Twitter, Tolkien and talk

“What do they call people who use Twitter – twits?” That’s my sister, the social media Luddite, talking. The video below is probably something she would enjoy (I found a link to it via, um, Twitter):

Funny – though it does repeat the misconception people who use social media somehow “don’t have friends,” when the majority of people who use it are probably using it to keep in touch with existing friends and acquaintances. As for social media representing a fantasy escape from “real relationships,” ironically this skit ends with the two guys falling back down to “the real world”… which is nothing but their boring, sterile work cubicles. If that’s all there is to real life and real relationships – the straightjacketed “reality” ultimately defined by the corporations that employ us — well, no wonder people are hungering for such flights of fancy.

But it’s also true that some people use Twitter as a virtual stream of consciousness, and it can be exhausting. Have you ever thought about how much space we feel the need to fill up with reports about the course that society has planned for us? This isn’t limited to social media. Advertising, talk radio, and news are blared at us 24/7. Even coffeeklatsch chitchat about weekend errands, engagements, weddings, pregnancies, vacations… it’s the “stuff of life,” true, and social glue – but it’s everywhere. Even church services have become more enculturated – after mass, we seemingly can’t wait to return to the normal talkstream in the vestibule, or at the apres-church Sunday picnic. We have less and less actual space for divine silence in our lives.

Last Sunday I went to the second annual local International Tolkien Reading Day, which was held this year at the Eastwood Palace in the “upper room.” Last year, it was held at a cafe in the Valley, which I at first thought was a more congenial public spot for this kind of thing than the Palace. It turns out that the Palace venue worked well too. The event was a straight-through reading of The Hobbit (probably good that you don’t try that in a cafe). I didn’t make it nearly that far, but a handful of hardy souls did. For hours and hours they did nothing but read fiction aloud. The audacious eventual goal with the Tolkien day reading project is to one day read the entire Lord of the Rings trilogy straight through, which would take days if they went nonstop.

Some people see a straight-through public reading as a cool thing to do, an achievement of endurance and focus – which it would be. But also, imagine days of this kind of breathing room hacked into the teeming sociality of our lives. Days during which there could be no chitchat about whatever it is that we all chat about. Reading silently to oneself is subversive — but so is a public reading, during which voices are focused completely on something other than the world we’re expected to constantly uphold, promote and amplify with our talk. That would be getting closer to the silence that has been missing.