AIA-SCS San Diego: A Reflection

I spent the last weekend at the annual meeting for the Society for Classical Studies in San Diego, CA. I composed this post to reflect on my experience at the conference, almost entirely in two airplanes and the San Diego and Denver airports. The bulk of this post follows the jump, since I ran long and I doubt most people reading this are interested in the proceedings of an academic professional society.

For those who are interested: this is a birds-eye reflection rather than a blow-by-blow recap. See my Twitter feed for specific comments about papers.

Continue reading AIA-SCS San Diego: A Reflection

Calcification of opinion

I am hardly alone when I say that recent politics has been a major drag on my mental and emotional energy. I don’t know what is going to happen in the near future, but the current direction scares me in more ways than I care to mention. Still, I find myself thinking a lot about politics and doing my best to stay informed because, as difficult as it might be, that remains a civic duty. I also remain problematically addicted to checking my Twitter feed, albeit recently in shorter and less-comprehensive bursts.

These moments of checking Twitter have led me to a realization about the current superficial maelstrom, as epitomized and led by the current resident at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. That realization is this:

There is nothing that President Trump could post to his Twitter account that would change my opinion of him.

Sure, there are things that he could post that would change the trajectory of the country and do good in the world, but that would mean one of three things: 1) the account was hacked; 2) someone else was managing the account; or 3) that President Trump decided to make an about-face in order to be more popular. None of those three options would change my opinion of him, while what he does post simply digs deeper. I still see people retweeting (usually with sarcastic comment) what he says or dredging up past posts looking for inconsistency. Neither genre of tweet does much for me and in many cases both distract from the substance of issues—not to mention that feeding the ego of someone who fundamentally wants to be the center of attention, whose interests run toward habitual misinformation and complaining about media coverage.

I could never bring myself to follow Trump’s twitter account, but, for months, I would regularly check in, caught up in whatever the latest utterance was. No longer. The campaign is over and I don’t need to actually see the latest bout of internet logorrhea in order to know what he said, at least in reasonable facsimile. I can’t live isolated from the news, but that doesn’t mean that I have to partake in online farce.

2016 CAMWS Meeting: Storify

Via Storify, here my Tweets from this past weekend’s CAMWS meeting. In the next few days I will have a post working through various issues concerning social media that came up at the meeting–or, particularly the discussion that took place on Twitter with people who were following along from afar.

Live-Tweet The New Life

The collected quotations from Orhan Pamuk’s The New Life, which I reviewed here.

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Previously in this series, Bram Stoker’s Dracula.

“Live Tweet” Dracula

Following in the footsteps of my friend Will Mountz, I have started tweeting some quotes from books as I read them. To some extent I have always done this, but I’m now doing it in a more organized way. These are not meant to be a review of the book, but rather things that stood out as I read. Excepting the occasional typo, the only curation of the quotes is for length. These posts (since I suspect this is going to turn into series) are meant to collect what I tweeted out in one place, starting from the beginning of the book.

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The Surreality of Humanitarian Crises Online

It is depressing to watch on Twitter as humanitarian disasters unfold, again and again and again. It happened in the Tahrir Square protests (and counterrevolution) in Egypt, with Ansar Dine in Mali, the original civil war in Syria, and ongoing refugee crisis. And many more; those were only the ones that have been most on my radar the past couple years. The abject suffering makes the American political discourse, such as holding reviews of Planned Parenthood’s budget without anyone from Planned Parenthood seem like a joke, even as it threatens to pull even more medical care from poor women. These are both rancid fruits, but on different scales. In Syria, a nation that had about 22 million people, there have been about ten million people displaced internally and externally, or about the same number of people executed in the Holocaust. I am not casting judgment, just putting the numbers in context. In a recent fit of helplessness, I donated some money to an organization that is supposed to help bring supplies and care to refugees from Syria.

I have a set of Google Alerts set up for places associated with my dissertation topic, just so that I can stay abreast of what comes up. Ephesus alerts usually consist of Ephesus lighting and bible references or tourism, but updates about Chios for more than a year have brought back a steady stream of stories about refugees making it to Greece. Recently, though, there has been an uptick in awareness of the refugee crisis, in large part because of children drowning at sea, refugees suffocating in the back of trucks, and the Macedonian government tear gassing migrants, not to mention Balkan states closing their train stations to migrants, quota plans being pushed forward in Europe. This is just a snapshot, with other stories coming out about Australia and Canada and many other countries, including Lebanon.

Other people have done a much more thorough job than I can hope to do chronicling the conflict, including Thomas van Linge, a nineteen year old Dutch activist who compiles some of the best maps of the Syrian conflict currently available. However, I want to give just a bit of a overview in light of the news that Turkish tanks have moved into Cizre, a town in Turkey near the Syrian border. This will consist of nothing more than a list of groups involved and who they are ostensibly shooting at, and without the nuance of, for instance, differentiating between Syrian rebel groups.

Group : shooting at
USA : ISIS
France : ISIS
UK : ISIS
Australia : ISIS
Canada : ISIS [Civilians, accidentally and probably not in isolation]
Russia : ISIS, Syrian Rebels
Israel : ??? in retaliation for shelling the Golan. Possibly Syrian government forces of Hezbollah. The Syrian government says they were civilians, Israel says they were Iranians.¯_(ツ)_/¯
Syrian Government : Syrian Rebels, ISIS
Hezbollah : Syrian Rebels, ISIS [on behalf of Asad]
Syrian Rebels : Syrian Government, ISIS
ISIS : Iraqi Government, Syrian Rebels, Syrian Government, Kurds, everyone shooting at them
Kurds : Syrian Government, Turkey [at least the PKK is], ISIS
Turkey : ISIS, PKK

The refugees are not leaving willy-nilly, but are fleeing a brutal conflict that is literally tearing apart the fabric of their home. Not of the nation state, the ship for which has sailed, but of their homes. The reason I’m posting this now is that Turkey has just stepped up its attacks, amid warnings that it, too, is facing a civil war, and the ceasefire between the military and the PKK has dissolved. Meanwhile, the US has sent warnings to Turkey that their airstrikes have been too close to where US soldiers have been training Kurdish Peshmerga. To make matters worse, this is a conflict that includes not just small-arms fire and roadside bombs, but tanks, drone and aircraft strikes, and chemical weapons and is taking place in the space around what used to be considered the Iraq-Syria border, but now obeys only the lines on the map that are enforced through force of arms. Everyone is seemingly shooting at everyone and millions of civilians have been caught in the cross-fire. At this point I have been watching it all unfold on Twitter for years.

Social Networking II: The Twitter

Just about two years ago I deleted my Facebook account with the declaration that, from my perspective, it had failed. I do miss its convenience for contacting people whose phone numbers or emails I do not have readily available and am disappointed by the occasional missed invitation (the “oh right, you’re not on Facebook” by way of apology gets old quickly), but gchat has replaced Facebook chat and my life is improved having rid myself of that attachment.

With Twitter I get all the aspects of Facebook I liked, with none of the annoyances. By using Twitter clients I’ve even mostly managed to avoid the “new layout” angst. In particular, I find the micro-blogging more conducive to mixing work, hobbies, social commentary, and jokes. I also prefer it as a platform for sharing links despite–or perhaps because of–the limited space for commentary.

At its best, Twitter is a place where I can share my love of food, sports, history, and literature with like-minded people, including those I know offline and those who I respect, but who I have not yet met in person. I’ve also had discussions about ancient sources and topics that have proven valuable in my own work. On the other end of the spectrum, Twitter takes on the worst aspects of demagoguery, leading to all manner of harassment both for good and for ill, and sometimes for both simultaneously.

But more than its penchant for channeling outrage, I’ve recently been having a second problem with Twitter: its intensity. As I was with Facebook, I am too capable of simply watching the world flit by on Twitter instead of doing my own work, let alone going out into the world and thus being limited by whatever there is around me. This escapism also prompts me to frequently reopen the Twitter page when it is closed, sometimes for fear of missing out on whatever aphorism, quip, or thought has just been posted, but more often because I am struggling to write or read whatever I am working through at that moment. Unlike Facebook, though, I am much better at closing down Twitter and coming back to it at more regulated intervals and accepting that I am not missing anything important in doing so. Still, this aspect of Twitter is less time-intensive (at least for me) than Facebook was.

What I mean by intensity is that many people I follow have crafted erudite and intelligent professional personae on Twitter and tweet with passion about professional matters from their current writing projects, to the articles or sources they read and recommend, to thoughts about the academy. In isolation, this is a good thing and when my own work is progressing to my satisfaction, I am encouraged to see such a positive and enthusiastic community on social networks–and, in my experience, it is an incredibly positive and supportive group of people on Twitter. The problem is that when it seems that my own progress has stagnated, the same positive and enthusiastic community becomes intimidating. A swarm of Care Bears, puppies, or kittens remains a swarm, particularly if one appears, solipsistically, to be on the outside of the given group.

There appear to be two root causes of this dissatisfaction above and beyond the frustration with my own work. The first is that I do not use Twitter as an exclusively professional medium, but one that brings together a variety of aspects of my life, a fact that make me feel like a dilettante rather than a scholar. The second returns to the idea of a swarm. Everyone has periods where they do not write as much as they would like, if only because most go through periods where the immediate demands of teaching and grading cut into writing time, but, because there are one or two hundred scholars whose social media personae I follow, there is a constant stream of positive information about research in progress. Very often, I find the torrent a source of motivation and encouragement. The problem is that when the current ceases to be uplifting, I find it entirely overwhelming and I am further paralyzed.

I do not foresee myself deleting my Twitter account anytime soon. Rather, I noticed an ebb and flow of my own activity, writing here on my personal blog and production of pages on my dissertation and a correlation with my enthusiasm for and activity on Twitter. Twitter does not cause the ebb, but neither does it always inspire a rebound.

Assorted Links

  1. Defense Nerds Strike BackAt Wired, there was a symposium on the Battle of Hoth (from the Empire Strikes Back, awhere contributors analyzed the battle as though it was a historical event. My favorite contribution, though was by Tim Burke, The Longue Duree of the Galactive Empire, wherein he talks about Hoth as a particularly well known, but otherwise unremarkable example of a recurring type of event in the Star Wars Universe.

    ”Treating the Rebellion as a privileged mode of dissent in an era when many other systems and social classes were in other ways ‘slipping through the fingers’ of the Coruscant metropole is itself granting too much credit to a ragtag band of avidly self-promoting malcontents.”

  2. Quitters Never Win– An article on the Atlantic about the pitfalls of leaving social media. The author specifically addresses recent articles advising or giving strategies for opting out of Facebook and he is right to a point. Not being on Facebook does cut you out of opportunities for “self-expression,” and it is true that most of the security concerns about Facebook in contrast to other social outlets are overblown, that many of the strategies for hiding important information are self-defeating, and that an increasing amount of social planning (even for academic events) is going through Facebook. What he doesn’t address is the veneer of proximity that lulls people into a false sense of connectivity and intimacy, a feeling that I miss sometimes, but that also left me with a deep sense of disquiet. Then there was the amount of idle time spent on Facebook and my frustrations with some of the heavy handed changes Facebook was making.

    That being said, the author tries to use the example of Facebook as to why you shouldn’t quit any social media sites, and the same concerns on those other media sites as to why you should not quit Facebook. It sounds nice and, like I said, true to a point, but it is also overly simplistic.

  3. The Geography of Happiness– A study of vocabulary from Twitter charts happiness by state. Certainly there is more that could be done to substantiate the findings (as the article points out), but it provides food for thought.
  4. New Book Traces the Education of Adolf Hitler– There is a new history (in German) the examines the period in Hitler’s life between the end of the first world war and his political involvement.

Midnight musings: social media

When Google+ first released I resisted joining, adamant that I was more likely to quit social media altogether than to join yet another new craze. I was a freshman in college when Facebook first took off (along with the ill-fated i2hub), so of course I joined. Joining Facebook was almost a rite of passage that helped define the college crowd and enabled communication, interaction, planning, and, of course, procrastination. For similar reasons I had a blogger account, which quickly gave way to a Livejournal. I also joined Twitter, which removes much of the excess baggage from the other social media accounts and provides a platform for shorter statements. The stereotype that Twitter (much like the Facebook status update) is for announcing publicly that one has taken a shower or eaten dinner has some truth to it so I will not deny that, but I find that it is actually a good medium for some discussions that would not otherwise take place, commentary on shows, movies, games, and books, among other uses. By and large it is far less private or personal than even email or Facebook messaging, but it is meant as an immediate form of communication. So, since I have all these platforms, some of which are not actually actively used (even to the extent that I blog), why do I need Google+? Or, perhaps more to the point, why did I change my mind?

The short answer is that I do not and did not. I have two blogging platforms, six or seven emails, Facebook, Twitter, and probably a Myspace account out there somewhere, and now Google+, all with varying levels of (in)activity. I added Google+ for several reasons, not least of which because it still has limited membership and so, when the opportunity came, I took it. I was genuinely curious as to how it was set up, and did feel some drive to sign up for the new toy when it arrived. Moreover, I like the setup, and would like to have a social media platform finally live up to the promise of the bringing me closer together with people, if for no other reason than that it gets lonely in the middle of the country.

It seems logical that when I left my job managing a Quizno’s for a university some of the technological opportunities and impulses would grow rather than shrink. The reverse has been true, which I am reminded of each and every time I return to the east coast. While I was in New York I overheard a business meeting wherein a programmer made a pitch for a phone app that would help bring together fans of particular teams, which struck me as just one example of the way in which the application of technology is consistently commonplace in metropolitan areas (New York and Boston are the two with which I am familiar), while any application at all only trickles slowly to more rural parts of the country. I have also noticed a growing disconnect with these sites. In particular, I have made it a practice not to comment on birthdays or anniversaries on Facebook. This is a policy I may wish to reconsider, but it is borne of the thought that if a) I cannot otherwise remember a birthday or b) I would not otherwise wish that person a happy birthday, then my wishes are not really of any value. Of course, I do allow Facebook to remind me of birthdays, and then I will sometimes put in the extra effort to make a more direct birthday wish. Perhaps this is all semantic, but I find that social media (at least on my pages) is more often a silent acknowledgement of posts than active participation. Then, if there is no actual interaction, what is the point of social media?

Right now, in no small part because of various apps on my iPod that allow me to post directly, I mostly use Facebook to post links to articles that I find interesting. I will likely do something similar, but to a more limited extent, with Google+. The bulk of my intended audience remains on Facebook right now, but if that changes then the bulk of my post would also change. Otherwise the bulk of my thought, writing and activity remains in pen and paper. I hope to replace some of that pre-digital activity with a set of social and communal sites, but until I find a way to do this efficiently and with wider participation I suspect that it will remain nothing more than another of my idealistic, unrealistic ambitions.