Using Technology to Deepen Democracy, Using Democracy to Ensure Technology Benefits Us All

Saturday, May 25, 2013

How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Tweet

My friend Jules Tuyes recently pondered on his blog Rendered Public a piece about twitter by Matt Buchanan in the New Yorker. Jules singles out this quote from that piece:
For all of the ways in which Twitter has evolved since its creation, in 2006, when it was known as "twttr," what has not changed is how profoundly Twitter relies on nowness. Nowness is not simply newness, or the new: the question Twitter used to ask of users when they went to compose a tweet, "What’s happening?" is a direct inquiry about the state of now.
From this Jules expounds:
Do we want to infuse the Now with a constant wave of Newness or rather settle into the present as it arises? ... Immediacy, the state of hurried experience, is not the same as the Present Moment which is simply there. I suppose both produce a "Wow!" but about different content. My experience of taking the bus home from work at the same time countless teenagers return from the pool across the street attests to an entire generation attached to fresh information and constant contact with others. It would seem for some it won't even be about a choice but rather a custom and a habit. We will see what this generation ultimately ends up doing with their Now... Being present is a life-long struggle so I only question instruments that pull us away from it, creates a habit of immediate demand and result... How can one get tired of the Now? Easily as you realize there really is nothing New in it at all.
Now, ahem, I think the Now is functioning in these critiques as a worry about an inherently alienating unreflectiveness or impressionism in microblogging practices like twitter and their resulting click and scroll. I emphasize alienation in this formulation, because it suggests that their worry might actually be a kindred worry to the one Jules has, that they are worried about an alienation from the rich presence in the Now via precisely a fixation on Now as a play of disparate decontextualized sensations. There's lots of now getting thrown around, and lots of now to go around here.

The whole reason I bring this up is that I am somebody who was a crusty critic of twitter for quite a while myself, I would now say wrongheadedly so, complaining then about its superficiality and impoverishment in more or less the same tones and terms as so many of its present critics do (as for example here and here). I guess it's no big surprise to discover that once I actually used and got used to twitter myself I found it capable of riches I was unaware of all the while so cocksure in my disliking of it.

I do think that in our own epoch the deceptive and hyperbolizing norms and forms of promotional discourse derange all mediated practices -- and this is as true of twitter as it is of journalism, literature, scholarly discourse. The mistake, possibly attributable to the novelty and conspicuousness of microblogging, is that this general suscpetibility is easily falsely identified with twitter as such. No doubt there is a bit a magickal thinking here, too -- the disavowal that all public deliberation has become unreflective through the foregrounding of its unreflective twitterized face.

I always conceded the value of twitter as a medium for reportage and subcultural signaling -- testifying forcefully to disseminated real-time observations of events like protests on the street or legislative wrangling on the floor or the shared enjoyment/resistance of mass-broadcast speeches or entertainments. But I will admit that I underestimated the force of critical intervention available in the long languishing and now twitter-revitalized genres of the aphorism and the epitome. I will also note that the twitter-link is just as enabling of deepening reflection as it is of promotional virality. Definitely I did not grasp the richer deliberative dynamisms that emerge out of successive tweets or responses or retweets that build on one another and complicate one another in ways that are the furthest thing from superficial or non-reflective.


jollyspaniard said...

That's funny, you're more into Twitter than I am now. I still prefer blogs but I do dip my toe into the now every once in a while. I'm just a bit old fashioned.

JD Tuyes said...

well you've convinced me then and here I am following you. let's see what this game of influence looks like then! Miss you!