Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Musing on being less on Twitter

Over the recent months, I have found myself looking less and less at Twitter. This manifests itself in many forms, the most dramatic being that I nowadays only occasionally turn on my middle monitor, which main use is to display a never ending live-updating stream of tweets flowing like a less stylized version of the Matrix. The monitor just stands there, a black mirror in portrait mode.

The strange thing is that Janetter - my ancient twitter client that new users can not run due to long-forgotten arbitrary API limits - still runs, in preparation for the ever rarer occasions when I turn the monitor on just to see the flow of tweets again. As if closing the program would be some kind of definite gesture, irrevocable once performed.

Less strange is that I find my thinking has changed. This is to be expected - as Byung-Chul Han noted, it is difficult to focus during a noisy party. But it is also more subtle than simply having less input to process. I find that I direct myself towards different company. Even if I were to think about something that happened to be trending on Twitter right this very instant, it would be from a different starting point, with different aims.

"Company" is the key term here, I suspect. Booth uses it to muse on the fact that we spend time in someone's company when we read their words, and conversely become company as others read ours. The quality of our company, both reading and writing, in many ways shape who we are, and who we try to be. Good company inspires upwards, while bad company keeps you down.

In more Twitter-related terms, this manifests as an implicit demand to become company to those we follow and those who follow us. As we think through the issues introduced and reiterated by those in our timelines, we ever so gradually come to feel the pressure to add our own thoughts to the flow. After seeing fifteen tweets about something, it becomes almost a knee-jerk reaction to write a sixteenth. Even if we only just heard about something mere minutes ago, we feel compelled to have said something about it.

This dynamic creates a very specific and other-directed way of thinking. You build up a sensitivity to trends and keywords, and act on what you see. Others see this as well, and react to your reactions; the fact that you both see and react to the same things is an immense sense of community; it is sometimes referred to as social media validation. It is company, good or bad.

This thinking is like riding a bike, though. True, once learned, you do not forget it. But if you've not rode a bike in a while, there is a strong possibility that the muscles used to pedal things forward have become less muscular than you remember, and thus the going is slower than it used to be. You still know what to look for - the trends, the keywords, the subtweets - but it is an effort to care. An uphill effort, to combine metaphors.

Thus, on the ever rarer occasions when I power up my middle monitor, I see what is going on and how it unfolds. The impulse to contribute to the goings on and insert myself into the company, however, is not strong enough for me to do it as often and as energetically as I used to. I'm simply not in that frame of mind any more. My thoughts and words are directed elsewhere.

It is only prudent that I mention this somewhere. For future reference.

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