Tag Archives: Twitter

You Must Unplug Your Life!

Maybe you missed it because you left your iPhone at home, but the fifth annual National Day ofundologo Unplugging was celebrated by certain digital malcontents on March 7th. The event’s organizer, Reboot, exhorts us “to unplug and reconnect in real life” for one day from sundown to sundown:

We increasingly miss out on the important moments of our lives as we pass the hours with our noses buried in our iPhones and BlackBerry’s, chronicling our every move through Facebook and Twitter and shielding ourselves from the outside world with the bubble of “silence” that our earphones create.

If you recognize that in yourself—or your friends, families or colleagues—join us for the National Day of Unplugging, sign the Unplug pledge and start living a different life: connect with the people in your street, neighborhood and city, have an uninterrupted meal or read a book to your child.

Reboot wants to change your life. You don’t just need to put down your iPad, you need to remake yourself. This broader injunction to self-reinvention reveals just what “unplugging” and “detoxing” is all about and helps us to understand better the handwringing about too much information and digital distraction that has been a constant of cultural criticism of late.

The National Day of Unplugging grew out of the group’s Sabbath Manifesto, a ten-point list of edifying imperatives that will, if heeded, make you a better person. Among the many injunctions are “Connect with loved ones,” “Nurture your health,” “Get outside,” and, my favorite, “Drink wine”—all laudable activities that I would encourage you to try out if you haven’t. But the one that tops the list is “Avoid technology.” And this one makes less sense to me. How are we to “avoid” technologies? And why exactly?

Avoiding technology may sound like a noble feat of asceticism, but it’s neither possible nor desirable. Technologies are part of us. They aren’t just fungible tools that we can set aside when we want to be more human. They help constitute what is to be human. To pretend otherwise is naive and self-defeating. Unplugging from our digital devices, as Casey N. Cep points out,

doesn’t stop us from experiencing our lives through their lenses, frames, and formats. We are only ever tourists in the land of no technology, our visas valid for a day or a week or a year, and we travel there with the same eyes and ears that we use in our digital homeland. That is why so many of those who unplug return so quickly to speak about their sojourns. The ostentatious announcements of leave-taking (“I’m #digitaldetoxing for a few days, so you won’t see any tweets from me!” “Leaving Facebook for a while to be in the world!”) are inevitably followed by vainglorious returns, excited exclamations having turned into desperate questions (“Sorry to be away from Twitter. #Digitaldetox for three WHOLE days. Miss me?” “Back online. What did I miss?”).

The idea of “unplugging” assumes that a brief hiatus from your favorite device or app will have a cleansing effect. But who among us plans on living without our technologies? We all make plans to return under the illusion that we’ve actually done something good for ourselves, that we’ve changed our lives by turning off our iPhone. These earnest efforts at digital detoxing distract from just how enmeshed we are in our technologies. The dream of a world without technologies, however short-lived, is not sustainable. We need practices and norms to help guide us through this era of technological change. We need repetition: practice, practice, practice! One day a year won’t do it.

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Twitter as Aphorism

Most tweets are little more than banal self-promotion or mindless snark. Few are experiments in forms of social critique. But for University of Pennsylvania Professor of German Studies Eric Jarosinski, Twitter’s formal constraint of just 144 characters has freed him of the endless equivocations of academic prose. Jarosinki started his tenure-track position at UPenn in 2007 as a scholar of the Frankfurt School and critical theory, working on figures such as Theodor Adorno, Walter Benjamin, and Siegfried Kracauer. As he was struggling to write a book and compose in a language that could get him tenure, he began a Twitter feed, NeinQuarterly, that helped him recover, as he recently put it in a New Yorker interview, “the playful sides of German thinkers”:

Adopting the Twitter persona was “extremely liberating,” he said, because it helped him to remember what had attracted him to the Frankfurt School philosophers in the first place: their more literary works, especially their aphorisms. Adorno: “The splinter in your eye is the best magnifying glass.” Or, as one NeinQuarterly tweet has it: “ADORNO. German for YOLO.”

Composing for Twitter also forced him to think about matters of form and the shape that social critique could take, something that Frankfurt School figures like Adorno and Benjamin wrote a great deal about. A good tweet, says Jarosinski, does something particular:

“You’re trying to find a way to state contradiction. You’re writing a cartoon caption for a cartoon that doesn’t exist…. It’s the old Gary Larson trick,” he said, referring to the creator of “The Far Side.” “What you really need to do in a cartoon is set someone up for the moment that comes next, after that frame, but is not depicted.” Tweets, he has learned, work best in dialogue form, because dialogue helps readers imagine a scene. “An early tweet of mine would have said, ‘No bourgeois morality on the bus.’… The better tweet is, ‘Sorry, sir, no bourgeois morality on the bus.’”

A good day on Twitter for him is when he can discover “a new structure” that he can use over and over. “I guess I want to see myself as an aphorist,” Jarosinski said. “And not even a Twitter aphorist. I think we need to reestablish that as a profession.”

Twitter as critique, anyone?

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