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Rational Tweeting and Social Media

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In Heretics, G. K. Chesterton enjoins:

 

Drink because you are happy, but never because you are miserable. Never drink when you are wretched without it, or you will be like the grey-faced gin-drinker in the slum; but drink when you would be happy without it, and you will be like the laughing peasant of Italy. Never drink because you need it, for this is rational drinking, and the way to death and hell. But drink because you do not need it, for this is irrational drinking, and the ancient health of the world.

 

 

 

In my limited experience, a significant portion of users—though perhaps not a majority—partake in social media for what might be deemed the purpose of "rational tweeting." (I use "tweeting" as handy shorthand for use of any social media, be it Facebook, Vine, Instagram, etc.) Most frequently, I observe, the rational tweeter seems devoted to the airing of grievances political and religious in nature. Two receptions tend to ensue from the rational tweet: mutual commiseration or outraged contradiction. 

 

I wonder if anyone has had a similar experience. I find it useful to inquire into my motives for tweeting. Do you find that, on balance, social media increases or diminishes your general happiness in daily life? Does it affect your capacity for reflexive and prayerful gratitude? Or is it more like a mirror, only reflecting the happiness or misery you may or may not bring to it?

 

I'm just thinking out loud here. 

Edited by du Garbandier

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Tyler   

There was that "Facebook Sadness Study" a few months ago.

 

 

Led by Alex Jordan, who at the time was a Ph.D. student in Stanford's psychology department, the researchers found that their subjects consistently underestimated how dejected others were–and likely wound up feeling more dejected as a result. Jordan got the idea for the inquiry after observing his friends' reactions to Facebook: He noticed that they seemed to feel particularly crummy about themselves after logging onto the site and scrolling through others' attractive photos, accomplished bios, and chipper status updates. "They were convinced that everyone else was leading a perfect life," he told me.

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In Heretics, G. K. Chesterton enjoins:

Drink because you are happy, but never because you are miserable. Never drink when you are wretched without it, or you will be like the grey-faced gin-drinker in the slum; but drink when you would be happy without it, and you will be like the laughing peasant of Italy. Never drink because you need it, for this is rational drinking, and the way to death and hell. But drink because you do not need it, for this is irrational drinking, and the ancient health of the world.

I love Chesterton. But I often have to remember that many of his turns of phrase only[/i work in the context of his own exuberance. He will often say things that are not generally true, but then turn them upside down so that, as he means it something like "irrational drinking" is better than "rational drinking." The problem is that it's often difficult to use one of Chesterton's paradoxes by analogy. His analogy is already limited to begin with, so to try and lift it out of the context of how he was making it and apply it something completely different is tenuous to say the least. Believe me, I read and quote Chesterton often, I've got myself into trouble before trying to apply some of his paradoxes by analogy.

Comparing something like tweeting or social media to something like Scotch or wine seems a little incredible to me. Scotch or wine are earthly pleasures. Social media is technological and artificial. Scotch and wine have existed for thousands of years. Social media, in the sense that the phrase is used, is a new invention. Chesterton is arguing that drinking for the utilitarian purpose of drowning one's sorrows is abusing something good. Social media is a form of technology that many (like Marshal McLuhan and Neil Postman) have argued is very dangerous when used outside of it's utilitarian purpose.

 

In my limited experience, a significant portion of users—though perhaps not a majority—partake in social media for what might be deemed the purpose of "rational tweeting." (I use "tweeting" as handy shorthand for use of any social media, be it Facebook, Vine, Instagram, etc.) Most frequently, I observe, the rational tweeter seems devoted to the airing of grievances political and religious in nature. Two receptions tend to ensue from the rational tweet: mutual commiseration or outraged contradiction.

If you were to take this idea anywhere out in public, you'd be using the term "tweeting" differently that over 99% of other English speakers. Tweeting to most of us means only 140 characters or less, and a form of social media that is very specific to a group of technological consumers. No one is going to understand what you mean without your going to the trouble of explaining it in the context of that fun Chesterton quote. When I first saw the thread title "rational tweeting" it sounded like an ironic or farcical oxymoron. Tweeting is probably one of the forms of social media least likely to encourage rational discourse.

 

I wonder if anyone has had a similar experience. I find it useful to inquire into my motives for tweeting. Do you find that, on balance, social media increases or diminishes your general happiness in daily life? Does it affect your capacity for reflexive and prayerful gratitude? Or is it more like a mirror, only reflecting the happiness or misery you may or may not bring to it?

Thinking of social media in general, I have noticed that many use it to, as you put it, "air social or religious grievances." I block (or depublish) those people so that I don't have to read what they write anymore. But many others use it to post irrelevant and mundane details about whatever they happen to be doing. I'm not above doing the same.

But I think I would argue that if "social media" has the ability to increase or decrease my general happiness, then I would be using it wrong. News from friends can do that, and social media can facilitate news from friends - or even the forming of friendships over distances. That's a wonderful technological innovation. But, in and of itself, social media is just a tool to do that.

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Comparing something like tweeting or social media to something like Scotch or wine seems a little incredible to me. Scotch or wine are earthly pleasures. Social media is technological and artificial. Scotch and wine have existed for thousands of years. Social media, in the sense that the phrase is used, is a new invention. Chesterton is arguing that drinking for the utilitarian purpose of drowning one's sorrows is abusing something good. Social media is a form of technology that many (like Marshal McLuhan and Neil Postman) have argued is very dangerous when used outside of it's utilitarian purpose.

 

[...]

 

If you were to take this idea anywhere out in public, you'd be using the term "tweeting" differently that over 99% of other English speakers. Tweeting to most of us means only 140 characters or less, and a form of social media that is very specific to a group of technological consumers. No one is going to understand what you mean without your going to the trouble of explaining it in the context of that fun Chesterton quote. When I first saw the thread title "rational tweeting" it sounded like an ironic or farcical oxymoron. Tweeting is probably one of the forms of social media least likely to encourage rational discourse.

 

 

Please forgive me my little verbal dilatations, my idiosyncracies of loose expression, such as "rational tweeting." They are meant as breezy fabrications, strung up in the virtual air to amuse anyone who might find some stray pleasure in it, and not so much to mortar distinct bricks of precise signification. Certainly they cannot survive the Cleanth Brooks-style textual assaying you are prepared to give (and which I often enjoy, incidentally; I mean this only as a compliment). Really all I was wondering was whether other people have had occasion to reflect on their experiences with social media, especially relating to ordinary life, using GKC as a little (big) springboard. That's all. 

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Rushmore   

This is a little off topic, but:
 

When I first saw the thread title "rational tweeting" it sounded like an ironic or farcical oxymoron. Tweeting is probably one of the forms of social media least likely to encourage rational discourse.

You've never tried it, have you? Actually, Twitter has several advantages over Facebook when it comes to rational discourse:

 

- While some people have "protected" accounts that only approved people can follow, the culture of Twitter on the whole is public, in contrast to Facebook, where most people allow only their friends to see posts. This means people are less likely to talk about their personal lives and more likely to talk about public affairs (in the broadest possible sense).

- Sharing photos is cumbersome, and since the vast majority of the photos that take up so much space on Facebook etc. are totally inconsequential, this can only help.

- Twitter has no FarmVille or other dopey, time-eating games.

 

If you put some effort in and find the right people to follow, Twitter can be extremely rewarding.

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Twitter is sometimes criticized as attention-span-shortening. Well, perhaps if users were limited to a single tweet. But no. If 140 characters do not suffice for conveying one's ponderous thoughts, one can simply compose another magnificent tweet, and then another. And so on. 

Edited by du Garbandier

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NBooth   

FWIW, I'm suspicious of drawing a hard and fast distinction between "natural" and "technological." Fermentation may be natural, but wine certainly isn't; it's the result of humans artificially (one might even say technologically) goading fermentation in a direction we find pleasing. It's no more natural than typing this message.

 

I don't think of Facebook or Twitter as a tool to air grievances (though I used Twitter this way not long ago); I use it as a pin-board. Something catches my eye--interesting, silly, ludicrous--I put it up and see if anyone else has anything to say about it. Trying for anything closer than that might be along the lines of "rational drinking"--which would be precisely using a technology in a way that defeats its purpose because you're looking too hard for something that should be a side-effect. Or something.

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Twitter is sometimes criticized as attention-span-shortening. Well, perhaps if users were limited to a single tweet. But no. If 140 characters do not suffice for conveying one's ponderous thoughts, one can simply compose another magnificent tweet, and then another. And so on.

This is true, but the Twitter interface makes following extended conversations or developing thoughts something of a nightmare, which is why I stay away from Twitter.

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Anders   

 

Twitter is sometimes criticized as attention-span-shortening. Well, perhaps if users were limited to a single tweet. But no. If 140 characters do not suffice for conveying one's ponderous thoughts, one can simply compose another magnificent tweet, and then another. And so on.

This is true, but the Twitter interface makes following extended conversations or developing thoughts something of a nightmare, which is why I stay away from Twitter.

 

 

A shame. I for one would welcome your voice on Twitter.

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I've dealt with some pretty lousy interfaces on old internet forums and the like, but following a conversation on Twitter is the worst. I don't know how anybody puts up with it.

 

I'll gladly join Twitter if the interface ever improves.

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Really all I was wondering was whether other people have had occasion to reflect on their experiences with social media, especially relating to ordinary life, using GKC as a little (big) springboard. That's all.

Absolutely - all the way to the point where I'm constantly trying to avoid the very strong temptation to outright Ludditism.

 

You've never tried it, have you? Actually, Twitter has several advantages over Facebook when it comes to rational discourse:

 

- While some people have "protected" accounts that only approved people can follow, the culture of Twitter on the whole is public, in contrast to Facebook, where most people allow only their friends to see posts. This means people are less likely to talk about their personal lives and more likely to talk about public affairs (in the broadest possible sense).

- Sharing photos is cumbersome, and since the vast majority of the photos that take up so much space on Facebook etc. are totally inconsequential, this can only help.

- Twitter has no FarmVille or other dopey, time-eating games.

My personal abstinence from Twitter is based upon two premises: (1) Marshall McLuhan was not crazy, and (2) Twitter is the embodiment of Marshall McLuhan's nightmare.

It would be difficult to consider "better than Facebook" for purposes of rational discourse a high recommendation. I have attempted "rational discourse" on Facebook multiple times and have always been disappointed with the results. I can see how no photos or games could be an advantage, but, in our culture, I'm afraid that the idea that being in public is anymore a deterrent to the airing of random personal thoughts is an overly-idealistic dream.

I won't argue that you shouldn't use Twitter and I won't insist that no one can find benefits in it. But I personally don't have enough time in the day as it is, and I'm increasingly finding that allegedly "time-saving" social media increasingly soak up more and more time. Maybe it's my own fault or a personal weakness uniquely my own, but hours spent on Twitter for me would be hours not spent writing or reading books.

Twitter is sometimes criticized as attention-span-shortening. Well, perhaps if users were limited to a single tweet. But no. If 140 characters do not suffice for conveying one's ponderous thoughts, one can simply compose another magnificent tweet, and then another. And so on.

Some of the best of thoughts require paragraphs, even multiple paragraphs, and even when concisely and precisely expressed. Using Twitter for them would fragment them in a way that would break something reflective.

 

FWIW, I'm suspicious of drawing a hard and fast distinction between "natural" and "technological." Fermentation may be natural, but wine certainly isn't; it's the result of humans artificially (one might even say technologically) goading fermentation in a direction we find pleasing. It's no more natural than typing this message.

Well, digging a hole in the ground with a shovel could semantically be argued to be "technological." But that's not the point. The philosophers who have spent time thinking and writing about technology, use a distinction like this to ask about the very real idea of technology having a law of diminishing returns. In the context of physical health, digging with a shovel will keep you in better shape than sitting in a cab pulling levers. Obviously, using a mechanized machine could allow one man to dig more holes in a day than ten men with shovels could. That's a human good. But, it's still worth paying attention to the health of the guy sitting there pulling the levers.

Putting it another way, social media has an articial effect upon writing. The medium of email encourages us to write worse than the medium of handwritten (or even typed) letters. I don't care whether the word we use for it is "natural" or something else. It's the distinction that I'm interested in. Writing a letter is more "natural"/"__________" than writing an email. It is more "natural"/"_________" to look another person in the eye and talk to him or her face-to-face than it is to talk on the phone > write a letter > write an email > write on their Facebook wall > send a text message > post a "Tweet", etc.

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NBooth   

 

FWIW, I'm suspicious of drawing a hard and fast distinction between "natural" and "technological." Fermentation may be natural, but wine certainly isn't; it's the result of humans artificially (one might even say technologically) goading fermentation in a direction we find pleasing. It's no more natural than typing this message.

Well, digging a hole in the ground with a shovel could semantically be argued to be "technological." But that's not the point. The philosophers who have spent time thinking and writing about technology, use a distinction like this to ask about the very real idea of technology having a law of diminishing returns. In the context of physical health, digging with a shovel will keep you in better shape than sitting in a cab pulling levers. Obviously, using a mechanized machine could allow one man to dig more holes in a day than ten men with shovels could. That's a human good. But, it's still worth paying attention to the health of the guy sitting there pulling the levers.

Putting it another way, social media has an articial effect upon writing. The medium of email encourages us to write worse than the medium of handwritten (or even typed) letters. I don't care whether the word we use for it is "natural" or something else. It's the distinction that I'm interested in. Writing a letter is more "natural"/"__________" than writing an email. It is more "natural"/"_________" to look another person in the eye and talk to him or her face-to-face than it is to talk on the phone > write a letter > write an email > write on their Facebook wall > send a text message > post a "Tweet", etc.

 

Digging a hole isn't semantically technological; it's technically technological. It's simply false to argue that there are "natural" ways of humans doing stuff and "unnatural/technological" ways of doing stuff. And yeah, philosophers since Plato have said that new technologies of communication are dangerous. Socrates, recall, opposed writing itself:

 

Writing, you know, Phaedrus, has this strange quality about it, which makes it really like painting: the painter's products stand before us quite as though they were alive; but if you question them, they maintain a solemn silence. So, too, with written words: you might think they spoke as though they made sense, but if you ask them anything about what they are saying, if you wish an explanation, they go on telling you the same thing, over and over forever. Once a thing is put in writing, it rolls about all over the place, falling into the hands of those who have no concern with it just as easily as under the notice of those who comprehend; it has no notion of whom to address or whom to avoid. And when it is ill-treated or abused as illegitimate, it always needs its father to help it, being quite unable to protect or help itself.

 

 

The irony of Socrates' words being preserved in writing is one that would not, I hope, be lost on him. The thing is, he's right that a book can't talk back and is inclined to fall into the wrong hands. That's the nature of the thing. But it's really a neutral matter and the world is not poorer because we rely on books rather than memory and Socratic dialogue. Socrates was quite simply wrong about writing being a net detriment. 

 

The same thing's been said about every new form of communication--the printed book, the telegraph, e-mail, Facebook, Twitter, television, cinema. There's a long, long list of new technologies that demonstrably ruin our ability to communicate "naturally/_______".

 

Now, saying that different technologies of communication work in different ways and impose different expectations and have different rewards and debits is all well and good. That's a sociological data point. But to extrapolate it to a conclusion like "Twitter imposes a limit on what can be said and so degrades communication" is to make a larger point that really isn't warranted by the facts. Twitter's no more designed to replace letters than the telegraph was; they serve different purposes--each of them equally valid. Same goes for e-mail versus letters: they do different things; of course the writing-style required by them is going to be different. That doesn't mean anything more than the statement itself, though.

 

Put another way, I'm inclined to think that a technology is only as damaging or as beneficial as what you put into it. And humans will always find a way to make any given technology both the worst and the best thing ever to happen--because that's what humans do.

 

--BTW, I have no idea what you mean by "an artificial effect upon writing" since there's no such thing as "writing" divorced from the material reality (and I include digital transcription there) of its composition. It sounds like you're assuming there's a Platonic Ideal of Writing, but that's a strange assertion; of all the ways humans have to communicate--voice, sign language, semaphore--writing is the least natural (if we were to grant the idea of "nature" at all). It's arbitrary marks on a page/screen; the mode of transcription may demand different approaches to composition, but writing itself is an artificial effect. And if you mean "emails don't read like letters"--then see above; they don't read like letters because they're not supposed to. That fact is neither better nor worse. Simply different.

 

EDIT: Speaking of ironies, it's worth pointing out that technologies of communication here fill precisely the same functional role that "ideology" does in our thread on that topic.

Edited by NBooth

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I hereby submit that henceforth Jeremy's A&F avatar shall now be this image:

 

old-man-twitter.jpg


I was very lucky to encounter thinkers such as Nicholas Carr and Neil Postman under Alan Jacobs' tutelage, and their claims withered under his intense (but charitable) scrutiny. Of McLuhan, Jacobs writes:

 

I have come to certain conclusions. First, that McLuhan never made arguments, only assertions. Second, that those assertions are usually wrong, and when they are not wrong they are highly debatable. Third, that McLuhan had an uncanny instinct for reading and quoting scholarly books that would become field-defining classics. Fourth, that McLuhan’s determination to bring the vast resources of humanistic scholarship to bear upon the analysis of new media is an astonishingly fruitful one, and an example to be followed. And finally, that once one has absorbed that example there is no need to read anything that McLuhan ever wrote.

Edited by Ryan H.

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Twitter is sometimes criticized as attention-span-shortening. Well, perhaps if users were limited to a single tweet. But no. If 140 characters do not suffice for conveying one's ponderous thoughts, one can simply compose another magnificent tweet, and then another. And so on.

Some of the best of thoughts require paragraphs, even multiple paragraphs, and even when concisely and precisely expressed. Using Twitter for them would fragment them in a way that would break something reflective.

 

 Absolutely. And for those thoughts, there are other tools. But if there are any that thoughts that can be best expressed through the distinctive structure of several Tweets strung together, there is Twitter. 

 

The irony of Socrates' words being preserved in writing is one that would not, I hope, be lost on him. The thing is, he's right that a book can't talk back and is inclined to fall into the wrong hands. That's the nature of the thing. But it's really a neutral matter and the world is not poorer because we rely on books rather than memory and Socratic dialogue. Socrates was quite simply wrong about writing being a net detriment. 

 

The same thing's been said about every new form of communication--the printed book, the telegraph, e-mail, Facebook, Twitter, television, cinema. There's a long, long list of new technologies that demonstrably ruin our ability to communicate "naturally/_______".

 

Now, saying that different technologies of communication work in different ways and impose different expectations and have different rewards and debits is all well and good. That's a sociological data point. But to extrapolate it to a conclusion like "Twitter imposes a limit on what can be said and so degrades communication" is to make a larger point that really isn't warranted by the facts. Twitter's no more designed to replace letters than the telegraph was; they serve different purposes--each of them equally valid. Same goes for e-mail versus letters: they do different things; of course the writing-style required by them is going to be different. That doesn't mean anything more than the statement itself, though.

 

Put another way, I'm inclined to think that a technology is only as damaging or as beneficial as what you put into it. And humans will always find a way to make any given technology both the worst and the best thing ever to happen--because that's what humans do.

 

 

This is very well-stated. 

 

I was very lucky to encounter thinkers such as Nicholas Carr and Neil Postman under Alan Jacobs' tutelage, and their claims withered under his intense (but charitable) scrutiny. Of McLuhan, Jacobs writes:

 

I have come to certain conclusions. First, that McLuhan never made arguments, only assertions. Second, that those assertions are usually wrong, and when they are not wrong they are highly debatable. Third, that McLuhan had an uncanny instinct for reading and quoting scholarly books that would become field-defining classics. Fourth, that McLuhan’s determination to bring the vast resources of humanistic scholarship to bear upon the analysis of new media is an astonishingly fruitful one, and an example to be followed. And finally, that once one has absorbed that example there is no need to read anything that McLuhan ever wrote.

 

 

I find Postman and McLuhan really very insightful, but as time has gone by I have sensed something of the limitations of their ideas. McLuhan in particular I think is most fruitfully read in dialogue with the brilliant Walter Ong. Also, like many great thinkers they have a distressing tendency to spawn monstrous cycloptic progeny who inherit some of their sensibilities but lack their genius. Such is the monster Franzenstein.

Edited by du Garbandier

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Let me quote from a pertinent section of Walter Ong's Orality and Literacy (Kindle version, interestingly enough):

 

 

By contrast with natural, oral speech, writing is completely artificial. There is no way to write ‘naturally’.

 

[...]

 
To say writing is artificial is not to condemn it but to praise it. Like other artificial creations and indeed more than any other, it is utterly invaluable and indeed essential for the realization of fuller, interior, human potentials. Technologies are not mere exterior aids but also interior transformations of consciousness, and never more than when they affect the word. Such transformations can be uplifting. Writing heightens consciousness. Alienation from a natural milieu can be good for us and indeed is in many ways essential for full human life. To live and to understand fully, we need not only proximity but also distance. This writing provides for consciousness as nothing else does. Technologies are artificial, but – paradox again – artificiality is natural to human beings. Technology, properly interiorized, does not degrade human life but on the contrary enhances it.
 
[...]
 
 
What do you think the sounds of an organ come out of? Or the sounds of a violin or even of a whistle? The fact is that by using a mechanical contrivance, a violinist or an organist can express something poignantly human that cannot be expressed without the mechanical contrivance. To achieve such expression of course the violinist or organist has to have interiorized the technology, made the tool or machine a second nature, a psychological part of himself or herself. This calls for years of ‘practice’, learning how to make the tool do what it can do. Such shaping of a tool to oneself, learning a technological skill, is hardly dehumanizing. The use of a technology can enrich the human psyche, enlarge the human spirit, intensify its interior life. Writing is an even more deeply interiorized technology than instrumental musical performance is. But to understand what it is, which means to understand it in relation to its past, to orality, the fact that it is a technology must be honestly faced.

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Digging a hole isn't semantically technological; it's technically technological. It's simply false to argue that there are "natural" ways of humans doing stuff and "unnatural/technological" ways of doing stuff.

I will grant that merely arguing that there are “technological” versions (like using social media) of “natural” human actions (like talking face to face) would be insufficient. The American Heritage Dictionary (Third Edition, 1996) defines “technology” as “(1) The application of science, especially to industrial or commercial objectives” and “(2) The body of knowledge available to a civilization that is of use in fashioning implements, practicing manual arts and skills, and extracting or collecting materials.” “Technological” is thus defined as “Affected by or resulting from scientific and industrial progress.” But I do not believe any of us are attempting to argue here over semantics.

Does a swimmer use a technology that could be labeled as the science of swimming? Sure. Does a sailor use more technology than a swimmer? Yes. Looking across the 18th through the 20th centuries, we have witnessed technology and machines replacing human activity. Into the 21st century this is increasingly so. Human actions are being replaced by the actions of machines. When I use GPS, I am relying on a machine to make geographical computations instead of doing them in my own head. To casually dismiss this difference is to miss one of the most transformative events of the last three centuries. Man has always used technology. For thousands of years, man did not always rely upon the vast technological resources that we rely upon now.

 

And yeah, philosophers since Plato have said that new technologies of communication are dangerous. Socrates, recall, opposed writing itself:

... The irony of Socrates' words being preserved in writing is one that would not, I hope, be lost on him. The thing is, he's right that a book can't talk back and is inclined to fall into the wrong hands. That's the nature of the thing. But it's really a neutral matter and the world is not poorer because we rely on books rather than memory and Socratic dialogue. Socrates was quite simply wrong about writing being a net detriment.

I am well aware of Plato’s Phaedrus. That quote only captures one of Socrates’s more tangential points. Reliance upon writing instead of memory, he argued “will implant forgetfulness in their souls: they will cease to exercise memory because they rely on that which is written, calling things to remembrance no longer from within themselves, but by means of external marks.” Writing is “a recipe not for memory, but for reminder. And it is not true wisdom that you offer your disciples, but only its semblance.” Thus, those who learn to rely upon writing instead of memory will “seem to know much, while for the most part they know nothing.” They will be “filled, not with wisdom, but with the conceit of wisdom.”

Plato’s points here are only one side of the coin. In the Republic, Book X, Plato the writer also has Socrates the orator attack the oral tradition of the poets, arguing that mere memorization and imitation do not form the same advantageous habits of thought that a literate philosophical (essentially alphabet learning) tradition would provide.

To accept one critique and to reject the other would be too simple. A technology (such as writing) vastly expands ability. But that same technology can also vastly diminish a different ability (such as memory). Looking at how I, my friends, and my family all live, it is fair to say that we embrace the former more than we think about the latter.

 

Now, saying that different technologies of communication work in different ways and impose different expectations and have different rewards and debits is all well and good. That's a sociological data point. But to extrapolate it to a conclusion like "Twitter imposes a limit on what can be said and so degrades communication" is to make a larger point that really isn't warranted by the facts. Twitter's no more designed to replace letters than the telegraph was; they serve different purposes--each of them equally valid. Same goes for e-mail versus letters: they do different things; of course the writing-style required by them is going to be different. That doesn't mean anything more than the statement itself, though.

Merely a sociological data point? I can grant that sociological data collectors can have their fun with abstracting the possibilities of technological progress, but here I’m rather more interested in the reality of the fact that we all only have 24 hours in a day. Email or Twitter may not have been intentionally designed to substitute for letter writing or other forms of more personal interaction. But in the real world, they do. Theoretically, one could write just as many letters using Facebook as one would write without using Facebook. In reality, Facebook users (myself included) write less letters and talk less on the phone than those living in a pre-Facebook world. Yes, they certainly do different things and in a 24-hour day, a writer with an email account will do more of one thing and less of another. This isn’t an argument against Facebook. It is an argument for a conscious awareness of what hours of Facebook browsing subtracts from one’s day.

 

It sounds like you're assuming there's a Platonic Ideal of Writing, but that's a strange assertion; of all the ways humans have to communicate--voice, sign language, semaphore--writing is the least natural (if we were to grant the idea of "nature" at all). It's arbitrary marks on a page/screen; the mode of transcription may demand different approaches to composition, but writing itself is an artificial effect. And if you mean "emails don't read like letters"--then see above; they don't read like letters because they're not supposed to. That fact is neither better nor worse. Simply different.

It’s not so strange. David Foster Wallace, in his essay, "Authority and American Usage", called it Standard Written English. Admittedly, it is one dialect that has more rules than other English dialects. But the rules of English grammar serve the purpose of communication in such a way that expands ability and nuance of expression in ways that lack of rules diminish. Steven Pinker might disagree, but most writers of English will admit that grammatical rules against two-way adverbs and misplaced modifiers serve, rather than prevent, precision and clarity. Now, could we all write all our emails in perfect Standard Written English? Of course we could. Do we? No.

 

I hereby submit that henceforth Jeremy's A&F avatar shall now be this image:

old-man-twitter.jpg

He does look like a kindred spirit. Although it appears as if his PR man was out to lunch when that photograph was taken. (I am saving this to use in the future.)

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NBooth   

 

Digging a hole isn't semantically technological; it's technically technological. It's simply false to argue that there are "natural" ways of humans doing stuff and "unnatural/technological" ways of doing stuff.

I will grant that merely arguing that there are “technological” versions (like using social media) of “natural” human actions (like talking face to face) would be insufficient. The American Heritage Dictionary (Third Edition, 1996) defines “technology” as “(1) The application of science, especially to industrial or commercial objectives” and “(2) The body of knowledge available to a civilization that is of use in fashioning implements, practicing manual arts and skills, and extracting or collecting materials.” “Technological” is thus defined as “Affected by or resulting from scientific and industrial progress.” But I do not believe any of us are attempting to argue here over semantics.

Does a swimmer use a technology that could be labeled as the science of swimming. Sure. Does a sailor use more technology than a swimmer? Yes. Looking across the 18th through the 20th centuries, we have witnessed technology and machines replacing human activity. Into the 21st century this is increasingly so. Human actions are being replaced by the actions of machines. When I use GPS, I am relying on a machine to make geographical computations instead of doing them in my own head. To casually dismiss this difference is to miss one of the most transformative events of the last three centuries. Man has always used technology. For thousands of years, man did not always rely upon the vast technological resources that we rely upon now.

 

See, this is the thing. Technology is human activity. To argue otherwise is to enforce a false dichotomy. Now, are our tools different/more advanced/more shiny than the ones from a hundred years ago? Sure. But that's a different matter and wholly unrelated to the question of value.

 

To accept one critique and to reject the other would be too simple. A technology (such as writing) vastly expands ability. But that same technology can also vastly diminish a different ability (such as memory). Looking at how I, my friends, and my family all live, it is fair to say that we embrace the former more than we think about the latter.

 

 

That's my point: humans simultaneously make every technology the worst and the best thing possible. I think we have an accord here.

 

Merely a sociological data point? I can grant that sociological data collectors can have their fun with abstracting the possibilities of technological progress, but here I’m rather more interested in the reality of the fact that we all only have 24 hours in a day. Email or Twitter may not have been intentionally designed to substitute for letter writing or other forms of more personal interaction. But in the real world, they do. Theoretically, one could write just as many letters using Facebook as one would write without using Facebook. In reality, Facebook users (myself included) write less letters and talk less on the phone than those living in a pre-Facebook world. Yes, they certainly do different things and in a 24-hour day, a writer with an email account will do more of one thing and less of another. This isn’t an argument against Facebook. It is an argument for a conscious awareness of what hours of Facebook browsing subtracts from one’s day.

 

 

[As an aside, do people really spend hours of Facebook? I probably spend a good chunk of time, but it's in little dashes throughout the day, thanks to the iPhone, and I can easily juggle that with just about any other activity. So it's not like I'm forgoing social interaction/reading/watching films/fishing/hiking (as if!) in favor of social networking]

 

It’s not so strange. David Foster Wallace, in his essay, "Authority and American Usage", called it Standard Written English. Admittedly, it is one dialect that has more rules than other English dialects. But the rules of English grammar serve the purpose of communication in such a way that expands ability and nuance of expression in ways that lack of rules diminish. Steven Pinker might disagree, but most writers of English will admit that grammatical rules against two-way adverbs and misplaced modifiers serve, rather than prevent, precision and clarity. Now, could we all write all our emails in perfect Standard Written English? Of course we could. Do we? No.

 

 

Well, but that's not the fault of the technology. The ability to properly use Standard Written English has always been class-based, anyway; you get away from certain classes of people and even hand-written letters from years ago are pretty shoddily composed because lots of the people writing were only functionally literate. And there's still a class-based element to standard written English, to be honest. Besides which, most people, throughout most of history, have been incapable of writing a decent sentence in their native language. We can't blame that on the e-mail, or on facebook, or on twitter. It's just part of the history of the species.

Edited by NBooth

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du Garbandier, It's taking me a while to catch up on some of this, but I've been meaning to look up and find this since yesterday.  You’ve compared Twitter and social media to drinking alcohol, so it’s probably worth pointing out that David Foster Wallace compared television to drinking alcohol in his essay, E unibus pluram: television and U.S. fiction:

"... Statisticians report that television is watched over six hours a day in the average American household ... Every lonely human I know watches way more than the average U.S. six hours a day. The lonely, like the fictional, love one-way watching. For lonely people are usually lonely not because of hideous deformity or odor or obnoxiousness - in fact there exist today social and support groups for persons with precisely these features. Lonely people tend rather to be lonely because they decline to bear the emotional costs associated with being around other humans. They are allergic to people. People affect them too strongly. Let's call the average U.S. lonely person Joe Briefcase. Joe Briefcase just loathes the strain of the self-consciousness which so oddly seems to appear only when other real human beings are around, staring, their human sense-antennae abristle. Joe B. fears how he might appear to watchers. He sits out the stressful U.S. game of appearance poker. But lonely people, home, alone, still crave sights and scenes. Hence television ...

"Sorry to sound judgmental, but there it is: six hours a day is not good.  Television's biggest minute-by-minute appeal is that it engages without demanding. One can rest while undergoing stimulation. Receive without giving ... But the analogy between television and liquor is best, I think. Because I'm afraid Joe Briefcase is a teleholic. Watching TV can become malignantly addictive. TV may become malignantly addictive only once a certain threshold of quantity is habitually passed, but then the same is true of whiskey. And by "malignant" and "addictive" I again do not mean evil or coercive. An activity is addictive if one's relationship to it lies on that downward-sloping continuum between liking it a little too much and downright needing it. Many addictions, from exercise to letter-writing, are pretty benign. But something is malignantly addictive if (1) it causes real problems for the addict, and (2) it offers itself as relief from the very problems it causes. A malignant addiction is also distinguished for spreading the problems of the addiction out and in in interference patterns, creating difficulties for relationships, communities, and the addict's very sense of self and soul. The hyperbole might strain the analogy for you, but concrete illustrations of malignant TV-watching cycles aren't hard to come by. If it's true that many Americans are lonely, and if it's true that many lonely people are prodigious TV-watchers, and if it's true that lonely people find in television's 2D images relief from the pain of their reluctance to be around real humans, then it's also obvious that the more time spent watching TV, the less time spent in the real human world, and the less time spent in the real human world, the harder it becomes not to feel alienated from real humans, solipsistic, lonely. It's also true that to the extent one begins to view pseudo-relationships with Bud Bundy or Jane Pauley as acceptable alternatives to relationships with real humans, one has commensurately less conscious incentive even to try to connect with real 3D persons, connections that are pretty important to mental health. For Joe Briefcase, as for many addicts, the "special treat" of TV, begins to substitute for something nourishing and needed, and the original hunger subsides to a strange objectless unease ..."

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du Garbandier, It's taking me a while to catch up on some of this, but I've been meaning to look up and find this since yesterday.  You’ve compared Twitter and social media to drinking alcohol, so it’s probably worth pointing out that David Foster Wallace compared television to drinking alcohol in his essay, E unibus pluram: television and U.S. fiction:

 

I'm a rather poor person to defend television. Apart from films on TCM, my watching is mostly limited to live sports. Even with widely lauded shows like Breaking Bad or Mad Men or The Sopranos, etc., I prefer books. (And while I'm at it, I don't really Tweet very much at all, but I do enjoy following others who do. And I almost never drink anything strong.)

 

But let me ask this: imagine someone who is downright addicted to romance novels. Is that person any better off than a lonely TV addict? I say not in any meaningful way. Setting aside the obvious genetic and physiological aspects and proclivities of real addiction: is not the proper center of concern whatever state of inward calamity that might drive me in that direction, in conjunction with the complex array of additional communal, social, psychological, and spiritual factors? Certainly the modern world presents moderns with solutions to inner problems that have a way of only compounding the problem. 

 

I find myself reflecting on the passage in Mark 7: 

 

And he called the people to him again and said to them, “Hear me, all of you, and understand: There is nothing outside a person that by going into him can defile him, but the things that come out of a person are what defile him.” And when he had entered the house and left the people, his disciples asked him about the parable. And he said to them, “Then are you also without understanding? Do you not see that whatever goes into a person from outside cannot defile him, since it enters not his heart but his stomach, and is expelled?” (Thus he declared all foods clean.)  And he said, “What comes out of a person is what defiles him.  For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person.”

 

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NBooth   

Nathan Jurgenson:

 

That we’d be concerned with how to best use (or not use) a phone or a social service or any new technological development is of course to be expected, but the way the concern with digital connection has manifested itself in such profoundly heavy-handed ways suggests in the aggregate something more significant is happening, to make so many of us feel as though our integrity as humans has suddenly been placed at risk.

 

 

Alan Jacobs responds:

 

So while Jurgenson is right to deconstruct the binaries of digital dualism, he’s wrong, I think, to believe that such a critique requires deconstruction of the values and concerns that drive digital dualism. We may agree that digital dualism is an inadequate response to the role that digital technologies play in our lives; but it does not follow that that role requires no reflection, no interrogation. 

 

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“... Perhaps the pinnacle of placebo politics was presented at TEDx San Diego a few years ago.  You’re familiar, I assume, with the Kony 2012 social media campaign? ... What happened here: Evangelical surfer bro goes to Africa.  He makes a campy video explaining genocide to the cast of Glee.  The world finds his epiphany to be shallow to the point of self-delusion.  Complex geo-politics of Central Africa are left undisturbed.  Kony’s still there.  The End ...”

 

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NBooth   

Related:

 

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CK62I-4cuSY&list=SP4NL9i-Fu15hhYGB-d0hmSWD1fcIvLvn1&index=7

 

EDIT: Lots of good stuff in that Bratton talk. [And I get a kick out of the fact that he's using a TED talk to critique TED talks. Form meets function, indeed]

Edited by NBooth

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Alan Jacobs:

 

There’s a mantra among some software developers, most notably at Google: Launch and iterate. Get your app out there even with bugs, let your customers report and complain about those bugs, apologize profusely, fix, release a new version. Then do it again, and again. (Some developers hate this model, but never mind.) Over the past few years I’ve been doing something like this with my major projects: throw an idea out there in incomplete or even inchoate form and see what responses it gets; learn from your respondents’ skepticism or criticism; follow the links people give you; go back to the idea and, armed with this feedback, make it better. 
 
Of course, writers have always done something like this: for example, going to the local pub and making people listen to you pontificate on some crack-brained intellectual scheme and then tell you that you’re full of it. And I’ve used that method to, which has certain advantages ... but: it’s easy to forget what people say, you have a narrow range of responses, and it can’t happen very often or according to immediate need. The best venue I’ve found to support the launch-and-iterate model of the intellectual life: Twitter.

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