A brief argument with myself about twitter
SH: I've joined twitter.
SH: Why? You don't appreciate the medium?
SH: I was speaking generally. But, now you mention it, no.
SH: You're such a technophobe.
SH: But my problem is really with the way twitter is used.
SH: The fact that so much twitter traffic consists of gossip and jokes?
SH: That I can tolerate -
SH: I've got one hundred and fifty followers so far, but I don't know many of them -
SH: Followers! Followers! Can you hear yourself? You speak as though you stand like a prophet at the front of some millenarian medieval army! Do you think these people are going to 'follow' you into battle against the Dark Lord Sith in the hills outside Huntly? Followers...
SH: Is the Dark Lord Sith another name for John Ansell? Seriously, though, there's been a tendency for several years, across the internet, for a lot of discussion to move from blogs and other long-format sites to social media like facebook and twitter. I'm writing a series of pieces on Tongan art for the online journal EyeContact. Not a single person has commented on these pieces at EyeContact - and yet there have been multiple discussion threads, some of them quite long, on facebook, and a few on twitter. This is a pattern.
SH: Quite possibly a lamentable pattern.
SH: I think that twitter is the internet equivalent of a formula one racing car. Size, comfort, and politeness are all sacrificed in pursuit of speed.
SH: There are different types of speed.
SH: I think of twitter as a chaotic, sometimes snarled up multi-lane motorway connecting various relatively quiet parts of the internet -
SH: A workable fancy. But the main problem with twitter is its antediluvian nature. You mentioned poetry. Did you know that Ezra Pound, a century ago, invented the digital technology we know today? And he did so in a London garret, with a pen and paper. No frills. Pound smashed the nineteenth century superstition known as narrative, and put in its place a literature that jumped instantly from one image and throught-fragment to the next -
SH: So 'The apparition of these faces in the [metro station] crowd/ Petals on a wet, black bough', with its famous leap from one image to another, is a sort of hyperlink -
SH: Yes and no. Pound and other key modernists created technology like the hyperlink, by experimenting on, by rewiring, their own brains, so that they could leap from one image, from one idea, to another. But the internet, and sites like twitter, haven't caught up with the innovation. Most of the links you find on twitter are entirely obvious. John Key tweets 'Having fun in the White House' and offers a link: you click on it, and find a photo of Key shaking hands with Obama. It's pathetic. The hyperlink, which Pound and other modernists intended as a new way of thinking, as an exhilarating aleatory ride from one to another revelatory idea, as way of connecting distances, of bring farness near, has been subordinated to the logic of narrative, of linearity. Plod, plod, plod. Is it any wonder why so much of the content on twitter and similar sites is so banal?
SH: Is this in some ways a complaint about certain patterns of contemporary life, as well as about aesthetics? There are some lines by Tomas Tanstromer that I love: 'I went to bed that evening/ I woke up at three am, under the keel/ At the bottom of the sea/ Where the bones of the dead coldly associate with one another.' Those lines make an astonishing leap, a leap we are unprepared for, a leap, or rather a fall, from the comfort and security of the bed to the cold unbreathable strangeness of the ocean. They might seem surreal, but they communicate something of the fragility of human security, the sense that something is waiting for us -
SH: There's no need to labour the point. Linear habits of mind breed linear ways of living.
SH: Perhaps, then, we should take to twitter and reclaim the hyperlink, by using it connect surprising images and ideas and people?
SH: That has already been done. Have you heard of Rickrolling? Look it up. Oh, I forgot: you already have. The radical potential of the hyerlink is satirised rather than exploited. I guess I feel kinda ambivalent about twitter. Hamish Dewe, on the other hand...
[Posted by Scott Hamilton]