[Originally published July 16, 2014.]
I am not on Twitter. I am not a snob about it. Some of my best friends tweet. Nor do I believe that my absence from the lists makes me pure; I suffer from other forms of digital narcosis. But the interminable hectoring of Twitter, its infinite discharge of emotion and promotion, holds no attraction for me. It is a medium of communication in which nothing intellectually or linguistically substantial can be accomplished. I refuse to operate mentally at its speed: I have already been sufficiently accelerated, thank you. And I hate the din.
And with that showily dismissive, hand-dusting flourish (as well as what appears to be a veiled confession of an addiction to deviant forms of pornography), his bona fides as a man of the digital people reinforced, Wieseltier proceeds to inform us that he nonetheless simply cannot abide an ersatz intellectual like Alain de Botton being dismissive of Twitter, or digital interconnectedness in general, however mildly. You see, de Botton has a new book out in which he voices the, uh, less-than-startling notion that we might do well to take “Twitter Sabbaths,” along with other anodyne suggestions for calmer digital living:
“We need, on occasion, to be able to go to a quieter place…”
“We should at times forego the Twitter feed…”
On occasion! At times! Goodness gracious, summon the constabulary and get this madman off the street!
The ostensible thrust of Wieseltier’s “defense” is that de Botton’s meek advice is actually subversive encouragement to the “haute bourgeoisie” to be derelict in their duty of being well-informed citizens of the world. A good editor might have pointed out that this might appear quite a foolish tack to take, seeing as how Wieseltier had just got done harrumphing about how nothing intellectually substantial could possibly be encountered on social media anyway. Couldn’t this, however inadvertently, be good advice for anyone who wants to be genuinely informed? But he and TNR in general have never bothered to hide their disdain for de Botton or the type of shallow dunces who read him (none of whom are even likely to know how to casually drop a term like “haute bourgeoisie,” I mean, ugh), so I think it’s safe to say that this conceit, like the self-aggrandizing opening paragraph, is merely a way for Wieseltier to signal his superiority (and, by extension, that of the average TNR reader) under the guise of a broader humanitarian instinct. Too bad he’s so clumsy and artless about it. Aren’t highfalutin snobs supposed to be naturally good at this?