Okay, the title of this post is misleading, because Twitter has not hijacked MY mind. I use Twitter sparingly; weeks can go by in which I don’t look at it at all. But the title is very apt for Kathryn Schulz, who published an excellent account of her Twitter addiction in New York Magazine: That Goddamned Blue Bird and Me: How Twitter Hijacked My Mind.
And the fact is, while I don’t use Twitter much, I do find myself spending more time randomly browsing Facebook and other online media sites than I would like.
So, a few quotes from Schulz’s piece that get to the heart of it:
The problem is that [Twitter] is sufficiently smart and interesting that spending massive amounts of time on it is totally possible and semi-defensible.
Collectively, the people I follow on Twitter — book nerds, science nerds, journalists, the uncategorizably interesting — come pretty close to my dream community. They also function as by far the best news source I’ve ever used: more panoptic, more in-depth, more likely to teach me something, much more timely, cumulatively more self-correcting and sophisticated. Additionally, they’re immensely generous with their time and knowledge; in contradistinction to most Internet agoras, the Twitter I know is helpful, polite, and friendly. It’s also a meritocracy; say enough interesting things, and other people will begin to engage with you. Surprisingly often, that engagement crosses the digital barrier into real life — and, without exception, the people I’ve befriended on Twitter have turned out to be terrific.
Whatever else Twitter is, it’s a literary form, which goes some way toward explaining why I find it so seductive. A tweet is basically a genre in which you try to say an informative thing in an interesting way while abiding by its constraint (those famous 140 characters).
I am way too susceptible to that other Twitter IPO: its Infinite Procrastination Opportunities… I am convinced that steadily attending to an idea is the core of intellectual labor, and that steadily attending to people is the core of kindness. And I gravely worry that Twitter undermines that capacity for sustained attention. I know it has undermined my own: I’ve watched my distractibility increase over the last few years, felt my time get divided into ever skinnier and less productive chunks.
More disturbing, I have felt my mind get divided into tweet-size chunks as well. It’s one thing to spend a lot of time on Twitter; it’s another thing, when I’m not on it, to catch myself thinking of — and thinking in — tweets… Thinking in tweets is only a half-step removed from what I’ve done all my life, which is to try to match words to thoughts and experiences. The job of a writer is to do that in a sustained way — a job I find brutally hard, and, when it works, deeply gratifying. The trouble with Twitter is that produces a watered-down version of that gratification, at a very rapid rate, with minimal investment — and, if I am going to be honest with myself, minimal payoff, and minimal point.
The trouble with Twitter isn’t that it’s full of inanity and self-promoting jerks. The trouble is that it’s a solution to a problem that shouldn’t be solved.
I sometimes think that Twitter is a parasite, and that I am one of its hosts, so effectively has it hacked my brain. Ask me what I love most in my life, and how I want to spend what limited allotment of it I have, and I will tell you that I want to be around friends and family, or reading, or writing, or in the outdoors, body and mind at play in the world. Ask me what I did today, where all the hours went, and — well… (here she points to a chart of her tweeting activity).