A blog by the magazine's editors and contributors


'Lunch again today!'

The editors ofn+1 on Twitter:

When Beckett wrote, in 1930, that it was every bit as illogical to expect tomorrows self to be gratified by todays experience as it was to expect your hunger to vanish at the sight of your uncle eating a sandwich, he could take it for granted that nobody expected one persons sandwich to satisfy someone else. That was then. Lots of people on Twitter do think youll enjoy the spectacle of their snacks. They tell you what theyre eating, where theyre going, what theyre consuming, never mind why you should care. Oran apparently opposite genre to the hyper-banal tweet (Lunch again today!), but identical in effectthey tweet something cryptic to the point of senselessness. This is the tweet that says, whatever its actual content, I have nothing to say but I want to say something.Possibly its the automatism, the compulsiveness, thats depressing. Because another variety of bad tweet is the one that would actually be pretty good if the tweeter hadnt taken it upon himself to shtick-ify his personality. Thus a funny person, alive to the wisdom of building your brand, calcifies into a humorist, or a clever person into a witticist. It can be very amusing, Dickensian, when a fictional avatar has a narrow, caricatured personality: the girl who says, exclusively, shit girls say, or the tween hobo or out-of-touch masculine blowhard who is always true to type. Its a lot less funny when a real person, supposedly the many-sided hero of his own life, decides to say only one sort of thing, and say it all the time.

Read the whole thing here.

About the Author

Matthew Boudway is an associate editor of Commonweal.



Commenting Guidelines

  • All

This is an example of what NYU professor Clay Shirky (among others) calls the "Publish, Then Filter" culture driven by the new social tools of the computer era. In the age of the printing press, publication costs were so (relatively) high that it made economic sense to have a culture of "Filter, Then Publish" (thus, among other things, the importance of editors in the traditional publishing world).Now, publication costs approach zero (as witness my comment here, published immediately and worldwide at the click of a button at virtually no cost), so the cost of editing in advance becomes prohibitive. (For more, here's one of several posts I've written about Shirky's book, "Here Comes Everybody: The Power Of Organizing Without Organizations":

It's wonderful that everyone can publish whatever s/he wants to. I'm so glad I've lived to see this day. Amazon tells how to do it. Free! Within that message from Jeff Bezos is a link to an article by Jessica Park. Excellent! Don't miss it.Of course, there are those who are NOT happy to have lived to see the day when anyone can publish anything. In the current Authors Guild Bulletin, e.g., there's this letter to the editor: ----------------"In a recent issue of the Bulletin President Scott Turow suggested that, 'The online publication of books, albeit for free, means that first-time authors who can't interest a traditional publisher will have a chance to disseminate their work.' Back in the heyday of the labor movement in the late 19th and early 20th century, under-cutting workers was known as 'scabbing' and those who did it were termed 'finks.' How the hell does Mr. Turow expect me to sell my books in the face of writers who are willing to give their books away? It is understandable that writers who can't produce work that people are willing to pay for will be unhappy about it, but that doesn't excuse them from undercutting my market by offering their books for nothing. I have managed to make a living writing books for longer than I am willing to admit. Is my hope of continuing to do so to be destroyed by scabs who, out of vanity, will do anything to get published? Rather than commending these people as Mr. Turow has done, he ought to be doing what he can to stop the practice." --James Lincoln Collier, New York

"the tweet that says, whatever its actual content, I have nothing to say but I want to say something.A few of my elderly neighbors have recently become wired and I am getting quite a lot of granny spam. I'm being forwarded these blast e-mails with jokes, health tips and motivational anecdotes. "Check this out.." "Thought you would enjoy this..." Though I did like the e-mail one neighbor sent with the video of two guys reuniting with a lion they had rescued and returned to the wild years earlier. And I really like my neighbor, so I'll keep reading her e-mails.

Too bad the editors of n+1 didn't confine themselves to 140 characters.Does someone force them to read tweets? Their bloated piece reminds me of the NYRB article someone posted here by a guy who hates Mad Men but managed to watch all the episodes. Did the n+1 editors notice Ronan Farrow's tweet?'t he beautiful? Went to college at 11, to Yale Law School at 15, etc. A chip off the old blocks -- his Catholic grandparents, Maureen O'Sullivan and John Farrow, who was created a Knight of the Holy Sepulchre by Pius XI.

Caution: Tangential rant.I was more interested in the style of the article on n+1 than in what it had to say about Twitter (which can be summed up as "when it's good it's very very good, and when it's bad it's horrid," a theme that has been done to death re Twitter, ISTM).What I find increasingly precious are articles that use big words largely for show-off purposes ("apercu" with the little French pinky hanging off the "c", particularly gratuitous since it is preceded by a perfectly serviceable English synonym, "epigram") and learned references to Beckett and Wittgenstein--thus establishing that they are smart--with cut-to-the-chase vulgarisms thrown in ("circle jerk," "shit")--establishing that they are also hip and savvy. The juxtaposition of smart and savvy implies that the the writers have something fresh to say. Which, IMO, they do not. At least not in this article.I admire the phrasing in places--"scrolling suicide note of Western Civilization," it alliterates!--but these characterizations are often confusing, especially when the article concludes that Twitter has some saving graces (so it's NOT the scrolling suicide note of Western Civilization?).Rolling Stone was an early purveyor of this style--every feature article or review now has at least one obligatory f-bomb, and, because its writing staff is still predominantly male, a 14-year-old boy's preoccupation with anatomy between the crotch and the neck. My theory is that this kind of writing is a pale, pale homage to H.S. Thompson and the beat poets. It has the smart words and the dirty words, but it often lacks the wit, the charm, imagination, or depth of the source of the style. Would any of them be capable of anything like Thompson's exchange with drive-in restaurant waitress in Nevada about where the American Dream has gone?No. So they should stop it. And find their own voices.

Irene, Isidore of Seville is the patron saint of the Internet. A perpetual novena might decrease the granny spam in your in-box, but so far it hasn't worked for me.

Jean,A tangential response to your "tangential rant":Your own prose is admirable, so I hesitate to spar with you about style. I can only offer counter-observations, such as that the house style at Rolling Stone strikes me as quite different from -- and not as good as -- the style(s) of n+1's unsigned pieces. The use of four letter words and allusions to pop culture do not constitute a style; and, for better or for worse, I don't think I've ever seen Wittgenstein mentioned in the pages of Rolling Stone. (Come to that, I don't remember Hunter S. Thompson having much to say about him, either.)"Epigram" (a Latin word by way of Greek) and "apercu" (a French word no bigger than "epigram" by any common measure -- even with the cedilla, missing here) aren't quite synonyms. An epigram is always something written down; an apercu often isn't, and may start life as a humble, albeit memorable, remark in a conversation. One interesting feature of Twitter is that it blurs the distinction between conversation and composition, so that its epigrams become more like apercus, appearing almost as soon as they're conceived and offered as part of an ongoing exchange.You may have read more essays and articles about Twitter than I have; it's possible all this has been said before (and better) elsewhere. But if so, I haven't seen it. The n+1 essay says Twitter has some graces, which may or may not save it, and the first of these its most obvious limitation: you have only 140 characters to work with. This formal constraint can produce elegance, but it usually doesn't (just as the blog's lack of a space constraint could produce comprehensiveness but usually just results in baggy banality). No wit without brevity, maybe, but lots and lots of brevity without wit.

Most of the articles I've read in the past two years about Twitter say that users are still trying to figure out what it's good for, and that's essentially what n+1 says. It's not a fresh idea.I'll concede on apercu, but you won't catch me using it. I have personal problems with French loan words that have to be festooned with special diacritical marks. Since 1066, English has been all about stealing words from other people, bollixing up the pronunciation, and making them all our own. So if dropping the cedilla means future generations talking about "APE-er-cues," I don't care. Lookit what's already happened to "crudites," "poignant" and "Quebec." Payback for what happened at Hastings, I say.Also, if word choice and allusion aren't elements of style, what are they? Please respond ASAP, cuz summer term starts up Monday, and I got two comp classes.

Add new comment

You may login with your assigned e-mail address.
The password field is case sensitive.

Or log in with...

Add new comment