Monthly Archives: May 2009

Your Saturday afternoon Globe critique

One of my favorite hobbies is picking on articles in which the Boston Globe strives to be culturally relevant by writing about Internet trends that the rest of us got over being excited about a while ago. C’mon, it’s fun!

Today’s article is about the culture of fail. The Globe trains its anthropological magnifying glass on the curious phenomena of, the Twitter Fail Whale and Fail Blog, trotting in some college students who have adopted “FML” into the real-life lexicon and psychologists who offer dime-store analysis on our obsession with failure and embarrassment. 

Maybe I’m being unfair, but this is just dull, and it feels like it was outdated before it was written. Granted, I am already familiar with FMyLife and Fail Blog, so this article did not tell me anything new. But to that point, who is the audience for this article? If it’s younger folks, then like me, they are probably already familiar with Fail Blog, FML and their ilk. If it’s older people… they probably don’t care. 

Sadly, I feel like I see these articles over and over again. The Globe pinpoints something popular online, sees that as an opportunity to connect with a desired demographic, and pens a painful article that makes the newspaper seem hopelessly out of the loop of mainstream online culture. The psychologists are always what really get me, as if websites like Fail Blog are indicative of some great shift in the psyche of the American Internet user that must be studied and explained. Naturally, in this article, they have no great insights. A self-deprecating sense of humor can be a sign of good self-esteem! Seeing humor in the everyday mishaps of life can be healthy! Breaking news!

According to the story’s subhead, “Web culture has become obsessed with our mistakes.” Really, though, I don’t think the “obsession” with failure, or even with being broadly confessional, is new — and those psychologists certainly didn’t convince me that it was. As the article itself points out, a lot of the things you see posted on Fail Blog, you could have conceivably seen on “America’s Funniest Home Videos” back in the day. It’s just more social now, more viral.

Maybe that’s part of the challenge the Globe faces. It’s like when your out of the loop friend comes around to breathlessly fill you in on news that you heard about a week ago. “Yeah, I already heard,” you say. “Tell me something I don’t know.” That’s how I felt after reading this article.


A Sale Made for Twits Like Me

noname (1)Yesterday, I spent the day with my mom. She wanted to go to Newbury Comics (because she’s cool), and who am I to argue? As we pulled up to the Norwood location, I remembered that for today only, all used CDs were 30% off. How did I learn about this awesome sale? Twitter, of course. Yay, attempts to wrangle social media, because I will take ruthless advantage of them.

Back in the day, it was no big deal for me to drop $50, $60, $75 on CDs in a sitting at Newbury Comics every couple of weeks. I had a large appetite for music and little discretion — one good song or even just a positive review was enough for me to drop some cash on a disc. Not say I wasn’t a bargain hunter — that is always part of the fun — but when you have a talent for finding a lot of used CDs for $5.99, well, you can get a lot of them.

As I’ve matured and become more budget-minded, I’ve incorporated a lot more discretion into my CD buying habits. I no longer hit places like Nuggets (sorry) with $60 burning a hole in my pocket (heck, my friend Jeff and I used to go on semi-annual sprees where we would go CD shop-hopping and spend $100, easy). It’s not because I’ve gone digital-only (in fact, I only recently started purchasing select releases digitally, and usually only if the deals are undeniable). I love buying CDs. I just have a lot of other stuff to worry about.

That said, when a sale like this comes up — especially when I’m at a location like the Norwood Newbury Comics, which is not nearly as picked over as the Harvard Square and Newbury Street locations — I’ve got to take advantage.

A budget-conscious outlook combined with an already finally honed skill at bargain hunting makes CD shopping a creative exercise nowadays, and I’m always up to a good challenge. Yesterday’s exercise was very successful, and I brought home eight albums and two EPs for about $46. The haul included:

Paul Simon – Rhythm of the Saints ($5.99) – Since I fell in love with “Graceland,” I decided to go for this. Everyone I’ve spoken to says I won’t be disappointed.
Passion Pit – Chunks of Change EP ($3.99) – Yes, they’re the new hot band, and I am pleased to have snagged the precursor to “Manners” before such a great price.
Cloud Cult – They Live on the Sun ($3.99) 
Cloud Cult – Advice from the Happy Hippopotamus ($5.99) – Ever since hearing “The Ghost Inside Our House,” I have been enamored with Cloud Cult — they’re unabashedly earnest, inventive and compelling. I’m psyched to pick up some of their earlier albums for a good price.
Fleetwood Mac – Rumours ($9.99)
Fleetwood Mac – Tusk ($7.99) – I’ve been on a Fleetwood Mac kick and am happy to round out my collection with these classics.
Kate Bush – The Sensual World ($5.99) – Amanda got me into Kate Bush. I am not sure where this album is supposed to fall on the spectrum of her oeuvre, but I listened to it in the car on the way back to Boston yesterday and enjoyed it, so I suppose that’s all that matters.
Mobius Band – City vs. Country EP ($1.99) – What a great band. I couldn’t say no to a five-song EP for less than $2.
St. Thomas – Hey Harmony ($5.99) – I’ve owned “I’m Coming Home” for a while and love it. I had forgotten that he had other albums, and was psyched to make this discovery. It came bundled with an Australian Spunk sampler that includes tracks from Hidden Cameras, Pernice Brothers, My Morning Jacket, M. Ward and the Minus 5. This Norwegian artist sadly passed away in September 2007.  RIP. He lived a troubled life, but he was a gifted artist. 
Husker Du – Candy Apple Grey ($9.99) – I’m a huge Sugar and Bob Mould fan, but I’ve spent literally years wringing my hands over which Husker Du album to start off with. Boo me. Spying this one for $7 made the decision easy.

Knock 30% off of all that, and you have a pretty good day at the races. It was a nice throwback to my earlier days of careless spending and insatiable music consumption. Thanks, Internet, for the tip!

At Last, Our Long National Nightmare Is Over

My mom just text messaged me:

Archie chose Veronica!
Not fair

My first question, asked only to myself, was “How on earth does my mom do carriage returns in text messages?” My second question, which I did text back to her, was “What?”

“Archie proposed 2 her,” she texted in reply. I was beginning to feel like we were gossiping via text about real people.

“Where?” I asked. Perhaps a dumb question. “In the comic.”

I went to Google News and found the story.  Indeed, Archie Comics is going to finally resolve the long-running love triangle and Archie, we are to believe, chose the raven-haired vixen over the blonde girl next door.

When Archie Comics announced a couple of weeks ago that Archie was getting married — though they hadn’t yet said to who — it provoked an enthusiastic response (A personal fave: “Oh my….Archie is getting married.I can’t believe it!!!!!He will choose Betty,no Veronica.Uhhhh!!I can’t wait!!!!!!!!!”), mixed with concern that this meant the end of comics about the gang from Riverdale (Personal fave: “NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO”), inquiries about pre-ordering and entreaties to pick Veronica over Betty, or vice versa. Ah, those Archie fans…

…of which I am one. Yes, it’s true. When I was little, I was an avid collector of Archie comics, scouring supermarket racks for the latest issues and dryly pointing out how, as the years went by, the volumes got thinner and they reused more and more comics from decades past. (Of course, when their new comics are painful stabs at modernity such as this, maybe that’s for the best.) I went through a phase where I never ate dinner without an Archie comic in hand, rooting through the box where I kept them to find one I hadn’t read in a while. By the time I gave up the habit, all of them were hopelessly dogeared and read to pieces.

No one else I knew read Archie comics. Perhaps because they were really a vestige of my mom’s generation, more supermarket fare than comic shop fodder. But I was hooked. I am still a bit annoyed that my comic collection seems to have vanished into the ether along with most everything else I left in Florida when I came to college. Like my mom’s collection of Little Lulu comics getting thrown out by my great-grandmother way back when, history is doomed to repeat itself.

Over the years, I’ve kept a soft spot for Archie. Occasionally, whenever I find Archie comics in the supermarket aisle (which is an increasingly rare occurrence), I’ll thumb through and see how he’s doing. Reassuringly, he’s always doing just about the same — klutzy, charming, girl-crazy and broke. Veronica gets all the attention and we sneer accordingly. Betty gets left holding the bag and we cluck and empathize. Of course, when it comes to whether or not Archie will really go through with picking Veronica, the comic creators leave an out: “Could it be true?” they ask on their blog. “Has Archie finally decided to take the plunge and propose to comics’ favorite rich girl?  It sure looks that way!” Hmm. (Relatedly, who knew there was a host of official Archie comics character blogs? Though the posts seem more fitting for Twitter than a blog.)

To those Archie fans concerned about this momentous occasion meaning the end of Archie comics, I say, don’t worry. At the end of the world, aside from the cockroaches, we’ll still have Archie comics, no doubt. What would a supermarket checkout be without them?

Walking the Freedom Trail

After last week’s day off the grid, I was pleased to have another opportunity to explore my city come up. A friend of mine is headed to San Francisco for the summer for a cool internship, and she wanted to do one last Boston thing before she left. What’s more Boston than the Freedom Trail?

This is the second time I’ve done the Freedom Trail, but the third time I’ve made my way to the Bunker Hill Monument. The first time I did the Freedom Trail was on a cold, rainy February afternoon, and though it was not the most pleasant experience, I took pride in showing my out-of-town friends the history of my city. (The other time I saw the monument and some snatches of the Trail was during a Charlestown/North End walkabout that another friend of mine and I took during that freakishly warm day late last December.)

One of the best things about living in the Boston area, I find, is being surrounded by history. I am often inured to it, as I am simply walking downtown to H&M or taking the 93 bus past the site of the Battle of Bunker Hill. But occasionally, it hits me, and I realize that, holy crap, the stretch of Broadway in Somerville near my house that is littered with banks and hair salons is where Paul Revere rode to Lexington and Concord (video from this year’s reenactment), around the corner from that H&M is where the Boston Massacre took place, and so on. It is a nice thing to remember every now and then, especially for someone like me who comes from a place lacking in significant history (hooray for South Florida).

This most recent tour of the Freedom Trail took place on Memorial Day, which weather-wise was perhaps the most beautiful day we’ve had all year. We had a great time following the red line with occasional sidetrips down interesting alleyways, stopping for pizza in the North End and ice cream in City Square, taking in the many beautiful views the walk afforded and analyzing the poses of various statues. (Did you know the statue of Ben Franklin at Old City Hall has his gaze cast downward — right at you?!) I was particularly pleased to see how many people had come out to the new Rose Kennedy Greenway to get some sun or cool off in the fountains there — it made me feel optimistic about the future of the newest greenspace in the city.

I think my first time walking on the Freedom Trail was more focused on reading the historical placards and getting a sense of what happened where. This latest walk was more about drinking in the flavor of Boston and savoring it before bidding the city farewell for the summer. Each is a great way to spend a day — particularly when you’re sharing the walk with friends.

Imaginary Friends for a Twenty-Something Commuter

When I was little, about 6 or 7, I had an invisible friend. His name was Doo-doo. Yes, Doo-doo. I am admitting this in a public forum. Not only that, but he had a family. His wife was Dee-dee. His son? Doo-dee. And the daughter? Dee-doo. Surely you can see the nomenclative prowess I possessed at such a young age.

Lots of little kids have invisible friends. They’re the ones who stick with us even when we’re the odd one out at recess, or have parents who just don’t understand. They play with us when we’re lonely. They’re a foil, an alter ego, a second medium through which to experience the world. And they’re important, visibility be damned.

But they’re just kidstuff. Right? 

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I had a silly thought last night on the way home from a delightful evening full of friends, synagogue and the great outdoors. You know that phenomenon where you go up to a person and ask them, “How is [thing I read about on Facebook/LJ/Twitter/etc.] coming along?” Or when someone says to you, “So, [thing] is happening,” and you say, “Yeah, I read about [thing] on Facebook. So did she end up talking to you or not?” It might seem a little bit awkward. You may feel slightly stalkerish. Some may feel it takes away from the great discovery process that is human conversation, because we come into it with a hoard of backstory scraped from tweets, statuses and blog entries. What’s the point of talking to people anymore? We already know everything, right?

But, think about the web. If I type, “I went to synagogue last night,” that tells you a lot less than if I type, “I went to synagogue last night.” Sure, I could tack on to the first sentence, “I went to synagogue at Eitz Chayim in Cambridge last night,” but by providing the link, I offer the reader infinite possibilities to learn as much or as little about where I went to synagogue last night.

When Tim Berners-Lee conceived of hypertext as a way to connect and transfer stores of information through an easily navigable format, he certainly didn’t think about blogging or Twitter in particular, but he was laying the groundwork and probably wouldn’t be shocked if one of us went back in time to 1990 and told him about Facebook. “Information Management” was the name of Berners-Lee’s proposal, and we are still exploring that topic today, coming out with additional proposals for what the next iteration of hypertext will be, and how we will use it.

And I don’t just mean the web gurus; with hypertext and online communication becoming so integrated into our everyday lives, information management is something we all practice everyday. As the edges of our online lives and our offline lives begin to bleed into one another, the distinction grows more fuzzy: it’s just life. So, in this era of statuses and tweets and all the rest, where we know all about our friends’ weekends before Monday morning dawns, isn’t it just a version of hypertext? Maybe it’s hypertext in reverse, actually, as we may know a lot of the story from having clicked-through, so to speak, prior to the actual conversation. And by the time we get together, face-to-face, to talk about it, each side already has a depth of understanding that allows the conversation to delve even deeper, or veer off to other topics.  We refer to each other’s statuses, and the comments on those statuses, the offline conversations that have built up to this moment. Our engagements are more informed, more colored. I don’t like to think that we are losing something by learning the minutiae (as well as the macrutiae) of each other’s lives online. It doesn’t undermine the irreplaceable value of in-person interaction. It’s just a new way to have the conversation.

So don’t worry. You’re not being creepy. You’re just hypertalking.

Image courtesy of Ethan Hein and republished here under a Creative Commons license. Some rights reserved.

Who watches the pressmen?

The Boston Globe published an interesting article about how newspaper pressmen are worrying about what the changes to the journalism industry mean for their jobs. It’s funny — I often think about the changes in journalism at the industry level, or about what it means for how reporters do their jobs. But, as with all great shifts, the cogs in the machines may suffer the most. Reporters can take classes and learn how to blog or shoot video and advertising folks can devise new strategies to sell ads online; it’s not that big of a deal, really. But for folks like the pressmen, there is no adaptation. There is no strategic planning or professional development. The future for their trade is narrow and dim.

I know slash-and-burn is the popular strategy as of late, but do newspaper companies have any responsibility to help the practitioners of these endangered trades? If they’ve empowered photographers to edit videos and reporters to get on Twitter or run a blog, why not provide some path for the pressmen? Or is this just the way things go, with natural selection playing out as it will in an evolving industry and that particular trade becoming more niche and more obscure? I don’t know. It’s a tough call.