Somehow the raw mic feed from Adele’s “SNL” performance appears to have found its way online, and it’s pretty incredible. You can hear the faint instrumentals in the background, but besides that it’s
An interesting profile of a niche community affected by the shift of attention from community-led sites to Facebook, “How Facebook – the Wal-Mart of the internet – dismantled online subcultures.”
Over time, these challenges to the BME community became increasingly problematic. Members deleted accounts or stopped posting. By 2015, the main community forum – which used to have hundreds of posts a day – went without a single comment for over six months.
Having predicted many of the web’s functions and features, BME failed to anticipate its own demise.
It’s definitely something I’ve seen in my niche world of Quakers. I started QuakerQuaker as an independent site in part because I didn’t want Google and Facebook and Beliefnet to determine who we are. There’s the obvious problems—Beliefnet hiring a programmer to make a “What Religion Are You?” test based on a few books picked up the library one afternoon.
But there’s also more subtle problems. On Facebook anyone can start or join a group and start talking authoritatively about Quakers without actually being an active community member. I can think of a number of online characters who had never even visiting a Friends meeting or church.
Our tradition built up ways of defining our spokespeople though the practices of recorded ministers and elders, and of clarifying shared beliefs though documents like Faith and Practice. I’ll be the first to argue that this process has produced mixed results. But if it is to be adapted or reformed, I’d like the work to be done by us in a thoughtful, inclusive manner. Instead, the form of our discussions are now invisibly imposed by an outside algorithm that is optimized for obsessive engagement and advertising delivery. Facebook process is not Quaker process, yet it is largely what we use when we talk about Quakers outside of Sunday morning.
I think Facebook has helped alternative communities form. I’m grateful for the pop-up communities of interest I’m part of. And there are sites with more user generated content like Wikipedia and Reddit that hold an interesting middle-ground and where information is generally more accurate. But there’s still a critical role for self-organized independent publications, a niche that I think is continuing to be overshadowed in our current attention ecosystem.
The new issue of Friends Journal is available online. This month looks at Giving and Philanthropy. There's some good reflections from Friends on why they give to the causes and institutions they do. There's also a nice piece from Quaker fundraiser Henry Freeman on the "language of Quaker values." If you're trying to unpack what it means to be Quaker, this on-the-ground perspective is one way to parse out the reality of Quaker testimonies.
One of the coolest activists of her (or any) generation is gone. Juanita Nelson’s obituary is up on the national war tax coalition’s site. My favorite Juanita story was when some agents came to arrest her at home and found her dressed only in a bathrobe. They told her it was okay to go into her bedroom to change but she refused. She told them that any shame was theirs. She forced them to carry her out as her clothes fell off. Talk about radical non-coöperation!
Pam McAllister pointed out on her Global Nonviolence: Stories of Creative Action Facebook page that this story is online. Here’s a bit more of Juanita herself telling that bit:
Seven law enforcement officers had stalked in. I sat on the stool beneath the telephone, my back literally to the wall, the seven hemming me about in a semicircle. All of them appeared over six feet tall, and all of them were annoyed.
“Look,” said one, “you’re gonna go anyway. You might as well come peaceful.”
There they stood, ready and able to take me at any moment. But no move was made. The reason was obvious.
“Why don’t you put your clothes on, Mrs. Nelson?” This was a soft spoken plea from the more benign deputy. “You’re not hurting anybody but yourself.” His pained expression belied the assertion.
The essay where that came from is much longer and well worth reading.
So we’ve been asked to write a “synchroblog” organized by Quaker Voluntary Service. It is a weekday and there are work deadlines looming for me (there are always deadlines looming) so my participation may be spotty but I’ll give it a shot.
The topic of this particular synchroblog is Friends and social media and in the invite we were asked to riff on comparisons with early Friends’s pamphleteering and the web as the new printing press. I’m spotty on the details of the various pamphlet wars of early Friends but the web-as-printing-press is a familiar theme.
I first mangled the metaphors of web as printing press nineteen years ago. That summer I started my first new media project to get pacifist writings online. The metaphors I used seem as funny now as they were awkward then, but give me a break: Mark Zuckerberg was a fifth grader hacking Ataris and even the word “weblog” was a couple of years away. I described my project as “web typesetting for the movement by the movement” and one of my selling points is that I had done the same work in the print world.
Fractured as my metaphors were, online media was more like publishing then that it is now. Putting an essay online required technical skills and comparatively high equipment costs. The consistent arc of consumer technology has been to make posting ever easier and cheaper and that has moved the bar of quality (raised or lowered depending on how you see it)
Back in the mid-1990s I remember joking snarkily with friends that we’d all someday have blogs devoted to pictures of our cats and kids – the humor in our barbs came from the ridiculousness that someone would go to the time and expense to build a site so ephemeral and non-serious. You’d have to take a picture, develop the film, digitally scan it in, touch it up with a prohibitively expensive image software, use an FTP program to upload it to a web server and then write raw HTML to make a web page of it. But the joke was on us. In 2014, if my 2yo daughter puts something goofy on her head, I pull out the always-with-me phone, snap a picture, add a funny caption and filter, tag it, and send it to a page which is effectively a photoblog of her life.
The ease of posting has spawned an internet culture that’s creatively bizarre and wonderful. With the changes the printing press metaphor has become less useful, or at least more constrained. There are Friends who’s intentionality and effort make them internet publishers (I myself work for Friends Journal). But most of our online activity is more like water cooler chitchat.
So the question I have is this: are there ways Friends should behave online. If we are to “let our lives preach,” as the much-quoted George Fox snippet says, what’s our online style? Do we have anything to learn from earlier times of pamphleteering? And what about the media we’re using, especially as we learn more about electronic surveillance and its widespread use both here at home and in totalitarian regimes?
In last weekend’s NYTimes Magazine, Michael Erard writes about the history of online comments. Even though I was involved with blogging from its earliest days, it surprised me to remember that comments, permalinks, comments, and trackbacks were all later innovations. Erard’s historical lens is helpful in showing how what we now think of as a typical comment system – a line of reader feedback in reverse chronological order underneath content – grew out of technological restraints. It was easiest to code this sort of system. The model was bulletin boards and, before that, “guestbooks” that sat on websites.
Many of these same constraints and models underlay blogs as a whole. Most blog home pages don’t feature the most post popular posts or the one the writer might think most important. No, they show the most recent. As in comments, the entries are ordered in reverse chronological order. The pressure on writers is to repeat themselves so that their main talking points regularly show up on the homepage. There are ways around this (pinned posts, a list of important posts, plug-ins that will show what’s most popular or getting the most comments), but they’re rarely implemented and all have drawbacks.
Here’s the dilemma: the regular readers who follow your blog (read your magazine, subscribe to your Youtube, etc.) probably already know where you stand on particular issue. They generally share many of your opinions and even when they don’t, they’re still coming to your site for some sort of confirmation.
The times when blogs and websites change lives – and they do sometimes – is when someone comes by to whom your message is new. Your arguments or viewpoint helps them make sense of some growing realization that they’ve intuited but can’t quite name or define. The writing and conversation provides a piece of the puzzle of a growing identity.
(The same is true of someone walking into a new church; it’s almost a cliché of Friends that a newcomer feels “as if I’ve been Quaker my whole life and didn’t know it!” If taught gently, the Quaker ethos and metaphors give shape to an identity that’s been bubbling up for some time.)
So if we’re rethinking the mechanical default of comments, why not rethink blogs? I know projects such as Medium are trying to do that. But would it be possible to retrofit existing online publications and blogs in a way that was both future-proof and didn’t require inordinate amounts of categorization time?