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Programming Note: A Name Change
Rebuilding for purpose
Hello! You may not recognize the name of this newsletter. It was once “It Started With A Tweet” but I’m getting increasingly sick of Twitter (in case that wasn’t clear in the previous newsletter) and the idea of tying any part of my online identity to it feels bad. So I felt a rename of the newsletter is in order.
This newsletter is now Schizochronotopia, which I’m sure is just as hard to remember how to type as the last long name I gave my newsletter, but at least it has a nice domain attached to it. I’ve tried to shift some of the colors around as well. I think I’ve kept it accessible visually, but if it isn’t, let me know.
With my output on Twitter likely to go down, the type of stuff I like to talk about there is going to end up more and more on there. So I picked a name that, in more ways than one, reflects this new focus.
The first is the connection to my Twitter username, I think that is fitting. The second way the name reflects what I want to do more of here is a little more complicated.
You may not realize this but once upon a time I was an English major in college and a pretty big fan of all types of literary analysis. I was then, and still am, very interested in media literacy, deep reading, and contrasting the results of different types of analysis. My Twitter username “Chronotope” came about during this time. I was working heavily in the digital humanities space and thought that it would be a fun reference that a few people would get and the rest would just think it sounded sort of cool. You know… internet username thinking.
It has been a long time since writing deep literary analysis was a regular occurrence for me, so hopefully in trying to explain this I won’t sound like too much of an idiot or get it incredibly wrong. Chronotope is a concept from Russian literary theorist Mikhail Bakhtin who originally used it as part of an analysis of literature which centered around the idea that time and space metaphorically fuse to create concepts that are similar to genre. These are chronotopes which can be used to define a story even if the timespace is outside of the borders of the exact story being told. To steal and summarize the Wikipedia article on this, the timespace of “the road” is something that mediates stories, connects them, and allows them to be interpreted in relation to each other and in relation to the concept. Chronotopes are fusions of specific spaces and times from which narratives originate.
This was particularly appealing to me when I wrote my first Tweet because my focus at the time was thinking about stories and specifically how to read and tell them using technology.
From there I ended up on an unexpected path, the goal was to figure out ways to tell stories using technology, and I ended up a copy editor, a journalist and then a web engineer because I kept chasing this concept: what can we do to enable better storytelling with technology? I suspect I’m not the only one.
Eventually, I found out that the biggest problem that we needed to overcome was advertising, or more specifically: how to make money writing on the internet. That’s how I ended up working on ad tech and discovering that it was and continues to be a huge disaster. I kept chasing the biggest problem for telling stories on the internet and it turned out the biggest problem was that no one could make money doing it.
Monetization of written content (and perhaps all types of content) is fundamentally broken. And that problem causes all these other problems: fraud, misinformation, terrible media businesses, bad coverage decisions, bad US presidents, bad laws, bad companies, and quite a stack of additional problems that I suspect we’ll dig into in future newsletters.
Schizochronotopia is also a term from literary analysis (surprising from me, right?!) which refers to when stories, people and landscapes are trapped between timespaces. To paraphrase Wikipedia again: a rift where the past and present render each other unbidden, that is a schizochronotopia. We are trapped between time, space, theme, past, present and future. Right now talking about media, ad tech, and the economics of a present built by Silicon Valley feels very much like trying to render some very different concepts into something that hopefully makes sense.
Thus the name. My goal is to continue to try and describe mediatech though a filter of the specific chronotopes relevant to the discussion. I think that it is impossible to move forward without understanding that our present is very much grounded in our past. We’ll need to talk about history to understand that nothing in the present is particularly new. Maybe we’ll find some solutions along the way.
This is not a sponsored link or anything, I just want to note for an example of what I’m talking about, a solid chronotope for understanding the central themes of tech past/present, I recommend you read along with me Palo Alto: A History of California, Capitalism, and the World, by Malcolm Harris.
It’s exactly what I’m talking about: a history of a place that has metastasized into a sort of symbolic concept that is very much associated with everything happening right now. You should read it!
Ok, that’s enough literary theory for now. Back to our regularly scheduled programming from here on out. Next newsletter will probably be about Reddit being run by a big dummy.