“In words, like weeds, I’ll wrap me o’er,
Like coarsest clothes against the cold”
If he were writing today I wonder if Tennyson might have written “In Tweets like weeds”? The sentiment is as applicable to the group Internet mentality today as it was to a private individual mourning the death of his beloved friend in 1833.
Via the medium of twitter we can all express our sadness at the tragic and untimely death of Amy Winehouse. In 140 characters we pour out our horror at the events in Oslo. In one concise phrase we encapsulate the suffering of the victims of the famine in Sudan. A brief moment spent reading the profound thoughts of others, adding our sentiments before moving on.
Immersed in Twitter, armoured by words we don’t really have to think too deeply. We don’t need to engage on a meaningful level and yet we can live tragedies vicariously. These past few weeks have felt seminal, there’s been a palpable seismic shift in attitudes, Twitter has broken news and formed views.
Events seem blown out of all proportion. A very talented young woman has been found dead. The BBC has just devoted well over an hour’s coverage on News 24, interviewing amongst others, the owner of her local restaurant where she would sometimes pop in for a take-away or the bloke who struck up a friendship with her on holiday.
It is sad. We can all feel like we’re caught up in some major world event and whilst getting wrapped up in the superficial grief (and it is superficial, unless you knew her, how can it be anything else) we can experience the modern day version of a Greek tragedy via the news with Twitter cast into the role of the chorus.
Wrapped in the validation of others we feel less alone and by looking to what others say we feel more confident and secure in our own opinions. We don’t have to focus on our own mortality, we can procrastinate by dwelling on the death of another in a maudlin, narcissistic fashion. By expressing “grief” for a total stranger, we are admitting and projecting our grief and terror of our own mortality.
And if Tweets are today’s widow’s weeds, we must ask why we need them, why do we look for shelter in the virtual, not the real? What has happened today is not real, in the sense that it is not going to affect us beyond evoking sympathy and regret. What is going to affect us, what is of real value and worth is how we live our lives, for Christians how we live out the Gospel, where we see suffering and loss, what are going to do in practical and meaningful terms to alleviate, comfort and soothe the pain, tragedy and grief that we see all around us, not just on the TV or internet. That has to go beyond the self-indulgent “how do I feel about this”, “how may I express it”, on-line self affirming group hug.
Time to go beyond the verbiage.
“Words, like nature, half reveal and half conceal the soul within”.
Particularly when they are limited to 140 characters.