ˈvər-chə-wəlˈdā-vəs Serial storyteller, poetry pusher, digital doodler, flâneur.

Social Media as Cancerous Sprawl

Sprawling Jesse Darling on Social Media

Sprawling Jesse Darling on Social Media

“Social media is to the Read/Write Web what sprawl is to the metropolis of modernity: a homogenous, cancerous, rhizomatic junkspace that expands exponentially outward on a sludgy wave of strip malls and sponsored links, greed and induced demand.” ~ Jesse Darling (The New Inquiry)

Jesse Darling (@jessedarling) does not mince words.

Assumptions? Yes. Stereotypes? Yes. Norms? Yes. Egos? Yes.

But not words.

She sharpens them. Flexes them. Fuels them. And then she unleashes them. Sometimes playfully. Other times lethally. Often cunningly. Always intelligently.

I’m stretching when I say, “Always intelligently.” I don’t know Darling, nor am I familiar enough with her work (words, photos, digital, etc.) to speak so broadly. But what I’ve read/seen so far is searingly smart. Angry, flip, sarcastic, edgy but smart.

I don’t always agree with Darling, but I respect her bravery. She takes risks. Says what she thinks. And supports it. Intelligently.

The passage above, part of a provocative response to Evgeny Morozov’s The Death of the Cyberflâneur, is a powerfully articulated version of a observation about social media that’s been sloshing around in my head for some time. Sloshing but not uttered. The sort of observation that time will temper, prove or disprove. Most of us wait and see. Darling paints the graffiti on the wall. Today. And then moves on.

Social media is unchecked sprawl, and much (most?) of it is MSG enhanced junk with nominal real value. But cancerous? Potentially, yes, but Darling’s sweeping generalization inevitably oversteps. Such is the role of art and artists, of course, but Darling’s assertion overlooks the healthy aspects of social media (semi-democratizing the previously oligarchic media, empowering global collaboration and open source initiatives, dilating artistic possibilities, etc.). Unfortunately, social media sludge is more difficult to avoid than strip malls. And more enticing…

Pinterest Interest

Pinterest Interest? virtualDavis ponders Pinterest...

Pinterest Interest? virtualDavis ponders Pinterest...

Are you on Pinterest? Still trying to resist the way you resisted Facebook?

Watch out, because it’s a slippery slope. When your invitation comes and you say, “Okay, well, maybe I’ll just try it out…”

You know, kick the tires, maybe even zip around the neighborhood with the roof down and the music blaring?

Don’t do it. You’ll get hooked. Pinterest. Is. Addictive.

And that’s why it’s exploding. In the good way. Out of start-up obscurity and into the gotta-be-on-it rocket that is flashing through the interwebs.

After being largely ignored for the first months of its existence, Pinterest is now being mentioned with increasing frequency… It is easy to see why Pinterest is attracting such a buzz. All measures of its growth are phenomenal. (Street Journal)

Phenomenal is the right word, but it lacks the necessary whizbang to accurately convey what’s happening with this rather straightforward social media concept

The premise behind Pinterest is for users to gather, organize, and share things they find on the Web, such as home decorations, clothing, and food. The end result is curated pinboards that are meant to help friends discover new items or get inspiration. (CNET News)

According to Mashable‘s Zoe Fox, Pinterest drives more online t than Google+, YouTube and LinkedIn. Beginners’ luck? That’s pretty formidable competition.

[Pinterest] now beats YouTube, Reddit, Google+, LinkedIn and MySpace for percentage of total referral traffic in January… Pinterest accounted for 3.6% of referral traffic, while Twitter just barely edged ahead of the newcomer, accounting for 3.61% of referral traffic. (Mashable)

You know how long it took Twitter

to get traction? You know how long it’s taken to get to this point. I suspect that the quirky crew over at Facebook are getting whiplash responding to the ticklish breeze they keep feeling in their hair, like something sneaking up from behind. Can you sneak fast? Okay, so maybe Pinterest isn’t sneaking…

Facebook reigns king of referrals, accounting for more than one-quarter (26.4%) of traffic, 4.3% of which comes from Facebook Mobile. After Pinterest, Facebook is experiencing the most referral growth, gaining almost one percentage point in December. (Mashable)

So Facebook isn’t giving up ground just to swig down electrolytes, but Pinterest’s mad dash out of the starting gates is noteworthy. Whether or not they can sustain this pace for the endurathon is another matter.

Who’s propelling its rise? 18-34 year old upper income women from the American heartland. (TechCrunch)

Hmmm… So not just bored teenagers party shopping.

To get to the bottom of what motivates Pinterest’s throngs of users, you first have to realize who those users are… Female… women tend to like to shop more than men do. You could easily define Pinterest as a way for people to “window shop” for anything that interests them… It’s a social shopping experience, disguised as a website full of interests. (

Brad McCarty may be right, but in my experience, there are plenty of gents aboard the good rocket ship Pinterest and more and more every day. Maybe there are male window shoppers too? Or maybe McCarty’s oversimplifying.

At heart, many of us are collectors. Stickers. Friends. Hats. Wine. Cars…

And many of us are voyeurs, happy to peak over the fence at the neighbor’s backyard digging project only discover he was planting a persimmon tree, not installing a hot tub.

In short, we’re curious hoarders on the lookout for inspiration. Is it any wonder that Pinterest has become the next runaway favorite? And with news a little over a week ago that Pinterest has partnered with Flickr “improve photo attribution” it looks like the visual floodgates may be opening. Happy pinning!

Monday Morning Meander

English: Meander on the River Dee just west of...

Monday Morning Meander (Image via Wikipedia)

My Mondays typically are energetic, frenetic, anxious. All weekend I’ve been building up To Do lists and massaging my timelines, and by the time I crawl out from under the comforter to share breakfast with Griffin, my Labrador Retriever, my mind is already off to the races.

I suspect that there’s a Monday Morning archetype with lots of other caffeinated-before-your-caffeinated folks who know exactly what I’m talking about. Which validates my suspicions that we all need to break pace for a few moments and meander to refresh the dreams and go juices. If you’re understanding me so far, this post may be for you. Let’s meander together for a few minutes before we pull back into heavy traffic or return to slaying dragons or charming venomous snakes.

Are you social? Digitally social? Plenty gab to be had of late regarding merits and demerits of social networks, but GigaOm‘s recent post, “Do authors have to be social? No, but it helps.“, is worth a look.

Mat Johnson described the people he follows on Twitter as his “dream party guests — interesting strangers whose wit keeps me coming back.” But Johnson also put his finger on another reason that some authors like him have taken to social media like Twitter: the ability to connect directly with potential readers. As he put it: “I’ve never had a single ad for any of my novels, had a movie made or been given a big budget push by a publisher. Usually, they just throw my book out to reviewers and hope it floats. Twitter lets me hijack the promotion plane, sidestep the literary establishment and connect directly to my current and potential audience… It’s a meritocracy; if you’re interesting, you get followed.” (GigaOM: Tech News and Analysis)

I’m borrowing Johnson’s Twitter/dream party guests analogy the next time I try to explain the joys of skinny dipping in the tweet stream to a perplexed (or dismissive) audience. And while I’m thinking about dream party guests, what happened to Kevin Smokler? Was he abducted by aliens? Or is he just giving a fall/winter rest. Back in the spring?

@ This is why we need your #TED talk. Tyler Cowen takes a cynical, skeptical look at stories #gagreflex
Karl Sprague

Are you familiar with narrative pollyannaism? Fellow optimist Karl Sprague just introduced me to its antithesis, died in the cloth story skepticism. Economist Tyler Cowen’s TEDxTalk distills the dark, devious, dangers of storytelling in his warning, “Be suspicious of stories“.

Cowen admits a weakness for compelling narratives, but he’s concerned that stories oversimplify our messy lives. He reminds us that stories distort complex human nature, interactions and institutions potentially misguiding us and fueling bias and self-deception.

He’s right, of course.

As Holbert C. Harris Chair of economics at George Mason University and co-author of economics blog Marginal Revolution and an avalanche of economics books, Cowen is right about a lot. And despite taking a few laps to warm up, his dry, self-deprecating sense of humor prevails, gradually softening his admonition. And his nod to Gabriel Garcia Marquez‘s Living to Tell the Tale ultimately won me over.

“Life is not what one lives, but what one remembers and how one remembers it in order to recount it.” (Gabriel Garcia Marquez)

Stories do distort and oversimplify. But so do street signs, the nightly news, education, modern medicine, music and virtually every other human invention. His bottom line?

Be more comfortable with messy. Be more comfortable with agnostic…” (TEDxTalks)

I can live with that.

And what better way to wrap up than a digital recap of Sunday’s meander? Yesterday John Davis (@trekeast) and I escaped with our brides and progeny for a Parch Pond adventure. This Eddy Foundation wilderness holding includes a handsome pond which was frozen and snow-free, perfect skating. Here’s a clip shot by Mr. TrekEast on his iPhone:

For additional images from the outing, check out “Skating Parch Pond“.

Dream. Share. Live.

My friend Mia Starr (@fourdaysaweek) just shared her dream with me. Via Twitter. Via a comment on her blog. Via this video. Via the Holstee Manifesto which has inspired many, been shared by hundreds of thousands and will make you happier, healthier, wiser, sexier, funnier, calmer (and did I mention happier?) if you take a few seconds to read it. And then reread it. And then smile. Out loud. With friends.

THIS IS YOUR LIFE. Do what you love, and do it often. If you don’t like something, change it. If you don’t like your job, quit. If you don’t have enough time, stop watching TV. If you are looking for the love of your life, STOP. They will be waiting for you when you start doing things you love. Stop over analyzing. All emotions are beautiful. When you eat, appreciate life is simple. Every last bite. Open your mind, arms, and heart to new things and people. We are united in our differences. Ask the next person you see what their passion is. And share your inspiring dream with them. Travel often. Getting lost will help you find yourself. SOME OPPORTUNITIES ONLY COME ONCE, SEIZE THEM. Life is about the people you meet, and the things you create with them. So go out and start creating. LIFE IS SHORT. LIVE YOUR DREAM. AND SHARE YOUR PASSION. (FOUR DAYS A WEEK)

Did you reread it? I did. Did you feel like you could have written those words? I did. Maybe that’s why it’s so compelling. Familiar. As if we’ve been reminded of something that we already knew but maybe had forgotten about. Temporarily misplaced. Recovered. What a way to start the new year!

I couldn’t resist adding a comment. A goofy-but-sincere comment…

I dream. Aloud. Every day. Because I can. And because I can’t help it. I dream of telling stories and discovering new stories, of hearing the singing underneath, of gardening more and shopping less, of flanerie and adventure, of windy sailing and still sunrises, of continuing to fall in love with my bride after six years of marriage and a decade together, of stretching boundaries and nourishing imaginations, of giving back as much as I receive. This is my dream. This is my life. Thanks for asking, Mia!

Do what you love. Risk. Adventure. Create. Share. Inspire. Here’s to a reinvigorated life!

Migration Time

Serengeti wildebeest migration, Tanzania

Wildebeest Migration, Serengeti National Park, Tanzania (Image by Marc Veraart via Flickr)

Welcome to the future. virtualDavis is migrating.

Unlike the annual wildebeest migrations across the Serengeti, Masai Mara and Liuwa Plain, it’s been almost a decade since my last migration, and I’m not searching for greener pastures. Not literally, at least. I’m not abandoning my URL, but I am transitioning the site from Drupal to WordPress in order to standardize and simplify daily blogging. I am still (and will continue to be) an outspoken Drupal enthusiast and advocate. Organizations and individuals building websites with sophisticated CMS should at least consider Drupal. If they don’t they obviously have time and money to waste. Let them waste it. It will help buoy the economy. I continue to use Drupal for sites that I maintain and/or develop, and I intend to for a long time. Drupal is to website developers what Creative Commons is to content creators. Times ten. Or a hundred!

So why am I switching to WordPress? If Drupal is the CMS Holy Grail, I’ve come to believe that WordPress is the blogging holy grail. It is intuitive, easy to use and teach others to use, incredibly well supported and for all practical purposes it has become the “Dixie cup” of blogging software. I do wish that it offered a bit more robust, non-blogging CMS potential, but for my current needs (blogging across multiple domains), consolidating my interface to a single, effective platform offers me a major value.

It will take some time to make the transition, so until further notice I encourage you to stick with my regular domain where I’ll keep a link posted to the temporary site. Once I complete the migration from Drupal to WordPress, I’ll shift the new site to the old URL. Until then, thanks for your patience. Heck, thanks for following my blog in the first place!

FYI: If you’re looking for current happenings, you might want to check out virtualDavis on Twitter, virtualDavis on Facebook or virtualDavis on Google+. Or drop a note!

The Ever Evolving Social Media Revolution

If in doubt about the social media revolution, just watch this sequence of three video presentations. Pay attention to the statistics; watch the revolution evolving in real time as the social media juggernaut sweeps the globe.

The social media revolution is
mushrooming while you sleep!

The next three videos are based upon Socialnomics: How Social Media Transforms the Way We Live and Do Business by Erik Qualman. This first,Social Media Revolution, asks if social media is a fad that can be waited out, a fad that can be ignored, a fad no less or more important than any other.

Is social media a fad? Or is it the biggest shift since the Industrial Revolution? This video details out social media facts and figures that are hard to ignore. This video is produced by the author of Socialnomics

Take a look!

If the music distracts you or wakes up your parents, mute the volume. But watch. Read. Wake up!

The social media revolution doesn’t sleep. Ever. And while you’re dozing off, it’s already evolved. The next video, Social Media Revolution 2 (Refresh), updates the social media and mobile media statistics.

Ready for Social Media Revolution 3? This longer, more powerful video was produced in June 2011. Also “based on #1 International Best Selling Socialnomics by Erik Qualman this is the latest in the most watch social media series in the world.”

‪So, what do you think? Still plan to wait out this annoying social media fad? Still hope to ignore it? Good luck!

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Best Days for Social Media Traction


CartoonPost your most important social media content consistently at similar times all week long. Or not…

How about Thursday and/or Friday? Eureka!

According to Mashable’s Todd Wasserman “the end of the work week is the best time to get traction on status updates and tweets.” (Why Users Are More Engaged With Social Media on Fridays) I’ve often found this to be true, though I’ve been unable to ascertain exactly why. Buddy Media dove into 200+ Facebook users habits over two weeks and discovered that Thursday is actually the most engaged day of the week. However, Twitter’s Adam Bain (Chief Revenue Officer) touts Friday’s as the most engaged among the tweet-set. So the two biggest social media hubs agree that end-of-week is the time of maximum engagement. Why?

People are heading into the weekend so they’re thinking about things besides work. They’re mentally checking out and transitioning to the weekend. (Jeremiah Owyang, Altimeter Group)

It’s a matter of people finally pushing past the work week and coasting toward the weekend, picking their head up a bit to see what’s going on and what their friends are up to. (Rick Liebling, Coyne PR)

I call it ‘contra-competitive timing‘. As the overall activity seems to slow down from the hustle and bustle of the week, readers can give each tweet more attention because there are fewer other tweets fighting for it. (Dan Zarrella, HubSpot)

Of course, now that the social web is aflutter about this hot news, I haven’t any doubt that marketers and spin doctors are going to begin swamping us on Thursday and Friday now. So, maybe next week or the week after we’ll see a shift away from the inevitable spamfest toward Saturday? Monday? Wednesday? Reductio ad absurdum.

Which leads to the question, how will we filter the noise?

A Lot of Life

Karl Sprague (@karlsprague) just made my day! I met Karl at the Writer’s Digest Conference in New York City last month, and his sunny, upbeat personality made him irresistible from our first handshake. He’s the quintessential poster boy for the Sunshine State. Here’s what he tweeted me this morning:

You pack a lot of life into a 24 hour period, don’t you? U keep us mentally sedentary folks updated on writing / travel / life

Karl Sprague

Wow. I think I’ll print and frame that when I get home from Costa Rica. Bold font. Hung front and center over my desk. Or my kitchen range. No, maybe nailed to a post by my garden. Hmmm. Duct taped to the wishbone of my windsurfer? Or the handlebars of my bike? Maybe I’ll just memorize it, repeat it like a mantra each morning. Or any time my enthusiasm sags…

I’m serious. What a gift! What validation. What encouragement. I wonder if Karl had any notion at all how his quick message would impact me. I’d like to think he did. He’s magnanimous, wouldn’t miss an opportunity to give, encourage, thank. And yet, I’m guessing he didn’t. I’m guessing he typed and sent that tiny little tweet out into the ether without thinking too much about it. That’s also the kind of fellow he is, generous with complements but totally unselfconscious about his generosity. Second nature. The kind of guy who smiles by default, laughs to relax, encourages because it’s his instinct.

Thank you, Karl. I’m not sure I could summarize my life’s ambitions better!

The Space Between

watercolor by Michelle Rummel
The Space Between, by Michelle Rummel

I’ve been longing for winter; its chill and drifts having mostly passed us by so far this year. And now — after wandering through this watercolor by Michelle Rummel (@shellartistree) — I find myself longing for spring! And I haven’t even planted seeds for my spring starts yet! An evocative and intriguing image, but the undulating forms and colors are only part of the story. There’s a playful energy too. I think it springs from the quasi-stainglass technique, breaking up fluid, representational forms with geometric lines and color changes. The scene is vibrating, slowly, quietly, enticingly. I’ll wander in again!

I tip my hat to @shellartistree and @AnthonyLawlor for this quick post. Ms. Rummel shared this enchanting painting which quickly and briefly lead us into the realm of interstices

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Ansel Adams and Edward Burtynsky: Constructed Landscapes

Tailings #30, Sudbury, Ontario, 1996, by Edward Burtynsky (Image copyright Edward Burtynsky)
Tailings #30, Sudbury, Ontario, 1996, by Edward Burtynsky

I’ve just returned from the Shelburne Museum where I spent a couple of air conditioned hours soaking up Ansel Adams and Edward Burtynsky: Constructed Landscapes. Are you nearby? See it. Are you far away? It’s worth the trip! Seriously, this exhibition is that good.

I’d love to pass along some of the stunning photographs, but an enthusiastic security guard cum docent spent about five minutes explaining to me that strict copyright rules prevented me from snapping any photographs. Fair enough. But if you follow the link above to the exhibition you can see some great images including the one I’ve included here and “Winter Sunrise, Sierra Nevada from Lone Pine, California” which I included in my last Ansel Adams post.

So, until you meander over to the Shelburne Museum’s Webb Gallery, you’ll have to rely upon my words. Or perhaps not rely upon, since the verbal journey you’re about to experience is impressionistic and highly subjective. Consider my stream of conscious reflection less review, even less blog post than a composite Ansel Adams and Edward Burtynsky twitter stream

Data Stream: Ansel Adams & Edward Burtynsky

You with me? When the guard welcomed me into the exhibition and then launched into his routine about why photography was prohibited, I asked if I could tweet my way through the photographs. He wasn’t so sure about this Twitter business, but he agreed. Victory! Or not. I quickly discovered that the Webb Gallery is a “zero bar” Verizon black hole. Strong signal outside, but zilch inside. So, I resolved to jot my Ansel Adams / Edward Burtynsky impressions on my Blackberry to post later. Here’s the soppy mess with a few links, etc. added in for good measure.

English: A photo portrait of photographer Anse...

Ansel Adams (Credit: Wikipedia)

Spectacular photo: “Dunes, Hazy Sun, White Sands National Monument, New Mexico” of wild grass, yucca and a dead shrub drowning in cascading sand. (Tiny version of this the The Art Institute of Chicago’s website.) What’s grabbing me here? Nostalgia? Yes. I’ve been there. Envy? Sure. I’ve shot hundreds, maybe thousands of images at White Sands National Monument, influenced like millions of others before me by the photographs of Ansel Adams. Humility is good. But there’s something more. The tonal range is impressive. The totally pedestrian subject and framing adds to the mysterious appeal.

And another, “Forest, Early Morning, Mount Rainier National Park, Washington” presents three layers of visual story telling:

  1. In the foreground, black silhouetted coniferous trees march left to right across the entire bottom of the image. Small, uniform shrubs at left grow larger and more detailed as they near the bottom right. This is a diminutive vignette, never taller than about 20% of the image.
  2. The middle band, occupying nearly half the height of the image captures two jagged mountain peaks like portraits. Shear angled stone faces, some portions veiled in snow.
  3. Above the mountains contrast-rich clouds drift nebulous and taunting, part steam engine blast, part crumbling doily.

The three layers of the image coalesce, but just barely as if the photographer is conflicted about his subject. Or triplicitous.

I am drawn into Ansel Adams’ “Tenaya Creek, Spring Rain“, the movement (and sound) of icy water riffling over stones and around boulders in the shallow creek bed. The textures — of the pebble beach, of the cedar trees’ bark, of the diversity of leaves — beg me to touch the print, to run my the pads of my fingers over the various surfaces. I restrain myself. Glass will restrain those who can’t resist. I yearn for half an hour, even fifteen minutes in this place. With my fly rod. With my Labrador Retriever, Griffin. With no mobile phone, no twitter, no appointments missed or pending, no urgencies at all.

Other favorites include Ansel Adams’ “Aspens, Northern New Mexico“, “White Branches, Mono Lake, California”, “BridalVeil Fall” and “Trees and Cliffs“, the latter cropped compellingly if slightly unconventionally. It seems to be off kilter, and a branch reaching into the top of the image suggests a tree falling out of celestial nothingness. Two trees (perhaps sequoias?) roughly divide the image and the asymmetrical massing of the stone mountains behind contribute to an effect furthered by the wispy clouds which radiate away from the center of the image. An eruption. An uprising. A rocket.

I remember studying Ansel Adams’ zone system. I remember frustration. Then amazement. “Dunes, Oceano, California” coerces me to linger while I trace the contours of the dunes, blur the wavy surface of the sand like a zebra in motion Laughing. Then lying down to rest. With the sun dropping nearer to the horizon.

Ping Pong: Ansel Adams & Edward Burtynsky

A sort of emotional schizophrenia ping-ponging back and forth between Ansel Adams and Edward Burtynsky: black and white, color; small prints, large prints; pristine, untouched nature, nature transformed by industry.

A dramatic Edward Burtynsky photograph, “Shipbreaking #24, Bangladesh, 2000″, showcases a cross section of a dismantled ship. A slice of steel vessel still bearing the name Kingfisher painted on the hull. The caustic pallet of hazy, pale blue and orange is unsettling, disturbing. I find myself wondering about the chemicals saturating the mudflats upon which ship carcasses are strewn in various stages of butchery. I worry about the health, the safety of the half dozen laborers who stand near the hulking Kingfisher. Smoke or exhaust lingers in the air. What is burning?

Burtynsky’s “Densified Oil Drum#4” intrigues me as much for the title as the stack of compressed steel drums. They remind me of clothes and rags packed into cubes, so untrained is my eye to seeing cylindrical steel drums so totally distorted, compressed, densified. So many colors of paint, crumpled, chipped paint homogenized by the patina of orange rust which — together with the geometry of the cubes stacked with some sense of order — unifies so many parts into a whole. Not an accident of industrial waste. Not a practical side effect of recycling. But a post industrial igloo, perhaps better suited to a globally warming world. And “Nickel Tailing #5” offers an even more colorful, even more dramatic, even more alarming refrain to Burtynsky’s anthem. It’s disheartening and defeatist from where I stand. Alone. In a cold gallery. Torrid July weather awaiting me outside.

Scenery is for Profit, Nature is for Reverence

As I wrap up, I reread one of many quotations printed on a wall:

“Scenery for Adams is a dirty word, an invention of the tourist business, an oversized curio. Nature is something else. Scenery is for profit, Nature is for reverence, and the fewer tracks of man there are in it, the better.” (Wallace Stegner’s foreword to “Ansel Adams Images, 1923-1974”)

This is a familiar notion. And an unmistakeably potent underlying theme in Ansel Adams and Edward Burtynsky: Constructed Landscapes. But it’s not the only theme. I’ll wait for you to help me unwind some of the others. Now I’m going to dive into the two delicious books I purchased before departing the Shelburne MuseumAnsel Adams: 400 Photographs and Manufactured Landscapes: The Photographs of Edward Burtynsky.


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