Monday, 13 December 2010

Wider Reading | Nation Shudders at Large Block of Uninterrupted Text

I stumbled across the following in the Onion what came out during the week of my birthday back in March – my very dear friend Coco picked up an actual copy from the actual streets of New York City as a present, and I re-skimmed through it this afternoon upon finding it in a pile of papers I intended to sort (they remain unsorted). I have decided to hang it on Silkworms' currently Wider Reading-dominated wall for two reasons: one, it provides a cautionary tale to bloggers everywhere worrying too much about their text-to-otherstuff ratio (and might, indeed, be read as a prescient pissing on Tumblr's bonfire); two, it offers an alternative entry-point into one of the more interesting conversations currently being had about WikiLeaks. Namely the fact that its relationship with the Guardian, Der Spiegel, the New York Times etc. points to a way in which Old Media can remain indispensable in the age of New Media – by taking New Media's massive block of uninterrupted, jargon-heavy text and breaking it down into edible anecdotes, elegantly written, accompanied by beautiful graphics and so on and so forth. 

For Old Media should be able to do this better than anybody else what with its, relatively speaking, massive teams of reasonably paid professional writers and designers. Course, it doesn't always. But it's something – particularly for an industry now depressingly used to being pelted with pessimistic predictions. I, for one, have never properly visited WikiLeaks (not that one can anymore). I've only ever explored Old Media's (the Guardian, basically) digestion of it. And WikiLeaks' only attempt at editorial – a couple years ago calling a video of American apache helicopters shooting at Iraqi civilians and killing, amongst others, two Reuters journalists, 'Collateral Murder', and subtitling it with an Orwell quotation, 'political language is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give the appearance of solidity to pure wind' – was widely criticised for both undermining the point of the site and, to many minds, misrepresenting the situation depicted. Thus possibly proving that Old journalists still do the whole ACTUALLY TELLING THE TRUTHS, NOT JUST FINDING THEM better than New. Unless you're one of these people who thinks the Guardian is run by a group of radical Marxists intent on 'socialising' the Free World or something, in which case... Meh, whatever, here's the piece:

WASHINGTON—Unable to rest their eyes on a colorful photograph or boldface heading that could be easily skimmed and forgotten about, Americans collectively recoiled Monday when confronted with a solid block of uninterrupted text.

Dumbfounded citizens from Maine to California gazed helplessly at the frightening chunk of print, unsure of what to do next. Without an illustration, chart, or embedded YouTube video to ease them in, millions were frozen in place, terrified by the sight of one long, unbroken string of English words.

"Why won't it just tell me what it's about?" said Boston resident Charlyne Thomson, who was bombarded with the overwhelming mass of black text late Monday afternoon. "There are no bullet points, no highlighted parts. I've looked everywhere—there's nothing here but words."

"Ow," Thomson added after reading the first and last lines in an attempt to get the gist of whatever the article, review, or possibly recipe was about.

At 3:16 p.m., a deafening sigh was heard across the country as the nation grappled with the daunting cascade of syllables, whose unfamiliar letter-upon-letter structure stretched on for an endless 500 words. Children wailed for the attention of their bewildered parents, businesses were shuttered, and local governments ground to a halt as Americans scanned the text in vain for a web link to click on.

Sources also reported a 450 percent rise in temple rubbing and under-the-breath cursing around this time.

"It demands so much of my time and concentration," said Chicago resident Dale Huza, who was confronted by the confusing mound of words early Monday afternoon. "This large block of text, it expects me to figure everything out on my own, and I hate it."

"I've never seen anything like it," said Mark Shelton, a high school teacher from St. Paul, MN who stared blankly at the page in front of him for several minutes before finally holding it up to his ear. "What does it want from us?"

As the public grows more desperate, scholars are working to randomly italicize different sections of the text, hoping the italics will land on the important parts and allow everyone to go on with their day. For now, though, millions of panicked and exhausted Americans continue to repetitively search the single column of print from top to bottom and right to left, looking for even the slightest semblance of meaning or perhaps a blurb.

Some have speculated that the never-ending flood of sentences may be a news article, medical study, urgent product recall notice, letter, user agreement, or even a binding contract of some kind. But until the news does a segment in which they take sections of the text and read them aloud in a slow, calm voice while highlighting those same words on the screen, no one can say for sure.

There are some, however, who remain unfazed by the virtual hailstorm of alternating consonants and vowels, and are determined to ignore it.

"I'm sure if it's important enough, they'll let us know some other way," Detroit local Janet Landsman said. "After all, it can't be that serious. If there were anything worthwhile buried deep in that block of impenetrable English, it would at least have an accompanying photo of a celebrity or a large humorous title containing a pop culture reference."

Added Landsman, "Whatever it is, I'm pretty sure it doesn't even have a point."

Incidentally, you'll have noticed this post represents, in many ways, itself a Large Block of Uninterrupted Text. Hohohohoho. How apt. How bloody apt. How bloody fucking apt. Hohohohoho.

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