Monday, December 23, 2013

Detroit, Drop Dead?

Anthony Bourdain isn't my favorite guide to the world at large but he caught my attention the other day with his latest destination in adventure travel. He went to Detroit.

His glimpse was almost heartwarming, what with neighborhood barbecues and volunteers turning meadows back into the playgrounds they once had been. But there was an edge to what he showed and it was one that cut deep into my imagination. How did a city with a thriving population that numbered in the millions become a spot where grass is reclaiming neighborhoods?

Then recently Facebook had posts about a group that plans to renovate houses and give them to writers who will live in them for two years--in Detroit. Homesteading must be in my blood; I wrote for more information. 

Then I went online and this is what I found.

And I read it until I came to this

These are stories from the Detroit equivalent of The Stranger. John Carlisle wrote them and put them into a book. It's called 313: Life in the Motor City. You can buy it here:

I went to Craigslist. Apartments in Detroit go as high as a couple of thousand a month. Is this what's meant by recovery? The mayor plans to tear down thousands of abandoned houses. What's going to replace them? There's a statistic floating around that 47% of Detroit's population is functionally illiterate. Where will they find a place to become functional? What's going on? (You might remember that song; it's from Motown. Yes, Detroit has a culture and history too--settled in 1701.)

New York survived the infamous headline Ford Says Drop Dead. New Orleans is working to come back from Katrina. Detroit? Well, the good news the city has a Whole Foods and urban homesteaders bike to an affluent area to go to Trader Joe's and Barnes & Noble. The bad news? 

In 2014 I want to see for myself. In the US, a 300-year-old city is becoming--what? And who cares?

Merry Christmas to all.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

"It's a Lesson too Late for the Learning"

I'm closing in on the last few minutes of my 24 hours with no Facebook and the things that I've learned from this have been interesting indeed.

Facebook has rendered voicemail obsolete. I know I never check mine anymore, which is an embarrassing thing when I finally do and find messages from people I care about. What I didn't know is that there are people out there who haven't put voicemail on their cellphones. I know because I tried to call them and that was what the voice on the other end told me. If I had texting capability...but that doesn't come with a landline. It seems if I want to communicate by phone, a landline is also obsolete--unless I have Facebook.

Blogs are still out there. I visited the ones on my blogroll and left comments with the ones that have been used within the past six months. In many cases, mine was the only writing in the comments field. Comments are now being left on Facebook instead.

And blogs not announced on Facebook go unread. Thank you, Mack, Will, and Steve for reading my last blogpost. I'm as guilty as anyone for reading posts only when they're announced on Facebook. And I'm missing things as a result, but not as much as I would have thought--or hoped.

Facebook has become our communication portal. It's quick, efficient, and provides the potential for an immediate response, which bothers me almost as much as it entertains me. On Facebook, we communicate in soundbites, with every fleeting thought that crosses our minds. Anybody who has been following the discussion about Thai politics on Facebook can see the inherent danger in immediate response without thought. This topic has turned into a war that is far from civil on Facebook pages; only a handful of posters give any real thought to what is no longer really a discussion.

The seductive speed of Facebook is doing us not as many favors as we think. Back in the last century, as the new technology began to take hold and offices installed computers, Jeremy Rifkin noticed that a different kind of time was also coming into existence. Computers gave answers in a heartbeat; clumsy old humans took more than a minute to respond. Rapid responders in the workplace became the most desirable and clever computer programmers brought that same rapidity to our personal lives, through Facebook.

Blogs are too slow for us now. Email is too slow. Letters are a laughable affectation. Voicemail is dead; the phone call is swiftly approaching the same fate. We communicate through Facebook and its even terser equivalent, Twitter. This changes the way we respond to each other, our expectations of a response, and what we respond to, What happens if our newsfeed becomes truncated so that we see only what Facebook chooses?

It's already happening. If I respond to a status update without clicking 'Like' enough times, the person who is writing those updates disappears from my newsfeed--no matter that I have been communicating with them. So now my form of communication has to include an obligatory click--one that isn't organic to my communication style.

Communicating through Facebook is like bonsai, small, concise, sometimes artful, and twisted into unnatural shapes. At last we have immediate gratification; unfortunately we're paying for it, even though it's free.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Living Without Facebook

This morning I realized I'd forgotten my Facebook password, and since I'm going to be traveling soon, that I would probably need it. So I followed the instructions for changing my password, only to find that I now cannot use my account for "23 hours and 58 minutes."


I have email addresses for most of my Facebook friends, many of whom live in other countries. I suppose my friend Will in Bangkok can live without our lexulous game for almost 24 hours (maybe not--I won last time and he is out for blood with this one). And it's not as though I'm living without the Internet. This is going to be an interesting little exercise--communicating without Facebook.

To start, I'n going to ask that everyone who reads this, please leave a comment. Just a simple I was here or your first name would be fine. I'm curious to see if a blogpost falls in a Facebookless forest, does it make a sound?

Monday, December 16, 2013

Less With More

Long ago Christmas cards were a holiday staple.Flurries of images arrived every day, some with notes on the back, some with letters, many with just a signature and a good wish attached. Some of them had glitter glued to their fronts, some had a flocked velvet object prominently displayed, some were reproductions of Nativity paintings. All were read and put in a prominent spot and were later taken out of the house with the Christmas tree.

In those days, long distance calls were an extravagance and postal rates were low. When we wanted to get in touch, we used the US mail.

Quaint, isn't it? Now we can call anywhere in the country for one flat monthly rate. We send email, not postal mail. We have blogs and Facebook and Twitter and smartphones on which we can monitor all of these things. Our phones are always with us. We are reachable anywhere in the world.

So--what does this truly mean? We text messages to each other rather than make a phone call. We put up a status update to be read by all of our friends rather than write a series of letters to people we care about. We tweet with 140 characters (I just used 28 in the beginning of this sentence, if you count spaces--since I avoid Twitter, I don't know if I should or not) about anything that might have flitted across our minds at any given second. 

And the business world has discovered this great new accessibility to the point that many of us don't answer our phones. We screen calls or ignore them until much later, because frequently the caller is a robot, posing as a telemarketer. We read messages in our free moments, plan to respond later, and then often forget about them. There's really no impetus to respond to many of them because they're written to a world at large. What's written to everyone in fact is written for nobody. 

I am fond of people whom I never call. They're busy and I'm reluctant to break into their world. It used to be if someone picked up the phone, it meant they were in their living room. Now they could be at a party, in a meeting, having dinner at a restaurant, in line to go to the movies...This is why we text, but I have a landline. I don't have that capability.

And even if I did, odds are there would be no response until much later. 

I used to think of this blog as being a letter to friends and family, especially when I lived overseas. Now I don't expect responses here. It's become a notebook to myself. I do post notifications of new entries on Facebook, where (if I'm lucky) people will press a Like button in response.

Our conversations in real life have become different. "Oh yes. I read about that on Facebook, " we say in reply to a friend's news. Or even worse, "I keep up with you on Facebook." No need to meet for coffee when Facebook provides such an efficient alternative.

Last year I sent Christmas cards, each with a little note. They sank into the same vacuum as a Facebook message or a Tweet, with considerably more thought and financial outlay than is required by social media. It made me sad, enough so that I won't do it again. And it makes me sad that with so many ways to communicate, we do less of it than we did when there was only one.