When you write a Twitter thread, what you are telling me is that you don’t care about your own ideas enough to articulate and display them in a proper venue. And if you don’t have respect for your own ideas, you certainly can’t expect me to.
You don’t have to create a blog of your own to post something to the web. You can use a free service like Rentry — I used to recommend also txt.fyi but I think it’s dead. You can even do what the celebs do and write something in Apple Notes, screenshot it, and tweet it as an image. There are a hundred ways to post longer-than–280-characters writing to Twitter, and when you write threads you are choosing the very worst one.
I’ve said before what an absurd situation it is. People were in such a hurry to abandon blogs and move on to the next shiny tech object, but it seems like every month there’s a new attempt to reinvent the blog under a different name. The Procrustean bed of the Twitter thread is indeed atrocious. But to be fair, I think it’s useful to keep in mind the distinction between formal writing and “written conversation,” which is what most social media discourse is.
Twitter is the online equivalent of a conversation in a crowded pub. It’s not writing; it’s the syntax and cadence of verbal conversation presented in text form. Many people seem to like that sort of thing. People who enjoy laying out their thoughts in multiple paragraphs full of commas and semicolons are unusual, however highly we may think of ourselves. Most people on social media don’t care about becoming better writers, or more rigorous thinkers. They want to be included in what everyone else is “talking” about. They want to attract attention and be entertained. It’s not my preference, but no one asked me, either.
I hate having to send text messages. In fact, I can’t stand doing much of anything in the limited confines of a smartphone for that matter, but again, the world moved on without waiting for my approval. Most people seem to be able to do all their online activity through a phone. Most people seem to love texting, which allows them to have multiple conversations going constantly without physical proximity. If the job is to post text messages to Twitter, then the smartphone would seem to be the ideal tool for it.
I’m just saying, if you find yourself hanging out in a crowded pub with all your friends, and somewhere, among the hubbub and the televised sports and the other demands on one’s attention, an interesting subject comes up, one worth exploring in depth, you’re not going to say to your buddy, “Hey, why don’t we go find an academic setting where we can converse more thoughtfully?” You’re going to want to say it while it’s fresh and immediate in your mind. You’re going to try to express yourself as quickly and clumsily as you can, given the surroundings. If that sort of limitation is frustrating for you, then yes, you should probably think about not hanging out in crowded pubs if you want to have serious conversations. But I can’t really get too critical of people for trying to make the best of it while they’re there.
I wish humans had descended from a less-social species like orangutans instead of chimpanzees, so that maybe more of us would be solitary thinkers who like wandering in the woods and speaking only when spoken to. I wish more people liked reading nonfiction and writing about their thoughts in an amateur style on old-fashioned weblogs. But again, the world has this incredible contrary streak and continues to do things its own way regardless of what I think. I suspect what really raises Jacobs’ ire is his own on-again, off-again relationship with social media, and Twitter in particular. I’ve lost count of how many times he’s publicly sworn off using it, only to announce months later that they’re trying to patch things up again. I can’t change you, baby, but I just can’t quit you either.
May 26, 2020 @ 6:04 pm
I don’t care much for texting either but I have maintained an ongoing group text conversation with a few old friends for the past couple years and that’s been enjoyable. We can go a week or two without saying anything, then someone has a weird experience or random insight, shares it, and a two-day explosion of texts begins. We’ve all known each other for 25+ years, so we can safely share things with each other that we might not with others.
May 26, 2020 @ 8:02 pm
Same here. I have a friend out west who, by her own admission, sucks at keeping up with emails. But I’m not on Facebook, which is her preferred method of keeping touch. So we compromise by maintaining an ongoing text-thread.