Margaret Atwood Talks About Twitter (Video)

4 thoughts on “Margaret Atwood Talks About Twitter (Video)”

  1. What a discouraging video. It’s disappointing to hear Atwood regurgitate the most trite defenses of Twitter’s diluting effect on the written word: “It doesn’t depend on the technology, it depends on the users…” C’mon, where’s the passion for her own vocation? Let’s ask the questions that really matter, does it enrich, does it inspire, is there meaning in the process?

    She says one of the positives of Twitter is the ability to get your questions answered quickly. From a literary or creative perspective, she misses the idea that convenience and speed are not necessarily positive qualities. What about the inspiration that comes from searching for an answer in a conversation with a stranger on the bus, or the encounters on a walk to a library?

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    1. Hi, Arturo,

      I don’t see how Twitter “dilutes” the written word, as if there was some big concentrate of “pure” writing out there that a new technology somehow threatens (although this argument is quite old; it seems to revive with each new technology). Atwood has plenty of passion for her vocation (as any of her Twitter followers would realize). I don’t think “she misses the idea that convenience and speed are not necessarily positive qualities” at all—she simply presents that they can be positive qualities (which they can, obviously).

      The idea that Twitter will preclude or erase more “naturalistic” sources of inspiration is purely false; there’s no reason to suggest that they can’t coexist, much the same as printed books will coexist with ebooks.

      Do you use Twitter? I say this without any spirit of argumentation or aggression. I find Twitter to be an excellent source of connection to inspiration, enrichment, meaning, and “the questions that really matter.” It’s like any other medium: full of noise and buzz and garbage, but like any other medium, the user may be selective and edit.

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  2. Thanks for the thoughtful response. I like your phrasing: “as if there was some big concentrate of ‘pure’ writing out there…” I’m sure if either of us found that fountain we’d want to stick our heads in and slurp up all the pulpy chunks.

    To flush out my ideas a little more: I think it’s fair to put these technologies on the critical surgery table and rummage around in their organs to see their worth or danger or what they threaten. Look what video did to the radio star and what email has done to the letter writer.

    I feel like Twitter operates with a similar flattening effect that we see elsewhere in the internet sphere, in that it pairs a person’s breakfast meal with an eyewitness account of riots with a keen one-liner. It reduces conversation and correspondence to information-swapping. Atwood’s Twitter page follows this with a mix of quickly expiring newsbits, cause promotions, political protest chain letters – and this might be the utility of Twitter. It’s what Atwood seems to suggest in her use of it and in the video. However, I’m open to being convinced on its other possibilities as a source for inspiration, enrichment and meaning. I just haven’t found it yet, then again I didn’t find Biblioklept until last year.

    When I watched the video I was hoping for a more philosophical or critical (negative or positive) eye from Atwood. Have you encountered any interviews or articles approaching it from that angle, maybe from someone like Will Self? I’d be interested to read what you’d write in a guide to to Twitter for the creative skeptic or what Twitter accounts you follow that cut through the buzz and garbage or just an explanation on how to use it and not the other way around.

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  3. Hi, Arturo—

    I agree with you that scrutinizing new technologies and their affects is worthwhile . . . although I don’t lament the “loss” of the radio star or the letter writer. Nostalgia is not my idiom.
    Twitter, depending on one’s feed, can “flatten” (although that’s not the word I’d choose) banal and extraordinary events, although I would argue that literature, film, TV, other mediums do the same thing. The book I’m currently reading, JR by William Gaddis, for example, works to the same effect, combining the banal language of advertising, commerce, the conversational elisions and fillers, etc. against the more drawn and analytic (and exasperated) speech of Gaddis’s artists and intellectuals. He’s clearly following Joyce here, of course, whose work in many ways presages Twitter’s ability to pair the banal with the extraordinary.

    For me, inspiration and enrichment is not a relationship where I, empty vessel, am filled with idea or spirit or motivation by a piece of information or a link or a deft quote or a wicked one-liner; Twitter’s like many other mediums in that it requires the receiver to work (or to play, if you prefer that metaphor). A lot of that work (or play) is active editing, but we do this every day, on the street, in our lives, in what we choose not to read, not to watch, not to engage, etc. . . .

    Twitter takes time and patience and, to a certain extent, trust. There are users I follow for purely informational reasons, whether it’s general news, art news, lit news, etc. Some folks I follow because they link to the best stuff. Other accounts I follow because they’ve gotten really, really good at Twitter as art (I’m thinking of @georgelazenby and @pattonoswalt here, among others). I also follow some friends and family members.

    I don’t have any real guide. I think it’s an intuitive process. I can’t remember if it was William Gibson or Douglas Coupland who said it (id est, Tweeted it), but the quote is something like, “Twitter is like the street; Facebook is like the mall.” I think that’s a fair reality for virtual social systems. But, of course there’s always the real street, and I don’t believe its rhythms and joys and disruptions are threatened by a program on my iPhone.

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