Friday, February 5, 2010

A pause to consider tweeting

By Dan Smith

The New Yorker's George Packer, who writes with marvelous authority, wit and in this case, sense of loss, takes on response to his recent Twitter criticism here (and the original, even more revealing post here). It is a thoughtful piece by a writer and journalist with considerable insight who sees change that is not always good in the way we consume news ("read," as he so quaintly calls it).

Here's a key passage that will make those of us who tweet idly in grunts and belches, distorting real communication with pieces of our attention, pause for a moment. Then return to the screen.

"Just about everyone I know complains about the same thing when they’re being honest—including, maybe especially, people whose business is reading and writing. They mourn the loss of books and the loss of time for books. It’s no less true of me, which is why I’m trying to place a few limits on the flood of information that I allow into my head.

"The other day I had to re-shelve two dozen books that my son had wantonly pulled down, most of them volumes from college days. I thumbed idly through a few urgently underlined pages of Kierkegaard’s Concluding Unscientific Postscript, a book that electrified me during my junior year, and began to experience something like the sensation middle-aged men have at the start of softball season, when they try sprinting to first base after a winter off. What a ridiculous effort it took!

"There’s no way for readers to be online, surfing, e-mailing, posting, tweeting, reading tweets, and soon enough doing the thing that will come after Twitter, without paying a high price in available time, attention span, reading comprehension, and experience of the immediately surrounding world. The Internet and the devices it’s spawned are systematically changing our intellectual activities with breathtaking speed, and more profoundly than over the past seven centuries combined. It shouldn’t be an act of heresy to ask about the trade-offs that come with this revolution. In fact, I’d think asking such questions would be an important part of the job of a media critic, or a lead Bits blogger."

Sadly, George's side of this argument, stated eloquently, is being drowned by the clicking of the keyboard as tweeters try to figure one more way to condense sentences into all but unintelligible blips of data.

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