A.O. Scott on Using Twitter as a Writer

Like many of my colleagues, I was driven to Twitter by two complementary forces: my vanity and my boss. I’ve regarded it as a clubhouse, a research tool and a venue for unloading surplus opinion. It has never really seemed like a private place, and I try to behave there more or less the way I do in the newspaper, refraining from swearing or expressing political opinions and keeping my crazier thoughts to myself. Which I suppose makes the thoughts I do express there fair game for the same kind of treatment as all my other published thoughts. They can be appropriated, parodied, parroted, misquoted and ignored. The last option is a writer’s greatest nightmare of course, but it can also be a source of comfort.

A.O. Scott, “‘The Collision of Movie-Awards Campaigning and Paracritical Chirping'”, The New York Times Magazine (19 January 2014), 47.

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“Jumping into the boundless streams of Twitter is not very different from compulsively buying books”

Jumping into the boundless streams of Twitter is not very different from compulsively buying books in the false hope that, one day, you might read them. Of course, you won’t, but this doesn’t matter: it’s the very brief encounter with that possibility that counts. The fire hose of social media tricks us into thinking that, for a fleeting moment, we can play God and conquer every link that is dumped upon us; it gives us that mad utopian hope that, with proper training, we can emerge victorious in the war on information overload.

Evgeny Morozov, “Only Disconnect”, The New Yorker (28 October 2013), 37.

Just like the Internet, cognitive entanglement is the rule of life, as does cognitive exasperation

Cognitive entanglement, after all, is the rule of life. My memories and my wife’s intermingle. When I can’t recall a name or a date, I don’t look it up; I just ask her. Our machines, in this way, become our substitute spouses and plug-in companions. Jerry Seinfeld said that the public library was everyone’s pathetic friend, giving up its books at a casual request and asking you only to please return them in a month or so. Google is really the world’s Thurber wife: smiling patiently and smugly as she explains what the difference is between eulogy and elegy and what the best route is to that little diner outside Hackensack. The new age is one in which we have a know-it-all spouse at our fingertips.

But, if cognitive entanglement exists, so does cognitive exasperation. Husbands and wives deny each other’s memories as much as they depend on them. That’s fine until it really counts (say, in divorce court). In a practical, immediate way, one sees the limits of the so-called “extended mind” clearly in the mob-made Wikipedia, the perfect product of that new vast, supersized cognition: when there’s easy agreement, it’s fine, and when there’s widespread disagreement on values or facts, as with, say, the origins of capitalism, it’s fine, too; you get both sides. The trouble comes when one side is right and the other side is wrong and doesn’t know it. The Shakespeare authorship page and the Shroud of Turin page are scenes of constant conflict and are packed with unreliable information. Creationists crowd cyberspace every bit as effectively as evolutionists, and extend their minds just as fully. Our trouble is not the over-all absence of smartness but the intractable power of pure stupidity, and no machine, or mind, seems extended enough to cure that.

Adam Gopnik, “The Information”, The New Yorker (14 & 21 February 2011), 126.