Eliza’s (long)reads of 2011

“I’ve always found reading, writing, and thinking to be so tightly interwoven that, when done correctly, they become indistinguishable from one another… In that way, longform is like the most intense of friendships, where the time dedication and the active choice to show up far eclipse the noncommittal acquaintanceship of soundbite culture.” — Maria Popova

I shortened 1,053 bit.ly links and archived 136 Instapaper articles in 2011 (with a week to spare). Here were my favorites:

1. How a book is born: The making of The Art of Fielding
Graydon Carter and Keith Gesses
Vanity Fair
September 5, 2011

An e-book (or really long article you’ll have to purchase from Amazon) illuminates the world of book publishing and inspired me to go read Harbach’s genius novel (that everyone’s now putting on their “Best of 2011″ reading lists.) In my opinion, it’s more fun to read about the struggling novelist in Brooklyn and the changing world of books before you crack open his novel. Totally worth $1.99.

2. How Doctors Die
Ken Murray
Zocalo Public Square

“It’s not like the rest of us, but it should be.” Fascinating take on the medical industry and its relationship with death.

3. David Carr
Aaron Sorkin
June 2011

If you aren’t persuaded by the two names listed above, know that Sorkin interviews Carr on writing, the New York Times, and their shared past addiction to cocaine. The interview piqued my interest in Carr as a writer and encouraged me to go read his excellent memoir, The Night of the Gun.

4. Skagway’s borderline mythical egg toss
Mark Abadi
I’m in Alaska, Trick
July 9, 2011

All I can say is that this blog post by friend and fellow writer Mark Abadi on an Fourth of July egg toss in Alaska made me squeal with such glee upon reading it that fellow bus passengers thought I was in distress. Abadi’s prose is a joy. The only tragedy is that his blog ended when he left Alaska.

5. The Spam factory’s dirty secret
Ted Genoways
Mother Jones
June 27, 2011

I have never eaten spam. I never will. Imagery from this article sticks clear in my memory six months after reading it. A dynamic, engaging, (and incredibly gross), piece on American food policy and worker safety. 

6. A Woman’s Place
Ken Auletta
The New Yorker
July 11, 2011

Sheryl Sandberg makes me excited to be a woman, if only because it means I could aspire to be as awesome as she is. Auletta explores what it means to be female in Silicon Valley and how Sandberg has risen to the top. (Follow up by reading her address to the Barnard graduating class of 2011.)

7. Crush Point
John Seabrook
The New Yorker
February 7, 2011

The psychology of crowds. Or, An Example of Why I Subscribe to The New Yorker.

8. Where We All Will Be Recieved
Nell Boeschenstein
This Recording
April 8, 2011

The author writes about his love for Paul Simon’s landmark album, Graceland, and how it changed the music landscape as we know it. I grew up listening to Graceland and consider it my favorite album, but I never fully appreciated the historical context behind Simon’s work.

9. My Dog Days Are Over
Doree Shafrir
The New York Times
March 23, 2011

My family put two dogs to sleep and purchased a puppy this year, so I read a lot of dog literature, and this was my favorite (after Emmett and Me, but that was published in 2009.) It definitely made me cry, but you might be a stronger person than I am.

10. Leap of Faith: The making of a Republican frontrunner
Ryan Lizza
The New Yorker
August 15, 2011

Nothing anyone writes will ever explore all that is Michelle Bachmann. But Lizza comes close. Interesting look at Bachmann’s rise through politics. 

Venturing into the wild west of Google Plus

I’ve been playing with Google+ for a few days now, and here are my thoughts so far. (This goes without saying, but if you don’t have an invite and would like one, email me at elizakern [at] gmail [dot] com.)

Things I Don’t Like:

  • No one knows how they’re “supposed” to use it yet, so you get a really random mix of activity and some confused behavior. Right now, it’s a bit like the wild west of social media.
  • It’s not necessarily easy to find new people to add to your circles. People can make their profiles private or unsearchable, so right now I follow a mix of people I know in real life and people I wish I knew in real life.
  • No syncing with Google Reader. I read and share lots of items every day through RSS, and it seems to me that should take the place of Sparks, which provides pretty weak search results. I already have great stuff to share in Google Reader—why not easily allow me to bring that over?
  • I don’t know if I will switch to uploading photos in Picassa. Then again, maybe creating a photo-free Facebook would be a good thing…
  • The “newsfeed” does not seem to always update chronologically with the newest items at the top. (Although it seems Google might change that.)
  • Chats I start in one window will half show up in the other, the red alert buttons will remain on one window when I check them in another, etc. Syncing between pages is weak so far.

Things I Really Like:

  • No one knows how they’re “supposed” to use it yet. Which means that people can decide for themselves how they want it to work. There are no “rules” yet, because we’re going to make them. That concept is pretty damn cool.
  • It’s easy. I’m pretty sure half-blind folks could make circles. It’s really intuitive to make groups and interact only with those groups, which I’ve never found with Facebook.
  • It’s really fun to chat with people. My best experiences so far have been with group chats, commenting, +1ing, and interacting with friends and acquaintances.
  • I don’t have to follow you if I don’t want to. If you’re a person with a lot of social stress, this might freak you out. But relationships in real life aren’t ever entirely mutual—I don’t need them to be here, either. Like Twitter, Google Plus lets me follow the people who I find interesting (even if I don’t know them in real life), and ignore people who post about their cat. Without them knowing it..
  • The integrated alerts are great. I turned off email notifications almost immediately, and am limited to receiving tasteful, small red alerts in the corner of my black Google bar when someone circles me, +1s me, etc. It’s exactly how alerts should work.

Overall, I really like Google Plus and will stick with it to see how it develops. Did I miss anything? How have you been using (or not using) Google Plus, and what are you first thoughts?

Maria Popova on Tweeting interestingness

The always excellent Maria Popova of @brainpicker writes on Tweeting “cross-disciplinary interestingness,” the challenges of corrections, and the speech v. text debate. Consider this your Follow Friday suggestion.

Ultimately, I see Twitter neither as a medium of broadcast, the way text is, nor as one of conversation, the way speech is, but rather as a medium of conversational direction and a discovery platform for the text and conversations that matter.

In a New World of Informational Abundance, Content Curation Is a New Kind of Authorship, via Nieman Lab

Fast fashion as a social medium

In social media, amid all the high school and college friends reconnecting, and the eager meme adoption and trend tracking, and the reawakening sense that the bands and books and clothes we like are of critical importance to the rest of the world, the great consumer promise of a return to the days of youth is perpetually reborn. Forever 21, indeed.

The Accidental Bricoleurs, via n + 1

Why would you want to call me?

The New York Times wrote an interesting trend story a few weeks back on the death of phones calls that rang true (hah). The story looked at degree to which our generation has become averse to talking on the phone, an idea blogger Dave Pell has explored thoroughly.

So why do we keep the phone around? Blogger Matt Haughey wrote a post with phone tips for people who hate phones: Don’t enable voicemail. Let your landline batteries run dead. Improve your ability to ignore calls.

As a phone-averse person, Haughey’s tips sound sensible, in that they encourage talkers to get to the point more quickly. And the articles together raise an important question: what is the real purpose of a phone? Do we use it to communicate information? To hear the sound of a friend’s voice? To give a feeling of security?

My sense is that while there’s a generational divide on this issue (and adults will always place stock in personal calls), we’ll increasingly use phones to transmit only direct news and information, and seek alternative ways to waste time and connect with people. Now, I’m going to go investigate disabling my voicemail.

How the brain handles time

Apropos of nothing, this is incredibly interesting:

“Try this exercise,” he suggests in a recent essay. “Put this book down and go look in a mirror. Now move your eyes back and forth, so that you’re looking at your left eye, then at your right eye, then at your left eye again. When your eyes shift from one position to the other, they take time to move and land on the other location. But here’s the kicker: you never see your eyes move.” There’s no evidence of any gaps in your perception—no darkened stretches like bits of blank film—yet much of what you see has been edited out. Your brain has taken a complicated scene of eyes darting back and forth and recut it as a simple one: your eyes stare straight ahead. Where did the missing moments go?

“Can you give me an evaluation of my Twitter game?”

Julia:  Lize can you give me an evaluation of my Twitter game? I feel so boring.

me: what?

Julia: I just feel like my tweets are blah.

I don’t tweet about things that annoy me — slow walkers, dumb people at the gym, homework.

me: you need to unprotect your tweets

so I can retweet you

because i would do it way more often

Julia: Should I?

me: yes

Julia: Is that, like…bad?

me: no

just block randos

who try to follow you

but your tweets are totally meant for public consumption

Julia: Okay, you better re-tweet the shit out of me now

How to live-Tweet like a pro

As someone who’s live-Tweeted a variety of events — everything from a Karl Rove speech to a UNC basketball pick-up game — I’m always evaluating the best ways to create a holistic sense of an experience through Twitter without misrepresenting events or alienating those who aren’t interested.

So I really liked reading this blogger’s Tips for Tweeting live news. I’ve seen many guides to live-Tweeting, but most are limited to “don’t Tweet too much,” or other such gems. This post manages to hit on the significance of the practice as a form of news distribution and gives good advice for examining your own biases.

Via @saragregory

On curating

NY Times examines the meaning behind and recent fascination with curating.

But now, among designers, disc jockeys, club promoters, bloggers and thrift-store owners, curate is code for “I have a discerning eye and great taste.”

Or more to the point, “I belong.”

Why I want my social media one-sided

My growing irritation with Facebook hit an all-time high today. I got my ninth event notification of the evening and wanted to scream.

Clicking on my recent notifications, this is what I saw:

I don’t plan to attend any of those events. In fact, I can’t remember the last time I attended an event because I learned about it on Facebook.

I don’t have an extraordinary number of Facebook friends. I defriend weirdos I don’t know, and make adjustments to my newsfeed to reflect the kind of “news” I want to see. Theoretically, I have tailored Facebook to give me information I care about.

But generally, it doesn’t work, and I’m finding the site less and less interesting. I still see people’s Farmville stats and Snoop Dogg concert preferences, get mass invites to sorority barbeques, and learn who left their account open on a public computer. I know I could tailor my newsfeed and notifications further, but the benefits don’t seem worth it.

What does Facebook have to offer? Occasionally it’s nice to get invites that aren’t mass-distributed. It’s a helpful way to remember birthdays. News organizations I “like” often post cool articles. And seeing photos of my mom putting the family dog in a UNC tshirt on game day is certainly amusing (slash horrifying).

But I can do almost all of those things on Twitter, where my wittier friends (or wannabe friends) have migrated. Twitter is now the second page (after Gmail) that I groggily open in the morning. It’s the first place I go to waste time, learn something new, or find good reading material.

I like Twitter because it knows what I like. You could argue this makes me a narcissistic internet user, but I prefer the social network that depend on my choices and preferences instead of so-called mutual relationships. Because relationships that result in Farmville invites are clearly not mutual.

So, tip to Facebook devotees? Curate content. Consider your audience when you post. And trust me when I say I’ll take your events more seriously when I start getting invited to fewer of them.