But how is one to keep free from those mental microbes that worm-eat people’s brains—those Theories and Diets and Enthusiasms and infectious Doctrines that we catch from what seem the most innocuous contacts? People go about laden with germs; they breathe creeds and convictions on you as soon as they open their mouths. Books and newspapers are simply creeping with them—the monthly Reviews seem to have room for little else. Wherewithal then shall a young man cleanse his way; how shall he keep his mind immune to Theosophical speculations, and novel schemes of Salvation? Can he ever be sure that he won’t be suddenly struck down by the fever of Funeral or of Spelling Reform, or take to his bed with a new Sex Theory?
— Logan Pearsall Smith, All Trivia: A Collection of Reflections & Aphorisms
Twitter gives you a telephone version of the news, where people take facts reported by journalists, which then gets spun and argued about, and soon there are not only the facts, but they are interspersed with discussions about the narrative, then a narrative about the narrative, and a narrative about the narrative about the narrative. The search for information gets diluted by gossip, dunking, theory building with regards to the motivations of rival tribes, and petty feuds and arguments. The vast majority of “takes” on the news are lazy nonsense put together by people who would, if they actually had the focus and patience to have anything worth saying, communicate their views in a more substantive format.
…It’s amazing to me the extent to which my group chats center around what’s on Twitter, and how much we’re pretending to be sophisticated observers of current events as an excuse to act like little girls. In a typical discussion, someone will send the latest clueless Jason Stanley tweet, and we’ll all laugh about what a goofball he is. Then there will be a Yglesias one, and people will be like “oh he gets it but can only go so far. har har har.” Andrew Sullivan is a nice guy we all have fond memories of reading but too naïve to understand the need to ban Critical Race Theory. There will be the latest Rufo or LibsofTikTok outrage, although these are actually useful because it’s good to know how deranged major institutions are getting, and Rufo is the rare right-wing social media personality who translates his celebrity into policy action. And of course there’s always the black academic who has devoted her life to studying blackness and the texture of her hair crying about how someone looked at her funny and this is the new slavery. Someone has been banned from Twitter, and everyone cries about American conservatives and so-called “dissidents” being the most wronged and oppressed human beings who have ever walked the face of the earth.
None of this strikes me as healthy.
I really hate having to be a devil’s advocate for social media in general, or Twitter in particular, but so be it. Let’s be clear: the “Twitter” that most people complain like this about is pop culture/current events Twitter, which is heavily dominated by journalists and pundits, both professional and amateur. The complainers aren’t wrong, obviously. Journalists and pundits are generally unpleasant, stupid people. But it’s a big world out there, and there are lots of interesting people with interesting thoughts who just happen to communicate some of them on Twitter. If you don’t want to pay attention to the demented screamers and feces-flingers in the political zoo, there’s accounts that focus entirely on language. Or art and architecture. Or medieval manuscripts. Or Generation-X nostalgia. Or gardening. Or countless other niche interests. As with most things, you tend to get out of social media what you put in. How does that old joke go…?
Anyway, to answer Pearsall Smith’s question, I don’t think it’s healthy to avoid all contact with those “creeds and convictions.” You need to develop your immunity by mingling with the crowd to some extent. Oh, come on, get over yourself. How arrogant is it to think that your age is uniquely deranged and uncouth? “Nothing human is alien to me,” remember? I’m no delicate hypochondriac; I want to know all about the new enthusiasms and infectious doctrines!