Commentaries - November 2008

Shout out to ... the forty or so schoolchildren on the public school bus that drove by our polling place on Tuesday.

West Philly, 47th and Pine. About 150 of us were standing there, the line going nowhere: all three voting machines were “broken.” How could this be? Geez, don’t these people at least check the night before to make sure the machines are working? This is an important election. Pennsylvania is a swing state. C’mon! I, deeming myself ever ready for such crises, dial The Committe of 70, the Election Commission, WNYC/NPR which is sending out reporters to all problem spots. We’re monotonally told: “The voting-machine repairman has been called and is apparently on his way.” The Obama volunteers got us coffee and donuts, but a few impatient people began peeling away, needing to get to work, feed families breakfast, get little ones off to school. A few tempers flared. Then the bus. As it neared, we realized there was something a little different. The kids had seen us, had run to the windows on the sidewalk side, were reaching out ecstatically with arms and heads and were chanting loudly and in unison: O-BAM-A! O-BAM-A! Cheering on the adults, whose spirits had so easily flagged. Vote for us! Do it for us! And the bus, which had paused at the stop sign, soon rumbled onward. We smiled huge smiles at each other, shook our heads at the Meaning of the day, munched our donuts, and readied ourselves for the long wait for the repairman.

I've downloaded a few useful apps to my new iPhone. One is an RSS Reader that allows me to pick up top news and magazine items, features under various topics, as well as links to new web stuff in fields of my interest, without the strain/time of having to download these items. The thing gives a quickly loaded look at stories and links of the moment, and then I can go follow up by reading full web versions if I want. Not that the iPhone is slow to browse the web, but it’s slower than this RSS feed gives me a top look.

My newest app is called “Files lite,” a free program that acts as a documents folder. Yes, I can put documents (in Word, in PDF, in Excel, in HTML [e.g. saved web pages]) onto my phone! I’m working on an essay so I’ve put the latest draft there, which means (am I being obsessive about my time? maybe) I can reread and ponder changes wherever I find myself stalled, waiting in line, stuck between meetings. I’ve also put there the text of a few poems I want to read often and really come to know. The photo here is a standard screen shot of this app in action; it’s not my phone. I snapped a shot of my phone but find it’s hard to take a good picture of the glassy surface of this otherwise utterly and fabulously accommodating device, the iPhone G3.

A happy shout-out to Mark Lindsay who urged me in this direction and made it all work.

One of my students today observed that she has felt, already, a lessening of the snarky tone she’s heard and read all around her pretty much all her conscious life. I think she believes that tone will be at an end, that sincerity, rhetorical calm, un-irony will wash over the language. My guess — still plenty of the snark in me, I suppose — is that it will last a few months. Snark is here to stay.

I want to ponder this. Eight years of an awful presidency has generated the super-skepticism — the hypersatirical state of public political (and to some significant extent cultural) commentary — and that, in the most general way, makes sense. Harding and Coolidge certainly created, or at least contributed to, Roaring Twenties ironic hilarity, flapperistic farce.

But this era of snark happened to coincide with the emergence of the web, the proliferation of voices, the radical democratization of the commentariat, 1000 blogs blooming, social networking in which your “Friends” are your ready audience for daily expressions of your “status,” podcasts made in the breakfast room recorded on a Radio Shack microphone plugged into a $600 computer. Bush + web 2.0 = snark.

Obama in part succeeded because of this interactive social revolution, and his movement would by no means want to put it all back in the bottle. But can the tone change? Can sincerity coexist with the ubiquity of these voices?

Every recording — in whatever medium — that we’ve made in a dozen plus years since the founding of the Writers House has been indexed on a page we clumsily call “medialinks.” This is kitchen-sink web databasing but we love it.