My End-of-Semester Resolution - Fewer, or No, Brain Droppings

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Summary: Brain Droppings, our short littly pithy quoted adages and false intellectualisms that run the gyre of Facebook and Twitter, where human discourse becomes less about communicating and more about being, however briefly, recognized, where the greatest compliment is not merely imitation, but replication. How about I stop contributing to the mess?

Friday, 07 May 2010

(15:37:34 CDT)

My End-of-Semester Resolution - Fewer, or No, Brain Droppings

The term "Brain Droppings" is not my own. I first remember hearing it (in the context I am about to use it) in a Non-Sequitur strip (the strip is too tall to effectively embed in this entry, but you can read it here). It has shown up before then, with a similar meaning: a jocular, almost amiable, pejorative about the stupid thoughts we have. In the Non-Sequitur strip, it was much more in line with what I mean: short, usually pithy, often falsely sage, quotes or adages or quasi-biblical/greeting card things blended in with brief descriptions of daily chores, current preferences, and what must be the largest game of monkey-see, monkey-do in the history of the world. To wit, we walk down the street and see a sign that should say "On the Clock" but says "On the C_ock" and we must, MUST, tell everyone else about it. What if we read, somewhere, that you can tell the strength of a missionary's soul by the wear on the sole of his shoes; and we need to pass that on? We post this to our Twitter feed, which is then syndicated across our Facebook page and our Buzz feed, and possibly our journals and our homepages and whatever elses. That blinked out "l" and the homophonic words become compulsory not just for us, but our friends. A one-time phenomenon translated into a short text ephemera and spread, virally, through a process of retweets, repostings, sharings, likings, and commentings. That is what I mean by brain droppings.

The first danger of brain droppings, as I see it, is that they are not units of discourse. You can indeed respond to them, but rarely to their content so much as to their presence. I acknowledge, you see, that I like that Bible quote. I might even respond with another Bible quote or talk about how it means so much, but your average brain dropping is an atom in the classic sense of the term. It might have composite electrons and protons, but it is not meant to be split. Real units of discourse are meant to be split, analyzed, expounded upon. It is meant to be acknowledged, devoid of meaning outside of its immediate context and rarely, if ever, supplying meaning back into the context from which it came. It is a gas bubble on a swamp's surface: it shows machinations underneath, but is a by-product rather than a product.

The second danger is that they inspire more brain droppings. Not only is the best way to respond to them through meaningless repetition, most of the time, but their vast signal-as-noise population acts to bury unique, meaningful signal across the system. To play the game, you can either repeat the signal, which some do, transforming signal into brain droppings itself; or you can stream out brain droppings (which I often do, at least did) as place holders until something meaningful is apt to develop itself in the stew of the mind. Since the social networks are now so full of brain droppings that any real attempt to store and present them would be almost untenable, the fetid pool is allowed to continuously drain off the back end, into the never-after from whence it came. Taking, as it were, every contemporaneous thing that was good with it.

Third, they are so unlike normal discourse* that they change the nature of online discourse to a new, somewhat unnatural thing (as much as the word unnatural particularly means anything in a medium full of dirty pictures of beloved cartoon animals). They re-normalize what it means to be significant. If significance only refers to eliciting a response, and anything older than a couple of weeks is considered not worth repeating, then communication becomes a one way street. We have progenitors, and we have absorbers. Responders are inherently too late, most of the time, becoming the first-wave progenitors of the next, not concurrent wave. By the time so bone-headed political figure has spouted out a statistic, the response becomes about the response itself. Blogs fill up with people talking about reactions, or reactions to reactions, and the initial comment fades into the woodwork, accepted under the sheer wait of Internet time.

This re-normalizing not only forces those who want to reach more to say less**, but it can, more sinisterly, create the notion that long-winded posts (like this ONE!) are elitist or undeserving of interaction with the masses (dear masses, I'm a cranky, prematurely old man: feck off). That's about one step away from someone claiming that longer units of discourse are actually anti-populist and therefore immoral. At the least, it will lead to some of our more important rhetoric being relegated to a field of buzzwords and retweetables. Just think: welfare reform in 140 characters or less***.

I could go on and on about how traditionally quotes were not substitutes for discourse, but pepperings of previous discourse meant to connect the dots to older, potentially sager, times. Or, how brain droppings being sloughed off at a constant clip renders the trans-generational dialogue entirely into the realm of the secondary source. We no longer have the entries themselves, now we have references to the entries aggregated and then filtered out by whatever standards the historians deem appropriate (and, just FYI, historians hate smart-asses on the Interweb). This has the ironic effect of making what is almost undoubtedly the most textually active time in the history potentially at the level of pre-text recording. "I read a handful of people talking about this," becomes the record, whether the outpouring itself.

Sorry, that last paragraph was meant to be "I could go on...but I won't". The "will not" went awry. My apologies. At any rate, I'm tired of contributing to the problem and so I am putting myself on an enforced hiatus to avoid brain droppings and to avoid any sort of response that will just generate more. It is actually really, really hard. When a cute phrase pops in my head...what am I supposed to do with it? What if I see a dude drop his ice cream and another dude slip in it? Am I supposed to keep it to myself or share it with people I talk to, if and only if I remember it later? Man, it's going to be like 2005 all over again...

Si Vales, Valeo

*: Imagine, if you will, a person walking into a room of friends chattering, spouting out their favorite Kenny Loggins quote, and then having friends raise their thumbs, turn it into "your momma" jokes, or repeating it ad nauseum and then, beyond that, forever more ignoring it. On second thought, this does sound a lot like my friends.

**: While just about every blogger, in an attempt to generate traffic to >em>their blog, has written a post about how to get traffic for your blog (and the lists are either utterly arbitrary or utterly ripped off, but then again, most bloggers seem to have primarily learned their facts about the web from old AOL commercials and the entrails of small animals), three common words that will show up are "topical", "graphical", and "short". Also tip after tip about how to use trackbacks. Lots of those. It's the equivalent of going into a 19th century saloon and talking about Billy the Kid in a hope that Billy the Kid might talk about you. Somehow, since we are in Hell, this works.

***: Like most things, this has ups and downs. Look at the revolts around the Iran election and how, no matter the justification, the short and easily accessible texts allowed a certain population to have a voice that might have existed elsewise.


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