HOME
          
LATEST STORY
Newsonomics: The Financial Times triples its profits and swaps champagne flutes for martini glasses
ABOUT                    SUBSCRIBE
Sept. 29, 2010, 11:30 a.m.

Margaret Atwood on Twitter-as-performance, and why you should keep your Kindle in a lead-lined box

Continuing our impromptu series Literary Figures Talk About Twitter: The terrific Canadian novelist Margaret Atwood did an interview with Big Think about (among other things) her usage of and thoughts about Twitter. Atwood’s long been an investigator of technology both in her fiction and in real life. (Who can forget the LongPen, her freakishly awesome tool for doing book signings via long-distance robot arm?)

Like New Yorker writer Susan Orlean, whom we interviewed earlier this month, Atwood has found a lot of connections between Twitter and other forms of human communication. (Atwood currently leads Orlean in Twitter followers, 88,000 to 81,000. That would make for a much classier version of Ashton Kutcher vs. CNN.) Here’s some of what Atwood had to say:

Well, it is just an extension of the diary. And there is a wonderful book called The Assassin’s Cloak, which takes diary entries from all centuries and arranges them according to day of the year. So you can turn to January the 1st and there will be an entry from Lord Byron, and there will be one from somebody during World War II, and there will be one from Brian Eno. And then on January 2, there will be somebody else.

People used to perform their lives this way to themselves in their diaries, and also through letters to other people. So for me, anything that happens in social media is an extension of stuff we were already doing in some other way. So, it’s all human communication. And the form that most closely resembles the “tweet” is the telegram of old, which also was limited because you paid by the letter. And so short communications very rapidly sent.

So all of these things, the postal service, et cetera, they’re all improvements, if you like, or modernizations of things that already existed earlier in some other form. Even African tribal drums, for instance, could send very complex messages over great distances. They were very rapid, they were very well-worked out and communications could just go like wildfire using that medium of communications.

So all of this stuff is what we do now, but it’s not different in nature from what we have always done, which is communicate with one another, send messages to one another, and perform our lives. We’ve been doing that for a long time.

Atwood also gets into the performative aspects of social media: “And if you think that what goes up on people’s blogs is really the full content of their lives, of course, you’re quite wrong. It’s what they’re doing in the spotlight. It’s their turn. And this spotlight they can shine it on themselves and they can go in there and sort of dance about and create a persona for themselves. Of course it’s not the whole story.”

She talks about Twitter in the videos above and immediately below; in the third video, she talks about the rise of ebooks and why you should keep your Kindle in a lead-lined box. You can find the entire interview (which covers topics like speculative fiction and “the neurology of reading”) here.

POSTED     Sept. 29, 2010, 11:30 a.m.
SHARE THIS STORY
   
Show comments  
Show tags
 
Join the 15,000 who get the freshest future-of-journalism news in our daily email.
Newsonomics: The Financial Times triples its profits and swaps champagne flutes for martini glasses
The FT is a leader in crossing over from print — digital subscribers now make up 70 percent of its paying audience, a number that keeps growing.
A farewell to #content: Optimism, worries, and a belief in great work
A few thoughts on the state of media (and meta-media) from our departing staff writer.
On convening a community: An excerpt from Jake Batsell’s new book on engaged journalism
“An engaged journalist’s role in the 21st century is not only to inform but to bring readers directly into the conversation.”
What to read next
789
tweets
Snapchat’s new Discover feature could be a significant moment in the evolution of mobile news
By putting mobile-native news adjacent to messages from friends, Snapchat could be helping create part of the low-friction news experience many want and need.
750Snapchat stories: Here’s how 6 news orgs are thinking about the chat app
From live events to behind-the-scenes tours, The Huffington Post, Fusion, Mashable, NPR, Philly.com, and The Verge tell us how they’re approaching Snapchat.
714Here’s how the BBC, disrupted by technology and new habits, is thinking about its future
The British broadcaster released a new report looking at the future of news as it looks toward its royal charter renewal in 2017.
These stories are our most popular on Twitter over the past 30 days.
See all our most recent pieces ➚
Encyclo is our encyclopedia of the future of news, chronicling the key players in journalism’s evolution.
Here are a few of the entries you’ll find in Encyclo.   Get the full Encyclo ➚
TechCrunch
NewsTilt
Publish2
Ushahidi
The Daily Telegraph
American Public Media
Futurity
WikiLeaks
Seattle PostGlobe
Time
Talking Points Memo
Detroit Free Press and Detroit News