Superficiality and Absorption

I enjoyed the “Meet the Writer, or He Will Meet You Session” on Friday, largely because of a diverting series of tweets from Paddy O’Reilly and former resident Jennifer Mills that made me reflect on why I am reticent to reveal much about myself on social media.

I struggle to find a reason to offer anything much for public consumption; but the conversation gave me pause for further thought. I realised that for me, social media doesn’t have the depth of embedded understandings and relatively predictable consequences that develop with more direct personal interactions. I’m sure there’s more to it, but in one tweet I put it this way:

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What was interesting is how the discussion eventually angled into the apparent shallowness of social media. This topic had risen before in my residency, when I had asked whether literary journals ever received thoughtful criticism through Twitter or Facebook; anything at all beyond knee-jerk condemnation or sycophantic angling for retweets. The response was generally negative, with Island tweeting:

Screen Shot 2014-08-05 at 3.24.50 pm I wonder if there are any journals that would be interested in experimenting on this with me? A “Critique Meanjin Week” or something similar?

The same kind of reflections were aired in the discussion on Friday.

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And yet I wondered. Here were were having a serious conversation, and more than that – for me, it was an absorbing conversation. As I mentioned at the outset of this residency, one of my major discomforts in the online space is the way that my mind embraces scatty and distracted tendencies, in contrast to the settled focus that characterises writing or reading.

Yet in this conversation I spent nearly an hour following a line of thought.

Naturally Twitter has its limitations. Among other things, there is a character limit, and it’s difficult for an exchange to go on more than half a dozen rounds.

But everything has limitations, and probably most thoughtful and serious conversations are only a few sentences away from total foolishness. Whether or not this is what those speaking above intend, I’m wary of relegating social media purely to the realm of light superficiality. The form might lend itself to this; it might reward this in retweets and interaction. But surely this is true of other forms? Froth earns the dollars in books and films as well.

There are further dimensions to this issue. Later in the discussion, Siv Parker argued:

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So I continue to wonder: how much are the superficialities of Twitter and other social media simply what we make them; the result of our own decisions in the evolving online cultures in which we find ourselves interacting?

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