Shifting Baselines

Reading my Twitter stream and the many blogs that are in my RSS reader, it’s become painfully obvious that the general command and valuation of written English is on a downward spiral. This morning, I read this wonderfully concise and sarcastic post by Alicia Jay about why proofreading doesn’t matter.

While I agree with the points that Jay makes, it got me thinking about some of the rockstar bloggers that I am forced by peer pressure to read. Their posts are full of spelling and grammatical errors, and sometimes even malapropisms, but that hasn’t affected their rockstar standings.

How could it? Their audience has an equally poor or worse command of written English! They can’t recognize any of the errors as such. The baselines appear to have shifted.

I realize this is making me sound like the proverbial spinster English grammar teacher picking the fly shit out of the pepper. Yet, I can’t help but think that if we didn’t hold on to a firm baseline of what’s right and what’s wrong, we’ll soon have linguistic anarchy and at some point in time, the whole system becomes unstable and written communication becomes a crap shoot.

Some would argue that we must be afforded some flexibility and artistic licence. Of course we do. I’m invoking some of that licence right here in this post. The point is that it’s not licence if you don’t know what it is you’ve deviated from.

Getting Black Ink from Pixels

More and more newspapers are finally starting to see the writing on
the wall about their future survival in our brave new digital world.
Some have even begun their struggle to re-define and re-invent
themselves, for better and for worse.

Rupert Murdoch seems hell bent on re-tracing the same unproductive, not to say destructive, path that the major music labels. Newsday, a Long Island daily, tried the Murdoch route by putting up a paywall. The result: After Three Months, Only 35 Subscriptions for Newsday's Web Site.

Others are thinking through the potential of applying the iTunes model
to the news business: sample before you buy, coupled with an insightful
pricing strategy (cents or dollars per article, bundling options): the route of choice for a number of high profile magazines (The EconomistHarvard Business Review). How well they do in the long run remains to be seen.

The
real challenge, though, is the decimated state of the newspapers'
talent pool of content producers. With staff writers being replaced
with syndicated content produced by the few lucky enough to keep their
jobs, I'm not sure what content these papers will have to sell that's
valuable enough to pay for. To re-invent themselves in the digital age,
some of these papers will have to re-invest in themselves; and
stockholders will have to take a longer-term view of returns or be
prepared to lose it all now.

Lest We Drywall the Cat into the Wrong Side of the Wall

Social media seems inherently the ultimate pulpit for the self-important. While a site like TweetingTooHard.com invites us to out the self-important, most of the tweets are so mundane, they're forgiveable. Twitter critics like to deprecate navel-gazing tweets about breakfast foods and sundry itches, and while such esoterica of the flotsam of life might not be of "real value" to society and the economy, they too are forgiveable. They're forgiveable because they are, ultimately, harmless.

What I find more disturbing are the tweets I see from self-inflating types who brag about busy-ness. Some of these folks' to-do list per tweet would be longer if more than 140 characters were possible. Even within the 140 character limit, some of these lists test the limits of credulity.

There is a long Christian tradition concerning the notion of busyness into which this post isn't intended to delve.

What I'm wondering about is whether there's a cost to real personal relationships? By real, I mean those deep emotional relationships with friends and family, rather than business relationships. Is there a risk that social media offers an insidious avenue of busyness to connect and broadcast online, to be so busy that there's little time left in a day for family and friends who are not immersed in the online world.

The always-on world of online socializing enables a wholly different level of busyness. At least in the old-school, offline paradigm, there was still some level of social pressure to spend time at home. In our new world order, even when we're not at work, the means to stay tethered are readily available. Some of these electronic tethers are ever so alluring, and the affinity of the social media types for technology makes it easy to rationalize away the increasing encroachment on personal lives.

It brings to mind the modern morality tale of Martha Stewart in which we all reveled. She who built a profitable and mighty myth of ideal family life at the cost of her marriage and family. We enjoyed the delicious irony.

My husband and I have but two or three hours every evening in which we're both awake and in the same physical space. Rather than actually share experiences together during these precious few hours each day, we often find ourselves on message boards, blogs, Twitter, Facebook, websites, etc., only peripherally aware of each other. Luckily, we're aware of our tendency to wander away, and like the person who nods off while driving but wakes with a start, we do also snap out of our reverie and consciously shut down the laptops and smart phones.

Are we at risk of being so tuned in to our online lives that we live our offline lives in a fog, so connected online as to become disconnected offline? How connected is too connected? I'm prepared to concede that there are super-achieving men and women who manage to balance it all. For the rest of us mere mortals, it may take a constant watching and self-awareness to walk this tightrope between two worlds, lest we unconsciously drywall the cat into the wrong side of the wall.

Or is this notion of an offline and an online world merely a false dichotomy constructed by the under-achieving?