The article goes on at length to make an obvious point that should only take a paragraph or two to explain, that nearly every communication technology has had harsh critics who concocted various scenarios of the end of all that is decent and civil. It does not, though, offer
up credible suggestions how Twitter has improved anything; the evidence, anecdotal, perhaps, it it has allowed more people to indulge in their worst behaviors. The social sphere, such as it is, has become a more crowded, more vulgar, ruder place for introducing cell phones and texting. Franzen, hardly one of my favorite writers --he is an incessant worrywart whose prose neuroses with pretensions to elegance is elongated --but on this matter, he and other critics are right. The comedian Louis CK by referring to a credible, recent past, before cell phones and instant messaging when civilized people learned to how to be alone --millions of us made our way through the day is, at various times, along with our thoughts, sans distractions. We may not have liked the alone time, but there was a sense of being able to talk to people directly when you needed to, using social skills that reflected a social personality, or lack of it. We are by the fear of being alone for even a few minutes pulverized --we have to check our status updates; we have to make some kind of noise that others can hear, we have to rattle the proverbial tin cup against the bars of our own under interior prisons. You could handily shift from a silent, interior existence to one that was fully engaged in the public eye without worrying if you will cause a car wreck in the transition. The pathetic fact of our urban existence is that none of us can escape the sense that the real world has been turned into a voicemail --talking to people is frustrating because everyone is on the phone and we must wait our turn and , when our turn arrives at last, we rush our sentences; we compress our points; we speak in semi-literate half thoughts because we sense the dread phone will ring again and cut off the conversation before anything useful, either socially or psychically, gets said at all. True, true, the technology isn't going away, and that it is a matter of getting used to a new way for the culture to communicate its collective expression, sublime, middle brow or moronic, but that is not a good thing and yes, future devices, codes, and technology will make these protests seem shrill and silly. That does not undermine the criticism, though; the coarsening of how we treat one another continues. What we do is what any person would do who is too lazy to fix a hole in their living room wall --after a while, you get used to it being there and after a while longer to convince yourself it was an ethical, aesthetical, philosophical choice you made. It's a mind fuck, is what it is. It's merely settling for a degraded quality of life.