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Columnist Eugene Robinson discussed the Supreme Court’s ruling on affirmative action.

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Posted at 07:58 AM ET, 07/19/2012

Twitter and tomatoes: Feel the tension

I need to get out more. I’ve always needed to get out more, but lately I’ve needed to get out more more. If that makes sense.

People keep making reference to cultural memes about which I have not even a passing acquaintance. Never mind the chatter about pop stars and celebrities and the latest hot HBO series — I’m not even up on what’s happening in the subject areas with which I’m supposedly intimately familiar, such as astronomy, professional football and heirloom tomatoes. It’s always bad when you feel like you’re failing at gardening. When hobbies go downhill, what’s next, other than oblivion? Not to be overly dramatic, but I feel like I’m even losing the ability to putter around.

Partly this is the natural aging process and the ossification of the mind. It’s normal and natural to have various parts of your brain become stuck in the past — my hippocampus, for example, thinks Hee Haw is still on television — but I’m worried that even my most up-to-date brain systems, the ones in the frontal cortex, haven’t made it out of the 1990s and are still irrationally anxious about Y2K.

Which brings up Twitter. I have started twittering because it’s a useful self-promotion tool and is, for me, the equivalent of the old AP machine that sat in the corner of my college newspaper’s office, back when we had manual typewriters and literally would cut and paste our stories together. We would know that some big news had just hit the wires when the machine sent out a ding-ding-ding alarm to supplement the usual whacketa-whacketa-whacketa. That’s Twitter for me: A wire service, with some wry comments and jokes and lots of PR thrown in the mix. My Twitter feed includes many people who can tell me within seconds exactly what 37 other Twitter people can also tell me within seconds.

But the mere fact that I’m on Twitter makes me suspect that it’s a dying platform. I’m still getting a fair bit of my daily information from the moss on the trees, and various sundials around town. I still sit on my porch hoping to hear a bulletin from a town crier. So my presence on Twitter surely is some kind of death knell. Meanwhile the really digital people talking about these other platforms, such as Pinterest, and Reddit, and Tumblr. Do I have to learn how to deal with these things too?

I just want to write a few decent sentences every day.

And I like newspapers. Surely newspapers still have virtue, still arrange the news in a fashion that embeds information simply via layout and font, still packages it all in multiple sections easily manipulated if you can just get the hang of folding the pages back without elbowing the guy sitting next to you on the Metro.

Change is hard. I’m reading “Too Big to Know,” by David Weinberger, which traces the radical change that the Internet has had on information, news, science, authority, reason, Truth, consensus and civility. In the old days there were gatekeepers. Print publication served as one of the primary filters of information. Paper costs money, and there are limits to shelf space, and librarians require salaries, and libraries cost a lot of money to build. The Internet, however, is free and infinite. There is no gatekeeper at the portal. The Internet has various means of elevating the best information, but the dross is still out there. Echo chambers form. The Internet simultaneously is making us smarter and dumber, it seems.

Weinberger stresses that knowledge now emerges from networks. The smartest person in the room, he says, is the room itself. Even the prestigious science journals are creating open-access online versions. This world is more transparent and less hierarchical. It’s more democratic but messier.

What shocks me about all this is how quickly it is happening. It’s explosive.

It’s a good time to be resilient and adaptive. Though sometimes I think surrender is an option, too. Let others handle it from here on out.

That would leave more time for gardening. Next year my tomato crop could be sensational.

By  |  07:58 AM ET, 07/19/2012

 
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