The pleasures of merely circulating


Rob Horning, one of the most thoughtful writers on the online experience, considers how his writing and thinking have changed as he has shifted his time from blogging to tweeting:

Now, when I hit upon an article that starts me thinking, I excerpt a sentence of it on Twitter and start firing off aphoristic tweets. I don’t worry about ordering my thoughts into a sequential argument, or revising my first impressions much. I don’t try to build toward a conclusion; rather I try to draw conclusions that seem to require no build-up, no particular justification to be superficially plausible. And then, more often than not, I will monitor what sort of reaction these statements get to assess their accuracy, their resonance. At best, my process of deliberation and further reading on the subject  gets replaced by immediate Twitter conversations with other people. At worst, tweeting pre-empts my doing any further thinking, since I am satisfied with merely charting the response.

One of his recent tweets reads: “making things circulate seems far more important than letting things ‘settle’ within me.” Frisson and dolor, a Catherine wheel of vanity, servitude to vanishing ink: the Twitter intellectual is a strange new species.

5 thoughts on “The pleasures of merely circulating

  1. Laraine

    I can’t really tell from his post. Does Ron Horning, “one of the most thoughtful writers on the online experience,” think this sea change in how he responds to what he reads is a good thing? I can be as “superficially plausible” in my arguments as anyone else when I am too tired or too lazy to be plausible i.e. make sense, reveal an internal logical, make the evidence relevant to the conclusion, just generally think hard about something that interests me.

    I have also discovered, to my disgust, that in MOOC discussion groups, I tend to monitor my responses in order to gather the most responses, especially the most positive responses. But I think these are bad tendencies, signs of being intellectually sloppy and too other-directed.

    From Horning’s post and especially from the tweets below the post, I almost think the author sees the change he describes as an improvement. To me, the next step in that kind of thinking is looking around for catchy statements to tweet rather than looking for articles to read and ideas to consider.

  2. Laraine

    @lee I’m probably missing the point in the same way the starving people of Ireland didn’t get Swift’s irony in “A Modest Proposal,” but I have the bad feeling he thinks of it as a different way to process what he reads and”writes” about while not necessarily viewing it as less productive.

    I think that long list of tweets is meant to show how productive “merely circulating” is while at the same time avoiding all that hard work of thinking and reading more about the topic or issue.

  3. Bruce Thiesen

    Thanks for posting Nicholas.

    Rob Horning’s description of his current process and that which he replaced is likely the equation that many have felt.

    For a long time, I considered writing a blog. For various good and not very good reasons, I deferred until just this past summer. I had generally been on the social media sidelines for some time, because I did not enjoy the impact of the kinetic and aimless activities that seemed to me to dominate the websites. So, I just started writing. No illusions here with the new pastime, just some fun with the process of ordering my thoughts and writing them in a fashion that went beyond the twitter and FB communication style. I enjoy it very much, but can see how some who have been blogging for a while, may simply have to cut back due to other commitments and demands. Some will get their pleasure from sending out ideas and comments with twitter and it may serve some of the importance that we all place on communicating with others. However, as Rob Horning says, his blogging activities are not the same as his twitter activities. Both types of social media activities require discipline to do well, but I think there are many poor quality twitter messages because people don’t feel like they have to be as thoughtful as they do when writing something original and longer than 140 characters.

  4. Itzhak

    Funny example of a naive believe that “technology change everything”
    A prominent scientist from Google claims that “Control-F” fundamentally changed reading and literacy. :)

    Curious question to my G+extended-mind friends…
    What do you think of as “literate skills”? You’ve probably heard me argue that knowing “Control-F” (aka “CMD-F” aka “Edit>Find”) fundamentally changes the way you read e-texts.
    What other such skills are there that change the way you read, write, or think?
    Examples: Would you include knowing about “filtering” a results set on some type of faceted metadata? How about Copy/Paste as fundamentals of e-writing?

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