Smarm is a kind of performance—an assumption of the forms of seriousness, of virtue, of constructiveness, without the substance. Smarm is concerned with appropriateness and with tone. Smarm would rather talk about anything other than smarm. Why, smarm asks, can't everyone just be nicer? The most significant explicator of the niceness rule—the loudest Thumper of all, the true prophetic voice of anti-negativity—is neither the cartoon rabbit nor the publicists' group nor Julavits, nor even david Denby. The believer 's founder and impresario, dave eggers.
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Are the goals of the public-relations profession the goals of the world in general? Why does a publicist talk like a book reviewer? If you listen to the crusaders against negativity—in literature, in journalism, in politics, in commerce—you begin to hear a recurring set of themes law and attitudes, amounting to an omnipresent, unnamed cultural force. The words flung outward start to define a sort of unarticulated philosophy, one that has largely avoided being recognized and defined. Without identifying and comprehending what they have in common, we have a dangerously incomplete understanding of the conditions we are living under. Over the past year or two, on the way to writing this essay, i've accumulated dozens of emails and im conversations from friends and colleagues. They send links to articles, essays, tumblr posts, online comments, tweets—the shared attitude transcending any platform or format or subject matter. What is this defining feature of our times? What is snark reacting to? It is reacting to smarm. What is smarm, exactly?
Or at least they (let's be honest: we) don't want to be decent on those terms. Over time, it has become clear that anti-negativity is a worldview of its own, a particular mode of thinking and argument, no matter how evasively or vapidly it chooses to express itself. For a guiding principle of 21st century literary criticism, buzzfeed's Fitzgerald turned to the moral and intellectual teachings of Walt Disney, in the movie. Bambi : "If you can't say something nice, don't say nothing at all.". The line is uttered by short Thumper, bambi's young bunny companion, but its attribution is more complicated than that—Thumper's mother is making him recite a rule handed down by his father, by way of admonishing her son for unkindness. It is scolding, couched as an appeal to goodness, in the name of an absent authority. The same maxim—minus the disney citation and tidied up to "anything at all"—was offered by an organization called prconsulting Group recently, in support of its announcement that the third tuesday in October would be " Snark-Free day." "If we can put the snark away for.
(I bought the denby book used for six bucks, to cut him out of the loop on any royalties.). But why are nastiness and snideness taken to be features of our age? One general point of agreement, in denunciations of snark, is that snark is reactive. It is a kind of response. Yet to what is it responding? Of what is it contemptuous? Stand against snark, and you are standing with everything decent. And who doesn't want to be decent? The snarkers don't, it seems.
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A community, even one dedicated to positivity, needs an enemy to define itself against. Buzzfeed's motto, the essayer attitude that drives its success, is an explicit "No haters." The site is one of the leading voices of the moment, thriving in the online sharing economy, in which agreeability is popularity, and popularity is value. (Upworthy, the next iteration, has gone ahead and made its name out of the premise.). There is more at work here than mere good feelings. "No haters" is a sentiment older and more wide-reaching than buzzfeed. There is a consensus, or something that has assumed the tone of a consensus, that we are living, to our disadvantage, in an age of snark—that the problem of our times is a thing called "snark.". The word, as used now, is a fairly recent addition to the language, and it is not always entirely clear what "snark" may.
But it's an attitude, and a negative attitude—a "hostile, knowing, bitter tone of contempt is how heidi julavits described it in 2003, while formally bestowing the name of "snark" on it, in the inaugural issue. In her essay, julavits was grappling with the question of negative book reviewing: Was it fair or necessary? Was the meanness displayed in book reviews a symptom of deeper failings in the culture? The decade that followed did little to clear up the trouble; if anything, the identification of "snark" gave people a way to avoid thinking very hard about. Snark is supposed to be self-evidently and self-explanatorily bad: "nasty "low and "snide to pick a few words from the first page of david Denby's 2009 tract. Snark: It's mean, It's Personal, and It's ruining Our Conversation.
Stores will become obselete. So how come my local mall does more business in an afternoon than the entire Internet handles in a month? Even if there were a trustworthy way to send money over the Internet—which there isn't—the network is missing a most essential ingredient of capitalism: salespeople. See all of the best photos of the week in these slideshows. What's missing from this electronic wonderland?
Discount the fawning techno-burble about virtual communities. Computers and networks isolate us from one another. A network chat line is a limp substitute for meeting friends over coffee. No interactive multimedia display comes close to the excitement of a live concert. And who'd prefer cybersex to the real thing? While the Internet beckons brightly, seductively flashing an icon of knowledge-as-power, this nonplace lures us to surrender our time on earth. A poor substitute it is, this virtual reality where frustration is legion and where—in the holy names of Education and Progress—important aspects of human interactions are relentlessly devalued. Last month, Isaac Fitzgerald, the newly hired editor of buzzfeed's newly created books section, made a remarkable but not entirely surprising announcement: he was not interested in publishing negative book reviews. In place of "the scathing takedown rip fitzgerald said, he desired to promote a positive community experience.
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Students will happily learn from animated characters vertebrae while taught by expertly tailored software. Who needs teachers when you've got computer-aided education? These expensive toys are difficult to use in classrooms and require extensive teacher training. Sure, kids love videogames—but think of your own experience: can you recall even one educational filmstrip of decades past? I'll bet you remember the two or three great teachers who made a difference in your life. We're promised instant catalog shopping—just point and click for great deals. We'll order airline xmas tickets over the network, make restaurant reservations and negotiate sales contracts.
None answers my question, and my search is periodically interrupted by messages like, "too many connections, try again later.". Recommended Slideshows, won't the Internet be useful in governing? Internet addicts clamor for government reports. But when Andy Spano ran for county executive in Westchester county,. Y., he put every press release and position paper onto a bulletin board. In that affluent county, with plenty of computer companies, how many voters logged in? Not a good omen. Point and click: Then there are those pushing computers into schools. We're told that multimedia will make summary schoolwork easy and fun.
Nicholas Negroponte, director of the mit media lab, predicts that we'll soon buy books and newspapers straight over the Intenet. What the Internet hucksters won't tell you is tht the Internet is one big ocean of unedited data, without any pretense of completeness. Lacking editors, reviewers or critics, the Internet has become a wasteland of unfiltered data. You don't know what to ignore and what's worth reading. Logged onto the world Wide web, i hunt for the date of the battle of Trafalgar. Hundreds of files show up, and it takes 15 minutes to unravel them—one's a biography written by an eighth grader, the second is a computer game that doesn't work and the third is an image of a london monument.
The truth in no online database will replace your daily newspaper, no cd-rom can take the place of a competent teacher and no computer network will change the way government works. Consider today's online world. The Usenet, a worldwide bulletin board, allows anyone to post messages across the nation. Your word gets out, leapfrogging editors and publishers. Every voice can be heard cheaply and instantly. Every voice is heard. The cacophany more closely resembles citizens band radio, complete with handles, harrasment, and anonymous threats. When most everyone shouts, few listen.
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After two decades umum online, i'm perplexed. It's not that I haven't had a gas of a good time on the Internet. I've met great people and even caught a hacker or two. But today, i'm uneasy about this most trendy and oversold community. Visionaries see a future of telecommuting workers, interactive libraries and multimedia classrooms. They speak of electronic town meetings and virtual communities. Commerce and business will shift from offices and malls to networks and modems. And the freedom of digital networks will make government more democratic. Do our computer pundits lack all common sense?