Twitter Guilt

June 12, 2009 at 10:40 am (By Amba) (, , , , )

I think I got into my first real Twitter jam session last night — those polyphonic volleys where you have to run and leap and snap each other’s responses out of the air like a dog playing Frisbee or an orca voguing for fish . . . where you have to track the threads of the conversation by weaving like an undercover detective through the throng of unrelated tweets, and where the elements of the exchange overlap like the parts of a fugue or canon.  And you’re trying to channel big ideas through a 140-character aperture.  It’s a distinctly new kind of mental challenge that takes about eight metaphors to surround and approximate.  If it’s most like any one thing, it’s probably playing jazz in a small combo in a noisy club, straining to hear, not knowing what your fellow musicians are going to play next, but all trying to keep the original melody at least distantly in mind.

So if I was having fun and exercising my brain, why do I feel guilty?

For one thing, I kicked off the thread by going over to Anchoress’s and starting a fight with her.  A friendly fight; we may disagree some of the time but it is (I daresay) with mutual affection and respect.  I felt that my political allergies were getting unbalanced and that I needed to go roll in some nettles on the right.  What drives me nuts on both sides is the way demonizing Bush seems to require deifying Obama, and in turn, demonizing Obama seems to require . . . well, gushing over capitalism, lately.  (And if you recoil from gushing over capitalism, it must mean you hate capitalism and side with those who want to destroy it and bring on socialism . . . no, no, NO!)  The rhetoric itself leads to paranoid black-and-white hyperbole like calling Bush, or now Obama, a “tyrant” poised to end presidential term limits and free elections, and painting an idealized, Norman Rockwell picture like this one of the glories of yeoman free enterprise that airbrushes out the megacorporate excess and fraud.  (Or, on the left, a socialist-realist wall mural depicting the Peaceable Kingdom of multiculturalism — Latina lesbians in overalls! — painted on some desolate urban underpass.)

So why do I feel guilty about such an observation? Because I realized that I am not the audience for blog posts of this sort.  They’re publicly posted, of course, the way a patriotic brass-band concert might be held in a public park, but it’s not polite to disrupt such a concert; if the oompah of Sousa sets your teeth on edge, just leave.  Criticizing such posts is as mean-spirited and irrelevant as fisking some other country’s national anthem.  People on the right (and left) write these posts for each other.  They’re hymns of agreement, they’re meant to rouse and rally and tune resolve.  They’re tuned to a pitch I cannot hear, or can’t hear without distortion.  In other words, it’s none of my business, and to go over there just to aggravate myself is rude.  Of course, that’s not what I go for; I go for goosebumps, like this and this.  I think I should keep my aggravation to myself instead of putting it on gratuitous display.

But there’s another kind of Twitter guilt I’m feeling that’s harder to define.  An intense conversation can’t be called a waste of time, so that’s not it.  What is it?  It feels reckless, irresponsible, heady, to be throwing big ideas around like that.  Too much reward for too little work?  Shame at having given in to the temptation to hold forth on things I know nothing about?  (How grandiose one can be in miniature!)  Twits rush in where angels fear to tread?  There was a kind of unearned intoxication . . .  Ah!  I know where I recognize this feeling from!

The hung-over morning after a college bull session.

UPDATE: And now I can pinpoint it a little further:  although I write about ideas a lot — in many cases, they’re all I’ve got — I’m wary of them.  I have a little bit of a “no ideas but in things” bias.  Ideas are like hot-air balloons:  they can easily get untethered from the earth and float bloatedly away.  Sometimes Twitter is like a collective balloon release.

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