Letter from Seattle
I have been visiting my page on ResearchGate. It includes a chart showing how often my publications have been cited over the centuries. No kidding, it is a complete timeline, with microscopic detail for recent times --- for example, there was a spike of eight citations a few weeks ago, but last week, I got only two. So last week was what we specialists in the impact factor call a "weak week"
The webpage also asked me if I was the author of various other publications, and I was flabbergasted at the number of J. Phage's in the literature. There are apparently dozens of us, I suppose I could have fattened up my impact factor by claiming all of them, but most of the other J. Phage publications were things like this: "Prediction of monthly discharge in ungauged catchments under agricultural land use in the Upper Ping basin in northern Thailand." One paper about schizophrenia did rather catch my eye, but if I lay claim to it, I might begin to have multiple personality problems of my own, at least in ResearchGate.
Like any other social media sites, ResearchGate has dozens of things you can click on, many of them incomprehensible, and no explanation of what they are. It is similar to, and even worse than, Facebook. There, you can click on all sorts of things, utterly mysterious pages (some blank) come and go, and all the while you are mobbed by strangers you've never heard of who are anxious to be "friends" with you, or add you as "friend." Moreover, these mysterious "friend" requests also come flooding into my regular Email. One just came in. It reads: "Manal Shalwars Proprietor at Great Look In Just a Click Add Friend." Who was it who said "keep your friends close, but your enemies closer?" Could they have had Facebook in mind?
The Facebook social order also includes "followers" as well as "friends," but I have never seen a definition of these two different ranks. Is it anything like the feudal distinctions between the ranks of Marquess, Viscount, and Baronet? Did you know, by the way, that one of our friends (in the old sense) has 1,378 "followers," whoever they are? At Facebook, you can also add things to other peoples' "timelines," which strikes me as deeply sinister. I mean, if they can add to our timeline, couldn't they cut it short too? Is that what it means to "un-friend" someone? Do we want these "friends" messing with our life expectancy?
But the ultimate in followership is apparently Twitter, where some people have millions of "followers." Doesn't RALPH need a repeater, to use the old radio terminology, at Twitter, or Twaddle, or Twinkie --- whatever it's called now. Think of it! RALPH could reach millions of "followers" on its, uhhh, Twitter feed, if that is the right terminology. Incidentally, have you noticed that public notables, like Hilary Clinton or the Ayatollah Khamenei, now communicate with their own publics by way of Twitter feeds? I look forward to the day when Carlos Amantea, Lolita Lark, the Reverend Allworthy, and all the gang (not to mention Dr. Phage) will be feeding their feeds to a vast audience by way of Twitter. Once upon a time, only figures like Jesus Christ, Brigham Young, and L. Ron Hubbard could have followers, but now we can have them too.
Just out of curiousity, I just investigated Instagram. No go. To get in, you have to have an account, and to create an account you need an "App." Pretty soon, those of us who do not have apps will be out in the cold, without friends, followers, feeds, tweets or twaddles. Unless ... unless we figure out a way around all this, which will be the subject of our next book. We will call it Appless in Gaza, and it will delineate the life without apps. Maybe we can bring it out as an E-book.
Earlier today, I wanted to copy a magazine article, so I went to the library's copying machine. I expected to be able to place the magazine on a copying surface, put coins in a slot, and press a botton marked "Copy." But nothing so simple was possible anymore, for Progress had preceded me: the library could now boast of an advanced, high-tech device, the use of which was explained in a 13-step instruction manual, in small print, on the wall. The first steps involved entering an ID # and a PIN # somewhere, and I did not study the instructions any further. It was much simpler just to steal the magazine.
Afterward, I went to a local restaurant to meet my friends M. and I. for dinner. Unfortunately, we hadn't realized that the restaurant was apparently headquarters for the Puget Sound branch of AARP. A vast crowd of our contemporaries filled the waiting area, blocking the door with a veritable barricade of walkers, wheelchairs, and canes. I couldn't help being reminded of a near-by Halloween shop with its animatronic goblins. When M. and I. arrived, we fled to a nearby Korean restaurant, where there wasn't a goblin to be seen. There were very few clients of any sort there, and no round-eyes at all besides ourselves. We enjoyed a fine dinner of grilled mackerel with a half-dozen plates of mystery vegetables.
M. and I., both long retired, have just moved to a stationary trailer in a trailer-park in Marysville, 45 minutes drive north of Seattle. On fixed incomes, they were driven out of the city by the last few years of dazzling financial Progress in Seattle, with its attendant sharp increases in rental rates. Other signs of Progress abound. We can now enjoy traffic congestion that beggars Paris or London, and will soon have even more skyscrapers than Dubai.
The march of Progress has even passed through the temples of Culture. One of Dale Chihuly's flunkies at his warehouse was found to have been filching his boss's ghastly glass sculptures and quietly selling them on the side. The total value was estimated at about $3 million, probably just enough to permit the thief to rent a place in Seattle.
I am reminded of one visit to the Seattle Symphony a few years ago. M. and I bought our discounted geezer tickets as usual for about $9, and at intermission we slipped unobtrusively up to two $100 seats in one of the Founders Tier Boxes. Looking in back of us, we observed one eye glaring balefully at us, the individual's other eye covered by a patch. It was none other than the GlassMaster himself. M., who was raised RC, crossed herself to avert the Evil Eye, but I lacked this connection to the supernatural. So, after briefly enduring the hostile rays beamed at us by Chihuly, we decamped to seats in the next Founders Tier Box.
Just recently, a visitor to the Glass Museum in Tacoma, evidently an art critic of particular sensitivity, smashed one of Chihuly's creations, valued at $120,000. The poor fellow was indicted, although I think he deserves an award. If you'd like to join us, we could strike a medal for him when he gets out of stir.