Signal to Noise

Note: Originally written August 7, 2009, this post was held back and not published until March 31, 2010. This post serves as a companion to “Compartmentalization,” written that day.


The amount of a) material I write in this blog but don’t post, and b) material I want to write but never get around to, really reminds me of a pathetic and mute cartoon character: mouth agape, index finger in the air to call attention to himself, and then… nothing. I would love to change this. (There are at least five unpublished bits since my entry two weeks ago.)

One: Face it: the Internet is full of noise.

Facebook is the equivalent of being stuck in a friend’s vacation slideshow,” wrote a Columbia Missourian columnist. A New York Times column lamented the loss of serendipity and the rise of group-think: “…there is just too much information. We can have thousands of people sending us suggestions each day — some useful, some not. We have to read them, sort them and act upon them.”

Adding to that noise — at least, I see it as noise — doesn’t seem productive in the least.

Two: The more time I spend on Twitter and Facebook, the more I get the impression that inconsequential minutiae is all we’re allowed to speak of on the Internet anymore. All we do is add to the noise.

Most of what I see on social networks and blogs these days can be categorized into:

  1. Sharing news or entertainment via group-think. (Re-tweets, link roundups, Internet memes.)
  2. Self-promotion. (Being extra friendly, helpful, professional. Pimping out your latest blog post, photo gallery,
  3. Minutiae. (“I picked the wrong week to go to western Washington in a car without A/C.”)

Three: Who can actually be honest and “open” these days — especially online? We’ve got jobs and professional images to keep clean. We add to the noise because that’s the only thing we’re allowed to do.

A handful of times over the past week, I’ve noticed posts in the blogs of Mizzou-folk I follow, that either mention or play the “foot-in-mouth” card. It’s a real recurring theme. (1, 2, and 3: “My take? No comment. A smart intern knows when to keep her mouth shut!”)

This makes a lot of sense: company policies will prevent us from speaking about or on behalf of employers. Friends don’t necessarily want their doings told to all. That’s fine, that’s acceptable. I am not saying that you should disregard the authority of your employer or break the trust of your friends and start blogging every juicy detail that comes your way. You have to be able to follow the rules and the bounds of social normalcy to get anywhere in this world.

Clive Thompson wrote about the fear of information in this month’s issue of Wired: “We live with a nagging fear that something we say or do online will come back to haunt us years later[…]And society suffers when people stop taking risks.”

In seeing all of those foot-in-mouth statements of anxiety — because if you weren’t even somewhat anxious about the restrictions on your speech, I don”t believe you”d make a point of snidely acknowledging it — I wondered: if we’re so scared of what we say that all we amount to is minutiae, what’s all this for, anyway? Do we really need this limitless store of information (a.k.a. the Internet) and do we really need to be tuned in to every whim of those “connected” to us?

Technically, okay, this blog is here to “sell myself” to you, reader and/or (possibly prospective) acquaintance/friend and/or (possibly prospective) employer. (By the way, have you checked out my portfolio and mini-bio? Good. Glad that’s out of the way.) But I believe the “magic” that I once felt in blogging (and actually getting feedback) way back in the day (before I went mute) lies in the fact that when I used to write here, I wrote for me, and not for some “higher” goal of self-image or promotion.

It’s funny how much that’s changed and how much fear has crept into that part of my process.