Self-Made Celebrities

Technology and social media have made possible an entirely new kind of celebrity.  Along with movie stars, and sports stars, and rappers, and singers, we’ve now got people who apparently are famous, at least among a segment of the population, for their YouTube videos or some other kind of social media presence.

africa-broadband-it-internet-technologyI’ve come to realize that there is an entirely unknown field of “personalities” when I’ve seen them as the subject of articles on the msn.com website, or the news stories that now pop up when I access the Google website on my phone.  One recent example was an article about the untimely death of somebody I’d never even heard of — a woman named Emily Hartridge, who was described as a popular YouTube personality for her video posts about herself and relationships.  And given the size of the internet and the different channels for social media communication, for every Emily Hartridge there are probably hundreds or thousands of other people who have become famous to their specific cadre of followers.

It’s an example of the how modern communications technology is more democratic and a lot more diverse.  You don’t necessarily need to be found by an agent or producer or record company executive to become famous these days.  Anyone who has a cellphone and a computer and something to say or something to show can take a shot at posting self-made videos and hope to carve out a niche for themselves and find an audience.  These days, people can become self-made celebrities.

It’s a step forward in some ways, but of course there are hazards, too.  How many videos out there espouse political views that contribute to the splintering of society?  How would the Hitlers of the past have used social media to disseminate their hateful ideologies?  And how many people, in their lust for self-made celebrityhood and “likes,” are tempted to film themselves doing dangerous things in hopes of attracting more followers and becoming one of those new personalities?  Just this week, a Chinese “vlogger” died while livestreaming himself drinking and eating poisonous geckos, centipedes, and mealworms in hopes of attracting new followers.  It’s hard to believe that any rational person could be so desperate and so reckless — but a personal tool as powerful as the internet and social media is bound to bring out the crazies, too.

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Emphasis Added

Anyone who does much writing will eventually confront the question of the best way to give emphasis to a particular word or phrase in what they have written.  Maybe it’s a desire to attach special significance to part of a quote, or a need to make absolutely sure that the reader doesn’t miss a central point — but the time will come where, to be on the safe side, emphasis must be added.

9154299_web1_171030-pan-m-alexander-browne-top-hat-1So, what’s the best way to emphasize the written word?  The basic options, currently, are using underlines, italics, or boldface.  Some people then use a combination of the three to give even more emphasis.  (Back when I first started working, in the days long before social media and texting, some people used all caps to provide emphasis.  Now the all-caps look is generally perceived by the reader as screaming, and there’s very little being written about that needs that much emphasis.  What you want is for the reader’s internal voice to “think” the word being emphasized just a bit louder than the rest of the text, and not have them mentally screaming like a character in a bad teen horror movie.)

My emphasis tastes vary depending on what I’m writing.  For blog entries like this one, I prefer to use italics to give a word that special nudge.  For legal briefs, however, where case names are italicized and section headings are in bold print, I tend to use simple underlining to emphasize specific text.  That way, there’s no mixing up the message.

And I don’t like using various combinations of bold, italics, and underlining to give extra-special emphasis to certain words or passages.  For one thing, I think random mixtures of “emphasis-adders” is confusing to the reader; it suggests that there is some emphasis hierarchy that the readers hasn’t been told about, which may leave them wondering about relative emphasis rather than concentrating on what is written.  (“Let’s see — is don’t supposed to get more emphasis than don’t, or is it the other way around?”)  And using multiple combinations for some words seems to devalue the words that merit only a single emphasizer.  I think emphasis-adders should be used sparingly, and if you’ve got to use combinations you’re probably overdoing emphasis to the point where the message is being lost.  You might want to think about editing your sentences to be shorter and clearer, instead.  Plus, the use of random combinations of emphasizers makes the printed page look messy, like a riotous fruit salad.

So, my rule of thumb on adding emphasis is to stick to one — and only one — technique, and to use it sparingly.  If you write clearly, you’ll be just fine with that.

10 Years Of Blogging

Today marks the tenth anniversary of the Webner House blog.  The blog was a Christmas gift from Richard during the Christmas of 2008, but it took a while before I steeled myself to write something.  The first posts appeared on February 1, 2009.

A lot has happened in the intervening years, both generally and in our little corner of the world, and we’ve written about some of it — whether it involves politics, movies, musics, art, food, TV shows, or places to take a vacation.  According to the WordPress statistics, 7,948 posts have been published during those 10 years, which comes out to a bit more than an average of two a day.  The postings are definitely a mixed bag.  We’ve shared family memories, tackled some of the issues of the day, vented about air travel woes and the perils of being a pedestrian, written some bad poetry, and presented a view of the world from the perspective of our dog Penny.

During the past 10 years, writing a blog post about something while I drink my coffee has become a cornerstone part of my morning routine and, as any regular reader of the blog probably knows, I’m definitely a creature of habit.  Writing the morning posts helps to get my brain moving and prepares me for the day to come.  The blog clearly been one of the best Christmas gifts I’ve ever received.  How many presents do you get to use on a daily basis over a 10-year span?

The WordPress stats also tell us that the blog has more than 4,000 followers, and during the last decade it’s had more than half a million different visitors, some of whom have left “likes” and comments.  We appreciate everybody who stops by and has a read — particularly the “regulars.”  Thank you for making the last 10 years more interesting!

 

Facebook Changes The Rules

For years, I’ve had our WebnerHouse blog set up so that when I published a post on the blog, it would automatically be posted on my Facebook page.  On August 1, however, Facebook changed the rules.  Effective on that date, third-party platforms like WordPress can no longer automatically post to Facebook pages.

Why did Facebook make that change, exactly?

b9-bWell, apparently because . . . it’s Facebook and it can do whatever the hell it wants.  One website posits that the change was made to respond to the Cambridge Analytica debacle and is part of an effort “to remove re-sharing functionality for many apps . . . in order to limit the activities of auto-posting spammers.”

So, apparently Facebook lumps the WebnerHouse blog in with other bot-driven junk that has been filling Facebook pages for years.  Hey, has Facebook actually read any of the WebnerHouse content?  If they had, they would know that no bot or artificial intelligence could possibly come up with the dreck that poor readers find on our family blog.  Really, it’s an insult to Russian bots, Chinese bots, and every other bot out there.

So now, if I want to put a post on Facebook, I’ve got to do it manually.  It’s a pain, to be sure, but I guess it’s worth it to protect those Facebook pages from the Great Bot and Spam Invasion.

Paging Professor UJ

Back when UJ used to write for this blog, he added a tag for “happiness” because he wrote a number of posts about it.  I regret to admit that, since UJ stopped his scrivening, it’s probably the least-used tag on the blog.  In fact, this post is likely the first one with a happiness tag in months, if not years.  I consider myself a happy person, but I just don’t write much it.

Apparently, Yale students also need help with happiness.  This semester Yale is offering Psych 157, a course called “Psychology and the Good Life.”  It tries to instruct students on how to be happier — and it has quickly become the most popular undergraduate course Yale has ever offered.  1,200 students, which is about 25 percent of the entire undergraduate student population, is taking the course.  The professor posits that Yale students are flocking to take the course because “they had to deprioritize their happiness to gain admission to the school” and in the process adopted “harmful life habits.”  If you read the article linked above, you’ll conclude that Yalies are a pretty sad, stressed bunch.

14344198_1067434466644984_673868475086152520_n copyWhen I was going to college, lack of happiness and “deprioritizing” personal happiness and fulfillment was not a problem.  If anything, Ohio State students of the ’70s tended to overprioritize their dedicated, incessant, deep-seated, Frodo Baggins-like quest for happiness.  The notion that fresh-faced students, still possessing the bloom of youth and newly freed from the constant supervision and irksome rules of Mom and Dad, need to take a college class to learn how to be happier would have been totally alien to the undergrads of my era.  And it’s really kind of depressing to think that, in any era, college students would need to sit in a lecture hall to get tips on how to be happier.  College must have become a grim, hellish place indeed!

But this is where UJ comes in.  He’s always got a happy grin on his face, a positive outlook, and a firm belief that “life is good.”  Sure, he’s retired, but his youthful attitude should allow him to connect with the legions of sad, beleaguered, put-upon Yalies who just don’t know where to find happiness in their soulless, barren college lives.

Hey, UJ!  Time to call that Psych 157 prof and offer a few pointers!

Attempting An Eclogue

For years, Kish has gotten a “word-a-day” calendar as a Christmas stocking stuffer.  The calendar gives you a word, its definition, and its pronunciation, and then uses the word in a sentence, like you’re the contestant in the national spelling bee.  It’s an interesting, relatively painless way to learn new words and build that personal vocabulary to ever more impressive heights, and occasionally — O, happy day! — the word is one you actually knew already.

afghan_shepherd_by_ironpaw1Sometimes, though, the words aren’t exactly easy to fit into everyday conversation.  On Monday, for example, the word was “eclogue.” What’s an eclogue (pronounced ek-log), you ask?  Why, it’s a poem in which shepherds converse, of course.  The sentence the calendar offers to illustrate its meaning is:  “The poet’s new volume offers modern translations of Virgil’s eclogues.”  Even at an erudite workplace like mine, it’s hard to imagine a discussion where you could smoothly use “eclogue.”

Although I can’t see ever using the word in actual conversation, and therefore am likely to promptly forget it, I thought it might be fun to try to write an eclogue, just to give ol’ Virgil a little competition.

A Brief Eclogue

Far out yonder, on grassy plain

Where sheep did graze, were shepherds twain

As they silently did walk

One shepherd felt the need to talk.

Said Shepherd One to Shepherd Two:

“It’s time for dinner.  I brought stew.

The sheep all graze o’er by the lake.

No wolf in sight.  Let’s take a break!”

Said Shepherd Two to Shepherd One:

“I’m sad to say that I’ve brought none.

I’ve got no food, but none the worse.

Let’s use our break, then, to converse.”

Said Shepherd One to Shepherd Two:

“I’d start, but I don’t have a clue

What we’d discuss, or what I’d say.

I’ve been out tending sheep all day.”

Said Shepherd Two to Shepherd One:

“There’s nothing new under the sun.

And what is new I won’t discuss.

Clinton and Trump just make me cuss!”

So shepherds two sat ‘neath a tree

And watched as sheep grazed peacefully

It wasn’t much of an eclogue

But ’twas enough to fill this blog.

400,000+

Sometime in the last day or so the WordPress stats page advised us that the Webner House blog hit one of those even-number milestones that human beings tend to find worthy of note.  We’ve now passed more than 400,000 individual views of this humble little blog in our remote corner of the internet.

That’s not a big number when you consider Webner House has been chugging along on a pretty much daily basis for more than 7 years, with precisely 6,442 rants, screeds, sad announcements, photos, Penny Chronicles, bad poems, clumsy attempts at humor, and other posts during that time period — 6,443, as soon as I hit “publish” on this self-congratulatory bit of tripe.

400,000 views over a period spanning almost the entire Obama presidency is a paltry number by internet standards.  The Drudge Report and MSN, for example, get 1 billion hits in a single month.  At our current pace, we would reach one billion hits in a little over 18,125 years.  It’s a worthy goal.

400000-miles-1When I saw we hit 400,000 views, I searched Google for photos representing 400,000.  There are a lot of pictures of odometers hitting 400,000, and when I thought about it I realized that our family blog is a lot like an old, dependable car.  Vehicles that make it to 400,000 miles aren’t the flashy, expensive cars that men buy when they’re experiencing mid-life crises.  No, vehicles that make it to 400,000 miles are the basic, everyday sources of family or work transportation that have suffered some battle scars during their years of service.  They are the battered pick-up truck, or the dented station wagon with the scratch on the side, or the Honda Accord that still has a faint but familiar sour smell after one of your kids spilled milk in the back seat years ago on a hot summer day and didn’t tell you until you got back into the car and the spoiled smell made you want to gag, but you really liked the reliability of the car so much that you scrubbed the back seat and aired it out and used air freshener and took it to the car wash for a shampoo and couldn’t quite completely eliminate the smell, but decided you were willing to live with it.

This blog is kind of like that car for me.