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‘Social’: Over the Top

Porter Anderson, Writing on the Ether, Jane Friedman, author, publisher, agent, books, publishing, digital, ebooks, Will Entrekin, Exciting Press, Nick Earls [1]

Network society has become a transparent love-in, an orgy of oversharing, an endless digital Summer of Love.

Andrew Keen (@ajkeen)
Digital Vertigo: How Today’s Online Social Revolution Is Dividing, Diminishing, and Disorienting Us [2]

I can be terse. I can be taut. I can be Didion.

OK, two out of three.

Porter Anderson, Writing on the Ether, Jane Friedman, author, publisher, agent, books, publishing, digital, ebooks, Will Entrekin, Exciting Press, Nick Earls [3]I’m prompted to try for such economy by Jane Friedman [4]. She’s the host of Writing on the Ether [5]. And she’s the digital czarina of Virginia Quarterly Review [6].

Yesterday, Jane waved to us all, resolute, from her career train. It was her farewell to Writer Unboxed [7].

Did you notice how clean her post was?

No sentiment. No clutter. Crap-free.

Let’s think together here in such a mode.

Let’s think about one form of interaction on our “social” media, specifically how we praise everybody from Caesar on down.

In the spirit of economy, let’s drop “media” (still a plural word, damn it).

We’re just going to call it “social” now. “The social.”

Porter Anderson, Writing on the Ether, Jane Friedman, author, publisher, agent, books, publishing, digital, ebooks, Will Entrekin, Exciting Press, Nick Earls [2]One of my favorite authors, Andrew Keen [8], green-lights this for us.

He does it in his new book, Digital Vertigo [2]. Keen nods to another fine critic of our modern mayhem, author Clay Shirky [9]. The emphasis is mine: “In an age of radically transparent online communities like Twitter and Facebook, the social has become, in Shirky’s words, the ‘default’ setting on the Internet.”

JONAH LEHRER [10] DISCLAIMER*: I have used this point before. I referenced both Mssrs. Keen and Shirky in Thursday’s Writing on the Ether, section 16, “Last Gas: Excruciating Eloquence.” [11]

*Hereafter, any needed JONAH LEHRER DISCLAIMER will be coded JLD for brevity.

Good. Housekeeping done.


On we go.

How To Offer Praise on the Grid
(or: If You’re a Writer, Tweet Like One, Will You?)

This is the last time I want you to even consider the phrase “best ever.”

It’s gone. Right out. Over. 86-ed. Kaput. OK, one exception: Shopping-mall teenagers in Pasadena get special dispensation. Apparently, they can’t help themselves. I suspect the glue that holds those flowers on the parade floats. Don’t ask too many questions, they cry easily. We’ll just move on.

How many times have you had the wan joy of being tweeted up for writing:



Nothing is must-read. Nothing. This is as silly a phrase as the one you hear TV news anchors use: “All eyes on …” (fill in the blank stare at the TelePrompTer). Seven billion pairs of eyes will never focus on one thing. You must leave television behind you now. But that’s another post, and it’s going to be a must-read, too.

Now, you take Gladys. She’s the Twitter friend with whom you trade recipes. Even though she leaves out key ingredients. Gladys has posted a particularly effective recipe for Eggs Hemingway. Even though she left out the English muffin, you want to say something kind, encouraging, and celebratory.

Stop yourself. Restrain your initial slapdash, uncaring, and reckless impulse.  And remember: you are a writer. A writer. You don’t have to resort to the squalid foolishness of “great” and “super” and “fab” and “must-read,” let alone Satan’s own phrase, “best ever.”


You can choose an applicable word. An apt term. A bona fide descriptor. Because you are, say it with me, a writer. Possessed of words. Or maybe just possessed. But still. You’ve got a thesaurus, right? And our colleague and curry lover Roz Morris [15] in London, has recently written that it’s OK to use your thesarus, after all.

Just like when it was suddenly OK to eat eggs again, huh?

She’s right. Roz is right. You can use your thesaurus to praise the Eggs Hemingway. And you can eat your eggs, too.

JLD: I noted Morris’ post on the usefulness of the thesaurus in a recent edition of Writing on the Ether [16].

You might tweet “tasty.” Or “appetizing.” Or “flaversome.” You’re not going to change anybody’s life with those adjectives, no, but every one of them beats “fab.”

If it’s early in the day and you don’t mind answering 400 tweets from folks who can’t be bothered to use their own dictionaries and thesauri, you could even let Roget do his best work and declare Gladys’ recipe “sapid.”

Of course, Gladys will think you meant vapid. Let’s look at better places to spend your terms.

The blog post [19] that made you reconsider using your antagonist’s point of view? Tell Katie Weiland [20]it was thought-provoking. Better than “great.”

The revelation [21] that Seth Godin made you feel you were giving to a war charity when you donated to his Kickstarter campaign? Tell Dan Blank [22]it was insightful. Better than “fab.”

And this rare bluebird of wittiness [23] from the editorial team of n+1 [24] magazine? Well, its a lot better than “super.”

JLD: I referenced this essay, titled “Please RT,” here [11] in Writing on the Ether.

What the writer-editors at n+1 know about the social is that we’re not just out here passing around compliments on the grid because the glue fumes make us swell together. As they put it:

Pretty nice, also, when the ricocheting retweets say that the witty one is you!

If you say something nice — fab! great! super! must-read! — they’ll feel compelled to say something nice back, right? Maybe even must-read! super! great! fab!

Did — or do — your parents always say “I love you” at the end of a phone call or letter or email, as mine did? And do you sometimes wonder if, as sweet as that seems, it might also be a prompt to make sure you say, “I love you, too,” back to them? For mine it was. Maybe not for yours. Don’t let me frag your childhood’s harder drives with my own clan’s dysfunctional downgrades.

But just that kind of toxic tradeoff is what the n+onesies are getting at here:

In exactly 140 characters: “I need to be noticed so badly that I can’t pay attention to you except inasmuch as it calls attention to me. I know for you it’s the same.”

Roget, it’s said, worked on his original thesaurus in part to help combat serious depression.

Don’t let that guy’s bitter tears and sobbing lexicon go to waste while you chirp generic flattery from one end of the Net to the other.

Your kid at the shopping mall tells me you’re totally good with words. So tweet like you’re not raising a gullible iPhone jockey. Put some vocabulary into it. And maybe the social networks won’t end up turning into, as the articulate artists of n+1 slice it:

This scrolling suicide note of Western civilization.

Help shout down the faux flattery of the fops.

Why tweet as if you’re one of those parents who dresses like their teens, trying to look cool? You know how well that always works out.

Deck your hosannas with the specificity that your profession promotes.

Pour your words into these tiny 140-character rowboats as if we could all be lost on a sea of blandishment for the rest of our lives.

Porter Anderson, Writing on the Ether, Jane Friedman, author, publisher, agent, books, publishing, digital, ebooks, Will Entrekin, Exciting Press, Nick Earls [28]When I was reading Imagine: How Creativity Works [28] this spring, I found Lehrer online one evening.

I was impressed with the long, well-publicized book tour he was on, in support of the new title. At the time, he was in California, no doubt near our shopping mall. It appeared to me that Houghton, his publisher, was doing a rock-solid job for him. I messaged Lehrer my congratulations. He messaged back a simple “Thank you!”

And I noted at the time what a clean, unadorned response that was. Like Friedman’s swan song. Efficient, not indulgent.

He’ll be fine. Lehrer will. If you need to catch up with the issue around him, it’s here for you on the Ether [29]. And if you’re confused, as many are,  about what’s so wrong with “self-plagiarizing,” as it’s been called, too loosely, we have some good exchanges in comments [30] that will help.

Meanwhile, I think it’s the rest of us who need to stop dissembling and dithering, hyping and hollering, woot!-ing and wallowing in adulatory exchanges of the glibbest kind.

It’s unimaginative. It’s not how creativity works. And who wants to read a book by somebody who tweets like a seventh grader?

What do you think? Am I right? Or is it really OK to pretend online as if language suddenly doesn’t matter? Is there a chance that tweeting specifically and more discerningly could make us better writers?

About Porter Anderson [31]

@Porter_Anderson [32] is a recipient of London Book Fair's International Excellence Award for Trade Press Journalist of the Year. He is Editor-in-Chief of Publishing Perspectives [33], the international news medium of Frankfurt Book Fair New York. He co-founded The Hot Sheet, a newsletter for trade and indie authors, which now is owned and operated by Jane Friedman. Priors: The Bookseller's The FutureBook [34] in London, CNN, CNN.com and CNN International–as well as the Village Voice, Dallas Times Herald, and the United Nations' WFP in Rome. PorterAndersonMedia.com [35]