I’ve had a list of recommended books I should read, which according to everyone I talk to will not only expose me to great writing, but will improve my writing. Nabokov and James Baldwin lead the list. But first I have to check Facebook. Let’s break down a thread that went haywire:
Announcer’s voice rises, “And here’s Steve’s serve.”
The :30 second video attached shows a singer in a rock band looking at an audience member repeatedly, then jumping off stage, punching him, then returning to the stage.
Announcer: Seems a simple opening strike. No 14 page Atlantic articles attached, no 20 minute videos to be misinterpreted. Let’s see the response.
Announcer: “Ooh… David responds to an unasked question with a “No” and then meanders into pronoun disambiguation fouls… Which state is “it” coming to?”
Color Commentator: “Yes, he’s seeing something there, don’t know what… but Rob enters, challenging the idea that Steve’s central premise is either Rock, or Trump. Something’s bound to come of this, but I don’t know where he’s going. Wait! Others are storming the court…”
Announcer: “Wow, that got ugly fast! Mark and David think Steve’s supporting Trump! Two complete misreads of both Steve AND Rob’s point, confirmed by Steve with a zinger to boot.”
Color Commentator: “I still want to know what the heck Rob is thinking… he’s out in left field among all the competitors so far. And that’s no place to be, in a tennis metaphor.”
Announcer: “Here he comes now…. it… it can’t be? He looks like he’s going to take on all three players with a contextualization!”
Color Commentator: “Nice play, with a deft attempt at a humorous aside. He looks to be stirring a little shit with the Trump supporters, potentially…”
Announcer: “…Sorry to interrupt… but here comes, <looks down to scorecard>… that… looks to be, yes. Lyle…”
Announcer: “Unbelievable! A series of pronoun ambiguities. That’s two different posters in the first quarter! I wish I could say it was unprecedented but… Hold… Rob’s having none of this potential threat to his earlier clarification.”
Color Commentator: “A spectacular finish. A melee of misconstrual, capped by an OP beatdown and existential question for the ages. ‘Is this what social media has done to us?'”
Announcer: “Game. Set. Match, to Steve, the Original Poster, Steve!”
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…and then I came back to writing. I really must read “Lolita” and every essay by James Baldwin. These Facebook skirmishes provide no actual intellectual advance, plenty of miscommunication and anger, and only negative impact on my writing ability. The only lesson I can glean (and it indicts me, too) is that every one of us reads through experiential filters — misreading text because we have set ourselves to see things we want to see, rather than what is actually being written. Our responses end up being more about ourselves and our filters, than about the person or idea we think we’re raging against.
I don’t know if I will answer Steve’s final question “Yes, social media has done this to us,” but it is playing a large part.