Poetry at Work: The Poetry of Electronic Work


Twenty years ago this summer, I was having a series of meetings with the then-company’s IT people. We wanted to do an email newsletter for employees; IT did not want us to do that. “It will crash the system,” we were told. “This will harm all of our computer systems,” they said. I even heard vague hints that our overtaxing the email system could lead to financial chaos and cultural collapse in the West.

We took the risk and started our newsletter. Nothing bad happened. In fact, the email system handled the newsletter just fine, thank you. Nothing even minor happened.

The first lesson we learned was to look at dire claims of disaster with a skeptical eye. The second lesson was that an email newsletter was work. Despite the appearance of ease that bytes and pixels seem to promise, nothing was easy about an email newsletter. And we learned that if employees liked the newsletter (and they did), our work for employees soon found itself far outside the company — they forwarded the newsletter to friends, sales prospects, academics, and just about anyone else they thought might find it interesting.

That was the third lesson we learned: in an electronic world, internal communication = external communication. Natural barriers were being erased.

Today, these lessons are even more true. Most of my day-to-day work involves Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, discussion boards, a blog — and it’s no surprise to anyone how labor-intensive they are. To do them right in an organizational setting is even more time-consuming than in a personal setting, because you have to consider both internal and external sensibilities as you manage these channels.

Like all work, the work of electronic communications contains inherent poetry, perhaps several inherent poetries: the poetry of information, the poetry of relationship, the poetry of psychology. And, like the poetry of several other disciplines, it is also the poetry of encouragement and affirmation while simultaneously being the poetry of conflict, debate, and acrimony.

In few other areas do so many kinds of poetry come together and fuse as they do in the electronic communications of online communities. It is some of the hardest work I’ve ever done.

People will say things on Twitter and Facebook that they would never dream of saying in person. Somehow we have come to believe that online communities offer some degree of anonymity and security when actually they do not (ask the National Security Administration, or the people who set up fake Facebook accounts).

Online communities include the poetry of extremes. We scream in ALL CAPS. We suggest sarcasm with LOL. We use pictures and emoticons to illustrate our emotions. We use profanity to an astonishing degree.

At the same time, we create things of great beauty, lasting relationships, profound thinking and words that affirm and encourage. Tweetspeak Poetry itself was born on Twitter, and I personally find it to be a place of both insight and beauty.

The poetry of electronic work is a song, a song of myself (to borrow from one poet) that joins with hundreds and thousands of other songs. It is a chorus of the sacred and the profane, the individual and the common.

It’s not that I tweet,
therefore I am, or that
I like, therefore I belong
to a tribe whose sustenance
is bytes and jpegs, ALL CAPS
and LOLs; IMHO it is that
I am, therefore I tweet.

(IMHO = In My Humble Opinion)

Photograph by SuzieT. Sourced via Flickr. Post by Glynn Young, author of the novels Dancing Priest and the recently published A Light Shining.

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  1. says

    Fun poem at the end. :)

    Yes, digital work it is work. It costs financially and it costs time-wise and body-wise.

    I think that is hard to remember, because, at the end of the day, we don’t go home with something “in our hands.”

    Maybe that’s why I am attracted to the idea of Artist Dates and “place,” because I want to feel that sense of where the ethereal web meets the physical self.

    Which of course it does. Though it is hard to quantify.


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