Thinking, not replying

In a new piece about climate policy, Robinson Meyer writes:

In fact, Aklin and Milden­berger say, climate change is a distributive-conflict problem—a term that was new to me and that I will now explain. In essence, climate policy restruc­tures the economy, creating new economic winners and losers. [Etc.]

I nearly gasped at “a term that was new to me and that I will now explain”. Consider a few things:

I think this struck me because it connects to a few other impres­sions that have been swirling in my head lately, unat­tached to any hypoth­esis or grand formulation; just … swirling. They include:

When a person “thinks in public”, I don’t think they are looking for immediate responses; certainly not if those responses “answer the question” and shut down the line of inquiry, but/and maybe not even if they are generous and generative. “Yes, and” is great, but, like … let it sit for a minute!

Blogs had comments, of course, some of them as easy to produce as Twitter’s replies. But a blog’s comments section bloomed in specific response to its subject, its voice; comments didn’t (usually?) get pitched in from elsewhere. I don’t know; maybe we can lay Twitter’s bad feelings alongside all the other wreckage at the feet of context collapse.

I don’t mean to bask in the imagined greatness of the High Blogging Era; forget about blogs. Rather, I want to register how surprising it is that so many of the platforms that dominate the internet today are so bad at this; that they so reliably push their participants, in ways subtle and not, towards knowing it all.

Maybe I’m just inter­ested in ~discursive networks~ that look less like this — 

A drawing on a 3x5 card of a small network with the nodes all pointing directly at one another

—and more like this:

A drawing on a 3x5 card of a small network with some of the nodes pointing roughly, but not directly, at one another; and other nodes, meanwhile, spiraling off into space

Why did “talking past one another” develop such a bad reputation? Think of how nice it is to have a conver­sa­tion walking alongside someone; or in a car, one of you driving, the other in the passenger seat. Both of you looking outward, probably at different things. Both of your minds roaming the same way.

Maybe I want a version of Twitter without any replies at all; a version on which only subtweets are permitted, a network of implications, reformulations, bank shots … 

Think, for example, of the book review that itemizes “wot I liked and wot I didn’t” vs. the one that uses the book as a jumping-off point to explore new territory.

Considering where I started — a scrap of language in a piece about climate policy — this post might itself be an example, for better and for worse. That’s me at the bottom of the sketch, spinning up a quick spiral before my second coffee.

April 2021, Berkeley