Wednesday, February 3, 2010

In Praise of Obscurity, and Maureen's Twittered Cookbook

I found Maureen Evans in the current issue of Wired magazine, in a piece by Clive Thompson called "In Praise of Obscurity." It's not online yet, so I'll quote at length:
Consider the case of Maureen Evans. A grad student and poet, Evans got into Twitter at the very beginning – back in 2006 – and soon built up almost 100 followers. Like many users, she enjoyed the conversational nature of the medium. A follower would respond to one of her posts, other followers would chime in, and she'd respond back. Then in 2007 she began a nifty project: tweeting recipes, each condensed to 140 characters. She soon amassed 3000 followers, but her online life still felt like a small town: Among the regulars, people knew each other and enjoyed conversing. But as her audience grew and grew, eventually cracking 13,000, the sense of community evaporated. People stopped talking to each other and even to her. "It became dead silence," she marvels. 
Why? Because socializing doesn't scale. Once a group reaches a certain size, each participant begins to feel anonymous again, and the person they are following – who once seemed proximal, like a friend – now seems larger than life and remote. "They feel they can't possibly be the person who's going to make the useful contribution," Evans says. So the conversation stops...
The lesson? There's value in obscurity...Maybe we should be designing tools that reward obscurity– that encourage us to remain in the shadows.
It's interesting that Thompson chose Evans as his example: poets are already fairly accustomed to laboring in obscurity. (Lovers of obscurity, even – even when they have readers.) But the issue of social scale is interesting, whether we're talking about social media, wedding guests or a proliferation of "best friends forever." Are we talking? When do we talk anymore? What do conversations look like? Or feel like?

Here are more responses to Maureen's compressed cookbook, including one from by Lawrence Downes at the New York Times, who has dehydrated and tried some of the recipes, attesting to their viability.

Some examples from twitter feed cookbook (18,611 followers, 352 tweets):
Cheese Bread: mix 3c flr/T bkgpdr/~¼t cayenne&pep/c dice cheddar; fold+mixd 2c buttrmilk/btn egg/3T oil. Fill pan; top w parm. h@350°F/175℃

Winter Fruit Salad: mix gr+rd apple&asianpear/T lem; toss w 2mandarin+tangerine/c date&kumquat/~3T GingerSyrup. Chill; dust w cinn. Ylds~8c. 
Almond Soup: simmr c grnd almond/3c Stock/whl onion/clove&bay 30m. Sieve; +½c milk/nutmeg&s+p. Brwn 2T buttr&flr; whisk+soup. Heat; +c crm.

Quick Orange Beets: Shred lb beet; +T butter/t mustard/¼c oj/s+p. Cvr5m@med to tender; uncvr to evaporate liquid.
Turnip Gratin: brwn onion/2T buttr; +c stock/¼c crm. Reduce to ½; s+p. Slice 2turnip&tater; lyr4x w sauce. Top w 2c breadcubes; h@375℉/190℃.
Choco Nut Cookies: cream 5T buttr&nutbuttr&sug; +egg/¼t vanil&salt. Mix+c flr/½t bkgpdr; +¼c choc chip. Form log,chill,cut20. 8m@400°F/200℃.
The latest message from Maureen's poetry twitter feed: It's just me and Jim Hughson, four in the morning, editing chicken. (I like it. I'm there. Too.)

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