Social Mediation

By Sean Carroll | July 8, 2009 11:39 am

People writing books, I have to imagine, are much like people with babies. This newborn thing has been the center of their life, and will continue to be, for some time; and one naturally presumes that the rest of the world shares one’s fascination with it. This presumption, alas, may not always be true.

You may have heard that I have a book coming out — pushed back to January, unfortunately. I haven’t shown any hesitation in blogging about substantive questions related to the topic of the book, nor do I see any reason to. And once it comes out I do want to do some sort of book club so that people can ask questions and have a conversation about what’s in the various chapters. So there will be no shortage of book-related stuff here on the blog.

But there is a whole ‘nother level of bookish miscellany — admiring the illustrations, having blurbs come in for the back cover, setting up public talks, and all that. Now we’re pretty much into baby-picture territory; it might not be completely safe to assume that everyone else is as fascinated by all this as I am. But you don’t want to deprive those who are, right? So I’m sending all that stuff here:

That will shield you from the worst of my enthusiasms. A bit, anyway.

Not that I’m at all sure that this is the right thing to do. Back in my day, we didn’t have all these fancy social networks to play around in; you had your blog, and that was it. Now there’s been a bit of proliferation, and there’s no question that it’s changing the landscape. It can obviously be annoying to try to follow too many things at once, but on the other hand it’s nice to have more appropriate tools for distinct tasks. In the old days, I wouldn’t think much of writing a blog post with an amusing link and little else. Now I will just put that on my Twitter feed. So there are fewer blog posts overall, but the average amount of substance per post is higher. Is this an improvement? Not really sure.

A lot of bloggers have Twitter feeds where they link to every one of their blog posts, which seems backwards to me. (So I usually don’t subscribe to those folks — nothing personal.) I once asked (on Twitter) whether people thought that was a useful service, and I received strong opinions on either side — but then I noticed that everyone who was in favor of linking to every blog post on Twitter was a blogger who linked to every one of their blog posts on Twitter. So I resist. But then again, I synchronize my Twitter feed to my Facebook status updates, which is considered unforgivably gauche in some circles. So who am I to complain?

  • Frac

    The solution seems obvious. Set up another account called seanmcaroll_updates or something, and use a Twitter client that supports multiple accounts. People can subscribe or not as they wish.

  • Sean

    We could set up a Twitter account for Cosmic Variance, that would have nothing but links to new posts. If three people leave comments saying that would be a useful idea, we’ll do it.

  • Hi There

    sure, go ahead.

  • Anthony

    Oh no, delayed to January! As someone that can’t make ice cubes without checking the freezer every five minutes, it’ll be hard. However, still very excited.

  • Matt Leifer

    Better yet, set up a friendfeed account that aggregates all your content in one place.

  • Sili

    Most of that went completely over my head. (But I’m on LJ, of course …)

    Having just been introduced to the fortnight-old spawn of my friends, I think I’ll thank you for keeping the babypictures off the blog (but it is your blog so you should do whatever the hell you want, commenters be damned. In fact, the more we complain, the more you should not-follow our complaints).

    This seems oddly appropriate.

    (Completely unrelated: I’ve just listened to lecture 9 on Classical Mechanics from Stanford and ******* **** **** if that isn’t the last of them, just like for GM. Have they deliberately only put half the stuff online in order to get us to pay for the rest? Well, **** those ************* *******.)

  • Shawn C. Mason

    Bloggers are going to post links to articles on as many sites as they can because incoming links from high page rank (popularity/relevence as says google) are good for your own page rank moving you up. I’ve actually found a lot of short twitter posts end up high in google all on their own anyway :)


  • nobody

    Hi Sean,
    I have a question for you:

    You seem to be blogging/twittering etc all the time and what’s more you are writing a philosophical book (there’s a big difference between physics and philosophy but that’s another issue). Also, I guess you have teaching and administrative responsibilities (we all have them), so when do you find the time to do some research?

    The last single author (not with your *cough* slaves *cough*,oh I meant collaborators ), physics related paper and not philosophy (arrow of time stuff etc you wrote) was back on 2005 or 2006 or something?

    Don’t take me wring, I’m just asking :)

  • Social Science Fair Projects

    Humans are social beings that rely on social hierarchies and status. This is why I think that we all seem to need to feel that what we create, be a baby or a book, is important to the whole of the group, even though chances are that it won’t be. If you are working on a science fair project don’t overlook social science as an area of study for your project.

  • i.d.

    I enjoy your blog very much. It has some very interesting and inspiring posts. But some of the posts seem to be quite unconnected with any meaningful reality, like this one.

    Sorry for the intrusion, with hope to see some more of the insightful posts, less of the self-contemplating.

  • Timon of Athens

    “The last single author (not with your *cough* slaves *cough*,oh I meant collaborators ), physics related paper and not philosophy (arrow of time stuff etc you wrote) was back on 2005 or 2006 or something?”

    I remember somebody saying this a long time ago, but anyway I will say it again. Sean C. has done more than anyone [other than the somewhat Olympian Roger Penrose] to bring the Arrow of Time issue back to where it belongs, ie at the center of attention for anyone serious about cosmology. He has done this in the face of the most amazingly obnoxious, obscurantist, and just plain stupid opposition. Everyone in the field, including those like me who don’t believe his AOT theory [sorry!] is *deeply* in his debt for doing this and accepting all the idiotic bullshit that he must have known would be thrown at him. Thanks SC!

    “Don’t take me wring, I’m just asking.”

    Don’t take this wrong, “Nobody”, but please favor us with *your* understanding of the AOT. That ought to be good for a [short] laugh.

  • nobody

    @”Timon of Athens”: I wonder why you chose this name? Anyone who knows who Timon was, understands my question… Do you?

    Regarding the AOT, I agree that it is an important question, but is it more important than the quests to understand the accelerated expansion of the universe or to (properly) quantize gravity? My humble opinion is that it is not.

    Most probably it is an emergent phenomenon (side-effect of the acceleration or the increase of entropy?) and at this point I do expect many (angry) replies (do your worst Timon!) but everyone is entitled to his opinion, right?

  • Sili

    Not that it matters, but in the interest of improving my honesty, I need to withdraw my very angry outburst up there.

    It would seem that I suck at navigating YouTube.

  • Timon of Athens

    “Most probably it is an emergent phenomenon (side-effect of the acceleration or the increase of entropy?) ”

    Most likely it is a side-effect of the increase of entropy, yes.

    My, that *was* a short laugh.

    I suggest that you take another look at SC’s paper with Jennifer Chen.

  • nobody

    “My, that *was* a short laugh.”
    Then you have a weird sense of humor, but given your nickname, it makes sense…

  • RD

    Hmm, I wondered about the sniping being off-topic under the heading Social mediation.
    Silly me, unrestrained sniping is a form of social mediation, though of the more unpleasant sort.

  • Social Science Fair Projects

    If you are looking for a great topic for social science fair projects then consider thinking about why people need to express themselves iconically, via written and art symbols.


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About Sean Carroll

Sean Carroll is a Senior Research Associate in the Department of Physics at the California Institute of Technology. His research interests include theoretical aspects of cosmology, field theory, and gravitation. His most recent book is The Particle at the End of the Universe, about the Large Hadron Collider and the search for the Higgs boson. Here are some of his favorite blog posts, home page, and email: carroll [at] .


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