Category Archives: writing

the sunk costs of twitter

In economics, a “sunk cost” is a cost that has already occurred and can’t be recovered. Twitter has a significant sunk cost aspect, if you use it the way I do.

For me, Twitter is primarily a recommendation engine; I go there to find things I wouldn’t otherwise know about that interest me, and that are worth spending some of my very limited time on. In order to add value to Twitter, I retweet some things.

Now I assume that most people who retweet items do so after a quick scan, not a thorough read or listen or watch. That’s the central tendency, the natural order of Twitter. But I’m not willing to do that – I know how little time I have, and I too often have the disappointing experience of starting an article or podcast that has promise, but falls apart before it’s over.

So before I retweet something I read it or listen to it (or rarely, watch it) in its entirety, which severely limits my output and which also has a conflict of interest built in. If I spend 20 minutes or half an hour reading through a lengthy piece, it’s hard to decide it’s not worth passing on. After all, I just put a lot of effort into it, and which also means I didn’t read or listen to something else. On the other side of the equation, I suppose, is the knowledge that I’m holding the line on the reliability of my Twitter feed. But Twitter – done this way – isn’t “bite-sized” or “snackable” or whatever cliches are used to describe it. It’s work.

(Yes, I know this is all old hat. Yes, I know Twitter’s limitations have been endlessly rehearsed. I think how you use it is still an issue.)

on not writing

There is a sad reflex among blogs as they die in which the author, not having posted for three or six months, makes some apologetic noises and promises to do better.

That’s usually followed by an entry or two, then a longer, more final silence.

From what I’ve seen, many of these blogs had pretty good runs before they hit the skids; there’s usually a year or two of steady work, followed by some months of sporadic posting, followed by the above. Which is to say, they aren’t examples of failure to launch – the people who put up six entries and run out of things to say don’t generally bother to apologize – and blogs that gets past year two or three are apt to keep going.

So this is not that note, but writing here has been oddly difficult for the last several months. That’s not a lack of interest in the world; if anything, I’ve read more – and more deeply – lately. The Soviet Union has caught my attention, as has, belatedly, the Iraq war. I’m poking at climate change, though for all that’s written I have yet to find a book that works for me. And I’m drawn as always to the history of technology.

But writing is another matter; I follow the race for President closely but there is so much written about it every day – and then so much written about what’s written and so much written about that, a pile-up of self-referential stuff – I have nothing new to add. Trump and Clinton exhaust me, though like everyone else, I can’t look away.

I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about cell phones and writing about the minutiae of the ones I use, and that’s fine – I think the FM radio business is a real issue – but the topic has its limits. I have not noted (until now) that the Moto E I enjoy so thoroughly died an unceremonious death 10 days back. For no particular reason, the speaker made a loud buzzing noise and quit. It’s at Motorola for repair/replacement now. Motorola will likely just send me a new one, and then I’ll have to beg Verizon to waive $30 in activation fees. It’s a hassle, but I don’t think it means anything; there’s no larger lesson to be extracted from it, not even “It’s a $29 phone.”

In honor of my 60th birthday, our daughter delivered a set of Sonos Play:1 speakers to me, which I have now set up as a stereo pair in the family room. For the moment, they’re on top of my regular stereo, and I’m not sure how to handle my very, very large collection of CDs, but I can see the day when I get rid of most of the stuff under the TV and just go with the paired Sonos for listening. They’re that good. I got a three month trial to Spotify, and am impressed by the depth and breadth of the thing. But I think it’s a terrible deal for musicians, and don’t know how to resolve that.

So, writing. If I had to describe what stops me before I start it would be – I’m tired of the sound of my own voice. The cure for me traditionally has been to get very, very interested in something or things outside of my own head, and get the itch to talk about it. (Hence the title of this blog.)  My current reading gets me part way, but only part way, there. I may read two or three more books about the Cold War or the run up to World War II and be well satisfied, but have nothing to add.

Meantime, I fashion little bursts of words and am going on the assumption that at some point the wheel turns, the gears click and there’s more where this came from. I’m reading Neil Gaiman’s “View From The Cheap Seats,” which is a collection of non-fiction, much of it about writing and writers, and it helps. Gaiman reminds me this is work, and that the simple truth, as always, is that writers…write. (Except Douglas Adams, but that’s a different story.)