Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Thanksgiving. In these final minutes of 2013 I am thankful for my parents, because they are the only people in the world who love me. As my parents, they have to. I think they make you sign some form to that effect when your kids are born. But I am also thankful whenever other people treat me kindly, which is the lukewarm version of love that awful people like me have to satisfy themselves with.

Thursday, December 26, 2013

What people like on social media… and what I don't like. I'm feeling seriously ambivalent about the amount of time I spend on social media. It feels like a feedback loop in which I post things and react to other people's posts, then check back in obsessively to see if people have responded to me. The first thing I do each morning, on my phone, in bed, is to check my email and then check Twitter and Facebook. I do this again whenever I have a free moment, when something occurs to me to share, or just to break up the routine of my workday.

I think the reason I post particular things on Facebook and on Twitter is because of the audience I want my ideas and my subjective experiences to have, and the feedback I want to get from that audience. But next year I'm planning to cut way back on the amount of time I spend on social media, and instead I want to post that kind of stuff – photos, silly ideas, random observations – here.

I don't think that constantly seeking other people's approval via social media is a good way to live my life. It's not really creating a sense of closeness, or sharing useful information with my peers, as much as performing my self for an audience and inviting their approval through 'likes', 'favourites', 'replies', 'comments', 'retweets' and 'shares'.

I feel it's dangerous to tie my self-esteem to the attention I get from this performance because I suspect it's offered in a casual, fleeting way rather than with the affection attached to lasting real-life relationships. And I'm finding the 'zinger culture' that dominates social media increasingly wearying – as if I am wasting my intellect and my sociality searching for the funniest link, quip, picture or comeback.

Using Favstar, I figured out my most popular tweets of the last year. Here are the top 10, in order of popularity:

27 May – "The sad and fascinating tale of the V&A curator who compulsively furnished his house with treasures stolen from work." http://t.co/FQl1wSqwpe 48 retweets, 24 favourites.

24 December – "Somewhere, Karl Stefanovic takes another swig and mutters darkly, "I never got to sing a song." #carolsbycandlelight" 12 retweets, 19 favourites.

14 February – "FURIOUS to see teachers framed as selfish, lazy & disruptive. Striking is a LEGAL RIGHT only used as a last resort. #keepthepromise #wearred" 26 retweets, 2 favourites.

11 June – "Guys, I need to find a housemate by 23 June. Carlton, close to everything, big room, big garden, cute cat… http://on.fb.me/1bql6KT" 22 retweets, 1 favourite.

12 June – "#menugate: since the Liberals repeatedly disrespect the office of PM, they don't deserve to hold that office. http://gu.com/p/3gg6v" 19 retweets, 1 favourite.

31 July – "@graemesimsion "novel_finalfinal_reallyfinal_edited.doc"" 10 retweets, 9 favourites.

8 March – "Happy International Women's Day! The Economist assesses which country is best for working women. Australia's no.5. http://t.co/cLJjkFdaXL" 16 retweets, 2 favourites.

12 June – "I'm dismayed that any woman would vote Liberal. They don't LIKE women. They crudely insult our PM not for her policies but for BEING FEMALE." 11 retweets, 6 favourites.

1 March – "More on the Good Weekend/Monthly editors' spat from @knottmatthew: is the pay rate issue as sexist as it looks? http://bit.ly/Xe3fnf" 11 retweets, 6 favourites.

9 May – "My book is here! It looks great, I'm really pleased. Thanks @affirmpress! pic.twitter.com/yu3us8I2iC" 7 retweets, 9 favourites.

As you can see, a lot of these tweets depend on context, and on certain moods and zeitgeists. Twitter has a culture of rewarding humour with RTs and favourites, and also of using them to share righteous comments and opinions, which is why my political and feminist tweets did so well. I was really surprised to see how popular the link about the light-fingered curator was; so surprised that I am considering writing a book about this case.

Meanwhile, Facebook users tends to respond best to self-performances that capture notable life events, and always like cute pictures of children and pets. I got these insights from Facebook's handy summary of my 20 'top moments' of 2013. Selfies are very popular on Facebook. I try not to post them too frequently for fear of being thought vain, but when I do, people often respond with flattery. Since I don't have a child, my FB friends' indulgent responses have been transferred to my cat.

I use FB to post heaps and heaps of interesting articles I find around the internet. These links engage certain sections of my FB friends and sometimes provoke robust debate – sometimes so robust that I can't face it and feel really awful inside for ages, and deliberately don't look at the post so I don't have to see angry people arguing. But while online op-ed columnists have blazed many pixels this year being outraged about stuff, and then reflecting on 'outrage culture', you'll notice that none of those links showed up in my 'top moments'. People responded best to good news, funny and fluffy things.

20 April – Photo of my book cover art. 99 likes, 27 comments, 3 shares.

9 May – Selfie of me holding my book, newly arrived from publisher. 128 likes, 32 comments.

3 June – Photo of Sunday Life magazine story I wrote to promote book. The accompanying photo of me was deeply stupid (me hugging headless mannequin as if we are friends) and so humiliatingly ugly I lay on the couch and cried when I saw it. 86 likes, 33 comments, 1 share.

5 June – Report of a phone conversation I had. Call centre lady: "Hi, you've been selected to win a prize!"
Me: "What is it?"
Lady: "It's some software."
Me: "What does it do?"
Lady: "It was featured on 'A Current Affair' – do you watch 'A Current Affair'?"
Me: "NO."
Lady: (disconcerted): Oh, well do you have a mortgage?
Me: "No, I won't be able to afford my rent if I can't find a new housemate in two weeks. Maybe this software isn't for me."
Lady: "Okay, thanks for your time." 28 likes, 5 comments.

18 June – Scanned photo of the school house captains in ridiculous colour-themed costumes (including me, dressed as a carrot) on Sports Day in year 12. 39 likes, 22 comments.

26 June – "I'm pleased to announce that I am following in Jill Stark's footsteps and penning a memoir about Pie July: my noble quest to eat a pie a day for one whole month and in so doing to examine our society's obsession with gimmick month-long pledges. Working title: PIE IN THE SKY." 29 Likes, 22 comments.

10 July – "Sitting in the Channel 9 foyer surrounded by posters for shows I never watch. At least the 'Arrow' guy has picturesque abs." 39 likes, 13 comments.

10 August – Graham selfie. Unused to having a phone that close to his face, he looks belligerent and perturbed. 30 Likes, 8 comments.

11 August – Cute family portrait of Felicity, Anton and baby Magnus standing behind their picket fence as they bid me farewell from a book club meeting. 42 likes, 7 comments.

15 August – Selfie featuring the bob haircut I got on my birthday. "The shortest it's been in a while… and probably the neatest it will be for some time." 64 likes, 15 comments.

8 October – 14-second video of Graham participating in one of my favourite cat games, Formula One Driver. How it works is while he is sitting on my lap I rest his front paws on my hand and then angle it back and forth to make it look as if he is manipulating a steering wheel, while making race car noises. They sound a bit like an angry cat growling, so he doesn't really like this game. He leaps off my lap as I attempt to manipulate one of his paws so it looks like he's changing gear. 23 likes, 7 comments.

9 October – "On the occasion of Chopper's death I fondly recall the time Penny called his mobile, got his voicemail, thought she'd hung up and then did an impression of the message, "You have called Mark Brandon 'Chopper' Read…" only to realise she hadn't actually hung up and had indeed left him a voicemail of her mocking his voicemail message." 70 likes, 10 comments.

10 October – Photo of Graham curled winsomely on my footpath couch. "Today is the day I have arbitrarily designated as Graham's birthday. He is five. Happy arbitrary birthday, dear puff!" 48 likes, 7 comments.

17 October – "To repeat a joke I made on Twitter and am still LOLing to myself about: PACIFIC RIM 2: YOU'LL HAVE TO BE MORE PACIFIC." 44 likes, 10 comments.

30 October – Photo of Graham perched on footpath couch amid piles of bills, bank statements and other paperwork. "'Helping' me do three years' worth of tax." 34 likes, 15 comments.

17 November – Five old photos of me and various high school friends. "Penny recently found a roll of film (FILM!!) in her camera case and had it developed. Turns out it was taken at our friend Vanessa's wedding maybe 15 years ago… when I was depressingly young, thin and fresh-faced." Still miffed by my cavalier disregard for her genetic heritage, my mother comments, "Blonde hair looks great!" 43 likes, 7 comments.

3 December – Selfie, tipsy after the Rooftop Cinema launch, pulling a ridiculous duckface with worn-off orange lipstick and my hair doing 1970s-style flicks. "After a night of piña coladas and getting caught in the rain, I put on my PJs & took out my victory rolls and the result is: AUSTRALIAN HUSTLE!" 53 likes, 5 comments.

6 December – Old photo of my dad holding me as a baby. "It's my dad's birthday today! Here he is c1977 with some baby he found." 48 likes, 7 comments.

14 December – Selfie, wearing a Christmas-themed T-shirt that says "I'll be your Secret Santa!" "At the start of this year Penny did a clear-out and gave me various things from around her house. I was biding my time but now it's Secret Santa's time to shine!" 53 likes, 13 comments.

22 December – Selfie, looking excited, holding a pack of Christmas-themed Arnotts Barbecue Shapes. "The perfect festive hangover food." 31 likes, 5 comments.

Having had a pretty aimless, unproductive last month or so, I have been trying to taper off my social media time-wasting over the last few days. (Except for my annual #carolsbycandlelight livetweet, which is an important Christmas ritual for me, and a hypocritical defiance of my general loathing for live-tweeting. This year, it lost me about 10 Twitter followers.) I'm making increasing use of the "Stop notifications" function on FB, saving interesting links for later reading using Pocket, and using Unroll.me to put my email notifications in a once-daily bulletin rather than having them pinging in all the time.

The trouble is that I am well trained to share my observations; whenever I see or think of something cool or funny or annoying, I get the impulse to share it with friends. And I can't resist responding to stuff other people post. I know that this will be a really hard habit to break… and maybe I don't want to break it.

So here's my resolution. Because I know that so few people read blogs any more (because of the rise of social media), it seems that posting my thoughts here is almost the same as not posting them at all. So I can feel as if I've 'expressed myself', but without the time-wasting that social media offers – the constant little red notifications and 'ping' sound effects.

Thursday, December 05, 2013

Proactive genealogy. The other day I was walking down Rathdowne Street and noticed a bouquet of flowers taped to a tree on the west side of the road just north of Elgin Street. Because I am a ghoulish person who is fascinated with vernacular expressions of loss and commemoration, I went to take a closer look.

If you can't read it, the card says: "In memory of George, who had a bicycle accident near this spot 121 years ago and died. From your family, the Alexanders"

Of course, I couldn't help wanting to know more – as I always do when it comes to real-life brushes with history. Thank goodness for the National Library of Australia's Trove digitised newspaper archive. Working backwards I decided the accident was in late 1892, so I searched newspaper articles from that year with "George", "Rathdowne Street" and "bicycle" as my AND terms and "accident", "death", "killed", "fatal", "died", etc. as my OR terms.

And 'whala!' I found this article from The Argus, 5 December 1892.
The city Coroner, Dr Youl, held an inquest at the Melbourne Hospital on Saturday on the body of George Melville Kingston, who was thrown from a bicycle in Rathdown-street, North Carlton, on the 29th ult., and died subsequently in the Hospital. The evidence showed that the deceased, who was 24 years of age, and a plumber by trade, had come from Dunedin to take part in the Austral Wheel race. He was riding at a fast pace down the street, when his bicycle collided with a dog, and he was thrown heavily to the ground, sustaining injuries to the head, A verdict of accidental death was returned.
Now that I knew George's full name I Googled him, and found a fuller explanation in a digitised copy of the Hawke's Bay Herald (New Zealand) from 15 Hakihea [December] 1892. This is from the New Zealand National Library. Don't you think it's fascinating that the Maori word for December is so integrated into the archival system?

Poor George. But what I like about this story is that even though George died so young, in a foreign country, his relatives have not forgotten him. Possibly through family lore, or through the recent vogue in amateur genealogy and easy access to digital archives such as the ones I've accessed, they were able to leave a tribute to George that would make his presence in the world real again.

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