It all started, as it so often does these days, with a tweet:
I’m a skeptic by nature, but I love ghost stories and legends. They’re a lot of fun, even if I don’t really believe them.
That said, I never want to see anyone offer a picture with “orbs” in it as evidence of ghostly activity again. Remember, you can’t spell “orbs” without “bs”.
— Berthold Gambrel (@BertholdGambrel) May 29, 2018
This was probably too glib on my part. I’ve just gotten sick of so many alleged real-life hauntings where people say “We think the place is haunted because there are cold drafts and when you take pictures in the dark with a flash, you see orbs.”
If you take pictures of anything in the dark with a flash, you will almost certainly see orbs. Here’s one I took during a rainstorm in my front yard:
Anyway, that isn’t the important part of the story. The important part is that Mark Paxson replied to this with a comment about the Marfa lights, a phenomenon which I had never heard of. I’m not sure how, as it’s exactly the sort of weird, Coast-to-Coast AM-ish paranormal Americana that I love to read and write about.
Well, Mark has written about them, in a short story called, in fact, The Marfa Lights. I don’t want to spoil too much, but it’s a very well-crafted story. It has a memorable narrator and a well-paced plot advanced by gradual revelations.
I haven’t read the other short stories in the collection yet, but I can already tell you that it’s well worth picking up. Partly, this is because the first story is so good. And partly, it’s due to a piece of advice to writers that Mark gives in his brief preface. I won’t say what it is, except to say it reminded me of one of my favorite movie quotes: “There’s a whole world out there of other people’s tales, if you’d just care and listen,” from Jane Got a Gun.
To recap: I made a lame joke on Twitter, but as a result I got rewarded with a story of a weird ghostly phenomenon and a nice new book to read. That wouldn’t have happened without social media. Mark and I would have no idea of each other’s existence without social media. (Thanks, Carrie!)
I’ve blogged about this before, but this week seemed particularly bad for social media. There were quite a few stories about it being used for lots of despicable things. But it doesn’t have to be that way. Like almost any technology, it has the potential for both good and evil. I keep coming back to this timeless quote from Edward R. Murrow, speaking about television in 1958:
“This instrument can teach, it can illuminate; yes, and even it can inspire. But it can do so only to the extent that humans are determined to use it to those ends. Otherwise it’s nothing but wires and lights in a box.”