A glance across the psychic state of the planet

For over two decades now, I’ve found the work of the novelist William Gibson immensely compelling. I believe that his interest for me is something beyond the literary qualities of his work (which are significant). I think it’s something about his basic view of the world, his way of looking at technology, character and the shape and meaning of history. I recently sort-of-reread his 2014 novel The Peripheral looking for a specific quote, and thought that he has accurately captured the anxiety of climate change and the fear of humanity maybe becoming something entirely different than what we have been, in the coming decades.

So, I found this interview with him, in Business Insider, really interesting. Especially some of his explanations of media habits and how it relates to his fiction. He is maybe the person I follow on Twitter who I find to be most relentlessly interesting. I suspect this is partially just because his way of thinking and reading has some degree of sympathy with my own, but also that I think we use Twitter in much the same way (here’s my profile), and think of it in similar ways. Anyway, I found this description precise:

Rosoff: You’re very active on Twitter. I follow your stream and you talk a lot about politics and some other things. What do you like about Twitter? People in tech are kind of down on the company and service right now.

Gibson: I probably like it for a lot of the reasons I suspect people in tech wouldn’t. It’s the only brand of social media that I have ever taken to at all …. I like the feeling of having my perception of the world expanded daily, 24/7, by being able to monitor the reactions of 100-and-some people throughout the world that I personally follow so I have some sense of who they are.

There has never really been anything like that before, at least in terms of the digestible 140-character bandwidth that Twitter is based on. I am able to wake up, open Twitter, and sort of glance across the psychic state of the planet.

But on the other hand, I am used to spending $300 or so on piles of mostly foreign magazines that I would sit leafing through, thinking all the while that I am actually working in a sense, but it left no evidence in the world. If I didn’t tell you that, no one would know that I had been doing that instead of writing. So people can now spend 6 solid hours on Twitter in 2016.

Rosoff: You are a novelist, a profession where you disappear to write for a couple years and you’re really focusing on one thing. Twitter seems to be almost the exact opposite of that. It’s quick bursts.

Gibson: Yeah, but as a novelist, I have never been focusing on only one thing. I have found that it doesn’t change my level of concentration on my work.

The scary thing about it is that it provides almost too much material. Magazines in the traditional sense were aggregators of novelty.

A good magazine was a lot of novelty, stuff you’ve never heard of before, clearly aggregated by people who have been able to travel further and dig deeper than you have been able to do. And that used to be really an important source of stuff for me. And now it is less important because the Internet has eaten it all up. But my Twitter feed as an aggregator of novelty is like … I don’t know what I would do if it became any more powerful, I would have to start reining it in somehow.It’s limited to some degree. I’m in a consensus bubble because I have tailored my feed to be people who I think are interesting or likable. There are other universes of stuff on Twitter that I never even look at. I find it too compelling actually. I keep thinking I’m wasting too much time doing this.

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