T is for Twitter and Too fast and Thoughtlessness and Trouble

Will it improve on the silence?

People holding mobile phones are silhouetted against a backdrop projected with the Twitter logo in WarsawI joined Twitter in July 2007, I’m told. I tried it out for a few weeks but didn’t “get” it and frankly forgot about it for at least a couple of years.

Now I post my various blogs to it automatically through Networked Blogs. I only have about 7,100 tweets. I follow about 1,850 people and am followed by almost 1,300, but I am genuinely unconcerned about the numbers.

Whereas Twitter, for some people, seems to be the lifeblood for their connectedness to the world. Unfortunately, because it’s so easy because the message is necessarily so short – like people’s attention spans – folks have made bad choices on the platform:

In accusing someone of inappropriate financing, a woman shows how she flunked basic arithmetic.
Bloomsburg University’s Joey Casselberry, a junior first baseman, was thrown off the team after making a racist and sexist tweet about 13-year-old Little Leaguer Mo’ne Davis. To her credit, she asked that he be reinstated to his team.
SamuraiFrog pointed to a heartbreaking Canadian PSA “where homeless people read mean tweets about the homeless. Those are some heartless tweets written by people who don’t see other people as human beings.” And how much thought was given in the composition of their venom?
A tweet about AIDS and race gets a woman fired from her job.

In these, and many more examples, the problem is that it was too easy to attempt to be clever and snarky. The key to going viral, I’m told, is to say something everyone is thinking, and say it in a way no one thought of. The above examples were widely seen, but not in the way they would have wished.

The blog post Do We Know We Aren’t Really Thinking? speaks to this:

I am guilty of rushing to form an opinion without thinking through the various sides of the issue, without digging into the details, without remembering that an opinion is just that… This happens both in our personal interactions in our narrow domains as well as in the wider context when we are engaging with larger issues related to… the world.

Perhaps this tendency to form an opinion without thinking is exaggerated today thanks to the 24×7 information-overload we all experience through mass media and social media. But perhaps there is a bigger reason for why we don’t really think properly, why we believe we are thinking when we really are only experiencing thought-sensations.

It seems to me that most of us aren’t even aware that we are not really thinking when we believe we are. It is perhaps because we don’t know how our mind works. We don’t know what it takes to truly think without allowing any interference from other parts of ourselves. For the most part we don’t even know what those other parts are, parts which have a tendency to interfere and influence our thinking process.

There’s a trend in cooking called the slow food movement, designed “to counter the rise of fast food and fast life, the disappearance of local food traditions and people’s dwindling interest in the food they eat.” One appreciates the flavors more when one takes time to savor the food. That tomato sauce you put on the stove for hours tastes better than the stuff you heat up on the stove for seven minutes.

I suppose it would be too much to ask for a slow social media writing movement, about actually spending a moment or three assessing the IMPACT of one’s comment before clicking. Actually, there IS such a mechanism; ask yourself, Is it true? Is it kind? Is it necessary?

This is not a new notion. It has been attributed to Sri Sathya Sai Baba, an Indian spiritual leader (b.1926): “Before you speak, think -Is it necessary? Is it true? Is it kind? Will it hurt anyone? Will it improve on the silence?” In the digital age, digital silence – or at least a respite – is often in order.

ABC Wednesday – Round 16