Way to blog, I know. Get mentioned in a trade journal cover story on "Mattering in the Blogosphere," then disappear from my own blog. Not that I haven't been blogging. I've just been microblogging over at Twitter. I've resisted writing a rah-rah post on Twitter because: a) It's not for everyone; b) it's like living in a small town where you like things just the way they are, and dread the inevitable growth and growing pains that come from everyone wanting a piece of the good thing they've been reading about. I will, however, explain what it is about Twitter that has so grabbed my time and attention.
Twitter has gotten a fair amount of bashing for being "stupid," "useless," "inane," "voyeuristic," and "masturbatory." The only one of those descriptors I'll agree with is "voyeuristic." I've made no bones about being a life-long voyeur. I'm a figurative peeping tom who appreciates having access to telling glimpses into others' lives. If I'm ever in your house, I will probably reflexively open your refrigerator just to see what you have. Not because I'm hungry, but because if I'm in your house, I know you well enough to want to know more about you.
I have managed to make a career out of voyeurism. Being a reference librarian is the ultimate in voyeurism. Anyone who has worked a reference desk, who has served drinks, who has cut hair, knows what I'm talking about. Those held hostage to a public audience by virtue of their employ hear the most amazing, intimate, mundane and alarming things. For me, it's possibly the best part of my work as a librarian. I'm not so interested in big questions, deep feelings, philosophizing, and theorizing. I love working with "patch guy," a man who comes in to the library nearly every day to scour eBay for racing and automotive patches. I love getting the back story that comes with a question as simple as "can you look up a phone number for me?" On Twitter, I love reading about what people are eating, watching, listening to, what they're doing at work. I love being the recipient of so much detritus. If you question the value of such microvoyeurism, let me tell you about the only other job that's made me as happy as librarianship.
For a very short time in my 20s, I worked as an archaeological assistant, and was giving serious consideration to making it my career before I found myself a mother-to-be. (Morning sickness and digging for 8 hours in the sun don't mix any better than having a baby and a job that keeps you away from home a week or more at a time.) When people hear that I worked as an archaeologist, they imagine all sorts of glamorous things--dinosaur bones (sorry--that's paleontology), gold breastplates, undiscovered hominid fossils. They are considerably less impressed when I tell them that I worked on historical sites digging up 150 year old garbage. During my short career, I wrote one bit of research for an archaeological study. It was a report on buttons. That's right. Buttons. You can tell a lot about a community by the buttons they leave behind. Wood, milk glass, shell, stamped metal--they all tell a different story. With a handful of buttons, you can surmise socioeconomic status, study reciprocity and proximity and even take a guess at community philosophy (probably not a lot of fancy buttons among a Quaker community).
My favorite things about gardening have nothing to do with gardening itself. I mostly garden for the digging and discovery. I have jars full of old garbage--crockery shards, broken bottles, marbles, nails--stuff that I've unearthed while digging various gardens. Last week, I found a dog burial. What was supposed to be a simple sod scraping and shovel-depth soil turning, became a two-foot dig. I'd probably faint with joy if I ever got lucky enough to find an old privvy. Who we are is not just what we find in museums, or in albums carefully curated by those who hope to show the shiny, unblemished side of a life or of a family. Who we are, who we really are, is found in garbage piles and literally mixed with our sh*t. My favorite archaeology book is In Small Things Forgotten: An Archaeology of Early American Life by James Deetz who demostrates that we only learn about the past by studying the mundane. Since the early 1970s, archaeologist William Rathje has been looking at garbage to learn about practices and behavior that tell more about a community than observing and interviewing community members.
Is Twitter garbage? Yeah, maybe. Is it useful? Yeah, maybe. Just give me a keyboard and a shovel and get out of my way.