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The Art of the Status Update

Facebook's Status Update as 21st-century literary form About a year ago, my undergraduates had to explain to me what they meant by "Facebook...

Facebook's Status Update as 21st-century literary form

About a year ago, my undergraduates had to explain to me what they meant by "Facebook group." About six months ago, they tittered when I told them I had joined: professor- and parent-types were embarrassing, slightly unwanted invaders into their youthful site. About two months ago, I started getting frequent friend requests from, well, friends. Facebook is now officially open to oldsters.Me and my peeps love Status Updates. We like to let everyone know what we made for dinner, what we are watching on television, where we watched the Inauguration, and the cute things our kids just did. We also like to be witty, and sometimes we aim for provocative obscurity.Research (i.e. my Facebook homepage, circa 2:17 p.m. Thursday, January 22, 2009) suggests that Status Updates fall roughly into four categories. 1. Prosaic, or "what I am doing now," (Jill is baking bread). 2. Informative, or "stuff I found somewhere else" (Jack loves this article from GOOD, followed by URL); 3. Clever and funny (Johnny thinks Obama should be sworn in a few more times, just to be EXTRA safe.; Janey discovered that Michelle Obama's wardrobe is a divisive topic in water aerobics class, and 4.) Poetic or nonsensical (Josh is watching a parakeet form itself out of ice on the telephone wire; If Jim were a cloud, he would rain Earl Grey tea).This research leads me to pondering the status of a status update as a literary form, or a form of written expression. Dare we define it?First, there is the question of form. Facebook requires your name to be the first word of every update. Relentlessly first-person, the status update is akin to a lyric poem, dominated by the speaker, the "I." Another defining formal quality is, of course, length. Several of my "Friends" remark that the Status Update is Haiku-like in its strictness about brevity. The poet (and Friend) Troy Jollimore compares the Status Update to an epitaph, and notes that "we might think of one's epitaph as the very last status update."Another quality of the Status Update is that it is temporally defined. "Update" suggests one is always writing about the just-arrived present, and assumes a reader's familiarity with the past (something that can be updated). DeSales Harrison, a professor at Oberlin College, sums up the temporality of a status update as: "the form equidistant from sky writing and the tattoo" (or, to transpose this definition into a status update form: "DeSales says the form equidistant from sky writing and the tattoo.")I have more questions than answers about this fascinating new literary form of ours. What do you think of the Status Update as a literary form? Could you express it in 160 characters or less?One last request. Twitter feeds now have their own verb. When a friend told me he had tweeted, it took me quite awhile to figure out what he meant-was he a bird? I wish Status Updates would get verbified, too. Suggestions?Anne has just finished writing her column. You can find it here. Spatula.

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