February 10, 2009
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Start with a viral Internet craze. Throw in bits and pieces of confession and voyeurism, raw honesty and self-serving puffery. Add a dash of random beauty and musings on our digital identities. Cook this stew with the fascination of bloggers and the mainstream journalists — some of whom are just beginning to learn about Facebook. And there you have it: the phenomenon of “25 Random Things.”

This Internet fad may go the way of the pet rock and the mood ring. But, at least for the moment, isn’t it nice to avoid thinking about your 401(k)?

1. I am meditating on the meaning of 25 Random Things.

2. I don’t have anything against the 25 Random Things phenomenon, and I don’t intend to protest too much about it.

3. In fact, I enjoy reading my friends’ lists of 25 Random Things.

4. But I don’t plan to reveal 25 Random Things about me. Why is that? I’m trying to figure that out.

5. Sure, I tend to be a private person. But I have revealed personal things about myself, both in stories I’ve published and in my Facebook status updates and notes. So I’m not sure the desire for privacy is a driving factor here.

6. Though certainly, like you, I’m afraid of revealing something about myself that could be misinterpreted.

7. I’m struggling for a bit of honesty. Could I be brave enough to reveal something meaningful and truthful about myself? You could argue that’s not the purpose of 25 Random Things. It’s all about revealing the flotsam and jetsam of our lives -– everything adding up to some sort of social lubricant, a glimpse of what makes us human.

8. And I’m not saying that writing 25 Random Things about oneself is a dishonest thing. Far from it. I admire my friends’ honesty. But I would be really tempted to create an online persona (Cool Tom) by crafting 25 Random Things that are absurd and ironic. I would only share things that put my character in a positive light.

9. Lucinda Williams once whispered into my ear in a crowded bar in Nashville. There, I revealed one Random Thing, a brush with celebrity. Does that make me cool, or does it make me a star-[bleep]er for mentioning it? And is it cool to use bad words in 25 Random Things?

10. And if I chose to share some deep, dark fear or flaw, it wouldn’t be a truly terrible thing. It would amount to some self-deprecatory “I’ve been down that road” piece of well-worn wisdom.

11. Here’s one thing I’m worried about: the fake reality, the stuff of Reality TV. I’ve controlled the way I presented myself to you, and you think you know me, or something significant about me. Maybe I’ve even conducted some focus groups to determine how best to present myself.

12. But isn’t that attitude somewhat hypocritical? Don’t I already do that in my Facebook status updates? Don’t we do that in real life, too, putting our best foot (or feet) forward?

13. And is it Real Tom or Cool Tom who is writing 25 Random Things about 25 Random Things?

14. This makes me think of Capt. Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger. He had about a minute to figure out how to land the airplane into the Hudson River. The way he conducted himself, the way he landed the plane –- that was his true self. There was no time for fake reality there. No time for meditation. No time for calculation beyond the simple math of making sure the friction of landing on water didn’t tear the plane apart.

15. Both Real Tom and Cool Tom feel the pressure to entertain and enlighten. That’s the weird thing about Facebook for 40-somethings. We feel like we need to be profound. We can’t just say we ate a burrito today.

16. I’m struggling for profundity in this note, for example.

17. The fact that I confessed that –- is that calculated self-deprecation, and does that get me off the hook if I fail to be profound? Where is Andy Kaufman when we need him?

18. Other people who won’t participate in 25 Random Things say they don’t have enough interesting things to say about themselves. But there’s a bit of false modesty in that, I think.

19. Just because I enjoy reading my friends’ 25 Random Things but am uncomfortable writing my own -– does that make me a bad person? Does that make me a Chauncey Gardiner character?

20. So I’ve laced my note with some cultural references to Lucinda Williams, Capt. Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger, Andy Kaufman and Chauncey Gardiner. Let me bring up someone else. I wish David Foster Wallace were around to write about 25 Random Things. I would enjoy reading his 100 Random Footnotes to 25 Random Things.

21. The chain-letter aspect of 25 Random Things does bug me a little bit — the fact that we are spreading this virally by tagging 25 of our friends. And yet I’m glad I was tagged, because that means my friends want to know more about me. But I won’t tag you with this note. I hope you’ll take that in the right way.

22. Two of my favorite albums are REM’s “Fables of the Reconstruction” and Son Volt’s “Trace.” Both albums tell me something about the importance of restraint and the beauty of obscuring ourselves. There, I’ve revealed another Random Thing. Does the fact that I love those albums, and interpret them in those ways, does that tell you something about me?

23. I am wondering about the importance of mystery in our lives, and whether mystery hinders intimacy or fosters it.

24. The fact that I enjoy meditating on the meaning of 25 Random Things, rather than participating in it, does that make me too much of a Meta person? What kind of insanity is that?

25. I am meditating on the meaning of 25 Random Things about 25 Random Things.

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Tom Huang is Sunday & Enterprise Editor at The Dallas Morning News and Adjunct Faculty member of The Poynter Institute, where he oversees the school’s…
Tom Huang

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