Reprinted, with permission, from The Eighteenth Century Club: A Home for Eighteenth Century Minds.
Originally published in The Eighteenth Century Club, March 10, 2021.
Aaron Rosenberg lived offline for a year, trying to understand what it was like in order to help him understand the subject of his academic research.
His experience is illuminating, particularly for those of us interested in maintaining the capabilities of our eighteenth century minds.
His approach was extreme, but the experience taught him some important lessons. He has found that applying them has been more challenging than expected. See the following account of his experience, which is definitely worth reading.
Charlie Warzel, “He Quit the Internet 2 Months Before the Pandemic; When Aron Rosenberg decided to try living offline for a year, he thought his sabbatical might be painful; It turned out to be easier than his return, New York Times, March 10, 2021 (7:07 a.m. ET).
My Own Twitter Experience
I myself experienced some of the extraordinary pull of Twitter while following in extremely close fashion political developments related to Donald Trump’s attempts to hang on to power after losing the election on November 3, 2021.
The temptation to follow the news almost hour by hour was great, and Twitter was the place where you could follow developments even more closely. The suspense, and the sense that something important might happen at any minute, kept my nervous system on high alert.
There was one other addictive aspect. By following key people and sometimes getting a notification that your tweet had been liked or retweeted or quoted, it was easy to succumb to the momentary illusion that you were having an impact on the discussion, and consequently on events.
You knew analytically that this was not likely to be the case. Still, in some bizarre way Twitter was a place where you could react in the moment to news or other tweets, and in the excitement of the moment you could feel that you were having some kind of impact on the discussion.
And “Who knows?” Regarding some aspects of the story where you had specific, relevant professional knowledge, perhaps you were. You can see my comments on Twitter @Trenchantobserv.
But after January 20, 2021, I was able to withdraw from Twitter, and from my obsessive watching of cable TV news channels. Almost all of the really important news eventually showed up in the New York Times or the Washington Post or other newspapers which I read.
I admit it. I’m a news addict. Maybe like Benjamin Franklin or Thomas Payne or other Eighteenth Century Minds might have been too. What is different is the immediacy. They probably had to wait days or longer to to get their hands on some of the newspapers they read.
I “wasted” hours of my time on my Twitter addiction. But I have learned and am learning from the experience. Maybe it will help me break or at least sharply limit the time I spend reading newspapers online, succumbing to the at times irresistible pull of my news addiction. This is related to being a writer.
To be sure, David McCullough recounts how Theodore Roosevelt, during his years at Harvard, used to read up to 20 newspapers over coffee in the morning. So at least I don’t suffer from a unique affliction.
On the other hand, I need to remind myself that I am not a freshman at Harvard, or anywhere else, I don’t have a political career ahead of me, and there are many other potential uses of my time.
Aaron Rosenberg’s experience is instructive. When thinking about my Twitter experience, I recall reading somewhere that the average life of a tweet is about 15 minutes.
Spirit of Voltaire