“There’s a lot of bad ‘isms’ floatin’ around this world, but one of the worst is commercialism. Make a buck, make a buck.“
–Alfred, Miracle on 34th Street (1947)
Did Thanksgiving even happen? Walking around the neighborhood and scanning the store circulars it seems more like some blip between Halloween candy and Christmas toys. In 1947, Alfred’s Christmas ism was a fast-footed sprint launched by Santa’s appearance at the end of the Thanksgiving parade (though with all due respect for Mr Macy, for us old time Philadelphians the finale will always be a red-coated fireman climbing into Gimble’s fifth floor).
What was a six week sprint for Christmas sales in 1947 has stretched out to the leisurely half-mile jog through the autumn months. Treacly remakes of holiday standards have been playing in malls for weeks. Box store workers who might have preferred to spend time with their family on Thanksgiving were pressed into service for pre-Black Friday sales (fed by the hype of artificial scarcity, it feeds the gambler gene’s need for the big win). And today, server farms around the country are overheating to meet the demands of the latest retail gimmick, the seven-year-old Cyber Monday (proof that capitalism hasn’t forgotten how to dream up more “make a buck” isms).
And all for what? Most of us middle class Americans have everything we need. What we lack isn’t the stuff that line the shelves of Walmart superstores and Amazon distribution centers, but the us that we’re too busy to share with one another.
I love the purity of earlier generations of Quakers. They pointedly ignored Christmas, working and opening their schools on the 25th. They would have undoubtedly skipped the commercialism of the modern consumer holiday. But I’m not willing to go that far. In our family Thanksgiving and Christmas is a time of togetherness and seasonal habits–tagging the Christmas tree, Sweetzel’s spiced wafers, making cookies and pies, visiting family. When I was young, my mother made a framed collage of my annual photos with Santa, and while it once fascinated me as a document of Santa variations, now the interest is watching myself grow up. Today, our family’s Flickr collection of Christmas routines shows that same passage of time. None of us need fall into the HalloThanksMas season of make-a-buck-ism to find joy in togetherness.
When I first started blogging fifteen years ago, the process was simple. I’d open up a file, hand-edit the HTML code and upload it to a webserver–those were the days! Now every social web service is like a blog unto itself. The way I have them interact is occasionally dizzying even to me. Recently a friend asked on Facebook what people used Tumblr for, and I thought it might be a good time to survey my current web services. These shift and change constantly but perhaps others will find it an interesting snapshot of hooked-together media circa 2012.
The glue services you don’t see:
- Google Reader. I still try to keep up with about a hundred blogs, mostly spiritual in nature. The old tried-and-true Google Reader still organizes it all, though I often read it through the Android app NewsRob.
- Diigo. This took the place of the classic social bookmarking site Delicious when it had a near-death experience a few years ago (it’s never come back in a form that would make me reconsider it). Whenever I see something interesting I want to share, I post it here, where it gets cross-posted to my Twitter and Tumblr sites. I’ve bookmarked over 4500 sites over the last seven-plus years. It’s an essential archive that I use for remembering sites I’ve liked in the past. Diigo bookmarks that are tagged “Quaker” get sucked into an alternate route where they become editor features for QuakerQuaker.org.
- Pocket (formerly Read it Later). I’m in the enviable position that many of my personal interests overlap with my professional work. While working, I’ll often find some interesting Quaker article that I want to read later. Hence Pocket, a service that will instantly bookmark the site and make it available for later reading.
- Flipboard is a great mobile app that lets you read articles on topics you like. Combine it with Twitter lists and you have a personalized reading list. I use this every day, mostly for blogs and news sites I like to read but don’t consider so essential that I need to catch everything they publish.
- Ifttt.com. A handy service named after the logical construct “IF This, Then That,” Ifttt will take one social feed and cross-post it to another under various conditions. For example, I have Diigo posts cross-post to Twitter and Flickr posts crosspost to Facebook. Some of the Ifttt “recipies” are behind the scenes, like the one that takes every post on WordPress and adds it to my private Evernote account for archival purposes.
The Public-Facing Me:
- WordPress (Quakerranter.org). The blog you’re reading. It originally started as a Moveable Type-powered blog when that was the hip blogging platform (I’m old). A few years ago I went through a painstaking process to bring it over to WordPress in such a way that its Disqus-powered comments would be preserved.
- Twitter. I’ve long loved Twitter, though like many techies I’m worried about the direction it’s headed. They’ve recently locked most of the services that read Twitter feeds and reprocess it. If this weren’t happening, I’d use it as a default channel for just about everything. In the meantime, only about half of my tweets are direct from the service–the remainder are auto-imports from Diigo, Instagram, etc.
- Tumblr (QuackQuack.org). I like Tumblr although my site there (quackquack.org) gets very few direct visits. I mostly use it as a “links blog” of interesting things I find in my internet wanderings. Most items come in via Diigo, though if I have time I’ll supplement things with my own thoughts or pictures. Most people probably see this via the sidebar of the QuakerRanter site.
- Facebook. It may seem I post a lot on Facebook, but 95 percent of what goes up there is imported from some other service. But, because more people are on Facebook than anywhere else, it’s the place I get the most comments. I generally use it to reply to comments and see what friends are up to. I don’t like Facebook per se because of its paternalist controls on what can be seen and its recent moves to force content providers to pay for visibility for their own fan pages.
- Flickr. Once the darling of photo sites, Flickr’s been the heartbreak of the hipster set more times than I can remember. It has a terrible mobile app and always lags behind every other service but I have over 4000 pictures going back to 2005. This is my photo archive (much more so than the failing disk drives on a succession of laptops).
- I use Foursquare all the time but I don’t think many people notice it.
- Right now, most of my photos start off with the mobile app Instagram, handy despite the now-tired conceit of its square format (cute when it was the artsy underdog, cloying now that it’s the billion-dollar mainstream service).
- Like most of the planet I use Youtube for videos. I like Vimeo but Youtube is particularly convenient when shooting from a Google-based phone and it’s where the viewers are.
- I gave up my old custom site at MartinKelley.com for a Flavors.me account. Its flexibility lets me easily link to the services I use.
When I write all this out it seems so complicated. But the aim is convenience: a simple few keystrokes that feed into services disseminate information across a series of web presences.
Something that fascinates me is the surprising glimpses of Quaker influence in the wider world. Back in the Spring I drew out the possibility of a Quaker connection in President Barack Obama’s so-called “evolution” on LGBTQ matters.
This week the New York Times Opinionator blog argues a Quaker connection in the geography of “Red” and “Blue” states–those leaning Republican and Democratic in general elections. The second half of Steven Pinker’s “Why Are States So Red and Blue?” leans on David Hackett Fischer’s awesome 1989 book Albion’s Seed. Subtitled “Four British Folkways in America” it’s a kind of secret decoder ring for American culture and politics.
Fischer argued that there were four very different settlements in the English colonies in the Americas and that each put a definitive and lasting stamp on the populations that followed. I think he’s a bit over-deterministic but it’s still great fun and the thesis does explain a lot. For example, the Scot-Irish lived in lawless region along the English-Scottish border, where people had to defend themselves; when they crossed the ocean they quickly went inland and their cultural descendants like law and order, guns and a judgmental God. Quakers from the British midlands were another one of the four groups, cooperative and peace-loving, the natural precursors to Blue states.
Now step back a bit and you realize this is incredibly over-simplistic. Many Friends in the Delaware Valley and beyond have historically been Republican, and many continue as such (though they keep quiet among politically-liberal East Coast Friends). And the current Democratic president personally approves U.S. assassination lists.
You will be forgiven if you’ve clicked to Pinker’s blog post and can’t find Quakers. For some bizarre reason, he’s stripped religion from Fischer’s argument. Why? Political correctness? Simplicity of argument. Friends are summed up with the phrase “the North was largely settled by English farmers.” Strange.
But despite these caveats, Fischer is fascinating and Pinker’s extrapolation to today’s political map is well worth a read, even if our contribution to the distribution of the American map goes un-cited.
And if you don’t get it at first viewing, the “possibly hot” Mary McCormack being referred to is the actress who plays the Kate Harper role; she is indeed the sister of judicial candidate Bridget McCormack.