For one, it's entirely based on anecdotal evidence. Virginia Heffernan is clear about this from the start, leading off her evidence with: "If you ask around, as I did, you’ll find quitters." She continues to undercut her argument with "[t]he exodus is not evident from the site’s overall numbers." It's invisible, in short, except from the interviews to follow.
What follows is several different people saying what they don't like about Facebook. Who are these people? They aren't explained or titled, or even always named. But we are given one qualification for their inclusion in this journalistic item: they are "My friend Alex... Another friend..."
No experts are cited, no online authorities. Well-known Facebook critics aren't invoked. There's a single academic reference tacked on at the end, perhaps as nod towards the idea that, maybe, somewhere, someone else has expressed criticism of Facebook.
In short a New York Times article, an article from The Newspaper of Record, is based entirely on a reporter talking to her chums.
Moreover, not only is the exodus "not evident" from the numbers, but it simply isn't happening. As others point out, the numbers instead describe the opposite: continuing growth.
Towards the end the article gets even odder, ramping up the rhetoric, as reality has headed in the opposite direction. The piece suddenly turns Gothic:
As of a few months ago, [another interviewee] told me, Facebook “felt dead.”
Is Facebook doomed to someday become an online ghost town, run by zombie users who never update their pages and packs of marketers picking at the corpses of social circles they once hoped to exploit? Sad, if so. Though maybe fated...
Perhaps fearsome internet rhetoric is not only the expression of fears of offline behavior (violence, deviant sexuality, copyright infringement, etc.), but a rhetorical device used to paper over reality. It's like Gothic expliqué, a flight of fantasy meant to draw our attention from reality. Call it New York Times as Scooby-doo.
Maureen Dowd keeps chugging along with her contributions to the fearsome internet corpus. The recent supermodel insult-Google story gives her a chance to write about the awfulness of the Web:
“The velocity and volume on the Web are so great that nothing is forgotten and nothing is remembered,” says Leon Wieseltier, the literary editor of The New Republic. “The Internet is like closing time at a blue-collar bar in Boston. Everyone’s drunk and ugly and they’re going to pass out in a few minutes.”
Ouch, blue-collar! What a sting. (How would a fern bar be different, I wonder?)
And some of those drunks are bullies, violent bullies! Their words are like, well, broken glass cutting into the flesh of your face:
In 2007, at a New York club, she tried to stop a man named Samir Dervisevic who wanted to drink from the vodka bottle on her table. He hit her in the face with the bottle and gouged a hole “the size of a quarter,” as she put it, requiring plastic surgery.
This time, she punched the virtual bully in the face, filing a defamation suit to force Google to give up the blogger’s e-mail.
Those bullies are not only savage terrors, but cowards, too:
Hugo Black wrote in 1960, “It is plain that anonymity has sometimes been assumed for the most constructive purposes.”
But on the Internet, it’s often less about being constructive and more about being cowardly.
Dowd also compares the shank blogging incident to the Megan Meier case. A few words of insult, suicide - it's a sliding scale of pain, I suppose.
Dowd hits several classic elements of the fearsome internet culture here, including a fear of violence based on assuming real-world effects of its representation. She also rings the anonymity subtheme. And she's careful to summon up traditional authority in defense of her argument: the New Republic, a Supreme Court justice.
Note, too, her emphasis on class. The internet is a blue-collar bar, not a yuppie one. And see how she inserts "the masses" into this passage, between selections from a Supreme Court judgement:
“virtually unlimited, inexpensive and almost immediate means of communication” with the masses means “the dangers of its misuse cannot be ignored..."
Is a Fashion Institute of Technology student part of "the masses"? Or akin to a blue collar bar denizen? No matter; analogies can be elastic.
Is gaming fearsome or pathetic? The latter, argues a US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study. Gamers are overweight and depressed, says the research (pdf). They are also withdrawn, apparently exhibiting "lower extraversion."
Even worse, the gendering the study finds: "[f]emale video-game players reported greater incidents of depression and "lower health status" than women who do not play video games."
How does this play out in terms of fearsome digital media? Several ways.
First, note the non-negative aspects of the study. Stereotypes take another hit as gamers have an average age of 35, and are implicitly equally divided by gender. (Yes, I still get academics telling me gamers are only teen males) Will these get media attention?
Second, the technological determinism. Gaming drives depression and bad BMI, it seems, less than games being chosen as art or entertainment by those with such conditions. One wonders if the social ostracism attached to depression and obesity points one towards a cultural artifact with a bad cultural reputation.
"In the end, this is going to be a powerful, heart-warming story, one that you're going to be really impressed by."
American Gothic: a man and three young women meet a parole officer. It turns out that the eldest woman was kidnapped by the man, eighteen years ago. Phillip Garrido imprisoned Jaycee Dugard on his land for nearly two decades, raping her, fathering two children upon her (hence the other two young women), and building a religious vision throughout the process.
The story unfolds like a Gothic novel, on many levels:
The years of imprisonment, rape, child-bearing and -rearing. Eighteen years. It's a Gothic nightmare family tale, built on power imbalances, secrecy, violence, sexual horror. Overseas accounts use the phrase "sex slave."
Two children were born, and grew up in this small world, over more than a decade.
The strange stories from this week, like Garrido's account of himself, from whence the opening quote comes. Or the mysterious documents he turned over to arresting offices, as yet unrevealed to the public, because, as the author says, "What you will have in your hands will take [sic] world news immediately." The documents, after all, "would 'explain something that humans have not understood well'". And, even better:
"You're going to be in a state of shock when you see how many hundreds of thousands of people are going to be coming out of the woodwork to start testifying about something." ..."The federal government will end up being involved." "Just read the documents."
Speaking of mysterious documentary sources, Garrida apparently heard the voice of god speaking from a box. In fact, Garrida is something of a religious visionary. And is there a touch of therapy or recovery-speak in his statement?
The role of Nancy Garrido, Phillip's wife. Imagine what her role was, what states of mind occurred over the nearly 20 years of this - accomplice, helper? Participant? Did she see Phillip's activities in a religious light? Did she participate or withdraw, building a mental wall between her house and the backyard? A novel could cover this one aspect.
The space of terror: not a haunted house, but a series of outbuildings, tents, and structures. A compound.
The classic American crime story detail of many people being connected
to this event, seeing the participants over the years, but not acting
to stop it. Garrido was a registered sex offender (see public link). He had been arrested and did time for kidnap, rape, and torture. One neighbor, a boy, spoke to young Jaycee, and she told him her name (Garrido then built a wall to stop that from happening again). Cops visited, but never found anything.
"None of the children have ever been to school; they've never been to a doctor," the undersheriff said at a press conference in Placerville. "They were kept in complete isolation in this compound."
There's a digital layer to the story, too, perhaps shading into fearsome internet territory. For example, we can drill down through Google Maps to see Garrido's property, complete with victim-hiding tarps:
And Garrido, under the name "themanwhospokewithhismind," kept a blog:
How long until Maureen Dowd notes that blogs are primarily for kidnappers, rapists, and religious maniacs?
I actually hoped that the failure of Reaganism in practice would kill it. It turns out, however, to be a zombie doctrine: even though it should be dead, it keeps on coming. ... why won’t these zombie ideas die?
Krugman's been experimenting with the Gothic this year. He's done zombies before, and also invokedmonsters, Others have seen the zombie nature of the Great Recession.
Infocult: keeping one eyestalk fixed on the economy as it shambles ever onward.