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.