In this age when conversational language is increasingly found in the written form, it’s interesting to see how much privilege people still give to the written word. Robert B Silvers, editor of the NYRB:
The NYRB has had a successful blog since 2010, but Silvers believes many new media haven’t yet found their “critical function”. “Just think of the tweet form,” he says, describing tweets as sometimes “apt and to the point” but often “no more than off-hand wise-cracks”. The challenge now is to find a way of reviewing these things, he says, “just as we would bring a critical perspective to bear on other forms of prose”. He pauses, gazing out of the window. “This is a huge … universe of prose,” he says wistfully, “that is simply slipping through the consciousness of time without any systematic or thoughtful criticism.”
The idea of “bringing a critical perspective” to Twitter is ridiculous. Somewhere right this second someone is saying that 99% of all tweets should be forgotten, and they’re absolutely right. Twitter is conversation, it just happens to occur in prose due to the technologies that we’re using to have it, and you would no more want to systematically sift through Twitter babble than you would want to read back through your daily face-to-face interactions and try to discover the hidden readings or scan through all your text messages for the week. But people seem to think there’s some kind of “readability” to transactions on social media because they’re text-based, instead of spoken.
Obviously researchers can and will find ways to sift the Twitter data, just as they have done for decades with conversational language, but this isn’t the kind of literary critical analysis that Silvers is talking about.