had conversations with people who believed that our hang ups and censorship of such words is ridiculous and ought to be stopped. I have also heard that, for example, the Japanese language does not have such taboo-ed words. Be that as it may, I have always been a champion of leaving some words beyond the pale of polite society.

Usually my support has been of the form that all words have culturally defined meanings, and our culture has defined some words to be rude and disrespectful to say, so saying such words must be rude and disrespectful, to the same degree that a verb must be an action. However, on this particular walk I started thinking about the power given to these taboo-ed words by their very taboo nature.

By habit, I am not inclined to particularly vitriolic language, but I think that causes my cussing to lend greater emphasis to what I say than it would otherwise when I do occasionally cuss. On that note, if any of you are reading this, I would appreciate if that story were not to be posted openly on the Internet, you know who you are. If that makes no sense to you, ask me about it in person sometime if your curiosity must be assuaged, it is probably a funny story, but I am not particularly proud of it, so I don't want it just floating on the Internet.

Anyway, while, by their vary nature, these words cannot lend their emphasis to a statement very often, at risk of losing their power, it is very useful to have them in reserve for those horrible occasions when everyday words lack enough power to convey a sentiment. And do not mistake me, I am using the word power in a very literal sense, it is no coincidence in my mind that magic in so many traditions has some form of verbal component. Ask any mathematician and they will assure you that it is very important for words and symbols to be properly arranged in order for them to correctly channel the idea for which they are intended.

Furthermore, insofar as reality is something shared and inter-subjective, if not objective, then language is our truest manner of interacting with reality. By this I mean that language is our least subjective form of communication. Thus, the words we use to describe our private experiences, our thoughts, reactions, and emotions, directly determine how we enter into the public reality as people. As such, it is important that we have words of power at our disposal, for we are powerful consciousnesses and have powerful experiences.

In fact, I would argue that we do not have enough taboo-ed words! The taboo-ed words we have span too limited a range of emotion, being, for the most part, negative. For example, consider how much trouble we have with the word "love," in its most powerful context, even though we permit the debasement of its meaning through its usage on all manner of trivialities. Now imagine how potent it would be if we had a word which wasn't even considered polite to say, a word whose very usage indicated that it had been ripped irrationally from our tongue by the strength of our passions.

We need words like that, not just for hate and disgust as we currently have, but also for love, joy, and beauty. And we need to be content not to use them. We must resist the urge to clinically emphasize a point by employing them as strong rhetoric, and instead preserve their power in our fear and reverence.