July 2011 Articles

In the world of social media, it can feel bizarre that potent evidence of grieving from one friend is followed so quickly by pictures of oven-fresh cookies from another. But Facebook is generated by algorithms without feelings. It’s not a narrative: The breast cancer went into remission, but the stories of the radiation treatment continue; the lost children remain as photos, woven into the threads of hundreds of lives. The details of everyday life begin to ll in around those threads. The tide brings in status updates; the tide takes them out.

Social media has no understanding of anything aside from the connections between individuals and the ceaseless ow of time: No beginnings, and no endings. These disparate threads of human existence alternately fascinate and horrify that part of the media world that grew up on topic sentences and strong conclusions. This world of old media is like a giant steampunk machine that organizes time into stories. I call it the Epiphanator, and it has always known the value of a meaningful conclusion. The Epiphanator sits in midtown Manhattan and clunks along, at Condé Nast and at the Times and in Rockefeller Center. Once a day it makes a terrible grinding noise and spits out newspapers and TV shows. Once a week it spits out weeklies and more TV shows. Once a month it produces glossy magazines. All too often it makes movies, and novels.