March 26, 2007

Bedford Falls, the Twittering Machine, and the Global Village

Twitter, i wrote, feels like finding myself in a Frank Capra Movie for the digital age, coming back to place I never were. The film i thought of is of course the great "It's A Wonderful Life", presenting the view on a "normal life" and a small town through the eyes of the movie which are at the same time the eyes of an angel, and ending with James Stewart finding an inscription from his guardian angel in a Tom Sawyer book: "Remember no man is a failure who has friends."

It was nominated for some Academy Awards, but reviews were mixed: The New York Times complained that "the weakness of this picture ... is the sentimentality of it—its illusory concept of life. Mr. Capra's nice people are charming, his small town is a quite beguiling place and his pattern for solving problems is most optimistic and facile. But somehow they all resemble theatrical attitudes rather than average realities."

The Imaginary Place Profile of the electronically reinvented village, Bedford Falls, is here, linking to a real town in Upstate New York:"Although the movie was filmed in California, many people speculate that Seneca Falls, NY, was the inspiration for George Bailey's hometown."

So there is a "real place", or at least its digital representation: the profile, the flickered sights. Including a literary quote pointing at the problems of villages and small towns digital media are helping to solve: "In Seneca Falls, my life was comparatively solitary, and the change from Boston was somewhat depressing." (Eighty Years and More, Elizabeth Cady Stanton)

A Google Search for "Twittering Birds" and "Seneca Falls" led to the smart blog "The Cranky Professor", by a college professor doing European Studies, apparently already nearing retirement, blogging on the weather and George Clinton's "Parliament". (I'd never have met poeple like that in real life ...)

On his blog entry remark "The twittering birds wake me at 6.18.", he is linking the birds to to Paul Klee's painting "Twittering Machine".

He seems to have his own digital community around him. Somehow reflecting the current Twitter discussions, a friend comments on the birds: "Some days I'd like to wring their necks. The cacaphony (spelling deliberate) of the crows is the worst."

She has an autobiography at that tells us she "grew up in New England in a small traditional village (a village green, a general store, a gas station and a church)", has a B.A. in Philosophy and minors in Psychology and Geography, is about 60 years old, and is a fan of science fiction, for 40 years, thanks to Arthur C. Clarke.

The village where I myself grew up, by the way, is Piding in Upper Bavaria. There was, and is, no movie theatre there, but it was the radio that changed my life.

As I'm just now realizing, that was exactly what McLuhan was saying when he coined the famous term: "The new electronic interdependece recreates the world in the image of a global village." (The Medium is the Massage, p67) The radio, according to him, is the favorite medium of of tribal village culture.

McLuhan seemingly has first mentioned the "Global Village" only some years after Capra's film: "Today with electronics we have discovered that we live in a global village, and the job is to create aglobal city, a center for the village margins." (Letters, p278) I assume this was also connected to David Riesman's study of new mediated community structures in after-war suburbia in "The Lonely Crowd".

And even the angel perspective from the Capra film can be found in his thoughts: "[Electronic man] is transmitted instantly everywhere and has become a disembodied angel" (1971).

So welcome to Twitterville, again. (Or should I say: Twitter Falls?)

(All quotations after W. Terrence Gordon, Marshall McLuhan - Escape into Understanding. A Biography. BasicBooks: New York, NY; 1997.)

Posted by martin at March 26, 2007 12:58 AM
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