Politics at all?

A few months ago a well-meaning friend — ok, ok, a consultant — told me that if I really wanted my blog to take off at this mature stage of the development of the general blogosphere, a good way to do it would be to get involved in Twitter. At first I was utterly stumped by it, because there is a very minimal amount of instruction at Twitter’s homepage, and I don’t consider myself the slowest guy on the take.

But after a few stumbles I got it. I figured out the best software to use to accomplish certain things, such as automatically “tweeting” my most recent blog posts, and also how to get into the swim of the discussions and generate a “following.” This isn’t the place to go into the whole of it, which is mostly exhausting anyway. In a week or two I came to understand a few key points about this medium:

  • Each body of “followers” developed around each user is an amorphous, evolving, multivalent and multidirectional cloud of communications unique to that user’s experience and to the moment when he is following “tweets”
  • No one in that cloud necessarily knows it exists
  • There is an obsession among many to develop a large “following,” which is grimly “complemented” by appeals to help oneself or a friend reach preposterously arbitrary numbers of followers by completely irrational deadlines
  • Most people are not worth “following” even if you are pretty sure they’ll follow you back, because, surprise, most people — even groovy hip folk who know how to work social media — aren’t that interesting, to put it mildly
  • Evangelists for Twitter constantly beat the drum about how it is “the future” of this, that or the other cultural, professional or economic sector without really proving it except with reference to tweeting itself
  • A disproportionate amount of tweeting, indeed, is about Twitter; and
  • As one participant I’m following recently observed, the Twitter social landscape not so different from high school. People are “popular,” they deign or do not deign to follow less desirable people, there are secret “direct messages,” and even the cleverest, most erudite participant can spend half an hour trying to break into any number of other conversations until just realizing he’s still just a clod and calling it a night.

Above all, though, for purposes of this blog, my main observation at this juncture is that quite a few people who seem to otherwise be articulate, intelligent and even original thinkers are utterly obsessed with politics.

I am pretty interested in politics. I majored in economics, which is about economic policy, mainly, and had my school’s equivalent of a minor in political science. Since high school I have been interested in politics, read about politics, written about politics, participated in politics. I’m up there on the politics scale.

But one thing that makes Twitter different from other media I’ve been exposed to, even blogs, is that you can experience in real time the frequency and intensity of people’s interests, and, well, I have been kind of gobsmacked by the obsession I see all around me.

Now part of the problem is that I live in an unusually political Twitter universe. For reasons I don’t quite understand, I managed to be one of the early participants in a project called Top Conservatives on Twitter which was meant to form a core of what you would think. And its founder, a very pleasant and talented and dynamic fellow named Michael Leahy, wisely thought it would be a good idea to develop this community by having everyone on the list “follow” everyone else.

This effort snowballed, however, into a somewhat perverse and obsessive pyramid scheme whereby everyone started demanding that everyone on “#tcot” add everyone and thereby mutually inflated each other’s precious “follower” scores. One result of of this was that I quickly netted a couple of hundred followers who had, prima facie, no real interest in me at all. Another was that because I declined to take it that far myself, the train sort of left the station without me and my own ranking (no one really knows what “top” means in “top conservatives”) sank from among the top 100 to now barely eking out a place below 500. For all practical purposes, I quietly tiptoed out the side door.

As a result of this, however, I was exposed to the opportunity to see the Twitter streams of a lot of conservatives. Many became pretty good social networking buddies because they are real people and you can have some fun with them. We have added each others’ links to our respective blogrolls. Indeed my blog traffic is quite a bit higher, and we’ve only really just gotten this stuff going.

But the focus for some people on politics is positively scary. I understand that “politics” frequently has a direct bearing on important decisions and policies that can affect an individual’s, and a nation’s, liberty, prosperity and everything else. In fact, however, most of the stuff that takes place in the world of politics doesn’t matter all that much. Yes, sweat the little things and the big things will take care of themselves, but, guess what?

There are lots of little things, in fact most of the little things, that have nothing to do with Barack Obama, or talk radio, or corruption in Illinois, or any of that stuff that gets so many otherwise talented and able people wasting those talents and abilities, and a lot of time, tweeting and fretting to no real end at all. Can’t all this energy be channeled into something more real, and more useful?

Tweeter friend, I know that your tweetstream is not really a distillation of you. Yet I know what you choose to serve up to me, and it tells me something about what you consider a priority in life. But life is not politics, and it is not even about politics. The “little things,” the real things, are the things that make politics matter. The list of those things is so trite sounding I won’t trot it out here — I’m not that condescending. But of course it is “little things” that come across as trite, and at the same time, on the whole, make up the whole that is life in this world, and even more so, the next.

God help us all remember in 2009 and forward what, really, is the content in that stream called life, and what is mainly wind and vanity, twittering emptily in the firmament.

Ron Coleman lives with his wife and four children in Clifton, New Jersey. He is a lawyer and is very involved in Jewish religious, communal and educational activities.

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