Wednesday, June 06, 2007


Facebook has a status bar, allowing you to put your current status, so that, for example, mine might say "Neil is sleeping" or "Neil is on the lash", or anything that comes to mind, beginning "Neil is...". A friend of mine has joined a group which states that the status bar is too grammatically restrictive.

I write poetry[1] occasionally. Poetic forms are restrictive. Sonnets have 14 lines of iambic pentameter[2]; Haikus only have 17 syllables; a Sestina is almost too difficult for me to describe, let alone write. Are these too restrictive? The popularity of free verse suggests so[3]. But does that mean that writing Blank Verse or Limericks is pointless; that the restrictions stifle creativity and freedom? Pretty clearly, I don't.

More generally; the three minute pop song is a restrictive form. It is the dominant western pop music form. Can you name five pop artists that don't rely on it[4]? Yet it can produce an enormous variety of music, such as She Loves You, Eleanor Rigby, Get Back, and The Ballad of John and Yoko. Has it stifled other forms of expression? Sure. Should we get rid of it? No way. It's dominant because it's easy[5] to perform, to learn, write and, most of all sell. But because it's easy, it's a good learning tool. And the best practitioners use the restrictions rather than push against them.

So I wish the group For those who think the F'book status bar is too grammatically restrictive! well, but I won't be joining them. I like working around "is".

Talking of "is", there's a mildly interesting project called Twitter. Essentially, it asks the question "What are you doing?" and puts the results up in a variety of ways, so you can tell just your friends, just one person or everyone who is interested.

It's fascinating seeing what hundreds of people are saying they're doing. There's people who do things with the feed, such as use them to write stories, using only the words in the tweets[6] but even better is Twittervision which puts the twitters on a map. Go see. It's cool.

Did I mention Twitter is available as a facebook application? That lets you put your status up without insisting on the word "is"? It's almost like someone is one step ahead.

[1] But it's not an obsession; I can go several hours at a time without scribbling down a limerick.
[2] There are several rhyme schemes.
[3] I'm amused to discover on Wikipedia that Robert Bridges thought that Free Verse was too limiting, which kind of makes my point for me.
[4] Well, yes you can, especially if you use google as a memory extension. But I can only think of three off the top of my head.
[5] For certain values of easy.
[6] Now there's a restrictive form.
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