Some of you will recall this post from last week. Since my critical review of Matt Stewart’s piece “Stop Talking about Wendell Berry on Twitter,” several other folks have responded to it at the Front Porch Republic. So far the only person to really defend all of Matt’s piece is Eric Miller.
I actually brought this debate up very briefly yesterday in our live podcast episode, “Flourishing in a Digital World.” I imagine that my friends Eric and Matt think it is heresy to even consider putting the word “flourishing” together with “digital world,” but this is exactly what we tried to do yesterday at Messiah College. Frankly, I was blown-away by how our guests connected their digital footprints as historians, writers, community activists, bloggers, social media-users, and story-tellers to particular places and communities. I hope you get a chance to listen to this special bonus episode of The Way of Improvement Leads Podcast when we release it next month.
In the meantime, I encourage you to read Tara Ann Thieke’s critique of Stewart’s essay: “Alone Together on the Internet.” Here is a taste:
Wendell Berry was able to reject the computer. I think it was the right decision. But his choice and his work have come to us through the connections he made by going to Stanford and Europe, teaching at NYU, earning himself an audience, and allowing the publishing industry to use the best technology at their disposal (including computers) to make his work accessible. Later on, once he was well-established, audiences were able to hear out his reasoning for preferring the pen to the keyboard (a choice I agree with; most of my writing is first done in notebooks with a trusty blue rollerball pen). The computer was still a fundamental part of the supply-chain connecting Mr. Berry to the reader; we are none of us islands and the supply-chain is inescapable except to true hermits.
Twitter and social media have allowed me, an arm-chair amateur, to use the system’s tools to advocate for a different vision. While I am surrounded by the cultural consequences of all these wires and flashing screens, these tools have permitted me to find other wandering voices. Do I talk about Wendell Berry on Twitter? Guilty. But I have also started several clubs through Meetup which allows those of us who share these interests to meet face-to-face. Other armchair amateurs, caught in the confines of suburbia, of work, of the ceaseless din of advertising, have found one another through the threadbare wires not closely guarded enough.
We schedule gatherings through Facebook to watch Wendell Berry documentaries. We talk on Twitter and move on to start discussion groups elsewhere; people drive from 50 miles away to come discuss the Inklings, those foes of Mordor, once a month. We gather in an old park to serve the homeless. Imperfect? Always. But Joel Salatin wrote that expecting a first-time cook to bake a perfect cake is as silly as expecting a baby to suddenly stand and walk rather than stumble. Social media, in particular private Facebook groups and Twitter connections, have allowed those of us afraid of stumbling to receive mutual encouragement, advice, and solidarity.
Read the entire piece here. I guess I identify more as a Wendell Berry evangelical than a Wendell Berry fundamentalist. 🙂