Last year, I blogged about Brian Phillips’s incredible essay, “Pelé as a Comedian.” I wrote that it is one of those pieces that you read for the writing, and I absolutely still stand by my decision. If you haven’t read it, take ten minutes out of your life, and do so.
Why do I bring up Phillips’s essay from last year? Because I believe I found a piece, which for so far in 2011, would file under the same characterization: you read it for the writing. The piece is “Facebook and the Epiphanator: An End to Endings?” by Paul Ford, published in New York Magazine. It’s about social media, Facebook in particular, and our connection (or disconnection) to those around us, but more importantly, with ourselves. It’s about beginnings and endings and the go-betweens. You read between the lines, and you discern so much. Your brain begins to flutter: I never thought of it like that. You will.
The writing is sublime:
I watched in real time as these people reconstructed themselves in the wake of events — altering their avatars, committing to new causes, liking and linking, boiling over in anger at dumb comments, eventually posting jokes again, or uploading new photos. Learning to take the measure of the world with new eyes. No other medium has shown me this in the same way. Even the most personal literary memoir has more distance, more compression, than these status updates.
What is The Epiphanator?
Social media has no understanding of anything aside from the connections between individuals and the ceaseless flow 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.
This is my favourite part, probably:
At the end of every magazine article, before the “■,” is the quote from the general in Afghanistan that ties everything together. The evening news segment concludes by showing the secretary of State getting back onto her helicopter. There’s the kiss, the kicker, the snappy comeback, the defused bomb. The Epiphanator transmits them all. It promises that things are orderly. It insists that life makes sense, that there is an underlying logic.
Just read it. Paul Ford makes me want to be a better writer.