Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Tweeting Trumps Reflecting

Yesterday I observed that, for all the well-orchestrated entertainment that HBO had delivered in their We Are One special (which my wife insisted on watching for a second time), the high point occurred when Barack Obama walked to the podium and once again addressed a massive crowd with a combination of both substance and style that I have come to appreciate. (I have to confess that I was impressed with how well Jamie Foxx had nailed that style; and, if the brief camera glimpses were representative, it looked like Obama was impressed, as well as amused, too!) This is how I summarized that substance/style blend yesterday:

After eight years of George W. Bush raising our fears to levels of hysteria and then getting away with abuses of power by treating us all like scared children, Obama demonstrated, once again, his skill at addressing us as sensible adults.

I elaborated on this "adult perspective" at the end of November, after examining the texts of the recordings that George W. Bush made for the oral-history organization StoryCorps for the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress:

What runs through all of these texts is the invocation of simplistic formulas that substitute for serious reflection and thus lead to the distorted view of reality that has been the real legacy of the last eight years.

The "adult nature" of Obama's speeches derive significantly from not only the reflective stance that he takes but also in the way he enjoins us to reflect along with him, since it is only through such reflection that we shall be able to extricate our country and ourselves from the almost innumerable messes in which we are now bemired.

I found myself "reflecting on reflection" this morning while reading "How to get social on Inauguration Day," which Caroline McCarthy filed on the Webware section of the CNET Web site. This is what she submitted at 5:36 (Pacific time) this morning:

If you thought that social-media sites were foaming at the mouth on Election Day in an attempt to get the most eye-catching, mashed-up, user-generated gimmicks in place, you might not be too surprised to find out that the social Web has gone just as nutty over the swearing-in of Barack Obama as the 44th president of the United States.

Here's a roll call of a few notables: There's an official user-sourced inauguration blog that uses collaborative platform Tumblr to post everything from recommended links to funny photos of people posing next to cardboard cut-outs of Obama. Social network Facebook has partnered with CNN for CNN Live, which displays participating members' election-related status messages in a feed next to a live stream of the ceremony. MySpace, meanwhile, has collaborated with Ashton Kutcher's Katalyst Media for a celeb-studded "Presidential Pledge" project.

Cable network Current will be displaying related messages from Twitter on-screen in its inauguration coverage (which will also be streamed on Current.com), much as it did during the presidential debates.

Also on the live-streaming front, Web video hubs like Joost and Hulu--in addition to the sites of just about every major broadcaster--will be showing inauguration coverage with varying degrees of user commentary and interactivity.

Not to mention the fact that a zillion of the Twitterati, from reporters to on-air anchors to random bystanders to Twitter co-founder Evan Williams, are actually in D.C. for the occasion. It shouldn't be too hard to track down their raw commentary, especially since gossip blog Gawker is mining through notable media figures' "tweets" to poke fun at them.

If that were not enough, here are the updates that have appeared to this story since I started writing my own post:

6:56 a.m. PT: AllVoices.com, a "citizen journalism" site, appears to have been hacked on Inauguration Day, with the entire site replaced by a text message that says "HI ETHAN." This tip comes from the Twitter feed of Rachel Sterne, whose site GroundReport is also in the citizen news business.

Meanwhile, New York Times reporter Brian Stelter has Twittered that cell phone service in D.C. is already showing signs of stress; he says that he can text but not call.

7:05 a.m. PT: Digital marketing agency Deep Focus has created Tweet The Inauguration, which aggregates Twitter updates that have, say, the word "inauguration" in them or are accompanied by the #inaug09 hash tag (which the Twitter community has generally accepted to delineate inaugural tweets. It's a lot like Current's strategy. My only gripe? It only displays one tweet at a time.

7:14 a.m. PT: Tim Shey reports via Twitter that the live broadcasts from both Hulu and CNN.com were too slow. "We went to good old digital broadcast: NBC in HD."

7:19 a.m. PT: A Twitter user asked me how you can watch the inauguration on your iPhone. I pointed him to Ustream.tv's inauguration stream. The Ustream app is brand-new in Apple's App Store.

Also, I'm noticing that Twitter is loading a little more slowly.

7:22 a.m. PT: If you want a report that's more on-the-ground and less about whether Twitter has crashed yet or not, check out our sister site, CBSNews.com, and its Political Hotsheet.

7:24 a.m. PT: Media pundit Jeff Jarvis has Twittered that he's having issues with Ustream's iPhone app while attempting to stream inauguration coverage. "Just as I tweeted I was watching live TV on my iPhone with UStream, it crashed," Jarvis lamented. "Now it's buffering. Tough day to launch this."

7:27 a.m. PT: Have a look at Twitter Search's top trending topics: " #inaug09, Happy Inauguration, #inauguration, Washington, White House, President Obama, Hulu, #tcot, National Mall, MSNBC."

7:29 a.m. PT: One Twitter user is very happy to have found a live stream with closed captioning, on the Senate's Web site.

7:31 a.m. PT: Yup, Twitter's having issues. "Twitter already starting to fail under the load," one user reports. "I'm not even getting the whale when it does."

7:33 a.m. PT: Another Twitter user says that Ustream.tv's live feed is holding up better than Hulu's.

7:35 a.m. PT: Loads of Twitter users are directing me to TweetGrid, another aggregation site. The TweetGrid app has created an inauguration-specific site, but it's already starting to periodically get downtime errors.

7:38 a.m. PT: What am I watching? I've found Ustream's coverage to be very stable.

7:46 a.m. PT: Dispatch from our wacky-news correspondent, Stephen Shankland: "A viral marketing stunt at its finest: Trident's site called Joe Biden's teeth. Upload your smiling photo and give them your address and they'll give you a pushpin on a Google maps mashup and send you some gum in 6 to 8 weeks."

7:47 a.m. PT: In case you're tired of whatever live stream you're watching, here's a very interesting article about how Obama's inauguration may be one of the biggest days for the Internet--literally.

7:51 a.m. PT: Just tried to load Paste Magazine's Web app "Obamicon Me," which stylizes any photo you give it to look like artist Shepard Fairey's now-iconic "HOPE" poster. The site's still up--but taking an awfully long time to load.

7:54 a.m. PT: Another inauguration aggregator: Twinauguration.com. I'm checking it out now.

7:56 a.m. PT: Somebody is aggregating inauguration-related posts to TwitPic, the mobile photo service that syncs to Twitter. TwitPic crashed when it was the source of the first close-up photo of last week's Hudson River plane crash: think it'll stay afloat during Inauguration Day?

8:01 a.m. PT: San Francisco counterculture blog Laughing Squid has linked to some Flickr photos detailing how pranksters changed every sign on the city's Bush St. to "Obama St."

8:05 a.m. PT: Lots of Twitterers have been talking about the fact that outgoing Vice President Dick Cheney is at the inauguration in a wheelchair after pulling a muscle in his back. We hope that Cheney makes a speedy recovery, but that hasn't stopped the Web's snarkmongerers from comparing the much-vilified vice president to the likes of the villainous Mr. Potter from It's A Wonderful Life and Dr. Evil from Austin Powers.

Meanwhile, I have the Joost feed from CBS running on one of my Firefox tabs, and the truth is that right now the media (professional or "social") seem to be doing little more than filling all that bandwidth space with babble. My greatest fear is that, when Obama finally delivers his Inaugural Address, he will have to contend with the momentum of all this babble.

John Cage used to tell stories about his studying Zen with Daisetz Teitaro Suzuki at Columbia University. My favorite of these stories concerns a lecture that Suzuki gave on how to attend a lecture. Suzuki began by stressing that the most important thing in attending a lecture was to avoid taking notes, the point being that you needed to focus on the lecture, rather than your efforts to compose notes about it. Cage realized that he was sitting next to a woman who was furiously scribbling away into her notebook. He gave her a polite nudge and whispered to her to ask if she had heard what Suzuki had just said about not taking notes. She suddenly froze her scribbling and frantically examined the page in front of her. Then she relaxed and replied to Cage, "You're right, I have it written down right here in my notes!"

This seems like the appropriate cautionary tale of the day for those who have become so obsessed with their social media that they feel they must always be transmitting something to somebody. We know from Obama's track record of oratory that the best way we can honor him, particularly on this historic day, will be to drop everything (including our texting devices) and listen. With any luck that listening will beget reflection; and that capacity for reflection may be more important than the new occupant of the Oval Office in getting this country out of its messes over the coming four years.

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