It was my younger son, who’s a digital native, who persuaded me it was a bad idea. I’d been watching Twitter for a while, slightly mesmerised by its speed, energy and violence. When I gave a talk at the Bush last year, I found I was the only speaker not using Twitter; since they were also decades younger, I felt a bit like Morse, clinging to his Jag. So I asked my son one day, ‘I’ve been wondering…,?’ His answer had all the certainty I remember having at the same age. ‘Absolutely not.’ I think he was a bit amused by my naïveté.
It’s a good idea, when you’re an immigrant, to pay attention to any advice you get from the natives. When they’re friendly and know you as well as your children do, you’d be a fool not to. So I ditched the idea, without thinking more about it. I’m glad I did. One clue as to why he was right was that, for that 10 minute talk to 30 people at the Bush, I found myself writing a text.
Writing this blog (and its companion) has been a new adventure in writing and publishing. I’ve had to find another voice (still not sure on that one). I’ve learned a lot about what readers find interesting (not always what I think is important). I’ve learned to lighten up a bit (alright, not that much, but I’m working on it).
And I’m learning to write more briefly. Before the blogs, a short piece was a conference paper of 4-5,000 words. Now, I’m failing to keep under 500 words. But 140 characters? I don’t think so. There are other reasons not to use Twitter but space to think – and writing is just a form of thinking in public – is the most important for me.
And the point is?
Most people who occupy leadership positions in the arts world are, like me, migrants to the digital world, though that’s changing with each passing year. With exceptions, they haven’t responded to their new surroundings with any of the confidence or imagination they draw on in their arts practice. With exceptions, they know it and feel uncomfortable about what seems like a weakness.
But hey, it’s okay. Being up to date is not the most important thing in art. Being good is better. Or original. Or experienced. Or any number of other things.
That said, it is important to know what you don’t know and decide whether you need to know it. Or not. Don’t beat yourself up because you don’t understand the digital world. No one does. It’s being born. Those born with it just have different assumptions. They’re not right – but they might have advice worth listening to.
And the digital world isn’t a collection. You don’t have to get the set, so you can strut around like a general full of campaign medals.
So, if you don’t want to blog, or tweet, or crowd source, or podcast, or Instagram (not a verb yet, but it soon will be), or do any of the other things that have been invented while I’ve been writing this, then don’t. We’re all in charge of how we use the digital world. And if you want to use your time on something else but your venue needs a Twitter account – and I concede it might – hire a native.
Yes, but…I too would claim to be not just a immigrant but a luddite about Twitter. Tried it once, thought it was rubbish and then was convinced again to take a second look. I am now coming out of my evangelical phase (telling people on the bus how great it is…) and starting to integrate it with everything else. What I like about it is that more than Facebook or Linkedin is that it very quickly establishes a community of interest that is bigger, broader and more diverse than my existing network. The streaming of information is like a flowing river that you can dip into, contribute to or not. But the banks and tributaries of the river are not overwhelming because they are constructed and informed by your own personal interests. Community theatre, politics, news, local traffic updates, Dr Who symposiums, thinkers, academics, bloggers, or art activists in Syria. Its immediate and compelling like your own interconnected news channel. Yes, its obsessive. Overwhelming. Distracting. But it is deeply interactive and participative. The natives will laugh, sure, but sometimes even a luddite can re-invent themselves and maintain their own integrity.
Thanks – that’s the most convincing case for Twitter I’ve heard yet. One of the things I like about blogging is the opportunity to revisit past thoughts. I can go back to texts posted months, even years, ago and change them. This instability seems a truer reflection of a changing self than print allows. I’m abandoning the last vestiges of faith in the ‘authoritative text’ that, as a student of literature before postmodernism, I was taught to look for. (It’s one reason Montaigne seems so contemporary – his unconcerned rewriting means that a ‘correct’ edition is impossible.) So I might find myself rewriting this one day – as I said, the digital world is not understandable. But, at present, the danger of distraction is a real concern.
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