Freaked Out, Getting Off Twitter, & Sven Birkerts on Technological Turbulence

The internet has ruined music for me.”–My Dearest Friend

My Dearest Friend has always been my most radical friend.  When we were young women, everyone was on the pill.  But artificial hormones were bad for us and could cause cancer, so she researched birth control methods:  the old barrier method, i.e., the diaphragm, was the best.

And so we used the diaphragm.  Which works if it’s not in a drawer.  Nor did we take hormones after menopause.  That also causes cancer.

My friend is radical in many ways. She doesn’t even have a computer, because she doesn’t think it’s smart to give away information on the internet.

Anyway, it’s more fun to write letters than email, though I don’t write letters as often as I should.

no_facebook I'm not on facebookBut here is why I love the internet: it is all about community.   I used to be fond of Book Central on AOL, and when that site closed, thought paranoiacally that it was to stop intelligent, literate people from communicating.

Because we were literate, very.  People wrote short essays on the site every day about books, not for money, but because they loved to talk about what they read. I met several of my online friends, and they were charming.  One friend had a folder of all my writing;  I myself hadn’t printed it out because it was very rough-drafty, so it freaked me out a little.   But I liked him because he decided not to go to a baseball game that day and just hung out with me instead.

Since the Book Central days, there have been a lot of changes, some good, some bad.

Everybody can write now, have a blog, or “microblog” (whatever that is), and I think that’s a good thing.  It used to be that hardly anybody got published.  Now everybody does, as the NSA knows.

Facebook:  pointless as far as I can see, and why is all your information up there?  (I don’t have a Facebook page.)

Goodreads, LibraryThing, Yahoo groups… Love the discussions, but everybody is writing shorter these days, and that makes me sad.

The worst, absolutely the worst, thing that has ever happened to the internet is Twitter.

What is Twitter for?


According to Wikipedia:

Twitter is an online social networking and microblogging service that enables users to send and read “tweets”, which are text messages limited to 140 characters. Registered users can read and post tweets but unregistered users can only read them.

140 characters.  No wonder literacy is dead.

I closed my Twitter account today, because it hurt my eyes to look at the short sentences. In five months I sent 62 tweets.  Actually 59, because somebody hacked my account and sent three others.  (It is closed now, so if you get any tweets from @MsMirabileDictu, it is not me.)

Coincidentally, on this day of closing my Twitter account, I read an excellent article in the L.A. Review of Books, “The Lint of the Material,” by Sven Birkerts, about changing technology.   He talks about the music industry (records to tapes to CDs to downloading), the GPS, and Google Glass.

But perhaps he writes most grippingly (a pun?) about the telephone: dial- or punch-button phones have changed to cell phones, small portable communication centers.

Like Birkerts, I am not a Luddite, but neither of us has a cell phone.

The device is so obviously fulfilling some complex compensatory function. Its uses are fluid and variable enough to fill up available interstices. Psychological pockets, gaps, interludes of idleness. Is this bad? Who can say? Better gaming and texting and surfing than any number of other occupations — obviously. On the other hand, what are the long-range effects of such efficient short-circuiting of idleness? What does all the fidgeting come to stand in the stead of? And how not to sound like another high-minded prig, not start going on about the incentive function of boredom — that we maybe need to be pushed up against ourselves, that the daydreaming boredom provokes nourishes subjective depth and invention? But these things should get said.

If we don’t have enough daydreaming boredom, we get cranky.  I stare at the screen, and what am I staring at?

And so I am cutting back on my online time. The end of Twitter today, the beginning of daydreams tomorrow.

12 thoughts on “Freaked Out, Getting Off Twitter, & Sven Birkerts on Technological Turbulence

  1. Daydreams are good – we had a big storm the other day and a short power cut. OH was at a loose end, but I was happy – all that reading and dreaming time, with no electronic pressure!


  2. It’s true for me that I don’t write anywhere near what I once did. Compare what I wrote about Green Tea in 2004 and this past week. I’ve changed where I meditate at length because finally I do feel I am not being read except occasionally and am tired. I’ve tired of trying. I do write at length off list to friends. Which the NSA can read too.


  3. A little more: I think what has happened is I nowadays only write at length and carefully when I have someone writing that way to me on a listserv. It still happens on Austen-l and Janeites over Austen’s letters and once in a long while on Trollope19thCstudies or Women Writers. I’ve grown tired of no response. And yes Twitter is an example of what seems to be what most people on the Internet are willing to reciprocate with: a postcard.


  4. I am sure that I read The Women’s Room when it came out in 1977 and I was in college, but I dont remember it. I read a couple of pages in the Amazon preview but it doesnt seem familiar. One read so much in those days. Maybe I will try it for Thanksgiving!

    I do remember reading French’s Shakespeare’s Division of Experience while in a Shakespeare class and I liked it very much and still have it in a bookcase in my bedroom. And after all the years and the books/houses/different places, that’s high praise indeed. But i havent read it recently, I will take it down this weekend and have a look and see if it still communicates with me. .


  5. Note of Explanation: I posted the above in the incorrect place because my Net Nanny here at work wouldnt let me access the comments in the proper thread. Sorry!


  6. Karen, a power outage! Hate them, but it is a good way to get reading done. Unless you have some evil cell phone that can surf the net!

    Ellen, you still write long. You used to write longer at your groups, but you are still writing paragraphs, or several paragraphs. And you are writing essays at your blogs. You haven’t really changed your ways. Something is happening with ALL Yahoo groups (except maybe to Janeites)–fewer people are participating, so you can’t possibly write the long posts you used to there.

    My feeling is that Twitter interrupts us with those short communications. They’re not really communications.

    Gina, I know this is in the wrong place. Not a problem! I’ll leave it here and copy it, too, in the RIGHT place.


  7. Gina, by the way, let me know if you reread The Women’s Room and if it is any good. I have a copy: at a sale for $1! (Though the family saga, Her Mother’s Daughter, is slated for my Thanksgiving.)

    Haven’t read her on Shakespeare: I don’t know her nonfiction. But it sounds great.


  8. I have this terrible conflict: on one hand I am a web designer and on the other I want to spend less time in front of a screen.
    I envy people who have jobs that do not require 8 hours of screentime plus the remaining 4 hours of TV and leisure web surfing. I watch old movies just to remember how things were and how we occupied our time after work when there was NO INTERNET. I had a bit of that pre-internet time when I was a teenager and when having a connection at home was a luxury. I have an dumb cellphone and the temptation of having a smart one gets bigger every day.
    I wish I could quit Twitter but I won’t. I get a kick out of certain witty people whose creativity with the 140 character constraints is larger than people writing 5000 words. However I have restricted my Twitter time to a peek in the morning and maybe at the end of the day. Nothing is crucial there except the status of the Montreal Transportation System.


  9. It’s your job. You have to be online! And it sounds creative. Think how different things were even in “You’ve Got Mail.” That describes what I think of as an innocent time on the computer. Was that one of the first movies about the internet? Probably not: it’s just the first one I know.

    I think we’re all torn about online. For me, Twitter was added to checking my email and was just one more thing. Instead of spending five minutes checking my email, I would spend five more at Twitter. Then I would be there and there would be an announcement. TWO MORE TWEETS. So then I’d check those tweets…There ARE some wits on Twitter. But I didn’t find that many, possibly because I don’t have the faintest idea what’s going on there.

    I understand the temptation of the smart phone, but after my experience with Twitter I know I could never have one!

    Sounds like you’re doing great with all this and the status of the Montreal Transportation System IS crucial! (I know about buses and trains!)


  10. You might be interested in the new novel “The Circle” by Dave Eggers about a Google-like organization that gets out of hand. Some reviewers were dismissive as if we were beyond his fears, but I thought it was insightful. .


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