Twitter? Move Over. Longform is back.

Will writing itself be revived? (Photo by jjpacres on Flickr)

I’ve heard the arguments much too many times to count. Facebook splinters human attention. Twitter lowers the literary standard to what we can spew out on the way down the escalator to take the tube, spelled in SMS English, with the thought investment of a catchline from an impotence infomercial. The death of journalism as instant news and burns the crafted article at the altar of the here and now.

Well, it’s all bunkum. A full reparte to this general propaganda will wait for a time when I have more time. Suffice to stay, that it is not the duration of attention that has dropped, but the quality of attention that has risen. It is not the intellectual investment in the word that has reduced, but the ideas and methodologies of the writing which deserve full intellectual investment has reduced. The quality of thought is not strained. It has been distilled.

One such form, and the focus of this post, is a recent discovery of mine – Long Form Journalism. In essence, journalistic work far too large for the standard 600-words-ish magazine / newspaper article and of course much too short to be a book. Articles which, unlike the standard-issue state-and-embellish-the-facts-and-report idea of journalism, develops a story. Stories of the journalistic method, of the stories behind events, of the evolution that which are deemed to be considered news.

A good example is the story of Air France Flight 447. A veritable Illiad of an article, it covers the mysterious circumstances of the crash, the ongoing search, and even the commercial / political fallout of the crash. It clocks in at over seven thousand words.

Another example, one which is destined to pull the heartstrings of every cricket, nay, every sports fan around, is the Saga of an American journalist from ESPN visiting India and his coverage of the Cricket World Cup. It is a truly masterful rendition of what cricket means to this nation, the cultural iconography of Sachin Tendulkar, the evolution of the game and its future fate(s). In terms of length, this too is a monstrous article.

Even I would not be so bold as to attempt to summarize, at any level, such Epic works. It would be best, dear reader, if you read them for yourself. I will end here, and return to address both the Cricket article, and the argument at the beginning of this post at a later time.

One last thing: Amazon recently launched Kindle Singles – one-off pieces of longer fiction / non-fiction priced from $1 to $5. The latest in a series of sites riding (and building) the revival of Longform. More here. More from me once I get a good read of all these sites.

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How cool do you need to be to use social networking?

Facebook. Twitter. Friendfeed. Friendster. status messages. retweets. augmented reality. location based services. Everyone’s doing it. All the time. We tell people what we’re doing, when we’re doing it, where we are, who else is around and prove it with photos.

Does anyone care?

I am both a very early adopter of the whole social networking thing, and also very much the “average” user. I’m not famous. I do not have or promote a business. I do not work in / on silicon valley and report on the happenings in this industry. In short, I am one of the many many people worldwide who caught on to Facebook, orkut, dA, twitter et all simply because everyone’s doing it.

Initially, there was the fad of “OMG! Let mayke a prohfyle”; then the “ooh, lets look at other peoples’ profiles!”; then the “meh”.

Yes, meh. There was a long hiatus when the entire first generation of social networkers kinda fell of the map. Helped not in the least by the opening of facebook (our de-facto network, as it were) to the entire universe. What had once been a fairly exclusive club where everyone knew (or knew of) everyone else suddenly became more akin to a mosh pit of vaguely familiar faces.

Let’s not even get started on the whole application thing.

Then the status update thing happened. and the “creepy” news feed. and Twitter. and we all came running back to listen to the thought-streams of our friends and tell them ours.

Does anyone care?

Without being overtly a pessimist, the average user leads a fairly average life and so do his / her friends. There is very little I need to tell people on a constant real-time basis on the happenings in my life. I get up. I work out. I go to work. I blog. I meet friends and colleagues. I surf the internets. watch TV. read. Nothing special. Nothing to write home about. Or write on Facebook / twitter.

The same applies to all the numerous blurbs on data (I can’t bring myself to call it information) that flow onto my screen. I have no interest in who’s stuck in the rain, who is waiting for the weekend, who’s moving and hating the experience, who is moving and loving the experience, who’s happy because their team won, who drunk, who’s sober, who’s bored, who’s happy, who’s done with exams, who’s done with homework, who’s done with partying, who’s surfing facebook, who’s standing in line, who’s cutting the line….

STOP.

Repeat after me. MLIA. My Life is Average. Unless there’s something worth saying, don’t say it. Use the IRL test. If you would say somethingĀ  to everyone you see In Real Life, then say it on twitter. The only reason we feel this need to share is a strange voyeuristic fascination with seeing if other people are doing anything more interesting than we are.

Mostly, they are not.

Very very few people lead lives interesting and eventful enough to constantly talk about it. Even fewer can consistently write well in context-free 140-ish-character blobs.

Unless you’re that special, take it for granted that most people are not really bothered what you just said.

That’s not to say social networking is entirely crap. I have gotten back in touch with numerous old friends I’d have never seen again. It has been and still is a good source of storing and finding links to interesting stuff on the ‘net. It has, on the whole, been a positive influence. But some perspective helps.

Some may be tempted to apply this very same reasoning to blogs. I’llĀ  beg to differ. A blog only contains things which cross the “too-much-effort-to-bother” threshold; and thus, eminently more worthy of publication.