altivo: 'Tivo as a plush toy (Miktar's plushie)
[personal profile] altivo
Yeah, it's been a while since I've posted here. This is going to get longish, I suspect, so...

I awakened this morning an hour earlier than usual. That may not seem like a big deal except that I normally wake at 5:00 am, quite a lot earlier than many of you who may chance to read this. The reason? Well, on a purely physical level it may have been induced by the fact that I attended an Audubon lecture on the Passenger pigeon and the wider implications for human impact on ecology. The timing of the meeting meant that I ate much later than usual and went to bed at midnight instead of 10:30 pm. So all of this may be just "a bit of undigested cheese or a blob of mustard" (sorry Mr. Dickens.)

Anyway, I awakened feeling too warm and with a feeling of incipient acid indigestion, but also came from a complex and vivid dream-state that left me thinking too hard to go back to sleep.

The dream, summarized as briefly as possible, involved my participation in a group of five people, presumably graduate students, under the auspices of a Canadian university (I want to say it was McGill but I don't know why in particular) and we were compiling and interpreting statistics about various fandoms, including not only the nature of their participants but how they come into existence and why they fade after running through a course of stages. We were trying to identify those stages, and ultimately, to predict topics that were likely to engender large fandoms, and how long each fandom would last.

Mind, all of this may well have been done already. I'm not really a sociologist nor am I a statistician. I think I was included in the panel simply because I am older than the typical grad student and have a long and detailed memory of events covering my lifetime. The fandoms being examined included Science Fiction, Folk Music, and the peculiar merging of the two to form what is commonly called Filk Music, as well as Tolkien Fandom, C.S. Lewis Fandom, Star Trek, Animé, Furry Fandom, and a relative newcomer, MLP Fandom (the Bronies, as they are called.)

A lot of our discussions and investigations looked at the usual statistical elements, such as age, gender, educational background, cultural background, and so forth. It all was pretty dry stuff, and not too revealing except for certain patterns which I think are fairly obvious including the age distribution of participants. My observation was that fandoms, just like the people who make them up, do grow old. They change as they age, and the changes are partly a result of aging participants. Furry and MLP are presently "young" fandoms, both in terms of the number of years they have been active and visible and in the age distribution of their members. Science Fiction literature and Tolkien are now aging, though they do it gracefully for the most part.

This is an oddly academic dream setting for me. If I dream this stuff often, I don't usually wake up with any memory of it. Anyway, at the point of waking, the members of our little group had decided to nominate one of ourselves as the "Chief Fan" among us, the one with the most personal experience of involvement in fan movements. There were three women and two men in the group, myself included. I was by far the oldest, while the youngest was one of the women who was in her early twenties probably. As soon as the topic came up, I knew I'd be the "victim" in the end.

This youngest woman (none of the others were actual people I know in real life, fortunately) was the first to point to me as the obvious choice. She listed reasons including the fact that I openly admitted to having been an avid reader of science fiction, a follower of Star Trek, an active furry who wrote fiction and owned fursuits, and "worst of all" as she put it, one of "those devotees of The Hobbit and the girl who wrote and published it." (Guilty on all counts, I guess, as well as others, such as Dr Who, though only in its original incarnation in the days of Jon Pertwee and Tom Baker. I don't like the current revival productions at all. For some reason, Dr Who was not on the list of fandoms being examined in any case.)

My immediate reaction to the "charges" was to say "Now I do feel old." Then I went on to point out her sexist assumption that Tolkien must be a woman based on the nature of his subject matter. My criticism bounced right off her. She couldn't see the underlying error in her viewpoint on the matter, despite the fact that all the fandoms we were looking at contain elements of gender crossover and iconoclasm. Of course in the discussion it also came out that she had never actually read any Tolkien, and her awareness of his material was largely based on the fact that she had seen part one of the current film series based on The Hobbit.

This is where I woke up. I think now, looking at it in retrospect, the whole dream was inspired by the passenger pigeon lecture combined with recent urgings by a friend that I write about my perceptions of Furry Fandom.

My entire life has revolved around reading, writing, and literacy in general. I'm a librarian, a perpetual scholar, a bibliophile, a writer. Over the last century or two, the level of general literacy and daily reading of any sort may well have peaked and begun to decline in our world. Compared to past eons, and looking at all human cultures for which we have information, the skill and practice of reading came to an all time high during the 20th century. A number of long-running statistical collections at least suggest that this has begun to decline at least in English speaking countries, and it looks like the decline began after World War II and really gained impetus as technology increased. The growth of the internet, which is hailed by some as the salvation of literacy, seems to me to rather be a death knell. A late colleague of mine, who was an astute and very capable academic librarian, predicted this as early as 1994. She said that the internet, which had only just spawned the world-wide web and the web browser at that time, would inevitably become a commercial channel for the distribution of video entertainment and advertising. Furthermore, those particular modes would dominate and saturate the bandwidth, drowning out the literary and scholarly elements of the net's origin. Alas, Mary, I think you were right. And I'm sorry you aren't still around to laugh at me and say "I told you so." She called it the "movies on demand" future of the internet, and today that's what we have. The many burgeoning textual communication modes, such as blogging, online publishing, and social media of all sorts that were born in the internet's vast expansion to the public in those two decades are now contracting into relatively few active streams of content, and most of those are saturated with cute photos of cats and dogs and inane links to video clips (often presented without any comment at all, just an anonymous link.) Written communication is withering even though it had expanded into what appeared to be an endless fertile field, simply because it has been drowned out by the sheer volume of multimedia glitz. The signal to noise ratio is shrinking rapidly these days.

And what of fandoms and passenger pigeons? The "old" fandoms, including science fiction, Tolkien, and similar topics, are fading. Their participants are aging, and the material on which they have thrived is less prolific now. The "new" fandoms, including MLP and furry, are based not on the written word, but on film, video, and representational artwork. This alone might not be so bad, but for one thing. Content transmission in these visual modes is slower and less precise. It comes across more as broad generalities and sweeping strokes of a brush, where the written word can be intensely detailed and thought provoking.

Next year is the 100th anniversary of the extinction of the passenger pigeon. The last living individual of the species, a female called "Martha," died in the Cincinnati Zoo in 1914. Just 50 years earlier, the skies of North America were regularly darkened by the passing of millions of these birds in huge flocks, but the activities of humans erased the entire species from existence in just five decades.

And I'm awake in the wee hours writing this because I feel the same pressure and fear the darkness closing in as human communication and interaction shifts away from the written word to the extravagance and imprecision of visual media.

And that's why I suddenly feel ancient, like that last passenger pigeon trapped in her octagonal cage, waiting for the return of her flock that never comes while children fling bits of gravel at her to make her move around and be less "boring."

Date: 2013-11-15 01:14 pm (UTC)
avon_deer: (Default)
From: [personal profile] avon_deer
Very introspective post. I am sorry you feel this down about this. :(

Date: 2013-11-15 01:26 pm (UTC)
schnee: (Default)
From: [personal profile] schnee
I think both you and your late friend are making at least two cardinal mistakes in your analysis of the Internet, specifically regarding textual vs. audio-visual content.

The first is that there is no adversity between the two. What's good for one isn't automatically bad for the other; when one thrives, the other doesn't necessarily wither. They're not competing; rather, they're filling different niches and different roles, and ideally they're augmenting each other.

The second is that you assume that the written word is in some sense good, whereas as pictures (still or moving) are in the same sense bad, or at least worse. I see no justification for this: it's an oft-repeated mantra that literacy is good, but while I agree with that, I don't think you can turn it on its head and claim that a shift away from the written words towards other forms of expression automatically signals (or, worse, causes!) a decline in — well, whatever it is that literacy is held to support.

I also have a gut feeling that your condemnation of visual media is not uniform, although I may be wrong about this: would you condemn museums with the same fervor as online image galleries? If not, why not? Do keep in mind that far from all images online are cat macros, just like far from all paintings in museums are Dutch masters. (Nevermind the fact that whether contemporary art can be compared at all to historic art in terms of cultural significance is debatable at best, anyway. Images on the Internet, by and large, serve such a radically different purpose as to be impossible to compare to historic art in museums.)

That said, I also think you're simply wrong when you claim that the Internet is leading or already has led to a decline in the importance of the written word. The opposite is true; people are writing more than ever. Whether it's emails, blogs/social media posts, comments, articles, thoughts, essays, fiction or whatever else have you, people are writing more than ever.

Sure, a lot of it is hardly worthwhile. But it would be naive to expect anything else: people are people, after all. There's all sorts, and there'll always be; obviously not everyone can be of above-average intelligence or insight. But it's there. You'll have to open your eyes and look for it, and you'll have to open your mind and not reject it out of hand when you see it. But give it a chance, and you'll find that the written word is very much thriving.

Finally, you're expressing concern that audio-visual content will somehow "drown out" the written word, perhaps due to its lower barrier of consumption: it takes much less mental effort and dedication to watch a 2-minute video clip than to read a 20-page short story, after all (and with the former, you'll likely know whether you'll like it after 30 seconds, something that cannot be said about the latter). There is some merit to this, but I'll counter that, again, people are people and will always be: they'll consume what they enjoy, not what anyone thinks they should consume.

And I'll also say that if the written word can only survive as long as alternatives are kept scarce, then that's a strong condemnation of its relative value as such.

I imagine you'll disagree with much, if not most, of this, but I personally see no reason for doom and gloom.

Date: 2013-11-15 05:41 pm (UTC)
schnee: (Default)
From: [personal profile] schnee
As an addendum, BTW, I hope what I wrote above doesn't come across as overly contrarian; it certainly isn't intended as such. I understand and respect how you feel, and I sympathize, no matter whether I may agree or disagree on other matters.

Date: 2013-11-15 04:19 pm (UTC)
moonhare: (faunus)
From: [personal profile] moonhare
And that's why I suddenly feel ancient...

Ack! I've been feeling bad enough myself, lately. Now I see that the light at the end of the tunnel is a Clydesdale bent over a book and reading by a kerosene lamp ;o)

But seriously, I do empathize with your POV, if for no other reason than I'm a damned sentimentalist and get caught up in how things were as well as where they seem to be going. On those few occasions I fire up the elder pc's, I look through the bookmarked pages and realize that clicking them will produce nothing but 404s.

She said that the internet, which had only just spawned the world-wide web and the web browser at that time, would inevitably become a commercial channel for the distribution of video entertainment and advertising

The Information Highway! I remember when... sites were testing users and asking if a few commercials would be a burden if users were given cheaper or free internet services. That went the way cable did. Why do I pay for all these damned commercials?

Date: 2013-11-15 05:09 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] dakhun.livejournal.com
Non-tldr version:

You've moved on to mainly hanging out on Twitter, and that ultra-LCD subset of the Internet is now colouring your perceptions of the whole.

Additional observation:

Also, you curiously equate MLP fandom in terms of longevity with science fiction, even though single-show fandoms don't last more than 3 years beyond the cancellation of their show.

Date: 2013-11-15 06:52 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] dakhun.livejournal.com
You didn't pair MLP with sci-fi directly, but you didn't need to pair them in order to imply they were on the same level, because you mentioned them repeatedly but never said anything that put MLP fandom on a lower level. But pairing MLP and Furry is just as absurd, so if it helps you to see my point replace "science fiction" with "Furry" in my original comment, and read it again: same thing. Check back in a few years, and I know you will agree with me then even if you don't now.

I think you may need to take some of your own advice, and not "take the first Google link" so to speak and look a little deeper. There is much more actual signal on the Internet nowadays than there ever was before. In particular, there is a HUGE and obvious increase in the amount of scientific knowledge that is available online now compared to 10 years ago. There has also been a disconcerting explosion in the amount of noise. But that's where the skill to do actual research and look deeper than the surface comes in... It always comes down to skills and intelligence - those who have more, will get more out of anything they do, including the Internet. Great equalizer, it is not. I know you possess those skills, and as a librarian, you are well-positioned to be teaching and passing those skills on to others. Even though the quality of education may have seen real declines in the USA, keep in mind that real education does not end at some arbitrary point. It continues for a lifetime.

Date: 2013-11-15 08:06 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] dakhun.livejournal.com
On the internet, as in politics, the loudest voice with the largest financial backing seems to get the most attention, regardless of factual accuracy or depth of vision.

I don't disagree at all. I'm just saying that maybe it isn't worth getting too distracted with the fact that the average byte on the Internet is declining in quality. In a way, it benefits anyone who can discriminate between signal and noise.

I suppose it is inevitable that the signal-to-noise ratio will continue to decline until absolutely everyone gets on the Internet. After that, then the S/N might rebound slightly, but it depends on a key cultural phenomenon: whether people in the near future will value signal more or whether they will value noise more. It'd be too easy to say that the trend will continue, because trends do reverse from time to time.

Date: 2013-11-16 07:55 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] dakhun.livejournal.com
I may be more visible on Twitter,

Uh yeah, Understatement City! Right down town, next to Understatement City Hall.
19,816 tweets

I think you ARE basing your pessimistic outlook on the places you hang out. How could you not be? I wouldn't touch Twitter with a ten foot pole, and I have a far better opinion of the Internet than you do. Is it any wonder why?

Date: 2014-02-06 02:29 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] dakhun.livejournal.com
OK, I give up. You win.
I have joined Twitter. :-P
@catameep


...because @dakhun was already taken.

Date: 2013-11-16 01:34 am (UTC)
ext_185737: (Default)
From: [identity profile] corelog.livejournal.com
I have often noticed that my vocabulary is significantly larger than that of my peers. At least three times a week (if not more), I come out with a new word or phrase that nobody there has ever heard. For example, "if wishes were horses." But nobody had ever heard the full phrase, and so the meaning was lost to them until I added the second part.

Never have I really understood all the reasons why this is so. Sometimes (in a fit of arrogance), I think it must be because I am more intelligent. Other times, I think it is because I have a better memory for such things. But other times, I think back and realize just how much time I spent reading. All the days I spent reading non-fiction, that attuned me to the physical world and, more importantly, to the history of humanity. And then, when the switch was made, all the days I spent reading fiction, that fired my imagination and turned my attention outwards to the wonder and endless complications of interacting with those around me.

I enjoy Lewis and Tolkien both. I have read the books from cover to cover. I enjoy Star Trek and (to a lesser degree) Star Wars. I have read many of those books also from cover to cover. I am not huge on anime, but I have noted some productions that highly pique my interest (Naruto, Digimon, Persona 4, Cowboy Bebop, even Avatar and Legend of Korra if one could class those as anime-type productions). And of course, I am a furry. (But most emphatically NOT a Brony.)

Perhaps the future is not as dim as you imagine. It's true, there are many people who are not quite as "literate" as in the older days. But there are still many of us who delight in the written word. Not for no reason has RainFurrest become the premier destination for writers in the furry world. It is one of the things we do best. We write, and we read.

The massed flocks may never fly again to darken the skies, but there are still bands that travel through the lesser-seen paths of the Internet. :) And I suspect there always will be.

Date: 2013-11-16 02:55 am (UTC)
ext_185737: (Default)
From: [identity profile] corelog.livejournal.com
Ha, yes, I'm sure our dances are getting quite well-known, too. :P

But we've started having so many book launches that we have to move them to their own room instead of having them in the sponsor/patron lounge. Apparently we had 40-50 people for each one, too. I've also noted some writers on SoFurry mentioning that they were going to RF specifically for the writing stuff, and Lord knows we've put a lot of emphasis on that.

I did get a laugh out of the anthology we published this year. Both my real name and furry name were listed as two separate editors / proofreaders! (Which, by the way, was a very annoying job. You'd think that writers would at least have the common sense to use a spell-check of some sort, and not confuse words like their, there, and they're. Or affect and effect. Or peek and pique!)

Incidentally, I notice you don't seem to be posting anything for NaNoWriMo this year. Are you not participating? Certainly you haven't mentioned anything about the material I've been posting, though I'm not sure if that's because it's just not your cup of tea, or whether you're not reading any more, or whether you just don't want to dampen my immature enthusiasm for posting nonsensical drivel. :)

Date: 2013-11-16 03:28 am (UTC)
ext_185737: (Default)
From: [identity profile] corelog.livejournal.com
Oh goodness, no. I wouldn't post on SoFurry. :P I'm not nearly good enough for that. No, I've been posting to my journal. It's friends-locked, but both your LJ accounts and both your DW accounts have access.

It's good to hear that you're enjoying the music, and still writing too! Even if you're not actively doing NaNo or noising your writing about. :) Sorry to hear about FurRag--I know you were active there.

Date: 2013-11-16 04:18 am (UTC)
ext_238564: (Default)
From: [identity profile] songdogmi.livejournal.com
There are a few conversational jumping-off points in your post, so I'll just pick one. I've never been "old" before (ok, arguably I'm not quite there yet, even), and I don't really know how it's supposed to feel. I've been bothered on an existential level by seeing the things I appreciate or value now avoided by people coming up behind me as they find new things to like or value. The older we get, the more people younger than us come along. Soon the balance tips, and one starts to feel out of place, due to no fault of anyone's, really.

When I go to folk concerts, I'm usually struck by how gray the hair of my fellow audience members is. It seems the average age there is at least the same as mine if not a little higher. It's not like the venue is trying to exclude young people, but they just tend to go somewhere else, I guess. Which is OK, except the gray-haired audience will start to dwindle, and the numbers may eventually not support having a concert series. I'll probably still want one; it'll suck to be me, I guess. Meanwhile, younger folks than I have the concerts or events they go to, which may or may not have the depth or "content" I'm looking for. And as as if to rub it in, we'll hear about it endlessly, as the marketing will be all to those people and not to us.

I guess I don't know what to do about that. I try to listen to new music and find what I like, and there is a lot. Still, I feel as if the world is leaving me behind, and I'm resentful because it's a very fine world, dammit! Who could want a better one?

That doesn't really address the possible loss of intellectual depth as fewer people read. I worry about that sort of thing a lot, myself.

Date: 2013-11-17 05:55 am (UTC)
sabbath_silverclaw: made by a friend on LJ. (Default)
From: [personal profile] sabbath_silverclaw
Long time no see, my friend.

Your post makes a lot of sense. You know, I believe your friend is correct. The internet is the death toll for many things; primarily writing and communication in general. Proper grammar and writing is on the decline. People do not put pen to paper anymore, they send a text in horribly abbreviated text. Most barely talk on the phone because of the ability to text someone.

Those of us born when the computer was young or just an idea know what it is like to write a thank you letter to grandmom or calling your parents to let them know where you are. Those days are long gone because we can track our kids anywhere. Why? Because they visit their friends over the internet or via game systems.

Sorry if I rambled and sounded 'angry' but it isn't. :)

Date: 2013-12-14 10:13 am (UTC)
schnee: (Default)
From: [personal profile] schnee
BTW, happy birthday! :)

Date: 2013-12-21 12:19 am (UTC)
songcoyote: (Default)
From: [personal profile] songcoyote
Hello, Handsome Horse.

I miss you.

Seeing this long and melancholy post was saddening, but I strive to find strength in it. I, too, lament the seeming decline of written language as something revered and lovingly managed and appreciated. Texting, and especially Tweeting, seem to require a simplification of thought that I find disturbing, and a mangling of language that occasionally leaves me rather disgruntled, among other interesting words.

And yet... within one of my favorite recent fandoms, MLP, there is a thriving community of writers. Hundreds of thousands of words per month are assembled and peer reviewed, and some of what's created is truly amazing. It was imagery and videos that got me into the fandom, but beyond the show itself it's the writing that had made me love it. I've even written a story of my own and am co-writing two others as well as providing writing advice to new and even experienced writers.

There are probably good furry fic sites out there too, though I'm too steeped in the one I'm in now (FimFiction.net, if you're curious) along with the rest of my busy life to seek them out. Perhaps you already know of them better than I, given some of your activities.

But I only mentioned that as an offering of hope, a spark of light against what sounded like a rather shadowy mood. Most of all what I want is to see you smile - which I never have, except in photographs, but have imagined many times while reading your words. And I have smiled, too, just from knowing you and appreciating that you exist.

Drop me a line some time. You can still find me at SongCoyote at yahoo, and I still adore you. I hope you have a wonderful Yule (or whatever celebration of the season you choose to name, if any) and that the coming year is a good one for you, your mate, and for all of us.

Peace be with you, my friend, and know always that you are loved.

Light and laughter,
SongCoyote

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