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.