While I was manning the sign-in desk at the yoga studio this morning two women were sitting on the couch in the lobby chatting and I couldn’t help but overhear their conversation. They had either just taken a yoga class or were just about to.
One of the women was talking about Twitter. “I don’t understand why anyone would want to use it. It’s just narcissism, right? I think about myself too much already. I don’t want to be encouraged to think about myself. Can you tell me why anyone does it?”
"Our whole society has ADD," said the other woman. "We can’t pay attention to anything, we’re addicted to constant stimulation."
I was so irritated! I wanted to step out from behind the desk and start lecturing these women about how Twitter, for all its faults, has amazing potential as a medium and represents a formal challenge to writers that’s just as valid as the formal constraints of …. um … a sestina (or something) and moreover it’s not at ALL about narcissism, I mean it can be, it is explicitly designed to exploit our narcissistic impulses, but MUCH MORESO it feeds into the exact opposite of narcissism by provoking genuine curiosity about other people by providing intimate glimpses into their subjectivities. Even when people think they are constructing themselves they are actually revealing themselves so purely, as humans and as WRITERS, by recording their passing thoughts and insights and observations and jokes in little 140 character dispatches.
I had three minutes before I had to go teach class. I logged into Twitter and as I typed in my password I tried to figure out how to compress everything I wanted to say to these women into a tweet. I also wanted to say something like BOY NO ONE IS NEARLY AS SANCTIMONIOUS AS YOGA PEOPLE but then at the last minute I decided against it and closed the browser tab.
I didn’t think about the women at all during my class but then the subway on the way home they popped back into my head. Why had I been so angry at them? I had already sort of forgotten. It was irritating, I guess, that they were repeating received wisdom about something they didn’t have firsthand experience of, but on the other hand, we can’t all have firsthand experience of everything. But we have a responsibility to ourselves to check the sources of our information. We also have a responsibility to ourselves to make sure our sources of information are as varied as possible, that we’re regularly checking in with the dissenting voices of people who are different from us, who disagree with us, because we can learn more from those people than we can from people we like and feel simpatico with. We have to be willing to listen. (This is a place where I fall short.)
But I was also irritated — and this wasn’t the women’s fault in any way, of course — for reasons that reminded me of the part in One More For The People when Martha Grover describes how, when you’re serving people, you can’t expect them to treat you like a real person, or even want them to see that you are one — you keep that for yourself, and focus on the role the person you’re serving is expecting you to play. But I egotistically didn’t want to be receptionist-in-spandex at that moment, I wanted to be Emily Gould. I want to be Emily Gould all the time, but it’s a luxury I definitely cannot afford.