It seems to me that one of the most universal and significant differences between young people and their elders is the emotional resilience of the young. Most young people — the damaged always excepted — can plunge into the deepest and wildest waters of their inner lives because they know that they have what it takes to take the buffeting, even be energized by the buffeting, and to recover easily, quickly, completely.

I’ve seen this often with students over the years. I’ve had people come to my office and disintegrate before my eyes, collapse in convulsive weeping — and then, fifteen minutes later, walk out into the world utterly composed and even cheerful. There was a time when I could have done the same. When I was their age and feeling angry, I wanted music that echoed and amplified that anger; when I was deep in melancholy, I would drive the streets at 2 A.M. and listen to Kind of Blue over and over. But looking back on these habits, I think I allowed them because, on some level, I knew I could climb out of the pit when I needed to.

Those days are past. When the world’s rough waters have buffeted you for several decades, you wear down, you lose your resilience. Now if I feel agitated or melancholy, I seek countervailing forces: the more peaceable and orderly music of Bach and Mozart and Handel, the movies of Preston Sturges, the prose of Jane Austen or P. D. James. (Classic mysteries, with their emphasis on finding and purging the sources of social disorder, have become increasingly important to me.) These are coping mechanisms, ways for me to keep my emotional balance.

This morning my Twitter feed was overwhelmed by yet another Twitter tsunami, this one prompted by the murder of two television journalists in Virginia. This one one is a little different than the usual, because much of the conversation is centering on people who, with crassly absolute insensitivity, are retweeting footage of the actual murder itself: thanks to the curse of video autoplay, thousands and thousands of people are being confronted by frightening, disturbing scenes that they never wanted to see. But in general it follows the same pattern as all the other tsunamis: hundreds and hundreds of tweets and retweets of the same information, over and over, all day long.

And I think: I don’t need this. I could make some principled, or “principled,” arguments against it — that there’s no reason to pay more attention to this murder than any of the several dozen others that will happen in America today, that this is a classic illustration of the “society of the spectacle”, that we should follow Augustine’s example in denouncing curiositas — but my real problem is that it just makes me very sad and very tired, and I have too much to do to be sad and tired.

And then it occurs to me: maybe Twitter — maybe social media more generally — really is a young person’s thing after all. Intrinsically, not just accidentally.

Text Patterns

August 26, 2015


  1. This sure rings true for me. I hope you write more on this. And I wonder about Twitter vs. “news” in general (which has not been a young person’s thing). To what degree is it the medium of Twitter that makes us feel this way, to what degree is it “the way we do news now,” and to what degree is it simply news values that have been in place over the last century (that murder would have been front-page news in any decade, I reckon)? All three play a part, no doubt. But Twitter makes me very sad and very tired in a way that other media do not.

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