Saturday, June 7, 2014

TWEETING, TWITTERING AND A MOCKINGBIRD'S SONG

The world as it was and still can be, mentally.


Last night, Ben and I were kept awake by a mockingbird. She went through a repertoire for maybe an hour of any number of birdsongs.  Delightful, yes. But what did it mean?

I want to ask you something serious about Twitter.  About our own tweeting and Facebook posting.  What has become of us? Why are we so interested in getting as many followers as possible, even though we may not know who our followers are? It used to be that if someone was following you, that was a creepy thing.  Leave me alone, we used to say. Stop FOLLOWING me!

But not any more.  Now we want as many tweets and likes, followers and friends as we can possibly muster. The more tweets, the more followers and likes we have, the better we appear to be. We are popular. We are part of the in crowd. We are SOMEBODY.  I tweet therefore I am.  I have followers, therefore I exist.

I was skyping with one of my best friends, Walter, yesterday and discussing this phenomenom. Walter maintains that the world has gone a bit nuts.  We've gone mad, he said. Why are we always logging in and checking twitter feeds and  Facebook pages?  Someone's mother dies, and all of a sudden various contacts click "LIKE". But what does it mean?

There again, why are you reading this blog post? Did you find it on Facebook? Because that's where my conversation with Walter led, ultimately. We couldn't really get away from Facebook and Twitter if, as artists, we wanted to promote ourselves.

Take my book, for instance. How many readers have found my book through Facebook and Twitter? Or Walter's new photography gig - taking people's headshots... they wouldn't have known he was doing it, if not for Facebook.

But yet we find Facebook disturbing because we were raised in another, alien world where there used to be more silence.  There used to be time and room for contemplation.  A phone was a singular item. It sat on a table in the house, and you could get away from it.  Therefore we had room for a single uninterrupted thought to carry us out across its implications and then drop us off, somewhere else, somewhere in the real world, surrounded by actual living and breathing people.

There were no virtual people or friends when we were young. An acquaintance wasn't a friend. A high school classmate wasn't a friend. They were just another human being you'd once shared time with, and now no longer knew. They weren't invested in your endorsement. You weren't invested in theirs. It was better that way. If ever you thought about them, you could imagine the best of them. They could imagine the best of you. You didn't have to know what became of them. Instead, they became a kind of mythology - part of your inner story.

In our conversation yesterday, my friend Walter, who is an actor by profession, was telling me how the number of tweets and followers somebody now generates, often determines who gets a part. Who has the buzz?  That's what counts these days.  It's madness, we said. When was popularity ever an accurate gauge of somebody's worth or talent?

 We decided it was terribly adolescent.  In fact, it was prepubescent.  Reminds me of how we used to collect conkers underneath the horse chestnut trees when I was a girl.  She who collected the most was the winner.

Or autograph books. Remember those?  How you got people to sign their name in your book - and the more signatures you had the better you were?  Didn't matter what they said - so long as they made their mark.

It's also like our dogs. When Ben and I take our dogs for a walk they must cock their legs on anything and everything that smells remotely interesting.  I WAS HERE. Therefore I exist. I am a contender.

It seems to me that the vast majority of TWEETS are just like urine splashes. Squirt. I was here. I TWEET THEREFORE I EXIST.

I'm not saying I'm not guilty of trying to do the same. I too have a twitter feed and feel the need to tweet and retweet - to let the world - whoever that may be according to the twittersphere - know that I too am having my say.

Except I've noticed I'm not very good at it.  I was never popular in High School either.  Don't try hard enough to glean followers.  Sometimes they show up but then they disappear again.  It's rather like LinkedIn - something that happens in the background of my life. Sure, I update my profile, and then, surprisingly, people come out of the blue to Link with me - which I'm glad to do... except then, they surprisingly ENDORSE me for some skill or other,  proofreading, writing, editing - who knows - which they have absolutely no way of knowing I can do!

 I have to ask myself, what does it mean? These people don't know me. They have no idea whatsoever if I can perform the skills for which they endorse me. They are only collecting signatures on their ballot.

But their ballot for what?

Maybe I'm too old to tweet.  What do I care? Sure, I occasionally scroll through Twitter and find interesting articles from the publishing and the writing world.  Thus, my contacts have become a kind of Readers Digest of the things that appeal or hold meaning for me.

But now back to my mockingbird.  Last night, Ben and I were woken up by a mockingbird on the other side of our bedroom window. She kept up a repertoire that went on for over an hour.  She tweeted like a cardinal, a blackbird, a finch, a cell phone, an owl, and even a seagull.  She just went on and on.  At one point Ben picked up his cellphone and made a recording.  We couldn't  possibly sleep through it.  And yet there was something delightful, something hilarious about the endless stream of birdsong messages- which were perhaps untranslatable to the transmitter.  Did she know whereof she tweeted?  We'll never know.

They say mockingbirds sing in order to deter predators.  They want to let their predators know that there's a crowd out here - that they are not the only ones.  Safety in numbers.

 Is that what we're doing when we tweet and develop our "follower" lists? Are we are trying to tap in to other minds and other people's words - to appropriate them as our own and thus somehow make ourselves believe we are not as alone as we thought?

Except we are alone.  At least, when we are our best. It is the singular voice -the original voice that dares to cry out, even in the wilderness, that often has the most resonance. It's all about the bird that stands alone.

PS.  I've just been informed by my daughter that mockingbirds actually sing in order to make it sound like the tree is full.  There's no point setting up your nest here; this tree is taken.  I guess it's more like the impulse that makes people put coats on the chairs beside them in a concert hall.  I'll have to think a bit more about the mockingbird mentality - but my central premise remains: That we tweet and endorse and friend and like a little bit too manically and we're filling our minds, as well as the airwaves with drivel!   Oh - and evidently the bird that sings is usually the male.  But hey, I like using the pronoun "she"!