An open letter to social media

The following is a book review in the style of the McSweeney Open Letters to entities that are unlikely to respond. If you are not really a Twitter devotee you could insert Facebook or email – any digital application which connects you to the crowd and sometimes gets in the way of your work.

Hi Twitter

It’s me, @Thesiswhisperer. I’ve been wondering for awhile if we need to break up.

It’s not that I don’t love you. You know that I do – you have only to count the Tweets. I think the problem is that I love you too much.

I love you because you connect me. When I am looking at you I feel like I am inside other people’s minds. When I read the tweets of others I consume their thoughts and ideas. This is a kind of intimacy I didn’t even know I craved before you came along dear Twitter. And, as a highly social primate, I can’t get enough.

But it’s more than your powers of connection which makes me love you Twitter. Before you came along the internet seemed like a vast mountain range. I found web surfing frustrating and exhausting. I couldn’t consume all the internet had to offer me in an efficient or enjoyable way.

That’s where you filled yet another need Twitter. By following people who I am interested in, I find out what they are reading and usually it interests me too. Before I knew it I had found a series of tracks through that vast digital Nepal. With your @ mention function I started to have conversations with these mountain guides – and even friendships.

It’s nice to know next time I go to London there are people I might meet for a coffee and a chat. When other Twitter lovers visit my city they might drop by my office, or come to my lectures. I have you to thank for this expansion of my professional and personal life Twitter and I am grateful.

Because of you Twitter, I feel like I have an identity in that digital space which I didn’t have before. I am @thesiswhisperer as well as Dr Mewburn, Inger or any other name which others might call me. While being Inger is still undeniably special, I think I enjoy being @thesiswhisperer more than being Dr Mewburn. Dr Mewburn is far more serious; she has RESPONSIBILITIES. Thanks to you, Twitter, I finally have a working knowledge of the post modern condition of multiple identities – and it feels pretty good.

Most of the time.

The problem is Twitter – I have to eat. My family has to have a roof over its head and my son has to be educated. Therefore I have to have a job. While I happen to love my job, working can sometimes be less fun than being with you. A lot of my work involves writing, which, let’s face it, is not a very social activity for my primate self.

When I work on a screen you are always there, in the background, tempting me with your connectivity. I find you hard to resist Twitter – even though I know that sometimes you are not good for me. That’s why, lately, I have been wondering if we should break up.

But there might be hope for us yet Twitter. @Jacqueskosky gave me a book called “Hamlet’s Blackberry” for my birthday, probably because he was worried about me. Mr Powers understands my problem with you: excessive connectivity is making it hard to produce and nurture my own ideas.

This book has helped me to start to work through our problems Twitter. Did you know that Socrates had a suspicion that the newfangled invention of writing would be bad for thinking work? Mr Powers told me that Plato, who was a younger man, disagreed. Plato wrote about Socrates because he believed that writing enables ideas to leap across time and distance. He understood that thoughts recorded on a scroll enabled us to reflect on the ideas of others who are not physically present.

But Socrates had a point. The Roman power broker Seneca, some 400 years later, struggled with the distractions of living in the big city where there were so many books to read – the very same problem you make for me Twitter. Mr powers told me that Seneca found solace and focus in the act of writing – but I feel this is not the answer for our problems. Writing is already in our relationship and it doesn’t seem to be helping that much.

According to Mr Powers, after Gutenberg developed the printing press the problem of text distraction only got worse. When you read ‘in your head’ you are able to have new thoughts about the ideas in the text. This is why monks always read aloud: reading silently was frowned upon as weird, or even seditious. I imagine that was a hard time for scholars like me Twitter – libraries would have been noisy places.

Later, in Shakespeare’s time, busy people used a kind of erasable notebook to create meaning and order amongst the bustle of city and literary life. Mr Powers explained to me that a notebook or journal is a way of ‘curating’ ideas - bringing them into a relationship with each other. It seems to me Twitter that you don’t do this particularly well. All the ideas you present have the same importance – it is hard to drink from a fire hose.

I might use a notebook, write about my ideas and read in my own head to create focus, but no matter what my good intentions might be, Twitter, the urge to spend time with you remains. This is where, Mr Power claims, I must take up Benjamin Franklin’s technique of ‘Philosophical denial’. Ben Franklin liked the ladies – “venery’ (or sex) was high on his list of things which distracted him from his work, along with drinking. So he made up a set of guidelines for his life, one of which was temperance or avoiding excess.

So, my darling Twitter, my new year’s resolution is to temper our relationship by following Mr Powers’ advice. Most days I will only see you after 3pm – unless I have idle time on public transport to fill. Don’t worry about this time we will spent apart – I’m sure it will make our relationship stronger.

Yours with great affection

@thesiswhisperer

6 thoughts on “An open letter to social media

  1. Ha ha, good luck with your new year’s resolution. So now I’ll put aside the diversion activity of reading this post and get back to some research, thanks for the reminder. Happy 2011 Inger
    Cheers
    Dael

  2. Sigh, research in the digital age! I struggle at times (I didn’t have this problem at Masters level, the only social network I was on was Bebo!). Freedom and Anti-social apps help me stay honest, as does working with pen and paper.

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