Why I tweet

In recent years, I have tweeted prolifically as my blogging activity continues to decline. Surely these two facts are related, but I think it’s worth reflecting on why tweeting has replaced blogging for me. It’s not just that a tweet is easier — in some ways, it can be harder to compress a comprehensible thought into a tweet — but that the genre feels more appropriate to my actual level of expertise in the many subjects I spout off on.

I have political opinions, but I wouldn’t claim to really know about politics in a serious way. No one should be quoting me as an expert, and somehow writing up a sustained and lengthy argument feels like an implicit claim that I know something special that is worthy of everyone’s attention.

By contrast, if I come up with a clever formulation that resonates with people: fair enough. I do feel like clever phrasing is an area of expertise for me, and it’s a contribution that I can make even though I’m ultimately passing along other people’s ideas. (In a way, it’s analogous to what I do when I’m translating — trying to find an elegant way of capturing someone else’s meaning, subject to constraints.)

Now there are things I do feel like I have a reasonable claim to expertise in. With academic topics, though, I now prefer to focus on longer-form (and institutionally legible) forms of writing. In terms of TV, I feel pretty exhausted after having written three books on the topic (and I have another, more appropriate outlet for the one area of TV that still feels fresh to me, Star Trek). Only Islam falls into the blogging “sweet spot” of being something I’m actively researching and feel like I know “enough” about, without yet being at the level where I feel comfortable switching over to “official” writing — and even there, I’m hampered because I prefer not to blog about individual class sessions, which is the context where much of my reflection on Islam naturally occurs.

All that remains are occasional reflections on pedagogy, where I don’t have much new to say after finally coming to feel settled in at Shimer, and on my work habits (a topic that this very post arguably falls under). And how often can I really check in and say, for example, “Yeah, so the translation is moving faster than I anticipated, and by the end of the month I hope to have three chapters of the devil book in decent shape to show to the editor I plan to pitch the book to”?

And then, of course, there’s the absolute bottom of the barrel: blogging about not blogging, the zero-degree of meta-blogging.