November 23, 2010 § Leave a comment
I recently came across this excellent Blog on Xinjiang’s history, which has made me painfully aware of how much of a non-expert I am on this subject (not to mention…). There’s a great deal of thoughtful analysis on a wide variety of topics, from the deaths of the leaders of the East Turkestan Republic, to UFO sightings in the region. I’d particularly recommend the posts on the Photos of J. Hall Paxton, who was U.S. Consul-General in Urumqi from 1946 through 1949. The captions on the photos below particularly caught my eye.
November 22, 2010 § Leave a comment
Some small restaurants in Shaoyang, the town in Hunan where I first taught. Probably my favourite places to eat in the world.
November 20, 2010 § Leave a comment
Whilst reading Javier Marias’s Poison, Shadow and Farewell, I came across this poem from Stevenson, written near the end of his life, whilst far from Edinburgh. This is the first stanza of To My Old Familiars.
After a day of ‘missile rain’ and ‘belching winter wind’ (such as was today) one could be forgiven for wanting to not only forget, but also to flee. Is there anyone who lives here that doesn’t curse the weather?
November 14, 2010 § Leave a comment
From Zadie Smith’s excellent piece on The Social Network in the latest NYRB.
World makers, social network makers, ask one question first: How can I do it? Zuckerberg solved that one in about three weeks. The other question, the ethical question, he came to later: Why? Why Facebook? Why this format? Why do it like that? Why not do it another way? The striking thing about the real Zuckerberg, in video and in print, is the relative banality of his ideas concerning the “Why” of Facebook. He uses the word “connect” as believers use the word “Jesus,” as if it were sacred in and of itself: “So the idea is really that, um, the site helps everyone connect with people and share information with the people they want to stay connected with….” Connection is the goal. The quality of that connection, the quality of the information that passes through it, the quality of the relationship that connection permits—none of this is important. That a lot of social networking software explicitly encourages people to make weak, superficial connections with each other (as Malcolm Gladwell has recently argued1), and that this might not be an entirely positive thing, seem to never have occurred to him.
I couldn’t agree more with the following.
Shouldn’t we struggle against Facebook? Everything in it is reduced to the size of its founder. Blue, because it turns out Zuckerberg is red-green color-blind. “Blue is the richest color for me—I can see all of blue.” Poking, because that’s what shy boys do to girls they are scared to talk to. Preoccupied with personal trivia, because Mark Zuckerberg thinks the exchange of personal trivia is what “friendship” is. A Mark Zuckerberg Production indeed! We were going to live online. It was going to be extraordinary. Yet what kind of living is this? Step back from your Facebook Wall for a moment: Doesn’t it, suddenly, look a little ridiculous? Your life in this format?
Yes, we should struggle against it. Yes, our lives are ridiculous. Not what happens, not what we think and feel, but certainly how we try to present ourselves to others. I don’t think there’s anyone I’ve gotten to know any better by being their ‘friend’ on Facebook. I know more about them, that’s all. But knowing which bands or films (or more rarely, books) other people like doesn’t bring us any closer. It does not make for a ‘connection’. It is just a way for us to spy on each other without the risk, or trouble, of actual interaction.
But I will not be quitting Facebook anytime soon. I do things that I want to tell people about, and I use Facebook for that, and it seems only fair that my Facebook ‘friends’ should get to tell me what they’re doing in return. It’s an exchange, a social transaction. But really nothing more.
November 11, 2010 § Leave a comment
Some photos I took in Urumqi this spring are up at Flickr now.