Tweeterland and Thinking

I have been dragged, kicking and screaming, in to Tweeterland, the twitter.com site that gives one an entire 140 characters to make any given statement. It was bad enough starting to blog where the attention span rarely runs over two paragraphs. It got worse with Facebook with the short updates allowed to friends. But one sense that these friends had a handle on who one is. My twitter guides tell me to let in all comers, and here I have only 140 words. The good news is that I can embed a link to a blog or a book website, so that perhaps I can lure people into a denser network of ideas. I worry that in between the “whatever” mindset intervenes. What’s become of thinking?

By Noelle McAfee

I am professor of philosophy at Emory University and editor of the Kettering Review. My latest book, Fear of Breakdown: Politics and Psychoanalysis, explores what is behind the upsurge of virulent nationalism and intransigent politics across the world today. My other writings include Democracy and the Political Unconscious; Habermas, Kristeva, and Citizenship; Julia Kristeva; and numerous articles and book chapters. Edited volumes include Standing with the Public: the Humanities and Democratic Practice and a special issue of the philosophy journal Hypatia on feminist engagements in democratic theory. I am also the author of the entry on feminist political philosophy in the online Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy and well into my next book project on democratic public life.

2 comments

  1. Can you say why you’ve succumbed? Your recriminations I can understand… but I’m curious to hear your motivations as well. I see, in part, the benefit of social networking sites for mining fallow social capital, but twitter doesn’t seem to have that appeal. So what -is- the appeal?

  2. Joshua, I admit to exaggerating the kicking and screaming part. The truth is that a lot of interesting and smart people I know are using twitter, so I’ve decided to check it out. I am worried about the 140 character limit, but I am seeing that it is a way to follow what other people are thinking about. The trade-off seems to be between depth and quantity. I had a BBCworldnews feed coming at me, but it was way too much — a “tweet” every few minutes — so I turned that off. I’d rather sit down for an hour and focus on the news than get bombarded by snippets of information every few minutes. On the other hand, it is exciting to follow what interesting people are thinking about, especially when one is holed up in a small room working on writing projects. So far I’m liking the ability to follow the interests of a lot of interesting people as they upload urls of things that have come across their desks. It’s like having an aggregator of items of interest.

    I’ll remain ambivalent, with this apparent trade-off between speeded-up quantity and slow reflection on a narrower set of matters.

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