Twitter gets a really bad rap sometimes, especially when we repost some of the terrible things that are tweeted every single day by the millions. The hatefulness, the spite, the willingness by shield of Internet distance to spew onto the keyboard whatever darkness slinks from beneath the curled floorboards that keep everyone’s subconscious nailed down in everyday life. The staggering ignorance and complete disregard for any rules of grammar make it a horrorshow.
It’s not run of the mill morons either, of course. There are the endless stream of celebrities that make sure we know just how stupid they really are, instead of leaving that to the mystery of rumor and tabloid. There are people more famous for being arguments in favor of mass sterilization than they are for anything they’ve ever done. Those like Kendall Jenner. Maybe. I don’t know, I’m not looking up which one actually thinks kontrails are a konspiracy. And Jaden Smith. Son, if you’re that stupid without pot, then you have a medical condition.
Social media made it so that the whole world could speak. It lowered the cost of broadcasting messages so it’s possible for normal people to organize like never before, to mobilize in the streets by the millions to topple dictators, but that’s the silver lining of instantaneous mobilization. It more often just allows a hate storm to emerge and sweep across the world faster than the oblivious target’s flight can leave Dulles and touch down in LAX.
And so some of the best speakers leave it because they just can’t handle the firehose of public opinion. Joss did it. Our own Courtney did it (for a while). And there’s nothing wrong with that in the least. An infinite stream of criticism is worse than torture for many writers. You can’t ignore it, even if you want to, it just pulses there like phantom pain in an amputated limb, dulling your entire mind with a throbbing. There are reasons for people not to be on Twitter, and there are reasons for it simply not being your sort of thing. There’s nothing wrong with that.
But when people start throwing the inevitable comments about how it is worthless, about how it contributes nothing, that’s when I start bristling. Yes, there is the capacity for political organization that makes it a fantastic tool in the arsenal against dictators, but I value its existence for something far more long term and fundamental.
It matters, because it’s normal people talking, their voices stored for posterity, and that is one of the rarest commodities in all of human history. The political scientist in me loves Twitter with a manic glee for the way it levels the playing field. The historian in me is moved to tears by the beauty of the voices of ordinary people not only being heard, but being archived.
We’ve got a relative handful of diaries from the last two hundred years in the Western world. But before that? There are centuries when nothing is recorded. Almost everything we know of Russian history for a five hundred year period is in a pair of Chronicles, written after the fact. The Vikings? Oral histories preserved as myth. Entire cultures, entire civilizations, and everything about them is lost but for a scattered few notes of half legend jotted down by the upper classes when they felt like it. Want to know how a normal person lived and thought in almost all of human history? Too bad.
More information is being created and stored today than at any time in human history. And not by a small margin. Every day enough text is posted to Twitter to account for 8000 copies of War and Peace. Every day more pictures are uploaded to Facebook than exist in all of human history prior to 1990. Of course, half of it is bitching about Taylor Swift and posting a hundred selfies, not posting thousands of great novels and new Renoirs. Internet communications, recorded in an infinite proliferation of magnetic bits, are enshrining the low background noise of human society: the diaries, snippets of conversation, personal letters, and oral histories that once faded from records, but are now archived away digitally.
The greatest crime of history is not heard in the screams but in the silence.
Steven Lloyd Wilson is a hopeless romantic and the last scion of Norse warriors and the forbidden elder gods. His novel, ramblings, and assorted fictions coalesce at www.burningviolin.com. You can email him here.