Friday, January 15, 2010

A Bold New Direction

Hello world.  It's me.  I know I've been remiss.  If you follow Fork & Cork, I should warn you: we're about to wade into uncharted waters.

When I first started this blog, I struggled with what specific genre I would go with.  I knew that I could blab endlessly about food and wine and hope that someone would read it and get a kick out of it. I also knew that creatively, it would satisfy a need to share experiences and knowledge that if even on the smallest scale, enriched someone's life.  Yet, I subtitled Fork & Cork "a biased compendium of cultural artifacts" for a reason.  I wanted to keep an open door.  I wanted to make sure that if I decided my content had gone as stale as cookies left out for Santa, I would have a fallback.  But in all honesty, I knew I had more to say than how to bone out a turkey and the proper temperature for serving wine.

When I joined Facebook last Fall, I did so reluctantly.  I had read peoples' posts, seen their groups, watched the "silliness"- and I didn't feel left out.  I was talked into joining to get more traffic for my blog- and I did.  But then, something sinister happened.  Facebook began to steal me away from blogging.  It was more immediate.  It was more direct.  It was more engaging.  Suddenly, writing about root vegetables seemed as enticing as giving a lecture on bee pollen.  Twitter is still a foreign animal to me.  I can't fathom a scenario whereby people would actually be interested in what I might be thinking as I enter a public restroom or while I'm watching Spongebob Squarepants with my daughter.

But as I began to put things into focus, I've realized this week that we are dealing with an extraordinarily powerful medium here.

If fast food and casual dining in all their immediacy have gobbled up fine dining as we know it, then FB, Twitter and Kindle stand dancing atop the soft soil of the graves of newspapers, print and television.

Case in point:  One of the most widely followed Twitter accounts (of which I am a follower) is the irreverent Shit My Dad Says.  A 29 year-old single white home-bound guy Tweets the poignant if crass quips of his 74 year-old dad.  It's like receiving a joke-of-the-day.  Yesterday, in a break from that potty humor, he posted this unexpected and sobering sound bite from his dear old dad: "Might not do a damn bit of good, but tell people to donate to Haiti on your twitter thing." TEXT "Haiti" to 90999 to donate 10$"  Meanwhile, The New York Times and CNN reported that text donations for Haitian Earthquake Relief had exceeded $5 million.  That's in 24 hours, folks.  Comparatively, the last major event to come close to such a response from text donations was Hurricane Katrina, which garnered less than 3/4 of a million dollars.  Granted, we're dealing with evolving technology, new media forms and changing cultural mores.  But, we appear to have reached a tipping point on how we ingest, digest and contemplate our most precious information.

I watched a blank screen yesterday as I contemplated what, if anything, people might want to read about in a F&C post.  Lord knows why we get so contemplative at the beginning of a year and not the end.  But, so it is.  And between a seminal moment like the Haitian catastrophe and such cultural flotsam like General Larry Platt's "Pants on the Ground" from American Idol, it occurred to me, "How do we disseminate between what matters and what doesn't?" And suddenly for the first time, I asked myself, "Is any of this blog relevant?"

Strangely, the first adapters of this technology not only appear able to sort it all out, but do so with impressive aplomb.  I read yesterday heartfelt messages of hope, despair, and prayers for earthquake victims, interspersed with shout-out eulogies to one of the greatest soul singers of our time Teddy Pendergass, while a movement to eclipse a mega-takeover of the internet took strong footing amidst posts about where to have happy hour and how to support Asperger's Syndrome Awareness and breast cancer.

In the 1970's sci-fi film "Logan's Run", there exists a technology called "the circuit" in which lonely and seemingly horny adults can peruse a large walk-in screen with a remote control to find themselves a plaything for the evening.  Logan (actor Michael York) surfs the circuit looking for Ms. Rightnow until he comes across a lonely and scantily clad soul (how convenient) who is feeling existential.  And thus, the plot is set into motion:  we are introduced to the plight of futuristic overpopulation and government controlled life expectancy in a post-nuclear isolated bubble city.  With the internet thrown in as play toy.  Shallow plot, gratuitous nudity and a cameo by Farrah Fawcett, this is our future.

It's too familiar to ignore.  It has all the immediacy and urgency, mixed with perversion and boredom we now face as we sit in front of this screen that demands we interact with it.   And interact we do.

If it were a telephone, it would be easier to comprehend.  Information in, information out.  But isn't it the same?  Twitter feels like to me a vast soap box for people to stand on and pontificate from.  It's like a scene from another film,The Life of Brian in which shady prophets compete for airtime in a crowded square.  You can tune it in, or you can tune it out.  But, it's all entertainment.  Or, is it?

If Twitter and Facebook became the method by which we all received our most precious information, we might evolve into a society that adapts to this new medium.  In fact, not only might we evolve into that, but it is inevitable.  As print and traditional methods of media struggle to adapt, a completely unencumbered online community skips merrily along, wirelessly updating their every move leaving others in the pixle dust.

The young have always been the first adapters of new technology, but now we are in the midst of a new revolution that has it's arms fully entangled around multiple demographics.  It's a survival of the most immediate kind.  Example?  How long did it take to get your parents on a computer?  And now your mom is on Facebook.

And so, what about the vast wasteland of television?  Multiple channels trying desperately in an outdated medium to stay relevant.  It's just a matter of time before YouTube is an actual channel, and all of TV is interactive.  A F&C post wouldn't be complete without a swipe at the massive Food Network; and so, what is to come of them?  They deliver food porn; glistening images of food they claim is so easy to make you can make it at home.  Small percentages of brave souls actually give it a shot.  We buy the huge picture books and think,"I can make and eat that?  Yes!"  Not wanting to be left out, the James Beard Foundation puts up four posts a day of pictures from recent dinners with sexy close-ups highlighting everything extreme from lobster cappuccino to ice wine marshmallows.  Granted, they're staying relevant, but in what fashion?  How does a Facebook post help me to think of the spirit of what the JBF is really about?  Or "becoming a fan of cheese".  Seriously.  Lucky for some people on FB there isn't a "point and snicker" button.

I joined Foodbuzz and FoodieBlogs, the two largest conglomerates of food/wine posters on the internet.  (Chowhound and Zagat are huge, but they're forum only).  They're great places to connect with foodies, if you are of the same ilk, but at times it feels like a Star Trek convention:  too overwhelming and they take themselves too seriously.

Yes, we all have something to say.  And we all would like to be heard.  Some just like to listen.  And some have only snarky comments, you know- the dick at the party you're trapped next to who knows something about everything and nothing about anything.  But, it's nice to know, just like when the television came into our lives, if we don't like what we see, we can just turn it off.


Fresh Local and Best said...

This is a very interesting and thoughtful post. I don't know what direction social media is heading but I've been impressed with the impact it is creating.

Velva said...

I have been on facebook for about year. I could not fathom the rage but, I get it now. I am comfortable with it. twitter...I keep contemplating but, like you I can't imagine what random thoughts I could share that would make people want to read my twitters.

As for the social networking? This is only the beginning. There is always a paradox in technology. You gain and lose all at the same time. There is no stopping it, this is our reality.

Barry said...

Oooops big dummy posted his comments in the wrong thread. Soooooo what I said before only re: this.


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