UPDATE: Tomorrow we'll actually take a serious look at this project, instead of getting bent out of true over the headline and assumptions. (Translation: Fallows sent me an email. A very civil one, too.)
Three gripes about Internet writing.
1. While it’s fun to use the slang of the hip, with-it “information generation” kids who are always “cybering” data on their interactive devices, sometimes the slang just makes you look like you’re trying too hard. Here’s an Atlantic headline:
GIANT LAWN MACHINERY EVERYWHERE: THIS ACTUALLY IS A THING
It’s on a James Fallows piece. Fallows is not a Buzzfeed-generation guy; he was a speechwriter for Jimmy Carter. It’s possible he didn’t write the headline, and it was slapped on the dispatch by a staffer who thinks the phrase “is a thing” connotes some particular revelation, or speaks to a certain audience segment. But it’s just lazy.
Fallows, by the way, is having one of those Journeys that every writer longs to do. Get out of the office, drive around the country at someone else’s expense, and Find America. You learn the most amazing things - like people have lawn tractors. It is a thing to have a lawn tractor! Look at these amusing local customs of the natives! Why, I can’t wait to regale the chaps at the Explorer’s Club with anecdotes about this delightful culture.
The short way of describing this project is to say that it's a version of the classic American road trip, conducted by air.
An equally short way of describing it is to say that it’s not a road trip at all. At least he admits that it’s been a while since he took one:
Wherever we've lived, I've been aware of the big-city-centrism of the news, and how many things you didn't know enough even to wonder about until you'd left the capital.
This is why it’s wise to disregard nearly every pronouncement about America that comes from someone based in Washington.
2. The other thing that is a thing is the YOU headline, described here over the last few months. Today’s examples: The Genius of Whisper, the Massive Popular App You Haven’t Heard Of. But I have heard of it; guess the article’s not meant for me. Another: “Your iPhone uses more energy than a refrigerator.” Really? The one right here by my side that’s turned off, as opposed to the giant machine humming away as it makes ice cubes? I don’t believe it. Let’s reword that: “How smartphones use more power than you think,” or “iPhones use more power than refrigerators? Here’s how” or something like that.
3. One more thing that infests the internet and should not be a thing: proactive, defensive snark. You should never go to Digg, because that’s where I get a lot of links, and once you realize that, there’s no point to coming here. It’s a good site, though, and while the story selection isn’t particularly well-balanced, it’s usually free of Buzzfeedy cuteness. Here’s an actual headline on Digg: Eighty Years of New Yorker Advertisements.
Bingo! Clarity without attitude. Of course, there’s a little subhead above: “Just as sexist as you might expect,” because the past is a funny place filled with bad thoughts, and you can’t link to a “sexist” ad without saying “don’t worry, we know it’s sexist, please don’t send an email complaining about that.” But how do you describe the site? Quote the New Yorker page:
In retrospect, all of these ads offer a revealing glimpse of the cultural idiosyncrasies of the past and the evolving perspectives of the magazine’s readers.
BEST KOREA NEWS The other day I rambled on about misplaced nostalgia for ancient games - neglecting to note `that the games aren’t ancient everywhere. For some, Pole Position would be the most amazing piece of virtual reality they’d ever seen. Kotaku reports:
Arcades might be a thing of the past in North America, but they live on in, um, North Korea.
The country's state media recently released photos of an arcade that supposedly just opened on the Rungna Islet in Pyongyang, the country's capital.
Scene: Kokatu newsroom. EDITOR, a grizzled middle-aged veteran of the medium, waves over the new recruit.
EDITOR: About this lede, kid. You phone this in? You got that Dragon Dictation software thing? It says um. It actually says um.
Reporter: That’s intentional, sir. It’s meant to indicate an emotion, an unwillingness to confess or believe in the following statement.
EDITOR: It makes you sound ten years old. Take it out.
We continue with the rest of the piece.The islet is home to the world's largest stadium, basketball courts, a skateboard park, a mini-golf course, a roller coaster, a wading pool, and now, it seems, a brand new arcade.Yes, North Korea has the world’s largest stadium. As for the Rungna islet, here’s the pathetic amusement park where the inner party cavorts, forgetting for a moment the dank tang of fear and deprivation that pervades every moment of the day.
UM, NO Buzzfeed looks at a toy museum. (Which is a thing.) This description of some Borden material is puzzling:
Elmer, from the famous Elmer’s Glue, was created to save his wife Elsie. Elsie became so popular in the late 1930s that the glue manufacturer didn’t want customers imagining her demise. So they invented her husband, Elmer, and melted him down to make glue. :(
You fear kids who google for a school paper on COWS THROUGH HISTORY will actually believe that. The real story is much more interesting, but it’s old stuff, and probably sexist, so hah!
As it happened, Elmer was the butt of every - single - Borden ad ever made; he acted, well, bull-headed about everything, and had to be talked out of his idiocy by his sensible, even-tempered, accomplished wife. I love this line from her wikipedia entry:
Elsie and her calves[vague] were featured in Elsie's Boudoir at Freedomland U.S.A. from 1960 to 1963.
The mention of her calves is vague, but the fact that a cow had a public boudoir goes without annotation.