December 23, 2008

The Prosaics of Micro-writing

Category: Academic,Tech — Biella @ 3:44 am

Recently much ink has been spilled on the forms of micro-writing (Twitter, Facebook status updates, micro-blogging) that have captivated the hearts, minds, and especially keyboards of those, like me, who spend a lot of time in front of the blue screen (whether a computer or a phone). Lately, perhaps in part because I was home bound for days, I went on a status-update frenzy, updating my Facebook feed like there was no tomorrow and checking in as often to read the short nuggets left by friends.

Despite this recent bonanza, I don’t admit to all my friends of this addiction as some of them seem to really dislike–no the more accurate term is detest–this linguistic genre. Generally, it seems to me, there are those that love these messages, and then there are those who disparage them for being inane, short blasts of egotistical information that reflect and worse, reinforce the rampant, raw, unfiltered American love with self, performing the individual, and all that related jazz. I am sympathetic with the haters and at times, I admit I feel nothing but the hate (and perhaps this is why I have yet to Twit) but after thinking about it I have decided I am not really in their camp. Why?

Well, something I do when I am thinking through phenomenon is ask: What Would Bakhtin Think (WWBT) as he is a theorist that I adore for he avoids so many of the traps, mostly of binary thinking, that befall most academic theorists. The answer to WWBT, at least from the way I read him, would be that he would dig and find something quite significant about these linguistic ephemera. Bakhtin, who was a Russian literary critic and thinker , thought highly of the novel as a genre for, unlike poetry, it provides a window into everyday life, into the depths and heights of the prosaic, which, however prosaic, is actually where all the extraordinary stuff of life resides. For in the humdrum of life is where he locates wonder, magic, suffering, laughter, mystery, love, oppression, and joy even if its significance often slips right on by our awareness, our perceptual world, until it is unearthed by such genres as the novel (and I would add film).

You really can’t get more mundane than these micro-statements, though albeit they can be fantastically funny, frustratingly opaque, devilishly satiric, and in rare occasions, poetic; and it is for all these reasons that I find them personally enjoyable and analytically valuable. So much of our life is seeped and steeped in the mundane and yet it is whizzes by us without much reflection. We certainly don’t have much of a window into the mundane lives of others, especially in any real time sense. These updates are short pauses, like a temporal parenthesis (which any reader of this blog can I tell I am fond of) or a pleasant hiccup. While many say that they are egotistical blasts, I experience them otherwise, especially when I find myself smiling, laughing, wondering not at what I say but what others throw out there. For with the short update, I am transported, however ephemerally and momentarily, to your mundane world and share in the pleasures of life as is.

And for those that remain unconvinced, at least take my word that Bakhtin is worth paying attention to (that is, if you pay attention to academic theory), here is a review essay that might convince you (subscription required but I will try to post a full copy later)


  1. Damn. I was expecting an article about microwriting in the sense!

    Comment by MJ Ray — December 30, 2008 @ 7:25 am

  2. I like the WWBT test. A lot.

    I had a discussion with some of my co-workers the other day about microblogging (we’re web people) and I’m the one in the bunch who really “likes” microblogging and other folks in the discussion didn’t get it. They said things like “I sit around and code all day, so ‘What are you doing?’ is kind of boring.”

    And I realized that I see this phenomena in a completely different light then them. It seems to me that twitter/ stutus/etc. are all contemporary re-imaginations of things more like IRC than a compression of blogging. It’s a conversational platform, much to everyone (including the people who started twitter). For instance, I believe that twitter’s convention of @[username] (which users took from long blog-comment threads) weren’t initially supported by the site, and were only added in later. Similar facebook’s status messages used to be perpended by “[Real Name] is ____,” which users disregarded wholesale, as both technologies (to different extents) became conversational tools, rather than publishing tools.

    So, I suppose, regardless of their textual importance as a phenomena, I find these sorts of things *fascinating* and enjoyable as a way that we of the Internet have reintroduced the kinds of big discussions that were common years ago, but have become less common in light of the proliferation of one-to-one instant messaging, private messaging on websites, web-based forums in favor of Usenet, and so forth. Interesting indeed.

    Comment by tycho garen — January 24, 2009 @ 9:46 am

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