I’ve probably mentioned before that ALA can sometimes be inspiring (or inspiriting, if that’s a word), perhaps not as a result of any given program or social event but through the cumulative effects of seeing a few hundred (or few thousand) people I know, and many thousand active librarians, face-to-face. (Inspiring: It can and does inspire me to keep “doing this stuff.” Inspiriting: It can restore my spirits when they’ve been down.)
It can also be revealing, sometimes in unexpected ways.
Chicago was inspiring and inspiriting, to be sure. I wasn’t actually dispirited before ALA Annual, but found it easier to concentrate on decisions related to the new house than to focus on library-related issues outside of work. That’s still a major focus, but I’m back to paying attention elsewhere…
The revealing part is the theme of the first part of this two-part mini-essay.
We: False universalism or simple elitism?
I’ve ranted before this, here and there, about “we”–with or without the implicit “all”–being used for claims that I don’t consider even remotely universal or opinions that I don’t believe there’s any real consensus about.
“We (all) are (or soon will be) connected to the internet all the time.” “We (all) are growing to prefer reading online rather than in print.” “We (all) use iPhones.”
None of those are literal quotes, although the first one’s very close. I could find hundreds of others (thousands?) with a little literature searching, but this isn’t really aimed at any one person, so I won’t.
I’d thought of these phony or overstated we-isms as false universals, a problem in and of themselves. (Want true universals? We breathe air. We eat food. We need safe drinking water. We will die. I think those about cover it–and if you believe Breatharians, if there are any of those left, even the third is questionable. Then again, if you believe Breatharians, what are you doing at ScienceBlogs?)
I was wrong, at least for some people who are fond of We-isms.
I recognized that during a session at ALA–details unimportant–in which one panelist was spouting We-isms with considerable relish, even after another panelist pointed out that one supposed universalism wasn’t even true for a majority of those present at the session. Nonetheless, We do this and We use that and…
The breakthrough recognition: It’s not false universalism. It’s elitism. “We” really means “the people who matter.”
Doesn’t make it any more right. Does make it a lot more understandable. Without that recognition, I’d have to believe that some We-ists are hard of hearing, hard of understanding or a bit daft: Surely they’re aware that their universal assertions are nowhere near being universal?
But once you substitute “the people who matter” for “we,” it’s all clear. Maybe all the people who matter really are connected 24/7. Maybe all the people who matter do use iPhones.
The trouble with all this, for public librarians at least, is that good libraries serve the whole public–and specifically serve those who “don’t matter,” who aren’t part of the elite, the in crowd, the overprivileged.
Anyway, this should be a useful reminder, for me at least, for the future: When I encounter an absurd We-ism, I won’t assume the speaker’s more ignorant than they would appear to be–I’ll assume they’re elitist.
The other part of this not-as-brief-as-I’d intended (but, you know, longer essays are The New Black for blogs, right?) has to do with me. Not “me” as short for “the out crowd” or “me” as short for “people like me,” but me–one person.
To wit: If you’re a FriendFeed user who pays particular attention to who is or isn’t subscribing to you, and if you find that I’ve dropped off your subscription list…
It isn’t you. It’s me.
That’s happened once this week. It may happen again. In the particular case, it was somebody I find interesting some of the time–but somebody who Likes, and comments on, a lot of stuff. A lot of stuff that I don’t have time for, but that’s just interesting enough that I spend time checking it out. (I’m not sure why, but skipping over stuff seems to take more time in FriendFeed than it does in Bloglines–or, again, maybe that’s just me.)
Yes, I use Hides, lots of them, but in this case that wasn’t quite enough. There’s another case that’s right on the cusp; I may quietly unsubscribe.
Let me be clear: You’re not doing anything wrong. I don’t believe you should even think about changing the way you use FriendFeed. Because, you know,
It’s not you. It’s me.
That’s not a breakup line. It’s the truth. You could expand that to “I’m too ignorant to set up FriendFeed in such a way that it’s compatible with your use of it–and that’s my problem, not yours.”
Another way to put it: I’m not much for either creating lifestreams or following them. Maybe I shouldn’t be using FriendFeed at all, but I find that it’s useful as a semi-professional conversational medium. When too much lifestream material makes it cumbersome to follow the conversations, I make changes…purely because of the way I use FriendFeed, which may not be how it should be used. (If I’m Breaking The Rules, so be it.)
I don’t know: Maybe FF doesn’t notify people when someone unsubscribes, in which case this isn’t an issue at all. On my part, I’d rather not know, to be honest…and I only scan my subscriber list maybe every three months to see who I should be subscribing to. Which, then, may lead to my resubscribing to someone who I later unsubscribe from…