Pop Culture 180, Part 6: Twitter Vs. Books… No Contest

This is the sixth (and final) post of the Pop Culture 180 experiment, in which I gave up reading books and other print media and replaced them with social networking for more than one week. For more information, read this introduction post. Then, read parts 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5.

Maybe I approached this a little different from Rich.

Experiments are great, but the simple fact is that they are hard to control. This one was no exception. Rich is right that it imperfectly measures our responses to a change in medium. That sounds like an opportunity; an opportunity to lower expectations and look for value.

So as we endured simultaneous exasperation and withdrawal symptoms this week, I kept asking… what little pieces of information have value here? What am I finding out about my personality that I may not have known before?

First, let’s talk about Facebook and Twitter.

Twitter is a powerful tool for defying undemocratic elections. It is good for organizing large groups of people. It is maybe a nice way to keep track of yourself and your movements during the day, if you are interested in doing some introspection. And it is a great way to keep up to date on news from particular sources.

But for the most part, I found it to be very unhelpful. It takes a lot of attention to really keep up with Twitter, and it is too easy for the Tweets you follow to build up so that you skip or skim most of them. Writing for yourself in such short sound bites is hard to do, and does not give much return for your efforts.

I can see a person who has an iPhone or Blackberry appreciating how well the format fits their phone, but I have a hard time seeing a high value-effort ratio even then. And on top of all that, I just did not think it was fun or interesting (though as always, I emphasize that this was true for me and is likely different for others).

Facebook, on the other hand, is much more powerful. It is rapidly becoming a must-have for families; all four of my grandparents, all 9 of my nuclear family members, and plenty of other relations use it to see pictures and videos, get news updates, and communicate simple messages of fun and love and affirmation. Further, Facebook is one of the most important methods of communicating with college students at my church, both in organizing physical events and in maintaining relationships. This allows for the creation of social events planned on much shorter notice, for a better RSVP structure, and for clearer communication across the group. Facebook can even help you love others more, as you are more aware of what they are going through or struggling with. In short, it is all the best of Twitter and a whole lot more.

Facebook also has an amazing amount of fun to it. There are little games, records of books you have read and liked (important!), details on your likes and dislikes, records of sites you like or favorite links, and a host of other things. It has even become an added dimension to relationships: if someone “unfriends” you it is a good indicator that something is going on in either your relationship with them or else something significant is happening in their life.

Here is the thing I really love about Facebook: you get back what you put into it. In my case, I tend toward the low end… a few links and comments, some pictures, and the ability to look at other people’s links and pictures. However, if you really love the quizzes and games and comments on other people’s stuff, you can do that. If you want to use it for family communication or to organize group meetings, it is equipped for that too. In short, it is a flexible and powerful tool.

Of course, I still plan to have low input personally. I do not really want to be a pirate OR a ninja, and I do not care to know which Power Puff girl I most resemble. But if that’s your thing, go for it! Facebook will let you.

My experience of not being able to read books was less clinical, and a heck of a lot more affecting. I really, really love to read, even to the point of leaning on it as a crutch. I read when I am frustrated and do not know what to do, I read when I am bored (key!), I read when I have chunks of free time, and I read when I am excited about what I am reading (which is often).

As a result, not reading was tough for me. I found that I was bored more often. I found that my word seemed significantly less vivid, as I described in my last post. I went to bed earlier, experiencing a lot more energy for a lot less mental activity. I did not, I noticed, spend much more time with people, have more valuable conversations, or even feel more interested in the social scene.

Perhaps the biggest loss was this: I missed a whole category of friends. Excellent authors spend long periods of time pouring out the most thoughtful, creative, questioning, interesting thoughts their God-given minds can produce. You listen without interruption, forcing yourself to walk a mile in another man’s shoes or sit at the feet of a great teacher. You then process that information, learning what to accept and what to reject, finding ways to use a concept in a different way here or experiencing greater patience with someone over there. Life’s rhythms have more weight, and it’s underlying structure is laid bare before your eyes.

After college, my wife and I slowly became separated from our closest friends. Now, when we have reunions, it is a powerful and wonderful experience because they cause us to be our best selves. The same is true of books; I am less of a person when I am not interacting with books.

We all need time to ourselves, especially introverts like me. When our most powerful well of energy and inspiration is blocked up, no number of social websites and slick problem solving games can replace it.

This experience was excellent because it told me several important things. First, I dislike Twitter despite its impressive strengths. Second, Facebook is a powerful tool whose chief benefit is the way it allows you to get as much from it as you put into it. And third, I am addicted to reading, but I am a better man because of it… if a little more sleepy.

Look out for the Pop Culture 180 Podcast Discussion this Friday, where Ben and Rich will discuss more in depth what their experiences were like.

About Ben Bartlett

Ben Bartlett lives in Louisville, Ky., with his wife and two terrific kids. His degree is in Political Theory and Constitutional Democracy from Michigan State University, and he has a bunch of education from a bunch of other places with nothing official to show for it. He has taught high school speech and debate, worked for a congressman in Washington DC, and worked in the health and energy industries. He is interested in how pop culture, history, politics, and theology interact with the inner and community lives of individuals... which is weird because he now works as a business analyst. Few things make him happier than reading, discussing, and recommending books.

  • http://nowheresville.us The Dane

    If someone “unfriends” you it is a good indicator that something is going on in either your relationship with them or else something significant is happening in their life.

    True story. I noticed a few months back that I had lost at least one friend. I’m not one to track all of that obsessively (though I hear there are programs available for the uptight), but I had noted a day earlier that I had just hit a milestone number and come back the next day to find my friends-total ending in a nine instead of a zero.

    I had no way of knowing who it is save for the fact that I had just written a Note and was tagging friends I thought might enjoy it and one particular friend was not taggable. I thought maybe he had quit Facebook for some reason, but after the briefest of detective work (i.e. searching his name), I discovered that he was still around and still friends with all my friends. So I drop him a friend request and get the best message in response maybe a couple hours later.

    He began with: “I’d might as well address this now because as much as I’ve tried to ignore the issue over the years, it’s simply not going to put itself to bed, and I really should have said how I feel earlier.” Then he adds some backstory. Then he drops what might be the best and most forthright line in all the internet: “So what am I getting at? Simply put, I don’t like you, The Dane.”

    Pretty wild, huh? Okay, he used my real name and not The Dane, but I’m trying to stay in character here. It boiled down mostly to political disagreement combined with me being forthright in my opinions. But all this to say: when someone unfriends you, it really may speak to some unspoken problem in your relationship.

  • peter bartlett

    Great insight.

    I’ll make you a deal, you keep reading books and occasionally post on facebook more suggestions.

    I recently read The Forever War by Joe Haldeman. Really loved it. I have recently gotten on a classic Sci Fi kick (started by the Foundation Series that you lent me) I found the Forever War by going on Wikipedia and checking which books had won both the nebula and Hugo awards. If you get a chance to check it out I think you might enjoy it (assuming that you haven’t read it yet, which is a bad assumption much of the time)

  • http://nowheresville.us The Dane

    I want a Top 5:
    Ben’s Top 5 Sci-fi books
    Rich’s Top 5 Sci-fi games

    And yes, you’re allowed to include sci-fi fantasies like Star Wars or Transformers if you like.

  • http://www.christandpopculture.com/ Richard Clark

    Ooh, that sounds fun.

  • http://www.benbartlett.blogspot.com Ben Bartlett

    Yes it does!

    I’m willing, though admittedly there is so MUCH science fiction out there that I can only provide what I have read. But it sounds like fun.

    Pete, it’s a deal. I haven’t read The Forever War, but the approach you mention is a great idea. I’ll get to it as soon as I can.

    One really fun thing about sci-fi is that you can get most of the best stuff relatively cheap at lots of used book stores.

    Some people say society is oversaturated with books because it is so easy to get published these days. I agree, but I also sorta appreciate it because the incredible variety wipes out any excuses you may have about whether there is anything of interest out there for you… there always is!

  • http://www.cgthomas.com/blog Corinne

    Fascinating! I need to go back and read all (most) of your posts from the week. ^_^

    It would be interesting to see you both do this for an entire month and see if your reactions to/conclusions about each medium are still the same. Like you both said, the “controls” in this experiment were minimal in a sense, and the time required wasn’t that bad. ^_^ Now a month…that could truly change habits, and withdrawals may be more severe. ~_*

  • http://nowheresville.us The Dane

    Ben would die. Rich would get the shakes real bad.

  • http://www.christandpopculture.com/ Richard Clark

    Yeah, Corinne, I actually thought of that. It’s hard to deny a month would be way better. But frankly, I didn’t mention it because ARE YOU CRAZY THAT IS INSANE?!?!

    I’m speaking more for Ben than me, though I must admit a month without videogames sounds pretty painful too.

  • http://www.benbartlett.blogspot.com Ben Bartlett

    Diplomatic answer: Excellent suggestion, Corinne. However, a month with no reading is not an option.

    Gut reaction: ARE YOU KIDDING ME?

  • http://www.christandpopculture.com/ Richard Clark

    I like “ARE YOU CRAZY THAT IS INSANE?!?!” better.

  • http://www.benbartlett.blogspot.com Ben Bartlett

    Despite the poor grammar, apparently.


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