Category Archives: Social Media

Is Email Really Dying?

The Wall Street Journal’s Technology Report (Monday, October 12, 2009), opines that “…Email no longer rules.”

No, it doesn’t. The dominant infocom paradigm — with the most rapid growth — is social media, as the Wall Street Journal piece explains. But what the article doesn’t go on to explain is that these trends come and go like lightning bugs. The “era” of Wikipedia may well be over. (Was it real or Memorex?). The “era” of Facebook may be over soon enough. The point is that while pronouncements of new eras and newly minted kings and queens of infocom are coming at us quickly — but the shelf lives of these new trends and paradigms may be rather short-lived.

Something is happening, sang Bob Dylan in the Sixties, but you don’t know what it is — Do you, Mr. Jones?

I’m not Mr. Jones,¬† but I am Mr. Brown, and I agree that something’s happening. What I’m not so sure about is that the Wall Street Journal, or anyone else, really knows what it is.

In this regard, because poetry is what Ezra Pound said it is — news that stays news — I am content to cite a famous passage from W.B. Yeats:

“Surely some revelation is at hand;


And what best, its hour come around at last,

Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?”

(“The Second Coming”)

Not that the wonky techno predictions of falling and rising empires is overtly religious or mystically Yeatsean. But scratch beeath the surface and what you’ll often find a mixture of religiosity, utopianism and secular millennarianism: The old and decrepit body (“a tattered coat upon a stick” wrote Yeats) shall be overthrown by the new and sexy beast.


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Twitter and the Age of Crisis

“I am Married to a Crowd”

Boston Globe, Friday, April 11,2009, A-15.

My wife (Twitter handle: @GirlsSentAway) was the muse for this article and its star.

According to Boston Globe statistics, of 5,200 Globe articles tracked, the humor piece about my wife’s tweeting was among the top 25 most frequently emailed. (Lots of twittering birds out on those limbs.)

Not that everyone approved — of Twitter, my article, the Globe’s decision to publish it,or what HBX, an anonymous commenter on the Globe site, said was a “puff piece”. Mr “X” also lambasted my twittering spouse and me for being a couple of shameless, fame-hunting “celebrities,” which got a giggle from the Twitter Queen and me. (Stand aside, Lindsay, Britney, Justin and A-Rod!)

At grad school in Eng Lit, we read Chaucer’s “House of Fame”.¬† The author of The Canterbury Tales had no more respect for fame than HBX. Whether Chaucer would have retweeted (RT) my article to excoriate it, however, is a matter I shall leave to literary historians.


While all this seem utterly unrelated, it has a more than a whiff of crisis communication, a specialty of general management and public relations, which I teach. What is fame, after, all, but a perception of reputation? In the era of constant communication, reputation — a public figure’s, a private person’s, a politician’s, an organization’s — is subject to the kinds of violent swings we associate with the stock market. Crisis has been described as a circumstance in which someone (or some organization) faces a significantly damaging blow to reputation, and has hardly any time to react. The usual examples: Monica’s impact on Bill Clinton’s presidency. The Valdez’s impact on Exxon. Abu Ghraib’s impact on foreign opinion of the U.S

It’s no secret that ours is an age of crisis. While poet W. H. Auden nailed the post-W.W.II era as the “age of anxiety,” the digital revolution has upped the ante considerably by speeding up, spreading out and constantly enabling¬† communication. For this reason, perhaps, even the most trivial matter can feel like a crisis and appear like one. As a result, persons and organizations may well be even more anxious than Auden thought they were in the early years of the A-bomb era.

Thus, to be a celebrity today is to be stalked by gawker, and one misstep away from a humiliating gotcha in The Smoking Gun. It’s enough to make even faux celebrities install alarms and surveillance cams in their underwater-mortgage homes.

But while I regard Auden’s anxiety-tagging of the nuclear era as insightful, I am unpersuaded by HBX’s of the world the sky is falling because of Twitter. Those sorts of perceptions are right out of the Chicken Little playbook — just plain silly.

What is not so silly or trivial is the way in which communications revolutions like the one we’re experiencing has a way of making us feel even more anxious and insecure and neurotic than ever.

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Filed under Literary Criticism, Personal Essays, Social Media, Technology