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A.S. Byatt: “I’m terrified of accidentally tweeting.”


I stumbled across this interview that The Guardian did with A.S. Byatt a few years ago.

In much of the interview, she discusses the difficulties of communicating reality when reality is, more often than not, filled with the mundane. Within that discussion, she talks about the blogosphere, Facebook, and Twitter, and I find some of this fascinating because her mindset is so foreign to me.

And then of course, the other thing there is, and I’m a bit old for it because I’m terrified of it, is the blogosphere. And the blogosphere tells you, mostly, exactly how everybody resembles you—or I somehow imagine it does. The blogosphere is a kind of attempt at self-definition.

And things like Facebook. I mean the word Facebook is very, very interesting—I’ve only just had this thought—because it means it’s a mirror. You’re actually looking for a mirror. And you need a mirror because you haven’t got a picture. You need a mirror to tell you who you are. And this could produce novels about extremely fantastic reality or precisely observed social reality. But I think most of the people who talk about reality don’t really understand how difficult it is to say what reality is.

Q: What about Twitter? Do you see yourself tweeting?

I’m terrified of accidentally tweeting. Why do people want to Twitter? Why can’t they just be quiet? Nobody is quiet anymore. You don’t go in the streets and see anybody silently walking along thinking. And several times I’ve gone on the street and thought, “This woman is absolutely insane. She’s pushing this child along in this push chair, and she must be completely mad because she’s shrieking.” And then you realize she’s talking on one hand with a mobile phone and pushing her child with the other hand. In many ways, people do look happier than they did when I was young when they couldn’t talk to anybody as they were walking. I have to say they look happier. A lot more of them I’m quite sure are getting killed on pedestrian crossings. I’m sure it’s a religious matter. You only exist if you tell people you’re there.

Q: So Twitter and Facebook is the new God?

Yes. But I can’t write that novel because I’m too old.

Byatt then goes on to explain the type of novel she’d like to see on that subject.

It’s an interesting 9 minute interview—most of it about self-definition—that I’d suggest you watch if you’re interested in Byatt.

My quick take: Byatt, like Jonathan Franzen, seems too detached from social media to really share a significant observation on it. Her short take on blogging alone reads like she’s only seen personal blogs from 10 years ago in which people talk about their trip to the zoo or a baseball game. I think the best bloggers are the ones who have something worthwhile to share with their readers—and their motives in sharing have nothing to do with ego or self-worth.

And her take on Twitter sounds about like what my opinion of Twitter was 5 years ago before I joined. It is what you make of it. For me, it’s been a great resource for connecting with other bloggers, other book and sports people, and staying informed on news. Twitter is at least 10 minutes faster than the national or local news. I can almost promise you that. And if it’s news you care about—like, for instance, the fact that a tornado is roaring toward your neighborhood—ten minutes is a major deal.

So I’ll just say Byatt’s take on blogging and “twittering” seems uninformed at best. However, I do think she is on to something when she agrees that Twitter and Facebook are “the new god.” People, myself included, tend to spend too much time on social media. We give it too much weight in our lives. It’s an idolatry of sorts. Interesting thought.

So what do you think about Byatt’s take on social media?

Head over to The Guardian to see the full interview.

(Image: Wikimedia Commons)

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19 Comments Post a comment
  1. My instant reaction (and I enjoyed reading this, by the way) is that two things are at work with A. S. Byatt. One is generational; that she’s too old, and too old-school, to embrace today’s tech. But that’s too easy, and too dismissive of her talents. The (more provocative) second thing: she’s a pretty serious introvert. She gives it away when she asks, “why can’t they just be quiet?”

    March 20, 2014
    • Good point. I wouldn’t say it’s dismissive of her talent, though. I think her talent and her willingness to adapt to technology should be exclusive of one another. I would agree that she definitely sounds introverted and that’s factoring in to a lot of this.

      March 20, 2014
  2. Reblogged this on dunjav.

    March 20, 2014
  3. I find that it is not the mundane that is not interesting. It is how we write about mundane and what we have to say about it that makes it interesting. Look at Proust and Joyce. They were both writing about the mundane, and yet, look at what both of them created.

    March 20, 2014
  4. This is it . . our time here. How to connect … nice and easy lemon squeezy ;D

    March 20, 2014
  5. Jetagain #

    Byatt observes that people look happier than they did some years ago. While she attributes it to social media, I attribute it to pharmaceuticals–antidepressants, marijuana, etc. I’m lucky to be pretty happy without using either but then, I don’t even have a “smart” phone much less take part in Twitter or Facebook.

    March 20, 2014
    • How can you actually say this about happiness? When you are not a user of drugs, yet happy without?

      March 20, 2014
      • Jetagain #

        Just because I’m happy without drugs or social media doesn’t mean that everyone is like me. I know many people who depend on these drugs to function.

        March 20, 2014
        • So you think that drugs make them happy?

          March 20, 2014
          • Jetagain #

            Not just happy but functional. Antidepressants save lives, keep families together, maintain the ability to earn a living, etc. If this doesn’t contribute to happiness I don’t know what does. This is pretty common knowledge. I’m not talking about heroin addiction here.

            March 20, 2014
        • Have to run … was fun and hope to catch you later on ~ Jetagain ;D

          March 20, 2014
  6. I do agree when she expresses her concern about silence, or no one being quiet anymore. As an introvert, I put high value on quiet time. It’s how I think, recharge, get ideas. Being surrounded by noise overwhelms me. And I think media is giving us fewer and fewer opportunities to be still for extended periods of time. I think how films have changed, with fewer and fewer long shots. Our neurological systems (especially those of children) are adapting to shorter and shorter “quick takes.” I see it in the kids I work with. Those who watch more video games, TV, and movies, tend to have shorter attention spans. They need more stimulation and tend not to be very good at listening. Research bears this out. And the book, Last Child in the Woods, touches on the need for silence, nature, and having the occasional long thought.

    I think she’s quite the introvert, from what I can tell.

    March 20, 2014
  7. It’s funny, I tend to think that people are quieter NOW when they’re tapping away on their smartphones. It’s ok to engage someone in virtual reality, but not in “real life,” as some are so fond of calling it. Regardless, she seems like an interesting person, and I must confess that I’ve never thought much about the meaning of the word “facebook” before.

    March 20, 2014
  8. Reblogged this on Step Into My Head and commented:
    My favorite part about this interview is the part where she says, “I’m sure it’s a religious matter. You only exist if you tell people you’re there.” What a brilliant summation of people’s need to be seen/heard on social media. I’ll be thinking about this one for days.

    March 20, 2014
  9. I agree, Byatt is too uninformed to make a relevant comment. But it is interesting to read what the uninformed are thinking/saying sometimes. At least she says she is ‘too old’ to write about it, though I don’t necessarily think it is an age related issue any more than it is about being informed. I agree with you that the most interesting blogs are the ones that are not ego driven. A person can still write about events in their lives without being ego driven.

    March 20, 2014
  10. AS Byatt is a brilliant erudite writer. She perhaps has not made the time to catch up with technology as a result of working hard at writing. But Facebook is not only about self, nor is the Blogosphere. We meet friends as often as we Facebook with them…in my experience. Writing is made that dream experience by the blog that only few published, famous authors know. Writing and reading, again in my experience are what blogs really are about. Self as subject is what is behind many famous authors books, fame, recognition etc. which is not only what social media is about. Well, I’m old (ish) but have an active interest in Facebook, have a blog, struggle to learn what the hell widgets and things are but I feel that I’m very much in the real world. Silence is good. Communicating is good. Dealing with our selves is good too…why ever not? That said, I really like Byatt’s work and she is honest about her lack of knowledge to write about this. Yesterday, while fooling about the computer I learnt an important thing I’d been terrified about not knowing because it’s important for blogging. I AM SO HAPPY. People were terrified of the Steam engine once upon a time.

    March 21, 2014
  11. I find that my use of various social media is defined by who I can connect with on each platform. Google+ for connecting with authors, Twitter & Blogging for connecting with teachers, etc.

    Of course, luck plays into a lot of this as well as the kinds of people who tend to ‘populate’ each social media site, and it takes time to build up a body of people you want to talk to and who want to listen to you.

    Maybe Byatt just hasn’t spent enough time with them to appreciate the value of new communication technologies?

    March 21, 2014
  12. Matt #

    One line that stuck out to me was when she talked about people looking happier when they are using technology. I think that this is interesting because as a young person, I don’t think that my generation is happy at all. It reminds me of Fahrenheit 451.

    March 21, 2014

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