Trading Tweets for Sweet Art

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Singer/songwriter/Twitterer extraordinaire John Mayer stopped tweeting back in February, leaving his 3 million-plus followers adrift and leaderless in a great digital wasteland. He never returned to the medium that helped make him one of pop culture’s most colorful, controversial stars.

At the time, we thought Mayer left because the whole electronic media circus had gotten the best of him. Just days before he quit, Playboy published a pretty bawdy interview with him, complete with racial slur, that was really only a half-step beyond some of Mayer’s more buzzed-about tweets. Days later, he broke down during a performance and said, “I quit the media game. I’m out. I’m done. I just want to play my guitar.”

Turns out, though, he quit the twit for the sake of art. No, really. As quoted by MTV News:

It occurred to me that since the invocation of Twitter, nobody who has participated in it has created any lasting art. And yes! Yours truly is included in that roundup as well. Let me make sure that statement is as absolute and irrevocable as possible by buzzing your tower one more time: no artwork created by someone with a healthy grasp of social media thus far has proven to be anything other than disposable.

Mayer goes on …

Those who decide to remain offline will make better work than those online. Why? Because great ideas have to gather. They have to pass the test of withstanding thirteen different moods, four different months and sixty different edits. Anything less is day trading. You can either get a bunch of mentions now or change someone's life next year.

OK, there’s a certain irony in the fact that Mayer disses Twitter on his blog—an electronic medium perhaps just a few characters removed from the one he left.

And critics might offer a counterpoint in reigning Twitter queen Lady Gaga: It doesn’t seem as though her art—or at least her ability to make music—has suffered much.

But maybe Mayer’s key word here is “disposable.” Gaga is, admittedly, a star. She is unquestionably talented. Will her music hold up over time? I don’t know if any of us can say for sure, but there’s a sense of impermanence that encases Gaga’s work—an expiration date looming over it all, just as surely as it did over her meat dress. I think that’s partly by Gaga’s own design: She lampoons our disposable culture even as she uses it to craft her own persona. But still, maybe Mayer has a point.

Mayer’s tweets arguably came to overshadow Mayer’s music. Perhaps Ashton Kutcher had (or has) the potential to be a great American actor—but maybe banging out tweets to his 5 million followers distracted him from the craft. I’m not aware of a truly great novelist who takes a break from his/her latest book to send out a 140-character missive to Twitter pals.

Outside of Plugged In’s own Twitter feed (@pluggedintweet), I don’t tweet. But I do find myself distracted by the Internet’s many communicative baubles, and I think that when I become too distracted, my writing—such as it is—suffers accordingly. I find that I’m only able to think coherently for sentences at a time, rather than paragraphs or pages. Perhaps the Internet has nothing to do with the sometime fragmentation of my own mind. But perhaps it does.

Who wrote this?

Paul Asay has been writing for Plugged In since 2007 and loves superheroes and finding God in unexpected places. In addition, Paul has also written several books, with his newest—Burning Bush 2.0—recently published by Abingdon Press. When Paul’s not reviewing movies, he hikes with his wife, Wendy, runs marathons with his grown kids, Colin and Emily, and beats back unruly houseplants. Follow him on Twitter @AsayPaul.

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